This story is by Malcolm Allen and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The people here don’t deserve this. They are just ordinary, normal people out for a nice meal and pleasant company, and they got you instead. They don’t deserve what you are doing to them.
Of course, you’ve got Nina and me, too, and we don’t exactly fall into the category of “normal” people, but you don’t know this. Yet.
The restaurant was nearly full when we entered. “Busy,” I murmured to Nina as we waited to be seated, “just as well we booked.” The maître d’ had led us around the sculptured granite planter that served as a curtain from the main dining area, to a table near the adjacent corner; it had the best view of the doorway for both of us and not too far from the kitchen for a quick exit. Old habits die hard.
I held Nina’s chair out for her and waited while she placed the small, strappy handbag she’d brought along against the wall at the side of the table, then pushed it gently to allow her to sit. I sat and the maître d’ placed pure-white cloth napkins across our laps.
“What do you fancy?” I asked, reaching for the wine list. “Oh, I don’t know. Something sumptuous and red. Surprise me,” Nina laughed.
“Hmm. Red’s easy. Sumptuous… how about the 2009 Clos St. Martin Merlot?” I said to the waiter. “Excellent choice, sir,” he murmured.
After he returned with our bottle and had poured for us, we clinked glasses gently. “To us,” I said. “To early retirement,” responded Nina. “Very early,” I said, and we both laughed.
We had met when I’d entered the diplomatic protection unit, the “dipshits” we called ourselves, but woe betide anyone else who did. Nina was already a senior in the unit when I was a rookie; she was small, only 162cm, and looked like a good breeze would blow her away, but she was death with both hands and both feet – no MMA fighter could have stood against her for even ten seconds. I had come from being a Captain in special services and considered myself equal to any of them, however.
Nina and I hit it off straight away as friends but within a few months the attraction between us was palpable. It was during an overseas trip with the Prime Minister that things between us came to a head and we had been a couple ever since; we hadn’t known until after we returned home that us being posted together for that job had been a set-up by the other six in our unit. Even the Prime Minister had been in on it because her approval of us as her protection for the trip had to be obtained.
When we got married a year later, she had come to the wedding even though it was getting close to the election – she had won handily, regardless – and the rest of the unit had formed a guard of honour for us, holding sticks of toilet rolls over our heads and rhythmically dipping them up and down over us; dipshits all together indeed! We had all laughed at the in-joke and even the PM had smiled as she walked behind us.
That was fifteen years ago. When the PM had finally stood down to let new blood continue after the eventual, inescapable election loss, Nina and I had looked around us, decided that everything was changing more than we wanted, and had left the dipshits behind, retiring in our late-forties.
The wine was as luscious as it should have been, but what else would you expect from a good St. Emilion Bordeaux? “The duck looks good,” said Nina.
“Mmm, good choice,” I said, “but I think I’ll go for the venison. Sounds amazing and you know I love artichoke hearts.”
“You always have venison,” she retorted. “What!” Mock outrage started a jocular conversation about my supposedly continual stick-in-the-mud choice of repast.
Our meals had just arrived when you walked in. You looked like any ordinary couple on a night out. Until the maître d’ asked for your booking and you had pulled out your guns and killed him. She had turned then and strapped a flexible lock around the door handles, blocking everyone in, and everyone else out, while you had shouted at us amidst the sudden hubbub of noise that accompanied the sound of the shot.
The other restaurant-goers were confused, of course; they had no experience of actions like yours. As your partner stalked out amongst them and started shooting apparently at random, Nina and I flipped our table over and sheltered behind it. It was only two centimetres of polished wood and obviously that wouldn’t stop anything but it shielded us from you seeing anything we did. I saw my venison steak lying on the floor in a pool of burgundy-red jus and thought to myself then what a waste.
“The one time I didn’t bring my Boberg,” complained Nina. “But even that won’t fit into that silly little handbag I brought tonight, dammit.”
“Never mind,” I said, “it’s a celebratory dinner. Why would you bring a gun, even a tiny one?”
“Habit,” she replied.
“Well, we need to do something before this gets even more out of hand. No one else here can. Black and white decision, no choice. You take her, I take him?” I peeked around the side of the table. You were making some sort of nationalistic, extremist statement, using the maître d’s stand like it was your pulpit in some contemptible church. More gunshots punctuated your hate-filled words. I didn’t bother to listen; something incoherent about immigrants but I’d heard stuff like that plenty of times before from others like you. “Oh, shit! He’s wearing a vest.”
Nina looked over at your partner. “She’s not.”
“Ok. I’ll have to tackle him back behind that granite trough thing, just in case. And hold his hand tight. We need to move. You ready?” I asked. “As I’ll ever be.”
I looked at Nina and she looked back at me. “Be careful, love,” she said. “You too.” She kissed me then, hard, and I kissed her back, then shuffled backward to make my run into you. Nina looked around her and picked up a knife lying on the floor. I sprang out from behind our flimsy protection and ran as fast as I could in a crouch, barreling towards you. You were still pontificating your hate-speech, uncaring that nobody listened except your partner.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nina throw my steak knife at her opponent. It took her in the throat and she dropped near the entryway to the kitchen, hands scrabbling at her neck as blood bubbled around the knife sticking out of her. I launched myself at you, my trajectory designed to take you down behind the sculpture at the dead maître d’s lectern-like stand. In case the bomb you had wrapped around you was allowed to blow up, at least my Nina and the others in the restaurant should be protected.
One hand grasped yours as I struck but I wasn’t quite fast enough and saw the blast of your handgun as I flew into you. An icy sensation spread through me but I held on and took you with me as we fell through the plants and behind the low granite wall of the sculpture. I saw slick red blood over my hand holding yours. I couldn’t feel the pressure of my muscles any longer and my grip slid off with the shock as we hit the floor together.
White blossomed vividly in front of me. I thought then only of you, Nina. I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you for the rest of your days. I’m glad to know that I saved you.