Diplomatic Incident: A Short Story (Part I)
If anyone was present in the main hall that afternoon, they could have heard the sound of those rapid keystrokes from the office.
The administrative secretary paused for a moment to glance at the time displayed on the bottom right of her screen. She needed to be out of the office and on her way to pick up her son from the local private school within the next forty-five minutes.
She reached for her coffee mug and drained the remaining contents before straightening herself up to resume her typing.
In the adjoining office, the voices of the ambassador and his principal counselor could be heard albeit faintly, as they discussed the final arrangements for the regional political meeting that was about to take place later that evening in the heart of the city.
Embassy staff had already proceeded to the conference center to oversee the setup and other arrangements ahead of the arrival of the distinguished guests. The secretary was going to join them as soon as she brought her son home.
She completed the last email and hit send. She then folded the open file on her desk and was about to wheel around and replace it in the cabinet behind her when the computer gave a familiar beep. A new message had arrived.
Something about the message preview arrested her attention just before it disappeared from her screen.
She dropped the closed file back on the desk, as her right hand shot out for the mouse. After closing several open screens, her cursor sought out the new email.
She reread the two paragraphs displayed and then her eyes locked onto the signature at the bottom.
Below the message were the words:
National League for Political Transformation.
As one of the most notoriously controversial anti-governmental groups, the NLPT were well known. These self-proclaimed liberators of the nation were outspoken against the head of state whom they repeatedly portrayed as being egocentric and tyrannical, working against the interests of the very people whom he claimed to support and protect.
Still, never in her wildest dreams could the secretary have imagined that the organization would advance this far. Could this diplomatic mission, thousands of miles away from her home country be singled out and targeted by these mercenaries?
She read the shocking sentences again.
After a few moments of allowing it all to sink in, she slowly pushed back her chair away from the desk, got on her feet and as cautiously as she could, approached one of the windows overlooking the streets below. She drew aside a curtain and almost immediately made out a white Mercedes-Benz Dodge Sprinter van parked across the street from the building with its occupants surveying the embassy.
One of them had a pair of binoculars. Trained on the ambassador’s office.
At once, she withdrew from the window. Her heart began to race.
She was sure no one was on this floor except herself, the receptionist, the head of mission and the principal counselor.
Her mind started whirling and she silently hoped this was not what she thought it was.
She had to warn the receptionist and call the local authorities. Instinctively, she reached for the phone and dialed the front office. There was no response. The stared incredulously at the dead receiver in her hands.
She then grabbed her purse quickly to look for her mobile phone. Her fingers trembled even as she rummaged through the contents but she could not help it.
Just then, the sound of a commotion reached her ears. It was coming from the reception area. Voices there were so loud that she could hear them from within her office, despite the fact that the main embassy hall was at the far end of the corridor.
Had they managed to make their way in already?
She was not the only one who heard it. Presently, the adjacent door to her office swung open and the ambassador walked in. The principal counselor was right behind him.
Both immediately saw how distraught she was. The head of mission was the first to react. “Jennifer, what is going on?”
“Your Excellency, we have a situation on our hands.” She responded, trying to control her quivering emotions. She then proceeded to narrate to both of them what had just transpired.
The ambassador leaned over and glanced quickly through the email still open on her screen. A grim expression came over his countenance.
“Call the police. Immediately.”
The principal counselor grabbed his cell phone and at once his fingers got busy. By this time, the noise from the reception was getting louder and they could hear the sound of footsteps along the corridor approaching the ambassador’s office. Instinctively, the secretary moved to the door and secured it from the inside.
In the corridor, they could hear someone unsuccessfully attempt to open the door to the ambassador’s office. The voices became enraged and attention turned to the office of the administrative secretary.
The knob was being tried from the outside. Fists began pounding on it. The secretary gasped and then covered her mouth.
A hoarse voice cut through the air.
“We know the ambassador is in there. We have your receptionist here with us. Unless her welfare is no longer of value to you, you are going to open this door at once!”
The three in the office stared at each other.
“Who are you and what do you want?” The principal counselor shot back.
As if in response, there was an incredible crash as the door suddenly gave way.
The secretary was still screaming as four armed men poured into the room with the subdued receptionist between them.
The armed intruders were menacing in every sense of the word. One of them who seemed to be in the lead now stepped forward.
“Alright. I realize this was unscheduled, but now that we have everyone assembled for this impromptu meeting I will start by making myself very clear. We have cut your phone lines and will be confiscating all your cell phones. We have taken over this Mission on behalf of the NLPT and from now on, I am the one setting the rules. There will be no involvement of the authorities and you will all do exactly as I say. This is now, as they say, a hostage situation.”
He turned to the ambassador. “How nice to finally meet you, Your Excellency.”
The man’s countenance met eyes of steel.
“I cannot say the feeling’s mutual," the head of mission responded. "I want you and your men out of my embassy.”
“But we have only just arrived,” protested the leader. “Come now, whatever happened to diplomatic courtesy?
“Those are terms that men like you would not be able to relate to at all. Why are you here and what do you want?”
The leader stepped up so that they were both staring into each other’s eyes.
“I’ll tell you why we are here, sir. We are here to send a resounding message to your president and his government. Shortly, you are going to get in touch with senior officials, starting from the ministry of foreign affairs. You will communicate to them exactly what we tell you to.”
“What if I don’t?” came the unflinching response.
The leader grinned. “Believe me, we have no shortage of means to ensure this happens.”
"And you imagine your means are more effective than ours?"
The grin disappeared from the man's face and his hand rested on his holster.
"Listen, sir. We can sort this out in one of two ways. Diplomatic or ballistic. The choice is yours."
He withdrew his attention from the ambassador momentarily to snap at the receptionist who had started sobbing at the corner where she was recoiled in.
After contenting himself that the office was quiet enough, he turned again to the head of mission. This time a mobile phone was in his hand.
“Time we got started.”
Prior to their unceremonious occupation of the office, the NLPT had made a sweeping search of the embassy to ensure no other staff member was available apart from the four who were now their hostages.
The search however, did not go as thorough as they thought. Unbeknownst to them, another diplomat was also in the building; one who had returned briefly through the staff entrance to collect some documents on his way to the conference center.
The trade attache’s office was connected to the main hall of the embassy through a different corridor and though the men had also been at that end, they had not noticed his presence. At the time, he was in the kitchen, fixing a quick cup of coffee as the office messenger was not available due to the engagement with the rest of the staff at the conference center.
The noises coming through the corridor did not escape his attention. Neither did the crash and scream when the men broke into the administrative secretary’s office. He had heard the mention of NLPT and the order for a call to be placed to the government headquarters.
So it was that as events unfolded in the administrative secretary’s office, his mind went on overdrive.
His first instinct was to contact the police. Immediately. But his cell phone was not in his possession – it was back in his office. Of all the moments in the world not to have his phone with him!
There was no guarantee he could make his way back there through the open corridor undetected.
He needed to create a distraction.
It was then that an idea dawned on him. He turned his eyes upward at the smoke detector.
When the fire alarm started going off in the entire building it startled the intruders and a cloud of concern came over the leader’s face.
His cell phone rang. He accepted the call and placed it in his ear moving over to the window. It was one of his confederates in the van.
“What on earth is going on there?”
The leader’s voice responded. “We need to abort. Now!”
“OK. I’m bringing the van around the rear of the building.”
“We'll meet you there. We’re on our way.”
The leader hung up and turned to the hostages.
“The four of you are coming with us. Move!”
Minutes later, all four were being pushed into the back of the white Dodge Sprinter. Their armed captors jumped in after them.
Soon, the van was pulling out of the rear exit of the building just as the first fire truck rounded a corner and made its way toward the building.