No 10. Downing Street, London. Summer, 1985.
The Prime Minister ran a quick eye over a letter, initialling the corner before handing it back to the waiting messenger.
Thirty minutes later and a buff coloured file was 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.
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 Jacks. But why spell the word with a 'g'? Was our friend simply a bad speller? No, the writing style had been exhaustively analysed by various linguists and experts. Our friend was deemed to be well educated and cultured. 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.
This new letter, typed like the rest, had been numbered by the sender in handwriting as '12' and detailed an elaborate IRA attack, so much detail that 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 letters, many detailing 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.
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 figured, 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 smugly 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 anything of use outside of the obvious facts detailed. Like the other so-called 'experts', Jack considered, his boss was stuck in the detail, not the topics or the style. Now, he considered again the detail of this latest message as he worked alone in his office, muttering to himself. 'Playful, confident, sarcastic almost ... yet important, direct, necessary.' He made notes, comparing them to a previously prepared summary.
'Terrorists actions ... but only related to us, to the UK, not to any other country. Posted in the UK, London, various central locations, plus Cardiff, Reading and Swindon. Our friend uses the train a lot, 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 complaint as he tapped his top lip with his pen.
He tipped his head back 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. Note: look for big, consistent winners at the races - stock markets maybe.
'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... '
A thought surfaced, Jack's features hardening quickly. He typed a hurried note and sent it directly to the Cabinet Office by courier, a deliberate breach of protocol.
The Prime Minister read the note, took off her glasses and eased back in her chair, staring out of focus for several seconds. 'I want the intelligence chiefs. Tonight. Oh, and this officer ... Donohue, fetch him as well.'
When the officers had assembled in Cabinet Office Briefing Room 'A', COBRA, the Prime Minister stepped 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 eyed Jack suspiciously.
Straight to the point, The Prime Minister said, 'This gentleman –' motioning 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 faces. 'Up to now we have assumed that this was just about us.'
Jack delicately raised a finger.
'Yes?' the P.M. curtly prompted.
'I hope you don't mind, but when I ... er ... got the idea I rang 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... '
'And?' Sykes firmly nudged when Jack hesitated.
'My contact went apoplectic at the mention of the word, demanded to know what I knew.'
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.'
Jack forced a breath. 'Prime Minister, we know that Magestic is probably London 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.'
'Are you suggesting ... that we intercept the American Ambassador's mail?'
Jack decided to be bold. 'They can't possibly know when the next letter will appear, so they won't miss it if ... it went missing.'
The P.M. stood, a nod toward Sykes before exiting quickly. A chorus of overlapping whispers began. Jack tentatively raised a finger.
'Donohue, you don't need to raise a finger like a schoolboy wanting the toilet, ' Sykes suggested. 'What is it?'
'Well ... er ... I firmly believe that our friend, well meaning that he is, may also be sending letters to others; Russians, Chinese... '
'Jesus, ' Sykes let out.
November 21st, 2035, aboard the eco-submarine Warrior III, North East of Bermuda.
As I sat down at my cabin's small desk I knew exactly what I wanted to write, but my hand just hovered over the data pad. I finally touched the screen.
'Ready to begin recording and transcribing' came a pleasant, yet detached female 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 would have made her billions!
'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 like 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 work in the city of London, mobile phones were called phones and were the size 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 their 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.
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 whole six months before starting to work for Jimmy Silo. It was how we met. Actually, it was how he recruited me, and not for the first time. He came looking for me.
I took a breath, a quick glance at the wall and 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 Silovich; time traveller, womaniser, philanthropist, reluctant politician ... and my friend.'
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 my system, hunting earnestly for something to repair and rejuvenate. I could pass for twenty-five, but these days so could a lot of 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 had not worked, neither the hair nor my mum. No matter what I tried, my hair had its own ideas. It was cut every six weeks and we agreed to ignore each other and do our own thing. In its favour it never needed combing and looked exactly the same after a futile attempt at male grooming.
Sometimes, these days, my eyes looked tired and I could imagine how I might actually appear at seventy: grey hair, or no hair, wrinkles and sun spots, opaque skin 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.
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 Argentina of all countries, we were well geared up; Chinese take-away, 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.
Jimmy had joined McKinleys Stock Brokers almost a month ago now and had noticed my advert 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 streets distant, it was far enough away to be independent. Just. I was twenty-two 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 big wide world and the bright lights, yet to be discovered.
Getting out on a Saturday night and going large was proving to be more difficult a 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 pleasant. 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, two 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 pink shirts, and I definitely couldn't afford a mobile phone. Still, we were 1980's city traders, sons of the Thatcher's revolution and yuppies in the making.
The match had proved boring so far; a few chances, a few nudges and hard 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 knackered, stuffing my face and falling asleep till bedtime. I was twenty-three going on sixty!
With ten minutes of the 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 though we were both the same age. 'I reckon ... that Maradona will punch the ball over Shilton's head, winning the match one nil.'
'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.
'They'll allow it, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Ten quid on it.'
'Twenty quid on it, ' Dave countered, easing up from his slumber and flicking noodles off his smart work trousers.
'Make it a round hundred, ' Jimmy confidently suggested.
'A hundred?' Dave repeated, another glance toward me. 'That Maradona ... will hand-ball in the winning goal? You're on, sucker.'
Jimmy opened more cans and politely offered them around as we waited. A few minutes 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 insisted 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 that 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 she most definitely was a smoker. Still, in those days the birds were British at least, we were not 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 mister mystery guy.
'That's my ex-boyfriend and his mates, ' the first girl whispered at some point, a nod towards the other end of the bar.
'Not to worry, and not a problem, ' Jimmy quietly and confidently assured her, not even bothering to scan the would-be troublemakers.
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 was no fighter, and I preferred the run very fast approach to these things.
'I think your ex is still interested, ' I suggested to the girl.
'He's such a wanker, ' she came back with, shaking her head. 'Watch out for flying bottles.'
'Shall we ... eh ... go somewhere else?' I suggested. 'Curry maybe?' That was a bad idea, I just remembered, since I could not have even stuffed a packet of crisps into my bursting abdomen.
'Sounds good, ' Jimmy enthused, a budding world champion at face stuffing; fella had the size to squeeze it into. Outside, in the cool night air and smoke free environment, Jimmy said, 'Start walking, I'll be a step or two behind you.'
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 caused 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.
'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 worried looks.
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 three small steps there were six unconscious men sprawled on the pavement and road. And Jimmy, he stepped casually towards us combing his hair.
'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 him, a come-on smile spread across her face. It was clue number two, number three if you include his very deep pockets. We rounded the corner and ducked into a curry house just as flashing blue lights 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?
Jimmy faced me. 'Why don't you guys just have some drinks, soft drinks, sober up a bit so that after this we can hit Stringfellows. I know the head doorman, get us all in.'
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 ladies, always managing to put himself down and play us up. He was helping me out like the big brother I never had.
At Stringfellows we found a monster of a winding queue, and it had just started to rain, but we walked right past everyone. I noticed Jimmy fold a note into his 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 secret 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.
'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 football players and TV stars. I rubbed my hands with glee.
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 grabbed a bouncer and gave him some notes, telling him to stuff Dave in a taxi whilst placing our address in Dave's lapel pocket. Smooth, real smooth.
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.'
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.
'Evening, Jimmy, ' the man offered, holding open a set of glass doors.
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 snug, gold coloured lift up to the tenth floor and opened to a corridor with just the one door, which I found 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 touched the bottle. 'Is he in ... your mate?'
'No, away working, ' Jimmy replied, slipping off his jacket. 'We can crash here, 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 clean underwear on?
Jimmy opened a door and said, 'Your room. Try the balcony, get some cool air.'
I stepped in and glanced around, almost fainting; it looked like the inside of Buckingham Palace, making 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 closing the door to find Sophie, the girl I had spent most of the time chatting with, bouncing on the side of the bed. Something started to get hard.
'Very posh, ' she joked, kicking off her shoes with scant regard for whatever they impacted with.
'Er ... drink?' I asked, taking off my jacket.
'Champagne, ' she said with that look in her eye. Actually, I had very little experience of that look up to that point, but I figured it out all by myself. Back in the lounge I found Jimmy sat by himself, sipping the cooled champagne.
'So?' he asked. '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 your 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 bold ... as to offer some advice.' I was all ears. 'Shower together, do the business, robe on, back out here, cool off, coffee, do it again ... then to sleep. Get up first, shower – smellys in there, coffee, make her a tea, do it again, give her money for cab home and get her number. Fix a provisional date for tomorrow ... here.'
'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 write 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 found 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 second 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, separate small bathroom that she won't be able to smell.'
God he was good. I took 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, finding Jimmy and his girl sat in robes.
'Hungry?' he asked.
'Starved, ' we both said.
Jimmy checked his watch. 'Be some food brought up in ... oh, about ten minutes or so. Grab yourselves a fresh tea, all laid out in the kitchen.
It was, and the damn kitchen was as big as the bedroom. Ten minutes later a woman appeared with a trolley, 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 secretaries up the East End somewhere. After an hour of munching we flopped on the sofas around the coffee table and dozed, except Jimmy, who read the papers, circling 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 was 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 starting to play catch up. 'What do you do for McKinleys ... exactly?' 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 million grades above me. 'At your age!' I blurted out, immediately regretting it.
He smiled. 'I'm very good at what I do.'
'So why are you staying at my gaff, you must be on good money?'
'Money's OK, 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 papers at home.'
'Oh, well ... yeah, naturally like.'
Jimmy checked his watch. 'It's 2pm already –'
'Shit!' I said, checking mine.
'So why don'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 stopped. '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 repeated 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.
One long weekend we drove the girls across to France, to a secluded chateau that Jimmy said he read about in The Times. And I was heavily in his debt, something 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 like he owned the damn place.
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.
Jimmy explained that the owner of the posh apartment had moved to Singapore for at 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 prices ticking over. The second bedroom was now my room and the side room our office, 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, and my concern about it.
My old landlord took back the house and I threw out a lot of stuff, buying new clothes. I had to look the part, 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 good 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.
'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.
'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 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 pick up more stock, sometimes off-loading first.'
I was following so far.
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.'
I did the sums quickly in my head. It wasn't hard. 'Not bad for six weeks.'
Jimmy nodded. 'Read the FT, do your bits, I'm off to the gym for three hours.' He stood.
'Any totty in this gym?' I enquired.
'Some, yes. And no, you can't come. I've got to have some time away from you ... employee.'
I read the papers, checked the charts, had several cups of tea and made myself scrambled eggs, and stood on the balcony a lot. 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.
We hit the nightclubs Thursday through to Saturday, so we were not always in the 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. Still, we were one hundred percent right in our trades, numerous accounts set-up with half a dozen brokers so that money could be spread around. Jimmy said it was in case one went bust, but he always said it with a grin. We had made our client fund two hundred thousand pounds in eight weeks, not including investments. For the 1980s it was a shit load of money.
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 reasons to make trades and anticipate 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, a posh apartment and an endless supply of pretty girls will do that to you.
One day I bumped into a senior trader from the old firm.
'Ah, Paul, how's it going? You learning loads from the big guy?'
'Yeah, sure, ' I said, since Jimmy had been teaching me a thing or two that I did not already know.
'Must be great to be a trader ... and a fucking clairvoyant!' the man joked.
As I walked off a bad penny finally dropped. I stopped in Oxford Circus and stood 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.
'Er ... tea?' I asked, trying to summon up some courage.
'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 down, 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.'
'It's a bit ... you know ... spooky.'
'But a good kind of spooky ... because it makes me lots of money and allows me to have nice apartments and cars and the money to ... well, help you live the life you've become accustomed to.'
He hit the nail on the head and made me feel very ungrateful for all he had done for me. 'Well... ' was all I could get out. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil our friendship.
'If you have a question ... ask it, before we both get hungry just sitting here.'
I forced a breath. 'How can you predict the future? Are you, you know –'
'Clairvoyant? No, not clairvoyant, but I can predict the future with great accuracy.'
My poor brain was puzzled. 'Isn't that ... a clairvoyant?'
He seemed amused. 'A clairvoyant can see the future ... if you believe in all that crap. I can remember the future. Your future, my past.'
'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.
'Yes, ' he answered with a smug grin.
'Yes ... to what?'
'Yes ... I'm a time traveller.'
'You're a ... time traveller. What, like Doctor Who on the TV?' I scoffed.
'Similar, I guess. But my TV sidekick doesn't have large breasts.'
'Not from this planet, then?' I joked.
'Technically ... no, ' was not the answer I expected. He focused on me. 'Ever seen me sleep?'
I thought back, realising that I hadn't, that he was always awake; last to bed, first up. And if I got up in the middle of the night he'd be reading, telling me he could not sleep.
'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?'
I was getting worried. He fetched a file and plonked it into my lap. It consisted of a series of letters, typed and signed, and all address to the Prime Minister. I gulped. Each had been signed "Magestic, the man in the middle".
'The ... er ... man in the middle?' I queried.
'Someone in the middle ... sits between opposing parties, ' he enigmatically explained.
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 terrorist 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.
Jimmy casually asked, 'If you had the ability to predict the future, what would 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, you 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 ... yeah, of course I would, ' I firmly suggested.
'So you would use such an ability ... for the benefit of mankind?'
'Well ... of course.'
'Sounds laudable. And if you had this ability, and you were warning people and saving lives, then you'd be ... what ... one of the good guys, yeah?'
My head nodded itself.
'And if you knew that ... let's say ... your mum was due to get cancer in twenty years time ... then what?'
'My ... my mum will get cancer?' I was horrified.
Jimmy nodded, looking solemn. 'What would you do?'
'Get her to the doctors before that time, for a check-up, ' I rushed to get out.
'Check-ups ... reveal things, they don't cure them.'
'She ... she'll die at sixty-seven?'
'Not if we don't let her.'
'What could you do?' I asked, almost sounding angry with him. Calmer, I said, 'You ... you'd help me pay for private medicine for her? Early treatment?'
'Something along those lines.'
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 simply sat and stared for a moment.
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?'
My mind was still on my mum, and plane crashes. 'No, of course not.' There was also the matter that he was the best friend I had ever had. In fact, just about the only decent friend I had ever had.
'Why of course not? I could be a dangerous alien for all you know, ' he toyed.
'Are you ... you know?'
He laughed. 'No, I was born in Newport, South Wales. You'll meet my parents soon enough.'
'Then how... ?'
'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 body 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 bounds and I most certainly do not wear my pants outside my trousers.'
'Wa ... World War Three?' I repeated, now wide-eyed and transfixed.
'Kicks off in about seventeen years time, give or take.' He raised a finger. 'Unless, of course... '
'You warn them. You stop it.'
'Tricky.' He shook his head. 'Would they listen? I'd need some ... credibility, built up over twenty years or more.'
I lowered my head to the letters, suddenly realising where this was going.
Jimmy added, 'Of course, it would be a difficult task all by myself.'
I scanned him from under my eyebrows, finally switching my brain on. 'You didn't need a room, did you?'
'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.'
'Why come to me? I'm no James Bond.'
'You have a destiny.'
'I do?' My expression made him laugh.
'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 you think you could do that?'
I nodded, although I had no idea what I was nodding about. 'What would happen –'
'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.'
'Bloody hell, ' I let out before setting about my lager.
'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.'
'So, your plan –'
'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.'
'What?' I whispered.
'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 you know what you need to know ... we'll be off on our travels.'
'Starting with Kenya, then the States, Australia, everywhere. I need to educate you in the ways of the world.'
It sounded good. But I foolishly asked, 'What if the plane crashes?'
'It won't, dumb fuck –'
'Because you know which ones crash, ' I said, feeling silly. 'So what's the weather going to be tomorrow?'
He laughed. 'No idea, check the news weather. I only know what I need to know.'
'So how come you don't look like ... you know ... a wrinkly old guy?'
'Stem cells, my lad. Everyone has stem cells, they're what builds our bodies when we're in the womb. After about eighteen-years-old 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 was an old guy I was strapped to a bed and intravenously injected with stems for ten weeks, stems taken from the wombs and umbilical cords of ten ladies I made pregnant for that very procedure. Because the stems were fifty- percent genetically my own, they worked well.
'I was only given enough protein to survive, and so lost a hell of a lot of weight – appearing like the twenty-year-old me at thirteen stone. The genetically modified stems basically reverted me to a full adult at the youngest age, around twenty, which was what I needed for my parents to accept me as me.
'That particular story ... 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.'
'Bloody hell.' I sipped my beer. 'So ... so what do I do ... in the future?'
'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.'
'Killed?' I repeated.
'It's always a possibility. Accidents ... or getting shot by irate husbands.'
'And then what do I do?'
'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.'
'CIA?' I whispered.
'In the future, the Americans are going to want to invade a few countries. I'm going to try and stop them, not least by tipping off those they aim to invade.'
'Bloody hell.' I sipped my beer as he fetched a large box.
'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...
'Helicopters?' I queried.
'How else are you going to impress a bird ... other than by flying her home the next day in your own helicopter?'
'Your language tutors will arrive in a few weeks.'
'I'm like Luke-frigging-Skywalker being trained to use The Force.'
He eased back. 'You know, in years to come they'll make three prequels to Star Wars.'
'What the fuck's a prequel?'
He sipped his beer. With a deadly serious expression he answered, 'My life.'
After a reflective beer I asked, 'Well ... what exactly do I do now?'
'Now you carry on trading the markets, you study, you travel ... you get ready for the future. I'll give you some money so that you can trade your own account, make you eventually look rich on your own, so you appear to be my business partner and not an employee.'
'R ... rich?' I repeated, making him smile.
'Yes. By time we get to 2005 you'll be one of the richest men in the UK.'
Wide-eyed I said, 'I will?'
'You will, I won't.'
'Huh?' came out without any help from me.
'I'm going to make a lot of money and give it all away. You, on the other hand, will hang onto a lot so that we have a reserve.'
I suddenly considered that my future self was quite mean. 'Don't I ... give any money away?'
'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.'
I pointed at myself. 'I ... I'll have more money than you?'
'Lots more; nice cars, helicopter, lots of women chasing you.'
'So ... so what's the catch?' I finally asked.
'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 claim that you punched them – even though you never did. Girls will claim you attacked them, hoping to make some money from the story or from a settlement. 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.'
'Little fuckers, ' I quietly let out.
'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.'
'Little bastards. All because you got a few quid?'
Jimmy explained, 'In the years ahead the tabloids will get more aggressive than they are now; they'll print anything, till some privacy laws start 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.'
'Biography? About me?' I challenged.
'Should think so.'
'How can they write it ... you know ... without my say so?'
'No law against it. If they say you hate your parents it'll sell better.'
'So anything I do –'
'And anything you did, ' he emphasised.
'Shit. I lost my virginity to a middle-aged hooker up the West End for forty quid.'
'Who knows about it?'
I thought back. 'I think I told a mate in school... '
'Then make sure you look him up, buy him dinner, stay on his good side.'
'I got arrested for nicking a cricket ball from a pavilion when I was sixteen.'
'Fine, tell them you were a rebellious teenager. No one will give a shit about stuff like that. It's what you do in the next ten years that matters.'
'What about all the one-night stands?' I asked.
'Not a problem: man about town; money, cars, women. Papers love that sort of stuff.'
'I haven't even made any money yet and I'm worrying about it!' I complained.
'That, young man, we have in common.'
After two beers I said, 'What's the future like?'
'I dunno ... girls.'
'They shave off their pubes.'
'They ... what?'
'Nearly all girls shave off their pubes, or have them cut into patterns – like butterflies. And tattoos, they all have lots of tattoos.'
'Girls ... have tattoos?'
'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.'
'Wait and see.'
'Christ. What's music like?'
'In the 90s it's good, but by time we get to 2009 there's a lot of Rap music in the charts.'
'Rap? Like what those black kids do in America? Here?'
'You're fucking kidding me!'
Jimmy shook his head. 'But after 2010 there're lots of covers, not much original stuff. Guess everything has been done. I'll commission a clever bit of software that'll compare songs.'
'A computer program. And those mobile phones you see yuppies with, Motorolas, they'll be small as a credit card.'
Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded. 'They end up as small as a playing card, and either touch screen or voice activated. You've seen Captain Kirk use his communicator? Well ... just like that.'
'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.'
'Strange ... but cool.'
'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 curry house? And it tells you.'
'Fucking hell. They expensive?'
'No, you get them free and pay a monthly charge of around fifteen quid.'
'Jesus, ' I let out.
'Everyone has one, kids as young as six. Everyone. If a parent wants to know where their brat is they ask their phone and it tells them.'
'Many cars go electric around 2015, I have a hand in that. Some things are great, some crap.'
I gave it all some careful thought. 'What do you like the most ... in the future?'
'Probably the Internet.'
'Our computer is connected to the phone line, and in the future all computers are connected to central super-computers that hold information on everything. 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, tell their mates. So when the CIA are about to do something naughty you tell people 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.'
'Better than letters warning people, ' I suggested.
'Much, ' Jimmy carefully mouthed. 'In the future, people watch the TV news – 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 democracy in action.
'But in the future 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 – ten times the average salary, and night life goes to shit.'
'Whooa there, buddy. Nightlife does what?'
'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.'
'Jeans and t-shirts ... in a fucking nightclub?' I was staggered.
Jimmy nodded reluctantly. 'It's why we'll open our own.'
'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 – young looking with the wonder drugs and all – then mentally, you know, you're old –'
'Yes?' Jimmy slowly let out, his brow pleated.
'Then ... inside ... you're old, yet you still like the young ladies –'
'And ... so?'
'Well, there's ... you know ... quite an age gap, ' I delicately suggested.
'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 with a fifty-year-old woman?'
'Well, a bit silly really.'
'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 conditions 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 libido. At least it didn't for me at the age I was at.
'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.
'There was one woman, a doctor under my command, Elizabeth her name was, who spent a lot of time with me. I suppose you could say that she was a girlfriend. But one day she went to an outlying region and never came back - that happened a lot. And now ... now I have to be very careful –'
'Why?' I stupidly asked.
'Why do you think, Dumbo?'
I shrugged. 'So you don't slip up and say who you really are?'
'And what else?' he prompted.
'Er ... you don't like commitment?' I toyed.
'Never did when I was a mere mortal, stuck four years once. But what would happen if I did marry someone?'
'You'd ... 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.'
'And don't you think that might be a bit ... odd?'
'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 shag loads a pretty girls without commitment. Console yourself.' We laughed, toasting each other with our drinks.
'This job's not all bad, ' he said with a glint in his eye.
We spoke till the small hours, made some plans, and ordered-in a curry like normal. When I woke the next day I was Dr. Who's assistant, but without the large breasts. After a coffee by myself I went to see my mum, and gave her a big hug. She was so surprised she thought I'd made some girl pregnant or lost my job. It took a whole hour to convince her that I just missed her, and even then she was suspicious.
I put down the keyboard, letting out 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 themselves, fatigued with concentrating on the screen.
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 were 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 later.
There would be gentle nagging in the morning about letting my granddaughter snuggle 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.
As I lay there, I thought back to the day Jimmy revealed who he was, well – 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, but 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 summoned 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.
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 had some specific warnings of mishaps in The States. Question is, do the Russians and Chinese get letters?'
The head of MI5 answered, 'We intercepted a letter to the Russian Ambassador, 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.
'Then we received today's letter, ' the Prime Minister announced, opening the file she had brought in. Paraphrasing, she read, 'It was a good idea of Jack's -' Everyone focussed on Jack. The P.M. lowered her gaze 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.'
She took a moment as people shifted uneasily in their seats. Continuing, she read, 'I am British, and you can be assured of my loyalty of purpose to state and crown. Tell Jack that I do not bet the races.'
Jack tried, and failed, not to smile.
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 great country to be seen to take seriously the advice of clairvoyants.
'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.' Faces creased. 'Fortunately, it stops short of suggesting a pay rise or promotion for you.'
That afternoon Jack got a visit from his departmental manager, Wilson, a sour-faced man with little hair, little patience, and even less in the charm department. He scanned Jack'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 benefit to anyone.'
Jack's brow creased. 'Sorry?'
'He's not just a clairvoyant, he's a seer – someone capable of remote viewing.'
'Remote ... viewing?' Jack repeated, despite the fact that he had recently read a dozen books in the subject.
Wilson flicked dust off his knee. 'The CIA experimented with it, probably still 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.'
'He's dangerous. He should be behind bars, 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 cannot be left unchecked. So I want you to find him. Use the newspaper message system, 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!'
A knock at the door preceded two senior police officers stepping in. 'Mr Wilson, ' the first stated. It was not a question.
Wilson was caught off guard. 'Yes. Who the hell are you?'
'We ... are the nice gentlemen who'd like to talk about the death of a young lady you were seeing in college, 1958.'
Wilson stood rigidly shocked.
'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. 'Mr Magestic said to say hello.'
'How ... how do you know about him, it's top secret?'
'I've been getting letters for years. Our clean-up rate is through the roof.' He smiled and winked, letting himself out.
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 packet of Bourbons biscuits. No, this was a special occasion. He replaced the packet and retrieved a Kitkat.
Our first trip was to Kenya a month later, landing at Nairobi airport. My first impression was ... what a shit hole. And the heat was intense. The paint was cracking off the terminal walls, fans 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. Unlike Jimmy, I was not in love with Kenya in particular, or Africa in general.
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 in, 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.
Jimmy tipped the puzzled driver well, thanking him again in his own tongue. At least the hotel looked half decent. The staff, dressed in green waistcoats and funny 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 offered 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.
'Follow me, ' he enigmatically stated.
We took the lift up to the top floor, opening to a roof garden with a small pool and a good sized bar. We sat, Jimmy ordering drinks in some weird dialect. He checked his watch, so I checked mine. 5.45pm.
'Sunset over Nairobi, ' Jimmy let out with a contented sigh. 'It's been ... many years since I was here last.'
With cool beers we lay 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.
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, thinking I was twenty-nine. Kenya was growing on me.
The next day we were up early, kicking 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, with 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 shit hole. I made allowances because it was Africa, but God was it dusty and dirty, the roadsides littered with tatty shacks and naked kids.
We eventually left civilisation behind and hit the countryside proper, stopping to let a lion run across our path. An hour later and we arrived at the place with 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 the German owner, a room for the taxi driver arranged, then tipped his head for me to follow. On the veranda of a well-stocked bar we sat, cold beers placed down, and looked out across pure African countryside; a gentle slope down to a winding 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.
Jimmy pointed. Following his finger I could see my first herd of Elephants, lolling about at the river's edge. After saying something in German, a man brought Jimmy two pairs of binoculars and we peered through.
'David Attenborough, eat your bleeding heart out, ' I said.
'Met him many times, ' Jimmy idly commented. 'Great man.'
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.
The next morning we had an acceptable breakfast in a communal hall, some other 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 just 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, Zebras in the distance, before pulling into what looked like a farm. And there started one of the great loves of my life.
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 improvised 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 breasts. Then she began talking about nipples and teats. I got her back onto the subject several times.
They cooked us a meal, not least because of the ten grand they'd got, and we all got along like old friends. Jimmy's knowledge of animals and the 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. During the meal Jimmy took a sandwich 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 kitchen 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 around I stroked its chin and head and it seemed to like that more than my meal. Guess he had tried the hostesses cooking before. A fully-grown lion caused me to stand and look worried, Jimmy grinning at my discomfort.
'Not to worry, ' the teenage girl told me in her accented voice, sounding like 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.'
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 some water into the lion's mouth, hand feeding it some meat.
'It is not normally so easy to control, ' the surprised manager informed me. 'He is a strong man, your friend.'
'Either that ... or he smells like a lioness, ' I suggested.
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 more, Jimmy taking off his ripped shirt and adding to their fixed gaze. 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 the night air, some quite rude, followed by the black driver singing a local lament about a boy who lost his goat. In fairness, the lament was quite good, and somehow very African.
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 paying 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 roads 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
Another four hours and we were to the coast, although I slept some of the way and had no idea where we were. We were checked through some tall security gates with large holes, making me consider why they were there at all, and piled out at yet another reception desk.
'What's this place?' I asked.
'A hotel we'll buy in years to come.'
'Really. Looks a bit, you know... '
Jimmy grinned and nodded towards a path. 'Walk down there, I'll check us in.'
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.
The horseshoe bay stretched around five hundred yards of turquoise ocean, the sand a brilliant white. The water was shallow and inviting, some sort of net strung out across the mouth of the bay. At the back of the sand nestled two-dozen huts, all similar to those I had passed, some guests sat outside their hut doors and sunning themselves. I could see a few white families, but also a few black 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.
Jimmy plonked down and ordered a beer. 'Room twelve for you, for your drinks tab. So, what do you think?'
'Great location, fucking excellent beach. Better than Brighton beach! What'll this place cost?'
'We'll buy it next year, just over three hundred 'k' for all the land.'
'K? Is that the currency down here?'
'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.'
I took in the layout, that which I could see. 'How far along does it go?'
'Long old way, almost half a mile in both directions. There're gardens here for growing food for the hotel, farms with chickens and pigs.'
'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 here ... you know.'
Jimmy nodded. 'There's some de-facto segregation here, but that's money more than skin colour. The black families you can see are rich, and they don't want poor black families in here anymore than the white folk. 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.
'It's something you have to learn about Africa, and quickly; it's all tribal, 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 ... it's war! One 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.'
'Tasks? What is?'
'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 Somali, attacking Kenya. Before that happens we need to fix the economy and politics of Kenya and get them ready.'
'Nice of us, ' I grumbled.
'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.'
'Here, ' I firmly suggested.
'Right, you've never been scuba diving.'
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.
'Yes?' crackled a woman's voice.
Jimmy leant in. 'Here to see Oliver Standish.'
A buzz preceded a click and we pushed the door open, met immediately by a steep set of stairs whose carpet had seen better days. Our footfalls were heavy and echoing, announcing our approach. We opened into an office that seemed much larger on the inside than I would have expected.
'Bigger on the inside, ' I noted.
'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?'
'Please, ' Jimmy said.
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.
'Yes. And you are... ?'
'I'm Jimmy Silo, this is Paul, and we want to buy your company.'
That caught the guy off guard, as well as the staff within earshot.
'I didn't know it was up for sale, ' Oliver quipped. 'But still, nothing to lose by a coffee and a chat.'
We settled around a neat desk floating in a sea of untidy floor littered with files and tapes.
'The reject pile, ' Jimmy told me.
'Not all rejects, ' Oliver countered.
'You sign up one in fifty-two, I'd guess, ' Jimmy told him.
'That's ... a good guess. I see you've done your homework.'
I picked up a music sheet with some lyrics in pencil.
Oliver asked me, 'Do you have an eye, or indeed ear, for such things?'
'He don't, I do, ' Jimmy cut in.
Oliver raised an eyebrow. 'Forgive my impertinence, but you don't look the music type. More the ... nightclub doorman type.'
I said, 'More the multi-millionaire type, ' still reading the lyrics, someone's hard work. Either that or their drug crazed delusional ramblings.
Oliver smiled. 'I see you gentlemen like the direct approach.' He asked Jimmy, 'Where are you from, I'm not picking up any accent?'
'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 before, and will be same as this year.'
'That'll save money with your accountant, ' I helpfully suggested. 'Just photocopy them.'
Oliver did not see the joke, Jimmy shooting me a look.
Jimmy continued, 'So what I would like to do is this: I buy seventy percent of the shares for three hundred thousand pounds.'
I could see from Oliver's expression that the numbers were exciting him.
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 half a million and you get some decent offices and some advertising going. You leave the selection of budding musicians to me.'
Oliver coughed out a laugh. 'Well ... that's er ... quite an offer.'
'Given what this company makes, it's above appropriate and generous, yet factors in your loyalty. And no staff would have to leave.' Jimmy took out a thick envelope and handed it over. 'The details are all there, so you can peruse them at your leisure.'
Tea and coffee finally arrived. We waited, Oliver now under the spotlight. At least he hadn't thrown us out yet. And the pretty girl gave us biscuits, none for Oliver. Guess she didn't like the boss.
Oliver scanned the document. 'And how much ... input would you have into day-to-day running?'
'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.'
'Nightclub?' Oliver repeated.
Jimmy forced a neutral smile. 'One with a large room with a stage to showcase new bands, as well as to select new bands. You know ... talent contests.'
Oliver seemed to be nodding as he considered it. 'You said ... you would select new artists?'
'Yes, get that chore out of your hair.'
'You'll be able to see your carpet again, ' I suggested. 'What colour is it?'
Oliver smiled widely, but briefly. 'I guess there follows some hard sell?'
Jimmy stood, so I followed him up. 'No, take your time to think about it. No hurry. My contact details are on the proposal.'
Oliver followed us up, Jimmy shaking his hand. It was just a brief meeting, but I liked Oliver straight away.
Outside, Jimmy said, 'Well?'
'Nice bloke, I liked him.'
'And what do you think I'm up to?'
'Going to get your own record company so that you can shag nice lady singers?'
'Partly right, ' Jimmy admitted. 'What else?'
I was being thick again and shrugged my shoulders.
Jimmy said, 'The future?'
I was still being thick.
Irate, Jimmy explained, 'I know every band that's going to be a success, dumb fuck.'
'Oh ... yeah.'
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.
With a 'ding' the door opened, a man sitting down opposite. 'Tea, love?' he shouted at the woman behind the counter. Facing Harris he said, 'So ... problem?'
'A ... dilemma.'
'Ah. Guess that's why you're paid more than me.'
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?'
'It's what he's going to do, ' Harrison carefully mouthed.
'Ah. Another one of those.'
'This chap, when he grows up, will kidnap, rape and kill a string of twelve-year-old girls.'
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.
'Yeah, thought so. Just checking.'
We stepped into a damp stairwell and up numerous flights of steps, this nondescript building off the Tottenham Court Rd, Central London. Finally we were to the Student's Union Travel Department, what it was. Apparently, they advised long-haired students on getting cheap flights around the world. It reminded me of my own student days in Kingston Polytechnic. Jimmy knocked and entered, the two of us stepping into a cramped and untidy office.
'Been burgled, have we?' I asked a bored looking middle-aged woman, Jimmy shooting me a look.
She studied us over the rims of her bifocals. 'Not students.'
'Worse, ' I said. 'Stockbrokers.'
She raised an eyebrow.
'I'm looking for Mr Timms, ' Jimmy told her.
A young man stepped in at the mention of his name, looking like a student in a three-day-old shirt. 'Yes?'
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?'
Young Mister Timms nodded. Jimmy gestured the man back towards his own office, which 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 guests, charitable donors or otherwise.
Jimmy asked him, 'How much do you spend each year on exchanges to Russia and China?'
Timms shrugged. 'About five grand, I think.'
'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.
'About ... twenty five.'
I made that two hundred quid a throw.
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.'
Timms read the cheque with an expression, as if it might be a fake.
I closed in on a pretty girl. 'I went to Kingston Polytechnic myself.'
'Errrr, ' she let out with a pulled face.
Jimmy grinned. 'Should have told her you were a millionaire, might have worked better. Come on.'
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
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.
'We're not in First Class, ' Jimmy pointed out as he stood waiting.
'Oh, yeah, right. I knew that ... I was just, you know, checking it out.'
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.
'Empty, ' I idly mentioned.
'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.'
Five minutes later we were slowly clanking over points and picking up speed.
'Grub?' I asked, sat in the isle seat.
Jimmy nodded. 'Burger, sandwich, tea. Something for you.'
I joined the queue.
Two hours, and several teas later, we pulled into Newport.
'If you look left, ' Jimmy said without raising his head. 'You'll see where I was born. Parents now live off to the right.'
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?'
'It's the River Usk, second highest tidal range in the world – about thirty feet.'
'We close to the coast?'
'Couple of miles to the Severn Estuary, off to the left.'
I clocked the town centre, what I could see, before we ground to a squeaky halt 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 were in Cardiff.
The first impression of 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 did not live in houses overlooking the train tracks. We walked out through the crowds, grabbing a taxi.
'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 was 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.
'You from The Echo?' The guy nodded. 'Follow us, then.'
Jimmy led us to a building 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 brief 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.
'Jill, Prof Harper, ' Jimmy offered.
The 'Professor' could not have looked more like an archetypal professor if he tried; wild grey hair and a tank top. He seemed confused, or in pain. I could not figure out which.
'Sorry for the unannounced visit but I'm a rather busy man, ' Jimmy said. They shook as a peeved looking secretary peered around the door. Jimmy pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket. 'I'd like to donate some money.'
'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.
'That's a quarter million quid, ' Jimmy casually noted. 'Can we have a photo before we set off back for London?'
'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 Christmas card list, ' Jimmy told him before nudging me out the door.
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 parents 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 they were doubled- up into Welsh. What the hell was Obstetrics? It sounded painful. 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 signs 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.
'Parents, ' I figured.
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.
'Oh, Jimmy.' The white-haired lady held the door open and let us in, Jimmy towering over her. 'You're smart.'
'This is Paul, he works with me at the stock brokers, ' Jimmy lied.
We entered the lounge, a tanned, grey haired man easing up, somewhat reluctantly. I could see the family resemblance.
'Tea?' came an unseen voice.
'Two, milk and sugars, ' Jimmy shouted back as he sat.
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 the big guy into the world.'
'Getting bigger all the time, ' his mum mock-complained. 'Are you seeing clients down here?'
'Came to see a brokers in Cardiff, ' Jimmy lied. 'You well?'
'Yes, all OK. Your bother was down on the weekend, ' his mum enthusiastically reported.
'Did you drive?' his dad enquired.
'No, train, ' I put in. 'Read the papers on the way.'
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 pointing 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.
'You know, when in Canada – and they were finishing off the time machine – one bright spark suggested that anyone going through would 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.'
'That bad, were they?'
'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?'
'Be hard, but maybe fun.'
'It was hard enough going back to twenty years old, damn hard to pull off. And that was without re-possessing a younger body.'
'Then how... ?'
'The other me, the original, went forwards. It was a swap.'
'So, what would have happened to –'
'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.
I said, 'Your folks ... they'll see us the in the local rag?'
'No, we'll be in the Cardiff Echo, they don't read it. But someone will tell them and ... and it'll be a big row.'
'Why?' I delicately broached.
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.'
'Your dad didn't seem too pleased to take any money?'
'Exactly. But that don't mean I should give it to strangers either.'
I answered the phone to Oliver Standish from Pineapple Records on a wet Tuesday morning, two weeks after meeting with the guy at his offices. 'How you doing, mate?'
'Good, good. Is ... er ... James about?'
'Sure is, and he don't like James very much – Jimmy will do.'
Jimmy took the phone. 'Home for fallen women. Are you dropping off or picking up?'
Oliver laughed. 'Picking up, definitely. How are you?'
'Keenly awaiting your next sentence, Oliver.'
'Well, I've given it a great deal of thought and I like the proposal. So, where do we go from here?'
'My accountants and solicitor will be around to you this afternoon with some papers ... and a big cheque. Can you join us for a meal this Friday, bring the whole gang?'
'I should think so.'
'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.'
'Will do, quite a few boxes full though!'
'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.'
'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.'
'Thanks. We'll pop in this week, dinner Friday – treats for the staff.'
'Sounds like a plan. Your people –'
'Will be with you around 2pm. Call me if you have any questions, anything at all. Bye.' He put the phone down.
'They got any sexy chicks on their books already?' I keenly enquired, closing in.
Jimmy made a face. 'Not really.'
An hour later we took delivery of three large cardboard boxes.
'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.
'David Wilson, Call me back baby.'
'Nope. Back in the box.'
'Susan Chasilton, a.k.a Sugar Sweety, Blow my mind.'
An hour later we had selected just three artists from three big boxes.
'Take that lot down to the garage, ask the doorman to bin it all and slip him a few quid.'
We put the tapes that we had selected - that Jimmy knew would be hits - into a big envelope and couriered them back to Pineapple. Our note said: Sign them up pronto, please – bring them out Friday.
'They going to be big hits?' I asked.
'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.'
'Why just one?'
'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.'
'Which of us ... er ... dates her?' I carefully nudged.
'Neither, she likes girls.'
I took a moment to get my head around that. 'Do you think... ?'
'Once or twice, her and mate when they're drunk.'
'Yes!' I punched the air and did a little dance.
A few months later we reached a financial target. Actually, we were ahead of schedule, and so headed back down to Cardiff. I figured we'd be donating some more money, but Jimmy said not. 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.
The aforementioned department was down in the bowels of the hospital and 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 open 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.
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 environment, as well as paramedics and ambulance staff. I'm looking for someone like 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 that lies down and looks and feels like an unconscious person.'
Dick was intrigued, but I could see a hint of disappointment that he had not got a fat cheque yet.
'What ... er ... what would it be used for?'
'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, or stop his heart.'
'Ah. I see, ' Dick offered.
'Got a paper and pen?' Jimmy nudged.
Dick got himself ready.
'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 rubber, 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 and weighs the same as a muscle, and when you cut through it looks like muscle –'
'For training surgeons?' Dick said without looking up, scribbling away.
'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 pump that creates a pulse which can be varied –'
'To simulate various medical conditions, ' Dick put in as he scribbled away.
'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.'
'Complicated. And expensive, ' Dick let out as he eased back.
'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.'
Despite the fact that he would not be getting a fat cheque, Dick 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 cabin window I could see into people's houses through their windows.
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 specialised in long haul. Being the excellent customers that we were they did not argue. When we landed in Hong Kong Jimmy explained that the Drysdale would burn down, but he could not remember exactly when.
We booked into the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jimmy explaining that he needed to bump into someone 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 many times in the future. Within an hour of hitting my room I had my first massage, two local ladies at the same time, with Chinese music playing in the background. I even had the James Bond style massage with a little lady walking on my back. Fortunately, the little lady weighed six stone soaking wet.
Later, Jimmy led me down 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 door sign said it was called 'The Red Room.' Fair enough.
'Tomorrow, there's a convention on stock market trading, including technical trading and derivatives. We're going to crash.'
'To find the guy you want to bump into, ' I surmised.
'He should be in the audience. Mr Wang Po.'
'Poor fucker, ' I muttered. 'What does he do?'
'He's in property, 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.'
'Exactly. And you know how he made a lot of it?' Jimmy teased.
After a moment I said, 'You don't?'
'Why? He's Chinese, a communist rice nibbler!'
'In 1997 this place goes back to China and infects the whole country with capitalism. China rapidly becomes a very rich nation and ultimately catches 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.'
'Jesus, ' I blew out. 'Don't tell the UK Government.'
Jimmy focused on me. And waited.
'I know, ' I admitted. 'You're already a very secret squirrel.'
'And so should you be, underling.'
'Less of the underling, I went to Kingston Polytechnic.'
'Got your old McKinleys' pass?'
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.
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 clumsy 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.
'Not before the main event, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Work comes first. Couple of beers, bed, get rid of your jet-lag, fresh in the morning. Sauna and swim, late breakfast and then crash the big show. You might recognise some of the faces.'
'Anyone from McKinleys?' I puzzled
'They're on the list, so our passes will get us in, dummy. Old Bob is here.'
'Old Bobby, ' I repeated, fond memories of the rotund senior broker, something of a mentor to me in my first few weeks.
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 quietly from behind, Jimmy slapped his hand onto Bob's shoulder. In a Chinese accent he said, 'What you do my wife?'
'Wha ... what?' Bob stumbled, suddenly horrified. He hurriedly wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood. 'By God! Jimmy Silo!' He clocked me. 'Paul?'
'In the flesh, ' I said, shaking his hand.
Jimmy shook Bob's fat claw of a hand, then slipped the girl some currency and told to her leave quickly. There were seats for four at the table, so we plonked down.
'What are you two doing here?' Bob puzzled.
'What are you ... doing here?' Jimmy countered. 'Besides shagging locals.'
'I'm here for the seminar ... ah, you as well, eh?' Bob surmised.
Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded.
'And I'm here for the booze, ' I put in. 'So, anyone else from McKinleys here?'
'Oh, yes, ' Bob replied. 'Couple. Right now they're down the local brothel. I decided to give it a miss.'
'Really?' Jimmy teased.
'Well, the young lady sat down –'
'If you don't get rid of them quickly they see it as a contract, ' Jimmy warned.
'Oh ... really, ' Bob mused. 'Never mind, only here for three days. So, what you two been up to? I heard you had joined forces.'
'Bit of trading, ' Jimmy nonchalantly stated.
'Still doing well?' Bob whispered.
'Very well, of course, ' Jimmy responded.
Bob addressed me with, 'You day trading, or client account, or what?'
'Learning to fly helicopters, ' I said. 'So that I can impress birds.'
Bob frowned his lack of understanding.
Jimmy explained, 'He's spending his pocket money on flying lessons. Something to impress the birds.'
Bob again focused on me. 'You should get Jimmy to take you to some London clubs. Bit of a ladies man, our Jimbo.'
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.'
'Bit of arbitrage, ay?' Bob assumed.
Fresh drinks were placed down.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'Got your speaker's pass for tomorrow?'
Bob fetched it out. 'They gave us these today.'
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.'
'Oh, er ... right you are, Jimmy.' Bob pocketed the wad. 'Hate public speaking anyway.'
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 his 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 Jimmy 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.
As we again approached the aptly named 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.
We flashed our McKinleys passes, although they were not needed: we were Caucasians 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.
'Jimmy Silo!' they questioned. 'By God!'
We shook hands.
'Bob's not well, so I'm speaking, ' Jimmy told them.
'Do my slot as well, ' one of the men grumbled, not wanting to speak.
'I will, I need the time, ' Jimmy said. 'Give me a good write up, lay on thick, then wait for us in the bar.'
The first representative 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 bugger 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 locals loved it. And I was wondering just where, and when, he learnt to speak Chinese.
When Jimmy rejoined me he asked, 'How did I do? Clear enough?'
'Fuck off, ' I whispered as numerous locals closed in on us. 'Is your boy here?'
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.
Jimmy said, 'Mr Po speaks excellent English.'
'It OK, ' our new friend suggested, his words accented.
Jimmy told him, 'I am happy to answer more questions, but not on an empty stomach.'
'We go, we, go. I have restaurant, ' Po insisted.
'Not wanting to hear the rest?' I teased.
'No, no. Jimly theory vely good.'
We walked out through the crowds and to the taxi rank, but Po had a car waiting, 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 contorted 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 executives 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.
Po was not the boss, but the boss's son, his father elderly and infirm, 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 little of each and then order some more. I tucked in as numerous executives entered, bowing politely in our direction. Guess it was lunchtime around here.
I heard Po say, 'You can predict big crash in market.'
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.
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, for you to see how good I am. After that we can talk about commission.'
Po was stunned. 'A few years – no commission?'
'That's correct. I am in no hurry ... and a good friendship takes time.'
I decided to be helpful. 'If you visit London we will show you around.'
'I have UK passport as well, ' Po explained. 'This Hong Kong, no bleeding China!'
Trying to be even more helpful I turned my head to Jimmy and said, 'What was that company we heard about, the secret takeover?'
'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.'
Po snapped his fingers at a lady and had a phone to his ear a few seconds later, a rapid exchange with his broker. Little more than a minute later Po had ordered a million shares at just about two quid.
Jimmy said, 'Hold them till they reach two-eighty at least.'
Po thanked us and we stuffed our faces. I didn't know what work Po did, but we remained there till the sun went down, waited on 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 date, Po sending us back in the Rolls.
Back in the hotel I said, 'We meeting McKinleys?'
'No, just needed a break or he would have adopted us as family. Get some rest and be ready for 9pm, the car's coming back for us, could be a late night. Oh, and his daughters – not a finger on them nor innuendo spoken, you'd wash up in the harbour.'
'Nice, are they?'
'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 had opened with the news of the takeover leaked, Po now a million quid or so better off. First I knew of it was a member of staff offering me a silver tray with bundles of dollar wads on it.
'For you, sir, from Mr Po.'
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, which was to put it all on black.
'Anglo Oil?' I knowingly asked.
A smiling Po, sat next to Jimmy, nodded the answer: it was already at three quid 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 surprise 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. '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 ever, stacking his money on top of mine without making eye contact with me.
Po was surprised, to say the least. 'You want to give it all – to Red Cross.'
'Yes, ' I said. 'And I trust you to deliver it, of course.'
With a quick tip of the head Po had two members of staff at hand, collecting the money with instructions on what do with it.
A minute later Po's two daughters arrived, introductions given, Jimmy turning and standing. He engaged them at length about their studies, before switching to English, asking a few more questions. Turned out 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.
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 trustworthy as the Pope. From now on I was to fax our new friend regular tips.
Kenya, Feb 1987
Staying at the hotel that we were due to buy, one day Jimmy ordered us a taxi and we set off through the dilapidated gates, a half-hearted salute from the fat old guard.
'You'll need to be good at improvising today, ' he said as we bumped along a road that I was determined to fix some day. 'Don't react to weird stuff, I'm going to frighten someone.'
'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.
'There's a woman ... you'll see. She thinks I was in the Second World War.'
'Were you?' I testily asked.
'No, but her belief serves my purpose. You see, the first time I met her she thought 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.'
'Assist us how? If she was in the war then she's gotta be fucking ancient!'
'She runs an orphanage, ' he said with a smirk.
'Oh, ' I muttered. 'I got a few quid to give them.'
'You Englanders?' the taxi driver finally asked.
'Yes, ' I said. 'From the Chicken Protection League.'
'I like da chicken, man, ' I got back.
'Get your wife to scrape some off the tyres later, be well cooked by time you get home!'
We had passed this orphanage 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 hundred years old and falling down, the outside dilapidated. I wondered what the inside might be like, and I wondered too soon. The inside stank, a curtain of buzzing 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, but found no striker, so I tapped it with a coin. A local appeared, a face so black that I could not make out any features other than bloodshot eyes.
'Sister woman, ' Jimmy told the man.
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 and 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.
'God bless all here, ' Jimmy stated as we stepped inside, causing me to puzzle the line. Blocking the sunlight of the doorway, Jimmy towered over her. 'Are you all alone under the rubble, Mary?' He held out his hand.
She stood slowly, her wrinkled face contorted in confusion. For a full ten seconds she stared at him before holding a hand to her mouth and shrieking.
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 back into her seat with another shriek, uttering some words in Dutch. Her assistant looked worried for her, pouring her a drink.
'Are you not glad to see me?' Jimmy asked. 'It has been a while.'
'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.
'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.'
'Our ... our orphanage?' I queried.
'Our ... AIDS orphanage.'
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, dropped me right in at the deep end. He began to chat to some of the kids in various local dialects 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.
'They will not bite you, ' came a weak and husky voice from behind as Mary joined us.
'You can't know that for sure, ' I told her. 'They look hungry.'
'You are not like him.'
'No, I'm mortal, ' slipped out, immediately regretted. Now I was winding up the old lady as badly as Jimmy, and by accident.
She put a hand over her eyes and stared in his direction. 'I had prayed for help... '
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.
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 next 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 build a school and bring in teachers, also a permanent doctor based here.'
To say they were stunned was an understatement.
'Going to get some fly traps as well, ' I put in, hoping it did not sound too sarcastic.
He closed in on the old lady. 'Now, show me the children who are dying.'
I swallowed. If the rest of the orphanage was anything to go by, what the hell awaited me in the Terminal Ward? 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 been white at some point.
Mary saw my look. 'No money, no care. When they die we burn them. One or two a day.'
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. What I would have paid to be out of there that instant.
Jimmy faced Mary squarely. 'Do you trust me?'
'Of course, ' she offered, seemingly shocked that he would ask.
'Get a needle and syringe.'
My guts tightened some more as I stood as close as I could get to an open window. I could see out over some low brick buildings toward a wooded area at the rear, smoke coming from a fire. I remembered what she said about the bodies, 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 Mary and offer her his straight, upturned forearm. After a moment's hesitation she drew dark red blood.
'Inject a quarter into the four children with the best chance of survival.'
What had she to lose, I thought as I observed; the beds held the living dead with no hope. These kids didn't even have the strength to move their eyes towards us. She carried out her task diligently, returning to Jimmy as I wretched 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.
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?'
She nodded, holding the needle reverently.
'We will be back in seven days, use the money, there will be more. And Mary, do not discuss me with anyone. Understand?'
I was very grateful when he grabbed me by the arm and led me out, delighted to be on the street again, but also a little angry at having been dragged in there in the first damn place. Still, what he had done had put me to shame and I felt it as badly as my stomach hurt. We made the short trip back to the hotel in silence and I plunged into the cool waves, several beers at the bar before I forgave him. And forgave myself.
'Better?' he asked without looking around, Abba playing from a badly tuned radio behind the bar.
'Yeah. Sorry about that.'
'It's part of my world, not yours. Not yet.' He faced me. 'There'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.'
'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 you'll be able to break every Olympic record. And if you're going to piss about down here with me ... you'll need the immunity, or you'll die. And ... most of all, you'll be able to provide a very important backup to me, in case I'm killed.'
'My blood has the key antibodies to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Later on, decades from now, doctors will use it to reverse engineer cures for a lot of things, saving millions of lives. And, when the time comes, if I'm not around, you could inject your mother.'
'Your blood ... it will cure her, ' I realised.
'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.'
I walked off, not returning till sun down.
Jimmy greeted me with, 'For you the fun part is over. We start to get serious in the years ahead. Sit, there're some things about the future you need to know.'
I was as sick as the Terminal Ward, my head now filled with what the future held: 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 feelings that gripped me.
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, but 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 being shown off, and the in-crowd all had Sony Walkmans on their hips. I started to worry about what decade I was in.
Jimmy left me firm instructions to get my dive certificate sorted, PADI Open Water 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.
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 brick surface, I considered. We stepped over upturned paint pots and ducked inside.
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, he'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 dressed in blue shirts, or maybe just the same ones had a bath and makeover. We ran an eye over more painting work, again blue, then entered Mary's office.
She jumped up as fast as she could and gripped his outstretched hand with both of hers. 'Welcome, welcome, ' she said in an accent. 'Come.' She led us back towards the Terminal Ward.
'Hardware store had a sale on blue?' I asked, trying to take my mind off what awaited us.
'In Kenya ... it's the law for children and kindergarten, ' she explained as we climbed the new blue stairs. Well, that explained it.
The ward had been metamorphosed into something closer to this decade; and fucking blue. The floor was covered in lino painted blue, the walls smoothed down and painted blue, the windowsills painted blue. The ceiling fans were still rusted, so I guessed they had not 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.
Mary stood proud. 'You see. You just need money.'
Jimmy half-turned his head towards me. 'You just need money.'
'You just need money, ' I repeated, suddenly realising something. I stood nodding at my own understanding.
'Come, come. Quick, ' Mary got out, squeezing between us and 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.
I halted. For many seconds I could not move as it dawned on me; these four kids, shiny faces and broad smiles in their neat blue uniforms, had been in the ones in the ward above, dying in their own filth.
'They put on weight quickly, ' she commended, adjusting their collars.
Jimmy stood proudly inspecting them, like soldiers before their commander, exchanging a few words in the local dialect again. He was contented and sent them off to play. Facing Mary he said, 'The Red Cross doctor lady, she is Anna Pfunt?'
'Anna, yes, ' Mary responded. 'You know her?'
'Let's go and see.' He led us back up the stairs. It was wind-up time again.
'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 could handle herself in a bar fight. Her face was reddened from the heat, no make-up, her blonde hair tied back.
'This is the man who gave the money, ' Mary stated.
That did not seem to impress the big lady. She looked us over.
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 dirty old man in the big house at the end of Aust Strasse, but she could not ride her new bike well.'
I could not tell if Anna wanted to punch him, or keel over.
'How ... how do you know this?' she demanded in a whisper. 'I tell no one this.'
'You told me.'
'When? When do I tell you this, I do not know you!'
'When you were asleep.'
Mary smiled contentedly, seeming to enjoy it.
'When I was ... asleep, ' Anna asked, her brow pleated to the point of pain.
'When you were six, ' Jimmy began, 'you asked God for a wish. You remember what it was?'
'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.'
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 the 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 miracle. 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 swaps applied or consideration for his human condition. Nothing was going to stop her.
When done, Jimmy told Anna that he wanted her to stay for seven days and to observe 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 understatement. Even I knew that, and all I was ... was PADI Advanced Open Water with a temporary paper certificate.
Back in the courtyard I noticed the stack of three grubby mattresses. Pointing, I said to Mary, 'Throwing them out?'
'No, ' I challenged. 'They're filthy!'
'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 come at night, here – this wall, and throw the kinder over the wall.'
My eyes widened. 'People ... throw their kids over your wall?' I was getting louder as well.
'The kinder with disease, they put them over the wall. We put the mattress so that 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.'
I pointed. 'That fucking wall is six feet high!'
'Yah, they swing the kinder over the top.'
'The locals? They throw the kids with AIDS over the wall?'
Sister Woman nodded, none too phased. I could not move. My face wanted to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it, my jaw stuck tight so that I would not appear to be laughing at anyone's misfortune, my eyes watering.
I fought for a breath. 'Why not ... why not lower the wall?'
'Then they come and steal the food. It's OK, the kinder bounce.'
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 guard 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 Dr 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 Jimmy would give him some money and we'd leave for the hotel rooftop pool.
'I'm Jimmy Silo, a wealthy British stock market trader. I will be buying a hotel or two in Kenya.'
Van Den Something was puzzled. 'There is ordinance near the site of your hotel? It is near the border?'
'No, that is not why I am here. I have taken charge of an orphanage ... and it is terrible to see the children with no limbs... ' Van Den was now following and looking very sympathetic. 'So I wish to give some money for mine clearance. But, more than that, I wish to be actively involved in fund raising and awareness.'
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 limbs at Smurf central.
'What would you like to do, exactly?' our host enquired.
'It strikes me ... that the best people for mine clearance in any country are the locals themselves – suitably trained and supervised.'
Our host brightened. 'Yah, yah. I have this idea also, but always the former mercenary with the bad attitude. And they want so much money for the work.'
Jimmy nodded sympathetically. 'If you can find a training facility ... I can offer you ten or twenty thousand dollars a month.'
'A month? Mein Gott.' Our host gave it some thought. 'There is a place, 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 – that the government allows them to occupy. They have trained a handful of locals, and some Somalis, in mine clearance.'
Jimmy handed over a wad of dollars. 'Please, give them this money. And, until I am back in a few months time, would you draw up some simple plans – something we can work to?'
'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 said, '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.'
'And the orphanage 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.'
'How many so far?'
'About a hundred.'
'Long list, ' 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 ... medics means those Rescue Force people you mentioned. Small acorns.'
'Small acorns, my lad, are easy to move ... or to stop growing. The problem comes when they're sixty feet tall!'
'Too late to do anything, ' I concluded.
Colonel Pointer, US Marines. (Retd)
Colonel Thadius J. Pointer started 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 test pilot for General Dynamics, Northrop and eventually 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 consultant 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.
'Thad, come on in, ' Summers urged, waving him forwards.
'Where's the fire, Bob?' Thad joked. 'You need me for a mission that no young buck can handle?'
'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.'
'Ain't it all?' Thad baulked, a quick glance up.
Summers tapped a blue file on his desk. 'I've got to be somewhere for two hours. While I'm gone I want you to read the letters in this file – 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.
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. 'What in God's name have they got me doing now?'
The second letter detailed a terrorist attack in the Mid East, a warning of a few months given. The third outlined the problems with a railway bridge that would collapse in a year or two.
The third letter detailed an Israeli spy working for the CIA.
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.
Thad asked, 'You got any whiskey in this place?'
With a huge smile Colonel Summers opened a cabinet and retrieved two glasses and a bottle. 'Special occasions.' He poured out two drinks.
Thad took his glass and raised it. 'Project Magestic.'
'To Magestic, ' Summers offered, the drinks downed. With his glass lowered, Summers asked, 'Any doubts?'
'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 tapped the file. 'These letters were received ahead ... of the events mentioned in it?' Summers nodded. Thad added, 'This letter about the end of communism... '
'Has already upset a few, who see it as a Russian trick.'
'Yeah, that figures, ' Thad let out with a sigh.
'There's something you don't know about the letters, old friend. They were posted in London, all of them. British Government has been getting letters.'
'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 figure they'd lock the guy up ... forever!'
Summers suggested, 'London is close enough, yet far enough away from us, and if the British Government where to hide him... ?'
Thad found himself nodding as he reflected on the abandoned old project, a project 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.'
They laughed in unison.
Thad explained, 'We always figured that anyone going back in time would have 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 government of the sixties, or earlier. They may not have listened.'
Summers put in, 'Imagine turning up in 1941 and warning of the Jap attack. You'd be shot as a loony!'
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 hope he looks both ways when he crosses the damn road.'
'You sure we ... sent him back through time?'
'The evidence is all there, the manner of the warnings and the code phrases we thought up, ' Thad insisted.
'But what if ... what if in fifty years or so time someone got access to those old files and used them for a ... grand deception?'
'Burn them! Today! If this is a deception based on those files then our friend would disappear in a puff, so too the letters, since they could never have been written in the first place.'
Summers smiled. 'They were accidentally burnt a while back. We can't find any record of them.'
'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.'
'Would he be under orders to report in, do you think?'
'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 sent back would be alone, no backup, no return ticket. He's an astronaut for 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 sure 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. Shouldn't be a problem after that.'
'You may even get the chance to debrief him, ' Summers suggested.
'Be an honour.'
'So these phrases and stuff ... that you put into the letters to the Americans, that's to make then think you're an astronaut ... sent by the US Air Force?' I queried with a worried frown.
Jimmy nodded. 'When I was in Canada I got access to all sorts of info, spoke 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?'
'So why'd you want the Americans to think that?'
'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.'
I shrugged. 'What we doing tonight?'
Jimmy also shrugged. 'Curry, lap-dancers, nightclub?'
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. They were in a glass- fronted three storey building in Putney, a view of the river if you stood in a far corner.
'Like the motif, ' I told Oliver. 'Where did you get the idea for that?'
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.
'How's it going?' Jimmy asked.
'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.'
'Staff OK?' Jimmy enquired.
'One left to go back to college, two new members, one off after a car wreck.'
'Up the pay five percent, ' Jimmy suggested. 'We can afford it now.'
'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.'
Jimmy handed it back after barely glancing at it. 'In the years to come we'll buy them. File it away.'
'Not looking to get rid of us already?' I asked Oliver, but jokingly.
'No, no. But had to let you know about it.'
Jimmy said, 'I think we should rent some recording studio space, get a good deal and get our people in there.'
'I've got someone in mind, ' Oliver said, rifling through files. 'A good price if we block book it.' He handed us the advertising flyer.
'Fine, ' Jimmy said. 'Book a block and see how it goes. Then we need a marketing manager.'
'Cathy is doing that with me –'
'We need a big hitter, ' Jimmy cut in with. 'Someone flamboyant ... who can spend his time travelling around the distributors. And I'm sure that you don't want to spend all day doing that.'
'Well ... no.'
'And Cathy can act as deputy, office backup and appointment setter, ' Jimmy added.
'I'll advertise the post, see what turns up.' Oliver made a note on a pad.
'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 on a good working relationship.'
Oliver made another note.
'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.'
'That has been on my mind, ' Oliver admitted. 'The big producers have the clout to handle things like large concerts.'
'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 him a good three weeks notice of our pending arrival.
That first night we chilled out in the rooftop bar, all the staff remembering us, and I was starting to like the place; 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 any 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.
We rose early, just about sunrise, and found a white UN jeep waiting outside the hotel, Van Den excited like a schoolboy on a fieldtrip. I was warned in advance 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.
Van Den explained, more for the benefit of the UN driver, that such large benefactors were always treated well. At a stop to use the bathroom he admitted that he had stretched the reason for the using vehicle 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 quick downpour.
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 into 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 fifties.
'How's ya doon?' the first asked, a Scotsman.
Rudd introduced us, unsure of how to describe our occupations.
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.'
'Ya get a letter from my mum?' Mac testily enquired, glancing at his colleagues.
'You never knew your parents, Mac. So no.' Mac did not look pleased. '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.'
The men laughed, the ice broken.
'Come on inside, out the heat, ' Mac urged, leading us into a hut. 'We's got us some cold ones ... courtesy of the UN.'
We cracked open cans of chilled lager, sat on threadbare chairs arranged in a circle.
The walls of this windowless hut were adorned with various badges, medals and unit emblems, a few pictures of aircraft, helicopters and 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 protested its lack of maintenance.
'So, ' Mac began, the obvious group leader. 'You's some sort of city slicker with a few quid to spend.'
'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 –'
'Mines, ' Mac cut in with.
'Yes. I understand there are a lot of kids in Africa like that.'
'Around here they don't clean up after a wee battle, they leave it for the kids ta find, ' Mac stated, some anger in his voice. 'Have a few three legged cattle around here too.'
'And you guys teach mine clearance, ' Jimmy prompted.
'When the funding is there, ' Rabbit put in. 'Rude Boy here–' I tried not to smile. '- gets us what contracts he can. Man has three kids, but his wife's a Virgin!'
We laughed, the bastard stealing my joke.
'From now on you'll be fully funded, ' Jimmy suggested.
The men straightened in their seats, glances exchanged.
'To do what ... exactly, big fella?' Mac delicately enquired.
'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.'
'Doctors?' Mac challenged, his surprise evident.
'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 what to look out for. Another was handed a grenade by a kid and blew himself up. If medics are going to work in remote locations they need awareness training, and they need to know what to do if they wander into the wrong field.'
The old dogs exchanged looks, nodding in approval.
'Well ... aye, ' Mac conceded.
'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.'
Rude Boy nodded. 'Yah, yah.'
Jimmy put on his superior voice. 'So this is what I would like: new buildings, new fence, some classrooms, a nice big sand pit to put fake mines in and practice, plenty of mine clearing equipment – the latest kit.'
'I can get that, ' Rude Boy keenly offered. 'No cost.'
Jimmy gestured towards him, but addressed the Old Dogs. 'And how will you gentlemen feel about having Rudd as your administrator?'
'Fine, ' Mac answered with a shrug. 'Been working with the lad for years.'
'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 the lights on, you crawl around the sandbox.'
We waited. The men were 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, some 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 asked.
The outlying areas, surrounding the base, were a contrast. Along the road we came down the locals were living in huts, some trees for shade and the odd field of produce. The far side, across the runway, levelled off to a desert-like expanse of nothingness, hills in the distance. 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 Somalia.
'Not far, laddy. Thirty miles or so.'
'With the Somalis? No, they's a proud people.'
I figured I'd best 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? Tidy. What'll the Kenyans say?'
'They'll be 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 lot of travel. He planned on coming out on a Monday and going back each Friday to start with. It sounded like a plan.
The Old Dogs, as they were now referred to openly, had three months to get ready, 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 tackle the Kenyan Government and the red tape, I figured, till Jimmy explained why not.
The Old Dogs held onto a license, had done for ten years or more, so we – as the new owners – 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 would require no further thought.
A sandbox in the desert
Two months later, as we arrived back at the airfield, originally called RAF Mawlini by the British in 1956, we noticed 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 fixed. 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.
We passed through the imposing front gate, a look exchanged with Jimmy, getting a salute from a local teen manning his post. At least he had a military hat on. Scrub had been cleared and fires were still burning to reduce the dried shrubs. The old air traffic control building had a lick of paint and some new windows, some 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 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.
Mac stopped us with a hand. We jumped down as he said, 'Up the control tower, lads. You can see the lot from there.'
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.
'Gate's done, ' I prompted.
'Aye, but only so much fencing. We's awaiting on the rest.'
'And a bigger vegetable patch, ' I noted, peering down at it.
'Aye, food around here is limited, so you grow your own where you can.'
'That the sandbox?' Jimmy asked, pointing into the distance at a section of sand fifty yards square and taped into smaller quadrants.
'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.'
'Those yours?' Jimmy enquired, pointing at two old Land Rovers.
'To fetch people from the nearest train stop, fetch supplies. They wus cheap.'
The convoy that had been following us now arrived, having stopped to cool a radiator or two.
'Who's that?' Mac asked.
'Help, ' Jimmy informed him.
Rudd led the way in a UN jeep that he had borrowed, kind of permanently, another jeep and three lorries following him past the diligent teen at the gate, now saluting each truck.
Jimmy explained, 'Wood, wooden panels, pitch for the roof, wire, some chicken wire, generator, another fridge, tins of food, blackboards, chalk, hammers and nails, saws. And fifty chicks.'
'Chicks?' Mac repeated.
'They grow up into chickens, ' I pointed out. 'Brought two cocks as well.'
Jimmy gave me a look.
'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.
On the way down from the roof the painter's son was complaining of paint flecks on his head.
'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 several "liberated" large tents, UN stencilled on the top and sides. Well, it gave the operation an air of authority and credibility.
When the circus-sized tents were up we walked inside, finding room enough for fifty people to live. 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 holes blocked. The floor was ready, the goats grateful of the shade. With a flurry 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.
With the money we gave Rudd he paid the government and they in turn paid 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 neglected 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 the 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 hangar scaring the camels every thirty minutes or so.
'If those trainees were in a real mine field ... they'd be fucking mincemeat by now, ' I told Jimmy.
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 sat 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 Virgin wife. We left to dull echoes scaring the camels.
A hurricane, a Chinaman and a bubble
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 good end to the year on the British FTSE index.
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.
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.
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 had 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 transferred 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, reading the script Jimmy had prepared and given 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.
'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.'
Po was fascinated by how the market makers worked, how they set prices – and forced prices up and down artificially. I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the weather forecast, since the news had not indicated that there was particularly bad weather due to us. I figured Jimmy had a good memory, but to remember detail like that surprised me.
Po spent Wednesday shopping with his daughters, their first trip to London, and 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 had begun.
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 crash 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 make a few quid on top. I was to learn later that Jimmy's advice saved the firm from certain bankruptcy, elevating Jimmy to Godlike status with them.
Placing the phone down, Jimmy faced us. 'They can see it in the market, lots of rumours. Something big is up.'
By close of play the market was down, but not crashing, the DOW sliding modestly. We ordered in from Po's family restaurant, Po not wishing to miss a beat 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 gained 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 offered Jimmy's bed.
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.
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 a crash by any means. He woke Po and me at nine o'clock, the UK market sliding from the start. The morning news was on, reporting the storm and the closed railway lines around London.
Jimmy pointed at the TV screen. 'Most people won't be at work in the city today, they can't get in.'
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. After all, the men turned out to be family. It was mesmerizing, especially when you 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 did not 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 sell.
By four o'clock we were the best part of a million pounds better off, Jimmy keeping the trades small so that the regulators would not 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 would be bigger on Monday. Well, Po was stunned into silence, his staff worried for him.
'Not sell?' he repeated many times. 'More big fall?'
Two people I had never heard of rang, sounding very pleased with themselves, asking for Jimmy.
'Hold till Wednesday, ' Jimmy had told them. 'Besides, you won't get through to any UK broker till then. Relax.'
'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.
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. Jimmy 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 him at 8am Monday morning. With big hugs and a million thanks issued we keenly pushed him out of the door.
'Fuck I'm knackered, ' I let out, slouching down. 'Like being back at the firm.'
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.'
'Medical Genetics?' I asked.
'No, need to make a start on a few other things in Kenya. We'll use the money quickly enough.'
'We out tonight?' I asked with a yawn.
'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.'
'How long can you go? Without sleep?'
'Five days at least, but then I get cranky and my co-ordination goes wobbly. I once did a whole month at one hour a night, but felt like shit and slept for twenty 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.'
'It's as if you're working to a plan, ' I joked as he headed for his bedroom.
Sat there alone, various odd feelings surfaced, something odd about the exactness of the plan and the storm 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.
'For fuck's sake, ' I yawned, still in my pants.
The two girls giggled as I slammed the door, needing another hour; I was not fully cooked.
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 smirking, and headed to the kitchen for breakfast and several coffees. The girls joined 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 coffee and a conference around the aptly named coffee table.
'No more trades for four weeks at least, ' Jimmy informed us. 'No good 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.
'Discipline, like me, ' Jimmy firmly pressed. 'Make money when the time is right.'
Po accepted the advice, planning on selling some options on Wednesday, some later. 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, having 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.
When Po got around to promising Jimmy some money 'Jimly' stopped him dead.
'There will be a charity that I wish to start in Hong Kong in a few years time, ' Jimmy explained. 'I would like you to put any money that you would like to give us into that charity, so that when we are ready it is there to use.'
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 explained to Po that the excitement was over and now we could relax, dinner at the restaurant arranged.
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 crash 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 to the assembled COBRA meeting.
'Opinion?' the Prime Minister asked.
Jack said, 'Like he says, nothing political or deadly about the market crash and, more importantly, would the Government have taken any action?'
'It would have been nice to have the option, I suppose, ' the P.M. commented.
'Is he drifting towards financial motivation?' the MI5 representative asked.
Jack put in, 'He could do so without letting us know, and by now would be the richest man in the UK.'
'Fair point, ' the same man conceded.
The P.M. opened a file and handed the letter to Jack. 'This ... we have not shown you yet.'
Jack scanned the letter. 'Bloody hell.'
'Quite, ' the P.M. agreed.
PM, a Mid East terrorist group is well advanced in their planning of a spectacular hijacking in the years ahead. They have selected twenty young men, mostly for 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 manifests, and to fly these aircraft to Western capitals. There, they will kill the crew, 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 cabin crew are threatened or killed. Since giving up the cockpit will, most certainly, result in everyone in the aircraft being killed – and hundreds on the ground being killed - the pilots must sacrifice the passengers and cabin staff and land the aircraft, disabling it.
'So, ' the P.M. began. 'Opinions?'
'It would be devastating -'
'The biggest single loss of life -'
'We must act –'
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, three weeks later, had a different tone altogether.
Jack read the letter quickly, but twice. 'Dear God.'
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.'
'Ma'am, he's never been wrong up to now, ' Jack pointed out.
'That may be, but this is ... incredible. The end of communism?'
Sykes put in, 'We are seeing a rapid increase in dissent right across the Warsaw Pack countries, particularly the GDR.'
'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 country – and our bases within it. There's also the consideration of a unified Germany – which way they would lean?'
Two weeks later Jack got his liaison, Colonel Thadius Pointer. He met the tough-looking white haired man in a hotel bar, all very 'cloak and dagger'. Not to mention great fun being out of the office.
They shook. 'Jack Donohue.'
'Thad Pointer, Colonel. Retired.' They sat.
'Air Force?' Jack enquired.
Thad nodded before ordering a drink from a waiter. 'You?'
'Just a pen pusher. Psychology. So, how did you go from an honest living ... to this?'
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.'
'You think there is a link?' Jack broached.
'Not really. Your guy is the real thing, we never found anyone with any real powers. Sure, they drew pictures of places they'd never been, but not much else.'
'If I may be so bold ... does Uncle Sam think that Magestic is on the level, as you say?'
'Sure, everything pans out so far.'
'And the end of communism?'
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.'
'So, they choose not to believe it, ' Jack stated with a disappointed tone.
Thad shrugged. 'Politics.'
'There's no need to swear.' They laughed. 'May I enquire, ' Jack delicately began, 'if your side are trying to find him?'
'If they are, they haven't told me, ' Thad suggested. 'Are you looking for him?'
'In a small way. They check for fingerprints, where the letters were posted – that sort of thing. But I don't think our friend is the sloppy type.'
'No, he sure isn't, ' Thad agreed, Jack puzzling that statement.
'So, do you think he's British, or an American living here?' Jack asked.
'Oh, British for sure - linguists say so.'
An hour later Jack was stood before the Prime Minister.
'Well?' the P.M. asked.
'Lying through his teeth, Ma'am.'
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 1960s Magestic project (experimental time travel).
The Americans, 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. They believe this because it allows them their pride, and who else might build such a thing as a time machine but NASA? You might consider that the CIA have used this story to make it easier for them to present my story to the White House. 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.'
'Yes, Prime Minister.'
The first medics
Back in Nairobi, in mid November, we met up with Rudd. As Jimmy had requested, Rudd had advertised for a Kenyan doctor to provide medical cover at the airfield and to teach first aid. At our lunch meeting, Rudd handed over a shortlist of candidates that he had faxed us the week before. Jimmy ran an eye over the list and selected the man he wanted, named Adam, the perplexed Rudd delicately enquiring as to how he knew which man to employ.
'I know people down here who can check backgrounds, ' Jimmy explained. 'I want to meet him as soon as possible.'
'He's here in Nairobi, looking for work, staying with a brother. He has been doing UN rotating contracts – which, I guess, you know... '
Jimmy nodded. 'Call him, please. Bring him here.'
Rudd interrupted his lunch to make a quick call. After lunch we retired to the bar area and waited, the dark-skinned 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 medic. They clasped hands.
'You know my region?' Adam asked in a baritone voice.
'Yes, ' Jimmy acknowledged. 'I am ... a well-travelled man. Please, have a seat.'
We sat back down, Jimmy ordering fresh drinks from a hovering waiter, a black tea purposefully selected for the medic – again surprising the man.
'So, Adam, you have finished with your last contract?' Jimmy began.
Adam nodded. 'Yes, a month ago. I was in Zaire.'
'And has Rudd indicated what type of work we need you for?'
Again Adam nodded. 'Teaching the young men about medicine and being the base doctor for emergencies.'
'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 there. When there are no courses you can come back here to Nairobi, you'll still be paid. Next year I want you to start a training programme for field medics, people who can – like you – go to Zaire and other places and provide basic medical help.'
Adam straightened. 'This will be a permanent position?'
Jimmy nodded and smiled. 'Yes, Adam. You were on eleven thousand dollars for the UN. We will pay fifteen thousand - and travel costs.'
I put in, 'We'll even give you your own allotment.'
'Allot – ment?'
Jimmy explained, 'At the base, at the airfield, the men grow their own food.'
'Ah, yes. I like the gardening. I have the green fingers.' He didn't, I looked.
'Can you start in a few days?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes, yes, I am available now.'
'Then pack a bag and we'll take you out to the base tomorrow, ' Jimmy suggested. 'You can come back with Rudd every weekend.'
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.
'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.'
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?'
'That's correct, ' Jimmy casually explained. 'From now on we'll start to increase what we do. Once Adam has seen the base I want a small clinic built across the road from the base, for the locals. I want it well equipped, staffed with a local nurse – and a jeep for them to do house calls.'
The stunned Dutchman nodded. 'With this much money you could build a hospital.'
'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 stopped, 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 continued 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.
Mac greeted us with, 'Back again?'
'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.'
'Got some of your tents over there, ' Mac said, pointing out the large UN tents.
Jimmy faced me and said, 'Show Adam around, would you?'
I did my bit, leading Adam away as Mac and Jimmy chatted. After a meandering half-hour stroll of the base we climbed the stairs to the control tower roof, in need of a cool drink. Since the roof now had an outdoor fridge 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 deckchairs.
I eased down. 'What's with the local police?'
Mac explained, 'We pay the local 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.'
'Where's the new clinic going to be?' I idly enquired.
Jimmy pointed to an abandoned mud hut, over the road from the main gate. 'Right there. Doc will be close enough to provide medical cover here.' Adam took a keen interest, Jimmy facing him. 'Before it's built, your office will be below us. It's the best room and we can lock it.' Facing Mac he said, 'Double the length of your courses, pad it out with comprehensive first aid from the Doc.'
'And I'd like you to start to introduce an all-weapons course, get them making safe every kind of weapon and ordnance you can think off.'
'Be a three month course, ' Mac cautioned.
'That's OK, it'll keep you out the local bars. I'd like a tank or two, fifty cals – mounted, AKs, the works. When they leave here they should be able tackle any ordnance they find. Then you can start a demolition school.'
'Have to be way over there, ' Mac pointed. 'But we've already a license for demolition.'
'Build a few sunken bunkers for the plastic explosives, and get that fucking fence finished.'
'I'll have to drive down ta the city and fetch some, locals are useless, ' Mac complained.
'My brother, Seth, in is construction, ' Adam put in, swiping away flies. 'He has fenced many football grounds.'
'There you go, ' Jimmy told Mac. 'Get Rudd to meet his brother and buy some fencing - I've given Rudd a bank account.'
Two trucks trundled noisily closer, checked by the police at the gate and allowed in. Rudd had dragged the local merchant along with more supplies.
'Looks like cement bags, ' I suggested. 'Got any sand, Mac?'
'I'll check with Stores, ' Mac retorted.
Jimmy told Mac, 'There'll be a shit load of cement, so get the trainees doing a few hours a day, give them a few quid. Have a go at the airfield, fill in any small holes.'
Mac turned his head. 'You planning on using it?'
'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.'
Mac carefully observed Jimmy. 'You sure you're not ex-military?'
As we sat there, relaxing, the lorry's cargo was slowly unloaded by a local who needed a rest after each bag of cement.
'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 time, placing them in a pile. We all took one, trying to keep up with him.
'Jimbo works out, eh?' Mac puffed out as we progressed.
A man came running; a recruit in a uniform blue shirt. 'Doctor man, doctor man!'
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 quite dead, his leg swollen to twice the normal size, his skin splitting. It turned my stomach.
'Snake bite, ' Adam said as he knelt down.
'Serum?' Jimmy asked Mac.
Mac shook his head.
'In the town, ' Adam hurriedly suggested. 'He may have an hour.'
Jimmy sent Mac, telling the recruits to fetch water and make a fire.
Adam checked the man's vitals. 'He will not live much longer.'
I made eye contact with Jimmy and pointed at the leg. 'Could ... you?'
'Yes, ' he softly admitted. 'But it's a risk, at this time.'
Adam was not following.
'Well, ' I nudged, time passing.
'It's a risk, ' Jimmy repeated.
'So was the orphanage, ' I reminded him.
He took a breath. 'Watch the tent flaps, no one comes in. Adam, get a syringe.'
Adam fetched a syringe from his bag, looking puzzled. 'You have serum?'
'Yes, but not in the form you're used to. Do what I ask, or you'll have no job.' He offered his upturned forearm. 'Take a syringe full. Quickly, man.'
Adam glanced at me as I policed the door, before drawing the blood.
Jimmy snatched the syringe 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?'
'I was born with a rare genetic condition, ' Jimmy lied. 'My blood can ... cure many things.' He faced Adam. 'If you speak about this 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 did not respond. He just sat on a bed, his head lowered. I checked the leg over, and even I could see that the swelling was going down.
'Adam, ' Jimmy softly called from a dark corner, the doc turning his head. 'I am sorry ... for threatening you.'
Adam swung his head around to me, not knowing what to say or do, clearly still terrified. We sat in silence, pestered by flies, the patient's vitals checked every five minutes; they were getting stronger. Mac re-appeared a full forty-five minutes later, serum 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'll ... Adam ... he'll talk?' I delicately broached.
Jimmy sighed. 'No, he's a good man. Some day I'll inject him. Still, it was a risk.'
'C'mon, you look like you need a cold beer.'
Adam returned in the evening, Jimmy sat quietly and not reacting.
'The man will be fine, ' Adam enthused, avoiding eye contact with Jimmy.
After a minute, Jimmy eased up. 'Doc, walk with me, please.' They stepped out into the cooler night air.
Jimmy explained, 'If the world knew ... knew about my blood ... I would 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?'
'Yes, I'm a doctor. If we knew of such a person he would not be left alone.'
'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.'
'It is a dilemma, yes, ' Adam softly admitted.
'And once again, Doc, I apologise for threatening you.' He stopped and faced Adam. 'But you must be aware that I can, very easily, make people disappear.'
Adam nodded his understanding through the moonlight.
'There is something you need to know, Doc, ' Jimmy said as they progressed. 'If I inject you ... your blood will be like mine.'
Jimmy nodded. 'The orphanage we have taken over is an AIDS orphanage. In a few years the people will notice something very odd.'
Jimmy stopped. 'The children no longer have AIDS.'
'They have your blood!' he realised.
Jimmy confirmed with a quick nod.
'How many ... how many can you cure?'
'I am only one man, Doc. How many could you cure, if you were like me?' They walked on.
'This man, today –' Adam began.
'Will live a very long time ... and in very good health.'
'Your friend –'
'He's not like me, ' Jimmy quickly cut in with.
Adam finally said, 'If I take the blood, I will be like you?'
'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.'
Adam took Jimmy firmly by the arm and halted him. 'I was raised a Christian. What you have ... it is a miracle.'
'You may believe ... in what you please, Koufi.'
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?'
'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 did not like to hurt the fish.'
'How can you know this?' the doc pleaded in a whisper. Finally, he said, 'You were sent to us!'
'Yes, but not for the reason you think. May I have your word that you will not betray me?'
'Betray you? Never!' Adam whispered.
'Then we shall be friends a long time.'
I joined them, appearing through the dark. 'All ... er ... OK?'
'Yes, ' Adam confirmed, stood proudly tall. 'All will be well.' He headed back inside.
I watched his dark outline recede. 'He OK?'
'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.'
'And change the name?'
'There's no river!'
'It'll give the guests something to puzzle over.'
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?'
'Yep. Mary, Jesus, Virgin, Seth ... Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Which is exactly what the British did in the middle ages. Hence ... Paul.'
'Wasn't he a betraying Roman twat?'
'He ... wrote the bible, an unofficial biography that made it up the book charts.'
'Pity he didn't copyright it, would have made a few quid. Film rights and all!'
Where's the damn river?
'There's no fucking river!' I complained, a price of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds agreed, the staff staying on. 'How about Sea View?'
'Everyone knows it locally as River View, and some regulars return year after year. It would confuse them, ' Jimmy insisted.
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'.
'Different countries, different customs, ' Jimmy insisted.
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 done on the day we arrived. I headed off to break the news to the diving centre staff, Steffan and Lotti.
'Stand to attention when I walk in, ' I joked.
'Back again?' Steffan asked. 'Rescue Diver course this time.'
'I wasn't joking about the ... standing to attention, guys. I just bought the hotel.'
'You did?' they puzzled.
'Haven't you heard?'
'We heard someone was interested... '
They looked worried, but my smile defused the situation.
'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.'
'A boat?' Steffan queried.
'You keep telling me there's a good reef out there. Too frigging far to swim to it.'
'Yah, yah. There is a boat for sale in the marina up the road, going cheap.'
'Tell the manager I said to buy it. There'll be more guests in future, so you won't be able to sleep all day like now!'
'More guests?' Lotti queried.
'Place has gotta make a few quid.'
Rudd stayed the night in the hotel, the next day the three of us sitting down 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 night before, putting them all at ease. Jimmy had put 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.
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 the care of strays and orphans that we found. We dragged in a tame ostrich, the bird six 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.
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 why the previous owner had not bothered. 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 abandoned shacks. We got 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 painted and continued along towards the orphanage. The local police station got a make over, curbs painted white. Figuring that the road used to be tarmac, I got a water sprayer in and soaked it, the local kids splashing along behind the truck. Yep, under all the crap was a road, kids paid to scrub it hard with brushes. Soon an old centre line was revealed.
With Jimmy in Nairobi on some secretive mission with Rudd, I was left a free hand 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 new edge of this 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, and 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 benches laid about. We hung up netting around the bar, reducing the effect of the sun by around seventy percent.
I cut down two trees that looked out of place and employed an additional cleaner to go around the sand every morning with a large sieve we constructed, running sand through it to remove the hard spiky leaves that fell from the trees. All branches below seven foot were cut down, save people bending down or getting their hair combed as they walked about.
When the local council planner turned up, a day late, I told him what I wanted to 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 shark 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 seen one close to shore.
With the help of the manager, we dragged in a local construction company and I ordered up two rock groins, one further out than the other and calming any onshore waves, as well as creating a great area for diving students. We found three old and rusting pedal boats and cleaned them up good as new, placed onto the sand for the guests to use. 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 on a rock and cut a foot. The bar and restaurant now had fewer large rubber plants and more space, a few more chairs and tables, plus 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.
I had worked hard for eight days, Jimmy returning with Rudd, Adam, and even the three Old Dogs. Each had already been allocated a room and that night we ate 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 seen 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.
To one side, Jimmy commented, 'You see the effect this place has on people – people who could not normally visit somewhere like this?' I did. Jimmy added, 'In future, anyone we recruit we send down here. It'll go a long way.'
'I've already told my parents you bought it, they're keen to visit. Would yours come down?'
'Parents no, brother might. My mum doesn't fly well and they'd hate the heat.'
'After, I'll show you the changes I've made, ' I offered.
'No need, I'm sure they're fine.'
I was surprised by his lack of interest. It was almost as if he knew what I had done. 'Doc Adam ... OK?'
Jimmy nodded. 'Took him to meet Mary at the orphanage. He's a team player now, they both think God sent me.'
I felt guilty. 'Should I have gone to visit the old bat?'
'Nah. Not least because you called her that to her face.'
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.
He took in the view, issuing a sigh. 'A few more ticks in the boxes.' With a conscious pause for reflection he sipped his beer. 'Another milestone reached.'
'How many more on the list?' I asked as the elephant was led into the water, a kid on its back.
'Twenty years of hard work, ' he let out in a reflective tone.
'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.'
'And ... then?'
Rudd's family waved and we waved back.
'Then you'll long for these years.'
Being happy with our new hotel, we left the gang there and headed back to Nairobi for a 'secret' meeting. We reclaimed our rooms in the same city centre hotel, heading up to the rooftop 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.
'Gentlemen, ' Jimmy said as he sat. 'Good trip up?'
'Plane's a plane, ' one grumbled.
Jimmy reached into his pocket and produced a wad of dollars, handing it over to the man sat closest to his left. 'Air fare and subsistence costs.'
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.'
'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?'
They reluctantly nodded, not looking pleased at the threat.
'Paul, this is – left to right – Robert Mark Staines, born in Cheltenham, known as Skids, Albert Hansworthy, born in Bristol and known as Darkie, finally Peter John Trewick, born on a ferry across the English Channel in a storm, and known as Trev.'
The men had eased upright and taken off their sunglasses, looks exchanged.
Jimmy added, 'I like to know who I'm dealing with.'
'Where'd you get your intel?' Skids asked.
'Her Majesty's Government.'
I said, 'So, which one shagged the other one's missus?' After all, there was no way they could know.
Jimmy hid a smile as the 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 know ... about the people you just tapped in Angola?'
The men were not pleased, and I was worrying if they about to kill us as we sat there.
Jimmy said, 'So, down to business. I've spoken to those above, and from now on you're working exclusively for me, no discussion with anyone anywhere – even if they are Circus. This job is more of a career posting, good money every 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.'
Skids asked, 'Across the border ... north, west or south?'
'West in time, north 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?'
Jimmy forced a false smile. '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 an 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?' Skids queried, wide-eyed.
Jimmy gave him an exaggerated nod.
'What's with the kid?' Skids asked, a nod towards me.
'He's a stock market trader, he handles money for me, ' Jimmy told them.
'You need any advice on pension plans?' I dryly asked them.
They laughed, dirty, guttural chortling.
'I don't think 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 the fuck did your mum feed you on?'
It was just over a year after our first visit to the student's 'assisted travel' company that we returned, again unannounced.
'Still here?' I asked the bored looking receptionist.
She did not recognise us. 'Who are you here to see?'
'Mr Timms, ' Jimmy informed her.
She waved a lazy fat hand and we stepped into the cramped office again. This time, however, young Mr Timms seemed mildly interested in our visit.
'Hello again, ' Jimmy offered, handshake initiated.
'It's gone quite well, ' Timms informed him. 'Popular with the students.'
'I've been through the sheets you sent me, ' Jimmy stated. 'All OK apart from the blind guy.'
'Blind?' I repeated.
'He's a student, ' Timms argued.
'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.
'Crikey!' Timms let out. 'We'll be able to send a lot more next year.'
'That's your half-yearly budget, blind students aside, ' Jimmy informed him.
'Half year?' Timms repeated.
'Yes, so ramp it up, especially Russia.'
'Crickey, ' Timms repeated. At least he had a clean shirt on this time, I noticed.
Jimmy firmly told him, 'I want the criteria kept tight, no one who's been to those countries before or is well-off. Understand?'
'Yes, yes. No problem.'
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.'
'You have a hotel ... in Kenya?' Timms repeated.
'On the coast, but the odd lion wandering in. Got an ostrich and an elephant 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.
'Smooth, young man. Smooth, ' Jimmy approved. 'If the girl comes to the Chinese –'
'We'll get Po to call the restaurant and tell her its ours.'
'Tell her it's yours – you mean.'
'If you like, ' I said.
'Boss Man, why is it ... you know ... important to be the lad about town? You keep nudging me that way.'
Jimmy stopped dead in the street. 'How would you react if you met a President or Prime Minister tomorrow?'
'Probably shit myself, ' I replied.
'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.'
'My mum wouldn't be happy about that.'
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 meal in a local pub just shy of the Scottish border. Eight hours it had taken us to get this far.
The next day we crossed into Scotland and wound around hillsides in the rain near Dumfries, ending up in a small town. We booked into a quaint 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 after and I trailed behind.
'It's a plastic rock face, ' I noted.
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.
'Looks dangerous, ' I told Jimmy, getting back one of his looks.
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.
'You gents want ta contribute ta the rescuers?' he firmly nudged in a thick Scottish accent.
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.
'This ... er ... this on the level?' he enquired.
'It is if you buy us tea and scones, ' Jimmy suggested.
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. We managed to find a table in a corner and ordered tea and scones, settling around a cramped and cosy table.
'You're James Silo-witch?' the first man clarified, reading the cheque.
'Jimmy Silo will do. And you're Mackey Taylor.'
'Aye. We met?'
'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.'
Mackey's eyes widened. 'Seventy-eight? When the kiddie was drowned?'
Jimmy nodded. 'I've never forgotten the help we got that day. Now ... now that I'm a very rich stockbroker I thought I'd give something back.'
'Well, that's right good of ya, ' Mackey and his colleague agreed. 'Right good.'
'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.'
'About ... trying to get an all-Scotland co-ordinated Mountain Rescue effort going, not least when it comes to training standards.'
'Well ... aye, ' Mackey admitted.
'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.'
Our hosts exchanged looks.
'We've been talking about it for some time. Way overdue, it is.'
'Ten different groups doing ten different things is never efficient, ' Jimmy mentioned, music to the ears of our hosts.
'What'd ya have in mind?' Mackey keenly nudged.
'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 details. '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.'
Mackey blew out. 'Be a big show.'
'I have deep pockets, ' Jimmy insisted. 'And you've already got the money to get you started.'
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 the staff – nearly all part-timers – showed us all sorts of equipment. Many tales were told of brave rescues of stupid tourists. I got strapped into a stretcher and lugged around, taken up and over a rock without incident.
'Your Land Rover's seen better days, ' Jimmy told Mackey, kicking the vehicle's tyres.
'We'll buy some new kit now, with the money.'
'We see a lot of these in Kenya.'
'I have a hotel down there, some charities I support, ' Jimmy explained.
'Doing alright then.'
'Aye, ' Jimmy said with a mocking accent, sounding more like a pirate than a Scotsman. 'And if any of your boys want to pop down for a safari it'll just cost them the flight; the rest I'll chuck in.'
I could see Mackey's grey matter firing up. 'We could offer a trip up as a prize, for the fundraising.'
'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 into, take some pictures for people to look – it'll help raise interest and money. We're back down there in six weeks time if you can get away?'
'Expensive ... the flights?' Mackey gingerly asked.
Jimmy held up a hand. 'Won't cost you anything, it'll be a working trip – we'll sort it. Just bring a good camera.'
'Oh ... er ... that's good of you.'
'No problem, Mackey.'
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 silence, 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 anyone 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.'
The Prime Minister sighed. Softly, she said, 'If this letter had been the first Magestic letter, it would have probably been seen with less ... 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.'
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 rung in we will have a different working relationship and strategic partnership.
On the 21st of December, 1988, PAN AM flight 103 – Malta to New York - will be blown from 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 shores.
A Libyan agent will carry the bomb onboard at Malta airport, his agency assisting the Iranians in the desire for revenge over the shooting down of their passenger plane over the Gulf in 1984. That agent, and those that have instigated the action, will 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.
Unfortunately, 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 would 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.
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 over, that's what it is – a threat. Do this ... or else!'
'We don't know what's in the sealed envelope, ' the SAS representative pointed out. 'It could be more about the Americans than us.'
'We won't know till I meet with Pointer, ' Jack suggested. 'And he wants to see me tomorrow – a Saturday!'
'They've also had their letter, ' the P.M. suggested.
'How do I play it?' Jack asked.
'No mention of this letter at all, ' the P.M. insisted.
The MI5 representative asked, 'Are we really suggesting that the CIA would allow such an atrocity to go ahead?'
'Not the CIA, ' Jack countered. 'It says those responsible, so they're field officers, European or Mid East sections.'
'Quite, ' the P.M. put in. 'There is no suggestion that anyone higher would be involved.'
'Be hell to pay if there was, ' Sykes suggested.
'Hence the unnumbered page, ' the P.M. mentioned. She took a breath. 'For the moment we'll keep this under very tight wraps, and we'll work on the assumption that we will stop the flight and search it thoroughly.'
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.
The Prime Minister opened the letter. After reading it she made eye contact with Jack. 'Seems that your counterpart is going to show you a fake letter sometime soon.'
'A fake?' Jack repeated, many shifting uneasily in their seats.
'Yes, I'm afraid. It says that Pointer will present you a fake letter.'
Jack shook his head. 'Magestic did say that the relationship would alter. Seems that he anticipated some problems with the CIA.'
'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 bar that they now used, fixed monthly meetings for six months so far.
'Missing fast jets at all?' Jack asked as they shook.
'Oh, yeah. Give me some danger to this pen pushing – no offence.'
'None taken. Tea?' They sat, drinks ordered. 'So, meeting on a Saturday?' Jack teased. 'Something big up?'
'No, no, I just got a trip around Europe and the Middle East to do, so it was down to stopovers.'
'Do you fly well?' Jack lightly enquired, making Pointer laugh.
'No! When I'm in the back I get jet lag. Nothing to do, you see.'
'Perhaps you could pin the picture of a cockpit to the seat in front.'
'They'd throw me off as a kook! Anyway, how are you?'
'Fine, fine. But this month's letter is late.'
Pointer studied Jack briefly. 'Late?'
'Well, they are intermittent; sometimes two a month or more, sometimes none. Like yourself, I get withdrawal symptoms waiting.'
'We got one a few days back, ' Pointer explained. 'I don't have a copy for you yet, this is the original.' He opened his case and handed over a letter in a plastic envelope.
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 practices commonly required to appease the various Saudi Princes prior to any arms deal closing. The taped conversations, suitably transcribed, will appear in both printed media and on TV – a cause of great embarrassment for all involved.
One of the persons most directly responsible will be a senior aid to a Prince, his motives more religious than personal economics.
Please tread carefully.
'Well, well. Guess our version of that got lost in the post, ' Jack quietly stated. 'Didn't happen to pick it up by mistake, did you?'
'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.'
'Prime Minister? It's Jack Donohue.'
'They want us to accuse high ranking assistants of Saudi Princes of espionage against us during weapons trade negotiations –'
'With the obvious consequences: we'd lose the deals, and they'd get them! I can't believe they'd even try that. Since when has Magestic been interested in commercial or domestic matters?'
'Well done. Have a good weekend, what's left of it.'
A nice watering hole
Two months after purchasing River View we flew back into Nairobi, this time to go buy a safari lodge. We spent a day at the usual hotel, meeting Rudd in the rooftop bar and catching up on developments, our man in Nairobi now involved with River View as well – keeping an eye on the manager. We read through lists of bills, reports, looked at diagrams for proposed new buildings at the airfield and scanned recent photographs. Jimmy was happy with the progress, so Rudd would travel with us 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 popped down to the hotel for a visit, he took them along when he could.
Half way to Masai country we stopped for lunch at a roadside diner of sorts, risking a cheese burger – 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. Overall we had no problems with the police, just the odd traffic officer trying to justify his salary. The last twenty miles of the journey were made negotiating rough tracks, a few animals glimpsed through the dry brush.
'Hard place to find, ' I grumbled as we bounced along.
'Tourists don't drive themselves here, ' Jimmy pointed out. 'They're picked up at the airport in convoy.'
'How much land has 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 reserve 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're idiots, ' Jimmy explained.
Rudd put in, 'Many people here, westerns, don't pay tax and just leave. When I paid yours on account it took an hour to explain it.'
'Why?' I asked.
'I was about five years early, ' Rudd said with a smile.
'We'll keep 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. It's thatched roof sagged down almost to the grass, giving the appearance of an enormous hat supported by a neck of dark brown wooden walls, and finished with whitewashed boulders strung around it like a pearl necklace. It was not a place to approach at night when very drunk. Several small outbuildings, a few yards away from the main building, 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, three quite expensive rooms for what they were, which was basic.
The owners were old English colonial stock, a middle-aged couple that I took a disliking to straight away; 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 give 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 years old. There was no TV or radio, just a shelf of dated books being the central focal point, plenty of chairs to sit about it. I had images of a group of guests all sat around reading in silence; communal, yet a solitarily passing 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 animals milling about, all sorts. I could see elephants off to the left, zebras, wilder 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 year 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 sticky 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 the right. 'See that rise in the distance? Great place for a bigger lodge.'
'How many people can this hold?' I asked.
'Ten at most, ' Jimmy explained.
'Which is probably 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 out 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 his loyal dog away with the pencil thin stick. Now I noticed his grey chest chair trying 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, eyeing Jimmy suspiciously. 'It may be.'
'What's it worth, if you don't mind me asking?'
I could see Grant's brain getting into gear. His features turned dishonest.
'One million, eight hundred thousand with all the land; three working farms.' He rested his hands on his stick.
'Problem is, Grant, 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 well informed, ' our host grumbled. 'What ... business are you in?'
'Mercenaries, ' Jimmy nonchalantly informed our host. 'I kill people for a living, Grant. Dirty business, but it pays very well.'
Rudd did not react. I watched our hosts features move rapidly towards concern. 'Oh, ' was all he could manage.
'So, Grant, do you want to sell?' Jimmy nudged.
'At what price?' Grant wanted clarifying.
'I'd guess one point three million. And ... I'll pay the staff the wages 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.'
'You're no tourist, ' Grant snarled.
'We are ... for a few days, ' Jimmy softly insisted. 'We're here ... at this lonely and dangerous place, miles from anywhere.'
Grant viewed the horizon with renewed interest, not knowing who might be out there, and I was enjoying his discomfort. As he went to beat the dog again I snatched his stick off him, broken it and threw it away. Our host sat frozen in controlled anger.
Jimmy produced an envelope. 'In here is a banker's draft and the details of my lawyer in Nairobi. If you present this tomorrow, and sign at the lawyers first, you can have your money transferred anywhere; 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.'
Grant stared at the envelope for a full minute, then snatched and opened it. He recognised the Nairobi firm of lawyers. 'This draft will need a second signature.'
'Yes, that of my lawyer. He is expecting you around 2pm tomorrow.'
'And if I don't want to sell?' Grant snarled, his already ruddy complexion reddening even more.
'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.'
I focused on our host. 'Don't keep us waiting too long, old chap. Those lions down there are looking hungry.'
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 the 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, leaving 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.
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.'
'Me neither, ' Rudd agreed. 'Fuck him. But are you two into mercenaries?'
'No, not unless you count the old Dogs. Would it matter?'
'Not really, just so that I know, ' Rudd answered with a shrug.
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.
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 met the neighbours, letting all of them off their back rent, and I got my first glimpse of the tall Masai tribesmen in their distinctive red robes.
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 proposed 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.
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 diplomatic types would have helped Grant make up his mind. We settled around the bar, Rudd doing an inventory of everything without prompting, to stop the staff from pinching things.
'What news?' Jimmy formerly asked our hired guns.
'Two down, one winged, ' Skids informed Jimmy.
'The guy you winged is the most valuable, ' Jimmy explained.
'You're quick on the intel, ' Trev noted.
Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded. 'He's fled to Sudan.'
'Tricky place to follow, ' Trev noted.
'Don't. Not yet, ' Jimmy insisted. 'Work through the list. You get your money OK?'
They collectively nodded.
'Right, your job for the next eight weeks – is right here.' The men craned their heads around and took in the view. 'The guests have gone - I've bought the place, but some staff are still about. Raid the bar, kick back - don't damage anything. Got rifles?'
'In the jeep, ' Skids answered.
'So now you're game wardens, of sorts, ' Jimmy explained. 'Join 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 them on the map. I want a plan of action for defeating the poachers; staff, kit, patrol routes.
'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 nice as fuck to everyone.
'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'll 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 without damaging him and whinge to their head man. The locals around here also poach, but I'm not fussed about the odd cow going missing. Lions and elephants are a different matter; that we jump on hard. Any questions?'
'This be a regular gig?' Trev asked, seemingly pleased with the new assignment.
'Every time you need a break after a job you can chill out here or at the beach hotel. 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.'
'What rifles you got?' I asked.
'M16s, ' Skids informed me. 'You shoot?
'No, I drive a computer.'
'Give him some lessons, ' Jimmy ordered. 'Come out on safari with us tomorrow, fun day.'
'You ... need a shooting lesson?' Trev asked Jimmy directly.
'No, I could hit a playing card at six hundred yards.'
'That's what I figured, ' Trev began. 'And yet you're not ex anything?'
'Use your brain for work, not on me. I pay the bills.'
Trev gave a mock salute.
On the last day in Kenya I felt ill, shivers and a night sweat, feeling rough in the morning. We made plans to see the quack back in the UK rather than here.
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.
'You had us all worried, ' she informed me. 'How are you feeling, dear?'
'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.
'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.'
'What ... what have the doctors said?'
'Malaria, a bad bout.'
'Oh. Has it gone?'
'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.'
'Well ... er ... got work to do –'
'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 when she wanted to be.
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, driving me straight home the short distance to Richmond.
'From Kenya to my old room, ' I muttered. 'Fucking marvellous.'
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 here. I convinced my parents I was feeling much better and we drove away, relieved at not feeling like a sick ten-year-old off school any more.
'Next time, I want a private nurse in the flat, ' I insisted, Jimmy laughing at my ordeal.
'What's wrong with your mum's cooking and company?' he joked. 'You should be grateful.'
'I love her to bits, but in small doses. Right now I need a curry, the lap dance bar and a nightclub.'
'It's Monday, so it'll be quiet. Call that bird you like, Sarah. She rang the flat a couple of times.'
'What did you tell her?'
'That you had a nasty infectious disease.'
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.'
Entering the apartment, I was grateful to be back, checking quickly a few stock prices and scanning faxes from Rudd; I had missed the job. I made a tea and sat with my usual mug in hand, reclaiming the peace.
Jimmy sat opposite and heaved a sigh. 'Got some medical stuff to discuss.'
'I'm better, no?'
'Better for the moment, but Malaria reoccurs. In some people it's not a problem, never coming back, in others they fall as sick as you were every three months or so.'
'Every three months?'
He reluctantly nodded. 'It's too soon to tell, but it could come back every year. And, more importantly, if you go back down to Kenya you might get bitten again and make it worse.'
I stared across at him. This was not what I wanted. The last few years had been good, very good – more than anyone my age could have hoped for or achieved. This was a reality check.
'I did warn you, ' Jimmy reminded me. 'Africa is dangerous.'
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.
'I can't take the risk of taking you back down there, I'll go alone.'
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.
He added, 'The rest of the trips are OK. Hong Kong, States, Europe. Just Africa is dodgy.'
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 watched TV, had a take-away delivered and she headed off late, with me apologising for being grumpy and tired.
What was wrong with me? I 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 still I had a bad feeling in my gut.
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 trade, read faxes from Rudd and replied, read Flight magazine and opened mail about 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.
The next day was not much better, me and the wall renewing our silent conversation. Sarah called lunchtime and I made excuses, considering just how long it would 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 thought, 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.
'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.'
Images of the orphanage flashed by, followed by images of World War Three. I suddenly 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.'
Jimmy had told me of the war that could break out next year, 1990. It was a turning point, and I was thinking of myself too much. My head nodded itself. 'I've been enjoying it all too much.'
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 air. Looking down on the traffic, I muttered, 'I wonder if fucking Batman felt like this?' I was feeling better.
The next day Jimmy returned and I told him to sit.
'What's up? You better?' he enquired.
'I'm not happy to be left out of Kenya, or anything else.'
'Well, that's ... understandable.'
'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.'
'You have been thinking.'
'I know I've got to be injected – but it freaks me out just thinking about it.'
He nodded sympathetically. 'I know.'
'But I'm not going to give up Kenya, so it's ... it's worth it for that. What ... what'll happen if I'm injected?'
'Not much. You'll sleep less, be fitter ... and you'll be immune to all diseases known to man, including Malaria.'
'It won't come back?' I pressed.
'No, never, ' he replied.
'If I have sex ... with a girl... ?'
'Will she, you know?'
'Get pregnant or disappointed?' he teased.
'Will she be ... affected?'
'No, ' he carefully mouthed.
'She won't be like you?'
He fought hard not to smile, too much. 'No.'
'Can I still have kids?'
He rolled his eyes. 'Yes.'
I eased back. 'OK, I want to be injected.'
Jimmy turned serious. 'Are you sure? There are some risks.'
'Risks? Like what?'
'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.'
'Not if I don't get sick, ' I insisted.
'If you're in a car wreck you'll be in hospital, blood taken, ' he pointed out.
'It's the same risk for you!'
'True. Life is full of risks.'
'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.'
Jimmy slowly nodded. 'We'll sort it soon.'
'No, now, ' I insisted. 'I want to get it over with.'
My chest heaved itself. 'Yeah, got my mind on World War Three at last.'
'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 run a temperature for twenty-four hours, 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, then you can exercise. Try and do nothing for the next day; sleep, sit and eat.'
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 replace, the waste coming out. That will last a week, so drink plenty of water and stop whinging. 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, pigging wide awake.'
'From now on you'll only need four hours a night max, so get used to it.'
'Should I exercise yet?'
'Sure, try and go for a run.'
I got my tracksuit on, running shoes, and headed out. 5am on a Sunday morning. Christ, we sometimes got back 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 are full of energy and raring to go, your bones, joints and tendons are not there with them yet. Take it easy, gentle exercise.'
Removing my socks revealed 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 overnight, so I headed to the gym, running on the treadmills with pen and paper tucked in. 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 hideaways, even the steam room and sauna, no one else around till at least 8.30am. Three or four times I week I had sex in the gym, also seeing Sarah in the evenings 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.
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?
We advertised for 'driver/bodyguard' and offered a reasonable salary, indicating overseas travel. Fifty-two letters came via a PO Box number. Jimmy 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 the 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.
'Have a seat, ' I offered. 'Tea?'
Jimmy appeared from the kitchen. 'Tea, no milk, half a sugar.' He placed down the mug for our guest.
'Good ... guess, ' Baines noted with a pleated brow, sitting opposite Jimmy. I plonked down in one of the chairs.
'Still on the books at KMS?' Jimmy enquired.
'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 that suggested confidence.
'No, ' Jimmy answered. 'But I know a great deal about you, Paul.'
'Such as?' Baines prompted.
'Such as ... Masterson asked you to apply for this job to spy on me.'
I was lost, confused, and now worried.
'So why drag me over here?' Baines finally asked, lowering his tea, but seemingly none too worried about being rumbled.
'To give you a job, of course, ' Jimmy explained.
I was now more confused than our job applicant.
'Give me a job ... knowing that MI6 want me to keep an eye on you?' Baines questioned.
'Why not? You need the work, and I need a driver and bodyguard -'
'You don't look like you need a bodyguard, Guv.'
'- and you can tell the nice people at MI6 that I am of no interest to them. That'll help you to get back at Masterson.'
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.'
'Why do you think they're interested in me, Paul?'
'You got six ex-troopers on the payroll in Kenya, some of them with a bad record.'
'Who does he mean?' I asked. 'The guys chasing poachers?'
'Poachers?' Baines queried.
'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.'
'And the others?' Baines firmly nudged.
'The Old Dogs? They teach mine clearance to Africans, a charity I donate to. Nothing more.'
'Guess Masterson got his intel' wrong.'
'No, he hit the jackpot with me, he just doesn't realise it.'
Baines waited for an explanation.
'The stuff he told you about Africa was true, but just a cover. No, he's after people who have very similar profiles to myself; good on the stock markets, connections to Wales or the M4 corridor, and charitable donors.'
I was lost, not registering the government's interest in the Magestic letters.
'What the fuck for?' Baines curtly asked.
'They have a profile of someone they're looking for. Only not.'
'Huh?' I put in.
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 couldn't strike back at you.'
'Love to – if it can be done.'
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.' 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 appreciate you not saying anything about me. You were never here.'
Baines re-read the note. 'This'll bury Masterson? Finish him?'
'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.'
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.
With our guest departed I said, 'What the fuck was all that about?'
'Some of the nice men in MI6 and MI5 want to find whoever is sending the Magestic letters.'
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.
'Tea, black, half a sugar, ' I dryly commented as I held the door.
'Got anything stronger?' Baines firmly requested.
Jimmy lowered his book, marking the page. 'How did it go?'
'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.
'Well, ' Jimmy sighed. 'That's one chapter closed. Fancy a beer and a curry later?'
'Sounds good. What about this job, now that I'm between employers. Again.'
'It pays well, you get an apartment, lots of foreign travel ... and you help prevent World War Three.'
I almost choked, jerking upright in my chair.
'What?' Baines asked, looking back and forth between us.
'World War Three, ' Jimmy casually explained. 'Kicks off around 2017.'
'Got a while then, ' Baines commented. 'Get a curry in at least.'
'Key event is next year. It sets in motion a chain of events that lead directly towards World War Three.'
'You wanna start making some sense, Guv?'
'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.'
'And Masterson thought ... that was you?'
'No, he was going through a list of possible suspects. But he would have been right about me.'
'He would?' Baines queried, a glance at me.
'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?'
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?'
Jimmy forced a false smile. 'Pick a topic about your past life, something that I could not possibly know.'
Baines eased back, another glance my way. 'When I was on selection for the SAS –'
I could see the surprise in our guest's face.
'How ... did I?' Baines pressed.
'You cut out a corner when you saw the umpire's Land Rover get stuck. Pick something else.'
Baines gave it some thought. 'My first girlfriend.'
'Not including your second cousin, who you lost your virginity to?'
'Dirty bugger, ' I put in.
Baines had not taken his eyes of Jimmy, his mouth now open.
Jimmy added, 'You once hid in a cupboard in your friends house, down the road 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.'
Baines sat transfixed.
'Pick something you're sure about, ' Jimmy pushed.
After a few seconds Baines' features turned sullen. He said, 'The reason I didn't marry Ellen ... and walked away.'
'You suspected that your kid ... was not your kid.'
'Is it?' Baines asked with a curled lip, not making eye contact.
Baines raised his eyes briefly before again looking away. Turning back he said, 'No wonder they want you so badly.'
'I could tell them stuff about the Russians, Chinese, the works.'
'So why don't you?' Baines challenged.
'Simple fact is - I do, and have done for years; I send them letters. But what do you think my life would be like with Masterson as a prison guard? Or someone like him?'
Baines tipped his head. 'Not so hot.'
'Do you think they'd let me walk the streets, visit my mum on her birthday, go down the pub?'
Baines shook his head and lowered it. 'They'd lock you up like a freak. No offence, Guv.'
'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.'
'What's all this World War Three stuff? That on the level?'
'Yes, very much so. I can see way into the future. If I don't stop a few things ... it all goes bang. That includes you and your family.'
After a moment Baines focused on me. 'What do you do?'
'I trade the stock markets ... with one hundred percent success.'
Baines eased upright, focusing on Jimmy. 'Shit! You can see what the stocks do?'
Jimmy nodded. 'And the horses, Eurovision, World Cup, elections. You name it.'
'You're taking a big risk telling me all this, ' Baines commented.
'Not really, you forget who I am.' Jimmy waited.
'What? You can see that I work for you ... in the future?'
'Yes. And I know when you and Ellen get back together, I help arrange it.'
'We ... we get back together?' That struck him more than World War Three.
Jimmy gave an affirmative nod. 'I also know what illness your kid will suffer, and how to cure him.'
Baines stiffened. 'Illness?'
'That's for the years to come, don't dwell on it now. First, you have to find her.'
'Do you ... know where she is?' Baines softly asked.
'Of course. You also have an illegitimate kid –'
'Whooa, there.' He offered Jimmy a flat palm. 'I've got another kid?'
'A girl: very pretty, very bright. You remember a girl in Bournemouth, that course with the SBS in Poole Harbour -'
'Christchurch, actually. Lovely village.'
'Dirty stop-out, ' I helpfully offered.
'So, ' Jimmy said as he stood. 'You want to work for us or not?'
Baines eased up. 'You can really do all that shit, what you just said?'
'And more, ' Jimmy strongly emphasised.
'I'm in, ' Baines told us with a shrug.
'Good, would have hated to move your stuff back to that dingy flat you're in.'
'What?' Baines queried with heavy frown.
Jimmy produced a key. 'One floor down, apartment twenty-three is yours. Your stuff is in there.'
'My stuff? You moved my fucking stuff?'
'Go and have a look, then pop back up.'
Baines took the key and let himself out, appearing angered. And he was too big to anger.
'Fuck me, you got my heart going there, ' I let out, closing in on Jimmy. 'Fucking warn me next time.'
'I needed you to look surprised.'
'Achieved that alright.' I took a breath. 'He'll work for us?'
'Oh, yeah. He's a good man, he'll be loyal as hell till the end, you'll like him.'
Baines was back in five minutes, looking a little calmer. Guess he liked the apartment. 'What about the flat I already rent?'
'Paid off, back with the landlord, ' Jimmy explained. 'And the place downstairs won't cost you anything.'
I could see the big fella working hard not to smile.
'And if I didn't take the job?' Baines pressed.
'For fuck's sake, I'm clairvoyant, dopey! Now: curry, lap dancing and a nightclub. You fit?'
Baines shrugged a big pair of shoulders. 'Why not. I need a drink.'
We headed out. In the lift Jimmy gave him a photograph of a girl, no more than five years old.
Baines pocketed it. 'In time. I still got to get my head around it all.'
'You have a forty-year-old half brother in Scotland, ' Jimmy mentioned in passing as we stepped onto the street.
'Scotland?' Baines repeated as he thought. 'My father was stationed there a couple a times with RAF, 1959 to 1969. Bugger was married to my mum at the time.'
'And you know what she got up to when he wasn't around, ' Jimmy reminded our new employee.
'I don't care about a half brother, not like I ever knew him.'
'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 wandered, even when posted overseas.'
And 'Big Paul' became his nickname from then on.
Conference centre nametags
It was September 1989, and the Scottish rescuer Mackey Taylor was faxing us every day. The conference was on.
We settled on a castle hotel just outside Stirling, enabling visitors from Edinburgh and Glasgow to drive up for the day and 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, the hotel soon full. Mackey arranged one giant marquee, two large marquees and some tents for visitors, sleeping bags. An area would also be set-aside for people pitching their own tents, a field at the rear of the hotel and next to a stream; it sounded nice.
Catering was arranged by the hotel for almost two hundred visitors spread over three days, Friday to Sunday. Mackey had already sent the hotel a twenty-five thousand pound deposit from the cheque we had given him, covering most of the 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, not least by the promise of free food and drink.
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 Midlands and we got to a small roadside Bed & Breakfast as night fell, little time but for a meal and a beer before bed – we were working on Big Paul's body-clock, not ours. I read in my room and I'm sure Jimmy did likewise.
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 Scotland, 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.
'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, glancing at a large board detailing the events of the three-day weekend, the start point being a noon briefing in the main tent.
The rooms were large and nicely decorated, but after a while a hotel room is a hotel room. We met back in the foyer and decided to find Mackey and his gang, so checked the bar and found them straight away, sat having coffee whilst hurriedly poring over speeches and plans.
'Jimmy, Jimmy, ' they called, as if we'd been life-long friends.
'All ready for the big show?' Jimmy asked as chairs were arranged for us.
'A wee bit nervous, ' Mackey admitted. 'Lot of controversy already.'
'Really?' Jimmy probed.
'Many kooks spoil the broth!' Mackey suggested. I wasn't sure if it was his accent, or a pun.
'Then I'll assist, since I don't cook. Or climb mountains.'
'Assist?' Mackey asked, needing clarification.
'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.'
'Aye, ' Mackey agreed. 'Yee can start today, already got a group threatening to walk out.'
'Don't tell me ... the Aviemore rescuers.'
Mackey and his colleagues exchanged looks. 'Aye.'
'My next call, leave them to me, ' Jimmy calmly insisted.
'You wanna say a few wee words?' Mackey asked Jimmy. After all, we were paying for the event.
'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.'
'Not Christmas, ' one of Mackey's colleagues grumbled. 'Not the season of miracles.'
Jimmy offered the man a flat palm. 'Leave it to me. Have faith.'
'Good job yee got broad shoulders, ' Mackey warned.
After a coffee, we toured the very pleasant grounds, the weather holding up, inspecting the food tent and the smaller conference tents. Those tents offered many chairs 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.
'I hope you can all hear me, ' he began. 'It's not a large area, but I guess the canvas tent sides absorb more sound than they reflect. If those 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.'
I noted some perplexed looks from the crowd.
'But what I do know about ... is making money, lots of it, which is why I'm paying for this event.'
I actually noticed a few people sit upright. It made me smile.
'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 one day at an orphanage, figuring I'd give the kids some money. What I noticed ... was a number of kids without legs or feet. You know how they lost their limbs ... land mines.'
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 locals 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 British Army ordnance personnel training Africans from all over the continent.
'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 completely oblivious of what others are doing in a similar field. Time, effort and money 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 resources are not wasted.
'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 was returning from a scuba-diving holiday in Kenya. It turned out that he was a part-time mountain rescuer, and he told me a lot about your industry.
'And I asked him what the training was like for his rescue work. The answer: you pick it up as you 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, some 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.
'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 experienced, 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 a national co- ordination of training standards ... and of national co-operation. I can't say that he's the best man for the job, only time will tell. What I do know, 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 through him.'
I grinned from ear to ear.
'And the amount of money available is around a million pounds a year.'
Whispers broke out.
'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 bits of kit, problems, legislation. And, after a few years, many good people doing good work should be able to do a lot more ... for a lot less.
'I will buy ropes in bulk and distribute them ... once the type and colour of rope 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 that, 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.
'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 variety 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.
'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 – 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 should be your friends some time and patience?'
Big Paul sat quietly amazed. I was impressed as well.
Jimmy finished with, 'I now give the podium over to Mackey Taylor, who will call speeches and discussions in no particular order of merit, nor size of ego. If anyone has a problem then please stand up and say my ego is bigger than his ... and we'll slot you in first. The mountain to climb, ladies and gentlemen, is out there ... not in here.'
As he stepped down many started clapping, followed by people standing, and soon 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, and even training for co-operation with the RAF and Navy helicopter crews.
At 3pm, Jimmy broke the speeches and insisted everyone take a thirty minute break, 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, the 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.
Inevitably, some groups asked Jimmy for money for bits of kit, but he directed them towards 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 going 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.
The next morning 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 swapping 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.
'Late night, ' I asked him as he joined us in the beer garden.
'Can't remember going ta bed, so a wee bit to drink, aye.'
Jimmy said, 'I figured it would turn social, that's why I liked this place – the booze. 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.'
'Hope so, hope so, ' Mackey reflected.
Magestic letter 35
Sir, 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.
There are a number of key world events which – if all are not prevented – will 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 familiar 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 consultations 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 fair 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 motion 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 change 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 cannot, 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 deployment of an armoured brigade to its northern border. Unfortunately, Saddam will not 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 between the lines.
'Bloody hell, ' Jack let out.
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 trivial as the Eurovision Song Contest.'
'Building up credibility, ' Jack suggested. 'Proving his ability step by step.'
'And now a huge leap forwards ... into World War Three.'
'There's one way to be sure about this, ' Jack firmly suggested.
'Yes, ' the P.M. agreed. 'Keep an eye on Iraqi divisions moving south. Hopefully, not being too late.'
Sykes put in, 'If there is a conflict, with the US and us pushing the Iraqis out of Kuwait, then there's an excellent chance of other Arab nations supporting Iraq – widening the war.'
'Yes, a powder keg alright, ' the P.M. agreed.
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.'
'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.'
Jack asked, 'Do I discuss this with the Americans?'
'Deny its arrival, delay it, ' the P.M. suggested. 'When do you meet?'
'Sit on it till then.'
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.
Colonel Pointer's Magestic letter 35
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 threats fail they will seek your counterparts council regarding your reaction to an invasion of Kuwait. You may be tempted to allow the aggression, since it will give you the opportunity to send forces to the region, to expel the aggressors and liberate Kuwait and, more importantly, to strike a blow against the large 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 will join with Syria, helping to destabilise that country.
The Kurds will 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 allow 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 global conflicts, this is one of them.
Thad slapped a hand on the desk. 'I knew it!' he told General Summers as they sat in Summers' office. 'They sent him back through time to stop World War Three. Why else would 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 expensive. They must have done it for a very good reason!'
Summers nodded his agreement. 'You notice anything else about this letter?'
'Tone has changed, more hurried.'
'Analysts says it's less British and more American, ' Summers reported.
'We also figured he was one of ours. Maybe the flowery English language was for some other reason, maybe to keep the Brits sweet for some reason.'
Summers eased back into his seat. 'And now we have to prevent the President from allowing this to happen.'
'Easy enough: explain the consequences of a break-up of Iraq.'
'Your input will help, we'll need a united front.'
One Saturday morning at 11am I opened 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.
'Whatcha, boss?' I said.
'Not your boss anymore, unfortunately, ' he said as he entered, a seat offered.
Jimmy walked in with a fresh tea for Joe. 'Milk, one sugar.'
'You remembered.' He took in the apartment. 'Very nice. Must be doing well, Jimmy.'
'Just enough to cover Paul's salary.'
'Then Paul must be the highest paid individual in the country at the moment, ' Joe pointed out.
'Ha!' I let out. 'I'm on a YOP scheme.'
'So, Jimmy, I guess you know why I'm here.'
'I never touched your wife!' Jimmy said with a straight face.
'Nor would you want to, ' Joe sullenly admitted. 'No, it's about work, a position with us as head of client investment strategies. I won'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.'
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.
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.'
'He sleeps in late, ' I joked.
Jimmy continued, 'But, since we've had a few other visits this week –'
'From brokers and banks, ' I said.
Jimmy faced me. 'You remember the thing ... the thing I asked you not to mention?'
'Oh, that's the thing, ' I realised, sounding none too bothered. 'Shit.'
'Banks after you, eh, Jimmy, ' Joe said. 'Well, not surprising, you've got the touch.'
'He turned them down, ' I said.
Jimmy again faced me. 'The ... thing!'
'Yeah, but it can't be the thing if you turned them down, can it?'
Jimmy shook his head. Facing Joe he said, 'I've given the offers some thought ... and I'll make you this offer. I'll provide 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.'
'Appreciate it, Jimmy, we all do.'
'I'll even throw in a few weeks stay at the hotel I bought in Kenya – you just pay your flights.'
'Nice hotel on the beach, four star, you'll love it, ' Jimmy explained.
'Wife's been nagging for something like that for a while, ' Joe explained. 'I can tell her it cost a fortune!'
'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 give you a good trade and the price hikes ... there won't be too many more trades.'
'Not to worry, I'll place the deals myself, ' Joe insisted. 'I know how the rumour mill works.'
With Joe gone, I asked Jimmy, 'Did I do it right?'
'Yeah, you're coming along as a liar.'
'How many people is that now?'
'Five, so far.'
'Going to make a fortune!' I gleefully stated.
'Going to need it as well, ' Jimmy sullenly stated.
'Who else you tipping?'
'Po, an American, five or six here. Soon have a Russian on board as well.'
'Price will work against us with all that lot buying at the same time, ' I suggested.
Jimmy stared at me. And waited.
'What?' I asked.
'Work against us? Yeah, unless we get in there ... first.' I rolled my eyes.
'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.'
'We can't lose, then, ' I realised.
'You're a bright kid, you know that, ' Jimmy sarcastically let out. 'I knew there was a reason I kept you around.'
'I'm starting to sign letters as Dumb Fuck.'
Anyone for tennis
Sheffield was cold and wet, the train full of idiots on the way up. We could have used Big Paul 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 centre, dashing through the rain, inside and looking odd in our suits as northern mums and dads in tracksuits nudged their budding tennis stars along. We wandered around, the sounds of racquets striking balls echoing off the corrugated steel roof, till Jimmy spotted the man he wanted to meet. At a brisk pace we caught up with him.
'Peter Semanov?' Jimmy called.
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 hand and they shook, Peter still looking surprised.
'Name is Peter Seaman now, don't use Semanov. Didn't know anyone around here knew that.'
I could pick up the northern accent, most likely Manchester.
'I checked you out, ' Jimmy told him. 'I'm Jimmy Silo, and this is Paul.'
'Checked me ... out?'
'Don't worry, you're not in any trouble, ' Jimmy reassured him as parents and kids walked past. 'It's just that I need a Russian speaking tennis coach.'
'What for? You're British?'
'Not for me, ' Jimmy began, gesturing the man away from the crowds. 'I'm a sponsor of various international student exchanges.'
'Ah.' Peter's features lightened a bit.
'And I'd like you to arrange tennis swaps with Russian students.'
'Well ... I've thought about it. Getting the grant money is the hard part.'
'No need, I'll be paying for everything. You'll have a fifty-thousand a year budget to start and I'll subsidise all the flights and accommodation.'
'Shit, ' Peter slowly let out. 'Who are you, exactly?'
'Rich businessman, just giving some money back to society, ' Jimmy suggested.
'You don't look old enough.'
'He is, ' I firmly suggested.
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.'
'Taking groups of kids to Russia to play against the kids there, bringing Russian groups over here. Simple.'
Peter inspected the contact details. 'I'll er ... I'll pop down next week.'
'Fine. See you then.' They shook.
As we walked off I commented, 'You never heard of a phone call?'
'He doesn't have a phone. At the moment he's down on his luck, staying with his mum in a council flat in Bolton.'
'So he's ours for the taking, ' I realised.
'Help a man when he's down, get a friend for life.'
Our man in Texas
On a wet Monday morning we took a taxi around to the Astoria Hotel, Jimmy briefing me on the way. I was a bit shocked 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 shirt. I knew he was from Texas, I'd sent him some stock tips, but even if I hadn't known him I was sure I could have 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.
'Mr Pederson, ' Jimmy said, a handshake initiated.
'Mr Silovich. We meet at last. You're younger than I would have imagined. And bigger!'
We laughed, Jimmy gesturing towards an isolated table and ordering drinks from a hovering waiter as we settled.
'This is my number two, Paul, ' Jimmy said, thumbing towards me.
'Paul? You're the fella who's been sending me faxes?' he asked in a Texas drawl.
'Yes, ' I agreed.
'So which of you's the talent?' he joked, sitting back and crossing his legs.
'Team effort, ' Jimmy responded. 'Anyway, how's the money making going.'
'You know exactly how it's going, ' Pederson testily replied. 'I'm still waiting to find the catch.'
'Mr Pederson ... Charles –'
'Chuck. I will always ask for a favour retrospectively. That means you make the money first, ' 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 and stirred his coffee at length. 'You're nudging me towards something I was gunna do anyplace. Not much of a price tag?'
'Various interested 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 photo.
'Ah, I heard he might run. He's an idiot! I met him many times. And he aint no Texan, that's a put-on.'
'Exactly. And we don't want idiots in office now, do we?'
Chuck studied Jimmy carefully. 'This aint some scheme by a foreign power, is it?'
'Do you consider yourself, Chuck, a weak minded person?'
'I'm a retired Marine, and I'm a Texan! They don't come no tougher, son.'
'So how could anyone influence you?' Jimmy posed. 'Besides, all the stock market trades 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 bribe 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 trash our friend, and soon. And don't stop trashing him just because you beat him 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 already got a few skeletons in the closet, so just go looking for them. If you do ... then you keep getting stock tips.'
'I know some stuff about the guy that I bet no one else does!'
'That sounds like a start point, ' Jimmy enthused.
It was done deal, sealed with a handshake. The US Marines were on board.
Sat in the apartment Jimmy offered me the paper he had been reading. 'Have a look.'
I sat and took the paper.
'Top left, ' Jimmy directed.
I read the headline. 'Airliner cabin doors to be locked.' I looked up. 'Took them long enough, you sent that letter a year ago.'
'At least it's done. They'll reinforce cabin doors, put in a spy hole, keep the terrorists out of the cockpit. It's a key trigger event, so 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.'
'Small victories, ' I said as a key turned in the lock.
Big Paul stepped in. 'We got company, ' he softly stated, none too concerned
'Yes, ' Jimmy agreed.
'We do?' I asked. It was just us, no one expected.
Big Paul explained, 'Two cars in the street.'
'We're being watched?' I questioned.
'Spooks, ' Big Paul said as he sat.
'That's a term for... ?' I nudged.
'Spies. MI6 probably, ' Big Paul explained.
I focused on Jimmy. 'We in trouble?'
'No, not really. They're genuinely interested in who I deal with in Kenya - Skids and company.'
'Not the other thing?' I queried.
'No. Still, we should deal with this before we fly off. Paul, go have some fun with those cars.
With a smirk 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.
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 milk. 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 others, to view the mess of the car. A minute later he was on the balcony with me.
'Good aim, ' I said, not getting a reply.
As we stood there, peering down at an attending police car, a small bang preceded a puff of smoke at the end of the street. Now another two men were out of their 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.
'They going to be a tad ... pissed off at us?' I delicately enquired.
The next day we got a visit. I opened the door to two gentlemen, the others sat waiting around the coffee table.
'Foreign Office, ' the first man said, flashing an ID that meant nothing to me.
I held the door wide. 'We're not hiding any foreigners in here.'
The first man glanced at me as he entered.
'Please, have a seat, ' Jimmy casually offered, not getting up.
They sat, IDs placed down. 'Jimmy Silovich?'
'Yes. And you're not from the Foreign Office, so cut the crap.'
They glanced at each other, retrieved their IDs and sat back.
The first man said, 'We'd like to talk to you about your connections to certain mercenaries working in Africa, Kenya in particular.'
'Skids, Trev and Handy?' Jimmy asked with a grin.
'Those are the nicknames of three of the individuals we ... keep track of.'
'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. Jimmy continued, 'I have a safari park, near the Serengeti – come visit 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 business. No elephants, no tourists.
'So I take the following approach with Skids and Co. I hire them out and pay them to hunt down the bastards killing my fucking elephants, and to shoot them full of holes! And if Skids and company were not the kind of people that you are interested in, they'd be no good to me, would they. I need killers, not policemen.'
'And the base at Mawlini?' the first man asked. 'It's being geared up as a staging area.'
Jimmy and I both laughed, our visitors not appreciating our mirth.
'Come 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 night for a pee.'
'Then what's happening at that base?'
'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 over the orphanage up the road from my hotel, River View.'
'Orphanage?' the first man repeated.
'Phone them, ' Jimmy challenged. He found the number amongst the papers in front 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 pay his ticket and expenses.'
They glanced at each other. The first man, the talker, said, 'There is also the question of Mr Baines ... situation here.'
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 them. 'And if I'm nicked I'll talk about enough to bring down the fucking government. Got that, tossers?'
'Paul, please, ' Jimmy said, waving Big Paul down.
Didn't know about our visitors, but I was afraid.
Our guests stood. 'We'll be in touch.'
Jimmy stood. 'I'm off to Kenya in a few days. Till then I'll be here.'
With the visitors gone, Big Paul pulled out the sofa's seat covers, retrieving a small bug. He dropped it into a cold tea.
'Fifty metres, ' Jimmy said to Big Paul, getting back a nod.
'Fifty metres?' I repeated.
'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.'
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.
'When we're away I'll arrange a baby-sitter for the apartment, ' Jimmy suggested.
'Ill check my room later, ' Big Paul added. 'But if you don't mind me asking –'
'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 ones. 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.'
An hour later we got a call, taking us up on our offer to take someone to Kenya. The man's name was Cosuir, pronounced 'cosy'. Big Paul did not know him, Jimmy did.
'Who is he?' I asked.
'Freelancer, French colonial parents from Guniea, West Africa.'
'How does it work out?' I asked.
'He'll join the team, ' Jimmy replied.
Four days later we were back in Nairobi, 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 slender and tanned individual, same height as me and with similar black hair. He had tired eyes and permanently looked as if he wanted to be somewhere else, which was probably true in this case.
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.'
'Mercenaries? The old men at the airbase?' he laughed.
'And the ones hunting the poachers, ' Jimmy added.
'Ah, yes. They look tough. They are former British soldiers, yes?'
'Yes, ' Jimmy confirmed.
'They caught some poachers this week, ' Rudd added.
'And?' Jimmy nudged after Rudd fell silent.
Rudd glanced at Cosy. 'They brought back six sets of matching ears.'
'Ears?' I repeated. 'Well, either they killed them ... or some poor bastards will have a hard time reading the papers – their glasses slipping off.'
We all laughed, even Cosy. Booked in, we met at the rooftop bar, Jimmy ordering drinks in a local dialect again.
It stirred a reaction in Cosy. 'You speak Bantu?'
'And reasonable Nilote, although there's so many variations its hard to distinguish sometimes.'
'You speak Maasi, ' Cosy noted. 'Not bad after just three short visits here.'
'I'm a quick study, ' Jimmy said with a grin.
Cosy sipped his drink, then stared into it. Making eye contact with Jimmy he asked, 'You ordered this?' Jimmy nodded. 'How do you know what I like?'
'When they told us you were coming along they gave a list of things about you – favourite foods, time you like to be in bed, stuff like that.'
Big Paul laughed quietly, Cosy not happy, Rudd not following. And I clocked a lovely girl in a bikini at the poolside.
'What else did they say about me?' Cosy demanded, none too happy.
'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.'
'What?' I asked, suddenly back in the conversation.
'Clocked the tasty bird yet?' Jimmy knowingly asked.
'Shit. She's a ... you know?' I asked.
'Marta Hari?' Jimmy prompted. 'Yes, a professional. Cosy here is someone they think is just a bit of a joke.'
Now Cosy was definitely not happy, but not at us.
Without taking his eyes of Cosy, Jimmy told me, 'Paul, I need you take one for the team.'
'I need you to leave us, to go chat-up that girl and shag her. Just ... close your eyes and think of the team.' Big Paul and Rudd laughed. 'Oh, invite her along, keep her tight, boast a lot about money to her.'
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.
'Who is she?' Cosy asked.
'You know Tasker?'
'The American, ' Cosy unhappily clarified.
'She works for him. Bob Telling called him, asked for a favour.'
'You're well informed, ' Cosy grumbled.
'And you're not, ' Jimmy countered. 'Still, pleasant week or two, back to accepting handouts from Bob Telling. Unless of course... ' He finished by turning to Big Paul, making eye contact.
'You won't convert him, he's too stupid, ' Big Paul suggested. 'He'll go back to Blighty and suck up.'
Cosy stood. 'I'll see you in the morning.'
Jimmy bade him a fond farewell in Flemish, Cosy's childhood language. Cosy stopped and stared for a moment before heading to his room.
'What language was that?' Rudd asked. 'It sounded like Flemish.'
'West African Flemish, ' Jimmy explained. 'His main language is French, then English, then his childhood Flemish, some Pigeon English Creole.'
'Sounds like you know him well, ' Rudd suggested.
'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 air hostess.'
'Pleasure, ' Jimmy said as he shook her hand. Big Paul nodded, that actions particular meaning undetermined.
I told her, 'This is my business partner Jimmy Silo, and this is Big Paul the driver.'
We all sat, Judy still in her bikini and showing some signs of the cooler night air.
'So you guys own hotels down here?' she prompted.
'A beach hotel and a safari park, ' Jimmy explained. 'You're welcome to visit, bring a few friends if you're on a stopover.'
'The stopovers are never more than two days, be time to turn around when we got there, ' Judy explained.
'You on a stopover now?' Jimmy asked, beckoning a waiter for her to order a drink.
'No, I had some holiday time due, had to use it up, so decided to stay here at the end of a flight.'
'By yourself?' Jimmy puzzled.
'Not to start with, but my friend fell ill on the first day, she's in Park Hospital.'
'Poor dear, we'll have to send her something, ' Jimmy suggested.
'To be truthful ... I never really like her that much; she nagged to join me. So actually I've been getting some peace.'
'I've invited Judy along with us, ' I told Jimmy.
'More the merrier, ' Jimmy responded. 'We'll be up early in the morning mind you.'
'Not a problem, a few Rums and I sleep like a baby, ' she suggested. 'Anyway, Paul promised me a nice meal downstairs.'
'7 am, ' I said.
'7 am, ' Jimmy responded.
We headed down to her room, some warmer clothes thrown on, a quick flash of boob caught. This was for the team, I reminded myself.
The hotel had two restaurants, one decidedly better than the other and open 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 lot 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.
'Oh, yeah, she's good, real good, ' I muttered. 'Not on the first night.'
I sat in my room with the lights off and curtains open, watching the flickering 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.
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 2pm, Judy with her own hut, we mostly split and did our own thing, Rudd beavering away, 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 few 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.
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 young 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 hotel, no secret base hidden in a hut. For the most part we noticed him sat at the beach bar with Jimmy, sipping beer.
In the evening we all met up and had a long dinner together, four courses with wine, Jimmy relaying interesting stories and facts about Kenya and Africa that 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.
'You own this as well?' she asked.
'Yep. And another half a mile further.'
'Cool.' In the moonlight she stripped off whilst maintaining eye contact with me. 'Come on then, bashful.'
She did not need to ask twice. Stood in the gentle surf up to my waist, she wrapped 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.
'Strange, ' I said.
'What is?' she whispered into my ear.
'I've never felt like I was on holiday down here, till now. This is probably what honeymooners do.'
'Well, hotel owner, this ... is your day off.'
Back on the beach we made love under the stars, using our clothes for a beach blanket.
Half way through she said, 'What the hell is that?'
I was hurt, injured, my pride was dented. What had I done wrong?
She pointed. 'What is that?'
Turning my head I focused on the slow moving lump getting closer. 'It's a fucking turtle!' I whispered.
'I love turtles, ' she whispered.
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.
'It must be laying eggs, ' she whispered.
'No, there's a beach for that miles away – up the coast I think.'
'Then she's lost, poor love.'
'Best leave her to it, I'll send staff to watch over her.'
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 the 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 all 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 people asking if they had photographed the turtle yet and 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 guard had seen no egg laying or burrow digging, so we stood and scratched our heads; there was no other reason for the turtle to come ashore. A vet was summoned, arriving half an hour before dusk.
'It's a male, ' the vet reported.
'A male?' I queried. 'What's it doing crawling up the beach?'
He shrugged. 'There's a lot we don't know about them. It could be sick, but looks OK.'
Steffan and Lotti were already in wetsuits and carried the hapless male into the surf. It turned around and crawled out again. They repeated the exercise, with as much success.
I paid the useless vet just as the gang arrived with torches at dusk. 'Know anything about Turtles?' I asked Jimmy.
'More than most. It's a poofter.'
'A ... what?' I queried.
'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.'
And so started the legend of the "poofter turtle" of River View Hotel, the lonesome soul of indeterminate sex carried over to the next bay for guests 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.
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.
Jimmy stopped Big Paul. 'Café on the corner – eyes on.'
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 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 fires burning.
Sister Woman appeared in a blue uniform and apron, waving towards Jimmy. 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.
'You've been busy, Sister Woman, ' Jimmy noted. He reached into a pocket and produced wad; forty thousand dollars. 'You'll need this.'
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.'
'I know, ' Jimmy softly let out. 'Let me introduce you to some help, but you must watch what you say.'
'I say nothing to anyone, ' she quietly affirmed as they re-entered the courtyard. 'Only Anna.'
They approached the gang. 'This is Rudd.'
'Rudd?' She exchanged words in Dutch, both pleased to find a fellow compatriot, soon chatting like old friends, Rudd explaining his role with Jimmy and the other charity.
With a pause in the chatting, Jimmy said, 'And this is Cosy, he is a man without a heart - seeking a cause.'
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.
'Rudd, ' Jimmy called. 'Draw up a list of what Mary needs, use her office.' They headed off. He faced Cosy. 'You ... come with me.' They climbed the stairs to the terminal ward, a stark contrast to its original state, finding Anna in attendance, beaming a huge smile. 'Hello Anna.'
They shook, Cosy also shaking her hand.
'Deutsch?' he asked.
'Anna studied in Amsterdam, ' Jimmy told Cosy. He chatted to a few sick children as Cosy and Anna chatted about Amsterdam. Returning he said, 'A lot more sick children.'
She sighed. 'Yah, they know we have money.'
Jimmy faced Cosy. 'The locals dump their sick kids here. We've gone from eighty to three hundred and fifty.'
'And now two or three a day, ' Anna put in. 'We do not turn any away.'
'I'll buy the land behind, it's only swamp at the moment.'
Anna straightened. 'How much land?'
'Enough for three thousand children.'
'Was there a reason you remained here, Anna?' Jimmy knowingly asked. 'You've been here three months.' Cosy was not following.
'I gave up my work to stay here, ' she softly explained. 'Mary gives me food and a room.'
'Not much of a living ... for a doctor?' Jimmy posed.
'What better use for a doctor ... than the edge of hell itself?' she countered.
'Well, then. We'd best make some sick children better. Get a needle.'
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 raised 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 her. Four kids later Anna was back, a fresh needle selected.
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?'
'I discovered long ago, that my blood has unusual properties, ' Jimmy softly stated.
'Unusual ... properties?'
'Yes. My blood cures all diseases known to man – cancer, AIDS, everything. Strange, eh?'
Cosy stared, his mouth open. 'Strange? Strange?'
Anna jogged back and thrust another needle into Jimmy's right arm, Jimmy maintaining eye contact with Cosy.
Cosy stammered, 'You ... you... '
'Could cure everyone in Africa? Probably, but I'm only one man, and my blood cannot be reproduced in a lab.'
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?'
'If I inject you, Anna, you'll live to be around one hundred and fifty years old, ' Jimmy explained.
She slowly nodded. 'And I will still be here.'
Jimmy leant towards her. 'Let's hope Africa is sorted before then.' He offered her his right arm again, a syringe filled with dark blood a minute later. Without a word he injected her, a smug smile spread across her face. 'For the next day you will run a fever, drink a lot 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.'
'I can do it?'
'It will not be strong like mine, but it will help.'
Mary appeared without Rudd, Anna beaming a smile and tapping her inner elbow. Mary clasped her hands together. 'A miracle.'
'A miracle?' Cosy challenged, still stunned.
Mary grabbed him by the arm and, speaking in Flemish, dragging him down the stairs. In the courtyard, Cosy met several very healthy looking kids, saved from death's door.
When Jimmy reached him 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.
'Nothing of interest, ' Big Paul casually stated.
'Maybe nobody loves us, ' Jimmy stated.
Big Paul tapped Jimmy's inner elbows. 'Given blood?'
'Yeah, they rope me in sometimes.'
Rudd was horrified. 'I forgot to give blood.'
'Next time, they got enough for emergencies, ' Jimmy insisted. He tapped the lists. 'If you allow yourself to get too involved down here they'll have you working for them only – and you'll get nothing done. Do not ... let them take all your time.'
He shrugged. 'OK, Boss.'
'I want you to oversee the building work at the back, nothing more.'
Rudd raised a finger, 'She said they get two or three kids a day dropped in.'
'Is there space?' Big Paul puzzled.
'No, in a word, ' Jimmy answered. 'So we're building more dorms at the rear. Plan is for three thousand.'
Rudd almost choked. 'Three thousand? Are you crazy? It'll be the biggest orphanage in all Africa!'
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.'
'Jesus, ' Big Paul let out. 'Didn't think you were into all this.'
'Anyway, there is apparently an elephant sanctuary an hour away. We'll pop and have a look.'
A joke with meaning
As we left the 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.'
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 as a baby elephant stirred. Judy melted in an instant and I had a glimpse of what 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 blankets and packs of tissues. With a huge grin he retreated, closing the door.
Thirty minutes later we 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 elephant calls in the night, but we just didn't give a shit. Hell, it was Africa, what did they expect.
We managed to get some sleep after towelling down the cub at length, but the damn thing snored and farted, 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 guests on the beach came over to us and stroked the cub, who was 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.
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 elephant sanctuary yesterday and gave them some money, pinched the little fella 'cause they can't cope. They were going to put it down.'
'Ahhhh, no!' Judy protested. 'Can it stay here?'
'Sure. The guy with 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 take it to the lodge?' I questioned.
'Lions would get it at night, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Safer here.' He glanced around as someone I could not 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, every 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 happens when newly-weds are left alone, ' Jimmy noted.
That night we reclaimed a clean room.
'Right, no elephants?' she asked.
'No bloody turtles?'
'Nope, just me. And the smell of elephant pee.'
We stripped off and got into the shower cubicle, kicking the water with our feet to remove the lingering smell.
Our 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 the 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.'
Judy and I headed to the bar for some food, Jimmy reassuring the guests that they were in no danger. The resident pooch, however, looked to be in some danger of serious play fights that night. Judy stood on the low wooden wall that separated the bar from the 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 appearing with the lion cub perched on a forearm, its paws gripped between his fingers. He showed it the savannah, the cub's nose working overtime, its eyes focusing on nearby cattle.
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.'
There were now more staff, I noted, and now 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 with 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. They sounded nice.
As we sat there eating, Jimmy had the cub on its back on his knees, its head falling back as he tickled it. With the cub subdued he clipped its nails with a small silver nail-clipper. Supporting the cub's head with a large hand he whispered to it, the cub tapping his face and clawing at his hair.
'He's a good man, ' Judy said admiringly. I wondered if she might be a convert in the making.
A lion roar caused the cub to jump up. It climbed up onto Jimmy's shoulders and held on, staring into the distance as a lonesome male roared.
An hour later, with 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 thing feels like, I considered. Well, the honeymoon bit at least.
We ate with the gang, 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 roof up and chatted away; weddings and churches. And River View beach hotel; I should have figured that they had been there together, a few days ago, and just missing us. They each had interesting stories of wedding day mishaps, but we surprised when we explained that we had just met. They were then amazed by the tale of the turtle on the beach and the elephant in our room. We certainly trumped them on interesting stories.
The lion cub ran in twice, playfully chased by the dog, then less than playfully chasing 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, the 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 uniforms also in attendance.
'No sign of the terrible trio?' I asked as we plonked down.
'Off shooting poachers, I hope, ' Jimmy explained.
'Shooting poachers?' Judy asked, seemingly horrified at the idea.
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.'
'My God, ' she gasped, a hand to her mouth. I had to admit it, she was a good spy.
'So we fight 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. Cosy can meet them tomorrow, sniff them out. Unless, of course, he'd like a job down here.'
'Here?' Cosy repeated.
'Doing... ?' Cosy asked after a moment's reflection.
'Helping Rudd 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.'
Rudd nodded as he held his beer. 'It is a lot of kilometres.'
'Money would be OK, and regular. Plus I'd get you an apartment in Nairobi.'
'UK Government wouldn't be happy, ' Cosy suggested.
'They don't care if you live or die, ' Jimmy firmly suggested.
Judy was not followed. 'You work for the Government?'
'Civil Service, ' Cosy stated for her benefit. 'But it's part-time work. An ... uncertain future.'
Judy put in, 'I thought civil servants had jobs for life.'
'Not in my department, ' Cosy stated.
We chatted for another 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 feeling things that I had never felt before.
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 staff were still asleep. 'Did you go to bed?'
'I got an hour. Sat here with Cosy till 3am.'
'Sounded last night like you converted him?'
'He'll worry about his old boss, but I have some dirt on the guy. After his handler is removed he can quit and come down here.'
'You trust him?'
Jimmy nodded. 'Yesterday he saw me give blood.'
'What?' I whispered.
Jimmy said, 'He'll fall for the big German doctor, Anna. They'll have kids.'
'Jesus, she's an inch taller barefoot!'
'He likes big girls. By the way, I injected her.'
'What?' I whisper again.
He took in the view. 'She'll start to use her own blood on the kids, that was always the plan; an army of people like her.'
'Christ. What about my blood... ?'
'If you inject someone it'll have the effect of fifty-percent of my blood, still enough to cure most things. Anna is one of a dozen doctors I'll inject and send off.'
'Won't they get noticed?'
'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.'
I didn't like the sound of that. 'Later... '
'We'll talk about it some other time, you enjoy yourself down here.'
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 jeep safari with the other couples, Skids riding shotgun with an M16. Stopping at a bend in the river, the staff set-up picnic tables, the guests warned not to go near the river. With everyone watching, Skids shot a young Gazelle on the waterside, the other animals scattering. We waited ten minutes before noting a giant log moving through the brown water.
'That's old Fred, ' Skids announced. 'Twenty-two feet long, and about three tonnes. And he could be anything up to ninety years old.'
We were all amazed as we observed the monster crawl out and snatch up the Gazelle, retreating to the water.
Skids added, '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.'
We stood around and 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.
That evening's event was a barbeque, a wild boar roasting over an open fire on the grass below 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 rifle, 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 hyenas of late. They get close some times, barbeque hog will do that.'
'Did you kill them?' a woman asked.
'No, just hit the dirt near them. They won't be back tonight.' He went and sat in the dark, our unseen bodyguard.
The guests departed the next day, driven to Nairobi in a new minibus painted like 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.
Trev coldly stated, 'Lion.'
I picked up one cub, Judy another. The trio were not impressed, suggesting we leave them to nature, but I reminded them who paid their wages. I hiked back with a tickly cheetah cub wriggling under my shirt.
Jimmy took one look at the cubs and ordered the staff to hand rear them. We agreed to keep them away 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 evening was spent with the cubs in our hut, an old dog basket used for a bed. Unlike the elephant and lion cub, these little fellas spent most of the time sleeping. After a good feed they simply collapsed into a ball of fur. At 1am, with Judy and our children asleep, I slipped out, finding Jimmy and Cosy at the bar.
'How are the kids?' Jimmy asked.
'Asleep, thankfully.' I settled down with a beer I pulled myself, the staff gone.
'You seem to be getting along OK, ' Cosy noted.
'Getting on great, ' I said, although I felt a shudder when I considered who she was, and what would happen in a few days. We'd go our separate ways.
'She asked many questions?' Cosy enquired with a professional interest, sounding as if his pride was still hurting.
'Nope, cool as ice. A real professional – no offence.'
'Cosy is a good man, ' Jimmy stated. 'He just hasn't found his niche yet. When he does he'll know it.'
Cosy studied Jimmy. 'You sound a lot older than you look.'
'He gets that a lot, ' I put in. 'So, what'll you write about us when you get back.'
'Nothing, I'll give a verbal report.'
'And... ?' I nudged.
He didn't answer.
Jimmy said, '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.'
'Sounds Cosy, no pun intended, ' I said, swiping away a large moth attracted to the bar's lights.
Jimmy added, 'Once an African, always an African. Cosy misses his roots and, I'd guess, would like to do something useful with his life – maybe even building a large orphanage.'
'We'll see, ' Cosy muttered.
The 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 things. This was starting to hurt a bit.
We took a leisurely 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 were stopped 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 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.
I took Judy to the roof bar; an outdoor fridge and few deckchairs. With cool drinks in hands we took in the building work and I explained what everything did and what 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 did a quick 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 later, not looking forward to our accommodation that night.
The Old Dogs spoke 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 make 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.
With the Doc gone the Old Dogs vented their concern. 'Have you seen what the Doc's building?' Mac asked.
'What's wrong, Mac?' Jimmy knowingly asked.
'He's building fucking Buckingham Palace!'
'How many rooms?'
'Five at least in there, plans for more, ' they complained.
'Gentlemen, ' I cut in, knowing a lot about the Doc's plans. After all, I got his faxes every week. 'The budget for that building is separate to this base. The funds for this base are ring-fenced, he can't dip into them.'
'Oh, ' Mac let out, easing back. 'Well, OK then. But he nicks our labourers, some of our wood.'
'Mac, ' I called. 'You remember what this place used to be like?' They glanced at each other. 'If someone offers you ten sweets, you don't fold your arms and ask for twelve.'
Jimmy hid a smile.
'Aye, right you are, boss, ' Mac conceded.
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?'
Judy faced Jimmy. 'Got any cute young animals?'
'What, you don't find these three cute?' Jimmy asked, thumbing towards the Old Dogs and getting a laugh out of them.
'Got a pet if ya wants it, ' Mac said. He stepped out, bringing back in a tarantula bigger than his hand.
Judy wasn't frightened at all. With both hands she took it, showing it to me. For the most part it seemed docile.
'What do you feed it on?' I asked Mac.
'Grasshoppers. It crunches 'em up something terrible, pulls their wings off.'
'I don't mind them this size, ' she said. 'It's the smaller ones I don't like.'
'A few of them around here too, love, ' Mac informed her with a grin.
Rudd and Doc Adam returned, glances at the huge spider, neither keen of the furry crawler.
With Rudd and Doc Adam settled, Jimmy called them all order. 'OK, gentlemen –'
'And lady, ' Judy put in.
Jimmy focused on her. 'Are you planning on spending the next few years at this base, helping out?'
She glanced at the waiting faces. 'Nope.'
'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 a good ordnance grounding comparatively, the aim being to send these medics into shit-holes like Eastern Zaire to help out.
'In order to move that process along and to give it some focus, as well as more trained staff, we'll start to get involved with the Flying Doctor Service. At the moment 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.'
'We patched up the holes, ' Mac reported. 'I'll get some boys out there with sweeping brushes, get the wee stones off it.'
'It may need a small fence on the eastern side, about fifty yards out, something to catch the sand, ' Jimmy suggested.
'I'll have a look before I go, ' Rudd put in.
'I want a Cessna on the runway inside two months, a hut for two doctors, their kit, and someone who can refuel it. No need to drag an engineer out here yet, they can fly in if necessary. What you will 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.'
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 training 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 the Kenyan Government involved at each stage. Let them know what we're doing, ask them for help and advice, offer to supply mine awareness courses for medics to the UN.'
Rudd made a careful note. 'I know the man to talk to. What ... what pay rates for the trainees?'
'Whatever they would get elsewhere, ' Jimmy suggested.
'They get very little during training; it's often done on a voluntary basis, hope of a job at the end, ' Rudd explained.
'Pick a figure 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?
'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 into the Congo, sorry Zaire, they should be as well equipped as possible. Do a geography course as well, so they know their way around this part of Africa; most of these kids have never been outside their home town.'
'Quite a ramp-up, boss, ' Mac noted with a hint of reticence.
'I have every 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.'
Cosy offered no comment.
'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 want a proper bar, and a full sized Olympic swimming pool, complete with diving boards.'
'Aye, boss. Have that in next week.'
Jimmy focused on me. 'We arrived a week too soon. Bugger. OK, Doc with me, rest get some food and booze, guests quarters are very basic.' He stepped out with Doc Adam as Mac arranged some dodgy meat and chips.
Two days later we were back in Nairobi at the rooftop bar, saying our goodbyes to Judy. 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.
I found Jimmy sat at the bar alone, reading a local paper. 'She get off alright?' he asked without looking up.
'Yeah, ' I said, heaving a great sigh.
'Got her number in London?'
'What for?' I curtly asked.
'To see her again, Dumb Fuck.'
I frowned, then turned to face him. 'What, you think they'll try and use her again – keep an eye on us at the flat?'
'Who's they?' he asked without looking up.
'They ... MI6 ... they.'
'MI6 has no idea who she is. She's an air hostess, Dumb Fuck.'
'What? Will you start making some sense!'
'I said she was a spy ... just to piss-off Cosy.'
'She ... she ... I ... she.' My head was spinning.
Jimmy laughed, now looking up. 'Yes, Dumb Fuck, she's a lovely girl. And not a spy at all.'
'She's ... she's not?'
'No. But there is something more you need to know.'
'What?' My head was filled with a range of emotions I had not encountered before.
'I recognised her, that's why I asked you to chat her up. You'll spend the next year with her, ' he said with a huge grin. 'Good few days, was it?'
I found myself pointing in a direction that seemed to represent where she was. 'I'll ... I'll spend a year with her?'
'More if you're sensible.'
My face took control and I smiled so wide it hurt.
Jimmy added, 'I couldn't tell you before, I wanted it to pan out this way. Everything in its time and slot, step by step.'
I sat back and stared up at the sky. 'A year.'
'Next weekend, invite her over, her parents live in Potters Bar, she lives in Enfield at the 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.'
'For ... for me to see Judy?'
'What else? I don't smell.'
'A year, ' I repeated, gazing up at the clouds.
Big Paul plonked down. 'Told him?'
'Yep, he's gone all puppy dog on us.'
'What about Cosy?' Big Paul asked.
'Some things are inevitable.'
Big Paul took a reflective moment. 'When do I... ?'
'More than a year away, so enjoy your freedom a bit.'
'Never did, really, ' he replied. 'Always had a problem trusting a girl till I knew her a few months at least.'
'I know, ' Jimmy responded. 'But love is in the air.'
'What about you?' Big Paul asked Jimmy.
Jimmy took a moment. 'There's a girl I bump into when I get back, she'll be around a while.'
I was still staring at the clouds.
Cosy arranged for the detail of Bob Telling's misdemeanours to be handed in 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?'
'This guy Silo 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.'
'What I figured. OK, we'll ... er ... contact you via the usual channels if we need you, you'll be paid in the usual way. Thank you.'
Cosy knew when he stepped out that day that he would never return. A smile took hold as he walked 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 of Bob Telling's unauthorised Magestic files, immediately noting an active placement, an agent in place in an apartment in Belgravia. 'Who the hell 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?'
He skimmed through the pages, stopping at a stock trading record. He ran a finger down the right hand 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.'
'Make it quick, please.'
'I found something. And I'll be needing a pay rise, a minor promotion and a much better office.' He sat and folded his arms. And waited.
Sykes eased back and carefully regarded Jack. 'Well, it must be good.' He forced up his eyebrows. 'Magestic?'
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.'
'Fifteen-thousand percent!' the deputy whispered, whipping off his glasses.
Jack smiled and nodded. 'I figured that you're always complaining about lack of funds... '
Sykes eased forwards. 'Jack, you're sneaky little shit, you know that.' He wagged a finger. 'You're wasted in Research.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'So, how would you handle this?'
'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 moment.'
With a grin Sykes rummaged through his draws, handing over a sheet. 'That account is empty, 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.
'I'll ... not ... let you know how it goes, sir.' With a smirk Jack stood and left.
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.
It was under my old 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.
'Home from home, ' Jimmy responded.
Big Paul appeared just as I settled with a fresh mug of tea. 'Might have a spot of bother with Philby, Burgess and Maclean, ' he reported. 'I met my new neighbour and offered to kick his teeth in.'
With seemingly little 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.
The intercom buzzed, the doorman calling us. Visitors.
'Guess I'm in trouble, ' Big Paul announced, sounding none too bothered.
I pressed the button. 'Yes?'
'There's a Jack Donohue here to see Jimmy. Is he expected?' crackled from the microphone.
'Yes, ' Jimmy called without looking up.
'Send him up, ' I said, releasing the button.
'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.'
Big Paul disappeared out the door.
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.'
The man smiled, shaking 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.
'Hello Jack, ' Jimmy offered as he stood, sounding like he was greeting a much loved old friend. They shook.
'I guess you've been expecting me, ' Jack said with a smile. 'Get a letter did you?'
'No Jack.' They settled as I slouched into a chair.
'No ... letter?' Jack puzzled.
'No, Jack. Would you like to give me the bank account details now, get it over with?'
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 principle account.' I stepped into the office.
'Just like that, ' Jack stated, still carefully eyeing Jimmy. 'You know, you don't fit the profile, you sound much older.'
'How old do you think I am, Jack?'
'Your file says twenty-six.'
'Closer to a hundred, Jack.'
Jack stared back, frozen to his seat. 'You're not... '
'No, I'm part of his team. And the reason that I have muscles, Jack, is down to genetic engineering. It's necessary to survive the rigours of time travel.'
Jack's eyes widened. 'Time... '
'Yes, Jack. The Americans were almost correct, although I'm not an astronaut. I'm one of a team, headed by Magestic.'
'Wha ... what ... what for?'
'What's our purpose? Simple, and you already know: World War Three. It'll kick-off at some point from 2011 to 2017.'
'Why ... why... '
'Why not a fixed date? Why do think, Jack, you're a smart man?'
Jack thought about it. 'Your ... your presence here alters things?'
'Correct. The more we fix, the later it gets. It doesn't go away, but it does get more 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.'
Jack sipped his tea, his throat dry.
'You know what 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.'
I returned and sat.
Jack said, 'If ... if you don't want to be caught, then why the money?'
'Best place to hide a big lie, Jack, is behind a smaller one, ' Jimmy stated.
I put in, 'When they find the smaller lie ... they stop looking.'
Jack glanced my way, appearing quite unwell.
Jimmy continued, 'You came here fully believing that Magestic is sending me stock market tips. As far as the world is concerned ... he is, and I'll co-operate 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.'
'I'm Paul, Little Paul the stock trader, ' I said. 'There's also a Big Paul - the bruiser.'
Jimmy faced me, 'Jack here works for MI6. He was assigned the task of making some sense of the Magestic letters.'
I nodded my understanding.
Our guest timidly asked me, 'Are you... ?'
'No, just the 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.
Jack sipped his tea, still appearing unwell. 'Wow.'
'What do you think you'll do after you retire, Jack?' Jimmy posed. 'Perhaps ... join us, help us save the world.'
'Join ... join you?'
'Of course. We already know your pedigree, Jack. You're a good man.'
'Not sure I could resist interrogation if this gets out, ' Jack quietly mentioned.
'It won't, ' Jimmy assured him. 'Tell them what they want to hear, I'll do the rest. They'll never believe who I am, not for many years. And by then... '
'By then they'll have taken the money for many years, ' Jack finished off. 'They won't dare expose you.'
'Symmetry, eh, Jack?' Jimmy joked. 'Try your Kitkat, keep the blood sugar levels up.'
I liked our new friend, 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.
New neighbours, an old issue
'The doorman just told me we got new neighbours, ' I informed Jimmy. 'The old couple that you suggested.'
He heaved a big sigh, inspecting the ceiling cornice.
'Problems?' I asked, sitting opposite.
He lowered his gaze. 'They have a daughter.'
'Nice, is she?'
He sighed again. 'Yeah, she's nice, and if I'm not careful I'll spend the next few years with her.'
'What's wrong with that?'
He shot me a look. 'Anyone close to me will eventually get suspicious. As she will.' He stretched his neck muscles.
'So ... how you going to play it?'
'She plays a role in the big game, unfortunately. If I don't ... date her, two pieces of the puzzle will have to be ... re-worked.'
'Can they be re-worked?' I asked.
'Not very easily.'
'It's necessary then. Take one for the team.'
He shot me a look again as I grinned back. 'You seeing Judy this weekend?'
'Yep, it's her first day off since Kenya. She'll be over Friday night.'
He waved a hand, taking in the flat. 'You can use this place whenever you like, of course. And the car.'
'You might have your hands full yourself, ' I teased.
'They get on very well, Judy and Liz, ' he said without looking up.
'Liz? The daughter of the old couple? How old is she?'
'Thirty, birthday just gone. Right now she's in husband hunting mode, mid-life crisis.'
'What's she like?' I nudged.
'Perfect, ' he softly responded. 'She works for a charity off Oxford Circus. Waste of her talent really, she's very bright.' He looked up. 'Oh, well.'
'That's the spirit, boss.' I thrust a fist forwards. 'Tackle the problem of dating beautiful women head on.'
With my invitation of a "welcome coffee morning" accepted, the old couple 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 details, occupations past and present given. The old guy, Roger, had been in the Navy, then ship-broking, his wife, Heather, working at the same charity as their daughter, but part-time.
Jimmy got Roger onto 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 considered 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 couple accepting Jimmy's invitation to visit. He did not need to offer twice and I figured they'd go straight downstairs and pack.
They 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 bring 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.
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.
Jimmy mentioned Po and it registered; today was the 14th, Po was 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 asked 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 hope to figure him out. Po turned up early and we discussed stocks, warning him about the people tonight. His bodyguards were now more relaxed, more like old mates and on first name terms, chatting away to Big Paul about martial arts tournaments; his Special Forces pedigree impressed them no end.
At 8pm sharp the old couple knocked on our door, daughters in tow. And I could immediately see what 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.
Po had arranged three 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. Jimmy 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.
The reception at the restaurant was extra-special. We were normally spoilt, best table and straight 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 tanks 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, waiters on hand. And so far Jimmy had not connected with Liz.
We stood with drinks in hands, waiting on Judy. Jimmy told Po that Roger had been stationed in Hong Kong and they got into the typical discussion of what used to be where and what's built on top of it now. Turned out 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, and Jimmy played host, making sure everyone had drinks and enquiring about particular likes and dislikes.
Then my leading lady 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.
With everyone finally 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 wanted 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, always playing the dutiful host. But he did return to Liz.
'I think he likes her, ' I whispered to Judy.
'This their first meet?' she asked.
'He's seen her from a distance.'
'I don't think he's the shy type!'
'No, but he thinks things through first, ' I suggested.
'Unlike you. You see a bit of leg on a poolside and go straight for it.'
I laughed. 'It was the beer, I'm shy really.'
'Hey, you were the one who started the skinny dipping.'
'Yes, I suppose. Got bored of waiting for you.'
'Hey, I was trying to be mister nice guy.'
'Suggesting that you're not normally?' she teased.
I made strong eye contact. 'Listen, woman, if you're not doing anything for the next few years ... I'm available.'
She took a moment to study me. 'If there are any bloody animals in the bed... '
I laughed loudly, squeezing her middle.
'Who's the Chinese guy?' she asked.
'We give him trading advice, he pays for the meals.'
'And the other guy in the tweed?'
'That's Jack, and that's not easy to explain. He works for the Foreign Office. We co-operate on stuff around Kenya.'
'Oh. And the old couple?'
'Neighbours from down stairs, or next door now, the girls are their daughters.'
'Next door? You're in a penthouse?'
'I have a separate flat as well, floor below.'
'For all your women?' she teased.
'I just got it yesterday, somewhere for us crash out alone.'
'Oh. And what if I don't like you?' she posed, an arm around me.
'I'll get an elephant in.'
Jimmy managed to get the frump to smile, and moved around the room making sure everyone felt wanted 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-matched 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.
At midnight Jimmy 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 candles on the cake -' We laughed at Po, Jimmy putting an arm around the short birthday boy. '- so we will have to celebrate his sixtieth –'
'No, no, forty-five only!' Po said through a smile.
'Are those dog years?' Jimmy asked.
'No, no, I vely young, ' Po insisted.
Jimmy called towards 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 their 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 all lined up for several more snaps.
Po clambered up onto a chair and called order. 'I want make toast. To man I trust most in world. 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.
At one point it was just me, Jack and Jimmy. Jack asked, 'Who's the guy from Hong Kong?'
Jimmy explained, 'Someday he will have a very rich son, who will build a spaceship.'
Jack was staggered. I figured it a lie, but was not a hundred percent sure.
With Big Paul and the bodyguards retrieved, our man a bit wobbly on his feet, we headed back, coffee in the penthouse for Judy and the old couple – the frump gone, and Liz. Roger and Heather tired quickly and made their excuses, Jimmy jokingly offering them a taxi or to walk them home. That left just the four of us.
Liz said, 'This coffee table ... is right above my parents apartment?'
'Yes, ' Jimmy answered. 'And beneath our kitchen is Big Paul's apartment, and below the far end of Paul's room ... is Paul's apartment.'
'Which he just got to impress me, ' Judy announced.
'That's sweet, ' Liz suggested. 'And how you met ... wow. I'm still waiting for that Mister Right.'
Jimmy lowered his gaze.
Judy said, 'Well, you'd have to search far and wide to find someone like the big guy here. He stuck a baby elephant in my bed.' We chuckled. 'We spent most of the night feeding and washing it – made Paul come over as all maternal and caring.'
'I am, ' I insisted.
'Then we got a lion cub, ' Judy added. 'And rescued some baby Cheetahs. It showed Pauly here in his true light – a big softy.'
'Hey, I can be tough, ' I protested.
'Sure, sure, ' she said, soothingly, yet mockingly. 'Anyway, I'm jetlagged and really can't be bother to go a whole flight of stairs down.' She eased up. 'Lead on, Tarzan.'
We left them to it, the new flat not yet christened.
'Another drink?' Jimmy offered Liz.
'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, police, I owe money to Jimmy Silo.'
Jimmy smiled at the image. 'Maybe I am a gangster, violin case behind the sofa.'
'A gangster who invites out elderly neighbours? Yuppies don't do that, no one does that, not your age, ' she slurred.
'I was raised correctly.'
'Hmmm. And this stuff in Kenya. You have an orphanage and ... and some charity that clears mines.' She shook her head. 'You are such an enigma. Tall, 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?'
'A few, but none too well.'
'You speak Chinese well enough.'
'What I've picked up from studying the menus.'
'Hah. You are so ... not the marrying kind.'
Jimmy both frowned and smiled at the same time. 'That is true, although I don't know how we got onto that topic.'
'And ... I'm four years older than you.'
'That's true, you are getting on a bit.'
She nudged him with a stocking foot. Jimmy took hold of it and began massaging it.
'Don't do that, ' she said.
'OK.' He continued to massage her foot.
She took in the large lounge. 'My parents love you bits already. And you're close by, my last boyfriend lived in Swindon.'
'I didn't realise I was a prospective suitor.'
'You're not, you're Jimmy Silo the gangster, ' she giggled. She gave him her other foot, both now rested on his thigh.
'Your feet always hurt in heels.'
'Mmmm, ' she agreed, picking up a leftover drink from the coffee table. 'Don't massage my feet, I don't know you.'
'I know.' He continued.
'And you're really rich, so you've got to be a world class arse.'
'World class, ' Jimmy agreed. 'I could enter the Olympic arse-putting contest.'
'And you're too good looking. You're a womaniser-er.'
'That's true, ' he agreed with a nod.
'You have a driver built like a ... like a doorman and ... and you're only twenty-six.'
'He keep's the irate husbands away.'
'What ... who has a bodyguard? Jimmy Silo the gangster. And your Chinese friend had bodyguards and Rollers. I mean, who drives in Rollers with bodyguards?'
'The Royal Family, ' Jimmy muttered.
'Don't rub my feet, I don't know you, ' Liz repeated, sipping the drink.
'I know.' He continued.
She let her head drop back. 'I'm in a ... penthouse with Jimmy Silo the gangster.' She pointed. 'Nice cornice work.'
'Thank you, but it was here when I bought the place.'
At 5am I headed to the kitchen in a robe, Jimmy sat reading. He marked his page and looked up.
'How'd ... you know?' I delicately broached.
'She's not good with booze, never was. She's in my bed sleeping it off, and no ... I didn't.'
I put my hands wide. A question.
'Probably, ' he responded. 'Oh, we'll meet Po around 2pm, do the tourist stuff – he loves the old palaces.'
'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 look in the spare room.'
I padded across the 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?'
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.
'Well?' Judy nudged with a huge smile, earning a glaring look from me.
'Well ... 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.'
'Never mind, ' Judy said with a glint in her eye. I slapped her arm.
Jimmy told Liz, 'If you're not busy around 2pm today ... our man in Hong Kong wants a tour of the palaces and, if I am to believe your parents, you're something of an expert.'
She pinched a piece of Jimmy's toast. 'Is that a ... date of sorts?'
'If you like, although I won't be rubbing your feet in public.'
'You got a foot rub?' Judy joked in a strong whisper, getting another slapped arm from me. 'Do tell.'
'Nothing to tell, ' Liz insisted, a little embarrassed. 'We chatted.'
'Actually, you did most of the talking, ' Jimmy said with slightest of grins evident.
'Sorry about that, I get like that after a drink.'
'Told me you hadn't had sex for a year, ' Jimmy softly mentioned.
'Oh, God, I didn't did I?'
'And lots more.'
'Do tell?' Judy nudged.
'I don't kiss and tell, ' Jimmy insisted. 'Not that we kissed.'
'I seem to remember you kissing me on the forehead when you put me to bed, ' Liz suggested, her head lowered.
'Must have been a dream, ' Jimmy insisted, a wink towards me and Judy.
'Don't tell my parents I stayed over, ' Liz requested. 'They'll ... go out and buy wedding hats and ... fuss.'
'Our lips are sealed, ' Jimmy insisted.
Big Paul wandered in, slapping down the papers. 'Jesus, must be something in the air.' He turned on a heel and left.
'God, even your driver knows now, ' Liz let out.
'And our communal doorman, ' I dropped in.
'I'd best pop down and see my parents before I go, ' Liz reluctantly suggested. 'Save them finding out from the damn doorman.'
Judy put in, 'You must feel cheated – all the blame, none of the fun, girl.'
Liz made no promises 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 back 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 a foursome. And, at twenty-six, I entered my first serious relationship, tights in the drawers and tampons in the bathroom cabinet.
A belated promotion
Jack Donohue was summoned to Sykes' office as soon as he arrived at work Monday morning, finding his immediate manager already in attendance.
'Jack, come on in, ' his manager called.
Jack stepped in and sat as directed.
Sykes began, 'Your friend has transferred half a million pounds into that account.' He waited, carefully studying Jack.
'Yes, sir, he said he would, ' Jack affirmed.
Sykes coolly regarded 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?'
'At least a million a year, sir, ' Jack informed the expectant faces.
His superiors exchanged looks, faces pulled. They did not seem very impressed by the amount.
'There is something else, sir.' Jack pulled out a sheet. 'Some financial information from ... our friend.' He reached across the desk. '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.' Jack'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.'
More notes were scribbled down.
Jack handed over a second sheet. 'That's the price of gold for the next twenty years, with Sterling overlaid against the dollar.'
'Crickey!' Sykes quietly let out. He displayed the crumpled page to Jack's manager. They mutually raised their eyebrows and exchanged looks. Facing Jack, Sykes said, 'Do you realise what this gives us?'
'A significant 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.'
'Yes, well, we'll see, ' Sykes said dismissively, studying the gold chart.
Back in his basement 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, swivelling 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 knocking on our door.
'Jack?' I questioned as I held the door.
Jimmy put down the 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 the gold chart than the Berlin Wall?'
With his head down Jack raised his eyes, a barely perceptible nod issued.
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 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 are cats and dogs that I can manipulate them so well.'
I placed a tea down for Jack and sat next to him.
Jimmy suggested, 'Jack, 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.'
Jack sipped his tea, looking better.
Jimmy added, 'We'll be there, and if you're sharp-eyed, Jack, you might catch sight of ... some others.'
That seemed to lift Jack'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 with bits of wall and a few photographs for the album.
'This is good, ' Jimmy said, holding up a fax from Rudd.
I plonked down next to him and skimmed the detail.
Jimmy continued, 'The UN has put a small office in Mawlini airfield, also Medicine Sans Frontiers and one other charity. Three charities on the base now, using it as a re-supply stop, the odd aircraft flying in.'
'It is growing.' I touched the paper. 'It says here that we're funding them.'
'We supply the huts, food and water, electricity.'
'And these groups ... we'll work a lot with them in the future?'
'Very much so, they'll be key allies. And we'll need all the help we can get.'
I swivelled my head to him, a question in my look.
'Somali refugees will pour across that border. The airfield becomes Dodge City.'
I finished reading the detail, unable to pass judgement or get excited because Jimmy's long terms plans were often secret. Lifting a second fax from the table I noticed the Pineapple logo.
'That's good as well, ' Jimmy mentioned.
My eye navigated itself towards some big figures. 'Where did the dosh come from?'
'Twenty-five top ten hits, it soon adds up. Three top three, one number one hit. And these singers that are getting into the top ten now ... they'll each have a couple number ones in the months ahead.'
A knock at the door and Judy stepped in with her travel suitcase, dressed in her smart blue inform.
'What you doing here?' I puzzled.
'Nice to see you too.' She plonked down, letting out a theatrical sigh. 'Flight was diverted, second leg cancelled.'
Jimmy lifted his head to me. 'Make this poor lady a tea, eh? C'mon, young man.'
When I placed down her tea she picked up the Pineapple fax.
'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?'
'Didn't you know that?' I puzzled.
'No, ' she said with emphasis, facing me. 'You're involved with them?'
'I own fifty-percent, ' I answered with a dismissive shrug. 'I thought I told you.'
'No ... you didn't. You get to meet The Sisters?'
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.' He replaced the receiver.
'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.
I asked Jimmy, 'Does Liz know about Pineapple?'
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.'
'She over tonight?'
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 were 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 kitchen, Jimmy asked the singing trio to sit. The three of them lined up opposite him, Oliver closing in.
'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 reason 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 bit of a holiday, staying at my places out there. Any thoughts?'
They glanced at each 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 pattern for the future, the tying together of all the things that we were involved with.
I was apprehensive, not least because Jimmy had explained that very morning who we were going to meet.
As our taxi progressed, Big Paul alert, Jimmy called, 'Mickey?'
The taxi driver responded with, 'Yeah, Jimmy?'
'There's a few gentlemen that would like to follow me to this meeting.'
We overtook a few other cabs, cut some lights and went around in circles for fifteen minutes.
'I think we're clear, ' Paul suggested.
'When we go in, you eyeball the lobby, ' Jimmy instructed Big Paul.
We pulled up at the Intercontinental Hotel, the taxi waiting, 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 Mediterranean 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 thinning, unkempt black hair. Jimmy issued a long sentence in Hebrew, surprising the man.
'You're ... British?' he questioned as we sat.
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.
Gesturing toward the man who had already been seated, Jimmy said, 'Paul, this is Shlomo Demitry Artrov.'
The man bolted upright in his chair. 'How the hell do you know my name?' he demanded.
'I'm psychic, ' Jimmy joked. I choked out a laugh.
Jimmy motioned towards the second man, the miserable bastard. 'And this is ... Ari, I believe.' Ari was now even more miserable, his face grizzled.
'Watcha, mate, ' I sarcastically offered. 'Having a good trip, are we? Visited the Palace yet?'
Schlomo pointed towards Jimmy, looking him up and down. 'You're a field agent.'
'No, my friend.' Jimmy faced Ari. In Russian he said, 'Why don't you order us some drinks, we could be here a while.'
With a nod from Schlomo, Ari called down to reception in English, but with a bit of an accent.
Jimmy pointed at Schlomo's knee. 'How's the knee?'
'How the hell could know so much about me?' our new friend demanded.
'I told you, I'm psychic.'
Ari sat, and both of our new friends considered us carefully.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'How've you been doing with my stock market tips?'
Eventually, Schlomo admitted, 'They have been one hundred percent accurate.'
'Must have made some money then, ' Jimmy suggested.
After a pause, Schlomo admitted, 'Yes.'
'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 your new best buddies less like Palestinian proctologists.' He eased back and waited.
Schlomo eventually said, 'Why?'
'Why is ... very hard to understand. But, like you, I get letters from Magestic.'
Our two new Jewish friends both suffered minor simultaneous heart attacks. I was starting to enjoy the visit.
'How do you know about him?' Schlomo demanded.
'Who do you think recruited us, ' Jimmy posed. 'Lovely fella, always buys the drinks.'
'And the odd curry, ' I put in. 'Nice fella.'
'Magestic ... buys you drinks?' Schlomo forced out. I wondered if the poor fella would need a doctor.
'Well, ' I said, 'sometimes we pay, of course.'
'We pay our way, mostly, ' Jimmy said, the two of us nodding our agreement.
'Who is Magestic?' Schlomo asked.
'We're not allowed to say, ' Jimmy informed him in conspiratorial whisper. He ended by tapping his nose. 'So, where were we? Ah, yes, the stock trading. You've been making some money, yes?'
'Well ... yes, ' Schlomo admitted.
'And we'll continue to send you tips, so you should be able to make a great deal more.'
'Why?' Schlomo persisted with.
'So that we can ask you favours, of course, ' Jimmy explained. He retrieved a piece 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.'
Schlomo shrugged. 'This benefits us as much as anyone else?'
'No, the people on the list attack western interests around the world, they don't go near Israel.'
'So why don't the Americans have this list?' Schlomo challenged.
'They have ... other lists from Magestic.'
Trying to be helpful I put in, 'And they're not a good as you at shooting Arabs.' Somehow, it did not sound quite right.
With a quick glare 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.'
Schlomo eyed the list. 'How will you know –'
'Magestic will know, ' Jimmy confidently suggested.
'Is he... ?'
'All seeing? Pretty much so. Oh, before I forget, send me a liaison, Ben Ares will do.'
'Ben Ares?' Schlomo challenged. 'He's –'
'I know exactly what position he holds, my friend.' Jimmy handed over a card and stood.
'Been nice talking to you, ' I said directly toward Ari. 'Thanks for the tea.'
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.' We collected Big Paul and jumped into the taxi.
'There's a watcher in reception, ' Big Paul reported.
'I know, ' Jimmy said. 'Mickey! Evasive techniques.'
'Why we trying to lose a tail, you gave them your fucking card?' I challenged.
'Not them I'm worried about.'
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.
We drove the short distance to Naama Bay along a main road with very high curbs painted blue and white, a view of desert and mountain off to the right. Turning off, we drove 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 rooftop bar and pool. From there I just melted as I glimpsed the turquoise water below; 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. Thirty minutes later we hit the warm water with a British Divemaster. That first dive I glimpsed a turtle on the sea-grass and a giant Napoleon fish at twenty metres depth.
We ate lunch with the dive leader, ignoring the girls, before another dive in the afternoon, this time to the area immediately below our hotel, a sharp drop off populated with numerous prickly Lion fish. We finally joined the girls at 4pm, the day still warm.
'Did you see us?' I asked as we plonked down.
'No, we've been sunning ourselves, ' Judy answered.
'Gets very cold at night, ' Jimmy cautioned. 'Wrap up later. As soon as the sun goes down it drops to ten degrees.'
'Lovely now, ' Liz said. 'For January.'
Jimmy was right about 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 drinks in the Camel Bar, a rooftop bar with a view of the lively tourist drag.
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 small 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 herself.
The next day we got up early and boarded a boat from the jetty right next to the hotel, an hour-long trip to a reef. With me and Jimmy acting as escorts, the girls had another trial dive 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 instructors 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 back as the sun sank quickly. 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 of barbeque organised by the locals. We sat cross-legged on carpets and watched a show of traditional dancers, the girls again cold and complaining.
On 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 beach with the hotel instructors, that evening waiting a contact in the bar.
'Is he coming, ' I grumbled as we waited in the near empty bar.
'He's been here all day, I saw him twice, ' Jimmy informed me. 'He's just being careful.'
Ben Ares eventually entered the bar and sat. 'Jimmy Silo.'
'You could have come diving with us, Ben, ' Jimmy said as he gestured our guest to a chair. 'I saw you this morning.'
'And how would 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 agent I had imagined.
'This game would be no fun if I just told you everything, now would it?' Our guest smiled. Jimmy asked, 'First, what do you ... make of Magestic?'
Ben stared into his beer for a moment. 'I'm not sure I believe in clairvoyants, but... '
'But the evidence is conclusive, ' Jimmy finished off.
'It's astonishing, ' Ben admitted.
'And I'm Paul, ' I eventually quipped.
'Sorry. Ben, this is my partner, Paul Holton. Paul, this is Ben Ares, Junior Defence Minister.'
'Deputy ... Defence Minister, ' Ben corrected.
'In England, that would be a junior label, ' Jimmy pointed out, Ben shrugging. 'So, you don't believe in clairvoyants, Ben?' Our guest did not answer. 'Well, neither do we.'
Ben's brow pleated. 'You ... work for Magestic?'
'He's not a clairvoyant, Ben.'
'No, he's a member of a team, I'm another member.'
'And you all work for... ?'
'Which government?' You need to think a bit more ... globally than that, Ben. More ... consortium, federation, United Nations.' Ben was not following, Jimmy adding, 'In the future, Ben, America will not be the only super-power. China, Russia, India and Brazil all catch up to America.'
'The Americans will not wish to hear that.'
'And if the American economy were to decline, where would that leave Israel in the future?' Jimmy posed.
'Isolated, ' Ben finally admitted. He took a breath. 'So what do you do for Magestic?'
'Lots of things, such a trade the stock markets, give stock market tips to others, building up organisations and relationships. It's all part of a grand master plan.'
'With a final goal of... ?'
'Well, let's leave the master plan aside and focus on Israel. Are you a believer, Ben?'
'Religious?' Ben puzzled.
'No, a believer in ... what we tip you off about.'
He shrugged. 'So far all the information has panned out. We know that the British and American Governments have great faith in Magestic.'
'And you, Ben?'
'I trust what I can see.'
'And that's why I asked for you.'
'You don't look twenty-six, nor sound British.' He pointed toward me. 'He does, you don't.'
'That's because I'm well over a hundred years old, Ben.' We let it sink in, our guest stiffening. Jimmy continued, 'And I can outrun anyone you could put up against me, outfight anyone you could find. I'm immune to all diseases known to man and I get by on an hours sleep a night.'
'Are you going to start making some sense soon?' He glanced away, seeming uncomfortable.
'We're not clairvoyant, Ben, we're time travellers.'
Ben focused on Jimmy, his mouth opening.
'Magestic is play on words. The original CIA/NASA study of the potential of time travel was spelt with a 'J'. Our little joke on them.'
'No, Ben. As I said, in the future the Americans are not all powerful. By time we get to 2015 they're struggling, in trouble by 2025. And that's without the small problem of World War Three and the destruction of Israel.' Now we had his attention. 'In a few months the British Government will send tanks to Kuwait to stop Saddam Hussein from invading.' Bens eyes widened. 'If he does invade it will set in motion a series of events that will lead directly to World War Three. And ... the destruction of Israel. If we stop that invasion, Pakistan destabilises around 2009, going to war with India around 2011. The refugees from Pakistan end up around the Middle East. From those refugee camps a group called The Brotherhood will rise up and start blowing up oilfields. In 2011 they smuggle a nuclear device into Tel Aviv. Boom!
'So all you have to do, is to sit back and watch it happen. Or ... you do exactly what we tell you, step by step, for the next twenty years. Because, Ben, even if the next thousand incremental steps in our plan work perfectly we only push back the war a few years, we don't prevent it. We travelled back through time to arm you with information - so you have a better chance of survival. But we can't fix it, Ben. And in 2025 something will happen, something that no one but God can prevent. For Israel to survive would take a miracle of biblical proportions. I can't offer you a solution to a problem, my friend, I can only get you to the last page in the quiz book.'
Ben stared back. Finally he asked, 'Time travellers?'
'Yes, Ben; electronics, circuits, big magnets, human scientists, and no magic or miracles - just technology moving along. We're here, at this hotel, long enough for you to arrange to take blood samples, samples that your scientists will find very interesting. And you, Ben, the man who likes to see things, will have a report from a trusted scientist telling you that he is amazed by what's floating around in my blood. You can then start looking at extracting some of the useful stuff, since I have advanced antibodies to every disease, even cancer. So, Ben, when you finally trust the science ... there is the matter of your father.'
'My ... father?'
'He'll be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of this year, dead six months later. Guess he never will finish that garden.'
'How the hell... ?'
'How do you think?' I curtly asked, Ben turning his head a notch toward me.
'I can cure him, ' Jimmy confidently suggested.
I put in, 'We have an AIDs orphanage in Kenya if you want to pop down. Just the one small problem.' Ben waited. 'The kids don't have AIDs anymore. Jimmy injects them directly.'
'You wanted conclusive evidence, Ben. Well, here's your chance, a quick flight to Kenya by some of your army doctors. You're facing the destruction of Israel, so you can spare a few medics speculatively for a week.'
Ben eased back, his grey matter fired up. 'Will you drive to the border tomorrow?'
'Of course, Ben. It's been a while since I was in Israel last. What, a drive to Moshe Diane Military Hospital north of Tel Aviv? Bit of a long drive. Your wife still there?'
Ben rubbed his face with both hands. 'I can't believe what I'm doing.'
'But you don't dare not do it, ' Jimmy suggested. 'We'll be at the border around noon.'
'I have a driver here you can use.'
'David Rosenberg?' Jimmy asked with a frown.
Ben threw his hands into the air in exasperation. 'You'll recognise him. 7am.' He stood. 'I'll see you in Eilat.'
With our Israeli minister gone I faced Jimmy. 'I really hope you know what the fuck you're doing.'
'Me too, this next bit will be tricky. All I need you to do is to be sarcastic.'
'They might just lock us up.'
'No, I hold all the cards. Plus Jack Donohue knows we're here. If we don't get back the Prime Minister will get involved.'
'Not one to whinge, but how would we explain that to the girls, our faces in the papers, a major international incident?'
'We'd have to buy a lot of flowers.'
At 7am Jimmy recognised the waiting driver. We got in without a word, telling the puzzled reception staff that we were on a four-day trip and that we'd be back. We set off along a bland dusty road, four hours to the border, but no more large curb stones painted blue and white. They didn't let vehicles through the border, so we all walked through, overnight bags afforded a cursory search, passports glanced at. On the Israeli side our driver spoke to the officials and we jumped into a police jeep, soon at a helipad and into an American built helicopter, headsets affixed.
With no music playing, we flew north over brown dirt and brown desert, a few farms with neat rows of crops, greenhouses and plants wrapped in plastic. I eventually saw the old walled city of Jerusalem in the distance, modern roads and houses, then the city of Tel Aviv towards the sea; it was much bigger than I had anticipated. We landed at a hospital helipad, Ben waiting for us with a small group. We clambered down, bent double, and jogged across.
'Nice day for it, ' I offered.
The helicopter pulled off immediately with a roar.
Jimmy pointed towards two burly men. 'They for me? You shouldn't have.'
'Start backing up what you claim, ' Ben said with some menace. A glance at the two men and they stepped over, soon sent flying through the air.
'Got anyone better than that?' Jimmy curtly asked.
Our host with odd manners stood looking down at the men, then beckoned us onwards. We followed him inside, along numerous corridors with coloured lines on the lino floor. In a side room, Jimmy gave blood, waving them away from me and saying something in Hebrew. With blood taken, we were hurried along to a small gym. I had packed gym kit the night before, as Jimmy had instructed, and now we both put on shorts and trainers. Sensors were tapped to our chests before we were invited to mount the treadmills. Two fit looking men stood either side, stopwatches around their necks.
'Two hours, ' Jimmy told them. 'Thirty miles.'
I stopped and considered at that point that I had never seen the big guy run. Never. I'd never been with him to his gym. I hoped he could keep up. I, on the other hand, ran this distance most every day. The pair of fit men seemed to be debating about Jimmy's size, to be running at all, let alone long distance, and I got the impression a bet was laid off. Two hours later Jimmy was two miles ahead of me, hitting the stop button. We dismounted, hardly puffing at all.
'How was that?' Jimmy enquired with a smile.
The fit young men were not happy. Ben appeared and asked for details as we wiped down. Yes, a new world record had been set. Ben offered us water, then beckoned us onwards. In a side room we found a Palestinian prisoner, an elderly doctor in a white lab coat stood over him.
'He has a few days to live, ' the doctor curtly stated.
'What disease?' Jimmy asked.
Jimmy offered the doctor his upturned forearm. 'Fifty millilitres.'
The doctor got to work, so much blood I thought Jimmy might pass out. It was certainly making me feel ill.
Jimmy told Ben Ares, 'If the Cancer is late stage then my blood will halt it and push it back, but won't cure it. My blood needs to be injected earlier to have an effect.' He faced the doctor. 'He will run a fever for a day, a high temperature. Give him plenty of water, and after two days a high protein diet for a week. You'll see some results in three days.'
After a lingering look at the Palestinian, Ben led us out, driving us in silence to a hotel. We booked in as if tourists, our passports handed over. Our reluctant host waited as we put our bags in our rooms and washed; after all, we were a bit sweaty. We settled into the bar for a well-earned beer, our host waiting.
'Ever see someone run like that?' I asked Ben directly.
He made a face. 'We'll have the results soon. Tomorrow maybe.' It sounded like a threat.
'No hurry, ' Jimmy told him. 'On another matter, there are a number of treasures buried around the world that'll be found in decades to come. I'll need some logistical support in retrieving them. After that it's sixty- forty to you.'
'What treasures?' Ben curtly asked.
'At today's prices? About a billion dollars worth of gold. Part of which is a large pile of Nazi gold.'
'You know where it is.' It was a statement, not a question.
Jimmy nodded. 'We'll need divers for a lot of it. Some of it lies in a hundred metres of water.'
Ben stood. 'Tomorrow. I have work.'
'More important than this?' Jimmy teased.
Ben glanced over his shoulder before stepping out.
The next day we were driven back to the hospital, the one with the friendly staff. Three old doctors had some questions, our Deputy Defence Minister sat looking glum in a corner.
'What drugs are in your system?' the first doctor asked.
'For the most part, my system has been modified to be overactive in the production of stem cells.' They took notes. 'Stem cells are the key to everything. They can be extracted, cultivated, stimulated and grown before the cells from various organs can be introduced. The blank stem cells adopt the identity of the new cells, and can then be injected into that body part – such as a hip or kidneys. They then re-grow damaged parts. They could re-grow a finger, but nothing more complicated than that. You couldn't re-grow an arm.
'In years to come, scientists will learn how to tamper with a part of the Y-chromosome called "the clock". It determines growth, and the slowing down of growth. If stem cells are activated with modified clock chromosomes you start to look like you did at twenty.'
They keenly took notes, their sour expressions gradually changing. They advanced from hostile to just curt.
'It's no good asking me too many questions about the science, I'm not a medic or scientist, ' Jimmy suggested. He thumbed at me. 'Paul here was a normal human. I injected him a year ago.'
'And now he can break world records, ' a doctor mentioned. 'Does the donor need to have a compatible blood type?'
A third doctor said, 'We found antibodies for twenty diseases in your blood. Technically, you should be in quarantine, or dead.'
'I'm way over a hundred years old, ' Jimmy informed them. That got a reaction.
'Test my inner bone structure if you like, my bones betray my age.'
'They are not replenished?'
'Only to about twenty percent. And I have problems with my teeth; I still need the dentist.'
They discussed that amongst themselves.
'And the Palestinian?' Jimmy nudged.
'He is up and walking about, ' they reluctantly admitted.
Jimmy made eye contact with Ben, who stared back. Facing the doctors again, Jimmy said, 'There's something you need to know. If I inject someone with my blood, they can go on to inject others. The effect is only fifty-percent, but it still helps a great deal. Paul here is fifty percent, but can break world records.'
Ben piped up. 'How far could you run?'
'The most I've ever tried is two hundred miles.'
'Two hundred!' The medics were stunned.
Jimmy added, 'My joints go long before my muscles do. The bones ache.' They took more notes. 'And another thing. It will take you ten years to synthesize out the antibodies in my blood, that's a fact. There are also antibodies in there for several diseases you'll have never heard of; they haven't been categorised yet.'
Ben cut short the discussion and ushered us out. On a balcony in the bright sunlight he said, 'You will write down what you know for us?'
Our host turned away from the pleasant view, awaiting an explanation.
Jimmy took in the view. 'You'll need to clamp down hard on this, Ben. If it gets out ... there will be unrest, particularly here. What will the religious extremists see in time travel?'
Ben turned away and held the railings. 'It would destabilise the coalition government.'
'So what this needs ... is a single point of contact, a careful use of the information, and a complete denial if discovered. I've taken risks here because it was necessary, I won't take so many risks in the future. You're the point of contact Ben, take it or leave it. But don't take too long, there's work to do and not much time to do it. And in case you're worried about my personal safety – if I'm killed you'll receive letters at the right time from others. Conversely, if you screw with us you'll get nothing – and bombs go off, including a nuclear device.' Jimmy pointed towards the distant coastline, 'Thirty miles out there, off shore, is a crusader ship with fifty million dollars in gold on it. Get me an underwater topography map and you can make a start - and make us both a few quid.'
I leant of the railings and took in the view of a small park, an engraved plaque set in white marble. 'There's no pleasing some people, ' I wistfully let out, Ben Ares staring at the side of my head.
Jimmy nodded, now stood at my side. 'Pride, arrogance ... and the strong desire to stand on their own two feet.'
'I'll drive you back to the hotel, ' Ben suggested as he turned.
We fell into step behind him.
'I want to be back in Sharm tomorrow morning, ' Jimmy firmly stated. 'You can send us a liaison in London, your cousin David will do.'
Ben snapped his head around at that, before pressing onwards at a brisk pace. 'What sex will my daughter's baby be?' he sarcastically asked.
'She'll have a girl, ' Jimmy replied, a distinct change in tone. 'When the kid is three a ... Palestinian will ram –' Ben stopped dead. '- her bus with a digger. They'll be killed. Unless... '
Jimmy walked on. I followed, and Ben caught up, saying nothing as we drove to the hotel. The last thing we did in Israel was to mark a spot on a map, a sunken ship, flown by helicopter to the border that afternoon, back at the Hyatt Regency around 9pm.
I was glad when we exited our aircraft to the cold drizzle of Gatwick.
Three days after we got back, the nominated liaison, David, turned up and introduced himself. I liked him straight away. He had a pleasant round face, bald except hair above his ears, and a diplomatic air about him. Although he had spent some time with Mossad, more time had been put in with their diplomatic corps, his great love being pottering about in damp English gardens now that he had reached sixty.
'They found an old wreck, ' he announced.
'That's no way to talk about Ariel Sharon, ' Jimmy joked, making David laugh.
Our new liaison liked the odd beer, a curry, Chinese food, and had a pragmatic view of the world. There was not a question nor political point of view he could not answer silently with a shrug or tip of his head. In the lounge, that first day, he asked Jimmy a few questions, nothing heavy.
'What do you think about the peace process?'
I was lost already.
Jimmy answered, 'Cats and dogs. There'll never be a peace because you don't want peace, you want a victory.' David was surprised by Jimmy's view, glancing toward me. Jimmy added, 'Why would anyone, who outguns the opposition a hundred to one, stoop to make peace, when victory should be so close at hand? No, the Zionists only made one mistake.'
'And what was that?' David keenly enquired.
'They tried to govern the Palestinians instead of pushing them across the Jordan. It was a big mistake; the Palestinians would have been better off in Diaspora than what they have now – and what they'll endure for the next twenty years.'
'Well... ' David was lost for words. 'An unusual point of view for a British man.'
With a glint in his eye, Jimmy said, 'I'm a hundred year old time traveller, David. And I've spent a lot of time out of this ... country.'
'Yes, well I'm still coming to terms with the time travelling and clairvoyant bit. I had a lengthy briefing, but you'll forgive me if I don't ... grasp it straight away.'
'Don't take too long, David, ' Jimmy suggested. 'You'll develop Alzheimer's in six years. They'll pension you off before then.'
'Alzheimer's?' David repeated, none too happy with the advance diagnosis.
'Your good lady wife, Sarah, will nurse you after you become a drooling idiot. You'll sit in the lounge and look out over your garden.' David eased back. Jimmy added, 'Perhaps you should finish that novel, three chapters is not much to show for a life's work.'
'Dear God, ' David let out in a whisper. He slowly cranked his head around to me, suddenly looking tired. Facing Jimmy again he asked, 'What's in the next chapter ... that I am thinking of writing?'
'If I were to hazard a guess, I say you break with a simple linear history of Israel and focus on British and French political double-dealing over Suez.'
'Water?' I offered our guest.
David told me, 'There is only one place that information exists, and that's in my head – I've told no one.'
'He does that a lot, ' I explained. 'Annoying, isn't it.'
'Alzheimer's?' David repeated, his head lowered as he considered it.
'Not to worry, I can cure you, ' Jimmy suggested.
'Cure me?' David challenged.
'I can't rid your garden of slugs, David, but I can cure you of Alzheimer's, ' Jimmy informed our guest. 'Anyway, I have a gift for you.' He lifted an old file from the coffee table. 'My friend in MI6 got some extra information on Suez for you. There's some stuff in there that you won't find anywhere else.'
David reverently held the file and flicked through faded old pages that appeared typed by a drunk secretary.
'Don't leave that on the tube, eh?' I suggested.
'It's as if you knew I was coming, ' David noted. He closed the file, resting his hands on it. He took a reflective breath, his head lowered. 'My daughter disappeared in 1976, here in London –'
'Some questions ... produce unpalatable answers, ' Jimmy cut in with.
David puzzled that. 'How could it? If you know where her body might be found... ?'
Jimmy glanced at me, heaving a reluctant sigh. He reached under the coffee table and retrieved a file. From the file he produced a photograph, hesitating a moment before handing it over. From the angle I sat at I could that see it was a couple with two children.
David stared long and hard at the woman. After a few seconds he folded the picture, oddly ruining it, unfolded it before tearing it up. He threw it down. 'I ... I thank you for the Suez file, ' he said as he stood. He let himself out, Jimmy staring at the floor.
'She isn't dead, is she?' I knowingly asked.
Jimmy shook his head. 'Living in Australia with a Gentile, and very happy.'
'Oops, ' I carefully mouthed. 'Will he be alright?'
'He'll be back tomorrow, he's a tough old boot.'
A day later he returned, a lunch appointment in our kitchen. We invited Jack Donohue over, but that was a big mistake; it turned out that Jack was working on a novel about Suez. Well, he'd started it ten years ago, so it was dragging on a bit. He and David got into Suez, the rest of us slipping out without being noticed. Before Jack disappeared, Jimmy explained the problem of an Israeli liaison, and listed what Jack should say to his superiors. When Jack returned to the MOD building voices were raised, concerns aired at this latest revelation.
Stood in front of Sykes like a naughty schoolboy, Jack explained, 'There is, apparently, an Israeli equivalent of Jimmy Silo in ... well, Israel of course. Magestic got the two of them together to co-operate.'
'Co-operate on what?' Sykes demanded, concerned over potential security breaches.
'On ... making money and supporting a strange long list of charities, many in Africa.'
'Africa?' Sykes puzzled.
'An orphanage in Kenya, a mine clearance charity, things like that.'
His superior pulled a face. Calmer, he said 'What the hell for, Jack?'
'I've no idea, sir. They just say that they like to support charities. Sixty percent of Silo's money goes to charity.'
Sykes puzzled that. 'Well ... well try and find out what you can, Jack. Do the Israelis get terrorist tip-offs?'
'Yes, sir. There is also, apparently, a Silo equivalent in the States, sir.'
'So, it is global, ' his superior let out in a resigned tone. Louder, he said, 'OK, find out what you can, Jack.' He flicked his wrist towards the door then put his glasses back on.
'They're quite open about everything they do, just not what motivates Magestic. And to tell the truth, sir, I don't think they have a clue either. They get letters like us.'
'But Magestic is in London.'
'Not necessarily, sir.'
'No?' Sykes took his glasses off.
'I have an idea that he is a long way off, sending letters to someone here to post on. They hinted at Southern Spain, sir, the Costa Del Sol.'
Sykes glanced out of the window as he thought. Softly, he said, 'Place is packed with ex-pats on the run, or retired.' He put his glasses back on. 'Good work, Jack. Keep at it.'
Back in his office Jack slumped into his chair, taking out a Kitkat. With a grin he snapped it, unwrapping the foil with care.
"X" marks the spot
A week after first meeting Jewish David, known thereafter as Dave the Gardener, or just Dave Gardener, he was invited to the apartment. He arrived whilst Jimmy and Big Paul were out, an unpleasant task left to me.
David stepped in with a map rolled up in a cardboard tube. 'I bring gifts from afar, ' he joked.
I took the map tube, waving David towards our dining table. A lone file lay there awaiting him. With a curious frown he closed in on it.
I told him, 'Jimmy asks that you read all the file. He was pretty insistent about it, no matter how distasteful the contents.'
David was intrigued as he sat. I made him a tea, noticing some of the file's contents when I placed his drink down; the thick file was the life story of his daughter, from a time period after she walked out on her family. I had expected him to get up and leave, but he sat quietly for forty minutes as I read the papers.
A key turned in the door, Jimmy and Big Paul re-entering. Big Paul dumped down some shopping, just inside the door, and withdrew. Jimmy gave me an expectant look. I glanced at David and shrugged, Jimmy closing in on our guest. He stood over David's shoulder and waited.
David said, 'I'm ... I'm not quite sure what your motivations are regarding this ... but I'm hopeful that they're good.'
'Last page, ' Jimmy said. David eased loose pages over till the last page was revealed. Jimmy added, tapping the page, 'The two kids go to Temple and Torah studies.'
David lifted his head to Jimmy, but made no comment. Jimmy returned to me, grabbing the map. With David closing the file without further comment, Jimmy opened the map and weighted down the edges with coasters. With a ruler and pencil, Jimmy carefully drew a line from the first sunken wreck; nine miles north and two miles west. He marked the spot with an "x". Rolling up the map, he eased it back into the cardboard tube, handing it over.
David finally said, 'They owe you nine million pounds.'
'Nine?' I questioned, certain it was twelve.
David apologetically explained that the salvage operation had been expensive, making Jimmy laugh.
'Cheeky buggers, ' I let out. 'Three million quid salvage!'
Jimmy told David, 'This next one is a little smaller, valued around twelve million in total. If that goes OK then the third one is much bigger. And tell Ben we'll be in Israel in two weeks to discuss Operation Liberation.'
'Operation Liberation?' David puzzled.
'Got a paper and pen?'
David took out a notepad and sat listening attentively.
Jimmy continued, 'For this operation we'll need twenty field agents familiar with Southern Germany and the area around Baden Baden. Get people in there and training straight away. We'll need men who can dig and explore caves, cave equipment, lighting, cutting torches. We'll need cars and camper vans specially adapted to carry hidden treasure, in particular gold bars.'
'Gold? Nazi gold?' David queried.
'Yes, and lots of it. Estimated value for the entire contents of the cave – two hundred million pounds.'
'Wey hey!' I let out with a smile.
'Oh, and the entire contents goes to Israel, we don't take a cut, ' Jimmy mentioned very matter of fact.
'We don't?' I asked, closing in.
'It's ... Nazi treasure, I want nothing to do with it, ' Jimmy insisted.
I didn't know who was more surprised, David or myself. I focused on our liaison. 'Tell your fucking mates to improve their salvage costs, eh! We make you tea when you come around, and it's expensive fucking tea.'
Jack knocked on Sykes door the next day.
'Be quick, Jack, ' Sykes curtly said, waving Jack in.
'Something interesting, sir.' Sykes waited. 'An old German submarine, in sixty metres of water in a Norwegian fiord.'
Sykes puzzled over the detail. 'This is something to do with Magestic?'
'Yes, sir. A ... gift.'
'A gift? A war relic?'
'I guess it's what's inside the sub, sir.'
'Ah.' Sykes took off his glasses and eased back. 'And do we know ... what's inside?'
'Gold?' Sykes eased forwards. 'How much ... gold?'
'Four tonnes, sir.'
Sykes coolly regarded his junior, pursing his lips. 'Would upset the Norwegians.'
'Would be an interesting operation for the Navy or the SBS.'
'I'll have to discuss this with the various interested parties, do a feasibility study without letting anyone know the details. You have the exact co-ordinates?'
'They'll be supplied in a few weeks, sir.'
With what almost passed for a smile, Sykes said, 'Good work, Jack. Thank you.'
The next day, David brought a visitor, the man who would head up Operation Liberation, a German Mossad member – if that was not a contradiction in terms. In a satchel he brought with him numerous maps of the Baden Baden area, soon flattened onto our table and weighed down with coffee mugs. With Big Paul offering useful advice on logistics, we all debated the approach to recovering the gold around our dining table.
Big Paul said, 'If you wait till spring or early summer then there's no problem with camper vans by the dozen. This time of year they'll stand out.' We were all in agreement.
'There're paintings inside, in wooden frames, ' Jimmy explained.
'Frames may be rotten, ' Big Paul suggested, 'But the canvas should be OK, restored if necessary. They can be cut out and carried out, very light. One man could carry fifty paintings.'
'Which would be just about most of the valuable ones, ' Jimmy suggested. He turned to the new man. 'Find an art expert. He'll need to go into the caves and make an assessment, sort out the good paintings. And to teach your boys how to cut out the paintings without ruining them.' Notes were taken. Jimmy added, 'You can drive due south the short distance to Zurich, put the treasures in a vault.' From the disgruntled look on the new guy's face I got the impression he was already planning on doing exactly that. 'Gold can be melted down then sold on the Swiss gold markets without anyone noticing.'
'What about the railway line?' I asked, a finger on the map.
'No, too public. Need camper vans, ' Jimmy insisted.
As we pored over the map and made plans I was as giddy as a schoolboy. And I desperately wanted to be along on the mission; a boyhood dream - sneaking about in caves looking for treasure. It was a great disappointment to be on the sidelines. I also wanted to be diving for the sunken gold.
After an hour of discussion, the new guy departed with David, the German hardly having said a word, the exact location of the cave given. I hoped he wouldn't leave the map on the tube.
'This is annoying, ' I loudly told Jimmy and Paul. 'Why can't we go searching caves for gold?'
'Yeah?' Big Paul agreed.
'We will, just not there, and not now, ' Jimmy said. 'In years to come we'll go pinch sunken treasure from a few places, dig up some stuff. This is politics, boys.'
Big Paul and I started discussing re-breathers and technical diving, deep diving. A trip to the bookstore was planned.
Three weeks after meeting the German cave explorer we were on an El Al flight to Tel Aviv with the girls. David was on the flight, but pretending not to know us, Big Paul guarding the apartment.
The girls had wangled four days off work, basically a long weekend, so we planned to show them around Israel, not that I knew much of the place from my quick helicopter visit. Visas had been quickly arranged, but not affixed to the pages of our passports. That was possible for people who did business in Israel and other Middle East countries, many Arab countries not allowing someone in if their passports displayed an Israeli stamp. Judy had questioned it, since she knew they were difficult and lengthy to obtain, Jimmy explaining that we worked with a large Israeli investment company who had pulled a few strings. Still, she was suspicious.
At the airport we got strange looks from the passport controllers, the paper slip scrawled over. We even had our bags checked for authenticity. I clocked several suspicious people near us as we headed for a taxi, not sure if they were watching us. A man held up a sign: Silo, James. Guess that was our man.
'Mr Silovich?' he asked. 'Diamond Investments sent me, I'll take your party to Jerusalem.' And that was just about all he said. We clambered into a smart minibus, our luggage in its hold for the half-hour drive toward Jerusalem. At least it would have been half an hour without the traffic.
We were booked into the King David, a nice hotel except for the Israeli staff. Jimmy explained that they were always like this; it was nothing to do with us. The rooms were nice, near the top floor and south facing, so we got the sun during the day, and the sunsets. Judy was happy enough.
With 'investment' work planned for the next day, a Friday, the girls joined an organised trip for foreigners, a six-hour tour of the ancient walled city. They boarded a coach with cameras in hand, we jumped into a car driven by the same guy who had picked us up in Sharm-el- Sheik, a second man riding shotgun. He looked armed, a bulge under his jacket. North of Tel Aviv we pulled into a non-descript facility, several sets of guarded gates negotiated as we passed single or two storey concrete buildings, many with sloping roofs shaded by trees that needed a drop of water. Ben Ares greeted us, this time in Uniform.
'Watcha, mate, ' I offered, a handshake accepted. 'Progress, ' I muttered, wondering if this time they'd stretch to a cup of tea.
Jimmy exchanged pleasantries about the weather, in Hebrew, as Ben led us inside. After a long stroll down a dimly lit corridor we entered an office with a permanent guard, David Gardener already inside and waiting
'Good flight?' I asked him, eliciting a smile and shrug, the man true to form. The German was there as well, along with around twenty other men of all descriptions, a right mixed bag. A map was already laid out on a large central desk, Southern Germany, many files and photographs scattered about. And a bloody great gold bar.
I lifted it. 'Guess you didn't want to wait till spring then, ' I said as I weighed the yellow bar. As I let it plonk down as Jimmy lifted a silver candleholder, examining the base.
'1929, ' Jimmy stated.
Ben closed in. 'We haven't retrieved all of the gold and silver yet, we're moving two loads a week, slow going. The paintings are all out.'
'What condition?' Jimmy asked.
'Some will need work, others were well wrapped. The frames were rotten, as you suggested. The dusty old German staff car might be a problem.' We all laughed.
'Who's the team leader?' Jimmy asked of the group, a man stepping forwards. 'Listen up. At the rear of the cave are two sealed rooms opposite each other –'
'We know them.'
'They're full of munitions, nothing of value. If you blast your way in you'll bring down the mountain on top of you.' Men glanced at each other. 'Beyond them is another room, with wooden boxes inside. In the boxes are a lot of documents, the kind that the world's historians would love to get a look at. There are also twenty Hitler diaries; I want five of them. Get them, and everything else out, before you get curious about the other two rooms. Now, take a look at the men around you. Which of them do you want to sacrifice ... to appease your curiosity?'
Men again glanced at each other. Ben took a step forwards, an order barked. I guessed they would not be going into those rooms.
The group leader reached into his pocket and produced gold coins, handing us a few. As we examined them he said, 'Crusader money.'
'First or second wreck?' I asked.
'They are the same.'
We pocketed the coins, nice gifts for the girls, as Jimmy closed the gap to the group leader. He turned the man by the shoulders. With his face close to the man's ear he said, 'Take a good look at their faces, and think about what you'll put on their gravestones. Take the treasure and some papers, then move on.'
With the awkward silence lingering, Ben led us to a side room with David Gardener. We settled about a table, coffee supplied. Small miracles.
Ben began, his gaze lowered as he fiddled with his coffee cup, 'You know I am Godfather to David's daughter?'
'Yes.' Jimmy sipped his coffee. 'She left when she fell pregnant, ' Jimmy responded. 'By ship.'
'Ah, ' Ben let out, David remaining silent. 'There was no record of her anywhere. I know, we looked.'
'The husband was a merchant seaman. He got her onto a boat to Australia, ' Jimmy explained. Ben exchanged a look with David. Jimmy added, 'In recent years they've done well, winning a local lottery: fifty thousand Australian dollars.'
'Lucky, ' I put in as David raised his head.
'You've been watching over her, ' Ben stated.
'Of course. I knew that David would be a great help to my cause, as well as your good self. Some people are born with family, others make family as they go.' Ben and David exchanged looks. 'But that don't mean I'd suffer your wife's cooking, ' Jimmy lightly mentioned. Ben stiffened. 'Or your cousin, Mosh.'
Ben made a face and shrugged. 'There are no secrets from you.'
'No. So, any ... Republican Guard Divisions moving south?'
'Some, yes, ' Ben admitted. 'Your Government has sent infantry, labelling it as an exercise. There are British tanks on the way.'
'If he invades Kuwait then you ... will pay a very heavy price, ' Jimmy forcefully stated.
'You've not been wrong up to now, so we are putting pressure on the Americans, ' Ben admitted. 'But what would be the outcome of a war in Kuwait?'
'Any event ... that causes a large gathering of refugees in the Middle East, will give rise to a group called The Brotherhood. They are ... if you like ... Arab socialists with a Wahabi leaning. They believe that money, and therefore oil, is the source of all evil, and they'll set about blowing up oilfields with suicide bombers keen to get to paradise and their thirty-seven virgins. The earliest that they could form up is 2013. Forming in 2025 is certain. The trick, is to let them form when we're ready, not when they're ready.'
'2013 is a long way off, ' Ben suggested.
'You'll be Prime Minister, ' Jimmy softly stated. As Ben sat upright, Jimmy pointed a warning finger at David. 'Not a word to anyone. Ever.'
'I'll ... be Prime Minister?' Ben questioned.
'Yes, so any problems you sweep under the carpet now will come back to haunt you later. And if I was you ... I'd not mention that little fact to the current generation of politicians.'
'They'd bump you off, ' I suggested with a grin.
Ben finally asked, 'Where do you want your share of the money sent?'
Jimmy retrieved a folded piece of paper from his wallet. 'That bank account.'
It was my area, I controlled them. 'Which account is that?'
'Rudd's? He'll freak. I like the guy, but can you trust him?'
'He can only draw a maximum of twenty thousand a month, ' Jimmy explained.
'Who is this Rudd?' Ben asked.
'Our manager in Kenya, ' I replied.
'This money ... it will go to charity?' Ben queried.
'A lot of it, yes, ' Jimmy answered. 'Most of it will help secure Kenya's northern border.'
'Their border?' Ben questioned with a heavy frown.
'In years to come The Brotherhood will form up in Somali, attacking south. Before that happens I'll need to secure the border.'
'How? Ben challenged. 'Private mercenaries?'
'Watch and see, ' Jimmy said with a grin.
'When they form up and attack, what the hell will the British and Americans be doing?' Ben asked, waving a hand. 'Sleeping?'
'They'll be busy with The Brotherhood attacking into Europe.'
'Europe? A land invasion?' Ben questioned.
'Through Syria, Turkey and across the Bosphorous straights into Europe.'
'They wouldn't stand a chance!' Ben dismissively challenged.
Jimmy took a moment. 'A million suicide bombers throwing themselves at you ... will wear down your lines.'
'And when this is going on?' Ben asked. 'What problems do we face?'
'Two million suicide bombers on your borders, your people evacuating to America.'
'Who's behind them?' Ben demanded.
'No one, that's the problem. They're a loose group with no fixed leadership, just a cause ... and a shit load of explosives. By the second year they'll have Pakistani nuclear weapons and Iranian missiles, and will have reached The Alps.'
David finally piped up, 'You know ... how to defeat them?'
'If you co-operate with me till 2025, I can get you that far, ' Jimmy solemnly stated. 'I can't fix the final problem, and I have resources that would stagger you.'
'What happens in 2025?' David whispered.
Jimmy shook his head. 'If it slipped out ... the panic and chaos would be worse than if it happened now.'
I said, 'Not even I know that bit.'
Jimmy made strong eye contact with Ben. 'You, I've chosen as the information holder. I'll tell you things that you need only keep in mind for the future, but you don't tell anyone else. Not even what I've said today. Accidental disclosure could destroy you, and there'll be enough others trying hard to do that for you.' He took out another piece of paper. 'Payback time.' Ben accepted a list of names. 'None of these must get into a position of power, money or authority.'
'Why?' Ben asked as he read the names.
'I'll give you an example. One of them, a Jew, will defraud Jewish families of billions in the future. Another, a future New York mayor, will turn back your refugee ships. Put them all on your shit list, before it's too late.'
'Can I ask you a personal question?' Ben asked, folding the paper.
'You're an Israeli, manners are not needed, ' Jimmy responded, David smiling.
'Do you like Israelis?' Ben asked directly.
'Not especially, ' Jimmy answered, and I worried if we'd get out of there. 'The answer to your question is this: I'm not doing what I do – for you. Israel is a piece on a chessboard, an important piece at the centre. You, and The Brotherhood, are two queens battling it out, and when you lose Europe goes next. Your country sees American support as a good thing, I see it as supplying ammunition to the Alamo.'
No, we were not getting out of there.
Jimmy continued, 'What you see as good fortune, in American help, will – in part – be your downfall. They'll supply the ammo and you'll stand and fight. The longer I can keep you up and fighting, the better chance the world has.' Ben lifted his eyebrows. Jimmy continued, 'What you see as your goal, the Zionist goal of claiming and holding this land, will be the undoing of your people. Hanging onto this piece of land from 2015 to 2025 will cost more than America can afford. Your only hope is that I can dance faster than my adversary.'
'Your ... adversary?' Ben questioned.
'My other self, ' Jimmy suggested, and I was wondering what the hell he was talking about. 'You see, I have all the answers, even to 2025. The problem is ... knowing when to be compassionate, and when to go to war. I have made, and will make, mistakes when I get the two mixed up.'
David put in, 'It sounds as if you have been struggling with that ... for some time.'
'For ... some time, ' Jimmy repeated. He focused on Ben with tired eyes. 'I watched you die, and I took in your granddaughter, into my house in Canada.'
'You ... were at my death?' Ben whispered.
Jimmy nodded. 'You made it to Canada, but wounded.' He took a big breath. 'When the time comes, you will realise that you cannot hold onto this land, but you evacuate too late. Your ships are attacked in the Gibraltar Straights, few making it through. Those landing in Southern Italy are cut off by The Brotherhood landing in Northern Italy from Croatia.'
Ben glanced at me, then back to Jimmy. 'And when this theoretical battle is happening, where are the NATO forces?'
'By then you will have fallen out with American public opinion. Several Jewish fund managers will steal a great deal of money in The States, people lose their pensions, lots of scandals. In your darkest hour they'll be no one to call upon, or to take in your refugees. But, unfortunately, I cannot reveal it all and leave you to ponder on a solution, because what I tell you will strike a spark too soon.'
David said, 'Every time we prove the truth in something you say, I'll be wishing you a liar. And so far, you're a hundred percent right.'
Jimmy nodded to himself. 'And will be step by step, and for the next twenty thousand steps. And even then you will not act, nor believe that which cannot be accepted.'
'If there's no solution to this problem, why are you even trying?' Ben snapped out.
'That, my friend, occupies my every waking minute.'
'All problems, have solutions, ' David suggested.
Jimmy cranked his head around to David. 'There is an obvious and immediate solution: you stand and fight your neighbours all out for ten years, till they are either all dead or have given up. And without any outside help, no money from America, huge numbers of casualties each day.'
David said, 'At the end of a ten year war there'd be nothing but dust left. Salladin would claim his pile of rocks.'
It was a heady meeting, and I was glad to be back in the car and heading for my woman and a nice pair of breasts. And I needed a few beers at the hotel bar.
Saturday was a nice day out, a lengthy trip in a taxi to the Dead Sea, photos taken of the four of us floating as a group. That evening we had a final supper, the Israeli military going on full alert Sunday morning. The Americans had threatened Saddam and were sending aircraft carriers. Saddam had responded by reminding everyone that his missiles could hit Israel; our departure was made in haste. The girls were glad to be back in London, the news full of a looming war. And Monday morning brought a call from Rudd.
'There is twelve million pounds in the account!' They could hear him downstairs.
'We're going to ramp things up a bit, ' I said before holding the phone away from my ear, Jimmy shaking his head as he read the morning papers, now full of stories about Kuwait.
'It is not a mistake?' Rudd asked.
'No, not a mistake. We'll be down in a few days, relax.'
With Liz tagging along, her holiday time swapped with another woman and Judy working, the three of us headed to Nairobi, flying first class for a change.
In the rooftop bar Liz stood with hands on hips. 'So, this is where you met.'
'Yep. Like it?' I asked.
It started raining almost immediately, the first time in the bar, so we headed down. It was odd for me, not having Judy there, the bed now big and empty. I opened the briefcase I had brought with me, a lot of this trip's management down to me, and got to work. I had a few million quid to distribute whilst Liz and Jimmy had a relaxing break, no missile attacks threatening.
Rudd met us in the UN jeep the next morning, all of us laughing, Liz briefed in advance. We set off for River View, Mombassa. At the junction beyond the orphanage, the road turning off to the hotel, Jimmy stopped the jeep and we piled out into the sticky heat. He and Rudd clambered up onto the roof, onto the baggage rack.
'I want to buy the land from here to the hotel, ' Jimmy explained, pointing with a finger. 'Both sides of the road.'
'I know the man who owns it, he comes to the hotel bar sometimes, ' Rudd responded. 'He's from Zimbabwe, he was a white farmer.'
'Is he still white?' Jimmy teased.
Rudd felt silly. 'Yes. He wants to go to Australia.'
'Give him a nudge then, get a good price. Tell him you might be able to get me interested.'
'He only wants a quarter million for the land, ' Rudd answered with a grin.
'Some, twenty thousand.'
'Try and buy it, then clear the land, I want a golf course here.'
'Golf? Yes, what a good idea.' Rudd stood with hands on hips and surveyed the area.
'A clubhouse for guests and locals, a small hotel with two hundred rooms.'
'That what you call a small hotel?'
'Room for growth; I'm planning on using it for twenty years.'
We arrived at our hotel with the sun low on the horizon, delayed by an ostrich that would not budge. Rudd gently rammed it a few times. With Liz and Jimmy heading for a hut, I sat down with Rudd and the hotel manager, a mountain of paperwork to go through. It was 8pm before we reached a natural break, finding Jimmy and Liz finishing their meal. It would be just me and Rudd, and a few files. As we ate, I opened the orphanage file.
'Cosy has been there a few times, ' Rudd informed me.
'He's on the team, ' I replied. Easing back, with an elbow over the chair- back, I asked, 'How do you find him?'
'Nice enough, no problems. He likes Africa, he wants to be here instead of London. I think he's religious - he says some strange things - and he likes to help at the orphanage. Have you given him money?'
'He has a new jeep, and brings presents for the children.'
'You think you could work with him?'
'Sure, no problem. He has an apartment not far from me. But up to now I don't know what I must say to this man.'
'From next week he's your assistant.'
'We want him to take over a lot of the work at Mawlini, save you driving up there. Maybe also the safari park, you'll be busy down here.'
'With this new golf course, very busy, ' Rudd complained.
'So it works out then. You'll be in overall charge. Call him and get him down here to chat to me.' I scanned the building plans for the back fields of the orphanage, not happy with the layout. 'Have the foundations been laid for these other buildings?'
'Only five buildings.' Rudd marked them in red.
'Right, think about this. A central square here, a playing area overlooked by the buildings around it. And let's make them three storeys; it will save on costs. And these buildings should have showers and toilets at the end of each floor. Next to them, classrooms with air conditioning -'
'Air conditioning? For AIDs orphans? You'll be treating them better than the local three star hotel.'
I wasn't happy with that comment, but held my tongue. 'The aim ... is to educate them to a good standard, then get them into a school in Nairobi, and then to help them find jobs.'
Rudd shrugged. 'The oldest boy is eleven, the youngest just a baby. The average age is five, so many years before they could go to an upper school.'
'Then we'll build a nursery and junior school for now. I don't want them sitting around, so they'll study hard all day.'
Rudd nodded and took notes. 'The inspector of orphanages visited. He wanted to know who you were, and would Mary hand some money over to him for other orphanages.'
'She kicked him in the leg. Told him to bring the other children here.'
'How many now?'
'Three hundred and sixty two. One was run over outside.'
'Police involved?' I asked, now worried.
'No, they witnessed it. Orphans don't get a lot of paperwork. The police, and the locals, they think all the children will die anyway.'
'Charming.' I tapped the diagram. 'How long before these are ready?'
'The first two buildings are finished and in use, another two months for the next two – that will ease things, almost two hundred beds in each building.' He opened a map. 'I have been thinking about food for them. This land here is shit, just swamps. I think we can get it for almost nothing, then a small farm.'
'Sounds like a good idea, so try and get it. We'll want to expand the farm down here as well.'
'It doesn't need expanding, just improving. The farm hands are useless.'
I gave that some thought. 'OK, find a farm manager, motivate the rest with money or kick them out. Let's get productivity up, eh. How are the bookings?'
'Almost full all the time now. I put small adverts in Nairobi and Mombassa papers.'
'We need more huts, ' I suggested, Rudd nodding. 'The ones already here are nice enough for the guests, but a bit spread out.'
'There is room to the left of here –' He pointed. '- for a two storey building with a sea view. I priced it up, only twenty thousand with the local builders – all wood.'
'Do it. How many rooms then?'
'In total, twenty twin huts plus another twenty twins in the new building. Eighty people.'
'Not much for a beach hotel.'
'The new golf course hotel will hold a lot more, and they'll come down to the beach some days.'
'Might get cosy down here. OK, we'll see how it goes. Any other problems?'
'We've started building shower areas for the divers and they now have a small boat.'
'I want a small café at that end of the beach, for the divers and their families. And let's get more wetsuits and tanks, the groups will get bigger in future.'
Rudd made a note. 'What about the old hotel next door?'
'Which way?' I puzzled, Rudd thumbing to the south, producing a photo. 'Looks like it's falling down.'
'It is, they'll be closed down soon. If it is then we can buy it for peanuts.'
I tapped the picture. 'Tomorrow, 7am, you and me.' I retired to my hut, just files for company, not even an elephant peeing on my feet.
At 7.30am we stood on a rise that separated the two hotels, our side of the fence recently repaired, their sorry looking fence rusted and drooping ten feet away. I took in the immediate topography.
'With the trees and bushes trimmed we could put a road here, golf carts for the guests to go back and forth. A bit far to walk.'
'See their pool?'
Gripping our fence, I got up on tip-toes, my nose in the air. 'It's a good size, nice grass area around it too. They've got a bigger beach as well.' I eased down. 'But they've got bigger waves, we got the sheltered bay. How many rooms?'
'You know what I think? I think there's probably a local hotel inspector that needs a new car.' As I finished the sentence I faced Rudd.
'I'll see what I can find out, ' he said with a grin. 'I know the man who comes here, and he likes his beer.'
After breakfast we headed to the orphanage, Cosy meeting us there. From the road I could now view the new buildings, the previously unkempt bushes cut down and a wire fence erected. And the size of the place struck me. In the courtyard we found Anna and Cosy walking towards us. Well, Jimmy did say they'd get together. I found myself thinking about Cosy buying shoes with high heels.
'You look familiar, ' I told Cosy as I shook his hand. Cosy nodded towards Rudd, a greeting. I asked, 'Keeping busy?'
'Waiting a job, ' Cosy responded.
'Your old employers ... OK?' I nudged.
'You're hired then, as assistant to Rudd here. He'll brief you, but we want you handling the growth of the airfield.'
I caught Anna's look from the corner of my eye. 'And you'll need to cover for Rudd and visit this place whilst the building work is going on. Where are you living?'
'Nairobi, in a flat.'
'Where would you prefer to live?' I knowingly enquired.
'Here ... the playground?'
Cosy smiled. 'Here, outskirts of Mombassa.'
'Long drive to Mawlini.'
'Not really, I have a pilot's license – like you. There is an airfield a few miles away, a Cessna I can borrow if I drop off people and packages on the way.'
'Sounds good, ' I approved. Handing Anna a wad of dollars, I asked, 'And how are you?'
'Good, good. Come, we show you the roof.'
We climbed the stairs of the terminal ward, up onto its flat roof. From there we had a commanding view of the new building work, and I got a true appreciation of the size of the undertaking. With my hands on my hips, I told Anna she had a one million dollar budget, just before Sister Woman joined us.
Anna handed over the cash I had given her. 'They will give us one million for the building.'
The old bat gave me a hug; she could have shaved first. Next time Jimmy could give her the good news.
'We'll make a building for staff, ' Mary explained.
I pointed into the distance, explaining, 'This scrubland, we'll buy it and make a farm, food for the children. And beyond these buildings we want to build schools. The children should be taught all day – that's what Jimmy wants.'
Mary said, 'Before now there is no school, they come to die.'
Noticing Rudd at my shoulder I said, 'Well, we know that doctors can be wrong. I think many of the children will live.'
Mary glanced at Rudd. 'Yes, sometimes they are wrong.'
Back on the beach, Rudd and I slumped with a beer, Jimmy wandering over. He was in his swimming trunks, earning a few odd glances from the guests.
'All OK? he asked, sounding none too concerned.
'Yeah, all OK, you relax, ' I responded. 'Oh, Cosy's been hired. He's got a Cessna and a job delivering stuff, allows him to fly up to Mawlini.'
Jimmy nodded. 'Family alright, Rudd?'
'Yes, in good health, thanks.'
'Safari lodge day after tomorrow, ' Jimmy stated before wandering off across the sand, back to Liz.
'He works a lot?' Rudd asked.
'No, he thinks a lot, worries more, then does a little work.'
'Seems to pay very well, ' Rudd commented.
The next morning I rose early, keen to tackle the paperwork for the safari lodge and the airfield before the day warmed up. After breakfast I took Steffan diving, inspecting the rock groins we had built, pursued relentlessly by the turtle expecting some food. Rudd went next door and had a look around, pretending he was bringing a party of guests down. They got an inspection that afternoon and, not surprisingly, they failed.
Lunchtime, I met a Zimbabwean living in Kenya who wanted to be an Aussie. It was not a difficult negotiation, the man wanted to be gone, and for cash he could be persuaded to drive to Nairobi, to our solicitors; he reminded me of Grant at the safari lodge. It turned out that all the water for our hotel came from a well on his land, which our hotel had been paying for. I informed Jimmy in front of Liz that the hotel was now eight times larger in acreage. She was more surprised than impressed, and I puzzled what her problem was. Still, I left them to it.
Dawn the next day saw us mount up and head for the safari lodge, Rudd not needed. Driving off in a hired jeep, Jimmy insisted that the orphanage had a lot of building work and that Liz would not like it. With me wondering about that odd move, we drove past the orphanage and towards the west, arriving in the heat of the afternoon at a place that Liz had heard a lot about. Jimmy's navigation was a surprise, taking side roads that got us there quicker, and from memory.
Within five minutes of yanking on the handbrake Jimmy was lying on the floor, the growing lion cub attacking him from all sides, jumping on him and rolling over. The scene put a smile on Liz's face, and I got an inkling as to what was wrong, not that anyone had said anything yet. She was duly handed a growing Cheetah cub and sat stroking it, putting it down to play with its sibling, the two cubs running around freely but avoiding the lion cub. With an acceleration of zero to thirty miles an hour in a second, the Cheetahs could easily avoid the lumbering lion.
The staff put tinned dog food into four dog bowls in the bar and the cubs fed quietly, the lodge's resident dog at the end, and we plonked down for a much needed cold beer. I informed the staff that the larger lodge building would now be finished off quickly, our paying guests pulling up in four jeeps as we sat there. This week we had ten paying guests, all British, a few kids. The kids ran over and sat next to the cubs, stroking them, but getting back growls; feeding animals did not like to be disturbed, no matter how cute.
Stepping out onto the grass, I greeted my guests, explaining who I was and enquiring if all was satisfactory. They all seemed happy enough, so I closed in on Skids and Trev. Our men were dressed in green khaki as usual, large sweat marks visible, M16s slung as they leant against their jeeps, looking like a scene from a Vietnam war movie.
'Boss brought a bird?' Trev asked, a nod towards the bar.
'Yeah, she just about lives with him, ' I responded.
'Where's your bird? You scared her off?' Skids asked, wiping his moist brow with his forearm.
'Working. So, all OK in the jungle?'
'Yeah, no problems. Starting to like it here, ' Trev answered.
'Well, you'll have more guests in a few months, we'll be ramping up the building of the new lodge.'
Skids suggested, turning and pointing into the distance, 'Could do with a small lodge at the river bend. They can stay a night and drive back the next day. Doing in one day is a pain, they all asleep on the way back – fucking knackered.'
'Mention it to Rudd, I'm happy enough.'
'And some huts near the border, ' Trev complained, swiping away flies. 'For when we do poacher stag down there. It's a bugger when it rains.'
I nodded my approval. 'We'll get it sorted. Any poacher problems?'
'Not for a while - we keep our ears to the ground, ' Trev suggested.
'Do the poachers keep their ears on the ground?'
The men laughed. 'No, they hand them over to us.'
Walking off I was shaking my head, nearly tripped by a darting Cheetah cub being chased by the playful dog.
At 1am that night, Jimmy joined me in the bar. Up to that point it had been just me, a few large moths and a wandering guard patrolling the grounds. Jimmy pulled us both beers.
'OK, boss?' I delicately enquired.
'Same as ever, ' he said as he placed down the two pints, sitting next to me.
'What's on Liz's mind?'
He sipped his beer, taking a moment. 'She wants what someone like me would give her, if I wasn't someone like me.' I waited with an expectant look in the dim moonlight. Without looking up he said, 'She wants a cottage in the country with a white picket fence, two kids, a cat and dog and a nine-to-five husband that she's smarter than.'
'She doesn't understand I lot of what I do, and why would she. Why would anyone.'
'Judy gets a bit odd at it all, but I always blame you.'
I laughed. 'No, I tell her you're the boss and it's your decision if she gets inquisitive.'
'I don't have that exit. You wanna swap?'
'No, I'd hate to lose her.'
'Thanks again ... for that.'
'Sorry, you know what I mean.'
'Only too well.'
'What'll you do?' I nudged after a moment's silence.
'I'll be me, and she'll fit around it till we break up. It's not easy to enjoy it when there's an ... inevitability to it; relationships and global conflict.'
'I have confidence in you, so do most people we come across... '
He heaved a heavy sigh. 'There are a great many things I can fix, but I can't fix 2025.'
He took a moment. 'Say, for example, that ... Yellowstone National Park's dormant volcano exploded, destroying America. Would you consider that I might have a solution up my sleeve?'
'Does it?' I whispered. He shook his head as I gave it some thought. 'You couldn't fix it, but you could prepare the world for it.'
'Same difference, isn't it? Falling of a cliff ... you hit bottom, no matter how well prepared you are.'
'At some point ... are you going to tell me what it is? I can't offer suggestions otherwise.'
'Closer to the date, yes. For now it's my burden.'
'I find it hard to believe that you came back through time ... just to prepare us for hitting the wall. You must have an idea or two tucked away.'
'I thought I did. But you know what, half of me thinks that it's just ... well meaning stubbornness. A ... refusal to accept the inevitable.'
'Nothing wrong with that, ' I commended. 'Fight to the end.'
'There may be a solution ... of sorts.'
'There you go.'
'I'd have to get America, Russia, Europe, China, India and South America ... all co-operating and in step.'
I took in the stars. 'We're fucked then.'
'What's the world like in 2025, before ... it ... happens?'
He stared into the night. 'Not that different: politics, wars, terrorism, corruption, and some nasty plagues. British Rail is still crap.' We laughed. 'Some technology solving a few problems, some smart kids and smart computers. You know, I have a plan to get us to 2025, but I might just advance a few things, take a few risks.'
'Sounds like Plan "A" gets us there, and no further?'
'Ah, well, by then you'll be up to speed and you might just come up with a Plan "B".'
'Don't count in it, I went to Kingston Polytechnic. Told that girl Sarah I wanted just a plutonic relationship.' He laughed. 'Liz corrected me. Pla- tonic. The other ones fucking radioactive.'
The lion cub jumped up onto Jimmy's lap. Jimmy dipped his finger into his beer and let the cub lick it. 'What an easy life you have. You eat, you shit, you lay in the sun, and some day you'll mate ... and the nice lioness you mate with will even catch your supper for you.'
'Ignorance is bliss, ' I let out.
Three days later I felt relaxed, all the paperwork done on the first day, and we headed toward Mawlini airfield, Liz warned ahead of time that it was no pleasure trip. On the approach to the airfield I noticed more mud huts strung along the roadside, plus a few ramshackle shelters surrounded by kids. They looked Somali. Doc Adam's clinic seemed finished, white washed walls and a large red cross painted onto the roof. The big blue UN flag fluttering over the roof surprised me.
The airfield gate was now bracketed by two alert policemen - who were expecting us - salutes given. Driving towards the air traffic control tower I noticed more wooden buildings off the left and more brick buildings to the right; it was starting to look like a base. Another UN flag caught my attention, plus white faces that I didn't recognise. I did, however, recognise Cosy stood near a Cessna and felt a little jealous. The rooms below the air traffic control tower were now command central, and impressed me with their cleanliness and orderly appearance as we entered.
Mac greeted us in the cool interior. 'Come on in, it's air conditioned now.'
We took in the large office, its maps on the wall, its neat desks and sofa against the wall. It even had a water cooler and a fridge.
'All the creature comforts, ' I thought out loud. 'Mac, this is Liz, the bosses bit of posh totty.'
Mac shook her hand, Liz scowling my way, before gesturing me and Jimmy towards a large wall diagram. Areas had been coloured red or blue and crosshatched. With a finger on the paper, Mac explained, 'These two wee buildings you would have seen coming in, they's Red cross and UN – a good bunch, they get us some kit.'
'And a UN flag over Doc Adam's clinic, ' I questioned.
Mac explained, 'He's got a sponsorship from them – he gets a few quid and some supplies for everyone he sees, especially if they're a refugee.'
'I thought I saw some Somalis outside, ' I mentioned.
'Aye, they're a fucking nuisance already. They's already cut a hole in the fence.'
'Set-up patrols, ' Jimmy softly suggested. 'Then recruit some of the Somali men, give them work – anything, just keep them occupied.'
'We already got one or two digging holes and doing some building work, but the language barrier is tough, ' Mac explained. 'And they like to stop at noon and have a kip.'
'How many people you got under training?' I asked Mac, already having a rough idea.
'Steady forty on the mines, another twenty medics.'
Jimmy said, 'You've got an extra million quid to play with, so use it.'
'A million?' Mac whispered. 'Fuck.'
I said to Mac, 'Get a decent radio for aircraft, some landing lights, another hangar and a fuel tanker. What's upstairs these days?'
'Come and see.' He led us upstairs and into the glass tower, finding it clean and decorated, old dog Handy sat at a desk.
'Right, boss, ' old dog Handy greeted us, standing and shaking our hands.
'Office with a view, ' Jimmy let out, taking in the airfield.
'Gets a bit warm, ' Handy admitted. 'But I can use the binoculars to see who's doing what. I call the gate when I see the Somali kids cutting the fence.'
I told him, 'At some point we're going to want to use this for directing aircraft, so don't get comfy.'
'It's got electricity and new glass ready, ' Handy replied. 'Last week we had a ruddy great UN plane in here. It dropped off some people, jeeps driving out the back of the plane.'
'I want maximum co-operation with the NGOs, ' Jimmy ordered.
Mac told Handy, 'Wees got an extra million in the kitty.'
'Shit. What you trying to do up here, boss?' Handy delicately nudged.
'Build a centre of excellence, a shining example of charitable assistance for Africa, but in a practical way. I don't throw money at refugees, I don't see that as effective. I'm more interested in training people who can help fix the problem, not just feeding someone for another day. I want you guys to be nice to the UN and the Red Cross, meet their superiors and let them see just what a bunch of helpful fuckers you can be. And my next project you'll like. I'm going to pay the Kenyans to raise a small security detail around here. We'll call them ... The Kenyan Rifles.'
'Soldiers?' Mac puzzled.
'Yes, soldiers. Do either of you ... know anything about training soldiers?'
'Aye, little bit, ' Mac proudly stated.
'Put together a proposal for a small security detail, trained from scratch with a few regular Kenya NCOs. They would defend this place, and be available to the UN for convoy protection, etc. Maybe border patrol.'
'And wee's be paying the lads, and the kit and all?' Mac clarified.
'Yes, ' Jimmy responded.
'Why not Mercs?' Handy asked.
Jimmy answered, 'Because they'd be expensive, ill disciplined and easily bored. Besides, I'm sure that if you had some young lads here for a year you could mould them into excellent fighting men.' Mac and Handy exchanged looks as I hid a grin. Jimmy added, 'While I think of it, I'm going to add a second million to your budget. A want a transit centre built, rooms like a hotel, hundred of them, with a couple of nice rooms for visitors. It should have a decent restaurant and a well decent bar. Separate fence around it with a guard.'
'Fucking 'ell, boss, ' Mac let out. 'Where'd we stick it?'
'Beyond Rabbit's vegetable patch. Make it a three-storey affair. In fact, why don't you put a bar on the roof ... a pool at the rear.'
'A fucking swimming pool?' Mac challenged.
'Why not, cool down the guests, ' I said.
Liz climbed the stairs. 'You lot ignoring me?'
We stepped out onto the roof, pointing out every building to her, labelling its function.
'And you paid for all this?' she asked, a hand over her eyes as she scanned the airfield.
'We sure did, ' I answered. 'We always wanted a sandbox to play in.'
'How much have you spent down here in total?' she asked.
'With the current round of spending ... four million, ' Jimmy responded.
She stared at him, but said nothing. Mac led us back down and we ambled through the heat towards the new clinic, crossing the dusty road. Doc Adam stood and raised his arms, letting out a sentence in some local dialect. His nurse stood smiling proudly, glad to see us, if not honoured to see us. The doc showed us around, very proud of the small clinic, the waiting room next door full, mostly of Somalis. The emergency room was currently occupied by a sorrowful looking local boy with a leg in plaster.
Jimmy exchanged a few sentences in a local dialect, surprising Liz. He explained, 'He tried to ride a wild camel.' Facing the doc, Jimmy asked, 'How many per day?'
'Ten ... maybe fifteen patients.'
'Keeping you busy then, ' I noted.
'They come from up to twenty miles away, ' Doc Adam explained. 'And they come across the border for help here, to birth the baby.'
'Are there not doctors across the border?' Liz asked.
Doc Adam answered, 'Not many, conditions are difficult in Somalia. Here, this part of the border is a desert region, some local fighting, some gun wounds.'
Jimmy told me, 'Take Liz back while I scan the paperwork here, I won't be long. Get a cold drink.'
With the gang withdrawing, Jimmy gestured Doc Adam to his office, closing the door. 'What happened to the man I injected?'
'He is here, and I have asked him to work with us at the clinic and he is happy to stay, already talk of a local wife, ' the doc reported with a smile.
'Does he know anything?'
'Oh no, not a thing. But he is now very big, strong like the Ox!'
'Do you have everything you need here?'
'I have what I always wanted, ' Doc Adam proudly explained, his chest out. 'My own practice, and now the help from the UN.'
'We all have our places in life, ' Jimmy softly stated. Louder, he said, 'Do you have any questions for me?'
Doc Adam retrieved a syringe set. 'Only one, my friend. I wish to do God's work.'
'Then who am I to stand in your way?' Jimmy held up a forearm, blood quickly extracted.
Doc held up the needle. 'This much is enough?'
Jimmy nodded as he took charge of the needle and injected our keen medic. 'For the next day you will run a fever, so drink a lot of water. After that, eat a lot of protein. Exercise after three days, and you will not need much sleep. After three months you can inject people with your blood, but make sure no one sees you. Get a small centrifuge and separate out the red blood cells, they're not needed. If you inject a clear liquid it will not cause suspicion.'
'I will be careful', Adam promised.
Jimmy soon joined us in what passed for a canteen, Cosy keenly awaiting some instructions. The new hotel was a mild shock, and the budgets, but he diligently made notes, indicating that Rudd knew a building firm, one we might use for the new golf complex. He was given the title of Facilities Manager and a desk next to Mac. The idea was simple: the Old Dogs spent time training the recruits, Cosy and Rudd did the paperwork.
Jimmy told the Old Dogs, 'Cosy here spent several happy years in the French Foreign Legion; a paratrooper.' That impressed them no end. 'I'm sure that there are many things that Cosy can assist you with.'
Liz chatted with Cosy in French, in a corner of the office, Jimmy and me chatting to the Old Dogs about progress, problems and plans. Leaving Liz with Cosy we stepped back out into the heat and met the UN staff before talking to the Red Cross at length, finally meeting some of the medical recruits. The medics were dressed in white jackets supplied by us, Rudd converting old UN jackets. At the time I didn't know the huge significance of a small logo on the jacket, a small hand in the palm of a much larger hand.
At 7pm, with the sun down, Jimmy checked his watch. 'I could do with meeting Rudd in the morning, so let's drive back tonight. Be in Nairobi for midnight. Liz, you can catch a nap in the car.'
Since she wasn't that keen on staying there was no argument from her, the Old Dogs faxing Rudd our intentions. We set off into the cool night, unloading at the hotel not long after midnight. On our last day Jimmy headed off to meet Rudd as I took Liz shopping around Nairobi for authentic African gifts, also know as crap made for gullible tourists.
Jimmy instructed Rudd to meet with the Kenyan Government and to petition them for the security detail. It would not be a difficult proposition to sell; we would be paying for everything. A budget was also given for the grass runway at the safari lodge to be improved and the purchase of a second-hand Cessna 172 four-seat aircraft for us to use. The next day we ducked our heads through aircraft doors in the heat and lifted them into the welcome drizzle of Heathrow.
When we got back Big Paul was waiting, and apprehensive. 'Bit of a problem.'
'What's that?' I asked, checking the apartment. 'You had a wild party and broke something?'
'No, MI5 sent an electrician around to fix the faulty building. I tortured him.'
'His hour rate a bit pricey, was it?' I asked.
'Any comeback?' Jimmy softly asked.
'None so far.'
'I'll deal with it, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Get the kettle on.'
After a quiet cuppa back in the apartment I felt better, always glad to be back, but also always looking forward to being in Kenya when I was in London. Odd. A knock on the door and Big Paul let David in.
'You spying on us?' Jimmy asked, none too concerned.
'Yeah, how'd you know we were back?' I asked.
'Jimmy said you'd be back at 4pm today, precisely, ' David explained as he sat, his bag placed down.
'Which means we're jet-lagged, ' I told him.
'I have it on good authority that neither of you suffers from jet lag, ' David quietly insisted. He unfolded a damp newspaper and flattened it out on the coffee table. 'Two of our people got caught in the cave, the German authorities have charged them with removing treasure without permission.'
'How much is left in there?' Big Paul asked.
David explained, 'Not much, all the gold and paintings are out. This last pair of men were going through the papers at the back – quite valuable in themselves to collectors.'
Jimmy was not fazed by the news. Softly, he said, 'When good advice is given, take it. I told them to move on.'
David shrugged. 'I don't think they could be held for long, they only had papers with them. But the original gold boxes are there, opened and smashed, so the authorities know there was more. The pair are maintaining that they heard about the gold and came looking, only to find it gone.'
'Might just work, ' I suggested.
David opened his bag and handed over five Hitler diaries, each of us taking one and flicking through. 'I'm afraid that The Fuhrers' handwriting is a bit hard to read, especially towards the end.'
'He was an addict, ' Jimmy softly stated, his nose in a diary.
'What?' I asked.
'A drug addict, addicted to pain killers, ' Jimmy explained.
'These worth a few quid?' Big Paul asked, placing down his.
'To the right people, a great deal, ' David answered him. 'What will you do with them, if you don't mind me asking?'
'Stocking fillers at Christmas, ' Jimmy suggested without looking up.
I asked David, 'Second wreck finished?'
'Yes, but not much there, as Jimmy said, but still a nice haul. A golden Menorah was found, first century. Priceless.'
'Haven't got it in the bag with you, eh?' I asked.
'Eh ... no, I'm afraid. It's destined for a museum.'
'Got a map for me?' Jimmy nudged, raising his head.
David retrieved a map and unfolded it onto the coffee table.
When Jimmy marked the spot I loudly said, 'Oops.'
David commented, 'That ... is rather close to Beirut.'
'Can't have everything, ' Jimmy responded. 'It's a big haul, five times more than the first ship.'
'I'll convey the good news to the appropriate people, ' David reluctantly offered.
'Get a deep sea dive boat sorted, there're many in deep waters, ' Jimmy instructed. 'Some are two hundred metres down.'
'Tricky, ' Big Paul suggested. 'Need a diving belle with a grapple.'
Jimmy made eye contact with him and nodded.
'How many more should I suggest to our friends?' David asked.
'About thirty, ' Jimmy mentioned, very matter of fact.
'Oh ... I see, ' David commented, appearing quite shocked.
'Any shallow ones, boss?' Big Paul complained.
'Yes, around the Caribbean. Some are only in twenty-five metres of water.'
'Were going diving then, ' Big Paul said to me with a ken smile.
David took a breath. 'If I may detract from my main purpose, might I ask a question ... about my daughter?'
Jimmy was still flicking through the Hitler diary. Without looking up he said, 'She'll come back to the UK in five years and find you, only to lose you to Alzheimer's. You'll be beyond the point that you'll recognise her, or anyone else come to that.' He made eye contact. 'Time ... flies.' He got up and walked into our office, returning with a letter, the name hand written.
David held the letter, starting to tremble. Big Paul fixed him a whiskey and nudged it down his throat, pouring him a second when ready. We waited as David stared at the letter.
'Some ... guidance here might help, if you don't mind, ' David asked without making eye contact with Jimmy, a quiver in his voice.
'Do you want to see the grandchildren?' Jimmy asked.
David nodded, almost if ashamed of that action.
'Your wife will reconcile with her?' Jimmy posed.
'I think ... that may take a little longer, but I did show her the photos. I know she took them out later and looked a second time.'
'If you don't do it now you'll regret it for the rest of your life, ' Jimmy firmly stated.
David gripped the letter tightly. 'Well... '
'Well do you want her back or not?' I loudly asked. 'Don't be stupid, man, see her and her kids.'
David focused on Jimmy. 'You already know what happens?'
'It must still be your decision.'
David forced a breath and downed the remaining whiskey in one, coughing. 'I'm ... I'm going to see her.'
'Good. Now open the letter, ' Jimmy firmly suggested.
David opened the letter and read, suddenly a heavy frown taking hold. 'It says ... that she'll be in Tel Aviv ... tomorrow ... and thanks me for asking to see her.'
Jimmy reached under the coffee table and handed over six first class tickets to Tel Aviv, dated for the morning.
David accepted the tickets, wide-eyed. 'You ... you told her I wanted to see her.'
'You just said you did, ' I pointed out.
'Best go and pack, get the family ready, ' Jimmy suggested. 'And tell Ben his God Daughter will be turning up tomorrow, grandchildren in tow.'
David slowly stood, reclaiming his bag. At the door he stopped, but was lost for words.
'Go!' Jimmy loudly suggested.
With the door closed, Big Paul said, 'Smooth, boss. Smooth. You're a real fucking operator.'
'So, ' Jimmy began, focused on our driver/bodyguard. 'Who was the bird you had in Paul's bed?'
Big Paul was up and to the door. 'I can explain.'
'My bed!' I roared, on my feet.
Big Paul was out the door in an instant, hurried footsteps echoing.
I found myself stood pointing at the open door and facing Jimmy. 'Who'd he have in my bed?'
'An old flame he's seen on and off for years. Don't worry, I told the cleaner to bin the sheets.'
'You knew in advance?' I barked.
'Of course I knew, Dumb Fuck.' He stood. 'So, who scratched my car?'
'Ah ... well, that was Judy.'
'I know. But you claimed it was the guy below you reversing into it!'
'Well I couldn't say she did it.'
'Why not? Wouldn't you have got laid that night?'
'I got some unpacking to do, in my apartment, grumpy guts, ' I told him, slamming the door on way out.
Jack Donohue knocked on Sykes' door and waited.
'Come in, Jack.'
Jack walked in and placed down a Hitler diary for Sykes.
'What's this?' Sykes puzzled, opening the old book. His eyes widened. 'This is a Hitler diary, ' he whispered. Louder, he said, 'This is what was stolen from that cave in Germany! Along with a large pile of gold!'
'A gift from Silo.'
'A gift?' He whipped off his glasses.
'For you, sir.'
'For me? He mentioned me by name?'
Sykes put his glasses back on and read some of the detail. '1943, September. Christ, I know some people who'd kill for this.' He slammed it shut. 'There was gold in that cave, a lot of it, and the bloody Israelis got it!'
'I think their man was responsible for that, sir.'
'Yes, well ... what about that sub?'
'Silo says we can't have it now.'
'Can't have it?'
'No, sir. He says that MI5 tried to bug his home when he was away, so he's pissed off with us.'
'Why's he pissed off with us, when he knows who's behind it? And why the gift?'
'A gentle nudge, sir. He asks if you could speak to the head of Five, ' Jack explained.
Sykes calmed himself. 'Be a pleasure to give them some grief. They're mad because we got the Magestic letters, and we only got involved because the first few letters involved the IRA or overseas problems.' He went back to the diary. 'OK, Jack, I'll see what I can do. Oh, and thank ... whoever.'