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Magestic

 

 

Part 1

 

 

    =             &nb= sp;      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Geoff Wolak.  October, = 2009.

 

www.geoffwolak-writing.com

 


 

2035

 

Looking back, I sometimes think of = when I changed, but I guess it was a long and gradual process.

&nb= sp;    As a young boy, I was afraid to go beyond the end of my street in Richmond, London; I’d often make it as far as the big red post box, and no furt= her. I fondly remember long hot summers playing in the local park, and I remembe= r the first time that I camped out with the local Boy Scouts; for the first time I was away from my parents. I stayed up late, I woke early, and I watched the dawn rise for the first time, over a still and silent forest.

&nb= sp;    As a teenager I discovered London, and I tried my first beer and my first ciga= rette. I didn’t take up smoking, thankfully, but I did like the odd sneaky b= eer now and then during my school exams. In college, London shrank to the point where we knew the good places to go, and the suburbs were just where people lived.

&nb= sp;    My first job out of college was at a city stockbroking firm, starting at the bottom, and I spent my days trying to persuade people with money to buy sha= res in companies that neither I nor they had ever heard off, and I would practi= se lying convincingly. Then everything changed.

&nb= sp;    Looking back, I was in awe of London as a kid, afraid of the end of the street and = the great beyond, and I stared hard out of the family car when we drove across London, wide-eyed with excitement; all those buildings, all those people. The world really was a big place back then. When was it that the world shrank? When w= as it that I started to ignore US Presidents when the phone rang, and started planning invasions, wars, or speeches to deliver to the masses?<= /span>

&nb= sp;    Somewhere along the line, a line of some forty years, I changed, and calls from the various world leaders were sometimes ignored. My mentor had once quoted something to me, and not even he remembered where he had first heard it.

&nb= sp;    A young man cares for his family, an o= ld man cares for his tribe, but a great man cares for those he has not yet met= .’

&nb= sp;    It may have been picked up on his travels through Africa, a long time ago. A v= ery long time ago. As a young man, I looked at the world through nervous and excited eyes, and by time I started my own family I was already worrying ab= out world politics, wars, pandemics, and the future of mankind.

&nb= sp;    Sometime later I was point-man for the entire plant, and I was worrying about those I had not yet met.

 

 

No 10. Downing Street, London. Summ= er, 1985.

 

The Prime Minister ran a quick eye = over a letter, initialling the corner before handing it back to the waiting messen= ger.

&nb= sp;    Thirty minutes later a buff coloured file was being keenly opened by Jack Donohue = at the Ministry of Defence. The letter, a tip-off about an upcoming IRA terror attack, now had the addition of TOP SECRET stamped onto it in blood red ink= . He touched the edges of the letter reverently and squared it off to the file; neatness was next to Godliness for Jack. He curled a lip at the fingerprint dust still adhering to the paper, pursed his lips and blew delicately.=

&nb= sp;    Jack read the brief letter over and over, trying hard to read between the lines. He attempted to judge the tone and the style of writing, trying desperately to glean some intelligence about the sender – his assigned task. Magestic with a ‘g’, whoever = the individual was, had already caused him some sleepless nights. If only the letter had been signed “Majestic”.

Majestic had been the = CIA campaign of misinformation about UFOs in the 1960s; a pet hobby of JackR= 17;s. But why spell the word with a ‘g’? Was the writer simply a bad speller? No, the writing style had been exhaustively analysed by various linguists and experts. The writer was deemed to be well educated and cultur= ed. So, it was a deliberate spelling mistake. ‘Magestic’ was a noun= , a few references around the world, but none that seemed to be of significance= or relevance.

&nb= sp;    This new letter, typed like the rest, had been numbered by the sender in handwri= ting as ‘12’ and detailed an elaborate IRA attack, so much detail th= at some in the government were certain that Magestic was in the community of spies, possibly a high ranking member of the IRA itself. Jack knew that= to be nonsense, because lying next to him was a file of the first eleven lette= rs, many detailing future natural disasters. Being an intelligence researcher, = Jack knew the limitations of field agents and double agents, and predicting the = next winner of the Eurovision Song Contest was not amongst the attributes of any= spy he ever knew of. No, this was something quite, quite different.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    The fact that the Magestic letters had been assigned to him was a great honour = for Jack, his career not quite working out as anticipated in his youth. Thirty-eight years old, if he was going to do anything noteworthy, he figur= ed, he would have done so by now. Civil Service retirement at fifty-five loomed= as the only light at the end of the long dark tunnel as he sat in= his basement office, longing for a window.

     He smiled when considering why they had assigned him this task; a degree in psychology. Actually, it was a 2.1, not so clever. But still, here he sat, grinning smu= gly at his assigned task, a task that his superior resented Jack handling. His = boss always read the letters first, just to make a point, but never gleaned anyt= hing of use outside of the obvious facts detailed. Like the other so-called ‘experts’, Jack considered, his boss was stuck in the detail, n= ot the topics or in the style. Now, he considered again the detail of this lat= est message as he worked alone in his office, muttering to himself. ‘Play= ful, confident, sarcastic almost … yet important, direct, necessary.’ He made notes, comparing them to a previously prepared summary.

&nb= sp;    ‘Terrorists actions … but only related to us, to the UK, not to any other country. Posted in the UK, in London, various central locations, plus Cardiff, Readi= ng and Swindon. Our friend uses the train a great deal, a commuter like myself. Hell, I may have even sat opposite him, and I’m sure by the tone that= it is a him. Mid to late forties, ex-military or similar I believe, and= a powerful clairvoyant.’ Easing back, his chair issued a creak of compl= aint as he tapped his top lip with his pen.

He tipped his head bac= k as far as it would go, stretching his neck muscles. ‘So why tip us off? Why = not … bet the races.’ He raised a pointed finger. ‘Maybe he does. Not= e: look for big, consistent winners at the races - stock markets maybe.

&nb= sp;    ‘So far … three IRA attacks, one faulty ship – which sank unfortunately, one spy escaping the safe house a day early, a rail crash averted – but disputed, an aircraft with a faulty fuel line – gratefully found in time, Reagan’s win at the polls, an attempt on our Ambassador in Angola – averted, the Eurovision Song Contest winner – just to make a point, the Iran-Contra affair…’

&nb= sp;    A thought surfaced, Jack’s features hardening quickly. He typed a hurri= ed note and sent it directly to the Cabinet Office by courier, a deliberate br= each of protocol.

 

The Prime Minister read the note, t= ook off her glasses and eased back in her chair, staring out of focus for sever= al seconds. ‘I want the intelligence chiefs. Tonight. Oh, and this offic= er … Donohue, fetch him as well.’

 

When the officers had assembled in Cabinet Office Briefing Room ‘A’, COBRA, the Prime Minister ste= pped purposefully in and sat quickly, placing down her handbag. Jack adjusted his tie, wondering just how annoyed his manager would be, yet not giving a damn. Deputy Director Sykes was in attendance for this meeting, and now eyed Jack suspiciously.

&nb= sp;    Straight to the point, The Prime Minister said, ‘This gentleman –’= she motioned toward Jack. ‘- has come up with a … very significant point: what if our good friend Magestic is sending tip-offs to other nations?’ She waited as concerned looks swept around the assembled fa= ces. ‘Up to now we have assumed that this was just about us.’ <= /o:p>

Jack delicately raised= a finger.

‘Yes?’ the= P.M. curtly prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘I hope you don’t mind, but when I … er … got the idea I ran= g a good friend in the London CIA section, the researcher I’m supposed to co-operate with on the psychology of the Russian leadership -’

‘Yes, yes,’= ; the P.M. urged, beckoning Jack onward with her hand.

‘I figured that,= if they didn’t already know, then they wouldn’t register anything about= the name. I asked if he had heard the word Magestic…’

&nb= sp;    ‘And?’ Sykes firmly nudged when Jack hesitated.

&nb= sp;    ‘My contact went apoplectic at the mention of the word, demanded to know what I knew.’

&nb= sp;    Numerous whispered conversations broke out, the P.M. staring hard at Jack. She cut through the chatter with, ‘You have short-cut … what could have been a lengthy process. Now they know that we’ve been getting letters. But, more importantly, we know that this is not just about us.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jack forced a breath. ‘Prime Minister, we know that Magestic is probably L= ondon based, or a commuter along the M4 motorway. So … so if the Americans = have had letters, they would, most likely, be posted to the US Ambassador here … in London.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Are you suggesting … that we intercept the American AmbassadorR= 17;s mail?’

&nb= sp;    Jack decided to be bold. ‘They can’t possibly know when the next let= ter will appear, so they won’t miss it if … it went missing.’=

&nb= sp;    The P.M. stood, a nod toward Sykes before exiting quickly. A chorus of overlapp= ing whispers began. Jack tentatively raised a finger.

&nb= sp;    ‘Donohue, you don’t need to raise a finger like a schoolboy wanting the toilet,’ Sykes suggested. ‘What is it?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … er … I firmly believe that our friend, well meaning that he i= s, may also be sending letters to others; Russians, Chinese…’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Jesus,’ Sykes let out.

 

 

 

November 21st, 2035, abo= ard the eco-submarine Warrior III, North East of Bermuda.

 

As I sat down at my cabin’s s= mall desk I knew exactly what I wanted to write, but my hand just hovered over t= he data pad. I finally touched the screen.

&nb= sp;    ‘Ready to begin recording and transcribing’ came a pleasant, yet detached fe= male voice. It had obviously been thoughtfully designed by some youngster at Chinchen-Microsoft to be non-patronising, and was the same voice as that on= my PCD. If she was real, I hoped she was on a commission; a penny a device wou= ld have made her billions!

&nb= sp;    ‘PCD’ I repeated in my mind: Personal Communications Device. When I was lad a computer was called a computer, then they became desktop computers – = fair enough, then personal computers, PCs – or was it the other way around. Then everyone had a laptop to carry around. Soon mobile phones started to do what computers did and so they became Personal Communication Devices – shortened eventually to PCs, and it all got confusing. Your laptop worked l= ike a phone and your phone worked like a computer, only smaller. And me, I often longed for the first IBM PC’s keyboard, ivory keys that ‘clunked’ heavily when you hit them, so much better than touch = screens with intuitive algorithms; the number of spreadsheets I accidentally sent my mum from forty thousand feet over the Atlantic!

When I first started w= ork in the city of London, mobile phones were still called phones and were the siz= e of a house brick, a thousand pounds to buy; only city brokers with pink shirts= and briefcases lugged them around. Then they got smaller, soon everyone and the= ir kids got one, then there were suddenly more mobile phones on the planet than people, and poor Africans tried to fix them, or melt them down or something= ; I remembered images of poor black kids sitting on a mountain of old phones, trying to make enough money to cover their next meal.

&nb= sp;    When was that, I considered, thinking back over the years; probably around 2013, before the troubles began. And talk about city traders, I was one for a who= le six months before starting to work for Jimmy Silo. It was how we met. Actua= lly, it was how he recruited me, and not for the first time. He came looking for= me.

&= nbsp;    I took a breath, a quick glance at the wall and at the photographs of my kids= and ex-wife. ‘Kids’, I repeated in my mind, they were now parents themselves. But they would always be kids to me. ‘My name … my = name is Paul Holton … and this is my account of my life with Jimmy Silovic= h; time traveller, womaniser, philanthropist, reluctant politician ... and my friend.’

&nb= sp;    I caught my own image in the desk mirror; seventy years old, going on twenty-five. At least I appeared twenty-five on the surface, thanks to the genetically-modified stem cells floating about in my blood, hunting earnest= ly for something to repair and rejuvenate. I could pass for twenty-five, but t= hese days so could many people if they had the money. My mop of black curly hair= was still there, and still a mop. As a teenager I had tried to tame it, around = the time I had tried in earnest to stop my mum from buying me shirts with wide collars, and cuffs that took ages to iron. The taming hadn’t worked, neither the hair nor my mum. No matter what I tried, my hair had its own id= eas. It was cut every six weeks, and we agreed to ignore each other and do our o= wn thing. In its favour it never needed combing, and looked exactly the same a= fter a futile attempt at male grooming.

&nb= sp;    Sometimes these days my eyes appeared tired, and I could imagine how I might actually appear at seventy: grey hair, or no hair, wrinkles and sun spots, opaque sk= in and errant strands of hair trying to escape from my nostrils and eardrums. = But, thanks to my mentor, I - and everyone else on the planet - had the chance of eternal youth, a subject of much debate amongst many groups, some of whom wanted me dead.

&nb= sp;    I began.

 

 

1986, London. My ‘digs’= in Richmond.

 

The new guy was shaping up nicely. = Six foot four, built like Darth Vader’s big brother and smart with it, we were getting on well. He did the dishes, cleaned the house, bought way too = much food and drink for just his own consumption, and he nearly always picked up= a take-away on the way home, from the Chinese next to Richmond tube station. = Me, and Dave the other lodger, were getting fat and lazy after just two weeks. = With England playing in the World Cup, and tonight’s match against Argenti= na of all countries, we were well geared up; Chinese takeaway, cans of lager, = ice cream slowly defrosting and some popcorn for later. Dave and I were as snug= as we could get. All we needed was a pair of lap-dancers for half time and life would have been perfect.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy had joined McKinleys Stock Brokers a few months ago and had noticed my adve= rt for a lodger. Rents were high in London, especially in posh Richmond, and I= had taken the lease on a whole damn house just to be near my parents. Four stre= ets distant, it was far enough away to be independent. Just. I was twenty-three, and the hormones were raging. All I needed was some money, and not to be so damn tired on the weekends that I just slept. Somewhere out there was the b= ig wide world and the bright lights, yet to be discovered.

&nb= sp;    Getting out on a Saturday night and going large was proving to be a more difficult task than I had anticipated when I had moved out from my patents. Money was tight, better now with the last room occupied, and the working day was killing me; I was running on chocolate and coffee. Didn’t know how Jimmy did it, he hardly slept and was always wide-awake, polite and pleasan= t. I suspected cocaine, since many of the lads in the office were using it, especially on a Saturday night. We were up at 6am, on the tube at 6.30am, t= wo changes, into the office for 7.45am, pink Financial Times under arms and looking quite the part in our smart suits. We hadn’t yet opted for pi= nk shirts, and I definitely couldn’t afford a mobile phone. Still, we we= re 1980’s city traders, sons of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution, an= d “yuppies” in the making.

&nb= sp;    The football match had proved boring so far; a few chances, a few nudges and ha= rd tackles, plenty of shouting at the TV. At least the food had been good, and= the beers were going down nicely. Holding my aching stomach, I remembered the threat we had made to go around the corner and show the local girls how to dance. This was why I was single: getting home at 7.30pm and knackered, stuffing my face and falling asleep till bedtime. I was twenty-three going = on sixty!

With ten minutes of th= e match left to go, Jimmy said, ‘You know what I reckon will happen.’ He stated it in a voice that made him sound much older than myself, even thoug= h we were both the same age. ‘I reckon … that Maradona will punch= the ball over Shilton’s head, winning the match one nil.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ Dave said with a heavy frown. He shot me a look. ‘If he hand-balls it= , it won’t be a goal, will it?’ He looked embarrassed for Jimmy, who= we had already figured was not a football fan.

&nb= sp;    ‘They’ll allow it,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Ten quid on it.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Twenty quid on it,’ Dave countered, easing up from his slumber and flicking noodles off his smart work trousers.

&nb= sp;    ‘Make it a round hundred,’ Jimmy confidently suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘A hundred?’ Dave repeated, another glance toward me. ‘That Marado= na … will hand-ball in the winning goal? You’re on, sucker.’=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy opened more cans and politely offered them around as we waited. A few minut= es later Dave and I were on our feet, our jaws touching the floor. And I should have known then that there was something very odd about the big guy. Dave couldn’t speak for a whole minute. He rang his mates to check that the match really was live and not recorded. He even rang the BBC as Jimmy insis= ted that he didn’t want the money. And that was the start of it. My lodger could predict the future with pinpoint accuracy, a handy trait for a budding stockbroker.

The second clue came t= hat Friday night, when I actually felt like I had the energy for a few beers in= the pub around the corner. In those days they were smoke filled, no laws against smoking in public places yet. And if there was a pretty girl present then s= he most definitely was a smoker. Still, in those days the birds were British at least, we weren’t knee deep in East Europeans yet. With no seats free= we stood at the end of the bar, me and Dave picking Jimmy’s brain on politics, which he seemed to know way too much about; he had an opinion on everything. And I mean everything. In our work suits we soon caught = the attention of two nice girls, smokers of course, and Jimmy bought everyone several rounds. Oddly, he had deep pockets, just one more mystery about mis= ter mystery guy.

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s my ex-boyfriend and his mates,’ the first girl whispered at some poin= t, a nod towards the other end of the bar.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not to worry, and not a problem,’ Jimmy quietly and confidently assured h= er, not even bothering to scan the would-be troublemakers.

&nb= sp;    I, on the other hand, was worried = and glanced their way, a bit too obvious. Now the former Romeo knew we were discussing him, maybe even the size of his dick. Judging by the size of the rest of him - it could well have been a whopper. We were in trouble. Dave w= as no fighter, and I preferred the run very fast approach to these thin= gs.

&nb= sp;    ‘I think your ex is still interested,’ I suggested to the girl.

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s such a wanker,’ she came back with, shaking her head. ‘Watch out for flying bottles.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Shall we … eh … go somewhere else?’ I suggested. ‘Curry maybe?’ That was a bad idea, I just remembered, since I couldn’t have even stuffed a packet of crisps into my bursting abdomen.

&nb= sp;    ‘Sounds good,’ Jimmy enthused, a budding world champion at face stuffing; fel= la had the size to squeeze it into. Outside, in the cool night air and smoke f= ree environment, Jimmy said, ‘Start walking, I’ll be a step or two behind you.’

&nb= sp;    With curious frowns, the four of us plodded slowly towards the local curry house, Jimmy trailing behind. We could not have made ten paces before a shout caus= ed the girls to snap their heads around; ‘wanker’ was on our trail. Jimmy waved us on as he turned to face six angry men. We took a step, before what was left of our chivalry caused us to stop and turn, and to wait.=

&nb= sp;    ‘You six gentlemen must be the local mutual masturbating society,’ Jimmy offered them. I turned my head to Dave. As far as tactics for diffusing situations like this went, it was a first for me. Dave and I exchanged worr= ied looks.

&nb= sp;    Neither of us had seen someone move like that. To kick a man across the bonnet of a car, another through a plate glass window. In the time it took me to take t= hree small steps, there were six unconscious men sprawled on the pavement and ro= ad. And Jimmy, he stepped casually towards us combing his hair.

&nb= sp;    ‘So … curry?’ he said as he joined us.

Stunned, we fell into = step with him and plodded on, numerous glances back. The second girl was most impressed, and linked arms with Jimmy, a come-on smile spread across her fa= ce. It was clue number two, number three if you included his very deep pockets.= We rounded the corner, and ducked into a curry house just as flashing blue lig= hts flickered by. The waiter offered us a table by the window, but Jimmy - ever= the tactical thinker - chose one at the rear, me and him sat with our backs to = the wall in an alcove. If the local coppers had looked in they would have seen = the girls and Dave, probably not clocking us. I was getting suspicious of Jimmy, pleasantly suspicious. Was he a junior trader like me, or a secret agent of some sort?

&nb= sp;    Jimmy faced me. ‘Why don’t you guys just have some drinks, soft drink= s, sober up a bit so that after this we can hit Stringfellows. I know the head doorman, get us all in.’

&nb= sp;    It was a plan I liked the sound of. Jimmy stuffed down a curry with the girls,= God knows how he had the room for it, as me and Dave sipped shandys. And the odd thing about the big fella - he let me and Dave take the lead with the ladie= s, always managing to put himself down and play us up. He was helping me out l= ike the big brother I never had.

&nb= sp;    At Stringfellows we found a monster of a winding queue, and it had just starte= d to rain, but we walked right past everyone. I noticed Jimmy fold a note into h= is palm before he shook hands with a doorman, who seemed to recognise him. The note changed hands with practised ease and I was back to thinking about sec= ret agents again, as well as how little money I had on me, since drinks in here= had to be pricey. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than Jimmy gave me = four tens without the girls noticing. Back then forty quid was a lot, especially= for a night out.

&nb= sp;    ‘Pay me back when you can,’ he whispered as we headed towards the VIP area= . He stopped at the bouncer policing the VIP area entrance, another handshake and some whispered words in an ear. We were in, and rubbing shoulders with foot= ball players and TV stars. I rubbed my hands with glee.

&nb= sp;    Little more than an hour later and Dave was done, well done and wobbling. Someone = had given him a half-drunk bottle of champagne, mistakenly believing him to have just won some international award, and he had finished it off. Jimmy grabbe= d a bouncer and gave him some notes, telling him to stuff Dave in a taxi - whil= st placing our address in Dave’s lapel pocket. Smooth, real smooth.=

&nb= sp;    Suddenly, Jimmy and the girls seemed to be getting ready to go somewhere else, a worry for me because I was struggling as it was. ‘I’ve got the use of= a friend’s penthouse flat, not far,’ Jimmy told me. ‘C’mon, let’s get you some fresh air.’

&nb= sp;    We took a taxi around to Belgravia, pulling up in front of a very posh set of marble pillars, a doorman coming out to greet us, a strange fella in a long green coat and green top hat.

&nb= sp;    ‘Evening, Jimmy,’ the man offered, holding open a set of glass doors.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy slipped the man a note without the girls noticing as we stepped inside, the girl’s heels clattering on the marble. We took a gold coloured lift u= p to the tenth floor and opened to a corridor with just the one door, which I fo= und puzzling in my drunken state. Jimmy turned a key in the door and we stepped inside, = the heating already on, a champagne bottle in an ice bucket on a coffee table. =

With a frown, I touche= d the bottle. ‘Is he in … your mate?’

‘No, away working,’ Jimmy replied, slipping off his jacket. ‘We can crash here, and then go home in the morning on the tube.’=

As I stood there I was= waiting for the girls to object, or to run off. I avoided eye contact with them and= I waited; no objections came, no running off. Oh bloody hell - did I have cle= an underwear on?

Jimmy opened a door, a= nd said, ‘Your room. Try the balcony, get some cool air.’

I stepped in and glanc= ed around, almost fainting; it looked like the inside of Buckingham Palace, ma= king me terrified to touch anything. Stepping across the vast room, I noted the en-suite bathroom before opening a glass door onto a balcony. Breathing the cool air, I tried desperately to sober up, finally turning around and closi= ng the door to find Sophie, the girl I had spent most of the time chatting wit= h, bouncing on the side of the bed. Something started to get hard.<= /span>

‘Very posh,̵= 7; she joked, kicking off her shoes with scant regard for whatever they impacted w= ith.

‘Er ... drink?&#= 8217; I asked, taking off my jacket.

‘Champagne,̵= 7; she said with that look in her eye. Actually, I had very little experience of t= hat look up to that point, but I figured it out all by myself. Back in the loun= ge, I found Jimmy sat alone, sipping the cooling champagne.

‘So?’ he a= sked. ‘All … OK?’

‘It’s like frigging Buckingham Palace,’ I said as I eased down opposite, two champagne flutes already full and fizzing. ‘What does your mate do?’

‘Trader, like us= . Older and richer.’

‘Where’s y= our bird?’ I whispered.

‘Shower,’ = he mouthed.

‘Have you got any –’

‘Bedside cabinet= ,’ he said with a grin. Easing forwards, he softly said, ‘Let me be so b= old … as to offer some advice.’ I was all ears. ‘Shower toget= her, do the business, robe on, back out here, cool off, coffee, do it again … then to sleep. Get up first, shower – smellys in there, coffe= e, make her a tea, do it again, give her money for cab home and get her number. Fix a provisional date for tomorrow … here.’<= /p>

‘Money –&#= 8217;

‘Beside cabinet.= Now, take the glasses and … have fun.’

I was terrified and exhilarated, but I had been given a plan. I was even tempted to stop and wr= ite it down in case I screwed it up. As it turned out she was great, not pushy,= and quite understanding of my drunken state. Coffee was waiting for me in the kitchen as she lay in bed and round two was better than round one.

In the morning, I foun= d Jimmy reading the papers. God knows where they had come from, since I hadn’t heard anyone go out.

‘Well?’ he= gently probed. I gave him a thumbs-up sign and a silly grin. He pointed at the sec= ond coffee mug. ‘I heard you moving. Milk ... and plenty of sugar.’= I sat. ‘Oh, if you need to take a dump then use that door there, separa= te small bathroom that she won’t be able to smell.’

God he was good. I too= k my coffee and made a horrendous smell, extractor fan turned on. After another shower, and a firm wake-up call for Sophie, we both got dressed, fin= ding Jimmy and his girl sat in robes.

‘Hungry?’ = he asked.

‘Starved,’= we both said.

Jimmy checked his watc= h. ‘Be some food brought up in … oh, about ten minutes or so. Grab yourselves a fresh tea, it’s all laid out in the kitchen.<= /span>

It was, and the damn k= itchen was as big as the bedroom. Ten minutes later a woman appeared with a trolle= y, leaving with only a smile and a nod; four English breakfasts and extra everything. We settled around the kitchen table and tucked in, Jimmy and me trying to explain derivatives trading to the girls, who were both secretari= es up the East End somewhere. After an hour of munching, we flopped on the sof= as around the coffee table and dozed, except Jimmy, who read the papers, circl= ing a few articles. The girls eventually had to head off and change, arranging = to meet back here at 8pm for dinner; Jimmy was taking us somewhere - and it wa= s a surprise.

With the girls gone, I= said, ‘I’d better get back and get some clothes.’

‘In the left-most wardrobe, have a look.’

I found shirts of all = sizes still in their packets, socks, pants, even trousers and shoes. Many were my size. ‘Won’t your mate be pissed?’ I asked as I re-entered the lounge.

‘No, he owes me = loads-a-money. Help yourself, I’ll settle it when I see him.’

I sat, my brain starti= ng to play catch up. ‘What do you do for McKinleys … exactly?&= #8217; Up to that point I had not even seen where he sat in the office.=

‘Private client investments and company trades.’

That put him about a m= illion grades above me. ‘At your age!’ I blurted out, immediately regretting it.

He smiled. ‘I= 217;m very good at what I do.’

‘So why are you = staying at my gaff, you must be on good money?’

‘Money’s O= K, but I tend to spend it quickly. I needed a room … and you’re a trader from the firm, someone who’s not going to go through my company paper= s at home.’

‘Oh, well …= ; yeah, naturally like.’

Jimmy checked his watc= h. ‘It’s 2pm already –’

‘Shit!’ I = said, checking mine.

‘So why don̵= 7;t you get some sleep, and be fresh for the ladies when they return.’

‘You think they = will, you know, come back?’

He smiled a knowing and confident smile. ‘I’d bet good money on it.’

‘Right, well, er= … I’ll crash out for a bit then.’ I headed for the door and stopp= ed. ‘Thanks … you know… for all this.’

‘Someday you can= help me out, when I need it. I’ll call Dave and see if he got home OK.’=

‘Ah … fuck ’im,’ I said, and got some sleep in a bed so big I couldn’= ;t touch both sides, still smelling Sophie on the pillows.

 

That weekend’s format was rep= eated three times before we took the girls down to the coast, Jimmy borrowing his mate’s posh Mercedes. Dave got transferred to an office in Leeds for = six months and so he moved out. It was just me and superman, and sometimes the girls, since they only lived a few streets away with their parents.

&nb= sp;    One long weekend, we drove the girls across to France, to a secluded chateau th= at Jimmy said he read about in The Times. And I was heavily in his debt, somet= hing that was starting to weigh on my mind. We took the girls on trips down to Bournemouth and to the Cotswolds, before Sophie had to move with her family= to Germany for a year. We said we’d stay in touch, but I never saw her again. By then I was cool and relaxed about the whole sex thing, and one of Jimmy’s numerous mates was teaching me to drive. I didn’t work on Jimmy’s floor, but I began to visit regular, often surprised = to find the senior managers in with him having coffee; everyone treated him li= ke he owned the damn place.

&nb= sp;    Six months in, and Jimmy said he was going it alone, going to trade some private client funds, and would I like to join him. There was the worry about making enough money to cover my salary and to live, but Jimmy showed me a trading statement that indicated he had millions of pounds of client money under his control. I took the chance, afraid to upset him, not least because he could always sniff out a beautiful woman whose mate would shag me.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained that the owner of the posh apartment had moved to Singapore for a= t least a year, and that he could now afford to rent it. A side room was converted = to an office, and it soon housed a multi-coloured live computer feed, stock pr= ices ticking over. The second bedroom was now my room and the side room our offi= ce; no more trains to work. Jimmy was paying me more than I had been on, no rent for the room, so my money was mounting up nicely. As was my debt to him, an= d my concern about it.

&nb= sp;    My old landlord took back the house, and I threw out a lot of stuff, buying new clothes. I had to look the part, and I even thought about a pink shirt and a mobile phone. I never did get a straight answer from Jimmy about Maradona’s handball, or a bunch of other things, but life was too goo= d to knock it. But something was always nagging at me, and for good reason.=

 

 

 

First day at school

 

Jimmy sat me down after we got the = IBM PCs set-up and running, a link to the stock exchange via a dedicated phone line.

&nb= sp;    ‘Right,’ he began. ‘Trading: lesson 1.01. Don’t trade when you’re bored. Don’t trade because you’ve just made a mint. Don’t trade when you’ve just lost your shirt. In essence … don’t trade unless you planned it. I make good money by holding out for the right trades. I may make no trade for the next six weeks, or fifty. It depends.

&nb= sp;    ‘If I have a feeling for which way the FTSE is going then I’ll rotate overlapping Index trades, never selling against my stock or reserves. If I = have such a feeling, as I do now, I’ll tell you what I think the FTSE may = do … and you can manage the small overlapping positions. That’s the trading part of what we do. There’s also investing, some of the stock tucked away for the long term; you’ll see them listed, so don’t= go selling them. I’m hanging onto Microsoft, Apple Computers, and Nokia = in Finland. When there are large market corrections on the downside I often pi= ck up more stock, sometimes off-loading first.’

 &nb= sp;   I was following so far.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy continued, ‘So … at the moment I think Unilever will break out. Watch the FTSE and Unilever, wait for the index to stop falling and start to level out, then we buy about a hundred grand’s worth of shares, not options, and hold for around six to eight weeks. I’m expecting a thirty-five to forty-five percent return.’

&nb= sp;    I did the sums quickly in my head. It wasn’t hard. ‘Not bad for s= ix weeks.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘Read the FT, do your bits, I’m off to the gym for three hours.’ He stood.

&nb= sp;    ‘Any totty in this gym?’ I enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘Some, yes. And no, you can’t come. I’ve got to have some time away fr= om you … employee.’

&nb= sp;    I read the papers, checked the charts, had several cups of tea and made myself scrambled eggs, and stood on the balcony a great deal. Soon I had a work from home routine going, long before it became trendy or financially expedient. But also long before internet porn and music downloads.

&nb= sp;    We hit the nightclubs Thursday through to Saturday, so we were not always in t= he apartment, and Jimmy disappeared for a few hours every day to the gym. But = the trading was worrying me. I was starting to believe there might be some insider-dealing going on here, but Jimmy firmly denied it when I nudged. St= ill, we were one hundred percent right in our trades, numerous accounts set-up w= ith half a dozen brokers so that money could be spread around. Jimmy said it wa= s in case one went bust, but he always said it with a grin. We had made our clie= nt fund two hundred thousand pounds in eight weeks, not including investments.= For the 1980s it was a shit load of money.

&nb= sp;    But it was not just the stock market that Jimmy was good at predicting. He also= had a bad habit of predicting world events with uncanny accuracy. Looking back,= I was being a bit thick, blinded by the money and the lifestyle. And the big = guy often joked about crystal balls and other mumbo-jumbo stuff, joking away re= asons to make trades - and anticipating what the news would bring. It was as if he wanted me to catch him out, to confront him. I was just being slow. A good salary, and a posh apartment and an endless supply of pretty girls will do = that to you.

 

One day I bumped into a senior trad= er from the old firm.

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah, Paul, how’s it going? You learning loads from the big guy?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, since Jimmy had been teaching me a thing or two that I didn’t already know.

&nb= sp;    ‘Must be great to be a trader … and a fucking clairvoyant!’ the man joked.

&nb= sp;    As I walked off a bad penny finally dropped. I stopped in Oxford Circus and st= ood rigid for so long that a copper came up to me and asked me if I was OK. Back home, I found Jimmy sat reading the papers, something he spent an inordinate amount of time doing.

&nb= sp;    ‘Er … tea?’ I asked, trying to summon up some courage.

&nb= sp;    ‘Take a seat, Mr. Holton,’ Jimmy said without detracting from his study of = some obscure war in some obscure country that I had never heard of. As I eased d= own, he lowered his paper. ‘Something on your mind, young man?’ He waited. I didn’t know where to start. ‘Guess you’ve been wondering about … many things. Such as … my ability to predict = the future, and not just in stocks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s a bit … you know … spooky.’

&nb= sp;    ‘But a good kind of spooky … because it makes me plenty of money, and allo= ws me to have nice apartments and cars and the money to … well, help you live the life you’ve become accustomed to.’

&nb= sp;    He hit the nail on the head, and made me feel very ungrateful for all he had d= one for me. ‘Well…’ was all I could get out; the last thing I wanted to do was to spoil our friendship.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you have a question … ask it, before we both get hungry just sitting here.’

&nb= sp;    I forced a breath. ‘How can you predict the future? Are you, you know –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Clairvoyant? No, not clairvoyant, but I can predict the future with great accuracy.’

&= nbsp;    My poor brain was puzzled. ‘Isn’t that … a clairvoyant?̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    He seemed amused. ‘A clairvoyant can see the future … if you belie= ve in all that crap. I can remember the future. Your future, my past.&#= 8217;

&nb= sp;    ‘My future … your past?’ I gave it some careful thought. ‘That would make you a … what, like a time traveller?’ I said in an off-the-cuff manner, a dismissive wave of the hand.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ he answered with a smug grin.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes … to what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes … I’m a time traveller.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re a … time traveller. What, like Doctor Who on the TV?’ I scoffed= .

&nb= sp;    ‘Similar, I guess. But my TV sidekick doesn’t have large breasts.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not from this planet, then?’ I joked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Technically … no,’ was not the answer I expected. He focused on me. ‘= Ever seen me sleep?’

I thought back, realis= ing that I hadn’t, that he was always awake; last to bed, first up. And if I g= ot up in the middle of the night he’d be reading, telling me he couldn’t sleep.

Oh shit.

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ve seen how strong I am,’ he added. ‘And yesterday you saw me burn= my hand.’ He held up his hand. ‘See any scars? Any red burns?̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    I was getting worried. He fetched a file and plonked it into my lap. It consi= sted of a series of letters, typed and signed, and all address to the Prime Mini= ster. I gulped. Each had been signed “Magestic, the man in the middle”.

&nb= sp;    ‘The … er … man in the middle?’ I queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘Someone in the middle … sits between opposing parties,’ he enigmatically explained.

&nb= sp;    I scanned the first letter. It was warning the Prime Minister about an IRA terrorist attack, and suddenly this was all way out of my league. The next letter itemised a train crash from a faulty signal, the third another terro= rist attack by the IRA - this time in great detail, and naming names. The fourth outlined the election victory of Ronald Reagan, and the capture of a British spy in Tehran. It got worse; predictions of things to come in years ahead, ferries sinking, aircraft crashing and being hijacked. I finally looked up.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy casually asked, ‘If you had the ability to predict the future, what w= ould you do with such a skill? Trade the stock markets like me? Sure, got to make some money and oil the wheels. Bet the horse races, make a mint? Why not, y= ou can always give some money to charity. But would you not, also, warn people about things like … plane crashes? Terrorist attacks?’ He eased back and waited.

‘Well … ye= ah, of course I would,’ I firmly suggested.

 &nb= sp;   ‘So you would use such an ability … for the benefit of mankind?= 217;

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … of course.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sounds laudable. And if you had this ability, and you were warning people a= nd saving lives, then you’d be … what … one of the good guys, yeah?’

&nb= sp;    My head nodded itself.

&nb= sp;    ‘And if you knew that … let’s say … your mum was due to get ca= ncer in twenty years time … then what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘My … my mum will get cancer?’ I was horrified.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded, looking solemn. ‘What would you do?’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Get her to the doctors before that time, for a check-up,’ I rushed to get out.

&nb= sp;    ‘Check-ups … reveal things, they don’t cure them.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘She … she’ll die at sixty-seven?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not if we don’t let her.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What could you do?’ I asked, almost sounding angry with him. Calmer, I sai= d, ‘You … you’d help me pay for private medicine for her? Ea= rly treatment?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Something along those lines.’

&nb= sp;    This was now a different ball game, a very different ball game. When I had come = up in the lift I figured he was some sort of clairvoyant, and that he used his gift to trade the markets. I had completely missed the other uses of such foresight, such as plane crashes. I felt very guilty all of sudden. We simp= ly sat and stared for a moment.

&nb= sp;    Finally, Jimmy said, ‘Of course, if you expose me … I won’t get to carry on preventing plane crashes. And I certainly could not help your mum = and others.’ He opened two cans and poured me a lager, which I needed. ‘So’, he finally said. ‘You going to turn me in to the authorities?’

&nb= sp;    My mind was still on my mum, and plane crashes. ‘No, of course not.̵= 7; There was also the matter that he was the best friend I had ever had. In fa= ct, just about the only decent friend I had ever had.

&nb= sp;    ‘Why of course not? I could be a dangerous alien for all you know,’= he toyed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Are you … you know?’

&nb= sp;    He laughed. ‘No, I was born in Newport, South Wales. You’ll meet my parents soon enough.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then how…?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Time travel,’ he carefully mouthed. ‘In simple terms: I lived to be sixty-four years old, went to Canada after World War Three destroyed the planet. –’ My eyes widened. ‘- Became Commissioner for British, European and Israeli Refugees, stepped into a time machine built by the United States Air Force, and came back here knowing what I know. My bod= y is full of genetically modified stem cells and other drugs, giving me greatly extended endurance and strength. I’m immune to all diseases known to = man - and a few they haven’t discovered yet. I heal quickly, I don’t sleep much, I eat a lot, but I can’t jump tall buildings in single bo= unds and I most certainly do not wear my pants outside my trousers.’= ;

&= nbsp;    ‘Wa … World War Three?’ I repeated, now wide-eyed and transfixed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Kicks off in about seventeen years time, give or take.’ He raised a finger. ‘Unless, of course…’

&nb= sp;    ‘You warn them. You stop it.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Tricky.’ He shook his head. ‘Would they listen? I’d need some … credibility, built up over twenty years or more.’

&nb= sp;    I lowered my head to the letters, suddenly realising where this was going.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy added, ‘Of course, it would be a difficult task all by myself.’=

&nb= sp;    I scanned him from under my eyebrows, finally switching my brain on. ‘Y= ou didn’t need a room, did you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, I’m worth millions. And this place, dumb fuck, is mine - I bought it = for two hundred grand. You’d make a lousy secret agent.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Why come to me? I’m no James Bond.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You have a destiny.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I do?’ My expression made him laugh.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, you do. I’ll guide you, so all you need to do … is to think more about others than yourself for the next twenty or thirty years. Do y= ou think you could do that?’

&nb= sp;    I nodded, although I had no idea what I was nodding about. ‘What would happen –’

&= nbsp;    ‘If the authorities found out about me? We’d be locked up, tortured for information, dissected probably. So, you know, not a word to anyone. And I = mean … anyone. Your life … depends on it.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bloody hell,’ I let out before setting about my lager.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you accidentally tell your parents, or some lady you’re dating, you’ll put everyone you know in danger. In time, in the years ahead, I’ll be rich enough and powerful enough to stop any such action. But = for now we have to be careful.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So, your plan –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Is to make some money, build up contacts and friends, build up credibility with the tip-off letters and, when the time is right, go public.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ I whispered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Years from now you’ll be very rich, and have your face all over the TV and papers, so start thinking like a celeb’ in the making. And now that y= ou know what you need to know … we’ll be off on our travels.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Travels?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Starting with Kenya, then the States, Australia - everywhere. I need to educate you = in the ways of the world.’

&nb= sp;    It sounded good. But I foolishly asked, ‘What if the plane crashes?̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘It won’t, dumb fuck –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Because you know which ones crash,’ I said, feeling silly. ‘So whatR= 17;s the weather going to be tomorrow?’

&nb= sp;    He laughed. ‘No idea, check the news weather. I only know what I need to know.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So how come you don’t look like … you know … a wrinkly old guy?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Stem cells, my lad. Everyone has stem cells, they’re what builds our bodies when we’re in the womb. After we reach about eighteen years the production of stems slows down; enough to keep us alive and to heal wounds,= but not enough to keep us looking youthful forever. I’ve been genetically modified so that I produce an excess of them, something that doctors will be able to do in around … oh … twenty-five years time. When I w= as an old guy, I was strapped to a bed and intravenously injected with stems f= or ten weeks, stems taken from the wombs and umbilical cords of ten ladies I m= ade pregnant for that very procedure. Because the stems were fifty-percent genetically my own they worked well.

&nb= sp;    ‘I was only given enough protein to survive, and so lost a hell of a lot of we= ight – appearing like the twenty-year-old me at thirteen stone. The genetically modified stems basically reverted me back to a full adult at the youngest age, around twenty, which was what I needed for my parents to acce= pt me as me.

‘That= particular story R= 30; is very secret, so we’ll discuss it at some point later. So is the exact mechanism of time travel – the people here can’t find out by accident. If you don’t know … then you can’t accidentally= disclose it. As for my appearance … ten or twenty years will pass and I’= ll age just a couple of years. Eventually I’ll grow old and die if I don’t get another injection … from doctors that are in nursery school as we speak.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bloody hell.’ I sipped my beer. ‘So … so what do I do… in = the future?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Mostly, you’re my assistant, helping me do what I need to do. There’s no one else I can trust with what you now know, and what you’re going to know.’ I felt honoured, then immediately concerned. He added, ‘= And if, and when, I’m killed … you take over.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Killed?’ I repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s always a possibility. Accidents … or getting shot by irate husbands.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And then what do I do?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll tell you what the future holds and you … you fix what you can. But don’t worry, you’ve got ten or fifteen years before we get near= a situation where the CIA will want to shoot me.’

&nb= sp;    ‘CIA?’ I whispered.

&nb= sp;    ‘In the future, the Americans are going to want to invade a few countries, but I’m going to try and stop them.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bloody hell.’ I sipped my beer as he fetched a large box.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Reading material.’ He took out each book in turn and made a pile on the floor that grew to a height of three feet: history of the world, UK history, first aid, advanced first aid, Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support, expedition first aid, mountain rescue, UK politics, The Global Economy, principles of flight, piloting helicopters…

&nb= sp;    ‘Helicopters?’ I queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘How else are you going to impress a bird … other than by flying her home = the next day in your own helicopter?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bloody hell.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Your language tutors will arrive in a few weeks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m like Luke-frigging-Skywalker being trained to use The Force.’

&nb= sp;    He eased back. ‘You know, in years to come they’ll make three preq= uels to Star Wars.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What the fuck’s a prequel?’

&nb= sp;    He sipped his beer. With a deadly serious expression, he answered, ‘My life.’

After a reflective bee= r, I asked, ‘Well … what exactly do I do now?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Now you carry on trading the markets, you study, you travel … you get rea= dy for the future. I’ll give you some money so that you can trade your o= wn account - to make you eventually look rich on your own, so you appear to be= my business partner and not an employee.’

&nb= sp;    ‘R … rich?’ I repeated, making him smile.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. By time we get to 2005 you’ll be one of the richest men in the UK.= 217;

&nb= sp;    Wide-eyed I said, ‘I will?’

&nb= sp;    You will, I won’t.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Huh?’ came out without any help from me.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m going to make a lot of money and give it all away. You, on the other hand, = will hang onto some so that we have a reserve.’

&nb= sp;    I suddenly considered that my future self was quite mean. ‘Don’t = I … give any money away?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Some, yes. Quite a lot in fact – compared to most; tens of millions. But I = need you to act as banker. If someone sues me we’ll have a fall-back position.’

&nb= sp;    I pointed at myself. ‘I … I’ll have more money than you?= 217;

&nb= sp;    ‘A great deal more; nice cars, helicopter, hordes of women chasing after you.&= #8217;

&nb= sp;    ‘So … so what’s the catch?’ I finally asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘When you have a lot of money – a lot of people try and take it off you. You can’t just pop down to the corner shop … because someone will c= laim that you punched them – even though you never did. Girls will claim y= ou attacked them, hoping to make some money from the story or from a settlemen= t. If you’re in a car and some idiot nudges you from behind they’ll tell the police you deliberately reversed into them and how bad their neck hurts and … could they please have a million quid.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Little fuckers,’ I quietly let out.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s no fun being a millionaire; you’ll have to watch your back. If someone asks you if you like your mum you’d say yes. Next day in the papers it would say you hate your mum.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Little bastards. All because you got a few quid?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained, ‘In the years ahead the tabloids will become more aggressi= ve than they are now; they’ll print anything, till some privacy laws sta= rt to take effect after 2009. So anything you say or do now – that people will remember – will make it to the papers in years to come. Probably= be an unauthorised biography about you as well.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Biography? About me?’ I challenged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Should think so.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How can they write it … you know … without my say so?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No law against it. If they say you hate your parents it’ll sell better.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So anything I do –’

&nb= sp;    ‘And anything you did,’ he emphasised.

&= nbsp;    ‘Shit. I lost my virginity to a middle-aged hooker up the West End for forty quid.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Who knows about it?’

&nb= sp;    I thought back. ‘I think I told a mate in school…’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then make sure you look him up, buy him dinner, stay on his good side.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I got arrested for nicking a cricket ball from a pavilion when I was sixteen.= ’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fine, tell them you were a rebellious teenager, no one will give a shit about stu= ff like that. It’s what you do in the next ten years that matters.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘What about all the one-night stands?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not a problem: man about town; money, cars, women. Papers love that sort of stuff.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I haven’t even made any money yet and I’m worrying about it!̵= 7; I complained.

&nb= sp;    ‘That, young man, we have in common.’

After two beers, I sai= d, ‘What’s the future like?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Which part?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I dunno … girls.’

&nb= sp;    ‘They shave off their pubes.’

&nb= sp;    ‘They … what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nearly all girls shave off their pubes, or have them cut into patterns – like butterflies. And tattoos, they all have lots of tattoos.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Girls … have tattoos?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Just about all of them; up their arms, on their boobs, sides of the hands - it starts in the 1990s. Around 2020 you see old women with stupid tattoos misshapen by their ageing skin. Singers like Robbie Williams have lots of tattoos.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Who’s he?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Wait and see.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Christ. What’s music like?’

&nb= sp;    ‘In the 90s it’s good, but by time we get to 2009 there’s a lot of = Rap music in the charts.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Rap? Like what those black kids do in America? Here?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Top sellers.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re fucking kidding me!’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy shook his head. ‘But after 2010 there’re many covers, not much original stuff. Guess everything has been done. I’ll commission a cle= ver bit of software that’ll compare songs.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Software?’

&nb= sp;    ‘A computer program. And those mobile phones you see yuppies with, Motorolas, they’ll be small as a credit card.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded. ‘They end up as small as a playing ca= rd, and either touch screen or voice activated. You’ve seen Captain Kirk = use his communicator? Well … just like that.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Cool.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You can get a small device to put on your belt and wear around. It bleeps if you’re going to have a heart attack.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Strange … but cool.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Imagine this … walking down a street, you take out your phone – size of= a credit card - and say where am I? It tells you where you are, what direction you’re walking. You ask it where’s the nearest cur= ry house? And it tells you.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fucking hell. They expensive?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, you get them free and pay a monthly charge of around fifteen quid.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Jesus,’ I let out.

&nb= sp;    ‘Everyone has one, kids as young as six. Everyone. If a parent wants to know where th= eir brat is they ask their phone and it tells them.’

‘Bloody hell.= 217;

‘Many cars go el= ectric around 2015, I have a hand in that. Some things are great, some crap.’= ;

I gave it all some car= eful thought. ‘What do you like the most … in the future?R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Probably the Internet.’

&= nbsp;    ‘The what?’

&nb= sp;    Our computer is connected to the phone line, and in the future all computers are connected to central super-computers that hold information on everyt= hing. You can click a button and find out the news, the weather, everything. The = best bit is the social networking by computer: it’s a gossip shop on the computer screen. You type in something … and lots of people see it, t= ell their mates. So when the CIA are about to do something naughty you tell peo= ple down the computer wire and it goes all around the world in minutes, soon on= the news, so that the CIA can’t do what they want to.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Better than letters warning people,’ I suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘Much,’ Jimmy carefully mouthed. ‘In the future, people watch the TV news = 211; about some idiot behaving like an idiot - go online and complain about it, = and an hour later the idiot stops doing what he’s doing; real demo= cracy in action.

‘But in the futu= re jobs are still crap, the tube is still crap, British Rail is still crap, plane flights are the same, cars are the same, houses are expensive as fuck ̵= 1; ten times the average salary, and night life goes to shit.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Whooa there, buddy. Nightlife does what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘They relax the licensing laws, so anyplace can stay open and put some music on, dance floor in a corner at the back. No more nightclubs, no one going out in suits after … say 1993. It’s all jeans and t-shirts.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Jeans and t-shirts … in a fucking nightclub?’ I was staggered.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded reluctantly. ‘It’s why we’ll open our own.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘I knew there was a reason I hired you,’ I said loudly. We laughed. ‘Our own nightclub. Yes!’ I broached the subject of Jimmy’= ;s fondness for the ladies. ‘If you’re, you know, so old – y= oung looking with the wonder drugs and all – then mentally, you know, you’re old –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes?’ Jimmy slowly let out, his brow pleated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then … inside … you’re old, yet you still like the young ladie= s–’

&nb= sp;    ‘And … so?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, there’s … you know … quite an age gap,’ I delicately suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘And you’re wondering why an old man would go for the young ladies instead= of … what … a fine fifty-year-old. How do you think I would look w= ith a fifty-year-old woman?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, a bit silly really.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Exactly, dopey.’ He sipped his beer and took a reflective moment. ‘When I got to Canada I was fifty, knackered and despondent – women were the = last thing on my mind. The conditions were harsh and I grew old quickly; you do = in those circumstances. When I became the Commissioner for European Refugees, = some five years later, I had some power … and better food and living condi= tions than most. After a year or so I entertained the odd young lady, paid for in food like the rest, but it was not a priority. It felt … not right. So much death and starvation, it just doesn’t do anything for your libid= o. At least it didn’t for me at the age I was at.

&nb= sp;    ‘The young men raped regularly, punished when they were caught – typically= a week in solitary. Others used prostitutes, although it was fair to say that= all women there would lift their skirts for extra rations; when you’re starving, all other considerations go out the window. People here don’= ;t understand that because they’ve never lived through it, but the Second World War generation would understand.

&nb= sp;    ‘There was one woman, a doctor under my command - Elizabeth her name was, who spen= t a great deal of time with me. I suppose you could say that she was a girlfrie= nd. But one day she went to an outlying region and never came back - that happe= ned a lot. And now … now I have to be very careful –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why?’ I stupidly asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Why do you think, Dumbo?’

&nb= sp;    I shrugged. ‘So you don’t slip up and say who you really are?R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘And what else?’ he prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Er … you don’t like commitment?’ I toyed.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Never did when I was a mere mortal, stuck four years once. But what would happen = if I did marry someone?’

‘You’d = 230; need to find a big-fitting tuxedo?’

He smiled. ‘What= else? What would happen to the lady in twenty years time? And the kids?’

‘Ah, they’= d grow old,’ I realised. ‘Your kids would grow up and go down the pub = with you, looking more like brothers and sisters.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And don’t you think that might be a bit … odd?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, yeah,’ I agreed. ‘You’re right. What you should do –= ; to make up for the heavy heartache of not being able to marry – is to sh= ag loads a pretty girls without commitment. Console yourself.’ We laughe= d, toasting each other with our drinks.

&nb= sp;    ‘The job’s not all bad,’ he said with a glint in his eye.=

We spoke till the smal= l hours, made some plans, and ordered-in a curry like normal. When I woke the next d= ay I was Dr. Who’s assistant, but without the large breasts. After a coffe= e by myself I went to see my mum, and gave her a big hug. She was so surprised s= he thought I’d made some girl pregnant or lost my job. It took a whole h= our to convince her that I just missed her, and even then she was suspicious.

 

 

2035

 

I put down the keyboard, letting ou= t a tired sigh. ‘Computer. Off.’

Closing down= ”, came a pleasant voice, followed by a chime as I stretched out on my bunk. My back was aching from sitting hunched for so long and my eyes closed themsel= ves, fatigued with concentrating on the screen.

&nb= sp;    The door burst open, the patter of small feet followed by a heavy four year old landing on my stomach, air bursting from my lungs.

‘God, you’= re getting heavy,’ I whispered as my youngest granddaughter snuggled up. Reaching down, I put an arm around her, finding her well-worn teddy; they w= ere inseparable. Adult footsteps caused me to open an eye briefly, my youngest daughter stood with hands on hips, an expression of motherly disappointment= and exasperation. She stepped closer, reached over and pulled a blanket up, covering her disobedient offspring. I heard the door click shut a moment la= ter.

&nb= sp;    There would be gentle nagging in the morning about letting my granddaughter snugg= le up, again, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see that much of them, so they could snuggle up anytime they wanted. It took me back, back to when my= own daughters slept in the bed with me and my wife. My ex-wife.

&nb= sp;    As I lay there, I thought back to the day Jimmy revealed who he was, well R= 11; part revealed the story. It seemed like a million years ago, it seemed like yesterday. Now Jimmy was gone, missing for almost four years. The search had been extensive, large rewards offered. Some believed he had gone backwards = or forwards through time, even some of the politicians firmly believed that, b= ut I knew different, and I kept the secret. It was his wish, and I would honour = that wish. The need for some sleep robbed me of further thought on the matter.

 

 

1986. First name terms

 

Jack Donohue was worried, being sum= moned to No. 10 early one morning. He adjusted his tie as he entered through the rear, ushered quickly to the COBRA meeting. Everyone was staring at him, especially Deputy Director Sykes. Gingerly, Jack sat as directed. ‘Morning,’ he offered, just before the Prime Minister entered.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    The P.M. sat and studied Jack for a moment. ‘First, the Americans have admitted, finally, that they also receive letters. Those letters, posted to their Ambassador here in London, are just about identical to those that we = receive. We could not say, at this juncture, that they get anything more than we do. They’ve received a few specific warnings of mishaps in The States. Question is, do the Russians and Chinese get letters?’

&nb= sp;    The head of MI5 answered, ‘We intercepted a letter to the Russian Ambassa= dor, but then sent it on its way the same day. It was a warning about a fire at a chemical plant.’ He pulled a face and shrugged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then we received today’s letter,’ the Prime Minister announced, open= ing the file she had brought in. Paraphrasing, she read, ‘It was a good i= dea of Jack’s -’ Everyone focussed on Jack, the P.M. lowering her g= aze to the letter. ‘- about the other letters. Just for the record, the international community receives warnings of disasters where I feel my tip-= offs may do some good.’ She cleared her throat. ‘Keep your panties on, luv.’

&nb= sp;    She took a moment as people shifted uneasily in their seats. Continuing, she re= ad, ‘I am British, and you can be assured of my loyalty of purpose to sta= te and crown. Tell Jack that I do not<= /i> bet the races.’

 &nb= sp;   Jack tried, and failed, not to smile.

&nb= sp;    The Prime Minister continued reading, ‘If you wish to send me a message, = use the personals in The Sun newspaper, messages to … Big Wobbly Bertha. = We will not meet for many years to come, nor should you disclose these letters, since it would most certainly be unseemly for the Prime Minister of our gre= at country to be seen to take seriously the advice of clairvoyants.=

&nb= sp;    ‘P.S. If the nice gentlemen –’ She glanced about the assembled men. ‘- intercept letters to foreign embassies I will know about it, and direct such letters by alternate means. Kindly remember who you are dealing with.

‘P.P.S. Jack will eventually figure out more about me. How about an office with a window for = the poor fella?’ She focused on Jack. ‘We carefully checked the signature, just in case it was you … who sent the letter.̵= 7; Faces creased. ‘Fortunately, it stops short of suggesting a pay rise = or promotion for you.’

 

That afternoon, Jack received a vis= it from his departmental manager, Wilson, a sour-faced man with little hair, little patience, and even less in the charm department. He scanned JackR= 17;s office without a word, then sat. ‘Despite your fondness for your new = pet pen pal, I don’t share your views that this guy is a benef= it to anyone.’

&nb= sp;    Jack’s brow creased. ‘Sorry?’

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s not just a clairvoyant, he’s a seer – someone capable of remote viewing.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Remote … viewing?’ Jack repeated, despite the fact that he had recently read a dozen books in the subject.

&nb= sp;    Wilson flicked dust off his knee. ‘The CIA experimented with it, probably st= ill do. They’re people who can see into the USSR at some missile base and draw a picture of the layout. Uncanny, some of the stuff they could do but, overall, very inconsistent. Every time the Yanks used them for real missions they screwed up.’ He jabbed an angry finger towards Jack. ‘And = so will your boy.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sir?’

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s dangerous. He should be behind bars, or in a psych’ ward where he belongs.’ Jack did not agree with that sentiment, but held his tongue. Wilson continued, ‘If he can see into this office, if he knows what we’re up to, he can also see into other areas. That kind of power can= not be left unchecked. So I want you to find him. Use the newspaper message sys= tem, arrange a meet, tell him you’re not well or something – since he seems to have an affinity for you. Just find him.’ He stood. ‘Or else!’

&nb= sp;    A knock at the door preceded two senior police officers stepping in. ‘Mr Wilson,’ the first stated. It was not a question.

&nb= sp;    Wilson was caught off guard. ‘Yes. Who the hell are you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘We … are the nice gentlemen who’d like to talk about the death of a young lady you were seeing in college, 1958.’

&nb= sp;    Wilson stood rigidly shocked.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you’ll come with us, please.’ They led him out, one officer remaining. Jack was on his feet, his mouth hanging open. =

The officer neared. &#= 8216;Mr Magestic said to say hello.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How … how do you know about him, it’s top secret?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve been getting letters for years - our clean-up rate is through the roof.R= 17; He smiled and winked, letting himself out.

&nb= sp;    For ten minutes Jack stared at the door with a contended smirk. Despite Magestic’s suggestion, no new office had been forthcoming. Still, it = was time for a little celebration. He opened a side drawer and took out a packe= t of Bourbons biscuits. No, this was a special occasion. He replaced the packet = and retrieved a Kitkat.

 

 

Kenya

 

Our first trip was to Kenya a month later, landing at Nairobi airport. My first impression was … what a d= ump. And the heat was intense. The paint was cracking off the terminal walls, fa= ns on worn bearings competing to see which could emit the most annoying sound = - I guessed they were trying to attract mosquitoes, and the staff all stank. Un= like Jimmy, I was not in love with Kenya in particular, or Africa in general.

&nb= sp;    A local stood with a sign saying ‘Silo’ and directed us to a cab = that had seen better days, a Ford Cortina like my dad used to drive. The driver = put our luggage into the boot, eventually getting it to close, and we settled i= n, Jimmy telling the man which hotel we wanted in the man’s own regional dialect. To say the fella was surprised would be an understatement, and we = were tooted from behind to get a move on.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy tipped the puzzled driver well, thanking him again in his own tongue. At le= ast the hotel looked half decent. The staff, dressed in green waistcoats and fu= nny hats, took our luggage and directed us into an air-conditioned interior with lots of white folk milling around; I guessed that it was the local tourist trap. Jimmy signed us in, talking in French to the dark skinned local, who questioned our nationality when the passports were handed over. Jimmy offer= ed him a few words in another dialect, pleasing the man. The rooms were nice enough, good views of the city centre, but Jimmy nodded his head towards the door.

&nb= sp;    ‘Follow me,’ he enigmatically stated.

&nb= sp;    We took the lift up to the top floor, opening to a roof garden with a small po= ol and a good sized bar. We sat, Jimmy ordering drinks in some weird dialect. = He checked his watch, so I checked mine. 5.45pm.

&nb= sp;    ‘Sunset over Nairobi,’ Jimmy let out with a contented sigh. ‘It’s been … many years since I was here last.’

&= nbsp;    With cool beers in hand, we sat on sun beds by the pool, several nice ladies swimming lengths and clocking us, the sun going down to the west, the way we were facing. Fair enough, it was very pleasant, and two French ladies joined us, doctors with some agency linked to the Red Cross. Despite Jimmy’s strange knowledge of local dialects, his French was limited, the two lady doctors conversing in near perfect English.

&nb= sp;    I was lost after ten minutes, Jimmy amazing them by knowing more about their mission in Africa than they did. He even told them when their project would end, something they had not yet been informed of. Hairy armpits aside, four hours of slow drinking resulted in Michelle dragging me to my room, thinkin= g I was twenty-nine. Kenya was growing on me.

&nb= sp;   

The next day we were up early, kick= ing out our guests and telling them we would be back in a week. We hadn’t even unpacked. We hired a taxi, making the driver very happy by booking him= for three full days, expecting him to stay overnight with us. Jimmy negotiated a rate equal to a month’s pay for the fella, about a hundred pounds, wi= th petrol on top. Off we set to some place with a long name. After two hours, I was back to my original thought: what a dump. I made allowances because it = was Africa, but God was it dusty and dirty, the roadsides littered with tatty shacks and naked kids.

&nb= sp;    We eventually left civilisation behind and hit the countryside proper, stoppin= g to let a lion run across our path. An hour later and we arrived at the place w= ith the long name, a small lodge of sorts that looked like cluster of Canadian = log cabins, albeit dusty and dirty. Jimmy booked us in, speaking in German to t= he German owner - a room for the taxi driver arranged, then tipped his head fo= r me to follow. On the veranda of a well-stocked bar we sat, cold beers placed d= own, and looked out across pure African countryside; a gentle slope down to a wi= nding river, all sorts of animals milling about, forest in the distance and hills beyond, the sun setting. Whoever had positioned the bar had done so deliberately.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy pointed. Following his finger, I could see my first herd of Elephants, loll= ing about at the river’s edge. After saying something in German, a man brought Jimmy two pairs of binoculars and we peered through.

&nb= sp;    ‘David Attenborough, eat your bleeding heart out,’ I said.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Met him many times,’ Jimmy idly commented. ‘Great man.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    And for the next four hours we sat there. Sundown, sunset, afterglow and pitch black, roars of unseen animals echoing through the dark. Not to mention the million flying insects buzzing about the bar’s lights.

&nb= sp;    The next morning we ate an acceptable breakfast in a communal hall, a few German guests present, before hiring a private guide and two wardens to take us on= a jeep trek. A dated and uncomfortable green Land Rover bounced us along, but= we stopped many times, whenever Jimmy uttered some odd words to the driver. My first lion family was a joy; we could not have been more than twenty yards = from mum and cubs at one point. We got up close to an Armadillo that seemed to j= ust ignore us, then found a herd of Elephants the other side of a stream. We sat quietly, and they looked us over a few times, the youngsters frolicking in = the water. Must have stayed there for an hour, but I was not complaining, I was starting to really enjoy the experience. Further on we spotted Cheetahs, Ze= bras in the distance, before pulling into what looked like a farm. And there sta= rted one of the great loves of my life.

&nb= sp;    It was not a farm, but an animal sanctuary for injured or orphaned animals that the rangers and wardens found. The German staff greeted Jimmy, who offered = them ten thousand in dollars towards their costs. Fair to say we got the run of = the place after that. A teenage girl with a lopsided hat and cute smile took me= to one side and sat me down against a wall, re-appearing with a bottle of milk= and a bundle of blankets. She handed me the bottle and unwrapped the bundle; a = lion cub with its eyes still closed. And for the next hour or so I fed numerous = lion cubs, a Cheetah cub, and a baby monkey with wrinkly pink skin and an improv= ised nappy. I was hooked. As she knelt next to me, making sure I was playing mum correctly, her khaki green shirt fell forwards and revealed her small breas= ts. Then she began talking about nipples and teats. I got her back onto the sub= ject several times.

&nb= sp;    They cooked us a meal, not least because of the ten grand they’d received,= and we all got along like old friends. Jimmy’s knowledge of animals and t= he country amazed them, so he explained it away by telling them he had visited many times before. Good job they didn’t check his passport.

&nb= sp;    During the meal Jimmy took a sandwich out to the black driver, who seemed not to be allowed inside. When Jimmy returned, the family avoided eye contact for five minutes.

As we sat at their kit= chen table, the sun going down, a variety of animals wandered in. A fully-grown Cheetah forcing its nose under my armpit and pinching my food was a shock. = Not the table manners, but the fact that it was a grown Cheetah. Second time ar= ound I stroked its chin and head and it seemed to like that more than my meal. G= uess he had tried the hostess’s cooking before. A fully-grown lion caused = me to stand and look worried, Jimmy grinning at my discomfort.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not to worry,’ the teenage girl told me in her accented voice, sounding l= ike the South Africans I had seen on the TV. ‘It has a gammy leg, and we = file down its teeth and claws. It cannot hurt anyone.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy got up and grabbed the beast around the neck. It struggled, but he held it firm. He got the animal to rise up and put its paws on his shoulders as he grabbed it by the mane, the lion seeming to enjoy the encounter. They moved outside and started rolling around on the floor like old friends, carefully observed by the bemused staff. Finally, Jimmy poured water into the lion’s mouth, hand feeding it some meat.

&nb= sp;    ‘It is not normally so easy to control,’ the surprised manager informed m= e. ‘He is a strong man, your friend.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Either that … or he smells like a lioness,’ I suggested.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy returned to perplexed looks, letting out a sentence in some local dialect: = a lion knows another lion when he sees one. That shocked the man even mor= e, Jimmy taking off his ripped shirt and adding to their fixed gaze.

&nb= sp;    Back at the lodge, we nagged the staff to join us at the veranda bar, and Jimmy bought everyone way too many drinks, soon a round of German songs filling t= he night air, some quite rude, followed by the black driver singing a local la= ment about a boy who lost his goat. In fairness, the lament was quite good, and somehow very African.

&nb= sp;    I missed breakfast, sleeping in, and missed the big row with the owners. The = previous night’s activities had resulted in everyone being hung over, Jimmy pa= ying the manger a thousand dollars for his troubles – principally a lack of available staff. I eased into the taxi with a squint, a water bottle and a hangover, and we set off again. As we trundled along poorly maintained road= s I tried to sleep, feeling guilty because I was supposed to be getting an appreciation of Africa in general and Kenya in particular. But when you’re hung over everything is a chore.

 

 

River View Hotel<= /p>

 

Another four hours and we were to t= he coast, although I slept some of the way and had no idea where we were. We w= ere checked through tall security gates with large holes, making me wonder why = they were there at all, and piled out at yet another reception desk.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘What’s this place?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘A hotel we’ll buy in years to come.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Really. Looks a bit, you know…’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy grinned, and nodded towards a path. ‘Walk down there, I’ll chec= k us in.’

&nb= sp;    So off I went; sunglasses, squint, parched throat and headache. I followed the path, winding past thatched huts, nicely decorated inside from what I could see, and onto a beach. ‘Oh, yeah,’ I let out, clanking along a wooden walkway over the sand and to a beach bar. I took a seat in the shade= of the beach bar and accepted a fruit drink of some sort with ice-cubes in. It= did the trick.

&nb= sp;    The horseshoe bay enclosed five hundred yards of turquoise ocean, its sand a brilliant white. The water looked shallow and inviting, some sort of net st= rung out across the mouth of the bay. At the back of the sand nestled two-dozen huts, all similar to those I had passed, a few guests sat outside their hut doors and sunning themselves. I could see white families, but also a few bl= ack families. At least there was no segregation here, I noted. The edges of the= bay were bracketed by rocky outcrops, perfectly symmetrical and opposite each other. And at one end of the bay a local man was showing a young elephant to some guests.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy plonked down and ordered a beer. ‘Room twelve for you, for your drink= s tab. So, what do you think?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Great location, fucking excellent beach. Better than Brighton beach! What’ll this place cost?’

&nb= sp;    ‘We’ll buy it next year, just over three hundred ‘k’ for all the land.’

&nb= sp;    ‘K? Is that the currency down here?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sorry, K … is computer talk; it means a grand. In the future everyone says K. How much is that house? It’s two hundred K.

&nb= sp;    I took in the layout, that which I could see. ‘How far along does it go?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Long old way; almost half a mile to the north. There’re gardens here for g= rowing food for the hotel, farms with chickens and pigs.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘And an elephant,’ I said, pointing. Checking that no one was in earshot, I said, ‘There’re black families here. I figured the white folk h= ere … you know.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘There’s some de-facto segregation here, but that’= ;s about money more than skin colour. The black families you can see are rich, and t= hey don’t want poor black families in here anymore than the white folk do. You’ll soon learn that African blacks are far more racist than their white counterparts; if you’re not from the right tribe or region, they’d happily kill you. You see the staff here … they’re= all from this region. If someone from another region came here with a different accent the locals would attack him.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s something you have to learn about Africa, and quickly; it’s all triba= l, with fuck-all unity at national level or for the continent. If someone from Tanzania was in the UK and he met someone from Kenya, then fair enough they’d probably chat. Here they wouldn’t, even if they were neighbours. The locals can pick up an accent and see it in the faces. So if= the new neighbours don’t look and sound as they should … its war! O= ne of the problems here, especially in years to come, is the Somalis. Their own country is about to implode into civil war, and many refugees will stream south, taking land here as squatters and causing lots of problems. It’= ;s one of my tasks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Tasks? What is?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fixing Kenya.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why?’

&nb= sp;    ‘In years to come a Muslim terrorist group called The Brotherhood will rise up, various places at various times. One of the first things they’ll do is move south from Somalia, attacking Kenya. Before that happens we need to fix the economy and politics of Kenya and get them ready.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nice of us,’ I grumbled.

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s still a hell of a lot you don’t know. We can stop The Brotherhood here … or wait till they walk down the Richmond High Street.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Here,’ I firmly suggested.

‘Right, you̵= 7;ve never been scuba diving.’

‘Nope.’

‘After lunch.= 217;

And two hours later I = lay in a few feet of crystal clear water, exhilarated by the curtain of orange fish darting about as the dive instructor, German again, cut up a dead fish and thrashed it about. I was now hooked on diving, and lion cubs the size of my hand. And I never did find out why they called that damn hotel ‘River View’; the nearest river was miles away. Sea View, sure, or Mountain View, but we never did find out why it was called River View.

 

 

The music business

 

A few days after getting back from = Kenya, suitably tanned and showing it off, we headed for a small office in Kentish Town. Jimmy was keeping the trip a secret to “see what a dull twat I was”. We jumped out of the taxi around 11am, and pushed the buzzer on= a purple door between two antique shops. I have to admit, I though it might be some dingy brothel. A small card declared it to be Pineapple Records. =

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes?’ crackled a woman’s voice.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy leant in. ‘Here to see Oliver Standish.’

&nb= sp;    A buzz preceded a click, and we pushed the door open, met immediately by a st= eep set of stairs whose carpet had seen better days. Our footfalls were heavy a= nd echoing, announcing our approach. We opened into an office that seemed much larger on the inside than I would have expected.

&nb= sp;    ‘Bigger on the inside,’ I noted.

&nb= sp;    ‘We get that a lot,’ a pretty young girl stated. ‘This office is actually three houses knocked into one, at least their upstairs parts. You after Oliver?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Please,’ Jimmy said.

&nb= sp;    The girl took a moment to study Jimmy. ‘Haven’t I seen you in Tosca, down the Kings Rd?’

‘Probably,’= ; he replied. ‘Next time, kick me in the shins and I’ll get you a drink.’ We edged towards a man striding towards us. ‘You must be Oliver,’ Jimmy said, a firm handshake initiated. The boss, Oliver, was average in every sense; height, weight and looks, easy on the eye with a friendly and welcoming face. To me he appeared to be in his early thirties.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. And you are…?’

‘I’m Jimmy= Silo, this is Paul, and we’d like to buy your company.’

&nb= sp;    That caught the guy off guard, as well as the staff within earshot.

&nb= sp;    ‘I didn’t know it was up for sale,’ Oliver quipped. ‘But sti= ll, nothing to lose by a coffee and a chat.’

&nb= sp;    We settled around a neat desk floating in a sea of untidy floor littered with files and tapes.

&nb= sp;    ‘The reject pile,’ Jimmy told me.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not all rejects,’ Oliver countered.

&nb= sp;    ‘You sign up one in fifty-two, I’d guess,’ Jimmy told him.

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s … a good guess. I see you’ve done your homework.’

&nb= sp;    I picked up a music sheet with some lyrics in pencil.

&nb= sp;    Oliver asked me, ‘Do you have an eye, or indeed ear, for such things?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘He doesn’t, I do,’ Jimmy cut in.

&nb= sp;    Oliver raised an eyebrow. ‘Forgive my impertinence, but you don’t look= the music type. More the … nightclub doorman type.’

&nb= sp;    I said, ‘More the multi-millionaire type,’ still reading the lyri= cs, someone’s hard work. Either that or their drug crazed delusional ramblings.

&nb= sp;    Oliver smiled. ‘I see you gentlemen like the direct approach.’ He asked Jimmy, ‘Where are you from, I’m not picking up any accent?̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘All over,’ Jimmy replied, easing back into his seat. ‘So, down to business. You … are doing OK for a small record company, but going nowhere in particular. Last years accounts were the same as the years befor= e, and will be same as this year.’

&nb= sp;    ‘That’ll save money with your accountant,’ I helpfully suggested. ‘Just photocopy them.’

&nb= sp;    Oliver did not see the joke, Jimmy shooting me a look.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy continued, ‘So what I would like to do is this: I buy seventy percent= of the shares for three hundred thousand pounds.’

&nb= sp;    I could see from Oliver’s expression that the numbers were exciting him= .

&nb= sp;    Jimmy continued, ‘That would be spread over three years, so that you don’t run away. You stay on as boss and draw a salary of … what … forty-grand a year? I give the company a director’s loan of h= alf a million, and you get some decent offices and some advertising going. You leave the selection of budding musicians to me.’

&nb= sp;    Oliver coughed out a laugh. ‘Well … that’s er … quite an offer.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Given what this company makes, it’s above appropriate and generous, yet fac= tors in your loyalty. And none of the staff would have to leave.’ Jimmy to= ok out a thick envelope and handed it over. ‘The details are all there, = so you can peruse them at your leisure.’

&nb= sp;    Tea and coffee finally arrived. We waited, Oliver now under the spotlight. At l= east he hadn’t thrown us out yet. And the pretty girl gave us biscuits, no= ne for Oliver. Guess she didn’t like the boss.

&nb= sp;    Oliver scanned the document. ‘And how much … input would you have into day-to-day running?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Some, obviously,’ Jimmy answered. ‘My accountants and solicitors would breathe down your neck once in a while, I’ll pop-in twice a month or = so, and we’ll obviously link anyone you sign up to the nightclub I’= ll be opening.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nightclub?’ Oliver repeated.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy forced a neutral smile. ‘One with a large room with a stage to showca= se new bands, as well as to select new bands. You know … talent contests.’

&nb= sp;    Oliver seemed to be nodding as he considered it. ‘You said … you would select new artists?’

&= nbsp;    ‘Yes, get that chore out of your hair.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ll be able to see your carpet again,’ I suggested. ‘What colour is it?’

&nb= sp;    Oliver smiled widely, but briefly. ‘I guess there now follows some hard s= ell?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stood, so I followed him up. ‘No, take your time to think about it. No hurry. My contact details are on the proposal.’

&nb= sp;    Oliver followed us up, Jimmy shaking his hand. It was just a brief meeting, but I liked Oliver straight away.

Outside, Jimmy said, ‘Well?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nice bloke, I liked him.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And what do you think I’m up to?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Going to get your own record company so that you can shag nice lady singers?̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘Partly right,’ Jimmy admitted. ‘What else?’

&nb= sp;    I was being thick again and shrugged my shoulders.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘The future?’

&nb= sp;    I was still being thick.

&nb= sp;    Irate, Jimmy explained, ‘I know every band that’s going to be a succes= s, dumb fuck.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh … yeah.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy shook his head. ‘Fucking Batman never had this much trouble with Robin.’

 

 

 

Would you kill Hitler as a child?

 

Metropolitan Police Commander Harris waited in a nondescript café, a mug of tea cooling, his uniform carefully covered by a trench coat.

&nb= sp;    With a ‘ding’ the door opened, a man sitting down opposite. ‘T= ea, love,’ he shouted at the woman behind the counter. Facing Harris, he said, ‘So … problem?’

&nb= sp;    ‘A … dilemma.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah. Guess that’s why you’re paid more than me.’

&nb= sp;    They waited as a mug of tea was plonked down. Harris slid across a small slip of paper.

The newcomer read it. ‘What’s this guy done?’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s what he’s going to do,’ Harrison carefully mouthed.=

&= nbsp;    ‘Ah. Another one of those.’

&nb= sp;    ‘This chap, when he grows up, will kidnap, rape and kill a string of twelve-year-= old girls.’

&nb= sp;    The newcomer’s features hardened. They stared at each other for several seconds till the newcomer lowered his head and re-read the note. In a low, husky voice he said, ‘Be difficult for him, not being able to see and all.’

 

 

 

Students on planes

 

‘Remind me again why we’= ;re here?’ I asked, already knowing the answer.

&nb= sp;    ‘World peace.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, thought so. Just checking.’

&nb= sp;    We stepped into a damp stairwell and climbed up numerous flights of steps, this nondescript building located just off the Tottenham Court Rd, Central Londo= n. Finally we were to the Student’s Union Travel Department, what it was. Apparently, they advised long-haired students on getting cheap flights arou= nd the world, and it reminded me of my own student days in Kingston Polytechni= c. Jimmy knocked and entered, the two of us stepping into a cramped and untidy office.

&nb= sp;    ‘Been burgled, have we?’ I asked a bored looking middle-aged woman, Jimmy shooting me a look.

&nb= sp;    She studied us over the rims of her bifocals. ‘Not students.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Worse,’ I said. ‘Stockbrokers.’

&nb= sp;    She raised an eyebrow.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m looking for Mr Timms,’ Jimmy told her.

&nb= sp;    A young man stepped in at the mention of his name, looking like a student in a three-day-old shirt. ‘Yes?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy got straight to the point. ‘We’d like to give you some money.’ That got their attention. ‘You handle student exchanges= , in particular with Russia and China?’

&nb= sp;    Young Mister Timms nodded. Jimmy gestured the man back towards his own office, wh= ich turned out to be a corner of an even more cramped room that he shared with = six others. There were just enough seats for the staff, none left over for gues= ts, charitable donors or otherwise.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy asked him, ‘How much do you spend each year on exchanges to Russia and China?’

&nb= sp;    Timms shrugged. ‘About five grand, I think.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And how many people does that allow to travel?’ Jimmy asked, the rest of = the young staff now attentive to the two stuffed suits in their midst.

&nb= sp;    ‘About … twenty five.’

&nb= sp;    I made that two hundred quid a throw.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy presented a cheque in an envelope. ‘Now you can send an extra hundred each year. My address is in the envelope, and I want a list of names - and places they visited. If I’m satisfied with your progress, I’ll double the amount next year.’

&nb= sp;    Timms read the cheque with an expression, as if it might be a fake.

&nb= sp;    I closed in on a pretty girl. ‘I went to Kingston Polytechnic myself.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Errrr,’ she let out with a pulled face.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy grinned. ‘Should have told her you were a millionaire, might have wor= ked better. Come on.’

&nb= sp;    We turned and left, my pride hurt. What the hell was wrong with Kingston Polytechnic? And we gave the fuckers money.

 

 

 

Our faces in the papers<= /span>

 

Next day we got up early and hopped= on the train at Paddington Station, bound for sunny Cardiff. I had not been in= the First Class section of a train before and sat looking the place over.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘We’re not in First Class,’ Jimmy pointed out as he stood waiting.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, yeah, right. I knew that … I was just, you know, checking it out.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    We squeezed past people in the queue at the buffet car, and grabbed two seats = on a table of four, suit jackets off and neatly folded, placed overhead. Jimmy started on his newspaper as we pulled out, the train almost empty.

&nb= sp;    ‘Empty,’ I idly mentioned.

&nb= sp;    ‘Going the wrong way,’ Jimmy quietly stated without taking his gaze off his paper. ‘Workers come in to London in the mornings, students - = and people visiting relatives - go out from London. Same with the motorways.= 217;

&nb= sp;    Five minutes later we were slowly clanking over points and picking up speed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Grub?’ I asked, sat in the isle seat.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘Burger, sandwich, tea. Something for you.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    I joined the queue.

 

Two hours, and several teas later, = we pulled into Newport.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you look left,’ Jimmy said without raising his head. ‘You’= ;ll see where I was born. Parents now live off to the right.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    I scanned what detail I could, the track raised to the height of the tops of = the terraced houses. I could see urban hills and then a river. ‘Low tide?’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s the River Usk, which enjoys the second highest tidal range in the world = 211; about thirty feet.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We close to the coast?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Couple of miles to the Severn Estuary, off to the left.’

&nb= sp;    I clocked the town centre, what I could see, before we ground to a squeaky ha= lt at the station. Jimmy looked up, issuing a sigh after studying the platform, alone with his own thoughts. He appeared saddened. Ten minutes later we wer= e in Cardiff.

The first impression o= f any place is often from a train carriage. As I sat there, I thought, what a = shit hole. Why the fuck didn’t the council clean up those houses facing the track? It would make a better impression on visitors. Still, London was just as bad; rich people didn’t live in houses overlooking the train tracks. We walked out through the crowds, grabbing a taxi.

&nb= sp;    ‘Heath Hospital,’ Jimmy told the driver.

     As the streets blurred= by I tried to take in as much detail as I could, clocking the old castle and the civic centre. The hospital turned out to be a giant white edifice, almost a single block that had been unimaginatively designed by the same guy who commissioned the rest of the high rises in 1960s Britain. If I ever met = that guy… We stopped next to a park, Jimmy checking his watch. After paying the cabbie, Jimmy approached a photographer.

&nb= sp;    ‘You from The Echo?’ The guy nodded. ‘Follow us, then.’ <= /o:p>

Jimmy led us to a buil= ding next to the park, looking as if it had been designed after a trip to Japan = and some Saki downed. This is where our taxes went, I considered as we stepped = down a flight of steps and into a reception area. Medical Genetics it read, a br= ief flash in my mind of Jimmy strapped to a chair and being drugged up by mad scientists. I was, however, reasonably sure that these guys had nothing to = do with that. I could see parents with kids, toys on the floor. We ignored the= lady receptionist and trailed up a flight of steps, turning right at the top.

&nb= sp;    ‘Jill, Prof Harper,’ Jimmy offered.

&nb= sp;    The ‘Professor’ could not have looked more like an archetypal profe= ssor if he tried; wild grey hair and a tank top. He seemed confused, or in pain,= I couldn’t figure out which.

&nb= sp;    ‘Sorry for the unannounced visit, but I’m a rather busy man,’ Jimmy sa= id. They shook as a peeved looking secretary peered around the door. Jimmy pull= ed an envelope from his jacket pocket. ‘I’d like to donate some mo= ney.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh … well … that’s always appreciated,’ Prof Harper offered. He opened the envelope to a cheque for quarter of a million pounds. Poor bugger had to hold a finger to the digits to work them out he was so surprised.

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s a quarter million quid,’ Jimmy casually noted. ‘Can we have a p= hoto before we set off back for London?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Um … er, yes ... of course,’ the startled academic managed to get = out. Jimmy and me stood either side of the recipient, a photo quickly snapped. ‘My details are in the envelope if you want to put me on your Christm= as card list,’ Jimmy told him before nudging me out the door.=

&nb= sp;    With the snapper trailing behind, we walked the short distance around to the children’s building, some sort of new centre for kids and their paren= ts to gather at. Jimmy went straight in, and straight to the office he wanted. With as much haste as previously, we stunned another academic medic. And I = was getting confused by all the wall-signs and directions, not least because th= ey were doubled-up into Welsh. What the hell was Obstetrics? It sounded painfu= l. We got our pictures taken with someone who looked like he would need the Cardiac Department, wherever the hell that was. At least I could see the si= gns for X-Ray in case I broke a leg. Jimmy thanked the snapper and gave the man= a twenty note. Soon we were in a taxi to Newport.

&nb= sp;    ‘Parents,’ I figured.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded, looking both concerned and saddened, no explanations forthcoming. We sped along the motorway into Newport’s suburbs and to a bland semi. ‘Mum’ was surprised to see him.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, Jimmy.’ The white-haired lady held the door open and let us in, Jimmy towering over her. ‘You’re smart.’

&nb= sp;    ‘This is Paul, he works with me at the stock brokers,’ Jimmy lied.

&nb= sp;    We entered the lounge, a tanned, grey haired man easing up, somewhat reluctant= ly. I could see the family resemblance.

&nb= sp;    ‘Tea?’ came an unseen voice.

&nb= sp;    ‘Two, milk and sugars,’ Jimmy shouted back as he sat.

&nb= sp;    I said hello to his father, then clocked some of the family photos. As his mum returned, I plonked down. ‘So, you two are responsible for bringing t= he big guy into the world.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Getting bigger all the time,’ his mum mock-complained. ‘Are you seeing clients down here?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Came to see a broker in Cardiff,’ Jimmy lied. ‘You well?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, all OK. Your bother was down on the weekend,’ his mum enthusiastically reported.

&nb= sp;    ‘Did you drive?’ his dad enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, train,’ I put in. ‘Read the papers on the way.’

 &nb= sp;   We made small talk for twenty minutes, tea and scones downed, before Jimmy gave his father a wad of money. He had to spend ten minutes justifying how much = he was on before his father would grudgingly accept it. Leaving the house, we walked back towards the train station, a twenty-minute stroll, Jimmy pointi= ng out a few places of interest; it seemed to be somewhat of a trip down memory lane for him. Passing through a run down area, he pointed out where he had = been born.

&nb= sp;    ‘You know, when in Canada – and they were finishing off the time machine – one bright spark suggested that anyone going through the portal wou= ld re-appear as a younger version of themselves, probably with no memory of the future; which would have achieved nothing. I had to consider that I might re-appear back here as a kid or teenager. Wasn’t a pleasant thought, I could not have done my school years again. I figured that, if I re-appeared here, I’d top myself rather than do my school years again.’

&nb= sp;    ‘That bad, were they?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, not bad, but just imagine it: fifty pence pocket money and in bed at nine o’clock, bath on a Sunday, spelling homework! Could you do it … with an adult brain in your head?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Be hard, but maybe fun.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It was hard enough going back to twenty years old, damn hard to pull off. And = that was without re-possessing a younger body.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then how…?’

&nb= sp;    ‘The other me, the original, went forwards. It was a swap.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So, what would have happened to –’

&nb= sp;    ‘An uncertain future. Probably would have been dead quickly knowing where I came from. Conditions were harsh.’

On the trip back he was gloomy, but for reasons I could never have understood.

&nb= sp;    I said, ‘Your folks … they’ll see us the in the local rag?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, we’ll be in the Cardiff Echo, they don’t read it. But someone w= ill tell them and … and it’ll be a big row.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why?’ I delicately broached.

&nb= sp;    He held his gaze on the countryside shooting by. ‘Because I should keep = my money for a rainy day, or give it to the family.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Your dad didn’t seem too pleased to take any money?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Exactly. But that don’t mean I should give it to strangers either.’=

 

 

Pineapple records=

 

I answered the phone to Oliver Stan= dish from Pineapple Records on a wet Tuesday morning, two weeks after meeting wi= th the guy at his offices. ‘How you doing, mate?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Good, good. Is … er … James about?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sure is, and he don’t like James very much – Jimmy will do.’

&= nbsp;    Jimmy took the phone. ‘Home for fallen women. Are you dropping off or picki= ng up?’

&nb= sp;    Oliver laughed. ‘Picking up, definitely. How are you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Keenly awaiting your next sentence, Oliver.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and I like the proposal. So, w= here do we go from here?’

&nb= sp;    ‘My accountants and solicitor will be around to you this afternoon with some pa= pers … and a big cheque. Can you join us for a meal this Friday, br= ing the whole gang?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I should think so.’

&nb= sp;    ‘In the meantime, could you send around every tape that was rejected or not yet screened, use a courier and I’ll pay this end.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Will do, quite a few boxes full though!’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ll be able to Hoover after. I know you probably have things to do, but I’= ;d appreciate that pile of tapes in a box in a matter of hours.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not a problem, I boxed them up on the weekend, kind of a clean sweep through the office. I’ll send them round c.o.d. right away.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Thanks. We’ll pop in this week, dinner Friday – treats for the staff.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sounds like a plan. Your people –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Will be with you around 2pm. Call me if you have any questions, anything at all. Bye.’ He put the phone down.

&nb= sp;    ‘They got any sexy chicks on their books already?’ I keenly enquired, closi= ng in.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy made a face. ‘Not really.’

 

An hour later we took delivery of t= hree large cardboard boxes.

&nb= sp;    ‘Right,’ Jimmy began. ‘Earn your bloody keep.’ He upturned a box, its contents spilling over the floor. ‘Call out the name, the stage name,= and the name of the song.’ He picked up a tape as I grabbed several.=

&nb= sp;    ‘David Wilson, Call me back baby.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nope. Back in the box.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Susan Chasilton, a.k.a Sugar Sweety, Blow my mind.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nope.’

&nb= sp;    An hour later we had selected just three artists from three big boxes.

&nb= sp;    ‘Take that lot down to the garage, ask the doorman to bin it all, and slip him a = few quid.’

&nb= sp;    We put the tapes that we had selected - that Jimmy knew would be hits - into a= big envelope and couriered it back to Pineapple. Our note said: Sign them up pronto, please bring them out Friday.<= /p>

&= nbsp;    ‘They going to be big hits?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Two will be big, one will be a one hit wonder, like a lot of artists. Eighty percent of who we sign up will have just the one big hit.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Why just one?’

&nb= sp;    ‘After one hit they go a bit crazy, often hit the booze and the drugs, let it all = go to their heads. A hit record makes you very arrogant, especially if you’re living in a bed-sit at the moment. From Hackney to a limo fucks with their heads, they lose it.’ He cracked a cheek into a smile. ‘One of the singers you’ll meet Friday will be big across twenty years, and she’s a babe.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Which of us … er … dates her?’ I carefully nudged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Neither, she likes girls.’

&nb= sp;    I took a moment to get my head around that. ‘Do you think…?’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Once or twice, her and mate, when they’re drunk.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes!’ I punched the air and did a little dance.

&nb= sp;   

 

 

Rubber veins

 

A few months later we reached a fin= ancial target. Actually, we were ahead of schedule, and so headed back down to Cardiff. I figured we’d be donating more money, but Jimmy said no. He= had contacted the Professor at Medical Genetics and asked for an introduction to the head of Medical Physics, which did not sound as painful as Obstetrics. = This new fella must have been salivating at the prospect of some money.

&nb= sp;    The aforementioned department was located down in the bowels of the hospital, a= nd it turned out they made things, weird bits of equipment for specialist use,= all of the stuff they showed us turning my stomach. A new clamp for holding ope= n a chest did nothing for my appetite. We finally sat in the Manager’s office, not a professor, and the guy was called Dyke - pronounced ‘dick’. I held my tongue.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy kicked off with, ‘I would like to invest some money into designing and building a training aid for medics, both doctors in the hospital environmen= t, as well as paramedics and ambulance staff. I’m looking for someone li= ke yourself to design an artificial sick person. What I mean by that is= an advanced dummy – not a robot or anything clever – but a dummy t= hat lies down and looks and feels like an unconscious person.’=

&nb= sp;    Dick was intrigued, but I could see a hint of disappointment that he had not got= a fat cheque yet.

&nb= sp;    ‘What … er … what would it be used for?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Training, since there are many things that you cannot practice on a live person or simulate - such as rapid pulse, unless you inject the willing volunteer with adrenaline.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah. I see,’ Dick offered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Got a paper and pen?’ Jimmy nudged.

&nb= sp;    Dick got himself ready.

&nb= sp;    ‘We need to find a rubber tube with the consistency of an artery. It stretches = like an artery, it breaks like an artery, and it can be cut like an artery. Then= we map out all veins and arteries in the body and make a working model in rubb= er, or similar material. Then you find a suitable material to make an artificial bone that breaks like a normal bone, weighs the same. Then you build an artificial muscle from strands of something else, so that it looks, feels a= nd weighs the same as a muscle, and when you cut through it looks like muscle –’

&nb= sp;    ‘For training surgeons?’ Dick said without looking up, scribbling away.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, but also for a few other purposes. You then find a substance that looks and feels like skin, cuts like skin. The arteries are attached to an external p= ump that creates a pulse which can be varied –’

&nb= sp;    ‘To simulate various medical conditions,’ Dick put in as he scribbled awa= y.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, and rubber lungs attached to external pipes so that they can inflate or deflate; in essence, a complete artificial person. The head should be realistic, with eyes that either dilate or weep.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Complicated. And expensive,’ Dick let out as he eased back.

&nb= sp;    ‘You get fifty thousand a year to start, plus capital costs, plus the rights to a commission on sales when it’s sold around the world. Year by year, depending on your progress, I’ll increase the budget. If you can show that it works, to my satisfaction, we’ll accelerate the timescale and you’ll receive more money. I’ll even look at giving you a grant= for a full time researcher or two to work on it.’

&nb= sp;    Despite the fact that he would not be getting a fat cheque, Dyke seemed interested.= It was done deal, a cheque for twenty thousand handed over on good faith.=

 

 

 

Hong Kong’s Mr Wang Po

 

We landed at Hong Kong airport at a= time when it was still under British control, and when 747s flew in at an angle designed to catch washing lines with their wing tips. Jimmy enjoyed my discomfort as we banked hard to line up with the runway. Peering out the ca= bin window, I could see into houses through their windows.

&nb= sp;    We had refused the recommended Drysdale Hotel when we booked the trip at the travel agents, a small firm around the corner from the flat that specialise= d in long haul. Being the excellent customers that we were they didn’t arg= ue. When we landed in Hong Kong, Jimmy explained that the Drysdale would burn d= own, but he could not remember exactly when.

We booked into the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jimmy explaining that he needed to bump into someo= ne there. We would not have normally spent so much money on a hotel, but this = was business. As it turned out, I really liked the Mandarin and would return ma= ny times in the future. Within an hour of hitting my room I was enjoying my fi= rst massage, two local ladies at the same time, with Chinese music playing in t= he background. I even had the James Bond style massage with a little lady walk= ing on my back. Fortunately, the little lady weighed six stone soaking wet.

Later, Jimmy led me do= wn to a large and empty function room, saying, ‘What do you reckon to the acoustics?’

‘Uh?’ was = all I offered as I scanned a large room with red curtains and red carpet. The doo= r sign said it was called ‘The Red Room.’ Fair enough.

‘Tomorrow, there’ll be a convention on stock market trading here, including technical trading and derivatives. We’re going to crash.’<= /o:p>

‘To find the guy= you want to bump into,’ I surmised.

‘He should be in= the audience. Mr Wang Po.’

‘Poor fucker,= 217; I muttered. ‘What does he do?’

‘He’s in proper= ty, shipping and food. At least he’ll be in those industries in a bigger = way in the years ahead.’

‘Successful guy?= ’ I asked as we took in the room.

‘By time we get = to 2009 he’ll be one of the richest men in China – worth about twenty billion quid.’

‘Shit…R= 17;

‘Exactly. And yo= u know how he made a lot of it?’ Jimmy teased.

After a moment I said, ‘You don’t?’

‘I do.’

‘Why? He’s Chinese, a communist rice nibbler!’

&nb= sp;    ‘In 1997 this place goes back to China and infects the whole country with capitalism. China rapidly becomes a very rich nation, and ultimately catche= s up to the Yanks – becoming the second super-power. And Wang Po is going = to help me make a few quid … as well as influence the Chinese Government.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Jesus,’ I blew out. ‘Don’t tell the UK Government.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy focused on me. And waited.

&nb= sp;    ‘I know,’ I admitted. ‘You’re already a very secret squirrel.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And so should you be, underling.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Less of the underling, I went to Kingston Polytechnic.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Got your old McKinleys’ pass?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nope.’

&nb= sp;    He handed me my old pass. ‘You do now, underling.’

That evening we dined = at a restaurant that gave me vertigo, glass panels below our feet that viewed the street far below. At least the food was good. It was similar to that which I had sampled in the UK, but somehow better; I guess the ambience helped.

&nb= sp;    After the meal we sat on high stools at the bar, a huge glass front allowing an uninterrupted view over the brightly lit city. Numerous local girls made cl= umsy attempts to get a free drink and a new customer for a few hours, but we resisted. Jimmy surprised me with his fluent Mandarin, the brightly coloured little ladies in no doubt as to the firmness of the putdown.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not before the main event,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Work comes first. Cou= ple of beers, bed, get rid of your jet-lag, be fresh in the morning. Sauna and swim, late breakfast, then crash the big show. You might recognise some of = the faces.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Anyone from McKinleys?’ I puzzled

&nb= sp;    ‘They’re on the list, so our passes will get us in, dummy. Old Bob is here.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Old Bobby,’ I repeated, fond memories of the rotund senior broker, someth= ing of a mentor to me in my first few weeks.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy tipped his head. I followed his gaze to a table with a colourfully dressed local girl facing a rotund man. With a smirk, we eased up. Sneaking in quie= tly from behind, Jimmy slapped his hand onto Bob’s shoulder. In a Chinese accent, he said, ‘What you do my wife?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Wha … what?’ Bob stumbled, suddenly horrified. He hurriedly wiped h= is mouth with his napkin and stood. ‘By God! Jimmy Silo!’ He clock= ed me. ‘Paul?’

&nb= sp;    ‘In the flesh,’ I said, shaking his hand.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy shook Bob’s fat claw of a hand, then slipped the girl some currency a= nd told to her leave quickly. There were seats for four at the table, so we plonked down.

&nb= sp;    ‘What are you two doing here?’ Bob puzzled.

&nb= sp;    ‘What are you … doing here?’ Jimmy countered. ‘Besides shagging locals.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m here for the seminar … ah, you as well, eh?’ Bob surmised.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded.

&nb= sp;    ‘And I’m here for the booze,’ I put in. ‘So, anyone else from McKinleys here?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, yes,’ Bob replied. ‘Couple. Right now they’re down the lo= cal brothel. I decided to give it a miss.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Really?’ Jimmy teased.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, the young lady sat down –’

&nb= sp;    ‘If you don’t get rid of them quickly they see it as a contract,’ J= immy warned.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh … really,’ Bob mused. ‘Never mind, only here for three da= ys. So, what you two been up to? I heard you had joined forces.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bit of trading,’ Jimmy nonchalantly stated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Still doing well?’ Bob whispered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Very well, of course,’ Jimmy responded.

&nb= sp;    Bob addressed me with, ‘Are you day trading, or client account, or what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Learning to fly helicopters,’ I said. ‘So that I can impress birds.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    Bob frowned his lack of understanding.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained, ‘He’s spending his pocket money on flying lessons. Something to impress the birds.’

&nb= sp;    Bob again focused on me. ‘You should get Jimmy to take you to some London clubs. Bit of a ladies man, our Jimbo.’

&nb= sp;    I resisted the temptation to respond to that. ‘Slave driver he is, I’m always too tired to go out. He’s got me on the Dow and the = Hang Seng – twenty-four hour job.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Bit of arbitrage, ay?’ Bob assumed.

&nb= sp;    Fresh drinks were placed down.

&nb= sp;    ‘So,’ Jimmy began. ‘Got your speaker’s pass for tomorrow?’=

&nb= sp;    Bob fetched it out. ‘They gave us these today.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy took it off him and pocketed it. ‘I lost mine, so this’ll have = to do.’ He gave Bob a wad of notes. ‘Tomorrow you’re going sight-seeing and shopping.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, er … right you are, Jimmy.’ Bob pocketed the wad. ‘Hate public speaking anyway.’

&nb= sp;    And, just in case Bob changed his mind about speaking at the seminar, we got him right royally drunk before making sure three ladies took him home. Jimmy removed Bob’s wallet first, paying the ladies well and telling them, = in Chinese, which hotel to drop in at, no earlier than 2pm. On the way back, J= immy explained that the ladies were under contract to the restaurant and = high class, so they would not abuse a customer – and no, I could not have = one.

&nb= sp;   

As we again approached the aptly na= med Red Room, we encountered a throng of Chinese, most of who seemed pleased to= see us. Jimmy explained that the Chinese were into their trading in a big way, = and that seminars like this were always well attended. Some of the Chinese were even from across the border.

&nb= sp;    We flashed our McKinleys passes, although they were not needed: we were Caucas= ians in suits and in the minority, being treated like honoured guests, and there could not have been more than ten westerners present. Jimmy approached Bob’s massage-parlour visiting colleagues, the men startled in their recognition.

&nb= sp;    ‘Jimmy Silo!’ they questioned. ‘By God!’

&nb= sp;    We shook hands.

&nb= sp;    ‘Bob’s not well, so I’m speaking,’ Jimmy told them.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Do my slot as well,’ one of the men grumbled, not wanting to speak.=

&nb= sp;    ‘I will, I need the time,’ Jimmy said. ‘Give me a good write up, l= ay on thick, then wait for us in the bar.’

The first representati= ve of McKinleys spoke after two other Brits, boring talks about currency arbitrage and day trading. Then Jimmy took the podium. Unlike his countrymen, he gave= a welcome in Chinese, then French, Russian, and finally English. And the bugg= er could have warned me in advance about what was to come next. He gave a one-= hour talk, complete with numerous diagrams on a white board, in Mandarin Chinese= . At the end of it, the other Brits waiting to speak looked peeved, but the loca= ls loved it. And I was wondering just where, and when, he learnt to speak Chin= ese.

&nb= sp;    When Jimmy rejoined me, he asked, ‘How did I do? Clear enough?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Fuck off,’ I whispered as numerous locals closed in on us. ‘Is your = boy here?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. He answered questions from several locals as tea was served, then seemed to be heavily engaged with one particular gent, a round-faced local = with dimples in his cheeks and a permanent smile. He introduced the man to me as= Mr Wang Po and we shook.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘Mr Po speaks excellent English.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It OK,’ our new friend suggested, his words accented.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy told him, ‘I’m happy to answer more questions, but not on an em= pty stomach.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We go, we, go. I have restaurant,’ Po insisted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not wanting to hear the rest?’ I teased.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, no. Jimly theory vely good.’

&nb= sp;    We walked out through the crowds and to the taxi rank, but Po had a car waitin= g, a dark blue Rolls Royce. Chatting away like old friends, we got in and headed off, Jimmy trying to keep the conversation English for my benefit. But the = big guy looked, and sounded, like a nerd in a suit when he spoke Chinese. ‘Jimly’ could not seem to maintain the butch image as he contor= ted his face to form the Chinese words. It took half an hour to reach the restaurant, which turned out to be a staff canteen of sorts for the executi= ves of one of Po’s companies, numerous security gates negotiated as we spiralled up a hill. But the place turned out to be posh enough.=

&nb= sp;    Po was not the boss, but the boss’s son, his father elderly and infirmed= , Po being the heir and de-facto managing director. We settled down at a round table, many different offerings placed down, the idea being to sample a lit= tle of each and then order some more. I tucked in as numerous executives entere= d, each man bowing politely in our direction. Guess it was lunchtime around here.

&nb= sp;    I heard Po say, ‘You can predict big crash in market.’=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy suggested he could, and Jimmy did not get involved in guesswork. He and Po discussed ‘bubbles’ and ‘saturation points’, some of which I understood: if everyone was in the market, where would the new money come from? My ears pricked up when Po suggested Jimmy trade some money for = him.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy replied, ‘Mr Po, the fun of stock market trading … is to do it yourself. I am happy to provide you with recommendations for a few years, f= or you to see how good I am. After that we can talk about commission.’

&nb= sp;    Po was stunned. ‘A few years – no commission?’

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s correct. I am in no hurry … and a good friendship takes time.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    I decided to be helpful. ‘If you visit London we’ll show you around.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I have UK passport as well,’ Po explained. ‘This Hong Kong, no bleeding China!’

&nb= sp;    Trying to be even more helpful, I turned my head to Jimmy and said, ‘What was that company we heard about, the secret takeover?’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah, Anglo Oil,’ Jimmy responded, the company we had bought shares in the = day we left. He faced Po. ‘Anglo Oil should be a good bet in the next few days, they’ll be a bid by Shell.’

&nb= sp;    Po snapped his fingers at a lady and had a phone to his ear a few seconds late= r, a rapid exchange with his broker. Little more than a minute later, Po had ord= ered a million shares at just about two pounds.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘Hold them till they reach two-eighty at least.’

&nb= sp;    Po thanked us as we stuffed our faces. I didn’t know what work Po did, b= ut we remained there till the sun went down, waited upon by the nice ladies in traditional dress. Jimmy told Po that we had to meet the other Brits, which= we didn’t, but offered to see him at the casino that night. It was a dat= e, Po sending us back in the Rolls.

&nb= sp;    Back in the hotel, I said, ‘We meeting McKinleys?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘No, just needed a break, or he would have adopted us as family. Get some rest a= nd be ready for 9pm, the car’s coming back for us, and it could be a late night. Oh, and his daughters – not a finger on them nor innuendo spok= en, you’d wash up in the harbour.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nice, are they?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Very. And sixteen with it.’

 

We were almost half a day ahead of = the UK, the FTSE opening as we were losing shed loads of money at the tables. At least I was, Jimmy was playing blackjack and doing OK. At some point someone must have handed Po a phone or given him a message, because the UK market h= ad opened with the news of the takeover leaked, Po now a million quid or so better of= f. First I knew of it was a member of staff offering me a silver tray with bun= dles of British Pounds on it.

&nb= sp;    ‘For you, sir, from Mr Po.’

&nb= sp;    With quite an audience observing, I accepted the money, a stack the size of two house bricks, then decided to head to Jimmy instead of my first impulse, wh= ich was to put it all on black.

&nb= sp;    ‘Anglo Oil?’ I knowingly asked.

&nb= sp;    A smiling Po, sat next to Jimmy, nodded the answer: it was already at three q= uid ten. Jimmy also had a pile of cash, stacked up on the table, but he did not seem to be gambling it.

It was my turn to surp= rise Jimmy. ‘Mr Po, can I ask a favour?’

‘Of course, of course.’

‘Can you hold this,’ I said, handing him the bundle. I took out the flyer that I had found in the drawer of the bedside cabinet and held it for Po to see. ̵= 6;I want you to take our money and give it to The Red Cross mission here in Hong Kong.’ I handed him the flyer.

Jimmy was as cool as e= ver, stacking his money on top of mine without even making eye contact with me.<= o:p>

Po was surprised, to s= ay the least. ‘You want to give it all – to Red Cross.’

‘Yes,’ I s= aid. ‘And I trust you to deliver it, of course.’

With a quick tip of th= e head, Po had two members of staff at hand, collecting the money with instructions= on what do with it.

A minute later Po̵= 7;s two daughters arrived, introductions given, Jimmy turning and standing. He enga= ged them at length about their studies, before switching to English, asking a f= ew more questions; it turned out that nearly all of the educated locals spoke English. And the two girls were just nice enough to eat. I took them to the bar, and helped them practice their English.

&nb= sp;    When the girls had to leave, Jimmy explained that we were due to meet our friends from McKinleys in the morning, and we thanked Po. Jimmy got Po’s fax number and card and gave him our details before we left, the Rolls taking us back again. We flew out the following afternoon with a new friend in the colony. And the local branch of the Red Cross got a surprise, Po as trustwo= rthy as the Pope. From now on I was to fax our new friend regular tips.

 

 

 

Kenya, February, 1987

 

Staying at the beach hotel that we = were due to buy, one day Jimmy ordered us a taxi and we set off through the dila= pidated gates, a half-hearted salute from the fat old guard.

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ll need to be good at improvising today,’ he said as we bumped along a r= oad that I was determined to fix some day. ‘Don’t react to weird st= uff, I’m going to frighten someone.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Frighten them?’ I asked, a careful study of the sweaty taxi driver. But the man seemed ignorant of our discussion, concentrating hard on trying to run over chickens in the road.

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s a woman … you’ll see. She thinks I was in the Second World War.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Were you?’ I testily asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, but her belief serves my purpose. You see, the first time I met her she tho= ught I looked familiar - told me a story about an English soldier who saved her during the war. I’ll adopt that persona so that she’ll assist us.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Assist us how? If she was in the war then she’s gotta be fucking ancient!= 217;

&nb= sp;    ‘Seventy now.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So…’

&nb= sp;    ‘She runs an orphanage,’ he said with a smirk.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh,’ I muttered. ‘I got a few quid to give them.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Me too.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You Englanders?’ the taxi driver finally asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘From the Chicken Protection League.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘I like da chicken, man,’ I got back.

&nb= sp;    ‘Get your wife to scrape some off the tyres later, be well cooked by time you get home!’

We had passed this orp= hanage before, on each trip to the hotel. It was a red brick building on a corner = of the main road and resembled a school from the outside. It also looked a hun= dred years old and falling down, the outside dilapidated. I wondered what the in= side might be like, and I wondered too soon. The inside stank, a curtain of buzz= ing flies hanging in the air, the pungent odour of stale urine greeting any visitors – no need for a guard dog. I looked inside a hanging bell, b= ut found no striker, so I tapped it with a coin. A local appeared, a face so b= lack that I could not make out any features other than bloodshot eyes.

&nb= sp;    ‘Sister woman,’ Jimmy told the man.

&= nbsp;    The man, dressed in a sweat-stained blue shirt, turned around and hobbled into = the bright sunlight of an internal courtyard, the distant echoes of kids’ voices coming from somewhere. We followed him across the courtyard and into another building, to an office, finding the diminutive ‘Sister woman’ sat attending some paperwork. Her hair was grey and unkempt, a= nd she appeared as if she had neither had a good bath, nor a good meal, since = the end of the aforementioned war. Maybe even the First World War.

&nb= sp;    ‘God bless all here,’ Jimmy stated as we stepped inside, causing me to puz= zle the line. Blocking the sunlight of the doorway, Jimmy towered over her. ‘Are you all alone under the rubble, Mary?’ He held out his han= d.

&nb= sp;    She stood slowly, her wrinkled face contorted in confusion. For a full ten seco= nds she stared at him before holding a hand to her mouth and shrieking.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy took her frail arm, lifting her shirtsleeve and revealing a scar. He ran a finger along it. ‘I did good stitches, child.’ She collapsed ba= ck into her seat with another shriek, uttering some words in Dutch. Her assist= ant looked worried for her, pouring her a drink.

&nb= sp;    ‘Are you not glad to see me?’ Jimmy asked. ‘It has been a while.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘You … you,’ she struggled to get out, pointing a shaky finger. And I was starting to feel uncomfortable; poor woman looked like she had seen a ghost.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, Mary. I have come to help.’ From his pocket, Jimmy handed over a thin wad, totalling ten thousand dollars, which out-trumped the ten dollars I was going to give them. She examined the wad. ‘I think some food for the children is in order, some more staff, and new toilets in the boy’s building,’ Jimmy told her. He turned about and led me outside. ‘Give her a minute, I’ll show you around our new orphanage.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Our … our orphanage?’ I queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘Our … AIDS orphanage.’

&= nbsp;    I stopped dead, not least because some of the sickly looking kids were closing in; snot noses, a dozen personal flies each, tatty clothes, ribs showing. I swallowed. I was not ready for this and Jimmy, bastard, had dropped me righ= t in at the deep end. He began to chat to some of the kids in various local dial= ects as I tried hard not to touch them. I was walking through them with my arms = up, as if negotiating a field of stinging nettles.

&nb= sp;    ‘They will not bite you,’ came a weak and husky voice from behind as Mary joined us.

&nb= sp;    ‘You can’t know that for sure,’ I told her. ‘They look hungry.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You are not like him.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, I’m mortal,’ slipped out, immediately regretted. Now I was wind= ing up the old lady as badly as Jimmy, and by accident.

&nb= sp;    She put a hand over her eyes and stared in his direction. ‘I had prayed f= or help…’

&nb= sp;    I gave it some thought, trying not to make a joke. ‘Some solutions come= in extra-large size.’ We observed Jimmy pick-up two ten-year-old boys and swing them around. He straightened his arms level with his shoulders and spun around, the boys flying over the heads of the other children, the gathering staff amazed.

&nb= sp;    Finally he joined us, three members of staff now stood flanking the old woman. ‘I’ll be sending ten thousand dollars a month to start, more ne= xt year. We’ll be visiting regular, three times a year, and we will be taking over this orphanage, rebuilding it to hold more children. I will bui= ld a school and bring in teachers, also a permanent doctor based here.’

&nb= sp;    To say they were stunned was an understatement.

&nb= sp;    ‘Going to get some fly traps as well,’ I put in, hoping it did not sound too sarcastic.

&nb= sp;    He closed in on the old lady. ‘Now, show me the children who are dying.’

&nb= sp;    I swallowed. If the rest of the orphanage was anything to go by, what the hell awaited me in the Terminal Ward?

&nb= sp;    It was a bad as I thought; I was fighting not to be sick with the stench. The = kids lay in their own excrement, many with limbs dressed in bandages that had be= en white at some point.

&nb= sp;    Mary saw my look. ‘No money, no care. When they die we burn them. One or t= wo a day.’

&nb= sp;    In the space of an hour I had gone from a nice beachfront hotel and a cold beer … to hell on earth. My guts were turning and my thoughts jumbled. Wha= t I would have paid to be out of there that instant.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy faced Mary squarely. ‘Do you trust me?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Of course,’ she offered, seemingly shocked that he would ask.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Get a needle and syringe.’

&nb= sp;    My guts tightened some more as I stood as close as I could get to an open wind= ow. I could see out over some low brick buildings toward a wooded area at the r= ear, smoke coming from a fire. I remembered what she had said about the bodies, = suddenly vomiting hard through the window and gripping onto the peeling paint frame. Turning around a minute later, I saw Jimmy prepare a needle, hand it to Mar= y, and offer her his straight forearm upturned. After a moment’s hesitat= ion she drew dark red blood.

&nb= sp;    ‘Inject a quarter into the four children with the best chance of survival.’

&nb= sp;    What had she to lose, I thought as I observed; the beds held the living dead. Th= ese kids didn’t even have the strength to move their eyes towards us. She carried out her task diligently, returning to Jimmy as I retched again. My brain was fried and not working. As I stood there I realised he was immune = to everything, future genetics, and now I understood. His blood, in them, would make them better.

&nb= sp;    He informed her, ‘If it is not too late, they will run a fever for a day, then start to recover. They must have protein and water, so use the money I gave you. You understand?’

&nb= sp;    She nodded, holding the needle reverently.

&nb= sp;    ‘We will be back in seven days, use the money, there will be more. And Mary, do= not discuss me with anyone. Understand?’

&nb= sp;    I was very grateful when he grabbed me by the arm and led me out, delighted t= o be on the street again, but also a little angry at having been dragged in ther= e in the first damn place. Still, what he had done had put me to shame, and I fe= lt it as badly as my stomach hurt. We made the short trip back to the hotel in silence and I soon plunged into the cool waves, several beers at the bar be= fore I forgave him. And forgave myself.

&nb= sp;    ‘Better?’ he asked without looking around, Abba playing from a badly tuned radio behi= nd the bar.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah. Sorry about that.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s part of my world, not yours. Not yet.’ He faced me. ‘There̵= 7;s something you need to know. If I inject you with a syringe full of my blood … you’ll change, you’ll be just like me.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Change?’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ll have extreme endurance … and be immune to every disease known to man. You’ll also live to be around one hundred and twenty, at least. You won’t be a hundred percent like me, maybe sixty percent, but you̵= 7;ll be able to break every Olympic record. And if you’re going to piss ab= out down here with me … you’ll need the immunity, or you’ll d= ie. And … most of all, you’ll be able to provide a very important backup to me, in case I’m killed.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Back up?’

&nb= sp;    ‘My blood has the key antibodies to a variety of diseases, including cancer. La= ter on, decades from now, doctors will use it to reverse engineer cures for a l= ot of things, saving millions of lives. And, when the time comes, if I’m= not around you could inject your mother.’

&= nbsp;    ‘Your blood … it will cure her,’ I realised.

&nb= sp;    ‘My blood will cure more than just her, she’s just one women – but whatever it takes to motivate you to do the right thing.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    I walked off, not returning till sun down.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy greeted me with, ‘For you the fun part is over, we’ll start to = get serious in the years ahead. Sit, there’re some things about the future you need to know.’

&nb= sp;    I was as sick as the Terminal Ward, my head now filled with what the future h= eld: disease, wars and financial crisis. Sat there, I must have aged ten years. = Ten cool beers later and I fell unconscious, unable to rid my guts of the feeli= ngs that gripped me.

&nb= sp;    The next day was a blur. I managed a quick swim, some bread for breakfast whilst Jimmy was off scuba diving, then a few beers and back to bed. By sun down I= had a thick head and took some Anadin with my beer. I joined him for dinner, bu= t we said little. I retired to my room and watched a black and white TV, mostly local Kenyan programmes. Seemed the Ford Capri had just arrived and was bei= ng shown off, and the in-crowd all had Sony Walkmans on their hips. I started = to wonder about what decade I was in.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy left me firm instructions - to get my dive certificate sorted, PADI Open Wa= ter followed by Advanced Open Water, which seemed to just consist of looking at fish and filling in questions in a book that had the answers in the back. I went diving as he headed off to ‘plan things’. A week later, freshly qualified as an Advanced PADI diver, I joined Jimmy in a return to = the orphanage from hell.

&nb= sp;    As we pulled up I noted numerous locals up ladders, some scraping the walls and others painting them a tacky bright blue. Hell, it beat the old natural bri= ck surface, I considered. We stepped over upturned paint pots and ducked insid= e.

&nb= sp;    The man with the very black face and no features shrieked, running away as fast= as his gammy leg would allow him. Guess he was a convert, and buying into the story of Jimmy being in the war. If he knew the truth, I considered, heR= 17;d do exactly the same thing and run off again. The courtyard enclosed happy playing kids, this time all dressed like school children in blue shorts and shirts; albeit dying from AIDS. I figured the guys painting the walls were trying to be consistent. There seemed to be more members of staff, now dres= sed in blue shirts, or maybe just the same staff with a bath and makeover. We r= an an eye over more painting work, again blue, and entered Mary’s office= .

&nb= sp;    She jumped up as fast as she could and gripped Jimmy’s outstretched hand = with both of hers. ‘Welcome, welcome,’ she said in an accent. ‘Come.’ She led us back towards the Terminal Ward.

&nb= sp;    ‘Hardware store had a sale on blue?’ I asked, trying to take my mind off what awaited us.

&nb= sp;    ‘In Kenya … it’s the law for children and kindergarten,’ she explained as we climbed the new blue stairs. Well, that explained it.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    The ward had been metamorphosed into something closer to this decade; and fucki= ng blue. The floor was covered in lino painted blue, the walls smoothed down a= nd painted blue, the windowsills painted blue. The ceiling fans were still rus= ted, so I guessed the staff hadn’t reached that far yet. The bed linen was clean, the kids alert and awake, their bandages white. At the far end of the ward, which now looked like a ward and not a death camp, a lady doctor from= the Red Cross sat attending a child.

&nb= sp;    Mary stood proud. ‘You see. You just need money.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy half-turned his head towards me. ‘You just need money.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You just need money,’ I repeated, suddenly realising something. I stood nodding at my own understanding.

&nb= sp;    ‘Come, come. Quick,’ Mary got out, squeezing between us and heading back down the stairs in a hurry. We trailed behind. In the courtyard she called four names, the children falling-in as if soldiers on parade. ‘They had the blood,’ she explained.

&nb= sp;    I halted. For many seconds I could not move as it dawned on me; these four ki= ds, shiny faces and broad smiles in their neat blue uniforms, had been in the o= nes in the ward above, dying in their own filth.

&nb= sp;    ‘They put on weight quickly,’ she commended, adjusting their collars.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stood proudly inspecting them, the children stood like soldiers before their commander, exchanging a few words in the local dialect again. He was conten= ted, and sent them off to play. Facing Mary, he said, ‘The Red Cross doctor lady, she is Anna Pfunt?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Anna, yes,’ Mary responded. ‘You know her?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Let’s go and see.’ He led us back up the stairs. It was wind-up time again.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Anna?’ Mary loudly called, no regard for sleeping kids, the doctor walking down to= us. She stood dressed in a white overall with Red Cross flashes, an image that I would see a lot of in the future. A well-built woman, she looked like she c= ould handle herself in a bar fight. Her face was reddened from the heat, no make= -up, her blonde hair tied back.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah?’

&nb= sp;    ‘This is the man who gave the money,’ Mary stated.

&nb= sp;    That did not seem to impress the big lady. She looked us over.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘Have you forgiven yourself yet … for your sister’s death?’ The Amazon warrior blinked. Jimmy continued, ‘It is why= you came here, Anna. Do you still blame yourself for Lotti’s accident? It= was not your fault, you were trying to get away from the old man … the di= rty old man in the big house at the end of Aust Strasse, but she could not ride= her new bike well.’

&nb= sp;    I could not tell if Anna wanted to punch him, or keel over.=

&nb= sp;    ‘How … how do you know this?’ she demanded in a whisper. ‘I te= ll no one this.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You told me.’

&nb= sp;    ‘When? When do I tell you this, I do not know you!’

&nb= sp;    ‘When you were asleep.’

&nb= sp;    Mary smiled contentedly, seeming to enjoy it.

&nb= sp;    ‘When I was … asleep,’ Anna asked, her brow pleated to the point of p= ain.

&nb= sp;    ‘When you were six,’ Jimmy began, ‘you asked God for a wish. You reme= mber what it was?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah…’

&nb= sp;    ‘You now have a big brother.’ He handed her a wad of dollars. ‘Buy a= bus for the children, and take them to the ocean as you want to do. In the meantime, I want you to sit and watch us.’ He helped her down onto a = bed without resistance before facing Mary. ‘Syringes bitte, schwester.= 217;

&nb= sp;    With myself sat on a windowsill, blue of course, Anna on a bed, Mary ruthlessly = and hurriedly extracted blood, Jimmy wincing one or twice at the haste. Soon ‘Sister woman’ was injecting the kids, Anna on her feet after t= he second kid and seemingly not in favour of injecting one person with another’s blood, or the sharing of needles. When she finally managed = to open her mouth, Mary snapped at her, told her to shut up and watch the mira= cle. I had to commend her, the old lady attended every kid, the whole room in fifteen minutes or less, jabbing Jimmy in both of his arms, no antiseptic s= waps applied or consideration for his human condition. Nothing was going to stop her.

&nb= sp;    When done, Jimmy told Anna that he wanted her to stay for seven days and to obse= rve the children, but not to say anything to anyone; as a doctor it would go bad for her to be part of this. Now that was something of an understatem= ent. Even I knew that, and all I was … was PADI Advanced Open Water with a temporary paper certificate.

&nb= sp;    Back in the courtyard, I noticed the stack of three grubby mattresses. Pointing,= I said to Mary, ‘Throwing them out?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, no.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No,’ I challenged. ‘They’re filthy!’

&nb= sp;    ‘It is for the children, for the wall.’ She pointed, but I was lost. She clarified, ‘The painting work; people know we have money now. They co= me at night, here – this wall, and throw the kinder over the wall.’= ;

&nb= sp;    My eyes widened. ‘People … throw their kids over your wall?’= I was getting louder as well.

&nb= sp;    ‘The kinder with disease, they put them over the wall. We put the mattress so th= at they are not so hurt. The staff, they sit here at night and wait for the kinder. But the kinder bounce off the mattress and onto the floor, so always some problems.’

&nb= sp;    I pointed. ‘That fucking wall is six feet high!’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah, they swing the kinder over the top.’

&nb= sp;    ‘The locals? They throw the kids with AIDS over the wall?’

&= nbsp;    Sister Woman nodded, none too phased. I couldn’t move. My face wanted to lau= gh out loud at the absurdity of it, my jaw stuck tight so that I would not app= ear to be laughing at anyone’s misfortune, my eyes watering.

&nb= sp;    I fought for a breath. ‘Why not … why not lower the wall?’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Then they come and steal the food. It’s OK, the kinder bounce.’=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nudged me out the main entrance, kicking empty paint tins as we went. I had just had a crash course in the African’s sense of practicality: mattresses to catch the children. Still, it seemed to work.

 

Back in Nairobi we diced with death= - we caught a taxi across town, and entered a nondescript office block. The guar= d on the door did not challenge us; white folk I guessed. Soon, we were seated before a perplexed looking Dutchman in a nice office, air conditioning and a mini-bar; this was the United Nations. And Mister Van Den something-I-could-not-pronounce was one of a very small team of people who = organised the clearing of mines and ordinance after wars and conflicts. I figured Jim= my would give him some money and we’d leave for the hotel rooftop pool.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m Jimmy Silo, a wealthy British stock market trader. I will be buying a hotel= or two in Kenya.’

&nb= sp;    Van Den Something was puzzled. ‘There is ordinance near the site of your hotel? It is near the border?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, that’s not why I am here. I have taken charge of an orphanage …= and it’s terrible to see the children with no limbs…’ Van Den= was now following and looking very sympathetic. ‘So I wish to give some m= oney for mine clearance. But, more than that, I wish to be actively involved in = fund raising and awareness.’

&nb= sp;    Now we were talking Van Den’s language, not double Dutch, and he fetched = us both cold drinks. But I could not remember seeing any kids with missing lim= bs at Smurf central.

&nb= sp;    ‘What would you like to do, exactly?’ our host enquired.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘It strikes me … that the best people for mine clearance in any country a= re the locals themselves – suitably trained and supervised.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Our host brightened. ‘Yah, yah. I have this idea also, but always the for= mer mercenary with the bad attitude. And they want so much money for the work.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded sympathetically. ‘If you can find a training facility … I can offer you ten or twenty thousand dollars a month.’

&nb= sp;    ‘A month? My God.’ Our host gave it some thought. ‘There is a plac= e, near the Somali border. There are former soldiers there, old grey men, but = they do not want much money to help. They have an airfield – not used R= 11; that the government allows them to occupy. They have trained a handful of locals, and some Somalis, in mine clearance.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy handed over a wad of dollars. ‘Please, give them this money. And, unt= il I’m back in a few months time, would you draw up some simple plans – something we can work to?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah, yah, of course,’ our host excitedly got out.

And it turned out that= our host would be leaving the service of the UN in six months time, but wanted = to stay in Kenya with his family, his wife a local, his kid’s half-caste. Jimmy hinted at a job for the man, and we left a very excited pen pusher behind.

In the taxi, Jimmy sai= d, ‘I first met that guy at the rooftop bar. He told me about the mine clearance efforts and his family, when he would stop working for the UN, the camp on the border. I just wanted it to appear to be his idea.’<= /o:p>

‘And the orphana= ge gave you the credibility and the way in.’ I nodded to myself.

‘Step by step. I= ’m working to a very detailed plan with twenty thousand boxes to tick.’<= o:p>

‘How many so far= ?’

‘About a hundred= .’

‘Long list,̵= 7; I grumbled. ‘Are the answers in the back of the book?’=

Jimmy laughed. ‘= No, but I have taken the test before.’

‘So why mine clearance?’

‘Mine clearance = staff need medics on hand, in case they blow a limb off.’=

‘Ah … and = medics means those Rescue Force people you mentioned. Small acorns.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Small acorns, my lad, are easy to move … or to stop growing. The problem co= mes when they’re sixty feet tall!’

&nb= sp;    ‘Too late to do anything,’ I concluded.

 

 

 

Colonel Pointer, US Marines. (Retd)=

 

Colonel Thadius J. Pointer had star= ted his service life as a pilot in the Marines, serving with distinction in Vietnam, three tours. He progressed to be an instructor before becoming a t= est pilot for General Dynamics, for Northrop, and eventually for NASA. He was accepted into the space programme by NASA in 1976 but never got the chance = to fly into space, returning to test pilot work for a few years, in particular= the stealth bomber programmes. In 1982 he hung up his wings and became a consul= tant to the CIA, advising on spy plane tactics and operations, and continued to = act as consultant to the USAF on stealth matters. 1986 found Thadius working as= a part-time consultant to the CIA on remote drone spying.

Today’s trip to = the Pentagon was different, an urgent summons, something he had not encountered before. Since his work was in research, it was a tantalising intrigue that = had kept him awake the night before. He now knocked on the door of his principal contact, Air Force Colonel Summers.

&nb= sp;    ‘Thad, come on in,’ Summers urged, waving him forwards.

&nb= sp;    ‘Where’s the fire, Bob?’ Thad joked. ‘You need me for a mission that no young buck can handle?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nothing so dramatic,’ Summers said as he literally man-handled Thad by the shoulders and into his own chair. He took a breath, stood at Thad’s elbow. ‘This is classified Top Secret.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ain’t it all?’ Thad baulked, a quick glance up.

&nb= sp;    Summers tapped a blue file on his desk. ‘I’ve got to be somewhere for t= wo hours. While I’m gone I want you to read the letters in this file = 211; they’ll explain themselves. At the end I want a conclusion, not least because you’re one of only a handful of men still serving who’ve touched upon a … certain topic.’ He grabbed his hat and left, his enigmatic smirk lingering in Thad’s mind.=

&nb= sp;    Thad opened the file, finding a typed letter, an odd signature at the bottom. ‘Magestic, the man in the … middle?’ With a heavy frown, = he read the first letter, the detail of a train derailment that would happen a= t a future date. ‘What in God’s name have they got me doing now?= 217;

&nb= sp;    The second letter detailed a terrorist attack in the Mid East, a warning of a f= ew months given. The third outlined the problems with a railway bridge that wo= uld collapse in a year or two.

&nb= sp;    ‘What…?’

&nb= sp;    The third letter detailed an Israeli spy working for the CIA.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Jesus.’

&nb= sp;    He flicked pages, stopping at the collapse of communism after the fall of the Berlin wall. It held his attention for many minutes as he read and re-read = it. Slowly, very slowly his face contorted in a surprised smile. ‘God damn … they did it. They actually … sons of bitches … did it.’

 

Summers returned with an expectant = look, sitting opposite a smug looking Thad.

&nb= sp;    Thad asked, ‘You got any whiskey in this place?’

&nb= sp;    With a huge smile, Colonel Summers opened a cabinet and retrieved two glasses an= d a bottle. ‘Special occasions.’ He poured out two drinks.

&nb= sp;    Thad took his glass and raised it. ‘Project Magestic.’

&nb= sp;    ‘To Magestic,’ Summers offered, the drinks downed. With his glass lowered, Summers asked, ‘Any doubts?’

&nb= sp;    ‘None.’ Thad was adamant. ‘There are key words and phrases in here that only those of us who worked on Magestic knew about. Hell, some of these phrases I made up myself! And the fact that he can predict the future...’ He ta= pped the file. ‘These letters were received ahead … of the ev= ents mentioned in it?’ Summers nodded. Thad added, ‘This letter about the end of communism…’

&= nbsp;    ‘Has already upset a few, who see it as a Russian trick.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, that figures,’ Thad let out with a sigh.

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s something you don’t know about the letters, old friend. They were pos= ted in London, all of them. British Government has been getting letters.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘London?’ Thad repeated. He eased back and peered into his glass. ‘Would make sense, actually. We drew up scenarios of what would happen if someone just appeared out of time and knocked on the White House door. Best we could fig= ure they’d lock the guy up … forever!’

&nb= sp;    Summers suggested, ‘London is close enough, yet far enough away from us, and = if the British Government were to hide him…?’

&nb= sp;    Thad found himself nodding as he reflected on the abandoned old project, a proje= ct to look at the possibilities of time travel. ‘You know how it got that name? Some secretary here in the Pentagon spelt it wrong. We thought it was funny so we kept it. Because of the other Majestic project – the UFO misinformation project – we figured no one would ever find our project.’

&nb= sp;    They laughed in unison.

&nb= sp;    Thad explained, ‘We always figured that anyone going back in time would ha= ve to proceed carefully, or he’d upset the time line. We also knew that = too much information – too soon – would be a problem to the governm= ent of the sixties, or earlier. They may not have listened.’

&nb= sp;    Summers put in, ‘Imagine turning up in 1941 and warning of the Jap attack. You’d be shot as a loony!’

&nb= sp;    Thad lifted his eyebrows and nodded. ‘So it makes perfect sense. This guy = is hiding out and drip-feeding us what we need to know, Brits as well. Just ho= pe he looks both ways when he crosses the damn road.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘You sure we … sent him back through time?’=

&= nbsp;    ‘The evidence is all there, the manner of the warnings and the code phrases we thought up,’ Thad insisted.

&nb= sp;    ‘But what if … what if in fifty years or so time someone got access to tho= se old files and used them for a … grand deception?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Burn them! Today! If this is a deception based on those files then our friend wo= uld disappear in a puff of smoke, so too the letters, since they could never ha= ve been written in the first place.’

&nb= sp;    Summers smiled. ‘They were accidentally burnt a while back. We can’t fi= nd any record of them.’

&nb= sp;    ‘There you go then. No deception. And the end of communism? Hell, he ain’t working for their side, for sure. And time will prove it so.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Would he be under orders to report in, do you think?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Being under orders was something we considered. If he wanted to he could just sit back and bet the World Series, make a fortune and live the life. Who’d know? Guy is probably alone, so who’s going to stop him having a great life, eh? It was the one thing we considered a problem area: whoever got se= nt back would be alone, no backup, no return ticket. He’s an astronaut f= or sure, mental faculties strong enough to survive the trip and a moral compass big enough for the Titanic; no one else could be trusted. And I’m sur= e he will make contact in time.’ Thad tapped the file. ‘With = one letter a month for a few years he’s going to work up the credibility.= It shouldn’t be a problem after that.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You may even get the chance to debrief him,’ Summers suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘Be an honour.’

 

‘So these phrases and stuff &= #8230; that you put into the letters to the Americans, that’s to make then t= hink you’re an astronaut … sent by the US Air Force?’ I queried with a worried frown.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘When I was in Canada I got access to all sorts of info, spok= e to some real old soldiers and CIA types. After a few beers they were more than happy to reminisce. And why not; fucking world had come to an end, America gone, so who cared?’

&nb= sp;    ‘So why’d you want the Americans to think that?’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘So they won’t want to shoot me. If they think I’m one of theirs it’ll keep them off my back for a while. Problem comes when I start telling them stuff that they won’t like – stuff about future American presidents and what they get up to.’

&nb= sp;    I shrugged. ‘What we doing tonight?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy also shrugged. ‘Curry, lap-dancers, nightclub?’

&nb= sp;    We set our moral compasses in the right direction.

 

 

A pineapple office

 

The new offices for Pineapple were rented, Jimmy suggesting that they would stay two years and then move on. T= hey were in a glass-fronted three-storey building in Putney, a view of the rive= r if you stood in a far corner.

&nb= sp;    ‘Like the motif,’ I told Oliver. ‘Where did you get the idea for that?’

&nb= sp;    Oliver laughed as I prodded a giant plastic pineapple hung from the ceiling. We stepped across the new open-plan offices, a dozen waist high cubicles spread out, a large square of sofas in the middle for would-be artists to chill out on. We settled in Oliver’s new office, closing a glass door whilst maintaining a view of the entire office through glass walls.

&nb= sp;    ‘How’s it going?’ Jimmy asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Six hits in four months – all top ten – and one number two,’ Oliver enthused. ‘Making very good money. You certainly seem to have = an ear for the hits.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Staff OK?’ Jimmy enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘One left to go back to college, two new members, one off after a car accident.&= #8217;

&nb= sp;    ‘Up the pay five percent,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘We can afford it now.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Will do. On a side note, we had this arrive.’ Oliver handed Jimmy a letter. ‘It’s a formal offer to buy the business from an industry giant.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy handed it back after barely glancing at it. ‘In the years to come we’ll buy them. File it away.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not looking to get rid of us already?’ I asked Oliver, but jokingly.=

&nb= sp;    ‘No, no. But had to let you know about it.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘I think we should rent some recording studio space, get a good deal and get our people in there.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve got someone in mind,’ Oliver said, rifling through files. ‘A go= od price if we block book it.’ He handed us the advertising flyer.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Fine,’ Jimmy said. ‘Book a block and see how it goes. Then we need a marketi= ng manager.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Cathy is doing that with me –’

&nb= sp;    ‘We need a big hitter,’ Jimmy cut in with. ‘Someone flamboyant R= 30; who can spend his time travelling around the distributors. And I’m su= re that you don’t want to spend all day doing that.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … no.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And Cathy can act as deputy, office backup and appointment setter,’ Jimmy added.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll advertise the post, see what turns up.’ Oliver made a note on a pad.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘And then we need a better relationship with a video company,’ Jimmy added. ‘As with the studios, get a good block deal for video shoots, start o= n a good working relationship.’

&nb= sp;    Oliver made another note.

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t be afraid to spend money, or to ask for more. What we don’t want is to lose artists when they grow ... because we can’t support their growth.’

&= nbsp;    ‘That has been on my mind,’ Oliver admitted. ‘The big producers have = the clout to handle things like large concerts.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And so will we in time,’ Jimmy confidently suggested. ‘I’m transferring another million into the account, so use it.’=

 

 

 

Old dogs, new tricks

 

Two months after meeting Van Den Something, the U.N. man with the nice office, we were back in Nairobi with a purpose, Jimmy telexing our host a good three weeks notice of our pending arrival.

&nb= sp;    That first night we chilled out in the rooftop bar, all the staff remembering us, and I was starting to like the place; a cold beer at sunset was becoming a tradition for us. We met the keen Dutchman the next day, for lunch, a place around the corner from his offices, and presented a modest cheque towards a= ny charity the man liked. As expected, Van Den had arranged a trip to see the airfield near the border, vehicles booked for the next morning.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    We rose early, just about sunrise, and found a white UN jeep waiting outside t= he hotel, Van Den excited like a schoolboy on a fieldtrip. I was warned in adv= ance not to take the piss out his forename, or his wife. Turned out that Van Den Something was actually Rudd Van Den Something, pronounced ‘rude’= ;. His Kenyan wife was called ‘Virgin’, and I had to work hard at = keep my trap shut. We set off, my only comment being about the use of UN jeeps.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    Van Den explained, more for the benefit of the UN driver, that such large benefactors were always treated well. At a roadside stop, to use the bathroom, he admitted that he had stretched the reason for the using vehicl= e in the paperwork, but was leaving in three months and didn’t give a crap= . We got back into the jeep as the sky turned dark, the heavens opening for a qu= ick downpour.

&nb= sp;    It took a good four hours to reach the airfield, what was left of it. The perimeter fence had just the lonely concrete poles remaining, a clothesline hung between two. I noticed what was left of a control tower, the glass missing, and a few single story buildings reminiscent of films about Second= World War prison camps. A modestly well-preserved hangar defied gravity and rust, stood proud in the distance, and some new low buildings formed the square i= nto which we now parked up. We were expected, three men walking out to greet us, squinting against the bright midday sun. Two were silver haired, one bald, = all appearing tanned and weather-beaten and in their late forties or early fift= ies.

&nb= sp;    ‘How’s ya doon?’ the first asked, a Scotsman.

&nb= sp;    Rudd introduced us, unsure of how to describe our occupations.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy took charge, taking off his sunglasses and shaking their hands in turn. ‘Robin McPhearson - known as Mac, Booby Feet – known as Handy, = and Micky Hutches – known as Rabbit.’ The men were surprised, as was our host. Jimmy explained, ‘I checked you all out thoroughly. I like = to know who I’m dealing with.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ya get a letter from my mum?’ Mac testily enquired, glancing at his colleagues.

&nb= sp;    ‘You never knew your parents, Mac, so no.’ Mac did not look pleased. ̵= 6;I got a note from The Regiment, which recommended all three of you – although I was warned that you never like to pay for a round.’

&nb= sp;    The men laughed, the ice broken.

&nb= sp;    ‘Come on inside, out the heat,’ Mac urged, leading us into a hut. ‘We’s got us some cold ones … courtesy of the UN.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    We cracked open cans of chilled lager, sat on threadbare chairs arranged in a circle.

&nb= sp;    The walls of this windowless hut were adorned with various badges, medals, and = unit emblems, a few pictures of aircraft, of helicopters and of weapons, a few technical posters in Chinese detailing mines and grenades. Other than the military décor, there was little of anything else in the hut; a makeshift half-moon bar and a fridge that loudly protested its lack of maintenance.

&nb= sp;    ‘So,’ Mac began, the obvious group leader. ‘You’s some sort of city s= licker with a few quid to spend.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We’re very rich stockbrokers … and yes, we have a few quid to spend,’ Jimmy explained. ‘We’ve taken over an orphanage down here, and I’ll be buying a hotel on the coast.’ The men glanced at each other, clearly unsure about us. ‘At the orphanage there are a few kids with missing limbs –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Mines,’ Mac cut in with.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. I understand there are a lot of kids in Africa like that.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Around here they don’t clean up after a wee battle, they leave it for the ki= ds ta find,’ Mac stated, some anger in his voice. ‘Have a few three legged cattle around here too.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And you guys teach mine clearance,’ Jimmy prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘When the funding is there,’ Rabbit put in. ‘Rude Boy here–R= 17; I tried not to smile. ‘- gets us what contracts he can. Man has three kids, but his wife’s a Virgin!’

&nb= sp;    We laughed, the bastard stealing my joke.

&nb= sp;    ‘From now on you’ll be fully funded,’ Jimmy suggested.

&nb= sp;    The men straightened in their seats, glances exchanged.

&nb= sp;    ‘To do what … exactly, big fella?’ Mac delicately enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘To set-up a training school right here, well equipped and well funded. To train Africans in mine clearance, as well as others I’ll send down – medics and doctors.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Doctors?’ Mac challenged, his surprise evident.

&nb= sp;    ‘I read an article about a doctor who had his leg blown off,’ Jimmy explained. ‘He was working in a remote village - didn’t know wh= at to look out for. Another was handed a grenade by a kid - and blew himself u= p. If medics are going to work in remote locations … then they need awareness training, and they need to know what to do if they wander into the wrong field.’

&nb= sp;    The old dogs exchanged looks, nodding in approval.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … aye,’ Mac conceded.

&nb= sp;    ‘And the UN –’ Jimmy gestured towards a keenly attentive, yet quiet = Rude Boy. ‘- will want medics close at hand when people are clearing mines, for when they make mistakes.’

&nb= sp;    Rude Boy nodded. ‘Yah, yah.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy put on his superior voice. ‘So this is what I would like: new buildin= gs, new fence, some classrooms, a nice big sand pit to put fake mines in and practice, plenty of mine clearing equipment – the latest kit.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘I can get that,’ Rude Boy keenly offered. ‘No cost.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy gestured towards him, but addressed the Old Dogs. ‘And how will you gentlemen feel about having Rudd as your administrator?’

&nb= sp;    Rudd straightened.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fine,’ Mac answered with a shrug. ‘Been working with the lad for years.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘I see a clear division of labour here,’ Jimmy explained.  ‘Rudd does the managing, you= get a tan outside – doing the training. He sharpens the pencils and keeps t= he lights on, you crawl around the sandbox.’

We waited. The men wer= e in approval, not least because they could not have even afforded a plane ticket home. We wandered back out into the heat and flies, the existing sandbox pointed out, a few dummy mines retrieved and keenly explained; if you stood= on one it went bang, but you didn’t lose your leg. The runway was still operable, the odd aircraft making a forced landing from time to time, scattering the goats of the local farmers and scaring the odd camel. Water = came from a well, and food was either bought local or grown, Rabbit quite the gardener. No lettuce growing in his patch, wrong climate altogether - I ask= ed.

The outlying areas, surrounding the base, were a contrast. Along the road we used to access the base the locals were living in huts, a few trees for shade and the odd fiel= d of produce. The far side, across the runway, levelled off to a desert-like exp= anse of nothingness. I put a hand over my eyes and peered through the shimmering heat to see if Lawrence of Arabia was heading towards us on a camel. I saw = only a local woman balancing a large silver container on her head.

‘How far to the border?’ I asked Rabbit, conscious of what Jimmy had said about Somal= ia.

‘Not far, laddy.= Thirty miles or so.’

‘Any trouble?= 217;

‘With the Somali= s? No, they’s a proud people.’

I figured I’d be= st not reveal the future. Away from the others, I asked Jimmy if it was wise to be this close to the border.

He grinned. ‘If there’s trouble here, it’ll justify a security detail under our control – paid and trained by us.’ I waited. ‘That group = will be the forerunner to an army I’ll raise.’

‘Our own Army? T= idy. What’ll the Kenyans say?’

‘They’ll b= e happy for the help to patrol this border. Ten years from now this’ll be = war zone central.’

We gave the three old = dogs twenty thousand dollars, informing Rude Boy that he had a job any time he wanted it, although it would involve a great deal of travel. He planned on coming out on a Monday and going back each Friday to start with. It sounded like a plan.

&nb= sp;    The Old Dogs, as they were now referred to openly, had three months to get read= y, twenty thousand dollars going a long way in that part of Kenya in the 1980s= . We had given Rudd another ten thousand towards a jeep for himself, and for any= start-up expenses, for a computer and a fax line at home. Rudd would also have to ta= ckle the Kenyan Government and the red tape, I figured, till Jimmy explained why not.

&nb= sp;    The Old Dogs held onto a license, had done for ten years or more, so we –= as the new sponsors – did not need one. Rudd was also on good terms with= all the relevant people and so a process that could have dragged on for years w= ould require no further thought.

 

 

 

A sandbox in the desert<= /span>

 

Two months later, as we arrived bac= k at the airfield, originally called RAF Mawlini by the British in 1956, we noti= ced that the place was now a hive of activity. The fence and front gate had been fixed, at least the gate and ten sections of fence either side had been fix= ed. Anyone wanting to get inside would be surely disheartened by having to walk= a hundred metres around the completed sections. I would sleep well at night knowing that.

&nb= sp;    We passed through the imposing front gate, a look exchanged with Jimmy, gettin= g a salute from a local teen manning his post. At least he had a military hat o= n. Scrub had been cleared and fires were still burning to reduce the dried shr= ubs. The old air traffic control building had a lick of paint and some new windo= ws, a few signs fixed to the wall: Ablutions, NAAFI, HQ Block. I guessed the old dogs were feeling nostalgic. That or they did it one night when drunk. Rabbit’s cabbage patch was now ten times larger, a rusted water truck parked at the edge and slowly dripping, a brown puddle being lapped at by goats. There were more camels than I had noted before, locals driving sheep across the dusty runway.

&nb= sp;    Mac stopped us with a hand. We jumped down as he said, ‘Up the control to= wer, lads. You can see the lot from there.’

&nb= sp;    We followed him into the building, the cool interior being decorated by a local man, his young son asleep on the floor below him. On the roof of the control tower we caught a cooling breeze, stood now in the shade of the tower’= ;s overhanging structure.

&nb= sp;    ‘Gate’s done,’ I prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye, but only so much fencing. We’s awaiting on the rest.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And a bigger vegetable patch,’ I noted, peering down at it.

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye, food around here is limited, so you grow your own where you can.’

&nb= sp;    ‘That the sandbox?’ Jimmy asked, pointing into the distance at a section of sand fifty yards square and taped into smaller quadrants.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye, twelve inches deep and plenty a room for ten or so lads in there.’ He pointed at the hangar. ‘Side of the hangar - we’s building classrooms, in the shade of the big bloody thing.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Those yours?’ Jimmy enquired, pointing at two old Land Rovers. <= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘To fetch people from the nearest train stop, fetch supplies. They wus cheap.’

&nb= sp;    The convoy that had been following us now arrived, having stopped to cool a radiator or two.

&nb= sp;    ‘Who’s that?’ Mac asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Help,’ Jimmy informed him.

&nb= sp;    Rudd led the convoy in a UN jeep that he had borrowed, kind of permanently, anot= her jeep and three lorries following him past the diligent teen at the gate, who now saluted each truck.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained, ‘Wood, wooden panels, pitch for the roof, wire, some chick= en wire, generator, another fridge, tins of food, blackboards, chalk, hammers = and nails, saws. And fifty chicks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Chicks?’ Mac repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘They grow up into chickens,’ I pointed out. ‘Brought two cocks as well.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy gave me a look.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fuck me, you don’t hang about,’ Mac let out, a hand over his eyes as= we watched the convoy park up and start unloading, a wave towards us from Rudd= .

&nb= sp;    On the way down from the roof, the painter’s son was complaining of paint flecks on his head.

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t grumble,’ I said. ‘If you were in our orphanage we’d put = you in a blue dress.’

The next day, three self-assembly portakabins arrived as ordered, albeit a day late. For Kenya, that was ahead of schedule by a week. Packed onto the trucks were also seve= ral “liberated” large tents, “UN” stencilled on the top= and sides. Well, it gave the operation an air of authority and credibility.

&nb= sp;    When the circus-sized tents were up we stepped inside, finding room enough for f= ifty people. Camp beds were laid out, twenty of them, for the recruits to sleep = on; this was a residential course. The dirt was swept, weeds pulled up, snake h= oles blocked. The floor was ready, the goats grateful of the shade. With a flurr= y of activity over the next three days, we got the place ready. In reality, we dragged it from 1956 to around 1970. It was basic, but functional.

&nb= sp;    With the money we gave Rudd he would pay the government, and they in turn would = pay twenty local recruits, as had been done previously when Rudd was official; about five dollars a day each for the men. And Rude Boy, he may have neglec= ted to tell the government that he had stopped working for the UN – and nicked their tents. The recruits slept in the tents, not at all fussed by t= he conditions, and ate well, meals served in one of the portakabins. The classrooms in the shade of the hangar were cool all day, and the sandbox got plenty of use, a puff of sand followed a second later by an echo off the ha= ngar scaring the camels every thirty minutes or so.

&nb= sp;    ‘If those trainees were in a real mine field … they’d be fucking mincemeat by now,’ I told Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    The three Old Dogs now had new green khaki shorts and shirts, and strode around with clipboards barking instructions. For much of the time, Jimmy and me sa= t on the control tower roof on deckchairs, sipping cold beers and watching the activity, till Friday morning came, time to drive back with Rudd to his Vir= gin wife. We left to dull echoes scaring the camels.

 

 

A hurricane, a Chinaman and a bubbl= e

 

In the weeks leading up to October = 1987 we sold all of our stock, ready for a big market crash. I had no doubt about Jimmy’s prediction, but I had never seen such a crash, none of the current generation of traders had, and all the experts were predicting a go= od end to the year on the British FTSE index.

&nb= sp;    We had advised Wang Po to sell all his stocks and bet the down side, our man in Hong Kong trusting every detail we gave him and making a fortune in the process. For the big show, Jimmy invited him over. Wang Po booked into the Hilton up the road and we met his party for a meal at a Chinese restaurant = that his family owned. He could have told us before. Still, he made it clear to = the staff that we were always to get the best table – no waiting – = and never to pay. Fair enough.

&nb= sp;    We ate, drank, and laughed to the small hours, meeting at noon the next day at= the apartment for a planning session. Wang Po had brought two bodyguards, not trusting London much. They were settled into the kitchen, given newspapers = and left to their own devices.

&nb= sp;    Po understood the basics of buying index options, a bet on the market falling,= but did not fully understand, nor trust, derivatives. Just as well that Jimmy h= ad it all written down for him, the optimum series and price to select. Po rang his broker back in Hong Kong to place a few trades, but had also transferre= d a million pounds to HSBC London, opening a dozen accounts here - as we had advised him to. Soon, he was carefully placing orders down our phone, readi= ng the script Jimmy had prepared and given to him. It took an hour. With the business taken care of from the comfort of our lounge, we sat behind the screens and watched coloured stocks ticking over, Po now keen to get a live link for his own office. Today was Tuesday, and Jimmy came out with strange suggestion.

&nb= sp;    ‘Weather forecast says it’ll be very bad weather for Thursday and Friday, so there’ll probably be many stockbrokers not able to get into work. If = this coincides with a crash on the American markets it’ll be all the worse here. I think Friday will be the day, British market makers deliberately crashing the stock to make themselves some money.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    Po was fascinated by how the market makers worked, how they set prices –= and how they forced prices up and down artificially. I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the weather forecast, since the news had not indicated that t= here was particularly bad weather due to us. I figured Jimmy had a good memory, = but to remember detail like that surprised me.

&nb= sp;    Po spent Wednesday shopping with his daughters, their first trip to London, but Jimmy was surprisingly quiet. Thursday at noon, we met up as the weather worsened rapidly. Soon the tickers were all red on thin volume traded. It h= ad begun.

&nb= sp;    Po was fascinated, quoting and re-quoting figures, and at 3.30pm Jimmy called McKinleys. Unknown to me he had made his feelings known to them about the c= rash and, for the most part, they had taken his advice. They had not, however, recommended to their clients that they sell their stocks. Instead, they had= bet the down side in a modest way, enough to protect exposed positions - and ma= ke a few quid on top. I was to learn later that Jimmy’s advice saved the f= irm from certain bankruptcy, elevating Jimmy to Godlike status with them.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Placing the phone down, Jimmy faced us. ‘They can see it in the market, lots = of rumours. Something big is up.’

&nb= sp;    By close of play the market was down, but not crashing, the DOW sliding modest= ly. We ordered in from Po’s family restaurant, Po not wishing to miss a b= eat as he watched the DOW slide. We munched away, mostly without Po, as his fascination with our software grew. When our bellies were full the DOW was = down over a hundred points, the move now significant. Po’s Hong Kong broker called to say that the Asian markets were down significantly, following the= DOW south. With the close of the DOW, Jimmy reconfigured the software and we ga= ined a live feed of the Asian markets. The spare room was already made up, Po wanting to stay put. A bodyguard was sent back for some clothes and personal effects, the second bodyguard offered Jimmy’s bed.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    Our explanation of Jimmy’s lack of sleep worried Po greatly, who offered acupuncture, green tea, and everything short of Tiger’s Penis to cure= it. Jimmy explained it away as a benefit, since he could read many financial reports overnight. Still, our guest was concerned for Jimmy’s welfare= .

&nb= sp;    I went to bed, being a mere mortal, Po catching an hour or two as Jimmy kept = an eye of the Asian markets. At 7am the Hang Seng Index was down significantly, but not crashing by any means. Jimmy woke Po and me at nine o’clock, = the UK market sliding from the start. The morning news was on, reporting the st= orm and the closed railway lines around London.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy pointed at the TV screen. ‘Most people won’t be at work in the = city today, they can’t get in.’

&nb= sp;    Po was amazed, but I was concerned. And even the bodyguards were watching the screens, discussing the moves, their boss explaining some of the detail. Af= ter all, the men turned out to be family. It was mesmerizing, especially when y= ou remembered how much money we had placed to bet the down side. And the FTSE = was already below the point where McKinleys made a few quid. Their head trader = had walked in to work, he didn’t live far, and had called Jimmy – no doubt with a huge grin. When off the phone, Jimmy explained that McKinleys = had left all their phones off the hook – none of their customers could se= ll.

&nb= sp;    By four o’clock we were the best part of a million pounds better off, Ji= mmy keeping the trades small so that the regulators wouldn’t notice us on their radar. Po had bet over two million pounds, and on more leveraged positions than us, and was now sitting on a five million pound profit. Jimmy stopped Po calling his broker, explaining that now the slide had begun it w= ould be bigger on Monday. Well, Po was stunned into silence, his staff worried f= or him.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not sell?’ he repeated many times. ‘More big fall?’

&nb= sp;    Two people I had never heard of rang, sounding very pleased with themselves, as= king for Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    ‘Hold till Wednesday,’ Jimmy had told them. ‘Besides, you won’t= get through to any UK broker till then. Relax.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Relax?’ I repeated, Po so quiet that he worried me. The little Chinaman was sitting= on around ten million quid in profit, not to mention what he saved from selling his stock portfolio in time. It was fair to say we’d never pay for a = meal in that restaurant again.

&nb= sp;    With the close of the UK market, we watched the DOW as it slid further, finishing well down. This was now officially a crash - and creating news headlines. J= immy told Po to have a relaxing weekend – not much chance of that – = and sent him packing, politely but firmly, a place on our sofa booked in for hi= m at 8am Monday morning. With big hugs and a million thanks issued we keenly pus= hed him out of the door.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fuck, I’m knackered,’ I let out, slouching down. ‘It’s li= ke being back at the firm.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy eased down. ‘Po will reward us well next week, so too a few others I persuaded. So next month we can spend some money.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Medical Genetics?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, need to make a start on a few other things in Kenya. We’ll use the mo= ney quickly enough.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We out tonight?’ I asked with a yawn.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not in this weather. Besides, they’ll be fuck all people about. Get some rest, watch the TV.’ He stood. ‘I’m going to change the sheets and get an hour or two.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How long can you go? Without sleep?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Five days at least, but then I get cranky and my co-ordination goes wobbly. I on= ce did a whole month at one hour a night, but felt like shit and slept for twe= nty hours in a single stretch. Four hours is the optimum, more than that and I = get a headache. Anyway, we just passed a significant milestone; now we have the money to start Rescue Force, or at least its predecessor.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s as if you’re working to a plan,’ I joked as he headed for his bedroom.

Sat there alone, vario= us odd feelings surfaced, something odd about the exactness of the plan and the st= orm outside. Hell, he’d always been mysterious. I cracked open a can and watched the news about today’s action.

 

After a lazy weekend, Po turned up = early, the little bugger ringing the bell at 7am. Jimmy was already up and welcomed the gang in, the two daughters accompanying, and the commotion woke me.

&nb= sp;    ‘For fuck’s sake,’ I yawned, still in my pants.

&nb= sp;    The two girls giggled as I slammed my bedroom door, needing another hour; I was= not fully cooked.

&nb= sp;    I joined them at 8.30am; showered, awake and smartly dressed. The girls were still giggly, and looking even more gorgeous than the first time I had set = eyes on them. ‘Morning all,’ I said with a bow, the bodyguards smirk= ing, and headed to the kitchen for breakfast and several coffees. The girls join= ed me, sat staring with fixed grins. By time I joined Po and Jimmy the FTSE was again sliding heavily, as predicted. An hour later we had a coffee, and a conference around the aptly named coffee table.

&nb= sp;    ‘No more trades for four weeks at least,’ Jimmy informed us. ‘No go= od short term trades for three months at least.’ We were both surprised. Jimmy explained, ‘The market will be volatile, staying low and then recovering in three months. Now is a good time for investments, one or two years.’ He offered to give Po a list, gratefully acknowledged. Problem was, Po liked to be active and to trade.

&nb= sp;    ‘Discipline, like me,’ Jimmy firmly pressed. ‘Make money when the time is right.’

&nb= sp;    Po accepted the advice, planning on selling some options on Wednesday, some la= ter. What we didn’t know at the time was that he had already sold some via= the Asian exchanges and was sitting on a tidy profit. His extended family, havi= ng sold all of their stocks in advance of the crash, were now gleefully buying them back for a quarter of their former price. The name ‘Jimmy Silo’ was starting to spread.

&nb= sp;    When Po got around to promising Jimmy some money, ‘Jimly’ stopped him dead.

&nb= sp;    ‘There will be a charity that I wish to start in Hong Kong in a few years time,= 217; Jimmy explained. ‘I would like you to put any money that you would li= ke to give us into that charity, so that when we are ready it is there to use.’

&nb= sp;    We were ‘vely’ strange men, but most respected, Po said, swearing = that he would itemise it and send statements. Fair enough, we knew where it was.= By end of play the FTSE had plummeted, Po and Jimmy far richer than the week before, a few stockbrokers biting the dust, but none of ours. Jimmy explain= ed to Po that the excitement was over and now we could relax, dinner at the restaurant arranged.

&nb= sp;    Keeping my hands off his two daughters was the hardest thing I ever did, especially after a drink, but I also desperately wanted to keep my hands attached to my arms.

 

 

Stepping up a gear

 

Jack Donohue read the letter with a hidden grin.

 

Sorry for not warning you about = the market crash, but it was necessary that I use the opportunity to tip off a = few people I know, so that they could make some money. A good percentage of that money has now been earmarked for several charities, here and abroad.=

      Since the c= rash did not affect UK politics and no one was hurt - I hope you understand my reasoning.

      And I hope = you took my advice about the Fastnet Yacht Race.

 

When finished, he raised his head t= o the assembled COBRA meeting.

&nb= sp;    ‘Opinion?’ the Prime Minister asked.

&nb= sp;    Jack said, ‘As he says, nothing political or deadly about the market crash and, more importantly, would the Government have taken any action?’

&nb= sp;    ‘It would have been nice to have the option, I suppose,’ the P.M. comment= ed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Is he drifting towards financial motivation?’ the MI5 representative ask= ed.

&nb= sp;    Jack put in, ‘He could do so without letting us know, and by now would be = the richest man in the UK.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fair point,’ the same man conceded.

&nb= sp;    The P.M. opened a file and handed the letter to Jack. ‘This … we ha= ve not shown you yet.’

Jack scanned the lette= r. ‘Bloody hell.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Quite,’ the P.M. agreed.

 

PM, a Mid East terrorist group is well advanced in their planning of a spectacu= lar hijacking in the years ahead. They have selected twenty young men, mostly f= or their clean passports, and are giving the selected men flying lessons. Their aim is simple in its audacity.

      They aim to highjack several aircraft at the same time, ideally 747s with full manifest= s, and to fly these aircraft to Western capitals. There, they will kill the cr= ew, take their places and crash the planes into built-up areas, principally city centres.

=       Try, if you will, to imagine half a dozen 747s crashing into London; Buckingham Palace, Westminster or Oxford Circus.

      The solution comes in two parts. First, and quite straightforward, you must reinforce cockpit doors, provide inside locks only and perhaps a peephole.=

      Second, and= more difficult, you must instruct pilots never to give up the cockpit, even if c= abin crew are threatened or killed. Since giving up the cockpit will, most certainly, result in everyone in the aircraft being killed – and hund= reds on the ground being killed - the pilots must sacrifice the passengers and c= abin staff and land the aircraft, disabling it.

 

‘So,’ the P.M. began. ‘Opinions?’

&nb= sp;    ‘It would be devastating -’

&nb= sp;    ‘The biggest single loss of life -’

&nb= sp;    ‘We must act –’

&nb= sp;    The P.M. nodded. ‘Set up a working group to review aircraft security procedures with this in mind. We do, apparently, have a few years at least.’

 

The next meeting, held three weeks = later, had a different tone altogether.

&nb= sp;    Jack read the letter quickly, but twice. ‘Dear God.’

&nb= sp;    The P.M. stated, ‘Given the nature of this … I have decided to join forces with the Americans. Jack, you’ll get a liaison at some point. = As to the subject matter of this latest letter … well, we can all hope it’s true.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ma’am, he’s never been wrong up to now,’ Jack pointed out.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘That may be, but this is … incredible. The end of communism?’

&nb= sp;    Sykes put in, ‘We’re seeing a rapid increase in dissent right across = the Warsaw Pack countries, particularly the GDR.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Dissent in those countries is not the issue, it’s what Moscow would do in response,’ the P.M. pointed out. ‘That ... has always been the issue. And a re-unification of Germany could seriously destabilise that cou= ntry – and our bases within it. There’s also the consideration of a unified Germany – which way they would lean?’=

&nb= sp;        

Two weeks later, Jack got his liais= on, Colonel Thadius Pointer. He met the tough-looking white haired man in a hot= el bar, all very ‘cloak and dagger’. Not to mention great fun being out of the office.

&nb= sp;    They shook. ‘Jack Donohue.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Thad Pointer, Colonel. Retired.’ They sat.

&nb= sp;    ‘Air Force?’ Jack enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘Marines.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Vietnam?’

&nb= sp;    Thad nodded before ordering a drink from a waiter. ‘You?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Just a pen pusher. Psychology. So, how did you go from an honest living … = to this?’

&nb= sp;    Thad laughed. ‘Jets, NASA, spy planes, CIA, desk work. I even worked on the original Majestic project – that’s why I got called back for this.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You think there’s a link?’ Jack broached.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not really. Your guy is the real thing, we never found anyone with any real pow= ers. Sure, they drew pictures of places they’d never been, but not much else.’

&nb= sp;    ‘If I may be so bold … does Uncle Sam think that Magestic is on the le= vel, as you say?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sure, everything pans out so far.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And the end of communism?’

&nb= sp;    Thad raised his eyebrows. ‘What you have to keep in mind, is that some rich and powerful folks back home don’t really want an end to communism: they’re making a buck selling tanks to the Army, planes to the Air Force.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So, they choose not to believe it,’ Jack stated with a disappointed tone.

&= nbsp;    Thad shrugged. ‘Politics.’

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s no need to swear.’ They laughed. ‘May I enquire,’ Jack delicately began, ‘if your side are trying to find him?’

&nb= sp;    ‘If they are, they haven’t told me,’ Thad suggested. ‘Are = you looking for him?’

&nb= sp;    ‘In a small way. They check for fingerprints, where the letters were posted = 211; that sort of thing. But I don’t think our friend is the sloppy type.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, he sure isn’t,’ Thad agreed, Jack puzzling that statement.=

&nb= sp;    ‘So, do you think he’s British, or an American living here?’ Jack as= ked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, British for sure - linguists say so.’

&nb= sp;   

An hour later Jack was stood before= the Prime Minister.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well?’ the P.M. asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Lying through his teeth, Ma’am.’

&nb= sp;    The P.M. reflected on that statement. ‘Pity. Still, we must co-operate on NATO matters.’ She retrieved the latest Magestic letter. ‘Guess we’d better not show this to anyone.’

 

PM, you will soon have an American Liaison, a Colonel Thad Pointer, US Marines, Retired. He worked on the original 1960’s Magestic project (experimen= tal time travel).

      The America= ns, having analysed the letters, fully believe me to be an astronaut, sent back through time to assist the US to dominate the world in the decades ahead. T= hey believe this because it allows them their pride, and who else might build s= uch a thing as a time machine but NASA? You might consider that the CIA have us= ed this story to make it easier for them to present my story to the White Hous= e. A British clairvoyant would be mistrusted.

=       Your servant, Magestic.

      P.S. I get vertigo if up too high. Still, as a child I liked the idea of being an astronaut. So, in some small way, I have achieved new heights in the eyes of some.

 

‘Astronaut,’ the P.M. repeated. ‘Where do the Americans get these ideas?’ She handed = Jack the letter. ‘File that somewhere where no one else will see it.’= ;

&= nbsp;    ‘Yes, Prime Minister.’

 

 

 

The first medics<= /p>

 

Back in Nairobi, in mid November, w= e met up with Rudd. As Jimmy had requested, Rudd had advertised for a Kenyan doct= or to provide medical cover at the airfield and to teach first aid. At our lun= ch meeting, Rudd handed over a shortlist of candidates that he had also faxed = to us the week before. Jimmy ran an eye over the list and selected the man he wan= ted, named Adam, the perplexed Rudd delicately enquiring as to how he knew which= man to employ.

&nb= sp;    ‘I know people down here who can check backgrounds,’ Jimmy explained. ‘I want to meet him as soon as possible.’

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s here in Nairobi, looking for work, staying with a brother. He has been doin= g UN rotating contracts – which, I guess, you know…’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘Call him, please. Bring him here.’

&nb= sp;    Rudd interrupted his lunch to make a quick call. After lunch, we retired to the = bar area and waited, the dark-skinned and portly medic appearing in little more than half a pint’s waiting time, recognising Rudd and striding over. = We stood. Jimmy greeted the large man in his native dialect, shocking the medi= c. They clasped hands.

&nb= sp;    ‘You know my region?’ Adam asked in a deep baritone voice.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ Jimmy acknowledged. ‘I am … a well-travelled man. Please, have a seat.’

&nb= sp;    We sat back down, Jimmy ordering fresh drinks from a hovering waiter, a black = tea purposefully selected for the medic – again surprising the man.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘So, Adam, you have finished with your contract?’ Jimmy began.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    Adam nodded. ‘Yes, a month ago. I was in Zaire.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And has Rudd indicated what type of work we need you for?’

&nb= sp;    Again Adam nodded. ‘Teaching the young men about medicine, and being the ba= se doctor for emergencies.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s not much of a base at the moment, but will grow over the years,’ Jimmy explained. ‘Each year more and more recruits will attend training the= re. When there are no courses you can come back here to Nairobi, you’ll s= till be paid. Next year I want you to start a training programme for field medic= s, people who can – like you – go to Zaire and other places and provide basic medical help.’

&nb= sp;    Adam straightened. ‘This will be a permanent position?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded and smiled. ‘Yes, Adam. You were on eleven thousand dollars for the UN. We will pay fifteen thousand - and travel costs.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    I put in, ‘We’ll even give you your own allotment.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Allot – ment?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained, ‘At the base, at the airfield, the men grow their own food.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah, yes. I like the gardening. I have the green fingers.’ He didn’t= , I looked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Can you start in a few days?’ Jimmy asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, yes, I am available now.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then pack a bag, and we’ll take you out to the base tomorrow,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘You can come back with Rudd every weekend.’

&nb= sp;    We stood again, shook, and arranged to meet at our hotel the next morning. Reclaiming our seats, Jimmy handed over a document and chequebook to Rudd.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve opened an account for our operations … in a local bank. Later, we’ll pop along and they can meet you and get your signature for cheques.’

&nb= sp;    Rudd held a finger to the detail of the document with a heavy frown. ‘This says that there is … two hundred and fifty thousand pounds in it?R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s correct,’ Jimmy casually explained. ‘From now on we’ll st= art to increase what we do. Once Adam has seen the base I want a small clinic b= uilt across the road from the base, for the locals. I want it well equipped, sta= ffed with a local nurse – and a jeep for them to do house calls with.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    The stunned Dutchman nodded. ‘With this much money you could build a hospital!’

&nb= sp;    ‘There are other things I need you to do as well,’ Jimmy explained. He sipped his beer. ‘Find a local lawyer we can use, someone good. I’ll be buying a hotel on the coast.’

 

The next morning we set-off early, = before the day warmed up, and headed north. At the local town for the base we halt= ed, a dusty and dirty place, Jimmy dropping off Rudd with a shopping list and expecting him to get a taxi the remaining nine miles to the base. We contin= ued on, passing one of the Old Dogs’ green Land Rovers as we progressed. = The fence had grown another ten sections and I was surprised to find an armed police officer on the gate, another in a small watchtower.

&nb= sp;    Mac greeted us with, ‘Back again?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Someone has to keep an eye on you,’ Jimmy retorted. He introduced Adam. ‘This is your new doctor.’ They shook hands. ‘He’s = been in Zaire, doing field work for the UN.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Got some of your tents over there,’ Mac said, pointing out the large UN tents.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy faced me and said, ‘Show Adam around, would you?’

&nb= sp;    I did my bit, leading Adam away as Mac and Jimmy chatted. After a meandering half-hour stroll around the base we climbed the stairs to the control tower roof, in need of a cool drink. Since the roof now offered an outdoor fridge= - all wired up, we were in the right spot. I fetched two cans, one each for me and Doc Adam, Jimmy and Mac already supping theirs as they sat in deckchair= s.

&nb= sp;    I eased down. ‘What’s with the local police?’

&nb= sp;    Mac explained, ‘We pay the local police chief, he takes his cut and pays = the lads. They get a better deal than the town, better food and drink with us. = They stop the locals nicking stuff, or they’d have the buildings away.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Where’s the new clinic going to be?’ I idly enquired.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy pointed to an abandoned mud hut, over the road from the main gate. ‘R= ight there. Doc will be close enough to provide medical cover here.’ Adam = took a keen interest, Jimmy facing him. ‘Before it’s built, your off= ice will be below us. It’s the best room - and we can lock it.’ Fac= ing Mac, he said, ‘Double the length of your courses, pad it out with comprehensive first aid from the Doc.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sure.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And I’d like you to start to introduce an all-weapons course, get them ma= king safe every kind of weapon and ordnance you can think off.’=

&nb= sp;     ‘Be a three month course,R= 17; Mac cautioned.

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s OK, it’ll keep you out of the local bars. I’d like a tank or tw= o, fifty cals – mounted, AKs, the works. When they leave here they shoul= d be able tackle any ordnance they find. Then you can start a demolition school.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Have to be way over there,’ Mac pointed. ‘But we’ve already a license for demolition.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Build a few sunken bunkers for the plastic explosives, and get that fucking fence finished.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll have to drive down ta the city and fetch some, locals are useless,’ M= ac complained.

&nb= sp;    ‘My brother, Seth, in is construction,’ Adam put in, swiping away flies. ‘He has fenced many football grounds.’

&nb= sp;    ‘There you go,’ Jimmy told Mac. ‘Get Rudd to meet his brother and buy = some fencing - I’ve given Rudd a bank account.’

&nb= sp;    Two trucks trundled noisily closer, checked by the police at the gate and allow= ed in. Rudd had dragged the local merchant along with more supplies.

&nb= sp;    ‘Looks like cement bags,’ I suggested. ‘Got any sand, Mac?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll check with Stores,’ Mac retorted.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy told Mac, ‘There’ll be a shit load of cement, so get the traine= es doing a few hours a day, give them a few quid. Have a go at the airfield, f= ill in any small holes.’

&nb= sp;    Mac turned his head. ‘You planning on using it?’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Of course; be flying people in an out,’ Jimmy explained. ‘When we’ve got some recruits worth a damn we’ll hire them out to the= UN, fly them into Mozambique and other places. Whenever that is … = is up to you. We need people who can disarm anything, medically trained and switched on.’

&nb= sp;    Mac carefully observed Jimmy. ‘You sure you’re not ex-military?R= 17;

 

As we sat there, relaxing, the lorry’s cargo was slowly unloaded by a local who needed a rest after = each bag of cement.

&nb= sp;    ‘C’mon,’ Jimmy called. ‘Let’s unload the trucks.’ He took off his shirt, surprising the locals and Mac alike, before grabbing two bags at a t= ime, placing them in a pile. We all took one, trying to keep up with him.

&nb= sp;    ‘Jimbo works out, eh?’ Mac puffed out as we progressed.

&nb= sp;    A man came running; a recruit in a uniform blue shirt. ‘Doctor man, doc= tor man!’

&nb= sp;    Adam reached for his bag and we all followed at the jog, into one of the smaller tents. What greeted us was a recruit sprawled out on a bed and appearing qu= ite dead, his leg swollen to twice the normal size, his skin splitting. It turn= ed my stomach.

&nb= sp;    ‘Snake bite,’ Adam said as he knelt down.

&nb= sp;    ‘Serum?’ Jimmy asked Mac.

&nb= sp;    Mac shook his head.

&nb= sp;    ‘In the town,’ Adam hurriedly suggested. ‘He may have an hour.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    Jimmy sent Mac, telling the recruits to fetch water and make a fire.

&nb= sp;    Adam checked the man’s vitals. ‘He will not live much longer.’=

&nb= sp;    I made eye contact with Jimmy and pointed at the leg. ‘Could … you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ he softly admitted. ‘But it’s a risk, at this time.’=

&nb= sp;    Adam was not following.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well,’ I nudged, time passing.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s a risk,’ Jimmy repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘So was the orphanage,’ I reminded him.

&nb= sp;    He took a breath. ‘Watch the tent flaps, no one comes in. Adam, get a sy= ringe.’

&nb= sp;    Adam fetched a syringe from his bag, looking puzzled. ‘You have serum?R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, but not in the form you’re used to. Do what I ask, or you’ll ha= ve no job.’ He offered his upturned forearm. ‘Take a syringe full. Quickly, man.’

&nb= sp;    Adam glanced at me as I policed the door, before drawing the blood. <= /span>

Jimmy snatched the syr= inge off the doc. ‘Say nothing, do nothing, stand back.’ He injected the leg, above and below the obvious bite mark, finally injecting the remainder into the man’s arm.

When done, Adam closed= in. ‘What do you do?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I was born with a rare genetic condition,’ Jimmy lied. ‘My blood = can … cure many things.’ He faced Adam. ‘If you speak about t= his I’ll kill you.’

Making Adam stay with = the patient, we stepped out as the other instructors arrived.=

Jimmy told them, ‘It’s touch and go, see what happens when Mac gets back. In the hands of the Gods now.’ He cleaned up without saying anything, put his shirt back on and returned to the tent without a word.

Adam jumped up. ‘= ;He is getting stronger.’

Jimmy didn’t res= pond. He just sat on a bed, his head lowered. I checked the leg over, and even I cou= ld see that the swelling was going down.

‘Adam,’ Ji= mmy softly called from a dark corner, the doc turning his head. ‘I am sor= ry … for threatening you.’

Adam swung his head ar= ound to me, not knowing what to say or do, clearly still terrified. We sat in silen= ce, pestered by flies, the patient’s vitals checked every five minutes; t= hey were getting stronger. Mac re-appeared a full forty-five minutes later, ser= um thrust into Adam’s face, quickly injected into the patient.

‘I think he will= make it,’ Adam solemnly stated. ‘We … need to move him to the local clinic … and inform his family.’

‘Yes, of course,= ’ Jimmy stated as he stood. He carried the man himself, out to a jeep, placing him in the rear. Adam jumped in and the jeep disappeared in a cloud of dust= .

‘You think he= 217;ll … Adam … he’ll talk?’ I delicately broached.

Jimmy sighed. ‘N= o, he’s a good man. Some day I’ll inject him. Still, it was= a risk.’

‘C’mon, yo= u look like you need a cold beer.’

 

Adam returned in the evening, Jimmy= sat quietly and not reacting.

&nb= sp;    ‘The man will be fine,’ Adam enthused, avoiding eye contact with Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    After a minute, Jimmy eased up. ‘Doc, walk with me, please.’ They ste= pped out into the cooler night air.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy explained, ‘If the world knew … knew about my blood … I w= ould not have a life, I would be in a clinic being experimented on. I would be … a freak. Everyone would want my blood, and I only have so much. Do = you understand this?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, I’m a doctor. If we knew of such a person he would not be left alone.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So you can see my dilemma, Doc. If I try and help people, I end up helping no = one because I would be locked up by the British or Americans, experimented upon.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It is a dilemma, yes,’ Adam softly admitted.

&nb= sp;    ‘And once again, Doc, I apologise for threatening you.’ He stopped and fac= ed Adam. ‘But you must be aware that I can, very easily, make people disappear.’

&nb= sp;    Adam nodded his understanding through the moonlight.

&nb= sp;    ‘There is something you need to know, Doc,’ Jimmy said as they progressed. ‘If I inject you … your blood will be like mine.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Like yours?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘The orphanage we have taken over is an AIDS orphanage. In a = few years the people will notice something very odd.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Odd?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stopped. ‘The children no longer have AIDS.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘They have your blood!’ he realised.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy confirmed with a quick nod.

&nb= sp;    ‘How many … how many can you cure?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I am only one man, Doc. How many could you cure, if you were like me?’ = They walked on.

&nb= sp;    ‘This man, today –’ Adam began.

&nb= sp;    ‘Will live a very long time … and in very good health.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Your friend –’

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s not like me,’ Jimmy quickly cut in with.

&nb= sp;    Adam finally said, ‘If I take the blood, I will be like you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘First, my friend, study the man who we helped today. Before taking a decision like that you must think about it, your life will not be the same.’

&nb= sp;    Adam took Jimmy firmly by the arm and halted him. ‘I was raised a Christia= n. What you have … it is a miracle!’

&nb= sp;    ‘You may believe … in what you please, Koufi.’

&nb= sp;    Adam was shocked. ‘Koufi? My mother called me that … when I was very young. How … how can you know this? And how do you speak like you were born in my village?’

&nb= sp;    ‘There are other things about me … besides the blood, that you would not understand. You, Adam, sat on the riverbank and fished with no bait on the = hook – to be away from your father. But you didn’t like to hurt the fish.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How can you know this?’ the doc pleaded in a whisper. Finally, he said, ‘You were sent to us!’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, but not for the reason you think. May I have your word that you will not be= tray me?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Betray you? Never!’ Adam whispered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then we shall be friends a long time.’

&nb= sp;    I joined them, appearing through the dark. ‘All … er … OK?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ Adam confirmed, stood proudly tall. ‘All will be well.’ He head= ed back inside.

&nb= sp;    I watched his dark outline recede. ‘He OK?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, I think so. I just had to bring my plans forwards by a year or so.’ He sighed. ‘No big deal.’ We headed back. ‘Tomorrow we’= ;ll go buy a hotel.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And change the name?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why?’

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s no river!’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’ll give the guests something to puzzle over.’

&nb= sp;    We plodded through the dark. I asked, ‘Would I be right in thinking that= the Africans … they take the Christian name thing a bit literally?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yep. Mary, Jesus, Virgin, Seth … Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Which is exa= ctly what the British did in the middle ages. Hence … Paul.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Wasn’t he a betraying Roman twat?’

&nb= sp;    ‘He … wrote the bible, an unofficial biography that made it up the book charts.’

‘Pity he didn= 217;t copyright it, would have made a few quid. Film rights and all!’<= /o:p>

 

 

Where’s the damn river?<= /o:p>

 

‘There’s no fucking river!’ I complained, a price of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds agreed for the basic hotel, more paid towards “good will”, the staff staying on. ‘How about Sea View?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Everyone knows it locally as River View, and some regulars return year after year. It would confuse them,’ Jimmy insisted.

&nb= sp;    So ‘River View’ remained. Rudd had come with us, picking up the new lawyer in Nairobi on the way, a white guy of old English colonial stock and= a bit of prat. Not to mention a bit of racist, referring to a waiter as ‘boy’.

&nb= sp;    ‘Different countries, different customs,’ Jimmy insisted.

&nb= sp;    We gave the manager a modest pay rise, a list of repairs and improvements, and some money for the work. Unknown to me, Jimmy had faxed them an offer weeks ago, so the deal was completed the day we arrived. I headed off to break the news to the diving centre staff, Steffan and Lotti.

&nb= sp;    ‘Stand to attention when I walk in,’ I joked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Back again?’ Steffan asked. ‘Rescue Diver course this time.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I wasn’t joking about the … standing to attention, guys. I just bought the hotel.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You did?’ they puzzled.

&nb= sp;    ‘Haven’t you heard?’

&nb= sp;    ‘We heard someone was interested…’

&nb= sp;    They looked worried, but my smile defused the situation.

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t worry, you still have a job – and we want to spend some money on this hut. So draw up a list of what you need to make this place better. Oh, and a boat.’

&nb= sp;    ‘A boat?’ Steffan queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘You keep telling me there’s a good reef out there. Too frigging far to sw= im to it.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah, yah. There is a boat for sale in the marina up the road, going cheap.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Tell the manager I said to buy it. There’ll be more guests in future, so y= ou won’t be able to sleep all day - like now!’

&nb= sp;    ‘More guests?’ Lotti queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘Place has gotta make a few quid.’

Rudd stayed the night = in the hotel, the three of us sitting down the next day with a list of suggestions= on décor, amusements and facilities. Difference now was that we didn’t pay for beer and lunch. We had met the staff in a group the ni= ght before, putting them all at ease. Jimmy had placed on a badge that labelled= him as ‘Owner’ and wandered about the dinner tables, conversing in numerous languages to the guests and getting to know some of the regulars. = That evening everyone received free drinks at the bar from the new owners.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Since there was already a young orphan elephant, and a half-blind Lion with three legs somewhere in the grounds, we decided to create an animal centre, for t= he care of strays and orphans that we might come across. We dragged in a tame ostrich, the bird eight feet tall, and offered kids rides on its back. The elephant and the lion benefited from a visit from the local vet, a few sores treated.

&nb= sp;    The front gate and surrounding fence were promptly fixed, the guard replaced by= a man who could go a whole eight hours without a kip. A new sunshade came with the job. And I fixed that damn access road for next to nothing, wondering w= hy the previous owner had not bothered.

&nb= sp;    I walked as far as the first junction, paying keen local labourers to cut down trees, remove litter from the sides of the roads and to remove a few abando= ned shacks. We had a new sign made up, placing it at the junction and pointing towards the hotel. We even paid for the houses near the junction to be pain= ted, and then continued along the road towards the orphanage. The local police station received a make over, nearby curbs painted white. Figuring that the road used to be tarmac, I hired a water sprayer and soaked the road surface, the local kids splashing along behind the truck. Yep, under all the crap wa= s a road, kids paid to scrub it hard with brushes. Soon an old centre line was revealed.

&nb= sp;    With Jimmy in Nairobi on some secretive mission with Rudd, I was left a free han= d, and so made use of the time. The allotments stretched back a long way, so I reclaimed some of the land that was visible to guests and cleared it. We drenched it, throwing grass seeds about. At the edge of this newly reclaimed area I erected a small wooden fence so that no one could see towards the allotments. With the extra space, I ordered four new huts built, one extra = hut being built where one formerly presided before catching fire, another three= at the opposite end of the beach. The wooden beach bar was literally lifted-up= and dragged back to the grass, giving the customers a beer garden to sit around= in. New, and extra, chairs were laid out, many in the shade of trees, a few ben= ches laid about. We hung up netting around the bar, reducing the effect of the s= un by around seventy percent.

&nb= sp;    I cut down two trees that looked out of place, and employed an additional cle= aner to go around the sand every morning with a large sieve we constructed, runn= ing sand through it to remove the hard spiky leaves that fell from the trees. A= ll branches below seven foot were cut down, save people bending down or getting their hair combed as they walked about.

&nb= sp;    When the local council planner turned up, a day late, I told him what I wanted t= o do in the bay. He shrugged, not sure if we needed planning permission. I gave = him a wad of dollars and asked him to check, the fella never returning. The sha= rk net was taken down, not least because most of the sharks had been long since fished out of the water by the locals. Steffan had baulked at the idea of a shark attack. ‘Sharks, you’d be lucky!’ They had never se= en one close to shore.

&nb= sp;    With the help of the manager, we dragged in a local construction company and I ordered up two rock breakwaters, one further out than the other and both ca= lming any onshore waves, as well as creating a great area for the diving students= . We found three old rusting pedal boats and cleaned them up good as new, soon p= laced onto the sand for the guests to use.

&nb= sp;    Steffan and Lotti went into the bay in their diving gear and worked hard to remove = all stones and broken coral in less than six feet of water. No one would step o= n a rock and cut a foot. The bar and restaurant now displayed fewer large rubber plants and offered the guests more space, a few more chairs and tables, plu= s a new lick of paint and varnish where necessary. It was a good job the hotel = was quiet, with all the building work going on. I gave the guests in residence = free drinks and meals and apologised for the disruption.

&nb= sp;    I had worked hard for eight days, Jimmy returning with Rudd, Adam, and even t= he three Old Dogs. Each had already been allocated a room, and that night we a= te together, Jimmy bringing down ‘the staff’ to give them a treat.= In fairness, this hotel was the best bit of accommodation the Old Dogs had see= n in ten years or so and they appreciated it. They also appreciated the free bar tab. Adam’s family turned up the next day, followed quickly by Rudd’s wife and three kids, creating something of a party atmosphere = for a few days.

&nb= sp;    To one side, Jimmy commented, ‘You see the effect this place has on peop= le – people who could not normally visit somewhere like this?’ I d= id. Jimmy added, ‘In the future, anyone we recruit we’ll send down here. It’ll go a long way.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve already told my parents you bought it, and they’re keen to vis= it. Would yours come down?’

&= nbsp;    ‘Parents no, brother might. My mum doesn’t fly well and they’d hate the heat.’

&nb= sp;    ‘After, I’ll show you the changes I’ve made,’ I offered.

&nb= sp;    ‘No need, I’m sure they’re fine.’

&nb= sp;    I was surprised by his lack of interest. It was almost as if he knew what I h= ad done. ‘Doc Adam … OK?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘Took him to meet Mary at the orphanage. He’s a team pl= ayer now; they both think God sent me.’

&nb= sp;    I felt guilty. ‘Should I have gone to visit the old bat?’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Nah. Not least because you called her that to her face.’=

&nb= sp;    We sat at the beach bar, now a “grassy area” bar, Jimmy not even commenting on its relocation. He eased back with a cold beer and appeared tired, or perhaps relieved.

&nb= sp;    ‘You OK?’

&nb= sp;    He took in the view, issuing a sigh. ‘A few more ticks in the boxes.R= 17; With a conscious pause for reflection, he sipped his beer. ‘Another milestone reached.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How many more on the list?’ I asked as the elephant was led into the wate= r, a kid on its back.

&nb= sp;    ‘Twenty years of hard work,’ he let out in a reflective tone.

&nb= sp;    ‘And then?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then there comes the real challenge. The hard bit.’ I eased my head around= and waited. Without making eye contact, he said, ‘Enjoy it while you can, especially these next few years – they’ll be good years.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘And … then?’

Rudd’s family wa= ved and we waved back.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then you’ll long for these years.’

 

 

 

Mercenaries

 

Being happy with our new hotel, we = left the gang there and headed back to Nairobi for a ‘secret’ meetin= g. We reclaimed our rooms in the same city centre hotel, heading up to the roo= ftop bar after a shower. Three men sat a table, standing out: tanned faces, big muscles, fixed stares. They were not the usual mix for this hotel. We strode straight over, ordering drinks from a familiar waiter, two chairs ready and waiting for us.

&nb= sp;    ‘Gentlemen,’ Jimmy said as he sat. ‘Good trip up?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Plane’s a plane,’ one grumbled.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy reached into his pocket and produced a wad of dollars, handing it over to t= he man sat closest to his left. ‘Air fare, and subsistence costs.’=

&nb= sp;    The man checked the wad below table height. Without looking up, he said, ‘= ;We flew up from Jo-burg, not round the fucking world twice.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s something you need to learn about my good self,’ Jimmy began. ‘I’ll look after you so long as you do a good job. When you stop doing a good job … I’ll bury you.’ The men focused on him. ‘That clear enough?’

&nb= sp;    They reluctantly nodded, not looking pleased at the threat.

&nb= sp;    ‘Paul, this is – left to right – Robert Mark Staines, born in Cheltenh= am, known as Skids, Albert Hansworthy, born in Bristol and known as Darkie, fin= ally Peter John Trewick, born on a ferry across the English Channel in a storm, = and known as Trev.’

&nb= sp;    The men had eased upright and taken off their sunglasses, looks exchanged.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy added, ‘I like to know who I’m dealing with.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Where’d you get your intel?’ Skids asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Her Majesty’s Government.’  <= /span>

I said, ‘So, whi= ch one shagged the other one’s missus?’ After all, there was no way th= ey could know.

Jimmy hid a smile as t= he men regarded each other with renewed interest.

Skids eventually asked, ‘You official, semi-official or private enterprise?’=

‘If I was private … would I get the quality intel?’ Jimmy posed. ‘Would I k= now … about the people you just tapped in Angola?’

The men were not pleas= ed, and I was worrying if they about to kill us as we sat there.<= /p>

Jimmy said, ‘So,= down to business. I’ve spoken to those above, and from now on you̵= 7;re working exclusively for me, no discussion with anyone anywhere ̵= 1; even if they are Circus. This job is more of a career posting, good money e= very month, no more lean periods. You won’t get the same rate per job, but across the year it’ll work out nicely. There’ll also be perks, = such as a stay at my hotel on the coast when you need to kick back. You can, if = you wish, go back to grubbing around for work and taking the shit jobs, or you = can get a yearly salary plus costs. You’ll be paid down here, any currency you like, so fuck all tax – all beer money. And if you get an injury … I’ll sort all medical bills.’

He pointed at Trev. ‘You’re a diver, so when you want to you can work as dive instructor at my hotel, shag the birds and drink the beer. Skids, you’= ;re good at ordnance. I’ve taken over Mawlini mine base - Mac and the boys – who you already know. I’ll ask you to help out there once in a while, you’d not recognise the place. And all of you can get involved with training locals for … jobs across the border.’<= /span>

Skids asked, ‘Ac= ross the border … north, west or south?’

‘West in time, n= orth sooner. But first, a job that comes with a big bonus.’ The men eased closer. ‘You’ll get a file delivered to you tomorrow, if we’re in agreement. The job will be a scattering of Islamic terrorists that the Yanks are interested in.’

Skids said, ‘You= know, I’ve been trying to place your accent. Any Canadian in there?’<= o:p>

Jimmy forced a false s= mile. ‘Some; I spent many a happy year in Canada. And no, I don’t work for the Yanks. So, the job: find the targets and assist them on their way to paradise. Simple, and no time limit. But a word of caution: they’re getting geared up for a job – lobbing a few bombs at the Yanks –= ; so they’re switched on and nervous. One look at your faces and they’ll either scatter or shoot. Oh, and as for their houses – they’re packed full of explosives. Be careful what you hit.’

‘And this job pays…?’ Trev nudged.

‘This job pays a= n annual salary, and gets you in my good books if it’s done quietly. Consider = it … selection.’

‘You said …= ; a bonus?’ Trev further nudged.

‘There are many = people listed, many photos. If you manage to find and get the main man you get a million.’

‘In pounds?’ Sk= ids queried, wide-eyed.

Jimmy gave him an exaggerat= ed nod.

‘What’s with the kid?’ Skids asked, a nod towards me.

‘He’s a st= ock market trader, he handles money for me,’ Jimmy told them. =

‘You need any ad= vice on pension plans?’ I dryly asked them.

They laughed, dirty, g= uttural chortling.

‘I don’t t= hink these gentlemen plan on living that long,’ Jimmy informed me, speaking out of the side of his mouth.

‘You’re a = bit young yourself,’ Trev broached. ‘For this kinda work. Were you = an officer? Regiment?’

‘I’m older= than I look,’ Jimmy stated with menace. ‘And no, no ex anything.’

‘Can I ask a question= ?’ Handy finally peeped up with.

‘What’s that?’

‘What the fuck d= id your mum feed you on?’

 

 

 

Student ambassadors

 

It was just over a year after our f= irst visit to the student’s ‘assisted travel’ company when we returned, again unannounced.

&nb= sp;    ‘Still here?’ I asked the bored looking receptionist.

&nb= sp;    She did not recognise us. ‘Who are you here to see?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Mr Timms,’ Jimmy informed her.

&nb= sp;    She waved a lazy fat hand and we stepped into the cramped office again. This ti= me, however, young Mr Timms seemed mildly interested in our visit.

&nb= sp;    ‘Hello again,’ Jimmy offered, handshake initiated.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s gone quite well,’ Timms informed him. ‘Popular with the students.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve been through the sheets you sent me,’ Jimmy stated. ‘All OK apa= rt from the blind guy.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Blind?’ I repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘He’s a student,’ Timms argued.

&nb= sp;    ‘But not quite able to appreciate the sights,’ Jimmy nudged. ‘So no = more blind people on these flights.’ He handed over a cheque, readily received.

&nb= sp;    ‘Crikey!’ Timms let out. ‘We’ll be able to send a lot more next year.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s your half-yearly budget, blind students aside,’ Jimmy informed him.

&nb= sp;    ‘Half year?’ Timms repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, so ramp it up, especially the visits to Russia.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Crickey,’ Timms repeated. At least he had a clean shirt on this time, I noticed.=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy firmly told him, ‘I want the criteria kept tight: no one who’s = been to those countries before or is well-off. Understand?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, yes. No problem.’

&nb= sp;    I noticed the same pretty girl, but now avoided eye contact. Remembering Jimmy’s prior advice, I put in, ‘If all goes well you can send = some down to my hotel in Kenya.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You have a hotel … in Kenya?’ Timms repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘On the coast, but with the odd lion wandering in. Got an ostrich and an elepha= nt for the guests, and the scuba diving is good. They can visit the orphanage = we took over. Anyway, Christmas is coming, so you can all come out for a meal = at my friend’s Chinese restaurant. You fix a date for a few weeks, call us.’ We shook and departed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Smooth, young man. Smooth,’ Jimmy approved. ‘If the girl comes to the Chinese –’

&nb= sp;    ‘We’ll get Po to call the restaurant and tell her it’s ours.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Tell her it’s yours – you mean.’

&= nbsp;    ‘If you like,’ I said.

&nb= sp;    ‘Good man.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Boss Man, why is it … you know … important to be the lad about to= wn? You keep nudging me that way.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stopped dead in the street. ‘How would you react if you met a Preside= nt or Prime Minister tomorrow?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Probably shit myself,’ I replied.

&nb= sp;    ‘Exactly. You need to develop the confidence to converse with anyone, but there’= ;s no school or college for such things. Confidence with the ladies, and the travel we do, all helps to get you to the point where you could meet a President – and treat the idiot with the lack of respect he deserves.’

&nb= sp;    ‘My mum wouldn’t be happy about that.’

 

 

 

Mountain rescue

 

Without much explanation, as usual,= we packed a bag and jumped into the Mercedes, heading for Scotland. Up the M40, across to the M6 and ever onwards, staying the night at an Express Inn, a m= eal in a local pub just shy of the Scottish border. Eight hours it had taken us= to get this far.

&nb= sp;    The next day we crossed into Scotland, and wound around hillsides in the rain n= ear Dumfries, ending up in a small town. We booked into a quaint old hotel that offered a salmon stream for guests, before heading for the annual town fair. Dressed smartly, we stood out from the crowd. The clouds had lifted and the= sun broke through, the afternoon warming up nicely. Jimmy spotted what he was a= fter, and I trailed behind.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s a plastic rock face,’ I noted.

&nb= sp;    We stood and watched as men in coloured hats and harnesses climbed up a twenty-foot artificial wall, other men at the top belaying ropes in case the climbers fell a devastating ten feet or more onto the soft grass below.

&nb= sp;    ‘Looks dangerous,’ I told Jimmy, getting back one of his looks.

&nb= sp;    We stood at the railings and observed, along with parents and kids. After five minutes, a fit looking grey-haired man in a pack-a-mack shook a blue bucket below us, a subtle hint.

&nb= sp;    ‘You gents want ta contribute ta the rescuers?’ he firmly nudged in a thick Scottish accent.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy produce a cheque, and handed it over without a word; one hundred thousand pounds. The man with the stylish blue bucket stared at the cheque.

&nb= sp;    ‘This … er … this on the level?’ he enquired.=

&nb= sp;    ‘It is if you buy us tea and scones,’ Jimmy suggested.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    The man stared a while longer, called over another man, and directed us around = the railings and towards the nearby tourist trap. He showed his colleague the cheque as we progressed through the crowds, looks exchanged between the two= men. We managed to find a table in a corner and ordered tea and scones, settling around the cramped and cosy table.

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re James Silo-witch?’ the first man clarified, reading the cheque.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Jimmy Silo will do. And you’re Mackey Taylor.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye. We met?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, but I take an interest in mountain rescue. You see, I was once on a school = trip up here, got lost and needed rescuing. 1978.’

&nb= sp;    Mackey’s eyes widened. ‘Seventy-eight? When the kiddie was drowned?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘I’ve never forgotten the help we got that day. Now = 230; now that I’m a very rich stockbroker I thought I’d give somethi= ng back.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, that’s right good of ya,’ Mackey and his colleague agreed. ‘Right good.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I understand,’ Jimmy began as we received our silver pots of tea, the teashop bustling with tourists, ‘that you’ve been stirring up a hornet’s nest of late.’

&nb= sp;    ‘About what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘About … trying to get an all-Scotland co-ordinated Mountain Rescue effort going, not least when it comes to training standards.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … aye,’ Mackey admitted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then, Mister Taylor, myself and my money are behind you all the way. What I can do for you … is to offer money to the other rescue centres – on condition that they consider your proposals. I’ll even pay for an all= -UK conference on the subject, put everyone up in a hotel for a few days and let them talk it out. Even get the cave rescuers in there.’

&nb= sp;    Our hosts exchanged looks.

&nb= sp;    ‘We’ve been talking about it for some time. Way overdue, it is.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Ten different groups, doing ten different things … is never efficient,= 217; Jimmy mentioned, music to the ears of our hosts.

&nb= sp;    ‘What’d ya have in mind?’ Mackey keenly nudged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, you’re the experts, not me. Why don’t you put a conference plan together and send it to me.’ He handed over a sheet of contact detail= s. ‘You can find a hotel and conference centre, check it out, price it up – somewhere central for everyone – and I’ll find the cash= . In the meantime, why don’t you put together a mailing list of everyone concerned, including the RAF and Navy helicopter boys – anyone concerned.’

&nb= sp;    Mackey blew out. ‘Be a big show.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I have deep pockets,’ Jimmy insisted. ‘And you’ve already g= ot the money to get you started.’

&nb= sp;    We munched down our scones, cream squirting out the sides, tourists coming and going, the shop door annoyingly ‘pinging’ every minute.

 

The next day we received an invite = to a mountain rescue centre, conveniently situated half way up a mountain, and t= he staff – nearly all part-timers – showed us all sorts of equipme= nt. Many tales were told of brave rescues of stupid tourists. I got strapped in= to a stretcher and lugged around, taken up and over a rock without incident.

&nb= sp;    ‘Your Land Rover’s seen better days,’ Jimmy told Mackey, kicking the vehicle’s tyres.

&nb= sp;    ‘We’ll buy some new kit now, with the money.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We see many of these in Kenya.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Kenya?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I have a hotel down there, some charities I support,’ Jimmy explained.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Doing alright then.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye,’ Jimmy said with a mocking accent, sounding more like a pirate than a Scotsm= an. ‘And if any of your boys want to pop down for a safari it’ll ju= st cost them the flight; the rest I’ll chuck in.’

&nb= sp;    I could see Mackey’s grey matter firing up. ‘We could offer a trip there as a prize, for the fundraising.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Offer up a couple of trips,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Six a year. But first,= you should come out, check it all out so that you know what you’re gettin= g into, take some pictures for people to look – it’ll help raise intere= st and money. We’re back down there in six weeks time if you can get away?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Expensive … the flights?’ Mackey gingerly asked.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy held up a hand. ‘Won’t cost you anything, it’ll be a work= ing trip – we’ll sort it. Just bring a good camera.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh … er … that’s good of you.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No problem, Mackey.’

&nb= sp;    We said our goodbyes, Mackey threatening to have some plans thrown together quickly. With mist descending, we headed towards the M47 and the long trip back.

 

 

Letters can be dangerous=

 

Jack Donohue read the letter in sil= ence, the assembled warm bodies awaiting his comments. When finished, he took his time to consider what he might say, easing back in his seat. ‘Is anyo= ne here … in any doubt as to why, in particular, our good friend sends us letters … instead of identifying himself?’ Not even the Prime Minister commented, Jack adding, ‘This puts him in a very delicate position and, if you don’t mind my saying so, you as well Prime Minister.’

&nb= sp;    The Prime Minister sighed. Softly, she said, ‘If this letter had been the first Magestic letter, it would have probably been seen with less … <= i>importance than it does now. I have started to gain an appreciation, Jack, for your reasons behind his thinking. Not to mention his desire for privacy.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jack glanced again at the letter.

 

PM, the end of this year will pose a dilemma for you that will begin a process which, once started, could not easily be stopped. By time the New Year is r= ung in we will have a different working relationship and strategic partnership.=

      On the 21st of December, 1988, PAN AM flight 103 – to New York - will be blown fr= om the skies over Scotland, a great loss of life on board as well as on the ground. It will be one of the worst terrorist atrocities to reach our shore= s.

      A Libyan ag= ent will carry the bomb onboard at Malta airport, his agency assisting the Iranians = in their desire for revenge over the shooting down of their passenger plane ov= er the Gulf in 1984. That agent, and those that have instigated the action, wi= ll be monitored by the CIA and a warning given about flights leading up to Christmas. The bomber will not, of course, continue onwards to America with= the bomb – an altitude triggered device. Despite the warnings given within American diplomatic circles, the aircraft will be destroyed.

      Unfortunate= ly, the CIA handlers most directly responsible for the monitoring of the event = will allow the planned attack to go ahead, their aim being to turn public opinion against Libya - and therefore help to sanction any planned future attacks against that nation. That puts us both in a difficult situation.=

      Due to the severity of the situation, you will forgive me for taking the next step. I = have placed a sealed envelope with a media solicitor, and others, detailing the attack. In the unlikely event that the attack goes ahead the media will be informed, the proof supplied in great detail. That may, unfortunately, give= you a less-than-peaceful Christmas break.

      Please, note well. If you discuss this with the Americans then the date of the attack wo= uld be altered - but it will go ahead. Your only hope to save a great many lives will be to intercept the bomb in London on the 21st and to disarm it. I have every confidence. This letter has not been numbered as per normal so that Jack can keep his sequence in the eyes of his counterpart.

      P.S. Might = I be so bold as to suggest that, after New Year, passenger baggage not be allowed onto flights without the attendant traveller.

 

‘Opinions, gentlemen?’ = the P.M. asked.

&nb= sp;    Deputy Director Sykes leant forwards, resting his arms on the desk. ‘This is= the first time that he has made a veiled threat. And let’s not gloss it o= ver, that’s what it is – a threat. Do this … or else!’

&nb= sp;    ‘We don’t know what’s in the sealed envelope,’ the SAS representative pointed out. ‘It could be more about the Americans than us.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We won’t know till I meet with Pointer,’ Jack suggested. ‘An= d he wants to see me tomorrow – a Saturday!’

&nb= sp;    ‘They’ve also had their letter,’ the P.M. suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘How do I play it?’ Jack asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘No mention of this letter at all,’ the P.M. insisted.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    The MI5 representative asked, ‘Are we really suggesting that the CIA would allow such an atrocity to go ahead?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not the CIA,’ Jack countered. ‘It says those responsible, so they’re field officers, European or Mid East sections.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Quite,’ the P.M. put in. ‘There is no suggestion that anyone higher would be involved.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Be hell to pay if there was,’ Sykes suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘Hence the unnumbered page,’ the P.M. mentioned. She took a breath. ‘F= or the moment we’ll keep this under very tight wraps, and we’ll wo= rk on the assumption that we will stop the flight and search it thoroughly.’

&= nbsp;    The Cabinet Office Secretary knocked and entered. ‘Sorry, Prime Minister,= but this seems to have been overlooked today.’ He handed over a Magestic letter. ‘Slipped between two files.’ He withdrew sharply.

&nb= sp;    The Prime Minister opened the letter. After reading it, she made eye contact wi= th Jack. ‘Seems that your counterpart is going to show you a fake letter sometime soon.’

&nb= sp;    ‘A fake?’ Jack repeated, many shifting uneasily in their seats.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, I’m afraid. It says that Pointer will present you a fake letter.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    Jack shook his head. ‘Magestic did say that the relationship would alter. Seems that he anticipated some problems with the CIA.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Call me the minute you’ve finished your meeting,’ the Prime Minister told Jack as she stood. ‘But be very discreet.’

 

Jack greeted Pointer in the hotel b= ar that they now used, fixed monthly meetings for six months so far.

&nb= sp;    ‘Missing fast jets at all?’ Jack asked as they shook.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, yeah. Give me some danger to this pen pushing – no offence.’

&nb= sp;    ‘None taken. Tea?’ They sat, drinks ordered. ‘So, meeting on a Saturday?’ Jack teased. ‘Something big up?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, no, I just got a trip around Europe and the Middle East to do, so it was do= wn to stopovers.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Do you fly well?’ Jack lightly enquired, making Pointer laugh.

&nb= sp;    ‘No! When I’m in the back I get jet lag. Nothing to do, you see.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Perhaps you could pin the picture of a cockpit to the seat in front.’

&nb= sp;    ‘They’d throw me off as a kook! Anyway, how are you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fine, fine. But this month’s letter is late.’

&nb= sp;    Pointer studied Jack briefly. ‘Late?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, they are intermittent; sometimes two a month or more, sometimes none. Like yourself, I get withdrawal symptoms waiting.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We got one a few days back,’ Pointer explained. ‘I don’t hav= e a copy for you yet, this is the original.’ He opened his case and handed over a letter in a plastic envelope.

&nb= sp;     

Mr Ambassador, I wish to bring to the attention of your compatriots that arms deals in progress between several bidders, all hoping to supply weapons packages to the Saudi Government, will find themselves under the unfortunate glare of unwelcome media attention in the months ahead.

      Several of = your negotiators will be secretly taped discussing the less-than-Western practic= es commonly required to appease the various Saudi Princes prior to any arms de= al closing. The taped conversations, suitably transcribed, will appear in both printed media and on TV – a cause of great embarrassment for all invo= lved.

      One of the persons most directly responsible will be a senior aid to a Prince, his mot= ives more religious than personal economics.

 &nb= sp;    Please tread carefully.

 

‘Well, well. Guess our vers= ion of that got lost in the post,’ Jack quietly stated. ‘Didn’t happen to pick it up by mistake, did you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘How could you think such a thing, Jack,’ Pointer said with a look of mock horror. ‘Besides, you guys probably got your Post Office sewn up tight.’

&nb= sp;   

‘Prime Minister? It’s J= ack Donohue.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Go ahead.’

&nb= sp;    ‘They want us to accuse the high-ranking assistants of Saudi Princes of espionage against us during weapons trade negotiations–’

&nb= sp;    ‘With the obvious consequences: we’d lose the deals, and they’d get t= hem! I can’t believe they’d even try that. Since when has Magestic b= een interested in commercial or domestic matters?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Exactly.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well done. Have a good weekend, what’s left of it.’

 

 

A nice watering hole

 

Two months after purchasing River V= iew we flew back into Nairobi, this time to go and buy a safari lodge. We spent a = day at the usual Nairobi hotel, meeting Rudd in the rooftop bar and catching up= on developments, our man in Kenya now involved with River View as well – keeping an ey= e on the manager. We read through lists of bills, reports, looked at diagrams for proposed new buildings at the mine-school airfield, and scanned recent photographs. Jimmy was happy with the progress, so Rudd would travel with u= s to Masai Mara country in the morning, West Kenya, and close to the Tanzanian border.

We set off early, Rudd= again driving us in the UN jeep. It made me smile, the softly spoken and mild mannered Dutchman quite the thief. On the way we spoke about many things, including his family and their first stay at our hotel. Now, when Rudd popp= ed down to the hotel for a visit, he took them along when he could.=

Half way to Masai coun= try we stopped for lunch at a roadside diner of sorts, risking a cheese burger = 211; of sorts, but were stopped by the police as we left, the patrol officers driving a dated Ford Granada. Rudd flashed his old UN identity, shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands a lot, the police letting us continue on. Ove= rall we had no problems with the police, just the odd traffic officer trying to justify his salary. The last twenty miles of the journey was made negotiati= ng rough tracks, a few animals glimpsed through the dry brush.

‘Hard place to find,’ I grumbled as we bounced along.

‘Tourists don= 217;t drive themselves here,’ Jimmy pointed out. ‘They’re picke= d up at the airport in convoy.’

‘How much land h= as this place got?’ I asked.

‘Been on it for = the last half an hour,’ Jimmy informed us.

‘Shit, how many = square miles is that?’

‘About a thousand,’ Jimmy answered. ‘Thirty miles by thirty miles, dozen Masai villages, a small town on the edge, couple of working farms, and the = game reserve in the middle. Nice big river runs right through it, one small hill.’

‘Cool. What animals?’

‘Best game reser= ve in Kenya,’ Jimmy proudly announced. ‘At least it will be. It backs onto the Serengeti. And it’s going cheap; the owners just lost a court battle about back taxes.’

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

‘They didn’= ;t pay their taxes for ten years.’

‘Why not?’= I puzzled.

‘Because they= 217;re idiots,’ Jimmy explained.

Rudd put in, ‘Ma= ny people here, westerns, don’t pay tax - and just leave. When I paid yo= urs on account it took an hour to explain it.’

‘Why?’ I a= sked.

‘I was about fiv= e years early,’ Rudd said with a smile.

‘We’ll kee= p the government sweet,’ Jimmy insisted.

Finally, we opened onto grassland and could see the lodge in the distance, perched on the crest of a rise. Its thatched roof sagged down almost to the grass, giving the appeara= nce of an enormous hat supported by a neck of dark brown wooden walls, and fini= shed with whitewashed boulders strung around it like a pearl necklace. It was no= t a place to approach at night when very drunk!

Several small outbuild= ings, a few yards away from the main lodge, were not dissimilar to the huts at River View. We parked up next to a green Land Rover that had seen better days, the white UN truck a bit confusing for the staff who greeted us, Rudd explaining that he bought it second hand and had not painted it yet. We booked in, thr= ee expensive rooms for what they were, which was basic.

The owners were old En= glish colonial stock, a middle-aged couple that I took a disliking to straight aw= ay; the husband carrying a small stick to beat his dog. He snarled at the local staff, not being too sweet with the paying guests either. The husband stood with fists on hips, khaki green shorts and short-sleeved shirt; I had to gi= ve it to him, he looked the part. Even the socks in his boots were khaki green= .

With my bags in my hut= , I wandered into the cool interior of the main building, which seemed to have = been built up around a tree, the trunk still erect and appearing hundreds of yea= rs old. There was no TV or radio evident, just a shelf of dated books being the central focal point, plenty of chairs to sit about it. I had images of a gr= oup of guests all sat around reading in silence; a communal, yet a solitarily p= assing of the long nights. Walking through to the far side, I stepped out onto the grass and peered down the gentle slope, an obvious viewpoint.

A hundred yards below = me ran a meandering river, well-used and muddy banks now attended by hundreds of ani= mals milling about, all sorts. I could see elephants off to the left, zebras, wi= lder beast, hippos in the water, and even lions in the distance. I was impressed with the array, then noted what appeared to be kitchen leftovers scattered around, now realising why so many animals were attending this party.

I noticed a small bar = over my right shoulder and wandered in, finding it empty but for a lone local stood ready to serve. The bar top looked as if it had been hacked off a hundred y= ear old tree, leaving me wondering if it was related to the one keeping the roof up. In fact, I could not see a piece of metal or plastic in the whole place= , it was all natural wood. I ordered a beer, and sat admiring the view in the st= icky heat, the others finding me after five minutes. Rudd was not really one for animals, having already spent most of his adult life in Africa; he liked big cities and modern conveniences, and hated small bugs.

‘Lots of wildlife,’ I commented, flicking a flying insect off my knee.

‘That river runs= tens miles either way on our land,’ Jimmy informed me. He pointed off to t= he right. ‘See that rise in the distance? Great place for a bigger lodge.’

‘How many people= can this hold?’ I asked.

‘Ten at most,= 217; Jimmy explained.

‘Which is probab= ly why they’re skint,’ I whispered.

‘Economies of scale,’ Jimmy stated. ‘I would split the trip for the tourists; week here, week on the coast, day in Nairobi.’

‘That would be better,’ Rudd agreed with a nod.

The husband stepped ou= t to us, managing a begrudging, ‘Rooms OK?’

‘Why don’t= you join us for five minutes, Grant,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘I have some questions. It is Grant, isn’t it?’

The man sat, beating h= is loyal dog away with the pencil thin stick. Now I noticed his grey chest chair try= ing to escape the top of his shirt, and wished I hadn’t.

Jimmy began, ‘I = hear that this place may be up for sale.’

Grant took a moment, e= yeing Jimmy suspiciously. ‘It may be.’

‘What’s it= worth, if you don’t mind me asking?’

I could see Grant̵= 7;s brain getting into gear. His features turned dishonest.

‘One million eig= ht hundred thousand with all the land; three working farms.’ He rested h= is hands on his stick.

‘Problem is, Gra= nt, that the government has a claim against the property – unpaid tax of three hundred thousand.’ Jimmy made eye contact with me. ‘Which stays with the property and the new owner if they sell. So that makes it one and a half million.’

‘You’re we= ll informed,’ our host grumbled. ‘What … business are= you in?’

‘Mercenaries,= 217; Jimmy nonchalantly informed our host. ‘I kill people for a living, Gr= ant. Dirty business, but it pays very well.’

Rudd did not react. I = watched our host’s features move rapidly towards concern. ‘Oh,’ w= as all he could manage.

‘So, Grant, do y= ou want to sell?’ Jimmy nudged.

‘At what price?&= #8217; Grant wanted clarifying.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’d guess one point three million. And … I’ll pay the staff the wag= es they’ve not received - that’s another thirty thousand. Then there’re the unpaid bills of vets, wardens, and the road upkeep. That’s another twenty five thousand. So really, Grant, you’d be doing well with one point three – very well.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re no tourist,’ Grant snarled.

&nb= sp;    ‘We are … for a few days,’ Jimmy softly insisted. ‘We’re here … at this lonely and dangerous place, miles from anywhere.’= ;

&nb= sp;    Grant viewed the horizon with renewed interest, not knowing who might be out ther= e, and I was enjoying his discomfort. As he went to beat the dog again I snatc= hed his stick off him, broken it and threw it away. Our host sat frozen in controlled anger.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy produced an envelope. ‘In here is a banker’s draft, and the det= ails of my lawyer in Nairobi. If you present this tomorrow, and sign at the lawy= ers first, you can have your money transferred anywhere; the Kenyan Government = will be chasing me for the taxes. All you have to do to walk away from this place … is take it and drive.’

&nb= sp;    Grant stared at the envelope for a full minute, then snatched it and opened it. He recognised the Nairobi firm of lawyers. ‘This draft will need a second signature.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, that of my lawyer. He’s expecting you around 2pm tomorrow.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘And if I don’t want to sell?’ Grant snarled, his already ruddy complexion reddening even more.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll wait for the government to throw you in jail, then buy this place cheap from them,’ Jimmy said very matter of fact. ‘Your call, money or prison.’

&nb= sp;    I focused on our host. ‘Don’t keep us waiting too long, old chap. Those lions down there are looking hungry.’

&nb= sp;    Our host got up, got into his jeep and drove off, his dear lady wife enquiring about his whereabouts a few hours later. In a story that I would tell over a few beers, Grant left everything behind, drove to Nairobi and signed over t= he place, got on a plane and headed to Cape Town, South Africa, with his money, his wife never seeing him again. We thought about taking pity on the wife, = but she was even worse than him, barking at us at length when we informed her we had just bought the place. She packed up the next day and drove away, leavi= ng much behind, not least three perplexed and unattended guests; a group of regulars. They were placated with a week’s stay at the beach hotel.

&nb= sp;    After Grant’s departure, Jimmy said to Rudd, ‘I don’t normally = do business like that, but I don’t like people like him – old colonialists.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Me neither,’ Rudd agreed. ‘Fuck him. But are you two into mercenaries?’

&= nbsp;    ‘No, not unless you count the Old Dogs. Would it matter?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not really, just so that I know,’ Rudd answered with a shrug.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    We wandered about the near empty lodge and grounds, basically a large patch of= dry brown grass on a rise with the lodge in the centre, meeting and reassuring = the staff whilst handing out bundles of dollars as back pay. We were now land gentry folk.

&nb= sp;    Rudd was given the task of finding a manager and overseeing the place, his time = now split three ways. He didn’t mind, he was loving it, not least the tips from us for good work. In Rudd’s UN jeep, we drove around and met the neighbours, letting all of them off their back rent, and I got my first gli= mpse of the tall Masai tribesmen in their distinctive red robes.

&nb= sp;    The second day, with the lodge free of guests, we drove to the hill in the distance, if you could call it a hill, and Jimmy made a sketch for Rudd, letting the Dutchman have a say in the layout of a new lodge and its propos= ed circle of huts. The view from the highest point improved upon that of the standing lodge, and Jimmy suggested a two-storey affair with a roof-bar and viewpoint. It was a plan, Rudd still having plenty of money in our account = to get the building work started.

&nb= sp;    The next day, the three mercenaries I had met previously turned up, Jimmy only informing me that morning. I took a moment to consider if the three diploma= tic types would have helped Grant make up his mind. We settled around the bar, = Rudd undertaking an inventory of everything without prompting, to stop the staff from pinching things.

&nb= sp;    ‘What news?’ Jimmy formerly asked our hired guns.

&nb= sp;    ‘Two down, one winged,’ Skids informed Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    ‘The guy you winged is the most valuable,’ Jimmy explained.

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re quick on the intel,’ Trev noted.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded. ‘He’s fled to Sudan.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Tricky place to follow,’ Trev noted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t. Not yet,’ Jimmy insisted. ‘Work through the list. You get your money OK?’

&nb= sp;    They collectively nodded.

&nb= sp;     ‘Right, your job for the next= eight weeks – is right here.’ The men craned their heads around and t= ook in the view. ‘The guests have gone - I’ve bought the place, but some of the staff are still about. Raid the bar, kick back - don’t= damage anything. Got rifles?’

&nb= sp;    ‘In the jeep,’ Skids answered.

&= nbsp;    ‘So now you’re game wardens, of sorts,’ Jimmy explained. ‘Joi= n up with the staff here, go right around the perimeter – two day drive – I want a detailed map of ways in and out. There’re poachers about, so go tooled up. Put yourself in the poachers’ place, look to = see where the game is – especially the elephant tracks – and mark t= hem on the map. I want a plan of action for defeating the poachers; staff, kit, patrol routes.

&nb= sp;    ‘Go outside my area and talk with local police, local farms, get a feel for the poaching scene, get some intel.’ He wagged a finger. ‘But never forget … that you work for me, posing as wardens here, so be nice as = fuck to everyone.

&nb= sp;    ‘Go see the Masai chief and give my respects, ask to employ a tracker or two, giving them territories. My man Rudd will sort wages for them; they’l= l work for fuck all. By time you leave here I want the poachers on the back foot, = but a word of warning: no shots fired unless in self-defence, and then only if there’s not another soul within ten miles. If you’re out alone,= and you’re sure you’ve got poachers that no one will miss, bury them deep – no evidence! If the poacher is a Masai then take him back with= out damaging him, and whinge to their head man. The locals around here also poa= ch, but I’m not fussed about the odd cow going missing. Lions and elephan= ts are a different matter; that we jump on hard. Any questions?’

&nb= sp;    ‘This be a regular gig?’ Trev asked, seemingly pleased with the new assignm= ent.

&nb= sp;    ‘Every time you need a break after a job you can chill out here or at the beach ho= tel. But the first time you get drunk and smack a guest you’ll never get invited back. Simple enough for you?’ They nodded. ‘This is the same pay, but a bonus because it’s fun. So when you’re waiting intel’ on a target it’s somewhere to crash. If some good intel’ does surface, go after the bad guys, then back here.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What rifles you got?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘M16s,’ Skids informed me. ‘You shoot?

&nb= sp;    ‘No, I drive a computer.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Give him some lessons,’ Jimmy ordered. ‘Come out on safari with us tomorrow, fun day.’

&nb= sp;    You … need a shooting lesson?’ Trev asked Jimmy directly.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, I could hit a playing card at six hundred yards.’

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s what I figured,’ Trev began. ‘And yet you’re not ex anything?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Use your brain for work, not on me. I pay the bills.’

&nb= sp;    Trev gave a mock salute.

 

 

 

Malaria

 

On th= e last day in Kenya I felt ill, shivers and a night sweat, feeling rough in the mornin= g. We made plans to see the quack back in the UK rather than here.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    I drank lots of fluids, and slept when I could on the flight, British Airways= as usual, Nairobi to Gatwick. Arriving back in the UK I felt very rough, Jimmy advising me to tough it through customs or face a quarantine. With determination I struggled through, getting into the car and almost fainting. Jimmy drove straight to central London and to a private clinic, virtually carrying me up the steps. The next day I woke to blue curtains and pastel colours, a brief inspection by a doctor in a white lab-coat before a large needle robbed me of further thought on the matter. On the third day I came around, finding my mum sat there, and looking worried.

&nb= sp;    ‘You had us all worried,’ she informed me. ‘How are you feeling, dear?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Still alive, I guess.’ I eased up and took in the room, remembering flashes= of pastel blue. ‘How long … how long have I been here?’ I croaked out.

&nb= sp;    ‘Three days and nights,’ she answered. ‘Jimmy called us on the morning after you got back, and second day you were terrible - delusional. We were worried sick.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What … what have the doctors said?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Malaria, a bad bout.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh. Has it gone?’

&nb= sp;    ‘They say you’ll be weak for ten days, but should make a full recovery. You= can come and stay with us for a while.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … er … got work to do –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Jimmy said he’d take care of everything, so you’ve got the time off,’ my mum insisted. And she was a force to be reckoned with.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    After two days of pastel blue I was ready to go, Jimmy popping in and dropping off supplies, food and drink, plus fresh clothes. Mum and Dad picked me up, dri= ving me straight home the short distance to Richmond.

&nb= sp;    ‘From Kenya to my old room,’ I muttered. ‘Bloody marvellous.’

&nb= sp;    I got three square meals a day, whether I wanted them or not, watched daytime television with Mum – many of her friends dropping in for coffee, and after a week I was ready for a large needle to put me under; anything was better than this. Jimmy popped around, and I told him I had to get out of h= ere. I convinced my parents I was feeling much better and I drove away, relieved= at not feeling like a sick ten-year-old off school any more.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Next time, I want a private nurse in the flat,’ I insisted, Jimmy laughing= at my ordeal.

&nb= sp;    ‘What’s wrong with your mum’s cooking and company?’ he joked. ‘You should be grateful.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I love her to bits, but in small doses. Right now I need a curry, the lap dan= ce bar and a nightclub.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s Monday, so it’ll be quiet. Call that bird you like, Sarah. She rang t= he flat a couple of times.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What did you tell her?’

&nb= sp;    ‘That you had a nasty infectious disease.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What!’

&nb= sp;    He laughed. ‘No, I told her you were in Kenya sorting some business. She thinks you’re back today. Tell her you’re jetlagged and you’ll get some sympathy. Anyway, you’ve got the flat for a few days – I’ve got to do a family thing in Wales.’

&nb= sp;    Entering the apartment, I was grateful to be back, checking quickly a few stock pric= es and scanning faxes from Rudd; I had missed the job. I made a tea and sat wi= th my usual mug in hand, reclaiming the peace.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy sat opposite and heaved a sigh. ‘Got some medical stuff to discuss.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m better, no?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Better for the moment, but Malaria reoccurs. In some people it’s not a probl= em, never coming back, in others they fall as sick as you were every three mont= hs or so.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Every three months?’

&nb= sp;    He reluctantly nodded. ‘It’s too soon to tell, but it could come b= ack every year. And, more importantly, if you go back down to Kenya you might g= et bitten again and make it worse.’

&nb= sp;    I stared across at him; this was not what I wanted. The last few years had be= en good, very good – more than anyone my age could have hoped for or achieved. This was a reality check.

&nb= sp;    ‘I did warn you,’ Jimmy reminded me. ‘Africa is dangerous.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    We had not spoken about him injecting me with his blood since the first trip to the AIDS orphanage, and he had not pushed the idea. And it was not top of my priority list either, the idea of it making my stomach turn. The very idea = of someone injecting me with their blood – it made me shudder. What came next was a blow.

&nb= sp;    ‘I can’t take the risk of taking you back down there, I’ll go alone.’

&nb= sp;    I felt like I had done at ten years old, when I was sick sat at home with mum= and the rest of the class went off on a school trip to Longleat Safari Park. I = did not like it then, and I most certainly did not like it now, that feeling of being left behind.

&nb= sp;    He added, ‘The rest of the trips are OK. Hong Kong, States, Europe. Just Africa is dodgy.’

&nb= sp;    With little more said, Jimmy headed off to Wales on the train, leaving me the apartment and the car, Sarah coming over after work. Somehow, I just couldn’t find joy in anything. Sarah turned up looking cute as usual,= and I found myself making all sorts of excuses about jet lag or a bug. We watch= ed TV, had a take-away delivered, and she headed off late, with me apologising= for being grumpy and tired.

&nb= sp;    What was wrong with me? I had just made excuses not to have sex with a cute girl. Twenty-six years old, I was feeling like an old man. No, that wasn’t = it, it was the prospect of losing all this, even though that was not what Jimmy= was planning. I had no reason to believe that the team would break up, but stil= l I had a bad feeling in my gut.

&nb= sp;    The next day I got back into my routine, but it felt different. It felt …= as if I did not belong any more. I checked the stock markets, closed out a tra= de, read faxes from Rudd and replied, read Flight magazine, and opened mail abo= ut flying courses. It was all normal - yet not. It was as before, yet somehow different. The apartment wall and me ending up playing stare down, the wall winning after several hours.

&nb= sp;    The next day was not much better, me and the wall renewing our silent conversat= ion. Sarah called lunchtime and I made excuses, considering just how long it wou= ld be till she got the message. The message was: I don’t know what’= ;s wrong with me, I just feel odd. That evening I gave it a great deal of thou= ght, had a few beers and watched the TV. With the news just a dull blur in the background I thought about Kenya, and found myself thinking about the orphanage.

&nb= sp;    ‘I let him down,’ I said to myself. Shaking my head, I said, ‘No, that’s not true, it’s just a bug, everyone gets sick. Well, he = don’t.’

&nb= sp;    Images of the orphanage flashed by, followed by images of World War Three. I sudde= nly felt like a coward. Buy why? What had I done? Another ten minutes passed by= as I stared out of focus. ‘No, I didn’t let him down – I let= them down.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy had told me of the war that could break out next year, 1990. It was a turni= ng point, and I was thinking of myself too much. My head nodded itself. ‘I’ve been enjoying it all too much.’

&nb= sp;    It was amazing how I suddenly felt better, like a bolt out of the blue, like a revelation. I was a soldier on a mission, an important mission – and = this was not about me, not any more. Standing, I went to the balcony for fresh a= ir. Looking down on the traffic, I muttered, ‘I wonder if fucking Batman = felt like this?’ I was feeling better.

&nb= sp;    The next day Jimmy returned and I told him to sit.

&nb= sp;    ‘What’s up? You better?’ he enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m not happy to be left out of Kenya, or anything else.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, that’s … understandable.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You need me on this, it’s too much work for one person, getting too much = for the two of us. And next year is 1990, the start point.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You have been thinking.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I know I’ve got to be injected – but it freaks me out just thinki= ng about it.’

&nb= sp;    He nodded sympathetically. ‘I know.’

&nb= sp;    ‘But I’m not going to give up Kenya, so it’s … it’s wort= h it for that. What … what’ll happen if I’m injected?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not much. You’ll sleep less, be fitter … and you’ll be immune= to all diseases known to man, including Malaria.’

&nb= sp;    ‘It won’t come back?’ I pressed.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, never,’ he replied.

&nb= sp;    ‘If I have sex … with a girl…?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes…?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Will she, you know?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Get pregnant or disappointed?’ he teased.

&nb= sp;    ‘Will she be … affected?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No,’ he carefully mouthed.

&nb= sp;    ‘She won’t be like you?’

&nb= sp;    He fought hard not to smile, too much. ‘No.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Can I still have kids?’

&nb= sp;    He rolled his eyes. ‘Yes.’

&nb= sp;    I eased back. ‘OK, I want to be injected.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy turned serious. ‘Are you sure? There are some risks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Risks? Like what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ve just been in hospital and given blood. The next time you give blood they’ll notice a lot of odd stuff in it, call in the Government, and they’ll lock you up in a lab and experiment on you.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Not if I don’t get sick,’ I insisted.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you’re in a car wreck you’ll be in hospital, blood taken,’= ; he pointed out.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s the same risk for you!’

&nb= sp;    ‘True. Life is full of risks.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Like getting fucking Malaria.’ I took a breath. Quietly, I stated, ‘I don’t want to be left out of anything, left on the sidelines.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy slowly nodded. ‘We’ll sort it soon.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, now,’ I insisted. ‘I want to get it over with.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You sure?’

&nb= sp;    My chest heaved itself. ‘Yeah, I got my mind on World War Three at last.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Took long enough,’ he carefully mouthed. He eased up, retrieving a medical pouch from his room.

Five minutes later and= I was nursing a sore arm. ‘How long to take effect?’

‘You’ll ru= n a temperature for twenty-four hours, so have an aspirin and plenty of water – no more alcohol. Start eating protein: egg, fish, meat. On the third day you’ll start to need less sleep, and then you can exercise. Try a= nd do nothing for the next day; sleep, sit and eat.’

&nb= sp;    Feeling much better, I decided not to take his advice and called Sarah, taking her = out and staying over at her place.

 

The next morning, back in the flat = at 8am, I had a complaint. ‘When I pee it looks odd and smells terrible.= ’

‘Right know the = stem cells are hunting around for old cells to attack and to replace, the waste coming out. That will last a week, so drink plenty of water and stop whingi= ng. Your metabolism will increase as well.’

On the third morning, a Sunday, I woke early and could not get back off to sleep. ‘5am?’= ; I cursed. I found Jimmy sat reading.

‘Can’t sleep?’ he asked without looking up.

‘No, I’m p= igging wide awake.’

‘From now on you’ll only need four hours a night max, so get used to it.’

‘Should I exerci= se yet?’

‘Sure, try and g= o for a run.’

I got my tracksuit on,= running shoes, and headed out. 5am on a Sunday morning. Christ, we sometimes got ba= ck from the clubs at this time! Two hours later I limped back in. ‘I hurt like hell!’ I complained as I slumped down.

‘Your muscles ar= e full of energy and raring to go, your bones, joints, and tendons are not there w= ith them yet. Take it easy, gentle exercise.’

Removing my socks reve= aled huge blisters. ‘Christ! Do you get blisters?’=

‘Sometimes. You’= ;re still mortal, so don’t push it. Pop the blisters and they’ll be gone in a day.’ He went back to his book.

The blisters healed ov= ernight, so I headed to the gym, running on the treadmills with pen and paper tucked= into my pocket. Day by day I improved, being their first customer each morning at 7am; 5k, 7k, 10k, 14k, 16k, 20k. I stopped at 20k and tried to improve on my time, the cute girl assistant often chatting to me and impressed by my performance. Well, I was the only one there bar the cleaner.

I was impressed by her= fondness for sweaty men in running shorts, and we had sex in many different hideaway= s, even the steam room and sauna, no one else around till at least 8.30am. Thr= ee or four times I week I had sex in the gym, also seeing Sarah in the evening= s a couple times a week. I was full of energy with a raging libido. But despite= the running, I put on a stone in three weeks.

 

 


Big Paul

 

With my training at the gym coming = along, and my boxing improving rapidly, Jimmy said that it was time to recruit a bodyguard, something of a contradiction. I had to stop and wonder what the = hell he needed a bodyguard for, and could we find someone big enough?=

&nb= sp;    We advertised for ‘driver/bodyguard’ and offered a reasonable sala= ry, indicating overseas travel. Fifty-two letters came via a P.O. Box number. J= immy sifted through them till he found the name he wanted: Paul Baines. I called= the man and invited him around for an informal interview. Opening the door to t= he guy, I could see why he was in the security business. He was just about an = inch shorter than Jimmy, and solid with it. A hard face, he looked the part, appearing to me to be mid thirties. Stepping in, he ran a professional eye around the apartment.

&nb= sp;    ‘Have a seat,’ I offered. ‘Tea?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy appeared from the kitchen. ‘Tea, no milk, half a sugar.’ He pla= ced down the mug for our guest.

&nb= sp;    ‘Good … guess,’ Baines noted with a pleated brow, sitting opposite Ji= mmy. I plonked down in one of the chairs.

&nb= sp;    ‘Still on the books at KMS?’ Jimmy enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘That wasn’t in my CV,’ Baines pointed out, carefully studying us as = he sipped his tea. He spoke with a deep, resonating voice, and a preciseness t= hat suggested confidence.

&nb= sp;    ‘No,’ Jimmy answered. ‘But I know a great deal about you, Paul.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Such as?’ Baines prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘Such as … Masterson asked you to apply for this job to spy on me.’

&nb= sp;    I was lost, confused, and now worried.

&nb= sp;    ‘So why drag me over here?’ Baines finally asked, lowering his tea, but seemingly none too worried about being rumbled.

&nb= sp;    ‘To give you a job, of course,’ Jimmy explained.

&nb= sp;    I was now more confused than our job applicant.

&nb= sp;    ‘Give me a job … knowing that MI6 want me to keep an eye on you?’ Bai= nes questioned.

&nb= sp;    ‘Why not? You need the work, and I need a driver and bodyguard -’

&nb= sp;    ‘You don’t look like you need a bodyguard, Guv.’

&nb= sp;    ‘- and you can tell the nice people at MI6 that I’m of no interest to th= em. That’ll help you to get back at Masterson.’

&nb= sp;    Baines’ eyes narrowed as he peered toward Jimmy. ‘First, you know I’m coming. Second, you know the history between me and Masterson. You must be = connected to someone in his office.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why do you think they’re interested in me, Paul?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘You got six ex-troopers on the payroll in Kenya, some of them with a bad record.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Who does he mean?’ I asked. ‘The guys chasing poachers?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Poachers?’ Baines queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ Jimmy began. ‘We own a game reserve which is plagued by poachers after the elephants. We hired some troopers to hunt them down, no more complicated than that.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And the others?’ Baines firmly nudged.

&nb= sp;    ‘The Old Dogs? They teach mine clearance to Africans, a charity I donate to. Not= hing more.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Guess Masterson got his intel’ wrong.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, he hit the jackpot with me, he just doesn’t realise it.’

&nb= sp;    Baines waited for an explanation.

‘The stuff he to= ld you about Africa was true, but just a cover. No, he’s after people who ha= ve very similar profiles to myself; good on the stock markets, connections to Wales or the M4 corridor, and charitable donors.’

&nb= sp;    I was lost, not registering the government’s interest in the Magestic letters.

&nb= sp;    ‘What the fuck for?’ Baines curtly asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘They have a profile of someone they’re looking for. Only not.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Huh?’ I put in.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy had not turned away from Baines. ‘How would you like to wreck Masterson’s career with a single phone call? So much so that he could= n’t strike back at you.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Love to – if it can be done.’

&= nbsp;    Jimmy produced a piece of paper and handed it over. ‘Call that number, it’s a Jack Donohue at the MOD. Tell him what it says on the note.= 217; He reached under a file on the coffee table and handed Baines a thick wad of fifties. ‘That’ll cover the cost of the call.’ Our guest’s eyes widened. ‘Go outside and use a payphone, well away from here, then come back when the dust settles. Oh, and I’d apprecia= te you not saying anything about me. You were never here.’

&nb= sp;    Baines re-read the note. ‘This’ll bury Masterson? Finish him?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Most definitely. He’s got you doing a job that the Prime Minister forbade = him to do, and one that the CIA has nudged him towards. They’ll bury him.= Oh, and I was serious about the job. Don’t forget to come back.’

&nb= sp;    Baines stood, checked the wad again before pocketing it, then let himself out. I thought I could see him shaking his head as he left.

&nb= sp;    With our guest departed, I said, ‘What the fuck was all that about?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Some of the nice men in intelligence want to find whoever is sending the Magestic letters.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah…’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy shrugged and made a face. ‘Even if they do find me the handwriting is different, the style of writing, there’re no prints on them and no connection. But … it would be a distraction.’=

At five o’clock = our job applicant returned unexpectedly.

&nb= sp;    ‘Tea, black, half a sugar,’ I dryly commented as I held the door.

&nb= sp;    ‘Got anything stronger?’ Baines firmly requested.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy lowered his book, marking the page. ‘How did it go?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘I almost didn’t do it, then I figured that … if there was chance = to fuck over Masterson … well, I’ve been on the bloody phone for hours. They arrested Masterson, warned me off ever saying anything, and even offered me a few quid to clam up. I pledged my loyalty and promised to be a good boy, Scouts honour.’ He gave a mocking, two finger Scout salute.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Well,’ Jimmy sighed. ‘That’s one chapter closed. Fancy a beer and a cu= rry later?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sounds good. What about this job, now that I’m between employers. Again.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘It pays well, you get an apartment, lots of foreign travel … and you help prevent World War Three.’

&nb= sp;    I almost choked, jerking upright in my chair.

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ Baines asked, looking back and forth between us.

&nb= sp;    ‘World War Three,’ Jimmy casually explained. ‘Kicks off around 2017.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Got a while then,’ Baines commented. ‘Get a curry in at least.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘Key event is next year. It sets in motion a chain of events that lead directly towards World War Three.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You wanna start making some sense, Guv?’

&nb= sp;    ‘The boys in intelligence are searching for someone – a very powerful clairvoyant – who’s been sending them letters for a few years, tip-offs concerning disasters about to happen, terrorist attacks, wars, that sort of thing.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And Masterson thought … that was you?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, he was going through a list of possible suspects. But he would have been ri= ght about me.’

&nb= sp;    ‘He would?’ Baines queried, a glance at me.

&nb= sp;    ‘He would,’ Jimmy repeated. ‘But what’s the point in trying to sneak up on a powerful clairvoyant? I mean, if the guy was genuine – he’d see you coming, Paul. How’s the knee, still hurting from getting hit by that taxi?’

&nb= sp;    Baines studied Jimmy carefully as he subconsciously rubbed his knee. ‘You … are a clairvoyant? What, you give tips in the back of The Sun newspaper?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy forced a false smile. ‘Pick a topic about your past life, something t= hat I could not possibly know.’

&nb= sp;    Baines eased back, another glance my way. ‘When I was on selection for the S= AS –’

&nb= sp;    ‘You cheated.’

&nb= sp;    I could see the surprise in our guest’s face.

&nb= sp;    ‘How … did I?’ Baines pressed.

&nb= sp;    ‘You cut out a corner when you saw the umpire’s Land Rover get stuck. Pick something else.’

&nb= sp;    Baines gave it some thought. ‘My first girlfriend.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Not including your second cousin, who you lost your virginity to?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Dirty bugger,’ I put in.

&nb= sp;    Baines had not taken his eyes of Jimmy, his mouth now open.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy added, ‘You once hid in a cupboard in your friends house, down the ro= ad from where you lived, and watched two grown-ups having sex, only realising later than one was your mum and that the gentleman – well, not your dad.’

&nb= sp;    Baines sat transfixed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Pick something you’re sure about,’ Jimmy pushed.

&nb= sp;    After a few seconds, Baines’ features turned sullen. He said, ‘The re= ason I didn’t marry Ellen … and walked away.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You suspected that your kid … was not your kid.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Is it?’ Baines asked with a curled lip, not making eye contact.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes.’

&nb= sp;    Baines raised his eyes briefly before again looking away. Turning back, he said, ‘No wonder they want you so badly.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I could tell them stuff about the Russians, the Chinese, the works.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So why don’t you?’ Baines challenged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Simple fact is - I do, and have done for years; I send them letters. But what do y= ou think my life would be like with Masterson as a prison guard? Or someone li= ke him?’

&nb= sp;    Baines tipped his head. ‘Not so hot.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Do you think they’d let me walk the streets, visit my mum on her birthda= y, go down the pub?’

&nb= sp;    Baines shook his head and lowered it. ‘They’d lock you up like a freak= . No offence, Guv.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So you can see why I need a bodyguard,’ Jimmy explained. ‘I need someone who knows what they’re really like, who’s not blinded by the bullshit.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What’s all this World War Three stuff? That on the level?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, very much so. I can see way into the future. If I don’t stop a few th= ings … it all goes bang. That includes you and your family.’

&nb= sp;    After a moment, Baines focused on me. ‘What do you do?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I trade the stock markets … with one hundred percent success.= 217;

&nb= sp;    Baines eased upright, focusing on Jimmy. ‘Shit! You can see what the stocks do?’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy nodded. ‘And the horses, Eurovision, World Cup, elections. You name it.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re taking a big risk telling me all this,’ Baines commented.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Not really, you forget who I am.’ Jimmy waited.

&nb= sp;    ‘What? You can see that I work for you … in the future?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. And I know when you and Ellen get back together, I help arrange it.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘We … we get back together?’ That struck him more than World War Th= ree.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy gave an affirmative nod. ‘I also know what illness your kid will suff= er, and how to cure him.’

&nb= sp;    Baines stiffened. ‘Illness?’

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s for the years to come, don’t dwell on it now. First, you have to find her.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Do you … know where she is?’ Baines softly asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Of course. You also have an illegitimate kid –’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Whooa, there.’ He offered Jimmy a flat palm. ‘I’ve got another kid?’

&nb= sp;    ‘A girl: very pretty, very bright. You remember a girl in Bournemouth, that co= urse with the SBS in Poole Harbour -’

&nb= sp;    ‘Christ!’

&nb= sp;    ‘Christchurch, actually. Lovely village.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Dirty stop-out,’ I helpfully offered.

&nb= sp;    ‘So,’ Jimmy said as he stood. ‘You want to work for us or not?’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    Baines eased up. ‘You can really do all that shit, what you just said?’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘And more,’ Jimmy strongly emphasised.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m in,’ Baines told us with a shrug.

&nb= sp;    ‘Good, would have hated to move your stuff back to that dingy flat you’re in.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ Baines queried with heavy frown.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy produced a key. ‘One floor down, apartment twenty-three is yours. Your stuff is in there.’

&nb= sp;    ‘My stuff? You moved my fucking stuff?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Go and have a look, then pop back up.’

&nb= sp;    Baines took the key and let himself out, appearing angered. And he was too big to anger.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fuck me, you got my heart going there,’ I let out, closing in on Jimmy. ‘Fucking warn me next time.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I needed you to look surprised.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Achieved that alright.’ I took a breath. ‘He’ll work for us?’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, yeah. He’s a good man, he’ll be loyal as hell till the end, you’ll like him.’

&nb= sp;    Baines was back in five minutes, looking a little calmer. Guess he liked the apartment. ‘What about the flat I already rent?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Paid off, back with the landlord,’ Jimmy explained. ‘And the place downstairs won’t cost you anything.’

&nb= sp;    I could see the big fella working hard not to smile.

&nb= sp;    ‘And if I didn’t take the job?’ Baines pressed.

&nb= sp;    ‘For fuck’s sake, I’m clairvoyant, dopey! Now: curry, lap dancing an= d a nightclub. You fit?’

&nb= sp;    Baines shrugged a big pair of shoulders. ‘Why not. I need a drink.’

&nb= sp;    We headed out. In the lift, Jimmy gave him a photograph of a girl, no more than five years old.

&nb= sp;    Baines pocketed it. ‘In time. I still got to get my head around it all.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘You have a half-brother in Scotland,’ Jimmy mentioned in passing as we stepped onto the street.

&nb= sp;    ‘Scotland?’ Baines repeated as he thought. ‘My father was stationed there a coupl= e a times with RAF, 1959 to 1969. Bugger was married to my mum at the time.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘And you know what she got up to when he wasn’t around,’ Jimmy remin= ded our new employee.

&nb= sp;    ‘I don’t care about a half brother, not like I ever knew him.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I think my old man was unfaithful once,’ I put in. ‘Something my uncle said years ago. That side of the family don’t talk to us.’= ;  Jimmy turned his head towards me as= we walked. ‘Big Paul was always faithful to his girlfriend, never wander= ed, even when posted overseas.’

&nb= sp;    And ‘Big Paul’ became his nickname from then on.<= /p>

 

 

Conference centre nametags

&n= bsp;

It was September, 1989, and the Sco= ttish rescuer Mackey Taylor was faxing us every day. The conference was on.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    We settled on a castle hotel just outside Stirling, enabling visitors from Edinburgh and Glasgow to drive up for the day and for the Aviemore rescuers= to drive down for the day. Others would stay in hotels around the area, or in tents. Well, they were hardy mountain types. Our rooms were booked early, t= he hotel soon full. Mackey arranged one giant marquee, two large marquees and = some tents for visitors, sleeping bags thrown in. An area would also be set-aside for people pitching their own tents, a field at the rear of the hotel and n= ext to a stream; it sounded nice.

&nb= sp;    Catering was duly arranged by the hotel, for almost two hundred visitors spread over three days, Friday to Sunday. Mackey had already sent the hotel a twenty-fi= ve thousand pound deposit from the cheque we had given him, covering most of t= he costs at the hotel and the hiring of the marquees. The event had been advertised to all the relevant people and the take-up rate had been good, n= ot least by the promise of free food and drink.

&nb= sp;    With Big Paul driving, we set off on Thursday morning, aiming to stay the night = in Cumbria and take it easy. Good job, traffic was terrible through the Midlan= ds and we got to a small roadside Bed & Breakfast as night fell, little ti= me but for a meal and a beer before bed – we were working on Big Paul’s body-clock, not ours. I read a book in my room, and I’m = sure Jimmy did likewise.

&nb= sp;    Big Paul stirred early, surprised that Jimmy and I were already at breakfast, packed and ready to go. We set off through light rain and headed into Scotl= and, motorways and main roads all the way to Stirling, finding the castle without much difficulty – someone had signposted the event well. Through thick traffic, we crawled into the grounds and parked up on the gravel forecourt, emerging now into bright sunshine.

&nb= sp;    ‘Tent dwellers got the weather,’ I noted. Turning full circle, I could see three large tents in the grounds, a handful of smaller tents in a field, a multi-coloured patchwork of single person tents further behind. And the hill paths seemed to be well attended by numerous walkers. We booked in, glancin= g at a large board detailing the events of the three-day weekend, the start point being a noon briefing in the main tent.

&nb= sp;    The rooms were large and nicely decorated, but after a while a hotel room is ju= st a hotel room. We met back in the foyer and decided to find Mackey and his gan= g, so checked the bar and found them straight away, sat having coffee whilst hurriedly poring over speeches and plans.

&nb= sp;    ‘Jimmy, Jimmy,’ they called, as if we’d been life-long friends.

&nb= sp;    ‘All ready for the big show?’ Jimmy asked as chairs were arranged for us.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘A wee bit nervous,’ Mackey admitted. ‘Lot of controversy already.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Really?’ Jimmy probed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Many kooks spoil the broth!’ Mackey suggested. I wasn’t sure if it w= as his accent, or a pun.

&nb= sp;    ‘Then I’ll assist, since I don’t cook. Or climb mountains.’ 

&nb= sp;    ‘Assist?’ Mackey asked, needing clarification.

&nb= sp;    ‘If you have a group that can’t agree on a plan, I’ll dangle some money, make a speech, act as arbiter. After all, I’m neutral – = yet no one will want to upset me.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Aye,’ Mackey agreed. ‘Yee can start today, already got a group threatening = to walk out.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t tell me … the Aviemore rescuers.’

&nb= sp;    Mackey and his colleagues exchanged looks. ‘Aye.’

&nb= sp;    ‘My next call, leave them to me,’ Jimmy calmly insisted.

&nb= sp;    ‘You wanna say a few wee words?’ Mackey asked Jimmy. After all, we were pa= ying for the event.

&nb= sp;    ‘Sure. I’ll help you out by kicking things off if you like, give you a good write-up, see if I can’t get everyone behind you.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not Christmas,’ one of Mackey’s colleagues grumbled. ‘Not the season of miracles.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy offered the man a flat palm. ‘Leave it to me. Have faith.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Good job yee got broad shoulders,’ Mackey warned.

&nb= sp;    After a coffee we toured the very pleasant grounds, the weather holding up, soon = inspecting the food tent and the smaller conference tents. Those tents offered many ch= airs laid out in front of a podium, the main tent big enough for a small rock concert. Someone had even cut the grass beneath our feet. Noon approached, = and everyone - including those that were sulking about the order of giving speeches, settled down. Jimmy had been meeting people and pressing the flesh and, when it looked like everyone was just about in, he took the podium and= the microphone.

&nb= sp;    ‘I hope you can all hear me,’ he began. ‘It’s not a large ar= ea, but I guess the canvas tent sides absorb more sound than they reflect. If t= hose of you by the flaps can decide to come or go, that would save the rest being distracted.’ He waited a few seconds as people settled. ‘OK, my name is Jimmy Silo, and what I know about mountain rescue you could write on the back of a matchbox.’

&nb= sp;    I noted some perplexed looks from the crowd.

&nb= sp;    ‘But what I do know about … is making money, lots of it, which is why I’m paying for this event.’

&nb= sp;    I actually noticed a few people sit upright. It made me smile.

&nb= sp;    ‘To give you some background – I live in London, I’m a stock market trader and investor, and I own hotels and safari parks in Kenya. And it was Kenya that led me to this tent today. You see, in Kenya … I stopped o= ne day at an orphanage, figuring I’d give the kids some money. What I noticed … were a number of kids without legs or feet. You know how th= ey lost their limbs … land mines.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy put one hand in a pocket. ‘So I spoke to a man down there who knew a thing or two about land mines, offering him some money to help train the lo= cals to do their own mine clearance, a project that I now run in a fairly large = way at a disused airfield in the north of the country. There we have former Bri= tish Army ordnance personnel training Africans from all over the continent.=

&nb= sp;    ‘But if you were to fly around Africa, visiting each country, what you would find would be small pockets of very good people doing very good work, yet comple= tely oblivious of what others are doing in a similar field. Time, effort, and mo= ney is being expended by these groups, charities for the most part, on training= , on developing techniques and equipment, and sending people out to clear mines.= One of my aims is to co-ordinate that effort right across Africa, so that resou= rces are not wasted.

&nb= sp;    ‘In some centres they have two doctors and no electricians. In others they have= no doctors and ten electricians. In some they have willing volunteers, yet no experts to train them.’ He took a breath. ‘On one flight back to the UK I met a gentleman - who shall remain anonymous for the moment, who w= as returning from a scuba-diving holiday in Kenya. It turned out that he was a part-time mountain rescuer, and he told me a great deal about your industry.

‘And I asked him= what the training was like for his rescue work. The answer: you pick it up as yo= u go along. What … no formal exams, no overall governing body, just part-timers teaching themselves and mucking in? I couldn’t believe it. After all, this is Britain, leader in so many areas. And yet here we sit, s= ome of the people in this audience whinging like little girls about who’s going to speak first and on what topics.’

Could have heard a pin= drop, if it hadn’t been for the grass floor.

&nb= sp;    ‘I don’t have a lot of time for politics, or for whingers. I do, however, have a lot of money. So how I intend to spend that money will be along the following lines. I don’t know which one of you is the most experience= d, or has the biggest ego. But I have met Mackey Taylor and his team from Stirling, and they seem to have an idea of two about the national co-ordina= tion of training standards … and of national co-operation. I can’t s= ay that he’s the best man for the job, only time will tell. What I do kn= ow … is that you need momentum to get anything done, and what Mackey has … is a passion to cut through the crap and the red tape, and to make = some small progress. I’ve already given his group a hundred grand, and if = any other group wants money then you’re going to have to apply for it thr= ough him.’

&nb= sp;    I grinned from ear to ear.

&nb= sp;    ‘And the amount of money available is around a million pounds a year.’

&nb= sp;    Whispers broke out.

&nb= sp;    ‘It is my intention, if someone in Mackey’s group is up to it, to pay for= a small office, a permanent secretary and a permanent co-ordinator, perhaps a small magazine where everyone can send in stories of heroic rescues, new bi= ts of kit, problems, legislation. And, after a few years, many good people doi= ng good work should be able to achieve a great deal more … for a lot les= s.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll buy ropes in bulk and distribute them … once the type and colour of r= ope has been agreed by a national council. I will buy custom Land Rovers … once you’re decided on a vehicle specification, and get a bulk order = deal from the manufacturers. Because tha= t, ladies and gentlemen, is what co-operation brings - it brings cost savings.= I will also push for a national examination standard, and training course for budding young rescuers, followed by a badge that can be sewn onto a jacket. Then everyone will know that the person with the badge has met a certain standard. I will help arrange a standardised first aid programme for new recruits, as well as fun aspects such as canoeing trips, map reading, orienteering … and regular fun competitions that will pit man against man, team against team, in a spirit of co-operation.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll pay for climbing trips to other countries such as America, and exchanges between rescuers in many countries. I can, even now, offer courses on a var= iety of subjects in Kenya, where I have a base. Who’s to say that, in some distant future, rescuers here don’t attend bush fire-fighting courses, flood rescue courses, civil disaster courses, or search and rescue of downed aircraft or missing kids?

&nb= sp;    ‘It will take time, and some money of course, but most importantly it will take= a certain amount of co-operation from the good people sat in front of me R= 11; people who give up their spare time to risk their lives to help others. If you’re prepared to give your lives for strangers – can you give those who you should be your friends with … some time and some patien= ce?’

&nb= sp;    Big Paul sat quietly amazed. I was impressed as well.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy finished with, ‘I’ll now give the podium over to Mackey Taylor,= who will call speeches and discussions in no particular order of merit, nor siz= e of ego. If anyone has a problem, then please stand up and say my ego is big= ger than his … and we’ll slot you in first. The mountain to cli= mb, ladies and gentlemen, is out there … not in here.’

&nb= sp;    As he stepped down, many started clapping, followed by people standing, and so= on loud applause from everyone. I hadn’t noticed at the start the RAF personnel at the back, or the Navy. We even had the Coastguard with us. It = took a while for the assembled warm bodies to settle down again, Mackey having to call for them to hush down. He did his speech about co-operation, training standards, a magazine, about cave rescuers and mountain rescuers having cross-over training, about seasonal training and covering for each other, a= nd even training for co-operation with the RAF and Navy helicopter crews.=

&nb= sp;    At 3pm, Jimmy broke the speeches and insisted everyone take a thirty minute br= eak, the first day not ending till 6pm, the sun low on a pleasantly sunny day. It’s fair to say that the real work got done in the bar that night, t= he restaurant opened so that people could spill into it; it was needed as some= two hundred people tried to cram into a bar for fifty. We even opened the French doors and stood outside under spotlights.

&nb= sp;    Inevitably, some groups asked Jimmy for money for bits of kit, but he directed them tow= ards Mackey – who was the belle of the ball and being courted by all sorts. Big Paul recognised some of the faces from his time in the Army and re-acquainted himself with them, many drinks downed. At 1am we were still g= oing strong, the speeches due to re-start at 9am, Jimmy altering the blackboard = to 11am. At 2am, Jimmy asked the bar staff to close up and they threw everyone out, = me and Jimmy dragging Big Paul’s heavy carcass to his room.

&nb= sp;    The morning session was not well attended as people nursed sore heads, a few speeches given in the afternoon. An RAF rescue helicopter landed and people crawled over it, but not much serious work got done. As Jimmy had suggested= to me, the people broke into small groups and made plans over a few beers. The Saturday was very hot, most everyone sipping beer all afternoon, in-depth discussions going on in the beer garden instead of the tents. Still, it had broken the ice and people were making friends, chatting over beers and swap= ping stories. Saturday night was a drunken sing-a-long for the most part, Sunday= a washout as far as speeches went. People had lunch, sat about, or started to disappear. Mackey looked rough.

&nb= sp;    ‘Late night,’ I asked him as he joined us in the beer garden.

&nb= sp;    ‘Can’t remember going ta bed, so a wee bit to drink, aye.’=

&nb= sp;    Jimmy said, ‘I figured it would turn social, that’s why I like this p= lace – the booze. It would have been a bit stuffy at some conference centre without a bar. The ice has been broken, now you can get some work done.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Hope so, hope so,’ Mackey reflected.

&nb= sp;   

 

Magestic letter 35

 

Jack, I would like to bring to your attention, at this time, some detail that is = so important I’d appreciate you acknowledging it through the personals.<= o:p>

      There are a number of key world events which – if all are not prevented – w= ill lead directly to a global nuclear conflict within a date period ranging from 2011 to 2017. If all key events are missed then the outcome is inevitable. = If some are missed, the outcome is inevitable, but the date blurred. Our aim, = of course, will be to deal with all key events. If such a sequential and transactional success is achieved, it will prevent such a war from starting= .

 

Jack Donohue glanced up at the fami= liar COBRA faces and took a breath. He read on.

 

Two of those key events have already been dealt with to a satisfactory outcome.= The third key event will occur in June of next year. Saddam Hussein will put pressure on Kuwait for reparations that he thinks are deserved regarding the Iran-Iraq war, joined with complaints of Kuwati oil wells drilling down at = an angle into Iraqi territory.

      In consulta= tions with the US Ambassador to Iraq he will, deliberately or otherwise, get the impression that the US will not get involved should there be a conflict, i.= e. an invasion. In June he will invade, sacking the small territory. It is fai= r to say that oil prices will become unstable and a tad higher.

      The US, in response, will send the largest invasion force since D-Day to Saudi Arabia, ready to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Such an army will easily send the Iraqis packing, that is not in question. But a chain of events will be set in moti= on that will lead directly to a global conflict decades later.

You may argue that a decade or two is a long time, and certainly a lot can chan= ge in such a period. But I know what will happen, the chain of events that will progress through time like a cancer.

PM, a two-inch plant can be pulled from the ground, a sixty-foot Oak tree canno= t, not with the best will in the world. Events are best influenced in their infancy.

      Might I be = so bold as to suggest that you arrange for the Kuwaitis to invite your deploym= ent of an armoured brigade to its northern border. Unfortunately, Saddam will n= ot give up, and such a policy of prevention will be a long-term affair.

      =

PS. Should the Iraqis invade and be expelled, their principal divisions reduced= by superior US firepower, other interested parties in the region will be glad = of the reduction in Iraq’s offensive capability. One needs to read betwe= en the lines.

 

‘Bloody hell,’ Jack let= out.

&nb= sp;    The Prime Minister said, ‘I’m mindful of the fact that he could have told us that years ago, yet did not. Instead he dealt with matters as trivi= al as the Eurovision Song Contest.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Building up credibility,’ Jack suggested. ‘Proving his ability step by step.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And now a huge leap forwards … into World War Three.’

&nb= sp;    ‘There’s one way to be sure about this,’ Jack firmly suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ the P.M. agreed. ‘Keep an eye on Iraqi divisions moving south. Hopefu= lly, not being too late.’

&nb= sp;    Sykes put in, ‘If there is a conflict, with the US and ourselves pushing the Iraqis out of Kuwait, then there’s an excellent chance of other Arab nations supporting Iraq – widening the war.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes, a powder keg alright,’ the P.M. agreed.

&nb= sp;    Sykes added, ‘There are also the studies we’ve made about what would happen if Saddam was toppled. Our best guess is that the country would split into three. The Shia south might join forces with Iran, taking the oilfields with them. The central Sunis would join Syria, and the north would go back = to being Kurdistan, at war with Turkey in a jiffy.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not good if Saddam stays, not good if he goes,’ the P.M. noted. ‘I = want a working group on it, tight monitoring of the situation, and a plan of action.’

&nb= sp;    Jack asked, ‘Do I discuss this with the Americans?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Deny its arrival, delay it,’ the P.M. suggested. ‘When do you meet?’

&nb= sp;    ‘A week.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Sit on it till then.’

&nb= sp;    A week later Jack got a note to say that the American Magestic letter had not turned up and they would be in touch when, and if, it ever did.<= /span>

 

 

 

Colonel Pointer’s Magestic le= tter 35

 

Mr Ambassador,

      This coming= year will see the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein put pressure upon the tiny Gulf principality of Kuwait. They feel they are owed money for helping to protect Kuwait from Iranian aggression, potential or realised.

      When threat= s fail they will seek your counterpart’s council regarding your reaction to = an invasion of Kuwait. You may be tempted to allow the aggression, since it wi= ll give you the opportunity to send forces to the region to expel the aggresso= rs and liberate Kuwait and, more importantly, to strike a blow against the lar= ge Iraqi army and to diminish its principal divisions. Unfortunately, the weakening or removal of the Saddam regime will result in Iraq splitting into three.

The Shia south will join Iran, handing over the substantive oil fields to the Iranian regime and further threatening Kuwaiti oil fields.

      The Sunis w= ill join with Syria, helping to destabilise that country.

      The Kurds w= ill declare independence, drill their own oil and sell it, becoming a small rich state. Unfortunately, they will sponsor terrorism in Turkey, as they do now, and Turkey will invade and hold Northern Iraq, destabilising the region and Turkey itself.

      If you allo= w the invasion to take place you will kick over a hornet’s nest.=

 

Please note. There are a number of key events that may lead us towards future glob= al conflicts, this is one of them.

 

Thad slapped a hand on the desk. &#= 8216;I knew it!’ he told General Summers as they sat in Summers’ offic= e. ‘They sent him back through time to stop World War Three. Why else wo= uld they go to so much trouble! We estimated that building a time machine would= be like putting a man on the moon – damned hard! Not to mention expensiv= e. They must have done it for a very good reason!’

&nb= sp;    Summers nodded his agreement. ‘You notice anything else about this letter?= 217;

&nb= sp;    ‘Tone has changed, more hurried.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Analysts says it’s less British and more American,’ Summers reported.

&nb= sp;    ‘We always figured he was one of ours. Maybe the flowery English language was f= or some other reason, maybe to keep the Brits sweet for some reason.’

&nb= sp;    Summers eased back into his seat. ‘And now we have to prevent the President f= rom allowing this to happen.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Easy enough: explain the consequences of a break-up of Iraq.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Your input will help, we’ll need a united front.’<= /p>

 

 

Job offers

 

One Saturday morning at 11am I open= ed the door to our old boss from McKinleys, Joe Pearson, a bald sixty-year-old with red cheeks. Seeing him in casual dress did not seem to sit right, I was too used to seeing him as the old boss.

&nb= sp;    ‘Whatcha, boss?’ I said.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not your boss anymore, unfortunately,’ he said as he entered, a seat offe= red.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy walked in with a fresh tea for Joe. ‘Milk, one sugar.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You remembered.’ He took in the apartment. ‘Very nice. Must be doing well, Jimmy.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Just enough to cover Paul’s salary.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then Paul must be the highest paid individual in the country at the moment,̵= 7; Joe pointed out.

&nb= sp;    ‘Ha!’ I let out. ‘I’m on a youth apprentice scheme.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘So, Jimmy, I guess you know why I’m here.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I never touched your wife!’ Jimmy said with a straight face.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Nor would you want to,’ Joe sullenly admitted. ‘No, it’s about work, a position with us as head of client investment strategies. I wonR= 17;t insult you with a salary offer, instead we’d like to offer you a commission based position, handling close to sixty million pounds of client money.’

&nb= sp;    It was a big number. If Jimmy traded that sum the way we traded ours then his commission would be tens of millions a year. Problem was, brokers and investment companies had rules. And mysterious large trades were not in the rulebook.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy began, ‘Joe, if I was to work for anyone … you know it would be= you and the old firm. I didn’t leave because I was unhappy, I just wanted= to be a lazy bastard … as well as make my own money.’

&nb= sp;    ‘He sleeps in late,’ I joked.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy continued, ‘But, since we’ve had a few other visits this week –’

&nb= sp;    ‘From brokers and banks,’ I said.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy faced me. ‘You remember the thing … the thing I a= sked you not to mention?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, that’s the thing,’ I realised, sounding none too bothered. ‘Shit.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Banks after you, eh, Jimmy,’ Joe said. ‘Well, not surprising, you’ve got the touch.’

&nb= sp;    ‘He turned them down,’ I said.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy again faced me. ‘The … thing!

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, but it can’t be the thing if you turned them down, can it?R= 17;

&nb= sp;    Jimmy shook his head. Facing Joe, he said, ‘I’ve given the offers some thought … and I’ll make you this offer. I’ll provi= de you with occasional trades when I find a good one, Index direction or sharp movements if relevant, and you can trade the intel. If you make some money = you pay me a … consultancy fee … as an external. There won’t = be more than one or two a month, and I make no promises. That’s more than I’ve offered anyone else.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Appreciate it, Jimmy, we all do.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll even throw in a few weeks stay at the hotel I bought in Kenya – you j= ust pay your flights.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Kenya?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nice hotel on the beach, four star, you’ll love it,’ Jimmy explained= .

&nb= sp;    ‘Wife’s been nagging for something like that for a while,’ Joe explained. ‘I can tell her it cost a fortune!’

&nb= sp;    We laughed.

&nb= sp;    ‘Why not,’ Jimmy agreed. ‘We won’t tell. But one thing, Joe – not a word to anyone about trading – you haven’t seen me for a while. This is me and you, no friends, or friends of friends. If I gi= ve you a good trade and the price hikes … there won’t be too many = more trades.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not to worry, I’ll place the deals myself,’ Joe insisted. ‘I = know how the rumour mill works.’

&nb= sp;    With Joe gone, I asked Jimmy, ‘Did I do it right?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, you’re coming along as a liar.’

&nb= sp;    ‘How many people is that now?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Five, so far.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Going to make a fortune!’ I gleefully stated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Going to need it as well,’ Jimmy sullenly stated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Who else you tipping?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Po, an American, five or six here. Soon have a Russian on board as well.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Price will work against us with all that lot buying at the same time,’ I suggested.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stared at me. And waited.

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Will it?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Work against us? Yeah, unless we get in there … first.’ I rolled my eyes.

&nb= sp;    ‘Dumb Fuck. Even if the stock isn’t about to rise they’ll buy into it, start rumours, and it’ll go with its own momentum.’<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘We can’t lose, then,’ I realised.

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re a bright kid, you know that,’ Jimmy sarcastically let out. ‘I k= new there was a reason I kept you around.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m starting to sign letters as Dumb Fuck.’

 

 

Anyone for tennis=

 

The northern town of Sheffield was = cold and wet, the train full of idiots on the way up. We could have used Big Pau= l to squish them, but he was running secret jobs for Jimmy, so secret I was not allowed to know. We got a taxi from the station to a newly built tennis cen= tre, dashing through the rain, soon inside and looking odd in our suits as north= ern mums and dads in tracksuits nudged their budding tennis stars along. We wandered around, the sounds of racquets striking balls echoing off the corr= ugated steel roof, till Jimmy spotted the man he wanted to meet. At a brisk pace we caught up with him.

&nb= sp;    ‘Peter Semanov?’ Jimmy called.

&nb= sp;    The accused turned about, looking startled. He was a tall and lithe man in a tracksuit, and I figured him to be around the forty mark. Jimmy put out a h= and and they shook, Peter still looking surprised.

&nb= sp;    ‘Name is Peter Seaman now, I don’t use Semanov. Didn’t know anyone ar= ound here knew that.’

&nb= sp;    I could pick up the northern accent, most likely Manchester. And as for “Seaman”, I would have stuck with Semanov.

&nb= sp;    ‘I checked you out,’ Jimmy told him. ‘I’m Jimmy Silo, and th= is is Paul.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Checked me … out?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble,’ Jimmy reassured him as paren= ts and kids walked past. ‘It’s just that I need a Russian speaking tennis coach.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What for? You’re British?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not for me,’ Jimmy began, gesturing the man away from the crowds. ‘I’m a sponsor of various international student exchanges.̵= 7;

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah.’ Peter’s features lightened a bit.

&nb= sp;    ‘And I’d like you to arrange tennis swaps with Russian students.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well … I’ve thought about it. Getting the grant money is the hard part.’

&nb= sp;    ‘No need, I’ll be paying for everything. You’ll have a fifty-thousa= nd a year budget to start and I’ll subsidise all the flights and accommodation.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Shit,’ Peter slowly let out. ‘Who are you, exactly?’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Rich businessman, just giving some money back to society,’ Jimmy suggested= .

&nb= sp;    ‘You don’t look old enough.’

&nb= sp;    ‘He is,’ I firmly suggested.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy handed him an envelope. ‘My contact details are in there. Pop down to London, I’ll put you in a hotel and we’ll chat – it won’t cost you anything; the train or the room. And if we can get this going in the way I’d like it there’s a full time job in it for = you – a good wage.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Doing what?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Taking groups of kids to Russia to play against the kids there, bringing Russian groups over here. Simple.’

&nb= sp;    Peter inspected the contact details. ‘I’ll er … I’ll pop = down next week.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Fine. See you then.’ They shook.

As we walked off, I co= mmented, ‘You never heard of a phone call?’

&nb= sp;    ‘He doesn’t have a phone. At the moment he’s down on his luck, stay= ing with his mum in a council flat in Bolton.’

&nb= sp;    ‘So he’s ours for the taking,’ I realised.

&nb= sp;    ‘Help a man when he’s down, get a friend for life.’=

 

 


Our man in Texas<= /p>

 

On a wet Monday morning we took a t= axi around to the Astoria Hotel, Jimmy briefing me on the way. I was a bit shoc= ked by today’s risky venture, but Jimmy was as confident as ever. We sat waiting in the bar for our contact to descend from his room.

The guy appeared in a = blue blazer, jeans and a white shirt. I knew he was from Texas, I’d sent h= im some stock tips, but even if I hadn’t known him I was sure I could ha= ve picked him out. He was well-built, just under six foot in his boots, and topped-off with dyed black hair combed straight back. We closed in on him, making eye contact as he scanned the room.

&nb= sp;    ‘Mr Pederson,’ Jimmy said, a handshake initiated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Mr Silovich, we meet at last. You’re younger than I would have imagined.= And bigger!’

&nb= sp;    We laughed, Jimmy gesturing towards an isolated table and ordering drinks from= a hovering waiter as we settled.

&nb= sp;    ‘This is my number two, Paul,’ Jimmy said, thumbing towards me.<= /span>

&nb= sp;    ‘Paul? You’re the fella who’s been sending me faxes?’ he asked i= n a Texas drawl.

‘Yes,’ I a= greed.

‘So which of you= ’s the talent?’ he joked, sitting back and crossing his legs.=

‘Team effort,= 217; Jimmy responded. ‘Anyway, how’s the money making going.’<= o:p>

‘You know exactl= y how it’s going,’ Pederson testily replied. ‘I’m still waiting to find the catch.’

‘Mr Pederson = 230; Charles –’

‘Chuck’ll do.’

‘Chuck. I will a= lways ask for a favour retrospectively. That means you make the money first,̵= 7; Jimmy explained.

‘So you must be = due a hell of a favour.’

‘Do you have any= desires on public office, Chuck?’

‘Straight to the point,’ Chuck noted. ‘Yeah, sure, I thought about it.’

‘Then let me get straight to the point. No public office, no more kind assistance from us.’

Chuck leant forwards a= nd stirred his coffee at length. ‘You’re nudging me towards someth= ing I was gunna do anyplace. Not much of a price tag?’<= /p>

‘Various interes= ted parties have asked me to … trash a fellow Texan of yours, and to help= you beat him to the Governorship.’

‘Again, not much= of a price tag. If I run against the fella – I guess my team would find a = few holes in his boots.’

Jimmy handed over a ph= oto.

‘Ah, I heard he = might run. He’s an idiot, I met him many times. And he ain’t no Texan, that’s a put-on.’

‘Exactly. And we don’t want idiots in office now, do we?’

Chuck studied Jimmy ca= refully. ‘This aint some scheme by a foreign power, is it?’

‘Do you consider yourself, Chuck, a weak-minded person?’

‘I’m a ret= ired Marine, and I’m a Texan! They don’t come no tougher, son.’= ;

‘So how could an= yone influence you?’ Jimmy posed. ‘Besides, all the stock market tra= des you made were … harmless in themselves. You were just lucky, and you’ve got the investment records to prove it. Even if I wanted to br= ibe you, all anyone could prove is that I supplied you stock trading tips. Since I’m a stockbroker … not so unusual.’

‘So what’s= the catch?’

‘I want you to t= rash our friend, and soon. And don’t stop trashing him just because you beat h= im to the Governorship. I want an unofficial biography of him and, if you can arrange it, some misdemeanours: cannabis, hookers.’=

‘He’s the President’s son,’ Chuck quietly cautioned, a glance around the room.

‘He’s alre= ady got a few skeletons in the closet, so just go looking for them. If you do ̷= 0; then you keep getting stock tips.’

‘I know some stu= ff about the guy that I bet no one else does!’

‘That sounds lik= e a start point,’ Jimmy enthused.

It was done deal, seal= ed with a handshake. The US Marines were on board.

 

 

Small victories

 

Sat in the apartment, Jimmy offered= me the paper he had been reading. ‘Have a look.’=

&nb= sp;    I sat and took the paper.

&nb= sp;    ‘Top left,’ Jimmy directed.

&nb= sp;    I read the headline. ‘Airliner cabin doors to be locked.’ I looked up. ‘Took them long enough, you sent that letter a year ago.’

&nb= sp;    ‘At least it’s done. They’ll reinforce cabin doors, put in a spy ho= le, and keep the terrorists out of the cockpit. It’s a key trigger event,= so we’re off to Kenya in a few days, ramp things up now.’ He tapped the paper. ‘That’s a whole six months ahead of when I expected it.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Small victories,’ I said as a key turned in the lock.

&nb= sp;    Big Paul stepped in. ‘We got company,’ he softly stated, none too concerned

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ Jimmy agreed.

&nb= sp;    ‘We do?’ I asked. It was just us, no one expected.

&nb= sp;    Big Paul explained, ‘Two cars in the street.’

&nb= sp;    ‘We’re being watched?’ I questioned.

&nb= sp;    ‘Spooks,’ Big Paul said as he sat.

&nb= sp;    ‘That’s a term for…?’ I nudged.

&nb= sp;    ‘Spies. MI6 probably,’ Big Paul explained.

&nb= sp;    I focused on Jimmy. ‘We in trouble?’

&nb= sp;    ‘No, not really. They’re genuinely interested in who I deal with in Kenya - Skids and company.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not the other thing?’ I queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘No. Still, we should deal with this before we fly off. Big Paul, go have some f= un with those cars.   ’=

&nb= sp;    With a smirk, Big Paul eased up and stepped out.

 

An hour later I was in my room, the window open, when I heard what I thought was a car crash below. From the balcony, I peered down. A chimney had fallen off the building opposite and = onto a green car, smashing into its roof and windscreen. The car doors were open= and two men stood inspecting the damage. I leant on the balcony and watched.

&nb= sp;    As I did, I noticed Big Paul in a side street, walking towards the corner shop= . He crossed the road and entered the shop, exiting with a paper and bottle of m= ilk. He crossed the main road instead of taking the shortest route, then ambled along reading the paper. When directly below me he stopped, along with othe= rs, to view the mess of the car. A minute later he was on the balcony with me.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Good aim,’ I said, not getting a reply.

&nb= sp;    As we stood there, peering down at an attending police car, a small bang prece= ded a puff of smoke at the end of the street. Now another two men were out of t= heir car and inspecting their vehicle, the police car moving along to them. As we observed the scene, the driver flashed some ID at the police, the second man lifting up what was left of his exhaust.

&nb= sp;    ‘They going to be a tad … pissed off at us?’ I delicately enquired.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fuck ‘em.’

 

The next day we got a visit. I open= ed the door to two gentlemen, the others sat waiting around the coffee table.=

&nb= sp;    ‘Foreign Office,’ the first man said, flashing an ID that meant nothing to me.=

&nb= sp;    I held the door wide. ‘We’re not hiding any foreigners in here.’

&nb= sp;    The first man glanced at me as he entered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Please, have a seat,’ Jimmy casually offered, not getting up.

&nb= sp;    They sat, IDs placed down. ‘Jimmy Silovich?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. And you’re not from the Foreign Office, so cut the crap.’<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    They glanced at each other, retrieved their IDs, and sat back.=

&nb= sp;    The first man said, ‘We’d like to talk to you about your connection= s to certain mercenaries working in Africa, Kenya in particular.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Skids, Trev and Handy?’ Jimmy asked with a grin.

&nb= sp;    ‘Those are the nicknames of three of the individuals we … keep track of.R= 17;

&nb= sp;    ‘Gentlemen,’ Jimmy began. ‘I know full well that they’re a bunch of ex-SAS troopers hiring out their guns.’ The two men glanced at Big Paul. Jim= my continued, ‘I have a safari park, near the Serengeti – come vis= it if you like – and we have several decent herds of elephants. We also = have well organised poachers who turn up in gangs of twenty or more, armed with = AK47s. They kill the elephants, which is barbaric, not to mention bad for my busin= ess. No elephants, no tourists.

&nb= sp;    ‘So I take the following approach with Skids and Co. I hire them out and pay th= em to hunt down the bastards killing my fucking elephants, and to shoot them f= ull of holes! And if Skids and company were not the kind of people that you<= /i> are interested in, they’d be no good to me, would they. I need killer= s, not policemen.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And the base at Mawlini?’ the first man asked. ‘It’s being ge= ared up as a staging area.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy and I both laughed, our visitors not appreciating our mirth.

&nb= sp;    ‘Come and visit, have a look,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘I’m sure that = old Mac would love the attention you’d give him. And to label him as a dangerous mercenary would delight the old fart. He gets up three times a ni= ght for a pee.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then what’s happening at that base?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Some day it will, hopefully, be the biggest base training Africans in mine clearance, a charity I’ve got involved with. I’ve also taken ov= er the orphanage up the road from my hotel, River View.’   

&nb= sp;    ‘Orphanage?’ the first man repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Phone them,’ Jimmy challenged. He found the number amongst the papers in fr= ont of him and handed it over. ‘Listen, guys, get your boss to send us a = man, I’ll take him with us to Kenya in a few days, I’ll even pay his ticket and expenses.’

&nb= sp;    They glanced at each other. The first man, the talker, said, ‘There is also the question of Mr Baines … situation here.’<= /span>

&= nbsp;    Big Paul eased forwards in his seat. ‘Next wrong word and I’ll put = the both of you fuckers in hospital for a very long time.’ He stared at t= hem. ‘And if I’m nicked, I’ll talk about enough to bring down = the fucking government. Got that, tossers?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Paul, please,’ Jimmy said, waving Big Paul down.

&nb= sp;    Didn’t know about our visitors, but I was afraid.

&nb= sp;    Our guests stood. ‘We’ll be in touch.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stood. ‘I’m off to Kenya in a few days. Till then I’ll be here.’

&nb= sp;    With the visitors gone, Big Paul pulled out the sofa’s seat covers, retrie= ving a small bug. He dropped it into a cold tea.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fifty metres,’ Jimmy said to Big Paul, getting back a nod.

&nb= sp;    ‘Fifty metres?’ I repeated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Small bug, close range,’ Jimmy explained. ‘It would need a localised booster, or they’d need to be in the flat below. Go search your room = for anything odd.’

&nb= sp;    Big Paul set about the lounge, soon on his back under the coffee table. We found nothing. Jimmy called down to the doorman and he popped up. Soon we knew we= had a new neighbour, his flat under my bedroom. Close enough.=

&nb= sp;    ‘When we’re away I’ll arrange a baby-sitter for the apartment,’ Jimmy suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll check my room later,’ Big Paul added. ‘But if you don’t m= ind me asking –’

&nb= sp;    ‘Why didn’t I see it?’ Jimmy said with a smile. ‘Things= can change, the future is fluid. Small things can alter, and sometimes bigger o= nes. And everything I do affects the time-line around me, giving it some chance = of change. Like moving through a swimming pool; you move the water and cause ripples.’

&nb= sp;    An hour later we got a call, taking us up on our offer to take someone to Keny= a. The man’s name was Cosuir, pronounced ‘cosy’. Big Paul di= dn’t know him, Jimmy did.

&nb= sp;    ‘Who is he?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Freelancer, French colonial parents from Guniea, West Africa.’<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘How does it work out?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘He’ll join the team,’ Jimmy replied.

&nb= sp;   

Four days later we were back in Nai= robi, the customs officer recognising us and chatting with Jimmy like old mates. = Rudd met us again in the UN jeep, the quiet Dutchman always making me smile, and= we all piled in, plenty of room for four or more. Cosy turned out to be a slen= der and tanned individual, same height as me, and with similar black hair. He h= ad tired eyes and permanently looked as if he wanted to be somewhere else, whi= ch was probably true in this case.

&nb= sp;    As we headed for the usual hotel, Jimmy said, ‘Rudd, this is Big Paul, he’s a driver and bodyguard.’ Rudd said hello. ‘The other gentleman is from British Intelligence, checking up on my operations here. They’re concerned that I might be involved with certain mercenaries.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Mercenaries? The old men at the airbase?’ he laughed.

&nb= sp;    ‘And the ones hunting the poachers,’ Jimmy added.

&nb= sp;    ‘Ah, yes. They look tough. They are former British soldiers, yes?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes,’ Jimmy confirmed.

&nb= sp;    ‘They caught some poachers this week,’ Rudd added.

&nb= sp;    ‘And?’ Jimmy nudged after Rudd fell silent.

&nb= sp;    Rudd glanced at Cosy. ‘They brought back six sets of matching ears.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘Ears?’ I repeated. ‘Well, either they killed them … or some poor basta= rds will have a hard time reading the papers – their glasses slipping off.’

&nb= sp;    We all laughed, even Cosy. Booked in, we met at the rooftop bar, Jimmy ordering drinks in a local dialect again.

&nb= sp;    It stirred a reaction in Cosy. ‘You speak Bantu?’

&nb= sp;    ‘And reasonable Nilote, although there’s so many variations it’s har= d to distinguish sometimes.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You speak Maasi,’ Cosy noted. ‘Not bad after just three short visits here.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’m a quick study,’ Jimmy said with a grin.

&nb= sp;    Cosy sipped his drink, then stared into it. Making eye contact with Jimmy, he as= ked, ‘You ordered this?’ Jimmy nodded. ‘How do you know what I like?’

&= nbsp;    ‘When they told us you were coming along they gave us a list of things about you – favourite foods, time you like to be in bed, stuff like that.’= ;

&nb= sp;    Big Paul laughed quietly, Cosy not happy, Rudd not following. And I clocked a lovely girl in a bikini at the poolside.

&nb= sp;    ‘What else did they say about me?’ Cosy demanded, none too happy.

&nb= sp;    ‘That you’re just the distraction, keep us off the real spy,’ Jimmy explained. It seemed to ring a bell with Cosy. ‘While we’re all being careful what we say or do around you, the real spy will be snuggling = up to Paul here.’

&nb= sp;    ‘What?’ I asked, suddenly back in the conversation.

&nb= sp;    ‘Clocked the tasty bird yet?’ Jimmy knowingly asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Shit. She’s a … you know?’ I asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Marta Hari?’ Jimmy prompted. ‘Yes, a professional. Cosy here is someo= ne they think is just a bit of a joke.’

&nb= sp;    Now Cosy was definitely not happy, but not at us.

&nb= sp;    Without taking his eyes of Cosy, Jimmy told me, ‘Paul, I need you take one for the team.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Excuse me?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I need you to leave us, to go chat-up that girl and shag her. Just … cl= ose your eyes and think of the team.’ Big Paul and Rudd laughed. ‘O= h, invite her along, keep her tight, boast about money to her.’

&nb= sp;    I stood. There came a time when every man had to do what he had to do. I had a mission, and I was not going to let the side down. Off I went.

&nb= sp;    ‘Who is she?’ Cosy asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘You know Tasker?’

&nb= sp;    ‘The American,’ Cosy unhappily clarified.

&nb= sp;    ‘She works for him. Bob Telling called him, asked for a favour.’

&nb= sp;    ‘You’re well informed,’ Cosy grumbled.

&nb= sp;    ‘And you’re not,’ Jimmy countered. ‘Still, pleasant week or tw= o, back to accepting handouts from Bob Telling. Unless of course…’= He finished by turning to Big Paul, making eye contact.

&nb= sp;    ‘You won’t convert him, he’s too stupid,’ Big Paul suggested. ‘He’ll go back to Blighty and suck up.’=

&nb= sp;    Cosy stood. ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy bade him a fond farewell in Flemish, Cosy’s childhood language. Cosy stopped and stared for a moment before heading to his room.

&nb= sp;    ‘What language was that?’ Rudd asked. ‘It sounded like Flemish.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘West African Flemish,’ Jimmy explained. ‘His main language is French, then English, then his childhood Flemish, some Pigeon English Creole.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Sounds like you know him well,’ Rudd suggested.

&nb= sp;    ‘I do my homework. Anyway, what’s new in Kenya? Family alright?’

 

I joined Jimmy and Big Paul an hour later, Rudd off home to get some rest before a long drive in the morning. ‘Gentleman, this is Judy.’ They stood. ‘Judy’s an a= ir hostess.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Pleasure,’ Jimmy said as he shook her hand. Big Paul nodded, that actions particular meaning undetermined.

&nb= sp;    I told her, ‘This is my business partner Jimmy Silo, and this is Big Pa= ul the driver.’

&nb= sp;    We all sat, Judy still in her bikini and showing some signs of the cooler night air.

&nb= sp;    ‘So you guys own hotels down here?’ she prompted.

&nb= sp;    ‘A beach hotel and a safari park,’ Jimmy explained. ‘You’re welcome to visit, bring a few friends if you’re on a stopover.’=

&nb= sp;    ‘The stopovers are never more than two days; be time to turn around when we got there,’ Judy explained.

&nb= sp;    ‘You on a stopover now?’ Jimmy asked, beckoning a waiter for her, to order= a drink.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, I had some holiday time due - had to use it up, so decided to stay here at = the end of a flight.’

&nb= sp;    ‘By yourself?’ Jimmy puzzled.

&nb= sp;    ‘Not to start with, but my friend fell ill on the first day, she’s in Park Hospital.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Poor dear, we’ll have to send her something,’ Jimmy suggested.<= /o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘To be truthful … I never really like her that much; she nagged to join m= e. So actually I’ve been getting some peace.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve invited Judy along with us,’ I told Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    ‘More the merrier,’ Jimmy responded. ‘We’ll be up early in the morning mind you.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not a problem, a few Rums and I sleep like a baby,’ she suggested. ‘Anyway, Paul promised me a nice meal downstairs.’

&nb= sp;    We stood.

&nb= sp;    ‘7 am,’ I said.

&nb= sp;    ‘7 am,’ Jimmy responded.

&nb= sp;    We headed down to her room, some warmer clothes thrown on, a quick flash of bo= ob caught. This was for the team, I reminded myself.

&nb= sp;    The hotel offered two restaurants, one decidedly better than the other, and ope= n to the richer populace of Nairobi. If anything, we were the ones underdressed.= We sat and ate, chatted and downed drinks, getting on famously. She asked a lo= t of questions, not about Jimmy, but the kind of “husband material” questions. She was good, real good. At bedtime she made her excuses, a kiss= on the cheek, and I headed to my room.

&nb= sp;    ‘Oh, yeah, she’s good, real good,’ I muttered. ‘Not on the fir= st night.’

&nb= sp;    I sat in my room with the lights off and curtains open, watching the flickeri= ng lights of Nairobi, a huge stupid grin across my face. The mini-bar slowly emptied, and I felt good all over, trying to force some sleep around 1am and managing to nod off.

&nb= sp;   

We were on the road at 7am, Rudd as punctual as ever, now six of us in the jeep. Since it was designed for six = it was not a problem. We headed down towards Mombassa and River View first.

Booking in at around 2= pm, Judy with her own hut, we mostly split and did our own thing, Rudd beavering awa= y, Jimmy sat reading accounts and Big Paul scuba diving. I showed Judy around, pointing out the improvements I had made and even taking her opinion on a f= ew things. I introduced her to Steffan and Lotti, and she nervously agreed to = some diving the next day, so long as it was shallow. Yeah, she was good.

&nb= sp;    Within an hour we were naturally holding hands and could have been mistaken for a honeymoon couple as we ambled along the shore. She was introduced to the yo= ung elephant, the beast growing rapidly, and we patted the disabled lion. Damn = lion almost made her cry. We caught sight of Cosy wandering around and checking things out during the day. What was there to check out? It was a beach hote= l, no secret base hidden in a hut. For the most part we noticed him sat at the beach bar with Jimmy, sipping beer.

&nb= sp;    In the evening we all met up and had a lengthy dinner together, four courses w= ith wine, Jimmy relaying interesting stories and facts about Kenya and Africa t= hat none of us had known, not even Cosy. Afterwards, Judy dragged me for a long walk after the meal, both of us needing it. Beyond the headland we stepped = down into a smaller bay.

&nb= sp;    ‘You own this as well?’ she asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yep. And another half a mile further.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Cool.’ In the moonlight she stripped off whilst maintaining eye contact with me. ‘Come on then, bashful.’

&nb= sp;    She did not need to ask twice. Stood in the gentle surf up to my waist, she wra= pped her legs around me. At the time I could think of nothing other than what a great advertisement this pose would make for the hotel – a couple in = the surf in the moonlight.

&nb= sp;    ‘Strange,’ I said.

&nb= sp;    ‘What is?’ she whispered into my ear.

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ve never felt like I was on holiday down here, till now. This is probably what honeymooners do.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, hotel owner, this … is your day off.’<= /p>

&= nbsp;    Back on the beach we made love under the stars, using our clothes for a beach blanket.

&nb= sp;    Half way through, she said, ‘What the hell is that?’

&= nbsp;    I was hurt, injured, my pride was dented. What had I done wrong?

&nb= sp;    She pointed. ‘What is that?’

&nb= sp;    Turning my head, I focused on the slow moving lump getting closer. ‘It’= s a fucking turtle!’ I whispered.

&nb= sp;    ‘I love turtles,’ she whispered.

&nb= sp;    We interrupted ourselves, and crawled on all fours towards it, giggling like teenagers. Next to the large beast we stopped in awe, our bums sticking up.=

&nb= sp;    ‘It must be laying eggs,’ she whispered.&= nbsp;

&nb= sp;     ‘No, there’s a beach fo= r that miles away – up the coast I think.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Then she’s lost, poor love.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Best leave her to it. I’ll send staff to watch over her.’=

&nb= sp;    We fumbled to get out clothes back on and headed back to reception. I reported= the mother turtle and sent a guard to watch, and to keep guests away in the morning. After that I gave Judy a piggyback to my room and threw her into t= he shower fully clothed. The water was cold and refreshing, the wet clothes discarded on the bathroom floor. Someone had genetically modified stem cells coursing through his veins and he was not going to waste a second. And of a= ll the girls I had dated, Marta Hari here was stimulating me the most.

 

At breakfast I found a note: Jimmy = and the others at orphanage, not for honeymooners. So we stayed on the beach all day, frequent trips back to the hut, but I also noted how quiet it was. At = 4pm we heard guests asking other guests if they had photographed the turtle yet, and I soon realised where everyone had gone. And it was our fault. We headed over and took charge, but could not see any harm in people watching. The gu= ard had seen no egg laying or burrow digging, so we stood and scratched our hea= ds; there was no other reason for the turtle to come ashore. A vet was summoned, arriving half an hour before dusk.

&nb= sp;    ‘It’s a male,’ the vet reported.

&nb= sp;    ‘A male?’ I queried. ‘What’s it doing crawling up the beach?’

&nb= sp;    He shrugged. ‘There’s a lot we don’t know about them. It cou= ld be sick, but it looks OK.’

&nb= sp;    Steffan and Lotti were already in wetsuits, and carried the hapless male into the s= urf. It turned around and crawled out again. They repeated the exercise, with as much success.

&nb= sp;    I paid the useless vet just as the gang arrived with torches at dusk. ‘= Know anything about Turtles?’ I asked Jimmy.

&nb= sp;    ‘More than most. It’s a poofter.’

&nb= sp;    ‘A … what?’ I queried.

&nb= sp;    ‘Nature, like humans, throws up those who are born into the wrong body. It’s a male with a female instinct, hormone imbalance. It happens sometimes.’= ; He raised his voice. ‘Steffan, Lotti, hand feed it small fish, get some = from the kitchen, or it’ll die.’

&nb= sp;    And so started the legend of the “poofter turtle” of River View Hot= el, the lonesome soul of indeterminate sex carried over to the next bay for gue= sts to enjoy. If it wasn’t sure if it wanted to lay eggs or not, we’= ;d look after it till it made its mind up or swam off. Little did we know that= the damn thing would still be there twenty years later, and still dependent upon us.

&nb= sp;   

 

The orphanage conversion=

 

As we pseudo-honeymooners enjoyed ourselves, the others headed for the orphanage in the UN jeep. The orphanage walls had now been rendered and painted, the wooden window and doorframes painted blue. Even the curbs had been painted. Rudd entered first, followed= by Cosy.

&nb= sp;    Jimmy stopped Big Paul. ‘Café on the corner – eyes on.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy entered the orphanage as Big Paul stepped across the road junction and took= up station, scanning the streets as he sipped a beer. The orphanage’s courtyard buzzed with kids in neat blue uniforms, now thronging around Rudd= and Cosy. And Jimmy caught our watcher smiling. The walls around the courtyard = had also been rendered and painted, the whole place now appearing a great deal better – on the surface at least. A wall at the rear of the courtyard= was down, now a view through to scrubland that was being cleared, a few small f= ires burning.

&nb= sp;    Sister Woman appeared in a smart new blue uniform and apron, waving towards Jimmy.= The old bat even looked like she’d had a bath. She hurried across. ‘Come and see.’ She dragged Jimmy by the hand towards the rear = and through the downed wall. Visible to left was an area the size of a football pitch, several sets of foundations being laid by locals.<= /p>

&nb= sp;    ‘You’ve been busy, Sister Woman,’ Jimmy noted. He reached into a pocket and produced wad; forty thousand dollars. ‘You’ll need this.’=

&nb= sp;    She fell silent as she accepted it. Finally, she said, ‘We had eighty children when you came – the first time. Now we have three hundred and fifty.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I know,’ Jimmy softly let out. ‘Let me introduce you to some help, but you must watch what you say.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I say nothing to anyone,’ she quietly affirmed as they re-entered the courtyard. ‘Only Anna.’

&nb= sp;    They approached the gang. ‘This is Rudd.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Rudd?’ She exchanged words in Dutch, both pleased to find a compatriot, soon chatt= ing like old friends, Rudd explaining his role with Jimmy and the other charity= .

&nb= sp;    With a pause in the chatting, Jimmy said, ‘And this is Cosy, he is a man without a heart - seeking a cause.’

&nb= sp;    Cosy frowned his lack of understanding at that, greeting Mary in Flemish. She was just as pleased as she been with Rudd, the three of them chatting away.

&nb= sp;    ‘Rudd,’ Jimmy called. ‘Draw up a list of what Mary needs, use her office.R= 17; They headed off. He faced Cosy. ‘You … come with me.’ They climbed the stairs to the terminal ward, a stark contrast to its original s= tate, finding Anna in attendance, beaming a huge smile. ‘Hello Anna.’=

&nb= sp;    They shook, Cosy also shaking her hand.

&nb= sp;    ‘Deutsch?’ he asked.

&nb= sp;    ‘Yah? Sie?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Nederlander.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Anna studied in Amsterdam,’ Jimmy told Cosy. He chatted to a few sick chil= dren as Cosy and Anna chatted about Amsterdam. Returning, he noted, ‘Many = more sick children.’

&nb= sp;    She sighed. ‘Yah, they know we have money.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy faced Cosy. ‘The locals dump their sick kids here. We’ve gone f= rom eighty to three hundred and fifty.’

&nb= sp;    ‘And now two or three a day,’ Anna put in. ‘We do not turn any away.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I’ll buy the land behind, it’s only swamp at the moment.’=

&nb= sp;    Anna straightened. ‘How much land?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Enough for three thousand children.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Drei tousand!’

&nb= sp;    ‘Was there a reason you remained here, Anna?’ Jimmy knowingly asked. ‘You’ve been here three months.’ Cosy was not following.<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘I gave up my work to stay here,’ she softly explained. ‘Mary give= s me food and a room.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Not much of a living … for a doctor?’ Jimmy posed.

&nb= sp;    ‘What better use for a doctor … than the edge of hell itself?’ she countered.

&nb= sp;    ‘Well, then. We’d best make some sick children better. Get a needle.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    Jimmy hadn’t finished the sentence before she had spun around and retrieved several syringes. He was already in a short-sleeve shirt and so simply rais= ed his left arm, firm eye contact maintained with Cosy as Anna drew blood. When she injected the first child, Cosy’s eyes widened. He closed in on he= r. Four kids later Anna was back, a fresh needle selected. <= /p>

&nb= sp;    With Anna at the far end of the long dormitory, Cosy stood next to Jimmy, but focused on the keen medic. ‘What the fuck is she doing?’

&nb= sp;    ‘I discovered long ago, that my blood has unusual properties,’ Jimmy sof= tly stated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Unusual … properties?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yes. My blood cures all diseases known to man – cancer, AIDS, everything. Strange, eh?’

&nb= sp;    Cosy stared, his mouth open. ‘Strange? Strange?’

&nb= sp;    Anna jogged back and thrust another needle into Jimmy’s right arm, Jimmy maintaining eye contact with Cosy.

&nb= sp;    Cosy stammered, ‘You … you…’

&nb= sp;    ‘Could cure everyone in Africa? Probably, but I’m only one man, and my blood can’t be reproduced in a lab.’

&nb= sp;    Anna returned and took off her jacket, just a bra on underneath. She held a fresh needle. ‘If you inject me … I will not have any disease? I can = stay here, in Africa, no risk of health problem?’

&nb= sp;    ‘If I inject you, Anna, you’ll live to be around one hundred and fifty ye= ars old,’ Jimmy explained.

&nb= sp;    She slowly nodded. ‘And I will still be here.’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy leant towards her. ‘Let’s hope Africa is sorted before then.= 217; He offered her his right arm again, a syringe filled with dark blood a minu= te later. Without a word he injected her, a smug smile spread across her face. ‘For the next day you will run a fever, drink plenty of water and eat protein. After three days you will sleep less, only four hours a night, and= you will be strong, very strong – you can run a marathon for Kenya.’ She put her jacket back on. ‘Oh, and Anna … after three months = you can inject children with your blood.’

&= nbsp;    ‘I can do it?’

&nb= sp;    ‘It will not be strong like mine, but it will help.’

&nb= sp;    Mary appeared without Rudd, Anna beaming a smile and tapping her inner elbow. Ma= ry clasped her hands together. ‘A miracle.’

&nb= sp;    ‘A miracle?’ Cosy challenged, still stunned.

&nb= sp;    Mary grabbed him by the arm and, speaking in Flemish, dragging him down the stai= rs. In the courtyard, Cosy met several very healthy looking kids, saved from death’s door.

&nb= sp;    When Jimmy reached Cosy, he said, ‘Get a taxi back when you’re ready.’ He collected Rudd, and his new lists, joining Big Paul in the corner café, sat at the pavement tables.

&nb= sp;    ‘Nothing of interest,’ Big Paul casually stated.

&nb= sp;    ‘Maybe nobody loves us,’ Jimmy stated.

&nb= sp;    Big Paul tapped Jimmy’s inner elbows. ‘Given blood?’

&nb= sp;    ‘Yeah, they rope me in sometimes.’

&nb= sp;    Rudd was horrified. ‘I forgot to give blood.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Next time, they got enough for emergencies,’ Jimmy insisted. He tapped the lists. ‘If you allow yourself to get too involved down here they̵= 7;ll have you working for them only – and you’ll get nothing done. Do not … let them take all of your time.’

&nb= sp;    He shrugged. ‘OK, Boss.’

&nb= sp;    ‘I want you to oversee the building work at the back, nothing more.’

&nb= sp;    Rudd raised a finger. ‘She said they get two or three kids a day dropped in.’

&nb= sp;    ‘Is there space?’ Big Paul puzzled.

&nb= sp;    ‘No, in a word,’ Jimmy answered. ‘So we’re building more dorms= at the rear. Plan is for three thousand.’

&nb= sp;    Rudd almost choked. ‘Three thousand? Are you crazy? It’ll be the big= gest orphanage in all Africa!’

&nb= sp;    Jimmy sipped his beer. ‘Got to be done. I’m going to buy a school in Nairobi as well. The kids from here - who are bright - will go there.’= ;

&nb= sp;    ‘Jesus,’ Big Paul let out. ‘Didn’t think you were into all this.’<= o:p>

&nb= sp;    ‘Anyway, there is apparently an elephant sanctuary an hour away. We’ll = pop and have a look.’

 

 

A joke with meaning

 

As we left a group of tourists obse= rving turtle, and returned to the hotel’s main buildings, Jimmy said, ‘Oh, Paul, we left a gift for you and your lady friend in your room.’

&nb= sp;    Big Paul’s guttural laugh suggested that something was amiss. I glanced at Judy, and we quickened our pace. Opening the hut door we noticed something = on the bed, partly covered in a blanket. Closing in we were unable to speak, a= s a baby elephant stirred. Judy melted in an instant, and I had a glimpse of wh= at was behind the apparent joke. She lay on one side, me on the other, as the = cub - as big as a large dog, stirred. It raised its trunk as a knock came from = the open door. A guard stepped in with several plastic milk bottles, extra blan= kets and packs of tissues. With a huge grin he retreated, closing the door.=

Thirty minutes later w= e were hand-feeding the cub its milk, a hell of mess created. Thirty minutes after that we were down to our pants in the shower cubicle, our feet warm with elephant pee. I don’t know what the neighbours thought, shrill elepha= nt calls in the night, but we just didn’t give a shit. Hell, it was Afri= ca, what did they expect.

We managed to get some= sleep, after towelling down the cub at length, but the damn thing snored and farte= d, not that we cared. At dawn we put on swimsuits and led our offspring, aptly named Jimmy, to the water’s edge. Nervous at first to follow us in, it eventually got wet, Judy trying to wash its arse end as the hotel cleaners wandered past. I noticed Jimmy standing at the beach bar. The first few gue= sts on the beach came over to us and stroked the elephant, who was now enjoying= the attention. Every time we got it out of the water it rolled in the sand, so = we shoved it back in; it was a never-ending process. We eventually coaxed it to the beach bar, where it flopped down in the shade, farted and fell asleep.<= o:p>

Jimmy joined us as we = humans also flopped down, exhausted. ‘Vet will be here in an hour.’

‘Where on earth = did it come from?’ Judy asked.

‘We visited an e= lephant sanctuary yesterday and gave them some money, pinched the little fella ‘cause they can’t cope. They were going to put it down.’<= o:p>

‘Ahhhh, no!̵= 7; Judy protested. ‘Can it stay here?’

‘Sure. The guy w= ith the larger elephant will look after it, it needs its own kind. Fuck all chance = of re-introducing it to a herd.’

‘Not going to ta= ke it to the lodge?’ I questioned.

‘Lions would get= it at night,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Safer here.’ He glanced around = as someone I couldn’t see approached. ‘There is something we’ll take up there, though.’

A loud cry preceded a lion = cub being placed onto my lap, the little fella the size of a fully-grown cat. I grabbed its two front paws and held its head up, and Judy melted again, all sorts of funny noises emitted from the human female. Soon we had a crowd, e= very kid in the hotel holding the lion cub to be photographed.

‘Where did that come from?’ I asked as Rudd held it for guests.

‘Same sanctuary, but = they had fuck-all idea how to treat a lion.’

‘We taking it to the lodge?’

Jimmy nodded, swiping away = flies, a glance over his shoulder at the snoring elephant. ‘Can’t re-introduce it, so it can live in the lodge. Anyway, tomorrow we’ll = head there, so pack tonight.’

‘Room’s a mess,= ’ I warned.

‘That’s what ha= ppens when newly-weds are left alone,’ Jimmy noted.

That night we reclaimed a c= lean room.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Right, no elephants?’ she asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nope.̵= 7;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No lions?&= #8217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nope.̵= 7;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No bloody turtles?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nope, just= me. And the smell of elephant pee.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We stripped off a= nd got into the shower cubicle, kicking the water with our feet to remove the lingering smell.

<= o:p> 

O= ur arrival at the lodge, now imaginatively and aptly renamed to River View, was marred with the discovery of the carcass of an elephant. Its demise was not down to poachers, just old age, the staff cutting its tusks off to remove the temptation from the locals. Nature would do the rest, little remaining of t= he once magnificent beast in a few days.

I carried the cub into the = main hall, two couples in attendance. ‘Like lions?’ I asked the first startled couple. Wide eyed, they nodded, so I plonked it onto the man’= ;s lap. ‘Found this outside, so watch out for its mum.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy and I headed= to the bar for some food, Jimmy reassuring the guests that they were in no dan= ger. The resident pooch, however, looked to be in some danger of serious play fi= ghts that night. Judy stood on the low wooden wall that separated the bar from t= he attractions, hands on hips. ‘Beautiful,’ she let out. I agreed, but not just about the view. We sat and chatted over coffee and a sandwich, Jimmy appear= ing with the lion cub perched on a forearm, its paws gripped between his finger= s. He showed it the savannah, the cub’s nose working overtime, its eyes focusing on nearby cattle.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Facing us, Jimmy explained, ‘We’ve got a few days, so kick back. I booked you on= a trip with the guests in the morning, 9am.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     There were now mo= re staff, I noted, and now seen to be in neat uniforms, all very polite and efficient for the guests. Of the lodge itself, some areas had been patched = up, some painted. Old mosquito screens had been replaced, new iron grills placed over each window. Immediately below the bar rested several corrugated iron benches, a few wooden benches dotted about. Near them stood a metal stand w= ith three sets of large binoculars fixed to the top. Two new chalets were under construction, looking sturdier than the others; plan was to make them two-storey, a lounge downstairs and bedroom upstairs with a roof terrace. T= hey sounded nice.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     As we sat there e= ating, Jimmy had the cub on its back on his knees, its head falling back as he tic= kled it. With the cub subdued, he clipped its nails with a small silver nail-cli= pper. Supporting the cub’s head with a large hand, he whispered to it, the = cub tapping his face and clawing at his hair.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’s= a good man,’ Judy said admiringly. I wondered if she might be a convert= in the making.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     A lion roar cause= d the cub to jump up. It climbed up onto Jimmy’s shoulders and held on, sta= ring into the distance as a lonesome male roared.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     An hour later, wi= th the sun setting, the three sets of couples were sat on the benches and admiring= the view. Distant storm clouds split in two and a starburst of sunlight painted= the sky, a red tinge to the fingers of light. So, this is what the marriage thi= ng feels like, I considered. Well, the honeymoon bit at least.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We ate with the g= ang, Cosy now with a new attitude – although I had no idea why at the time. After the meal, the couples settled around the big old tree keeping the roo= f up and chatted away about weddings and churches. As well as River View beach hotel; I should have figured that they had been there together, a few days = ago, just missing us. They each had interesting stories of wedding day mishaps, = but were surprised when we explained that we had just met. They were then amaze= d by the tale of the turtle on the beach and the elephant in our room. We certai= nly trumped them on interesting stories.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The lion cub ran = in twice, playfully chased by the dog, then less than playfully chased the dog back out. When it fell asleep in the bar, Jimmy brought it in without waking it, laying it on a blanket on a coffee table, everyone patting it gently, t= he dog asleep at my feet. With the couples heading off to bed around midnight, we joined the gang in the bar, several staff dressed in their khaki green unif= orms also in attendance.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No sign of= the terrible trio?’ I asked as we plonked down.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Off shooti= ng poachers, I hope,’ Jimmy explained.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Shooting poachers?’ Judy asked, seemingly horrified at the idea.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy faced her. ‘You know how they kill elephants? Three or four of them get as close= as they can to a herd, armed with machineguns. They spray the herd, hoping to = kill a few. None die straight away, so they follow the blood trails. Many survive for days or weeks, some live on with the wounds to show for it.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘My God,= 217; she gasped, a hand to her mouth. I had to admit it, she was a good spy.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So we figh= t fire with fire,’ Jimmy softly stated. ‘And as for the terrible trio, they bunk with the staff down the road when there are paying guests here. C= osy can meet them tomorrow, sniff them out. Unless, of course, he’d like a job down here.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Here?̵= 7; Cosy repeated.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Kenya.R= 17;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Doing̷= 0;?’ Cosy asked after a moment’s reflection.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Helping Ru= dd for a start, he’s flat out busy. I could do with someone to build that orphanage, plus help out at the airfield as it grows – I don’t = want Rudd to spend his life in that jeep.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Rudd nodded as he= held his beer. ‘It is a lot of kilometres.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Money woul= d be OK, and regular. Plus I’d get you an apartment in Nairobi.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘UK Governm= ent wouldn’t be happy,’ Cosy suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They don&#= 8217;t care if you live or die,’ Jimmy firmly suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy was not foll= owed. ‘You work for the Government?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Civil Service,’ Cosy stated for her benefit. ‘But it’s part-time work. An … uncertain future.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy put in, R= 16;I thought civil servants had jobs for life.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Not in my department,’ Cosy stated.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We chatted for an= hour, the cool night air punctuated with animal noises and lion roar. Judy and I = were so relaxed we didn’t even have sex, just cuddled up and fell asleep; = ten small Rums had helped to close my eyes. That, and the atmosphere. I was fee= ling things that I had never felt before.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I woke early, 5am= , and slipped out quietly in a grey half-light, finding Jimmy at the bar feeding = the lion cub and the dog. I stroked the cub, helping myself to a coffee; the st= aff were still asleep. ‘Did you go to bed?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I got an h= our. Sat here with Cosy till 3am.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Sounded la= st night like you converted him?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’ll worry about his old boss, but I have some dirt on the guy. After his handle= r is removed he can quit and come down here.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You trust him?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy nodded. ‘Yesterday he saw me give blood.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What?̵= 7; I whispered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy said, ‘He’ll fall for the big German doctor, Anna. They’ll have kids.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Jesus, she’s an inch taller barefoot!’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He likes b= ig girls. By the way, I injected her.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What?̵= 7; I whisper again.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He took in the vi= ew. ‘She’ll start to use her own blood on the kids, that was always= the plan; an army of people like her.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Christ. Wh= at about my blood…?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘If you inj= ect someone it’ll have the effect of fifty-percent of my blood, still eno= ugh to cure most things. Anna is one of a dozen doctors I’ll inject and s= end off.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Won’= t they get noticed?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Not for ten years or so. Besides, it’s an important part of my mission. The more = of the blood that gets spread, the better chance mankind has later.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I didn’t li= ke the sound of that. ‘Later…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We’l= l talk about it some other time, you enjoy yourself down here.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The cub launched = itself at my bare ankle. I screamed, Jimmy laughing. With teeth marks in my leg, I snuggled up to Judy.

She stirred, stretching out= with a big smile. ‘Hello stranger,’ she croaked.

‘Room service, madam?= ’

‘Oh, yeah. Tea in bed= .’

I curled a lip. ‘After.’ She screamed loudly as I tickled her.

We joined the day’s j= eep safari with the other couples, Skids riding shotgun with an M16. Stopping a= t a bend in the river, the staff set-up picnic tables, the guests warned not to go n= ear the river. With everyone watching, Skids shot a young Gazelle on the waters= ide, the other animals scattering. We waited ten minutes, before noting a giant = log moving through the brown water.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s old Fred,’ Skids announced. ‘Twenty-two feet long, and about three tonnes. And he could be anything up to ninety years old.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We were all amaze= d as we observed the monster crawl out and snatch up the Gazelle, retreating to = the water.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Skids added, R= 16;He could eat any of you whole. So no swimming, please – lots of forms to fill in if you get eaten. But we will nick your luggage at least.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We stood around a= nd chatted, peering through binoculars, the men folk getting some basic weapon instruction from Skids, a few shots fired at a can on a tree stump. By time= we got back we were exhausted, the heat having an effect, even on me. Judy and= I lay on the bed clothed, Judy soon asleep and snuggled up. I even closed my = eyes for half an hour.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     That evening̵= 7;s event was a barbeque, a wild boar roasting over an open fire on the grass b= elow the lodge. A couple from a neighbouring farm joined us, tales told of the animals, and life down here. At one point Skids walked out, readied his rif= le, took careful aim and fired into the dark a few times. Returning to the light from the fire, he said, ‘Sorry about that, but we got a curious pack of Hy= enas of late. They get close some times, barbeque hog will do that.’

‘Did you kill them?&#= 8217; a woman asked.

‘No, just hit the dir= t near them. They won’t be back tonight.’ He went and sat in the dark,= our unseen bodyguard.

<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> &nb= sp;   The guests departed the next day, driven to Nairobi in a new minibus painted li= ke a zebra and displaying our name. At least it could be used at the beach hotel= as well, I figured. Judy and I set off on our own private foot safari with the notorious trio, plenty of weapons instruction for us both. On the way back = we literally tripped across two cheetah cubs hiding in the grass. The guys searched around, soon finding a carcass; mother cheetah.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Trev coldly state= d, ‘Lion.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I picked up one c= ub, Judy another. The trio were not impressed, suggesting we leave them to natu= re, but I reminded them who paid their wages. I hiked back with a tickly cheetah cub wriggling under my shirt.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy took one lo= ok at the cubs and ordered the staff to hand rear them. We agreed to keep them aw= ay from the lion cub for now, it was already five times bigger. Now the lodge = had a zoo of its own, Jimmy certain that it would please the guests. That eveni= ng was spent with the cubs in our hut, an old dog basket used for a bed. Unlike the elephant and lion cubs, these little fellas spent most of the time sleeping. After a good feed they simply collapsed into a ball of fur. At 1a= m, with Judy and our children asleep, I slipped out, finding Jimmy and Cosy at= the bar.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How are the kids?’ Jimmy asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Asleep, thankfully.’ I settled down with a beer I pulled myself, the staff go= ne.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You seem t= o be getting along OK,’ Cosy noted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Getting on great,’ I said, although I felt a shudder when I considered who she w= as, and what would happen in a few days. We’d go our separate ways.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She asked = many questions?’ Cosy enquired with a professional interest, sounding as if his pride was still hurting.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nope, cool= as ice. A real professional – no offence.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Cosy is a = good man,’ Jimmy stated. ‘He just hasn’t found his niche yet. = When he does he’ll know it.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Cosy studied Jimm= y. ‘You sound a lot older than you look.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He gets th= at a lot,’ I put in. ‘So, what’ll you write about us when you = get back.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nothing, I’ll give a verbal report.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And…= ?’ I nudged.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He didn’t a= nswer.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy said, ̵= 6;If he’s wise, he’ll tell them what they want to hear – that I just like to associate myself with hero types – and then he’ll = use the info I’ll give him, dirt on Bob Telling. After Telling is kicked = out, his new handler will show little interest and Cosy will quit, flying to West Africa with the money I give him. After a month of doing nothing there he’ll fly over to Nairobi and join Rudd, maybe having the odd dinner = date with Doctor Anna Pfunt.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Sounds cos= y, no pun intended,’ I said, swiping away a large moth attracted to the bar’s lights.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy added, ‘Once an African, always an African. Cosy misses his roots and, IR= 17;d guess, would like to do something useful with his life – maybe even building a large orphanage.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We’ll see,’ Cosy muttered.

<= o:p> 

T= he next day we thanked the staff and set-off again. I didn’t ask Judy how much time she had, I just couldn’t bring myself to put a timescale on thin= gs. This was starting to hurt a bit.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We took a leisure= ly four and a half hours to reach the airfield, the Old Dogs expecting us. We clocked the new foundations for a building opposite the main gate as we hal= ted at the guard post. The fence had also been extended beyond where I could see an end to it. The air traffic control tower looked as good as new, a new brick building next to it finished except for a roof. The internal roads had been repaired, the edges clearly marked with whitewashed boulders. A water tower= had been erected, and the place was starting to look like a camp. No wonder MI6 were interested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I took Judy to th= e roof bar with its outdoor fridge and deckchairs. With cool drinks in hands we to= ok in the building work, and I explained what everything did and what the new areas would do some day. Now she did start to ask questions like a spy, and= I was disappointed. Truthfully, I answered all her questions in great detail – after all, we had nothing to hide. Rudd and Jimmy carried out a qui= ck inspection tour with the Old Dogs, Cosy in tow and trailing behind with his hands clasped behind his back. We met up with them in the NAAFI an hour lat= er, not looking forward to our accommodation that night.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The Old Dogs spok= e at length about plans and projects, trainees coming through. It went on and on, Jimmy changing plans and introducing new ideas. But he always managed to ma= ke it appear that it was either their idea, or inevitable. Doc Adam turned up = and joined us, he and Rudd having a private chat outside about supplies.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With the Doc gone= , the Old Dogs vented their concern. ‘Have you seen what the Doc’s building?’ Mac asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What’= ;s wrong, Mac?’ Jimmy knowingly asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’s building fucking Buckingham Palace!’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How many r= ooms?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Five at le= ast in there, plans for more,’ they complained.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Gentlemen,= ’ I cut in, knowing much about the Doc’s plans. After all, I got his fa= xes every week. ‘The budget for that building is separate to this base. T= he funds for this base are ring-fenced, he can’t dip into them.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Oh,’= Mac let out, easing back. ‘Well, OK then. But he nicks our labourers, som= e of our wood.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Mac,’= ; I called. ‘You remember what this place used to be like?’ They glanced at each other. ‘If someone offers you ten sweets, you donR= 17;t fold your arms and ask for twelve.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy hid a smile= .

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Aye, right= you are, boss,’ Mac conceded.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I added, ‘We’re going to build this place up till you three are like directors of a big Plc in the city, a hundred staff. So stop whinging, eh?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy faced Jimmy. ‘Got any cute young animals?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What, you don’t find these three cute?’ Jimmy asked, thumbing towards the= Old Dogs and getting a laugh out of them.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Got a pet = if ya wants it,’ Mac said. He stepped out, bringing back in a spider bigger than his hand.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy wasn’t frightened at all. With both hands she took it, showing it to me. For the m= ost part it seemed docile.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What do yo= u feed it on?’ I asked Mac.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Grasshoppe= rs. It crunches ‘em up something terrible, pulls their wings off.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I don̵= 7;t mind them this size,’ she said. ‘It’s the smaller ones I don’t like.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘A few of t= hem around here too, love,’ Mac informed her with a grin.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Rudd and Doc Adam returned, glances at the huge spider, neither of them keen on the furry crawler.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With Rudd and Doc= Adam settled, Jimmy called them all order. ‘OK, gentlemen –’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And lady,&= #8217; Judy put in.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy focused on = her. ‘Are you planning on spending the next few years at this base, helping out?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She glanced at the waiting faces. ‘Nope.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘OK, gentlemen,’ he started again. ‘In addition to the mine trainees undergoing first aid training, I want some dedicated medics trained here. By that I mean a six month course with some ordnance training. In fact, some g= ood ordnance grounding comparatively, the aim being to send these medics into shit-holes like Eastern Zaire - to help out.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘In order t= o move that process along, and to give it some focus - as well as more trained sta= ff, we’ll start to get involved with the Flying Doctor Service. At the mo= ment that service is just about two doctors and an old Cessna, but that will grow rapidly when I get involved. The runway here I want cleaned up and fixed, although as it stands a Cessna can land on it without a problem.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We patched= up the holes,’ Mac reported. ‘I’ll get some boys out there w= ith sweeping brushes, get the wee stones off it.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘It may nee= d a small fence on the eastern side, about fifty yards out, something to catch = the sand,’ Jimmy suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’ll= have a look before I go,’ Rudd put in.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I want a C= essna on the runway inside two months, a hut for two doctors and their kit, and someone who can refuel it. No need to drag an engineer out here yet, they c= an fly in if necessary. What you will<= /i> need are some lights for night-flying if necessary. In essence, we need to = be at the point where we can fly a Cessna up from Nairobi and onward to remote outposts.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He faced Doc Adam. ‘I want a training program for medics, to go into Zaire. To start with they will be nurses and medics from hospitals, already qualified. The train= ing they’ll need will be map reading, jeep driving, survival and cooking, ordnance disposal – that sort of thing. And Rudd, I want the UN and t= he Kenyan Government involved at each stage. Let them know what we’re do= ing, ask them for help and advice, offer to supply mine awareness courses for me= dics to the UN.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Rudd made a caref= ul note. ‘I know the man to talk to. What … what pay rates for the trainees?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Whatever t= hey would get elsewhere,’ Jimmy suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They get v= ery little during training; it’s often done on a voluntary basis, hope of= a job at the end,’ Rudd explained.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Pick a fig= ure that will keep them interested,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘And before we subject them to Mac’s cooking –’ The Old Dogs laughed. ‘- let’s see about a better canteen here, a two storey barrack room, basic but functional. I know we’re out of the way here, but let’s make it home from home, eh?

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Mac, work = out a map reading course or two, a jeep driving course – off-road, vehicle maintenance, some survival skills. Take them on long trips to the greener areas, get them used to the following mission profile: long drive, tough terrain, map reading, do some first aid, drive back. If someone is going in= to the Congo, sorry Zaire, they should be as well-equipped as possible.= Run a geography course as well, so they know their way around this part of Afri= ca; most of these kids have never been outside their home town.’ <= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Quite a ra= mp-up, boss,’ Mac noted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I have eve= ry faith in you Old Dogs,’ Jimmy stated. ‘Plus, Cosy here may be joining you, lending a hand. He’s from West Africa, speaks a few languages, good with planning and … dangerous situations.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Cosy offered no comment.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So, enough= to be going on with,’ Jimmy said. ‘I’m happy with the progress = so far, but I will stretch you in the future. So next time I come I wan= t a proper bar, and a full sized Olympic swimming pool, complete with diving boards.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Everyone laughed.=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Aye, boss.= Have that in next week.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy focused on = me. ‘We arrived a week too soon. Bugger. OK, Doc with me, rest get some f= ood and booze, guests quarters are very basic.’ He stepped out with Doc Adam as Mac arranged some dodgy meat and chips.

<= o:p> 

T= wo days later we were back in Nairobi at the rooftop bar, saying our goodbyes to Ju= dy. I accompanied her to the airport, not wanting to say goodbye, but also being cool about it. For the whole time together I had never once thought of her = as the enemy, and technically she wasn’t. She had a job to do, so did I.= We kissed at the check-in gate and I headed back in a taxi.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I found Jimmy sat= at the bar alone, reading a local paper. ‘She get off alright?’ he asked without looking up.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yeah,̵= 7; I said, heaving a great sigh.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Got her nu= mber in London?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What for?&= #8217; I curtly asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘To see her again, Dumb Fuck.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I frowned, then t= urned to face him. ‘What, you think they’ll try and use her again = 211; keep an eye on us at the flat?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Who’= s they?’ he asked without looking up.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They ̷= 0; MI6 … they.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘MI6 has no= idea who she is. She’s an air hostess, Dumb Fuck.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What? Will= you start making some sense!’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I said she= was a spy … just to piss-off Cosy.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She …= ; she … I … she.’ My head was spinning.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy laughed, now looking up. ‘Yes, Dumb Fuck, she’s a lovely girl. And not a spy= at all.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She’s … she’s not?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No. But th= ere is something more you need to know.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What?̵= 7; My head was filled with a range of emotions I had not encountered before.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I recognis= ed her, that’s why I asked you to chat her up. You’ll spend the ne= xt year with her,’ he said with a huge grin. ‘Good few days, was it?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I found myself po= inting in a direction that seemed to represent where she was. ‘I’ll … I’ll spend a year with her?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘More if you’re sensible.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     My face took cont= rol and I smiled so wide it hurt.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy added, R= 16;I couldn’t tell you before, I wanted it to pan out this way. Everything= in its time and its slot, step by step.’

I sat back and stared up at= the sky. ‘A year.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Next weeke= nd, invite her over, her parents live in Potters Bar, she lives in Enfield at t= he moment. Oh, I got you a flat downstairs, number 21. Same floor as Big Paul,= but a much better flat, same view as your room.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘For …= ; for me to see Judy?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What else?= I don’t smell.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘A year,= 217; I repeated, gazing up at the clouds.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Big Paul plonked = down. ‘Told him?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yep, he= 217;s gone all puppy dog on us.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What about Cosy?’ Big Paul asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Some thing= s are inevitable.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Big Paul took a reflective moment. ‘When do I…?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘More than = a few years away, so enjoy your freedom a bit.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Never did, really,’ he replied. ‘Always had a problem trusting a girl till= I knew her a few months at least.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I know,= 217; Jimmy responded. ‘But love is in the air.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What about you?’ Big Paul asked Jimmy.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy took a mome= nt. ‘There’s a girl I bump into when I get back, she’ll be ar= ound a while.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I was still stari= ng at the clouds.

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

F= irst contact

<= o:p> 

C= osy arranged for the detail of Bob Telling’s misdemeanours to be handed i= n an hour before he himself arrived at the MOD building. By time he was ushered = in Telling was gone, Telling’s superior issuing a curt, ‘Report?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘This guy S= ilo just likes to talk the talk with mercenaries; makes him look big in front of his mates. There’s nothing to it, the ex-SAS boys are hunting poachers for his safari park. As for their other work – he don’t = have a clue.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What I fig= ured. OK, we’ll … er … contact you via the usual channels if we need you, you’ll be paid in the usual way. Thank you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Cosy knew when he stepped out that day that he would never return. A smile took hold as he wa= lked along damp grey streets under a damp grey sky, longing for African sunsets. Within a few hours he was at Heathrow, having packed up that morning; one suitcase, not much to show for a life.

Jack Donohue took receipt o= f Bob Telling’s unauthorised Magestic files, immediately noting an active placement, an agent in place in an apartment in Belgravia. ‘Who the h= ell is Jimmy Silo?’ he muttered. He opened the file and started to skim through it. ‘Born in Wales, lives in London, stock market trader, charitable donor. Interesting, very … interesting. Six foot four? = Nineteen stone! In his twenties! No way in hell. Kenya? Mercenaries? What the hell did Telling believe Magestic to be?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He skimmed throug= h the pages, stopping at a stock trading record. He ran a finger down the right h= and column, frowning at the detail before grabbing a calculator. Slowly, very slowly, his cheek creased into a big smirk. He checked again the figures at length. Ten minutes later he interrupted Sykes. ‘Sir.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Make it qu= ick, please.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I found something. And I’ll be needing a pay rise, a minor promotion, and a m= uch better office.’ He sat and folded his arms. And waited.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Sykes eased back = and carefully regarded Jack. ‘Well, it must be good.’ He forced up = his eyebrows. ‘A lead on Magestic?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Better.= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Better?= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack explained, ‘I’ve always believed that Magestic was sending letters to many people, and we know that he traded the ’87 stock market crash and gave money to charity. What I have now … is someone with a fifteen-thousand percent a year stock trading record.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Fifteen-th= ousand percent!’ the deputy whispered, whipping off his glasses.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack smiled and n= odded. ‘I figured that you’re always complaining about lack of funds…’

Sykes eased forwards. ̵= 6;Jack, you’re sneaky little shit, you know that.’ He wagged a finger. ‘You’re wasted in Research.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Thank you, sir.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So, how wo= uld you handle this?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Plausible deniability, sir. You send me a memo telling me not to pursue such matters, P.M. does the same to you. I’ll go chat to our friend. If there is a problem it rests with me, a junior grade employee – at the mom= ent.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With a grin, Sykes rummaged through his draws, handing over a sheet. ‘That account is em= pty, so if something ends up in there I’ll know why … and who. Till = then … this is all speculation.’ He put his glasses back on.<= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’ll … not … let you know how it goes, sir.’ With a smi= rk Jack stood and left.

<= o:p> 

I= went to check out my new apartment, noticing on the way the word “spy” spray painted onto the door between Big Paul’s apartment and mine, fluorescent green letters. With a smirk, I turned the key on number 21 and entered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     It was under my o= ld bedroom, the same view over the street, and about a quarter of the size of = the main apartment. Big Paul’s apartment, at the opposite end of the corridor, was the same size, yet more modestly decorated. This apartment had been done out like our penthouse, an almost identical style, the same furniture. I looked around, pulled a face, then went back upstairs. ‘It’s just like this place,’ I told Jimmy.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Home from home,’ Jimmy responded.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Big Paul appeared= just as I settled with a fresh mug of tea. ‘Might have a spot of bother wi= th Philby, Burgess and Maclean,’ he reported. ‘I met my new neighb= our and offered to kick his teeth in.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With seemingly li= ttle interest, Jimmy said, ‘He’ll move out, he’s not stupid. An old couple will move in – after the door’s been cleaned up.’ He shot Big Paul a quick look.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The intercom buzz= ed, the doorman calling us. Visitors.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Guess I= 217;m in trouble,’ Big Paul announced, sounding none too bothered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I pressed the but= ton. ‘Yes?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘There̵= 7;s a Jack Donohue here to see Jimmy. Is he expected?’ crackled from the microphone.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes,’ Jimmy called without looking up.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Send him up,’ I said, releasing the button.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Paul, grab= a Kitkat, some Bourbons, and make a cup of tea, white no sugar, please.’= ; I got to it. Jimmy faced Big Paul. ‘Before this guy gets here … disappear, please. Use the stairs.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Big Paul disappea= red out the door.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I placed down the= tea and treats as the door buzzed, stepping across and opening it. ‘Come = on in, your tea is fresh, milk no sugar, Kitkat and Bourbons.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The man smiled, s= haking his head as he entered. He appeared to me to be in his late thirties, now wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow pads. Somehow, the jacket seemed = to suit him. Either that, or he suited the Jacket.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hello Jack,’ Jimmy offered as he stood, sounding like he was greeting a much loved old friend. They shook.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I guess you’ve been expecting me,’ Jack said with a smile. ‘Get a letter did you?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, Jack.&= #8217; They settled as I slouched into a chair.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No … letter?’ Jack puzzled.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, Jack. = Would you like to give me the bank account details now, get it over with?’<= /span>

Jack stared across at Jimmy, glanced at me, then produced the sheet.

Jimmy glanced at it before = handing it to me. ‘Ring the bank, transfer half a million from the principal account.’ I stepped into the office.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Just like that,’ Jack stated, still carefully eyeing Jimmy. ‘You know, you don’t fit the profile, you sound much older.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How old do= you think I am, Jack?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Your file = says twenty-six.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Closer to a hundred, Jack.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack stared back, frozen to his seat. ‘You’re not…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, I̵= 7;m part of his team. And the reason that I have muscles, Jack, is down to gene= tic engineering. It’s necessary to survive the rigours of time travel.= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack’s eyes widened. ‘Time…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes, Jack.= The Americans were almost correct, although I’m not an astronaut. I’m one of a team, headed by Magestic.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Wha …= ; what … what for?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What’= ;s our purpose? Simple, and you already know: World War Three. It’ll kick-of= f at some point from 2011 to 2017.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Why … why…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Why not a = fixed date? Why do think, Jack, you’re a smart man?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack thought abou= t it. ‘Your … your presence here alters things?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Correct. T= he more we fix, the later it gets. It doesn’t go away, but it does get m= ore manageable, more … planned for. Sorry to tell you, Jack, but between = now and 2025 most of the people on the planet will be killed, a wasteland left behind.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack sipped his t= ea, his throat dry.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You know w= hat the main cause will be, Jack?’ Jack lifted his eyes. ‘Future British and American Governments colluding to start a small war to … = assist their economies. But a spark can cause a fire, and destroy a planet. The question that will shape and define the rest of your life, Jack, is …= do you trust Magestic more than your own government? Because if you hand me in … well, you know what will happen. And between now and then there’ll be a few wars, a few plagues, a financial crisis, and large-scale terrorist attacks. If you upset our plans, Jack, millions will = die. Not the kind of decision you want to make over just the one cup of tea.R= 17;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I returned and sa= t.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack said, ‘= ;If … if you don’t want to be caught, then why the money?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Best place= to hide a big lie, Jack, is behind a smaller one,’ Jimmy stated.<= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I put in, ‘= When they find the smaller lie … they stop looking.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack glanced my w= ay, appearing quite unwell.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy continued, ‘You came here fully believing that Magestic is sending me stock mark= et tips. As far as the world is concerned … he is, and I’ll co-ope= rate with your department and send you some money. That relationship will allow = you to pop around here whenever you like, and you can get to know us.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’m = Paul, Little Paul the stock trader,’ I said. ‘There’s also a Big Paul - the bruiser.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy faced me, ‘Jack here works for MI6. He was assigned the task of making some sen= se of the Magestic letters.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I nodded my understanding.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Our guest timidly= asked me, ‘Are you…?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, just t= he hired help; I make the tea. The other team members are far and wide around = the world,’ I lied. ‘Met one, nice enough.’ Jimmy had not reacted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack sipped his t= ea, still appearing unwell. ‘Wow.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What do you think you’ll do after you retire, Jack?’ Jimmy posed. ‘Perhaps … join us, help us save the world.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Join ̷= 0; join you?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Of course.= We already know your pedigree, Jack. You’re a good man.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Not sure I= could resist interrogation if this gets out,’ Jack quietly mentioned.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘It won’t,’ Jimmy assured him. ‘Tell them what they want to h= ear, I’ll do the rest. They’ll never believe who I am, not for many years. And by then…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘By then they’ll have taken the money for many years,’ Jack finished off. ‘They won’t dare expose you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Symmetry, = eh, Jack?’ Jimmy joked. ‘Try your Kitkat, keep the blood sugar leve= ls up.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I liked our new f= riend, even though he was in awe of us. Sometimes I didn’t know quite how to deal with him, and I often frightened him with jokes that he took too seriously. But overall we got on very well.

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

N= ew neighbours, an old issue

<= o:p> 

&= #8216;The doorman just told me we got new neighbours,’ I informed Jimmy. ‘= ;The old couple that you suggested.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He heaved a big s= igh, inspecting the ceiling cornice.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Problems?&= #8217; I asked, sitting opposite.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He lowered his ga= ze. ‘They have a daughter.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nice, is she?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He sighed again. ‘Yeah, she’s nice, and if I’m not careful I’ll spend the next few years with her.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What’= ;s wrong with that?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He shot me a look. ‘Anyone close to me will eventually get suspicious. As she will.̵= 7; He stretched his neck muscles.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So …= how you going to play it?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She plays = a role in the big game, unfortunately. If I don’t … date her, two piec= es of the puzzle will have to be … re-worked.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Can= they be re-worked?’ I asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Not very easily.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘It’s necessary then. Take one for the team.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He shot me a look= again as I grinned back. ‘You seeing Judy this weekend?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yep, it= 217;s her first day off since Kenya. She’ll be over Friday night.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He waved a hand, = taking in the flat. ‘You can use this place whenever you like, of course. And the car.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You might = have your hands full yourself,’ I teased.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They get o= n very well, Judy and Liz,’ he said without looking up.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Liz? The daughter of the old couple? How old is she?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Thirty, bi= rthday just gone. Right now she’s in husband hunting mode, mid-life crisis.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What’= ;s she like?’ I nudged.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Perfect,&#= 8217; he softly responded. ‘She works for a charity off Oxford Circus. Wast= e of her talent really, she’s very bright.’ He looked up. ‘Oh, well.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s the spirit, boss.’ I thrust a fist forwards. ‘Tackle the problem of dating beautiful women head on.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Shut up.&#= 8217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes, boss.’

<= o:p> 

W= ith my invitation of a “welcome coffee morning” accepted, the old coup= le popped-up on Thursday, no sign of a daughter yet. Jimmy greeted them warmly, offering seats and tea. We settled down and exchanged basic lifestyle detai= ls, occupations past and present given. The old guy, Roger, had been in the Nav= y, then ship-broking, his wife, Heather, working at the same charity as their daughter, but part-time.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy got Roger o= nto sailing and they found a mutual love of small boats and ocean sailing. But = when we said we owned a hotel in Kenya their faces lit up; they had both conside= red retiring down there and I had visions of where this could end up. I showed = them pictures of River View on the coast and River View in the savannah, the cou= ple accepting Jimmy’s invitation to visit. He did not need to offer twice, and I figured they’d go straight downstairs and pack.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The retired pair = were quite well off, they’d have to be to be living in this block, and they had visited Kenya many times over the past twenty years; they promised to b= ring their photo-album up next time. Roger also liked the stock markets and was = keen to pick our brains. I could see it all unfolding before my eyes.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy told Roger = he wanted to hear about various naval campaigns that Roger had been in, an invitation for several days worth of chitchat. Jimmy did, however, suggest = they do it alone, without boring Heather with the detail. They arranged a future date at the Chinese restaurant, Roger a great fan of spicy food.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy mentioned P= o and it registered; today was the 14th, Po would be here tomorrow. We invited the couple out with us, after all it was Po’s birthday bash. Judy’s first UK date with me would be loud. Roger and Heather then as= ked if they could bring along their daughters, a little match making going on. = Two daughters, I puzzled. Twins? Jimmy said they were all welcome. It would be a big bash.

Friday came, and Jimmy was apprehensive, yet reflective and resigned. In reality, I couldn’t hop= e to figure him out. Po turned up early and we discussed stocks, warning him abo= ut the people tonight. His bodyguards were now more relaxed, more like old mat= es and on first name terms, chatting away to Big Paul about martial arts tournaments; his Special Forces pedigree impressed them no end.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     At 8pm sharp the = old couple knocked on our door, daughters in tow. And I could immediately see w= hat the big man saw in the taller daughter. She was very good looking, but more than that she held herself with an almost regal elegance. Just a glimpse of= her and a line of adjectives filled my head; smart, sophisticated, intelligent,= a deep thinker. Posh totty! The second daughter was a frump, and we endured a lengthy set of introductions.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Po had arranged t= hree cars, all Rollers, and we filled the lift in two snug groups. The cars were= a surprise for the couple, as were the presence of Po’s bodyguards. Jim= my travelled with the old couple, I travelled with his daughters, Judy running late and meeting us there, hopefully in fifteen minutes. I had visions of entertaining the frump. I made small talk with the ladies, both older than = me, questions answered about work. Liz asked about Kenya and I explained what we did out there, quietly stunning her as London streets flashed by.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The reception at = the restaurant was extra-special. We were normally spoilt - best table, straigh= t in and never paying - but they had the red carpet out tonight. Literally. We walked up it like movie stars, Po having arranged a private room for us. We entered a room that we had not seen before, sectioned off with huge fish ta= nks and big enough for twenty people or more. All the tables had been pushed together to make one long one, a selection of drinks already laid out, wait= ers on hand. And so far Jimmy had not connected with Liz.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We stood with dri= nks in hands, waiting on Judy. Jimmy informed Po that Roger had been stationed in = Hong Kong, and they got into the typical discussion of what used to be where - a= nd what’s built on top of it now. Turned out that Po demolished Roger’s favourite club from the sixties, and built an apartment block= on it. It made me smile. Jack Donohue turned up, I wasn’t expecting him,= and Jimmy got him together with Heather; they both had rare cat breeds. The daughters spoke mainly to me, Jimmy playing host and making sure everyone h= ad drinks - enquiring about particular likes and dislikes.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Then my leading l= ady was ushered in, tall in her heels, looking slim in a tight fitting evening gown. My face betrayed my feelings and we kissed in front of everyone, the frump a little deflated. I introduced Judy to Liz as “a secret agent”, the comment not taken seriously. Soon everyone had set eyes on Judy’s loveliness. Jimmy took Judy for a small waltz, asking her what= she was doing with “the short guy”. She thanked him for the holiday, the sisters not following.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With everyone fin= ally in attendance we settled down, starters brought out, five staff assigned to= us. Po and Roger were now inseparable, Jack chatted to Heather or the frump, I = sat with Judy and Liz sat next to Jimmy. Finally, a connection. Big Paul and the bodyguards disappeared to another room, their choice. I guess Big Paul want= ed a few beers away from polite company.

Two hours later we stood up= and chatted in small groups. Jimmy spent time with everyone, making them feel welcome, playing the dutiful host. But he did return to Liz.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I think he= likes her,’ I whispered to Judy.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘This their= first meet?’ she asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’s= seen her from a distance.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I don̵= 7;t think he’s the shy type!’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, but he= thinks things through first,’ I suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Unlike you= . You see a bit of leg on a poolside and go straight for it.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I laughed. ‘= ;It was the beer, I’m shy really.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hah.’= ;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hey, you w= ere the one who started the skinny dipping.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes, I sup= pose. Got bored of waiting for you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hey, I was trying to be mister nice guy.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Suggesting= that you’re not normally?’ she teased.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I made strong eye contact. ‘Listen, woman, if you’re not doing anything for the n= ext few years … I’m available.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She took a moment= to study me. ‘If there are any bloody animals in the bed…’<= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I laughed loudly, squeezing her middle.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Who’= s the Chinese guy?’ she asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We give him trading advice, he pays for the meals.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And the ot= her guy in the tweed?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s Jack, and that’s not easy to explain. He works for the Foreign Office= . We co-operate on stuff around Kenya.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Oh. And th= e old couple?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Neighbours= from down stairs, or next door now, the girls are their daughters.’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Next door? You’re in a penthouse?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I have a separate flat as well, floor below.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘For all yo= ur women?’ she teased.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I just got= it yesterday, somewhere for us crash out alone.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Oh. And wh= at if I don’t like you?’ she posed, an arm around me.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’ll= get an elephant in.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy managed to = get the frump to smile, and moved around the room making sure everyone felt wan= ted or needed. He spent ten minutes with Jack, and I made sure I spoke to Jack = when I noticed him sat alone. When I did, Liz got together with Judy, a well-mat= ched pair and instant friends. Po’s daughters turned up late, they’d been to a show, but soon joined in. Jimmy greeted them by lifting them both= up briefly, the girls eliciting shrill laughs. He introduced them to the faces they didn’t know, time spent with the frump and Jack.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     At midnight, Jimm= y called order. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, foreigners … and Paul, neighbours= and work colleagues. We are here today to celebrate Po’s birthday, which,= on Hong Kong time, was about twelve hours ago. We would never get enough candl= es on the cake -’ We laughed at Po, Jimmy putting an arm around the short birthday boy. ‘- so we will have to celebrate his sixtieth –= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, no, forty-five only!’ Po said through a smile.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Are those = dog years?’ Jimmy asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, no, I = vely young,’ Po insisted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy called towa= rds Po’s daughters in Cantonese, a long sentence. He repeated the toast in Chinese at length; we got the gist of it. Po’s daughters then sang th= eir equivalent of Happy Birthday to their father, Jimmy standing back. Their singing voices were very good, a lovely harmonious sound produced and quite= a surprise for the Brits. A camera flashed, a member of staff, and we lined up for several more snaps.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Po clambered up o= nto a chair and called order. ‘I want make toast. To man I trust most in wo= rld. Big man, big heart, big brain. Jimly Silo.’ He raised his glass and everyone else did likewise, although those meeting Jimmy for the first time must have felt odd at the salutation.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     At one point it w= as just myself, Jack and Jimmy. Jack asked, ‘Who’s the guy from Ho= ng Kong?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy explained, ‘Someday he will have a very rich son, who will build a spaceship.= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack was staggere= d. I figured it a lie, but was not a hundred percent sure.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With Big Paul and= the bodyguards retrieved, our man a bit wobbly on his feet, we headed back, cof= fee in the penthouse for Judy, Liz and the old couple – the frump gone. R= oger and Heather tired quickly and made their excuses, Jimmy jokingly offering t= hem a taxi or to walk them home. That left just the four of us.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Liz said, ‘= This coffee table … is right above my parents’ apartment?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes,’ Jimmy answered. ‘And beneath our kitchen is Big Paul’s apartmen= t, and below the far end of Paul’s room … is Paul’s apartment.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Which he j= ust got to impress me,’ Judy announced.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s sweet,’ Liz suggested. ‘And how you met ... wow. I’m still waiting for that Mister Right.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy lowered his= gaze.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy said, ‘= ;Well, you’d have to search far and wide to find someone like the big guy he= re. He stuck a baby elephant in my bed.’ We chuckled. ‘We spent mos= t of the night feeding and washing it – made Paul come over as all maternal and caring.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I am,̵= 7; I insisted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Then we go= t a lion cub,’ Judy added. ‘And rescued some baby Cheetahs. It show= ed Pauly here in his true light – a big softy.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hey, I can= be tough,’ I protested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Sure, sure,’ she said, soothingly, yet mockingly. ‘Anyway, I’m jetlagged and really can’t be bothered to go a whole flight of stairs down.’ She eased up. ‘Lead on, Tarzan.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We left them to i= t, the new flat not yet christened.

‘Another drink?’= ; Jimmy offered Liz.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, I have= to be up,’ she softly replied, kicking off her heels and tucking her legs underneath herself. She turned side on to Jimmy, her eyelids heavy. ‘= You know, I can’t figure you out … at all. And that bothers = me, because I’m normally such a good judge of people. And Jimmy Silo – what kind of name is that, you sound like a gangster. Help, poli= ce, I owe money to Jimmy Silo.’

<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> &nb= sp;   Jimmy smiled at the image. ‘Maybe I am a gangster, violin case behind the sofa.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘A gangster= who invites out elderly neighbours? Yuppies don’t do that, no one does th= at, not at your age,’ she slurred.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I was rais= ed correctly.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hmmm. And = this stuff in Kenya. You have an orphanage and … and some charity that cle= ars mines.’ She shook her head. ‘You are such an enigma. Tal= l, built like a doorman, you talk like you’re … fifty years old, annoyingly polite and considerate to … everyone. And how many languages do you speak?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘A few, but= none too well.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You speak Chinese well enough.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What IR= 17;ve picked up from studying the menus.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Hah. You a= re so … not the marrying kind.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy both frowne= d and smiled at the same time. ‘That is true, although I don’t know h= ow we got onto that topic.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     And … I’m four years older than you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s true, you are getting on a bit.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She nudged him wi= th a stocking foot. Jimmy took hold of it and began massaging it.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Don’= t do that,’ she said.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘OK.’= He continued to massage her foot.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She took in the l= arge lounge. ‘My parents love you bits already. And you’re close by;= my last boyfriend lived in Swindon.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I didnR= 17;t realise I was a prospective suitor.’&= nbsp; 

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You’= re not, you’re Jimmy Silo the gangster,’ she giggled. She g= ave him her other foot, both now rested on his thigh.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Your feet = always hurt in heels.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Mmmm,̵= 7; she agreed, picking up a leftover drink from the coffee table. ‘Don’= ;t massage my feet, I don’t know you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I know.= 217; He continued.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And you= 217;re really rich, so you’ve got to be a world class arse.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘World class,’ Jimmy agreed. ‘I could enter the Olympic arse-putting contest.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And you= 217;re too good looking. You’re a womaniser-er.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s true,’ he agreed with a nod.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You have a driver built like a … like a doorman and … and you’re only twenty-six.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He keep= 217;s the irate husbands away.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What ̷= 0; who has a bodyguard? Jimmy Silo the gangster. And your Chinese friend had bodyguards and Rollers. I mean, who drives in Rollers with bodyguards?̵= 7;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘The Royal Family,’ Jimmy muttered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Don’= t rub my feet, I don’t know you,’ Liz repeated, sipping the drink.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I know.= 217; He continued.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She let her head = drop back. ‘I’m in a … penthouse with Jimmy Silo the gangster.’ She pointed. ‘Nice cornice work.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Thank you,= but it was here when I bought the place.’

<= o:p> 

A= t 5am I headed to the kitchen in a robe, Jimmy sat reading. He marked his page and looked up.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How’d … you know?’ I delicately broached.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She’= s not good with booze, never was. She’s in my bed sleeping it off, and no … I didn’t.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I held my hands w= ide. A question.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Probably,&= #8217; he responded. ‘Oh, we’ll meet Po around 2pm, do the tourist stu= ff – he loves the old palaces.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yeah, no problem.’ I stuffed down a quick sandwich and padded barefoot back to= my room. Before I got there, Jimmy said, ‘Oh, I almost forgot. Have a lo= ok in the spare room.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I padded across t= he cool floor. Returning from our spare room I had a huge grin, and a four-foot tall stuffed grey elephant. ‘Couldn’t you find a bigger one?= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     At 8am Jimmy woke= Liz, fresh towels supplied. She appeared half an hour later in the same clothes, hair damp, joining us in the kitchen.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Well?̵= 7; Judy nudged with a huge smile, earning a glaring look from me.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Well ̷= 0; the gentleman of the house put me in his bed and crashed on the sofa,’ Liz explained, a little self-conscious as she helped herself to coffee. ‘= Too much champagne for someone, I’m afraid.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Never mind,’ Judy said with a glint in her eye. I slapped her arm.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy told Liz, ‘If you’re not busy around 2pm today … our man in Hong Ko= ng wants a tour of the palaces and, if I am to believe your parents, you’= ;re something of an expert.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     She pinched a pie= ce of Jimmy’s toast. ‘Is that a … date of sorts?’<= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘If you lik= e, although I won’t be rubbing your feet in public.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You got a = foot rub?’ Judy joked in a strong whisper, getting another slapped arm from me. ‘Do tell.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nothing to tell,’ Liz insisted, a little embarrassed. ‘We chatted.’<= /span>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Actually, = you did most of the talking,’ Jimmy said with slightest of grins evident.=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Sorry about that, I get like that after a drink.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Told me you hadn’t had sex for a year,’ Jimmy softly mentioned.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Oh, God, I didn’t did I?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And lot= s more.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Do tell?&#= 8217; Judy nudged.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I don̵= 7;t kiss and tell,’ Jimmy insisted. ‘Not that we kissed.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I seem to remember you kissing me on the forehead when you put me to bed,’ Liz suggested, her head lowered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Must have = been a dream,’ Jimmy insisted, a wink towards me and Judy.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Don’= t tell my parents I stayed over,’ Liz requested. ‘They’ll …= ; go out and buy wedding hats and … fuss.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Our lips a= re sealed,’ Jimmy insisted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Big Paul wandered= in, slapping down the papers. ‘Jesus, must be something in the air.’= ; He turned on a heel and left.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘God, even = your driver knows now,’ Liz let out.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And our communal doorman,’ I dropped in.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’d = best pop down and see my parents before I go,’ Liz reluctantly suggested. ‘Save them finding out from the damn doorman.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Judy put in, R= 16;You must feel cheated – all the blame, none of the fun, girl.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Liz made no promi= ses about the 2pm “date”, but turned up anyway, our tour guide for = Po and his extended family. And she was good, a real professional. She came ba= ck with us afterwards and out for an Indian meal that evening, her and Judy spending a lot of time chatting. The following morning we met both of them = in robes in the kitchen. It was a done deal; we were now a foursome. And, at twenty-six, I entered my first serious relationship, tights in the drawers = and tampons in the bathroom cabinet.

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

A= belated promotion

<= o:p> 

J= ack Donohue was summoned to Sykes’ office as soon as he arrived at work Monday morning, finding his immediate manager already in attendance.=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Jack, come= on in,’ his manager called.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack stepped in a= nd sat as directed.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Sykes began, ‘Your friend has transferred half a million pounds into that account.’ He waited, carefully studying Jack.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes, sir, = he said he would,’ Jack affirmed.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Sykes coolly rega= rded Jack. Finally, he said, ‘We’ve discussed it with the Prime Minister, of course, and it will be ciphened off for a particular overseas project. Have you any … indication about future money?’<= /span>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘At least a million a year, sir,’ Jack informed the expectant faces.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     His superiors exc= hanged looks, faces pulled. They did not seem very impressed by the amount.=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘There is something else, sir.’ Jack pulled out a sheet. ‘Some financial information from … our friend.’ He reached across the de= sk. ‘He says that gold will rise steadily for the next two years, then a slump, and that stocks will be flat for the next two years.’ JackR= 17;s superiors took careful notes. Jack added, ‘There will be a pension deficit over the next ten or twenty years, quite a shortage as stocks under-perform.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     More notes were scribbled down.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jack handed over a second sheet. ‘That’s the price of gold for the next twenty yea= rs, with Sterling overlaid against the dollar.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Crickey!&#= 8217; Sykes quietly let out. He displayed the crumpled page to Jack’s manag= er. They mutually raised their eyebrows and exchanged looks. Facing Jack, Sykes said, ‘Do you realise what this gives us?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘A signific= ant advantage of many other countries, sir,’ Jack responded, no joy in his voice. ‘And he said to remind you that the Berlin Wall comes down in a few weeks, communism at an end within two years.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes, well, we’ll see,’ Sykes said dismissively, studying the gold chart.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Back in his basem= ent office, Jack was now a grade higher, a new office threatened. At some point. Thinking about a great many things, he sat and stared at the wall, swivelli= ng aimlessly in his chair. A Kitkat was retrieved, its dimensions and texture inspected before it was returned to the drawer. His tea developed a skin as= it cooled.

An hour later he was knocki= ng on our door.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Jack?̵= 7; I questioned as I held the door.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy put down th= e fax he was reading. ‘Come on in, Jack. Have a seat.’ Our visitor sat without a word. ‘I guess they’ve noticed the money,’ Jimmy said, getting back a nod. ‘And … they were more interested in t= he gold chart than the Berlin Wall?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With his head dow= n, Jack raised his eyes, a barely perceptible nod issued.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy continued, ‘The trick, Jack, is not to try and judge other people by your own standards, you’ll always be disappointed. Things are unfolding as I expect them to, most of my plans are on course, some even ahead of schedule= . I will … stop the war. Your bosses are … cats and dogs, Jack; the skill comes in relaxing and accepting that. They’ve been playing the = great game a long time and they’re not about to change overnight. If they <= i>were capable of such a change then my job would be hard. As it stands … we give the cat some fish and the dog a bone. And it’s because they a= re cats and dogs that I can manipulate them so well.’

I placed a tea down for Jac= k and sat next to him.

Jimmy suggested, ‘Jac= k, get permission to go to Berlin. December 21st is the key day. Chisel= a piece of wall off and watch the future take a step forwards.’<= /p>

Jack sipped his tea, looking better.

Jimmy added, ‘We̵= 7;ll be there, and if you’re sharp-eyed, Jack, you might catch sight of ̷= 0; some others.’

That seemed to lift Jack= 217;s spirit. We managed to evoke half a quick smile and an affirmative nod. And a few weeks later we took the girls to Berlin for the weekend, coming back wi= th bits of wall and a few photographs for the album.

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

L= odgers

<= o:p> 

&= #8216;This is good,’ Jimmy said, holding up a fax from Rudd.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I plonked down ne= xt to him and skimmed the detail.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy continued, ‘The UN has put a small office in Mawlini airfield, also Medicins Sans Frontiers and one other charity. Three charities on the base now, using it = as a re-supply stop, the odd aircraft flying in.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘It is growing.’ I touched the paper. ‘It says here that we’re funding them.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We supply = the huts, food and water, electricity.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And these = groups … we’ll work with them in the future?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Very much = so, they’ll be key allies. And we’ll need all the help we can get.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I swivelled my he= ad to him, a question in my look.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Somali ref= ugees will pour across that border. The airfield becomes Dodge City.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I finished readin= g the detail, unable to pass judgement or get excited because Jimmy’s long-= term plans were often secret. Lifting a second fax from the table, I noticed the Pineapple logo.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘That’= ;s good as well,’ Jimmy mentioned.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     My eye navigated = itself towards some big figures. ‘Where did the dosh come from?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Twenty-fiv= e top ten hits, it soon adds up. Three top three, four number one hits. And these singers, getting into the top ten now … they’ll each have a cou= ple number ones in the months ahead.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     A knock at the do= or, and Judy stepped in with her travel suitcase, dressed in her smart blue inf= orm.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘What you d= oing here?’ I puzzled.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Nice to se= e you too.’ She plonked down, letting out a theatrical sigh. ‘Flight = was diverted, second leg cancelled.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy lifted his = head to me. ‘Make this poor lady a tea, eh? C’mon, young man.’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     When I placed dow= n her tea, she picked up the Pineapple fax.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Pineapple = Records,’ she recognised. ‘They produce The Sisters, great trio. Number two this week.’ She focused on the detail. Raising her head to Jimmy, she said, ‘You own … Pineapple?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Didn’= ;t you know that?’ I puzzled.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No,’= she said with emphasis, facing me. ‘You’re involved with them?̵= 7;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I own fifty-percent,’ I answered with a dismissive shrug. ‘I thought I told you.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No …= you didn’t. You get to meet The Sisters?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy lifted the = phone and dialled. ‘Oliver, Jimmy. You well? Good. Listen, The Sisters, ask them to pop to the flat later, whatever time is good for them. Thanks.̵= 7; He replaced the receiver.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They’= ;re coming here?’ Judy asked, Jimmy nodding very matter-of-fact. She faced me. ‘I knew there was some reason I liked you.’ She squeezed me quickly and headed off to bed for a few hours.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     I asked Jimmy, ‘Does Liz know about Pineapple?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy focused on = the ceiling, then the wall, the floor and finally back on me. ‘I’ve … no idea, I don’t remember discussing it with her.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘She over tonight?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     He nodded; there = were not many evenings when she wasn’t staying over these days. He dialled Oliver again and invited him along.

At eight o’clock we w= ere distributing cocktails to the three coloured singers, two sisters and one a cousin, Judy and Liz giddy like schoolgirls. With Judy and Liz in the kitch= en, Jimmy asked the singing trio to sit. The three of them lined up opposite hi= m, Oliver closing in.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Ladies, as= you may already be aware, I run a number of charities in Kenya, including an orphanage. I also have a beach front hotel and a safari park.’ They didn’t have a clue, why would they. Jimmy continued, ‘The reaso= n I dragged you over here … is to ask you to think about a small charity concert in Kenya, the proceeds going to the orphanage. You’ll get a b= it of a holiday, staying at my places out there. Any thoughts?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     They glanced at e= ach other, mostly in agreement. They had numerous gigs booked in the UK till January, after which they were free. They promised to try and sort a date, Oliver making a note. My grey matter fired up. This was the start of a patt= ern for the future, the tying together of all the things that we were involved with.

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

M= ossad

<= o:p> 

I= was apprehensive, not least because Jimmy had explained that very morning just = who we were going to meet.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     As our taxi progr= essed, Big Paul alert, Jimmy called, ‘Mickey?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The taxi driver responded with, ‘Yeah, Jimmy?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘There̵= 7;re a few gentlemen that would like to follow me to this meeting.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Gotcha, boss.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We overtook a few= other cabs, cut some lights and went around in circles for fifteen minutes.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I think we’re clear,’ Big Paul suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘When we go= in, you eyeball the lobby,’ Jimmy instructed him.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We pulled up at t= he Intercontinental Hotel, the taxi waiting, Big Paul scanning the street as we ducked quickly inside. We took the stairs up three floors and to room 303, a quick knock given. The door opened to a short and stocky man of Mediterrane= an appearance, Israeli I guessed, his hair greying. He held it open and we squeezed by, another man sat in the window. There were four chairs, a tight fit, but the bed had been pushed back. The second man stood as we neared, a slim fifty-year-old with a European appearance; glasses and a thin face, unkempt black hair. Jimmy issued a long sentence in Hebrew, surprising the = man.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You’= re … British?’ he questioned as we sat.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Yes.’= ;

We eased down into rigid and uncomfortable chairs that appeared to have been designed for children, the first man joining us. His expression remained the same, a right misery-guts= of a fella.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Gesturing toward = the man who had already been seated, Jimmy said, ‘Paul, this is Shlomo Demitry Artrov.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The man bolted up= right in his chair. ‘How the hell do you know my name?’ he demanded.<= /span>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I’m psychic,’ Jimmy joked, and I choked out a laugh. Jimmy motioned towar= ds the second man, the miserable bastard. ‘And this is … Ari, I believe.’ Ari was now even more miserable, his face grizzled.<= /p>

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Watcha, mate,’ I sarcastically offered. ‘Having a good trip, are we? Visited the Palace yet?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Schlomo pointed t= owards Jimmy, looking him up and down. ‘You’re a field agent.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, my fri= end.’ Jimmy faced Ari. In Russian, he said, ‘Why don’t you order us s= ome drinks, we could be here a while.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With a nod from Schlomo, Ari called down to reception in English, but with a bit of an acce= nt.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy pointed at Schlomo’s knee. ‘How’s the knee?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How the he= ll could know so much about me?’ our new friend demanded.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I told you, I’m psychic.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Ari sat, and both= of our new friends considered us carefully.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So,’= Jimmy began. ‘How’ve you been doing with my stock market tips?’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Eventually, Schlo= mo admitted, ‘They have been one hundred percent accurate.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Must have = made some money then,’ Jimmy suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     After a pause, Sc= hlomo admitted, ‘Yes.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Must have = made a … lot of money,’ Jimmy firmly nudged. He got back a shrug. ‘Schlomo, if you want more tips you’re going to have to treat y= our new best buddies less like Palestinian proctologists.’ He eased back = and waited.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Schlomo eventually said, ‘Why?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Why is = 230; very hard to understand. But, like you, I get letters from Magestic.’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Our two new Jewis= h friends both suffered minor simultaneous heart attacks. I was starting to enjoy the visit.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘How do you= know about him?’ Schlomo demanded.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Who do you= think recruited us,’ Jimmy posed. ‘Lovely fella, always buys the drinks.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And the odd curry,’ I put in. ‘Nice fella.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Magestic &= #8230; buys you drinks?’ Schlomo forced out. I wondered if the poor fella wo= uld need a doctor.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Well,̵= 7; I said, ‘sometimes we pay, of course.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We pay our= way, mostly,’ Jimmy said, the two of us nodding our agreement.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Who is Magestic?’ Schlomo asked.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘We’r= e not allowed to say,’ Jimmy informed him in conspiratorial whisper. He end= ed by tapping his nose. ‘So, where were we? Ah, yes, the stock trading. You’ve been making some money, yes?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Well ̷= 0; yes,’ Schlomo admitted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And weR= 17;ll continue to send you tips, so you should be able to make a great deal more.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Why?’ Schlomo persisted with.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So that we= can ask you for favours, of course,’ Jimmy explained. He retrieved a piec= e of paper and handed it over. ‘The people on the list are budding Islamic terrorists. Mr Magestic would like for them not to grow up and graduate.= 217;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Schlomo shrugged. ‘This benefits us as much as anyone else?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, the pe= ople on the list attack western interests around the world, they don’t go = near Israel.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘So why don= ’t the Americans have this list?’ Schlomo challenged.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘They have … other lists from Magestic.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Trying to be help= ful, I put in, ‘And they’re not a good as you at shooting Arabs.’ Somehow, it did not sound quite right.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     With a quick glar= e at me, Jimmy added, ‘Most of the people on that list are around the Horn= of Africa. Be a love, and make that a priority in the next eight years.’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Schlomo eyed the = list. ‘How will you know –’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Magestic w= ill know,’ Jimmy confidently suggested.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Is he…?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘All seeing= ? Pretty much so. Oh, before I forget, send me a liaison, Ben Ares will do.’  

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Ben Ares?&= #8217; Schlomo challenged. ‘He’s –’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I know exa= ctly what position he holds, my friend.’ Jimmy handed over a card and stoo= d.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Been nice talking to you,’ I said directly toward Ari. ‘Thanks for the tea.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Grinning, Jimmy pointing me towards the door. ‘Oh, while I think of it, anyone trying= to get close to me will meet a proper field agent. Several of them in fact.= 217; We collected Big Paul and jumped into the taxi.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘There̵= 7;s a watcher in reception,’ Big Paul reported.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘I know,= 217; Jimmy said. ‘Mickey! Evasive techniques.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Right, Jimmy.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Why we try= ing to lose a tail, you gave them your fucking card?’ I challenged.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Not them I’m worried about.̵= 7;

<= o:p> 

<= o:p> 

J= anuary, 1990.

<= o:p> 

I= was apprehensive about a holiday in Egypt, but Jimmy reassured me that Sharm-el-Sheik was just a bunch of hotels full of westerners in the middle = of nowhere. We landed with the girls, both having five days off, and were met = by a local with a sign held up: SILO. The place looked dusty, but the midday heat was very welcome compared to chilly old London.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We drove the short distance to Naama Bay along a main road with very high curbs painted blue a= nd white, a view of desert and mountain off to the right. Turning off, we drov= e through a sort of bazaar, many Egyptian bars dotted about, and pulled up next to the hotel Lido. Booked in, and with our rooms checked, Jimmy led us to the roof= top bar and pool. From there I just melted as I glimpsed the turquoise water be= low; shallow at the shore and deepening rapidly to a rich blue. With the girls intent on doing absolutely nothing all day but sunbath, me and Jimmy grabbed our masks and fins and walked around a horseshoe bay to a dive school. Thir= ty minutes later we hit the warm water with a British Divemaster. During that first dive I glimpsed a turtle on the sea-grass and a giant Napoleon fish at twenty metres depth.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     We ate lunch with= the dive leader, ignoring the girls, before a second dive in the afternoon, this time to the area immediately below our hotel, a sharp drop off populated wi= th numerous prickly Lion Fish. We finally joined the girls at 4pm, the day sti= ll warm.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Did you see us?’ I asked as we plonked down.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, weR= 17;ve been sunning ourselves,’ Judy answered.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Gets very = cold at night,’ Jimmy cautioned. ‘Wrap up later. As soon as the sun goes down it drops to ten degrees.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Lovely now,’ Liz said. ‘For January.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Jimmy was right a= bout the sudden chill; when we stepped out that night the girls were cold. We strolled along the beach front, selecting a Pizza restaurant and ducking in= , a modest meal dragged out over three hours. We ended the night with a few dri= nks in the Camel Bar, a rooftop bar with a view of the lively tourist drag.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     On the second day= , both girls tried a dive off the beach with a British female instructor, the men = folk heading towards the depths. We met back up in the warmer shallow water, a s= mall rocky outcrop with numerous coloured fish darting about. Liz was a natural, taking the diving manual back to the hotel to read, Judy less sure of herse= lf.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     The next day we r= ose early and boarded a boat from the jetty right next to the hotel, an hour-long tri= p to a reef. With me and Jimmy acting as escorts, the girls had another trial di= ve inside a sheltered part of the reef, finding a turtle. At one point we swam along as two couples, holding hands under the water. The two male instructo= rs held hands at the end, just to take the piss. Lunch, of sorts, was provided= on the boat, before a second dive in the afternoon, the boat chugging slowly b= ack as the sun headed for the horizon. On the third day we remained around the hotel to give the girls a break, the fourth day a quad bike expedition into= the desert – wrapped up like Palestinian terrorists, ending with a sort o= f barbeque organised by the locals. We sat cross-legged on carpets and watched a show = of traditional dancers, the girls again cold and complaining.

<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> &nb= sp;   On the Saturday we took the girls back to the airport, the two of us remaining= for another five days “hard core” diving - as we had described it. Without the girls knowing, we immediately booked into the Hyatt Regency, a sprawling five star hotel with its own beach. On Sunday we dived off the be= ach with the hotel instructors, that evening waiting a contact in the bar.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Is he coming,’ I grumbled as we waited in the near empty bar.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’s= been here all day, I saw him twice,’ Jimmy informed me. ‘He’s = just being careful.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Ben Ares eventual= ly entered the bar and sat. ‘Jimmy Silo.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘You could = have come diving with us, Ben,’ Jimmy said as he gestured our guest to a chair. ‘I saw you this morning.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And how wo= uld you know what I look like?’ Ben challenged as he sat. He was a tanned individual, in his forties at least, a slight belly evident under his shirt. But he had a kind face, not meeting my expectation of the deadly Mossad age= nt I had imagined.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘This game = would be no fun if I just told you everything, now would it?’ Our guest smi= led. Jimmy asked, ‘First, what do you … make of Magestic?R= 17;

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Ben stared into h= is beer for a moment. ‘I’m not sure I believe in clairvoyants, but…’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘But the ev= idence is conclusive,’ Jimmy finished off.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘It’s astonishing,’ Ben admitted.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘And I̵= 7;m Paul,’ I eventually quipped.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Sorry. Ben= , this is my business partner, Paul Holton. Paul, this is Ben Ares, Junior Defence Minister.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘Deputy = 230; Defence Minister,’ Ben corrected.

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘In England= , that would be a junior label,’ Jimmy pointed out, Ben shrugging. ‘So, you don’t believe in clairvoyants, Ben?’ Our guest d= id not answer. ‘Well, neither do we.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     Ben’s brow pleated. ‘You … work for Magestic?’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘He’s= not a clairvoyant, Ben.’

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No?’=

<= span style=3D'mso-tab-count:1'>     ‘No, heR= 17;s a member of a team, I’m another member.’