Is this airfield for sale?
With Big Paul driving, we headed down the motorway to Swindon, coming off at Junction 15 and heading north towards a seldom-used airfield called Mapley. Little did I know at the time about how important this place would be in the years to come. With Jimmy giving directions, as if he had been there a million times before, we weaved through the countryside; 'B' roads with hedges. The front gate had seen better days, now simply a sign saying Private Property. Another sign said Longdon Aeroclub, a third displaying Massie Aircraft Services Ltd. We drove straight in.
In some ways it reminded me of the airfield in Kenya in the early days, that little-used feel to it. At least the grass here seemed to have been recently cut. We drove parallel to the runway, and to a hangar with several light aircraft both inside, and in front off it. I recognised most of the aircraft, spotting several Cessna 152s and 172s, those I had flown to complete my pilots license. Pulling up in front of a sign saying "Office" we eased out, Big Paul remaining with the car. Just inside the large hangar we noticed our first warm body, a portly man in his fifties rubbing his hands with an oily rag.
'Can I help?' the man finally said, his words echoing.
'Mister Hobbs?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes.' The man stepped forwards with an unwelcome expression. 'And who might you be?'
Jimmy said, 'We're the gentlemen who've heard that the lease for this place is up ... and that you're thinking of selling it.'
'Can't keep any bloody secrets around here, ' Hobbs grumbled.
'Since you are, apparently, at odds with your partners and keen to rid yourself of the place – it's good we heard about it.'
'Did Mark tell you that?' Hobbs angrily demanded.
Jimmy forced a smile. 'I hear no evil, see no evil, nor speak no evil.'
'Well ... now's not a good time, ' Hobbs suggested.
'I could get a 172 and a Jet Ranger in here, ' I mentioned to Jimmy.
'You a pilot?' Hobbs queried, looking me over.
'Just for fun, ' I said. 'I got a place in Kenya ... kind of essential down there.'
'Oh, I got a cousin down there, ' Hobbs admitted.
'Why don't you pop down, stay at our hotel – won't cost you anything, just get your flight, ' I suggested.
'Oh, that's good to know, ' he reluctantly let out. 'You in hotels?'
'Stock brokers, ' Jimmy told him, taking-in the large hangar. 'Investment capital, that sort of thing.'
'Oh, right. Well, I can't really stop at the moment –'
'Forty-five thousand pounds to take the lease off your hands, ' Jimmy told him. 'Anyone with a plane can stay around for twelve months, Massie's can stay longer if they want to. You, Mr Hobbs, can keep your office and store for two years. That, sir, is the deal on the table.'
'You don't mess about.'
Jimmy handed Hobbs an envelope with the deal outlined. 'It's all in there, and my contact details. Give it some thought, but the price won't go up – I've done my homework.'
With Hobbs threatening to get back to us soon we left the hangar, Jimmy leading me across the grass and towards an old wartime Air Traffic Control tower, better condition than the one at Mawlini had been. Big Paul followed in the car.
Stopping in front of the disused Air Traffic Control building, Jimmy said, 'Years from now this place will be buzzing – we'll spend a lot of time here.'
'Bit a drive from the flat, ' I commented.
'We won't be living there, I'll be buying a new house end of next year. We'll keep the flat for trips to London, but after next year we'll be country gents.'
'Yeah?' I keenly enquired. 'Where?'
'Don't sound so disappointed, you'll love the new place.'
'But it's ... it's Wales for fucks sake. Full of ... Welsh people!'
'I ... was born in Wales, ' Jimmy reminded me.
'But you don't sound like that.'
'Neither do most of the people we'll meet. People ... sound like that ... in certain areas. And so do people in certain areas of London and Essex, and elsewhere.'
'Yeah, but it's Wales!'
He laughed. 'C'mon, let's make a day out of it. Next stop – your future home.'
We drove down the M4 and across the new motorway toll bridge, paying to get into Wales; what a cheek. Turning off the M4 and onto the A49 we headed north, soon in pleasant countryside.
'Like it?' Jimmy asked.
'Nice enough, ' I commented.
We turned off at a place called Raglan and headed back South, soon finding the River Usk.
'Doesn't look anything like the shitty river downstream, ' I noted.
'It's not tidal here.'
We pulled up on a hillside and entered some sort of picnic area, clambering out. Ahead of me, across the valley, sat a large house that appeared to have been recently built, definitely new, but with a country-dated style to it. It was two-storey, and seemed to offer ten or more bedrooms. Fixed to the side of the house was a triple garage with an apartment above it, some other outbuildings, neat rows of pine trees following the access road as it snaked down towards the river.
I pointed at it, Jimmy nodding. 'Nice enough, I guess.'
'And secure. No one can sneak up too easily, break in or bug the place.'
'That going to be a problem?'
'In years to come, yes.' He pointed. 'That's the first house, rights to a small part of the river, trout and salmon fishing.'
'Tidy like, ' I said in my best attempt at a Welsh accent.
He pointed again. 'Look behind the house, you'll see a wood. Follow it back to the hill in the distance.'
'A few years after buying that house we'll buy all that land.'
'All that?' I loudly queried. 'Shit.'
'And then build another house, forty bedrooms –'
'To put in all the girls you're going to date!'
'I see a flaw in that plan, namely that they'll bump into each other when they go in and out.'
'And a helipad.'
I was surprised. 'We'd get planning permission?'
'Shit, got it all mapped out haven't you.' I took in the view. 'How much river section would we get then?'
'Close to a mile of it, both sides.'
'My dad would have a go at that, ' I quietly mentioned.
'Your parents would be able to visit often, getting them out of London. Anyway, in the years ahead we'll have a lot of work to do in Swindon and Cardiff, can't be in London. And when the press are breathing down our necks we'll appreciate this place – high fences and guard dogs!'
A few days later, David returned from Israel when Jimmy was out, a better colour to his bald plate.
'How'd it go, mate?' I asked, offering him a seat.
David took a moment, composing himself. 'My family are in Jimmy's debt, for what he did. Greatly in his debt.'
'Don't worry about it, ' I encouraged. 'So what happened?'
'It was if she had never left. Neither my wife, nor I, said a word about her leaving for the first three days, neither did anyone else. Ben and his family put us all up in their house, a bit of a squeeze. We threw a party, in fact one long round of parties with all the cousins attending at various times. Exhausting. On the fourth day we went for a walk, just my daughter and myself, and spoke about what happened ... and why. Some of the blame is obviously mine, I ... I was the traditional Jewish father, unyielding, and I paid a price for that, losing fourteen years.'
'Your daughter, she back in with all the Jewish stuff?'
'To a degree, but she is raising the grandchildren with regular attendance at Temple. They're here, they flew back with us.'
'Oh, shit, almost forgot.' I rifled through the files on the coffee table. I found a padded envelope and handed it over. 'Plane tickets, you and the missus, return flights to Australia. You leave in two months.'
'Really, this is too much... '
'Don't worry about it, surprise waiting for you in Oz.'
'Surprise?' David repeated. 'We only had the one daughter!'
I laughed. 'I'm supposed to tell you anyway, just not for week or two. Your grandfather survived the Holocaust, just lost his memory a bit.' David stared back, his mouth open. 'Brits shipped him off to Oz with some soldiers who they couldn't identify, to a funny farm. Seems he was well enough because he got married and had some kids, two are still alive down there.'
'I have relatives ... from my grandfather? My father is still alive.'
'So he's got stepbrothers, you've got step-uncles I suppose. Photo's here somewhere.' I hunted around the computer room and found the file, handing it over.
David stared at the two faces, men in their sixties. 'They look like my father.' He turned his gaze toward me. 'And my daughter -'
'Has no idea about them, so it's your turn to freak her out.'
David just sat and stared at the photos. 'Is there nothing he can't do?'
'Can't sort out his girlfriend.'
David lifted his gaze. 'No?'
'She wants babies and the home life, ' I explained.
'Ah. I'd take a wild guess that he's not quite the sort.'
'Now that, my friend, is what I call an under-statement.'
Musical Wang Po
A few months later, Jimmy asked me to send Po a fax, telling him of a good investment opportunity and would he pop over. I was certain I could hear the plane taking off before the machined beeped. I welcomed him and his bodyguards into the apartment two days later.
Jimmy stepped out of the kitchen with Liz. 'Po, you remember Liz?'
'Yes, yes. Very pretty lady, know all about London.' They shook and chatted, Liz on her way out, a kiss for Jimmy at the door. Liz and Judy were going to an Opera, and no amount of nagging could get me and Jimmy to tag along. The three of us settled around the coffee table, Big Paul leading the bodyguards into the kitchen for some food.
Jimmy handed Po a statement of the performance of Pineapple. 'I have a record company, here in London.'
'Record? Music record?' Po clarified.
'Jimmy is better at picking good bands than he is at picking stocks, ' I put in. Po was staggered.
Jimmy continued, 'And we need a contact in the Far East to help distribution there, and to make cassette tapes.'
'Tapes? Magnetic tape?' Po clarified again.
'I have cousin who have factory for tape!'
'That would be very useful, ' Jimmy suggested. 'And we would need a distributor ... to sell the tapes to the shops.'
'I ask, I think he do this, ' Po offered.
'Even better, ' Jimmy said with a smile. 'Now, I 'm looking to give you some shares in the company –'
'Give me? No, no, you always give, you no take. I buy share, I insist. It not good you always give.'
'If it will keep you happy, ' Jimmy offered. 'The business is valued at two million pounds, so thirty percent is six hundred and fifty thousand pounds.'
'I give one million, it fair price for future business, ' Po insisted, wagging a finger.
'OK, ' Jimmy agreed with a nod. 'We then make director loans into the business to grow it quickly. One million each.'
It was a quick deal. Still, with all the money he had made from us, not surprising at all.
'Tomorrow we'll go and look at the company, ' Jimmy suggested.
Po looked at the company's track record. 'It grow very quick, many record number ten or smaller. Three number one.' He made eye contact. 'You pick song?'
'He sure does, ' I said. 'He's very good at it.'
'I not know you music man, ' Po said. 'You many good many things.'
'I try my best, ' Jimmy joked. 'In this music business I have a partner with thirty-percent, I'll talk with him tonight.'
'We make good offer, ' Po insisted.
With Po gone, meeting us later at the restaurant and the girls joining us there, Jimmy rang Oliver.
'Oliver, how you doing, mate?' Jimmy asked.
'Good. Excellent in fact, wracking up a few hits.'
'Listen, friend of mine, Hong Kong Chinese, he's very keen to get into the British music scene and, to be blunt, wants twenty of your thirty percent.'
'Well ... well I'm quite happy to hang onto them, Jimmy.'
'He's offering one million pounds for them.'
'One ... million?'
'And you'd still have ten percent and stay on forever as managing director. Listen, he's not going to offer twice, and it won't affect anything other than you dropping from thirty percent to ten. To make a million from dividends would take you the next twenty years probably. And any money you make from selling your shares are taxed at ten percent.'
'Ten percent? What ... capital gains tax?'
'Yes. So that's nine hundred thousand pounds in your back pocket, and you stay on.'
'Wow. Can I think about it?'
'We're over tomorrow, he insists on making you the offer. Think about it till then, but don't take too long, this is a very good offer.'
'I'll ... er ... see you tomorrow. Thanks, Jimmy.'
'Bit sneaky, ' I thought I'd mention.
'If he hangs onto thirty percent, then years from now he'll be a pain. Not a problem, but a small wrinkle in my plans.'
The next day Oliver sold twenty shares for one million pounds, Jimmy handing Po ten more without the Chinaman noticing the origins of the shares. Pineapple was now global, and our cassettes would be made in bulk in Hong Kong, not saving us any money, but making money for Po in Hong Kong – which would come back around to us in cash when we wanted it.
Two million was injected as directors' loans, the business now very cash rich, more staff hired and a better studio deal negotiated. We also hired a concert organising company. Once a week Jimmy and me would pop around to a small factory unit not far away from the apartment and pass tapes from one box to another. Each week we signed two or three new artists, each having a hit song almost straight away; it was embarrassingly simple.
Two days after Po's departure we descended on a small company that produced an independent music magazine: Wrong Chord. I liked the name. The company was hidden away in a typical London mews, a non-descript yellow door. Jimmy pushed the buzzer.
'Yes?' came a girl's voice.
'I was hoping to see Jane O'Sullivan.'
'And who are you?'
'We're the owners of Pineapple Records.'
A silence preceded a buzz. We pushed the door and entered what looked like someone's kitchen. We walked through and to a lounge that had been converted into an office, numerous Apple Mac computers with flickering grey images, two women and a man sat working them, the curtains closed.
'I'm Jane, ' said a woman in her thirties. She extended a hand to Jimmy.
'Jimmy Silo, Pineapple Records.'
'You've been doing very well of late, ' she remarked. 'Tea?'
'No, thanks, just a quick visit, ' Jimmy said.
'Oh. Then what can I do for Pineapple?'
'We'd like you to produce a magazine for us, ' Jimmy said, getting straight to the point. 'Call it ... The Pineapple Slice, or similar.'
'What would this magazine be about?' she asked.
'Our bands, of course. Each one would give an exclusive interview on regular basis, let you photograph them back stage or at home, even the studio. Simple format, with an exclusive deal.'
She was mildly shocked. 'Oh. So ... you'd give us access to all your groups?' The employees were now listening attentively.
'Yes, an exclusive more or less, at least the best and first interviews.'
'You'd get them when they were sober, ' I suggested. 'We'd make them talk to you.'
'Oh. And what basis –'
'A new limited company, ' Jimmy explained. 'Pineapple has seventy percent of the shares, you thirty. We pick up all the costs and overheads, give you some space in our offices, you manage it with a fixed monthly retainer. Risk is all ours.'
'With all your bands in there there'll be no risk, ' she pointed out.
Jimmy gave her a card. 'Think about it, call me.'
I waved at the staff. 'Don't sit too close, bad for your eyes.'
Things seemed OK between Jimmy and Liz, but he indicated that their days were numbered, explaining that it was her choice, not his, because she had not managed to mould him into the man she wanted. I would have been surprised if she had influenced him in any way. All was going well in Kenya, at Pineapple Records and with the stock trading. Life was good and the days were ticking off the calendar. On a wet Monday I sat down opposite Jimmy and picked up a copy of the new magazine, Pineapple Music, now in its second month.
'Have a look, see what you think, ' Jimmy said, his face hidden in a paper.
I flicked through the magazine, noticing now a music industry news review at the front, interviews with a few stars, then notices of upcoming releases, concert dates and venues. There were a handful of interviews, each covering four or more pages, and plenty of glossy colour photographs of the musicians.
'Have look at the advertising, ' Jimmy suggested.
The back page was a concert advert, the rear inside cover River View safari lodge in Kenya. Then I noticed an advert for the Old Dogs mine clearance operation – an appeal for money, an advert for River View beach hotel, also an advert for the Chinese restaurant we used - making it appear as if stars favoured it. Virgin Airways had an advert, plus several musical instrument shops in London.
'What's the revenue?' I asked.
'About fifty percent of the cost of magazine at the moment, ' he answered. 'Which is good, considering the main aim is to promote the groups. You see the inside front cover.'
I opened the page: "Got talent, send us your demo tapes."
'Should drum up some business, ' I approved. Weighing the magazine in my hand I said, 'Chunky, too.' As I placed it down I noticed several estate agent adverts for houses in Wales. 'We moving?'
'Yes, next year.'
'Remind me again as to why?'
He put down his paper. 'We'll keep this place for when we're up here, but we need a more ... defensive position. In the years ahead the intelligence services of several countries will take a great deal of interest in us, after that – further down the line – so will the public. We'll spend more time in Swindon, and next year we'll open a club in Cardiff.'
'Yeah, well that don't make much sense. I mean, it's Cardiff, like.'
'You'll like it, ' he suggested. 'And the new house. Besides, it has to be done in small steps. If we opened up a club in London, then first – it would be expensive, and second we'd not have a track record or plenty of clients, and third we'd not have the skills or the staff. You'd ... not have the skills.'
'So it's a dry run?'
'Of sorts. But if you want to be here you can be.'
'You make it sound as if being here will be unsafe.'
'It will be, to a degree. Got some people to piss off. Anyway, think about when you're famous. How could you walk out that door in the mornings without a face full of paparazzi? In the new house we'll have several access points and escape routes, here we don't.'
I picked up the flyers, seeming to recognise one big house. 'This is?' I showed it to him.
'Yes. And the land around it. We'll go see it in a few days, after Mapley.'
'The old airfield in Swindon. We're about to spend a lot of money on it.'
'The Israelis are waiting to know where to transfer more money to.'
'I'm going to make it look like an Israeli bank loaned me the money, paid back over thirty years.'
'But then ... won't we be losing it?'
'No tax on a loan, for one. And two, I need a way of getting it into the UK without too many questions. It's not like Kenya. Can you see the Kenyan Government demanding to know where all the charitable money came from?'
'Hardly. Oh, while I remember, Rudd faxed to say that their Interior Minister went out to the airfield.'
'And?' Jimmy nudged.
surprised at all the money it was attracting, but pleased to fuck he was not paying for it. They've approved the Kenyan Rifles and sent an officer and some NCOs.'
'Because we're paying the wages for his staff, ' Jimmy commented.
'Mac's got adverts up in the nearest big town for recruits, lads aged seventeen to twenty-two, ' I mentioned.
Jimmy nodded approvingly. 'In order to get anything done ... you first need a small crack, then make it wider. But we're two years ahead of where I thought we'd be. How much are you worth now?'
'Three million, not including assets.'
'Need more, take a few more risks on the trades.'
'Fair enough, been quite risk averse, ' I commented. 'Oh, I diverted the money from the traders we tip, to Kenya. They're all making it look like charitable donations. There are separate accounts for Mawlini and the orphanage, it goes there.'
'Send most of it to Mawlini, the orphanage is getting embarrassing.'
'Five hundred kids in there, ' I reported, lifting my eyebrows. 'It's been on Kenyan TV twice, had a minister visit it. No one over there can figure out why it gets so much money.'
Jimmy forced a breath, putting down his paper. 'Let's go to Swindon tomorrow, see if we can't get three years ahead of schedule, eh.' He lifted the phone and called David, asking for a visit.
When David arrived we explained about the loan and told him to get a move on. David could not see a problem, since they'd benefit greatly. He also could not understand it, which added to a long list of things about us he did not understand. I got a familiar shrug as he departed.
We arrived at Mapley at 9am, Big Paul driving us. Meeting us there was a local firm of architects and a council planning officer, the council owning the land. The man from the council had been reluctant to meet us, but Jimmy assured him that we would be creating many local jobs. At 9.30am we met the architect, the council officer ten minutes late; he couldn't find his own airfield. With the rain easing off we climbed to the roof of the control tower.
'Not quite Kenya, ' I said, avoiding the puddles.
Jimmy got straight to the point, stood in a cold breeze. 'Gentlemen, I've taken over the lease of this airfield, and the lease allows for building upkeep. But I'm interested in more than just simple maintenance. We have a charity that we've adopted in Kenya, in fact several, but the one of interest trains Africans in first aid and mine clearance. We are also heavily involved with various mountain rescue groups here in the UK.
'In the years to come we're going to train British medics here before they go out to Africa. Things like first aid, jeep driving off-road, vehicle maintenance, flying, plus a range of other skills. For the mountain rescue groups we'll want a place where they can come and train for common skills. I know there are no mountains in sight, but they need training in first aid, jeeps, water rescue, stuff like that.
'Our aim, Gentlemen, is to try and combine those training programmes here. For that we need an airfield, which we've got, some classrooms - which we can build, garages – which we can build, a small assault course to keep them fit, a running track, a swimming pool and an admin building for the managers.'
'That's quite ambitious, ' the man from the council suggested.
'I've earmarked twenty million, and set it aside, ' Jimmy stated.
'Twenty million?' the young architect repeated. This could be his biggest account. Ever.
'That's for starters, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Now, we're going to need council permission before we do anything.' He focused on the man and waited.
'So, these people being trained here, they're being trained for African work?'
'Not just Africa, a variety of places. We'd also teach mine clearance here.'
'Mine clearance!' The poor little fella was shocked.
'All done in the classroom, ' Jimmy said with a smile. 'Nothing goes bang. And we'd be creating many new jobs, from security staff on the gate to mechanics and teachers. I think around a hundred local jobs could be created eventually.'
I handed Jimmy a document, the outline proposal, and he presented it to the man from the council.
'It's all in there, the outline at least, ' Jimmy explained. 'We won't start repairing buildings or planning new ones till we get the go ahead, and unless that go ahead is comprehensive – there is no point in us being here, is there?'
'Would there be more traffic?' the man from the council asked.
'I should hope a lot more, but I will offer to pay to widen the roads.'
'Yes. I'm also interested in building a leisure centre on the edge of the airfield, or just outside, so that locals can use it as well as the people based here.' He pointed to some bushes in the distance. 'It's close enough for people to walk from the local village.'
The man from the council was now far more interested. 'You'd pay for it?'
'Yes, it would be my leisure centre, but open to the public. A gym, a full sized pool.'
'A full sized pool?'
I didn't know what this guy's problem was, but he was keen about the frigging pool and lukewarm about rescuers.
'I'll discuss it with the council, ' he promised and we sent him on his way.
Jimmy faced the young architect. 'We're going to spend some money with your company whilst waiting for the council to give us permission. So, I want a complete survey of this place, maps drawn up accurate to an inch. I want sub-soil samples and foundations checked right across the airfield. Work on the assumption that building work will commence within a few months.
'Right, the hangars need inspecting – you can handle that and bill us. Water, gas, electric – I need a detailed map of it all and its capacities. Then, draw some sketches of new buildings: a two–storey office block, a classroom block and basic living accommodation – think soldiers, barrack rooms. I want some communal barracks, some single room blocks. Oh, and a new fence you can price up straight away. Do a good job and you get the whole twenty million quid project.'
It was fair to say that the lad was stunned. We led him back downstairs as it started to rain. From the car we gave him written authority to proceed and an outline document, details of our accountants and solicitors.
Two days later the local council leader wanted to meet. The man had appointments in London, so we met in a hotel and repeated the story. This man, however, bought us tea and scones. We had a provisional go ahead, paperwork would take longer. We received a quote from the architect to repair the fence and transferred the money immediately. It was a very long, and very expensive, fence.
Within a week, the architect and his boss came up to London on the train, and we entertained them in the apartment. They presented several large drawings and spread them across the dining table. The maps of the area we kept; the sewer diagrams, the electrical cables and the water pipes. The individual sketches of buildings we stopped to discuss, drawing over them and making modifications since Jimmy had a firm idea of what he wanted. We marked on the maps where such buildings should sit, what direction they should face, where doors should be placed. Then we broke the buildings into phases, because we knew that we could erect buildings faster than we could find warm bodies to sit in them.
A gatehouse was sketched and positioned; it would be the first project. Second would be better drains and water, third would be extra electrical cables laid ready. It turned out the electrical company would do most of that free, so too the water company. The hangars were booked an inspection by men with ropes and climbing gear.
We signed and approved a number of sketches, which would now be turned into formal drawings to be used by builders. A half-million pound deposit was placed with our accountants, the architects to be paid when a bill was presented. They had a provisional sketch of the leisure centre, but Jimmy asked them to be more military and less crèche. They took notes, drawing a quick sketch in front of us, more along the lines of what we needed.
With progress being made on the airfield we asked Mackey Tailor and his gang to fly down, paying their tickets and hotel. They came around to the apartment on a cold Wednesday morning, dressed in "rescue red" anoraks.
'Flight down OK?' I asked, taking their coats and noting their climbing boots.
'Aye, Edinburgh to Heathrow, just the hour, ' Mackey responded, he and two colleagues in the group. We settled them and distributed teas and coffees, Big Paul helping.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'What progress?'
Mackey read from his list. 'Bought six second hand long-axle Land Rovers, distributed them. Some boys already had Land Rovers, so we checked. We worked a deal with the climbing company Regus and got four hundred reels of rope, karabiners, that sort of stuff – all at a good price. We got a lot of kit off BCB Survival First Aid, and everybody has a pack, so nay grumbling there. We got a deal on a hundred helmets, a few different sizes as well, so distributed those. And twenty more stretchers.'
'So, all kitted out, yes?' Jimmy asked.
'Made good use of the money, got a good deal, ' Mackey emphasized.
'I'd expect nothing less from a Scotsman!' Jimmy told him, making us all laugh. 'So, how about training?'
Mackey produced a thick document. 'Had many fingers in this pie, I can tell yee. But we got a standard outlined and some semblance of agreement. We've made a start on grouping courses and fixing dates.'
'I've taken over an airfield near Swindon, ' Jimmy informed them. 'In years to come it will grow quickly, nothing much doing there for a year. What will be there in a year's time, will be classrooms, hotel style rooms and barrack rooms, a gym and a pool, some climbing walls. We can run residential courses on first aid, motor maintenance, off-road driving, map reading and navigation, casualty movement, a variety of things. And they all come free to you and your boys. So what you'll be able to do is to send groups down for various courses, anything from a week to a month. And those courses will have the standards agreed and mapped out, proper exams in classrooms for some subjects.
'Keep in mind, guys, that people will also come from Cumbria, Wales and Cornwall, so we need to be central. I'll also be using it for training medics to go out to Africa, because a lot of the courses they need are similar to yours, and I'd hope that some of your instructors would be employed to teach them as well.'
'Employed?' Mackey puzzled. 'They's mostly part-time volunteers now.'
'If they want a job then there'll be a few going in Swindon. If not, we'll bring in professionals, maybe some of our people from Africa.'
We showed them the maps of Mapley, sketches of buildings not yet off the drawing board.
'What I need from you next, Mac, is to talk with the Welsh, the Dartmoor group and the Cumbria groups.'
'Going ta be a full time job, ' Mackey cautioned.
Jimmy held his hands wide. 'Would you like to do it full time, if I gave you a wage?'
Mac glanced at his colleagues. 'Well, aye.'
'Think about a salary, I'll give you a budget for a car and all your petrol, overnight hotels, stuff like that.'
'Aye, will do, Jimmy. What do we do about the people asking for more kit?'
'Used up the budget?' Jimmy asked with a grin.
'Aye, all of it.'
'You'll get double for this coming year, ' Jimmy informed them. 'But that's conditional on you getting them interested in courses in Swindon, the first course around twelve months from now.'
'There's another angle here, boss, ' Big Paul put in. 'The place in Swindon can be used for merc' first aid courses and some security staff first aid courses. They need an advanced first aid course cert' before they can work in some places around the world. Plenty of business there.'
'You know the people running these courses?' Jimmy asked, Paul nodding. 'Go talk with them. They'd get a free building, offices and kit if they co-operate and train others at good rates.' He faced our guests again. 'So, Mac, you got a year to get everyone talking and some training programmes sorted, ready for the first day at school.'
We spoke for another hour about points of issue, plus unrelated subjects such as Kenya and our hotels, invites extended.
With our boot-clad guests departed for a little sightseeing and shopping, Jimmy said to Paul, 'Contact your old buddies at AMO, take them to Mapley.'
'How'd you know I was thinking of AMO?' he complained.
'I'm psychic, Dumb Fuck.'
'I thought I was Dumb Fuck?' I complained.
'You've been promoted to Chief Dumb Fuck.'
Jack was summoned by Sykes on Thursday, the interest his superiors took in him now something that he quite looked forward to. He knocked and turned the handle. 'Sir?'
'Have you seen this?' Sykes loudly complained, waving a page about.
'Sir?' Jack called as he closed in on the offending item.
'Silo has a record business, a very successful record business!'
'Oh, I ... er ... didn't know he was interested in music, he never mentioned it.'
'I showed these details to an industry expert. He says that this company's success rate is impossible!'
'You think he may get tips?' Jack softly enquired.
'Of course I think he gets tips! And he's making a fortune!'
'Well, I ... er ... guess Magestic has a plan for it, ' Jack offered.
Calmer, Sykes said, 'Well the P.M. is concerned about this, so are we. This is commercial interference, Jack: empire building.'
'Silo has been quite open about everything, always happy to supply an answer, sir.'
'Well I have a few questions myself, ' Sykes threatened. 'Fix a meeting with Silo, 10am tomorrow, his place. It's about time we got to the bottom of this.'
I opened the door to Jack at 10.05am. 'Alright, Jack, kettle's on.' As Jack stepped past me I focused on the second man; older, thinner in the face and with stern features. 'Cheer up, mate, it might never happen.' He did not look cheered as he stepped past me, eyeing me carefully. I took his coat as he took in the apartment, even the ceiling cornice.
'Very nice, ' he commented, making it sound like a complaint.
Jimmy emerged from the kitchen with a tray of drinks, placing it down onto the coffee table. When he straightened he offered a hand to Sykes. 'Mr Sykes.' They shook. 'Please, have a seat.'
Everyone eased into the leather sofas, Jack and Sykes opposite me and Jimmy.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'You have some questions about my businesses?'
Sykes got straight to the point. 'Do you get Magestic tips for the music business?'
'Some, yes. And some of it's down to the staff there, some down to me. What particular interest does James Bond have with that?' As Jimmy spoke I could detect the change in accent and style. He was now younger and coarser.
'It's an unfair commercial advantage, ' Sykes pointed out. 'If followed to the nth degree, you'd end up owning the whole damned country.'
Jimmy gave it some thought. 'Well, I see your point, mate, but I'm aware of at least one other person in the UK who I think is ... of a similar bent. He's in the mobile phone business.' I could see our visitor's grey matter working away. Jimmy held his hands wide and said, 'What would you like us to do?'
That caught Sykes off guard. 'Well ... obviously we'd like to know what your intentions are, and others, if they are going to impact large UK corporations.'
Jimmy glanced at me, looking a little embarrassed. 'Well, to tell you the truth, mate, I kinda got into the music business because I thought I could meet tasty birds through it.' Sykes eyes widened. 'And we're thinking of opening a nightclub, for a similar end.'
'And by "end", he means us two getting our ends away, ' I helpfully put in.
Jimmy continued, 'We only got Magestic tips on pop groups after I got into that business.'
'And what is your financial arrangement with Magestic?'
'Fifty percent of net profits go to charities he nominates.'
Sykes gave that some thought. 'And these charities, is there an agenda with them?'
'Oh, very much so, ' I responded.
'There is?' Sykes queried.
I added, 'Oh, yeah. The medical rescue group were building up is very focused.'
'On what, exactly?'
I continued, 'There're going to be some nasty natural disasters in the years to come: floods, earthquakes, famine – plague of frogs and the five horsemen of the apocalypse. We've got to get them ready to help, then get them in place just as these events occur.'
Sykes seemed put out at the innocence of it. 'Oh. And do you know when –'
'Not yet, ' Jimmy cut in. 'But I guess you'll know when we do.'
'And your connection to the Israelis?' Sykes coldly asked.
'I co-operate with my opposite number over there, ' Jimmy explained. 'Doesn't look like he's quite giving over the fifty percent, you know. So keep that bit quiet.'
'Oh. And what about a certain cave in Baden Baden?'
'You got the diary OK, did you?' I asked.
'Yes. Thank you for the ... stolen goods.'
I added, 'Well, you're a super spy, mate. If you can't avoid getting caught, who can?'
'Quite. So, what happened there?' Sykes pressed.
'They got a tip off about the cave, plus a few sunken treasure ships off their coast, ' Jimmy explained.
'The Germans estimated the gold value by the boxes, a modest two hundred million pounds.' Sykes waited.
Jimmy shrugged. 'There's a big haul off the Scilly Isles.'
'How big?' Sykes nudged.
'Dunno, but tonnes of gold, eighteenth century. And there's that sub.'
'So why don't you let your fellow countrymen go after it?' Sykes testily enquired.
Jimmy shrugged. 'Because Magestic knows that the Israelis will send us his cut, more or less.'
'And if we made a similar deal?' Sykes asked.
'I guess we'd wait for a letter from Magestic telling us to do just that, probably get one soon since you're here.' We both laughed, quite convincingly.
'I'm surprised he did not foresee my arrival, ' Sykes testily stated.
'He did, ' Jimmy responded.
Jimmy reached under the coffee table and handed over a letter. 'For you, boss.'
Sykes read the envelope. 'For Reginald Arthur Sykes, the worst cricket player in the dorm.' He fixed Jimmy with a stare. We tried to look embarrassed for him, grinning.
Mr Sykes / Prime Minister,
Your concerns about any empire building on my part are unfounded, yet understandable. I need to acquire substantial funds for the future, to assist with things that are not only beyond your reach, but beyond the remit of your respective offices. Consider, if you will, the following example.
A train will crash in a part of India that hosts track of a poor maintenance standard. The resulting chemical spill will kill tens of thousands and injure many more. A simple warning may go unheeded, most definitely miss-understood by the local authorities, so I will interfere directly through proxy agents such as Silo & Co. They will pay for the track to be fixed, points to be checked at the right time. Such an undertaking I deem beyond your reach, and an unnecessary distraction for you when I can so simply deal with it myself.
Further, I will not allow my proxy agents to affect those areas that I do not wish affected. Everything is part of a grand plan. Likewise, I will only give the UK an advantage over other nations where it is necessary within my plans, a plan of global harmony. Where you have a specific question you may ask Messers Silo & Co. If they do not have an answer it is because I have not deemed it necessary. Forgive my air of authority, but I know what the future holds, what great promises it offers and what great dangers lurk near.
Your servant, Magestic.
'Well, ' Sykes finally said. 'I'll discuss this with the Prime Minister.' He tucked the letter away. 'It seemed to suggest that you get more information than just simple stock market and music tips.'
'I do, ' Jimmy answered. 'Committed to memory.'
Sykes eased back. 'The outcome with Saddam Hussein?'
'Lots of bluster for ten years, then the Yanks drop a bomb on him, his location given away by a General Masoud, who takes over and slowly turns the place around.'
'Crickey, ' Sykes let out. 'Well, I'm assuming you don't discuss that down the pub?'
'Who'd listen?' Jimmy suggested with a dismissive shrug.
'You have no objection to answering questions?' Sykes asked.
'We've been asked to, ' I explained. 'Jimbo got a file like a phone directory and had to commit it all to memory before we burnt it. Took weeks.'
'Took two months, ' Jimmy countered. 'A lot of it made no sense, just dates and names. Last page said it was some sort of backup.'
'Backup, in case Magestic is not around, ' Sykes realised.
'Could be, ' Jimmy said with a shrug.
'Obtrobsky, ' Sykes said.
Jimmy wagged a finger. 'He defects to the Yanks when Greece wins Eurovision.'
Sykes crossed his legs. 'The already-mentioned fall of communism?'
'Next year. But they kidnap Gorbachov, fight it out with tanks, and Yeltsin becomes President or Prime Minister.'
'Jesus, he's Mayor of Moscow. You said tanks?'
'On the streets of Moscow, brief civil war.'
'How does it turn out?'
'They sell a lot of oil and gas, go democratic, make a lot of dosh, they buy up Chelsea Football Club –'
'Chelsea? The Russians?'
'They all end up very rich and we end buying oil and gas from them, and they win Wimbledon. They buy houses here and around Spain.'
'Any future conflicts with Russia?'
'Couple of small wars when the Yanks try and turn the former Soviet states like Khasikstan and Georgia into NATO members. Russians get pissed off with the encirclement, I think. But that's not till 2009.'
I could see Sykes' grey matter working hard. 'And the main threat to the UK till then?'
I tried not to grin; Sykes was trying to get Jimmy to do his job for him.
'All Islamic. At one point India and Pakistan go to war and fire off nukes at each other. The nice Asian gentlemen here start fighting each other. Quarter of a million die.'
'Quarter of a million?' Sykes gasped. 'When?'
'Not till around 2011, but it's fluid apparently. Magestic is going to send you letters to help you stop a few things. Well, hopefully stop it all.'
'You said Islamic?'
'There's an unhappy chappy called Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi. He went to fight the Russians in Afghanistan a few years back, trained by the CIA to help out. After that he formed a Wahabi - is that right?'
'He formed a Wahabist style group of mostly Saudis who will eventually wreak havoc around the world, attacking the Yanks and us. Apparently, they're all rich university kids with rich uncles who give them money. They start fires in New York sky scrappers, kills fifty thousand.'
'Fifty thousand?' Sykes repeated. 'When?'
'Not till around... 2000. They hijack planes and land them down Piccadilly Circus, ' Jimmy lied.
'Well, we've taken actions against things like that, ' Sykes insisted.
'Apparently not, they still do it, ' Jimmy insisted.
Sykes was puzzled, yet looked determined. 'I guess we get a tip-off before then.'
'Hope so, be a mess otherwise, ' I said. 'Traffic would be nasty for a while.'
'Yes, quite. I'd like to send someone down –'
'Nope, ' I said.
'No?' Sykes questioned.
Jimmy said, 'We've been told it's you and Jack only, nothing written down, ' Jimmy insisted. 'And if you can sort the boys from MI5, keep them out the building opposite, Paul looks rough as hell in the mornings.'
Sykes stood. 'And if we strike a deal about the gold?'
'Not my decision, mate, ' Jimmy said with a shrug as he stood. He offered a hand and shook. 'Pop round for coffee whenever you want, or we'll take you lap dancing.'
Sykes raised an eyebrow. 'I'll pass on that.'
'My wife would kill me, ' Jack said.
'Stay if you want Jack, pick his brains, ' Sykes suggested.
With Sykes gone we checked the sofa at length, Jack helping. Big Paul came up with hand held scanners, checking the room.
'Clear, ' Big Paul told us.
We settled down with Jack, Jimmy suddenly solemn and quiet.
Jack said, 'You're quite the actor. Had me convinced.'
'The truth is often subjective, ' Jimmy softly responded.
'You take it all ... quite lightly, ' Jack delicately mentioned.
'Hah, ' I said, also now serious. 'He spends twelve hours a day worrying, staring at the wall.'
Jack regarded Jimmy carefully. 'Those attacks you listed, you can stop them?'
'Yes, they're the easy part.'
'And the hard part?' Jack asked.
'Future American Presidents who believe they have a God given right to rule the world.'
'You sound ... a little cynical about our American cousins?'
'Really? Well I'll give you an example. A guy will invent an engine, a diesel, that uses half the normal fuel. An American oil company will buy the patent for a million and sit on it for twenty years.'
'Why don't you buy it?' Big Paul loudly asked.
'I will, ' Jimmy replied with a sigh. 'And they'll try and shoot me.'
'Fucking hell, ' Big Paul let out. 'It's all about money, isn't it.'
Jimmy said, 'If two American businessmen were falling off a cliff, one would steal the other's wallet before they hit bottom.' He turned his head a notch towards me. 'Plague of frogs? It was a plague of locusts. Five horsemen of the apocalypse?'
'I was trying to sound thick, ' I explained.
'You succeeded, ' Jimmy said.
'You said bent instead of leaning, ' Jack pointed out.
Jimmy nodded. 'I know, it was deliberate. And Paul here used to have a plutonic relationship.'
'What's wrong with that?' Big Paul asked. 'So long as you and the girl both want the same thing.'
We all stared at him as Roger, Liz's father, knocked. Big Paul let him in, Roger explaining that he needed a word. We made excuses for Jack and Big Paul, then settled down with Roger.
'Was just yourself, Jimmy, I was hoping to chat to, ' Roger delicately explained.
'I have no secrets from Paul, not where your fine daughter is concerned.'
'Oh, well, OK then.'
'She not happy?' I asked.
'Well, no, and Heather and I are a bit concerned, ' Roger explained.
I took the lead. 'Roger, she wants a cottage in the country with a white picket fence, two kids and a cat and dog, a husband with a nine to five job that she's smarter than. Take a look at the big guy and tell me if he fits the bill – now or when she met him.'
Roger lowered his head. I had cut short a long conversation.
Softer, I continued, 'Listen, Roger, she's a great girl and Jimmy loves her to bits, we get on great as a four some, but not she - nor any other girl - is going to mould the big guy into what they want.' Jimmy glanced at me. I continued, 'And let me say something that you won't get from Jimmy, because he's too polite to say it. She doesn't appreciate the charity work we do at all, and she works at a fucking charity! Every time we mentioned what millions we were spending in Africa she went quiet. Not a fucking well done guys, but a kinda – you should be spending that on our little cottage in the country.'
Jimmy held up a flat palm to me. Facing Roger he said, 'I'm a driven man, Roger, and my charitable work means everything to me.'
'I know that, ' Roger conceded. 'And I have the utmost respect for you for doing it. I just wish she could see it that way.'
I said, 'Her biological clock is going crazy, but I don't think Jimmy's there yet. Some ... might see Jimmy as being selfish, but anyone taking him away from Africa is the selfish one.'
Roger nodded to himself.
Jimmy mentioned, 'Whatever happens between me and Liz will not affect my fondness for my neighbours.'
Roger lifted his head and forced a smile. 'You're not that kind of person, we know that.' He heaved a sigh. 'She's bad at taking break- ups, she tends to build an ideal world in her mind.' He stood, and we followed him up.
Jimmy said, 'I won't be telling her to go. If she wants to be here a year from now she can be.'
'Thanks, Jimmy, ' Roger said as he left.
With the door closed, Jimmy faced me. 'Where did all that come from?'
'I'm not stupid, I can see the look in her eye when we talk money.'
He took in the apartment, his hands in his pockets. 'Judy around later?'
'No, back in the morning, noon I think.'
'Let's go out. Curry, lap dance, a few beers, ' Jimmy loudly implored.
'Haven't done that for a while.'
'But not here, I'll show you Cardiff. Forget the bags, well drive back in the early hours.'
'And Big Paul?' I asked as we grabbed our jackets.
'Grab him on the way, I know a great curry house in Newport.'
A new house
The new house had been very well decorated, but stood very empty. It had been built speculatively, by a builder who had considered that it would have been easier to rent-out. After almost a year, and with no willing takers, he had put it on the market, a hefty price tag that was not attracting buyers. The recession was not helping either. Jimmy put in an offer below the asking price and got the property, bought by one of our holding companies. That way we could borrow against it and trade the money more efficiently; we liked to have our cake and eat it.
The day we received the keys our very young and very busy architect friend from Swindon came over. I put some clothes into a room earmarked for me, the place ready to move in straight away. My bedroom had windows that gave me a view of both the river and the distant hills and I liked it straight away.
The bedrooms were decorated in a style similar to those in the apartment; the same designer's hand could have touched both. My room offered a walk-in shower and bathtub in a large bathroom, a sofa and TV. The landing displayed doors to ten bedrooms, six at the front of the house and four at the rear, bisected by a traditional curved stairway straight out of Gone With the Wind. The lounge was huge, split by a central stone fireplace, the study perfect for our computers and filing cabinets; it already possessed two desks. The kitchen was bigger than our favourite curry house and offered an American style diner atmosphere, stools at a counter, grey metallic cookers awaiting some action. Pancakes came to mind.
I stepped outside and turned left to the garage, opening the electric doors and finding plenty of space inside, tool benches at the rear. Big Paul would be happy. A door between two garages hung open and so I walked in, rather walked up a narrow flight of stairs, finding Jimmy and Big Paul.
'Marked your spot?' I asked.
'My place, ' Big Paul proudly announced. He showed me around.
The three garages, and the windows above them, gave the impression of three small flats, but this was actually one long apartment, well lit with natural light. The lounge was larger than Big Paul's apartment in London, the bedroom about the same size as his old one. The kitchen was bigger, a breakfast bar opening onto the lounge, and that left one other room, bare at the moment.
'Home from home, ' I said.
'I was born thirty miles away, ' Big Paul reminded me.
'Be able to visit your old haunts, ' I suggested.
'New motor below, ' Big Paul informed me, a nod towards the stairs. We stepped down and opened the end garage, revealing a shiny black Range Rover. I jumped into the driver's seat, Big Paul tossing me the keys, and we sped around the grounds, frightening squirrels back up their trees.
Jimmy closed in on the waiting architect. 'Right, got a pen and paper?' The young man waved his pen. 'Fence around the gate is OK, ornate and difficult to climb, rest of it is just bushes and trees. I want a solid fence all around, hidden to the outside world by fir trees eight foot tall. Think – privacy. I want cameras in the roof eves, covering all angles, then cameras in trees at the edges of the property. I want a bank of monitors in the spare room above the garage, second set in the study – tucked into a nice wooden cabinet. Think – small cameras, small monitors.
'All trees with branches below seven foot, cut the branches down. See the two buildings –' He pointed towards the west. '- They were built with no particular idea in mind. I want two small and cosy flats. Behind the house you'll find bushes and a small pond. I want it all gone, nice patch of grass. I want a landscape gardener to make the grass here nice enough to play golf on. At the rear, hundred yards up, is a wet patch that becomes a large wet patch in winter. I want you to dig down to the spring, fix a pipe and send it towards the river, nice and dry on top.
'See the grass next to the river? I want drainage put in and the grass flattened. In winter it gets a bit soggy, no need for it to be soggy in the summer. I want a small wooden fence against the river so that kids don't run straight into the water. And I want two fishing platforms, wooden. Think – fly fishing. The attic of this place is huge, but has been left as a bare room with wires coming out of the walls. I want three nice apartments in there, same style as the garage apartment. And I want all this done quickly, money is not an issue.'
The young architect pulled a face, suggesting it was a lot of work.
'Hire some help, spend some money, ' Jimmy told him.
I pulled up next to them. Climbing down I said, 'Nice motor.'
Jimmy informed me, 'We've got one of Big Paul's mates house sitting for a few weeks, till the building work is done. Then ... then I'll be here some of the time, up in town some of the time.'
I lifted my eyebrows theatrically. 'And I'll ... explain it to Judy.'
Jimmy gestured me towards the grass. 'If you're wise you'll stick at it, use the apartment.'
'You make it sound as if I'm not happy.'
'You're not, you'd rather have her there when it suits you.'
'Well... ' I began, not finishing.
Jimmy suggested, 'You'd rather she could jet off around the world with us when it suits you. In reality, her not being around is keeping it fresh.'
'We've had a few pissy words about Liz.' Jimmy did not respond. 'She don't blame you, but thinks that family life would be good for you and ... there's only so much I can say to her.'
'My advice to you is to stick with her, you can meet me in Swindon when necessary, and we'd still do Kenya together most of the time.'
'Most of the time?' I queried, not liking the implication.
'Going to be more to do, we'll have to split and do more trips each. Be opening a record company in New York soon enough, buying a nice apartment over there.'
'Nice view of Central Park?'
'Definitely.' We walked on.
'There's something I want to make clear, ' I said. 'Just in case it's not already: I love Judy to bits, but the job comes first.'
'Why?' Jimmy asked, surprising me.
'Why? Because what's the fuck's the point of settling with her and having kids if the world goes to fuck?'
'A good attitude. What else?'
'What else?' I gave it some thought as we slowly ambled along. 'Well, I'm not that keen on the old family bit, not yet.'
'And if you were, and she would not give up her job? Or even wanted to go back to it after kids?'
'Me, a house husband?'
'Perhaps you should think it through. What you have is a girlfriend, and not even a live-in one. If you did, you would have a different attitude. And if you were changing nappies when I was jetting off around the world?'
'Yeah, well ... that might piss me off a bit.'
Jimmy stopped and faced me. 'You know what the biggest problem would be? Being out of the loop. At the moment you're at the centre of things with me. But what if you're out of contact? What if you sat at home with the kids thinking ... does the tube blow up today? Will that aircraft crash if I take the kids on holiday? I'm afraid I've ruined you a bit, because you'll always want to be on the inside.' He carefully regarded me. 'Think about what you'll feel if I have meeting here, important decisions taken, you in London with Judy. Could you sit at a restaurant with her, not knowing what I'm up to?'
'Well... ' I sighed. 'Probably not.' We walked on.
'Bit of a curse, working for me. But, there is a ray of hope for you. Years from now I'll hire someone to work for me, and you'll both live happily ever after.'
I snapped my head around, a huge smiling talking hold. 'Yeah?'
'Yes, young man.'
A week later we dropped in on the airfield to see how things were progressing. The expensive green fence was up, replacing the previously forlorn offering. A gate had been installed, an overweight guard hired from a local firm, and the gatehouse was coming along. It turned out that the expensive fence extended simply around the parts of the airfield accessible by the public. The adjoining muddy fields had not yet been fenced off, so we were safe unless the burglars had wellies. Just inside the main gate, on the left, stood a wooden building with a badge on it.
'What's that?' I asked, pointing at it.
'Local air cadets, ' Jimmy explained. 'Gave them a new hut and access to the airfield. I gave some of the local pilots a few quid for fuel, they take the teenagers up.'
'Nice of us. Very ... public spirited.'
'Cadets ... grow up.'
We drove in, and to the air traffic control tower. It had received a lick of paint and new glass, metal bars over the windows at ground level. Our young architect was stood waiting. He had been faxing so many pictures I now called him Rolf, short for Rolf Harris.
'Right, Rolf?' I greeted him.
Rolf smiled and shook our hands. He unlocked the door and led us upstairs, the building's inside reminiscent of Mawlini. In the bare tower, walled with glass, he timidly pointed out various parts of the project, not much of a public speaker.
A long muddy trench was destined for some water and gas pipes, soon to be ready. A fenced off area beyond the space cadets looked like a giant flattened hedgehog; the upright poles being markers for the building of the leisure centre. West of the tower were muddy foundations for the first admin building. It would sink half a storey, then rise two storeys with a flat roof, and be below the eye level that we now stood at. The aircraft hangars had been inspected by men with ropes and helmets, no problems found. Part of the apron was now displaying signs of a facelift, cracks dug up and filled in with concrete. And so far that was just about it.
'These things take time, ' Rolf timidly explained, being very apologetic.
Two RAF types in blue uniforms took me by surprise as they pulled up. Jimmy waved at them, gesturing them up to us.
'Wing Commander, ' Jimmy said as he shook the hand of the first man, 'Wing Commander, ' to the second man.
'That keeps it simple, ' I commented, shaking their hands.
The first man said, 'I'm a fake, he's the real thing.'
'A ... fake?'
'Air cadets, ' the man explained. 'Wing Commander Russell here is from Lyneham.'
'Oh, ' I said, no idea where Lyneham was.
Jimmy took charge. 'Gentlemen. Next week we'll take delivery of a Toucano two seat trainer.' An image of the plane came to mind. 'One of the men here, an amateur pilot, is familiar with them, and the local aircraft mechanics will keep it flying. It can then be used twice a month for thirty-minute joy flights. You'll have a budget, the guy looking after it will ration the fuel. As for the glorious RAF, you'll have permission to use the airfield with one day's notice to the gate security people.'
I was looking lost.
Jimmy explained, 'I was ... long ago, an air cadet.'
'Ah, ' I said. 'They'd have a hard fucking time finding a uniform for you now!'
The men in blue laughed.
Jimmy continued, 'The RAF Hercules pilots like to practice at small airfields that they're not familiar with. They land, troops pour out shouting "bang", they get back in and fly off. You can cross-train onto the Toucano and take up some cadets if you like.'
'You fly?' the men asked.
I nodded. 'Cessna 172.'
The RAF officer asked, 'Can anyone else use the Toucano?'
Jimmy made a face. 'Sure. Pay half the fuel, don't crash it, and try and double up with a cadet if you can.' He slid his gaze across to me. 'Toucano is an aerobatic bird, you can throw it around a lot. I guess some of the Hercules pilots would like to let their hair down.'
With the RAF types gone we diligently inspected several muddy holes in the ground, getting our shoes wet on the damp grass, chatted to the aircraft owners, then discussed a few plans and building layouts before we left.
As we drove off, Jimmy explained, 'In years to come we'll have a need for friendly Hercules pilots. This gets my name known.'
On the radio we listened intently to news about Yugoslavia. The war had begun, Jimmy shaking his head a lot and cursing under his breath. 'When The Brotherhood rises, Serbia will be our greatest ally, holding the Balkans against the Muslims. And in the mean time we're going to liberate Bosnia and Kosovo, who turn against us. And Kosovo will take us to within an inch of Word War Three.'
Liz became less of a frequent visitor, not much in the smiley face department these days. There was no official break-up, but I guess the new house was a subtle hint; when the man in your life buys a house 160 miles away you get the message loud and clear. Judy had the odd sulk about Liz and they often met up for lunch, obviously gossiping about us, but we plodded onwards with our relationship.
I drove Judy down to the new house one Saturday and met Big Paul's mate, ending up staying the night. It was a bit chilly and we could not figure out the heating controls, and there was no food in the place. Big Paul's mate, Ricky, went out for a take-away and the three of us sat wrapped up in the lounge making a mess. Judy loved the house and the grounds, but the trip was a mistake, her mind now on country houses snuggled up with me. We soon had "that talk", the one where "the future" is brought up. She mentioned nice houses and kids, I mentioned travelling the world. We left it up in the air, and I realised that I was being evasive. I also realised that Jimmy was correct; there was no way in hell I was giving this up, or being on the outside.
One day, with nothing much doing, I read The Economist, focusing on a "hold" recommendation from an eminently qualified chap; Norwich Union would go sideways with very little volatility for the next year. He described it as "dull", but with a good dividend paid. I was feeling mischievous.
I called McKinleys and bought five thousand call options. It was not a huge trade, but I rarely traded options. When the guys there asked what I thought the stock would do I was deliberately evasive. As soon as the phone hit the receiver I hit a button in the computer, faxes sent to fifteen recipients of our tips: "buy Norwich Union in next few hours, news may break in morning." With a wicked smile I sat there watching the NU ticker change colour from red to blue. It was 240pence when I bought the options, now it nudged 250pence, a nice little jump for a dull stock. I made a coffee, glanced out of the window, then settled back behind the computer.
275pence, 278pence, 279pence...
An hour later it was 310pence and my options had made me thirty thousand pounds. I sold them in two blocks, the second lot at 320pence. With a grin I called up Reuters on the screen, surprised to see a story about Norwich Union: "NU deny merger with Aviva, admit talks." I was gob-smacked, I had no idea. I had simply picked the stock to piss off the journalist, I had no idea they were in talks. The phone rang.
'Thanks Paul, owe you one. Aviva say they won't go above 280pence.'
'Well, you know, this'll drag on and on, ' I waffled.
'Thanks again, mate.' That call was repeated half a dozen times.
When Jimmy and Big Paul returned I relayed what I had done. Jimmy rolled up The Economist and beat me about the head with it at length. He was not mad at what I had done, but that I had made so little money out of it. It taught me a lesson. Not how chunky the Economist was when rolled up, but how much influence we had. And I was certain MI5 were listening in, they and their mates in the city copying our trades.
Oliver from Pineapple popped around the next day, a director's board meeting held in our lounge.
'I think we need a New York office, ' Jimmy kicked off with. 'Just a small office, start small and work up.'
'Could give some of the artists an American exposure, ' Oliver enthused.
'And I'd find budding American artists, ' Jimmy casually mentioned.
'You've got a knack for it, ' Oliver admitted. He handed over the latest figures, clearly showing that the company was cash rich, a surplus of five million, two million of which related to director's loans into the business.
Jimmy scanned the figures. Easing back, he said to Oliver, 'How'd you feel about a few months stateside?'
'A few months? Wife might divorce me.'
'How about ... a week at a time? Three weeks here, one there till it's up and running?' Jimmy asked.
'Well, as you know we're growing and busy... '
'Your assistant seems good.'
'Yes, she can cover when I'm not about.'
'Oliver, let me put it this way. If she wants to go to New York, and that operation ends up making more money, a few years from now she may be MD of the group. Do you want to take that chance?'
I was surprised at Jimmy, he was not normally so ruthless. I put in, 'What would your wife say to a year in New York?'
'She'd probably love it, we did a weekend there.'
'She's an architect, yes?' Jimmy nudged, getting back a nod. 'Does her firm have an office there?'
Jimmy said, 'Then, Oliver, you have a conversation ... to have. If you go, you get pay and half, plus living costs. With the money you've already made you should be living the life out there.'
'I guess I'd better have that conversation, since you seem quite ... certain of things.'
'In the meantime I want you on a plane, find an office and a company that can hire people. My solicitors have a presence in The Big Apple, so no problems there. There's no particular budget, and we'll be popping over soon to buy an apartment or two. Use company money to buy an apartment, budget six hundred thousand dollars – that's four hundred grand.'
Oliver made a note. We were going international.
It had been a while since Jimmy had offered to be helpful to Sykes. No senior staff had popped around, but Jack sometimes had a small list of questions. Now Jimmy said it was time to lock horns with the "nice gentlemen" at MI5. Jimmy rang Jack and was put through to Sykes, asking that a meeting be set-up as soon as possible. I found it odd that they had made no direct approach and left us to do our own thing, Jimmy suggesting that they would always be a pain in the arse.
We headed for the MOD building on a bright Tuesday morning, Jack meeting us outside and walking us in. He was still in the basement, but now by choice. We were led into a large room on the third floor, humming wands checking us for bugs, a quick frisk given.
'I had a shower, ' I told the man checking me. 'I'm clean. Still wet behind the ears mind you, but clean.'
Five senior men and one woman sat around a half-circle table, Sykes off to one side with Jack, two chairs laid out for us in front.
When Jimmy saw them he laughed. 'For the condemned, ' he told me. We moved the chairs forwards so that we were sat at their table, getting back indignant looks.
'No coffee?' I grumbled.
'No, ' came back from the senior man.
Jimmy did the introductions, right to left. 'Louise Kennedy, Bob Smoat, Paul Anderson, Steve Richey, Kanalf Rasmusen and finally Biddy Tucker.'
Our new friends were most put out, glances made toward Sykes.
'I told you, ' Sykes pointed out to them without even looking up.
Kanalf offered, in a posh English accent, 'You pronounce my name better than this lot.'
Jimmy gave him a long sentence in Danish, impressing the man.
'What is it, exactly, that you want, Mister Silo?' Smoat testily enquired.
'First, your resignation.'
We were off to a good start. I had images of prison, and I only asked for coffee.
'Why?' Sykes loudly asked, suddenly very keen.
'An MI6 officer was shot and badly wounded a few years back, Tower Bridge Hotel.'
'What?' Sykes barked, on his feet. He pointed at the accused. 'What was his connection?'
'His gave the wrong intel' to Hamster the hapless gunman, ' Jimmy told Sykes. Smoat was screwed, his face betraying that. 'And Hamster is in Cape Town as we speak.'
Sykes closed on Smoat, his mobile phone out. 'Get out, ' he whispered with venom towards Smoat, the others staring at their colleague. Smoat stormed out, a glance towards us, Sykes following him out with his phone to his ear.
'So, how about that coffee then?' I asked, wishing to break the tension. Drinks were ordered, but I could have done with something stronger than coffee.
When Sykes returned he confronted Jimmy, 'You could have told us that before!'
Calmly, Jimmy replied, 'And I told you that I would answer questions, which you have not really presented yet. Have you?'
'Now we will, including who's got my favourite stapler, ' Sykes threatened as he sat. Our hosts composed themselves, uneasy looks exchanged.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'Any ... questions for me?'
Sykes piped up with, 'Any more of these dirty?'
'Not in a way you'd like, ' Jimmy responded. 'Although someone here will arrested by the Yanks in a few years, for what they did last year.' Our five hosts glanced at each other. 'Of course, I could stop that.'
'How ... would you stop it?' Sykes asked.
'The Americans trust Magestic, I could ask a favour.'
'You deal closely with the CIA?' Anderson asked.
'I don't, my counterparts do. So ... questions?'
'Let's start with the obvious one - why are you here?' Anderson asked.
'Quite simple really: to accelerate a process. Magestic wants things moved along. He feels ... that some small acorns are growing, and are best dealt with now.'
'Such as?' Anderson asked.
'That's not how this will work; Magestic himself will tip you the important stuff, I will answer specific questions. If I know the answer, then it's because you ... are supposed to know the answer.'
Anderson eased back and glanced at his colleagues. He held his hands wide. 'IRA boss Kelvin, can he be trusted?'
'Yes, they want peace.'
'Shamus Callum?' he added.
'No, he'll break away and form his own group.'
The lady asked, 'Would a future labour government scrap trident?'
That seemed to interest her. She eased forwards and rested on her elbows. 'Michael James Stannah.' Two of her colleagues seemed quite put out by the question.
'He still cares about you, and no ... he did not tell the CIA about your op' as was widely believed. You colleagues led you to believe that because they wanted to shag you.'
She lowered her head for a moment. I guessed some recriminations were in order.
Anderson cleared his throat and asked, 'Islamic threat?'
'When India and Pakistan go to war their various populations here will attack each other for ... oh, about a week, then turn on the police. Marshall law will be declared, reservists called up, economy fucked, quarter million dead.'
'And all this happens... ?' Anderson nudged.
'At a point when small acorns have grown into big fucking problems, one of the main ones being the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims into this country. When the crisis hits there will be two million Muslims living here, many calling for Sharia Law and their own mini societies. In the meantime, anything you can do to stem that tide will reduce the number of coppers eventually killed on the streets of Bradford.'
Anderson asked, 'Magestic mentioned a global conflict in one of his letters.'
'Cause and effect: small acorns, tall trees. If the acorns are nipped in the bud – no pun intended - no tall trees, no World War Three. The first, and principle trigger is Pakistan. As is the second, third, fourth ... and fifth.'
'Pakistan is the key?' Sykes asked.
'Yes. Everything comes back to Pakistan; nuclear armed, at odds with India, integrated into the UK, yet Islamic and with a lawless border with Afghanistan.'
'Afghanistan?' the lady puzzled.
'As we sit here and chat, the vacuum in Afghanistan is sucking in many and disparate Islamic groups, who will sit and plot around the camp fire before heading to the west to blow themselves up ... and thereby getting their place in paradise with their thirty-seven virgins.'
'I thought it was twenty-three, ' Sykes put in.
'That was before the oil crisis in the seventies. It's gone up with inflation.'
I laughed. I liked that one. Even Sykes seemed to possess a reluctant smile.
'Masterson Biotec, Doctor Hedges, ' Anderson asked after a measured pause.
'Working for a friendly country.'
'Israel?' Anderson nudged.
'You might think that, I could not possibly comment.'
'Practicality of bio-weapons?' Anderson asked.
'Very low, not used.'
'What has Saddam Hussein got?' Anderson asked.
'Anthrax, chemicals, crude bio-weapons, nothing nuclear.'
'Chemical launch capability?' Anderson pressed.
'Yes, tried and tested on his Scuds. Could hit Israel easily enough.'
'North Korea?' Anderson asked.
'What about it?' Jimmy countered.
'Will they attack south?' Sykes put in.
'Will they develop nuclear weapons?' Sykes asked.
'Yes, beavering away as we speak. They'll have half a dozen by 2010.' That caused a reaction, Sykes taking notes.
'Will the Iranians develop nuclear weapons?' Anderson asked.
'Yes, they'll use them against Israel.'
Our hosts were momentarily shocked, but also looked sceptical.
'When?' Anderson asked.
'Again, cause and effect. Most likely, 2013.' They still looked sceptical.
'Are the Israelis aware of that?' the lady asked.
'Yes, my counterpart informs them of everything they need to know to stop it.'
'It?' Sykes queried.
Jimmy turned his head toward Sykes. 'Driven in, not fired on a missile. Sneak attack.' They looked even more sceptical.
'I have a question, ' I asked. 'Why don't this lot really want your help?'
Jimmy turned to me. 'Like Mister Sykes, they fear becoming less valuable. They are also fearful of being used by some unscrupulous operator like myself, a wise defence mechanism for those employed to be suspicious.'
'Oh, ' I let out. 'I'd be tempted to tell them to fuck off, but then the world goes to shit, so I won't. I'll just sit here.'
Kanalf finally asked, 'Any future Russian threat?'
'Some, of a kind. You'll end up hosting a lot of people in London that they don't like, for no reason other than nostalgia for the cold war, and the FSB will send agents to London to kill some of them.'
'F – S - B?' Sykes asked.
'The KGB becomes FSB in Russia. Very soon.'
'You know each assassination attempt?' Sykes asked.
'Yes, of course. I'm quite the helpful little fucker.'
Sykes shot him a look.
'What was your purpose in coming here?' Kanaulf asked.
'To get you ... fine people on the right track.'
'Which is?' Kanaulf pressed.
I piped up, 'Something about gift horses comes to mind.'
'We are ... employed to be suspicious people, ' Kanaulf pointed out, repeating Jimmy's phrase.
Jimmy explained, 'My purpose will be served if you send someone with questions and I answer them. You do not need to believe the answers, nor trust or like my good self, you need only investigate the possibilities of the answers ... and save a few lives.' We stood. 'You may discuss, argue, debate and chat about me, but you will never ... fucking ignore me. Because if I don't start to see the kind of results I desire, I'll start replacing each and every one of you. And for the record, Mister Sykes, I have dirt on them all – not to mention the world's most precious bargaining chip: Mister Magestic. If you don't co-operate in helping yourselves, he'll ask the Prime Minister as to why.'
I put in, 'And for super spies ... you don't even know what type of coffee I like. So there.' We left with Jack, and I considered our nations super spies to be just an ordinary bunch of people, working in an office with office politics, packed lunches and tubes home, the same problems as anyone else. I also considered that Jimmy spoke to them like children, that he was really the one in charge and somehow disappointed with them, and I knew that feeling of fatherly disappointment.
The next day the Inland Revenue turned up at our accountants and asked for a copy of our accounts, a special investigation initiated. The lead man found a box waiting for him at reception, his name clearly labelled, and found our accounts inside. They had already been scrutinized at length by experts in tax law and we had made sure that there was at least ten grand's worth of bits in them that we had not claimed for.
Right from the start we had created limited companies to handle many things, especially the hotels in Kenya. A management company then controlled the limited companies and tied them all together. Our stock trading was a taxman's nightmare because we only paid Capital Gains Tax on what we earned, and that was on what money came back to us once the initial investment had been deducted. I had received a half million pound loan from Jimmy, paid back at five percent over twenty- five years; there was no tax due until I had withdrawn at least that amount. Most of the cash remained in the trading accounts, only of interest to the accountants and taxmen when we took it out. I had fifty thousand in my private account and five million in my trading account, nothing the tax man could do till I paid myself the profits above my loan. Those profits filtered through my limited company, which made large, tax-free charitable donations.
The Revenue scanned our books at length and admitted that they did, in fact, owe us money, but that we would have to submit a claim for it, which we didn't. They asked to see the trading accounts and records, but our solicitors successfully argued the case: we were taxed on profits, not daily transactions or some theoretical potential tied up in stocks that could plummet tomorrow.
As the Revenue were busy trying to find fault with our accountants number crunching, we were also busy at work. By time the Revenue had given up, twelve amateur magicians had changed their names to Magestic, in addition to three amateur clairvoyants in Bournemouth, Brighton and Blackpool beachfronts. This trio also seemed to predict global events with some certainty and enjoyed some success, not just the future fortunes of girls on a hen weekend.
Jack came straight around to see us. 'It would appear that "Magestic" is becoming a popular name with amateur psychics, especially those living in caravans.'
'Really?' I made a face and shrugged. 'Can't think why.'
Jimmy made a face a shrugged. 'Nothing to do with us.'
'The net effect ... is a lot of wasted time by those who might wish to investigate these matters, ' Jack noted.
'Really?' I asked. 'Bugger.'
'There also seems to be many in Europe and the States, ' Jack added.
I said, 'When it becomes a popular boys name, then we'll worry.'
'Might I ask ... as to why the smoke screen?' Jack nudged.
'Why does anyone need a smoke screen?' Jimmy toyed.
I told Jack, 'I wouldn't spend too much time on it Jack, you might ... waste a lot of time and end up looking like a pillock.'
'And we wouldn't want that, ' Jimmy added. 'We don't mind others looking like pillocks, but not you.'
Jack gave it some thought. 'Anyone making any serious claims about Magestic now would look quite foolish.' He turned to me. 'I'm Magestic, and so's my wife!'
I pointed directly at him. 'Monty Python, Life of Brian!'
Jack smiled widely and nodded. 'I made that joke earlier to Sykes, he liked it. We'll see how it grows. Oh, and the joke about the number of virgins waiting in paradise for an Islamic martyr? Sykes has adapted that one as his own.'
Jimmy said, 'Plagiarism is the greatest form of compliment.'
Kenyan Rifles, 1992
We landed back in Nairobi in January, 1992, into a rain storm. Still, it washed down the dusty streets. We set off toward the coast in a very nice hire car, a large jeep, the sun burning off the surface water as we progressed. On the access road to our hotel we pulled over and stepped down.
The land either side of the road had been stripped of scrub, old huts and any junk. There, before us, stretched out two huge brown fields, almost a mile square, on either side of the road. Despite the lack of green grass I could discern the layout of the golf course, numerous muddy ponds nestling next to gentle mounds. In the middle of the mud stood a half built hotel, its size quite a shock. I had seen its drawings, faxed to us, but they had not clearly illustrated its size in my mind. The opposite side of the road displayed little more than a fence under construction, but also now offered several muddy lakes. This would be a small zoo, for visitors to get close to animals, especially orphaned youngsters. We drove on.
The hotels' main gate, and its security, were now both imposing and proficient; smartly dressed guards that appeared alert, a welcome issued. Reception was buzzing with guests coming and going, a local woman in a red jacket sat at a desk and busily selling the guests local tours. We queued up and booked in as if paying customers, although our credit card details were not necessary. With the new two-storey block finished we had decided to try it, us and our luggage now driven there in a golf buggy. Our rooms were on the second floor, the rooms small but tastefully decorated, and each offered a balcony. Both of us stepped out onto the balcony at the same time, taking in the view.
'Nice enough, ' Jimmy commented. 'I've asked them to raise the prices a bit as well, we're over subscribed.'
'They don't do locals any more, ' I mentioned. We exchanged looks, shrugs issued.
'It's here to make a few quid, ' Jimmy commented.
To the sound of kids screaming on the beach, we strolled down to the dive centre, finding it full of people sat around the café area.
'Jimmy!' came a shout, and we closed in on two men from McKinleys, sat now with their wives. They greeted us warmly. And why not, their stay here was free, two places given every month to McKinleys. We sat and chatted for ten minutes; the two couples had stayed at the safari lodge first and loved it to bits, everyone in earshot getting a nudge to visit it, a ringing endorsement issued.
With Jimmy chatting to Germans, I inspected the new showers and the kit assembly room. 'Wake up ya lazy fuckers, ' I said, Steffan and Lotti greeting me like a friend, and not their boss. 'Wie Geht's?'
'Gute, yah. Sie?'
'Same old money making machine. How's the turtle?'
'Good for the tourists, but a pain in the arse, ' Steffan explained in his accented voice. 'It comes ashore at night and people call reception, worried about the fucking thing.'
'Paint a sign on it: return me to ocean!'
'And the younger elephant thinks it's a fucking fish, always swimming towards Australia; every week a rescue to get the damn thing back in. The guests, they worry for it. One man, he tried to sit on its back in the water, nearly drowned the damn thing. Oh, we have a friendly shark now.'
'It comes in most days, just at the outer breakwater, not so big but good for the divers. We feed it.'
'If you feed it, it'll crawl up the beach and want feeding every day!'
'You'll play golf here when its finished?' Lotti asked.
'Never played golf, but probably give it a go, ' I replied. 'How's the boat?'
'Too small; six, maybe eight people sometimes.'
'Get a bigger one, I'll authorise it. Have them build a wooden jetty, land the boat here. When it's not being used for diving it can offer up some fishing trips.'
'I'll talk with Rudd, he's here tonight I think.'
I gave them a regal wave. 'Carry on, underlings.' I re-joined Jimmy and we jumped onto a golf buggy, following a track under the trees, past reception and towards the second hotel. Our fence had been extended around the second hotel and the original dividing fence had been torn down. Large gates gave us access to their side and we powered through doing at least six miles per hour, a wave from a guard. Their grounds were being ripped up something savage, but at least the work was out of view of guests from our side. Many local men hacked at bushes and tree stumps, overseen by a young white manager. We stopped by the pool, waving the man over.
'I'm the owner, ' Jimmy told him.
'Ah, I'm from the construction company for the golf course, we are doing both projects.' He gestured towards the empty pool. 'We have drained the water to the sea, now we make good the tiles and a new filter.' To me he sounded South African, but many white locals sounded like that to me.
'Extend the grass, ' Jimmy ordered. 'From the hotel right to the fence and the sea, everywhere nice grass to walk on.'
The man nodded. 'The building is hard work, old concrete. Some walls must come down and we start again.'
'Take your time, do it right. Now, show us the roof.'
The man led us through the hotel, wires hanging out everywhere, bags of concrete lying about. The lifts were still working, taking us to the top floor, finally taking the stairs to a flat roof. I could immediately see the potential.
Jimmy ordered, 'I want a bar here, good quality, with food served. And some toilets.'
'It makes for a good view, ' the man agreed. We all stepped to the seaward side and peered down, the wall waist high.
I said, 'Put up a small wire fence, stop people falling over when they're drunk.'
'Definitely, ' Jimmy agreed with emphasis.
We stepped across to the golf course side, a commanding view offered of our new project. Many trees had already been trimmed or cut down, the area backing the hotel previously overgrown and untended. Now there would be an almost uninterrupted area of grass to the golf hotel, tracks for golf buggies. And the golf hotel looked even bigger from our viewpoint. Two hundred rooms. Shit!
'We ever going to fill that place?' I asked, some concern in my voice.
'With good marketing, yes, ' Jimmy confidently stated.
The works manager put in, 'The other man, Rudd, he has begun an advance membership, already two hundred people in the list.'
That surprised me. 'Locals?'
'Yes, ' the manager answered. 'Here, if you want to do business you must be a member of the best golf course. It's how you meet people. This will be the biggest and the best around Mombassa, and you have the hotels and the beach, soon the zoo. Everyone will want to be here.'
I was upbeat about our large and expensive complex as we headed back, a late afternoon swim on the cards.
That evening I was surprised when I walked into the restaurant, the bustle was not something I was used to down here. It was not too busy, no fighting queues at the salad cart, but the place buzzed. I spotted Jimmy and Rudd sat at a table, but got waylaid by the McKinleys group. As I broke free from them a call came, 'Paul?' I closed in on a black singer from Pineapple. 'How you doing, mate?' I offered, shaking the man's hand. 'How long you been here?' His two lady guests smiled up at me.
'Third day here, we were up at the safari lodge, ' he said in strong London accent.
'The girls loved the cubs, but I like the elephants; massive man! But lots of flying bugs, man.'
'It's Africa, ' I pointed out. 'You know: jungle, animals. Bugs!' I finally made it to Jimmy and Rudd. 'Full house in here.'
'Yah, fully booked, ' Rudd reported. 'Most from London; your magazine advertises the hotel.'
'Seems to be working, ' I approved, accepting a beer from a waiter. 'And you've been busy with golf memberships.'
'Yah, soon full - everyone here wants to show off. And it is not cheap. I have the picture, from the artist, of the hotel. I put it in many magazines for golf in Africa. A lot of politicians are on the list.'
I made eye contact with Jimmy, a sly grin curling one end of my lips.
'It's nice to be connected, ' Jimmy softly stated.
'How's the orphanage?' I knowingly enquired.
Rudd lifted his eyebrows theatrically. 'Six hundred children: more teachers, more classrooms. The schools minister has visited twice, and local TV. They want money to go to other orphanages, they don't understand why people give money to this place. Now buildings for almost a thousand children, and the local officials scratch their heads and their arses. It is the largest employer for the town here.'
'Wow, ' I let out.
'Some people from here, they go to the orphanage when they hear about it, but they give no money. They say it's so clean and so big, it's not like they expect.'
I laughed. 'We'll have to buy some rags for the kids and sit them outside.'
Rudd explained, 'That's what other orphanages are like, so the problem with the politicians. Two local orphanages have closed down, all children moved here.'
The next morning we set off for a quick visit to the "orphanage on steroids". The farmland looked busy, many neat rows of vegetables visible, numerous pens for animals, Rudd having explained that surplus food at the hotel was brought here, leftovers for the animals, and that the orphanage now sold some food back to the hotel.
We drove into a new parking area and jumped out into the oppressive heat. The courtyard bustled with kids stood in neat rows, walking in one direction or another with military precision, all in their neat blue uniforms. Anna greeted us in the office, the room now well decorated and air conditioned, and she keenly showed us the hospital ward, no longer the "terminal" ward. Sickly kids were greeted and waved at, a few words exchanged. Two new nurses stood ready to take questions and we made like Prince Charles at the opening of a new hospital wing in the UK. Finally we climbed the stairs to the roof and took in the small town that was once a swamp.
'Fucking hell, ' I let out, an uneasy glance toward Jimmy. Stretching away in front of me were ten buildings, all looking like barrack blocks, the foundations for even more stretching out behind. The orphanage now covered an area the size of six football fields. I blew out and faced Anna. 'So, see anything of Cosy?'
'Yes, ' she smiled, holding up her hand and showing off a sparkler on her finger.
'Fast mover, our Cosy, ' I quipped.
Jimmy said, 'Wedding in the spring, at the hotel, we're invited.'
'Where's the old bat?' I enquired.
Anna stopped smiling. 'She is not well.' I held my gaze on Jimmy, Anna noticing. 'No, she will not have the blood, she will die.'
'Why?' I puzzled, finally finding some concern for the old bat.
Anna shrugged. 'She says that she wants to go now.'
Jimmy focused on me. 'And we always respect others wishes, especially about the time of their death.'
'Who'll run this place?' I asked.
'I will, ' Anna said. 'I have now the license from the government.'
'Got any experience of large military bases?' I asked with a smile. Then I stopped smiling and frowned down at the roof, slowly turning around. In front of me was a large military camp, stuffed full of loyal kids brought back from the dead. Something Jimmy had said to me suddenly registered, something about raising an army that would sweep across Africa.
'Kids ... grow up, ' Jimmy enigmatically stated.
Jimmy called, 'Anna, I want the older children taught first aid and biology. I want a running track and games field created so that all the children can compete and have fun.'
I glanced at them both. 'Somehow ... I think the school will produce some very good athletes.' For the first time I noticed the orphanages name on a sign: Ebede. Jimmy explained it was ancient pre-Egyptian for "creator".
With the strong sun keeping the hotel guests in the shade, we hit the water that afternoon, diving off the beach and finding the shark, hand feeding the friendly six-footer. That evening the hotel organised its regular barbeque on the beach, our man singing for the guests with his two backing ladies. Damn turtle clambered up the sand to see what was up and guests fed it lettuce from their burgers.
In the morning, Rudd followed us to the safari lodge, Jimmy leading the way and shaving some time off the normal journey. We navigated first toward the new lodge, now almost complete, a new sturdy wooden bridge spanning the river at a narrow point. Passing local workers, we climbed the stairs to the roof bar.
'Coming along, ' I approved, taking in the view. The first lodge was just about visible a mile away, the river meandering towards it. Below us, two hundred yards away, the river splashed off giant smooth rocks. 'Much better view, ' I agreed. Turning full circle I appreciated the panoramic effect; the guests would be happy, and I found myself wishing Judy was here to see it.
Skids climbed up and greeted us. 'Don't you two ever have any work to do?'
Rudd was not about, Jimmy beckoning Skids to a confidential distance. All of a sudden the big guy had his poker face on. 'Mossad agents will meet you in Nairobi next week, they've got a full brief.' I was surprised, not aware of the subject matter. 'You'll be going into Sudan as oil engineers, so read the book first.' Skids nodded conspiratorially. 'If you get the main man there's a hundred grand each.'
'Important fella, is he?'
'He could well be. His name is Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi with a few quid. And I want a loud bang; no one near him survives. Spray it thick. Oh, and this is not sanctioned from above, so not a word to anyone outside the group. Ever.'
'What's this raghead do for a living?' Skids asked.
'Sets off bombs on buses and trains.'
'Not for much longer, ' Skids promised, a glance at me as he left us.
'You mentioned Bin Laden before, to the Israelis, ' I prompted.
'He starts the organisation, Al-Qa'eda.'
'Ah, forerunner to The Brotherhood, ' I realised. 'Will they get him?'
'Let's hope so.'
An hour later Jimmy was wrestling a growing lion cub, now the size of a Labrador; it seemed to remember him. The Cheetahs roamed freely, coming back for food every day, the lion enclosed and limited to the lodge area, not least because it was a bit lacking on the smarts department; when let out, the hapless lion tended to chase jeeps and run away from Antelope. Damn thing should have been at the beach hotel with the rest of the weird wildlife.
We spent a pleasant evening with the guests, four wealthy couples, one of which were now on honeymoon. The lion cub, named Simba after the cartoon film lion, had its nails clipped by Jimmy, the docile beast doing the rounds and getting patted by all of the guests in turn. It eventually settled on Jimmy's lap. The staff brought out a newborn Cheetah orphan, to be bottle fed by one of the women, Simba restrained when he sniffed it. The evening was all about couples and I missed Judy. I also remembered our last holiday here together; I had gotten a little bored with her, and she'd got a bit pissy with me. I couldn't live with her, nor live without her, it seemed.
The next day we organised our own private safari, Jimmy driving a jeep to an area I had not seen before, a small escarpment with cliffs on one side. It gave us a view towards the border, across a wide valley, and I spotted Giraffe for the first time, the tall beasts absent from our own land. Later, in the midday heat, we spent several hours trying to rescue an orphaned elephant, eventually nudging it back towards its herd. It's mum and dad did not seem pleased with our efforts and we sped away.
Driving along the dusty road that approached Mawlini, we slowed to observe a white UN plane taking off, giant swirls of dust rising in the vortices created by its wingtips.
'Antonov, ' I stated.
'AN24, ' Jimmy agreed.
Stopping first at Doc Adam's clinic, we knocked and entered, finding the Doc with his hands full. Literally. A new life was about to enter the world, so we left him to it. The gate guards greeted us, looking us over with a professional interest before waving us on.
'I booked us into the hotel, ' Jimmy said as we negotiated single storey brick buildings.
'What hotel?' I asked. It loomed into view. 'Oh, yeah, that hotel.'
At the hotel's gate we were subjected to another check by another guard, parking next to a line of UN jeeps.
'Best keep those from Rudd, ' I suggested as we stepped down. 'He'll have one away.'
The man in question stepped out from the reception of this new two- storey hotel, clipboard in hand, and we followed him into the cool interior, brass ceiling fans working furiously. The reception desk was small, but not unlike any other hotel, a local man handing us two keys.
'They are the best rooms, ' Rudd informed us, leading us to the second floor.
We turned the keys on rooms that would have been considered basic in Europe, but for this dustbowl of a base seemed positively luxurious. They offered double beds, air conditioning, clean bathrooms, writing desks and a sofa, plus a small balcony with a view over the dusty airfield. I dumped my bags, scaring a small Gecko on the wall, and inspected Jimmy's room. His balcony viewed the blue and inviting pool below, the outer fence beyond, Rudd leading us to yet another rooftop bar, Jimmy carrying a large file. We found the bar well attended, a real mixed bag of all sorts sat around white plastic tables. The crowd included UN staff, Red Cross, pilots in flight suits and two Kenyan Army officers in uniform. When we stopped to survey the scene they all glanced our way.
Rudd loudly called, 'Gentlemen, this is Mister Silo.' The Army officers stood up. 'He runs the airfield, owns this hotel and pays for everything.'
'Please, ' Jimmy said, waving people down. 'Only stand if you want a free drink.'
With people chuckling, we approached the Army officers first and shook hands.
'How's the training going?' Jimmy enquired.
'Good, good, ' the senior man responded in a booming local accent. 'Now twenty recruits.'
'What month of training?' I asked.
'They are in month six, ' came back.
'Can they shoot straight?' I teased.
'Oh, yes, they are good with the rifle, ' the senior man proudly stated.
'We'll see tomorrow, ' I playfully threatened.
We pressed the flesh with the UN staff, all of whom had heard of us - at least had heard of Jimmy, and the Red Cross thanked us for equipment and services that I had no idea we supplied. I chatted to the pilots, two Russians, and surprised them with my basic Russian. Jimmy had them convinced in two minutes that he was Russian, his accent so pure, before buying everyone a drink. The Old Dogs turned up in their khaki green and joined us, cold beers all around.
'It's a strange hotel, boss, ' Mac commented. 'No fucker pays for their room, just food and booze!'
'Not yet, ' Jimmy told them. 'In time.'
Mac added, with a sly grin, 'But the bar is the hottest spot for a hundred miles in any direction! Friday-Saturday here is jumping. Local dignitaries love the place, can't move sometimes.'
Jimmy pointed at Mac's shirt. 'I hope you don't dress like that when they come.'
'Oh, no, wees got some nice clothes. Wees got some Hawaiian shirts.' The Old Dogs giggled like teenage boys. 'Other month there was six UN nurses and two lady doctors up here. The rooms below were well christened.'
'So, number of recruits on the mines?' Jimmy enquired.
'Forty in this batch, ' Rabbit responded.
'Forty as well in the current batch, but ... well, we do the medical training. Doc Adam is snowed under with damn Somalis.' They all grumbled in unison.
'Recruit another doctor or paramedic, leave Doc Adam at the clinic.'
Disgruntled, Rudd put in, 'He is paid to be here.'
'I don't care, I'm happy with him where he is, ' Jimmy insisted. 'Right, what about the Army?'
'Twenty lads doing well, all fit as fuck, ' Mac keenly explained. I figured that he was, at heart, a military man and enjoying training the recruits.
'Did Doc Adam inoculate them?' Jimmy asked with a frown.
'Aye, in the first week - made them all sick for a day, ' Mac confirmed.
Jimmy and I exchanged the briefest of looks. Jimmy asked, 'Are they good technically?'
'They take a while, but once they got it they're sorted. They shoot straight, some real marksman. Fucking Somalis don't cut the fence any more, that's for sure.'
'I want the soldiers pushed, trained in all weapons, especially the AK47. Push them to their limits, no spare time. They drive well?'
'They all get lessons, pick it up eventually, ' Rabbit put in. 'Couple are real good, so we got them running errands to the town.'
Jimmy asked, 'Would you say ... they could be deployed, and trusted not to do more harm than good?'
The Old Dogs glanced at each other.
'Aye, ' Mac responded. 'We kicked out two for stealing, some have had a punch in the head. They know what'll happen if they screw around.'
'Fine. Recruit another hundred.' Jimmy reached down and grabbed the large file he had brought up. 'This is everything I want taught to the Rifles.'
'A hundred?' Mac loudly questioned, the Old Dogs sitting up as Mac accepted the hefty file. 'Jesus. The government approve that?'
'The document from the government says ... sufficient numbers to defend the base and surrounding area. Well, it's a big area.'
The Old Dogs glanced at each other again. Even Rudd was surprised, if not concerned. Mac flicked through the file.
Jimmy instructed, 'Start work on designing a compound for our little army, the other side of the field, fence it off. They'll want a barrack room or two, mess hall, classrooms, motor pool, admin block for officers, a bar of their own and a games room, a running track and a decent assault course. There's plenty of room over there, so use it.'
Rudd was taking detailed notes as the Old Dogs sat quietly stunned, Mac frowning at the detail in the file.
'Jimbo, ' Mac softly called. 'This is very expensive training, and ... a bit beyond these lads. This is special forces stuff?'
'Do you lot ... know anything about that kind of training?' Jimmy toyed.
'Aye, a bit, ' Mac admitted, showing the others some of the file's detail.
'Bring in teachers, other SAS instructors, whatever kit and whoever you need to get the training done. And ... done so exactly as I have outlined, if you please.'
'There's a year or two worth of training programmes here?' Mac grumbled.
'Keep you busy then, ' I quipped.
Jimmy continued, 'Once the current batch are trained I want them sent on jungle training, a two week course, and I want a climbing wall made up of concrete so they can practice climbing and rappelling down. Use it for the medics as well, moving injured people over obstacles. Then I want a rotation of four or eight soldiers sent to the safari lodge to teach them all about the animals here, and how to track poachers. When we're ready I want a permanent eight-man unit on the edge of my property near the border, patrols set-up for poachers. If we're paying to train these boys then they can earn their keep. Right, medics: any of them suitable to keep on as instructors?'
'Aye, Ratchet and Spanner, ' Mac said with a grin.
'Come again?' I asked.
'Bob Ratchet and Jimmy Spaniel. Wees call them Ratchet and Spanner, ' Mac explained. 'They're Brits, ex-Army medics. They's done some work for the UN.'
'Offer them a job at the end of the course if you think they're up to it.' Jimmy turned his head a notch to our overworked Dutchman. 'I want another building just like this one, basic rooms, for instructors and officers. It'll be for these three, for Army officers and any new instructors.'
'How many rooms?' Rudd queried.
'Fifty. And move it along.' He sipped his beer. 'Right, border fence.' He pointed into the distance. 'Somewhere over there is a border fence which, as you know, has not been repaired since Moses wandered past it. I want the Kenyan Government to give us permission to fix it, the section closest to us.'
'Keep the Somalis out, ' Mac approved.
'It'll need patrolling, ' I noted. 'They'll cut it down. That's miles away, out of sight.'
Jimmy glanced at me. 'Mac, got any soldiers that can drive a jeep and patrol a border?'
'Aye, couple, ' he approved.
'The minute you have permission, start a small patrol. Women and children cross, groups of men don't, men with guns are shot dead on the spot, buried under the spot. You make it clear to the soldiers that anyone with an AK47 strapped across his chest is fair game.'
Rudd piped up with, 'The government may not be happy?'
'We ... are not shooting anyone, the Kenyan Army is, ' Jimmy pointed out. 'If there is a problem, then first those officers over there will be brought to book, then their commander, then the Defence Minister. It's their border, their men, their officers. We're just paying them to do what they want to do, but can't afford to do. Nothing more. And my reason for not wanting Somalis with AK47s near this base ... is to keep the Kenyan population safe from bandits.'
Rudd eventually nodded his reluctant agreement.
Jimmy eyed the Old Dogs carefully, as if assessing them. 'Rudd, how much in the account for this place?'
Rudd took a breath and tipped his head. 'Sixteen million pounds.' The Old Dogs almost fainted, Rudd adding, 'It comes in at more than two million a year.'
'Fucking hell, Jimbo. What bank you robbing? And what yer got planned?' Mac delicately broached.
I asked Rudd, 'Have these three old wankers had a bonus lately?'
'A bonus?' Rudd queried. 'No, just their pay.'
'Give them each twenty thousand, ' I instructed. 'As a thank you for their lack of whinging.'
Jimmy said with a grin, 'I think that was a subtle hint to just shut the fuck up and get on with it.'
'You just keep on telling us to shut up, ' Rabbit encouraged.
'So, how's Cosy working out?' Jimmy asked Mac.
'Aye, fine, he's a hard worker. He's good at talking with the UN and Red Cross, gets deals done and kit swapped well enough, flies us places to go get kit.'
'You're happy with him?' Jimmy asked Rudd.
'Very much so, ' Rudd responded.
'OK, buy him a Cessna – second hand, then a second Cessna – also second hand, and paint it green, then stick Kenyan Rifles on the side.'
'Border patrol!' Mac enthused.
'I don't want Cosy doing it very often, just get him to take up the Army officers and show them the border, then ask for an Air Force pilot, pay his wages. Use the pilot for kit runs as well, dropping off UN docs about the place. Within a month we'll have the Flying Doctor service up here, they'll station just the one man to start with. So let's make sure we can house and service three Cessna's at least, and put a guard on them.'
'We can use this doc for training?' Rudd asked.
'When he's not busy, ' Jimmy suggested. 'But with the refugees about ... he'll probably be busy. Right, any problems?'
The Old Dogs glanced at each other, pulling faces.
'Right, this meeting is adjourned till the morning. Get some more beers in.'
No sooner had the meeting adjourned than I noticed a UN official enter the rooftop. The greying man, dressed in a blue UN waistcoat, greeted his own staff, but was clearly fixated with us. He walked over. Jimmy and Rudd stood first, the rest us following them up and turning around.
'You must be Mister Silo, ' the UN man stated. 'Your size precedes you.' They shook. 'I'm Bob Davies, UN regional co-ordinator. I used to keep Rudd in check.'
We glanced at Rudd, the Dutchman now looking sheepish as we pulled up a chair for our guest.
'Didn't nick UN kit, did he?' I teased.
'We're still awaiting the return of some items from 1983!' Bob said with a smile. We all laughed, Rudd a little embarrassed. 'Still, his heart was always in the right place. The lost items went to the poor.'
'Very Robin Hood, ' I commented.
Bob carefully regarded me and Jimmy. 'And you two young gentlemen make millions on the stock markets ... and give most of it to charity.' He waited a response.
'We also live in penthouse apartments and shag lots of pretty girls, ' I mentioned, the Old Dogs laughing. 'It's not all hard work.'
'No, I popped into the beach hotel and your safari park. Very nice.'
'Not spying on us, are you?' I asked.
'To a degree, ' Bob admitted with a confident smile, an air of authority about him. 'Because I have plans for this place.'
'You do?' I asked.
'Before you got involved I was busily trying to get the UN to take over this place and make it a forward operating base; it's the only long runway for a hundred miles in any direction. Your involvement here nudged the UN into using it and finally approving my plan.'
'Your plan?' I asked, Jimmy none too concerned.
'The UN has approved my request for a substantial spend here, next year, ' Bob explained.
'Rabbit has planted next years' runner beans, you ain't digging them up!' I warned, everyone laughing.
'As you're aware, this place is owned by the government, ' Bob pointed out, and I was worried. 'So they've granted us permission to proceed. First, some repairs to the runway, landing lights, a fire truck.'
'Sounds good so far, ' I cautiously approved, the Old Dogs listening intently.
Bob continued, 'Then a group of warehouses at the far end, an admin office, a motor pool. We'll use the far end of the runway, stay out of your hair. We'll need our own gate at that end to get trucks in. And, the UN wants to rent this hotel from you, plus a few other buildings. Plus we'd pay you for food and water delivery.'
'Sounds reasonable, ' I mentioned. 'But keep Rudd away from your jeeps.'
Everyone except Rudd laughed, the Dutchman going red.
Jimmy finally spoke. 'From next year we'll be able to offer your new staff training courses: first aid, jeep driving, navigation, jungle training courses, and ordinance disposal.'
Bob responded, 'I've already discussed it with the powers that be, and they're keen. At the moment our staff training is spread far and wide. If it can be done in one place then it benefits us. And the UN would pay toward the courses.'
I was starting to see the benefits of our new symbiotic relationship.
Jimmy carefully stated, 'We're not looking to make a profit from you guys.'
'Obviously, otherwise you would not have created all this, ' Bob pointed out. 'I also popped into Ebede orphanage. Quite ... quite a lot of money you've spent there?'
'If you have any staff who could help out there... ' Jimmy delicately nudged.
'I'm sure we could find a nurse or teacher, or two, ' Bob agreed.
'What's this orphanage I heard about?' Mac enquired.
Bob explained, 'It was a run down AIDS orphanage with about sixty kids in it. Now it's better decorated than most hotels in Kenya, with six hundred kids in it.'
'Fucking hell, Jimbo, ' Mac let out.
Bob told us, 'Prime Minister is due to pop down there next week.'
I was quietly concerned. 'What's all the fuss about? I thought they'd be happy with us?'
'They are, ' Bob insisted. 'But also confused at the rapid growth of it. It's never been seen before.'
'I don't do things in half measures, ' Jimmy softly stated. No one at the table was in any doubt about that. 'Where you can help me, is with a new group I'm going to set-up next year. A small group to start with, but growing rapidly – as you might expect from me. It'll be called Rescue Force.'
A shiver went up my spine. This was the beginning.
Jimmy continued, 'It'll be a group of doctors and medics, but trained like commandos: self sufficient and tough, well kitted. When there's a disaster somewhere around here, a flood, a famine, a small war, they go in to provide immediate medical assistance. But they need to be tough so that they don't need rescuing themselves.'
I watched Bob's curious reaction. There was plenty going on behind those eyes as he slowly started to nod to himself.
'I'd be interested in seeing your plans on it, ' he finally said.
'We've just taken over an airfield in the UK, ' I mentioned. 'Near Swindon. We're going to use it to train any Brits who want to come out and work in Africa.'
'When are you in the cold and the rain next?' Jimmy asked Bob.
'Contact us, we'll meet and show it to you, ' Jimmy offered.
'It could be used for our UK staff before they fly out?' Bob asked.
'Most definitely, ' Jimmy agreed. It was a date, and the start of something bigger than I could have imagined at the time.
The next day we inspected the Kenyan troops, behaving like royalty, before joining them on the firing range. I tried the FN SLRs they were firing, a 7.62mm NATO cartridge, quite a kick compared to the American M16. I blasted a target with an AK47, a full magazine, making a sizeable hole in the wooden target. When finished firing we walked forwards, Mac inspecting Jimmy's "smiley face" shot into the target. Bleeding show-off.
With a magnetic mine detector in hand and earphones on, I tried to find mines in the sandbox, stepping on one with a loud "puff", a cloud of sand blowing up. Good job it was a dummy. We observed several controlled explosions, and followed by throwing grenades over a wall and ducking. I blew up an orange box.
In a surprising move, Jimmy took Rudd, me and Mac up in the Cessna that Cosy had just landed. I took right seat, confident that Jimmy knew what he was doing, despite the fact that he now told Rudd and Mac that he'd only had two lessons. Lined up on the runway, he started his take off run, and kept going, a gentle acceleration down the length of the runway. With the end of the runway looming, and me holding my breath, he gently eased back on the yoke.
'When you have a heavy load, and want to conserve fuel, that's how you take off, ' he told me as we climbed gently, turning right towards the border. 'Remember it.'
We reached the border quickly, turning north and following the track that represented the border with Somalia. Peering down at the brown desert we spotted camel herds, a few women walking with children, not much else of interest, returning to the base and circling, giving me an appreciation of the base from the air. Lining up with the runway Jimmy reached the end of the runway at five hundred feet, way too high.
'Let's practice an engine failure, ' Jimmy innocently suggested. 'He knocked the engine off.'
Silence. We nosed down, now halfway along the runway. The buildings loomed into view, along with the end of the runway. At a steep angle we dived, flaps finally selected. At 100 knots, a fast speed for a Cessna landing, he pulled back and slowed, running parallel to the tarmac in silence, touching down smoothly and halting quickly, a light touch on the breaks. We stopped ten yards from the end of the runway and the start of the sand, Mac and Rudd breathing again. Jimmy started the engine and taxied around to Cosy.
'Nice landing, ' Cosy offered as we clambered out. 'How many hours do you have?'
'Years, not hours, ' Jimmy corrected him.
And that was the first time I'd seen Jimmy fly. Rudd eventually recovered, Mac not too concerned. On the rooftop bar Rudd grabbed a beer, the Russian pilots complementing us on the landing; after all, they had a ringside seat and little else to do for a few days.
The Kenyan Defence Minister had heard that we were at the base, probably from his officers, and flew up specially to meet us. I was concerned, since this was our first contact with the government, odd considering all the time we had spent in the country. Seeing the man from the rooftop I tried not to laugh at his uniform, or his baton, his minions trailing behind him. Idi Amin came to mind.
'Rudd?' Jimmy called without making eye contact, the three of us peering down at our unscheduled guest. 'We both know you're a good liar, and actor, so it's time to practice a bit.'
Standing, we greeted the Minister and his aides, his officers now tagging along with Mac, hands clasped behind backs. The Minister took in the view, his men pointing out things of interest. Settling about two tables pushed together, we ordered beers for us, and cold drinks for our guests.
'I have heard much, Mister Silo, ' the Minister boomed. 'Not least about the orphanage that you have taken under your wing.'
'We do what little we can, ' Jimmy softly stated.
'You, sir, are neither little in stature, nor generosity.'
I put in, 'You should see his school pictures. In a line of kids he was as tall as the teacher!'
Everyone laughed, but I wasn't joking; he was six foot at thirteen.
'So, Minister, you made a special trip up here to meet us, ' Jimmy nudged. 'A waste of time for someone as important as yourself to come and see little old me.'
'You know, I am always weary ... of people who remind me how important I am, ' the Minister boomed. 'It normally means they are doing something behind my back.'
'We're not politicians, ' Jimmy said with a grin.
'No, ' the Minister agreed. 'If you were, I would have felt the knife before now.'
'That's a cynical view of Kenyan politics, ' Jimmy lightly suggested. 'I'm sure it's all one big happy family.'
The Minister raised a pointed finger. 'And you know what the police say about crime statistics - most murders are in the family.'
We all laughed.
'So, brother, you must have some questions, ' Jimmy nudged.
'We are obviously curious about someone who spends so much money in our country, and in such an odd manner. You see, the politicians here have very little to do other than to see who will be first on your golf course. This leads to idle gossip and speculation.'
In fairness, the guy was coming across as far more intelligent than I first thought when I saw his colourful uniform. But he still reminded me of Idi Amin.
'What would you like to know?' Jimmy posed, seemingly amused by the banter.
'Why don't you tell me something about yourself, and how this all got started.'
'Quite simple, really. I had always fancied a safari lodge of my own, I'm an animal lover, so we came down here on holiday. When we drove past the orphanage we stopped to give some money, just a few dollars, but got talking to the staff. They complained about children with legs blown off from mines around Africa. I wanted to donate some money, and it seemed like a good cause. But I like to get involved with the charities I donate money to.'
I put in, 'That's why, in the UK, we give a lot to the home for fallen women.'
The visitors laughed loudly.
Jimmy continued, 'So I found Rudd here in the phone book and popped along to see him. He was very convincing about the need for Africans to be trained in mine clearance, and not to rely on outsiders. Rudd very kindly drove us up here and introduced us to Mac and his band of merry men, so we donated some money – but also gave some directions as to how we wanted it used. You see, I don't believe in simply handing over my money – I want to see results. When Rudd here stopped working for the UN we decided to give him a job - to make sure that the money that we donated would be properly used.'
The Minister said, 'There are not many people ... who need a full time employee to distribute their charitable donations.'
'As I said, I wanted to make sure the money was used effectively, ' Jimmy responded. 'And since then Rudd has asked us to get involved with more and more projects, and we've been happy with the progress.'
'This building, sitting in this base, is quite a ... progression, ' the Minister nudged.
'No good asking me about stuff like that, Mac is the ideas man. He convinces us about what would help around here and I sign the cheques. Personally, I think he and his men go unrecognised from the Kenyan Government over what they have achieved here.'
The Minister carefully regarded Mac. 'And now you help to fund our Army as well.'
Mac said, 'We need the armed men patrolling if we're going to bring in a lot of planes. The UN will move in next year, lots of expensive kit and we're close to the border. More and more Somalis coming over, be a town full of 'em soon.'
'Indeed.' The Minister again focused on Jimmy. 'You do not object to funding our military with charitable funds?'
'If this was any other African country ... I probably would. But your military does not go around starting wars or toppling governments, so I'm happy enough. If there is anything in this region that we could assist you with more?'
The Minister eased back and I could see the grey matter working away. 'We are a poor country, not a very big budget for the military. Less for border patrols, especially here.'
'Mac has asked your permission to fix the border fence near here, ' Jimmy said.
'Yes, I have heard, and I am more than happy to see money spent in this area. It is just a little ... irregular for foreigners to repair our borders.'
'I respond to Mac's requests, and if there is a large base here training UN staff and others in mine clearance - then I want them safe. Very safe. Border repairs and patrols would also keep the locals safe – I've built a clinic just outside us here.'
'Yes, I have seen it. A fine building, a keen doctor who talks very highly of you.'
'That's just the money talking, ' Jimmy suggested. 'So, anything more I can do to assist the Army in this region?'
'I liked the name, Kenyan Rifles. There was once a Kenyan Rifles, run by the British long ago. Perhaps you could become Colonel-in-Chief, taking them ... under your wing.'
'If you think it will help. How much funding would you like?'
'How much would you like to give?' the Minister countered.
It was like a tennis match, back and forth, the Minister not wanting to put a figure on it.
'I think in terms of men, rather than money. How many men are there, Mac?'
'About twenty, won't go far, ' Mac responded, quite the actor and an accomplished liar. 'Just about protect the toilets.'
Jimmy gave it some thought. 'Well ... I'll fund the recruiting of a hundred a year, see how it goes.' The Minister blinked. 'What else would you need, Mac?'
'Barrack rooms, classrooms, some jeeps. Could do with a helicopter or two for the border.' That was cheeky, we hadn't agreed any helicopters.
The Minister turned to Mac, but controlled his reaction.
'Rudd, makes some plans, price it up, let me know the cost. Earmark two million for the first stage.'
The Minister commented, 'You have deep pockets, Mister Silo.'
'Long trousers, that's why.'
The Minister and his men laughed.
Jimmy said, 'So, Minister, if you provide some officers and instructors then Mac can do the rest. But I would like it kept quiet. I don't want to become known for someone funding the Army.'
'There is one thing you can do for me. At the orphanage there are older boys with nothing to do after lessons, so how about a Scout movement or Cadet movement for them?'
'We have a rudimentary Scout movement, ' the Minister explained, seemingly pleased with the idea. 'I will see what I can do. Now, I have a separate request.' He eased forwards. 'Would it be at all possible ... to be first to tee-off on the new golf course?'
Jimmy eased forwards as well. Whispering, he said, 'I think, Minister, if I gave you that honour, your Prime Minister may think we're planning a military coup together.' The Minister laughed. Jimmy said, 'If your boss does not want the first tee-off, it's yours.'
With just Rudd and Mac remaining we sat back down.
'Well done, ' Jimmy said. 'You both get a medal for being sneaky shits.'
Rudd was concerned. 'Might I know what the long term aim is here?'
Jimmy gave it some thought. 'I see a lot of money going to African charities, and very little ever gets fixed. We also see a lot of harm caused by small groups of bandits who, for the sake of just a hundred well-trained men, could be swept aside. Then we could get medics into some inaccessible areas. I have my eye on the Congo, sorry ... Zaire, and you've both been there. You know as well as I do that we can't send in medics without military cover, and UN cover won't do it – they're not allowed to fire their weapons in anger. Some day, I hope, the Kenyan Rifles – trained, funded and modelled by us – will keep the bandits in the hills busy whilst we send in medics and mine clearance in the valleys below. I don't like mercenaries, they're too expensive, and there's not a single regiment in the whole of Africa that I either feel is trained well enough – or is disciplined enough - to assist us. So we'll build our own, because I'm not sending our people into places like Mozambique only to be kidnapped, raped and killed.'
'Fucking aye, ' Mac approved.
Jimmy faced Rudd and waiting.
'Yah, I see your reasoning. The Army are normally are the ones doing the raping and stealing. And the UN drive shiny tanks with no ammunition.'
'It's no more complicated than that, but we have to proceed quietly.'
Back in the cold and frosty UK, two days later, David Gardener came to see us, hardly time to get the kettle on. He looked concerned.
'In an hour the ... operation begins, ' he reminded Jimmy. He laid out a map on the coffee table, a street map of Khartoum, and I remembered Skids joint mission with Mossad, the detail deliberately kept from me. We had the game on, Big Paul jealous at being left out of it.
A trill sound resulted in David reaching into a pocket, a bulky satellite phone retrieved. He answered it in Hebrew. 'Ten minutes.'
Jimmy pointed out the house in question. It backed onto the White Nile River, a mile north from the centre of town. 'Handy is across the river with a sniper rifle, he's been there all night.'
'Lying Up Position, ' Big Paul noted.
The phone trilled again. 'Smoke canisters thrown into the main streets down town, ' David reported.
'Keep the cops busy, ' Big Paul stated, now clearly in combat mode. 'Diversion.'
David kept the phone to his ear. 'Smoke at the nearest road junction.'
'Local diversion, ' Big Paul stated, Jimmy sat quietly.
'Explosion ... front of house.'
'Send them towards the sniper, ' Big Paul stated, studying the map intently.
'Gunfire ... grenades ... building on fire, ' David reported. 'Sniper at rear firing.'
'Cut 'em down, ' Big Paul whispered.
'Children and women escaping house, ' David reported, Big Paul not commenting. 'Machine gun fire, small explosion, sniper firing. House now well alight, crowd gathering nearby. Two men in canoe on river ... crossing river ... sniper firing at house –'
'Covering fire, ' Big Paul stated. 'And they can't follow across the river, have to go the long way around.'
'Canoe across, sniper withdrawing.'
We waited a long thirty minutes, everyone except Jimmy pacing up and down.
The phone went again, causing us to close in. David reported, 'Team intact, no injuries, at withdrawal point Bravo.'
Jimmy touched the map, a point on the main road south of the city.
That night, close to midnight, we got a call; Cousin Bob had crossed into Hatty's garden: Skids and company were now in Ethiopia.
The following day David returned. 'Six male members removed from the charred remains, three identified as Saudis. Two more Saudis in hospital, burnt and critical, two teenage boys killed, plus one woman.'
It was a stark realisation for me; Jimmy would kill if he had to. And if this got out I'd be in prison till I was very old. With the stems inside me I'd live to one hundred and fifty, so it was not a pleasant prospect.
'Get into that hospital, get names, ' Jimmy told David.
'Local newspapers suggest that the Saudi King ordered the hit, ' David mentioned.
'Given Bin Laden's relationship with the king, not surprising, ' Jimmy responded. 'Good.'
With David, gone I said to Jimmy, 'Women and children?'
'When The Brotherhood gets going, hundreds of millions of women and children will die. Do the maths, and don't dwell on it.' I stared back for a moment. Jimmy added, 'If you could go back to when Hitler was a baby, could you reach into his cot and strangle him – as a cute baby? Well I could.'
It was an awakening for me; the war was getting closer to the front door. On top of that Jimmy suddenly suggested that we should not live at the flat, that he was moving to the new house the next day with Big Paul.
Judy knew about the new house, we'd spent the night there, but I had emphasized the flat below as being mine. Crunch time was looming and I had no idea which way I would turn as far as she was concerned. But that night I packed up a lot of stuff, helping Jimmy to pack up files. The computers would stay so that we could use them when up in London. The next morning we drove off early, two cars piled high with clothes and files. As we drove down the M4 motorway I felt like we were running away and hiding, that there might be a flashing blue light behind us at any second. I was in it now, in it up to my neck. I had supreme confidence in Jimmy, but there was still an odd feeling in my gut that morning.
Big Paul's mate, Ricky, was still in attendance and the new house was warm and welcoming. We made like a chain of ants and unloaded quickly, soon settled in. The smell of cooking dragged me towards the over-sized kitchen, a chef in attendance and the cookers working.
'I'm Cookie, ' the chef said with a wave. Well, of course he was. I sat on a stool, soon joined by the others.
Jimmy explained, 'This is Cookie, he now lives here.'
'Live in cook?' I queried.
'And cleaner, with his dear lady wife, Sandra, ' Jimmy explained. He faced Cookie. 'Pancakes, Cookie?'
'Sure, Jimmy, give me a minute.'
His wife wandered past with a bundle of clean sheets. At the apartment we had a cleaner that came in most days, and a cook that came when we called, but now there would be a natural progression: live in staff.
'Ricky?' Jimmy called. 'You after a job?'
'Doing what, Jimmy?'
'Baby sitting this place, full time guard.'
'Oh. Where'd I live?'
'Where you are now, no cost, food thrown in, ' Jimmy explained.
'Where are you now?' I asked.
'The outbuildings, up the back, ' Ricky explained. 'The builders made a nice house out of 'em.'
Jimmy said, 'The pay is not what you could get overseas playing toy soldier, but you get a house with no bills - and all meals, so any pay is beer money. You get a car to use as well.'
'C'mon, mate, ' Big Paul encouraged. 'Easy number.'
'Kinda got used to being here, ' Ricky admitted. 'Wasn't looking forward to moving out. Yeah, if you want me I'm in.'
'First job, ' Jimmy began. 'Go out tomorrow and get two Alsatian pups. You like dogs?'
'I had Alsatians as a kid, ' Ricky responded. 'Love them.'
'Set aside a room for them, buy some wooden kennels, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Oh, there'll be another Range Rover here in the morning. Apart from bringing the dogs back, no dogs in the cars ever, or this house.'
'He means the kind of women you like, ' I suggested.
Ricky laughed. 'You noticed that as well, eh?'
Pancakes were placed down, a large stack. Yes, I could get used to this. We stuffed our faces with pancakes, followed by warm apple pie and custard for afters, before settling around the fire in the lounge, the TV on in a corner. The sofas here were very similar to those at the apartment and were now laid out around a large coffee table; a new meeting point had been established. Jimmy lifted a map of the local area off the coffee table and told me to study it. I started memorising road numbers and street names, areas of Raglan, Monmouth, Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff.
The following day was spent trotting back and forth to a nearby garden centre, many things ordered for later delivery. We returned to find two lively Alsatian pups, six months old, darting about the grounds. Rolf the architect turned up later in the day and took us through a few small details that were still outstanding. Big Paul switched the cameras on and checked them, zooming grey images in an out, Ricky and Big Paul setting up a rotor to monitor the cameras when we were in attendance. They would then alternate night shifts. Ricky had also bought a long brown wax coat and hat for patrolling the grounds. We said he looked like a "tit", but then all bought them, Wellington boots and all. The country gents had arrived.
Cookie and his wife now lived in the re-worked attic and I got Sandra to show me around, surprised by how spacious and light the rooms were. They had a long lounge, three bedrooms – one en-suite, and a separate bathroom and kitchen.
'Kitchen doesn't look used?' I noted.
'Not much, we eat downstairs, saves cleaning two sets.'
It turned out that Cookie was ex-Army, an Army chef. The couple lived- in for free and had all their food covered, which made their modest pay seem a great wage. I liked Cookie and his wife straight away; they had a great sense of humour and were always keen to help.
By the weekend we were settled in and secure; high fences, cameras, two bodyguards and two Alsatians that could seriously pee on a burglar's shoes and nip at their ankles. By time Judy arrived on Saturday I was settled, not looking forward to "the talk". I explained to her that I would go back and forth, but she could see how much I liked the new place as I showed her around. I guess I was a bit too enthusiastic in the tour, but I wanted her to like it as well.
'You talk as if it's your place, ' she had mentioned several times.
After a nice meal, but one with an awkwardness to it, Jimmy sat us both down. 'OK, let's cut through the crap and get this sorted, ' he said. I didn't particularly want him to interfere, but I was also doing a really crap job of figuring out what I wanted, and how to communicate that effectively. He faced Judy. 'You know what Paul really wants from you? He wants you to give up your job and follow us around the world.'
Judy was insistent that she would not give up her job and become a kept woman.
'What if you fell pregnant?' Jimmy posed. That caught her off guard.
'Well, that would be different, ' she replied. 'We'd have to sit down and discuss the future.'
Jimmy faced me. 'And would you give up the travel?' The bugger put me on the spot. 'No, you've already said you won't, and now we have offices in New York.'
Judy got the message loud and clear; I'd not be around even if we had kids. It was an awkward chat, but nothing Jimmy had said had been untrue. In our bedroom, I told her firmly I wanted us to stay together, but as the words left my lips I did not fully believe them. We snuggled up that night, and she drove off in the morning saying that she needed space.
That evening we went for a curry in Newport, a lap dance in Cardiff, then hit the clubs. Walking between bars, Jimmy pointed out the place he would buy. It was a run down club next to an equally run down hotel, both now under offer, and the two would be connected together. It did not look like much at the moment, but they did have a lot of passing trade from the main thoroughfare. On Monday morning we went back to see it, the estate agent showing us around the club. It was surprisingly large inside, and split over three floors. The downstairs even had an old kitchen that looked workable. With Judy not talking to me at the moment, and Jimmy busy in Swindon, I got to work; estate agents, solicitors, Rolf the architect and local builders and decorators. Plus a firm that specialised in outfitting bars who gave me a lot of great advice.
I dragged down the owner of our favourite curry house and offered him a franchise; we'd have a curry house inside the club. I offered the man a great deal and he accepted. Po's restaurant staff had relatives in Cardiff and they came around to see the club. They would be taking up residence on the second floor, an area set aside for registered club members.
The top floor would be reserved for VIPs, a door knocked through to the hotel's third floor. The hotel's top floor had twelve rooms that would be knocked into six, two turned into self-contained apartments; the four rooms remaining would be decorated to a high standard. The twelve rooms on the next floor down would also be redecorated to a good standard, a large storeroom at the top of the hotel being earmarked as an exclusive bar for guests. We'd even have a small rooftop bar, but I was not optimistic about the weather here. Or the nuisance pigeons.
With a focused determination I got everyone working hard, the builders paid time and a half to work at night, in addition to their day shifts. Some days I was there at 6.30am and back at midnight. The structural work took only two weeks, since there was not that much wrong with the place to start with; a few walls knocked through, some blocked up, a few extra doors, a new metal fire escape at the rear, both for the club and the hotel next door. With the heavy work, and the dirty work, done the shop fitters and decorators moved in and the club started to take shape. Soon we had a curry house and a nice Chinese restaurant, the builders scratching their heads as to what the place would be like when finished. It made sense to us: you go into the club, have a few beers, have a curry or Chinese, a dance and a drink. Or you have a curry at the end of the evening. Well, it was Wales, what did these hairy-arsed builders know.
The ground floor was to be the area set aside for non-members, a large dance floor backed by a long bar. Off that main room sat four other rooms: Retro Room would have golden oldies blasting out, Chill Out Room would have no music at all - just seats, The Disco would offer contemporary dance music – yet a few years older than that played in the main area, and finally the Ladies Only Room. That was not a lesbian thing, as Big Paul had asked, but somewhere for women to take a breather away from unwelcome suitors. It would also sell subsidised drinks, so that pretty girls would populate the club without breaking the bank. Jimmy had it all worked out.
The second floor would be the preserve of members only, or selected guests. It was nicely decorated, possessed several chill out rooms - mini wine bars aimed at the older generation, and a room with a dance floor offering older tunes. Its toilets had been decorated to a high standard and included a small shop for any necessaries; combs, hair gel, mints, condoms. You could even buy a new shirt or tie if you needed one.
The top floor would be the VIP area, a scaled down version of the members area; a small dance floor plus four smaller rooms, each again resembling wine bars. These rooms offered comfortable sofas, free newspapers, high quality toilets with another shop, hair washing equipment and hair dryers in the ladies toilets. Even the corridors of the top floor had leather sofas. My favourite touch was the internal camera system. Members on the second floor could watch monitors of the lower level's dance floor, the VIPs on the top floor could glimpse both the members and the ground floor. And we were ahead of time in making half the rooms Non Smoking.
The grand opening had been well advertised in advance, but we organised a "soft opening" to test everything out. Po came over with the family, everyone from McKinleys travelling down by train – booked into local hotels, and Pineapple played a key role, most of their staff and many of the bands coming down. We invited those hospital departments that we had given money to, swelling the numbers; it would be a well-attended Friday night. Jimmy also invited the local press, almost fifty of them, offers of free meals and free drinks hard to turn down for the snappers and scribblers.
Jimmy had hired the door staff personally, saying he knew a lot of them; they did not, however, seem to know him. He selected twenty full-timers and a few part-timers, others made up from a local firm; they would police the crowds outside. Twenty-four hour guards sat inside the club's control room, dozens of cameras sending images back to the control room staff. And Jimmy's briefing of the door staff was interesting.
'I don't want any men below twenty-five, no girls that look sixteen. All men must be in suits, only exceptions would be celebs - and then with discretion. No jeans, no t-shirts, no trainers – ever. You let one in you go straight away. You will not ... let in mates and family, or birds you're shagging, unless they're smart. If I see someone in here I don't like the look of I'll find out who let them in - and sack you. You can't get sacked for keeping people out, but you can for letting the wrong person in.
'Now, I'm worth a few quid, and I don't give a fuck if this place is empty; anyone who gets in deserves to be in. And don't be shy about turning people away; I have very good solicitors. This is a private members club, as the sign says. That means we invite people in, they have no right to come in. You patrol the line and pick out people you like the look of, your main aim being good looking couples aged twenty-five to forty. If someone gets stropy then tell them they don't fit the club's ideal member profile, point to the signs. Again, I'd rather have the place half empty than have idiots in here. It's not your job to worry about profits, you worry about the quality.'
The club's radio advert made me smile:
What ya doing, Dave?
Trying to split the atom with these tweezers.
Yeah, but not as difficult as getting into that new club, Silo's.
We had eventually settled on the name "Silo's" because that was what everyone involved with getting it ready already called the club: "Silo's place". It saved on signage I suppose.
With the hotel open on just the top two floors, the remainder still under renovation, the new club opened at 8pm on a damp Friday night, people who had not been invited foolishly queuing up like sheep; they'd have a long wait in the drizzle. As dutiful hosts we stood greeting people as they entered, Big Paul acting as an extra bouncer and sticking close. When most of those that we expected had entered, we sat and tried a starter in the curry house, sampling the food. An hour latter we moved upstairs and found many of the Pineapple crew in the Chinese. We sat with a few of the bands, trying the food for an hour, Po joining us.
We eventually nudged the bands upstairs, explaining that it was the VIP area, despite the helpful signs to that effect, and we enjoyed the kind of evening that would become common in the future; celebrities, musicians and reporters mingled. The girls from the hospital went all googly-eyed at the singers, and groups of people wandered next door to the hotel to inspect a room left open for that very purpose.
Po wanted to buy-in, but we explained that it was a non-profit operation. He took some convincing. Oliver from Pineapple could see the potential, especially when we informed him that this was a dry run for a larger London club. The musicians all got themselves photographed and would make it to the local papers and a few of the national tabloids. I chatted to some of the senior staff from the University Hospital, offers of financial help extended before entertaining Po's daughters. They had just completed their Phds and it took my brain a while to work out how old they both were.
'How old are you?' I asked with a frown.
'Twenty two, ' they answered.
'When I first met you... '
'We were nineteen.'
Jimmy had told me they were sixteen. Bastard. I danced with both sisters, very close, making those around me jealous. And the girls had eyes for no one but me. It had been four weeks since Judy had sulked off and we had not seen each other since; I needed consoling.
I asked Ling, 'What will Po say if he sees us dancing?'
'He vely happy, he say he want us to be together.'
'He does?' Jimmy, you bastard, I cursed. 'Ling, can I show you the hotel?' We walked off hand in hand, but Suni followed close. I suddenly had no idea how to play this. In the apartment that had been reserved for me for that night, I showed them around, opening a champagne bottle for the giggly girls. They downed their drinks quickly, more requested. And I still had no idea how to play it.
'Is it true ... Chinese girls know how to give a good massage?'
'We vely good. Come.' They started to undress me.
Forty minutes later and the three of us emerged from the shower, dressing quickly before anyone noticed our absence. And the sweet young little girls were about as innocent as a Hong Kong prostitute approaching retirement after a busy career on a popular street corner. We re-joined the party, taking a while to dry-off properly. Back in the VIP area, Jimmy walked past and noticed my damp hair. He glanced at the girls and smiled, saying nothing. And he was still a bastard.
At 1am Jimmy took Po and his gang back to the new house, despite rooms booked for them here, the girls remaining fixed to my side like limpets. I told the club manager to lock up and headed off for round two. Yes, it was a good opening night.
With the girls asleep I wandered back into the club, finding a night security guard on each floor, the bored men sat reading paperbacks. With everyone gone I got a feel for the place, walking slowly around and thinking about the work I had put into it, running a hand over cool wallpaper. I eventually found myself thinking about Judy, but I didn't care any more, the hurt had gone; a lingering guilt remained, but the hurt had gone. This was the turning point. I was single, I realised. Either that or right royally cheating with two babes!
The next morning I got a taxi back to the house with the girls, leaving me wondering what to say, and how Po might react. Having my hands cut off came to mind, other bits sliced away. As we pulled up I noticed Liz's car and my heart leapt; Judy could be with her inside. Oh, shit. There was nothing I could do, so we simply walked in. We found everyone in the lounge, Liz sat snuggled up to Jimmy and no immediate sign of Judy. I quickly directed the girls into the kitchen for some food.
'Need to get your strength back?' Cookie asked. 'Full English breakfast?'
I nodded sheepishly, the girls asking for croissants and coffee.
Jimmy stepped in. 'More tea all round, Cookie, ' he loudly ordered, before stooping dead in front of me. 'Good night ... was it?'
I felt like hitting him. 'Liz ... alone?'
He nodded. 'But I dare she may chat with her friends.'
'What she ... er ... doing here?' I delicately enquired.
'She's curious about the new house, wondering if I've suddenly changed. Just turned up this morning.' Quietly, he added, 'Good job I don't take after you, dirty stop out.'
'Yeah, well you're a lying toad. Can't add up, can you!'
'I never was very good with girl's ages.'
Po wandered in and grabbed a coffee. 'Hey Paul, good night, yes?'
I decided to bite the bullet. 'Mr Po, I would like your permission to date your daughter, Ling.'
He made a face and waved dismissively. 'You do better.' Off he went, the girls cursing at him under their breath.
Well, to say I was deflated would have been an understatement. All that worrying. I faced the girls. 'Ladies, if he doesn't appreciate you, I will. You are both intelligent and beautiful.' That cheered them up, and we sat and ate breakfast together, extra helpings and sly grins provided by Cookie. Liz told Judy and that was that, I was dumped by fax. Four weeks after she drove off, and with no contact, I was dumped by a fax page from her airline. And if I wanted to query my booking with her airline I had thirty days, and was ATOL protected.
On Saturday night we headed back down to the club, its official opening, Ling and Suni stuck to my side and causing many glances my way. We dumped Po, Liz and the sisters in the VIP area and went patrolling. One idiot smoking in the wrong room was giving the doorman lip, so I ordered the man out. No nonsense was our policy. Several people introduced themselves to Jimmy, the big guy standing out a bit. Most were OK, but one guy opened by saying that he was richer than us, God knows why, so we threw him out and banned him. Another older man said he did not rate us, whatever that meant, and he was also thrown out.
The music in one room was turned down a bit, the lights turned up a bit in several rooms - we wanted women with polyfilla faces to stand out. The doorman got told off for too many people in corridors, they had to nudge them into rooms. Some bars were packed and others quiet, the doorman told to regulate the numbers in each and even it out. Bar staff were moved were they were needed so that people didn't queue up too long. One man complained that the smell of the curry house was making him hungry. We stared at him till he realised it was deliberate. And that curry house was packed out all night, often a queue, so too the Chinese. We happened across one guy stood loudly lambasting his ex-girlfriend, so Jimmy hit him in the ribs, the doorman dragging the spurned lover out, now badly winded; this was a zero tolerance club.
Having surveyed the lower floors to our satisfaction we returned to the VIP area, and I was certain that there were twice as many women as men in attendance, well impressed with the quality of the Welsh ladies. The "ladies only" room had been packed, possibly because the rumours of cheaper drink had got around, or possibly they were avoiding the local Welsh men.
It was odd to see Jimmy accepting Liz so readily; they even seem touchy-feely. I got disapproving glances from her with my two Chinese consorts in tow, but I didn't care. Eventually, I spoke to Po about the hotels in Kenya and he again wanted in. They were not moneymaking operations, but he was sure we were hiding something. I finally placated him with an invitation to the grand opening of the golf course.
Jimmy took Liz, and Po's group, back to the house around midnight; I was booked into the same apartment, again with company. The club's lower level closed at 1am, the second level remaining open since it was a private members club and we had an extension. Some of the smarter dressed, and better looking guests, from the lower floor were invited up, or nagged the door staff for access, and the members section buzzed for another hour or so, the VIP area comfortably attended, not too busy.
I retired around 2am with the girls, returning to the club around 3am and finding it still going strong. The lower level was now being cleaned, the member's section still hosting around five hundred, its dance floor packed. At 3.30am I turned all the music off, opening windows and fire doors to get a cool breeze going, a subtle hint for people to sod off home. The crawling, limping and drooping drunk were helped outside, many resisting, the remainder politely told to go home. Several were asleep in corners and were woken, some carried downstairs, and it surprised me the state some people allowed themselves to get into. The last few refused reasonable persuasion, so got thumped and dragged.
In a move that we would continue, we invited the cold patrolling police in for a curry and Chinese leftovers meal, the food going quickly. I told the police that they could come into the curry house in uniform at 1.15am, the Chinese at 3am, whether the other patrons liked it or not; free meal, free hot cuppa.
As I patrolled around in silence at 4am I realised that I was now a nightclub owner. I also realised that being sober at 3am made you intolerant of drunken twats behaving like drunken twats. Stopping to use the urinals in the members' area, I read the signs Jimmy had fixed to the walls above each position:
Know anyone using drugs in here? Tell us and we'll give you £1,000 in cash where we take action.
Know anyone dealing drugs? Tell us and get £10,000 cash if we take action.
There are 65 video recording cameras in here. Misbehave and we will hand the tapes to the police.
Know any ladies soliciting in here? Tell us and earn £1,000 cash where we take action.
Know a member of staff dealing drugs? £25,000 cash reward where we prosecute.
One guy had objected to the tone of the signs, so we threw him out. No one else could complain, not unless they were planning on using or dealing drugs. We were tough with the rules, very tough.
It had been an interesting weekend, in many ways, my hard work brought to fruition and some new experiences gained. I had a glimpse of a future as a leader and organiser of people.
In the weeks that followed, Big Paul became very popular in Army circles; he could get people into the club, as well as free drinks. We had tickets printed up and numbered; basic, members or VIP area. They granted access and gave the bearer four free drinks, small tick- boxes for bar staff to mark off. Big Paul journeyed far to visit old chums and new young bloods, issuing tickets; he was the most popular trooper the regiment had ever seen, past or present. And every time we went out in the local area we all carried tickets in pockets; handsome couples and pretty girls being offered passes. And the quality of the girls Ricky dated improved by several hundred percent. Oddly, Big Paul resisted the temptation; he had his mind on reconciliation with the estranged mother of his lad.
The club organised functions on a Wednesday or Thursday night from the second week onwards. The first was "Over Forty's" night on a Thursday, well attended. Second was what became a monthly affair, The Emergency Services Ball: police, ambulance, medics, and the fire brigade. Everyone received their first drink free by ticket. We organised a Falkland Veterans night and a D-Day veterans night, well attended downstairs. We even laid on coaches from other cities. The Jewish Night was moderately attended in the members area on a Wednesday night each month, David Gardener popping down and staying at the hotel. The Spicy World night was very well attended and became a favourite. For that event we organised a dozen chefs from all over the Orient and they cooked appetisers from The East, all samples free. But it attracted more men than women, plenty of couples. Once or twice a month we dragged down a singer for a mini-concert, usually packed out, and all new sign-ups were obliged to do a few sets.
And the coppers came in after hours, yellow jackets and hungry bellies. It cost us, but we kept the local plod on our side, complaints against our door staff falling on deaf ears.
Golf house open day, Mombassa
Po had been invited, but it was a bad idea. The wealthy little Chinaman had been staggered at the size of the hotel and golf complex, walking from one corner to the other before viewing it all again from the rooftop bar of the refurbished block. He thought it was worth more than it really was, and wanted in.
For the opening day we all dressed smart, despite the heat, informing Po that just local golf fans would be popping along. So who was in the limo with the bodyguards, we both wondered. Po gave me a look as he read the list of guests posted on a stand, Presidents and Prime Ministers from all around Africa attending. Fucking Rudd had been working overtime, I had no idea.
Then things got worse. Sykes wandered past with Jack. 'Mister Holton. I see that you have half of the most important men in Africa here.'
We could well have done, I had no idea. 'Really, I hadn't noticed.' And that was a mistake as well, because I sounded like I was taking the piss. Now neither Sykes nor Po were happy with me, only Jack offering a welcoming smile.
Jimmy appeared with the Defence Minister, chatting like old buddies. We caught the tail end of it, something about attack helicopters, Sykes turning and focusing on me. The Kenyan Prime Minister wandered past and was introduced to me by people that I didn't know. I shook his hand.
Introducing Po, I said, 'We've brought our Chinese business partners along. They are interested in investing in your fine country.' Well, it seemed to cheer up Po a little. I gestured towards Sykes and made another mistake, my mouth moving faster than my brain. 'And this gentleman is from the British Government, the Ministry of Silly Walks.'
The Prime Minister shook Sykes hand without understanding what I had said, and shuffled along. Sykes shot me a look that suggested we would not be let back into the country, Jack fighting hard not to laugh. I led Po out to the ceremonial tee-off, that honour going to an orphan from Ebede. As I cleared the crowd I stepped onto the green, nametag clearly displayed, and straight into shot of ten TV cameras and a dozen photographers. Oh crap!
Jimmy strode forwards, cool as ever, Rudd in tow and suited now. Jimmy took up station behind a bank of microphones. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished visitors, golf players – good and bad, and golf widows sat at home.' Sedate chuckling broke out. 'Although golf is a leisure pursuit, this complex represents fresh investment in Kenya, jobs for local people, and a bar where local business can both meet new clients – and stretch the truth about their score card.' More laughter swept the crowd. 'I would like to dedicate this new course to the orphanage known as Ebede, and as such the first ball will be struck by a young boy from the orphanage – who, I believe, has been practising hard.'
The young lad, aged around twelve, lined up and struck the ball well enough, sending it into the first water hazard. Jimmy said, 'We will not be trying to retrieve that ball ... crocodiles!' He waffled on a bit more, the elderly Prime Minister asked to hit a ball, followed by the Defence Minister; I guessed we were trying to keep everyone happy. Spotting Cosy and Anna in the crowd I waved, figuring they had brought the lad down.
A government spokesman said a few words, welcoming visitors from afar and making it sound like it was their golf course, the cheeky bugger. The local golf associations chairman said a few words, and I realised now that we must be members of the local association. Everyone was then ushered inside. With the crowds thinning out, and a group of suitably dressed locals lining up to be the first to play, I closed in on Cosy and fiancé.
'All ready for the big day?' I asked, the event booked for the beach in two days time.
'Just about, ' Cosy responded. 'Still very busy with new projects.'
'Where are you honeymooning?'
'We're not going far, just here and the safari park, ' Cosy answered.
'You'll like the new lodge, ' I suggested.
As a group, we turned and followed the crowds inside. Drinks were accepted, nibbles sampled, and I tried to play the dutiful host, although Rudd had organised everything with the hotel's new manager, an American. Seeing the Old Dogs in suits shocked me; they looked like dog turds squeezed into nice flannel. Their faces were tanned and grizzled, and they looked very out of place. Only their nametags and job descriptions stopped security from throwing them out.
'You look pretty, ' I quipped.
'Don't feel it in these monkey suits, ' Mac complained, loosening his tie. 'If it wasn't for the booze we'd be out of here.'
'Where you staying?'
'Got a wee room in the new block with three beds in it.'
'Bit of a squeeze.'
'Only room left, this gig a wee big over-subscribed, ' Mac grumbled.
'I'll catch you later for a beer, ' I offered, a couple of hundred-dollar bills discreetly issued. I passed Sykes and Jack, stood talking with some spy-looking types, and found Jimmy and Rudd holding court with the hotel manager, fielding questions from reporters. Seeing Po looking a bit lost I gestured him towards the roof bar.
The entire roof had been given over to a bar and pool, the pool a shallow central feature that was as much decorative as functional. Many people stood around chatting, many more stood peering out over the course, a great panoramic view offered. We walked to the edge and peered out ourselves, Po standing on a ledge. I pointed out the general area of the orphanage, then the zoo – now almost finished but without many of its planned exhibits in residence. We soon got back onto the topic of a partnership.
'This complex will make fifteen to twenty percent annually, ' I explained. As Po mulled that over I added, 'How does that compare to stock tips?'
'Many very important African here. My company want business here, we buy from Tanzania.'
'Oh, I didn't know that.' And I didn't. Po's family had a dozen businesses, one buying ores from Africa and elsewhere. 'I'll talk with Jimmy.'
The man himself led a group of reporters and a TV crew up to us, pointing out many things in the distance, in the direction towards the beach hotel. After ten minutes he escaped the posse and joined us, Rudd now shouldering that burden. 'Seems to have gone OK.'
'Well attended, ' I commented. 'Grass looks good. Listen, Po was just telling me he buys Ore from Tanzania, so he's interested in doing some business down here - and wants to buy a stake.'
'It won't make much profit, ' Jimmy told him.
Po said, 'It good for connection and talk. I bring Chinese here, they talk with African.'
'You're welcome here anytime, you know that, and at no cost, ' Jimmy insisted.
'No, no, I want name on wood here.'
Jimmy made a face and shrugged. 'What percentage do you want?'
'Maybe ... thirty percent?' Po risked.
'That would be worth nine hundred thousand.'
'I give one million. It deal?' He held out a hand.
'It deal, ' Jimmy repeated after a moments thought, selling one third of the complex for what we had spent on the entire thing, all three hotels. This new hotel may have looked vast and grand, but it was scrubland grassed over and a basic hotel made to look posh. We were the ones getting the best deal, but Po was now happy. His name would be on the wood.
I noticed Sykes lurking. 'We'd better talk with Sykes, I took the piss earlier.'
'What did you do?' Jimmy asked, adopting his fatherly look.
'I introduced him to the Kenyan Prime Minister as being from the Ministry of Silly Walks.'
Jimmy smiled. 'He's a great fan of Monty Python, so I doubt he was insulted that much. C'mon, let's go be loyal subjects. Excuse us please, Po.' We collected Sykes and Jack and directed them to a table, ordering them cold drinks.
'Buying attack helicopters?' Sykes testily nudged.
'Why don't I start at the beginning, ' Jimmy suggested. 'The UN are going to take over the airfield from me.'
That surprised Sykes. 'They are?'
'Yes. We'll keep a quiet corner for the mine training boys, who are here ... somewhere. Mac and the boys were concerned about the growing number of Somalis setting up camp around the base, so they asked the Army to send a detachment. They refused, so they offered to pay and train a small detachment for protecting the base, a nudge that way from the UN.'
'You're funding ... the Kenyan Army?' Sykes clarified.
'Yes, all nineteen of them, ' I said. If Sykes did not feel silly, he looked it.
'They'll protect the UN areas; it's going to be a big base, ' Jimmy explained. 'And as for helicopters, the cheeky Defence Minister is trying hard to milk us for all he can get. We've offered them a second hand Cessna painted green for border patrol, when we can find a pilot.'
Sykes seem appeased, to a degree.
'Come up there with us if you like, ' Jimmy offered.
'We've been, a few days ago, ' Sykes reported.
'What did you think of the training?' Jimmy keenly asked.
'Very ... philanthropic of your sponsor, ' Sykes replied.
'I liked the dummy mines, ' Jack put in. 'Had a go. I know they're only fake, but it gets your heart going.'
'I set one off, ' I admitted. 'And sorry about the silly walks bit, Magestic told me to say it. What's the joke anyway?'
'I went to college with the Python boys, ' Sykes admitted. 'That's what Magestic was quipping about.' He wasn't, I made it up on the spot. Still, it worked out OK.
'Seen the orphanage?' I asked.
'Yes, ' Sykes admitted, but in a different tone. 'Very impressive.'
'Should have seen it when we got here, ' I said.
'We saw pictures of it. Quite a transformation, ' Jack put in.
'And this place is rather impressive, ' Sykes mentioned. 'Your ... projects are obviously doing well.'
Jimmy told him, 'Magestic says yes to your question about this place.'
'My ... question?' Sykes puzzled.
'Will we help you get one of your people in here to spy on the arms dealers and bug their rooms, ' Jimmy explained.
'I ... wasn't going to ask that, ' Sykes insisted.
We all stared at him, even Jack.
'I might have thought it ... that's all, ' Sykes insisted.
'Magestic is never wrong, sir, ' Jack quietly mentioned, getting a look from his superior.
'Well, the offer is there, ' Jimmy pressed.
Sykes took a moment. 'How's the new house?'
'Great, close to my mum and the new nightclub, ' Jimmy replied. 'I always wanted a nightclub in Cardiff, grew up around there.'
I considered that Jimmy's response left Sykes with nowhere to go as far as further questioning.
Sykes sipped his beer slowly. 'I'd like to pop to the safari lodge, if you don't mind.'
'Not at all, we'll take you up there if you like. Fly, it's quicker.'
'Very well. And how are your ... poacher hunters?'
'They got some cash from somewhere, because I just sold them a small farm on the edge of my property, ' Jimmy explained.
'Not massive, but comes with a big stone house – big enough for the three of them. They said they're going to retire to it in a year or so, but would still do a bit of game work part-time. They like the game work; steady pay, outdoors.'
'They're going to, or have bought it?' Sykes questioned.
'Have done, a week ago. Hired a few hands as well.'
Sykes seemed a bit put out, easing back and thinking. 'I'll let you know about the trip, have to check what crisis is back in the smog first.' He seemed quite deflated and I almost felt sorry for him.
The revelry dragged on into the small hours and we finally walked down to the original hotel, booked into the two-storey block. We found Rudd and Big Paul in the bar and sat for a quick chat, Rudd's wife wandering in, the kids in their hut. Big Paul and I promised to take their eldest diving off the beach to see the big shark. Two Pineapple staff said hello as they headed off to bed, Big Paul following soon after. The odd thing about our bodyguard was that we were always up later than him, and typically less drunk. And not in need of much protecting either, at least not yet.
'Po has paid for this place, ' I mentioned as the bar emptied.
Jimmy nodded. 'He'll do some good business here. That's what'll make it worth his while.'
'How much has he tucked away for us?' I asked with a yawn.
I took in the dark beach, the moonlight shimmering off the sea. 'What'll we earmark that for?'
'Hong Kong medics. About two years time, but ahead of schedule.'
I nodded to myself. 'Sykes was deflated.'
Now Jimmy nodded. 'There won't be a problem with him for a while. He's alright. And Jack spies on him.'
'Rudd said the new hotel is fully booked for three months.'
I sipped my beer. 'Might turn a profit.'
'Pineapple have advertised it in the magazine a great deal, so it should be fully booked and exclusive before long. We'll keep putting the prices up.'
A man ducked into the bar from the beach and Jimmy moved quickly, straight for him. The man sidestepped, but Jimmy caught him around the throat, dragging him onto the sand. Startled, I stood up and checked the empty bar, the staff not facing us. With a dash, I was on the dark sand in a second, to find Jimmy pounding the man so hard that he would be killed, a sickening sound issued from the man's body as his ribs broke. I wanted to stop it, but I was terrified. The final blow was to the man's throat, no way the man could have survived, and I was both terrified and horrified at what Jimmy had done.
'Quick, ' Jimmy whispered. 'Make out he's drunk.'
I was in shock, and on autopilot. We lifted him up and walked down the dark beach, not noticing anyone watching. Stealthily, we crossed to the next cove, knowing exactly where the guard sat and avoiding him. Dragging our victim carefully along, Jimmy led us straight into the cool water, soon swimming clothed, both of us dragging the body. So far I had not even asked who he was. Or why Jimmy had killed him. At the breakwater we stopped, Jimmy smashing the man's face against the rocks in a move that shocked me. I was operating on adrenaline.
'Swim, ' Jimmy whispered. He led us out almost a hundred yards. 'There's a current out here, and with the blood in the water our friend should be eaten before found.' In blackness we let go of the body and started back in towards the pearl string of lights on the shore.
As the dark beach neared we spotted a couple strolling and halted, treading water silently till they passed. Swimming on, we checked the beach carefully before running up the sand. No one saw us enter our rooms. Jimmy changed quickly and towelled down the corridor floor and stairs, removing wet sandy footprints, not that they were uncommon.
'C'mon, ' he called.
We wandered back down, saying hello to a couple, and onto the sand. Retracing our steps we discreetly kicked sand over the drag marks, doubling back again to the bar. In the bar Jimmy loudly said, 'OK, we're going now, ' to the staff.
I finally asked, 'Who was he?'
'Truthfully, I'll never know. But he would have tried to kill Rudd, attacking my infrastructure down here. Maybe even tonight. I as soon as I saw his face I knew.'
'Christ, ' I let out in a whisper. I blew out. 'You sure he's not a guest?'
'If he is ... no I'm sure, I've been waiting for that bastard to turn up.' We climbed the stairs again. 'Get some rest, check the beach early.'
I found Jimmy on the beach at dawn. He reported, 'No sign of the body, no tracks, no blood. And no one reporting a scuffle either. Relax, move on.'
'Bit of a shock.' That was an understatement.
He carefully regarded me. 'And finding Rudd dead?'
'More of a shock, ' I admitted, taking in the beautiful calm water. 'Think I'll go for a snorkel.'
'If you find the body, drag it out or tuck it around the headland. I'll check the registers.'
I never did spot the body and it was never recovered. And no one was listed as missing from the hotels. Watching Rudd with his family, and taking his boy diving, eased my conscience a little. But we had a problem; someone wanted us disrupted. Killing Rudd would not remove us, or give anyone an advantage, not that I could think of who might be behind it. Worrying thing was, neither could Jimmy, and he knew everything. It remained a mystery.
Cosy was told to watch out for strangers and keep an eye on Rudd, going armed where possible, which was right up his street anyway. Rudd was told that we noticed people watching, and to be cautious. He locked his doors when driving and installed extra security at his house, but no further problems surfaced. Po got his name up on the wood, and a photo, and an advert for his companies, planning on visiting often with the manager of a steel company that his family owned.
One morning, Jimmy threw a thick manual at me. 'Study that. Quickly.'
It was the flight operations manual for a Bell 214, a Huey helicopter, as made famous by the Americans in Vietnam. When we got into the car I mockingly complained that I was not being given enough time. We drove to Mapley, just under an hour to get there, and found a Huey waiting, red with a white stripe. The brightly coloured helicopter was not quite Apocalypse Now. I headed over to it for my first lesson, Big Paul keenly tagging along.
Mapley was progressing, bit at a time. The expensive fence had now been finished and it encircled the airfield, the gatehouse ready and manned, regular patrols after hours by a local security firm, cameras set up – especially around the aircraft. And the leisure centre was growing skyward, albeit slowly. Even the Kenyans were faster than British workers.
The Air Cadets now had two gliders, winch launched, and we allowed them to be stowed in a hangar. Another hut appeared, this time Air Scouts, whoever the hell they were. The building closest to the control tower was ready, and rented out at a very modest fee to AMO Ltd, who Big Paul had dragged down. On the other side of the control tower a second building neared completion and would be used by Mackey Tailor and his rescuers. Two long-axle Land Rovers had been bought and were now stored at the back of a hangar, to be used for jeep training and off-road driving courses; Jimmy had spoken to a local farmer with a muddy patch of trees to rent to us. Extra holes had been dug and ridges put in place. It wasn't quite Mount Everest, but it would do for beginners.
On either side of one of the hangars, which reached up forty-five feet, a concrete wall had been erected, purposefully sculpted by Mackey's group to simulate a rock face, small holes and ledges for sore fingers to grasp. It was split into four sections, each section progressively harder than the preceding. The top of the walls afforded plenty of metal loops to tie-off ropes, and a walkway for instructors to gaze down proudly at their student's progress. It was already in use by the scouts and the cadets, as well as their fellow cadets from the surrounding area. As I started the Huey, Jimmy met Mackey Tailor in a shell of a building.
'Two months, ' Jimmy informed him.
'Be about right, ' Mackey agreed.
'The accommodation block will be just over two months.'
'Wees had a good response to the wall, high enough for basic training and rope work. And we got the jeeps for basic driving, maintenance and off-road.'
'And the classrooms here, ' Jimmy finished off. 'First Aid available next door, all ready and waiting for you. So, how'd you like Kenya?'
'Aye, lovely. A wee bit hot, but me and the wife loved the safari. That blinking lion slept on our bed the one night, silly thing. Bit of a tale to tell when we got back.'
'And the beach?'
'Lovely, aye. I tried diving, not so good with my head under the water. Blinking elephant took my lunch the one day, but a great trip all round.'
'Good. What about kit distribution?'
'I'm focusing on the Welsh lads, and down on Dartmoor. They've had a balance of kit and jeeps.'
'Good. Budget lasting?'
'Oh, aye, no problem there.'
'Natives friendly?' Jimmy pressed.
'They are when you offer some kit, ' Mackey replied with a grin. 'Cave rescue boys from Chepstow came over here the other week, climbed the wall and liked it. Last section foxed 'em, though.'
'That's because you're a sneaky bastard, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'Got to zig-zag, you old fox.'
'Makes 'em think. It makes 'em think.'
'What about the magazine? You think you could get enough for a monthly edition?'
'Should be able to, lots a people with lots to whinge about. I got a lady in my village with an Apple Mac computer thingy, she does similar stuff, and she'll now be working three days a week on ours. Got a good price too, and she sends the disk thingy to the printer, he runs them out and off they go. Or at least they will next month.'
'Couple, aye. Plus your lot, Pineapple and the Kenyan bunch. First edition has a big write-up about this place. But your lot, paying for the adverts, is covering the whole damn thing.'
'That's alright, it's tax deductible. Right, let's get some food in the village while Paul bends and brakes a helicopter.'
I thought I did very well, the Huey heavier than I was used to, and twin engine, so more instrumentation to consider. It was also safer if one engine cut out. Big Paul sat in the back with headphones on, listening in and scanning the controls. When I landed the bird, two RAF pilots I recognised were waved over, jumping into the rear and fixing headsets. My second thirty minutes of tuition had been keenly observed by six pairs of eyes, and as I headed for lunch the RAF Hercules pilots had a go themselves. We met Jimmy and Mackey in the pub down the road, the only watering hole close by.
'Sorted?' Jimmy asked.
'Yeah, no problem. More power, more kick, but heavier as well.'
'Can we paint it green?' Big Paul joked.
'Yes, ' Jimmy replied.
'Yes?' I questioned, wide eyed. 'We bought it?'
Jimmy nodded. 'There's one at Mawlini as well, so get yourself familiar with it.'
'Can I ... er ... have some lessons, boss?' Big Paul risked.
'Yes, ' was not the answer I had expected. 'Right through to pilot's license.'
'Right through?' Big Paul queried.
'Extra heli pilots are always useful.' He made eye contact with me. 'Book him in for the basics, give him the book.'
'Fricking-A, ' Big Paul approved.
'You familiar with them?' I asked Jimmy.
He made a face. 'Couple of thousand hours.'
Oh, was that all. Novice then.
New York, New York
We landed at JFK with business visas, Oliver over there already and picking us up in a hire car.
'How you liking the Big Apple?' Jimmy asked him as we drove towards the giant film set, Big Paul and me in the rear.
'Like it a lot, wife loves it.'
'How many times she been over?' I asked.
'Twice now, a week each time. And she's got a placement here with her firm.'
'Sounds like you've made up your mind?' I noted.
'You two firmly nudged me this way, ' he pointed out, a glance toward Jimmy.
'It'll be for the best, ' Jimmy said. 'You'll make a lot more money over here. Start advertising for tapes, ship them to me - air freight. How's the company apartment?'
'You'll see now, we're staying in a place her company let's us use.'
We sank deeper into high-rise apartment blocks that became skyscrapers, easing into an underground car park off a very busy road. The lift took us to the twenty-second floor, pleasant music playing in the background, the four of us squeezed in with luggage. The apartment was certainly large enough, but smaller than the one in London and not as well decorated. It had views on two sides, one of Central Park. Big Paul would be sleeping on the sofa, Jimmy and myself each having a nice room with en-suite bathrooms. Many minutes were spent staring at the view and pointing things out, many films remembered.
The new office was reached after a ten-minute walk along crowded "sidewalks", the red and green men telling us when to cross. They reminded me of the Superman movie. The new office was a rented suite, but as large as the offices in London.
'Got enough space?' I asked, noting just four cubicles with desks, a small oasis in a large sea of magnolia carpet. There was space for another twenty cubicles at least.
'Next size down was too small, and this gives room for growth, ' Oliver explained.
The staff were introduced to us; Human Resources and Advertising. They were handling the recruitment, after they themselves had been recruited, the plan being for twelve warm bodies to start with, all with strong accents. We sat on sofas and made plans, Big Paul staring out of the window, peering down at the ant-like people below.
'You going to open a club here?' Oliver joked.
'Yes, ' Jimmy responded.
'Yes?' Oliver repeated.
'In time, it'll help with the bands. Right, get a couple of the UK staff over here on three-month rotations - they'll love it. Let's get this pushed along. And when you recruit people here you can send them to London for two weeks, they'll love it. It'll speed things up as well.'
Oliver nodded. 'If you wish.'
'You've got plenty of cash in the bank, so don't be afraid to use it, ' Jimmy encouraged. 'Let's not worry about our UK bands making it big here, so much as US bands making it big globally, yeah?'
'Well, if you can pick them like UK bands –'
'I can. So let's get a relationship going with a recording studio and a video production company.'
'I've smoked out some already, priced them up.'
'Good. Right, we'll meet tomorrow night for food, someone else I'm meeting with tonight.'
That evening we headed for an expensive restaurant, Big Paul warned about behaviour, and Jimmy scoped around for his mark, finally finding the man sat with another man. When the person in question finished his meal, and sat down at the bar, we sat nearby.
'Brits?' the mark asked a few minutes later, detecting our accent.
'Yes, ' Jimmy responded. 'Over on business.'
'What business you guys in?' the man asked in a deep Texas drawl.
'Many. Hotels in Africa, game reserves, nightclubs in the UK, but principally we're stockbrokers. I guess over here you'd call them investment managers. This big guy is ex-Special Forces. Bodyguard.' Big Paul nodded, looking mean.
'Ain't so small yourself, fella, ' they laughed. 'So what kinda investments you in?'
Jimmy produced a torn-out page from Investors Chronicle. It chronicled our successes.
'Most respected trader and guru, ' the man read, he and his friend impressed.
'What business you guys in?' I asked.
'Oil.' I shiver went through me. 'I'm Ted, this is Chuck.'
Jimmy said, 'Tell me Ted, do you know any good lap dancing bars?'
'Heck, yes! And not far. Drink up, we'll get a private room and chat.'
With Big Paul holding a pile of cash for the girls, and being suitably entertained, we laid it on thick; Kenya, the nightclub, our man in Hong Kong. When they jokingly asked for some stock suggestions Jimmy offered them this:
'I tell you what I'll do. I'll fax you stock tips for a year. If you like them, and make money, we'll talk about a formal arrangement.'
'A year?' They were stunned.
'I like to back-up what I say in advance, ' Jimmy told them. 'Oh, you know a fella called Chuck Pederson, Governor of Texas?
'Hell, yes; I voted for the bum. He's a member of my golf club.'
'He'll put you right about me.'
Ted pulled out a mobile phone and dialled, struggling to focus. After apologising for the hour, and being drunk, he asked about Jimmy. Putting his phone away, he said, 'The good governor says you're the best stock picker in the world, bar none. Have yourself another drink, buddy.'
Two days later we were on a ranch in the Republic of Texas, guests of Ted and his wife, the lady having big hair and a bigger accent. Jimmy saddled a horse and rode it around like he'd been doing it all his life - no way I was getting on one, and Big Paul keenly fired a variety of weapons. We had given Ted three stocks to watch whilst in the lap dancers and now they were rocketing north, our host a fistful of dollars richer. We did little other than to get to know our host, eat a lot, drink a lot and listen to horrible jokes. I only detected one conversation that I thought was work related.
Jimmy said, 'I got a buddy in the African section of British Intelligence – they're big in Africa – and he gets to see who's drilling oil, new discoveries before they get into the press. And my friend, he likes his vices.'.
I could see Ted's grey matter working, but he said little. We flew back to New York, since the other Texan we wanted to meet was there, a matter of bad timing. We called the Governor's Texas office and got a message to him, a time arranged for a meet at a hotel with a political convention going on. We were ushered in, Big Paul waiting in the corridor and chatting to the security detail. I let go of my red, white and blue balloon, its helium taking it to the room's ceiling.
'Been a long time, boys, ' the Governor let out, offering us seats and drinks. 'You shouldn't be such strangers.'
'I liked the autobiography you did on our friend, ' Jimmy mentioned.
Chuck held up his hands and smiled. 'They sued that writer fella and won, and there's no proof I had a hand in it.'
'And now we can move on to the next project, ' Jimmy stated. 'Got a paper and pen?'
The good Governor grabbed a pad, looking worried. 'Shoot.'
'I want you to find a small health insurance company in Texas, and buy it. Spend around twelve million dollars, get a loan if you like.' Our host was intrigued. 'Then I want you to buy a small community bank, in Texas, with an investment arm. Again, around twelve million. The medical insurance company will lodge its deposits with the bank, the bank will invest the deposits and ... make a good return.'
'A very good return, ' Chuck confirmed. 'I'd be right in figuring they'd get some help?'
'You'd be right. And when they make this money, the premiums could be lowered, and the insurance company would grow fast, so too the bank. Then, the Governor of Texas, soon to be Senator, would be seen to care for all the people of Texas, not just those that can afford good healthcare.'
'Senator, huh?' Chuck considered. 'That's two years away. If ... I was interested in it.'
'Chuck, the tips we've sent you are less than one twentieth of what we could have sent, ' Jimmy explained, giving the Governor a moment to think about it.
'I was headed that way anyplace. So what's your angle, Jimmy?'
'A friendly voice on the hill when I need it in the years to come, nothing more complicated than that.'
Chuck carefully regarded us. 'I owe you fellas a big chunk of change, and I don't like that much - I'd rather we were square.'
'There'll be a number of investment opportunities in the years ahead; I'll be buying businesses here. When the time comes you can buy shares for more than they're worth, and they'll make you your money back in a few years.'
'Again, not much of a price tag, ' Chuck complained.
'I'll be opening a charity here in a few years, you can contribute whatever will lighten your burden and ease your soul. In the meantime, I'd appreciate that bank and insurance company moving along. When I see that they're open, you get a few more tips. Or, rather, the bank does.'
'And a heck of a lot of voters get cheaper premiums. You ain't dumb, Jimmy, you got it all worked out.'
'Save your pennies for the future. Senator.'
We stood. 'It was nice chatting, ' I said, getting a laugh from our host. 'Keep the balloon.'
'What's your connection to my oil buddy, Ted?'
'I get information about good places to drill, ' Jimmy answered, very matter of fact.
Our host's eyes widened. 'I know some people you should be in bed with.'
I said, 'If your wife is anything like Ted's, no thanks.'
Chuck roared with laughter, Jimmy giving me a look.
Jimmy said that he had done what he needed to do, the seed was sewn, so we flew back to London.
Every dark cloud
One Saturday at the club in Cardiff we were stood as usual in the VIP area having a drink and chatting to girls. A frump of girl came bounding in and straight for Jimmy, grabbing his arm. His drink went flying.
'What the fuck are you doing?' Jimmy roared, bouncers and Big Paul closing in as Jimmy shook beer off his hand. 'Throw her out!'
One of our female bouncers, hired for this very purpose, nudged the frump towards the door, but the frump was having none of it. Get your hands off. That's assault. I'll sue you.
The male bouncers joined in, edging the woman out, but she was not going, an elbow to the face of our lady bouncer that looked more accidental than anything. The men grabbed her arms and led her out, finally four people carrying her as she struggled, her fellow frump trying to stop them. Outside the club the police closed in, the bouncers taking a step back. Frump wanted to press charges for assault. The police led her away to take a statement, other officers looking at the video footage, a slam dunk case. They told her to move on or she would be charged, eventually the lady moving off. And that was the start of it.
Next day she claimed assault again and her expensive solicitor insisted the police take the matter further. Senior officers, not having viewed the tape, started an investigation, enough for the local paper to run the story, complete with pictures of her bruised upper arms. Jimmy calmly called our extremely expensive London solicitors and slapped an injunction on the paper, as well as starting an action against the frump, the woman from a moderately rich family. The police reviewed the tapes and took statements, one of their own senior officers a witness against her, and dismissed the charges. Frump began suing us, taking time off work for "injuries and stress caused" and making it to the local TV channel. So we hit them with an injunction. They seemed to have an odd reaction, and ran the story again, defying the injunction. Our solicitors ramped up a gear and the police backed our side. We sued the TV station, placing one million pounds on deposit with our solicitors, a fact that made the local papers.
We invited in the editor of the local paper and showed him the tapes, informing him that our lady bouncer was now pressing charges and the police were taking them seriously. The frump was arrested, interviewed and released, but that just made her worse. The matter was now sub- judicial, which I read up on, taking a keen interest because Jimmy said it would be good training for the future.
As a matter of strange co-incidence, the BBC ran a documentary about the orphanage, an hour-long programme. Jimmy insisted that no money had changed hands, it was just a matter of odd timing. We all sat down and watched the programme on a Tuesday night, my good self absent from the programme. I didn't mind that, I was in the background when they filmed it and happy enough to keep a low profile.
The programme charted the nature of orphanages in Africa and then focused on what ours used to be like, they actually had film footage, then focused on how it had grown. The old bat was interviewed, and I was terrified what she might say. They had older footage of her and ran that as well, showing the contrasts. I cringed when she said that she prayed for a miracle and got Jimmy Silo. Anna was seen nursing sick kids and organising games, the local staff filmed growing crops, followed by shots of Jimmy stepping down from a jeep in a short- sleeved shirt. The shot cut to the playground, Jimmy Swinging kids around, then a shot in the classroom, Jimmy teaching Maths in a local dialect. One girl did not understand, so he repeated it in French. They also got him talking German to Anna.
Next came an interview with the Kenyan Prime Minister, who harped on about how poor they were, but how grateful for Jimmy's help they were, mentioning a figure of twenty million. Even in dollars that was way too much. Jimmy was then interviewed sat on the roof, deckchairs and cold drinks.
'If you feed a hungry man today, he will be hungry tomorrow and no better off. But if you give a man a job, a skill or some tools, he can earn his food, grow his food or catch his food. I firmly believe that seventy- five percent of all money sent here is wasted, not going where it's needed. This orphanage has become a school, and that school will become a college, and apprenticeships will be created. The children here came from the scrap-heap, they won't be going back there. We teach them all day, discipline them hard, and they will leave with qualifications and a good attitude. They will not be a further burden to anyone.'
'It's a twelve hour day for them, ' the interviewer nudged.
'We don't waste time here, because it's life or death. When they leave here they won't get the dole like in the UK. If they don't have a skill they'll starve, it's as simple as that. They were put here to die, to be forgotten about. That's not going to happen. If this orphanage closes tomorrow then the children here would have had an education on par with any in Kenya.'
'The schools Minister says that your upper class is ahead of local schools.'
'Lessons in Africa are normally just held in the morning - the kids go home and help in the fields after that. We push ours kids hard, with games in the evening that they are still learning from. We also have a scout movement and a cinema that shows educational films, plus a few Disney movies.'
'You've taken a very active role here?'
'If I'm going to spend my money then I want to see results, even if I have to stand over people.'
They interviewed Bob Davies from the UN, a glowing endorsement given, before following us up to Mawlini, where the mine clearing operations were filmed, African students filmed searching for dummy mines in the sandbox. Jimmy was filmed handing over certificates, the final shot from the hotel rooftop, taking in the whole base and two large UN planes, the commentary making it look like we paid for it all. I caught a shot of my hand, and that was all. Cookie and Sandra watched half of it and were amazed, Jimmy's parents on the phone straight away, mine wanting to know where I was in the film.
Back in Cardiff, the legal bill was mounting-up on both sides, but not a problem for us. Frump's dad got involved, but his solicitors soon asked for money on account, a quarter million; we were insisting on a high court battle and our solicitors had dozens of experts and lots of expensive trips to Wales to pay for. When the other side's solicitor told the family that they'd lose, and get a bill for half a million at least, they buckled; no money meant no solicitor. In an odd move, Jimmy offered to settle out of court, but through the solicitors. Frump was broke, having already paid their solicitors forty-five thousand, and daddy was in trouble. Jimmy accepted sixty-five percent of daddy's business, a move I puzzled because the maths did not add up. We drove down to the factory we now had control of.
Stood outside, Jimmy said, 'Timing is everything.'
I stared up at the sign, stunned into silence. 'Johnson's, making artificial limbs for Africa.'
Jimmy spent ten minutes talking with father and son, soon the best of buddies. Everyone would stay on in their current roles and we'd put in a one million pound director's loan. We sent dad and son to Kenya, to see the orphanage and the airfield before they flew down to Mozambique to deliver a new batch of limbs. By time they returned they were members of our nightclub and regulars, not being able to praise Jimmy enough. Frump moved away.
It was a lesson in law, but also a lesson in how determined Jimmy could be, how almost ruthless he was at times. He told me that the scenario would repeat itself, that this was "my lesson" for the future.
When Ratchet and Spanner completed their basic course they were asked to stay on. They politely refused, so Mac told them that Jimmy wanted to meet them personally, and they hung around. We flew out the next day, Cosy flying us up to Mawlini from Nairobi. Our take off slot had been between two lumbering 747s, and I was feeling inadequate in the Cessna. Jimmy was surprised that the men had refused, and I was very surprised that anything surprised Jimmy.
The rooftop bar was busy, now numerous Fanta sunshades over the white plastic tables. Mac sat waiting with Ratchet and Spanner, the target men in civilian clothes. They both appeared to be mid thirties, slim and tanned, and did not seem the military types, certainly a contrast to the ex-troopers I had met so far. They could well have been desk clerks and pen pushers.
'Warm day, ' I offered as we shook hands, ducking our heads under the sunshade.
Jimmy reached across and shook their hands. 'Thanks for hanging around.' We all settled. 'So, gentlemen, what's next in your career progression?'
'We've got a UN contract, ' Ratchet explained, swiping away flies. 'Zaire.'
'Not the most pleasant spot on the planet, ' Jimmy pointed out. 'You must be dedicated.' He waited.
They glanced at each other. 'It was what we planned on doing after we left the Army. UN work, ' Spanner explained.
'So, you like to help Africans?' Jimmy posed. 'Because you're certainly not doing it for the money.'
'Well, I suppose all medics are like that ... to some degree, ' Ratchet suggested, seemingly uncomfortable with being put on the spot.
'And in the next ten years, how many people could you help?' Jimmy asked, checking his nails. 'Maybe ... couple a week, because a lot of your time in Zaire will be spent sitting around behind safe walls, a lot of travelling, a lot of moving on when the gunmen get close. So ... what? You'll help a couple of hundred a year, thousand or two in ten years?'
'Hadn't really thought about it like that, Mister Silo, ' Spanner admitted.
Jimmy said, 'How about I show you a way to help ten times as many. I'll fund your trip to the Zaire, but not through the UN, and not just the two of you. I'll give you jeeps, supplies, local guides, unlimited medical supplies and some military support ... so that you don't get yourselves killed over there.'
They again glanced at each other, surprised at the offer. 'Well, that's ... very generous of you, Mister Silo, ' Spanner said, both men seemingly intimidated by us.
'You're going there to help, so better to do the job properly, yes?' They nodded, Jimmy adding, 'So you'd rather save ten ... than save one, yes?'
'Well, yes, ' Ratchet admitted. 'Who wouldn't?'
'Problem is this, guys: the areas where you're really needed - are the areas full of gunmen; warlords and rebels terrorising the population. The UN doesn't go into those areas, so you'd be nursing people weeks after the gunmen had moved on.' He waited.
'You'd want us to go into those areas?' Spanner puzzled.
'Not unless I was sure you'd come back ... safe and well.'
'Well, then how?' Ratchet asked with a shrug.
'First, we'd need you to draw up some plans, of what you'd need to mount such an expedition, including a suitable security detail; jeeps, supplies, staff, local guides, the works. Could you put together such a plan if I gave you an unlimited budget?'
They straightened. 'Well, yes, ' they both agreed.
'How long would it take?' Jimmy asked.
'Well, couple of weeks, ' Spanner said.
'Couple of months, ' Ratchet suggested.
'And you'd be paid more than the UN would pay you during that time, ' I put in. 'You have contracts with the UN?'
'Yes, ' Ratchet remembered. 'Don't know if they can be altered.'
'They could, ' Jimmy firmly stated. 'Take a look around you. Do you think I have any influence with the UN?'
They laughed. 'Some.'
Mac said, 'Some of them call this Silo Field.'
'So, guys, ' Jimmy began. 'You think you could put together a team?'
'Yes, ' they agreed.
'What about safety? Who'd you use for protection?'
'That wouldn't be easy, ' Spanner admitted. 'Not many soldiers around Africa I trust. They're generally the ones doing the stealing and raping.'
Jimmy nodded. 'It's a problem. That's why I created the Kenyan Rifles; we're training them up for missions like this, making sure we have well trained men – and well disciplined. But the first batch won't be ready for a while, and your chances of staying alive would be very limited without them.'
The men glanced at each other. 'When will they be ready?' Spanner enquired.
'Six months, maybe less, ' Jimmy answered. 'You in a big hurry to put on blue hats and waste your time on the sidelines?'
'What would we do for six months?' Ratchet posed.
Jimmy sipped his beer. 'Get your team together, get them trained, buy the kit, plan the mission. It all takes time, and the more training and planning you do ... the fewer casualties over there.'
'Lot of wounded medics coming back from Zaire, boys, ' Mac put in. 'Not a place to make a mistake.'
'Six months is not long, ' I suggested. 'You got the run of this place. Have a holiday at the beach and a safari if you like, live it up, it's all on us.'
'Very generous of you, ' Spanner said. 'Thanks for the offer.'
'He's a good man to work for, ' Mac firmly nudged.
'So, guys, what do think you'll do?' Jimmy finally asked.
'Well, if we can get out of the UN contracts we'd have a go at it, ' Ratchet suggested.
'I'll talk with the UN next, ' Jimmy offered. 'In the meantime, welcome to the team.' He reached into his pocket and produced two round shoulder patches, a logo of a large hand grasping a small one. The wording said Rescue Force Kenya.
'Rescue Force?' they queried.
'I have plans for the unit, rescues launched when needed, a kind of rapid reaction unit. You'd be the first two instructors, so this is an auspicious occasion, gentlemen. And, if it grows as I would like it to, you'd have helicopters and planes at your disposal.'
'Helicopters?' they repeated.
'Of course. You'd fly into some places, ' I said. 'Either of you fly?' They shook their heads. 'We'd fund you learning, get your license.'
'Get our licenses?' they repeated.
As a matter of strange luck our green Huey roared past, landing on the apron.
'One of those, ' I said. 'About eight weeks to get to grips with it.'
'Love to, ' Ratchet enthused.
Jimmy said, 'So don't be in a hurry guys. If you're going to go skulking about the jungle, be well prepared.' He turned to Mac. 'I want a small building for them, two Land Rovers painted white, Rescue Force Kenya written on them. They'll answer to you and Rudd, Rudd will do the money.' Jimmy faced the men. 'Where you living?'
'Stay there as long as you need, move to the new block when it's ready, ' Jimmy suggested. He handed them twenty thousand dollars each. 'Your start capital, gentlemen. First job; custom long-axle Land Rovers kitted for the Zaire. Find them, adapt them, paint them white. My men Rudd or Cosy will pay for all the kit like that.'
'We've met them many times, ' Ratchet said.
'I'll send you my thoughts on what you need, you send me yours and we'll meet in the middle.'
It was a done deal, Bob Davies from the UN cancelling their contracts and asked to observe their progress as model for further medical rescuers. We flew back to Nairobi and boarded a night flight to London.
To: Ratchet & Spanner, Rescue Force
Guys, for the staff training, and your own ongoing training, I would suggest the following topics be covered.
Land Rover off-road driving, maintenance
Long range off-road navigation, vehicle, foot and aircraft
Medical skills (assumed in advance)
Mine clearance, ordnance disposal
Weapons clearance, identification
Political history of regions to travel to
Current disposition of UN and other agencies for region
Liaison and contact methods for these agencies
Liaison with government departments, permissions (lengthy)
Withdrawal, escape routes, plans
Send me your thoughts.
A few days after getting back, Jimmy announced, 'Time to recruit Sykes.'
'Sykes?' I coughed out a small laugh. 'No fucking way.'
'He has a weakness, ' Jimmy enigmatically suggested, although he seemed cautious. He called Jack and asked for a meeting with Sykes in the old apartment.
The next day Sykes turned up at noon. I took his damp coat and made him a tea.
'Something important?' Sykes asked as he sat.
'I had a note from Magestic, ' Jimmy said, his features sullen.
'About?' our guest asked after Jimmy failed to add anything more.
Jimmy took a moment, appearing saddened. 'Your health.'
Sykes froze and stared back. 'My ... health?'
'Had any discomfort ... using the toilet?'
Sykes closed his eyes for a moment, the colour draining from his face. 'What ... what does it say?'
'Bowel cancer, ' Jimmy carefully stated after a moments reflection.
Now I closed my eyes. Sykes was not a friend, but I had gotten used to him, and this was awful. I faced Jimmy. 'Operable?
'Yes, Mister Sykes will survive the surgery, no chemo needed. But that's not what will spoil Mister Sykes' time remaining.'
'No?' I asked.
'No, ' Sykes quietly said without looking up. 'They'll pension me off as soon as it's diagnosed.' His voice was breaking. 'I'm ... due a check-up in a few months. And if you wanted me gone ... all you have to do is mention that to the right people.'
'We could have done that before now, ' Jimmy countered. 'But that's not what we're about.'
Sykes rubbed his face. He loosened his tie.
'Mister Sykes, ' Jimmy called. 'Mister Magestic has been busy with various biotech companies for many years. There is a cure, and he's offering it to you.'
'A complete cure, full remission, no tests failed, an advance drug from the future, available now to ... select individuals. And don't even think Magestic has an agenda here. He doesn't. You get the drug, you carry on, and we ask no favours. It's between you and him.'
'What ... kind of cure?'
'A simple injection, with one problem.'
'No. If it cures you, you might be tempted to ... discuss the wonder drug. After all, it's a cure for cancer.'
'Why does he not make it widely available?' Sykes puzzled.
'Side effects, ' I said.
Sykes glanced at me, then back to Jimmy. 'Side effects?'
'You'd be fit as fuck afterwards, and live a lot longer, ' I explained.
Sykes puzzled that. 'How is that ... a side effect?'
'You might get noticed, ' I suggested. 'People would ask questions, you'd have to avoid running the London Marathon.'
Sykes shot me an incredulous look. With his mouth hanging open, he pointed a finger at me, then Jimmy. 'You two.'
'Fit as fuck, ' I said. 'Drugged up to the hilt. I run thirty miles a day as a warm up.'
'First things first, Mr Sykes, ' Jimmy began. 'First, go to a private clinic, perhaps abroad, get yourself tested. Then, when you're sure, come back, the drug will be waiting for you. Do it quickly, you have that medical in a few months.'
'It's here, isn't it?' Sykes asked.
Jimmy glanced toward me. He nodded at Sykes.
'So Magestic knows my decision in advance.'
'It's still your decision, ' Jimmy insisted.
'Sat on a toilet and screamed in agony lately?' Sykes pointedly asked, some anger in his voice. 'They'll pension me off, tell me: well done, now go fuck off and sit in the garden!' He forced a breath, composing himself. 'I've got nine years left, and I trust Magestic more than the shits around me. If it's available, I'd ... I'd like it, please.'
Jimmy stood. 'Take your jacket off, please.' He stepped to the kitchen and retrieved a medical kit and a small vial. Sykes stood, rolling up his sleeve. Jimmy carefully drew out clear fluid, tapped the needle and removed air bubbles before injecting someone I once considered our arch nemesis. Jimmy added, as Sykes dressed. 'You'll run a temperature for a day or so, drink a lot of water, eat protein. After a few days you'll be hungrier than normal, an increased metabolism. Eat carefully, or you will put on weight quickly. You'll need less sleep, just four hours.'
I said, 'For the next week your piss will smell terrible. I found that out the hard way.'
Jimmy cautioned, 'Your bowel will hurt for a few days more, maybe longer, fixed in a month. When you go to work, look in the mirror and try and make yourself look rough, less ... well. You may need make- up. Have a holiday after two weeks, some sun, people won't notice the change so much.'
'How much of a change?' Sykes puzzled.
I said, 'That injection will take ten years off you. Literally.'
With his coat back on Sykes stopped near the door. 'You have a hold over me now.'
'You ... were due to be retired off in a few months, ' Jimmy reminded him. 'Not much of a key player, are you, unless your health improves? And, more importantly, who can prove anything?'
Sykes regarded us carefully. 'I'd say thank Magestic, but I guess he knows.'
'He knows, ' Jimmy said. 'Go and rest.'
With Sykes gone, I asked, 'He'll be OK?'
Jimmy nodded. 'A great ally in the years to come.'
'It's a hell of an edge you got – cure someone when they're sick.'
'And I'll use it many times, even on people who won't know about it.'
We flew off to Australia, a tour of several cities before dropping in on Singapore, Bali, and finally Hong Kong, Po and his family treating us like royalty. I spent a glorious three days with the sisters, reluctant to finally leave them and return. The day we got back Sykes came down to the new house, on the train, Big Paul picking him up at Newport station.
'Well, ' he asked, holding his arms wide.
'You're no better looking, ' I suggested.
'We'll see what you look like at fifty-six!'
'He'll look just like he does now, ' Jimmy suggested. 'If you're injected young, you stay young.'
'Crikey, ' Sykes said as he sat.
Jimmy cautioned, 'The people around me don't know about the wonder drug, so not a word, just us.'
Sykes nodded. 'I feel great. Had to go to Switzerland last week so had a test there: no sign ... at all. And the pain's gone. I took a holiday as you suggested, even went jogging a few times – wife couldn't believe it!'
'Yeah, well, we don't need to know about that, ' I said, images of Sykes skinny arse going up and down.
He laughed. 'How was the grand tour?'
'Great, ' I replied. 'I like Hong Kong a lot.'
'Got a money making offer, boys.' He handed over a sheet detailing a salvage team, ex-SBS and Navy divers.
Jimmy walked into the computer room and returned with a cardboard tube, a map holder. He handed it over. 'All in there, three way split.' Sykes unravelled the maps. 'Pay my money to the Mine Clearance charity in Kenya.'
'This is the Scilly Isles wreck, yes?'
'Yes, plus the sub in Norway and a wreck off Guernsey. Total should be around sixty million in trinkets.'
Sykes looked up. 'Nice haul. Anything on the scale of the Baden Baden cave?'
'There's no pleasing some people, ' I grumbled.
'Step at a time, ' Jimmy suggested to Sykes. 'Anyway, there are some scientific developments that Magestic would like to give the Government, so ask the PM if he'd co-operate. I'll then guide you as to a few areas to dedicate some research money, but we're talking decades.'
'I'm sure they'll be keen.'
'Start with Stem Cell research - before someone else beats you to it. Whoever does will make billions.'
'That anything to with... ?'
'Yes. So press ahead, ' Jimmy encouraged. 'And there is one favour I'd like to ask. We could do with some protection.'
'Protection?' Sykes puzzled.
'An armed guard. Can you imagine what would happen if any of this got out?'
'Quite, ' Sykes responded, raising his eyebrows theatrically. 'Easy enough to send you a man, but I'll tell the director we're reining you in; he'll like that. P.M. won't have an issue.'
'You'll need a cover story, in case the press gets hold of it, ' Jimmy insisted.
'We'll invent a specific threat, put it in the book, ' Sykes suggested, none too concerned. 'Oh, Jack's got a long list of questions about the Balkan conflict when you're ready.'
'Be up in town tomorrow if he can meet us at the apartment.'
'Fine, fine, ' Sykes said, studying the maps.
The next day a man turned up with a suitcase and a car, Big Paul and Ricky taking the piss something terrible. The man, Karl, had been a paratrooper, who became a copper, then spent time in Protection; politicians, minor Royals, military chiefs. He came armed with a 9mm pistol and, more importantly, an ID card that should prove useful. He was thirty-five, almost six foot and looked the part, eyes always taking in the detail. And he spoke like Big Paul; the military preciseness.
Whispering, I asked Jimmy if he knew him? He did, and indicated that things would turn out OK. By bedtime Big Paul and Ricky had given up the banter and accepted the new member of the household, beers around the fireplace. Karl was given the apartment opposite Cookie and Sandra, told he may have to share since it offered three bedrooms. For now he had a lot of space to rattle around in.
The following day the local police came calling, a tip-off about illegal firearms on the premises. Karl showed his ID, his holstered pistol, before telling the local police to fuck right off. They did. It was as if Jimmy had anticipated the police visit. We called Sykes and he called the local Chief Constable, who then popped down to us himself. He could not explain where the tip-off had come from, a note had just appeared, but that he was investigating. We gave him a bunch of tickets for the club, for his officers, and off he went, myself now certain that we had friends in high places.
But I was concerned. We had the Revenue on our backs after meeting MI5, now this. Someone out there had a problem with us, which annoyed me greatly. After all, we were trying to save the planet. I started thinking of Batman again, and how ungrateful the citizens of Gotham City were being.
With the leisure centre at Mapley taking shape, Jimmy set about designing and building other structures that we could make use of in the future for the fledgling Rescue Force. The second building had been completed, positioned close to the air traffic control tower, and the first training courses organised by Mackey Tailor and his group were underway. We had met the man from the council again and asked for a footpath from the leisure centre towards the village, but it was already in hand. So too a roundabout and a road widening for a stretch some four hundred yards long, and not costing us anything.
With Rolf the architect and a colleague in tow, Big Paul showing Karl "his" Huey, we surveyed the foundations for a large square trench covering a wide area. Jimmy said it was for water rescue training, but I could not see how, it was only six feet wide and four feet deep.
Jimmy stood at an offshoot of the trench. 'There'll be a large pump here, sending water around the course at up to twenty miles an hour.'
'Ah, raging torrent water training, ' I realised.
The course stretched fifty yards across and varied in width, Jimmy indicating that the variations in size would cause variations in water speed. There would also be many concrete bumps at the base, causing swirls and eddies. We walked around it as the first concrete was being pumped in by puzzled builders. It would also offer a section roofed-off at water level, so that anyone not paying attention would be swept under for a few yards.
Wiping our feet, we climbed the stairs of the newly finished barrack block. The top floor was split into two large dorms, room for twenty beds and lockers in each, communal showers and toilets at each end. The lower floors were similar to a basic hotel, except the rooms didn't possess individual toilets or showers, they were found at the ends of the corridor as above. The ground floor was the same except for an extra room stuffed full of washers and dryers. The decorators were finishing off, soon to hand it over to us, the first users likely to be cadets on a week long camp, soon to be followed by Mackey's trainees. The guards at the gatehouse had little to do, so upkeep and management was now down to them; they were the key-holders and co-ordinated with the various groups using the facility.
From the top floor of the barrack block I had noticed a large hole in the ground towards the perimeter fence, and Jimmy now led us towards it. The hole was fifty yards long, twenty yards wide and already very deep. The sides nearest the rim had already been concreted – for safe access, metal reinforcing rods sticking out.
'Scuba training, ' Jimmy explained. 'There'll be a concrete wall going up twenty feet, so the total water depth will be a good twenty metres when finished.' He pointed. 'Down there we'll have tunnels and air-pockets, a small cave winding around.'
'Cave rescue boys can use it, ' I suggested.
'And police divers, and anyone wanting some dive training before they hit the ocean. We'll have a club here, open to locals. Come and see the cave.'
'Cave?' I queried as we drove around the airfield to a far corner. This was Swindon, as flat as the Fens. Getting down from the Range Rover, and thrusting my hands into my pockets, I said, 'It's another trench.' Laid out before me was an area the size of a football pitch, nothing but brown mud, with what looked like a maze being dug.
Jimmy explained, 'We'll line it all with concrete, a concrete roof, dirt on top, make use of the land above as well as below. The cave will vary in height and width – room for one or two people at a squeeze, winding around with a few dead ends, some water traps. It'll be around three hundred yards long when finished, quite a crawl on your belly in the water and the mud. They'll paint the concrete dark brown - so no light reflection, and it'll be spooky in there.' He pointed. 'Over there it will rise up twenty feet – down thirty, so you'll have to climb up then rope back down.'
'Be good for the cave rescue boys, ' I said.
'The water level can be varied as well, so cave divers can use it for training. Should have people from all over.'
I pointed to the left. 'More water stuff?'
'No, ' Jimmy said as we walked towards another trench. Halting at the edge of an area recently concreted over, he explained, 'Concrete patch on both sides, small ravine in the middle. They build small bridges from wood or scaffolding, get a wounded man on a stretcher across, two teams at a time, competing against each other. A lot of rope work.'
The assault course I recognised. Walking alongside it I commented, 'Not much of a challenge.' The highest barrier was no more than five feet and most obstacles possessed angled ramps.
'They'll do it in teams of five, one man on a stretcher.'
'Ah, now that'll hurt.' I pointed at the side of the nearest hangar, at a wall of scaffolding. 'Problems?'
'No, it's a climbing frame. You go up one side and across. They'll be a net, but also areas blocked off, some rope crossings. And when we're feeling particularly sadistic -'
'Do it with a man in a stretcher, ' I finished off. 'Ouch.'
With muddy shoes, we mounted up and headed back to the control tower. In the glass tower, we leant against walls and discussed outstanding work with Rolf and his colleague; the trenches and concrete were quick and simple, low cost as well, the Greenhouse would take longer.
'Greenhouse?' I queried. 'Tomatoes?'
With a smile, Jimmy said, 'No, African training – heat and bugs, a few animals.' Rolf pulled out a drawing for me.
The outer layers of the new building would be thick Perspex, two layers set about a foot apart so that any sunlight would heat-up the uncomfortable inhabitants. Under-floor heaters would do the rest. The sketch indicated animal pens, cages and water features, an area set aside for camping, complete with a chimney, sturdy wooden poles for hammocks to hang off. It also possessed a mist-sprinkler system to keep the unlucky inhabitants wet and miserable for their stay.
Jimmy explained, 'We'll stick people in there for a weekend and see how they cope. Hammock making, washing in the pond, cooking, bugs all over the place, heat overbearing. If they crap-out here they'll freak in Zaire. And all night they listen to randy tree frogs; we'll put just males in there.'
The final building that we inspected was destined to be a garage and motor pool, as well as a training centre for drivers and mechanics. At the moment it was a patch of grass with pegs and string. We ducked into the AMO building, the building rented to the First Aid instructors very cheaply, and met some of the staff. With grins they told us they'd had a new delivery and led us to the largest classroom.
'Ah, Frankenstein's monster, ' I realised, the dummy from Medical Physics, Cardiff. This was the advance prototype.
They switched it on, checked fluid pressures and then directed me towards the naked, yet life-like Eunuch. I felt the skin, not that convinced, poked and squeezed limbs. They seemed about right. I poked the stomach, which seemed quite human, then lifted a leg and bent the knee.
'Take a pulse, ' a man said.
I took a radial pulse. 'Rapid and shallow.'
'You know your stuff. Now a femoral pulse.'
I jabbed my finger into the groin, finding a pulse on one side but not the other. 'Is it broken?'
'No. So what's your diagnosis?'
I made a face. 'Crushed pelvis, left side, going into shock.'
'He's not stupid, ' the man said toward Jimmy. He closed in on me. 'We can practice intubation, giving injections, taking blood, all sorts of diagnosis scenarios. But we haven't stabbed or shot it yet, a bit pricey for that.'
'Yes, ' Jimmy firmly agreed. 'But when this is obsolete you can practise stitching.'
'We've shown it to the local fire brigade, the ambulance staff and some doctors, and they were amazed. Some even want to use it now.'
'Let them, ' Jimmy ordered. 'More the better, we'll get our monies worth. The cadets as well, and St. John's Ambulance.'
'We going to sell it worldwide?' I asked.
'Eventually. Next one goes out to Kenya.'
With a grin, the AMO man said, 'Fucking officials at the airport will freak, especially if you leave the pump running.'
'You'll have to Pay First class for it!' another man joked.
Walking down to the apron, Jimmy took over the Huey. I sat left seat, Big Paul and Ricky in the rear. Jimmy didn't hold a current license, so this was a risk. I did hold a license, but was not allowed to teach; so all round it was a naughty escapade. He started it without a problem, wound up the rotor speed and lifted off, skimming the ground and gaining altitude, turning around the hangars, finally executing a rolling stop on the grass.
'You should formalise the paperwork, ' I said through the headsets.
I nudged Jimmy to move it a few yards, onto the concrete. That way the aircrews could wheel it away. 'Sloppy parking.'
Ratcheting things up
Keen to keep Ratchet and Spanner happy, and on board, we returned to Mawlini six weeks after offering to fund them. Jimmy explained to me that he wanted to keep them at the base for at least a year, so we would have to try and drag things out. We landed with Cosy, Jimmy right seat and me uncomfortable in the back. Not uncomfortable because of any lack of space, but because I was not at the controls.
Mac greeted us in a Land Rover on the apron, a Russian Mi2 helicopter parked nearby, white UN colours. 'They're out flying, be back soon.' He took us to their new building, Cosy off delivering supplies. "Rescue Force Kenya" the sign said, the letters wrapped around the logo, now with a red cross in the background. The lower letters were Latin: "FOSSOR QUOD VIR."
'What's that mean?' I asked Mac.
'Fools and heroes, ' Jimmy replied as we stood on the sand waiting.
'Not that inspiring for beginners, ' I complained, Mac agreeing with me.
'It's perfect, ' Jimmy explained. 'Since we want neither fools, nor heroes, but both.'
'A fireman is foolish to rush into a burning building, a hero when he comes out.'
'That's clever, ' Mac agreed as the distinctive sound of a Huey caused us to turn our heads. Whoever was flying came in fast, flared up and around, landing quickly and smoothly. 'That'll be Ratchet. He's shit hot, a natural.'
Five minutes later the pair stepped down from a jeep, sunglasses and baseball caps, and looking cool. Flying lessons will do that to you, and I remembered my own transformation.
'Right, boss, ' Spanner offered, a round of handshakes given.
They showed us inside, not that the door had been locked. The interior was cool, neat desks and neat paperwork squared off to the desk edges, a third man sat at a desk and dressed in a white uniform with the shoulder logo. The man, in his late twenties, stood as we entered.
'Beer, mate?' he asked me, clearly an Aussie.
'Never say no, ' I responded.
He shook my hand. 'Clive Dunnow.'
'Clive ... dunno your last name?' I puzzled.
'If I had a dollar, ' he sighed. 'Naw, mate. Dunnow, "w" on the end.'
Spanner said, 'Clive's a paramedic; he was Army in Oz. He flies a Cessna and he's got thousands of miles of jeep driving under his belt.'
Jimmy closed in on the man, a hand extended.
'Fucking hell, mate. What'd your mother feed you on?' Dunnow asked.
'Kiwis, ' Jimmy responded, making Dunnow smile. 'Oh, and welcome to the team, I guess.'
'Thanks, boss. Two more of us around about someplace.'
'The bar ... perhaps?' Jimmy teased.
'Naw, mate, not in the daytime. Least not before 3pm.'
'If we're going to have a board meeting, let's do it in a breeze, ' Jimmy suggested, so we drove around to the hotel, and climbed up to the rooftop bar. Settling around a table, we sat partly under a Fanta shade and accepted cold beers, Jimmy thanking the waiter in his local tongue.
'Fellas said you spoke a few languages, ' Dunnow noted.
'It would be rude not to, ' Jimmy suggested. 'So, how's progress?'
Ratchet began, 'We hired the mad Aussie here, plus a Brit doctor and a Dutch lady nurse built like a tank.'
'Not Anna?' I asked.
'No, this one's called Hildy, ' Ratchet replied with a grin. 'And Cosy says Anna has gone all slim and muscles, lost the pounds.'
'And Anna is German, ' Jimmy corrected me. 'Got any jeeps?'
'Got two good ones, think there are two more near Nairobi, should get 'em at a good price. We're fixing air intake pipes up the roof, proper roof-racks, extra spare tyre.'
'Good, ' Jimmy responded. 'How's the flying coming along?'
Mac put in, slapping Ratchet on the shoulder, 'Ratchet will pass first go. There's a chief instructor down in Nairobi when he's ready.'
'I'll get there too, ' Spanner quietly insisted.
'Then make sure you've both got a PPL and checked out on Cessna, they're common around here, ' Jimmy suggested.
'That Russian helo's a bit of a beasty, ' Dunnow said. 'I've had a look inside.'
'But reliable when treated right, ' Jimmy put in. 'Good Russian engineering. So, what's this doc' good at?'
Ratchet answered, swiping away flies, 'He's thirty-five, a specialist in tropical medicines, and has already spent a lot of time down here. We found him finishing a charity contract in Tanzania. The nurse was with him, both out of work. They don't need any Africa training, and they're good with jeeps.'
'Get the doc' on a Cessna if he wants to have a go, ' Jimmy said.
'He showed some interest, ' Mac put in.
'They're probably over Doc Adam's place, ' Ratchet suggested. 'They help out a few hours a day.'
'So should you, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Keep your hand in, stay fresh.'
They nodded their agreement.
I asked, 'What about navigation, you up on that?'
'Better now, ' Ratchet admitted. 'What with all the flying nav' and all.'
Mac put in, smiling, 'I design courses for them, test each of them. They only got lost a few times.'
'Been teaching them ordnance?' I asked.
'Aye, they're coming along, but just a few hours a week.'
Jimmy faced Mac. 'Why not set up a one-week trip for them, down to the village on the border of my land. Navigation, medical tent set-up, one day surgery, next village and back. Then the same for Tanzania. Let's get them used to trips of that nature.'
'Repeat it in a Cessna, ' I suggested. 'Then the Huey.'
'If we can get all that done, we're almost there, ' Jimmy enthused. 'But let's make sure that everyone knows a Chinese pineapple grenade from an AK47, huh?'
'We get some time at your hotels, boss?' Dunnow risked.
'Of course you can.' Jimmy faced Mac again. 'If they complete the test trips successfully they get week at each place, but not together – just groups of two.'
The doctor and his assistant stepped out and toward us. Yes, I considered, she was built like a tank. We stood and greeted them, Jimmy exchanging pleasantries with the nurse in Dutch before we pulled over chairs for them.
'What's up, doc?' I said. The doctor, Doc Graham, was tall and thin, fair-haired, looking to me the public school type.
'Just delivered a baby, actually, ' he replied in a posh accent.
'Another frigging Somali?' Mac nudged with some attitude, earning a glance from Jimmy.
'Third this week; quite a camp building up.'
Jimmy faced Mac. Firmly, he said, 'Mac, hire some labourers and put up a few buildings four hundred yards beyond Doc Adam's and encourage the Somalis to use them, I don't want them straddling the road or nestling against our fence. Then move those near our fence. Don't be afraid to marshal them, get the UN involved. If we're going to help them, then let's get them orderly. Get Cosy on it.'
'Aye, ' Mac reluctantly agreed.
After sipping his beer, Jimmy asked Mac, 'Any progress on the border?'
'They started the fence, whole fucking half a mile of it.'
'Keep pushing them, ' Jimmy encouraged. 'Spend some money. Get Rudd on it if you need to, he's got more time now.'
'Might I ask, ' Doc Graham begin, 'why you spend so much money around here, yet have a problem with Somalis crossing the border?'
'I'll help Kenyans in Kenya, Somalis in Somalia. But when large populations start drifting to places with fuck all resources everyone suffers. How much water is there here for them?' He left the question floating. 'If there are gunmen terrorising villages ten miles inside their border then I'd rather deal with the problem over there, not refugees over here.'
'How would you deal with the gunmen?' the Doc pressed.
'I've a feeling that Somalia will disintegrate. When it does, no one will object to a buffer zone and a refugee camp on their side of the border. I'll fix camps over there and send the Kenyan Rifles after the gunmen.' He sipped his beer. 'What you have to keep in mind about Africa, is that often a couple of hundred rebels cause a million refugees to flee their homes. I can pay for a million refugees, or I can shoot the fuck out of a few hundred idiots with AK47s instead of cocks – at a fraction of the price.'
'You have a strange way of looking at it, ' Doc Graham noted.
'I have the correct way, the other way causes more misery and cost, ' Jimmy insisted. 'In Zaire you have ten gunmen on a hillside terrorising a thousand people in the villages below. Ten gunmen are cheap to dispatch, helping a thousand displaced people is costly.'
'Seems fair enough, ' Dunnow suggested.
'Treat the cause, not the symptom, ' Doc Graham agreed.
Jimmy continued, 'There are large areas of the Congo, sorry Zaire, that are like the Wild West, and we can't get in and help because of a dozen idiots with guns. My aim is to deal with the idiots and help the people at the same time. The UN will just help the people near them, whilst hoping the gunmen get bored and go home.'
'They're not much of a deterrent, ' Doc Graham admitted. 'When do you think you'll send us into Zaire?'
'When I know you'll come back out.'
'I can't argue with that, ' Doc Graham approved.
'Fucking right, ' Dunnow agreed.
Jimmy turned his head a notch to Mac. 'Kenyan Rifles?'
'First twenty are shit hot; wees got some at your safari park at the moment. They got their own jeeps, and they navigate OK.'
'Fine. When this lot do a week's trip - send four Rifles with them, one NCO. See how they work together.'
'We get our own bodyguards, ' Dunnow approved.
I asked Mac, 'How many recruits in the Rifles?'
'Thirty something. Bit tight till we finish their barracks.'
'Send the existing lads out somewhere, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Get them used to border patrol and sleeping rough. So, anyone need anything?'
'We're still awaiting some decent medical kits, ' Doc Graham suggested. 'Equipment for minor field surgery.'
'Deal with Rudd directly, ' Jimmy told him. 'He knows all the suppliers down here, he can get us a good deal – paid for or otherwise.' We laughed. 'If you want anything from the UK then fax Paul and we'll send it out via airfreight. Gentlemen, I don't mind spending money, I do mind pissing about. There's plenty of talent here, so let's get organised.' He faced Mac. 'Kick Rudd's cage; I don't care about the golf complex, but I do care about this. Right, have a drink, we'll eat together later. Mac, Paul.' He stood.
Away from the gang, we stood and took in the view. 'Mac, I don't like Somalis any more than you do, perhaps even a bit less, and the way the fighting's going over there ... they'll be a million of them crossing the border. Hire some staff, delegate, move the refugees to where they can be helped best, corral them, and fix that fucking border before we're knee deep in refugees and getting nothing else done.'
'Fucking Somalis ain't what I signed up for, ' Mac complained.
'I know, and I want you back on training, so get Rudd and Cosy on it - it's their problem. Hire a refugee co-ordinator for Doc Adam. Hell, stick the person in his office and get him involved. Then we can all do what we're good at, yes?'
'Aye, I'm no good as a fucking diplomat, nor babysitter.'
'We appreciate you, ' I told Mac, handing him a few thousand dollars.
Jimmy told him, 'Don't be afraid to kick some arse, you're taking too much on yourself. Keep overall control – you're the boss – but delegate more, yeah.'
Mac pointed to the road. 'You can see where the damn road is by the huts along the side. Never used to be able to make out where it was for all the sand.'
'Get some barbed wire, ' Jimmy suggested.
'About three hundred miles worth, ' Jimmy coldly stated. 'Ask Rudd for a shit load. And I mean ... a shit load of it.'
We walked across the camp and to the Flying Doctors' hut. As we progressed, scuffing through the sand, I remembered being able to see right across the camp, the Old Dogs huts a small oasis in sea of sand. Now we had to stop and find our bearings amongst the huts. I knocked and we entered.
'Jimmy!' the man called as he stood. Slightly overweight, balding and red-cheeked, his tatty green flight suit said "Tubby". They shook hands.
'This is my business partner, Paul.'
I shook the man's hand. 'I knew a Tubby once, the Dorset Tubby's.'
He laughed like a drunken Santa. 'I like you - you're rude. Come, sit, have a beer.'
'Don't drink and fly, I hope, ' I teased as we sat around a cluttered desk.
'Only at night. Then it doesn't matter if you hit the ground!'
I raised an eyebrow. This man was a fly by the seat of your pants cliché in the flesh.
Jimmy testily asked, 'Getting any work done?'
'We go with the UN team three times a week, or they get pissed off.'
'Let them, recruit a few more flyers, ' Jimmy insisted. 'I'll increase your budget. Get another Cessna, but I want you helping out the Rescue Force staff.'
'They have a nice budget, deep pockets, ' Tubby grumbled.
'So could you, when you start proving your worth to me, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Start taking some of them with you on trips, get them some experience.'
'As you see fit ... he with deep pockets.'
'Where's your better half?' Jimmy asked.
'She who must be obeyed ... is fixing a leaky Cessna in Nairobi.'
Jimmy faced me. 'This drunken old twat may not look it, but he has more hours on Cessna's than me. And he's a doctor, although you'd want to check his license.'
Tubby laughed. 'It was your charm that first attracted me to you!'
'I thought Jimmy said it was the offer of a job for an out of work bum?' I asked.
'Well, that as well, ' Tubby said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Jimmy told me, 'Tubby is old school, he can hear what's wrong with a Cessna, and fix it better than most mechanics. He's wasted as a doctor.'
A squeal caused me look over my shoulder, finding two pups in a basket. I lifted one out. 'They look like Spaniels.'
'More ... or less. The father's pedigree is ... not known. Although Mac denies it.'
We laughed as I placed the pup down.
'You knew Mac before?' I asked.
'Flew in a few times, although not by choice. Landed up the road once and taxied down here. Still, it gave the locals something to talk about, blew the dust out of their shacks. And now Mac is lord of all he surveys, thanks to you pair.'
'We're just getting warmed up, ' I told him.
He eyed me carefully, easing back. 'We dropped in on the orphanage - me and the dear lady wife - to see what all the fuss was about. And may I say ... what the fuck?'
'We don't do things in half measures, ' I said.
'Twenty million, on an orphanage?'
We did not correct him on the figures. I said, 'It's all tax deductible.'
'So, anything you need?' Jimmy asked.
'Besides a cooler climate? No. For once I can say that we are over- supplied with what we need, and your man Cosy is painfully helpful. But... ' He raised a finger. 'But you might consider a bigger plane, us and the UN whingers going out together, not following each other like Zeros attacking Corsairs.'
'Something like a Dash-7?' Jimmy suggested.
'Just like it, ' Tubby enthused. 'There's a second hand one in Nairobi, they want a hundred and seventy-five grand.'
'Must have a lot of hours for that price, ' I scoffed.
'No, they're just a bit ... broke. Bit of a ... closing down sale.'
'Ask Cosy to buy it, get yourself a certificate on it, ' Jimmy ordered. 'But I want it available for my lot to do a few trips.'
'It'll be your plane, ' Tubby emphasised.
'But I like to ... delegate, ' Jimmy carefully pronounced. We stood. 'Join us for food later.'
'I never refuse a good meal.'
'Just don't start wearing a red flight suit and a white beard, ' I suggested, Tubby laughing loudly.
Tubby became one of my favourite characters, a real flyer, and with a name like Winston Hiddcup we all stuck to Tubby. He took me up and taught me things that were not in the manual, and probably for good reason. He altered the engine beyond the manufacturer's guidelines, and the planes flew better. Winston was also the only person to approach Nairobi with a call sign instead of his aircraft's proper designation: 'Tubby to Nairobi tower, over.' And, most amusing of all, he had a dozen parking tickets from the Kenyan police for landing repeatedly on Highway 44 North, to visit his favourite café. His Cessna proudly displayed speeding and parking tickets, all unpaid of course.
That evening we entertained thirty people at the rooftop bar, someone having fixed up a sign saying "Sandy View Nightclub". The food was always on us when we visited, so everyone turned out, many new faces. We ate for two hours before the tables were moved back, seats placed around the edges like a high school disco. The barman's assistant became the resident DJ and played music from the sixties and seventies, a forlorn glitter ball hanging off a pole and a handmade laser lightshow sending fingers of light toward the stars. I had to laugh at the absurdity of it.
Doc Adam turned up with three nurses, and seemed to be in a relationship with at least two of them. That surprised me as well. The Old Dogs were already merry and dancing like drunken fools, a bit strange for me to see them let their hair down, not that they had much hair. Doc Adam joined them, UN staff looking a little out of place dancing in their uniforms. The beer flowed freely as more UN staff turned up.
The UN staff normally ate downstairs, the hotel's restaurant now run by the UN, most of the rooms below taken by their staff, transient or otherwise. Some were now in civilian clothes, a few in uniform, UN baseball caps turned around. The staff brought out numerous punch bowls and I tried the concoction, figuring the glass I drank to be worth three vodkas. Like Jimmy, I didn't get drunk, the stems prevented that; you had to pack away enough alcohol for it to be medically unwise to be truly drunk. By 10pm the bar was packed, over sixty people. At one point Cosy beckoned me to the wall. He was flying off early and so drank little, but now pointed down towards the pool. On the grass we could see an arse going up and down, two sets of legs.
Jimmy appeared at my shoulder, peering down with a grin. 'What you have to keep in mind ... is that most of this lot have very stressful and unpleasant day jobs. They live in a desert, heat and flies all day, trying to help people they can't save, burying babies every day. If they didn't let off steam like this they'd go mad.'
I understood, but I had never experienced such revelry amongst doctors and senior staff. Even the Russian pilots were pissed and dancing. Bob Davies put in an appearance, sober, and chatted with us, retiring without having drunk too much. Two Kenyan Rifles, enlisted men, turned up and stood by the door, Cosy explaining that they were the bouncers, to stop people from hurting each other, too much, and to put people to bed; they were paid twenty dollars extra each.
A roar built up quickly over the sound of the Beatles and I looked up as a Cessna flew so low over the bar it lifted the UN flag. The crazy pilot banked hard, lining up with the runway - the landing lights now on, and touched down smoothly. Ten minutes later Tubby's wife joined us.
'Nice landing, ' I quipped, my words drowned out by the Bay City Rollers.
'This disco is bloody marvellous, ' she said, accepting a drink. 'You can see it from ten miles out. Even the UN pilots line up on it.'
We all laughed, and I had to laugh at the absurdity of it.
Tubby said, 'She lands with the lights off sometimes, she's done it so often.'
By midnight a few patrons were sleeping in corners, picked up and taken below in a well-practised routine. The Old Dogs were still going, but wrecked and incoherent. Doc Adam was dancing with his ladies, stem induced endurance, and our Rescue Force staff were now in varying states of stupor, Doc Graham and the Dutch lady tank seemingly in a relationship. I had learnt a lot in a few short hours, speaking with everyone and getting to know something about them all. Still, I was never completely comfortable with the debauchery. By 1.30am the bar staff were ready to go home, the music turned off, the sleeping, crawling and wobbling patrons eased below by the bouncers. The Old Dogs were carried out, one UN man getting punchy with the Rifles. That was bad move; they were not just built, but as fast as lightning. They subdued the man and put him to bed as Jimmy cleaned up.
I joined him, picking up broken glass and bottles. 'Well, that went well.'
'Don't judge them, they live in hell itself, ' Jimmy suggested.
With everyone gone, a night guard now on duty, we sat and finished the punch, finding someone's watch at the bottom of the bowl.
'This lot working tomorrow?' I grumbled.
'No, half day tomorrow, special occasion.'
'You mean ... we're visiting, ' I complained.
'Yep, bit of an event around here, not that they need an excuse.'
'A bit surprising, ' I admitted, glancing up at the stars, my ears still ringing from the music. 'They're mostly doctors.'
'And still human. They deal with death every day, and for fuck all pay. You need to be more understanding with them.'
'Doc Adam seemed to have his hands full?'
'Yes, he's a bit of lad now. Got an ex-wife and three kids in Nairobi as well. Still, he puts in fourteen hours a day minimum without grumbling, so can't fault him.'
The next morning the base was quiet and we made good use of the peace to wander around and check things out. The Rifles were up and about early and we joined them for breakfast, making each man feel appreciated, Jimmy talking to most of them, many in their native tongue. Most recognised him and greeted him like a relative. We inspected the foundations for their new camp, discussing the layout with the officers, before accepting an invitation to join a jeep patrol to the border.
Just under an hour of dusty road and burning heat brought us to the much talked about border, a solitary group of workmen in attendance, a line of Somalis walking down the road towards us. The Rifles NCO informed us that the refugees cut the fence as soon as it was repaired; there were not enough patrols yet. Seeing the state of the refugees I felt sorry for them, a little guilty about our fencing-building efforts here. And I wondered how they made it to the airfield on foot, women and children walking in the heat, many of the women pregnant. If we wanted to slow the human tide here we'd have to spend some serious money. And putting down barbed wire to slow up pregnant women with kids did not sit well with me.
'Why don't we put a clinic over there?' I grumbled, pointing across to Somalia.
'OK. What else?' Jimmy nudged.
'A camp, some water?'
'And what will stop the gunmen from terrorising the refugees ... and our staff?'
'We'd need the Rifles over there, ' I suggested.
'Doubt they'd get permission, not yet, ' Jimmy suggested. He pointed to a flat area behind us. 'We'll stick a camp there, a fence around it, a border crossing here. The water table is not too bad for drilling wells.'
Back at camp, I was dying for a beer, finding Bob Davies having lunch at the rooftop bar, the place now cleaned and as good as new.
'Good night?' Bob asked as we joined him.
'Didn't drink much, ' I lied.
'No, you two were up early, the rest are taking it easy.'
Jimmy told Bob Davies, 'I'm going to start doing something to help the Somalis here. A camp behind Doc Adam's, another near the border.'
'It is getting busy around here, ' Bob agreed. 'But if you stick a camp on the border you'll accelerate the process, encouraging them to head for somewhere safe.'
'They'll come eventually ... of their own accord, ' Jimmy insisted. 'Better we plan for it ahead of time.'
'The UN won't help until after the camps are up, you know that, ' Bob cautioned.
Jimmy nodded. 'Has to be done, or they'll hang around the gate asking for handouts.'
A Cessna flew low over the bar, banked hard and landed.
'Tubby's wife?' I asked.
'No, that's Cosy, ' Jimmy suggested. 'He went and fetched Rudd early, save Mac barking at him.'
With Bob's lunch finished he headed off to do some work, Cosy and Rudd joining us ten minutes later.
'Good flight?' I asked Rudd, slapping an insect on the back of my neck and wiping my hand in my already grubby shirt.
'Yah, no problems, clear skies, ' Rudd answered. 'I take over sometimes when Cosy wants a sleep.' Cosy shot him a look.
We settled them, ordering drinks and food, the Fanta shade cooling us.
'Right, ' Jimmy began. 'We need to tackle the Somali problem here, before it becomes a big problem. Rudd, I want half a million pounds worth of barbed wire.'
'Jesus. I just ordered fifty thousand pounds worth, and I thought that would make you shout at me.'
'We'll use it, all of it.' Jimmy produced a map of the area. With a pencil he marked a square behind Doc Adam's clinic. 'I want an area four hundred yards square made into a camp – tents and buildings, toilets and water wells. Enough tents for five thousand. Then I want you moving people from the huts along the road into the tents and buildings. Oh, and recruit a refugee co-ordinator for Doc Adam. Tell the Kenyans after you've done it.'
'They won't be happy, ' Rudd suggested. 'It may make the Somalis look like permanent residents.'
'I don't care, ' Jimmy carefully mouthed. 'Next, as the road here touches the border I want another camp set-up, fenced off, tents for ten thousand to start.'
'My God, ' Rudd let out. 'You think that many will cross the border?'
'Yep, trouble is heating up over there.'
'What budget for this?' Rudd asked.
'Price it up step by step, then fax us. Start with drilling equipment, get water flowing at the border, then every twenty miles from there to here.' Jimmy eased back and sipped his beer as Rudd and Cosy exchanged looks.
'How's the golf complex?' I asked Rudd.
'Making a profit, ' Rudd answered, as if that was a surprising fact.
Jimmy ordered, 'Give the manager of the golf complex more responsibilities for the other hotels, let him earn his bloody keep, and free yourself up. Cosy, handle the orphanage. Rudd, you take a step back on that. And the safari lodge manager can handle things there well enough. For the next month I want the Somali issue top of your list.'
'Kenyan Government will need to be spoken to, ' Rudd cautioned.
Jimmy offered Rudd a flat palm. 'If we do nothing ... what happens to the refugees here? They'll drift across Kenya. I'll deal with the Government when the time comes. We do first, we ask later.'
'Tubby is going to buy a Dash-7 plane in Nairobi, ' I told Rudd. He made a note. 'It'll be used for everyone, and make a more comfortable ride up here for you two.'
'Should I cross-train to it?' Cosy asked. 'I have a twin engine license.'
'Yes, ' Jimmy agreed. 'When Tubby does his training. Double up, save on costs, we've got some barbed wire to buy.'
'How many Rescue Force staff we aiming at?' I asked.
'Ten, to start, ' Jimmy answered. Facing Rudd he said, 'Keep the recruitment going, we'll send them off to do something useful soon. Get more uniform jackets made up.'
Mac stepped into the bar and over to us, appearing unwell, and looking a little sheepish. 'Er ... need me for anything today?' he croaked.
'No, take it easy, ' Jimmy responded. 'I've brought these two up to date on what we need, you kick back.'
The barman called for Mac, holding the phone. When he returned Mac said, 'There's some Yanks here to see you.'
'Shit, ' Jimmy softly let out, his head lowered. 'They're ahead of schedule.' Lifting his head, he said, 'Mac, go arm yourself, get the Rifles here with weapons.'
Cosy jumped up. 'I have two weapons in my room below.'
'Go, ' Jimmy ordered.
'Problem?' Rudd nervously asked as Mac grabbed the phone.
'CIA, ' Jimmy responded, a glance towards me. 'This does not involve you, nor should you worry. I own a salvage company that helped the British Government recover a wreck, without telling the Americans. Now they're pissed.'
I wondered what the hell he was talking about, but Rudd was deflected from the truth for the moment. And what truth was that, I found myself wondering. Did the CIA know about our supposed link to Magestic? And which version of the truth did they know?
Jimmy told Rudd, 'Go about your business, we'll talk later.' Rudd headed downstairs. When Mac returned Jimmy said, 'Depending on how this meeting goes, you may be out of a job. Sit in the corner and come over when I signal you.'
Cosy re-appeared with two pistols, one handed to Mac and tucked into a shirt, then directed to sit with Mac. When the Rifles appeared, Jimmy told them to wait on the floor below, out of sight, and wait his signal via the barman, exchanging many words in a local dialect. Five minutes later, with just the two of us sat at a table, four men stepped into the bar. The first two were in their late forties and had an air of confidence about them, if not arrogance. The second two were clearly bodyguards, and all wore sunglasses and baseball caps. The bodyguards remained at the door whilst the other two stepped purposefully forwards.
The first man stopped at our table, taking off his sunglasses. 'Mind if we sit, Mister Silo?'
'Not at all, Mister Potomo. Beer?'
The two men sat, smiling widely. 'You guys are good, real good. You knew we were coming.'
The second man took off his glasses, offering us a smug grin. 'And what's my name?'
Jimmy eased back and studied the man, as if perhaps he didn't know. 'What was it that Mister Potomo's ex-wife called you during sex? Bot Boy?'
The men stopped smiling for just a second.
'He's good, ' the second man said. 'But we don't have any secrets.'
Drinks were placed down, Jimmy exchanging many words with the waiter in a local dialect.
'You speak the lingo, ' Potomo approved. 'Must have been down here a long time. Your passport don't say that, though.'
'I'm a quick study, ' Jimmy said with a forced grin. He sipped his beer. 'Now, what can I do for you nice gentlemen?'
'We figured you'd already know. We figured you'd get a letter, ' Bot Boy said, sneering. For the most part, I was trying to figure out what the nickname signified in sexual slang – other than the obvious.
'They should never have sent amateurs to do a professional's job, ' Jimmy said to himself, looking away.
'Probably short of staff, ' I helpfully put in.
The men stopped smiling.
'Why don't you get to the point, ' Jimmy finally nudged.
Potomo said, 'We know you get tips for the financial markets, so now you'll co-operate with us.'
Jimmy slowly nodded to himself. 'And when you signed out of the Embassy, you said you were ... what, heading to Tanzania for the day?' The men glanced at each other, concerned. 'They won't know where to search for you, boys.'
'You must think you're better connected than you are, ' Potomo coldly stated.
'You should have brought bodyguards with you, ' I lightly suggested. The men glanced over their shoulders, their two security men gone. 'Can't get the staff these days.'
'Look over the wall, ' Jimmy suggested after a long slurp of his beer, thumbing towards the front wall.
After a few seconds hesitation, Potomo got up and stepped over to the wall, glancing down. Mac did likewise, laughing. The two guards were stripped naked and pegged out in the dirt, held at gunpoint by the Rifles. Potomo was not a happy bunny on his return. 'You're fucking with the wrong people.'
'Funny, ' Jimmy began, 'I was going to say the same thing to you.' He glanced towards Mac, pistols in the necks of our visitors a second later.
'Over the side?' Mac asked.
'That would be rude, ' Jimmy responded as four Rifles burst out, weapons cocked and pointed at our guests. Jimmy sipped his beer slowly. Calmly, he said, 'Mac, kindly remove these gentlemen's clothes, put them in their jeep, remove any spare clothes from the jeep – as well as sunglasses and hats, any water, phones, and then send them on their way.'
Mac dragged one man away, Cosy the other, the men of the Rifles following close behind.
'We ... got a problem?' I asked.
'Smoat at MI5 wants payback, he tipped them off.' He took a breath. 'Not to worry, they won't reach Nairobi.' With me watching, and now very concerned, Jimmy grabbed the bar phone and made a lengthy call. Returning, he said, 'Sorry about that, but I had expected that incident to happen in a few more months. I must be getting old.'
'Does it turn out OK?' I asked, still concerned.
Jimmy nodded, unconcerned.
Mac and Cosy returned ten minutes later. 'What was all that about?' Mac asked.
'The nice gentlemen from the CIA wanted to put a small base here, staging their planes for operations towards Yemen and Somali.'
'Like fuck, ' Mac said. 'I ain't playing with those fuckers.'
'My thoughts exactly, and I told them nicely before that we were not interested.'
The Rifles officer appeared and stepped over. 'Was there a security problem, Mister Silo?' he asked, concerned for us.
Mac told him, 'They're American; CIA. They want to put a base here.'
'Here? Americans? I have not heard of permission for this.'
'They will not get permission, ' Jimmy insisted. 'I will talk with your Government, so don't worry about it. But I do not like rude men.'
'We sent them packing, ' the officer approved.
With just the two of us remaining, I said, 'Different story for Rudd?'
'He's not stupid, and Cosy will read between the lines. Rudd needs a story that he can accept. Go see if you can find him.'
I went and fetched Rudd from reception. Sitting, Rudd said, 'You stripped them naked and sent them off. They'll be problems?'
'No, I'll talk with their bosses, strike a deal to keep the peace, ' Jimmy suggested. 'The people here think that the CIA want a base here.'
'Do they?' Rudd questioned.
'If they did ... I would move out, ' Jimmy insisted. 'No, that was just a story for people less experienced than your good self.'
'What is this salvage stuff?' Rudd asked, reclaiming his beer.
'I have a boat, a salvage crew, former British Navy divers.'
'We've had some successes, ' I put in. 'Found a wreck off Cyprus with a lot of gold in it.'
'But we helped the British Government recover a wreck in the Caribbean, the Americans wanting a cut. I told them to go talk to the UK Government, but they hassle me still.'
'We'll have to give them some gold, ' I helpfully put in.
Jimmy nodded. 'We'll keep them quiet.'
Rudd seemed placated. 'Are there wrecks here?'
'Here? Africa?' Jimmy asked, making a face. 'Never heard of any. Most are in the Caribbean; old Mexican gold heading for Spain.'
'Must be exciting to dive for it, ' Rudd admitted, sounding jealous. 'And I think these men will have an interesting four hour journey to Nairobi, especially stopping for petrol.'
'They won't come back, ' Jimmy suggested. 'I hope so, anyway. Don't worry about it.'
Later that night we received a call from Skids, Potomo's jeep now in Tanzania and outside a brothel. Jimmy put in a call to Jack in London, a message for Sykes about Smoat. We packed our bags and headed to the runway at dawn, our jeep pulling up behind a UN plane, an Antonov with its blades turning, no sign of our Cessna, or of Cosy.
'Catching a lift, are we?' I puzzled, shouting over the noise of the engines, the backwash bathing us is in an aviation fuel scented wind.
'Detour. Come on, ' Jimmy shouted.
We boarded the plane, Bob Davies exchanging a few words with Jimmy before he got off.
I strapped in as the aircraft took off and turned northeast. 'Where we heading?'
'Oh. Where the fuck's that?'
'Gulf. It's a stop over to Afghanistan.'
'Afghanistan?' I queried. 'Where the Russians were?'
I sat back. 'Oh.'
'It's got to be done on the quiet, we can't have people knowing our intentions.'
At altitude, the Russian pilot came back and thanked us greatly for our hospitality. Remembering how much this guy liked to drink, and the state he got in, I was not confident about our chances of reaching Dohar. Many of the UN staff wandered up and greeted us, and we got plenty of cold food on the four-hour flight, but it was not British Airways, a constant vibration in my feet and bum. We got off for the refuelling at Dohar, the UN staff all disembarking and just a handful of fresh faces boarding. The pilots also changed, two Pakistanis taking over. We set off for Afghanistan, Jimmy sat reading a book on Pushtan, whatever that was. He could not brief me because of the people sat near.
We landed in the dark at some place called Khandahar, Jimmy explaining that the area around the airfield was full of land mines, so no wandering about. He handed me papers that explained just who we were in the local language, a type of Arabic script, plus letters from the UN. I tucked them away securely. Stepping down with our luggage I noticed very few lights on at the terminal building, a line of three UN jeeps waiting. And a real chill in the air. Our jeep was the last one, a local driver and a man with an AK47 strapped across his chest. Jimmy greeted them in some local dialect, sounding similar to the Arabic I was learning, and we set off.
'Be there in time for food, ' Jimmy assured me. 'Our meeting is all set- up with the Taliban leaders.'
I remembered the name, something to do with The Brotherhood, and I seriously hoped he knew what the hell he was doing. We trundled along poorly maintained roads with no illumination other than the vehicle's headlights, my mind on Russian landmines, twenty minutes to a city where the houses and shops were lit, but not the streetlamps. Slowing and turning, we negotiated a set of high gates, guards shining torches in our faces and inspecting us at length, followed by a second set of gates before we pulled up in front of a civic building that had seen better days, many armed men milling around, all wearing long grey robes and cloth hats. There was much flapping of hands and shouting at our arrival. We left the luggage in the jeep and stepped forwards, frisked at length. Finally we were ushered inside, walking along a marbled floor towards an inner room.
'Do as I do, ' Jimmy said.
Jimmy stepped inside when beckoned, slipping off his shoes. I copied. He took off his jacket, retrieving a bundle of papers first, and hung it up. I did likewise. He let out a long sentence, but I did not try and copy, my sweaty socks now chilling my feet on the marble floor. We stood at the edge of an oblong room with a blue carpet laid out in the centre, two dozen men sat crossed legged around it, and were directed forwards, my cold feet padding across cool marble. Sitting down, we both struggled to get crossed legged, and the rest of this would be out of my hands.
Jimmy opened with a few words, much gesturing with his arms before switching to English, a local translating for the elder men at the top of the carpet. 'I come from England with greetings. I know that your people are suffering from the Russian invasion, and I can help.' He passed forwards a brochure for Johnson's factory in Cardiff, illustrating the artificial limbs. It caused a stir.
A question was passed along, finally translated for us. 'How many can you send to us?'
'How many do you want?' Jimmy asked.
That caused a bit of confusion and much debate. Finally the translator said, 'There are thousands of people with one leg.'
'Then I will send thousands.'
That was re-translated, and again caused a stir. As the debate echoed around the room, Jimmy passed up the other sheets, photographs of Africans undergoing mine training.
'I can send experts to clear the mines, the latest equipment.'
His words were translated, the sheets examined as food was placed down on silver plates. The bread looked similar to that which our local curry house served, and they even seemed to have a type of popadom, many small cups of white or green paste laid out for us. Jimmy had not touched the food yet, so I dutifully waited. When the headman gestured towards the bread I copied Jimmy in tearing bits off, dunking it into the paste and trying it. The bread was OK, the white paste a yoghurt, the green paste not unlike the mint at our local curry house. A brown paste was spicy, but nice enough, and I tucked in. Questions went back and forth, slowly translated, a hot broth brought out, everyone having a small china bowl of it. Again we dipped the bread in.
At one point the translator asked a question, 'Why do you wish to help us?'
Jimmy answered, 'A young man cares for his family. An old man has learned to care for his tribe, not just his family. A great man cares for those he has not yet met.'
It again caused a stir and much debate, a few of the wrinkled old faces smiling back at us. Ten minutes later the translator asked me if I was married. I said, 'I am still practising, ' getting a quick glance from Jimmy.
It was translated, causing much amusement. Even the old boy at the top found it funny. A translation came back down, 'You Westerners make a very simple thing, very complicated.' And I wondered if they would marry me off at gunpoint to some local woman behind a veil, a sturdy woman with black pointy teeth and facial tattoos.
At the end of the meal we were thanked, and thanked them for seeing us, Jimmy saying that the first batch of limbs would be sent inside a month, and ten mine clearance staff would arrive with equipment, co- ordinated through the UN. My feet were chilled, the circulation gone as I tried to get my shoes back on. We bowed and waved, backing out and to our waiting jeep, soon back at the airport, then to our Antonov. The Pakistani pilots greeted us, the engines starting immediately. We greeted the UN staff, those sat closest, but did not recognise any of the faces, soon rattling down the runway and heading for Dohar.
'Went well enough, ' Jimmy suggested.
'The overland route would take a week. This way we're back before our presence here is noticed. Someone to see in Nairobi, then off to Zurich.'
We landed back in Nairobi as the sun set the following day, still in the clothes we started out in, and headed straight for our usual hotel. We had no reservation, but they found us rooms straight away. After a quick, and much needed shower, we changed, reclaiming our usual table at the rooftop bar, earnestly stuffing our faces. An hour later I felt back to normal.
'I don't think my bum will be same again, ' I complained. 'Fucking vibrations on that plane. Dunno how the pilots cope with it for long distance.'
'Before jet engines they were all like that, or worse.'
'So, we send limbs to Afghanistan, plus some mine boys from here... ?'
'Yep, for several years, building up a relationship. That way I can have some influence.'
I nodded. 'Who we meeting here? Rudd?'
'No, the boss of the two idiots, Potomo and company.'
I noticed Cosy sat in a corner. 'That Cosy?'
'Yes, ignore his presence, he's riding shotgun.'
'Oh. We expecting trouble?'
'Never can tell.'
'Who's the contact?'
'Ah, you mentioned him before down here. Alleged boss of Judy - that wasn't.'
Jimmy nodded. 'He has a part to play. I have to make the CIA think I'm just a pawn, and with a poor moral compass.'
I took in the quiet bar, not seeing anyone watching us. 'He supposed to turn up tonight?'
'Next few days, now that we're booked in. Kick back and wait.'
The next morning we made like tourists and sat on the sun loungers, swam up and down, sunbathed, had lunch, then beers at sunset; no sign of our contact, Cosy close by. The next day we repeated the exercise, no ladies of interest around the pool.
We were sat at a table eating, around 4pm, when a waiter called Jimmy to the phone. Returning, Jimmy said, 'He'll be here in five minutes. Just called to ask for a polite chat ... meaning he thinks we might shoot him.'
'Guess he's noticed that his boys are overdue by now, ' I commented.
'Four naked men were seen in a jeep, closer to here than the airfield, so no one can accuse our people at the airfield.'
Our man walked out, glancing around before spotting Jimmy and walking over. Tasker was silver haired, stocky and in his fifties. 'Pleasant spot, ' he said as he sat. 'Your local, I understand.'
Jimmy beckoned a waiter and ordered our guest a beer, finally adjusting his chair so that he faced Tasker. 'So, you're missing some men, I hear.'
'A very dangerous game ... for those involved, ' Tasker responded in a strong whisper.
'Very dangerous, ' Jimmy repeated. 'For those involved with unauthorised ops.'
'You're screwing with Uncle Sam, buddy. A bad move ... for anyone.'
'No, not Uncle Sam, just you and a few others, ' Jimmy countered. 'And one letter from Magestic to US Ambassador in London and you're in jail, old buddy.'
'I've got the evidence about you, that's my bargaining chip. That ... gives me a very strong hand.'
'You're working under a great misconception, Mister Tasker. So I'll spell it out for you. First, look over your left shoulder.'
Tasker did so. 'Is that ... Cosuir?'
'Yes, he's working for the British, a gun trained on you. Downstairs are two Mossad agents, two more gentlemen in a car outside.' Tasker looked less sure about himself as Jimmy continued, 'You see, the British and Israelis are well aware that I get Magestic letters, not least about the locations of buried treasure. And the Mossad agents caught in Baden Baden? They were sent there by me, the gold recovered to Israel. And you may have read about the salvage operation off the Isles of Scilly, a large haul of gold. That will go to the British Government. So you can see, my friend, that the various governments would not want anything to happen to their golden boy. If protecting me, and my tip-offs, means silencing you... ' He gave a large shrug.
Tasker remained silent for many seconds. After all, he had no way left to play his hand.
Jimmy said, 'Right now your life is not worth a phone call, nor nod of my head. I hope you realise that. But I have a use for you, it's not all doom and gloom.' He adjusted his chair. 'Listen carefully, because this is what you are ... going to do. First, you quit working for Uncle Sam. Second, you find a good underwater salvage team in Florida. Third, you contact me directly and I tell you where to find a certain wreck. You fetch it up, launder the money and pay me my part. If that goes well, you get a second wreck ... and so on. And these wrecks will net tens of millions in gold.'
'You don't need me for a salvage operation like that, ' Tasker pointed out, a questioning his tone.
'Ah, but I do. First, I need someone to ... shall we say, plug the leak. Those that know about me must be silenced.' Tasker glanced toward me. 'Second, I need to motivate the man who will plug the leak ... with a lot of money. Third, many of the wrecks are in the territorial waters of other countries, so a certain amount of skulduggery is required.'
Tasker slowly sipped his beer.
I helpfully put in, 'Being tied naked to a tree, in lion country, is no fun at all.'
Tasker fixed on me for many seconds as he considered his options, eventually lowering his gaze and sipping his beer again. 'And the value of the first wreck?'
'Twenty million in gold, ' Jimmy responded.
Tasker said, 'Tailor knows about this, but he's also an ex-Navy SEAL diver, so I'd keep him in the loop. That would just leave one other.'
'It's your call, ' Jimmy casually stated. 'You have a week, then I tell Mossad you threatened me.'
I helpfully put in, 'There are lots of old wrecks in the Caribbean, and not just in the bars!'
Tasked smiled, sadistically, and stood. He turned and left.
Jimmy beckoned Cosy over. 'He'll co-operate with me from now on.'
'And your ... dealings with him?' Cosy pressed.
'He's found out about my blood, wants to cash in on it.'
'I'd be happy to take him out into the bush, ' Cosy offered.
'No, there are uses I can make of him in the States. He's a dog, but sometimes you need to use a guard dog to help keep the nice people safe in their homes.'
'It was his men at the airfield, no base needed, ' Cosy stated.
Jimmy nodded. 'They wanted a few million out of the orphanage fund. I refused.'
'They'll make problems here?' Cosy asked.
'No, his men met with a pride lions, ' Jimmy explained.
That concerned me; the men could have had families. And the bodyguards were just doing their jobs.
'You're an odd man, Jimmy, ' Cosy said. 'Ruthless in the pursuit to help others.'
'That's true, ' Jimmy admitted. 'But some day I hope your faith in me will be justified.'
'My faith in you is stronger than anything I have felt before in my life, ' Cosy stated with some conviction. 'And you look very well for someone who saved lives in the Second World War.'
'You shouldn't believe everything you hear, mostly you should believe your own eyes, ' Jimmy responded. He handed Cosy a wad of dollars. 'Buy some gifts for the children, some ropes to teach rope work – I know you liked to sail as a teenager.'
Cosy pocketed the money. Taking a moment, he said, 'I enjoy teaching the children. Odd really, what journey we take to find where we belong. I guess all we need is the right ... person, to get us on the right track.'
'Is Mary dying?' I asked. Cosy nodded, seeming saddened. 'And she won't accept Jimmy's help?' He shook his head.
Jimmy told him, 'The next time you see Doc Adam, ask him for the special serum for yourself, tell him I sent you.'
'I'll live a long time?' Cosy asked.
'A very long time, hopefully, ' Jimmy responded with a warm smile. 'With Anna.'
With Cosy gone, Jimmy said, 'Pack up, gone at dawn. What's the date? Fifteenth?'
'Cold and chilly Zurich.'
'Listen ... those four men –'
'Are four men, out of a planet of men that may die.' He walked off, leaving me thinking.
Two days later and we were kitted out in black tuxedos and bow ties, walking into a casino and attracting the ladies. We sat and had a drink at the bar, walked around placing modest bets, then spotted our mark, apparently a Colonel in the Pakistani Army – but now dressed like us. It looked like he was losing.
'Colonel Hassim?' Jimmy asked.
The man looked up. 'Yes?' he asked with a frown.
'We met at an embassy function, I'm Jimmy Silo. Can I get you a drink, I have a business proposal for you.'
Hassim eyed us suspiciously. 'Come, ' he said, gesturing towards the bar. We started walking. 'So, are you businessmen MI6, CIA or Mossad businessmen.'
'Does it matter?' Jimmy asked as we reached the bar. Drinks were ordered and we sat at a table.
'Why don't you tell me what you are really after?' Hassim nudged.
'Well, let's do this in reverse order, shall we, ' Jimmy began. 'First, I'd put half a million dollars a year into any Swiss bank you nominate.'
Hassim's eyes widened. 'Very generous. And what would I do to earn this generous sum?'
'You would try and stop Arab gunmen from crossing into Afghanistan, you would pick up Arab gunmen in Pakistan and send them on their way, and you would satisfy those that require satisfying by the odd shootout with Arab gunmen making it into the newspapers.'
Hassim was puzzled. 'That is part of my job anyway.'
'Then you'll be getting extra income ... for taking a keener interest in your job.'
'You'll be on double time, ' I helpfully put in.
Hassim was still puzzled. 'That's it?'
'Yes, that's it. But I would like a good working relationship with you, the odd bit of intel.'
'Again, just Arab fighters heading towards Afghanistan, ' Jimmy insisted. 'That's all.' He took out a wad of dollars and placed it under a napkin. 'Twenty thousand dollars to play on the tables.'
Hassim took the money, checking no one was looking. 'And we would communicate ... how?'
Jimmy handed over a sheet with fax numbers here in Switzerland that bounced around to ours in the UK, set-up by us yesterday. 'Send a cryptic message to those fax numbers, ask for a meet here – or somewhere else if you like.'
'Does the West have intentions on Afghanistan?' Hassim probed.
'No idea, I'm just a pawn in the game. But I would guess not since it's a barren rock with no resources.' We stood. 'Been a pleasure.' Hassim followed us up, Jimmy taking out a cheque. 'Oh, nearly forgot. Your first half million.'
With Hassim stood staring at the Swiss banker's draft, we headed straight back to our hotel and packed, a late flight to London – just an hour, Big Paul and Karl picking us up at the airport. In the rain, we drove to the old Apartment, parking in the basement and soon getting the kettle on as Big Paul and Karl hunted for bugs. They stopped for tea and a chat with us, before a more thorough search. We were clean. With no one particularly tired we headed to the Chinese, treated like royalty as normal, a few Pineapple staff in the top room.
The next day I called Jack early, getting him and Sykes around at lunchtime.
'How was Kenya?' Sykes asked as he sat, tea being arranged.
'Hot and dusty, ' I responded. 'But we got in a trip to Zurich and Afghanistan.'
'Afghanistan?' Sykes repeated, shocked. 'What the heck for?'
I explained, 'We own most of a factory in Cardiff that makes artificial limbs, we'll be shipping them out there, fucking shed loads of people standing on land mines. Be sending African mine clearance teams as well.'
'Russians left a mess, ' Sykes grumbled.
'More than a million mines, ' Jimmy commented. 'One in five families has a amputee.'
'Nasty business, ' Sykes condemned. 'You said Zurich as well?'
'Bribed a Pakistani army officer, ' I explained. 'Intel' on Arab movements into Afghanistan.'
'Ah, yes, I remember, ' Sykes said. 'Years to come it's a hot spot, you did say.'
Jimmy told him, 'Any intel' we get - you get.'
'Good of you, ' Sykes acknowledged.
'Right, problems, ' Jimmy began.
'Smoat is in jail, ' Jack put in. 'Facing a hefty sentence.'
'Which should be a firm deterrent to others, ' Sykes commented.
'He told Tasker, CIA, whose boys I have now bribed into silence – I think.'
'You think?' Sykes asked.
'I've offered him some wrecks in the Caribbean, ' Jimmy explained. 'If he does co-operate, which I think he will, then my aim is to make the CIA think I'm financially motivated. That way they leave me alone. Can you, Mister Sykes, let me know if Tasker quits the CIA.'
'I'll take an interest in him, ' Sykes threatened. 'Oh, I heard a rumour that Cosuir is in Kenya?'
'Bribed ... and on the team, ' I responded. 'Good man, hard worker. We got him helping out at the airfield.'
'There may be ... questions?' Sykes posed.
'He's working for a registered charity, ' Jimmy said, his hands wide.
'Why hire him in the first place?' Sykes puzzled.
'Double-back, ' Jimmy stated.
'He's watching whoever is watching you over there, ' Sykes realised.
'He spotted Tasker's men, ' I helpfully lied.
'I never knew Kenya had quite so much intrigue, ' Sykes joked.
'What happened at the Scilly Isle wreck?' I asked.
Sykes explained, 'Good haul, around twenty-four million in gold, but a lot of the items are worth a heck of a lot more as jewellery. They'll be an auction for them.'
Jack put in, 'Her Majesty's Government made a charitable donation of just about seven million to the mine clearance charity.'
'Nice of them, ' I quipped.
Jack continued, 'Got the gold out of that sub in Norway as well, be ashore today or tomorrow.'
'What's down in the Guernsey wreck?' Sykes asked.
'Three times as much gold as your other wreck, ' Jimmy explained. 'French warship, with trunks of gold coins to pay their troops; Napoleonic.'
'Ah, should be interesting, ' Sykes enthused. 'Is all your money to go to mine clearance?' Jimmy explained about Rescue Force and Swindon, Sykes saying, 'Hell, we can organise a Government grant for the building work there.'
'It all helps, ' Jimmy responded. 'But hang onto most of it till I tell you what we want to spend it on.'
We agreed to show Sykes and Jack around Swindon in a week's time. Jimmy answered a quick list of questions about the Balkans conflict, our visitors heading off. Little more than ten minutes later Dave Gardener appeared, more tea organised.
Laying out a map of Malta he said, 'Crusaders and The Order of St. John.'
'Nope, ' Jimmy corrected him. 'British Navy, Second World War, gold heading to the Far East.'
'A bit cheeky, ' David acknowledged, a concerned glance my way.
'And I need the divers to dump sand back inside afterwards, it'll be discovered in years to come, ' Jimmy warned. He used a ruler to fix the position. 'It's in fifty-five metres of water, in a depression, on its side. There's a hole where it was torpedoed, go in and left, short distance to the gold.'
'How much?' David asked.
'Close to sixty million at today's prices, ' Jimmy answered.
'When you off to Oz?' I asked David.
David straightened. 'We're off in two weeks time, Sarah and her family meeting us at the airport. And ... er ... thanks once again for all you did.'
'Got a favour, ' Jimmy asked. 'Ask your employers to send some double agents, Arab gunmen, to Afghanistan. There are a few fundamentalist schools popping up, a few training camps. I want on-going passive missions, intel' back out every six months.'
'Do you wish to brief the relevant people?'
'No, that brief will do. Just smoke the place out, take no action. Anything further from Khartoum?'
'No problems that I'm aware of, but the wounded disappeared from the hospital. Was that you?'
Jimmy was immediately concerned. 'No. Make it a priority to dig into that, it could be a serious problem for the future. And the names that we were interested in ... keep an eye out for them in Afghanistan.'
With David gone, I asked, 'Problem with the targets in Khartoum?'
'I expected the main man to survive, but be badly hurt; blinded. It's ... variable. If he has one good eye it could cost a lot of people their lives.'
Jimmy nodded. 'At least he's mad at the Saudis. OK, let's head back, pop into Mapley on the way.'
As we approached Mapley we had to negotiate road works, road widening at our behest, the leisure centre finally starting to take shape. The staff on the gate greeted us, informing us who was in attendance. We pulled up next to the AMO building, noticing two jeeps covered in mud passing us.
'Mackey Tailor's jeep training, ' I noted.
We headed for the second building, finding a first-aid class in progress, twelve warm bodies. Everyone recognised us and stopped immediately; this was, after all, our first official visit. Much handshaking was followed by chatting, tea in plastic cups from a machine. Mackey himself wandered in with three other men, many greetings exchanged.
Jimmy took in all the faces, then stood at the front with his plastic cup. 'Gentlemen.' They settled. 'There is a facility in Kenya similar to this, and it strikes me that some of you may wish to visit. The training out there would be jeep driving, mine clearance – which is not relevant for Ben Nevis, first aid, and flying. It may offer some fresh experience for some of you, so if there are four who can get two weeks off work, let me know and we'll send you out there. In the meantime, I'm pleased to see this place finally being used; it's a good sign for the future. Anyone got any questions?'
I man raised his arm. 'When will the cave be ready?'
'Soon, a couple of weeks at most.'
'And the water feature?'
'A bit longer, it needs a ruddy great pump.'
'Can we canoe in it?' a man asked, getting a laugh.
'When it's not in use, yes.'
'What's the big hole for?'
'Scuba diving; there'll be a school here. But that will take two more months or so. Have you been up in the Tucano?'
'What's that?' they asked.
'Ask at the hangar for Richey, say I sent you, thirty minute flights – but not directly after lunch.'
'It's an aerobatic plane, ' I told them. 'Anyone want a go in the Huey?'
They were all keen. 'First six men, ' I said, and led them out.
Jimmy closed in on Mackey. 'Anything you need?'
'Was thinking about moving down here, to do the classes myself.'
'How would your dear lady wife view that?'
'She's got relatives not far, so if it's regular work... '
'You'd need to recruit someone to do the running around, ' Jimmy posed.
'Aye, well Tim's interested in a job doing that – if you like him for it.'
'You'd sell your house?'
'Aye, but that may take a while.'
'No it won't, I'll buy it when you're ready, sell it when I can. You can buy down here when you're ready, rent to start with, I'll find a nice place local and pay your rent.'
'That's very good of you, Jimmy.'
'I want to see some work out of you, ' Jimmy joked. 'Tell Tim he's hired.'
I threw the Huey around the grey sky, giving the men in the back something to think about, Big Paul in left seat. His own training was coming along, some of the bookwork a bit of a struggle, but I was helping him. With an oil warning light flashing we landed, a note in the logbook and something for the mechanics to look at.
'Broke it, he did, ' Big Paul told Jimmy as we drove back.
Back at the house I grabbed a tea and slouched into the sofa, glad to be back. Afghanistan, the four men killed – it was a bit of a shock. Sometimes I lost track of what this was all about, the fight ahead, and enjoyed the good life a bit too much. But the good life was all for show, a means to an ends, part of a great master plan carefully unfolding before my eyes. And the final goal was chilling to think about. I was getting used to things, but also getting comfortable in the lifestyle when I forgot about the end goal.
Jimmy picked up a wad of faxes as thick as a phone directory and handed them to me.
'Oh, thanks a lot, ' I said. 'We need a fucking secretary.'
'Funny you should say that.'
I eased up, a curious frown taking hold. 'Yeah?'
The next day Sharon turned up. Thirty-five, average build, pleasant to look at, married with two kids and living up the road, sister to the owner of our favourite watering hole down the village. She had a degree in English, but had given up work eight years ago to have kids, and had been working part-time at an insurance brokers. From now on she would work nine to four at the house, five days a week. And the first briefing was interesting.
I explained the stock market trading and it blew her mind, not least the sums involved. Over coffee Karl annoyed me by saying who he was, and that took a lot of explaining. Big Paul was introduced as a driver, that was straightforward enough, and then I tried to explain the charity work and all the money we gave over to it, Sharon amazed. We slowly went through the hotels in Kenya, the safari lodge and the airfield. The subject matter was not difficult, the reasons as to why not so easy to explain. By the end of the first day she was just about briefed on most of our operations, she knew where the files were and which fax numbers we used – and how we took our tea.
Jimmy took over on the second day, patiently going back through everything we were involved with for our new employee, whilst I tried to clear some of the backlog. The nightclub was my assigned project, so I now had to deal with any problems, in particular ongoing minor building work.
Sharon's first job was to receive and check faxes, putting them in the correct piles, and to type the spending figures into spreadsheets split by project, spreadsheets that I had set-up and that were typically accessed by the accountants. They would send a junior member down to keep them up to date and to retrieve the figures. That job was now Sharon's, the accountants to check the figures sent to them. By the end of the second day she knew all she needed to know, but skilful implementation and time saving would take much longer. She began answering the phone on the third day, a chore that we shared and, when we were out, was shouldered by Cookie, Sandra or Ricky – Big Paul forbidden to answer it.
By the end of the week we were just about squared away, a mountain of papers filed, faxes responded to, calls and messages attended to. The spreadsheets were collated and the overall figures studied, blowing Sharon's mind again; she kept thinking she had put the decimal point in the wrong place. My area, the club, was doing very well. At this rate the club would not only have paid back the start-up costs, but also the capital spent on the buildings in less than five years; we were packed out three nights a week, special functions on a Wednesday bringing in even more revenue. A monthly poker tournament was well attended.
Jimmy arranged computer training for Sharon, two hours a day every day; Word, Supercalc, Foxpro. On the first Monday of proper work for her, two weeks into the job, she suggested that we needed more computers. Jimmy dialled a number and a man called Gareth drove up that afternoon, the man apparently known to Jimmy, and we settled around the coffee table. Gareth was a tad shorter than me, thirty-six, fit looking but with a pockmarked face, sat now in a suit that did not seem natural to him.
Jimmy began, 'You were recommended to us by a guy in the pub, can't remember his bleeding name for the moment. Anyway, we want a few new computers, printers – good spec, 386s.'
'How many?' Gareth asked.
'Two in the office, one in my bedroom, one in Paul's, one for Big Paul and ... may as well get one for Cookie to play with. That's six. We'll need two half decent laser printers in the office, plus two deskjets.'
'That's a lot of money, ' Gareth cautioned. 'I'll price them up. Are you looking for finance?'
'No, cash, ' Jimmy said. He produced a thick wad of fifties. 'There's five grand towards the spend, see what deal you can get us.'
Gareth was stunned, accepting the wad. 'You ... er ... want a receipt?'
'No, I trust you. And we'll need you once a week to maintain the computers, here and our other operations. Might even send you out to Kenya to sort out our operations out there, they're a bit backward.'
Jimmy faced me. 'Remind me to ask Rudd about computers out there.'
With that, Gareth headed off to either buy us some computers, or skip with the cash. He returned two day's later, two computers boxed up in the back of his car, and set them up in the office, the software packages and Windows 3.1 installed. The additional computers and printers turned up bit by bit, and soon I had a computer in my room with a built in fax card, some of the sensitive work handled from there. I deliberately spent time with Gareth, finding him easy going and not ruffled by anything, the three of us often sitting around the coffee table and chatting over tea. Even though we didn't need them, we bought more computers off Gareth and got him to drive them up to Pineapple. Even the club got several computers, Gareth doing very well out of it. He played football in a local Sunday league and our lads - Big Paul, Cookie, Ricky and Karl - often joined in. They typically returned with mud in their hair and blood on their lips and knuckles, Jimmy shaking his head.
Gareth, and his entire family, headed off to Kenya for two weeks, kindly paid for by us, and we set about organising the grand opening of the leisure centre and other facilities at Mapley. The local council leaders would cut the tape, the local Member of Parliament invited along with the press. With everything set, we drove down early on a sunny Saturday morning.
Mackey Tailor's team and the AMO staff were dressed smart, and even the private flyers were attending. A Swindon recruitment agency had hired the gym's manager and his assistant, then they themselves interviewed and hired the junior staff in turn, all youngsters that had been issued with red t-shirts and shorts or tracksuits, Mapley Leisure Centre embossed on the clothing. We conducted our own tour an hour before the visiting dignitaries were due to turn up.
The gym's reception occupied a corner close to the main road, changing rooms for the pool immediately behind it; each patron would either be a member or pay for a day ticket, passing through turn-styles to a small café on the left and changing rooms on the right. We walked through the empty men's locker room, inspecting the finishing and the lockers, then through the shower area to the poolside. The pool was a rich blue, dead calm at the moment, a thirty-metre oblong with two lanes sectioned off. The signs indicated 1.5m at the shallow end, but warned of 4m at the far end, three diving boards in a line; 1m, 2m and 3m.
'Four metres is plenty for basic scuba training and rescue work, ' Jimmy indicated. 'They'll have classes in the evenings, weekends as well.'
I said, 'Local schools want to use the pool for competitions.'
'It's thirty metres long, that's why, ' Big Paul put in.
We followed a solid wall on the airfield side, past the diving boards, and peered through windows facing the car park, a row of bushes immediately outside the glass. At the top of the stairs we found a small rest area with comfortable chairs, a number of small rooms set-up for chiropractors and beauticians, their first three months rent free. Double swing-doors opened to the gym floor, a vast expanse. At the front ran three rows of treadmills, behind them three rows of cross-trainers, a line of rowing machines, stair-climbers, then a resistance machine section, off to the left a free-weights area. The kit that we had bought was the very latest, imported from The States, lots of confusing multi- coloured buttons and dials. The gym's lateral walls were mostly glass, viewing the car park on the left and the airfield on the right.
'Capacity for two hundred in here, ' Jimmy stated.
'Comfortably, ' Big Paul said, trying some of the equipment.
Through the glass, we could see people gathering below and wandered down, greeting those we knew. At least the weather was holding. We held interviews with the local press before the dignitaries pulled up in their odd, funeral-style black cars, welcoming them standing alongside our centre manager. The Town Mayor cut the tape, a sedate and polite cheer from the locals, and we showed the bigwigs around the gym as the first members and day users were allowed in, kids soon jumping into the pool off the boards.
Following the bigwigs onto the airfield, we stopped at the climbing wall, would-be rescuers under instruction from some of Mackey's group. The elderly dignitaries strained their necks to peer upward, none accepting an offer to try it themselves. Mounting up for a total journey distance of two hundred yards, we stopped at the AMO building and showed off Frankenstein's monster. It looked more alive than some of the stiffs attending. Certainly had a better pulse.
All in all the day went well, I felt, the leisure centre well advertised. I spent time with the manager, making sure he knew what figures to send me; in addition to the nightclub, this was now my project to oversee. That first day a kid cut his toe, a woman slapped another woman she thought might be having an affair with her husband, and someone strained their back – removed by ambulance. It was a good grounding in the running of a gym, for all of us involved.
David Gardener turned up the next day, a pleasant day out of London, and revealed that there was close to sixteen million pounds waiting for us. All things considered, we had no idea what to spend it on; everything was over-funded as it was. Jimmy had taken the first Israeli bank loan, twenty million, and bought shares at the bottom of the market, now sitting on double that amount. And Pineapple was making an obscene amount of money.
'This has happened, ' Jimmy explained, 'because we're ahead of schedule on some things. I'll bring forwards a few plans and see if we can't get back in synch.'
After a leisurely lunch with David we got hold of Rudd, having tried his home, then the golf complex and finally reaching him at the original beach hotel, River View.
On speakerphone, sat around the coffee table, Jimmy said, 'Are we keeping you busy?'
'Very busy. Oh, we are half way through the delivery of the barbed wire. They are making it specially, there was not enough unless we imported it at thirty percent over cost. This way we get it at twenty percent under.'
'You're a good man, ' I loudly offered.
'Listen, ' Jimmy began. 'Got a pen and paper?'
'Yes, go ahead.'
'Ask the Kenyan Defence Minister if he can arrange for more land next to the airfield.'
'That land is shit, it's desert – no one wants it.'
'Ask him for five hundred yards south and the same east, a square. As soon as they say yes, fence it off and put Rescue force inside. I want a hotel, a barrack room, a command centre – offices, and a motor pool.'
'How big the hotel?'
'Same size as the UN hotel.'
'And the barrack room?'
'Room for one hundred people, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Office block should have twenty offices in it.'
'OK. I found a man to co-ordinate refugees, hired him two week's ago. He's a Somali, living in Kenya, but speaks good English. He did some UN work, so he knows the job.'
'Where's he living?' Jimmy asked.
'With Doc Adam, they are building extra rooms on the clinic, rooms for staff to live, ' Rudd explained.
'OK, good, ' Jimmy approved. 'What about the camps?'
'We had no permission and the Government threatened to pull them down, so I bought the regional governor a new car. He can see that it's better to have them in a camp than along the road.'
'And now he can drive there and inspect it, ' I said.
'What about the border camp?' Jimmy pressed.
'They liked that better, so no problem there. The men I hired have drilled many wells, finding enough water. Small villages have now grown up around the wells. I bought many old UN tents –'
'Did you ... buy them?' I asked.
'Yes, of course. Some were old and being thrown away, so I got them. That first night there were only camels and a water pump, no people, one family the next day, now a few hundred. Bob Davies sends a food truck along, one a day, and there is a permanent jeep of Rifles there.'
'OK, good, ' Jimmy approved. 'Fence it off. Right, next, recruit a senior co-ordinator for Mac, another senior man for Rescue Force, both with African experience, ideally UN. They'll do the paper work up there and be your new point of contact. Next, ask the Defence Minister if he wants some more money spent on the Rifles: recruits, jeeps. And ask him if he will accept former British Army training staff from the UK. While you're at it, keep a look out for any good Land Rovers, put them in storage at the airfield for later.'
'How many?' Rudd queried.
'Fifty or more. How many Rifles are there?'
'Twenty in group Alpha, as Mac calls them, thirty-five in group Bravo, and now another twenty-five recruits.'
'I know we have permission for a hundred, so stretch that towards two hundred quickly. Tell the good Defence Minister that once they have enough well-trained men I'll give them some helicopters.'
'He's already offered to send fifty regular Army up to the airfield -'
'If we pay for them, ' I finished off.
'Yah, of course.'
'Accept his offer when we have the space for them. Get them one jeep between five men and put them through mine-clearance training, first aid, and jeep driving if they need it. And get new rifles for them. Oh, find out if the Kenyan Air Force want to put a small flight of aircraft at the airfield.'
'You're offering them sweets, ' Rudd suggested.
'See what they say. How's the golf complex?'
'It runs smoothly, makes a good profit. The zoo is finished and it looks OK, but does not make much money.'
'That's OK. What about the beach hotels?'
'Both full all the time, many British singers there. Sometimes people are very excited by them – and I have no idea who they are.'
I laughed. 'You need to get out more often!'
'Rudd, find a nice office in Nairobi, room for maybe ten people, a desk for you and one for Cosy, two secretaries.'
'Sounds good, my house is full of papers.'
'And get yourself a mobile phone and a satellite phone, be easier to reach you, ' Jimmy ordered.
I said, 'Get yourself a mobile phone, and a driver, then you can talk with people when driving.'
'If you insist.' We laughed at that.
'All OK at the safari park?' Jimmy asked.
'Yah, fully booked, and the price has gone up. There are three new young lion cubs in the lodge; everyone feeds them in turn. Oh, they had a visit from a white Kenyan, man who owns a farm north of it –'
'Yes, you know him?'
'Is he interested in selling his farm?'
'Yes, I think so.'
'Buy it, then convert his farm houses to quality hotel rooms. Keep all the staff on, get the safari manager on it. After we have it, people can spend a few days at each place. He has a good lake on his land.'
'How much do I offer?'
'Ten percent less than he is asking for, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Negotiate. And ask him to come down to you in Nairobi.'
'How big is it?' I asked Rudd.
'Half as big as your land now. It has a tarmac runway, I think. And the medics from Mawlini, they are on your land, giving medical help to the villagers.'
'Good, that's what we wanted, ' Jimmy approved. 'Oh, while I think of it, Schilling has family near Mombassa, some farmland that I would like to get hold off. Smoke them out.'
'I know these people, very arrogant colonialists, ' Rudd explained. 'They own half of Kenya.'
'Then let's see if we can't buy some of it at a good price, ' Jimmy responded. 'In particular where they have greenhouses.'
'I know it, miles of it along the roadside. What budget are you thinking of?'
'I'll need two secretaries!'
'We don't mind that, Rudd, ' I put in.
Sharon wandered in with an urgent fax, so we said goodbye to the overworked Rudd. Jimmy read the fax. 'Did you know these men?' she asked.
'Only by name, ' Jimmy responded, glancing at me from under his eyebrows. 'OK, thank you.'
'What is it?' I quietly asked.
'A fax from Cosy. Kenyan TV reports two Americans killed in a car crash, Tasker and his mate.'
'Christ, you think ... Cosy?'
'No, I doubt it. No, this is ... something unexpected.'
'Might just have been a car crash, you know how they drive down there.'
'That would be unfortunate, because it comes soon after the disappearance of the other four. Now there will be a big investigation.'
Sharon came back in. 'A Mister Sykes for you.'
Jimmy lifted the phone. 'Mister Sykes.'
'Yes, and ... out the loop, ' Jimmy delicately indicated.
'Understood. Seen the news from Africa?'
'Yes, just got a fax and ... disturbed at the timing.'
'Any clues?' Sykes nudged.
'Right now I wish I did. This was ... unexpected.'
'People acting on their own?'
'No, I don't believe so. For now, an accident, and they do happen without foresight.'
'Does this leave you exposed?'
'Could do, but the next few days will tell. Any discreet enquiries by your good self would help.'
'Understood. I'll get back to you.'
Jimmy placed the phone down, and stared at it.
'Sykes knows about Tasker?' I nudged.
Jimmy nodded, still focused on the phone. He dialled the safari lodge, confirming the location of Skids and company; with guests. 'It could be Tasker's boss. If so, he'll come and see us.' He brightened, lifting his head. 'Ah, well. Onwards.'
It's a big pump
We stood at Mapley with the builders and engineers, the square watercourse now full of water, the pump ready to be tested.
'Been trying to figure out what the heck this is for, ' the head builder said. 'I reckon it's for canoeing.'
Over his shoulder, I saw Mackey and four men advancing towards us with ropes, and dressed like they were off canoeing; red lifejackets and helmets, ropes slung over shoulders.
The builder spotted them. 'Where're your canoes?'
'OK, switch on, ' Jimmy ordered, an engineer stepping into a green hut and turning the pumps on.
Water gushed from the pumps and towards the square, many minutes taken for the water to begin circulating.
Jimmy pointed at the first man. 'Jump in.'
The man knelt down and tested the water flow with a hand, hesitated, then jumped in, soon swept along at jogging pace. At the roofed over section he was sucked under, spat out five yards further on, a yelp issued. 'Fucking hell!' came from the far side as he came back around, struggling to get out. 'I can't get out!'
'That the whole point, ' Jimmy said with a smile. 'Rescuers?'
Mackey's men threw a rope, which the swimmer missed, getting sucked under a second time. Third time they caught him, struggling to drag him out.
Dripping wet, he approached us. 'Fucking hell, that's deadly.'
'And for specialist use only, ' Jimmy cautioned. 'So, realistic ... is it?'
'Fucking hell, aye, ' the wet man responded. 'Bloody difficult to get out. And that tunnel? Scary as shit – you just get sucked under and spun around.'
Jimmy faced the engineer. 'Quarter speed, please.'
The pumps eased down, but the water had its own momentum and took a few minutes to becalm. The same man jumped in beyond the tunnel and was rescued first time. Satisfied, we took Mackey to the cave. The local police divers stood waiting, all kitted out, behind them three cave rescue groups waited. A white board gave an indication of the layout of the cave, two emergency exits marked.
Jimmy took charge. 'OK, gentlemen. What we have here ... is a training aid, not a fun day out. The first time through you might find interesting, then you'll know the course and get bored. The aim of this cave complex ... is training, especially for beginners. That's not to say it's easy, it isn't.
'At the moment there are a few puddles inside, but we can flood the cave to around three quarters of its height before water hits the drains. Now, to best illustrate how this facility should be used we have two volunteers.' The men stepped forwards. 'They will be inside, somewhere, one with a broken leg, his mate not wanting to leave him. You nice gentlemen have been notified that they are hurt and stuck, the water level not known.' He gestured the two men into the entrance. Down they went, helmet lights switched on. Jimmy checked his watch. 'Team leader, get your men assembled and briefed, you have six minutes to kick off.'
The senior police officer took charge of the white board, teams made up and equipment checked, the cave rescuers part of the search team. Two collapsible silver stretchers were made ready, first aid kits, lights, air tanks and scuba gear.
When they were ready, Jimmy stepped forwards. 'OK, gentlemen, let's not make victims of rescuers. And don't forget, some sections are tight, some are flooded, and you'll need rope in there.'
The first man roped himself to the second, placed a scuba mask around his neck and checked his air. He gave a 'thumbs up' as he disappeared, the second man entering after the rope was tugged, a third making ready at the hole and reeling out further rope. Fifteen minutes passed, the second man surfacing, damp and dirty.
'Two stuck inside, verbal communication, no eyes on, one broken leg, full team extrication by stretcher.' He ducked back in.
Two additional men stepped forwards, a plastic leg caste checked, air tanks hissing as they were checked. In they went. A full forty-five minutes passed before a grubby individual surfaced.
'Ambulance standing by, ' the team leader responded. 'Condition of victims?'
'Two adult males, hypothermic, one broken leg, ' was reported, notes taken.
We closed in as a third man exited the tunnel, wet and muddy, a stretchered man painstakingly removed. Finally the second victim crawled out, followed by the final rescuer, the victim released from the stretcher.
'OK, ' Jimmy called. 'Victims, how did the rescuers do?'
'They reassured us verbally, that was OK, one stayed behind, checked our vitals. The stretcher was handled OK, a bit difficult up and over.'
'A bit difficult, ' a rescuer scoffed. 'That section is a bitch. I've been doing this twenty years, and I struggled.' The other rescuers agreed.
'Good, ' Jimmy loudly enthused. 'It's there to make you think. So, how would a novice cope?'
'No chance, ' came several opinions.
'Until they've had the right training, ' Jimmy suggested. 'There's a way around that doesn't involve the up and over, that's where you start the beginners. How do you rate it as training aid?'
'Excellent, ' was the consensus.
'It would be good for fitness training as well, ' the senior rescuer suggested. 'I'm fucking knackered.'
'OK, police divers, ' Jimmy called. They stepped forwards. 'We've stuck a dummy in there. Go rescue.' He turned a large tap with a squeak, cold water gushing in, up to half the cave height. When ready, the police divers gave the "OK" dive sign and descended into the black water, torches held ahead of themselves.
Twenty minutes later, and the heavy plastic dummy was retrieved. The diver stood in the hole, his legs submerged, and took off his mask. 'That mid section is a bitch. You have to squeeze left, then right, then under, then finally you got to ease your tank off and push it through. Nightmare.'
The senior men thanked us, hands shaken, and we left the damp muddy hole for grown men to play in. For five minutes we observed the climbing wall from the Range Rover before setting off.
Incident at Baardheere
Many months had passed since Tasker's car crash and nothing had happened, no enquiries coming from Uncle Sam. So far, all evidence pointed towards a simple crash. We flew back down, this time with Big Paul in tow, Karl and Rickey house-sitting. At our Nairobi hotel we spent a day lounging around, Jimmy waiting for a contact, Big Paul scanning the lobby. No one came to call.
Feeling a little apprehensive, even Jimmy tense, we drove down to the golf complex and spent a few hours with the manager; all was in order and ticking along nicely. The other hotels were briefly inspected, nothing much requiring our attention, so we went diving, feeding the persistent turtle. That evening we sat around drinking, still no approaches made, but I slept with a chair wedged under my door handle. The following morning, Tubby picked us in the Dash-7 at Mombassa airfield, the aircraft a Canadian built rugged four-engine turbo-prop with room for fifty passengers at maximum. This one had been fitted out for thirty seats and some kit space at the rear, the flight up to Mawlini just an hour and a half and comfortable. I spent half that time right seat, Tubby keen to teach me the eccentricities of the Dash- 7, not least that it required a crew of two, a requirement that was ignored. We came in to land behind a UN plane, swirls of dust spreading outwards towards the buildings.
Rudd and Cosy met us in a jeep, driving us to the UN hotel, and from the roof they pointed out the new Rescue Force compound; five hundred yards square of sand and scrub fenced off and just the one lonely hut sat in it, picked up by crane and dropped over the fence, it's old foundations still visible.
'Building work will start soon, ' Rudd assured us. 'We've given priority to the Rifles for now.'
'That's OK, ' Jimmy told him. We stepped across the café and peered out the other side, numerous half-built buildings for the Rifles just visible across the shimmering heat of the runway.
Rudd explained, 'They sent fifty regular soldiers up and we have them in tents at the moment. They are nearly all on border patrol, or helping to police the camps. Mac has kitted them out.'
'So they get training?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes, day or two a week, ' Rudd explained. 'The two new British officers are busy.'
'How are they working out?' I asked, having met both of them at Swindon.
'Mac says they are Ruperts, whatever that means.'
We laughed. Big Paul explained, 'A Rupert is an officer, public school twats.'
'Ah, I see, ' Rudd said. He didn't.
Cosy put in, 'I got a batch of ten Land Rovers off a safari park, going cheap. They were already green, so we gave them to the Rifles.'
I pointed to a new steel-fabricated hangar. 'What's that?'
'Kenyan Air Force, ' Cosy answered. 'Two small planes for border patrol and training. I think they are called Tucano.'
'That's lucky, ' I quipped. 'I'm familiar with them. We got one in Swindon.'
'Good plane, ' Big Paul approved, having notched up twenty hours in them.
'We pay their fuel and costs, ' Rudd explained. 'Not the salaries yet.'
'How many soldiers in total now?' Jimmy asked.
Rudd responded, 'Total ninety-four Rifles, fifty regulars. But thirty of those soldiers are seventeen year old recruits.'
'I want the regulars integrated, ' Jimmy told Rudd. 'Ask the nice Defence Minister.'
Our Huey came in to land, three men and one woman clambering down, all in white uniforms, and all seemingly knackered from their trip.
'That's Rescue Force, ' Cosy said. 'They've undertaken a few trips by Huey: they fly out, stay the night, do a surgery, fly back. They've completed one by Cessna and one by Dash-7.'
'Coming along then, ' I approved.
Mac stepped out with the two new co-ordinators, both men in their late forties and now heavily tanned, white crows-feet around their eyes. We shook their hands for the first time, although we had spoken to them on the phone many times, exchanging many faxes with De Silva and Coup. Sitting, we ordered cold beers all around, two tables pulled together, Fanta shades adjusted.
'Since this is our first time face to face, welcome to the team, ' Jimmy offered the newcomers. They thanked him. 'Has Mac's paperwork improved?'
'Lots, ' Mac quipped, everyone laughing at him.
'You got some boys in Afghanistan?' I asked Mac.
'Ten of them to start with, former trainees, ' Mac explained. 'They go in under the UN remit, but we pay their way and kit 'em out.'
'It's not a pleasant spot, ' Jimmy cautioned. 'If they're not careful we'll lose some.'
Mac considered that for a moment. 'Lost six old trainees in Mozambique. That place is no picnic either.'
'Can procedures be tightened?' I asked.
'Out of our hands, ' Mac explained, sitting back. 'Wees train them, but they go off to other groups.'
'Perhaps we should have our own, ' I suggested, a glance at Jimmy.
'We'd be sending people off to die, ' Jimmy cautioned.
'They'd have a better chance, ' Mac suggested.
'Mac, draw up some plans and I'll review it, ' Jimmy offered. 'Anything else you need?'
'No, working smoother now with Long John Silver sharpening the pencils, ' Mac joked.
'And Rescue Force?' Jimmy nudged.
Coup answered, 'All seems to be progressing rapidly. We found another four suitable people, two doctors and two nurses.'
'What the nurses built like?' I asked.
Coup smiled. 'Slimmer than ... the normal requirement, no Russian shot-putters. Some locals tried to rob our Hildy, so she put them in hospital.' The assembled men giggled like teenagers.
'I'll want self-defence on the training schedule in the future, ' Jimmy told Coup with a smile. 'How's their ordnance handling?'
'Getting there slowly, ' Mac admitted.
'Coup, ground them, then get everyone shit-hot on ordnance, ' Jimmy ordered. 'At the moment they're not tripping over mines, but they soon will be.'
'Did you get the dummy?' I asked Coup.
'Yes, ' Coup enthused. 'Marvellous what the darn thing can do. It's in constant use somewhere; I think the Rifles have it today.'
'Don't break it, ' I said. 'Expensive bit of kit. You get the other medical kit?'
'Yes, fully kitted now, full resuscitation packs, ' Coup answered. 'The kit goes out in the field, some to Doc Adam.'
'Sounds like were making good progress, ' Jimmy enthused.
'What's this new fenced off area for?' Mac questioned.
'Behind us? Just Rescue Force, some room for growth. Behind the Rifles will be all for the Army, ' Jimmy informed Mac. 'More room for you in here.'
'Got more thirsty bodies than water, boss, ' Mac cautioned.
'Rudd, drill a few more wells, or get a water tanker in each week. Tell people to shower with a friend, or take soap in the pool.'
'They's doing that already, ' Mac quipped.
Rudd showed Jimmy a picture of what appeared to be rows of greenhouses. 'They want three million.'
'Five miles by three, ' Rudd replied.
'Some of that is swamp, ' Jimmy complained. 'What houses are included?'
'The main houses are outside that area.'
'Tell them I was interested, but would need houses. Be tough with them, play up the swamp.'
'What you buying now?' Mac asked.
'A large farm, ' Rudd explained.
'Food for the masses, ' I put in.
Rudd added, 'Schilling keeps calling, just to see how I am – and how are my kids.'
Jimmy and I exchanged looks. 'How much does he want for it?'
'He started with one million, ' Rudd explained. 'Now we are at seven hundred and fifty thousand.'
'Does he have back taxes?' I asked.
'Yes, he's poor, ' Rudd responded.
'Offer him seven hundred grand, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Right, everyone, do what you need to do, back here at seven for food. Big Paul, go meet the Army. Cosy, stay please.' With the others heading off, Jimmy asked Cosy, 'Any rumours about Tasker?'
'No.' We waited. 'They checked the car accident carefully - he was hit by a lorry that failed to stop, the driver arrested and jailed.'
Jimmy held his gaze on Cosy. 'Anyone showing any interest in me?' he pressed.
Cosy shook his head. 'People gossip about you, you're rich. Reporters sometimes ask, but no one from the community.' He held his hands wide. 'Was there something ... specific?'
'No, ' Jimmy said after a moment's thought.
'Sorted an office in Nairobi?' I asked.
'Yes, myself and Rudd are settled into it, two secretaries – it saves a lot of time.'
'How many kids at the orphanage now?' I asked.
'Just over six hundred. We have a few UN staff down there; Bob Davies sent them. In total, thirty local staff.'
'And the farm land feeds them all?' I wondered out loud.
'Oh, yes, and much more. We sell surplus at the market. And we sell it to your hotels.'
'There's probably some merit in teaching the kids how to grow crops, ' Jimmy suggested.
'That skill will come in useful when they leave, ' Cosy admitted, a little saddened, if not concerned. 'What are your plans about the older children?'
'Give them jobs at the orphanage, or in the farm, ' Jimmy suggested. 'When the time comes I'll get a high school and put them through it. Some of the older boys I want for the Rifles, as soon as they're sixteen.'
'That's a few years away, ' Cosy pointed out. 'You'll find them all jobs?'
Jimmy nodded. 'Hope so. Hope many of them will join Rescue Force in time.'
Cosy took a moment. 'So, it is not just a short-term project?'
'It never was, ' Jimmy stated.
A hundred miles away, UN Doctor Carol Nash desperately struggled to make her radio work. 'Mayday, mayday. This is Doctor Nash, UNHCR, northwest of Baardheere, to anyone who can hear me. We're under attack by bandits, many dead and wounded... '
Bob Davies stepped into the bar and greeted us. 'Back again? You're here more often than I am.'
'Any word from Afghanistan?' Jimmy asked.
'Yeah, they got the limbs and we're distributing them over there, ten mine clearance boys working around the airfield – but that'll take forever; they dig one up every six minutes!'
'So long as they're appreciated, ' Jimmy said.
'They are, and we met to discuss that just last week. I reckon I could get you funding on twenty more.'
'When you're ready - we are, ' Jimmy indicated.
A barman stepped over. 'Excuse, sir. Telephone.'
Jimmy took the call, rushing back. 'Our air patrol near the border just picked a UN distress call from Baardhheere. A Doctor Nash?'
Bob Davies' face dropped, Jimmy in the stairwell a second later as I nudged Bob to the stairwell. We rushed down, shouting at people in the corridors as we went, soon a tail of people following. More joined in as we sprinted to Air Traffic Control, Handy's office now equipped with two radios, long distance and short distance.
Handy hesitated, taking in the faces, then reported, 'Lady Doctor reports they're shot the fuck up, dead and dying.'
Bob Davies said, in a strong whisper, 'I was best man at her wedding.'
Jimmy took a moment, forcing a breath. 'There're a few laws, procedures and principals standing between us and them.' He turned to me. 'Get that Huey fuelled and ready to go. Move it!' I darted out, passing Mac outside.
'You'll go after them?' Bob Davies whispered, his voice going.
Mac appeared at his side, out of breath. 'What's up?'
'Mac, you and the old dogs, my bodyguard Paul, Cosy, and the best Rifles you can find – get kitted for an airborne rescue just across the border in Somalia. Go!'
Mac and Handy ran out, collecting Big Paul and Cosy, and heading towards the Rifles' armoury.
Jimmy grabbed Bob Davies by the shoulders. 'You should take a walk, or this'll cost you your career.'
'I've got to do something.'
'It's a four hour drive - they'd be long dead. Leave it to us, we have the kit and the skills.' Jimmy straightened, taking in the airfield. 'We'll get arrested afterwards, but that we'll face that at the time.' He faced Bob again. 'By time I'm airborne I need a route and their co-ordinates. Use the radio, the maps are over there.' Jimmy picked up the phone. 'Coup, I need everyone ready for an emergency mission immediately, with surgical kits, get to the airfield. Move it!'
Jimmy ran downstairs, Rudd rushing over.
'What is it?' Rudd asked in a panic.
'UN patrol across the border has been ambushed – dead and wounded, so we're going in.'
'Stay and co-ordinate. Get the Russian pilots of that Mi2, get them airborne.' Jimmy ran to the flying doctors hut. 'Tubby! Tubby stuck his head out the door. 'Get the Dash-7 ready for a combat rescue, we got UN stuck in Somalia.' Tubby jumped into his jeep as Jimmy headed towards the armoury, finding six of the Rifles, their former British officers keeping them in neat lines. Jimmy addressed them both. 'This is a volunteer only job, a rescue in Somalia, lots of shooting. You got ten seconds to make a choice.'
'I'm in, ' the first man offered, the second agreeing with a little trepidation.
The Old Dogs emerged from the armoury with green waistcoats pocketed with magazines, M16s being checked, Big Paul and Cosy sporting waistcoats over their civilian clothes.
Jimmy accepted a weapon. 'Listen up. Rifles and Cosy in the Dash-7 with Rescue Force. Get water, med kits. Paul, Old Dogs, on me.' Jimmy ran off across the sand at a brisk pace, between the huts and to the Apron, where I sat with the Huey turning over. Jimmy jumped into left seat, his weapon stowed, the remainder of the men clambering into the rear. I pulled back on the cyclical control with a dry mouth, remembering my first few lessons. Now I was flying a Huey into combat, and it still hadn't dawned on me yet, everything was moving so quickly.
As we lifted off Jimmy got his headset on. 'Head southeast, fast as you can.' He depressed the transmit button. 'Silo for Davies. You on Bob?'
'Tower receiving, ' came back. 'Set your heading one-three-five magnetic, its one hundred ten miles.'
'Silo to tower, get that Mi2 up in fifteen minutes – make sure the back is empty. It's faster than we are, so is the Dash-7, so don't let them take off till a staggered time is worked out - we're the slowest. Try and fix a position on your people. Out.'
I set the heading and put the nose down, sand and bushes flashing by, trying to remember my drills. The horizon was a blur of sand, little in the way features or reference points.
Jimmy turned his head toward the rear, 'Get your headsets on.' He waited. 'Right, listen up. Bunch of UN medics in a vehicle convoy shot the fuck up, dead and dying, someone still working the radio. We'll all get there at the same time, but our job is to keep the Somalis busy while the Dash-7 and, hopefully, that Mi2 pick up people. It's a hundred and ten miles, one hour or so, so kick back. When we get there we'll need to recon' the area, fix their location. And fellas, anyone you don't like the look of – you open fire. We don't need to touch down, we're top cover. All clear?'
'This breaking a few international laws?' Handy asked, sounding none too concerned.
'Lot's of them. If you survive, I'll buy you a beer.'
We crossed the border, our own barbed wire, and even one of our own patrols below. They must have wondered where the hell we were heading. So did I. I concentrated on the heading, checking RPM and oil pressure, going through my drills, diligently scanning the horizon for other aircraft.
After five minutes I tapped the near-full fuel gage, exchanging a look with Jimmy. 'I think it's enough. Just.'
'It's enough, ' Jimmy reassured me.
Ten minutes later the radio came to life, but weak and distorted. 'Tower to Silo, over.'
'Silo, here. Go ahead.'
'Tower to Silo; four UN vehicles, twelve people, believed five miles northwest of Baardheere, over.'
'Silo to tower, roger that.'
'Tubby for Silo, ' crackled out.
'Go ahead, Tubby.'
'Tubby is airborne, lots of bodies on board, room for ten wounded, over.'
'Silo for Tubby, what's the state of the Mi2?'
'Rotors were turning as we took off, over.'
'Silo for Tubby, here's the plan: we provide armed cover, you land and let the troops out, they secure the casualties, the Mi2 takes back the casualties. I don't aim to be on the ground more than five minutes, over.'
'Best laid plans of mice and men. Tally-ho!'
I couldn't help but smile at the crazy old bastard. And here I was, about to lose my license. Forever!
Fifteen minutes later Tubby was back. 'Dash-7 at six thousand, little Huey low and left.'
I peered up. 'There they are, much faster.'
Jimmy pressed the transmit button. 'Tubby, go re-con, over.'
As we came up on the hour the radio crackled into life. 'Tubby for Silo.'
'Mi2 up your arse, two miles back. We've been over the target area, jeeps in a line on the side of the road, lots of bodies, can't seen anyone else nearby.'
'Anywhere to put down?'
'Long road north of them, bit of a taxi around to them, but doable. Over.'
'Wait my signal, circle at one thousand, flaps down, land on the fly.'
'Silo, this is Yuri, over, ' came an accented voice.
'Go ahead Yuri.'
'We can now see you.'
'Slow down and stay back, maintain five hundred feet.' Jimmy turned his head to the rear. 'Doors open, get ready!' The doors opened with a blast of air, maps fluttering wildly, the smell of aviation fuel filing the cabin.
I pointed, 'They gunmen?'
'Yes. Starboard, fire as we pass!'
I banked the Huey as we passed two trucks packed with armed locals, Big Paul and Mac opening up. It was over in a second and I levelled out.
'Slow down, ' Jimmy suggested and I eased the nose up, and the revs down. 'That looks like them, go port ten degrees.' We flew over the line of vehicles low and fast. 'Two people sat up, they're alive!' Transmitting, he said, 'All aircraft, survivors on the ground, land when ready, land when ready!'
'Tally-ho!' crackled over the radio.
I circled around, slowing as we all stared down at isolated mud-brown houses, kids running out and looking up, women dressed all in black. We swung left as the Mi2 came in and landed right next to the jeeps, a huge plume of dust blown up.
'Contact! Dead ahead!' Jimmy shouted. He opened his small window hatch, thrusting his weapon through, soon firing, hot brass shells bounding off me, and the instrumentation. 'Back around, slower pass.'
I circled around to the left, coming in over houses and towards the crossroads where we had seen the trucks. The front windscreen on Jimmy's side cracked, my foot-well glass shattering. 'Fucking hell!'
'Steady!' Jimmy opened up, followed by the guys in the back, the trucks turning around in small circles.
I flew back along the road at a steep angle of bank and focused on the Mi2. We passed him low on the our left side, a pilot out and dragging someone along, the Dash-7 blowing up a storm of sand two hundred yards away. We climbed and levelled out, that crazy bastard Tubby taxiing along the road and turning towards the Mi2. As we watched, he disappeared in a cloud of sand, emerging facing the way he came, people jumping out the side door and running back towards the UN trucks. I climbed another hundred feet for a better all round view. Beyond the trucks I could see the Rifles in green, the medics in white attending the bodies, soon two carried to the Dash-7, more carried to the Mi2.
'They're getting the bodies as well, ' I noted, communications limited with our doors open. It took little over four minutes to load up the bodies, no indication yet of any survivors. I pointed. 'Are they firing at something?' We banked left and dipped down, flying over the Rifles. They appeared to be firing towards a distant house, so we opened up, circling around it, no way to talk to the Rifles.
'Yuri to Silo, we go.'
'Roger that, fly above one thousand feet Yuri, ' Jimmy suggested.
'Tally-ho!' crackled over our headsets.
We turned about and watched the Dash-7 head along the road, blowing up sand clouds. He turned the corner as if driving a car and went full power, a huge plume of dust rising up. For a few seconds he looked like the space shuttle launching. In seventeen seconds he was airborne, banking hard and climbing.'
Jimmy turned to me. 'In case you hadn't noticed, we are slow and alone, a long way from home.'
'Fuck, yes, ' I said, nosing down and heading north, adjusting my course to a reciprocal heading.
'We got the fuel?' Mac asked.
'Just about, ' I said.
Jimmy pressed transmit. 'Tubby, contact the tower. How many survivors?'
'Don't know about the survivors, but two here being worked on by the docs, so at least two. I'll call the tower at altitude. You OK down there?'
'We're low and slow, one hour to the border, ' I said.
'Yuri for Silo, ' came an accented voice.
'Silo, we have two alive, rest are dead, over.'
'Roger that, fly safe. Out.'
Our radio crackled for the next forty minutes, but we could not make it out, a roar caused by our extra ventilation holes. I had a wicked breeze blowing up my right trouser leg, but not the left, and it got annoying. And we were alone, nothing but parched brown soil beneath us, the odd house, the odd tree. And now an oil warning light. I turned my head to Jimmy, he could see it as well.
Jimmy said, 'Guys, we got an oil warning light. Might just be a bit warm, or we took a round somewhere important. We'll keep going as far as we can, then ditch this. From here it's a days walk to the border.'
'With bandits for company, ' Rabbit put in.
Jimmy pressed transmit. 'Silo to any call signs, over.' We waited. 'Silo to any call signs, over.'
'Tubby to Silo, over.'
'Go ahead Tubby!' Jimmy shouted.
'Jimmy, look up. Can you see me?'
'There, ' I pointed. I pressed transmit. 'Tubby, you're ten o'clock high, three miles.'
The crazy bastard dived down towards us, turning around behind us. 'Got you. You lot OK?'
'A few holes, oil warning on for twenty minutes, ' I responded.
'If you go down I'll fix your position, ' Tubby offered.
We flew on, counting the minutes and counting down the miles, Tubby circling overhead. And it was comforting to know that he was up there. Big Paul practised with miles per hour ground speed, to work out our distance to the border. At five minutes to the border he volunteered his mental arithmetic.
'Border ahead, ' I shouted over the sound of the wind as a fuel warning light came on. Facing Jimmy I said, 'We keep going?'
'Yeah. If it catches fire we'll jump.'
Mac passed forwards a canteen and I took several deep gulps, totally parched, my shirt soaking, my hair damp. Both my arms ached, not used to such lengthy flights. Beneath me I recognised the road, a wave of relief passing over me.
'That camp is coming along, ' Jimmy mentioned in passing. I looked at him like he was crazy. An audible warning caused the guys in the back to peek at the instrumentation. 'That warning is just to tell us a service is due, and that the windscreen wiper fluid is low, ' Jimmy suggested, getting back a few rude comments.
'Jimmy, you smoking?' crackled over the radio.
Jimmy turned his head, a nod to Big Paul. Big Paul grabbed a handle and leant out, looking behind us.
Back in he nodded. 'We're on fire, boys.'
'We'll get there, ' Jimmy insisted. He pressed transmit. 'Silo to tower, over.'
'Tower here, go ahead.'
'Silo for tower, have fire truck ready, we're coming in on fire.'
'Tower for Silo, land it now.'
'Silo for tower, get the kettle on.'
I recognised the terrain, soon a glimpse of the hotel in the distance. 'Two minutes. When I touch down, get the hell out.' I got all formal: 'Romeo Foxtrot One to tower. Permission to land, over.'
'Rome Foxtrot One, permission granted, over.'
Jimmy turned his head to me, an approving nod as more rude comments came from the back. We touched down within spitting distance of the fire truck, everyone out and running with their weapons, stopping and straightening as we looked back. A steady stream of smoke issued from the engine as the mechanic ran forwards, the housing uncoupled on one side, the plume increasing, but soon doused.
'Any landing you can walk away from, ' Mac suggested as we turned.
'Fucking ... hell, ' Big Paul let out, his shirt soaked in sweat.
In a line of six we walked forwards, Tubby landing behind us, the Mi2 now in front of its hangar. Sticking our noses in we soon wished we hadn't, a thick layer of blood everywhere. We reached the start of the huts as Tubby shut down his engines, not many people about. An open-top Rifles jeep came out for us and we sat on the sides, soon to the hotel, and to the crowds. Leaving our weapons with the driver, we progressed slowly through the gates, exhausted and parched. Just inside the gates, on the grass, eight bodies were lined up, covered in blankets, many UN staff milling about, women crying.
It stopped us dead for several seconds. I didn't even notice the pats on the back, they registered a few seconds later. People were saying things, but my brain was fogged. Inside the hotel I noticed the improvised medical centre in the restaurant, four people being worked on, intravenous drips set-up, our Rescue Force doctors and nurses knelt over them.
Bob Davies stepped out to us as we stood sweating in the heat. 'Four alive, three should make it. We'll ... fly them out when stable.'
'Nash?' Jimmy asked.
'She'll make it, a round in the leg.'
Jimmy nodded. 'Small victories.'
'You took a hell of a risk, Jimmy.'
'Fools and heroes, Bob. Fools and heroes.'
Mac softly said, 'Fools to go out, heroes to make it back.'
Tubby appeared at my side. Whispering he said, 'Good flying, lad.'
'You too. That Dash-7 workable?'
'Undercarriage may need some work. I won't ... be filling in the logbook.'
Jimmy said, 'Hardware can be replaced.' Doc Graham stepped out, blood on his white tunic, Jimmy shaking his hand. 'Well done today.'
'You too.' He forced a big breath. 'That was a hell of jaunt.'
'That ... was what we are all about, my friend.'
Graham faced me. 'I never knew you were a combat pilot.'
'Me neither, ' I agreed, as Rudd walked up.
We stood and watched the wounded get stretchered out, collecting our people and nudging them upstairs, cold beers ordered. Exhausted, soaked in sweat, we sat and sipped the cool beer, subdued, our staff's white tunics splashed with blood, the bar empty except for us.
Jimmy lifted his glass. 'Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... Rescue Force: fools and heroes.'
'Fools and heroes, ' echoed back, drinks raised.
'Fucking hell, Jimmy, ' Rudd let out, shaking his head.
Cosy stepped out, walking over to us. He sat and stared at Jimmy.
'Good work today, ' Jimmy offered him.
'I had faith.'
'One of the soldiers took a round in the arm. He'll be OK.'
Jimmy looked about the bar. 'Where are those two officers?'
'With their men, ' Cosy responded. 'Something of a celebration going on.'
'Good, ' Jimmy enthused. 'They're bonding with their men.'
After a few moments silence, Jimmy ordered food for everyone. The two Russian pilots appeared, raising their arms and shouting. Jimmy eased up and hugged them, getting them drinks, thanking them in Russian as I stepped to the wall, a welcome breeze found. Down below, the bodies were being removed. On the airfield, I could see the wounded being loaded into a UN Antonov, soon to be in Nairobi. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun for a moment, enjoying the heat on my face for a change.
'How does it feel?' came Jimmy's calm voice.
'The sun?' I asked, my eyes still closed.
'No, that feeling of ... risking it all to save a complete stranger.'
'Pretty good, I think, I not quite sure. My brain is frazzled.'
'You flew well today, you should be proud of yourself.'
I lowered my head and turned around. 'I don't know how to ... define it. Just kinda stunned.'
'Get some drink in you, you'll relax.' He stepped towards the gang. 'Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you all to know that I'm proud of you - except Rudd.' They laughed. 'Proud of what you did today, not least going on such a reckless mission. Some of you ... are lazy fat bastards –' They laughed at Tubby. '- yet heroes when the calling came, concerned for strangers.'
Tubby said, 'I was concerned you'd stop buying me beers!'
They all laughed. Jimmy said, 'I'm sure there were other reasons. Mac, Rabbit, Handy – that may well have been your last combat mission, you're old enough to retire off now.'
'Fuck off!' came back.
'And doctors, you did an excellent job today, the official christening of the new unit, the first test passed with flying colours.'
'We get a pay rise?' Dunnow asked.
'No, so fuck off, ' Jimmy said, making them laugh. 'Got to buy another Huey, so that's coming out of your pay.'
'Pauley broke it!' came a voice.
'This'll get in the papers?' Dunnow asked.
'What, the invasion of Somalia? The breach of the border, the lack of a flight plan or permission, the major international incident, the shooting up of Somalis by Kenyan soldiers?'
'We in trouble?' Doc Graham asked.
'Hope not, ' Jimmy said. 'Might get some help from the UN to keep us out of jail.'
'Should get a fucking medal, ' Mac complained.
'Rudd, get a medal made up, a Rescue Force medal for ... operational valour under fire. We'll award it with ... a ten grand bonus for everyone who went.' They cheered. 'Now, I know you're all a bit stunned, but any good doctor will tell you that excessive alcohol always helps in these situations. So drink, that's an order.'
In their filthy clothes they downed several beers as they ate, gradually relaxing, the Russian pilots soon hammered. UN staff came up and thanked us, Tubby's wife scolding him at length, a drink poured down her blouse by Jimmy. The two new British officers turned up, already a bit drunk, congratulated at length by Jimmy, more beers bought. The music was never turned on, but the staff behaved as if it had been, soon most of them hammered. The bouncers put people to bed, earlier than normal, leaving just me and Jimmy. And I had drunk a lot.
'Get to bed early, and be smart in the morning, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Be a big fucking inquiry.'
'You'll handle it, ' I confidently suggested.
'Today could have gone either way, ' Jimmy admitted. 'But I was proud of you, young man.'
'A few years back, well ... fuck, I would have never have believed what I'd be doing. And without you I'd be on the tube, going to work.'
It took my brain a while to catch up. 'No, stupid, I don't mean I want to be on the fucking tube.'
'I know, ' he said with a grin. He lifted his head to the stars. 'This'll make the British papers, your mum will see it.'
'That'll be a talking at, ' I suggested.
'Drink plenty of water, get some sleep, scrub up, meet me downstairs at 5am.'
We both eased up.
'Spending tomorrow around the pool, ' I threatened.
Before dawn I went for a swim, the pool full of dead insects; I didn't care, I needed a swim. I stood under the poolside shower long enough to rid myself of all the insect body parts, towelling down thoroughly, not a soul in sight, not a sound. With my cleanest-looking clothes on, short-sleeved shirt and slacks, I wandered down and found Jimmy, a few tins of meat pilfered from the kitchens, self-service tea. We ate and chatted for an hour in the dull dawn light, Rudd walking in and finding us as the sun put in an appearance on the horizon.
'Press and Government on their way, it made the TV news yesterday.' Rudd waited our reactions.
'They need us more than we need them, ' Jimmy finally said, none too concerned.
'Maybe they'll be happy with us?' Rudd asked.
'Maybe, ' Jimmy acknowledged. 'Oh, I wasn't joking about the medal. Have it made out of gold and worth some money.'
Rudd nodded. 'I'm starting to appreciate what they can do, your rescuers.'
'This is just the beginning, Rudd. Just the beginning.'
Half an hour later the Rifles senior officer wandered in. I was concerned; we probably got the poor guy fired for using his men. 'Do you have a minute?' he tentatively asked.
'Of course, have a seat. Tea?'
'No, thank you. I have a message from the Defence Minister. He says to tell you that he himself has admitted to approving the rescue mission, and that he ordered myself to assist you in any way. You will not be any trouble.'
Jimmy glanced at me without the officer noticing. 'That's very good of the Minister, and good of you to help me like that. If we survive this day I'll reward those that helped me. How is your soldier?'
'He will be OK, Doctor Adam is looking after him.'
'Then he is in good hands. Later today I'll thank your men. How do the men view these new English officers?'
'Ah, they like them a lot - quick and brave men. When they returned they only had concern for the men, buying many beers in the bar.'
'I'm sure that you would have done the same. I did not choose the English officers for the mission. In fact, I asked for you, ' Jimmy lied.
'I would have been happy to serve, ' the officer acknowledged, although I had my doubts about that. He left us to finish our tea. With the sun up fully we heard a plane land, soon followed by a second.
'Time to face the music. Rudd, go see everyone, tell them about the permission before any press get near them. Get everyone smartly dressed.'
Rudd headed off. I asked, 'Press be here?'
'The Press around here ... don't have much to do, ' Jimmy emphasised.
'So we're story of the year. Great.'
'Get used to it. Start practising your supercilious smile.'
'I'll not pick my nose in front of a camera.'
We stepped out, placing on our sunglasses, and walked across to the apron, soon our field of view blocked by dozens of Government officials, followed by dozens of reporters. The Rifles sent over a dozen jeeps and we led everyone to the rooftop bar, offering drinks ourselves because there were no waiters around. Standing, we began interviews with the Press, the photographers taking many snaps from the rooftop walls, a great vantage point, TV cameras now filming the airfield.
The Defence Minister, Mister Idi Amin look-a-like, thanked us, shaking our hands as cameras snapped. We thanked the Minister for providing us his permission, and his soldiers. Technical questions were asked; the route, the distance, the time, the aircraft involved, the fire on the Huey coming into land. I got the impression that they believed Big Paul was hanging out the back fighting the fire. The Old Dogs appeared, looking a little hung over and lacking coffee, which I organised quickly. Rudd appeared ahead of the Rescue Force staff, the best of them bright and coherent, the worst of them an embarrassment, Cosy avoiding the press. With the medics about – in their distinctive white jackets - we were largely ignored, the white uniforms making for good TV. The former British officers stepped out looking smart, so too their men, lined up for pictures against the backdrop of the airfield. An hour passed quickly, the Government officials heading back, the press as well if they did not wish to walk back to Nairobi. The eventually bar cleared of visitors, many coffees now ordered. We sat and took a break, Cosy joining us.
'All over the breakfast news, all around Africa, ' Cosy informed us. 'Oh, more press jeeps pulling up.'
'Gawd, round two, ' I grumbled.
'Round two ... is often the important one, ' Jimmy suggested. He stepped to the wall. Turning, he loudly said, 'Look sharp people, it's the BBC. Get the coffee and water down you, shoes shined, attitude sorted.'
Cosy disappeared, the BBC TV crew coming up to us. As background shots were filmed, the damaged Huey zoomed in on, the interviewer took names and details, the mission front to back. For the interview we stood against the wall, the backdrop a cameraman's dream.
When it was my turn to speak, I repeated Jimmy's earlier words, 'We work closely with the UN, we eat and drink with them, share this base and share equipment, so we know a lot of them personally. When we heard their desperate cries for help over the radio we acted instinctively.' A minute later I said, 'We took a lot of incoming fire over the UN vehicles, my helicopter damaged, and I had to nurse it back to the border.'
'We were only on fire for the last fifteen minutes.'
Back in the UK, Jack relayed the story to Sykes, the Deputy Director staring up with his jaw hanging down.
With the BBC gone, I went back down to the pool, the man with the net having fished up the dead insects. I walked straight in clothed and floated on my back.
'Are you OK?' came a woman's voice, oddly distorted under the water. I turned my head, finding an attractive UN nurse kneeling at the pool edge.
I eased up and stood, the water to my waist. 'Just needed a dip, love, the press a bit much. You coming in?'
'No costume, ' she carefully mouthed.
'Who cares, I run the airfield.'
'Which one are you?'
'Paul, the crazy helicopter pilot.'
She glanced around, then stripped down to bra and panties, easing in. 'Oh, that's good. Who'd have a thought to put a pool in the desert.'
'And you gave twenty million to an orphanage?'
'I was overcompensating for not having any kids of my own.'
'I've heard a lot about you. And Silo, he's the big one, right?'
'Yep. He's muscles, I'm brains and looks.'
She laughed, but forced herself to stop. 'Yesterday was terrible, I knew some of the dead.'
'Somalia is disintegrating, so best stay out of there, love.'
'I just got here. I was in Central America.'
'So what do you want to be when you grow up?' I asked.
She smiled. 'I quite like this work. The pay is not great, but the work is satisfying.'
'Have you thought about Rescue Force? They're recruiting, ' I nudged.
'Never heard of them till I got here. They seem very good, whizzing about in helicopters.'
'We teach most of them to fly. And the pay is better than for the UN.'
'You making me an offer?' she toyed.
'Oh, no. I only do that in my office, and in my swimming trunks.'
She giggled as a sandwich hit the water between us. I looked up, faces withdrawing from the wall as she threw it out of the pool. 'Your fan base?' she asked.
'They're jealous because I'm talking with you and they're not.'
'You're fabulously wealthy, you can have your pick.'
Bob Davies walked out and straight around. I jumped up and out of the pool.
'How're your people?' I asked, dripping wet.
He stopped and forced a breath. 'Better than if they had been left over there.' Despite my sodden state he hugged me. 'I owe you one. The UN ... owes you one.'
I pointed at the nurse. 'She's got the day off.'
'You've got the day off, ' Bob repeated to her. We shook hands and he headed off, damp on the front.
I jumped back into the pool. 'So, what'll you do on your day off? You ever flown in a Tucano?'
After I had dried off and changed we had lunch, Sue's first time in the rooftop bar. Jimmy and Rudd were handling things, not least some aircraft repairs. Jimmy went and spent many hours with the Rifles, money given to the heroes, more money placed behind their bar, everyone in the Rifles feeling wanted and needed. Mac and the Old Dogs had a new swagger about them, a youth recaptured, and Big Paul was teaching the Rifles some boys-own special forces stuff, efficient ways to despatch unwary local camels. Jimmy and Rudd joined us at the poolside around 3pm, taking a breather, a few UN staff now doing lengths.
'That water is not hygienic, ' Rudd complained, stood with hands on hips, studying the pool. 'We have a pump and some chlorine, but I don't think they use it.'
'It cools you down, ' I suggested. 'Chill out.'
Jimmy introduced himself to Sue, sat the other side of her, soon a debate about Central American politics and the UN role there. Bob Davies walked out an hour later, grabbing a white plastic chair, Sue suddenly a little self-conscious.
'You here tomorrow?' he asked.
'Could be, if you need us?' Jimmy replied.
'Got the investigation team coming down, so they'll want statements.'
'We in trouble?' I asked.
'No, they're focused on the deaths, ' Bob explained. 'You saw the gunmen near our jeeps?'
I eased up, back into work mode. 'Couple of open-back jeeps with half a dozen gunmen in each.'
'Any markings, any flags?' Bob nudged.
I explained, 'We flew in fast, us firing at them, them firing back - bit of a blur. Your wounded will have to help you there, Bob. How's Doc Nash?'
He hesitated. 'Stable, but ... won't be walking well after.'
Jimmy asked, 'Her old man in the UN?'
'Desk job in Nairobi, ' Bob replied.
'And he probably nagged at her to do the same, ' Jimmy added. 'Now he can say I told you so.'
'I'd like to think that he's ... bigger than that, ' Bob responded.
'But... ' Jimmy added, leaving the word floating.
'It's between them, ' Bob stated.
'And also the man who nagged her to do this posting, ' Jimmy added. He eased up. 'Her leg will probably heal, and I plan on having a word with Mister Nash in Nairobi.'
'Why?' Bob delicately asked.
'Because I understand what it is to send people into harms way, ' Jimmy softly stated.
Bob squinted back at us for several seconds. Turning away he said, 'I've lost people before ... but it never gets easier. When I was a rank lower I didn't have to handle the dead and wounded, now everyone comes to me. Two more were shot dead in Northern Somalia.'
'Might want to re-think your strategy over there, ' Jimmy suggested. 'And we'll be here tomorrow. I'll limit the booze tonight as well.'
'That ... would be a good idea, ' Bob agreed before he left us.
Jimmy stripped off, down to his boxer shorts, and eased down into the water.
'You two work out a lot?' Sue asked.
'Hey, stop looking at other men, ' I joked, following Jimmy into the water, unhygienic or not. After some nagging, Rudd found trunks and joined us, Sue doing lengths. The three of us hung onto the poolside, chins on our arms, chatting away.
Sue joined us for food that evening, a quiet affair with all alcohol banned, Rudd and Cosy flying back down to Nairobi to do some work. Big Paul ate with the Rifles and "the Ruperts", the Old Dogs drinking in their hut. Jimmy made his excuses early on and disappeared, leaving me with Sue, a romantic drink under the stars. She showed me her room on the third floor, which was tiny, so I showed her mine on the first floor, just about three times bigger. I explained about the pet Gecko on the wall – it ate the insects – then threw her onto the bed.
An hour later we elected to have a moonlight stroll, finding the base quiet, but soon gravitating back to the bar, a late snack and a few drinks, the bar almost empty thanks to our prohibition rules.
At 6am we showered together, Sue and the others normally having to share communal bathrooms, and she headed off to do UN work, the inspectors due early. I drove over to the Rifles and retrieved the slumbering Big Paul, crashed out in a barrack room after a lot of drinking. I dumped him into his own room and told him to shower, our hung-over bodyguard joining us downstairs later for self-service breakfast, the first UN staff stirring as the sun warmed up the morning. Bob Davies joined us for coffee before heading off to greet the UN plane as it landed.
We made our statements at length, trying to be as helpful as we could, the inspectors amazed by the tale. Big Paul wound them up with a tale of trying to hang out the Huey's door and using a fire extinguisher on the engines. It made it to the investigators paperwork, and we did not correct them. They did not grasp the laws of physics that kept a helicopter in the air, the downdraft produced: a fire extinguisher would just result in the user getting it in the face. The Old Dogs made statements, a denial made of Cosy going on the mission. Tubby loudly explained how he valiantly landed and took off, more technical detail than was necessary, and the Russian pilots gave their own account.
Our Rescue Force staff made statements of a different nature; a list of wounds and identifying clothing, action taken, medical treatment given - who was pronounced dead, and what time. Our doctors were all ex- UN, familiar with the procedures, and current medical license holders. They signed statements about who was found dead or alive. It was all very sobering. The investigators thanked us and moved onto a wider investigation involving the UN staff, Jimmy telling everyone to go back to normal training. We thanked them again and pinched a Cessna from the flying doctors, soon heading southwest towards the safari park.
Landing on the improved grass runway, we surprised those of our local staff who lived next to the airfield, stepping down to a dull amber sky and the threat of distant rain clouds. We pinched a jeep, threw our luggage in the back, and drove twenty minutes to the new lodge, the staff at the airfield calling ahead. No more than ten steps of dried grass were crossed before a lumbering young male lion bounded towards us. Jimmy held his arms wide and ran at it, the young male turning and fleeing. It stopped to look back and check us out, soon sure that we were not a threat. It jogged up to us, now the size of an adult Labrador dog, rearing up and placing its paws on Jimmy's shoulders as he ruffled its mane. At least he did not roll around the floor with it this time. It followed us inside, a younger cub nearly tripping me, the ball of fur around four months old and snipped at by its larger friend.
'Sorry, sir, we were not expecting you, ' the deputy manager offered, looking worried.
'That's OK, we don't need rooms here, ' Jimmy told him.
'We don't?' I asked.
'No, we'll stop with Skids and Co at their new place.'
Stepping into the cooler interior we noted ten guests sat about. I checked my watch: 4pm, jeep treks would be over by now.
'Jimmy!' came a shout, our financial officer from Pineapple. He stepped briskly towards us, handshakes given. 'Christ, I saw it on the news. You guys OK?'
'Yeah, yeah, ' Jimmy offered. 'Who you here with?'
'Wife and eldest.'
'How you finding it?'
'Great place, nice rooms. The rooftop bar is good, been having our meals up there. Did our first safari today, saw the elephants and plenty of lions.'
'Plenty of lions in here, mate, ' I quipped, the younger cub darting about, the elder shooed out by the staff. We greeted the man's wife, many guests standing and walking over, shaking our hands for some reason that eluded me; we played dutiful hosts, everyone welcomed, and stood posing for photographs for ten minutes before heading upstairs. The process was repeated, two singers from Pineapple making a fuss of us, Big Paul loving the attention, before we grabbed a table and ordered steaks and beer. More cameras flashed, but at least they asked nicely first.
Jimmy beckoned one man over, a rotund fifty year old. 'Don't I know your face?'
'Might have met in London, I work at the Independent - Jimmy Rosette.'
'Pull up a seat, and your wife.' They joined us, enough room on the large table, chairs dragged over. 'You eaten?'
'No, we'll eat around 7pm with the rest, you go ahead.'
'Bleeding starved, ' I said. 'Spent all day yesterday talking to hacks – no offence.'
'Perhaps you'd better not let me spoil your meal then.'
'Not at all, you're a guest, ' Jimmy insisted. 'And if you want a story that's fine.' Jimmy gestured towards Paul. 'This fella is ex-SAS, so no photos or names, he might not like it.'
'Oh, right you are.'
Big Paul tried to convince him about the fire extinguisher story.
'Wouldn't the downdraft disperse it?'
We all laughed, Jimmy explaining, 'He climbed out to see just how much we were on fire, no extinguisher.'
After that I went through the flight details at length, the warning lights, the shot-up glass, the drafty cabin. Big Paul added plenty of detail, the hack taking notes, Jimmy discussing the politics of the situation, the dead and wounded, the state of Somalia and its refugees.
'What day you leaving?' Jimmy asked his namesake.
'Day after tomorrow. We did a week in your beach hotel – very nice. Even played a round of golf.'
'If you want, I'll get you up to the airfield tomorrow, you can play hack.'
'Well, that's very good of you. Are you sure?'
'You should be asking your dear lady for permission, ' I cut in.
'I'm used to it, ' she said. 'Thirty years married to a reporter.'
'I'll arrange it for 8am in the morning, ' Jimmy offered. 'Go get some snaps, talk with Bob Davies if he's there, then our Rescue Force boys.'
'Rescue Force sounds almost ... paramilitary?'
'It is: they're trained to be tough; they get mine clearance and bomb disposal training, making them very self sufficient. We aim to send them into places that others would wisely avoid.' Jimmy placed down his drink. 'One of the greatest tragedies about Africa, is that a handful of rebels can terrorise thousands of villagers, yet everyone is trying to send money to help the villagers – no one is dealing with the rebels.'
'An interesting viewpoint, ' Rosette commented as he took notes.
'The taxpayers of the world can send ten dollars to feed the displaced, or spend one dollar on a company of soldiers to remove the rebels. That's what it comes down to. Year after year we're sending money to Africa when we should be sending soldiers, and not through the UN. We need soldiers that will be aggressive with the gunmen. Somalia is falling apart, Rwanda will be the next place to go. And what will the world do? Try and use a sticking plaster on a festering wound, one that needs lancing, not debating about.'
I was starting to see what Jimmy was up to, giving this guy an exclusive, but our exclusive. We spoke for another hour, Rosette and wife off for a nap and a cleanup before their evening meal, and we grabbed a jeep as the light started to fade, heading for Skids' farm.
Jimmy found it in the pitch black, Skids coming out onto the porch with a rifle, unsure about who was visiting. 'Get the kettle on for your employer.'
'Right, boss. Come on in.'
We met the other two men in their huge lounge, a high cone of a ceiling, thatched just like the first lodge.
'Very nice, ' I commented, doing the tour, three large bedrooms peeked into. Two local ladies, in their early twenties, walked out from the kitchen, placing down food. 'All the creature comforts.' With the ladies smiling and withdrawing I stared at Skids, hands on my hips.
'What?' he said with sheepish grin, turning away. We settled around an open fire, a dog asleep at our feet.
'You met Big Paul, ex-Regiment?' Jimmy asked.
'No, ' they said, greetings exchanged, years served and squadrons attended swapped back and forth.
'He's my driver and bodyguard, ' Jimmy explained.
'You don't need a fucking bodyguard, Jimbo, ' Skids commented. 'And what's this we been hearing about a helicopter assault into fucking Somalia.'
We relayed the story for thirty minutes, making the men jealous.
'Should have had us doing that, ' they grumbled.
'What, you country gents?' Jimmy said. 'Colonial farming stock.'
'We ain't much of farmers, ' Trev suggested. 'We live here, but work over your place.'
'You may have more land to cover soon, ' Jimmy informed them. 'I'll be getting Schilling's land.'
'That's a good spread, ' Skids suggested. 'A good ravine and river down towards the lake; make for a good camping spot.'
'How the Rifles working out?' I asked.
'They're good boys, we're teaching them, ' Skids enthused. 'All fit as fuck.'
'Much poacher business?' I asked.
'Naw, not now. They know we're here, ' Trev put in.
'Any gossip ... about Tasker's accident?' Jimmy asked.
'Why, did you have a hand in it?' Skids quickly retorted.
'No, hence the question, ' Jimmy carefully mouthed.
'Black fella with one eye and some booze in him driving a fucking great lorry, a simple accident, ' Skids explained.
Jimmy slowly nodded. 'Seems that way.'
Skids and Trev exchanged glances. 'Any gossip on the other matter.'
Jimmy shook his head. Softly he said, 'I'd be happier if there was. It's ... too quiet.'
'Either that, or we're all better than we think we are, ' Trev enigmatically suggested, making Jimmy smile.
Skids put in, 'We figured we'd create a small sanctuary over here, orphaned animals, arrange tours from your place.'
'Sounds good, ' Jimmy agreed. 'And you'd want some money for the tours, of course.'
'Gotta earn a crust, ' Trev said with a shrug.
'I have no problem with that, you can do what days you want on my side, but plan ahead and let the manager know. He might want to recruit some proper guides, not lazy land owners.'
'Planning on retiring here, ' Skids informed us.
'Pipe and slippers on the porch?' I asked. 'Don't seem to suit you.'
'Better than cold old fucking UK, mate, ' Trev suggested.
'And you can work part-time at my place when you need a few quid, ' Jimmy added.
'You grow your own here?' I asked, getting nods. 'And the ladies?'
'They tend the garden out there, some livestock, ' Skids explained. 'Could easily be self sufficient, so don't need to earn much.'
'And no one shooting at you, ' Jimmy noted. 'Seems like a plan. Oh, I'm going to do the main road with tarmac, might extend it down here.'
'Be quicker and better access, ' Skids agreed.
'If you've got cots or sofas, we'll crash here, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Got any booze?'
We built up the fire, warming the high ceiling lounge, and swapped war stories for many hours. Trev headed off to bed, working in the morning, the final two staying and chatting a few hours more. Big Paul crashed on the sofa, Jimmy and me taking a stroll before sitting on the porch.
'The incident in Somalia, you knew it would happen?' I asked.
'More or less.'
I took in the stars. 'You ... could have taken right seat.'
'You needed the experience. It will help in years to come and, for a lot of what we'll need to do we'll need the press - and the public - behind us. And for you to have credibility with people like Rescue Force, you needed to show what you can do.'
I sighed. 'My brain was on autopilot. If I had been thinking straight I probably would have told you to fuck off. I should have, a stupid stunt like that.'
'It was necessary, ' Jimmy quietly insisted.
'Fucking fuel tank was empty when we landed, gears probably shot for lack of oil.' I yawned.
'That's just the beginning. You'll need to be much tougher in the future, and more confident.'
'What's next on the agenda?' I idly asked.
'Chinese Government, via Po.'
'Any burning helicopters involved?'
'Oh no, it'll be far more dangerous than that.'
We laughed quietly.
'Could just retire down here, ignore the world, ' I joked.
Jimmy sighed. 'That had crossed my mind.'
Back in Blighty we received a few requests for interviews, selecting those that we wished talk to, Rosette at The Independent given plenty of time. He produced a two page spread, the net effect being an awareness of Rescue Force and the problems in Somalia, not to mention the crazy pair of Silo and Holton. The staff at Pineapple Records were amazed, and our first visit back to the club quite odd, many handshakes and much congratulations. Some nice gentlemen from the Foreign Office popped along with a few questions about our incursion into someone else's sovereign territory, but did little other than to confirm the details.
A month after our return a writer sent a letter to Pineapple, trying to track us down, since the address at the house was hidden from public records, we were not on the Electoral Roll. Pineapple passed on the letter, the writer having lost a brother-in-law at Baardheere. He wanted to write a book and Jimmy agreed immediately, inviting the man down, full access given, plane tickets supplied for several trips to Kenya, everyone told to co-operate with him. We'd be in print for Christmas.
The Chinese Government
As we sat at the bar of the Mandarin Orient Hotel, Po was confused and concerned.
Jimmy explained again, 'I wish to do business in China in the future; there will be many good opportunities over there. This place will go back to China in '97 – that will open up Chinese markets. Tomorrow I'll go and talk with them, at their embassy here.'
'They expect you?' Po puzzled.
'Yes, I sent them a telex, ' Jimmy explained, but I didn't remember any being sent.
We sat and chatted, work and pleasure discussed, Po's cousin now a regular visitor to the golf complex in Kenya. And Po was sitting on a large pile of cash for us, a very large pile. Jimmy indicated that it would soon be needed. As we said goodnight to Po, planning on meeting the next evening, it registered that no one had discussed the mad helicopter rescue. I guessed they'd not heard about it here, and was quite grateful for that, since it was starting to drag a bit; there are only so many ways you can re-tell the same damn story. We whiled away the time with lengthy massages downstairs, a sauna, then propped up stools in the bar till it closed, chatting to high class hookers, but not tempted to buy some trade.
The next day, Po's Rolls was waiting, at our disposal for the duration of our visit. We jumped in, dressed smart, and asked the driver for the Chinese Embassy, stetting off in thick traffic. We drove for fifteen minutes, pulling up in a street of old colonial-style buildings, next to a particular building with its windows covered in metal grills, a Chinese flag flying. I had been practising my Chinese language skills, but knew that I could not hold a conversation, certainly not one concerning the subject matter of today's meet. My chest heaved an involuntary breath as we approached the door and its two uniformed guards.
'I am expected by the Ambassador, ' Jimmy said in Chinese.
A door clicked open without the guards having done anything and we stepped in. A man held the door for us, bowing his head and gesturing us onwards, Jimmy striding forwards as if he knew the way. We walked along marble floors, many attractive Chinese vases displayed on antique wooden tables, pictures of Mao on the walls. At the end of the corridor we were met by two men in smart black suits, both wearing identical glasses. I could not judge their ages well, but guessed they were in their late forties, and could have been twins.
Jimmy extended a greeting, and we were shown into a side room, very posh but not very functional. It reminded me of my first visit to the old apartment in London. We sat on period chairs, a low coffee table between us and the hosts, whoever they were. Jimmy turned his head to me, 'This is the Ambassador, and this is Security Minister from the mainland.' The rest was mostly in Chinese.
'Welcome to the Embassy of the Peoples' Republic, ' the Ambassador offered, tea poured into small cups.
'I thank you for your time in seeing us, ' Jimmy responded.
'You are a most honoured guest, Mister Magestic.'
My heart skipped a beat, even without the full translation.
Jimmy asked, 'How have you found my stock market tips?'
'Very ... accurate, ' the Ambassador responded. 'And may I compliment you on your Chinese. You seem to have a Beijing accent.'
'The accuracy of the tips was not the question ... I asked.'
The Ambassador glanced at his colleague. 'The tips were ... most profitable.'
'And the other information?'
'Of great benefit, and many lives were saved, ' the Security Minister offered.
'Do you have a question for me, Mister Ambassador?' Jimmy asked.
'We are naturally curious as to ... your abilities.'
'Ambassador, please speak your mind. You are curious ... as to my motives.'
'As you can imagine, ' the Ambassador politely agreed.
Jimmy smiled. 'Is Ho Sin upstairs, watching us?' Our guests blinked. 'My abilities, gentlemen, are a thousand times more than you realise. Before my arrival, did you not discuss that I may be a clairvoyant? Did you not discuss also, Ambassador, your daughter's wedding?'
The Ambassador seemed most put out.
'So, gentlemen, do you ... have a question?'
'Who are you please?' the Security Minister politely asked.
'I am a time traveller, ' Jimmy bluntly stated. He let them think on it. 'Your future ... is my past. I know everything that will happen in the next twenty-five years.'
'And who do you work for?' the stunned Ambassador asked.
'I work for myself, and there is no point my trying to explain my motives, since self-praise ... is no praise. Instead, as the years roll by, I will demonstrate my skill and help your country, as I help others. When, in time, you trust my motivation - through observation of actions - then I will discuss my motives.'
'And in the meantime... ?' the Ambassador asked.
'I will answer any questions that you have that may benefit your country, save lives, make some money, but do not compromise the security of any other nation. As I can see your future, so can I see the future of others. Now, if you have questions about your countries future, you may ask them.' He waited, our hosts glancing at one another.
The Security Minister asked, 'Will the British resist the handover of this colony?'
'No, it will go smoothly, and everything will be fine here afterwards, a prosperous integration.'
The Ambassador glanced at his colleague. 'Will there be any major wars that involve the People's Republic in the future.'
'In 2015 a Republican American President named Oliver Sanchez will attack China to ease deficit payments to your country.'
'Attack us?' the Ambassador questioned, clearly horrified.
'Yes. He believes that by attacking you they will not have to repay their dollar debt, at a time when OPEC switches from the dollar as reserve currency.'
'OPEC ... switches reserves?' the Ambassador puzzled.
'Yes, when the US economy suffers, and people wish not to be a part of bad dollar politics.'
They gave that some thought. 'You know when major floods will occur in Yantze River?' the Security Minister asked, an odd question.
'Yes, and every earthquake, some very serious. Also outbreaks of infections that kill many people.'
'You ask for nothing ... for this information?' the Ambassador posed.
'I will ask for many things, only one of which is compulsory for my continued assistance.'
'And that is?' the Security Minister asked.
'You will, with my help, create a medical rescue body, a group of trained specialists that can fly quickly to a disaster area inside China and render medical and rescue assistance. In years to come I will also ask that this force extends help to other nations in this region, extending the Chinese hand of friendship and diplomacy.'
'This ... is a very odd price to pay for your continued assistance, ' the Ambassador pressed.
'Many things that I do, well intentioned, will not be revealed until closer to the time. That way security is maintained.'
'And when do you say that we should create this rescue body?' the Security Minister asked.
'You must have a representative ready for the day after tomorrow, to liase with myself and my good friend Wang Po – who knows nothing of who I am. That is his car outside. I will tell the liaison everything that he must do, and I will show him my facilities in England and Kenya as examples. A diplomat would do, someone who can travel easily without suspicion.'
'And what is your relationship with this Po?' the Security Minister asked.
'In the future, his children have a destiny in the success and future of China. I provide him stock market tips and assistance in other business ventures, so that his family will have the money they need to carry out certain tasks to the benefit of China. But gentlemen, there is one question that you have not asked about ... time travel.'
'What is that?' they puzzled.
'Why go back in time?' Jimmy posed.
They were still puzzled.
'I travelled back to prevent World War Three and the destruction of this planet.' That one woke them up. 'If I fail, we all die. Soon, you will have to decide if you trust me, because failure in that belief may set in motion a series of events that are unstoppable. Now, do you have a medical kit here?'
'Medical kit?' they puzzled.
'I wish to give you a sample of my blood.'
'My blood will cure all diseases known to man, including cancer and AIDS. And I am more than a hundred years old.'
They were stunned into inactivity for many seconds. After some debate they found a medical kit, a sample taken, Jimmy doing it himself, the vial placed in the fridge.
'When your scientists have analysed the blood, we will meet again and I will describe to you how to get on the path to curing all diseases.' He handed them a card. 'Do remember that the British Government will be watching, so communication must be private, face to face, and preferably on your soil – not by phone or fax. Oh, I'm staying at the Mandarin for the contact.'
We thanked them for the tea and headed out, leaving me wondering what the chitchat would be about after we left. I had a feeling it would not be the Ambassador's daughter's wedding plans.
In the Rolls, Jimmy said, 'I've just woken up the biggest tiger on the planet.'
'Hope you know what the fuck you're doing.'
We had a restful afternoon shopping, exclusive stores with few shoppers and many helpful assistants, then back to the hotel for more relaxing massages. The Rolls took us to a restaurant we had not visited before, also owned by Po, and I re-acquainted myself with his daughters, Suni now in a relationship. That left Ling, my favourite. Unfortunately, a BBC correspondent was dining out with friends and colleagues and introduced himself, discussing the Somali incident, Po all ears. There was nothing for it but to ask them to join us, tables moved, one big party.
Po was amazed by the tale, but also concerned that his stock pickers might have got themselves killed. Jimmy chatted at length to the various correspondents about world politics, Africa and Rescue Force, Ling asking for the full story of what happened; she and Po did not even know that I flew. To placate the BBC Jimmy invited them down to the Cardiff club the following weekend, we'd all be back in the UK by then.
I enjoyed my time with Ling, I always had done, and we hit the shops the next morning, Jimmy off with Po on some dull tour inspecting offices and factories. We met up again at around 6pm, heading for a black-tie Gala, raising money for the local Red Cross. We were on the top table, and Po would be making a donation from us all. And I should have had some foreboding about the gala. As we arrived, the timing down to Po and his driver, only the function room staff idled about the entrance. I thought we were early and could have a drink first. We were ushered in, several posters advertising various UN projects around the world, and I still hadn't twigged.
At the entrance to the main hall, Jimmy said, 'Paul, stay close. Po, meet us at the table please.'
With a puzzled frown I let go of Ling and followed Jimmy, straight into applause, a standing ovation as we walked across the room. And me, I wondered who they were applauding, looking towards the stage. When people started shaking Jimmy's hand, then mine – pats on the back issued – I realised that this was a UN event. Cursing Jimmy under my breath, I tagged along behind, right up onto the podium. And the microphones.
Jimmy tapped a microphone, issuing greetings in more languages than I had fingers and toes. Finally, in English he said, 'This is just like my high school graduation, only I can't see the biology teacher I had sex with.'
I closed my eyes; statements like that were normally down to me. The audience laughed, then settled.
'Ladies and gentlemen. First, I would like to thank the organisers for inviting us, a free meal and some booze is always appreciated since we've got some aircraft repairs to pay for.' He waited till they settled again. 'Second, I would like to introduce Mister Wang Po and his lovely daughter Ling, somewhere here at the back. They will be making a donation later. Mister Po is a generous benefactor of my charitable interests in Kenya, often staying at River View golf complex. He makes donations, we make the holes on the golf course bigger for him.' Even I laughed at that one. Poor old Po. 'Third, I would like to point out that I do not have a pilot's license, and that Paul here passed his helicopter proficiency just six months before the incident in Somalia, making his flying skills all the more impressive.' He stood to one side and gestured towards me, a rapturous applause given.
Back at the microphone, a full thirty seconds later and now serious, Jimmy continued, 'In Kenya, the medical rescue team I have set-up is called Rescue Force, a tough bunch of doctors and medics being trained to go just about anywhere. Their motto, thought up by the medics themselves, is fools and heroes. You have to be a fool to risk your life for a complete stranger, a hero once the act has been completed – dead or alive. In the middle ... in the middle sits a period of transition, a period where we stop and think for a moment – just a fraction of a second – where our mind weighs up the danger, the chances of survival, the merits of what we are doing, and why. We then have two ways of turning. We can rush in, or we can back off. A sane person would back off, a crazy person would jump in without knowing the reason behind why they jumped in. So what makes that transition, from ordinary person ... to hero?
'For most it is a subconscious decision, a decision that risking your life, or giving your life for another, is part of a greater good. For those that I employ I hope it is more than that. I hope that when that transition point is reached, that they feel more in touch – more connected – to the rest of mankind. Unfortunately, the oldest and most primitive instinct ... is to look after our own kind, our own tribe, our own family. But look around you. How many nations, tribes and families are represented here today? Close to fifty I guess. And what I wish for, with my rescuers, is that in that moment of transition they are connected to the planet that they live on, connected to the people – all of the people, and that the moment of transition, from fool to hero, is a point where you lose your family, your tribe and your nation, and see those that need rescuing as ... as part of the whole, not as individuals. I hope, that when my rescuers take that first dangerous step, that they are trying to rescue Mother Earth itself. And what cause is better to die for than that?'
Everyone stood and started clapping again, leaving me thinking what the hell I might say. At least there were no TV cameras around.
Jimmy added, 'When the UN staff drove across the border to Somalia they made their decisions, in fact they made their decision when they put on the blue uniform and signed up. They signed up to something bigger than themselves – they signed up to help everyone, to help us all.' He pointed at the nearest table. 'Can I trouble you for two glasses please.'
I bent down as a lady offered me two champagne flutes.
With a glass in his hand, Jimmy said, 'Could I ask you all to stand please.' Everyone stood again. 'What we did was foolhardy, but we survived. We were fools to try it, heroes when we got back. But the real heroes were the ones that we went over there for. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... the United Nations.'
We sipped our drinks, soon people placing down their glasses and clapping politely. Jimmy turned to me, a gentle nod towards the microphone, in fact a question: did I want to speak or not. I stepped forwards.
'My name is Paul, and when I grow up I want to fly helicopters.' They laughed. 'If the UN bosses are here – the day after the incident we had a few drinks and I met this UN nurse... ' They laughed more. 'Sorry about that.' From the corner of my eye I caught Jimmy laughing. I took a moment. 'After the incident, Bob Davies – your Regional Co- ordinator - was badly shaken. And that surprised me, because up to that point I didn't equate people in blue uniforms to ... real people with families, wives and children. But when I was flying that helicopter, and we were getting shot at, I was responsible – responsible for the people in the back of the helicopter. And to tell you the truth, it was not a feeling I liked, having their lives in my hands. If I made a mistake it would not just be my death, it would be a few people I liked as well. And it took a few days, and a few quiet moments, to realise just how big Bob Davies' helicopter is - how many people he carries around, and how he feels when he has to write that letter back home to someone's family. He doesn't ride around in combat helicopters, but Bob Davies makes me look like an amateur.' I raised my glass. 'To UN commanders everywhere.' They joined me in the toast, Jimmy leading me down, people greeted and hands shaken. It took almost ten minutes to reach our table and find Po and Ling.
As we sat, Jimmy whispered, 'Bob Davies' boss is over there.'
Po was moved to tears, a hand on Jimmy's arm. 'You big big man.'
The first speaker gave a breakdown of who could not attend and who was unwell, and we all switched off, booze downed. They ran into details of donors, upcoming functions, events and issues, thirty minutes of it. Then came new member donors, Jimmy sending up a startled Po.
Po was welcomed onto the podium, the mike adjusted down. He issued greetings in Chinese and English. 'On behalf of my family, my business and Jimmy Silo, we donate one million pounds.' He handed over a cheque to applause, soon back with us. And it was all his million, none of our money.
'Where's the speech?' I teased.
'No, no. I no good speak like you.'
Bob Davies' boss, a UN bigwig, wandered over and pulled up a chair.
'Mr Patterson, ' Jimmy greeted him.
'How come we haven't spoken before?' Patterson asked, clearly from Southern Ireland.
'We only go to the good lap dance bars, ' Jimmy suggested.
Patterson laughed. 'Shhhh, my wife's over there. Thanks for what you did, Bob keeps me up to date with all the tales.'
I said, 'Shouldn't believe all you hear about us.'
'Twenty million pounds on an orphanage? That's a world record.'
'It wasn't twenty million, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Dollar conversion errors; more like ten.'
'And that amount again at the airfield, ' Patterson noted, his figures way out.
'We always wanted our own sandbox, ever since nursery, ' I suggested. 'Now we got the biggest sandbox anywhere, and they throw in the flies for free.'
'It's not all hardship up there, my people request postings there – pools and bars, ' Patterson pointed out. 'And more planned.'
'They may as well be comfortable, ' I said. 'Makes up for all the sand and heat.'
Jimmy asked Patterson, 'You pulling back from Somalia?'
'No, the US Marines are going in.'
'That's a mistake, ' Jimmy grumbled. 'The Somalis need their own people taking charge.'
'Your camp on the border has caused a stir; there are fifty people a day joining it now. What gave you that idea?'
'I figured that I would recruit and train some of them, send them back in. It's their country.'
'How ... exactly?' Patterson pressed.
'I'll pick out the able bodied men and train them as medics, some as soldiers – a free Somali regiment, kit them out and send them back in.'
Patterson was concerned. 'That's not something we'd support, especially not a militia.'
'Best get used to it, or work around me, ' Jimmy threatened. 'I'll do what I can, the way I think it's going to work best.'
'I wouldn't mind discussing that with you at length.'
Jimmy handed over a card. 'Glad to meet, anytime. Come to the house in the UK, or stay at one of our places in London.'
'Kind of you, I will.' Patterson headed back to his wife.
A few others wandered past and said a few words as food was served, modest portions, so we decided to head for a restaurant, eating and chatting to the small hours. Back in our hotel I carried a giggling Ling into the lift, many strange looks from the staff, and threw her onto the bed.
In the morning we met Jimmy at breakfast, Po having turned up early, and we all settled down to eat and chat again, just like family. We were still there at 9am, the restaurant clearing, when a smartly dressed Chinese gentleman with glasses approached us, a card placed down for Jimmy. He looked officious in his sombre black suit.
Without glancing at the card, Jimmy said, 'Everyone, this is Mister Han, and he will be my new liaison to the Chinese Government. Please, Han, have a seat.'
Mr Han exchanged pleasantries with Po, then explained in English, 'My Government will be interested in joint ventures with your shipping and ore business.'
I had no idea what that involved, or meant, but Po was shocked rigid, so too Ling.
Jimmy said, 'I am sure that Po and his family will prove excellent business partners.' He faced Han squarely. 'Have you a bag packed?' Han gave a polite head tip. 'UK visa?' Again a polite head tip. 'And visa for Kenya?' Finally a third head tip. 'Excellent. We will pay for any necessary expenses. If your Government wishes them itemised we can do that.'
'We leave on the 4pm flight, I have reserved a seat – in the name of Han.'
Han was momentarily surprised, but controlled it. 'I will meet you at check-in, 2pm.' He stood and tipped his head, backing out.
Jimmy faced Po. 'I asked them to give you some contracts.'
'You ... ask them?' Po was dumfounded. 'Chinese Government contract ... only very big, no small.'
'I'm only just getting started, ' Jimmy explained. 'Wait till I get you some very big contracts. Now, go home, we must pack. I'll see you in London in one month.'
I kissed Ling goodbye, and she helped Po out, the poor fella mumbling to himself. 'So how big a contract will the Chinese give Po?'
'In their terms ... a tiny percentage of a small amount. In his terms, a contract a hundred times bigger than his last one.'
'And we'd make a few quid, no doubt.'
'No doubt. All we have to do now ... is sell Sykes on the idea of a Chinese Government official tagging along, without him shooting us.'
'Yeah, that could be a problem. Let's get him a stuffed animal at the airport.'
We met up with Mister Han at check-in, sitting next to each other on the flight; economy class. Jimmy and Han spoke quietly in Chinese and I read a book, a Wilbur Smith; the cover had a picture of an African savannah, so it had appealed to me on the bookstand. Karl and Big Paul met us at the airport the next morning around 11am, two vehicles, driving us to the house. When Jimmy explained to Karl who Han was he did a double take, insisting Jimmy explain it to the authorities. Han was also a little surprised by the armed Government officer riding shotgun for us.
Han had a room allocated, Jimmy showing him around the house, explaining things in Chinese, a stroll down to the river and a lengthy chat about fish as I tackled a mountain of faxes and letters. Sharon was keeping on top of things, but that often only meant that the right fax or letter ended up in the right pile, she could not action anything. The spreadsheets were up to date and I scanned them quickly, pleased with the ability to just read figures as net differences between last month and this month; up five percent, down six percent. It made life a lot easier. Later, Han came with us to our favourite curry house and sampled the Indian food, pleased with the meal.
With a call into Jack, he and Sykes came down the next day, unaware of our new houseguest. We welcomed them into the lounge like old buddies, food ordered. Han was already sat, but stood and bowed as Sykes entered.
Sykes shook his hand. 'You work for Mister Po?'
'No, ' Jimmy cut in with. 'Please, sit before you have a heart attack.'
Sykes was concerned. 'Jimmy?'
We all settled. Jimmy began, 'As you are aware, Magestic has sent letters to the Russians, Chinese and others. This is not just about England, it never was. The Chinese Government has been receiving letters about natural disasters, mine accidents, internal crimes and terrorism, and things of that nature – no more. Mr Han is a diplomat of the People's Republic.'
Sykes took a moment to compose himself. 'Well, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, we greet you ... and welcome you to our country.' He turned his head a notch to Jimmy. 'Might I enquire as to Mister Han's ... status and function here?'
'He'll be staying in a room upstairs, ' Jimmy lightly explained, Sykes working hard to control his reaction. 'And that ... closeness of proximity will allow the smooth communication of information two ways. In particular, the Chinese Government will be creating their own small Rescue Force unit modelled on mine. Mr Han will be journeying with me to Kenya.'
'And is that ... to be listed as the primary function?' Sykes questioned.
'I would guess so, the rest is down to you, ' Jimmy replied. 'I will await the Government's guidance on any ... status problems, and abide by them – of course.'
'I'll ... need to discuss this higher up, ' Sykes warned.
'It is also my intention to assist ... in the smooth handover of Hong Kong, with a minimum of mistrust on both sides. And, I'm sure, that the handover will go smoothly, to the benefit of all parties.'
'That's ... good of you, ' Sykes offered. 'Might we talk in private?'
'Of course, ' Han offered. 'I will visit again this beautiful river and very green land.' He bowed his head and left.
'Jesus, Jimmy, ' Sykes let out, easing back and loosening his tie.
Jimmy offered Sykes a flat palm. 'Consider this. In 2015 America is on its arse, China the major player. Who ... do you want as your best buddy?'
'It reverses that much?' Sykes asked, clearly concerned.
'Yes, and by time we get to 2015 China is more American than America.'
'The communist government falls?'
'No, it transforms slowly, still socialist, but a MacDonalds on every corner, private finance, mortgages, you name it. And Hong Kong is the key. It acts like a giant cancer that infects China, turning them capitalist from the inside out, and quickly.'
Jack asked, 'And future military problems with China?'
'None. They react, they don't provoke.'
'And your agenda with them?' Sykes asked.
'To influence them of course. And Magestic is already persona grata. Is that not a good position to be in?'
'Of course, ' Sykes finally admitted.
'Tell the powers that be ... that Karl is shadowing Han, ' I suggested. 'Which he will be; he shadowed him down the curry house last night.'
'I hope you know what you're doing, ' Sykes softly let out.
'I say that all the time, not least when in helicopters getting shot at, ' I put in.
'I'm surprised you risked your necks like that, ' Sykes admitted.
'We're not indispensable, ' Jimmy suggested.
'No. Quite, ' Sykes agreed. 'How much do your staff know?'
'Nothing, ' I said. 'Nor families or friends, nor girlfriends.'
'I should hope not, ' Sykes said with a fatherly look.
'And we'll give the Government a few more wrecks, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Besides, they got the gold index, what more do they want?'
'And between us, they've been more active in the gold and currency area than admitted, ' Sykes offered. 'An extra five billion tucked away.'
'There's no pleasing some people, ' I said.
'Monty Python, Life of Brian, ' Sykes stated, and we laughed.
'On a more serious note, ' Jimmy began. 'A very much more serious note, next year Rwanda will disintegrate following the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana, their long serving President.'
'That's left of Kenya, yes?' Jack asked.
'West ... of Kenya, ' Sykes corrected him.
'Yes, ' Jimmy confirmed. 'A civil war will break out and a million will die within weeks, refugees fleeing.'
'A threat to Kenya?' Sykes asked.
'No, but I'll help the refugees. The problem ... is a million dead.'
'What about UN peace keepers?' Jack asked.
'Already there, and ineffectual, ' Jimmy suggested. 'It would require something more substantive, troops that will open fire and keep the peace.'
'Can it be prevented?' Jack asked.
'No, it can only be ... dealt with at the time. Any show of force ahead of time would simply push back the start point. No, there is only one way of dealing with it, and that's to get there just after it starts, after some bloodshed - but not too much, a combined effort with the UN.'
'Why wait till they start fighting?' Jack puzzled.
'Sometimes, you need to let the two sides punch each other on the nose to clear the air, ' Jimmy explained. 'There is no alternative. The Americans will be nudged along similar lines.'
'I'll chat to the relevant department, get more eyes on the ground, ' Sykes offered.
'You may explain to Her Majesty's Government, that failure to act will ... make me less available in the future.' Jack and Sykes exchanged looks. Jimmy added, 'And the US mission in Somalia is doomed. Someone, is not paying attention over there.'
'The new President?' Sykes asked.
'I would assume so. I guess a cage needs rattling.'
Jack went through a list of questions, some very detailed questions regarding Bosnia, and we thanked our visitors for popping down.
Sitting back down, I asked Jimmy, 'Will Rwanda upset Kenya?'
'Some tourists may stay away, there'll be refugees. Most Hutu's, those persecuted after they massacre Tutsis, they'll head west or south, not east.'
'We only got eleven in Rescue Force, ' I pointed out, some disappointment in my voice.
'Rescue Force is for later. This is a UN problem. Still, it will keep them busy. And we'll start to do something soon about the other refugee camps in Kenya.'
'Going to be stretched, not got the manpower for it.'
'It's too soon, ' Jimmy sighed. 'We're not ready.'
When Han re-entered the house, having his own key now, he said, 'You do not tell your government the full story.'
'They know what they need to know at this stage, ' Jimmy explained. 'The full truth, told early, would not be appreciated, nor actions taken. They must learn to trust me step by step, to build up a confidence over many years.'
'And the Americans?'
'Get only letters, I will not make direct contact with them yet.'
'May I ask why?'
'I was waiting for this particular Democrat President, for his second term. The timing has to be right.'
'And if you are killed ... in crazy helicopter stunt?'
Jimmy smiled, then forced it away. 'I won't be, I know the future ... remember.'
'So why make a full disclosure to my government?' Han posed.
'Your lot are less complicated, and they don't swap Presidents and policies every few years. If I make a deal with your government today, I can be sure that it will still be in place in ten years time.'
We showed Han around Mapley airfield at length; the water feature, the climbing frames, the cave, the off-road driving, the climbing wall and the first aid lessons. Photographs and notes were taken, flights then booked to Kenya.
Arriving at Nairobi airport a few days later, the officials did not understand Han's reason for the visit, senior men called in – as well as ourselves. Han explained that he would view Rescue Force with a view to making a Chinese equivalent, and that seemed to do the trick. Rudd and Cosy were waiting outside, having sat around for an hour, and we set-off for the airfield by jeep, two vehicles in convoy. Arriving at sunset, we were allocated rooms, meeting at the rooftop bar for food, the planned tour starting proper the next day. The next morning, dressed in a white shirt and beige trousers, sunglasses and hat, a camera carried, Han looked like a lost tourist. And he took some explaining.
'Coup, this is Mister Han, a Chinese diplomat, ' Jimmy explained. 'They've been impressed with what they've heard about our fledgling outfit and are interested in creating their own version of it.'
'So soon?' Coup puzzled.
'You're reputations ... precede you, ' Jimmy added.
Word of the visitor spread, so too his reason for being here. We showed Han some of our people undergoing various activities, our staff more earnest than normal, certainly swearing less. The half-built buildings in the Rescue Force compound were photographed, a diagram handed over. Han puzzled the new swimming pool, but found the mine disposal fascinating, most of the ordnance being disarmed or blown up being of Chinese origins, a fact that Mac pointed out several times. Without wishing to show Han the Rifles, we jumped into the repaired Huey for the short trip to the border camp. I made sure to land away from the camp, but still blew up a storm of dust. With the rotors winding down, we stepped across the parched sand in oppressive heat, a family of camels in the distance staring at the loud monster that was our Huey.
I found the camp an odd place, since it had strong barbed wire fences surrounding and enclosing it, yet offered several open sections for easy access. Jimmy explained that it was to protect the women and children from men, but there were very few Somali men around, and the first group of males we came across were Ethiopians that we employed to maintain the water pumps. We plodded across hot sand and through the barbed wire, two Rifles jeeps parked up, their vigilant occupants waved at. We noticed four of our people under a large tent, Doc Graham and Hildy, Ratchet and a new doctor, a long line of keen customers sweltering in the heat. We ducked our heads and stepped inside.
'Having fun?' I asked.
Doc Graham took a minute out, a welcome drink downed. 'Mostly women and kids, malnutrition, foot sores from walking, the odd disease. Overall, they're not the worst I've seen.'
'Any security problems here?' I asked. 'Got a nice big fence.'
'We heard that a woman was dragged off, and they found her body a few days later, ' Doc Graham explained. 'The Rifles shot at a few armed men trying to cross the border a few days back. As far as African refugee camps go, it's quiet.'
'I'd call that Dodge City, ' I suggested, a glance at the line of wailing kids, the women seemingly nervous of our presence.
Jimmy introduced Han, surprising our medics a little. They all shook Han's hand, their own mucky hands wiped down jackets first, and all looking a little perplexed. Opening a backpack Jimmy had brought with him, Jimmy handed out tinned pears to the line of women. Opening one, he spooned out the liquid, feeding it to a child as others closed in, soon half-pears being wolfed down and much appreciated.
We thanked our staff, telling them to carry on, before blowing up another dust storm and frightening the camels. Back at base we held a Rescue Force update meeting in the bar, cool drinks appreciated. And no sign of Sue the UN nurse, posted onwards somewhere I figured.
'How many medics can we recruit at best?' Jimmy asked Coup.
Coup replied, 'We're mostly word of mouth, people who know people around Africa. Little point in advertising the jobs in the papers since too few would notice the adverts.'
'OK, then let's get twenty Kenyan nurses ... who are under thirty and fit, ' Jimmy ordered. 'Many will drop out, so we may get ten good ones. If you repeat that process four times a year, we'll get forty good nurses. Advertise anyway, across Africa, modest budget, see who turns up. And I'll do some advertising in the UK.'
'We could pinch some Rifles, ' Coup suggested. 'They drive well, good mechanics, they've studied ordnance disposal – so all they need is basic medical training to be an extra pair of hands.'
'Fine, ask some if they want to move over – five or six, no more.'
'We could recruit in Hong Kong, ' I suggested, Han keenly listening. 'They speak English, got UK passports.'
'Not a bad idea, ' Jimmy approved. 'I think Po could help with that. Rudd, get some temporary tents set-up, good quality.'
Rudd said, 'We have four new cabins coming, living accommodation cabins, not offices. A factory in Nairobi makes them; self-assembly homes. You can get six or eight people in them.'
'Sounds workable, so get ten more, ' Jimmy suggested. 'How are we with the barbed wire?'
Rudd explained, 'The Kenyans were surprised. We've gone thirty miles in each direction so far. Some is already fenced, so we are improving the old fence as we go.'
'Keep going, ' Jimmy ordered. He faced Coup. 'I think the refugee problem will only get worse, now talk of a civil war in Rwanda. I want as many bodies as we can get without watering down the skill level. I think, as far as refugee camps go, that one doctor to four nurses is probably about right.'
'So prepare for lots of extra mouths to feed, ' I warned Coup. 'Talking of which.' I faced Rudd. 'How's that farm?'
'A price has been fixed, houses included, two point five million, ' Rudd explained.
'Use the excess money in the orphanage fund, ' Jimmy suggested, surprising me. And surprising Rudd.
'How can we justify the spend, it is a nominated charity?' Rudd queried.
'First, the children will attend classes there on farming, and I'll set-up a college of farming, which will recruit from the orphanage. And second, the produce will be sent to the refugee camps – so it's all linked.'
Rudd nodded his acceptance. Cosy said, 'I would like to be involved with the farming college.'
'Fine, ' Jimmy offered. 'I want the white managers let go, recruit blacks and make it a non-profit farm. A ... peoples collective.' Han lifted his head. 'But I want instructors from England, good people, a few months at a time, the latest skills. And if you want to you can offer residential scholarships to locals, one or two years, pay them a modest wage while studying. We can get some cheap fertilizer from my Hong Kong friend, Po, his family ship it.'
'I'll close the deal, ' Rudd suggested.
'Right, it's too damn hot to sit around here, so let's meet again at sundown. Tell Mac I want a word.'
The staff wandered off, Han stood with his hands clasped behind his back, peering out at the various buildings and activities.
'You want a big ramp up for Rwanda?' I knowingly asked.
'Yes, I just wish I could do more. I also wish I could go back and fix the Second World War, but I'm here ... and now.'
Mac turned up ten minutes later, a beer ordered and half downed quickly. It was a hot afternoon.
'Mac, there are things I'd like you to do besides the sandbox.'
'We got a pool cleaning boy!' Mac stated.
'And he's probably younger and better looking, ' I put in.
'What you after?' Mac asked, easing back and relaxing.
'In the future, most of the money - and therefore the good kit and people - will be focused around Rescue Force, not the sandbox. I'd like you more involved with that, maybe with some foreign trips.'
'More pay, ' I added.
'Doing what ... exactly?' Mac asked.
'You'd be temporary head of Rescue Force –'
'Temporary?' Mac challenged.
'Some day I'll recruit a doctor to do it, since you'll not know the medical ins and outs.'
'No, I wouldn't, ' Mac agreed.
'You won't be able to assess if a doctor is any good or not, ' I helpfully suggested.
'Aye. So ... what'll it involve?'
'You'll be in overall charge of the base, as now, but not touching ordnance training hands on. Coup would be under you, De Silva would work for Handy or Rabbit, and you'd plan Rescue Force training and operations along military lines. You'd need to pop to other countries to recruit, oversee projects, etc.'
'Less booze, and more shined shoes, ' I playfully warned.
'That's no joke, ' Jimmy pointed out, but Mac was not put off.
'What about the Rifles?' Mac asked.
'You'd plan their training and deployment as now, but in general terms, leave the detail to their officers.'
Mac scratched his stubble.
'And you'd need to fucking shave, ' I suggested.
'If you don't take it, I'd have no choice but to appoint someone from outside, and they'd eventually end up your boss, ' Jimmy pointed out.
'And we wouldn't want that, ' I pointed out.
'You two fuckers play poker together?' Mac asked.
'No, not nearly enough deception involved, ' Jimmy stated.
'Well, it's more of the same, but more pay, ' Mac said with a sigh. 'It is a promotion, of sorts. Aye, if you think it's best I'll do it.'
'It is, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Get yourself a white uniform, and start thinking like a general. You title is Director of Rescue Force Kenya. With a sub-title of Base Supervisor.'
'I thought sub-titles should be in a foreign language?' I queried.
'Mac can't speak any other languages, so I simplified it.'
Mac stood. 'I'd best tell the lads, they'll be gutted.'
'Or glad to see the back of you!' I said.
Han rejoined us. 'May I ask, at what point would Chinese rescuers be needed here?'
'Not for many years, it would cause more questions than is prudent. But in years to come China will need ore from Africa, and so will be heavily involved here. And I will assist in that process, since I'm already well known here.'
Han bowed a "thank you".
The next day we set off for Mombassa, a long hot drive, stopping at the orphanage on the way. Mary was still hanging in there, now in a Mombassa hospital where she could be cared for properly, her life expectancy measured in months. Anna led us up to the roof, Han keenly taking pictures, even though this was not related to Rescue Force.
Jimmy explained to Han, 'When I arrived here this was an AIDS orphanage, just sixty dying children. Now six hundred, and no one is dying.'
Han stood taking in the vast spread of buildings and the neat rows of regimented children in blue uniforms. 'The blood?'
'Yes, the blood, ' Jimmy confirmed. 'I injected Anna, she injects the children.'
Han studied Anna carefully, the good doctor confused and concerned. To Jimmy he asked, 'May we send doctors here ... to study?'
'Yes, of course you can, ' Jimmy replied. 'Anna, Mister Han is from the Chinese Government, and they are very private people, good with security.' She lightened a little. 'In the future they will be of great benefit to us, and to Africa.'
'There were twenty new children yesterday, all dying, ' Anna informed us in her accented voice, an invitation in her tone.
Jimmy gestured her below and we entered the ward. She was not wrong about the kids, they were in a terrible state, still wearing the rags they must have come in with. Two local nurses were dismissed, Anna fetching needles. Jimmy gave blood as Han carefully observed, Anna injecting the children in turn, the big guy reassuring them in a local dialect.
Through the courtyard, we walked slowly toward the new blocks, each teacher stopping their group and indicating who we were, a strange chant of thanks given, Jimmy shouting back a few words and waving. Beyond ten sets of parallel blocks, all identical, we poked our heads into classrooms, the kids standing and issuing a loud and harmonious greeting. In one classroom, made up of older boys, Jimmy took over the lesson for a few minutes, part English, part local dialect, Han keenly observing. At the end of the brief interlude, Jimmy introduced Han, asking the boys to locate China on a globe. For the first time I saw Han's cheeks crease into a wide, but brief smile.
Cosy caught up with us at a jog and keenly showed us the farm, neat rows of vegetables being grown, some older boys and girls tending them. A farm classroom was now occupied and we listened in, a lesson on irrigation. And for the first time I felt oddly proud of myself for my part in all this, proud of the progress that was being made, the hope for the future that the kids now possessed.
In late afternoon sun we ambled back, more harmonious shouts of greetings offered, waves given back. We thanked Anna, big hugs exchanged, and made ready to leave, but Jimmy stopped and spun around, a curious frown as he again approached Anna. With Cosy stood close by, Jimmy placed a hand on Anna's abdomen, a glance at Cosy as joined us. Cosy stood staring at Anna as she smiled back at him. In the jeep, Cosy sat and stared, a question for Jimmy.
As we pulled off, Jimmy said, 'A girl. Call her Mary.'
'Congratulations, ' I quietly offered.
Rudd questioned that statement, Cosy saying, 'I think Anna is pregnant.'
'She's a doctor, ' Rudd said, noting the caution in Cosy's voice. 'She'll be fine.'
'You'll have to book some time off, ' I told Cosy. The father-to-be made no comment as we drove down to River View.
We booked-in, Han taking a good look around before joining us at the beach bar. The elephants caused him to stop and do the tourist bit, snaps taken. The next day was a chill-out day, diving trips organised, Han wandering around the golf complex and reading Po's advertising material.
Over drinks at the beach bar, around 4pm, Han noted, 'You have made a lot of money for yourself.'
Jimmy did not take his gaze of the ocean. 'The golf complex is a meeting point for African leaders, and men of importance. If you wish to influence Africa, you must influence those men. Without influence, you cannot change the course of Africa. And in answer to your question, yet to be asked, I give away eighty-percent of all I earn.'
Rudd did not know that. 'Eighty percent? Wow.'
Han considered Jimmy's words. 'African leaders, they like to talk business at a golf club?'
'Yes, ' Jimmy answered.
Rudd put in, 'It's where all the business is done.'
Han appeared as if he had just learnt a valuable lesson, nodding his head gently as he thought about it. Obviously, golf hadn't reached the communist party hierarchy yet. As we sat there the staff brought out a tiny lion cub, housed at the nearby zoo, and Jimmy handed it to Han, followed by a bottle. A little unsure of himself, Han fumbled to feed the cub, soon a loud munching and sucking noise created. And another smile came from our Chinese stiff.
Jimmy turned his head toward the path that lead down to the beach, Po's relatives now wandering down; mum, dad and two young girls. He called to them in Chinese, beckoning them over. I quickly moved chairs around, not disturbing Han, the two girls rushing to the cub then halting dead, awaiting permission. Han spoke softly, almost a whisper, addressing the girls in Chinese as they stroked the cub. The parents sat, warm greetings for Jimmy offered. In a whisper, Jimmy explained who Han was, shocking the couple, the daughters now chatting away and Han responding. It looked like the parents wanted the kids pulled back, but Jimmy reassured them, settling them and organising drinks.
Jimmy faced me, away from the rest. 'Timing ... is everything, ' he whispered.
I glanced at the scene, the kids and Han, the lion cub, the staff bringing it over, and tried to piece together what he was up to. Nothing came to mind. I reached across and lifted Han's camera, wound it on and took several snaps, getting the girls in. In that instance I was tempted to snap a man sat with a woman at the end of the beach bar. For some reason he registered with me as being a little suspicious, but Jimmy had a clear view of the man and must have clocked him, so I ignored my feelings.
Jimmy asked the girls, in Chinese, what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said a doctor, the other a scientist. Jimmy commented to Han, 'Scientists are very useful, since inventions can change the world.'
Han regarded Jimmy carefully, then the girls. In Chinese, Han asked the parents if the girls could hold the cub. They readily and nervously agreed, Han instructing the girls; one to hold, one to feed the cub. He lifted his camera and took several snaps, offering to send them on via Po in Hong Kong. Jimmy beckoned the father over, seats rearranged so that the girl's father now sat between himself and Han. A sedate three-way chat began.
With the family and Han off to clean up for evening meal, Rudd and Cosy off inspecting things, I asked Jimmy what he was up to.
'Convoluted, ' Jimmy responded. 'We'll get the Chinese Government on board, Po involved, some money made, Chinese Rescue Force started. Han will bond with that family and Po, improving relations. Han ... lost a daughter, then a wife – it's just him in his flat, which is why they chose him for this.'
'So Han gets a ready made family and relaxes a bit, ' I realised.
'And the daughter who wants to be a scientist makes a major breakthrough later on. He now suspects that, so the Chinese Government will give her a research grant, and I'll give her the idea, making it look like it was her idea all along.'
'What does she invent?'
'An electric car ... that gets its energy from the road surface.'
'How the fuck could you do that?' I puzzled.
'Wait and see.'
'And Cosy?' I asked.
'They'll have two girls and they'll stay together. Oh, there's a very ... tasty singer in the bar. You know her – Katie Joe?'
I was on my feet. 'She ... is here? She, fucking wonderfully beautiful ... she with the body?'
I hesitated. 'Should I ... you know?'
Jimmy laughed. 'The frontal assault would put her off.' He stood. 'Let's go play managerial types. Don't stare into her eyes – or down her cleavage. It will take two days, so take her to the orphanage tomorrow and don't seem too keen. On the beach tomorrow ... strip off, do the lion cubs and kids, ignore her. Take a kid for a trial dive.'
'First time you gave me instructions like that I almost wrote them down.'
'A word of warning, ' Jimmy said as we walked towards the restaurant. 'If you do get together with her they'll be tabloids in the bushes.'
'Well ... what do you reckon?'
'I reckon ... it's your call.'
'If I can fly into Somalia, I can do this, ' I confidently suggested, suddenly feeling less confident.
Playing at being the managerial types, we both pressed the flesh with the guests and I practised a few languages. I ordered a table moved – very managerial like, and chatted to the kids present, finally clocking Katie Joe hidden behind a baseball cap, her hair up, no make-up on. At her table I greeted an older woman, asked if all was OK, smiling and nodding at Katie. As I was about to walk off she called my name, taking off the baseball cap.
I gave it a second. 'Christ, Katie. Sorry, didn't recognise you. How's the record doing?'
'Don't you keep track of them?'
'No, just monthly meetings, sorry. Abroad a lot.' I sat. 'Anything you ladies need?'
'Mum wants to meet Jimmy, ' she toyed, grinning, and getting a slap on the hand from her mum.
I called over Jimmy, who said hello and sat. 'Katie's mum wanted to say hello.'
'You don't look old enough to be a mother, ' Jimmy began. 'And I happen to know that "Joe" is short for Joslavich, yes?' He exchanged a few sentences in Slovak with mum.
Han approached us. In my best Chinese I asked if all was OK. He nodded and responded, and I understood his sentence. In Chinese, Han asked if the family could join us, Jimmy uttering of course, Han withdrawing.
'Sorry about that, ' Jimmy offered. 'Working trip.'
With Jimmy chatting to mum I made my excuses, being cool, and went off to shower and change. Later that evening we ate with Po's family, Katie still at her table, still hiding behind the baseball cap. I made a fuss of the kids in full view, even bouncing them on my knee. At one point I said hello to the Pineapple staff, the couple not noticing Katie till I pointed her out. When I sat back down they said hello to the object of my desires, already having met her before. Han seemed far more relaxed, chatting away to Po's family, part in Chinese, part in English. He even encouraged the children to practise their English. It was all happy families, Katie just visible from the corner of my eye.
When Katie and her mum got up to leave they stopped, Katie heading over. 'Could I have a moment?'
'Sure, ' I said, easing up and gesturing her outside. Mum headed back to their hut.
'There's some contractual stuff I'm not happy about, I was wondering if we can chat about it.'
I was prepared and ready. 'Katie, this is not the time and place, nor am I going to undermine the authority of Oliver Standish or anyone else at Pineapple, certainly not till I have all the facts and full briefing. If you want a drink, a chat about something other than work, a ride on the fucking elephant or a midnight swim I'm happy to oblige, because I hope to get some relaxation in. If you want to talk business, meet me back in London.' I gave her a card. 'I have guests, so you'll excuse me.' As I walked off, I thought midnight swim? Where the fuck did that come from? Jimmy studied me as I sat, a question in his look. I said, 'On target.'
Katie appeared with her mum an hour and half later, this time looking far more feminine. We were still sat at the table, most guests having moved to the bar. Jimmy had been fetching fruit as the ladies entered, probably just passing through to the bar, and he invited them to join us. They accepted, chairs brought over, Katie the other side of Jimmy to me. The big bugger was in the way, but that was probably a good tactic.
Jimmy explained to the Chinese that Katie was a very famous singer in England, Katie probably relieved that the Chinese at the table had no idea who she was. We got onto the story of the mad helicopter dash, Jimmy relaying it, Po's family both amazed, and very concerned for us. Han told Katie and her mum, Jean, that he was an official of the Chinese Government, visiting to see how we run our refugee camps.
'Refugee camps?' Jean puzzled.
Jimmy explained about the camp that we had set up on the border, some about Rescue Force. I didn't know about Katie, but mum now seemed very keen on us. Po's family eventually made their excuses, wanting to get the kids to bed early, and I insisted on a kiss on the cheek from both girls. Han retired, a moderate drinker, leaving just the four of us, the room now empty except for us, a sea of plain white tablecloths.
Jimmy asked Katie, 'Would you do a number for the guests?'
'Sing?' she queried.
'There's a microphone next door, ' Jimmy explained. I knew there wasn't. She hesitated. Jimmy continued, 'Look at this way. You make the guests happy, they come back and spend more money, that money goes to the orphanage.' It was below the belt, Jean nagging her daughter on. She relented and we stepped next door to the bar, two- dozen people sat around, mostly couples. And there in the corner sat a brand new karaoke machine.
She switched it on. 'Hope you can hear me. I normally only sing in the shower, so you have been warned. But I do a good impersonation of that ... Katie something.' She pushed a button and started a slow number, everyone in the room recognising it, then slowly registering just who she was. Faces lit up, hands were held, loving looks exchanged. She performed four numbers then a track that had not been released yet – no background music and an exclusive, cameras now snapping. And I was hooked. As she finished her last number I turned to find Jimmy with a larger lion cub, resting on his forearm and sniffing the guests. Katie got a round of applause, thanking everyone, signing a few autographs, and allowing herself to be photographed with couples.
When she approached I said, 'Thanks for that, adds a ... quality to the place. Drink?'
'Thought you promised me a midnight swim?'
I smiled widely. 'Ah, yes, sorry about that. It just kind of popped into my head.'
'Come on then, promises are for keeping.'
Nervous now, I followed her out, Jimmy noticing and grinning as he introduced the cub to guests. At the water's edge she stripped to bra and panties in the dark, I stripped to my shorts, and we plunged into the black water.
After two strokes she issued a scream. 'There's something in the water. Something hard.'
I figured it was the damn turtle and got between her and it, lifting the damn heavy thing up. 'Leave us alone, ' I told it as she laughed. Fat chance of that. I turned my back on it and lifted her up, holding her as if we were crossing the threshold after marriage. She clasped her fingers around my neck. I got the odd nudge from the turtle as we chatted, finally seeing it going ashore. 'OK, it's on the sand now. It comes ashore at night and breaks into huts. Very ... slowly.'
'My hero. Could have been a shark.'
'No, the friendly shark hangs around at the breakwater.'
'Ever been scuba diving?'
'Tried it once.'
'Tomorrow, ' I said. 'I'll take you out if you like.'
'We're driving up to your safari park.'
'I'll fly you up in the afternoon, ' I insisted. 'Driving is a pain.'
'I've heard about your flying, ' she gently chided.
'I only fly like that when my friends are in trouble, ' I stated in serious tones.
'You're quite the James Bond; money, action –'
'Beautiful girls in the casino.'
'They say you like one girl at a time, for around a year or so.'
'You been checking up on me?' I teased.
'It was in Pineapple Music magazine.'
'What?' I asked, Katie laughing. 'Tease.' I tickled her, causing her to run ashore, flicking me with water.
She put her trousers back on. 'Is that roof bar still open?' she asked, pointing towards the second beach hotel.
'It is for me.'
I put my clothes on wet, sand everywhere, pinching a golf buggy and heading through the trees at a racy six miles per hour. I shouted a local greeting to the guard at the gate, the gate permanently open, and pulled up at the block's reception. Walking in I waved at the receptionist, getting back an 'evening sir.' The bar was still open, two sets of couples which I greeted and welcomed, practising my German on one older couple. As Katie leant on the wall, looking out over the black ocean in a cool breeze, I fetched two beers.
'Nice to get away from London for a while, ' she quietly stated as I neared, not looking around. She lifted her gaze to the stars.
I placed down her beer and she took a sip, hugging it like a mug of hot chocolate. 'Does the pressure get to you?' I softly asked.
'Your guy at Pineapple was a great help at the beginning. That first briefing – I thought he was joking. Get a paper shredder, nothing in the bin, keep the curtains closed all the time, change your phone number.'
'Price you pay for the money.'
'Yeah, well it's affected mum a bit. She's happy for me... '
I took in the view towards the smaller hotel, the string of lights, and remembered something Jimmy had said. 'Katie, you have a wonderful opportunity ... to live the life and make a lot of money. And with that money comes choices, choices that the people buying your records don't have. You could probably retire now on what you have.'
'Hardly, ' she scoffed.
'Most people in the UK get by on fifteen grand a year. How many years could you keep going on what you've made?' She remained silent. 'And down here, fifteen grand would keep you going for ten years.'
She turned and faced me. 'Why do you two give so much to charity?'
I shrugged and made a face. 'What's the point in making money just for the sake of it? Stack it up in the bank and say hey, my pile's bigger than your pile. That's for people who like to measure their cocks.' She slowly lifted a teasing eyebrow. Hiding a smile, I said, 'We like to do things with our money. That way, if the plane crashes on the way home we'll have achieved something.'
Placing down her glass on a table she said, 'Drive me back, kind sir, it's chilly.'
I drove her back at six miles per hour, the wind in our damp hair. Pulling up at her hut, her mum opened the door. A peck on the cheek was my reward for being a kind sir. '8am at the dive centre I told her, ' flooring it - and screeching off slowly and quietly.
At 5am I headed down for a snorkel in grey half-light, feeding the damn turtle, then seeing how long I could stay down. My watch said four minutes. Ashore, Jimmy was sat with a self-service coffee at the dive centre café. 'I can hold my breath for four minutes?' I said as I ran up, my feet covered in sand.
'Maybe a bit more with practise; trick is to get the CO2 out of your lungs, to keep forcing it out.'
After drying off in the chill dawn wind, we raided the kitchens for stale sandwiches and made ourselves scrambled eggs, the first staff arriving at 6am. At 7.30am we returned to the dive centre, a sleepy Steffan opening up.
'Don't you two know how to have a relaxing lie in?' he grumbled.
With little else to do, we made ready the kit for both us - and the day's guests - as Steffan sat watching, feet up and cradling a coffee mug.
'You want a job?' he asked.
Lotti turned up at 8am, and looking less than fresh, soon followed by a fresher looking Katie, her mum in tow.
'We just had some biscuits from yesterday, ' Jean said. 'Have a late breakfast after.'
Jimmy made them both a coffee, sitting with Jean as I showed Katie the equipment, going through signals and procedures. She slipped a wetsuit on over her bikini and I carried her tank to the water's edge, the ocean dead calm this morning and very inviting.
She put a hand over her eyes and scanned the horizon. 'Beautiful. It's so calm today.'
I led her out to waist depth, the turtle closing in and circling as I helped her get her tank on. Air pressures were tested, several loud gushes disturbing the tranquil scene. With the water to our necks we placed in our mouthpieces and let air out of our buoyancy jackets, slipping below the surface and to the quiet underwater world. Kneeling, we watched the turtle circle for a few minutes before lowering into the press-up position, examining hermit crabs. Gripping the neck of her tank, I helped her out to the edge of the rocks, still in only three metres of crystal clear water. We both pointed at a Moray Eel, observing small fish darting about till I noticed the dark grey shadow of our resident shark; it was attracted by the sound of our bubbles. From a pouch in my jacket I pulled out a plastic bag, fetching out a dead fish. Tucking the plastic away, I held out the tempting fish. The shark darted past, eyeing us carefully. It made four passes, getting closer each time, finally snatching at the fish and swimming off with a blur of speed. It would not be back for a while.
Again in the press-up position, we crawled slowly back towards shore, examining tiny creatures fixed to small rocks and shells. Jimmy and Steffan passed us, swimming quickly out towards the breakwater. In water shallow enough to feel the gentle waves above us we examined again hermit grabs and tiny jellyfish, brightly coloured shells and worms. Lifting to my knees I eased off my flippers, helping Katie take off hers. We stood up in water to our waist, regulators spat out.
'Cold?' I asked.
'A little chilly, but I'm OK.'
I cleared matted hair from her eyes. 'Now that's a photo the tabloids would love.'
We trudged up the soft sand, Han stood observing us on the beach. He smiled and waved.
'You want a go?' I asked him. He glanced at the calm water, taking his time to think about it. 'Come on, ' I encouraged, Han falling into step with us. At the dive centre Katie got into the warm showers, Han stood with hands clasped behind his back examining the equipment.
'I saw your bubbles, ' Jean said.
'You having a go?'
'You wouldn't get me with my head under the water, ' she scoffed.
'I could teach you how to go down on an old wreck, ' I offered, getting a slapped wrist.
Katie appeared in damp jeans and sweatshirt. 'I'll shower properly in the chalet, catch you after breakfast.' She led her mum away.
Han took a little persuading, but finally relented. I found a wetsuit his size and squeezed him in, carrying his tank to the beach. He breathed through the regulator a few times above water, then knelt down, getting used to this strange new world. I adjusted his equipment and his buoyancy, leading him off into the bay. Twenty minutes later we surfaced, Han smiling widely; it was 'vely' good. I got him warmed up in the showers, a hot coffee downed, and now I could not shut him up. He took a poster down with Lotti's permission, a chart of the local fish and their names, English and Latin, pointing at those we had glimpsed - and what they were called.
Shrill calls preceded Po's nieces bursting upon the scene, rushing to Han's knees. Han showed them the poster and keenly described in Chinese the fish he had seen, the parents looking on proudly as they approached. The Chinese wandered off as a group, chatting away. At noon we were all packed, a convoy of jeeps waiting, Rudd and Cosy driving us to the airfield. We paused briefly at the orphanage, a view from the road as we headed to the local airfield. I noticed our Dash-7 as we pulled in. Stepping down from the jeeps, Tubby walked around to us.
'I've cleaned the windscreen for you, sir. You taking her up, sir, or you want me to ferry you and your guests?'
With a false smile I said, 'You take it, it would be rude for me to ignore my guests sat in the back.'
'Right you are, sir.' Tubby boarded the Dash and I exchanged a quick look with Jimmy; this was his work. We boarded with Han and the ladies, Po's family dragged along without too much persuasion, everyone's luggage put into the hold.
After a short one-hour flight we bumped along the grass airfield, a smooth enough landing for grass. Leaving the Dash, I gave Tubby a dollar.
'That you very kindly, sir. I'll buy something for the orphans. You want me to carry your bags?'
Cursing under my breath, I jumped into a jeep, and we were soon to the lodge. As we walked up the path to the lodge the lumbering young lion bound over, and I remembered what Jimmy had done to impress Liz. I stepped onto the grass and dropped down to my knees, the lion jumping on me without hesitation, the two of us rolling around. With the juvenile killer lion, the one afraid of Antelope, on top of me, I called for help. Katie walked over, taking a snap, kneeling and stroking the fearsome beast. For her the lion quietened down, sniffing and licking her hand. Still on my back, I noticed many faces and cameras on the rooftop bar. I eased up and brushed off, the lion grabbing my leg playfully, Po's young nieces kept away from it. Inside the cool and dark interior of the lodge I found a younger cub and handed it to Han, the girls now excited.
With the current guests greeted we all gravitated to the large rooftop bar, Jimmy and myself playing the dutiful hosts again and making everyone feel welcome. Lunch was ordered, Han nursing the cub, the girls taking turns to hold it. I then did a double take as something moved past the wall. A few seconds later a giraffe's head came over the wall, a guest offering it some salad.
I walked over to it with Jimmy. 'Where the hell did that come from?'
'Skids nudged the herd closer and closer, week by week.'
'He pinched them?'
'There's no fence, they're free to go where they please. And we nudged the lion pride further out.'
Katie and Jean joined us, taking snaps of the giraffe whilst offering the animal salad. I peered over the side, two youngsters coming in closer, more adults nearby, our young fearsome lion terrified of the very tall visitors and keeping his distance.
Jean said, 'Should we not feed them, keep them wild?'
Jimmy replied, lying, 'We try and move them off, without any luck. Besides, animals like these die from disease or predator every day. Nature ... is not so wonderful.' He pointed towards Skids farm. 'Over there is our sanctuary, rescued animals, most of whom go back into the wild.'
Our party remained on the roof till the sun fell behind distant clouds, the bar offering many different views from many different angles, many guests simply sat staring into the distance for hours, some with binoculars that we provided. A call caught everyone's attention, people rushing to the eastern wall, fingers pointed. A bloody great crocodile lay on the bank of the river below, not normally glimpsed here. Cameras snapped away, binoculars were passed around, Han providing a chair for the girls to stand on.
'No midnight swimming, ' I whispered into Katie's ear.
At sundown the staff organised a barbeque, a Maasi troupe walking over, soon a show of dancing and jumping, some spear throwing - a few of the guests having a go, followed by a Maasi sing along. Our daft lion seemed fascinated by it all and sat watching, now on a leash, getting many bits of meat tossed to him. With a full complement of guests in attendance the place bustled, thirty-six guests, plus six from the smaller lodge. When the Maasi headed off, a bus waiting for them out of sight of guests, everyone gravitated again to the roof.
I finally got Katie alone in my room around midnight. The mini-bar got raided and we sat talking for hours, eventually cuddling up fully clothed. She fell asleep quickly, leaving me staring at the ceiling fan for many hours before nodding off. At 5am I found her lying on her side, so I snuck out quietly, finding Jimmy playing with the lion, the armed night guards still on duty and stood nearby.
'Well?' he asked.
'Snuggled up fully clothed.' I shrugged, self-service tea fetched, a sandwich in plastic.
'You'll get there.'
As I sat, I said, 'Did you clock that guy at the beach bar? He's here, and he sounds American.'
'Anyone of interest?'
Jimmy took a moment. 'No.'
I left it at that, returning to Katie around 7am and snuggling up. She stirred, stretching out. 'Mum will be fussing now.'
'Dirty stop out, ' I whispered, getting a gentle elbow.
'Tabloids will link you to me, and the guests will talk, ' she said, her voice a little horse.
'I have bigger concerns, love.'
'Like a refugee crisis.'
She turned over. Finally, she said, 'Odd, when you think of it like that. I stress over the latest picture of my arse, you stress over saving lives.'
'It's a size six arse.'
'No, eight. You're crap with girl's clothes, ' she playfully scolded.
I laughed. 'Want a cup of tea?'
'Oh, yes please.'
I fetched a mug of tea from the kitchens, kicking the damn lion away to stop it tripping me. As I turned the key on the room I noticed again the man from the beach bar, having a lonely cigarette down towards the river. I hoped he did not like early morning swims. Katie sat up cross- legged and accepted the tea.
'So, where do we go from here?' she softly asked.
'Safari at 9am.' She gave me a look. I asked, 'Where do you want to go from here?'
'I thought you were more of the take charge type.'
'Not when it comes to women; I tried that ... and lost one.'
'Lost ... how?'
I sat against the headboard. 'I wanted her to give up her job, live off my money, travel the world in style.'
'Silly girl. Might be nice to be a kept women.'
'And your last boyfriend?' I delicately pressed.
'Don't you read the tabloids?'
'Not really.' I waited.
'He ... had a decent job, but worked a lot of hours, couldn't come with me on trips and tours.'
'Oh, dear, ' I theatrically let out, getting a quick look. 'Where as I ... can go where I want, went I want.'
'You applying for the job?'
'What's the boss like to work for?' I teased.
'Moody, miserable sometimes, still trying to figure out what she wants.'
'I'd want you to do a charity concert down here, ' I lightly suggested.
'I want to see you shower, ' she said. I blinked. 'Go on, strip off and shower while I watch.'
'Yes, boss. But it's time and a half.'
Now as lovers, now as a couple, we joined the 9am safari with our Chinese gang, three jeeps and a few other guests, including lone smoker and his wife. In the humid heat we bumped along to the river bend, a view of the old crocodile, then onward to elephant country, a large herd shadowed for an hour. A picnic lunch was laid out on trestle tables, Trev riding shotgun with his M16 slung as guests stood about nibbling snacks.
For some reason I found myself watching lone smoker as he stepped away from the group, a cigarette enjoyed at length as he took in the countryside, the man always tipping his head back when he exhaled. I saw the flash of movement, the reaction, and registered it a second later. 'Snake bite!'
Rushing for the man, I found Jimmy there first, kicking away the snake. We grabbed the man and helped him back, his leg unable to prop up his weight. Trev had the first aid kit out in a flash, Jimmy tearing the man's trouser leg and revealing the bite. We were an hour from anywhere, I realised. Jimmy grabbed a vial, then a needle, and extracted the pale liquid. It looked like an official vial, as I was familiar with, but Jimmy injected the man above and below the wound, a glance at me from under his eyebrows, a final shot into the man's arm as his face contorted in agony. The man's wife was concerned, but not hysterical by any means.
Jimmy jumped into a jeep, started the engine and revved it, knocking the radio on. 'This is River View safari park to any Rescue Force mobile. Man down, snake bite, anyone able to respond, over.'
'River View, this is Romeo Foxtrot One, ' crackled back, surprising me. I might have guessed a jeep somewhere on the land, and an outside chance of that.
'Romeo Foxtrot One, this is Silo, man down, extraction required. What's your location?'
'Jimmy, we're ten miles north of the lodge, passing the Maasi village, over.'
'We're ten miles west of the lodge, the usual picnic site.'
'Roger that. Inbound. Out.'
Jimmy knocked off the engine. 'Help's on its way, ' he told the injured man's wife.
Little more than five minutes later we could hear the distinctive resonating drone of a Huey. As I watched, a Huey painted white, not green, approached at speed. It climbed steeply and I saw the large red cross on the side; the Rescue Force logo. It slowed as it climbed, its tail flipped around and a slide back down towards us. Ratchet! It was on the ground inside of thirty seconds, Doc Graham and Hildy bursting out. They grabbed lone smoker and carried him back to the Huey, easing him inside with his wife, quick instructions from Jimmy shouted. The door closed and they powered away, dried grass filling our field of view. It was soon all quiet again, the gang shocked.
'Ladies and gentlemen, ' Jimmy called. 'Snake bites are rare, that is our first casualty, other than a member of staff – and they enjoy it. So please do not let it spoil your stay.' He repeated the reassurances in Chinese, encouraging people to finish the picnic. People grabbed food and drink, but sat back in the jeeps, wary now of the grass beneath their feet.
The tour continued on schedule and without further incident, people more interested in tales of Rescue Force than cute animals. We arrived back to a pile of paperwork for the insurance company and lawyers, just in case. The manager phoned the hospital in Nairobi and they reported that lone smoker, in the register as Cramer Keely, was doing well.
Ratchet set a course for Nairobi, not the nearest hospital that could treat a snake bite, a minor debate as to where to set down. He had fuel for Nairobi hospital, just, arguing that if the guy was stable they should fly to Nairobi, because whatever small hospital they landed at would send him there anyway for further tests. With Keely stable and coherent, Doc Graham relented and agreed on Nairobi, less hassle for the patient overall.
They flew on, a forty minute flight, Keely monitored by Doc Graham and Hildy, his wife reassured. As they neared Nairobi they contacted the airport's tower, informing the tower of their flight path and altitude, requesting that the hospital to be notified, staff standing by. It was all straight forward enough. They landed on a patch of grass, powering down quickly, but with the fuel warning light now on. That warning gave them twenty miles at least. Keely was put on a trolley and wheeled away with Doc Graham, Mrs Keely in tow, as Ratchet went and phoned Rudd. And there began on opportunity.
Rudd called the press and talked up the dramatic rescue, the helicopter rushing the man to hospital just in time, out of fuel on landing. Money may have changed hands. A fuel truck was organised for the next morning, the Huey snapped at length as it sat on the grass, our team milling around in their white uniforms. Rudd offered the chief resident a donation to the hospital for a proper heli-pad, a cool twenty grand. There were soon pictures of the chief physician thanking our team in the local papers. Once the Huey was re-fuelled, it took off whilst being filmed by several local TV stations, making the evening news. And the hospital, they cut down a tree and painted a large "H" onto parched brown grass, a less than effective use of the money.
The next evening Keely and spouse returned, flown out by Cosy. Jimmy met them downstairs, welcoming him back in front of quite a small audience.
'On behalf of the company, we offer our deepest apologies, and will be refunding the cost of your holiday, flying you back to the States first class whenever you're ready.'
Keely was on the spot. 'That ... won't be necessary, thanks.'
'How's the leg?'
'They say ... that I did not get a full dose of venom. I was lucky.'
'Can I get you a drink. I think the bar does Snakebite.'
People laughed, Keely on the spot again.
'Thanks, but I'd like to just rest.'
'Of course, anything you need you just let the staff know.'
Keely limped away with his wife. Jimmy found me, Katie and her mum upstairs, sunbathing on loungers.
'Snake bite man is back, good as new, ' he announced as he sat down.
'He alright?' Jean asked without lifting her head.
'Yeah, fine now.'
'Lucky our chopper was near by, ' I mentioned, a quick glance at Jimmy.
'This is their main training ground, because it's our land, ' Jimmy pointed out to me, and those in earshot.
I went back to my sunbathing, holding hands with Katie. Later that night, around 1am, I snuck out for a few beers while Katie was asleep. Jimmy was sat in the bar, the dog asleep at his feet, a night guard patrolling outside.
'All quiet?' I asked as I pulled myself a pint.
'Yeah, ' Jimmy let out, the dog raising its nose for a second as I sat. We chatted for ten minutes, before a shadow in the lodge stepped into the light. Keely.
'Trouble sleeping?' Jimmy asked our new companion.
'Mind if I ... join you?' Keely asked, sounding as if he wanted to do anything other than that.
'No, please do, ' Jimmy offered. 'Drink?'
'No. Thanks.' Keely stared across at us in the dim light. 'You moved quickly yesterday. Probably saved my life.'
'It did ... save your life.' Jimmy emphasised. 'Otherwise, people might think I had something to do with your death, Mister Bob Donnelly.'
'Ah, ' I let out loud, tipping my head back.
'You're a great actor, I'll give you that, ' Keely said. 'So why the charade?'
'What charade?' Jimmy questioned. 'I was behaving as I would to any guest, and for all I knew you just wanted a break down here. Would have been rude of me to break your cover, you might have been spying on someone.'
Keely stared back. 'You know what my remit is?'
'To find out what all this Magestic nonsense is all about. And before you ask, yes, Magestic made sure we had serum and a helicopter stood by for you.'
Keely stared back for several seconds. 'I've had nothing but ... malice towards that invisible guy since the start. Why save me?'
'Magestic does not judge others by their own poor standards, ' Jimmy pointed out in a sombre tone.
Keely finally asked, 'In high school I burnt my hand. How?'
Jimmy lifted his gaze to the stars. 'You tried to set fire to your ex- girlfriend's house, immediately regretting it and putting out the fire before anyone noticed.'
'You little fire bug, ' I said. 'Tut tut.'
'That Somali rescue ... you knew you'd come back?'
'There's always random chance, it's not that clearly defined. I could trip in the shower and be killed. We are not immortal.'
I faced Jimmy. 'Are you going to introduce me?'
'Paul, this gentlemen works for the NSA. The President's new National Security Advisor tasked him with checking out Magestic. Well, to debunk him actually.'
'There's no pleasing some people, ' I said with a sigh.
'But he will be very positive towards us in future.'
'I will?' Keely challenged.
'You haven't asked yet what I injected you with, ' Jimmy coldly stated.
'Is your pee ... a bit dark and smelly?' I delicately enquired.
Keely sat upright. 'What did you inject me with? It had to be anti-venom to save me.'
'I injected you with the same stuff that we were injected with many years ago. Paul here can run a marathon in under two hours.'
I said, pointing at Jimmy, 'And he's much faster.'
Keely waited, a look of horror on his face.
Jimmy explained, 'It's a drug that Magestic had designed in a lab, with his knowledge of future medicine. You, Mister Keely-Donnely, will live to be very old, very fit ... and immune to all diseases known to man; cancer, AIDS, the works. You'll be running marathons on your hundredth birthday. Just the one small problem.'
'Indeed, ' I let out.
'What ... what problem?' Keely asked.
'Well, Uncle Sam – having heard about the miracle drug in your system – might want to lock you away in a lab and experiment on you, extracting blood when necessary, some tissue samples, you know. Since you have a cure for cancer in your blood they'd be keen to copy it, and to sell it.'
'Make a buck, ' I said. 'As well as not letting you yourself ... make a buck from it.'
We sat back and let him think on the implications.
Jimmy finally said, 'All I need to do, is tell them to run a blood test. And all you need to do, to be sure that I am telling the truth, is wait a few days before getting on a treadmill.'
'You hope to blackmail me?' Keely asked in an angered whisper.
'You've been a sceptic up to now, Bob. Now you're living proof, which you'll come to see. The best proof is one that you can feel when you wake in the mornings. Oh, and the AIDS orphanage – it has a serious lack of... '
'Kids with AIDS, ' I finished off.
'If there's a cure for these diseases, why keep it hidden?' Keely demanded.
'A minute ago you were doubting Magestic existed, ' I pointed out. 'Now you want to know why a fictional character is not helping the world. Make your mind up, Bob.'
Keely eased back.
Jimmy said, 'The answer that you are searching for ... is this. In a few years we'll make it appear that a research lab found a cure with some success, then more success. An overnight cure would cause questions, followed by exposure, followed by civil unrest.'
'Pointer believes that Magestic is an astronaut, ' Keely stated.
'What do you believe?' Jimmy asked him.
'A clairvoyant; no way in hell an astronaut time traveller could know everything he does, certainly not my high school pranks. Or that helicopter yesterday. Too much random chance, as you said. How the hell would a time traveller know when I got bit by a snake, date and time and place.' It was a question I wanted to know as well, but would never ask.
'Historical records, ' I suggested.
'I rolled a dice to decide when I'd be here, another dice on my choice of safari. I'm a hell of a sceptic.'
'So what will you do now, Bob?' Jimmy posed.
Keely glanced at the dark savannah. 'Certainly get on a treadmill, that's for sure.'
'And then?' Jimmy nudged.
'Then... ' He took a breath. 'Then ... if you're not lying, I'm in for a routine drugs test in a few weeks. Anything odd showing up would be investigated further. I'd ... be screwed.'
'I am not as heartless as you may think, ' Jimmy suggested. 'There is a way out.'
Keely stared back. 'Which is?'
'I told you there's an orphanage full of kids who've been injected. And I'll be happy to co-operate with your government, sceptics or not. I'd like to meet with your boss, ideally the Joint Chiefs, but without the President present.'
'Yes, without him. President's come and go, the security of America remains constant. And politicians tend to do what's best for short-term popularity, not what's best for the long term.'
'You sound like me after a beer, ' Keely admitted.
'Then maybe ... we are not so different.' Jimmy took a moment, a sip of his beer. 'In 2013 a future Republican President will invade Venezuela for its oil. You'll lose people in the jungle every day for five years, twenty thousand in total, and every country in South America will turn against you.'
'Be a fucking disaster to try and grab their oil, ' Keely admitted.
'But it will happen. On the other hand, I could show you where to drill in the gulf, a deposit bigger than anything found so far.' He let Keely think on it. 'In 2015, another Republican President will attack China –'
'The aim being not to pay them what you owe them after OPEC stops using the dollar as reserve currency. Twenty million Americans will die, your economy screwed. And in 2025 the planet is struck by a natural disaster that wipes out just about everyone. Now, you can sit there and doubt, or you can make some plans – just in case. Oh, and your son in the Marines, he was due to be killed in a war, a war that did not happen in 2000.'
'Iraq, ' Keely coldly stated.
'Yes. And ... you're welcome.'
'Did you kill Tasker?'
'No, I was planning on using him. I prefer to ... persuade, than to harm.'
'We taped a conversation about the gold, Tasker and his buddy.'
'What you must keep in mind, is that the Israeli and British Governments get a great deal of assistance from me. They don't like people threatening me, or trying to bribe me.'
Keely gave that some careful thought. 'We tracked movement in a Mossad safe house in Djibouti, just before and just after the Khartoum job. The shooters, were they British?'
'You might think that, I could not possibly comment.'
'The Israelis get shipwreck tip-offs?'
'Yes. And the British.'
'Any pay us a cut, ' I put in.
'A cut?' Keely puzzled. 'You take a cut?'
'What do think pays for the orphanage?' I testily asked.
'And if you gave us that gulf location... ' Keely nudged.
'Then the orphanages of Africa would be well funded for a long time, ' I finished off.
Keely let out a breath. 'You're an enigma wrapped in a puzzle.'
'With a soft chocolate centre, ' I added. 'Oh, and the Chinese guy we're here with, Han, he's from the People's Republic.'
'My boss will love that, ' Keely wistfully stated. 'What's their angle?'
'This is a round planet, Bob; water spreads out evenly. You can't fix one part without fixing the whole - it doesn't work. And by the way, I've told them already the exact date and time of your future attack on them.'
Keely shot upright. 'You did? What the hell for?'
'To prevent it, of course, ' I said. 'Why else?'
'It's a disaster, ' Jimmy suggested. 'One that you will not make.'
'You trying to set future security policy for America?'
'Yes, ' Jimmy firmly stated, stares exchanged. 'Magestic will tell the Chinese and Russians of any future threats well ahead of time, pieces on the chessboard will be moved. Stalemate. Because, what I have not revealed yet, is the final battle. In that final battle you, the Russians and the Chinese will be fighting side by side.'
'You're a sceptic, Bob, you're not allowed to know till you've seen the light, ' Jimmy pointed out.
Keely glanced at me. 'And the outcome?'
'We lose?' Keely loudly questioned. 'Even with the advance knowledge?'
'Yes, Bob. We can get you to 2025 well prepared, that's all. And even getting you that far will be a miracle of biblical proportions.' Jimmy sipped his beer. 'Consider the Second World War. Advance knowledge would have given the Allies an edge, shortening the war, but millions would still have died. It's the same principle. Global war is tricky, no matter how well prepared you are, Bob.'
With Keely, or Donnelly, off to bed, I asked, 'Why don't we bring Big Paul down here for bodyguard stuff?'
'Slight of hand, ' Jimmy replied. 'We ... are here, those watching us know that we are here, so Big Paul can run errands for me in the UK.'
'And we don't need a bodyguard when I know what the threats are, Dumbo.'
The next day Mister Donnelly, acting now as a guest, asked for transport to the airport, reports of a sick relative back home, Cosy fetching him in a Cessna at no extra charge.
I took Katie on a long drive to the edge of Schilling's land, soon to be ours bar the signing, and enjoyed a peaceful picnic on an escarpment, mixed herds munching on the grass in the valley below us. The clouds kept their distance, a cooling breeze blew up the ridge, and we chatted away in peace for hours, Trev and the driver asleep in the jeep. It was a magical few hours.
Returning to the lodge, we found Rudd arriving; Cosy had flown him back up from Nairobi. Rudd said hello, not recognising Katie, and I tried to explain to Katie what he did for us. In the bar we joined Jimmy and Katie's mum, the dear lady a little sunburnt, aching, and feeling sorry for herself. Han and Po's family were off doing the tourist bit and, hopefully, bonding.
'Schilling has signed, ' Rudd informed us.
Jimmy explained to the ladies, 'We just bought the next biggest park north west of here.'
'We saw it today, ' Katie put in.
Jimmy told Rudd, 'I want a lodge on that escarpment, same design as this one. Then I want a traditional style hotel where the river nears the lake, a small lodge at the rise above the river bend – you'll see it on the map, and finally another small lodge where he has a swamp, built on stilts and high up, a view out over the trees.' Rudd took notes. Last, but not least, I want another two lodges here, ten rooms each; the river bend and the rise east of the plain, on the edge of our land.'
'How many people could we handle then?' I asked Rudd.
'Two hundred and fifty at a time, ' Rudd answered, raising his eyebrows.
'That's a lot of building work, ' Jean noted. 'Will that spoil the place?'
Jimmy explained, 'My priority ... is to boost Kenyan tourism revenue. Jobs come first. Besides, each of these lodges will be ten or twenty miles from the next building, small dots on the map.'
'I'll use the same people, ' Rudd suggested. 'Same design, different scales.'
'Is Cosy still here?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes, ' Rudd replied. You want him?'
Jimmy gave a nod. 'Tell him when you see him that I have some business in Ghana for him. We'll be buying a hotel on the beach, backed by mountains and rain forest, best of both worlds.'
'Sounds nice, ' Jean enthused.
Rudd announced, 'There's now an Oxfam hut at the airbase, talk of Medicine Sans Frontier.'
Jimmy nodded towards Rudd, then turned his head to Katie. 'Any areas here ... that you think could be improved?'
'A nice pool?'
'Would be out of place, ' I said. 'I don't think the Kenyans would like it since this is national park land; we have to stick to their rules. This lodge is all wood, for instance.'
'Schilling's could have a pool, there's an old pool there already, ' Rudd suggested.
'Fine, fix it up, ' Jimmy agreed. 'Oh, and start on fixing the roads, fast access back and forth.'
We signed the documents Rudd had brought up, the paperwork done, the money allocated. At least Schilling did not run out on his wife, they'd be retiring to the coast, a penthouse apartment with all mod cons. Guess he'd had enough of the savannah, its heat and its bugs.
Skids stepped into the bar with a ball of fur in each hand; Cheetah cubs. 'Lions got mumsy, so we'll raise these in the sanctuary, ' he said, handing one to Katie, the second to her mum. 'Drop them in when you're ready.' He withdrew.
'Will they go back to the wild?' Rudd wondered.
'Tricky, ' Jimmy said. 'The mother teaches them the essential things that we can't teach them. Only hope would be a Cheetah mum that's just lost her cubs. She'll either adopt them, or kill them. But if we raise them, then keep them hungry – dropping in antelope kid - they'll kill and eat it, developing the skill. But even then they got a rats chance in hell in the wild.'
A member of staff brought out two small bottles of milk and the dried hide of a dead Cheetah. He put the teet through a hole in the hide, handing it to Katie. She placed the cub onto the hide and it dug its claws in, attacking the teet as I took a picture.
'Guess it was hungry, ' Katie said. I took the second bottle and pushed the teet through a second hole, Jean handing over her cub, soon two noisily sucking cubs being observed by everyone.
'You used to do that, ' Jean told Katie.
We tried, and failed, not to laugh.
Jimmy told me, 'Day after tomorrow ... we've got some work to do, two days out.' Katie was now listening in; we'd overlap on her final day. I figured Jimmy would not drag me off unless it was important and so did not argue, certainly not in front of Katie. 'Rudd, I'll need you, Cosy and Mac, and the Dash.'
We boarded our Dash on the estate's grass airstrip, overnight bags in hand, the gang already on board and waiting. The paint job on the Dash was now as per the Huey, white with red crosses and our logo, Rescue Force in large letters on the tail; you couldn't miss it against the backdrop of green savannah.
I took right seat. 'Spent that dollar I gave you?'
'No, sir, I'll be cherishing it as a souvenir of your generosity.'
'Cheeky bastard, I pay your wages.'
'Who's the bit of totty?' Tubby asked as we taxied, bumping along the hard dirt.
'British singer, famous over there.'
Jimmy asked Rudd, 'Got us permission for Tanzania?' Rudd displayed a fax page. 'Flight plan?' Rudd nodded.
'What's in Tanzania?' Mac asked, sporting a new white Rescue Force jacket.
'The future, ' Jimmy enigmatically stated.
Tubby lined up on the end of grass strip, nose facing south, and powered up with a roar, brakes off and bumping forwards. We pulled up sharply and banked, climbing to the west, the lodge soon visible a mile away in the two o'clock position, the original lodge under our nose. And somewhere down there was the girl of my dreams, a girl who even managed to be attractive and sexy when she sneezed. I felt a twinge of the heartstrings - heading off to work with her down below, but I knew what Jimmy would say - after he had slapped me about the head at length. I sighed, the ground below getting further away as we climbed.
Tubby gave me a run down of the aircraft's instrumentation and technical data, and at altitude he handed over, checking the map and having a chocolate bar. I programmed the course and altitude into the autopilot, checked the instrumentation, then let the computer handle it. A GPS display caught my eye and I checked it against the map, scraping off melted chocolate flecks. With a giant, yet beautiful cumulonimbus cloud blocking our view north, we skirted south of it, soon a view of Lake Victoria on the horizon.
Two hours later I spotted Lake Tanganyika. I checked again the GPS and the map, and adjusted the course slightly. We were heading to Kigoma airfield, but it had no tower, so a radio announcement of our arrival was unnecessary. Jimmy tapped me on the shoulder, displaying three fingers and a slow circle of his index finger: circle at three thousand. I knocked off the autopilot, eased back the throttles and let the nose drop, descending to three thousand feet and circling the small town below us, the brown suburban sprawl perched on the eastern shore of the lake. It did not look inviting. The runway was visible in the centre of the town, with what looked like a white Antonov on the apron.
I tried the radio. 'Circling aircraft to Antonov aircraft on Kigoma airfield, receiving over?'
An accented voice came back. 'Circling aircraft, this is UN Antonov. Receiving, over.'
'Antonov, what is wind direction, over?'
'Circling aircraft, land from the north, cross wind is ten miles per hour from the lake, over.'
'Antonov, thanks, be with you soon. Rescue Force Two Out.'
'Two?' Tubby challenged. 'What's One?'
'The Huey, it was first.'
'That crappy old Cessna was first, and this is much bigger and better – it should be One.'
'You don't even work for Rescue Force, ' I pointed out.
Still arguing, I took our Dash around and lined up on the runway, Tubby correcting my glide path. Over the internal tanoy I instructed, 'Please put your seat-back tables in the upright position, extinguish cigars and belt up.' I made a smooth contact with the runway, taxiing around to the UN Antonov and a waiting fuel truck. With the engines winding down we stepped out into the heat and stretched, the fuel truck pulling up and demanding cash. Rudd paid the man, enough fuel to get us back the next day.
A UN jeep approached a minute later, Bob Davies at the wheel and his window wound down. 'What you lot doing here?'
'Any good restaurants?' I asked, a hand over my eyes and scanning the rubbish dump that was the town.
'Not really, ' Bob answered. We clambered aboard, leaving Tubby with the Dash. 'This place is more basic than Mawlini.'
After just a hundred yards we stopped at the dilapidated old control tower, not looking like it had seen any action since the Second World War. Stepping through glass and weeds, we climbed to the roof, a very familiar journey for us.
I put my hands on my hips and surveyed the field. The runway looked to be in reasonable shape, a few cracks with weeds, but the edges of the airfield were strewn with litter, a few burnt out cars visible. I even noticed a dead donkey, kids throwing stones at it. At least they weren't flogging it. 'Nice spot.'
'We going to use this dump?' Mac asked.
'Yes, I want to be closer to Central Africa.' Jimmy tapped Cosy on the shoulder and pointed to a building in the distance. 'That's a hotel, of sorts. Buy it. Advertise for a local Mister Fixit, an ex-pat who needs the money.'
'We're going to fix this airfield?' Cosy asked.
'We sure are, ' Jimmy said. 'Gentlemen, what we did in Mawlini ... we shall do again here, with a little help from Bob, who's looking forward to a nice hotel here with a pool and rooftop bar.'
'You'll have to keep the locals at bay, ' Bob cautioned with a grin. 'They'll steal the props off your engines when they're turning.'
'This is the order of things, ' Jimmy explained. 'Cosy will get that hotel, find a local man to use, arrange security for this place. Then we tackle the fence, making it like Colditz, more security men to stop them stealing the fence itself. We'll send those self-assembly cabins by truck when the place is secure, ten will do to start with. We'll fix up this tower and get a radio installed, and I'll ask the Tanzanian Government for a detachment of soldiers – paid for by us. Then we can think about a Rescue Force detachment here, recruiting local nurses and any wandering medics. We'll build a nice hotel with a pool and roof bar, making it all available for the UN, who are up the road in a compound – but may be tempted to move down here. Any ... questions?'
'We've done it all before, ' I said.
'How much time do you want me down here?' Rudd asked, Mac turning his head. He was interested in that as well.
'Some at the start, to get it going, that's all, ' Jimmy explained. 'Mac, they'll be under your control from Kenya till they're big enough - and till they get their own boss. Bob, anything you want here?'
'Sheds – secure ones, bigger apron, landing lights.'
'OK, first things first, ' Jimmy said, leading us down.
We drove out of the airfield, a lone police officer at the gate sat resting on his rifle, off to see that man's boss. The town was a mess, worse than most of the small towns that I had seen in Kenya, and it felt much hotter. The ferry landing area bustled, something of a market in progress, and we tooted our way through, finally finding the police building. The Ford Granada outside did little to inspire me, a bored and warm looking guard welcoming us with a nod and a toothy grin. The door opened to a wide room with long benches, numerous ceiling fans out of kilter, locals sat fanning themselves. It looked like the waiting room doubled up as their court building. Bob pointed towards a corridor and we followed his finger. Jimmy knocked on a door labelled up as "Commander" and turned the handle, greeting the occupant in a local tongue. The police commander, dressed in a blue shirt and dark blue trousers with a stripe down the side, recognised the UN uniform.
Jimmy announced, 'We ... are from Rescue Force medical charity, our aircraft is at the airfield.'
'Welcome to Kigoma. How can I help you gentlemen?'
'We'd like to hire some guards for the airfield, for two days, and more in the future, ' Jimmy explained.
'For the aircraft, ' the Commander realised.
'Yes, ' Jimmy replied. He handed over five one hundred dollar bills. 'Will that be enough for now?'
'Oh, yes, yes. I will send some good men straight away.'
'Who will sleep in their cars, near the aircraft, ' Jimmy pressed.
'Then why don't you join us for some food and drink, ' Jimmy offered.
The man lifted his hat with an enthusiastic smile. 'I know the best hotel.' I figured he meant the most expensive.
He led the way, his dusty police car soon leading us through dusty streets and to a better part of town. We parked in shaded and pleasant gardens and walked through to an open courtyard of well-maintained grass, even a fountain, a few white faces sat about, Bob Davies shaking hands with one of them. The waiters pulled two tables together for us and we settled, a pleasant spot, warm but shaded, beers ordered.
Jimmy explained some of our intentions for the airfield, the Commander having many "cousins" that could help, Jimmy breaking the conversation to practice his language skills on the waiter and ordering us all chicken. Easing back and relaxing, we chatted to each other or the police commander as we ate, picking his brains on local facilities. It sounded like he would prove very useful. After lunch we again endured the heat and bustle of the town, before journeying along a lonely road through parched brown countryside, a slither of distant blue lake visible on the horizon, and to the existing UN compound for a quick visit. Heading further south later again, we kicked up dust along the lakeside road and progressed into scrubland. Dismounting at a dust bowl of a spot, we stretched our legs, a local boy whipping a donkey along whilst waving at us.
Jimmy said, 'I reckon Rwanda will implode within a year. When it does I want to be able to house some refugees here.'
'Sold that to the Tanzanians, have you?' Bob asked.
'If I make a compound, with no refugees, there's no problem. If, and when, refugees head this way I can house them ... and at that point the Tanzanians will be pleased to fuck that I'm paying for it, and not them.' He faced Bob squarely and thrust his face forwards. 'Would that not be the case?'
'If there is a civil war, then the Tanzanians will be glad of all the help they can get, ' Bob admitted. 'The lake acts like a motorway, it's better than the roads around here.'
'You be wanting a mine school down here?' Mac asked.
'No, I don't think so, ' Jimmy answered. 'If we create external mine training detachments they'll be where they're needed, like Mozambique or Afghanistan.'
Away from the gang, and facing the lake, I stepped up to Jimmy, who seemed to be fixed on the shimmering blue line on the horizon that was lake Tanganyika.
'I can hear their screams, ' he said without looking around. 'I can see the skulls piled high.'
I took in the horizon. 'It'll be bad?'
He sighed. 'It'll be ... very bad. And people will write reports on what they could have done, what signs were missed. Bla ... bla ... bla.'
I took off my sunglasses and wiped my brow with my sleeve. 'Will they listen?'
'In some ways, but I'll have to offer some inducements.'
'Bribing people to save lives. Seems ... wrong somehow, ' I quipped.
'They mean well, for the most part, ' Jimmy said. 'I'll give the UN some money, get some people in place, do what I can.'
'Can't it be averted?' I asked.
Jimmy took a while answering. 'No. The egg needs to be cracked ... to repair it.'
Scanning the local terrain with interest from the jeep, we headed back to the hotel we had eaten at earlier, rooms already booked, some doubling-up required. Cosy headed out by himself to smoke out the town, Bob Davies flying off in the Antonov. With the local police at the Dash, three of them, Tubby got a taxi and joined us at the hotel. Actually, he asked for the best hotel and ended up with us, complaining of being abandoned, despite prior arrangements. We ate and drank to the small hours, Cosy returning and briefing Jimmy on who was who, and who could arrange what; the police commander and his brother, a local businessmen, captured most of the town's action. We had the right man.
The next morning we took snaps of the airfield, sketches were made, plans discussed, input taken; everyone had their say. When everyone was satisfied, Tubby fired up the Dash. We taxied without permission from air traffic control, Tubby taking the piss and trying to contact the tower's ghosts of the past. The Dash disturbed the kids playing with the dead donkey as it roared along the runway and lifted its nose, banking hard to the left, circling around and fixing a course to the east as we climbed.
A few hours later I landed the Dash on our grass airstrip, bumping along and reversing the engines with a roar, a short landing routine practised. Back at the lodge I found Katie and her mum sat having lunch, no safari today, Jean feeling a little unwell. I caught up with what they had done yesterday: an injured young elephant had been captured by the staff and was now being housed over at Skids farm till it recovered. With storm clouds looming we headed below with the rest of the guests, sitting in the bar and watching the rain, soon a rainbow visible in the distance, the bar floor now displaying several small puddles. With Katie's mum off for a sleep we retired to our hut for some 'I missed you' time. Following the downpour the humidity was up and we both shined with sweat, in and out of the shower many times.
With a scratch at the door I opened it naked, the lion pushing in. Laughing, we let the fearsome beast lay on the bed, muddy paws and all; bedding needed changing anyway. We lay back and chatted at length, our feet tickling the lion's belly.
A knock on the door was followed by Jimmy's voice. 'You in there?' I opened the door a crack, a well-worn newspaper thrust through. 'You've made the tabloids.'
Back on the bed I scanned the paper, finding us on page five. 'Katie and new love go wild on safari', a background of tiger stripes to the title. I curled a lip; wrong continent, no tigers. I laughed at the title, Katie not so amused. I read the detail with a finger, finding nothing that I objected to. They had me down as a rich stock market trader, hotel and nightclub owner. They detailed the helicopter rescue, giving me a good write up, listed my address as Belgravia and that I went to School in Richmond and Kingston Polytechnic.
'Bastards!' I cursed.
'What it is?' Katie puzzled.
'They found out I went to Kingston Polytechnic, ' I said with a smile, getting an elbow.
They had her age wrong, she was not twenty five till next month, and her song had peaked at number two, not three as described. It left me wanting to give her a good talking to, but I resisted; I found it very odd the kind of things that she was sensitive to. Good job they did not have her down as a size ten, she would have killed herself.
'It's OK, ' I offered, heading for the shower. She re-read the detail many times.
'Paul, ' she called from the bedroom. 'There's something I need to tell you.' I stepped out and towelled down, waiting. She continued, 'The man I was seeing, we ... only broke up before I came away. I ... needed a break.'
I stepped over, bent double and kissed her on the forehead. Whispering, I said, 'A few miles west of here there's a civil war, thousands killed each day. I don't give a rat's arse.' I returned to the bathroom and cleaned up.
When I had uttered the words I was putting on a front, a defence mechanism, but as I gave it some thought, considering Rwanda, it put things into perspective. Remembering something Jimmy had said, I took a breath, focusing on my image in the mirror. 'Live each day with her as if tomorrow you'll die. You just might.' She jumped into the shower without a word and I evicted the slumbering lion, a toe up its arse. Dressed, I shouted that I'd be in the lodge, and stepped out.
I found Jimmy sat with Han. 'That story don't bother me, ' I said with a shrug as I sat.
'It's just the beginning, ' Jimmy cautioned. 'Everything you do with her will be scrutinized.'
Han was concerned. 'The British newspapers will be a problem?'
'No, ' Jimmy told him. 'Always hide a big lie behind a smaller one. The more exposure we get, the less likely people are to consider who we really are, and the less likely they are to believe such a tale as time goes on. It's easy to believe a complete stranger is a spy or a threat, not so easy to believe someone you have known a long time to be such a threat. And if people see that we have faults, they won't believe us a threat, even when we're accused directly.'
'An interesting approach, ' Han noted.
Katie checked in on her mum, packing her own case before helping to pack her mum's. She joined me in the bar, nodding towards the damp grass outside. We went for a stroll, and had an awkward chat.
I finally had it straight in my mind. 'Katie, I like you a lot, I want to see you, but I won't put up with any showbiz crap. I don't mind reporters or stories, they can say I have a small dick – I don't care. I care more about you fussing over it all. If you're that miserable in the limelight, then quit and get a job as a secretary and I'll still see you – I'm not after your money or a fucking trophy girlfriend.' When finished, I felt quite proud of myself; there was a time when I could not have got a coherent sentence out to someone like her.
She said she needed time to think, and I was fine with that, I had a few other problems in the queue ahead of her. We strolled back, had a quiet meal with Jean, and she headed off to bed early, back in her own hut with her mum. I was up early as normal and drove them to the airstrip, Cosy flying them back to Nairobi. After a wave goodbye, I thought that was that.
Landing back at Gatwick, two day's later, we found a sprinkling of reporters, but I was ready. Han slipped away unnoticed, Jimmy inviting the reporters and photographers to the bar upstairs. We bought them all drinks, sat and chatted at length about more than just Katie. I didn't try and deny anything, but played it down a little, handing over a reel of film that Jimmy had taken of the various locations, but without any shots of the happy couple. Jimmy offered a free two-weeks in Kenya for whoever ran the best story with the best pictures of the lodge. One reporter asked for a story about our stock market success and Jimmy readily agreed, a date and time fixed to visit the old apartment and the house, plus a trip to McKinleys. When we left the reporters, not a single one tried to follow us, all said goodbye like old buddies. And they all got invites to the club.
'Cats and dogs, ' Jimmy said as we headed to the multi-storey car park. 'They are what they are, and we'll use them more than they use us.'
Karl was waiting with Big Paul, Han already in the car. Karl said, 'I clocked the press and left you to it.'
'A wise move, ' Jimmy approved. He apologised to Han for the delay and we set off in two Range Rovers. It took a minute to realise that both vehicles now offered tinted glass.
Karl said to me, 'Picked up your bird two days ago, Paul. Dropped them home.'
I faced Jimmy.
'I arranged it; got them out the back way, ' Jimmy explained. 'And Karl, dope, explained who he was.'
'They were most impressed by the service, ' Karl offered with a grin. 'Oh, and Big Paul broke that nice vase in your flat, not me.'
'It's a fake, ' I pointed out. 'Twenty quid.'
'Really, he's been sweating it, ' Karl explained.
'Tell him a grand is coming out of his pay, ' I said.
We got back to a mountain of waiting faxes, Sharon having put the press calls and messages in a pile. I binned the lot, made a cuppa and slouched into the sofa with a sigh, the rain hitting the windows. Jimmy copied my actions almost exactly, slouching down, but handing me a fax. I read the detail: Keely wanted a meeting.
'Is he going to play ball?' I softly asked, focusing again on the rain lashed windows, Kenya seeming a million miles away, a certain picnic coming to mind.
'More ... or less. The Americans will always be tricky, more so than the Russians and Chinese. They feel that they have a God given right to rule the world, and that's the fault of Hollywood. Successive generations of Americans have grown up believing that no matter how severe the problem or disaster, there is always an eleventh hour solution by a small group of people.'
'Superman to the rescue, ' I scoffed.
'Superman can't change the attitudes of several generations, and that's the problem. They're stuck in their ways, the politicians linked to big business, big business struggling to compete with Asia and starting to fail. It's a slow moving train wreck. By 2012 there'll be an obesity problem, a financial crisis, mass immigration of Hispanics, a massive deficit.'
'And telling them that won't fix it?'
'No, because each President will do what's popular, not what's best for the long term. It's a beauty contest, not a spelling quiz. Oh, Katie will be around tomorrow.'
I frowned at him. 'She will?'
'She'll call later, invite her down.'
Guess who's coming to dinner
Two week's later, and with Katie and me in a steady relationship - steadily avoiding the press, Keely was due to visit. We were ready for him.
A uniformed police officer and two of Sykes boys were on the gate when Keely's vehicle arrived, leaving them in no doubt that the British Government were in residence. Karl met Keely and his two colleagues at the door, brief frisks given. Inside our porch they were scanned with hand wands at length, finally let through. Stepping into our lounge they were met with more faces than they had expected to meet. Ben Ares sat with David, Sykes sat with Jack, and I sat with Jimmy. As our three new guests stood there, Cookie came out with fresh tea, coffee and warm scones, retiring quickly.
Jimmy eased up, slowly followed by the rest of us. Gesturing around the room, he said, 'Mister Keely, this Ben Ares and his local liaison - I believe you've met Ben. Mister Sykes you know, this is his liaison to us, Jack. Everyone, this is Bob Donnely, NSA, and with him today we have William Host, Bob's immediate boss and equal sceptic, and finally Hurst Adater – if I pronounce it correctly. Please have a seat.'
Glancing at each other, and appearing uneasy, our guests sat, jackets adjusted, legs crossed, unhappy stares adopted. Jimmy offered Mr Host Columbian coffee, the brand he favoured, and Adater a green tea, before he himself sat.
'So, ' Jimmy began. 'Four allies represented here today.'
'Four?' Keely questioned.
'I consider myself neutral - I certainly don't take direction from the UK Government. So four. And everyone in this room has a working knowledge of Magestic, and the role of Paul and myself, so no need to be shy. But more than that, all the nations represented here today work closely in many matters. All best buddies.' Pointing at Keely's leg, he asked, 'How's the leg?'
'Not so much as a scar, ' Keely admitted.
Host said, 'Let me be clear about something. We will take exception to our staff being injected with unknown drugs.'
'It was necessary to save his life, since basic anti-venom would not have worked, ' Jimmy calmly explained. He carefully mouthed, 'You're welcome.'
'What have your big-brained scientists found?' I asked.
Keely glanced at Host, saying, 'So far, all they can agree on is that it's way beyond them. According to their studies ... I should be dead.'
'How's the running?' I asked.
'I tried a marathon a few days ago, a good time, but I ached after.'
'The drug will boost your muscles, your bones and joints take longer, ' Jimmy pointed out, Sykes remaining quiet. 'So, what can I help you gentlemen with today?'
Keely half turned his head to his boss. Host began, 'We've decided to adopt the approach of ... co-operative scepticism. What that means, in effect, is that we go through the motions and proceed as if this is all on the level.'
Ben asked, 'Do you think our people stupid?'
Sykes added, 'And our best minds. Do you think we are fools, perhaps?'
'We ... have are our own course to set, ' Host suggested. 'We all take orders.'
'How true, ' Sykes sarcastically noted. 'Of course, Magestic has boosted the UK economy considerably. So, you take your time, gentlemen.'
Host did not like that, and I hid a smile, a glance exchanged with Jack.
Jimmy said, 'You'll need at least a year to have any hope of analysing Keely's blood, so why not come back in a year.'
Host liked that even less, his surprise evident. 'Well ... we're here now, and we want to get this sorted.'
'Sorted ... how?' Jimmy asked. 'Sorted ... to the point where you have everything you want? Sorted to the point ... where you have Magestic himself in a lab under the microscope, truth drugs applied, fingernails cut out.'
Sykes put in, 'Any attempt to interfere with Magestic, his staff or projects, would be met with the stiffest resistance by my government.'
'And my government, ' Ben added.
'Is that official?' Host challenged.
'I spoke to our Prime Minister yesterday, ' Sykes stated. 'It is very official.'
'I speak for my government, ' Ben added.
'I see, ' Host said, giving it some thought. 'Well, as I said, co-operative scepticism.' He turned his head a notch to Jimmy. 'We'd like to send a team to the orphanage.'
'On condition, ' Jimmy stated.
'Conditions?' Host queried, not happy at the suggestion.
'Yes. First, you must buy some toys for the kids, pushbikes, and games like chess or draughts – something educational. Then, I want two doctors based there for a year, helping out. And as they are helping out they can study the kids without worrying the staff. Fair enough?'
Host agreed, 'Fair enough. When?'
'I'll fax them later, ' Jimmy offered. 'So whatever day is good for you. And you'll make a startling discovery early on.'
'Which is?' Host nudged.
'If one person is injected, they can extract their own blood and inject others. It works. Not a hundred percent, but it still cures most ailments.'
Host glanced at Keely. Keely asked, pointing at himself, 'If I inject someone with my blood ... they get cured?'
'Mostly, yes, ' Jimmy agreed. 'You can inject a bunch of your soldiers and judge the effect, it's quite safe.'
Host seemed very curious about that fact. 'And if passed on and on –'
'Would be watered down, but still with some benefit. Why don't you experiment in controlled conditions.'
Host faced Ben. 'You've experiment with it?'
'Yes, on test subjects, ' Ben admitted. 'It loses fifty percent of its potency each time, but even after three stages it can cure most things.'
Host faced Sykes. 'And your lot?'
'No. It was offered, and has been considered, no decision yet taken. Good old British red tape and politics, I'm afraid. But we've seen the orphanage.'
Host faced Jimmy. 'And other nations, like the Chinese you told Keely about?'
'They have samples, but they don't have your scientific advantage. If you and they were to begin analysing the blood at the same time, you'll be there five years ahead of them.'
'And they started... ?' Host nudged.
'A year ago, ' Jimmy answered with a grin.
'I haven't mentioned the Chinese to the politicians yet, ' Host admitted. 'They might want you shot.'
'Why?' Jimmy calmly asked. 'I'm not American, no secrets were stolen, and it was not American technology that designed it in the first place. It's the Chinese who should want me shot, it's their future invention, part of their planned long distance space programme.'
'The ... Chinese developed it?' Host puzzled with a horrified look.
'After 2015 the good old US of A is on its arse, financially ruined. Everyone looks to China then, British kids learn Chinese. You best get used to it, or... '
'Or?' Keely repeated.
'Or you get a move on and become less of a sceptic, ' Jimmy toyed. 'Then, maybe, I'll help you out.'
Host faced Sykes, thumbing towards Jimmy. 'And why does the Brit' Government support his attitude?'
'Something about gift horses ... comes to mind, ' I said. 'Besides, you can only be worried ... if you believe the outcome.'
'Exactly, ' Sykes smugly stated. 'You cannot be affected by something that does not exist. Either Magestic has the power, and you're doomed, or not. Make your mind up, old chap. Besides, our government has been offered a long term financial forecast.'
'That's interference, ' Host complained. 'It's taking sides!'
Ben sighed. 'For God's sake, you either believe or you don't.'
I helpfully put in, 'Take a dump or get off the potty.' Jack and David hid their grins.
Sykes added, 'There's one thing very clear about what you've said, and that's that you already take this seriously and believe. The rest is just posturing.'
'I ... believe the accuracy of the letters, ' Host admitted. 'What I don't know ... is what the agenda is here. We're not going to let down our guard.'
'Mister Host. William, ' Jimmy began. 'Magestic could tell the Chinese and Russians about every secret project you have. And you'd never know.'
'If he knows, ' Host challenged.
'He knows, ' Jimmy insisted. 'Aurora Eclipse?'
'Jesus, ' Host let out. 'This is why I don't like it! Some fucker out there knows all our secrets.'
'And their secrets, ' Sykes pointed out. 'It works both ways.'
'And the Chinese know and respect that, ' Jimmy explained. 'I shocked them as well. Right now they're worrying we'll tell you stuff about them.'
'And will you?' Keely asked.
'That which is relevant, yes, ' Jimmy answered. 'Which is why you get terrorist tip offs. Any threat to Europe or America will be flagged up straight away.'
Sykes put in, 'We've decimated the IRA, they're talking peace.'
Ben added, 'And we have averted many terror attacks.'
Jack put in, 'We monitor Mister Silo's finances. Eighty percent or more goes to charity.'
'And he visits his mum often, ' I put in. 'We could get her up here if you like.'
Host smiled, reluctantly. He eased back and sipped his coffee. 'Pointer thinks Magestic is a fucking astronaut. But one of ours would never help the Chinese.'
'You never know, ' Jimmy began. 'Maybe Magestic is Chinese!'
'That would upset the White House, ' Keely admitted. 'How does our new President do, anyway?'
'Not too bad, two terms, then gets impeached for shagging several young interns.'
The quiet guy on the end registered a pulse. 'You know ... which interns?'
We all laughed at him, even Host.
Jimmy offered, 'I'll tell you if you promise to bring back disco.'
'Now that ... I could back, ' Host agreed. 'Hot pants and wide shirt collars!'
'War in Vietnam!' Sykes pointed out. 'It was not all fun.'
Host pointed at Sykes. 'Tell me you're glad about the demise of communism and I'll call you a liar!'
Jack turned his head to Sykes. 'He's got you there, sir.'
'The good old days, ' Sykes reflected. 'You knew where you stood. And no one ever made you prove your expenses.'
'I hear that, ' Keely put in, earning a look from his boss.
Jimmy said, 'Ben once accidentally set fire to his own tank –'
'Hey!' Ben objected.
Jimmy added, 'You claimed it was hit by an enemy shell!' Everyone laughed. 'And Mister Host ... he once screeched away from an ambush with the guy he was protecting stood on the pavement. He didn't realise till he'd gone a mile.'
Host smiled, shaking his head. 'I was concentrating on the driving. The guy was not happy.'
Everyone sampled the tasty treats that cookie had brought in, chicken and lamb tikka, a ten minute break taken.
Host finally said, 'So where do we go from here.'
Jimmy responded, 'Well, since you're American, we thought we'd make it look like you're taking the lead.'
'So long as we're not paying for it, ' Adater stated.
Keely faced Jimmy. 'You must already know what we do?'
'You set-up a very secret Magestic working group, its aim being to get the most out of the information, and ask me nicely for help in financial areas, and others. And then, bit by bit, we try and fix things. Unfortunately, each new administration will have its own agenda, reversing polices.'
Host glanced at Adater. 'There are ... groups that don't share all they know. The Air Force is good at hiding stuff. We'll create two groups, the political one, and the real one.'
Jimmy took a breath. 'Let me be clear about something, gentlemen. Of all the problems that the world faces in the next twenty years, most result from American political choices; bad choices, for bad reasons. Future Presidents will enact what they think are good policies, without thinking through the consequences. I have already helped to stop Iraq invading Kuwait, but that is still a work in progress. The Bosnian conflict is a sideshow and a distraction; you're supporting the wrong people. When you've set-up your Magestic group I'll give you a briefing. Problem is, the people in that group won't sleep much afterwards.'
Our guests adopted solemn stares. Jimmy continued, 'Mankind has from now till 2025 to sort a long list of problems. If you knew what was on the cards between now and then you'd vomit. If you knew what was going happen in 2025 ... you might just give up now.'
'And there's no solution to 2025?' Keely asked.
'There is no ... simple solution, even if you started planning yesterday. And, with all the best planning, hundreds of millions will still die, the world economy ruined. 2025 can be approached with best preparation, it cannot be fixed.'
'A meteor strike?' Keely asked.
'No. But I suppose the effect might be similar. And NASA could do nothing. There is no fix, but for security – let's label it as a meteor strike.'
'Mankind survives?' Adater asked.
'Yes, but the world will not be a pleasant place. And I will not be revealing 2025 to you ... till closer to the date, there is no point, nothing would be achieved.'
Host said, 'Maybe the scientists could figure a solution? They should have the chance to try!'
'It's not a complex problem, and science will not help, ' Jimmy explained. 'And don't take too long on the blood analysis, there'll be some nice diseases wiping out millions after 2012. In the meantime, we need a good smokescreen. We need more people called Magestic offering forecasts, some quite accurate.'
'There're already a lot of those, ' Keely unhappily stated. 'We wasted a lot of time on them.'
Jimmy instructed, 'You need to plan ahead, for when this leaks out – and it will eventually leak. If there's a clairvoyant in the States who is half decent in his predictions then it will act as a smoke screen should anyone see Magestic in a document. I'll provide the guy some tips.'
Host said, 'Pointer hid the original Magestic with a "g" behind Majestic with a "j".'
'Learn from it, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Hide it from Congress. In the meantime, I'd appreciate some help on Rwanda. Next year it falls apart and a million will die, that's almost twenty percent of the population.'
'May I ask, ' Host began, 'why the heck we're getting sidelined with something like Africa?'
'Because nothing I do is without cause and effect. And there is more oil in Africa than you realise.'
'Rwanda has oil?' Keely asked.
'No. Remember, cause and effect. An unstable Africa is no good for pumping oil. Wars and refugees ... cause instability. Nothing I do ... is a distraction; quite the opposite. Even the orphanage is vital, and the golf complex. They are all small steps on a long path.'
We fed our American guests, then sent them off, further meetings promised. Sykes and Jack were thanked, a meeting arranged in London for a few days time. That left Ben and David.
Settling back around the sofa, Ben said, 'You tell different groups different things.'
'Yes, they don't know who I really am.'
'Why trust us?' Ben challenged.
'First, you keep tighter security, and second you have the most to lose from disclosure. The Chinese also know the truth.'
'The NSA seemed ... positive, ' David tentatively suggested.
'Administrations come and go, ' Jimmy countered. 'And the Yanks are crap at keeping secrets, especially one this big. So we'll create a false Magestic, then another, and one they may even believe is the right one. And even then they'll be a pain in years to come.'
'And if they expose you?' Ben pressed.
'You lose Israel, I lose the planet, ' Jimmy carefully mouthed. 'Even if I tell you what will happen, it'll need me bringing together various factions. And I'm the only one they all trust. You don't learn open heart surgery from a book, it takes practice and a bit of flare for it.'
'So perhaps you should not take part in stupid helicopter stunts, ' Ben firmly suggested.
'Unfortunately, without the reputation and credibility, we can't do some of the important stuff. I'm working to a plan of twenty thousand steps, that helicopter jaunt was one of them.'
'So, Paul being a hero and having superstar girlfriends is part of it?' Ben challenged.
With a smile, Jimmy said, 'Very much so. Fame will allow us to talk to the right people at the right time, to influence them, to move them a few degrees left or right. You can't influence the people on the top table ... unless you're sat on the top table.'
'I'm taking one for the team, ' I said with a straight face. Their looks did not suggest they agreed with that. With a grin, I said, 'Anyway, how was Oz?'
'A bit odd?' David admitted. 'It was interesting to find long lost relatives, and my grandfather's grave. But they were not that friendly, so I doubt that we'll keep in touch. Still, it was good to see where Sarah lived.'
'You ... all sorted with her now?' I delicately asked.
'Oh, yes. Like it never happened.'
'We have some more money for you, ' Ben put in.
'Make a charitable donation to Rescue Force, it's a registered charity now, ' Jimmy told him. 'We'll pop over soon and give you some more blood, get that moved along for you.'
'Why?' Ben challenged. 'If the Americans are researching it? We can't compete with them?'
'Do you want to be dependent on them?' Jimmy asked. 'Besides, you'll have some injured people to help between now and then; it's great for burns.'
Ben commented, 'You seem to take this all ... very lightly?'
'Couldn't live, otherwise, ' Jimmy responded. 'If we took this too seriously we'd blow our brains out. Besides, we have to play the roles without the people around us being suspicious. And sticking our faces in front of TV cameras will be our greatest asset in years to come. Can't do that whilst being a miserable git, we're not Serbian politicians!'
You wouldn't want to work for us
The book about the Baardheere incident, aptly titled "The Baardheere Incident", was ready, having been carefully edited by Jimmy. The writer had been promised block sales, but in turn had to make a few changes. At the outset he was told that the part about the rescue had to cover no more than thirty percent of the book, and the rest had to be about the UN mission in question, backgrounds of the people killed or rescued, the nature of UN mission in Somalia and the wider civil war in Somalia; a balanced view. Jimmy and I had scoured through many early versions, and things like ex-SAS became ex-Army.
The staff in Kenya had been spoken to, small changes to the story agreed to by all: Cosy was not on the mission, and Jimmy did not "order" the mission. The book made clear that Jimmy had asked about the mission's possibilities, and Mac and the others had agreed to its practicality, Bob Davies warning of the legal status of such a trip. My part had been made a little more glamorous, the fact that I was terrified left out. We came across as caring, nervous, yet resolute.
It was ready for the shops for December 1st, a block of ten thousand purchased by us on pre-order from the distributor. Aside from that, it found an immediate audience, since it offered action, adventure, suspense, rescue, plus factual backgrounds. The middle of the book displayed twenty pages of black and white photographs, as well as a few maps. It started to sell well. We sent a hundred copies to Mawlini, a thousand to high schools in Kenya, had them stacked up for guests at the hotels and safari parks, and five thousand distributed by Mackey and his contacts. The UN itself got a few thousand copies, and everyone ended up reading what Jimmy wanted them to read.
The book sparked a TV programme in the UK, because no matter which way you looked at the UN patrol on that day it seemed ill advised and doomed, a ghost of blame floating around at the loss of life. More than thirty additional UN staff had been killed in the meantime in Somalia and the brief US intervention had been a disaster.
Coinciding with the release, we ran a few adverts for Rescue Force staff, recruiting from the UK and Europe, one page adverts sent to all of Mackey's contacts, as well as every hospital, police station and military base in the UK. We received twenty-five serious enquiries, and we made the work sound less than inviting: "Rescue Force Kenya. The pay is not great, the training is hard, the conditions are harsh, the danger is always present." Seemed we were after crazy people.
A few doctors showed their interest in a year out in Africa, some nurses with a similar feeling. The advert attracted six ex-army medics keen to have a go, a few rescuers after adventure for a year or two, and several foreign doctors already familiar with Africa; Dutch, German and French. They all met up at Mapley on December 15th for a talk by Jimmy in the AMO building, Mac flying up with Doc Graham. The pay and conditions were described, not putting them off since the advert had made them clear. The chance to get a pilots license and helicopter license excited many, and Mac gave a slide show of the base and its activities. Questions were answered at length, yearly rotating contracts offered. At the end of the day only one dropped out, a nurse. We signed up twenty-four new bodies, five of which would be sent straight out, the rest would need training at Mapley, starting on January 5th. Some of the recruits would need jeep and off-road training, others would require first aid training despite being doctors: they were specialists and had not touched first aid for a long time. Doc Graham would handle the first aid. All would have to take fitness, geography, swimming lessons where necessary, and helicopter drills. A four -week course was planned, then off to Kenya for another four-week course at Mawlini. But it was not all hard work for our new recruits. After a five day acclimatisation at the beach came a five-day study safari; they would need to know a hyena from a lion, a mamba from a python.
After planning on spending Christmas with the various family groups, we decided to celebrate New Year in Hong Kong. Katie was keen since it would get her away from the press, and she would take her only family, her mum. Po booked us a block of fifty rooms and we invited most of the senior staff from Kenya, many from Pineapple, staff from the club and others we knew. We would be there ten days, the staff from Kenya for five.
On the 28th we touched down, picked up in a convoy of three Rollers and taken to a hotel that had just been completed, part owned by Po. Of its twenty glass-fronted floors we had the first three reserved for just our group. Oddly, the better quality rooms were lower down, not the penthouse, and the room I shared with Katie was big enough for us all, complete with a Jacuzzi offering a view on two sides; as you sat in the tub, a hand held control opened or closed the blinds, offering a great view out over the bay. After dumping our luggage, hanging a few things up in the bag labelled as 'Pressing', we went for walk to explore the large hotel. What we had missed, coming up in the lift, was the central core.
The centre of the hotel resembled a Roman amphitheatre, with two rows of guest rooms opening onto balconies at the top and offering strange internal views. Each balcony housed hanging plants creeping down the white walls, as did the walls of lower levels. Below us ran a walkway right around the courtyard, four doors off it plus lifts and stairs, so we wandered down. The "Chill-out Room" was just that, a large room of sofas, tables, fish tanks and a long bar. Next came "Retro Room" and I smiled widely, Katie noticing the name. We ducked our heads in, the room empty at present, noting a large central dance floor – 70s style, multi-coloured squares surrounded by a brass railing. We walked on, finding "The Disco", a similar layout to the previous room, but with a dance floor fashioned around a DJ booth, numerous large TV screens on the walls.
'He's copied your club, ' Katie noted as we tried door number four. This was a traditional British pub, dark wood, a typical bar - even British signs on the walls. 'Christ, this could be my old local.'
On the next floor down we found four restaurants; a Chinese, a Thai, an Indian and an American diner, the central courtyard occupied by a café with many tables and chairs, a fountain in the middle above a small carp pond. A call preceded Po and his gang approaching.
'How you like?' Po keenly asked.
'Very good, ' I said. 'Where did you get the idea?'
'You give me good idea. We open one week before Christmas, very full. Not only people for room, many people come for disco and food. For New Year we have hundred percent. You look down?'
'No, we're walking around now.' We left Po and tackled steps signposted for Gym, Sauna, Pool, Health. One floor down we discovered a large blue pool surrounded by many glass cubicles – sauna and steam rooms, as well as beauty therapy and massage. 'Right, ' I said 'We've got time, let's get our trunks.'
Having retrieved our swimming costumes and towel bags, we took the lift directly down to the basement and into the massage rooms. It appeared as if you had to book, but when the lady took my room number she ushered us straight in. Face down, side by side and fingers intertwined, we enjoyed a long and relaxing massage, chatting away as four ladies worked on us. In the sauna we found Cosy and Anna, her pregnancy visible and congratulations given, and sat chatting away for ten minutes. They both looked odd with their heavily tanned faces and arms, but pale white bodies.
In the pool we found Rudd with his coloured wife and their three half- caste kids. The kids were splashing about as if in an ordinary pool, not appreciating that this was supposed to be a five star hotel. I had only met his wife once before, and her accent was hard to follow, Kenyan Creole English. Ratchet and Spanner emerged from the steam room, spotted us and jumped in, wading across.
'This going to be a regular thing then, boss?' they nudged, and I introduced Katie.
'What do you do, love?' they asked, no idea about her.
'Secretary, in Pineapple Music, ' she responded, and they believed her, swimming off and trying to drown Rudd's kids.
Dry now, we headed for a drink in the British bar, finding Mac, Handy and Rabbit, dressed smart but casual in blue blazers. I put a thousand dollars on the bar for them.
Mac snatched it and pocketed it quickly. 'It's a free bar, idiot.'
'We pay with our room keys, and our rooms are all inclusive like, ' Mac explained.
'No, he's Handy, ' Mac corrected me, pointing at his buddy.
Following Jimmy's example over the years, I made sure that they were feeling wanted, needed and welcome, then sat in the corner with Katie for a quick drink. Back in the room we stripped off and fired up the Jacuzzi, ignoring the blinds. Any paparazzi with a long lens could have taken a valuable picture. As we sat there, Katie's legs across mine, I took in the view across the bay, the million twinkling lights, the neon signs of businesses below us and the brightly lit boats on the water; Hong Kong at night, one of my favourite places.
'You like it here, ' Katie stated, noticing my gaze.
I smiled. 'Always did, right from the first trip. I like the lights at night.'
'It's a good hotel, be ... lively over New Year.' She sounded cautious.
'It'll be mostly Po's family and staff, plus a lot of ours, ' I reassured her. 'A photographer wouldn't get in, and if they did they'd be roughed up and thrown in the bay. Relax, around here they don't know you.'
'Your staff don't know me either.'
I wasn't sure if she was happy with that or not. 'They live in a camp in the desert. And I should warn you, I had a fling with Po's daughter a year ago, she's bound to be here.'
'Was she over sixteen at the time?' Katie teased.
I tickled her feet. 'Ling, is twenty-three ... and a Phd graduate.'
'Why did you break up?' It was a typical girly question, and I half expected it.
'She has a life here, I have a life in the UK - nothing more complicated than that. If she was in the UK I would have stayed with her – I don't trade them in very often, remember.'
Katie became reflective. 'I felt bad that first night, at the beach hotel. My ex was calling a lot and I was in the sea with you.'
'You must have been unhappy with him ... to do that, ' I ventured.
'No, ' she sighed. 'I just wanted a stronger man. He ... let me lead him around, ' she explained. 'When he had the time, that was. He couldn't have done a trip like this.' She took in the view as I massaged her feet. 'When we flew back I felt bad, then Jimmy's people were there - a car with tinted glass, armed police officer driving. And I thought ... this is more of what I need, not an empty flat and me fitting around when whoever I'm seeing is off work.'
'When I met Judy, Jimmy put a baby elephant in our bed, ' I said with a smile as I remembered back. 'We fed it from milk bottles and it peed on our feet in the bathroom.'
'You ... think about her?'
'No, she probably has her own herd by now.' She slapped me. 'Oh, Judy? Not really, I had the same problem as you. Rich people should stick to other rich people.'
'I'm worth three million, and I thought that was rich. You spend that a month in Africa.'
'Po is very rich, him and his family, and more on the way, ' I said.
'On the way?'
'Jimmy won him a few contracts from the Chinese Government. They'd pay for this hotel ten times over – and you wanted to pay for the damn room!'
'I still don't know exactly what Jimmy does, you know, the private stuff. It all sounds dodgy.'
'He brokers secret deals between governments and corporations - they know they can trust him to act as an honest broker, ' I lied. 'And a small percentage of a large amount is a lot. But most income still comes from stock market trading - he's the best there is. He gives tips to people like Po, and they trade them and make a fortune, paying Jimmy a cut. First time we gave a tip to Po we thought he might put ten grand on it. He stuck a million on it.'
'And the hotels make a good profit, so too the club in Cardiff, and Pineapple is doing very well – Jimmy has a good ear, he picked you out from a box of fifty tapes.
She glanced at the distant lights. 'I almost didn't send the tape in, I was thinking of going back to college.'
'And now look at you; rich, in Hong Kong with a real catch of a guy... '
She eased up and straddled me. 'Prove it.'
Dressed smart in our eveningwear, and arm in arm, we took the lift down to the third floor, opening to the disco area. We stopped first at the Chill-out room, finding the Pineapple gang meeting up before their meal, two Americans in the group. Kate greeted many, soon chatting away, and I fetched drinks, sitting with Oliver and his wife.
'So how's New York?' I asked.
'Great, so is this place, ' she answered. 'Anywhere is better than dreary old London.'
'Nairobi isn't, love. You settled over there?'
'We'll stay there as long as you like, ' Oliver emphasized. 'Got a good circle of friends, good social life.'
'How's the office?'
'Growing rapidly, and we've had twelve top ten hits in three months. Some of the Brits starting to do well over there as well.'
'You've done alright as well, ' Oliver's wife said, a nod towards Katie.
'Really, I thought that she'd done alright. And it's your fault, Oliver, for encouraging her to go out to Kenya.'
'Where's Jimmy, haven't seen him yet?' Oliver asked.
'Probably talking dull business with the Chinese.'
'He's fluent, ' Oliver stated. 'How many languages does he speak?'
'More than I have fingers and toes, but I'm getting there as well. My Chinese and Russian is not bad, some local Kenyan.'
'No more helicopter stunts?' his wife asked with a disapproving frown.
'No, no more since.'
'We read the book on the way over, amazing tale, ' Oliver said. 'Can I visit that place?'
'Of course you can, you know that. Just let us know.'
'We've did the one safari, a year ago or more, and fancy another, ' Oliver suggested.
'You wouldn't recognise the hotels, especially not the beach hotel, ' I told them. 'The golf complex is great. Oh, and we've bought some more land in the north. If it's ready you should stay there, different scenery and a few different animals, nice escarpment.'
'We've got friends in New York that want to visit, we've whetted their appetites, ' Oliver indicated.
Katie kissed and hugged Oliver and his wife before sitting on my knee. We chatted for ten minutes, the Pineapple gang going for a Thai meal tonight. In the British bar we found the Old Dogs again, but now in black tuxedos.
'Mutton dressed as lamb, ' I said loudly.
'Like 'em? They wuz in the room, ' Rabbit said, adjusting his sleeves. 'Jimbo fixed 'em for us.'
'The gang is in the Chinese –' I began.
'We're off for a curry first, ' they insisted. 'Casino after.'
'Casino?' I questioned.
'Yeah, Jimbo gave us some chips, ' Mac explained. 'He's more generous than you!'
'You pinched a thousand dollars earlier!'
'Had to, you don't dish 'em out often, ' Mac playfully grumbled.
Big Paul wandered in with two of Po's bodyguards.
'Should have known, ' I said. 'War stories over a curry.'
'Can't fucking relax with the bosses about, can you, ' Big Paul complained, leading off the Old Dogs.
We left them to it. In the Chinese restaurant we found many familiar faces, the two young girls that visited Kenya racing forwards. I knelt and hugged them, getting kisses on the cheek.
Katie bent double and said hello, and the girls sprinted off. 'They were in Kenya?' she whispered.
The girls' parents said hello, bowing and shaking our hands before introducing some of the extended family. I practised my Chinese. We waved at Rudd's family, sat now with Cosy and Anna, then greeted Doc Graham, Dunnow, Ratchet and Spanner, all stood with drinks in hands.
Dunnow stepped forwards. 'Hey, love, didn't bring a friend with you, did you?'
'He suffers from memory loss. Ask him his name, ' I nudged.
'What's your name?' she finally asked.
She looked at me and I explained his name, Ratchet pulling him away in a headlock. I greeted the manager of our Cardiff club and his wife, laughing about the design of the hotel, wondering if it might catch on. Han stepped forwards, done out in a black tuxedo. He took Katie's hand, bowed and kissed it.
'Han was in Kenya as well, ' I pointed out to Katie.
'I remember, ' she said, telling me off with a look. Facing Han, she asked, 'Do you work here, in Hong Kong?'
'No, in Beijing.'
'Han is a secret agent for the Chinese Government, ' I suggested. 'He didn't walk into the hotel, he scaled the walls.'
Han smiled. 'Your expectations of me ... flatter me.' Facing Katie, he said, 'I am but a humble diplomat.'
The two girls appeared at his trouser legs, a pile of photographs handed over. He offered them to us, pictures of the lion cubs, the hotels, and the safari lodge.
'Your take good pictures, ' Katie politely told Han.
'I told you, he's a super spy. That top button ... a microphone.'
She shot me another look, the photographs returned as Katie's mum appeared with Jimmy. Jean appeared a little nervous of the group, a little out of place.
'The Old Dogs are in the curry house, ' I told Jimmy.
'Old ... Dogs?' Jean queried, wide eyed, a surprised stare from Katie.
Jimmy explained, 'The old army instructors, it's their army name.' Now he shot me a look.
Hiding a grin, I took Jean by the arm and found a seat, Katie the other side of her mum. Jimmy took an age chatting to people so we ordered starters, a variety brought out and placed down, samples taken. I explained the system to the ladies. With many smartly dressed children running between tables, I grabbed one of the girls I knew and lifted her to my knee, asking her to speak some English to Katie's mum, the adorable little girl keen to practice. Then she tried to teach us chopsticks, at length and quite patient, also quite loud, Jean now enjoying herself. A flash caused me to turn, Han taking snaps. When the girls' mother came over, Jean asked if she could take her home to England.
Easing up, I asked Han to sit at my place, and when returning slipped down next to Katie. In a whisper, I asked Katie what Han and her mother were talking about. Seemed they both had a passion for roses, even flower competitions. I suspected Jimmy's hand in this somewhere.
A well-known BBC correspondent walked in, a small gang in tow, Katie recognising the man. She stepped over to them, introduced by Jimmy, and chatted for ten minutes as I discussed the hotel layout with Po. For someone who didn't like the attention of the press, she had a funny way of showing it. I considered that what she really wanted was publicity that suited her, to write her own story. It would always be a source of annoyance.
The evening went well, but both of us ate too much, a trip to the disco put off in favour of crashing out on the bed and cuddling up. Dozing, we eased up around 3am, ordering room service. After a cup of tea we fired up the Jacuzzi and sat watching the lights till our skin was wrinkly, Katie eventually heading back to bed. I sat and read a book.
Katie was a bit groggy for the tour the next morning; interesting things to see and do around Hong Kong. We tagged along, many viewpoints visited, shopping centres with lifts that were not for the faint hearted. At one point Jimmy led Katie and myself to a jewellery shop, the move making me immediately nervous. The staff greeted us, Jimmy pointing them toward a wall poster of Katie, then back to Katie. The staff, and shoppers, twigged at the same time, the manager fussing over her, snaps taken. Katie loved it; selective popularity when it suited her. On the spot, I bought her an expensive necklace and something for her mum.
After lunch we suffered a boat trip around the bay, the usual tourist lectures given, ending up on a wharf housing Po's family yacht, a monster of a boat some hundred and fifty feet long. Today's tour had been split into three groups for manageable size, and now all three groups joined up again and boarded the yacht. With the late afternoon air warm enough, we stood drinking on the quarterdeck.
Han and Jean turned up late. 'Where've they been?' I asked, now intrigued. We closed in.
'Mister Han showed me around a private garden, ' Jean keenly explained. 'Fabulous gardens, with ponds and vines. Could have spent forever there. Then on to another one full of the most amazing roses.' She took my arm. 'When we got there they were closed, so Mister Han told them I was Jimmy Silo's sister.' She shot Han a playfully scolding look. 'And they opened up in a panic.'
Katie gave me a concerned look. I quickly explained, 'He does a lot of business down here.'
That night we repeated the previous evening's format, this time trying the Thai restaurant. I sighed when I noticed the wall poster advertising jewellery, but it took the guests an hour to recognise Katie. When they finally twigged she allowed herself to be photographed, a few autographs given. We left just as Mac put a moustache on the poster. If he hadn't, I might have. I made my excuses and found Jimmy, needing a chat.
'Need some advice, ' I said, sitting in the chill-out bar.
'Women problems, are no problems, ' he firmly stated.
'She fucking whinges about the paparazzi, then courts publicity when it suits her.'
Jimmy sipped his beer. 'You member that first house, in Richmond?' I smiled as I thought back. 'And the first time we went for a proper drink - and met those two girls?'
'Sophie, ' he corrected. 'How times have changed. Back then you would have been glad for any bit of skirt. And now look at you: you've got the UK's best looking girl crazy about you, and you don't appreciate her.'
'It's not that I don't appreciate her, it's... '
'That you don't appreciate her.'
'Well... ' I sighed and sipped my beer.
'Offer a man half a million, and he'll be happy. Give him a million and take back half a million and he'll be very unhappy. It's all relative, and you need to take a good look at what you have, compared to a flat in Richmond – where you may have stayed for ten years.'
In a quiet, and reflective tone, staring into my beer, I said, 'There's no pleasing some people, is there?'
'This is a learning curve for you, a valuable one. Try and understand the mind set ... of the glamorous – it's something we'll touch upon many times in the future. We won't be hounded in quite the same way – no up-skirt shots, but we will be hounded. She wants, and needs, people to tell her she's beautiful and successful, and singers like her measure success partly on the charts and the money, but also in what the tabloids say about them. Harsh comments hurt them. And no, they never learn to deal with it. You need to try and find out how she ticks, how someone like her ticks, and use it as a very pleasant training exercise, or I'll beat the crap out of you at length.'
By time New Year reached us we had all had enough food and booze; belts were loosened. We took it easy New Year's Eve daytime, ready for the big show; we'd be on Po's yacht, a prime location for the fireworks and a view of the colony. Most were tipsy well before midnight, but it went off well, a spectacular fireworks display that went on and on, the children staying up. With a palatial cabin reserved for us we stayed aboard, the rest put ashore around 1.30am. We enjoyed breakfast in the room, Jimmy knocking around 11am.
'You decent?' he called. I answered the door in a robe. Jimmy said, 'Be flying off in a few hours, so pack your bags.'
'Where we off?' I puzzled as Jimmy stepped inside.
'Beijing of course, a surprise visit.' He addressed Katie, 'You want to see Beijing? Your mum is keen to see some of the palaces?'
'What ... today?'
'Yep. But don't worry, the plane will wait till we're ready.'
'Oh ... well ... yes, if mum's keen.'
'See you at the hotel when you're ready.' He closed the door.
'The plane ... will wait for us?' Katie repeated.
My stomach turned. I had faith in Jimmy, but we were risking them grabbing us, making up any story they liked. And I was taking Katie there as well, putting her in harms way. I was reasonably sure that the UK Government would get us out if necessary, but the butterflies persisted.
At the airport, Han gave us all paper passes, a red and blue stamp, and we boarded a small China Airlines 737. The cabin crew asked us to sit in the middle, over the wing - an odd request to my mind, and closed the doors. Then it dawned on me that it was just the four of us, and Han.
With Katie's mum asking questions, Jimmy said, 'They laid on the plane for me; trying and show how much they appreciate me. I'm negotiating mining contracts in Africa that are worth a lot to them.' I swallowed, but smiled reassuringly at Katie.
Three and bit hours later we touched down into a foggy Beijing, not seeing the runway till six feet above it, a bit of a bump. At least there would be no rush to queue for the exits. Han got up first, politely waiting for us, and we stepped out in single file, the terminal just visible through the fog. A blast of freezing air caught us off guard as we stepped across to the walkway, soon into the terminal, but no other travellers visible in the section we occupied. Han lead us down a flight of stairs, an official checking passes and handing them back, and out into the freezing cold and to a dated black Mercedes. Jimmy had insisted we bring warm clothing, the ladies now chilly.
As we drove off I soon realised that we were part of a four-vehicle convoy, traffic stopping for us at various junctions as we rushed through. Not much of Beijing was glimpsed, the fog getting worse as we drove. I think we crossed a bridge at one point, and we certainly passed through some security gates. Pulling up, Han opened the doors and we braved the chill wind for a few steps before entering a building, a government residence. Our luggage clattering along the floor behind us caused us to turn, sombre officials following us in with it. With no lift apparent, we climbed stairs panelled with dark wood, the air getting warmer as we progressed, and to a series of apartments around an internal courtyard. Jean had her own room, but with twin beds, Jimmy had a suite and Katie and I had a large apartment with a double bed; a small double bed.
'Dinner in one hour, downstairs, ' was the last thing Han told me.
After a good look around at the dated furniture and décor we unpacked a few things, Katie turning the radiators up fully.
Five minutes later Jimmy knocked. 'Warm enough?' he asked Katie as he entered.
'Just about, ' she offered. 'What is this place?'
'It's a government residence inside the Forbidden City - a place that very few ever get to see, certainly not tourists. We'll get you a tour in the morning, fog permitting, a tour that you can be sure none of your friends have ever taken, or ever will. Now, cup of tea?'
'Oh, yes please, ' Katie urged.
'Follow me, then.'
Jimmy collected Jean and led us downstairs, along a Spartan corridor and to a large lounge, a woman with a white lace apron stood waiting under a painting of Mao. He gave her a sentence in Chinese and she trotted off as we sat around a low central coffee table. 'This place is normally used for senior officials from other provinces when they come to visit, some foreign diplomats.'
I took in the room, Spartan décor of dark wood panels, a row of bookshelves, several sideboards, and not much else. Seeing my look, Jimmy fetched a large dusty book, placing it down and opening it to a page near the front. Swivelling the book around to us he held a finger at a scrawled signature. Addressing Jean, he asked, 'Know who used your room once?' We all peered at the scrawl. 'Khrushchev.'
'Khrushchev?' she repeated. 'In my bed?'
'They changed the sheets, ' I offered.
'And the bed, probably, ' Jimmy added. 'It was 1962.'
'I remember him on the telly: the Cuban missile crisis, ' Jean put in, studying the page as a tray of tea was brought out.
Jimmy directed our little helper, and she placed down three small cups for everyone, tealeaves placed in each, but from different silver pots, hot water added. With the lady standing back, Jimmy stirred the teas, adding a little cold water. 'Now, from left to right, try it.' We did as asked.
The first was sweet, a bit of an after taste. The second tasted a little like mint to me, and the third a little more traditional.
'Well?' he asked. 'What's the first one?'
'It's fruity, ' Katie said.
'Jasmine, and you won't find that in the UK. Next?'
'Mint, ' Jean suggested, getting a nod.
'And finally?' Jimmy posed, trying his again.
'A bit like normal tea, ' I suggested.
'Normal tea, is either Indian or Sri Lankan, ' Jimmy explained. 'This is from the far west of China, north of Delhi across the Himalayas. None of these you'll find in the UK.'
With small cups in hand we eased back and tried more, chatting about our favourites.
Jimmy said, 'This place may not look like much, but not even a British Prime Minister has ever been here; this is living history. It's a bit old and creepy, but we're honoured.'
Han appeared after we had downed several cups of tea. 'I hope you are all well.'
Jean said, 'I signed your visitors book, under Khrushchev.'
Han was horrified, stepping closer to look as Jimmy laughed. The book was untouched. 'I will never quite understand the Western humour. We may eat now if you are ready.'
'Lead on, ' I said.
Our dining hall was oddly long and thin, a sturdy table in the middle, more of the same dark wood panelling on the walls, pictures of Mao and other leaders. Two ladies attended us, and they now wheeled trolleys from some unseen kitchen, soon a starter of crab soup, nice enough, everyone chatting away and Han keeping Jean occupied and engaged. Our main courses were like nothing I'd ever sampled in a Chinese restaurant, Han pleased to describe the detail and make-up of each dish. But they were tasty enough, especially the duck, the rice palatable and the noodles very tasty, almost spicy. After four courses we were all stuffed, warm, and contented. We retired to the lounge, noticing some furniture moved around, a group of musicians sat tucked into a corner. Two traditional dancers appeared wearing facemasks, and the guys in the corner started up, our own private show.
Han gave a quiet commentary, the meaning and origins of five separate acts unfolding like a storybook: the king wanted a shag but got killed by his son - was the short version. When finished, Jimmy clapped, followed by the rest of us, Jimmy stepping up to the performers and thanking them in Chinese, asking questions of instruments and costume. A very pleased troupe scampered off backwards, bowing. We chatted for thirty minutes before Han retired, offering to pick us up around 8am, breakfast at 7am. I took Katie up to bed around 11pm, but she was right off the idea of sex in these rooms. Khrushchev did not do it for either of us.
We rose early, a knock from Jimmy at 6.15am to make sure we were awake, and fumbled to make the bath run hot, sharing the water and dressing quickly in the chill room. Breakfast was basic, but enough of it, more teas sampled. Han would be taking the ladies on a tour, Jimmy and I would be talking business with the Chinese Government. My butterflies came back.
Jimmy emphasised, 'Ladies, this tour you'll be getting: no one from the UK has had it before, ever, nor probably will again. I've arranged it specially.' They were impressed, and intrigued. Han picked up the ladies and bade us farewell, a separate car waiting for us; the condemned. As I got in I wondered if we'd ever leave China.
A five-minute drive brought us to a dull grey office building, armed guards stood outside like gnomes, more armed guards opening the car doors. I followed Jimmy inside, sticking close. He greeted the first man by name, surprising him, then repeated that exercise three times more as we progressed along Spartan corridors of grey walls, the odd picture of Mao, picking up people as we went. We descended to a basement, strong doors opened by soldiers, an echoing clatter of shoes on stone behind us. Inside, we found a low ceiling room, low for us at least, and several men sat around a large table. Jimmy pissed them all off by shaking hands and naming each one in turn. With our hosts not looking happy, he faced me.
'This is Lee Wen, the Chinese Security Minister.'
I practised my Chinese greetings, hoping I had not called him something rude. He gestured us to seats and everyone settled, the door finally closed. The rest was in Chinese.
'You must have many questions, Minister, ' Jimmy began.
Wen composed himself. 'First, my government thanks you for the hospitality shown to our representative, and for the continued advice that you provide.'
'You are most welcome.'
'May I ask if you are in contact with the British Security Services?'
'Every day, sometimes twice a day.'
Wen glanced at his colleagues. 'And the American Security Services?'
'When they lower themselves to talk to me. The NSA visited recently, but remain ... wary.'
'Wary?' Wen repeated.
'They do not like that which they cannot control, especially when it comes to security matters.'
'A prudent approach.'
'May I ask an obvious question? Why, do you say, that you were sent back through time?'
'To prepare the world for the disaster of 2025.'
'And that disaster ... is what?'
Jimmy took a moment. 'An old man ... begins as a baby. Through his life many things will affect him, choices he makes, and choices that are made for him. His journey is a long one, a simple decision taken in his youth possibly affecting the rest of his life. For me to teach you, we need the life story, not the conclusion at the deathbed. Have you white boards and an interpreter as I requested?'
Wen shouted an order, and four white boards were brought forwards, placed near the table. Jimmy stood, taking off his jacket. On the first board he put a diagonal time line, from 1989 to 2025. On the second he put a vertical line and a series of marks in blue. The third board went green, a financial chart, and the final was a crude map with continents as squares. The Chinese assembled around the table got their paper and pens ready.
Some of the words Jimmy used had to be in English, not much of a translation into Chinese, certainly not one he knew of. Even the translator struggled with some of the financial terms used. An hour later and Jimmy was almost finished, a sombre conclusion of parts given in English for my benefit: any gathering of refugees in the Middle East after 2010 would give rise to a terrorist group called the Brotherhood, who would start by blowing up all the oil wells, then go on to blow up just about anything, and anyone else they could get hold of, eventually reaching Europe.
A conflict in Afghanistan was certain, the destabilisation of Pakistan was certain afterwards as a consequence, followed by an increase in terror attacks against India and a subsequent nuclear war with India. That war would create refugees en mass, hence the Brotherhood. The task force sent to re-take the oil fields would lead to a wider war in the Middle East, eventually involving China and Russia and a global conflict.
If all that was avoided, the American economy would suffer and they would invade Venezuela, attacking China in 2015. If that was averted, plagues would sweep the earth, global warming would be debunked after a cold snap killing many, financial disasters would cripple the world's banking systems and large scale fraud would reduce confidence; people would go back to gold coins. If that lot was averted, 2025 would kill hundreds of millions, and the Brotherhood would rise in force.
I could read the charts and understand some of the detail, and even that small detail made me feel ill. This was the first instance that I had seen a complete timeline; Jimmy had kept it from me for security reasons. Now I was starting to understand why - I wasn't ready before. And this lot were not ready either. Ties were loosened, throats were dry, and Jimmy firmly told our hosts to have a tea and toilet break. Many stepped out, others debating detail in whispers, papers tapped, the boards attacked with pointed fingers, lines were drawn on charts.
When everyone returned, Jimmy grabbed a large map of China and hung it over a white board. He drew a line down the middle of China. 'After 2025, you can only hold the land to the east of that line.' It did not please the audience. 'I came back to prepare you, but I cannot offer you a solution. And I will only entrust the information, of what happens in 2025, to your Prime Minister.'
They fired a barrage of questions, Jimmy going back over the charts. Seemed like they figured they could find a solution to some or all of the points listed. Each point was answered with a counterpoint, each verbal volley shot down, the firer silenced. It dragged on for almost an hour, till they were exhausted.
'Does China survive after 2025?' Wen asked.
'Yes, it fairs better than most'. That cheered them a little. 'But reduced in size, constant Muslim terrorism, very little global trade, outbreaks of disease. And gentlemen, just getting you there will be extremely difficult. After 2020, global climate change has an effect, floods and droughts. Let me suggest to you now that you invest in submarine technology, nuclear submarines – but not military; research vessels, submarines that small groups of people can live in.'
Wen finally said, 'May I ask ... who sent you through time?'
'Not yet. In time I will answer.'
'And your ... motivation?' Wen posed.
Jimmy took a breath. 'A ... difficult question. Do you nurse an elderly relative close to death? Or do you ask ... why bother? Do you tackle a difficult mathematical problem because it must be solved, or because of stubbornness, or an arrogant belief that you can solve it – once started afraid to give up and face your own failure? I think, a little of each.'
'Your colleague, he is an understudy?' Wen asked.
'Of sorts, but he has a destiny, so I keep him close.'
'You take many risks, ' Wen noted, wagging a finger.
'Take a look at the board, and find me a time when there are no risks.'
Wen adjusted his suit. 'You ask for nothing for yourself ... in return for all this information?' he challenged.
'I ask you ... to help yourselves, to help me save the planet. You will survive 2025, and so will the world. What remains ... is how well prepared we all are for the challenges that come before, to better be able to handle that which comes after. That preparation should have started ten years ago for it to be effective. You, gentlemen, are on the clock.' He put his jacket on. 'We will meet again the day after tomorrow, please draw up accurate charts and a list of questions. In the meantime, I have guests to attend to.'
Wen followed Jimmy up. 'Han has noticed that you do not let this burden affect you?' Jimmy gestured Wen to a corner, whispering in his ear. Back at the table Wen, took time to consider whatever it was Jimmy had said, idly adjusting the papers in front of him. Lifting his head, Wen finally said, 'We will have the questions ready. Please enjoy your time in our fine city.'
I was glad to be out in the fresh air, the day clear and the sun out, and very glad to see Katie again, practically carrying her up the stairs. Ghosts of Khrushchev or not, I tore her clothes off. At midnight I slipped out, finding Jimmy sat reading in the lounge.
'Can't sleep?' I asked as I sat. The tea was fresh, so I poured myself one. Mint.
'She warm enough?' he asked as he closed his book.
'Got one of my t-shirts on in bed, plus socks. Very ... glamorous.' I eased back. 'Did today ... go as planned?'
'Yes. But this meeting is a whole year ahead of schedule.'
'Now that I know the timeline, should we discuss it more... ?'
'And you'd have some input?' he toyed. 'If only.'
'I may have some ideas, ' I said defensively.
Jimmy regarded me coolly. Looking away he said, 'The past fifty years, plus other historical factors, have given many in the Middle East a certain mindset. They suffer repression at the hands of their own governments, yet their own governments deflect that blame well ... and towards The West. You then have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict causing even more resentment towards The West. All you need is the right spark to set-off large parts of the Middle East, where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. That will eventually manifest itself as The Brotherhood, who will raise an army of a million suicide bombers, a very difficult thing to fight against, since you can't use tanks or planes ... or even nukes. They sneak up, and blow up; very effective in urban areas.'
'What if The West and China and Russia unite, like you said?'
'The Brotherhood will still surge across Europe and wreck the economy. What you have to keep in mind, about the modern western economy and banking system, is that it's very finely balanced – and everyone max's out their credit cards. You only need a small dip in the economy to be in real trouble, and over the next fifteen years the UK, and many other countries, borrow their way into growth, hit a crisis, then try and borrow their way out. The one thing politicians are good at is leaving a mess behind for the next lot; boom and bust.' He sighed. 'We live in a fragile modern society, no stomach for long wars, no resources for it either. And there is the problem of Middle East oil.'
'The Brotherhood blow it up.'
'Causing an immediate financial crash, which will last decades. No, young man, there is no simple solution. And even if there was, it would mean getting many groups together to co-operate, and at the moment they hate each other.'
'What'll you do?'
'Well, unless I get a bolt from the blue, I'll get the world to 2025 in as best a shape as they can be in.'
'Should we put pressure on the Israelis to find a peace?'
'It's too late for that. Besides, such a peace would help by maybe five percent. No, the Brotherhood is not about the Palestinians, it's more complicated than that.'
'So when do I do something useful?' I asked.
'You already are, don't sell yourself short. You're making a difference.' With a grin he said, 'A small one, but a difference.'
I let out a long sigh. 'I'm sure you'll pull a rabbit out the hat.'
'Oh, I have a very big rabbit in the hat, and it would make a hell of a difference to the world, but ... not to the Middle East. And we don't dare reveal that the Muslims take over the world, because they'd take comfort from that idea and rise up now.'
The next day we made like tourists, visiting the sights, six plainclothes officers in tow. The ladies didn't mind, they had felt quite honoured on their exclusive trip around the Forbidden City, as well as private close- ups of new Panda cubs at the zoo. Don't know why, but Katie liked being treated like a princess. We ate out that night, a restaurant that Jimmy picked, surprising Han with his local knowledge. We chose our fish and lobsters whilst the creatures were still alive, watched them cut- up and cooked, then ate them. It was a good job no one ordered beef. The next day the ladies were in for a coach trip to the Great Wall, we'd be going back into the lion's den.
After a gruelling three hours of questions and answers in the bunker, Jimmy ordered a break and some food. Over noodles, our host, Wen, asked about the interaction of Chinese and American economies.
In English, Jimmy explained, 'You will build up a trillion dollar reserve by 2008, and will thereafter influence American fiscal policy by becoming a principal lender back to the US financial markets. That feedback will cause a housing bubble, then a financial bubble. Wide- scale fraud will cost you billions, and the devaluation of the dollar will cause you to lose thirty percent of your dollar reserves.'
'And the solution?' Wen nudged.
'You must be a cautious lender, to ease the peaks and troughs of the bubbles into gentle hills. Instead of making three hundred percent on property over five years, make one hundred percent – after building a lot of properties and slowing down the property market. If property grows by ten or fifteen percent a year people will still be happy. If it grows by thirty percent there will be a bubble and crash. What you must keep in mind is that if people make ten percent a year, every year, they are happy – and so are the politicians. If they make a hundred percent, then lose five percent, they're very unhappy at what they've lost and the politicians get the blame.'
'An interesting phenomena, ' Wen admitted.
'I'll tell you when to buy western property, when to build, and when to sell. Not for the maximum profit, but to avoid a global financial crash. You will become too dependent on the US; when they crash, you follow them down.'
'And the solution to that?' Wen asked.
'Internalisation and diversification; build-up your own internal consumer markets and property ownership market, then align yourself with India, Brazil and Russia – less association with the US. You need more hydroelectric dams, more nuclear power stations and a move away from oil by 2015, electric cars and buses and trains. By then oil will be $140 a barrel, unless I change it.'
'You ... will change it?' Wen puzzled.
'I know where all future oil will be found, including large oilfields in China that you don't know about.'
Wen's eyes widened. 'Here? Large oil fields?'
'Yes, ' Jimmy said with a thin smile. 'Unfortunately, it will be unwise for you to tap them yet. Timing ... is everything. Oh, do you have a map of the coastal area of Hong Kong?'
Wen barked an order, a map brought out.
With a pen Jimmy marked eight places. 'There are sunken ships with a great deal of gold at each location. My cut is twenty percent.'
'How much gold?' Wen asked, studying the map.
'At today's prices, three of four hundred million.'
Wen grabbed a man and ordered underwater surveys, pronto!
Jimmy grabbed a map of China and searched for several locations, marking them. For each a local map was procured and marked. 'Buried treasure and significant archaeological sites.' He tapped a particular site, carefully mouthing, 'Very valuable.' More men were assigned to the map's hidden goodies.
Wen admitted, 'You are a very useful person to know.'
With Jimmy again standing, more questions were fired at him, diagrams were drawn over, and I noticed a difference from the first meeting; they no longer looked like they wanted to kill and eat us, they were treating us like allies. They were still despondent at not finding solutions, but they very happy that they had the tools to give them a chance at navigating their way through the problem. They certainly did not lack commitment. Time and again they would attack a problem, working and re-working it till a best position was found.
At 4pm Jimmy called a halt, reminding them that we had guests, and offering another meet in the future, giving them time to formulate strategies in depth, and a lot more questions. They would also have time to fetch up the treasure from the ocean's depths, and those on land.
We returned to the ghostly mansion and began packing, the ladies arriving back with Han around 6pm, stories of the Great Wall and photographs they had taken, a few moans about the traffic and the coach. Jimmy settled them with a tea, listening to the tales. He then asked them to pack quickly, since the plane would leave in two hours. At midnight we landed in Hong Kong, the air considerably warmer than Beijing, Han saying goodbye at the airport; he had made the trip with us just to be polite. The ladies went straight to bed as we met Po, who had come back to the hotel especially.
'Good visit, Beijing?' he expectantly asked as we sat in the Indian restaurant. Big Paul was now sat with the bodyguards, looking a bit sheepish. I made a mental note to find out why later.
'Yes, good visit, ' Jimmy acknowledged. 'I'm sure you will get some additional contracts.'
'We negotiate now, for two weeks, ' Po explained. 'Good contract, ship Tanzania ore and Sudan.'
'We'll be involved in Tanzania in the next year, ' Jimmy told Po. 'Charity work.'
'You want money for it?'
Jimmy offered him a flat palm. 'When the time is right, so you hang onto it for now.'
'Is Ling ... OK?' I ventured.
'Yes, yes, she no worry about your pretty girl, ' Po explained, a dismissive wave of his hand. 'This girl, she make many hits for us, I look. Pin-apple make good money.' We did not correct his pronunciation.
'Everyone fly back OK?' I asked.
'Yes, yes, all go to airport with my car, all very happy – I give gifts.'
'What gifts?' I asked.
'Chinese jade, very nice.'
'I'm sure Mac will appreciate it, ' I offered.
Po pointed at us. 'Your people, they take many thing from room, I must say all is OK in hotel.'
'What things?' I asked. 'Like ... beds?'
'They take towel, robe, pillowcase, ' Po listed off. He shrugged. 'It small money, but hotel manager much paper form.'
We tried not to laugh, too much, and I wondered if the light fittings were still there in Rudd's room.
Jimmy told Po, 'In the month of May there will be African leaders conference at the golf club. You should be there.'
'Yes, yes. You say when, we make stand of information, ' Po keenly insisted. 'You friend, Han, he make good friend my family.'
Jimmy nodded. 'I hope so. You'll be seeing more of him in the future.'
After the meal we cornered Big Paul in the British bar. 'So what did you do?' I asked, assuming he must have done something.
'He spent the night in the cells, ' Jimmy explained, although I didn't know who had told him. 'Apparently, the posh lobster restaurant does not allow guests to swim down to the bottom of the tank for the lobster they want. Union rules I guess.'
'Sorry, boss. Had a bit to drink.'
'Po got him out, and wangled the charges dropped, ' Jimmy calmly explained. It could have been worse, and neither of us cared much. We left the next day with bulging cases, towels and robes pinched.