DATELINE: New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London, W1, June 21st
There were more stories than you knew what to do with, more stories than you could ever tell. As he watched, a new wire dropped. A flashed story from AP in Afghanistan, slugged ‘BOMB BLAST KABUL’. A suspected Taliban attack had killed several people in Kabul. There was very little detail but Patrick read what there was: small death toll, no westerners, no Allied forces. He clicked the cursor and closed the story down.
Patrick pulled himself away from the wires and tried to focus on his own programme. He logged in and checked his messages and then the night schedule: a daily PA wire which ran through the domestic and international stories expected to make the news overnight and in the following day’s papers. Patrick printed a copy of this off…
Amanda was standing watching, unsmiling, at the door to Rob’s empty office. She waved a sheaf of papers in his direction.
‘I’ve got the prospects and a life to get on with, can we do this?’
The handover meeting was brief and business like. Amanda ran swiftly through the stories, first home news, then foreign, providing only the minimum information required. Patrick got the same feeling he always did from Amanda, that she disliked him but not strongly and for no particular reason. She raced through the prospects and a meeting that often took an hour lasted half that, which was fine by Patrick. He flicked through the four pages one more time, Rob’s advice about appearing confident rattling around his head.
‘What about the failed execution in Ohio? It sounded pretty nasty.’
Amanda pushed her glasses a little further up her nose. ‘You can fix a two-way on that if you like. I didn’t think it was a big deal.’
Patrick nodded. ‘And did you see that wire that just dropped? A bomb blast in Kabul?’
Amanda shifted in her seat. ‘I saw it. It doesn’t look like there’s much in it. It’s the election next week and the whole BBC News machine’s going huge on that, so unless we can’t avoid it, we’re meant to leave Afghanistan alone.’
‘Okay. Who told you that? Rob?’
‘Not Rob no, it came from higher than Rob. I don’t know who made the call, but it was well above my pay grade Patrick, which means it was way, way above yours.’
DATELINE: Passport Street, central Kabul, June 21st
Karim had found a way through the police line and when William saw him he was standing talking to an Afghanistan officer guarding the scene. Carver waved him over.
‘How’s it going? Who’s the dead politician? Anyone who’s anyone?’
Karim took the red reporter pad that William had bought him out from his jacket pocket and flicked through the pages until he found his most recent notes. ‘Four dead, the policeman says. The target was the new district chief, Fazil Jabar. You have heard of him?’
William nodded vaguely; it rang a distant bell.
Karim was happy to jog his boss’s memory. ‘Jabar signed up to the NATO counterinsurgency programme last month. He is – he was – very important. The Allies were very pleased.’
‘Right. And it looks like he was spending some of the dollars they gave him on a few new suits…’
Karim nodded and continued. ‘Three others passed away as well.’
Carver tutted. ‘Don’t use euphemisms.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I don’t want to hear you using euphemisms, weasel words like “passed away”, “passed on”, stuff like that. The dead haven’t got much to look forward to, the least you can give them is the plain-spoken truth.’
Karim gave a shame-faced nod. ‘I understand. So the other dead are his son, thirteen years old, his bodyguard – an old man who worked for Jabar for years. They are both inside, all burnt up.’
William pointed a finger at Karim’s notes. ‘Charred. You’d say charred if you were writing this up for broadcast. Not burnt up.’
‘Charred. Okay. Yes.’ Karim wrote this new word in his notebook in a slow careful hand.
‘So that’s two bodies inside. What about Jabar and the other bloke, that’s the tailor himself we’re talking about, is it?’
‘Yes, Jabar and Mr Savi, that’s the tailor; they were taken away in a military ambulance. Very soon after the bomb, the police say.’
‘I heard that too. Ten minutes, my witness said. Most Afghans have to call a cab to get themselves to the morgue. What made this guy so special?’
Karim shrugged. ‘He was a big man. VIP.’
Carver nodded. ‘Must’ve been. And did the police say how he and the tailor died? Blast? Burns?’
‘Jabar was blown into pieces, dead straight away, they say. The tailor was all burnt up – charred. The policeman told me he died in the ambulance.’
William stared into the distance, down towards the far end of Passport Street, weighing all this information up. ‘How about the bomb? Did you get anything on that? Four bodies, not five, so not a suicide job. Remote control?’
‘Might be. I had a look inside. There are some parts of broken suitcase I think, they haven’t cleaned up yet.’
‘Can you get me in there before they do?’
Karim looked back over his shoulder; the Afghan policeman was watching them keenly. ‘Maybe. The officer in charge, he’s not friendly but he likes money. I gave him some Afghani but I think he would like American dollars even more.’
William reached for his wallet, pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to Karim. ‘Try him on that for starters.’
Inside the shop was devastation. What hadn’t been damaged by the blast or the flames had been drenched by the firemen. A string of bare light bulbs in wire mesh covers lit the scene. There were two bodies on the floor; both were covered with blue hospital sheets stained a deep bloody red in various places. The outlines of the bodies were clear and it was obvious which corpse was which: one was William’s height and a similar build, the other that of a child. The policeman had told Karim that they were going to be removed soon and warned him not to touch; the deal was, they could look around but stay clear of the two dead bodies.
DATELINE: June 22nd
…. I’m working with my English journalist on the bombing at the Passport Street tailor’s shop, you heard about it, I’m sure? The Taliban attack that killed Fazil Jabar?’
Rashid nodded somewhat warily. ‘Poor bastard.’
‘Yes. Poor bastard. But I wondered if you’d heard anything. I know you hear everything so I wondered if anyone had said anything to you about the bombing.’
Rashid fidgeted in his seat. He was a man visibly torn between a desperate need to show off and an instinct for self-preservation.
Karim could always tell when he knew something. It was unmistakable. ‘I have talked to everyone I thought might know something. Police, politicians, journalists. Important people. But nothing. So I say to myself, if anyone knows about this, it will be Rashid.’
This was too much. Rashid looked around the café. There was no one in the place apart from them and the old husband and wife who owned the shop. They were busy dismantling the till which, as far as Karim could recall, had never worked. ‘Okay. Now, I know a thing. Maybe it will help you, maybe not. Listening?’
‘Okay. So Rashid is the most popular man in Afghanistan, yes?’
‘And Pakistan if we are being truthful. No enemies. Everyone loves Rashid, yes?’
‘Yes,’ said Karim uncertainly, unsure of what Rashid was getting at.
‘So everyone loves Rashid but even I have more security than Fazil Jabar.’ He waved his hand in the direction of the street and a large Lexus containing a driver and a thickset bodyguard in a pillbox hat. ‘Fazil Jabar is out in the night, in a public place with just one old bodyguard and his only – his only – son? Walking around in his underpants getting measured for a suit? Does that seem to you like a man who fears the Taliban?’
‘No, no it does not.’ Karim said keenly, immediately seeing that Rashid was on to something.
‘No. That’s right. Sure, he signed the NATO nonsense. But he didn’t believe it. He was a politician and a businessman. He signed whatever he needed to remain friends with everyone. He wasn’t scared of the Taliban because he was close to the Taliban. Very close.’
‘Working with them? That is your suspicion?’
‘It is more than a suspicion, Karim. People who know these things tell me the Taliban would never kill Jabar because he is their man. Their man in business, their man in politics, their man full stop.’
‘So if the Taliban didn’t kill him, who did?’
‘I do not know.’ Rashid finished his tea and leant closer to Karim. ‘But if you find out, my friend, I don’t want to know. Do you understand? Usually Rashid wants to know everything, but if you find out who killed Jabar, tell someone else. I do not want to know something which might get me killed.’
Copyright © Peter Hanington 2016