The Price of A Smile

The man in the dark jacket entered the studio unnoticed. Unnoticed was the part that confounded so many later but it was a testament to the completeness of his planning and research. It was not the only thing that confounded so many later. This was not done on a whim.

The TV presenter was scrutinising the order of play, sitting on the sofa that was her public workplace following the prompt for “five minutes to go”. From the outside, on the screen that Jo and Josephine Public and the rest of us see, it looked a little cosy but in reality the cameras, and the people and the whole sound and vision stage made the facade look a little silly from time to time.

He’d been there before. Checking, verifying and understanding how the place was run because he knew that it’s not an abstract puzzle, it’s a people thing. People make the system work, fail and do unexpected things and only understanding lets you plan predictably.

He walked up to the TV presenter with a purposeful, confident but not hurried walk. As he sat next to her he cast aside the jacket to reveal what looked like a suicide vest. Explosives wired together with a highly visible timer and some sort of switch that he held.

As he did so he handed the man with the clipboard two envelopes and shouted in a commanding and well-practised voice, “You should all leave this studio now, except for this lady on my right”. He pointed towards the presenter as she froze at the sight of explosives and the bright red of the numbers on the timer which counted backwards towards an unknown future.

They all ran for the exit, the man with the clipboard stopped for a moment and started to ask a question and the man wearing the bomb said clearly, “don’t talk, walk, Instructions are in the envelopes in your hand, leave now and do what you have to do”.

Within a minute the TV set was empty apart from the presenter and the man in the bomb.

“Please don’t be frightened” he said, he walked around and disconnected every microphone that he knew about.

She stayed calmer than he expected and said “that’s hard when I’m alone with a man wearing a bomb”. Her eyes betrayed the fear but none of it showed in her voice, he knew that he had chosen well.

He knew that the control room could see them through the cameras, but they couldn’t hear what was being said. In the control room the man with the clipboard was opening his envelope. He had already called security and he knew that an armed response unit would be on the way, but he was worried about the presenter left on the TV set with the mad man.

His instructions were to go to a particular page on a website and follow those instructions. His curiosity naturally led him to notice that there were instructions there for the security team which was the other envelope that he had delivered as instructed.

From the control room they watched and waited. They were stunned that the sound had been so quickly disabled from the whole set.

On the set the man passed the woman a pair of headphones connected to an Ipod and one of those sleeping masks that you get on some overnight flights. He said “I will not harm you at all, please put on the headphones, turn on the audio track, put on the mask and listen”.

She had thoughts of resistance and she started to speak but the man said more firmly, “I won’t hurt you, just put on the headphones turn on the audio track, put on the mask and listen”. Her clumsy hands were to be expected in the situation but she followed the instructions.

He knew that she would.

As she complied he turned on a microphone but said nothing, he knew they would be recording.

Deprived of vision her world was very tightly defined as she listened to the audio. After a few minutes she started to get lost in the audio and the man noticed her breathing ease and her shoulders relax. He looked at his watch to gauge what stage the rest of the world would be at. He also checked his phone and could see the log that described the time line of access to the website that was delivering instructions to the various groups, he even knew what stage they were at in watching the videos he had left for them.

He watched her breathing, body language and facial expressions, or at least the expressions he could see around the sleeping mask that obscured her vision. He knew what she was listening to and was able to match reactions of her body to the content of the audio.

The control room looked on.

The armed response team were on their way.

The man watched the woman.

The man put the bluetooth headset in his ear, it wouldn’t be long now.

The woman’s mouth tightened at the edges, so nearly a smile, then the mouth opened and the teeth set forth a warm smile from her world of imagination.

It was done. He smiled along with her and felt the warmth spread through his body.

Right on cue his headset indicated a phone call. He touched it and answered. “Hello”. The negotiator from the armed response announced his name and his position in the situation, following protocol to the letter. He explained that they were treating this as a hostage situation and then asked what demands the suicide bomber had.

The man spoke calmly although his heart was racing. “The demands have already been met” He said. “I know that you have watched the video explaining that what you see is not a bomb and that you have seen the construction of the jacket”. Then he continued before the negotiator could speak “I also recognise that you don’t believe me and that you have to proceed as if the bomb threat is real”. The negotiator was a little taken aback but he recovered quickly. “We would like you to disarm the bomb and remove it and then give yourself up”.

“Of course” replied the man. He took his hand off the dead man’s switch that appeared to be connected to the explosive and nothing happened. He removed the jacket and removed each of the fake detonators from the fake explosive packs.

“I will come over to the door and lie face down so that your officers can do what they must do, all that I ask is that you are efficient and quiet so that you don’t upset the lady in the headphones.” He walked over to the door laid face down and waited.

The door burst open and in true style the armed response came in shouting as is their way to cause confusion.

“You must be quiet!” he said to them.

But they continued the tactic of noise and confusion and as they put on the handcuffs they heard the muffled thud that had been triggered by their noise. The charge, that the man had arranged over his heart fixed beneath a steel plate, had blown a carefully calculated hole in his chest and destroyed his heart and lungs. His body jerked as the stunned officers continued to attempt to manhandle him to his feet. All the while the pool of his blood spread around his body.

The negotiator had watched from the control room as the remote controlled camera followed the man and the proceedings unfold.

The noise level trigger for the explosive charge also sent a command to the web page that the negotiator had taken instructions from. The page bleeped and updated and the negotiator looked down and read the new instructions.

The updated instructions on the screen read “The only thing I asked of you was to be quiet! You will have to live with the result of your actions, please lead the lady away gently and carefully now so that she doesn’t have to see my body”.

The negotiator learnt from his mistake and complied as the blind folded smiling woman was led away.

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