The Cigar Seed
Wednesday, 5th July, Havana
The Cuban security guard walks with a measured tread along the line of passengers waiting to have their passports and visas checked. He has a heavy beard, a peaked cap emblazoned with a single red star and a Kalashnikov slung over one meaty shoulder. His black eyes challenge each new arrival.
As he approaches, Terese feels the queue press against her. An excited chatter filled the Havana air as her fellow travellers scampered across Jose Marti Airport’s scorched concrete apron. Now, they are silent as if an unseen hand has turned a collective volume control fully anticlockwise.
The guard stops next to her, almost touching. She smells sacking mingled with cordite.
Her heart stutters. Rivulets of sweat trickle down her ribcage.
She is already wound up as tight as a watch spring.
Taking a deep breath, she tenses, braces her legs. Then looks up and stares hard at the guard.
His eyes narrow as he raises the rifle . . .
The Air France flight from Paris touched down just as the shimmering Caribbean sun melted into the horizon. After a delayed takeoff, the plane landed fifty-eight minutes late. For the hundredth time she runs the calculation through her mind. She has twenty-one days to complete her unwanted mission: thirty thousand two hundred and forty minutes. On the face of it, it seems plenty of time, but this is a completely new experience and, given all the unknowns, the loss of fifty-eight of those minutes could make the difference between success and failure.
Time is not what worries her most. The callousness of Peru’s plan fills her with doubt. When ETA recruited her she swore an unbreakable oath to liberate her people. She spoke with conviction, her commitment unquestionable. However, hers is the commitment of a theorist, not an executioner. Liberation warps into an altogether different dimension when she watches colour footage of innocent people rendered blind, bloody and limbless as a direct result of the organisation’s handiwork. The prank at the football stadium was a rude awakening as to the utter havoc they could wreak if they put their minds to it. Minutes before the match kicked off in the Estadio San Mames, they phoned the police with the unwelcome news that ETA was about to explode two hundred kilograms of cloratite to shake the evening up a little. The fans certainly felt the adrenalin rush as the stadium loosened its bowels and emptied in record time.
That incident made very interesting headlines in both the French and Spanish national dailies the next day, the papers crucifying the hapless Spanish Minister of the Interior.
A bomb scare is intolerable, but a cancelled match? Unforgivable.
What they are about to do is far worse than the stadium. This time it will not be a hoax. This time it will be for real. This time Peru is in charge, determined to attain ETA’s Holy Grail by infecting hundreds of people in Barajas Airport with the world’s most destructive virus. A haemorrhagic fever will wrack their bodies for days until finally they die. There is no known cure. Their suffering will be painful beyond imagination.
She has it in her gift to alter the course of events and save those poor souls who will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All she has to do is catch the next plane home and to hell with the consequences.
That is what she should do. Yet here she is, making it happen.