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The Short Stories of
Nicholas Hancock

Published by The British Hancock Society
by arrangement with the author.

Copyright  ©  2008 Nicholas Hancock.  Permission  is granted  to  distribute  in  any  medium, commercial or non-commercial, provided author attribution and copyright notices remain intact.


Ayatollah Howmeini glided into his office on Scholl foot supports and folded gracefully onto paradisal cushions. ‘How many today?’
     ‘Sixteen, Your Honour,’ effused the lowly scribe. ‘Sixteen new regulations for the Morality Police.’
     ‘Regulations – what regulations, Ali? Fatwas, man! There’s nothing like a fatwa to settle a man’s stomach after breakfast.’
     Ali blushed to the roots of his keffiyah. ‘One, Your Saintliness.’
     The Ayatollah’s face went almost as black as his turban. ‘One!’ He didn’t like shouting, but sometimes they forced him to. ‘One parsimonious fatwa – stingy to you! What is the world coming to?’ For several seconds he contemplated the world’s decline. ‘And who’s to be the fatwa’d calf?’ He loved these harmless puns.
     ‘A second-rate scribbler belonging to a dissolute group of infidels in Great Britain – if you’ll permit me to use the word “great” so inappropriately.’
     Pallid fingers extended from the cleric’s black sleeve, snatching the paper from Ali’s hand. ‘ “Nitcholas Hooncooq is hereby condemned for the writing of the sacrilegious ‘Hadith Number 2687’ in which he takes the kufar mickey out of the One True Faith, laughing at no less a figure than Allah himself, whom he calls ‘the Gardener’. The Faithful are invited to send this poetaster to hell flames where he belongs.” Yes, Ali, yes, I like that. My gastric enzymes are working well all of a sudden. . . My biro?’
     Ali passed the weapon to the holy man, who performed an intricate signature quite effortlessly.
* * *
Word of the fatwa spread from Tehran to the outer reaches of the Islamic Republic, and soon thousands were applying for visas to the United Kingdom. Only one was successful – Massoud. But then it only takes one.
     Massoud Aghazi registered at John Moores University, Liverpool, performing brilliantly from the beginning in his chosen field, the chemistry of high explosives. Pretending a literary bent, he approached Henricus Viridis of the Inklings, and one Wednesday afternoon attended a meeting of theirs at the library with a loudly ticking briefcase.
     Gaudium enveloped Massoud in her smile and began rattling off members’ names. When she got to Nick Hancock, he frowned: could this be the Nitcholas Hooncoq of his brief? ‘Did you - er – pen the famous “Hadith Number 2687”?’
     Nick glowed with the joy of self-accomplishment. ‘Yes, indeed,’ he wallowed. ‘You’ve saved my life.’
     Last thing on my mind, reflected Massoud.
     Having listened impassively to half a dozen literary fragments, the Iranian was called on to read his own contribution. He delivered himself of a polemic on Western-style democracy before excusing himself. ‘Sorry. Will you tell me where the toilets are?’
     ‘Ground floor,’ said Henricus. ‘Turn right at the foot of the stairs. You must be back to hear how we appreciated your piece.’
     ‘Sure thing.’ And out of the Roscoe Room he strode.
     Now Nick, the only one not to have heard the loud ticking from the absent reader’s briefcase, thought, nonetheless, that he’d like to be helpful and so crept out on the heels of his would-be assassin.
     When I say ‘on the heels’, you must understand that this is just a turn of speech: in point of fact, he remained a full landing behind the fatwa-ist. On the first floor he leaned over the banisters just in time to see that Mahmoud had turned left at the bottom of the stairs. He nearly called out to the new Inkling, yet some instinct made him run the rest of the way down instead and continue at breath-taking speed (his, not mine) towards the front entrance of the Central Library.
     However, just before he reached it his eardrums burst, and the top three storeys fell – in booming succession, first the fifth, then the fourth before this in turn dislodged the third with a delayed but impressive hiccough. Nick got unsteadily to his feet and made for the automatic doors, but they had been switched off. He turned to the sexagenarian security officer, pointing at the receding figure of Mahmoud Aghazi. ‘That’s him! That’s your terrorist!’
     ‘Calm down, sir.’ As an afterthought: ‘Why d’you think he’d do a crazy thing like that?’
     ‘I haven’t an inkling.’