Peter entered the room with some trepidation – this wasn’t going to be fun. He’d brought all the folders with him – all six of them, though they weighed a ton. At least he’d have all the facts at his fingertips, if they should question anything.
Peering over the top of the pile, he could see perhaps a dozen people sitting round the table – each had in front of them a clean blotter, to protect the highly polished surface. There didn’t seem to be a place for him.
Bob was standing at the end with the screen, the last slide of his PowerPoint presentation showing on it. His welcoming smile oozed confidence for the benefit of the assembled company, but sent a chill down Peter’s spine. “Ah, Peter, perfect timing. We’re just at the point where we need your presentation.”
Bob took the empty seat beside the head of the table, like a compère who has just introduced his star act, and Peter began.
He had prepared his report with his usual painstaking attention to detail. This was familiar territory – he’d been over the stuff dozens of times before. He was there to give the objective facts, without gloss or spin. He would be as accurate and precise as anyone could possibly be, in the circumstances. His presentation would last twenty minutes.
Methodically, he explained what had been found in each of the regions. He substantiated every assertion with aerial reconnaissance slides. He summarised the reports of the people on the ground.
There were serious faces, some pointed in his direction, but no interruptions. Even without a word being said, it was obvious that he was not saying what they wanted to hear.
“So that is all we have found, and I think it highly unlikely that we have missed anything substantial. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Peter”, Bob said neutrally, “Are there any questions?”
There was a wholesale shifting in seats, and a change in body language. Peter felt as though the chess pieces had been put out, and now the match was going to begin.
A suave young man at the far end of the table cleared his throat. Surely, he’d seen his face on TV recently? “So you can’t actually be completely sure that there aren’t still some chemical weapons hiding somewhere that you haven’t looked?” His voice matched the pink silk handkerchief in his top pocket.
“That possibility does remain, but I consider it highly unlikely.”
“…but still possible?”
“Yes, I suppose so.” A small nod of approval from one or two from round the table.
“And the missile launchers that you found could have been used to deliver chemical weapons?”
“Potentially, but there was no evidence that they…”
“Thank you.” Several people made notes on their pads. Peter felt that he was losing ground rapidly.
The only lady at the table said, “I understand that this type of missile launcher was designed to be deployable in less than an hour, by a team that had been suitably trained. Is that correct?”
“Yes, but to achieve this sort of time, you’d need a crack team, armed missiles to hand, and the aiming calculations prepared ahead of time.”
“But, something like 45 minutes would not be impossible?”
“Maybe with practice.”
“Do you think they could hit the British Embassy with one of these things?”
“Just about, if they were lucky”
Bob rubbed his hands together, and said, “Thank you Peter, that’s all we need from you.”
Peter collected his folders up. They hadn’t been the slightest bit interested in the hundreds of hours that had gone into them. As he struggled with the door handle, he heard Bob say, “So, based on Peter’s evidence, I think we can safely say that they are only 45 minutes away from attacking British civilians with chemical weapons.”
(Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
Chris Moller, 10Nov2004