Magestic
Part 7

Back to work

The post-tsunami euphoria eventually died down, apart from the million requests for interviews, not least from the scientific community, and the governments of those countries that suffered frequent earthquakes. Crusty was packed off to the Maldives for a long holiday with his wife, and his four bodyguards.

Life at the house settled down and we caught up on the mundane, the company accounts and various projects, business problems and legal problems. Oddly enough, we were still being sued for issuing the warning. Since we intended giving many more warnings in the future we would have to practice defending our predictions.

I went right through the accounts for the two clubs and visited both, happy enough with their turnover. That was followed by a meeting of everyone involved in Pineapple Records, now one of the biggest labels in the Western world. It was my job to oversee Pineapple, which freed up Jimmy to concentrate on Africa. Pineapple was making an obscene amount of money, both in the UK and States. International record sales were also good. Po's family made our CDs, and these days most music was CD based. We had also pre- empted Internet music downloads, and ran our own website offering paying downloads at a rate equivalent to seventy percent of the profit we made on a CD; overheads were low, profits good. Our musicians were still playing at the clubs, and still enjoying holidays at our hotels around the world. As part of the drive to help Sri Lanka - after their losses during the tsunami - we encouraged people to visit our hotels in that country, making it seem a moral support mission rather than a holiday. The hotels were full.

The music magazine was also doing very well and had matured into a publication that offered a balanced approach, not just music and bands detailed in its pages. It now offered a news section, political opinion, and interviews with stars and actors. We also competed, to some degree, with the new craze of lads magazines that were basically soft porn; babes with big boobs in bikinis. We had a few of our own babes at Pineapple, the young ladies always keen to be photographed in skimpy outfits.

Aiming to capitalise on our fame, Oliver Standish had bought up hotels in New York and Los Angeles, now secretly converting them to mimic the London club format. They would be ready soon. In the States, our music magazine was now being distributed by Anton's father, the Blake Carrington look-alike, but had an American slant, some common stories and common artists. Its circulation dwarfed its British cousin by a factor of almost ten.

Having spent the best part of a week reviewing the businesses, I joined Jimmy and moved onto discussing CAR Ltd, and the corporation in the Congo. Mining and oil concessions were being issued faster than the various companies could get in there with their big yellow diggers, and the revenue we earned was soaring. But as we tore down the jungle and industrialised the area, we hit the snag of mines and oil companies dumping waste, and polluting both rivers and the local water table. To help, we set-up a body within our corporation to monitor the situation, and to assist directly. Fortunately, we had a good supply of depleted mines and they made excellent repositories for waste, the offending items covered over with concrete or soil and buried. Anticipating future complains about waste products, we commissioned a number of studies and put a sizeable team on it.

That led us to the problem of economic migration. Within the DRC itself we now found people moving towards the mines and oilfields looking for work, a few squatter camps set up. Where they became a nuisance the Rifles went in and bussed the people out, back to wherever they came from, a few dollars in their hands and a yellow plastic bucket full of household goodies. Still, it was a growing problem. Aside from the internal migration of people, we also had the problem of foreign workers seeking jobs. We had no problem with skilled foreign workers being recruited, but we clamped down hard on people just wandering across the border and looking for work. Jimmy was adamant that they would be repatriated, after a short spell in a camp with little or no food. He explained that, unless sorted now, it would be a large problem in the future. There was also the problem of local violence towards the squatters, especially the foreign squatters. Many were killed. There were no job-sharing schemes in the eyes of the indigenous Congolese people.

The Chinese Army had greatly reduced its presence on the border, that task now handled by a dedicated border force made up of the Rifles, the national police, and former members of each. Still, it was a very long border, most of which was jungle. As in Kenya, we began repairing the fence, and laying new fence.

The regional airports had mostly been finished, and officials and mine engineers could now hop on a plane and take a one-hour flight that would save a twenty-hour trip by bus or car. The planes were full.

The rail link from Tanzania had snaked ever west through Burundi and touched DRC soil over Christmas, the track meeting short sections that we had laid ready, principally from certain mines and oil areas in the south east of the DRC. The first ore train had made its long journey to the coast, much reported in the African Times, and was welcomed at the coast by the Tanzanian Government; the train cut a tape. Actually, the tape was stronger than anticipated and pulled over two flagpoles, dragging track workers along with it. The rolling stock was Tanzanian, as were the drivers, a concession we had made to them. Just inside the Tanzanian border a marshalling yard had been constructed so that trains could pass each other in a carefully co-ordinated ballet.

The ore truck logistics had been subject to much planning, and we now operated an efficient system. The corporation owned the trucks and paid the drivers, and we set-up two yards where drivers stopped to fuel and change vehicles. A group of drivers, all Congolese, would drive the trucks through Burundi or Rwanda and stop at the yard just inside Tanzania. There they would have a bite to eat and sleep the night. The next morning they would be allocated an empty truck that was up from the coast, and take it back to the DRC; they never followed their loads to the coast and back, an eight day round trip at times. Accidents caused by driver fatigue were a real concern, especially to slow moving Tanzanian housewives. So our ore trucks would be touched by three different "fresh" drivers on the way to the coast, three on the way back, the drivers getting to see their families often.

But the cost difference of a truck's tonne-per-mile to a train's tonne- per-mile was huge, so we hired as much Tanzanian rolling stock as we could, our trains often a mile long; two engines at the front and two at the rear. The tracks ran past the smelting plants in Tanzania, so ore would be off-loaded there, the trains heading back the way they came after unloading.

The first crude oil train met with much fanfare, reaching Mombassa in Kenya after circling through Tanzania. Other oil trains were dispatched to Uganda and Zambia, the crude sold cheaply. That oil was now being refined at two plants in our area, the resulting petrol and diesel being used internally. It was as cheap as water, and no one in our region much cared about how much petrol they put in their cars. Busses were now free, lauded by the UN, and a first for any country. Next was a plan to refine the gasoline further to aviation fuel standards, a plant commissioned.

The most obvious effect of the cheap oil was cheaper ore extraction, the costs of driving huge yellow machines around mines greatly reduced. Modest increases in wages were seen, and productivity was good, many mines working twenty-four hours a day. In the north, the Chinese had sunk six wells and were now extracting more oil than they knew what to do with. They needed it back in China, but transporting it to the coast negated the benefits. So they refined it, as we did, and provided petrol back to their own mines. They also sold the crude oil to Uganda, Rwanda and other countries, and the price of petrol in the region was falling compared to the rest of Africa. Globally, oil prices were also falling thanks to the new coastal oilfield discoveries.

As a natural progression from the mining of ore and the production of petrol, we encouraged foreign companies to open smelting plants, the first few already operating. That led us to then make use of the steel created by selling it around the region — principally to ourselves. High-rise apartment blocks became cheaper due to cheap steel; less concrete was needed. We then nudged Po's family to open a tin can plant, tin ore bountiful in the region. Farm produce from our region, and that of neighbouring countries, was soon being canned in locally made tin cans, from locally mined tin ore.

The net effect of Jimmy's self-sufficiency master plan was that ingots were shipped out instead of ore, the trucks moving in convoy with armed guards, each truckload worth millions of pounds. Yuri and Marko even flew some out. And our nice new road to Kinshasa developed its first pothole a month after being finished, four hundred trucks a day trundling down it, scaring slow moving Congolese housewives.

By February 2005, our personal income from the corporation and CAR topped three billion pounds a year, growing at a rate of around ninety percent a year. Board meetings were embarrassing; our financial officer kept thinking he had made a mistake. A great deal of money still went back into the local community, the orphanages topping out a hundred and twenty thousand kids, half of whom attended them like boarding school. The Congo Rifles were edging towards ten thousand men, our special police force now reaching three thousand and growing.

We made good on our promise to Kimballa Jnr to move west and clean-out any remaining warlords, the Rifles now running out of people to shoot. The Rifles had almost reached Kinshasa and roadblocks were common, punishments harsh. Each town offered its own local police unit, but also units of the national police backed by the Rifles. Hangings were common, typically on a Saturday lunchtime — a growing spectator sport. They attracted the crowds. The UN, and various human rights groups, gave us grief over the harsh punishment regime, but Kimballa always made it clear that it was his wish — not ours. Actually, it was Jimmy's wish, but I saw the logic behind it. Many of the people in the Congo had grown up in lawless areas, where whoever was strongest did whatever they liked. Rape was still a problem, and the chances of a girl making her wedding without having been gang raped was slim. Still, things were improving rapidly.

The corporation had moved into Northern Zambia with that government's blessing, and we were both mining the area and policing it, mirror imaging the DRC, a tried and tested formula. And Kimballa, he had lazily granted us rights to anything east of Kinshasa, ninety-five percent of the country. After all, why should he lift a finger when we were doing all the work for him? His palace grew in splendour, the number of wives and consorts increased, and the people of Kinshasa still struggled to make a dollar.

CAR were now spending a great deal of money on oil operations, money that would be recouped in years to come. We now operated six oil wells in northern Kenya, and that many again off Zanzibar Island, the potential revenues huge.

In conjunction with an enlivened and proud Somalia, we began laying train tracks the short distance from the coast near Mogadishu, towards Mawlini, through northern Kenya and towards Southern Sudan, thereafter to turn west and join up with track growing from the northern tip of the DRC and heading east. When finished, the line would be as long as the Tanzanian track, an offshoot passing by Mawlini.

Equatorial Guinea

The UN met to discuss events in Guinea, as we had requested. They passed a resolution that encouraged the African Union to intervene; not to send peacekeeping troops, but to intervene, a dangerous precedent for Africa. As such, a full vote of the African Union rejected it.

That did not deter those nations that we were in bed with. Kenya, Somalia, the DRC, and even Zambia committed troops under the UN remit, a force of some eight thousand soldiers rallying in western DRC, and shown nightly on all TV news channels around Africa. As predicted, the Guinea Army Junta stole what they could and ran off into the hills, our soldiers landing unopposed.

Equatorial Guinea was a tiny country, and it took just a day to seize the territory; we seemed to have more soldiers on the ground than there were members of the indigenous population. Rescue Force set- up camps and began the hearts and minds campaign, the Cuban medics pouring in.

As far as nation building went, Guinea would be very cheap, not least because it was already oil rich. It was fair to say that it took three days to overrun, and to start rebuilding the tiny state. We put members of our corporation on the throne, with a group of Africans from the nations that had taken part, and advertised for presidential candidates to come forwards. That vote took place just two weeks after landing, an existing politician elected. He then had the task of selecting a cabinet and building a democratic country from the ground up. He did, however, have the benefit of Pathfinder bodyguards and a permanent garrison of a thousand Rifles to deal with any problems. It would not be difficult for him. But across Africa, various leaders had watched the events unfold with some trepidation, their own claims to power dodgy at best.

Hardon Chase kept his promise to visit Tanzania, eventually, and dropped in on Nairobi, the Congo and finally Guinea. And we issued contracts to American companies. The DRC corporation bought several Boeing airliners, thousands of computers, and US steel makers were invited in to open up plants. Since we had planned on doing that all along it was no big deal, it just made President Chase look better.

The day he returned to the White House, the first 747 lifted off from JFK, New York, packed full of tourists. It landed at Goma International Airport, doubling the weekly passenger throughput in one go, its passengers bussed to various lodges in the Great Rift Valley, where cute lion cubs awaited those from the concrete jungle.

Violation

Everything was going well, even Shelly was doing better with her nightmares. She was also old enough now, just, to play football with, to play catch with a tennis ball, and go diving in the pool with her child-size diving gear. The little lady was growing up quickly, her sister already toddling. And Shelly, she mothered her younger sister, making us very happy parents. We'd often let Shelly feed her younger sister under our careful gaze.

Shelly's features were changing, Jimmy often saying that he could see the older version of our daughter now, the adult within. We arranged a tutor for Shelly, since we did not wish the added security risk of sending her to the local nursery, and Cat taught Shelly basic reading or writing skills, as well as engaging her in educational games; our daughter was already a reasonable chess and draughts player. Unfortunately, pawns were "prawns" and she often took pieces that she liked the look of, rather than for a tactical benefit. She liked bishops and prawns.

Then it happened.

One quiet day in early March, after I had caught up on the day's work, I turned off the monitor of my computer in the main office and said goodnight to Jimmy, soon immersed in my other world, the family world. With Helen cooking, I cleaned and fed Lucy, and spent ten minutes explaining to Shelly why the squirrels in the trees outside did not get cold at night.

Easing up, time started to move slower than normal. I remember the images, but they're distorted. I just remember that time slowed down.

Shelly ran up the stairs to the toilet, slamming the door. A minute later I heard someone coming down the stairs, a very slow walk. Turning, I saw black combat fatigues first, webbing and belt. Boots. Mud stains on the stairs magnolia carpet.

I walked around the sofa, puzzled. At first I thought it was one of the security staff, but I did not recognise the clothing, or the face. Security at the house was based on one single premise — we all knew the faces. No new faces were allowed. This was a new face; a smirking new face, a man in his thirties with muddy boots, on my stairs.

He stepped down to my level. 'You need better security, mate.'

I stood three steps away from the man. Helen had peeked out of the kitchen at the sound of an adult voice, thinking it visitors. At the time I didn't notice her, I was focused on the stranger, and his muddy boot prints. I don't know how long it took, but it seemed like ages; it seemed to take ages to register the threat. This man had come down stairs with muddy boots, and my daughter was upstairs. He was between me and Shelly, a bad place to be.

His mistake was not knowing about the history, either the blood, or my martial arts training from Jimmy. Still, I was the one who was afraid. I don't remember at which point I made the decision, but I moved. Thankfully, I moved as I had been taught to.

The intruder stood three steps away. Like an amateur, I took a large step, halving the distance, raising my left arm as if to grab him. But that was where my amateur days ended. I slammed my foot down, causing a pause in my movement, and buying me half a second. The intruder moved to one side, as he should have done, fully expecting me to keep going in a straight line, the laws of physics applying. But I had stamped down hard with my left foot and moved all of my weight onto it. He moved to my right, a mistake that anyone could have made. My kick hit him in the solar plexus, my opponent bouncing off the doorframe with a look of abject shock and surprise. Bending my left knee, I slipped forwards, my right arm extended, my hand flat. I fooled him a second time, falling to my knees and slicing up with the inside of my hand, catching him in the throat. It was a lethal blow; I knew that the instant I had landed it.

Helen had seen the man and panicked, hitting 999 on the house phone as I lunged. An alarm was now sounding, followed by an indistinct tanoy message.

I don't know how long I stood there, but it must have taken Jimmy half a minute to get to us, opening the door with the keypad, and to be knelt over the body. He turned the man over and checked for weapons first, opening the man's jacket and patting him down. He then lifted the man's head and checked his face. Checking the man's pulse, Jimmy said, 'He'll be gone a few seconds.'

Standing, Jimmy stamped down on the man's knuckles, both sides. He then lifted the man's face and punched down a moment before Big Paul and Karl arrived.

'Paul, upstairs! Karl, perimeter!'

Big Paul thrust his pistol up the stairs, Karl running out.

Jimmy stood, taking a moment to stare down at the man as the life left him. Turning to me he stopped, glanced at Helen and beckoned her closer. He hit me before I even registered it, and I was soon sliding down the wall, a shriek issued from Helen. He then hit her, knocking her down besides me. Lifting me quickly up by the wrist he hit me again, leaving me dazed, Helen screaming at him to stop.

Jimmy knelt and faced us. I had a hand to my nose, Helen a hand to her mouth, blood visible. 'Now listen carefully, very carefully. Paul, you've killed him. Self defence, sure, but that could still be seen as manslaughter — seven years in prison. There's no guarantee that this will go away. So this is what happened. You found an intruder in your house, at the bottom of the stairs, Shelly screaming upstairs. You panicked and tried to get past him but he knocked you down, Helen joining in the desperate fight to get upstairs to Shelly. After a struggle, you hit him in the throat, as much by accident as anything else — since you do not study martial arts. Don't forget, you do not train with me.'

Helen was sobbing by this point, and I was bleeding all over the carpet.

Jimmy continued, 'When the man collapsed you sounded the alarm, but were in a daze, not thinking about an ambulance for him. You rushed to your daughter and the rest ... the rest is a blur.' He stood and lifted the house phone, dialling the police. 'This is Jimmy Silo, we've had an incident at the house, two injured, one looks dead. I'm declaring a terrorist incident, send police and ambulances.' He put the phone down as Big Paul came downstairs.

'Clear! And Shelly, she's on the toilet. He came in the window in her room; there's a mud trail.'

'Big Paul, when you arrived you checked this man and found no pulse. Now, make an attempt at CPR, break a few ribs.'

Big Paul got to work, Jimmy lifting me and Helen up and seating us on the sofa. 'I'm going to get Shelly and distract her for a while. Now, is there any part of that story ... that is not clear?'

We shook our heads, faces covered in blood.

'Remember, it was a blur, you were terrified for the kids, you can't remember much. When the ambulance gets here go to the hospital, and make sure that you're seen to be hurt. The police will want a statement in the morning, so concentrate on that possible jail term.'

He walked upstairs as Keely came in, pistol in hand. He observed Big Paul's half-hearted attempts at CPR before stuffing his pistol down the back of his trousers. Approaching us, he asked, 'Are you OK?'

I nodded, Keely fetching kitchen roll and a damp towel, helping to clean us up as Jimmy distracted Shelly.

Sykes received a call at home.

'Sir, operations. There's been an incident at Jimmy Silo's house: two injured and one dead.'

'Get me a car and a helicopter, right away.' He dialled Jack. 'Jack, what the hell happened?'

'Someone broke in, got into a fight with Paul and Helen. They're a bit busted up, but the guy is dead.'

'Do we know who it is?'

'They're saying he's British; ex-SAS.'

'Christ. I'm on my way. When you know anything further, I want to know.' He dialled the Prime Minister at Number 10, Downing Street. 'Prime Minister, there's been an incident at Jimmy Silo's house, an intruder.'

'They alright?'

'Paul and Helen have been injured, the intruder dead.'

'Dead? Who killed him; one of ours?'

'No, Prime Minister, it looks like Paul killed him, hand to hand. And the intruder is one of ours.'

'One of ours?'

'Ex-SAS they're saying.'

'Sent by an agency here?' the Prime Minister gasped.

'Unknown at the moment.'

'Jesus. I'm going to call the local Chief Constable, then the head of MI5 and shout a little. Let me know if you find anything.'

'I'm on my way there now.'

Hardon Chase was in the middle of a meeting with a group of Republican Senators.

His Chief of Staff burst in. 'There's been a terrorist incident at Jimmy Silo's house. Two injured, one dead.'

Chase was up and out the door, the Senators shocked. 'Get hold of our man at the house, I want a full report. I'm going to try and reach the British Prime Minister.'

Within twenty minutes, US news services were reporting an "armed" incident at the house, one dead and many wounded. That story went right around the world, many of the world leaders we knew calling the British Prime Minister.

Some time later they led us out, lots of flashing blue lights, a helicopter overhead. One ambulance crew attended to us as another rushed into the house. Given who we were, they were taking no chances, an armed officer in the back with us, an escort to the local hospital. Somehow, Karl managed to get there before us. We jumped the queue in the waiting room and went straight through to a surprised doctor.

'Paul Holton. Christ, what happened?'

'Intruder at the house, ' I responded.

Two other doctors stepped in. Lights were flashed into my eyes, and I followed a finger back and forth and up and down, falsely complaining of some discomfort. They put a stitch in my lip, checked my head thoroughly for lumps and bumps and then examined my neck and spine at length; they were taking no chances.

After thirty minutes of fussing, I insisted we were fine and signed a note to that effect, explaining that our private doctors were on their way to the house. I thanked them and nudged Helen out, the smell of hospitals doing nothing for me. We found more police officers in the waiting room than at a football match, and they flanked us as we left, half a dozen local photographers snapping us. The police bundled us into a Range Rover, Karl driving, but a uniformed police officer sat next to him, his radio buzzing.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived back, having gone through two roadblocks already. Four police cars were parked outside the gate, probably ten around the house, the helicopter still overhead. As I stepped down, helping Helen, I could see a dozen police dogs.

Karl said, 'You've got to sleep in the old apartment, kids are in there with Jimmy. Forensics are all over your place.'

We were escorted inside, meeting a worried looking Han in the hall. 'You are OK?'

'Just cuts and bruises. Thanks.'

Outside of my old apartment we found one of Karl's colleagues sitting on a chair with a paperback. He knocked the door as we neared, Jimmy opening it.

Shelly jumped up. 'You were very silly, daddy.'

I stared at Jimmy, kneeling to hug my daughter.

Shelly added, 'You must not run fast, you hurt mummy.'

'I'm sorry, baby. I was ... running too quickly.'

Helen checked the baby, finding her asleep, clean and fed; Uncle Jimmy's work.

Jimmy lifted Shelly. 'Come on, young lady, mummy and daddy have baddies on their faces and they want to go to sleep. All better in the morning.'

With the door closed I stood over the baby, suddenly terrified. That bastard could have hurt my family; he could have killed us all. And I wasn't at all sorry I had killed him. Helen and I had said not more than two words since it had happened, and now Helen burst out crying, sitting on the edge of the bed.

I sat next to her. 'Sorry.'

'You didn't cause this.'

'No, but I killed him. And if the police want to be difficult... '

'They won't. Look outside.'

'It's down to the courts, and the papers will be full of it. Jimmy can do a lot, but I don't know if he can swing this.' I forced a big breath. 'Come on, hot bath and clean clothes.'

After a long hot bath and a cup of tea we felt better, and sat watching the TV with the sound turned down, still both a little stunned. An hour later Jimmy knocked and I let him in.

'You better?' he asked.

'A bit. Any ID on that guy?'

'Yes, I know him.'

'You know him?' I puzzled.

'He applied for a job with us, he's ex-SAS. This ... was supposed to happen a year from now, and he was supposed to wake me up. It's an aberration in the time line. And he would not have hurt you, he just wanted to show us how clever he was by breaking in. He was after a job.'

Helen and I exchanged looks.

'You think the police will be a problem?' I asked.

'We've never been more popular, so I can't see a jury convicting you of anything. Still, it has to go through the motions. If lucky, Sykes will stick a judge he knows on the bench.'

'You hit me, ' Helen softly stated, touching her face.

'Sorry. Had to be done.'

'I have a loose tooth!' I told him.

'At least you have defensive wounds, and the doctors have seen that, so too the police. I've told the police you'll make a statement at 9am, and our solicitors will be here.'

'How many police are outside?' I asked.

'Probably a hundred; roadblocks at a mile, five miles and further out. Prime Minister has been on the phone twice, Sykes and a few others. Even Hardon Chase. There's an SAS counter-terrorism team here as well.'

'News will be bad, ' I mentioned.

'Be every reporter in the world here tomorrow. At the moment, every news channel in the world is running the story as a major terrorist incident. A few think you've been shot.'

'Fucking hell, ' I let out. 'That stupid fuck ... coming into my house like that. If he wasn't dead ... I'd kill him again!'

'Cat's here. You want her to take Lucy?'

'No, ' Helen quietly insisted.

A knock at the door preceded a tray from Cookie, Jimmy placing it down for us. We had missed the meal that Helen had been cooking. Now the hunger hit us and we tucked in.

Outside, Jimmy called the house security staff together as blue lights flashed and the police searched the grounds. Lined up were Big Paul, Rob the dog handler, Ricky, Karl and his three police colleagues.

'OK, gentlemen, no one ... will be getting any sleep tonight. You will, however, figure out how that idiot got in, and track back to see if he was alone. Then, you'll think of ways to prevent it happening again. Granted, he's an expert, but we need to be able to defend against such people. So, you are all docked two weeks pay, except Big Paul, who's docked a month's pay — because he's head of security. And that fishing trip you were going on, the one I was going to pay for, that's cancelled.' They glanced at each other. 'You'll start with the cameras, looking at the time line, and work backwards from there. And gentlemen, you are all now in my bad books, not a good place to be for anyone. If Paul, Helen or the kids had been harmed — then some of you would have been in the ambulance. You will learn from your mistake, and you will plug the hole by end of play tomorrow — or you may not be here. Dismissed.'

At 5am Jimmy knocked, finding us up and dressed, Lucy on the bed and making reassuringly loud and nonsensical sounds.

'Half the world's media at the gate, ' Jimmy informed us. 'They've been camped out all night. Good job we have two fences. Thousand faxes downstairs, handful of telegrams, couple of dozen phone messages, and a million emails. The usual.'

'Nice to know we're popular, ' I quipped.

'Not with the Prime Minister you're not, he was up all night, a few world leaders kicking his arse over lax security. Oh, Sykes is here. Going to be hell to pay because the guy's British, and ex-SAS. Prime Minister told the head of MI5 that if any UK agency had motivated your attacker ... well, it will be ugly in the corridor of powers today.'

'Have you spoken to the press?' I asked.

'I will do, at 8am, at the gate. Can't say much without the police getting pissy though.'

'What have the police said so far?' I asked.

'They all think the guy broke in and attacked you, ' Jimmy reported. 'And why wouldn't they. They only have to look at the way he was dressed. At the fence they found climbing gear, a thermal camera, and a thermal suit to fool the sensors. He even had chemicals to fool the dogs. Big Paul says he crawled in the thermal suit for forty minutes to reach your house, a blind spot where he climbed up. Shelly opened the window, she remembers doing it. Oh, and the trees in front of your house — Big Paul took to them with a chainsaw. It looks like an Amazon logging operation gone wrong.'

'He could have killed us, ' Helen delicately pointed out.

Jimmy stood. 'No. I know who the men are that will try and kill you. You have a few years yet.'

He left us with that pleasant thought.

At 8am Jimmy faced the press at the gate. 'Please quieten down so that everyone can hear what I have to say. Thank you. Last night, at approximately 8pm, a man — a former British soldier — entered the grounds and reached the house of Paul and Helen, where he climbed in through an upstairs window. He then seems to have attacked both Paul and Helen, injuring them both, but nothing serious. They were both seen by the doctors last night and had a few stitches put in. They're feeling much better now. During the altercation, the intruder was struck about the neck and throat and died before an ambulance arrived, our security staff giving the man CPR. This man - the intruder - was known to us; he had applied for a job as a security guard or bodyguard, and may have gained access to information about our security. That is something that the police are looking into.

'I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local police for the quick response, and for the thorough job they did of securing the area. Paul and Helen would also like to thank all those who sent messages. Now, given that the police are investigating the matter we can't say anymore yet. Paul and Helen will be interviewed by the police, here at 9am, and we may have a further statement available after that. Thank you for your patience, and our staff will be down in five minutes with some food and hot drinks for you, especially those who camped out all night.'

He walked off to a chorus of shouted questions and a million camera flashes.

At the 9am interview our solicitors were present, and the police were already stretching the rules a little by interviewing us here instead of at the police station. They asked if we were OK, and well enough to undertake the interview.

Helen and I used the word "blur" a lot, "dazed" and "stunned", and came across as quite forgetful. After forty minutes of repeating the same story in small detail, they concluded with a few questions that annoyed me greatly.

'Did you shout a warning?'

'Did you call the police first?'

'Did you ask him to leave your house?'

I was on my feet. 'I was terrified, my daughter screaming upstairs! No I didn't ask him to leave after he knocked me down, you fucking moron!'

Our solicitor calmed things down and asked the police to conclude quickly or leave. The police thanked us for our time and left, Jimmy taking time to speak to them outside. Now we would have to wait.

An hour later I entered the office, getting odd looks from the staff, and sat at my computer, opening up the emails and flicking through them. When Shelly ran in I sat her on my knee and allowed her to help. After all, all she had to do was press the "DEL" key to delete. When Sharon got ready to go home at 4pm she stopped next to me, a hand on my cheek. We said nothing before she left. I continued to check emails and faxes, responding to a few. I created a generic "thank you" email and cut-and-paste it into many replies.

Jimmy walked in an hour later. 'Still at it?'

'Lot of African politicians, even some African schools. Even got some from the brain-trust kids in China.'

Jimmy seemed worried. 'How did they sign it?'

'Mombassa farming students studying in China, nothing more.'

He seemed appeased. 'You holding up?'

'I think so, but still annoyed as hell. We're trying to save the fucking planet and ... and all this shit.'

'Your house is ready. We've cleaned it, explosives sniffer dogs have been around, and we checked for bugs. Nothing. He came in through the window and walked downstairs. Do not ... have issues about re- possessing it.' He stood. 'Come on.' We grabbed Helen and the kids and walked around, still a handful of police in their bright yellow coats about the grounds.

Everything in the house seemed the same, the heating on. The meal that Helen had been preparing was gone, the pots and pans cleaned by Cookie and Sandra. The magazines on the coffee table were where I left them, a book with pages dog-eared. Shelly ran and grabbed her favourite toy, not noticing anything different.

Jimmy got the kettle on as Helen reviewed what had happened to last night's supper. 'Paul, ' he called. 'Go check each room upstairs: private stuff, personal stuff.'

I did as asked, not noticing anything different. I even looked under the beds and in the cupboards. Back downstairs, Jimmy handed me a mug of tea and asked if everything was as I left it.

I shrugged. 'Think so.'

He sat Helen and me down. 'Now listen. Some people, after they've been broken into, have issues with the house they live in, often not wanting to return to it.'

'I'm OK being here, ' I softly insisted, turning to face Helen.

'It ... feels a little odd, but I'm not leaving.'

'Good attitude, ' Jimmy commended, Shelly running and jumping on him, spilling his tea. 'All you need now is a daughter instead of a little monster.' He faced her. 'Tell mummy and daddy what you did.'

'I didn't do it, ' Shelly insisted.

'Then how did the orange juice get all over my computer?'

She shook her head and hid behind a cushion.

With Jimmy gone we reclaimed our family life, glimpsing both the police and our security staff through the windows as we cooked a meal. The next day, diggers arrived and tore up the roots of the threes that Big Paul had cut down, the holes filled in and flattened, grass seeds sewn. The house now stood isolated, but also difficult to approach unseen. Three extra cameras had been installed, a few trees near the fence cut down.

The Director Of Public Prosecutions made no case against us, the coroner recording a verdict of "Death by misadventure". So far, I was in the clear. Things returned to normal, a few extra private security guards to be seen dotted around the grounds. And the windows in Shelly's room were modified so that they only opened an inch or two.

Malawi

A month after the incident at the house, and with me getting a little bored of the daily routine, Jimmy stepped into the office and told me to pack a bag. We flew down to Goma International Airport, then drove the short distance around to the airport hotel that we had built, Jimmy explaining that there was now a conference centre at the rear. And what a conference centre!

'What the fuck is that?' I asked.

'In the future we'll make this available for African Union meetings. And ... others.'

'Others?'

'Wait and see.'

We walked past security guards and into the conference centre, to a side room to meet a delegation from Malawi. I knew where their country was, just south of Burundi down the lake and nestled between the Zambia and Tanzania, at the tail end of Lake Tanganika. It was a small country, and dirt poor; we did not even repair the roads through Zambia toward its border. Our senior people from the corporation were present, as well as representatives of CAR. We had met with them first, in a separate room, before walking in to meet the President of Malawi, a country with a GDP just over what our nightclubs made. We played like politicians and smiled nicely, shaking hands and settling about a brand new table.

'Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo, ' Jimmy offered our guests.

'Thank you ... Governor, ' their President responded with a smile.

'How can we help the Government of Malawi?'

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