IF WALLS HAD EARS
The sound of voices coming from his restaurant downstairs awakened Harry Benson at midnight. He tiptoed down the stairs and through the kitchen to the dining room. The voices seemed to originate from a sizeable gathering of men and women — a party in fact — but some distance away, muffled. Perhaps boisterous revelers in the street, late in going home. Without turning on the main lights, he raised one of the window blinds and looked out. The street was nearly deserted and he realized that the voices were coming from behind him, from within the restaurant! Suddenly he was nervous — there were people around him, people he couldn’t see despite the dimmed security lighting. The voices were subdued, but belonged to many people talking at the same time.
Feeling a little silly, he moved slowly toward the long interior wall of the restaurant and sat at a table beside it. The voices were now more distinct. Against the general background of numerous voices, he found he was listening to one particular conversation: that of a man and woman. As he tuned into what they were saying, he realized he was listening to two married people discussing an illicit sexual relationship between them. This was a very private conversation and seemed to be coming from the wall as though inside it or on the other side. A frustrated male voice was in mid-sentence, “…I told you last week that I would have to wait for the right time. I can’t just walk up to Betty and tell her I want a divorce so I can marry you, now can I?”
The feminine response was on the point of tears. “You always say that. You’ve been promising to tell her for the past six months. I don’t think you really want to marry me!”
“Now don’t say that Nancy; you know I’m crazy about you.”
“I don’t believe you; you want to stay married to Shirley while having an affair with a stupid softie like me. I can’t go on like this….”
Harry was both embarrassed by the conversation and perplexed by the source of the voices. He walked from the dining room into the kitchen that lay on the other side of the wall. There were no voices in the kitchen or in the storage room further along the same wall. He wondered, Am I going mad? The wall itself is generating the voices.
While trying to make sense of his conclusion, Harry returned to the dining room and sat at a different table where the conversation between two women was less controversial, more mundane. One of the women said, “I’m tired of doing her job for her as well as my own.”
The other women replied, “And I don’t suppose you receive any thanks for it either.”
“Are you kidding? Audrey can be a real bitch. One of these days, I’ll lose my temper and tell her what I think of her. Then I’ll be fired.”
“Ha! You might be promoted.”
Harry found this exchange less than exciting and moved to his favorite table in the dining room: a booth in the corner, adjacent to an artificial Ficus tree. There were voices here too, apparently between two men in their late twenties or early thirties. They spoke with distinct accents. The younger-sounding of the pair was expressing frustration with his food. “I don’t like eating this shit for my breakfast. Isn’t there anywhere we can go that serves the kind of food we normally eat?”
“Not in this part of the country, Zarak, and you certainly won’t find restauarnts serving Pashtun food on Streatham High Street in London. If you stay in this place long enough you’ll get used to the food. You should eat the egg and bacon — it’s good for you.”
“Under Islamic law, we’re not allowed to eat pork or pork products and you know it, Jasper. Under the same law, you’re not supposed to stare at pictures of semi-naked women on page three of that newspaper you’re hiding behind.”
“I am studying the weather forecast, my friend, not pictures of naked women. I like to equip myself with all the information we might need to accomplish our project…”
The conversation finished in mid-sentence as though a recording machine had stopped. The dining room was now completely silent. Harry sat there for a while, but the silence continued. Eventually, he went to bed greatly puzzled by all three conversations to which he had been party, but fell sound asleep almost immediately.
The night’s adventure stayed with Harry all through the next day so that he could hardly wait to return to the dining room the following evening, a few minutes before midnight. He sat at the first table of the previous night but there was total silence. He was disappointed. The silence remained, no matter where he sat. Eventually, he rose ready to return to his bedroom. Suddenly, the voices came to life as though someone had flipped a switch at midnight. At the second table of the previous night, he heard the two women continue complaining about their supervisory management. He moved on.
At the corner table, the two men with strange accents were deep in conversation. The man called Zarak was still unhappy. “How much longer are we going to hang around in England? I want to go home.”
“You’ve forgotten that this is my country, so I am already home — at least for a while, but you can go home as soon as we complete the tasks assigned to us. You will have to wait until you can board the freighter Mediterranean Venturer on its way back to Libya; it’s the only safe way for you to get out of this country.” He released a loud belch and a fart simultaneously and chuckled, obviously pleased with his achievement.
Zarak was not amused. “You said we had to collect two more missiles before the mission is finished, so why are we hanging around so far from the ocean and the beach where we keep our boat?”
“You know very well that Khan Zada has to collect the missiles from Benghazi, and bring them to England, so we can meet him in the Severn Estuary and carry them ashore. He has quite a long journey to travel, and will not be back in the estuary for us to meet him for another six days.”
“And then we will pick up the missiles and launch them?”
“As soon as we’ve delivered all the cocaine to our network, we will launch the missiles.”
“I’ve another question: you have never explained how we are going to use these missiles.”
“Keep your voice down, Zarak. Do you wish everyone to hear what we are doing?”
“You do not need to know this information.”
“I should be allowed to know just as much as you; I risk my life just as you do.”
“Your task is to remain humble and obey commands; it is safer that way. If you are captured and interrogated, it is better not to know too much.”
As on the previous night, the conversation stopped without warning. What he had heard from these two terrorists horrified Harry Benson. Alarmed, he began backing away from the table. In his panic, he knocked over a chair and froze, thinking the terrorists would seize him and silence him, maybe slit his throat with one of his own table knives, whereas the two men seemingly continued to ignore his presence. I guess they can’t hear me. It’s as though their conversation is only a recording. As he crept quietly away from the area, it occurred to him that what he had been hearing was just that — a recording. The wall had recorded an earlier conversation and was re-playing it.
He used the kitchen phone to call the police. The duty sergeant at Streatham station ridiculed his story. “You’re telling us that the wall in your dining room records conversations heard during the day and plays them back between midnight and one a.m.? Have you been sampling the liquor from your bar prior to calling us, Mr. Benson?”
After an hour on the phone, Harry found himself speaking to Rodney Bennington-Jones, a junior officer from MI5. Jones reluctantly agreed to join Harry the next evening at midnight in order to listen to the conversations the wall had recorded. Throughout the following day, Harry kept a close eye on diners in his restaurant, hoping to match them to the midnight voices, but was disappointed with his lack of success, although he was attracted to the two women at the second table.
On the third night, Harry guided Bennington-Jones to the corner table. To Harry’s relief and Jones’s surprise, as the minute hand on the restaurant clock hit midnight, they heard the voices of the two young terrorists continue their conversation of the previous night. Zarak was saying, “I will not talk, even if they torture me – you know that. Tell me how we are going to use the missiles.”
“All right. After I order some more of this excellent coffee, I will tell you.”
“Do you really think the coffee is excellent? My father says the coffee they drink here is like camel piss.”
There was muffled dialogue as Jasper ignored his excitable young friend and ordered another cup of coffee and a slice of Banbury Cake from the waitress. He then answered Zarak’s question. “Now, keep your voice down Zarak. We will take the two new missiles, together with the original two that are stored at the depot, to London in the van.” Jasper was silent for a moment, presumably looking around to see if anyone was watching them, before softly continuing his explanation. “In London, we will launch two missiles to strike the British government in their fancy Houses of Parliament. We will use the other two on Buckingham Palace.”
“In the photos, those buildings look large. Will two missiles really destroy them?”
“Not the whole buildings. We will launch the missiles from the rear of the van to penetrate the walls or roof of the central section of building. The design of the missiles allows them to explode only after they penetrate inside the buildings, thus causing the maximum damage. With Allah’s blessing, we can kill many of the government people inside Parliament — or wound them. Our purpose is to frighten the British people, and make them realize that we can destroy them any time we want.”
“Where will we be when we launch the missiles and how will we launch them?”
“For the attack on Parliament, we’ll be on Westminster Bridge with the rear of the van facing the buildings, and will fire the missiles through the van’s open doors. We will launch the other missiles from the street known as The Mall.”
“Ha! The English people will not be happy when we kill their Queen. Can we return to the beach today? I am really excited about the job we have to do.”
The MI5 officer was anxiously making copious notes when the accent of the two terrorists suddenly changed. In a South London accent, the one who had described the plan of attack said, “I think we can stop here; we’ve rehearsed our lines quite enough for Saturday evening.”
With a chuckle, his companion replied, “I think that scene is going well. It’s a good job we’ve not been overheard; otherwise we might both be in jail by now. If you’ve finished your camel piss, I’ll pay the bill.”
“That’s nice of you. Thanks Sidney. I suppose we’ll meet again at the theatre on Friday at 6 p.m. for dress rehearsal. Take care in the meantime.”
“You too, Jim. See yah!”
Rodney Bennington-Jones glared at Harry Benson. “I think you should try sleeping at night.”