CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE. 1021 HRS

‘It is not Islam that turns these sad and impressionable young men and women to terror. It is those who knowingly pervert the teachings of that great value system, and who corrupt these young people, and who lead them into the path of evil.’ He looked up again and holy mackerel, the four Arab geckos had scooted a long way up the wall, they were there just off to his right, there where the skirt of grey stone steps began to rise from the floor to the dais from which he was speaking.

The President momentarily caught the eye of the leader. He was glancing up from his camera viewfinder and there was something in his manner that was, yes, reptilian.

‘Our struggle and our fight is with those who would turn a religion of peace into a utensil of torture and killing . .

The word ‘torture’ produced a predictable heckle.

‘… And I tell you all now, and I tell all those who may now be following this speech across the world, that as long as I am Commander in Chief, the United States will pay any price, we will bear any burden, we will travel any distance to track down those who would kill or harm our citizens or other innocents of the earths. My Lords, Ladies, Members of the House of Commons, Honourable and Esteemed Friends and Members of the British Cabinet …’

‘Hey!’ exclaimed Roger, quite loudly this time, as he saw Jones the Bomb begin his final scuttle towards the sweep of steps. ‘Sscht,’ said everyone. Chester de Peverill squeezed his arm in the most patronizing way, put his finger to his lips and winked. Roger gave up. He sat down and kept silent out of fear of embarrassment, the fear that prevents the Englishman from ever being as truly entrepreneurial as the American, the fear that causes him to be exceptionally prone to prostate cancer.

From his vantage point leaning against the far wall, Adam Swallow looked with amazement at the group. But where was the cripple? Where was the man from Abu Ghraib? He wheeled around to find Benedicte, and she refused to meet his eyes.

In the Ops Room, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Purnell was filled with sudden and evanescent satisfaction. ‘Quiet!’ he yelled at Bluett and the rest of the room. ‘I’m getting something about fatalities in New Palace Yard. What’s that? A dark-skinned man has been shot, in the ambulance .

What’s that? A traffic warden? Oh Jesus, we know about him. What about the others?. . . The others, for Christ’s sake. No, not the man on the roof. The man on the roof is on our side, you idiots. What happened to the four TV crew? What do you mean you thought they were just TV crew? You mean they aren’t dead? Then where the hell are they? Oh sweet Mary mother of God, don’t tell me you just let them in the frigging hall.’

‘Where,’ said Bluett, ‘in the name of God is Pickel?’

The President glanced down at a group of the most senior British politicians from the Government and the Opposition who were sitting in the first three ranks. To his very slight surprise he saw that between him and the higher echelons of British politics, crawling towards him up the steps, was that Arab film crew. It seemed that the game of gecko grandmother’s footsteps was about to come to an end.

The President had no time to pause, no time to think, but he thrust out his chin and filled his lungs.

‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all the people of my country for your steadfastness, your courage and the clarity with which you have seen the risk we all face and the readiness with which you have responded and I believe that future generations will look back on this alliance of ours and ponder the marvel that once again we too, Britain and America, stood firm against evil. Because I am certain that no matter how bitter the struggle may be, no matter how irksome the security precautions we must take, the time will surely come when we will overcome the — what the hell?’

Whatever abstract noun was fated, in the view of the President, to be overcome by the Atlantic Alliance, that audience would never know.

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