Copyright© Geoff Wolak October, 2009 - Rev 2010
The autumn chill brought the birth of our second daughter, Lucy; we used the name Jimmy had suggested. She was a month premature, another "C" Section at a private clinic. Sykes' Government doctors performed the operation in London, save us having to try and explain to regular doctors why Helen had no scar from the first "C" Section.
Lucy popped out with little fuss, and I soon stood there with a little red bundle, marvelling at how much hair she had. Sitting with Jimmy and my parents in the corridor, Shelly was very puzzled as to what it was. We had to explain that it was not another cat for the house, the last moggy eventually getting fed up with Shelly pulling its tail and hitting the road. Still, for the first few days Shelly said 'puss puss' at her sister.
Back at the house, two days later, everyone made a fuss, even Keely, and Cat moved into our house for a few weeks. There was no major crisis on the horizon and so we took it easy, Helen completely recovered in little more than four days. During that period, when Shelly had a strop on, we'd dump her with Uncle Jimmy, who she always behaved for, or we'd give her to Han. Unlike most people in the house, Han would get down on the floor and play with Shelly, an undignified position for a stiff Chinese diplomat. Without our permission, and a little annoying, Jimmy bought Shelly a pink bike with stabilisers, complete with a pink helmet, and let her tear up and down the long corridors in the house, chipping wood and paint as she went. He also bought her a small yellow dinghy for the pool and it occupied our daughter's attention for hours when we wanted some peace. Finally, a month after the birth of Lucy, Jimmy arranged a nursery teacher, someone Sharon knew. The lady had her own three-year-old girl, and the two girls would spend hours a day colouring or finger painting. Helen went back to work part-time, which was probably what Jimmy was after all along.
Attempts at reconciliation between the ruling party, Zanu PF, and the opposition MDC were short lived, soon rioting on the streets of Harare. Jimmy suggested that the time was right, and then informed me that I was sworn to secrecy; not even Helen was allowed to know what would happen next. When I knew what was about to happen next I was horrified, and voiced my opinion. Jimmy gave me the talk about surgeons and arms, but I was still horrified. I then got the talk about killing ten to save a thousand. What Jimmy had planned was murder; a few hundred lives now to save thousands later. We ended the conversation without agreeing, and Jimmy said that this next year coming would offer up a high body count.
The Zanu PF party headquarters, a tall office block in central Harare, caught fire on the next Monday morning, the fire starting on the ground floor. Unfortunately, most of the party workers were in it at the time, and few survived. A few days later, at a hotel retreat in the country, the ruling party met to make plans and to discuss the election of a new leader, beyond the current interim president — who no one really liked. As they assembled in the hotel grounds, in a spacious marquee, a bomb — buried under the grass many months earlier — received the correct radio signal. The party's senior members perished, along with their wives, the ladies sat at the time in colourful dresses and big hats. Zimbabwe was making the news again.
A few days before the explosion, the Army's Commander had called the interim president "corrupt", which was rich considering what we knew about the commander. After the explosion, fingers were pointed, but not at the interim president, who all agreed could not blow up a paper bag. In traditional African style, the Army's top brass met a few days later to plot a coup. They had downed little more than just their first cup of tea when the room that they were in exploded. None survived.
The interim president had a nephew who was an Army Major and, after the explosion, few officers of higher rank left to consult with. He promoted the major to a general and appointed him head of the Army at just thirty-eight. Calm was restored. And the major, he had studied in Kenya, in Mombassa, working part time at a beach hotel to make extra money. Jimmy showed me a picture and I recognised the guy; I'd taken him scuba diving a very long time ago.
The new head of the army contacted the Kenyan Rifles and asked for Pathfinder bodyguards, twelve of them, for both himself and the President. Permission had been granted immediately by the Rifles' Colonel in Chief, who had then asked to visit. We packed our bags, I said goodbye to the baby, and we flew direct to Harare from Frankfurt.
At the airport we were afforded honoured visitor status, a car whisking us out of a side entrance and straight around to the Presidential Palace, the Interim President waiting with his nephew. The President was a quietly spoken and unassuming man, and watched with great curiosity the reaction of his new head of the Army, Solomon Beke. Solomon greeted Jimmy like a long lost relative, explaining to the president about his studies in Kenya, his part-time work and the kindness we had displayed towards him. We sat and enjoyed a refreshing tea, making small talk. Jimmy explained that the bodyguards would not cost them anything, and that the men's neutrality and loyalty was assured.
'I miss the beach in Kenya some days, ' Solomon admitted. 'Here we have no beaches.'
'You are welcome to visit the new hotel any time you like, as my guests.'
'I followed the crisis in Darfur with some interest, Mister Silo, ' the President stated. 'They say you spend a lot of your own money on these things.'
'Yes, Mister President. Darfur cost me three hundred million pounds.'
At the time, that was about ten times the entire GDP of Zimbabwe.
The President digested the numbers. 'And how goes the tourist area?'
'We are sending as many people as we can down to you. I believe they are operating at around eighty-percent capacity, which is good — given the problems here.'
'Indeed, ' the President admitted. And I'd have to admit that I quite liked the old guy.
'I have a proposition for you, Mister President, ' Jimmy said. 'How would like your own Rifles Brigade?'
Solomon could hardly contain himself.
'You would pay for them, as you do elsewhere?' the President queried.
'Yes, we would pay for them. We will equip and train them, but they will be loyal to you. In return, we may ask for them in situations like Darfur. And we thank you for those soldiers that you did send to us.'
'They were not allowed near to any danger, ' the President noted, eyeing Jimmy carefully.
'They were there for African solidarity. The aim ... was one of unity; political unity and military unity.'
'I will be happy to see your newspaper sold here, ' the President suggested. 'It is, perhaps, the only unbiased paper in Africa.'
'We'll begin circulation straight away, ' Jimmy offered. 'What of the Rifles?'
'We will be happy of your assistance, ' the President suggested. 'But the recruits must be young men, no one who has yet developed a taste for corruption.'
'Yes, ' Jimmy agreed. 'Young men with ... fresh minds, and good hearts. And Kenyan instructors. But may I make a suggestion. How about we train them in Kenya and the Congo, and then give them back to you when they are fine young soldiers? Say, one year away?'
'An excellent idea, ' Solomon agreed.
Jimmy added, 'You need only assist us with recruitment, the rest will be down to us. We'll hand you back a thousand good men.'
'A thousand?' the President repeated.
'No point in a smaller group, and some will drop out, wishing their mother's skirts, ' Jimmy suggested.
'Your are ... abnormally generous, ' the President noted.
'No, I have my own selfish reasons. I aim to unify all African armies some day.'
'I did not think you a dreamer, Mister Silo.'
Jimmy smiled widely. 'We all need our dreams.'
'Indeed. And mine is of a peaceful Zimbabwe.'
'I can help with money and resources, ' Jimmy responded. 'Starting with a few schools, and a rather large orphanage.'
'Your orphanages are legendary around Africa. How many will this one total?'
'Let's start with twenty thousand ... and work up, shall we?'
'You may build as many orphanages as you like, but food supply is a problem.'
'If I have your permission, then the orphanages would grow their own food with the help of our staff from Kenya. We would then look at helping your farms, if you are willing to sell farm land to me.'
'If you were to buy such land, would not your white countrymen have a problem with just whose land it used to be?' the President posed.
'I will make contact with the former owners and offer them a settlement.'
'You will be buying it twice!'
'I am kind of hoping that you will be ... generous in your pricing.'
The old boy smiled. 'Indeed it should be generous, if it feeds the people.'
Solomon escorted us back to the airport and we sat chatting for an hour. He wanted to visit again Kenya and the beach hotel, but dare not leave for fear of what might happen whilst he was gone. We promised to send recruitment staff, and he promised every assistance to find young men. Given the employment scene in Zimbabwe, it would not be difficult.
Before we boarded the flight, Jimmy rang Mac. 'Mac, Jimmy. How's Camp Delta coming along?'
'Almost there, couple of weeks. It's a big spread, so who's gunna be in it?''
'The new Zimbabwean Rifles.'
'Zimbabwe? You fucking mad?'
'All fresh faced teenagers, no prior experience, blank sheets of paper.'
'Oh. Aye, that might work.'
'There'll start arriving in three weeks, so make sure the water pipes work and the canteen is ready.'
'Kenyan Army says they got some more tanks.'
'Yes, another twenty. And I got thirty for Somalia, and twenty for Tanzania. It's not much, but it all helps.'
'Rumour has it the Somali Rifles are ramping up?'
'Yes, towards twenty thousand men. Keep the Ethiopians off their turf.'
'Jimmy, is there wuz going ta be a big campaign somewhere ... you'd tell us well in advance, wouldn't ya?'
'Mac, you're always the first to know, ' Jimmy teased.
'Like fuck. Didn't know about what ya had planned for Darfur till the last minute.'
'It's called ... secrecy. Sometimes, I don't even tell myself what I'm planning.'
We'd been back for a whole day when Jimmy opened up the basement command room. I was worried as soon as I was told, Helen and me rushing over. On the table lay a map of Northern Somali and Yemen.
'Oh my god. Suez, ' I let out.
'You're not wrong.'
Jimmy checked his watch.
'There are eight fucking clocks on the wall!'
I stopped to count them. 'There're six clocks on the wall!'
'Yes, now shut up and listen. I've just tipped off Abdi about al- Qa'eda operatives crossing from Yemen. He's sent men north to the coast.'
Han stepped in. 'Good afternoon, Paul. How is Lucy?'
Han faced Jimmy. 'The boats will arrive soon.'
'Boats?' I queried.
'The Somalis have bought four inshore patrol boats from the Chinese, and they're just about to be delivered to the harbour being built by the US Navy.' He tapped the map. 'Here.'
'Is it ready?'
'Some of it is. The patrol boats will be fuelled by the US Navy and sent out with Somali crews to patrol the area.'
'And these Somali crews... ?' I posed.
'Have about as much seamanship as your daughter in her little yellow dinghy — if not less.'
'So ... how are they going to find the bad boys?'
Keely stepped in, dumping reports onto the map. 'The US Navy will put crews aboard.'
'So ... let me see if I have this right. Chinese made inshore patrol boats — with all the instructions written in Chinese — plus Somalis with no sea legs, and gung-ho Americans.'
'Have faith, ' Jimmy suggested.
'Have faith? They're likely to shoot each other!'
Han put in, 'The Chinese crews are not armed for this venture.'
'Ours will be armed to the teeth, ' Keely quipped.
'You trying to start a war?' I asked Jimmy.
'They have a common purpose, ' Jimmy responded, showing me a picture of one of the craft. Ninety feet long, they had a crew of twenty and a single fifty-calibre mounting forward.
A fax churned out of a machine, Han checking it. 'They have arrived, and are being fuelled. Their escort cruiser is returning.'
'This should be good, ' I said, grabbing a seat.
The US Navy boarded the craft, along with four members of the Somali Rifles that could speak to anyone apprehended, presumably in Arabic. The four inshore craft set off on a prescribed patrol route, Jimmy suggesting that small launches would cross from Yemen in a few hours. We paced up and down.
Two hours into a dull patrol, the US Navy hands aboard the Chinese craft were hungry, breaking open ration packs. The Chinese stared at the meagre American rations and scratched their heads. Where the Americans just being unsociable? They decided not to enquire, and got the stoves on, the galley soon full of the smell of cooking, and making the US Navy a little jealous. Thirty minutes later, the Chinese sat with their meal, noodles tonight. Being the polite individuals they were, they offered to share. The Navy deckhands required no prompting, and tucked into tasty noodles; rice, beef and black bean sauce.
In the basement, Keely put small grey models of ships onto the map board.
'What are they?' I asked.
'Destroyers? With bloody great radars up bloody great towers?'
'So why aren't they searching for the bad boys?'
'They are, ' Keely said with a grin.
'So why the patrol boats?'
'Try and figure it out.'
I stared at the map board, not figuring it out. The bloody great task force, with its huge destroyers, tracked the small launches every inch of the way. They then directed the nearest patrol boat onto an intercept course, and right up to the launches, who immediately opened fire. The Somalis returned fire and killed every last one of the occupants on the launches, taking several hours to fish up the bodies for identification. Back ashore, a lone wandering TV crew, a thousand miles from anywhere, filmed the Somalis offloading the bodies. The story made the news in Somalia, Yemen and the wider Middle East.
And the US Navy, full of tasty noodles with black bean sauce, had been taken off the patrol craft earlier. There was only one group that would get blame for the intercept, and that was the legitimate Somali Government. I finally had it figured out.
Upstairs, I checked a few faxes and decided to call it a day, laughter catching my attention. I popped my head out of the office to catch a glimpse of Jimmy with Anya, the Serbo-Croat speaking lady, climbing the stairs with Michelle the other side of Jimmy. As they climbed, Jimmy had a hand on both arses. I ducked back in before they saw me, my mouth opening. 'The dirty bugger.'
I rushed around to Helen. 'I've just seen Jimmy going up the stairs with Anya and Michelle together, a hand on each arse!'
'Ah, I heard a rumour.'
'What? And you didn't think to tell me?'
'Ah, not jealous are we?'
'No, ' I protested, less than convincingly. 'It's just that... '
'What? Just that you're married now. With kids.'
'No, no, I didn't mean that.'
'Then what?' Helen teased.
'Well, we don't get to gossip much about the big guy.'
'I've thought about what he'd be like in bed, ' Helen admitted.
'What?' I demanded.
'He's over a hundred, been around. Must have picked up a few tricks.'
I stared, my mouth opening. 'Uh, excuse me ... wife! You think about what he's like in bed?'
'Not in that way, just curious.'
'Not in that way? What other way is there?'
'I'd like to watch what they do.'
'You can't say that. You're married with two kids! Married to me.'
'And I wouldn't change a thing, ' she said soothingly, a hand on my cheek. 'But I'd still like to see them at it. Wouldn't you?'
'No. I have no desire to see his hairy arse going up and down!' I said defensively.
'But you wouldn't kick Anya and Michelle out of bed ... either.'
'What do you mean ... no?'
'Don't start that, wench. I only have eyes for you.'
Helen looked away. 'I wonder if they'll use toys.'
'Christ... ' I whispered. I shook my head. 'Bet he don't even like sex.'
'No?' Helen puzzled.
'No, he knows how it'll turn out.'
The silver screen
Everyone had been co-operating with the studio making the movie about Hal's time with Rescue Force. At Mawlini, people had been tripping over themselves to be helpful, as well as hoping to be extras. The director had been afforded as many Hueys as he desired, as much fuel, and as many big bangs in the desert that he needed. Progress was rapid.
With most of the editing complete, we flew down to Mawlini to play ourselves. They filmed us nagging Hal to hang around, Hal teaching me flight manoeuvres, then three scenes at Scorpion Base. But since we had built all over the base they had to get in just certain angles and had to avoid the new buildings - with all mod cons.
I shouted at Hal for volunteering the mission and came over as caring. The two final scenes of Hal and were shot at studios north of London, indoor shots, water sprayed onto our faces to simulate sweat. The film was ready. Jimmy and I reviewed it, happy with the outcome, and the director was tipped a bonus. No one apart from Jimmy figured it would be worthy of the cinema, but the director said he'd try it anyway. And even Jimmy pretended that he was in favour of just TV syndication.
It opened in the States, mostly in small towns, and received a modest attendance, getting good reviews, not least because it was a true story, current and topical. The director then moved it to the larger towns and it received an even better audience, the pollsters pointing towards an older generation, veterans plus servicemen. All told, it covered the costs twice over, but that was not the point. Millions around the world were now seeing Rescue Force as a sexy and exciting occupation — despite the crappy pay.
Cassie had finished her book, and Jimmy had edited it in just a weekend, a professional editor then taking over before handing it back to Cassie for a sign off. It hit the bookshops in record time, launched first in the States, and plugged heavily by Anton's father through his media empire — a wedding planned. We bought twenty thousand copies and shipped them around the world, most to Africa, where they enjoyed a good love story. And the guy who directed Hal's film, he got to work with hardly a rest from the last project.
Doc Graham called a few days later, our recruitment applications through the roof. Mac also called, complaining about "Yanks" just flying in and wanting to sign up. Jimmy allowed four to sign up straight away, recognising their names, turning away a few others. One of those signing up, a man from Denver, had a future, Jimmy hinting that it was a milestone passed, another box ticked.
Sat in the diner, chatting about American recruits to RF Kenya, Keely stepped in and sat.
'Joint Chiefs would like to put a team of observers at Mawlini, to observe the new Zimbabwean recruits.'
Jimmy responded with, 'The building for them will be ready in two weeks, I'll meet your team down there and brief them.'
Smiling widely, shaking his head, Keely lifted up and left us.
'They snooping?' I asked.
'Not really, they can see the potential of the proxy armies, so they're making plans.'
Two weeks later we landed at Mawlini, a direct flight aboard a hired 747SP stuffed full of oil equipment and great big hairy oil workers in boots, none of whom wanted my autograph.
At the base, we had just enough time to dump our bags before being whisked around to the new US Army building, positioned just inside Camp Delta. That camp offered no recruits yet, but a lot of builders finishing things off. The American's building was solid concrete, square, and looked big enough to house maybe twenty people, plus some offices. Oddly enough, it offered no windows on the ground floor. There was no sign over the door, but the Stars and Stripes were already up and fluttering in the breeze. We stepped inside with Mac and Coup, finding many men in uniform moving boxes.
'Where's your CO?' Jimmy asked the first man.
'I'll fetch him. Who're you, sir?'
'I'm your landlord.'
The man fetched the CO, a Major with shortly cropped silver hair. 'Mister Silo. I've heard a hell of lot about you.' They shook.
'It's all true, ' I said as we shook.
Jimmy said, 'Why don't we get the briefing over quickly, then we can have a cold beer. How about you get all of your men to the roof and save me having to repeat myself.'
The major shouted for everyone to down tools and follow us up the roof. We found a small corner bar, a barbeque set, and many tables and chairs with Fanta shades.
Jimmy waved the men into a line. 'OK. My name is Jimmy Silo, and I own and run this airfield — as you probably already know. You're here ... as my guests, to observe the Rifles, in particular the fledgling Zimbabwean Rifles, who will occupy Camp Delta in a week or two. They will be taught by instructors from the Kenyan Rifles, and by the British soldiers here, who are nearly all ex-SAS — our special forces and similar to your Delta Force. In fact, your Delta Force was modelled on them.
He pointed. 'That is Camp Delta.' He pointed the other way. 'That is the Kenyan Rifles compound, although they have bases elsewhere in Kenya and training grounds in other countries — which you are welcome to visit. Beyond that compound is the helicopter compound, where you'll find some very familiar Hueys and Cobras — most of which are older than you are. You'll also find some dated American pilots, who have no intention of showing you young bloods any respect at all. They're not officers, but around here the Kenyans salute them out of respect for what they've done. Anyone seen the film about Hal Becker?'
They all raised their hands.
'He's here, and he's grumpy if you don't buy him a cold beer.'
Jimmy pointed at the RF compound. 'That is the Kenyan Rescue Force compound, but it also doubles up as an international training centre for new recruits to Rescue Force. It's also known as the "pussy compound".' They laughed. 'Nurses are plentiful! Also some nice lady doctors. But let me warn you now: they're all fit, tough, and undergo martial arts training. Piss them off and it will hurt. One or two are built like Sherman tanks and will drink you under the table, carry you home over their shoulders, and ravage you all night long.'
'He aint joking, ' Mac put in.
'If you like Kenyan nurses, fine, they'll like you. They'll also like a little money and a promise of marriage. Be ... careful. Now, the local town is just about off limits, apart from driving through and buying things. If you stop to drink in a bar there you'll be drugged, robbed and stabbed. And that's just the women!' They laughed again. 'If you shag one of the local prostitutes you'll pick up diseases that medical science has not yet identified. Let me make this clear: if you drink or shag in the town I'll have you shipped out.'
He let them think about it. Pointing the other way he said, 'That's the UN hotel. Some nice UN ladies in there who're not martial arts trained. They are, however, very prejudiced to military types; in uniform you have no chance. Tell them you're an admin clerk or an English teacher here, or no nooky. Beyond the UN area is the main airfield, and at the top end are UN storage warehouses. Beyond the UN sheds, outside of the base, is a public hotel for oil workers. Their bar is to be avoided unless you like a good punch-up. Over the road from the main gate is the public clinic, full of refugees, and behind it is what's left of a Somali refugee camp.
'Now, out in the desert are live firing ranges, mortar ranges, helicopter target ranges; we'll provide you with a map. You're thirty miles from the Somali border, which is very quiet these days. But a word about Somalis. If you insult the men it's a fight to the death. If you insult their women it's a fight to the death. If you look at their women, or make a comment, it's a fight to the death. Disrespect their religion and it's a fight to the death. Clear? If I find anyone here disrespecting them you're out the door.
'Now, let's talk about the Rifles, those black soldiers, and your attitude towards them. The Rifles have a hell of a reputation because they're pushed hard twelve hours a day, and each and every one of them is trained to your Green Beret standards. They are not infantry. They get up at 5am and run twenty miles every morning, often with backpacks.'
'Twenty miles a day?' someone queried.
'Every fucking morning, ' Mac confirmed.
'They're all fitter than you, that I would bet my life on. They're also trained to fight hand to hand, to kill quickly and efficiently, and they've had training on every weapon the world has to offer: M16, AK47, and a dozen other rifles. They're all trained snipers, they're checked out on mortars, they can maintain and drive a jeep. Their annual allowance for ammunition is four thousand rounds per man and they will all fire off at least a hundred rounds a week on the range, every week.
'In the compound, you will see sergeants. Most of them got to be sergeants after they were tested in battle. Most of the sergeants here have spent months under fire in the desert and the jungle, and they have all killed dozens of men. Some of the sergeants here have seen action every year for the past twelve years; Somalia, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Darfur. They have confirmed kills in the hundreds. Personal ... confirmed kills. When you fine gentlemen are attempting to give them sage advice about how to be good soldiers, just keep that in mind. Their experience ... is a hundred times yours.
'Now, the soldiers here have no concept of white on black racism. Call them a nigger and they'll puzzle what the word it means. If you insult them in a racist manner they'll simply be confused by it. But because you're white folk, they'll respect you a great deal from the get go, often saluting you by mistake. And the penalty for attacking a white person is often a hanging, so they won't be starting any trouble. You, gentlemen, need to be careful that you don't accidentally get them involved in anything that they should not be involved with, because the penalty to them is severe.
'Now, my hotels on the beach are available to you at a subsidised rate, and you can often find a few babes down there. Forget Nairobi and Mombassa, and don't wander around looking like American Servicemen. I also have safari lodges that you can stay at, and there are always groups of Rifles off to the Congo - so you can tag along. You can even join in a few deployments or exercises. Before we get you some cold beers, any questions? No? Right, officers and senior NCOs, follow us.'
We flew into Moscow for a quick visit, Yuri picking us up at the airport. It took a whole five minutes for Irina to ask if Jimmy was seeing other women.
'Many, ' Jimmy replied. 'Sometimes several together.'
'Three or four, ' I helpfully added.
Irina pretended to be annoyed, but just ended up looking curious and turned on, Yuri laughing at her. We spent a quiet evening at a restaurant, no one recognising us, and met the Russian Government the next day. Jimmy tipped them off about action in Chechnya and Moscow bomb attacks, and we moved onto discussing the mines and oil, and finally Cuba. That brought us to a puzzling proposition from Jimmy. He asked if he could open a couple of coffee shops in Moscow, and I puzzled it as much as our hosts. They had no objections, Jimmy saying that he also wanted to buy some farmland and improve Russian agricultural output. They liked the idea of that and offered to supply state farmland and good rates, Jimmy asking for a lot of hectares. It was a project for next month. For now, he was focused on coffee shops.
Away from the meeting, Jimmy told Yuri and Marko that he would use CAR for the coffee shops. Somehow, Central Africa Resources coffee shops in Russia seemed a bit odd. He handed over a document, outlining what he wanted done, and Yuri got to work.
A month later we returned, the weather cold, collars done up. The first four coffee shops were ready. They were all painted a uniform green and had a distinctive logo, wrapped around "Moloko" — the Russian word for milk. And yes, they served hot milk with all sorts of things added, or sprinkled on top. They opened with little fanfare, and attracted shoppers during the day and youngsters at night. They offered a few computers for internet access, a TV in the corner playing the state news, and free newspapers. Prices were reasonable, tourists finding them cheap.
Happy with the four shops, Jimmy asked them to create twenty more inside the month, using the exact same basic model and layout. Certain that there was a buck to be made — somewhere - they got to work. They appointed a national manager and created a centralised store where they could buy in bulk and feed the coffee shops. And Jimmy, he simply said that he was giving something back. No one believed him, the "M" Group poker night alive with wild speculation.
We grabbed the farmland, without viewing the frozen soil, and hired a farm manager. We gave him a big budget for western farm equipment and he flew to Germany to buy second hand machinery. He also hired half a dozen British farming experts. Fortunately, Jimmy was forthcoming about the farmland, saying that if farmed properly Russia could produce half of Europe's food, if not more. It was a big number.
A month later we returned, now very damn cold, January snow on the ground. We inspected three of the near-identical coffee shops, the warehouse, and then spoke to the national manager and his growing staff. Given that there were now ten shops, the cost savings were starting to force a wedge into profitability. Jimmy reported that he was happy, and to go ahead and open another thirty in Moscow, twenty in St. Petersburg, and then to roll out twenty a month in towns and cities around Russian till he said to stop. Yuri and Marko were curious, but not afraid of big numbers. The national manager, however, was terrified. He was asked to hire ten deputies, and to create regional managers.
Before we left, Yuri did his sums and fed his computer. If we bought in bulk and sold through the coffee shops, and the number tipped over a thousand, we could clear five million pounds a month in profit. I was starting to think that it was just about profit, but all the way back to London I was puzzling it. They were just coffee shops, their individual profits small. There was something else, something I was not picking up on. I knew Jimmy well enough: there was a far-reaching meaning behind everything he did. But what hell was it?
An American in Africa
Hardon Chase, presidential candidate, took time out from making false promises and flew into London, driving down to the house with his bodyguards. He was very impressed by our hotel-come- house and allocated a corner suite. He knew about the household "M" Group, but still found it fascinating that we opened our home to the national representatives.
We enjoyed a meal and a chat, Chase meeting the "M" Group members over dinner, and the three of us had a private chat afterwards. The next evening we all drove to Heathrow as planned, where a hired 747SP sat waiting, as full as ever with hairy oil workers, our politician flanked by four bodyguards. Goma International Airport came into view just after dawn, Chase viewing our creation from the air, plus the apartments and the construction work. He was most impressed with our airport, our group boarding a Dash for the short flight to Forward Base. That Dash flew low and slow over Forward Base, the Congo Rifles Base and other compounds, Chase quite shocked — if not disturbed - at the scale of it.
At Forward Base we were soon in the corporation offices and poring over maps and statistics, Chase taking it all in. The figures made him sit up and take notice, not least the projected reserves of minerals and oil.
Jimmy laid out a map of Africa for him. He tapped it as he illustrated various places, and their significance. 'West Africa: as much untapped oil as the Gulf. The DRC: a quarter of that. Tanzania: as much again. The Gulf: OPEC controlled petrol dollars. In 2017 they drop the dollar, America has a coronary - a potentially fatal fiscal coronary. Africa has more oil, and could be non-OPEC potentially, under my influence in many places. OPEC, dollar, Africa.' He tapped the map. 'OPEC, dollar, Africa, ' he repeated with emphasis.
'You're planning ahead ... to prop us up!'
'You're welcome, Mister President.'
'Why?' Chase posed.
'Why not? You fall - you take many with you, in particular the western banking system and stock markets. I'm not doing it ... for you ... I'm doing for everyone. Always keep that in mind: cause and effect.'
Chase studied the map. 'An OPEC switch would be a disaster. This could help.'
'Along with Cuban oil. Perhaps you should try and keep Cuba out of OPEC, ' Jimmy teased. 'There are also oilfields in the Mexican Gulf that I know of that will make your eyes water.'
'Could it counter-balance OPEC?'
Jimmy made a face and shrugged. 'Not without some damage. The only way to be sure, is to attack OPEC bit by bit as the years roll on. And to start planning for it ... yesterday.'
A long hour's drive took us to our super-sized orphanage, twenty thousand clean and well-fed kids marching about in groups, neat parallel lines maintained with military proficiency. And all in blue! We drove down the main avenue to the very end, Chase staggered by the size of the undertaking.
In the camp's clinic we met Anna and Cosy, since they had some influence and control over the orphanages here. They had a room full of sickly kids waiting for us. Jimmy took off his jacket, making the bodyguards wait outside, Chase puzzling that move. Anna extracted blood and began injecting the kids, Chase observing with a frown; he had not been briefed on the blood.
'What the hell are you doing?'
Jimmy explained, 'Mister Magestic developed a few drugs, using future know-how, and we were injected. We can pass on the benefits by direct blood transfer, so the kids will be cured.'
'Cured of what?'
'Everything. AIDS, TB, Cancer, you name it.'
'There's a cure?' Chase whispered.
'Of a sort, but it will be kept under wraps for now.'
'Why?' Chase demanded.
'Population explosion, for one.'
Chase considered that. 'Well, yes, here in Africa it could be a problem.'
'They would live to be a hundred and fifty, ' Jimmy explained. 'Doubling the population every eighteen to twenty years. Soon - famine and war.'
'You have a cure ... for AIDS?'
'Yes. Plus Cancer, dementia, and diabetes. You name it, we have it.'
'Why aren't our scientists working on it?'
'They are, and have been for many years. Unfortunately, neither they, nor us, understand it - and cannot reproduce it. So unless you intend injecting sick Americans with our blood it will stay hidden for a few years yet.'
'There's also a downside, ' I put in.
'Yes. An increased appetite, rapid weight-gain if people eat junk food. Your population would all go to thirty stones in a week, but none getting a heart attack.'
'They're heading that way now, ' Chase admitted with a sigh. 'Medicare is becoming Fattycare.'
'So you see why you ... will not be mentioning it, ' Jimmy told him.
Chase agreed with a nod.
We shoved him abroad the 747SP and headed towards Kenya, landing in Nairobi at dusk and booking into the usual hotel, security tight but discreet. Chase was tired, and went to bed early. In the morning, after a quick breakfast, Jimmy suggested a walk, the first time ever down here and making me puzzle the move. The bugger was up to something.
Jimmy led us out, asking for just four Pathfinders, Chase's own bodyguard detail not happy bunnies with the unscheduled walkabout. Fact was, down here no one had a clue who he was. We strolled past another hotel, someone taking a snap of us. At the next corner two police officers stopped and saluted.
'They salute you around here?' Chase puzzled.
'They're just being polite, ' Jimmy suggested, getting a curious look from Chase. On the next block we entered an indoor shopping centre, busy with Kenyan housewives seeking bargains, as well as size eighteen floral dresses. As we progressed, Jimmy acted as a kind of magnet, people ahead of us being pushed invisibly to the sides and around us, not a word said to anyone. They just moved. And half way in I realised that the magnet was scooping up bodies as he went; we had a crowd following us.
A child ran out and Jimmy grabbed the girl, lifting her up and asking her in a local dialect where her mother was. He reunited child and mother and chatted for a minute, the crowd quietly observing. Pressing on, the Red Sea of Kenyan housewives parted. Outside of one shop, two men approached, issuing Kenyan calls, "Honoured Colonel!" They stamped and saluted; off-duty Rifles. Jimmy shook their hands and exchanged a few sentences in the local dialect. We pressed, very slowly, onwards.
A group of German tourists were greeted, and yes, they were at one of our lodges, Jimmy exchanging many sentences in German. The husband snapped Jimmy with his wife. And I noticed the balcony, a solid line of faces now staring down at us. I spotted a group of Russian tourists on my side and engaged them in reasonable Russian. They were, again, at one of our lodges.
Making it to the end of the shopping centre we opened to an enclosed courtyard, a café laid out with many seats under the shade of a large tree. The crowd was still behind us, some of those previously seated jumping up and peering our way. I spotted an oddly dressed elderly couple that appeared to be on a safari — in the middle of the concrete jungle.
'Hardon Chase!' came an American accent. They trotted over. 'And Jimmy Silo! My God, what ya'll doing here.'
'Fact finding trip on Africa, ' Chase explained, shaking their hands. I looked around for a baby for him to kiss.
'We're from Colorado.'
'I was born there, ' Chase informed them.