Context: this is a story I wrote some time ago, for live performance. It’s the closest I’ve ever got to a Christmas story. For those who live furth of the jurisdiction, Asda (owned by Walmart) and Morrison’s are two of the UK’s ‘Big Four’ supermarkets.
In the unlikely event you don’t know, the original Die Hard starred Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and wasn’t set in Asda, or indeed any supermarket.
And yes, furth is an actual word. The English tend not to use it.
Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s, didn’t normally set foot in Asda. But then, his ex-wife, Dolores didn’t usually invite him to their staff Christmas party. She had promised him deep fried vol-au-vents, but he was hoping for more.
The store was a mess. A bag of sugar spilled its guts in Aisle Seventeen. Aisle Nineteen, Biscuits, Crisps, Snacks and Nuts, had Tunnock’s Tea Cakes trampled into the tiled surface. Worst of all, a whole pile of Asda’s Own Meat Feast Pizzas had fallen out of the chiller cabinet at the back and lay face down on the floor.
“Dolores would never allow this,” McLean muttered to himself. His wife’s obsessive desire to tidy up had been one of the things that had driven them apart. That, and the drinking. Both their drinking.
Something felt wrong. McLean found himself approaching the back shop area on the balls of his feet. It was quiet, far too quiet for a supermarket Christmas party. Instead of the clinking of glasses and laughter there was just one voice, speaking slowly and clearly.
“Ladies und Gentlemen,” the voice said. “My name is Hans Gruber. You are under the control of the End Globalisation Now Brigade, East of Scotland Cell.
“We will shortly be issuing the authorities with a list of demands. Shut down all supermarkets in the area and re-open the smaller shops selling organic produce at affordable prices. All banks to give their customers the equivalent of their Chief Executive’s annual bonus in a one-off payment. If they comply, you will not be harmed. If not ……….”.
The sound of the machine gun was deafening at close quarters. That decided McLean. There was little he could do against these nutters if they were armed. He turned to go, his trainers squeaking on the immaculately polished surface.
“What was that?” he heard Gruber say. “You two, go and investigate. If we haf company, neutralise it.”
McLean needed no further warning. He ran for the side door, his trainers squeaking every step of the way. Damn Dolores and her floor polisher.
Dolores was comforting Kayleigh in the back shop. The air was thick with the smell of cordite and melting milk chocolate.
“There was no need to shoot up the lassie’s box of Celebrations,” she said, glaring at the man calling himself Gruber. “They’re her favourites.”
Gruber sniffed, putting the safety back on his AK47. “They are Nestlé, whose third world ethical record is dubious to say the least.”
The sound of gunfire in the shop made the hostages jump. There were about twenty of them, all in their best party clothes. Gruber addressed them. “Who is in charge here?”
A balding man of about fifty was shoved to the front. There were sweat patches under the arms of his Hawaiian shirt.
“I’m …….. I’m the manager, likes,” he said.
“Good.” Gruber said. “Go with Theo here –“ he pointed to another of the terrorists – “Und show him the storage area downstairs. It is a standard Asda storage area but with one difference, yes?”
“What’s the difference?” Dolores said.
“There is a special consignment under a combination lock,” Gruber explained, stroking his moustache. “Am I right, Herr Manager?” The balding man nodded.
“Tell Theo the combinations on the lock,” Gruber said. He turned back to Dolores. “Or I start shooting your co-workers. Starting with this woman. She is beginning to annoy me.”
Dolores started to reply, but she was interrupted by the sound of more machine gunfire, and the breaking of glass.
McLean was fit. He had to be, to chase teenagers on the vodka run from the spirits aisle. All the same, he had no time to reach the side door before the voice rang out behind him.
He ducked into Aisle Eighteen, Cereals, just as the man behind him started shooting. Bullets whined past, catching a packet of bran flakes at the end of the shelf and sending it spinning.
“Seal off that side door, Dieter,” he heard a voice shout. “That must be how he got in.”
The sound of running feet. McLean set off, only for his shoes to squeak again. He took them off. Then he legged it down the aisle in his stocking soles, sliding slightly as he turned the corner and stood at the end of the shelving.
Footsteps approaching, slowly, squeaking on Dolores’ polished floor. They were coming up the aisle towards him: but which aisle? He reached up for something – anything – he could use as a weapon.
Footsteps getting closer. McLean gambled and turned right, away from Cereals and towards Biscuits, Crisps, Snacks and Nuts –
And found himself face to face with one of the terrorists. Before the man could react, McLean jabbed the corner of the Weetabix box, as hard as he could, square into the man’s face.
“Scheisse!” The man went down, clutching his eye, and McLean was off and running away from him, across the central aisle and then down another.
Which way now? McLean guessed they would think he would go further away from the side door so he doubled back, lobbing a tin of Whiskas in the opposite direction to throw them off the scent.
They were waiting for him in the last aisle before the end wall, Beer and Cider. He ducked back round the end of the shelving just in time, but the bullets exploded the shelf of White Lightning he had been in front of a microsecond before, showering him in broken glass and full strength cider. He shouted in pain and went down, feeling his leg give way below him.
There was nothing he could do to get away. He heard them run down the aisle towards him, ready to finish him –
Someone was shouting.
“What are you clowns doing?” It was Gruber’s voice, coming closer. McLean opened his eyes. He couldn’t see them from where he was, lying between the two aisles, but they would probably be able to see his left foot sticking out from where they were in Beer and Cider. An instinct told him to keep that foot still, even though every nerve fibre in his body was screaming for him to unstick himself from the broken glass beneath him.
“I think I got him,” Dieter was saying. “He stabbed me with a Weetabix box.”
“Then he is unarmed, and presents no threat to anyone but an idiot,” Gruber said. “I haf more important things for you to do than fight duels with popular cereal brands. The police haf arrived, und I want you to keep them talking.”
Sergeant Powell was looking for a quiet Christmas Eve shift. As he pulled into the car park, he was relieved to see a man in an Asda uniform standing in front of the building having a smoke.
Powell pulled up next to him and wound down the window. “I’ve had some garbled report about protesters or something?”
The man laughed. “No, nothing like that. Unless it’s Derek’s belly protesting at all the Doritos he’s had. He’s our manager, yes?”
Powell laughed. He knew Derek Bogie. “That sounds about right. Christmas party is it?”
“Ja, that’s right.” The man finished his tab and ground it into the tarmac. Then he said, “Well, I must be a move making or they’ll have finished all the free wine.”
“All right then.” There was an accent which Powell couldn’t trace. Probably one of the Polish workers, he thought. He certainly didn’t recognise him. Oh well. He stuck the Astra into first gear and was getting ready to go, when the radio crackled.
“This is Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s on the secure supermarket line. To the policeman in the car, outside Asda’s. You’re in grave danger. The man you’re talking to is one of a group of terrorists who are holding hostages. They are armed and dangerous. Repeat: armed and dangerous.”
Powell recognised the voice. The supermarkets’ secure line was part of a new Community Contact Initiative, and had been a great success.
“Jock? Is that you? How can you see I’m outside Asda from Morrison’s?”
“Because I’m in Asda, ya tube.”
Powell was still digesting this when the man in the Asda uniform was joined by other men with guns, and all hell broke loose.
McLean tasted blood from his head wound. Sharp glass bit into muscle
every time he moved his leg. Approaching headlights dazzled him. A
police car. He took off his shirt, tore it into strips and bandaged his wounds.
The worst bit was his feet. He picked glass out as best he could and bound them up.
Then he could only watch through the window as Gruber and the others opened fire on the retreating police car. To his amazement, the Astra reached the exit ramp and kept going, tyres squealing.
The terrorists were coming back in the side door. McLean, acting on instinct now, dropped a twelve pack of Belgian lagers into a nearby trolley and headed for George, the clothing section at the opposite end of the store.
He heard the side door close. Then the store was quiet, except for the sound of two hands clapping.
“Well done, Herr McLean,” Gruber said. “But what you haf done is really immaterial. Wherever you are in the store, stay where you are and don’t interfere, and we won’t have to shoot you.”
McLean was in the underwear section of George, his mind racing. He clambered up the shelf of DVDs at the border of the clothing section. He saw Gruber and two of his men walking down the end aisle, and ducked down again. Belgian lager was no match for an AK47 at close quarters.
“Make sure the detonators are evenly spaced through the store,” he heard Gruber say.
McLean slid off the shelves and went back into Menswear. With his shirt used up for bandages, he needed something else. A pack of three vests was the nearest to hand, so he slipped one on. He needed something on his bandaged feet, so he stuck on a pair of George slippers.
“Let’s hope they don’t squeak,” he muttered.
Gruber reappeared in the back shop at the same time as the manager and Theo. “The consignment is there? Good. Go and start loading them into the vehicle.”
“What consignment?” said Dolores.
Gruber smiled. “You haf heard of Writers’ Bloc? They were planning a new line of badges, to be sold through Asda. It was meant to be top secret, but a dissident member told us.”
“You’ve held us all hostage for the sake of some badges?”
Gruber’s smile disappeared. “These are not just any badges. The ultimate counter-culture spoken word group selling out to a division of Walmart? Not on my watch, I am thinking.”
Just then, more shots rang out in the store.
The terrorist called Dieter obviously hadn’t forgotten the Weetabix incident. McLean saw him coming, but the first shot still winged him as he dived into a sale rail of suits by George.
“This time, I am you finishing off,” the terrorist snarled, looming above McLean as he sprawled in a sea of grey. The muzzle of the AK47 came level with McLean’s eyes, there was a click –
and nothing happened.
McLean had a split second. Years of wrestling Fat Malky, Morrison’s most persistent shoplifter, had honed his close combat skills. He rose up and grabbed the gun’s muzzle, ramming it into the other man’s stomach. Using the momentum to pin him against a display of non-iron shirts, he wrestled the gun free and used all his remaining strength to swing it at the terrorist’s head. The gun butt connected with a thunk, and the man dropped to the floor.
“Yippee yiy yay ya bas,” said McLean, softly. He felt his arm where the first shot had grazed him: it was warm and sticky. He ripped open one of the packets of shirts and used the material to bind up the fresh wound, grimacing as the bandage pulled tight against his bicep. Then he threw the useless gun away, and started towards the main part of the store.
In the slippers, McLean had one advantage: silent running. That, and the fact that the men planting the detonators had to lay their guns down.
A Kate and William Celebration casserole dish broke over the head of the man in Aisle One. McLean decided against taking the gun. No time to take prisoners. Instead, he tooled up with a Vileda self-wringing mop handle. Two more men fell to his surprise attacks, before the supermarket was plunged into darkness, and Gruber’s voice rang out.
“Where are you all? It is time to go to the roof for the final phase.”
There was silence, apart from the sound of one of McLean’s victims groaning.
“They’ve got headaches of their own, Gruber,” McLean shouted. “Let the hostages go, and give yourself up. The police will be here by now.” He could hear the sounds of helicopters overhead. Dark shapes were moving outside the superstore’s main window. McLean stole as noiselessly as he could into Fresh Produce, where he could see the door to the back shop.
“McLean? It seems I haf underestimated you. But you should be careful what you wish for. I asked myself why Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s, should be coming to the Asda Christmas party. Then I asked Derek.”
Dimly, McLean could see his enemy open the door to the back shop. “Theo, bring the hostages out one by one.” McLean watched as the hostages filed out towards the side door he had come in. Theo waved a torch back and forth, briefly lighting up scared expressions and party clothes. Then he shone the torch on the last hostage.
“Not so fast, Dolores,” Gruber said. “You’re coming with me to the roof. McLean, stay where you are, or I shoot your ex-wife.”
McLean had been edging out, getting ready to follow them, when Theo suddenly shone the torch in his direction and opened fire. Bullets ripped into McLean’s right hand, sending the mop handle spinning far behind him. He went down and rolled behind a display of King Edwards.
He lay still, listening to the door to the back shop close as Gruber and Theo manhandled Dolores towards the stairs. He tried to stand, but sank down again, as a spike of pain exploded in his right hand. He explored the damage in the darkness. All his fingers were still there, but the bullets had smashed through tendons and bone, rendering it useless for now.
Only a matter of time before the other terrorists recovered enough to track him down. He bound his hand up as best he could with the bags used for loose potatoes. Then, with a supreme effort, he hauled himself up with his remaining good hand.
A fresh burst of gun fire sent him scuttling for cover again. No time to fetch the mop handle: the best weapon he could lay his hands on was a potato from the King Edwards display. He crept along the chiller cabinets at the back wall, and slipped in the door to the back shop.
Gruber’s voice led him towards the stairs. Out through the doors of the roof, the air was thundering with helicopters.
“Give it up, Gruber,” McLean shouted above the noise. “The cops will shoot you unless you let her go. These badges can’t be worth that.”
“Stay back, McLean.” Gruber held up a small black remote. “This is connected to the detonators. Make one move, and the whole supermarket goes up, taking the police with it.”
McLean hesitated. Gruber seemed to be waiting for something. Where had Theo gone? McLean stood still as the terrorist leader backed himself and Dolores nearer to the edge of the roof. Then Gruber glanced down, and McLean took his one shot, bringing the King Edward from behind his back and throwing it with all his strength, left-handed.
It hit Dolores square between the eyes and she dropped like a stone. Gruber looked confused for a split second and, with a roar of frustration, McLean charged him, catching him off guard and sending them both off the roof –
And crashing straight through the roof of the refrigerated Asda lorry Theo had made ready as the getaway vehicle. Gruber landed underneath McLean in a tangle of limbs and Asda’s Finest Stovies, but McLean head-butted him into submission anyway. Just at that moment, the lorry lurched as something rammed into it: the bullet ridden police Astra driven by officer Powell, making sure Theo couldn’t escape.
The police SWAT team reunited McLean with Dolores out in the car park as Gruber and the others were led away in handcuffs. She began wiping uncooked ready meal away from his forehead but he caught her wrist gently.
“Leave it the now, Dolores,” he told her.
“They use mince instead of corned beef,” she whispered to him. “That’s the secret.” As they kissed, a detonator exploded inside the store, sending a shower of easy cook brown rice high into the air, like confetti at a vegan wedding. One by one the others followed, until the entire store began to crumble as they watched.
“By the way,” said Dolores, looking down, “these baffies really suit you.”
Nothing down here. Not even inadvertent advertising for Asda