An Unfortunate Incident

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Wrong place, wrong time...

The mid-morning traffic moved slowly through the sunny streets and Mr Yakazumi, sitting in the back of a yellow taxi, sighed at the unexpected delay. He had been assured that the journey to the conference centre would take only fifteen minutes but he had been in the vehicle nearly forty five. To add to his anxiety his flight from Tokyo had also been delayed by a full two hours. He leaned forward and tapped on the glass separating him from the cabbie.

            “Excuse me please, how much longer would you estimate until we reach our destination?”

            The cab driver did not turn round but snarled over his shoulder.

            “Yeah, yeah, keep ya shorts on mac! We’re getting there, we’re getting there!”

            Mr Yakazumi did not fully understand this reply but did not enquire further. He sat in silence and ran through his speech in his head. If only he would arrive on time to deliver it! Still, it was beyond his control now so he allowed the calm of acceptance to envelop him. Suddenly the cabbie turned around.

            “Look buddy, you can walk it from here. It’s just around the next block, see?” He gestured vaguely in the direction the cab was heading. Mr Yakazumi frowned for a moment, then reached for the door handle. He had only one small piece of hand luggage and it was possible he would arrive on time after all if the cabbie’s assertion proved correct. Mr Yakazumi paid the cabbie, carefully adding a ten percent tip, and set off at a brisk walk. After a short while he spied his destination. Of Course! Now he remembered! He had spoken at this venue before. He walked briskly up the steps and past the reception area. He knew exactly where he was going.

Mr Yakazumi entered the auditorium confidently. After all he was an important man. He had not arrived early, as was his usual practice, but he still had a minute to spare so he was unperturbed. He walked quickly but calmly through the rows of seated delegates towards the podium at the front of the large and airy conference hall. As he climbed the steps up to the stage the young man who already occupied it looked puzzled. No doubt he had been worried about the absence of the next speaker, but now Mr Yakazumi beamed at him in a reassuring manner.

            "Good afternoon." He bowed slightly and took up his position behind the lectern. The young man hesitated. "It is all right. I am here now." Mr Yakazumi opened his briefcase and spread his papers before him. He cleared his throat.

            "I am so sorry ladies and gentlemen, to cause any anxiety. I was delayed slightly. I will begin immediately. For the last thirty years the Japanese whaling fleet has adhered, for the most part, to the so-called international quota system, with consequences that we know only too well. But now I believe the conditions are correct for the resumption of full-scale commercial whaling." Mr Yakazumi looked up from his notes to be greeted by a sea of aghast faces. Everywhere eyebrows were raised and mouths hung open. At that moment a large banner strung across the back of the hall caught his eye. In three feet high green letters it read: Welcome to the 25th Annual Conference of the World Wildlife Conservation Federation. Mr Yakazumi gulped. He had obviously made a dreadful error. He felt his mouth go dry and his throat tighten. In the conference hall there was the silence of an empty ocean. As he stared at the shocked audience, and they stared back at him, Mr Yakazumi began torealise the enormity of his mistake. If he had looked more closely as he passed through them on his way in, then surely he would have noticed that something was amiss. These were not the well-heeled salary men and smooth executives he normally addressed. There were no smart business suits here. In fact Mr Yakazumi couldn't even find so much as a single tie. Instead there was a kaleidoscope of pastel coloured shirts and what looked like home-spun tank tops. There were also many women, their hair presented in a variety of unusual braids and bunches. Some of the men were bearded.

            "I am sorry...," Mr Yakazumi mumbled, his voice trailing into inaudibility. "I..., um...," he picked up his papers and walked slowly away from the podium. The sound of his footsteps echoed around the hall.

            "Murderer!" A loud high pitched scream ended the silence. Mr Yakazumi, with some effort, twisted his face into a smile. At that moment a bottle of Evian water flew towards him from the back of the hall. He dodged swiftly aside and it crashed harmlessly into the back of the stage. A low rumbling, like distant water from a burst dam began to reverberate around the echoing space. Then more objects began to rain down on him. In the front row of the audience one of the bearded man leapt to his feet and advanced towards him.

            "You bastard!" The man's face was contorted with a mixture of disgust and hatred. Another man, whose beard was longer and greyer, tried to intervene.

            “Hey guys, let’s just cool it yeah?” He held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture, but was immediately swept aside by a crowd of people leaving their seats and heading for the stage.

            Mr Yakazumi turned and ran. He dashed across the stage looking for a way out. The young man who had occupied the lectern when he came in snatched up a chair and lunged at him. Mr Yakazumi swerved to avoid him and then spotted the fire exit. As he headed towards it he could feel a deluge of missiles striking him about the head and shoulders. At least there is nothing heavy to hand, he thought, as a half-eaten sandwich hit him on the forehead. By the time he reached the fire exit he could feel hands tugging at his clothes. He fumbled briefly with the bar and the door burst open. Someone grabbed the collar of his jacket and he began to be pulled back inside.

            "Get off! Let me go!" Mr Yakazumi managed to wriggle his arms out of the jacket and left it behind as he sprinted through the door into the Seattle sunshine. The streets were still busy with people and traffic, but now they were overwhelmed by the crowd from the conference centre. Those who followed Mr Yakazumi through the fire exit were joined by more pouring out of the main entrance.

            "There he is!" Someone screamed, "Don't let him get away!" The crowd answered with a roar, all individual voices lost in one savage bellow.

            "Help me! Help me!" Mr Yakazumi shouted as he ran, his tie streaming over one shoulder. The passersby, powerless to intervene, stared in amazement and hugged the sides of the buildings to let the extraordinary torrent of humanity pass.

            "Help police!" Mr Yakazumi cried desperately. Surely there was some representative of law and order in the city, some one he could appeal to. Ahead of him he saw a tall broad-shouldered individual clad in blue. A policeman was standing at a coffee stall with his back to the chaotic scene. Mr Yakazumi grabbed his arm and pulled him around, spilling the officer's coffee in the process.

            "What the hell!" The policeman glared angrily at him.

            "Help me!" Mr Yakazumi pleaded with him but already the man's eyes were drawn away from him and on to the baying crowd behind him.

            "Holy shit!" The policeman dropped his half empty Styrofoam cup and vaulted over the bar of the coffee stall to safety. "You better keep running pal!" He yelled.

            "But you are a policeman, you must help me!"

            "No way! You're on your own buddy!" He disappeared below the counter. Mr Yakazumi ran on though the busy city streets. Every where people turned to watch, then moved rapidly away from the desperately running Mr Yakazumi, creating a passage for his flight, and for the hundreds of maddened conservationists who had spilled out of the conference centre. They formed a baying pack intent on only one prey. Already they were uprooting pieces of street furniture to use as improvised weapons as they rampaged on.

            Mr Yakazumi looked wildly about him for a means of escape. In desperation he dashed off the sidewalk into the sluggish city traffic. Brakes squealed and horns blared as the drivers were forced to stop. Some leaned out of their side windows to curse him only to be rendered speechless by the sight of the frenzied crowd that followed him. Soon all movement was impossible as more and more people threaded their way between the cars chanting and brandishing their make shift weapons. Mr Yakazumi, having reached the opposite sidewalk, ran towards the open door of a fast food restaurant. But before he could reach it the door swung abruptly shut, and through the glass he could see a uniformed waitress hurriedly turning the lock. Mr Yakazumi slammed into the door.

            "Please! Let me in! Let me in!" The waitress stared back, her eyes wide with fear. Slowly she turned the door-sign from 'open' to 'closed'. Mr Yakazumi gave a yelp of horror and began to rattle the locked door. It was hopeless. He turned and ran with all the strength his terror could give him.

His lungs started to burn with the unaccustomed effort. His breath left his body in loud painful gasps, each one a cry of pain and anguish. After just a few hundred yards his pace began to slow dramatically and the gasps turned to sobs. His legs started to falter as each step inflicted agony on his underused muscles. He glanced over his shoulder. The crowd had lost some ground but a few stubborn individuals, the younger fitter ones, were closing on him. Behind them the rest were lost in a blurred mass of human forms. Suddenly he realized he had left the main street and entered a large open area. Ahead of him he could see the grass and trees of a city park.    

            Mr Yakazumi ran through the gates. The chance of hiding among the trees and bushes seemed to offer a slender hope of salvation. A no parking sign, torn from its post, was hurled at him. The sharp edge caught his ankle and Mr Yakazumi screamed with pain and fell heavily. The rough surface of the footpath tore his hands. He crawled forward trying to regain his feet, dragging his injured leg behind him. Missiles fell about him. More signposts, branches from trees, lengths of wood torn from park benches and anything else the frenzied pack could find. Somehow he got to his feet and limped a few yards, surrounded by the now silent mob. He stopped next to an ornamental fountain. There was the sound of trickling water as they circled him, suddenly wary, looking for a chance to strike.

            "Please..." Mr Yakazumi held out his bloodied hands. He felt a heavy blow to the back of his head and tumbled over the low wall surrounding the fountain into the water. It was only knee-deep, but for a moment his head disappeared below the surface. Briefly the triumphant roar of the crowd was muffled until he managed to pull himself upright. He emerged back into a maelstrom. They had followed him into the water and all around him were faces distorted with hatred and anger, their voices merged into one terrifying animalistic roar. The blood-stained water boiled as fists and feet thudded into his weakening body. He tried to speak but couldn't control his gasping lungs. He was aware of someone standing over him casting a shadow. He looked up to see a man silhouetted against the sun with both hands raised above his head. Mr Yakazumi could not discern what it was the man grasped. Then he understood. It was an iron railing spike wrenched from the fence that surrounded the park, six feet long with a flattened leaf-shaped head like a spear. For a moment the man stood with it raised high above his head, then he plunged the spike deep into Mr Yakazumi's chest. He screamed one last time, then his head disappeared below the water. Blood welled up and swirled around the feet of the people in the fountain. A long roar of triumph echoed around the park, reflecting off the gleaming glass frontages of the surrounding office blocks.

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