Part 9


The New Year started with PACT getting involved with the Anjouan Islands, off the coast of Africa, where a coup of sorts was on the cards. The Rifles landed, and the coup was off the cards. Still, PACT and the Rifles rounded up the rebel leaders and seized weapons, a thorough search made of the islands, and the rebel's expensive weapons would be costly to replace. Jimmy ticked a box.

After the death of his father, Jimmy had spent more time with his elderly mother, and she could be seen visiting the house more often, Han always taking the time to talk with her. She had no grandchildren, neither Jimmy nor his brother having families, and loved Shelly and Lucy to bits. Now that she was alone I encouraged Shelly to visit more often. But to say that she was alone was not strictly correct. Jimmy's aunt had become a widow two years earlier and moved into the old house after Jimmy's father had died, along with two cats. The old house also offered a live-in housemaid and cook and five of our security staff, none of whom seemed to mind sharing with two old widows. The lads had their lounge, Jimmy's mum and her sister had their own.

Jimmy's brother had always been a bit of a mystery, and I could count on one hand the number of conversations I had with the guy. He was a year older than Jimmy, lived in Newbury with his long- term girlfriend, and shunned any publicity. He did, however, accept a million pounds off Jimmy towards additional security, and compensation for the intrusive and annoying press attention. He worked in a toyshop that specialised in complex model trains and read a lot. And that was just about all I knew of him.

Sykes kept an eye on Steffan Silovitch, who always used his full name to try and lose the connection with his famous brother. A security camera had been set-up in the shop, another across the road, and the local police knew to keep an eye on the place. He visited their mother every two or three months, and remembered family birthdays better than Jimmy. So far, he had not visited Africa, nor our clubs. No one knew the history between the brothers, and no one dared ask.

January saw the Prime Minister ask for the nutters and tourists at our gate to stay away, and the police erected signs: no waiting. The terrible January weather was keeping most of them away, and the die-hard kooks were being picked up and moved on by cold and miserable police officers. Cars that stopped were issued a sixty pounds fine, and if they returned, even to slow down, additional fines.

With snow on the ground, and school closed for a few days, we were all inside and staying warm, the kids playing in the main house. Sharon had brought her daughter to the house get some work experience, and I had to stop and wonder how the girl had grown two feet since the last time I saw her. She was now eighteen. When did that happen?

Three days after the daughter had started to attend the office, Sharon approached me before it was time for her to leave, and asked if I thought there was any work for her daughter — proper work. I said I'd discuss it with Jimmy, and found him later in the diner with Michelle, who now qualified as Jimmy's longest running girlfriend, of sorts. It was "of sorts", because Jimmy delighted in annoying Michelle by sleeping with any beautiful actresses he fancied, then telling her about it — in detail. I was jealous, of sorts.

'Sharon's daughter is looking for work.'

Jimmy gave it some thought. 'In order to be of any use to us, she has to first go visit the empire for a few months, get some experience of the far corners of the empire, then return. Discuss that with Sharon, and devise a schedule where she would work a few weeks at each place, and in each country. Then we'll see.'

'You must already know?' I pushed.

'No, since she was supposed to have died in a car crash a few months back.'

'Ah. You ... altered it.'

He nodded. 'So it's a bit of an unknown. Mystery, eh?'

'Adds a spice to life, ' I said as I stood. I gave Trish, Helen's assistant, the task of planning a schedule and arranging tickets, and called Sharon at home. She was a little reticent about sending her daughter around the world, but finally agreed. Young Jane would now go on her travels, and I decided that the first stop should be the Cardiff club. She could start with bar work, and work her way up.

The plan had left me wondering about Shelly and Lucy, and what they would do when they grew up. University? Definitely. But then what? Jimmy had said that Shelly would be a marine biologist, and so far it could be said that she had a leaning towards things aquatic. I guessed that they'd have their own ideas by then, and would ignore anything I said. By then I'd be "the old man".

The next morning, Keely presented me a large file, the detailed plans for a new rail link across the DRC, through the other country that was called "The Congo", joining existing track in Nigeria, and heading towards Liberia and Sierra Leone. I sat with a coffee in the diner and scanned the very thorough document, the plans seeming to indicate a few bridges - quite a few bridges, and four short tunnels. A trunk of the line would even touch Kinshasa.

I had the file sent by secure courier to the Foreign Office, to the people we still housed there. They studied it, and reported that it was feasible, sending the file down to the corporation on the next flight. The corporation studied it for a week and agreed; it was feasible; bloody expensive, but feasible. I presented the figures to Jimmy, who glanced at them, then asked me to make a start, using forty percent corporation money, forty percent US aid money, and twenty percent CAR money; and to release the news it to the press. Since the western press would not be interested in a train line in the DRC, I got my wife on the case, and she sent the details to the African Times. Only afterwards did I think that I should have told Kimballa first, and the Nigerians and others. I just hoped they'd see it as a 'planned' new rail line.

I had not put the file down for even ten minutes when Jimmy's brother stepped in. 'Steffan? You looking for Jimmy or your mum?'

'I was looking for you, ' the tall fella explained.

'You were?' I puzzled.

'The shop that I worked at closed and ... Jimmy said you had track building projects that I might be interested in.'

I resisted a smile and composed myself. 'The tracks we're building, they're ... bigger than Horny gauge for model trains.'

'I have a degree in surveying, with a Phd in train and cargo logistics, ' he flatly stated, stood stooped, his chin on his chest.

'Ah. Well, in that case you'd be ideally suited, ' I acknowledged, feeling a bit silly. 'What did you want to do ... exactly? It's in Africa.'

'I've discussed it with my girlfriend, and we're happy to move down there.'

'Oh. Er ... in that case we could make you project co-ordinator, a house in Goma, near the airport. Nice area, safe, lots of amenities.'

'OK.' He waited.

'Right. Well, when did you want to go?'

'Next Monday. House is up for rent.'

'That soon. Well, if you deal with Sharon, she'll arrange the tickets ... and everything else, and I'll let them know that you're coming. But don't forget to arrange shots if you're going to live down there.'

'We need that super drug stuff?' he asked.

'That would do it. One size fits all.'

'I'll arrange it when we get down there.' He turned and sloped off in his size thirteen shoes, and I went and found Jimmy. 'Bit of a turn up, your brother and trains.'

Jimmy nodded reflectively. 'He'll do a good job. And they'll all mistake him for me and salute. Variables in play.'


'Nothing. Listen, Chinese not happy about us stuffing America full of cheap medical kit - that's their area. So we'll buy some of their kit and sell it at cost price around the States.'

'Won't that fuck off the distributors for this stuff?' I asked.

'Yes, ' he said with a sigh. 'But we need to get healthcare bills down. And that complex making the medical kit, I want it doubled by the end of the year, which will please the Chinese ... no end.'

'I was thinking about that hospital in Goma, and the health tourists. What if ... we fill it full of Cuban surgeons and offer reasonably priced operations? Make it ... a centre of excellence in Central Africa?'

'Great idea. Go do it, young man.'

Pleased with myself, I went off and called the corporation, and gave the co-ahead to both move more Cubans to the hospital, and to advertise for paying patients. It then dawned on me that the Cuban Government might not like the fiscal elements to my plan, so I rang the Cuban Embassy in London. They would get back to me.

The next day I got a fax from the nice gentlemen in Havana, happy with the proposed use of their medics, but asking for a small percentage to come back to them. They asked for twenty-five percent, I agreed to thirty. I even sweetened the deal with a twice- monthly direct flight to Havana from Goma hub, on one of our 747s.

This new use of the Cubans had hardly been agreed when they faxed again. How about we roll out the same idea around Africa? Without consulting with Jimmy, I agreed to trial it. I could locate hospitals in Kinshasa, Nairobi, Mogadishu for definite, Zambia, Sierra Leone — where there were still Cubans at the main hospital, and Liberia. And Zimbabwe for sure, Malawi, Burundi would be up for it, and Rwanda. Oh, and Tanzania wouldn't object.

I studied at the piece of paper in front of me and said, 'Oh ... my ... god.' Sharon and Helen turned towards me as I stood and headed off to find the oracle. He was sat reading a newspaper. 'When you agreed the Cuban hospital thing, you had more in mind, yeah?'

He lowered his newspaper. 'Yes.'

'A rollout to all African capitals, nice clean hospitals with subsidised Cuban medics, our cheap medical supplies, and advertised through the Africa Times.'

Without detracting from his study of the papers, he said, 'And don't forget rotations of RF staff, to keep them sharp.'

I faxed back the Cubans and asked if they had enough medics, and how many medics did they wish to commit? They had upwards of twelve hundred doctors they could commit to it, so I informed them that I would roll out the programme in as many capitals as I could. Giving some thought to the commercial considerations, I ordered a new company created, and would allocate thirty shares to the Cuban Government, the rest owned by CAR, the Cubans paid as contractors. Two minutes later I altered my plans and made it fifty- fifty.

I went and found Jimmy, who was still sat reading. 'Listen, if this model works, and it will because we have cheap everything, then how about we stick a few hospitals in South America, where the Cubans already have that programme running.'


I stood. 'It's been good talking with you.'

I grabbed Helen and Trish, found a quiet corner and we thrashed out a few ideas. The name Central African Medical Services had already been sent to the corporation, but Helen said that was fine; when operating in South America we'd transpose A-African to A- American. Simple. Helen knocked up a job advert and sent it down to the African Times straight away.

A week later we had a list of people applying for administrators positions, most of them British or European, some travelling up from Africa for an interview, a few already working in Europe. The European candidates I liked, because they wanted to "go and make a difference". The African candidates were looking for work, rather than a calling, and this project was one step removed from good old- fashioned missionary work. At the end of the interviews, held at the club in London, I hired three people straight away. The director for all operations would be British, the Director for Africa would be French, and the Director for South America was of mixed parentage, British and Spanish.

Their first assignment would be to work out of the existing hospital in Goma hub for a month and get a feel for things, and to create a master plan. They'd then need to locate suitable buildings in each capital, or even have them built. I suggested that they try just Nairobi and Kinshasa to start with, to get the basic model right, and sent them packing with a good budget — not that they needed it.

Getting back to the house I was upbeat, never happier than when I was solving problems or creating new ventures. In my lounge I found Helen with a sour face, Jimmy sat on the sofa, Lucy sat playing with a Gameboy and Shelly sat with a bruised eye. I knelt in front of my daughter. 'What happened, baby?'

'A boy hit me, ' she informed me, her bottom lip quivering.

I turned to Helen, who faced Jimmy.

Helen said, 'Jimmy had a word with the boy's parents.'

'Damn right, ' I said as I stood. 'And?'

'And the local police have been around, ' Helen reported, not looking happy. 'The father has taken his family into hiding.'

'Ah. Well why did the little sod hit Shelly anyway?'

'She threw his ball over the school wall, or some nonsense, ' Helen explained, her arms folded. 'Gwen's been on; they're not too happy - they know the family!'

Jimmy stood. 'Shelly's bruise will be gone in the morning, I've told the police I didn't threaten the family - merely hinted how unhappy I was, and I've assured the police that the family is in no danger. Rest is down to you.' He knelt in front of Shelly and kissed her on the forehead. 'All better in the morning, don't be sad, OK.'

With Jimmy gone, I led Helen to the kitchen. 'I would have done something to the little bastard. Boys don't hit girls!'

'They're kids, seven years old for god's sakes!'

'Yeah, well it may have saved my arse by Jimmy ringing the guy. I would have lost it with him.'

She grabbed a dishcloth. 'I want you to ask Jimmy not to get involved in this sort of thing, they're our kids.'

I forced a breath and leant on the kitchen top, locking my elbows. 'They're our kids, and Shelly's part of his great master plan. We can't disentangle ourselves, the world wouldn't let us.'

'It should have been our choice, not his!'

'True, and if I'd been here I'd probably have been charged with making threats.'

'Talk to him, or I will!'

I lifted the phone and asked Karl to come over and watch the kids, leading Helen to the house. In the hallway, I turned towards the pool, and led a perplexed Helen to the basement. Tapping in a code, I opened a heavy door and knocked the lights on. From under a cloth I revealed the gravestone, and stood back.

'What the hell is that?' Helen gasped, pointed at our daughter's premature headstone.

'We found it at the funeral of Jimmy's father; we were meant to find it. It's a message for Jimmy ... from Shelly.'

'From ... Shelly?'

'VAT14 is the message, JDI is your doing.'

'My doing?'

'Just ... do ... it: JDI you always tell the girls.'

She closed in on it. 'VAT14 — JDI. What does it mean?'

'He knows, but he won't say.' I tapped the headstone. 'Our daughter sent that back through time. And yes, she's our kid, not his. But if that message makes a difference, maybe even to 2025, then she's not just our kid — she's a part of it, an important part of it. Perhaps even the key part of it all.'

I led Helen out of the basement. 'We have her till she's too old and too independent to be told what to do, then she belongs ... elsewhere.' In the house we thanked Karl, and I followed Helen into the kitchen. 'Just what do you think would happen if we fell out with Jimmy?' She didn't answer, and attended the dishes. 'What would happen if we took the kids, said to hell with all this and moved out, bought a little house somewhere and pretended to be normal?

'First, our new neighbours would move out, not wishing to be next door to us. Then who'd run the girls to school? You? Running the gauntlet of the press, let alone the world's terrorists. And in case you had forgotten, this house is his, the clothes on our backs were paid for my him, the money I have in the bank is his.'

'So we're prisoners.'

'I'm not. I like what I do, and I like being a part of it, and I'm in this to the finish. However it got started, we're in it, and you're far from bloody innocent; you came here to spy on him. And if you weren't doing that, what else would you do doing now? Some shit job spying on someone else, and risking your life? Most likely you'd be in prison by now, or dead. Instead you have all this.'

I forced a breath and took a moment. 'I seriously doubt Jimmy would do anything to you if you wanted to leave, but he's not the problem. What would the CIA do if you were out there and vulnerable? And if the kids didn't have armed police guards — then what? Are you willing to put them at risk?'

She sighed. 'Some days I just want to run away.'

I straightened. 'If you did ... you'd go without me.' She glanced at me. 'I'm staying, right to the end, ' I told her, and I meant it. 'I don't always like the idea that I got caught up in this, but I'd rather be in here than on the outside. This train we're on is heading for a brick wall. We can be in the cab, trying to change course, or we can be in the back, completely unaware of when it'll crash; blissfully ignorant.' I took a moment. 'You wanted me to go talk with him. Fine, I will. And you ... you give some thought as to what else you'd be doing if this had not got started.'

In the office, I found Jimmy alone, and sat at my desk. 'Helen's not happy, she wants you to stay out of the kid's lives, at least the kind of crap that happened today.'

'Inform your dear lady wife, my PA, that I have been suitably chastised. And, in the years ahead, when people try and kidnap and kill your kids I'll deal with them harshly, but I'll get written permission from her ladyship first.' He held his gaze on me and waited.

I took a moment, and sighed. 'Do we stay together, me and Helen?'

He turned back to his screen. 'I'm not going to discuss that with you.'

'That's what I figured. And if she wanted out?'

'She may say that, but she won't. Ever.' He looked up. 'It's one thing to look at the fence and long to be over it, but when you get over there you're all alone in the wilderness. And it wouldn't be a very pleasant wilderness for you two; press would never leave you alone.'

'Just for the record, I have no desire to jump the fence, ' I told him, fiddling with a stapler.

'I know. And I created this environment to be as pleasant as possible for you and the family. This place, and its facilities, is more about you than it is about me.'

I stood. 'I appreciate it. Just hope that I can make her see that.'

'Paul, ' he called. 'I ... got you into this, and sometimes I regret that. You could be a tired stockbroker in London on the tube, but ... but at least you'd have less pressure.'

'I wouldn't swap, you know that, ' I quickly came back with.

'I know.'

Back in the house, we got the girls ready for bed, the atmosphere a little frosty. When they were tucked up, and Helen had downed her second large glass of red wine, things were finally back to normal. Almost. We sat at watched the news, the sound turned down to a quiet background hum.

'If I wanted to go, you wouldn't come with me?' she softly asked, focused on the TV.

'No, ' I replied straight away, also focused on the TV.

'And if I took the kids?'

'I'd still be here. I'd arrange security and money for you, but I'd still be here.' I took a breath. 'Back in 1985, Jimmy told me about the future, and the war in 2025, and the rise of the Brotherhood. At first I figured ... it's not my war, it would be a long way off. Then Jimmy said an odd thing. He said: you can fight them over there, or wait till they walk up the Richmond High Street. Well, my mum lives around the corner from the High Street. So if I go ... out there somewhere and fight, the bad guys don't land up here. And now that I know where the fight is, I'd rather the fight be over there than here, our kids in the firing line. Well, everyone's kids in the firing line. So if you go, I'll be on the front line for our girl's sake.'

She put her feet on my lap, a peace offering, and I started to rub them. 'Was a time when I hated the whole idea of kids, and men for that matter. After the car bomb, and being exposed, I was suddenly very lonely and afraid. You know, I actually thought Jimmy might kill me.'

'If someone pulled a gun on you ... he'd step in the way.'

'I crawled into your bed because I thought that would protect me.'

'And I knew we'd be married years before we met, ' I confessed. 'I knew before we went to Africa together. That's why I put up with you.'

'Hah! I'm a catch.'

'Well, you weren't at the beginning, but Jimmy said you would change after getting pregnant, and you mellowed from hard spy- bitch to a nice woman.'

'Maybe I've gone too far, ' she considered. 'Lost the edge I once had. I should have rung that guy. Hell, in the old days I would have knocked him down and stuck a stiletto heel in his groin.'

Shelly came downstairs in her Harry Potter pyjamas and fluffy slippers, her eyes moist. 'I had a bad dream.'

I lifted her onto me.

'I want Jimmy, ' she whimpered.

After exchanging a look with Helen, I called Jimmy, and he came straight over. He sat in a comfortable chair and Shelly snuggled up, a blanket over her, soon asleep. We left the TV on, the sound down low, and withdrew upstairs, turning on the TV in the bedroom.

At 6am he was still there, and I woke Shelly. 'Come on, sleepy head, school.'

'It's Saturday, ' Jimmy reminded me.

'Is it? Bummer.'

'You're a silly head, daddy.'

Jimmy eased up and let Shelly down. 'Get dressed quick, and we'll have breakfast in the diner, yes?' She ran upstairs. He faced me. 'All well in the marital bedroom?'

I nodded. 'We had a good talk, she'll be fine.'

Jimmy took a moment. 'You'll never know just how jealous of you I am.'

There was little in the way of words to answer that.

The tabloids ran the story about Jimmy threatening the boy's father, but stayed just inside the line where we could start legal action. I called Gwen, she found me the number of the father, and I did the dutiful and apologetic bit — at length. I expressed my concern about his lad hitting Shelly and he was very apologetic in turn. I assured him that he was in no danger and being silly; Jimmy would never have hurt him, it was a great big misunderstanding. The family moved back into their house, having stayed at a relative's house, and things would return to normal. Hopefully.

On the Monday morning I drove Shelly to school, the snow now cleared. She said goodbye for a change, jumped down at the school gates and walked in. But as I observed, she stopped dead, turned to a boy poking his tongue out at her, and slugged him with a right hook, knocking him down. I was out of the car in an instant, running in, teachers closing in to attend the boy, whose nose was now bleeding. 'Shelly!'

She became tearful. 'He hit me!' she said, stamping a foot.

'That was the boy?' I asked, Shelly nodding. I led her inside, and to the headmaster's office.

'Ah, Mister Holton... ' the headmaster stumbled with.

I sighed, frustrated. 'My darling daughter just punched the boy who hit her. Nose bleed.'

'Oh my.'

'Listen, I've sorted it with the parents, at least I had done, and now this. I would appreciate it if you'd do the job you're paid for, and sort this all out. They're just kids! I know the people who own this school, and if you can't get this under control I'll buy the school off them and make a few changes. We on the same page, Mister Headmaster?'

'I believe we are, ' he reluctantly stated, stiffening and adjusting his black robe.

'I'll leave Shelly in your care.' I knelt and faced Shelly. 'The boy hit you, and you hit him, so you're even. If I hear of you hitting anyone else we'll take you out of school and you'll study at home.' I wagged a warning finger at my tearful daughter, and left, more frustrated than angered.

In the office I stopped, and let out a loud, exasperated sigh. 'Shelly just hit that boy with a mean right hook.'

Helen was horrified, Jimmy not commenting. 'They'll expel her?' Helen asked.

'I doubt it, but we'll have to wait and see.' I sat at my desk. 'But why don't you price up some private tutors lunchtime.'

Nothing was said for ten minutes, our office atmosphere like an "M" Group meeting on a bad day.

Independent thought

I scanned a report from Zimbabwe, and their use of US dollars to stabilize their economy. It gave me an idea. I called an expert, without Jimmy knowing, and asked a few questions. That was followed by a discreet email, in fact a dozen discreet emails, to various Africa finance ministers: what did you think of a common economic zone with US dollars as the reserve currency? The result was fifty-fifty, with half in favour, two wanting to sign-up there and then. And why wouldn't they, their own currencies were used as toilet paper.

I called Kimballa directly and asked him what he thought, hinting that it would have significant fiscal benefits. He was keen, and also had no problem with a parallel currency running. We discussed the new bank, and if it would work in dollars. After the chat, I cheekily called the Bank of England, and got through to the busy Governor, taking his advice at length. A common reserve currency, or a parallel, in the new economic zone would make all transactions easier, and it would control the typically Africa hyperinflation, but would also make the nice man in the White House happy. After all, the US Treasury could print dollars at no cost, and use them to buy African oil and ore. It would be OPEC all over again.

Concerned that Jimmy wanted to move away from OPEC working in dollars, I went and found him and confessed to my research.

'The problem with OPEC ... is not that they deal in dollars, it's that they hold a lot of them, and may drop them. The Africans are far less likely to drop their dollars in the decades ahead. Unfortunately, if they all switched now, then the US economy would get a boost now, instead of in 2017 - when they need it. With the medical benefits we've given them, and the wars that they're not involved with, their economy would rocket, then crash even worse in 2017 — if and when OPEC drops the dollar.'

'Then when would be the best time to do it?' I asked.

'From 2010 to 2015, and in slow incremental steps. Start with our region, and start paying people in dollars. Give them three months warning then pay all our staff in dollars. Some are already paid that way, some in Euros.'

'It was a good idea, then?'

'Yes, a very good idea, just a little premature, ' Jimmy commended. 'Now, you remember what happened with the drug?' He smiled. 'Wait for the phone to start ringing. And don't forget, it was your idea.'

I stood, and walked frowning down the hall, wondering why the phone might start ringing.

The next day Han cornered me, wanting an explanation of this major shift in fiscal policy.

'It was just an idea to stabilize the currencies of the countries we're involved with. Did you have a particular concern?'

'Did the Americans ask for this?' Han probed.

'No, it was my idea. We've started the bank, and that will have branches all over the region. Besides, it'll be easier for you.' I then made an off-the-cuff remark that would have ramifications. 'You have a lot of dollars; you could buy Africa ore with them, pay wages with them.'

Han seemed to have been hit by sudden realisation, and thanked me, walking off.

'You're welcome, ' I said, puzzling his reaction.

I sat with Helen in our house, eating lunch and discussing our daughter. When my phone went it was Hardon Chase.

'Paul, you at the house tomorrow?'

'You can't come around, we don't have enough milk in.'

Chase laughed. 'Are you there?'

'Yes, no trips planned, we're busy trying to figure ways of disowning our kids.'

'I'll be there for 9am, ' Chase informed me.

'Does that mean you're bringing a hundred Secret Service chaps?'

'It does, unfortunately.'

'Will your visit to us, and here ... piss of the Prime Minister?' I nudged.

'That's my next call, he'll meet us there.'

'Where you landing?'

'RAF Fairford — if I pronounce it correctly.'

'I'll get the kettle on. And more milk.' The lined clicked dead. 'Whoops.'

'He's coming here?' Helen puzzled.

'Wants a room with us.'


I smiled. 'Just kidding, we'll stick him in the main house. That is what it was designed for.' I walked around to the main entrance, finding a dozen police cars coming up the drive. I was, however, reasonably sure that this was not about Shelly. But not completely sure. In the office I found Jimmy. 'Chase is coming here. Tomorrow.'

He turned his head away from his screen, and nodded. 'Do you know what you've done?' he calmly asked, returning to his screen.

'Not ... entirely. They want to discuss Africa using dollars?'

'And if African nations adopted dollars, and their economies grew as we expect?'

'They'd ... make a buck?'

'They'd ... make a few bucks, a few trillion bucks.'

'Ah. In which case ... we're popular, yes?'

'I told them it was all your doing, and your project. They're coming to talk to little old you.'

'Han was being a bit odd earlier, till I suggested they could pay wages in dollars.'

'It may be wise not to discuss that with Chase. Very ... wise.'

'Ah.' I went and found Han, and asked that he keep it quiet, surprised when he was most insistent that it be kept quiet as well. The corridors were full of intrigue, as well as police officers with sniffer dogs. I cornered the senior man. 'Hey, you!' I wagged a warning finger. 'One of our Alsatians is on heat, and I know what you coppers are like. If she gets pregnant I'll arrange a DNA test, and send you the fucking bill!'

'I'll keep an eye on the dogs, ' the man said with a smile.

Meanwhile, the headmaster at the school had been doing a good job of making the peace. The nice man then decided to drive around with the parents of the lad, a surprise for us. They crawled along through two police roadblocks, through the gate — eventually — past a hundred armed officers and up to the house, imposing at your first visit at the best of times.

When the gate staff informed me of their arrival I let my head drop. 'Helen, we have visitors; the parents of the boy Shelly hit.'

'Oh Christ! And why now?'

We met their car outside, armed police and dog patrols rushing about.

I shook the father's hand, the man looking terrified. 'It's not normally like this, but the US President is popping in for coffee in the morning.' I gestured them inside, and to the diner, where Han and Ivan sat with Jack. We eased into a booth, teas ordered. 'So, how's school?' I asked the headmaster.

'Well, we think we've ironed out the problems, and the warring parties have shaken hands and said sorry.'

'You should come back tomorrow, ' I suggested. 'See if you can't get the Americans, Russians and Chinese doing that.'

'They ... are all coming here?' the headmaster delicately enquired.

'Bit of a pow wow. Actually, we sit and eat and drink, and get nothing done, but it makes the voters think that they're earning their keep.'

The headmaster stared at Han.

'This is Han, from the Chinese Secret Service, Ivan from the KGB, and Jack does our rose garden.'

The labelled men bowed their heads in turn.

We all did the parental apologetic bit in turn, and offered to try and rein in the worst excesses of our kids. It was going well. Then a dog nipped Jimmy on the shins in the corridor, right outside the diner.

Jimmy lifted the heavy Alsatian by the scruff, eliciting a horrible noise from it. 'If your fucking dog bites me again I'll bite it back, then I'll fucking bite you!' he roared at the dog handler. We couldn't see what he did to the dog, but it sounded horrible. He stepped in and ordered a tea, sitting at the next booth, eyeing the parents of the lad. Calmly, he said, 'I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for any misunderstanding. As a sign of good faith, I'd like to offer you a First Class trip to Kenya, to one of our lodges.'

The father nodded, still looking terrified, as the senior police officer stepped in. 'I'd like to apologise for the dog, Mister Silo. You ... won't be suing us for millions and millions will you?'

'No, I won't. Relax.'

The officer stepped out as Sharon stepped in. 'British PM be here later, staying overnight.' Jimmy nodded.

'Should my government be here as well?' Han asked Jimmy.

'They are here — you're here. Besides, I would never allow major decisions to be taken without discussing it with them first. Relax, or I'll set the dogs on you.'

We agreed to meet the other parents at Gwen's house in a few days, and escorted them out through the police. They drove off as Sykes arrived in a silver Mercedes, his driver opening the door for him.

'All this fuss for the President, ' he grumbled. 'Got a room for me?'

'Ask Cookie or Sharon. I guess the police have grabbed a few, and we don't know how many Chase is bringing.'

'Jack has spare rooms, we'll stay there.'

It took Shelly longer than normal to get home, despite her police escorts, and she asked what was going on. She thought we were in trouble, again, and took some reassuring. All night long the police patrolled around the house, the advance party of Presidential Secret Service arriving around midnight and running their own checks.

At dawn I noticed two small marquees on the lawn, TV crews already in place and looking a bit haggard as our security boys issued them with tea and coffee. I stopped to say hello, a few of the lady presenters looking less than presentable without their make-up. When asked about the President's visit, I pretended that I didn't know.

When they asked if it was a snub to the Prime Minister, I countered with, 'It was the Prime Minister's idea to meet here, away from it all, and Air Force One can land at the US air base up the road.'

I figured the school headmaster would understand, and kept Shelly home; she had official business to attend to. In the diner I met Jimmy and French Michelle. Michelle was now an early riser, and I wondered if she had been injected — but didn't ask. It set me to thinking as I plonked down.

'With the super-drug out there, what are we doing about Rescue Force staff?'

'Some have already injected themselves, ' Jimmy reported.

'Should we not roll out Doc Adam ... to them all?'

'They'd notice the effects — they're doctors, but I guess we could hide it behind the super-drug. Yes, tell Doc Adam to widen his programme, but on a voluntary basis.'

'And today?' I nudged.

'Today is your show, ' he toyed.

'Oh. Well, some guidance would be good. That way I won't upset anyone.'

'Treat the subject matter as more of a ... what if than a certainty, and take opinions. That's all.'

'You want me to chair the meeting?' I queried.

'Yes, you need to start practising, young man. I'd say just be your self — but I won't. Try and be polite for a change.'

Michelle laughed, getting a wagged finger from me as Sykes stepped in.

'We all secure?' I asked him.

'Like bleeding Fort Knox, ' Sykes grumbled.

The PM stepped in with his aide.

'Sleep well?' I asked.

'Great rooms, ' he commended, ordering a coffee before he joined us.

Jimmy faced the PM and said, 'Chase won't get all he wants today.'

The PM stared back for a moment, then nodded.

'What does he want, exactly?' I probed.

'Let him ask, ' Jimmy suggested. 'No point in having a meeting if you all have fixed opinions before hand; these are not Middle East peace talks.'

I headed back and got the girls up. Despite the stems, they still slept a lot, and behaved much like normal kids — apart from kicking world leaders in the shins. I had another shave, changed my shirt, and fussed over what suit to wear. Helen put on her pin-stripe outfit and looked gorgeous, and we checked each other over before leaving the house.

'Do you know what you'll say?' she asked.

'Not a clue.' Which was true. We didn't even know exactly what Chase was after yet. I put the TV on and watched his motorcade winding its way towards us, inconveniencing the locals. We'd be even less popular.

His motorcade pulled in at 8.30am, and it was a good job the house offered a lot of parking space. That free space had been cleared of other cars earlier, most now parked on the grass near the lake. Police helicopters buzzed overhead, and the TV presenters were ready, make-up slapped on, their hair done. I stepped out as Chase pulled up, the cameras now filming live, and got myself filmed shaking his hand as he stepped out of the car. He waved at the press before following me inside.

As we progressed, I quickly got out, 'We can't talk alone without a major incident, so the "M" Group representatives need to be in on it.'

'I figured that.'

We entered the dining room, the others stood waiting, greetings exchanged. Good job it was a large room. It took ten minutes to settle everyone, drinks brought in. Notepads were taken out, the President's aides making ready, all eight of them. And for this trip he had dragged along the head of the Federal Reserve and his Treasury Secretary. That nailed it; this was about the dollar being used in Africa.

I stood. 'Ladies and gentlemen, electioneering politicians, hard working aides.' They laughed.

'Is it an election year?' Chase asked, causing more laughter.

'Yes. Now, I guess that we're here to discuss African fiscal policy, especially in relation to the dollar, and the proposed future use of the dollar there. So, I'll start at the beginning, since this is fluid, and moving quickly.

'We've created a sub-Saharan economic co-operation group, and they meet in the Goma hub conference centre. It's obvious that we wish that group to grow in stature, and for the existing African Union to be less influential. We've also created a bank in the region, the purpose being to offer venture capital at good rates to boost business and to help fledgling businesses. It will also help the movement of money around the DRC mining areas. To that end, we have decided to simplify things and pay our staff in US dollars in the region, since the local currencies are ... volatile, to say the least. May I ask, at this point, if other "M" Group nations plan on paying their workers in dollars?'

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