A little assassination down south
by Stephen Chan
[ fiction - july 08 ]
When Ranko Hvratistan fled the Dictator he crossed the border with that day's 300 economic refugees who preferred the xenophobia of the other side to starvation at home and the cries of their children, hoping against hope for work that would let them send money home for food. May the children not fall sick, they prayed; for there was little medicine in the country for children or adults – although the very rich still took their poodles and cats to veterinarians and had their limousines washed with bottled water.
As they reached the razor wire barricades, the others prepared to throw sacks and worn blankets over them in the meagre hope of being ripped to fewer shreds. Ranko Hrvatistan signalled them to stop and cut the pathway through with the secaturs he had wisely stolen from his garden hotel when the warning came through. He had made it out the back as the police dashed through the front.
It was hard for a tall white man with long hair and a dark suit to run the streets unnoticed, but he hailed a cab which took him to an elite shopping mall. Without guilt he stole a luxury sedan and sped to the border, deliberately pushing the car off a cliff when he was close. He walked to the other side in his tailored suit, incongruous but praised for his secaturs. "May the God of us all smile on you," they shouted to one another, but gods and tailors create biases and, while the others hid in the bushes as armed vigilantes drove by, Ranka Hrvatistan hitched a ride and reached his embassy in Pretoria that night.
The ambassador, who had waited up, was incandescent - "Do you know what a diplomatic incident you have caused, blowing your cover like that?" – and Ranko Hrvatistan heard him out, smiled, then asked if his icons were available. The ambassador, with a show of surliness, guided him to a room with a single bed, a compressed en-suite, and a small shelf of Tibetan figurines. Ranko seemed to pray to them, showered, slept, and the next morning ordered a fastidious breakfast before requesting attendance by a specific shop-owner, and ordered two suits, two pairs of Prada shoes, seven shirts and seven sets of underwear and sox, a new laptop and carry-on luggage; and the exotic passport the ambassador had already manufactured before his second cup of coffee. By noon, he was flying under a new name back to Harare.
Ranko Hrvatistan had blown his cover defending an old woman about to be beaten in broad daylight by the Dictator's thugs. Nothing personal, merely gratuitous and in a normal day's work to warn the others. Ranko Hrvatistan's mission was to assassinate the Dictator. A long-range Walther pistol with silencer and sights would await him in his new hotel room. He knew this might be ineffectual. He might have to do it, literally, by hand – rather by the first finger of his right hand against a certain nerve point of the Dictator that had already been activated by his otherwise well-controlled cancer.
In charcoal cloth and crystalline white shirt, Ranko Hrvatistan reappeared in Harare that afternoon, ordered a decent scotch in the Rainbow Towers and went to his high room to begin preparing for the arrival that night of his quarry to a diplomatic function. It would have to be attempted from the mezzanine of the atrium. A microlite had been assembled on the roof for his departure. He had one shot to get it right, and the lift had to be held waiting. After that, the Dictator's own trusted lieutenants would excoriate the West, then enter negotiations with the opposition party and emerge with a lion's share of the portfolios in the new coalition government. It was hateful to Ranko Hvratistan but he knew he was the most professional pawn history could have. It had all been set up. He had only to pull the trigger. After that no further old women would be molested in the streets. That's what they had told him. He knew it was not so simple. Despoilation would continue, be graduated slowly down, and the wicked inheritors of the Dictator's regime would be wicked-lite and smile kindly to themselves to their graves. Those with whom Ranko Hvratistan had crossed the razor wire would return to a penury that was manageable. He understood why every assassin wished a bullet for his masters too. And if the bullet didn't work against the Dictator, he would have to swing down and pierce the man's neck at a certain point. The guards would let him do that and then shoot him down. "If they hate him so much," mused Ranko Hvratistan, "why don't they do it themselves?" But in the politesse of respect, no one dared. The outsider would absolve them. "I expect my bullet to be silver-plated," mused Ranko Hvratistan.
Silver-plated and vengeful on behalf of several million people.
Ranko Hvratistan took a sauna, swam in the pool, went back to the sauna, then helped deplete the nation's scarce water supply by standing under a cold shower for fifty minutes. He ate nothing and drank only water in the last three hours as he prepared.
At 8.50 that night the Dictator would appear. At 8.45 the assassination was called off. South African Intelligence had uncovered the plot and had in no uncertain terms informed the British that they would reveal the identity of the sponsoring nation. The British then relayed the news to the State Department who informed the CIA. All took care to note that the South Africans had not warned the Dictator of Zimbabwe. "Call the Balkan operative off," the White House itself decided.
Ranko Hvratistan immediately strode out the back of the hotel, hijacked a black limousine, and raced this time towards the Zambian border. He didn't require his haste as the South Africans only informed their Zimbabwean counterparts the next morning. They knew anyway, having been complicit. Ten minutes later the Dictator's car exploded in a cloud of smoke. Ranko Hvratistan heard the news in his 7th floor room of the Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka. The boys had done it themselves. The Americans persuaded them to blame the British. The Minister for Security and Internal Intelligence was promoted to President and the leader of the opposition was appointed to the newly-created but powerless post of Prime Minister. The microlite was declared clearly of British manufacture and televised as evidence while, behind the scenes, relations were being repaired.
Ranko Hvratistan flew to Paris and ordered every English-language newspaper. He had them in front of him on his open-air table in the Marais, not far from the Picasso Museum, when the CIA bullet entered his head, allowing a brief narrow fountain of blood to emerge before the side of his skull crumbled and the others eating breakfast screamed, rose, and fled.