by Andrew J. Müller
Swiftly d'Spatche landed with a cat-like thump on the roof by the air conditioning ducting. He was, as was customary, dressed in black from head to foot. Swiftly, born of Botswanan/Swiss parentage, had always had an advantage in his chosen profession, he had never needed to "black up" to make himself less visible. As long as he kept a hat on his ginger hair he could disappear into the shadows with ease. It had been a matter of some jealousy amongst the other students at the Academia de Asesinato in Barcelona and had not earned Swiftly many friends amongst his peers. At Swiftly's Academy you had to be very careful of fellow students who weren't your friends, and so Swiftly had got better and better at his chosen career, until he was renowned as one of the best in the World. With a name like his, he had to excel at what he did anyway. It wasn't so much that he chose his profession as his profession chose him. However, his services did not come cheap, and the Government of Etruscia had little money. So initially they had tried to deal with their particular problem by other, less costly, methods.
Their problem was a person. Not just any person, but in fact the President of Etruscia who was busily bankrupting the country by spending all the Government's money on trivial and unnecessary expenditure - such as schools, hospitals, welfare, etc., etc. The other seven members of the Inner-Bureau had decided that one way or another the President would have to go. Initially, they tried gentle persuasion; continually vetoing the President's ideas, not talking to her during lunch breaks, not giving her a fair share of the Ferrero Rocher at the Ambassador's Receptions. Little effect was gained. The President just got more bloody-minded and lost a few pounds in weight from lower consumption of calorie laden chocolates. They then tried to discredit the President. In a country such as Etruscia, where the Government was less trustworthy and (often) less long-lived than those in Italy, it was no easy task to discredit the only popular President they had had since independence. Initial appeals to the peoples' collective moral sense had failed abysmally. Faked photographs of the President posing naked with several different animals had only garnered her more supporters in the raincoat brigade. Indeed, she was an attractive woman and the pictures had turned her - and Etruscia - into a major player on the international scene.
More drastic measures, it seemed, would be needed. So the combined Bureaus of the Republic of Etruscia declared war on neighbouring Bombeggalinia over an incident on the border which became known as the "Julio's Goat War". Unfortunately for Etruscia, Bombeggalinia had no oil or mineral wealth whatsoever - and anyway the population were all Muslim, so the international community sat on its collective backside and dithered. Six months later, having realised that their bluff had not worked and having had Julio's goat returned intact from the Bombeggalinian High Commission, the Etruscian forces withdrew and the Inner Bureau went back to the drawing board.
Increasingly wild stories began to appear in the Etruscian Times; the President was cruel to cute animals and ate small children; the President had indulged in rampant sex orgies with the Bombeggalinian attaché during the War; the President was to cut all benefit to all people and increasing income tax to 250%; the President was planning to knock down Etrusca City and rebuild it to her own plan out of custard.... But the President, charisma and reputation intact, just seemed to get more and more popular. The King of England came on a State visit to Etruscia and was entertained by the President, setting a precedent which leaders of many major countries took up. Suddenly the President was on the front of every magazine. Hello magazine carried an "at home with Etruscia's wild woman of politics" article, Time ran "Etruscia's President - a superstar for the Millenium", the Guardian came up with "The Predisdent of Etrusiac - Is this wmoan all she smees?", and the Sun carried a sixteen page spread on "Phwoooar! Babe President: Is this woman hotter than the Spice Girls - Full story and bikini shots inside!".
As a consequence of this continual bombardment of bad press being turned to good, one of the members of the Inner Bureau threw himself off of the Demissary Dam into the River Smeet. An emergency session was held and it was decided that the President must die.
A bungled attempt at poisoning was the first option. Strychnine was put into the President's morning coffee; only to find that this was the day she had given up all caffeine containing products. In the morning one of the Government building's cleaners was found dead in a broom cupboard clasping a crumbled white plastic cup in one hand in a pool of coffee. An immediate search was made of Etrusca City and the offending coffee-vending machine salesman was found and imprisoned, wherein he mysteriously killed himself in a fit of remorse by stabbing himself to death repeatedly with a letter-opener he had secreted about his person somehow.
This inspired the six remaining Inner Bureau members to try to arrange an accident for the President.
First off the President's car was targeted. The brakes were cut and the car slammed into a wall, unfortunately on a day the President was flying to Monaco. Only the unlucky valet was killed taking the car to the garage for it to be serviced. When the President was presented with her new car it had many optional extras not in the brochure. Electrically wired back seats, for instance, which fused when the car went through its first puddle. Steering which went left when you were trying to steer right, which failed because the President's new driver (as employed by the Inner Bureau) was such a piss-poor driver that he compensated automatically for this quirk and put it down to his inexperience. A small bomb was then attached to the bottom of the car, but it fell down a manhole at a crossroads in the City and removed a goodly part of the financial quarter. When an attempt at hiding a scorpion in the ashtray failed (the President smoked BIG cigars and stubbed one out on the poor creature before it had a chance to strike) the Bureau decided to forget targeting the car.
A more personal approach was called for. One of the Bureau members, Pushkin, was hidden inside the President's personal apartment. He hid inside the wardrobe, armed with an iron poker, and waited for the President to return. A certain amount of premeditation was lacking in that Pushkin failed to drill holes in the door of the wardrobe so that he could see out of it. When an ill-fated chamber maid opened the wardrobe to return some of the President's clothes she found her head stove in with a chunk of iron before she could even hang up a scarf. This made a very large mess. Blood and other miscellaneous items splashed in many directions. Pushkin was not going to be able to clean it all up before the President returned. So instead he ran like hell. Of course, the investigation into the maid's inexplicable death came up with no results.
The President was moved to new apartments. These apartments had as many hidden extras as the President's new car had had. And they were to prove as effective.
The first of these to be used was the "underbed compartment". The hapless Pushkin was elected as "official assassin". He was secreted under the President's fine new bed armed with a big sharp skewer to thrust up through the mattress into the President as she lay in bed. Pushkin, it appeared, was not one to learn from his mistakes, and when he felt a weight on the mattress above him he thrust the skewer as hard as he could repeatedly upwards and was rewarded by a dripping of blood into the hidden compartment. He triggered the door mechanism and sprang out from under the bed, only to discover a second chamber maid with several holes in her and a very surprised expression pinned to the bed from above by one of the bell boys (who was equally dead and also quite surprised) and from below by a big metal skewer. Once more Pushkin fled and the world's press was full of stories about the serial killer in old Etrusca town who killed chamber maids in elaborate and strange ways.
Yet another chamber maid was a victim of another of the rooms booby traps when she plugged in her vacuum cleaner to attempt to clean the blood off the carpet left by her predecessor. As all the sockets in the room had been wired wrongly she ended up a charred pile of ash which was (ironically perhaps) sucked up into the very vacuum cleaner she had only recently switched on.
Pushkin's third (and final) attempt at assassinating the President involved another member of the Bureau, Rikkars. Pushkin hid in a special compartment underneath the President's bath whilst Rikkars lay in wait in a nearby cupboard, keeping watch. He would send a signal to Pushkin by pulling a piece of string tied to Pushkin's hand who would then complete a circuit when the President stepped into the water.
Presently the President arrived, and ran herself a warm bath. Rikkars spent the next five minutes trying to keep his glasses from misting over, but eventually the President shed her dressing gown and stepped into the water. Rikkars tugged the string. Rikkars tugged the string again. And again. And again. Then he looked down, the President's fallen dressing gown was laying across the string. The telephone rang. Annoyed the President jumped out of her bath and grabbing her robe left the bathroom to get the phone. As she picked up her gown it snagged the string and tugged it slightly. In his under-bath chamber Pushkin felt a tug on his hand and completed the circuit. Many thousand volts shot through the bath and the fibre glass cracked under the heat generated, pouring down onto Pushkin who was consequently very badly broiled to death.
Seeing what disaster had occurred Rikkars sprang out of the wardrobe and ran into the President's apartment wherein he fell through the trapdoor they had rigged up early that evening and onto the wooden spikes in the chamber below. When the President returned from her phone call she found two more dead bodies in her apartment.
It was at this point that the President began to get suspicious.
The remaining five members of the Inner Bureau decided that professional help was needed and applied to the Academia de Asesinato in Barcelona for them to send a selection of contacts to do the job of ridding Etruscia of its far too popular President.
The first sent was a young student by the name of Alberto Dropsi. He was killed falling from the President's window when she shut it on his fingers. The second volunteer was Christopher van Vervenen who was run over by a 737 at Etruscia Airport whilst trying to shoot down the President's personal helicopter. The third assassin hired was Wilhemina Brunt who got a job as the President's personal bodyguard only to be accidentally shot dead by a colleague from the Academia who had been simultaneously hired by a different member of the Bureau. He was subsequently caught and deported to Chile where he now grows beetroots for a living.
Finally, and after much juggling with expenses the Inner Bureau hired the most expensive assassin the Academia de Asesinato had on their books, Swiftly d'Spatche.
Which was, all in all, how Swiftly came to be sneaking across the rooftops in the dead of night in Estrusca City, heading towards the skylight above the President's latest set of quarters. Swiftly had found he was one of the best assassins in the Academia quite early on in his career. He had been taught by some of the best - in fact he was the last pupil of a great many of the best. Assassin was a job in which there existed no promotional ladder; you made your own way up the promotional scale, generally by making sure there was a vacancy above you when you needed one. Swiftly had filled many vacancies (or as he often jokingly put in "filled many vacant plots").
None of which prepared him for what was about to happen. The golden rule of assassin-ing is "Don't get personally involved with the client". All rules - even golden ones - are there to be broken, and Swiftly was about to shatter one completely.
He arrived at the skylight to the President's room just as the bells of Il Catedra San Maria del Costellainia rang out 12 o'clock. He peered into the room. The President was lying on her bed in red lingerie, eyes shut, arms behind her head, on her back. Swiftly stared down into the room and felt his jaw dropping. Something very deep inside of him went POP! and he felt himself topple forwards. As if in a dream he found he was unable to halt the topple and crashed straight through the glass of the skylight into the room below.
The President had had a long and difficult day. She wasn't really expecting it to end with a ginger haired black man dropping through the skylight in a shower of glass onto the bed next to her. As Swiftly crashed onto the duvet the springs shot her up into the air, and she landed with a bump on the floor next to the bed. For a second she just lay there in shock, then she sat up and stared at Swiftly, who stared back almost as shocked as she was.
POP! POP! went both their hearts.
Albert Diamond was Chancellor to the Checker of the Inner Bureau of Etruscia. A tall, bony man with a shock of grey hair which stood up on end as if it generated its own little private electro-magnetic field. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, perched on a nose which could crack open coconuts. He walked with a stoop and his joints cracked and clicked like a Geiger counter on crack cocaine. He was walking across the Quadrangle in the old college near the River Smeet where it flowed through the City. He turned to go down a side alley and suddenly disappeared sideways into a doorway. For a brief while his ceremonial blue robes could be seen flapping wildly and a strange gurgling, bubbling sound emerged from the alleyway. It was followed by a sigh, and Albert Diamond sank to the floor. A dark figure detached itself from the shadows and walked deceptively quickly away. Ten minutes later a bunch of semi-drunk students returning from a mid-day piss up found the Chancellor laying in a puddle of his own blood having had his throat slit.
The news of Diamond's evidently unnatural death arrived at the Bureau Chamber quickly and was received with alarm. The four remaining Bureau Members had an emergency conference, called at the Etruscian Golf Club (where most of the Members spent much of their time) and it was decided that the plan to kill the President had somehow been discovered. During the meeting a messenger arrived to say that the apartment given to Swiftly d'Spatche had been burnt to the ground in mysterious circumstances and a body had been found, although it was hard to identify as it had been "done to a crisp". Panic began to set in; and blind panic kicked in when - after lunch - the newly appointed Chancellor and former Special Attache was found in the toilets with a mashy niblick inserted into him anally and so far that the handle had broken his two front teeth.
The new-new Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the "what I'm doing everything else now am I?" Special Attache immediately phoned Etruscair and chartered a special plane to take them as far from Etruscia as it possibly could.
Three men hunched up, collars turned up, dark glasses and hats moved through the crowds at Etruscia airport. They each carried a briefcase (which were in fact stuffed with US dollars) and clasped in somewhat clammy hands their airline tickets to Brazil. Brazil was the best flight the Bureau members had been able to get their hands on at such short notice. To their collective chagrin, they had not been able to privately vet the airline staff - and the President's jet - which they were hoping to be able to use - was not available, the President having apparently taken a sudden holiday without notice to Bermuda. And so the three conspicuously suspicious men made their way onto their elderly Boeing jet and sat in their seats watching the blond-haired, fat stewardess run through the usual safety routine. Only once the plane had lurched into the air did the Bureau members begin to relax. The Special Attache, a fat, constantly sweaty man, made his way to the toilet, his nerves having finally got the better of him. Nervously he put his case of money under a seat outside the toilet area, and then ducked through the curtain which separated it from the main body of the airplane. Thus, the other two Bureau men didn't notice the fat, blond stewardess follow him into the cubicle. The Special Attache had already dropped his trousers and sat on the bowl when the stewardess came in. He jumped to his feet in surprise, forgetting momentarily where he was and thus peeing down his trousers. A reaction he probably would have had anyway when the stewardess pulled off her wig and prosthetic make-up to reveal the President. She removed the "fat" costume and pulled a gun on the Special Attache.
From outside all that was heard was a dull thump. The Prime Minister and Chancellor looked at each other knowingly, both knew that the Special Attache was more nervous than them and had been expecting him to blow chunks at any moment for the last few hours. So neither of them were expecting that, when the curtain was pulled back, it would be the President who stepped into the passenger compartment.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," she said depositing the blond wig on the nearest seat, "it seems that the balance of power has changed." A man dressed as a Royal Etruscian Airways Pilot came up behind her. It was, of course, Swiftly d'Spatche. "Alas," the President continued, "we have to leave you now." Swiftly handed her a parachute and she strapped it on. They pulled open the airplane's door. The wind began to suck unfastened items out of the cabin, although the cabin wasn't pressurised, so they didn't immediately suffocate. Swiftly stepped over the door.
"I trust neither of you can fly a plane?" he asked them. They stared at him blankly. "No? Good, then you have approximately 12 minutes in which to learn." With that he stepped calmly from the doorway.
The Prime Minister started to whimper as the President stepped up to the doorway of the plane. "How ironic," she said before she left, "all this time you've been accusing me of consorting with undesirables, and having mad sex orgies. Now you won't be around to see it all come true." She gave them both a cheery wave and jumped from the plane.
As Swiftly d'Spatche and the President of Etruscia floated serenely to the ground the Etruscair Boeing slammed into the side of Mont Etrusca and exploded in a big, bright, orange-red ball of flame.
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