Call me Ishmael,” answered the newcomer in response to the inquiry at the entrance door.
“Tells me nuffing, that,” retorted his questioner, the Middle-Easterner, in a Brixton accent.
“It tells you all you need to know for my purpose here,” the indeterminable accent came back.
“Yea, lettim’ alone, awroight ‘Amid?” This from the girl in the burqa.
The boy who called himself Ishmael went to the window and looked up and down the dark lane below. The flat above the tailor shop in Coldharbour Lane, Lambeth was damp and without heating. But it served their current need and was conveniently on the next block from Brixton Tube Station.
“Is there a place where I can perform my ablutions and make my devotions?” he asked quietly. A dark-skinned boy with an immature beard rose and walked to what appeared to be a closet door. It opened to reveal a kitchen. “In here,” he said, with his head confirming the direction. Ismael took out his prayer mat, went inside and shut the door.
When he emerged their animated murmur ceased abruptly. “So you are the messenger sent to us”, stated the tall male in the kaftan, “I am Bahir al Din. You are expected and your package has been prepared”. His voice reminded Ismael of a schoolteacher he had while studying for his ‘O Levels’.
“Give it to me then, and I will go to the appointed place.”
“Do you have your specific instructions?”
“Yes. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, his private residence at 52 Parliament St.”
The girl rose and handed him a backpack. “The vest is in the internal zipped area, be careful with it,” she pleaded, “it is the result of much time and effort. Go quickly, your arrival is anticipated. Allah Akbar.”
Ishmael echoed the response, nodding to the room as he took the pack and set it on his back. He left without further comment and the others silently watched him go.
At the Tube Station he took the Victoria Line to St. James’s Park, then changed to the Circle Line for Westminster Station. Exiting onto Bridge St., he looked directly across the road at the base of Big Ben and his eyes followed it to the clock face, noting the exact time. Taking care to obey the City’s pedestrian by-laws, he crossed the road and entered Parliament St. He found number 52 near the War Memorial as he had been told. It was a four storey stone building in the Edwardian tradition. It appeared well maintained by the high-ranking government official who made his home there for at least part of the week.
He ascended the steps and rang the bell. “I have a package for the Secretary.” he told the butler. The butler indicated that this was as expected and waved him into the entrance hall. A silver-haired man descended a staircase in a silk robe and leather slippers, over broadly striped cotton pajamas. “Give it here lad,” he growled in his plummy accent. As Ismael took the package from his pack it was snatched from his hand. The wrapping flew through the air as the Foreign Secretary roared “A vest. Another damn vest. When will Mrs. Straw learn to be original with her bloody birthday gifts!”