Copyright© Geoff Wolak October, 2009 - Rev 2010
It's quiet, too quiet
2007 should have been the start of a financial crisis, but we had averted the worst aspects of the sharp rises in property prices, and the worst excesses of the banks and financial institutions for the most part. Interest rates had been nudged higher, existing mortgage laws re-applied, hints dropped.
At a dinner in the city of London, a room packed with stockbrokers and bankers, Jimmy had made an off-the-cuff remark about "shorting" Icelandic banks. The next day Iceland went into crisis mode, and had a good look at the reasons behind the sudden run on their banks; they called Jimmy directly. They were over-stretched, and bluntly told to pull their necks in. There was also the small problem of many British investors pulling their money out of Icelandic banks, causing a shortage of cash, which highlighted the exposed leverage that the banks had been employing. Instead of a major crash, they suffered a short and sharp minor crash. I put a note in my diary not to visit Iceland for a while.
Besides that hiccup, which was more of a deliberate hiccup, the start of 2007 was quiet. Global politics was giving people the world over a warm and glowing feeling, house prices were steadily climbing, economies were growing thanks to manageable oil prices and supply, and all was well with the world.
The "M" Group countries met in Delhi in February amid tight security, our Indian commandos on hand, and went off without a hitch, its format settling down. We'd hold an opening meeting, where Jimmy would list a few topics and predictions, and then the political aides would scurry around for a day to both make proposals, and to receive counter-proposals, the next meeting discussing the conclusions rather than wasting time with offers and rebuttals. I got involved, and often travelled back and forth between parties carrying messages, the kind of messages that no one would admit to in public, or in writing.
'Like fuck, ' Hardon Chase would say. To the Chinese, I would report, 'The nice man is not entirely in favour of that.' My diplomatic skills were growing; I could now lie convincingly. But when Helen asked about a dress, and I said that I was 'Not entirely in favour of that' I got a slap. I also employed our special adjudicator on occasion, Shelly being sent around to someone who everyone agreed was a complete idiot, and delivering the message in person. 'You're very silly man!' Shelly would tell them, the person in question knowing that such an approach required a majority vote of world leaders to instigate.
With spring approaching we were worried. It was all going too well. Sat in a lounge one day, Jimmy said to me, 'It's the calm before the storm.'
'It's going too well, something's bound to go wrong, ' I agreed.
'Yes, but what?'
'CIA!' we both said at the same time.
'So what could they do?' I asked. 'Try and kill us?'
'As far as they know, Magestic would carry on delivering warnings. Killing us would only be a hiccup to Magestic.'
We gave it some thought.
'What's their gripe at the moment?' I posed.
'They have less to do, their budget has been frozen — and may even face a cut, because we're putting the world to right. So they're pissed.'
'So they want a war, or a crisis.'
'Well ... that would give them more to do, but they must figure that I know where all the hotspots are, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Besides, people would see straight through it.'
'Exposing us would be the easiest way, ' I suggested.
'Then Hardon Chase would jump all over them. He loves us to bits because we're helping him to look good.'
I blew out. 'Then what else could they do? Where are we vulnerable?'
'Nowhere really; any bomb or sniper in any one place would achieve little, we're spread far and wide.'
'So, what do you care about the most?' I posed.
Jimmy took a moment. 'That question ... would produce different answers at different points in the time line. It may have been Mawlini at one point, still would to a degree. Then Forward Base, now Gotham City.'
'You can't call it Gotham City, that's my joke, ' I said with a smile.
'Can't call Russian Paul Ivan or Donnelly Keely, but we do, thanks to you!'
'So what could they do to Gotham City? They can't blow it up or cause a fire - it's huge, spread far and wide.' I clicked my fingers. 'The airport!'
'A problem there would hurt, ' Jimmy admitted. He got on the phone to Sykes.
That following week, a team of sniffer dogs were flown down to Goma with their handlers, a unit of ex-police handlers that would rotate every six weeks. Passengers, and their baggage, would now be sniffed by keen wet noses. The airport already possessed western style metal detectors and body searches, but they were checked, and procedures tightened up. Full background checks were extended for everyone who worked at the airport, or in anyway touched it. All local workers were visited at home, in the nearby apartments or houses, and random searches were instigated.
Sykes had a list of all CAR staff, plus everyone else who worked for us — anywhere in the world, even sub-contractors, and began the process of re- screening them all. We provided funds, and MI5 staff worked on the checks, MI6 making checks overseas. A week into the project they unearthed a CIA mole in CAR. Instead of removing the individual, we recruited the man — work for us or go to prison for twenty years — and fed the CIA information that they would know was being fed to them. His contact numbers were cut, and he was quietly fired by us.
Security at the Pineapple offices was tightened, scanners and sniffer dogs used on occasion, and senior staff were given drivers and bodyguards, homes checked for bugs at random. Our nightclubs were already secure, but procedures were tightened further. And at the house, extra cameras and sensors were installed, the small camera room moved to the basement to accommodate all the screens, two people positioned there permanently. Ahead of schedule, the main gate was modified and a gatehouse built, cameras fitted to the road and angled up so that they scanned the underside of vehicles entering.
The main house was already bomb proof, and any device going off in one section would not affect many people. My house had also been built to be tough, and car a bomb would have achieved little.
We flew down to Gotham City and tightened security further, a ten-man team of Pathfinders now always on duty at the airport, extra Congo rifles wandering about. At the main gate we installed a small tower with tinted glass and holes for sniper rifles to fire out of. The airport could now withstand a direct assault. Cameras were fitted to the hotels, and extra guards posted. The airport already offered a great many cameras, but Sykes sent down a few people to look for blind spots. The final piece of the security puzzle at the airport came in the form of a batch of radiation detectors. It was a remote possibility, but we were covered.
Forward Base was already heavily guarded, but a few changes were instigated, a special police unit created simply to monitor Americans or Canadians in the country, the detail of their names being fed back to Keely. Mawlini was a death trap for anyone daft enough to try and attack, but we got Mac on the case and gave him a budget. He had cameras fitted, and they took possession of their own patrol dogs for the fence, plus sniffer dogs for passenger aircraft.
Relaxing in the lounge, back from Africa, I said, 'How about ... they blow up the train track?'
'It would be fixed in a day, and it doesn't cross any bridges that they could blow.'
'We have bridges in our region, ' I pointed out.
'Concrete! Built to be cheap, and very fucking hard to blow up.'
'What if they got to Kimballa?'
'He's both terrified of us, and loves us, in equal measure, ' Jimmy insisted.
'And if they killed him?'
'His replacement would not dare upset us. If he did, the Congo Rifles would cut the country in half and we'd keep our bit. The people trust us more than their own politicians.'
'I reckon their best bet is exposure.'
'Not really. Think it through: they expose us as ... what, time travellers who know the future. Who the fuck would listen to them afterwards? Everyone would ask us!'
'Yeah, I suppose. So they want us gone, and quietly.'
'They still have the problem of Magestic: unknown, unseen, ' Jimmy insisted. 'No, what they want ... is the American public against us. At least the American Administration against us, and the idea of Magestic.'
'So how do they achieve that?' I wondered out loud.
'A rift between us and Chase, ' Jimmy also thought out loud, staring up at the ceiling.
'And how would they achieve that?'
'They may know that we have dirt on Chase. In fact, I'm certain they do, from the first meeting with that Admiral in the room.'
'Could they find that dirt?' I asked, now worried.
'If they did, they'd shoot themselves in the foot; I've made it all look like they covered it up. Besides, whoever replaced Chase would jump all over the CIA and not trust them again.'
'So, they need to use that dirt as leverage ... somehow.'
Jimmy eased back and gave it some thought. 'Somehow ... meaning that they sour our relationship with Chase who — at the moment — is doing more for me than I could have ever hoped for.'
'Assassinate him, make it look like you?'
'No one would believe that, I'd have no reason. And the "M" Group countries would say so.'
'So they assassinate Chase ... and make it look like the Chinese?'
'That ... would be a worry, ' Jimmy admitted. 'But they're not about to assassinate a President; he's not Kennedy. And his replacement would just carry on and deal with us. They need ... a lack of co-operation. But, at the end of the day, I designed my plans for the future assuming that the Americans would always be difficult, if not downright hostile. So even if they pull out of the "M" Group it wouldn't affect my plans. And they would never wish the other countries to have a lead over them, so they'd never pull out of the "M" Group.'
'They must be up to something, ' I said with a sigh.
'Those coffee shops... ?' I posed.
The CIA made its move a month later, Hardon Chase making a frantic call to us. The two largest medical insurers in the States, Republican Party donors, had received documents from the CIA about us, detailing our support for Senator Pedersen's insurer — the stock market tip-offs. Chase could not risk annoying them, since they were large donors and well connected. It was a mess for him.
Jimmy asked him to arrange a meeting with the CEOs of the companies in question in a few days, and we packed a bag. In New York we made a point of being seen having fun, not a care in the world. Jimmy made a pass at a famous actress, and she was snapped leaving his hotel in the morning. We had set the tone. The next day we flew down to Washington on a private jet, a Learjet, and allowed ourselves to be filmed getting in and out of it. We were whisked straight around to the White House, a nervous Hardon Chase waiting.
'This is serious, ' were his first words.
'Sure is, ' I agreed. 'No tea waiting for us. I mean, you're the most powerful man in the world — and the beverages here are crap.'
He stared at me, controlling his disappointment in me. 'They're waiting, so I hope you have a rabbit in the hat.'
'Well, let's go and see, shall we, ' Jimmy said with a confident smile.
In the meeting room, five sour-faced men waited. They each looked at us like we had driven over their flowerbeds.
'God bless all here, ' I said with an Irish accent as I sat. 'Who's round is it?'
No one bothered to try and shake hands, and no introductions were offered.
Chase said, 'I assume everyone here knows who everyone else is?' None of the men opposite responded.
Jimmy took in the faces of the men opposite, smiling dangerously. 'In just a short while the FBI will be arresting the CIA agents who gave you the files.'
'They will?' Chase queried.
'They will, ' Jimmy insisted, not having taken his eyes off the men opposite. 'So, why don't I save us some time and sum up: you've been provided with documents from the CIA, top secret documents — the kind not to be caught in possession of — and you think that this clairvoyant known as Magestic has been favouring Chuck Pedersen's insurance company. Well, you'd be right.'
Jimmy continued, 'But you should have read the files in more detail, and applied your brains a little more. A clairvoyant ... is someone who can predict the future. Predict ... the future, such as meetings like this. As a result of that ability to predict the future, we knew about this meeting twenty years ago. Since that time we've had private detectives monitoring you fine gentlemen. Mister O'Leary, that nice man that your daughter married, and recently divorced, was one of ours.'
The man looked horrified.
'Mister Bankovich, your son's existing wife is on our payroll.'
'What?' the man gasped.
Jimmy reached down and lifted his briefcase, taking out two thick files. He slid them over. 'We know every prostitute that you've ever fucked, every bit of weed or cocaine you've ever bought, every insider deal. And, we know which whistle-blower one of you had killed two years ago.'
The men had been scanning the files, but now looked up, horrified.
'You'll notice in there photographs of you going back twenty years. Of course, the police, your shareholders, your wives, and the SEC would be interested in some of the detail, if ... it got out.'
'Jesus, ' Chase let out. 'I can't believe I'm in this room.'
'So, ' Jimmy loudly called. 'What did you want to talk about today?'
We waited with smug grins, the men sipping water and mopping their brows.
'Nothing?' Jimmy asked. 'Oh well, then I guess we'll conclude with me asking that you both donate ten million dollars to Rescue Force Kenya and ... it was a pleasure.' We stood.
'Some day, we'll get a good cup of tea in this place, ' I complained.
Chase led us out, staring wide-eyed at the floor as we progressed. In the corridor, he stopped and forced a breath, shaking his head. 'God damn, boys.'
'The CIA waiting for us?' Jimmy asked.
Chase led us on, now smiling and shaking his head. In the bowels of the White House we stepped into a room of CIA directors and managers, a reception even more frosty than the previous. And still no bleeding tea!
'Please, don't get up, ' Jimmy told them when they stood for the President. He sat. 'So, who do we have here? Mister Drake and Mister O'Sullivan, there are some nice gentlemen from the FBI waiting for you upstairs, with proof of your involvement in the Magestic documents that you handed to the medical insurers.'
As we sat there looking smug, the men were led out, their colleagues both surprised and horrified in equal measure.
'So, ' Jimmy loudly said 'Here we all are. Now, I won't keep you long, because you're going to be busy later today and ... tomorrow. You gentlemen would prefer that we did not give tips about security matters, because that's your job. Never mind that we're trying to save the planet, you're more interested in your own careers.'
'That's not true, ' a few tried to argue. After all, they were not about to have that label pinned on them in front of the President and the CIA director.
'And yet, here we sit, two of your managers under arrest for trying to expose us and discredit us, classified documents handed over to businessmen, ' Jimmy detailed. He waited.
'They were not following orders from the top, ' the Director insisted.
'Guess they have no respect for your authority, ' I noted, the man not happy. At all.
Jimmy said, 'And then there were the other attempts to attack us, and to discredit us.'
'Those people have been dealt with, ' they insisted.
'Lame, ' I put in, now even less popular with the Director, Chase oddly quiet.
'OK, ' Jimmy began. 'Let's get down to business. You have — some of you have, yet again gone against the wishes of the President — and the Director — and operated on your own to attack us. So there's going to be a penalty.'
'Oh god, ' Chase muttered.
'Many years ago, the then President Harvey asked us to boost civil service pensions. That gave us access to CIA pensions and welfare funds.'
'Oh no, ' Chase muttered, dreading whatever Jimmy was about to say next.
Jimmy explained, 'So we traded that fund, and did quite well.'
'Very well, ' I put in.
'Extremely well, ' Jimmy added. 'Unfortunately, we bought a great many stocks just before secret takeovers were announced, before the Pentagon issued contracts, and before the boys on the hill sanctioned projects. As such, anyone looking hard at the trades might conclude that the CIA — that's you — had insider information, and that you were making money for yourselves.'
Mouths opened and eyes widened when they realised where this was going.
'As of — oh — about an hour ago, the detail of those trades went to the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.'
Chase put his hands to his face.
Jimmy faced the CIA Director. 'I'd resign now if I were you. Then there's the problem of the SEC seizing your pension funds and stopping all payments for former officers, including sick pay. That should take about ... oh ... nine months to iron out.'
'What have you done?' Chase whispered.
Jimmy ignored him. 'Gentlemen, we know what you'll do ... before you do it. Every time you push, we push back.' He stood, and I followed him up. 'I look forwards to your next move, which we were planning for twenty years ago.'
I patted a stunned looking Chase on the shoulder as we left. In the van, I said, 'You knew all along.'
'When I set-up the insurance scheme I figured that the others would be unhappy.'
We met Pedersen on Capital Hill and explained what had happened. He and his colleagues would now be calling for an investigation into CIA activities, but supporting Hardon Chase.
A few days later, Mac called, his bank balance twenty million dollars better off. We ordered the money spent in Darfur, on relocating refugees back to their own villages. The American news was full of the investigation into the CIA, Chase under pressure and not a happy bunny. He had no choice but to sack the current director and appoint another. That director had been in the job just three days when Chase called. Jimmy was not about, so I took the call.
'Home for fallen women, Matron speaking.'
'Paul? Hardon Chase. Jimmy about?'
'No, hence you're talking to the monkey, and not the organ grinder.'
'Are you in the country for the next twenty-four hours?'
'You can't fire a nuke at us, it's against some law ... somewhere.'
'You in?' he pressed.
'Yes, no trips planned. What's up?'
'The new head of the CIA is on his way, military flight to RAF Fairford — on the quiet. He wants to find a peaceful solution, so do I. So I would really appreciate you speaking to him.'
'I'll get the kettle on. How're things across the pond?'
'Settling down, thankfully. But they've suspended the CIA's pension fund. We're having to put money forwards for the payments till this is sorted out. Try and work with Petrosi, eh?' The line clicked dead.
When Jimmy appeared, I relayed, 'The CIA chief is coming over. Guy named Petrosi. Is he OK?'
Jimmy nodded absently, picking up a file. 'As soon as he's gone we'll pop over to Zimbabwe, we just got their airline.'
Petrosi turned up at dawn the next day, a Saturday. And it was just him, an escort of four RAF Military Police officers. We were in the diner having breakfast when he was shown in, a short and stocky man with thinning black hair and a pockmarked face.
'Coffee, black, please Cookie, ' Petrosi said as he took off his coat. He sat straight down. 'Fucking C5 Galaxy flight. Jesus, at least I was tired and slept most the way.'
I stared at him for a moment, then faced Jimmy.
'I got Bouncy the masseuse coming around in an hour, ' Jimmy told our visitor. I was still staring.
'Good one, Jimbo. Gagging for a young bird with large hooters.'
Now my mouth was opening.
'Daughter's wedding soon?' Jimmy asked.
'Fucking yes! And I could do with a few dollars.'
Jimmy took out a dated gold pocket-watch with a chain. 'Your great- granddad's heirloom. Have it appraised; should be thirty thousand dollars.'
I was still staring.
'Nice one, Jimbo. Fucking wife is bleeding me dry.'
'And I'm Paul, ' I finally said.
'Hey Paul, ' Petrosi offered. He turned his head towards Cookie. 'Pancakes, buddy? Thanks.'
I said, 'Would I be correct in assuming that you have met before?'
'You would, ' Jimmy replied. 'I had to get a lot of people sacked to get this reprobate into position.'
Now Petrosi faced me, and with a huge grin. 'It was... 1985, not long after I joined the agency. Jimbo introduced himself when I was stationed in London. In fact, I think I met you, Paul, at a club somewhere. Jimmy introduced me as a trader, which I was - it was my cover. Thanks to Jimmy my trading did very well.' He faced Jimmy. 'I miss those days. I was always drunk, and always getting laid.' To me he said, 'Jimbo gave me tips about work, and I got noticed and promoted.' He stopped smiling. 'He also told me what was ahead for the planet. Twenty years of predictions — and never wrong!'
'I was wrong about your wife, ' Jimmy suggested. 'I figured she leave your fat arse by now!'
Petrosi laughed. 'She gets money, and peace and quiet away from me. What more does she want, eh?'
The pancakes were placed down.
'So, how's Hardon Chase working out?' Petrosi asked as he drowned his pancakes in treacle.
'I confronted him when he was nominated and we struck a deal. Since then ... he can't do enough. I'm well ahead of schedule.'
'Africa is looking good, ' Petrosi commended, talking as he chewed. 'Financial crash sorted?'
'More ... or less, ' Jimmy responded. 'I think they'll still go over the top, just a few years later.'
'I uncovered a unit in the Congo, called their asses back, ' Petrosi informed us.
I shook my head. 'You rigged ... the head of the CIA.'
'Get some work done now, ' Petrosi firmly suggested. He faced Jimmy. 'Can you identify all the shits working for me?'
'I think so. Keely has a secure link here, so if I can see the names and faces I could probably tick them all off.'
Petrosi nodded as he chewed. 'Later.'
Keely walked in sat. 'Mister Petrosi. Sir.'
Petrosi regarded Keely coolly. 'Later today, I'll want to use your secure link and show Jimmy some names and faces. See if he can't spot anyone that may be a problem ... in the future.' He wiped his mouth with a napkin. 'I don't quite buy all this clairvoyant crap, but I have a job to do — and the President is on my case.'
'We'll try and be as helpful as we can, ' Jimmy offered, now acting a part in front of Keely. 'We're here to help.'
'Cut the crap, Silo. It'll take ten years to repair the damage you've done.' He faced Keely and stared. 'You mind?'
Keely stepped out.
'He OK?' Petrosi whispered.
Jimmy nodded. 'He'll break a few rules on our behalf in the years ahead. Oh, when you got the pension fund sorted, I'll trade it up — but in a legal way.'
'Good of you, Jimbo.'
Jimmy faced me. 'Helen ... does not need to know.'
'I wont be mentioning Bouncy the masseur either!'
Jimmy, myself and Big Paul caught a BA flight to Goma the next day, hopping on a connecting flight to Harare. Peering out of the window as we taxied to take-off, I could see ten aircraft at the terminal, and smiled contentedly. Landing at Harare, we were met by two cars and an escort of Zimbabwean Rifles.
General Solomon Beke, a young man to be the head of the Army, was waiting in the car, a huge smile for us. 'Welcome, old friends. Welcome.'
'Those guys outside, they Rifles?' Big Paul asked.
'Zulus, they like to be called, ' Solomon informed us. 'And their reputation is known to all citizens here.' We pulled off. 'Mothers tell their children — if you are bad, the Zulus will come for you!'
'Do you use them as police?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes, they patrol lawless areas, and then peace comes quickly, ' Solomon enthused.
We booked into a nice hotel, dumped our bags, and headed off again. On the outskirts of the town we approached one of our new orphanages. Pulling through a high gate guarded by two police officers in blue, we halted next to a new brick building labelled as "Office". Anna and Doc Adam stepped out.
'Any of these kids yours?' I asked Doc Adam, shaking his giant fat paw of a hand.
'I see them all as my children, ' Doc Adam boomed.
I hugged Anna. 'It going well?'
'Yes, we have some good staff.'
'How many kids?' I asked as Anna hugged Jimmy.
'Nine thousand, so far, ' Anna reported. 'Many were ... unwell, but are better now.'
I glanced over my shoulder at Solomon, who was out of earshot. 'Got the kettle on, love?'
Anna led us inside, and to the administrator's office, the man down from Ebede in Mombassa and looking familiar. After tea and a chat we stepped out into the main courtyard and toured the various buildings, the kids all dressed in blue and marching around in neat lines, some chanting and singing as they went. It made me smile; this was Ebede II, three if you included the Congo. We stopped to chat to a group of English teachers that had a better grasp of the Queen's English than I did.
'They're all graduates from Ebede, Kenya, ' Jimmy proudly pointed out.
'Haven't had enough of kids and orphanages yet?' I asked them.
'It is a calling, ' one responded.
They showed us around a modern school building, complete with gym and swimming pool, tennis courts and football pitches outside. Mounting up, we drove to a second section, finding it identical to the first. Beyond that we found a large muddy field with the foundations of two additional sections in progress. When finished, there would be twenty thousand kids housed, fed and taught here. The uniforms were uniform, the buildings identical, and the formula seemed to be working.
We thanked Anna and headed back out of the gate, Solomon oddly excited at the prospect of a trip to the Zulu's barracks, an old base that had been improved with a lick of paint and a new fence. Passing through the main gate, I could see familiar formations of men jogging around. At my request, we pulled up at the enlisted men's canteen. Stepping down, all the soldiers stopped dead at the sight of Solomon and saluted. He returned a collective salute as we entered the large canteen. Our presence created its own Mexican wave as men scrapped back their chairs and stood, silence soon gripping the room.
Jimmy stepped forwards. 'Sit down, men.' They sat, but remained nervously silent. 'Carry on and eat, please.'
We sat at the first table, a handful of men halfway through their meals. I pinched a chip. As we asked questions, four meals were brought over and placed down, good timing because I was peckish. The men at the table answered questions about the training, their time in Camp Delta and their fondness for the desert, and characters like Mac and Ngomo. Turned out that some of these were going back to Kenya soon for parachute training.
At the end of our meal we stood, everyone else standing. Jimmy thrust his first onto the air. 'Zulus!'
A deafening roar came back, shaking the building. 'Zulus!' If these guys ever formed their own choir it would be enough to scare the crap out of the enemy before the shooting started. I remembered a Michael Caine file, a few British soldiers holding off thousands of Zulus. They would have had no chance against this lot.
We waved, thanking the men, and mounted up, soon heading back into town and our scheduled meeting with the President, the guy having survived in office longer than anyone would have predicted. Pathfinder bodyguards in plain clothes greeted us at the parliament building and led us inside, part of the reason why the old guy was still alive; two assassination attempts had failed. Outside of the President's office stood two more Pathfinders, this time in uniform, M4s slung. They snapped to attention. Jimmy recognised one and enquired about the battle at Scorpion Base. We left Big Paul there to chat. Inside, we found the short and unimposing President, and several of his aides, stood waiting.
'How are you, sir?' Jimmy asked, extending a hand.
'Alive, thanks to your men.' They shook, and we were soon gestured to seats around a coffee table. 'And the Rifles, known as the Zulus, have returned with a loyalty to me and their country, a respect for law and order, and a fearsome reputation. I fully believe that just the thousand of them is all we shall ever need.' He took a moment to study us. 'In Kenya, they studied the history of this country, and our culture, returning to us as honoured sons — not as strangers.'
'That was always my intention, Mister President.'
'We have sent another thousand young men to Kenya, but we believe that within two years we shall be able to train the men here.'
'We'll supply instructors when you need them.'
'You are ... most kind, and an unusual benefactor.'
'How's the airline working out?' Jimmy asked.
'Very well; Europe has never been closer. I flew to a conference in Portugal — if I pronounce it correctly, leaving in the morning and arriving at night, passing through Goma Airport. I was ... most surprised by the size of your undertaking there.'
'I aim to fix Africa, Mister President. All of it.'
'You may just succeed, Mister Silo, from what I have seen.'
'How are the tourist dollars?' Jimmy asked.
'Growing, ' the President responded. 'I believe that the lodges are at capacity, a direct flight from Livingstone to Goma — which makes all the difference. These days, when us Africans wish to fly, we ask for your airline: I fly Silo, or I don't fly!' We laughed. 'How many aircraft do you operate now?'
'With those we took over ... almost a hundred.'
'It was something of a shock for my people to be able to board a flight to Europe after all the years of sanctions, and a cheap flight at that.'
'How are the farms?' I asked, as much of Jimmy as the old guy.
'They produce food, ' the President quipped. 'Which is an unusual use for our land after all this time.'
'And your currency is now US dollars?' I asked.
'Yes, we have stabilised things — to a degree, ' the President explained. 'The people do not worry so much. And, after another two years, perhaps to return to our own currency.'
'We'd like to look at mining, and oil exploration here, ' Jimmy told our host.
'There is no oil here, ' he said with a sigh.
'It can do no harm to look, ' Jimmy insisted. 'And your mines are inefficient.'
The old guy nodded, soon handed a document from an aide. 'This grants you the rights, to mining and to oil exploration. Existing mine ownership must be honoured, but you may enter into partnership with them.'
'We will, ' Jimmy assured out host. He handed over a bank transfer confirmation for fifty million dollars. 'An advance.'
'You will take many years to recover this, ' the President puzzled.
'We are in it for the long term, Mister President.'
I somehow figured we'd be lucky in our explorations, and two hours after our tour began we arrived at the airport with Solomon, farewells made. We boarded our own plane, and headed towards our own airport, in our own region of the DRC.
At Goma airport we left what little luggage we had brought with us at the security desk, Big Paul minding it, and took the control tower's elevator to the top. It opened to a darkened room of orange screens. Passing through, we climbed the stairs to the busy glass tower.
'Jimmy, ' the senior man called, a Brit. He stepped over. 'Jesus, when you said this place would grow... !'
'And more to come. How's it going?'
'Fine, enough bodies to cover everything. They've started building work over there.' He pointed. To the right of the huge maintenance sheds a new area was now being prepared.
'What'll go there?' I asked.
The man explained, 'Extended parking area, and more maintenance sheds, capacity for twenty aircraft. A lot of the old stock will come here to be checked over, all done in one place.'
'Boeing and Airbus mechanics?' I enquired.
The man nodded. 'There's fifty of each, plus a hundred trained Africans — from far and wide. Boeing and Airbus have offices here now, it's an important maintenance hub.'
'Where are you living?' I asked him.
'Tower block Four, nice enough pad. Waiting for a house on the hill.'
I faced Jimmy with a quizzical look. He grabbed a large pair of binoculars and handed them to me. 'Hill in the distance.'
I focused the glasses, soon noticing a gentle hill about two miles away, a spiral road climbing up and around it, numerous houses under construction.
'Known as The Spiral, ' the man reported. 'Two hundred houses, getting nicer as you climb up; gate at the bottom, bar and restaurant at the top.'
'That's all American money, ' Jimmy said. 'When that's complete, we'll start a second one nearby. Other side of the maintenance sheds is an industrial estate, but we only let in companies linked to the airport. Behind that will be apartments and shops, an estate for the workers.'
'I've started fishing in the new lake, ' the man informed us with a smile. 'Some real monsters in there.'
'Our security staff said it was good, ' I put in, Big Paul and the others having visited.
'That the guy who hooked a croc and shot it?' the man asked us.
Jimmy and I exchanged looks. 'I think we need to have a chat to Big Paul, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Although I haven't seen him with a new crocodile skin handbag of late.'
'There're crocs in the new lake?' I asked.
'It has a canal linking it to the main lake, ' the man explained. 'They come up it, crawling the last fifty yards across the grass.'
'Still, ' I said, 'we shouldn't kill the wildlife. The locals have hunted the crocs in the main lake nearly to frigging extinction already.'
We inspected dots on orange screens, lots of them coming and going, then boarded our flight, soon heading north, the distinctive shape of the volcano visible to the east. And Big Paul was fined five hundred quid for shooting a croc.
The people and politicians of the island of Cyprus had already made moves towards reconciliation between north and south; the Turkish north and Greek south. We would now use hard currency to move that along.
As part of an existing EU initiative, we paid for a register to be made of people who had fled their homes, either when the Turks invaded, or during the resulting civil war. On both sides of the divide our people hunted around and asked just about every family what they had lost, and who they knew who had lost property. When that list offered up a reasonable number we began the difficult process of tagging people who had benefited, rather than lost. The biggest problem facing us was that land had been developed on both sides, hotels and apartment blocks built over former homes.
Having identified the worst cases of profit being made on someone else's land, we compensated both sides — on consideration that they assign their old properties to us. Having done that to five hundred families we were twenty-four million pounds out of pocket. With the UN behind us, and the EU, we then suggested that we would take the existing occupiers of the land to court. Unless...
In London, we met with the Turkish authorities, the Greek authorities, and the governments of Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus — no love lost between them. The EU, the UN and the British Government sat off to one side.
'Ladies and gentlemen, we are not here to apportion blame. We don't care. What we are interested in ... is in a peaceful and prosperous Cyprus. Turkey has aspirations towards EU membership, something that would be less easy with the outstanding issues of Northern Cyprus. So we would like to use our money and influence to try and find a solution, the solution to those who lost property.
'As you already know, we have compensated several hundred families on both sides of the divide, and they have signed their properties over to us. If necessary, we'll start legal proceedings against the current occupiers of the land to get some of that money back — if for no reason other than to acknowledge that land was lost during the troubles.
'Now, during the troubles, some people moved into vacant houses, houses which are now worth a lot of money. They did not buy the property, nor inherit it; they found them abandoned. We ask that they now try and pay something towards their good fortune as part of the peace process.'
'The Turks have benefited the most, ' the Greeks unhelpfully put in.
'That may be true, ' Jimmy agreed. 'But Southern Cyprus has enjoyed a great tourist trade for decades, whilst the north has not. Turks living in the south may have gone on to sell their property to a hotel chain.'
'It will be hard to define the land, ' the Turks complained.
'Would the authorities of Northern Cyprus sell me land - that which belonged to Greeks - and at a good rate, for the sake of peace?'
'What will you do with the land?' they asked.
'I'll build houses, villas and apartments, then sell them, the profit being paid to compensate those whose land it was.'
'How much land?' they asked.
'Around five thousand acres to start.'
'That's a great deal of land, ' they noted.
'What price for peace, and Turkish entry to the EU?' Jimmy posed. 'And do I need to remind you that during your worst earthquake I spent a hundred million pounds to help your people.' It was not so much a gentle reminder, as a punch in the throat.
The Turkish Government were in favour, their island counterparts not sure yet. Jimmy went around the room and asked for opinions, soon everyone in favour save the North Cyprus Turks, and they would consider it. In reality, it was a good deal for them and they knew it. We offered to send in mine clearance teams to those areas on the border that were affected, and to pay for old barriers to be torn down, and even offered to buy the abandoned properties in no-man's land.