Fiction

The Ceremony

By: Peter Wakefield Kitcher

22 November 2003

Sir,

As my wife and I had been assigned as “Spectators” to the last National Ceremony, I have been asked to give an account of the proceedings. I have interviewed many of those present, including some of the guards. I have recorded words as quoted to me although perhaps when some were interviewed a few weeks afterwards these may not be word perfect since memories can change after an interval.

I am trying to compile a list of the names and addresses of those confined at that time and will forward it to you as soon as it is completed.

I hope you will be satisfied with my contribution to the enquiry.

Yours truly,

Boris Dubchic.

THE REPORT ON THE LAST NATIONAL CEREMONY

I was told that some of the dissenters were in a small room discussing what was to happen. There were several rooms and they could go anywhere as long as they did not go outside the walls. If they did, they risked being shot since some of the guards seemed to shoot at anything.

Drovnic, who is well known, said that he had wondered if they would recognize him. However, he thought that whether they did or did not would not make much of a difference since it was all planned and he couldn’t think of anything that would make a difference. They were all going to be close enough to him at the time and nothing could change things.

As Laski told me, “We moved into the long room where a lot of the people had been confined. None of them looked very happy. Most of them were not going with us but during the last few days had been given times for their Ceremony and the waiting made it worse.”

One of the group told me, “We were given a welcome by Drovnic who apologized to us for not talking to us a lot before. He had been very occupied, he said. He thought it was very important how we behaved in the last moments since it would emphasize our opinions to those watching around the world, and that was important. We didn’t want to appear aggressive even though we must feel that way against a dictator who had ruined so many lives. If we acted like him, people might think that we were like him. On the other hand, if we appeared to be apologetic, people would think that we were sorry and had no spirit and were doing things because it was the thing to do and not because we had thought things through properly. I was not very clear about what he was saying all the time but he was a brilliant speaker.”

As one of them said afterwards, “We were all intellectuals. Well, Drovnic always said he was and who was I to argue with him if he was an intellectual?

“He spoke to all of us. He told us, ‘Some of you will be going out in a few minutes and this will be, I suppose, the biggest decision in your lives. You must know now exactly how you will behave. Remember, the world will be watching your entry into the courtyard. Katovski will be sitting in that chair at the far end and as always he will have been drinking. He will be shouting and laughing and he will be insulting all of you as you walk towards him. You must not react. You must not give him the satisfaction of knowing you are affected. The Ceremony must take place as usual, as if he did not exist. We have thought this thing through and he must not have any satisfaction. You must go to your places and ignore him as if he did not exist. Do not shout back. Do this with dignity. We have planned everything in detail and we must not let anything distract us.’

“‘Wouldn’t it be marvelous if someone in the crowd shot him?’ someone said.

“Then Laski broke in. ‘I know how you feel but we have discussed that and it would spoil everything we are aiming for. There would be instant retaliation and people would be dead trying to save us. I could not have that on my conscience.’

“Someone else said, ‘How can you say that? He raped your sister; he turned your father out of his house and he ruined you. You could have shot him yourself many years ago but you refused.’

“He answered, ‘My hands must be clean. After today I cannot be seen to be anything like him. I know that I have a choice but my conscience must be clear.’”

Drovnic said, “You will understand that for months, Laski had preached the policy of non-violence since he knew that a shooting would provoke a great deal of retribution. Any attempt at assassination had to be very carefully planned. He and some others had laboured this policy of non-violence for weeks, privately and publicly. They had to convince everyone that he would never countenance physical harm to anyone. He had to convince them all that attempts to dethrone Katovski had to be done democratically. He had even persuaded some of our own members.”

Later I was told by one of the group that they had managed to infiltrate the security some weeks before and four revolvers had been put in place: two for the chosen assassins and two for two spectators who would be too far from Katovski to do him any harm but who could deal with anyone who was close and who would be so surprised at what was going on they would not offer much resistance. These guns had already been passed on.

There had been some anxiety that they would be searched but they had not searched anyone at the last three Ceremonies and now they were convinced that they had succeeded in convincing everybody. Originally, their major difficulty had been in getting close enough to Katovski to carry out their part of the plan. But now they had solved that problem.

Drovnic explained it to me. “We had had to create a series of disturbances that would make him react violently. If he did so we were well aware of what that reaction would be. We had succeeded in that part. Katovski had only one way of dealing with dissidence and that was to shoot the dissidents.

“We were to be the dissidents and thus we were to be shot. Again and again we had discussed how things could go wrong. We went through every detail. The idea seemed quite crazy but we persevered. At our final meeting we all seemed to agree. He had to be gotten rid of and if by some chance something did go wrong, we might die, but that was Fate and we would go to our deaths knowing it was for a good cause.”

As another of the group told me, “We had gone along with the idea about the hatred of firearms. This was so publicized that, as Drovnic said, ‘I could have a firearm on me and yet they would never search me.’”

Drovnic continued. “Added to the fact that the authorities thought it was impossible for any firearms to be smuggled into the building, the thought of any assassination appeared to them to be an impossibility. Katovski would have his Ceremony of Retribution, as he called it, but he would not live to see the ending. As a complete precaution, even though I was sure that I would not be searched, but because I would probably be recognized, I would not carry a weapon but would still insist that I be searched.”

Laski elaborated. “We had been very careful since we did not want anyone to leak the plans. No-one except the two chosen would know about the guns. These two had been told not to listen to any propaganda about ‘no violence’, to pretend that they agreed and to do the job assigned to them. Even the guards applauded when they listened to Drovnic and we were not really worried about them. Drovnic was so convincing.

“We had been confined to the building for over a week and each day the tension grew. You see, as we were all dissidents and had spoken against the dictator, we were all going to be shot by a firing squad. Over the last months, Katovski had shot hundreds of his so-called enemies. We had needed a plan to kill him but where could we do it? Whenever or wherever he went outside his palace he was closely guarded. It was impossible to gain entry into the palace and then it became evident that at this National Ceremony there was a difference. On this occasion he isolated himself on his ‘Throne’. His guards were spread round the courtyard and he had decided that as an extra precaution they would have no ammunition. There were only the dissidents and himself so what harm could come to him? Even the firing squad had limited ammunition. We had, perhaps, seen a way to solve the problem.”

Drovnic took up the story. “When the doors opened, we moved outside. I had had my search although the guards did not take it very seriously and were laughing. They were almost friendly for a change. As I was told afterwards, not all of them were very happy about their pay and living conditions but were too scared to mention it. I moved closer to the two who had been elected to undertake the assassination and asked if they were ready. ‘Yes,’ said one, ‘you have convinced us. We will never use violence against anyone. You are so right. We would rather die than commit violence against anyone.’ For a moment, I was speechless, then I said, ‘But where are the guns?’ Then he answered, ‘They are well hidden up in the top ceiling, no-one will ever find them.’ I was speechless with anger and frustration.”

Drovnic told me how the group moved on towards Katovski who was then standing and shouting and shaking his fists. Their plan was in ruins and there was nothing he could do. “We stood in a line before Katovski. Our names were called in order and one by one we went to the wall and our hands were bound. Then we were blindfolded. Katovski shouted at the firing squad. ‘Do your duty once again. Be ready, aim and then fire on the count of three and let the world see how we deal with those we dislike. Ready. Aim. One. Two. Three. Fire.’

“As of one man the firing squad turned and fired at Katovski and threw their rifles on the ground.

“Everybody went mad and there was much rejoicing. The new regime had begun.”

As Drovnic told me afterwards, he had often wondered if the guards were satisfied with their lives but he had never considered approaching them.

END OF REPORT

24 November 2003

Sir,

Further to my letter of 22 November 2003, I have to report that I have completed my list of those present at the time of the Ceremony and it has been forwarded to Major Graakst of the Investigation Unit.

He informs me that four of the names and their addresses are false. He also tells me that he does not believe that the two cars could have had such damage separately and accidentally, and he is investigating both matters further.

I also interviewed the Head Surgeon at the Hospital for Heroes and he states that the damage to the heads and backs of both patients was so similar that it could never have happened accidentally.

Mr. Laski died immediately. Mr. Drovnic remains in a coma but is unlikely to recover.

Yours truly,
Boris Dubchic.

###

Peter (1921-2020) served in World War II as a wireless operator for the RAF in England, India, and Burma, monitoring enemy communications. After the war, he obtained degrees in History and Psychology, became an educator of the deaf, and moved from England to Canada in 1964, where he worked until his retirement in 1982. Peter was a polymath: an amateur actor/director/set designer, golfer, gardener, chess and cribbage player, winemaker, crossword puzzle and sudoku solver, history buff, rugby player and referee, soccer coach, and avid scotch drinker.

Categories: Fiction

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