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Magestic

Copyright © Geoff Wolak. October, 2009.

www.geoffwolak-writing.com

Part 8
It’s quiet, too quiet

2007 should have been the start of a financial crisis, but we had
averted the worst aspects of the sharp rises in property prices, and
the worst excesses of the banks and financial institutions for the
most part. Interest rates had been nudged higher, existing mortgage
laws re-applied, hints dropped.
At a dinner in the city of London, a room packed with
stockbrokers and bankers, Jimmy had made an off-the-cuff remark
about “shorting” Icelandic banks. The next day Iceland went into
crisis mode, and had a good look at the reasons behind the sudden
run on their banks; they called Jimmy directly. They were over-
stretched, and bluntly told to pull their necks in. There was also the
small problem of many British investors pulling their money out of
Icelandic banks, causing a shortage of cash, which highlighted the
exposed leverage that the banks had been employing. Instead of a
major crash, they suffered a short and sharp minor crash. I put a note
in my diary not to visit Iceland for a while.
Besides that hiccup, which was more of a deliberate hiccup, the
start of 2007 was quiet. Global politics was giving people the world
over a warm and glowing feeling, house prices were steadily
climbing, economies were growing thanks to manageable oil prices
and supply, and all was well with the world.
The “M” Group countries met in Delhi in February amid tight
security, our Indian commandos on hand, and went off without a
hitch, its format settling down. We’d hold an opening meeting,
where Jimmy would list a few topics and predictions, and then the
political aides would scurry around for a day to both make
proposals, and to receive counter-proposals, the next meeting
discussing the conclusions rather than wasting time with offers and
rebuttals. I got involved, and often travelled back and forth between
parties carrying messages, the kind of messages that no one would
admit to in public, or in writing.
‘Like fuck,’ Hardon Chase would say. To the Chinese, I would
report, ‘The nice man is not entirely in favour of that.’ My
diplomatic skills were growing; I could now lie convincingly. But
when Helen asked about a dress, and I said that I was ‘Not entirely
in favour of that’ I got a slap. I also employed our special
adjudicator on occasion, Shelly being sent around to someone who
everyone agreed was a complete idiot, and delivering the message in
person. ‘You’re very silly man!’ Shelly would tell them, the person
in question knowing that such an approach required a majority vote
of world leaders to instigate.
With spring approaching we were worried. It was all going too
well. Sat in a lounge one day, Jimmy said to me, ‘It’s the calm
before the storm.’
‘It’s going too well, something’s bound to go wrong,’ I agreed.
‘Yes, but what?’
‘CIA!’ we both said at the same time.
‘So what could they do?’ I asked. ‘Try and kill us?’
‘As far as they know, Magestic would carry on delivering
warnings. Killing us would only be a hiccup to Magestic.’
We gave it some thought.
‘What’s their gripe at the moment?’ I posed.
‘They have less to do, their budget has been frozen – and may
even face a cut, because we’re putting the world to right. So they’re
pissed.’
‘So they want a war, or a crisis.’
‘Well … that would give them more to do, but they must figure
that I know where all the hotspots are,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Besides,
people would see straight through it.’
‘Exposing us would be the easiest way,’ I suggested.
‘Then Hardon Chase would jump all over them. He loves us to
bits because we’re helping him to look good.’
I blew out. ‘Then what else could they do? Where are we
vulnerable?’
‘Nowhere really; any bomb or sniper in any one place would
achieve little, we’re spread far and wide.’
‘So, what do you care about the most?’ I posed.
Jimmy took a moment. ‘That question … would produce different
answers at different points in the time line. It may have been
Mawlini at one point, still would to a degree. Then Forward Base,
now Gotham City.’
‘You can’t call it Gotham City, that’s my joke,’ I said with a
smile.
‘Can’t call Russian Paul Ivan or Donnelly Keely, but we do,
thanks to you!’
‘So what could they do to Gotham City? They can’t blow it up or
cause a fire - it’s huge, spread far and wide.’ I clicked my fingers.
‘The airport!’
‘A problem there would hurt,’ Jimmy admitted. He got on the
phone to Sykes.
That following week, a team of sniffer dogs were flown down to
Goma with their handlers, a unit of ex-police handlers that would
rotate every six weeks. Passengers, and their baggage, would now be
sniffed by keen wet noses. The airport already possessed western
style metal detectors and body searches, but they were checked, and
procedures tightened up. Full background checks were extended for
everyone who worked at the airport, or in anyway touched it. All
local workers were visited at home, in the nearby apartments or
houses, and random searches were instigated.
Sykes had a list of all CAR staff, plus everyone else who worked
for us – anywhere in the world, even sub-contractors, and began the
process of re-screening them all. We provided funds, and MI5 staff
worked on the checks, MI6 making checks overseas. A week into
the project they unearthed a CIA mole in CAR. Instead of removing
the individual, we recruited the man – work for us or go to prison for
twenty years – and fed the CIA information that they would know
was being fed to them. His contact numbers were cut, and he was
quietly fired by us.
Security at the Pineapple offices was tightened, scanners and
sniffer dogs used on occasion, and senior staff were given drivers
and bodyguards, homes checked for bugs at random. Our nightclubs
were already secure, but procedures were tightened further. And at
the house, extra cameras and sensors were installed, the small
camera room moved to the basement to accommodate all the
screens, two people positioned there permanently. Ahead of
schedule, the main gate was modified and a gatehouse built, cameras
fitted to the road and angled up so that they scanned the underside of
vehicles entering.
The main house was already bomb proof, and any device going
off in one section would not affect many people. My house had also
been built to be tough, and car a bomb would have achieved little.
We flew down to Gotham City and tightened security further, a
ten-man team of Pathfinders now always on duty at the airport, extra
Congo rifles wandering about. At the main gate we installed a small
tower with tinted glass and holes for sniper rifles to fire out of. The
airport could now withstand a direct assault. Cameras were fitted to
the hotels, and extra guards posted. The airport already offered a
great many cameras, but Sykes sent down a few people to look for
blind spots. The final piece of the security puzzle at the airport came
in the form of a batch of radiation detectors. It was a remote
possibility, but we were covered.
Forward Base was already heavily guarded, but a few changes
were instigated, a special police unit created simply to monitor
Americans or Canadians in the country, the detail of their names
being fed back to Keely. Mawlini was a death trap for anyone daft
enough to try and attack, but we got Mac on the case and gave him a
budget. He had cameras fitted, and they took possession of their own
patrol dogs for the fence, plus sniffer dogs for passenger aircraft.
Relaxing in the lounge, back from Africa, I said, ‘How about …
they blow up the train track?’
‘It would be fixed in a day, and it doesn’t cross any bridges that
they could blow.’
‘We have bridges in our region,’ I pointed out.
‘Concrete! Built to be cheap, and very fucking hard to blow up.’
‘What if they got to Kimballa?’
‘He’s both terrified of us, and loves us, in equal measure,’ Jimmy
insisted.
‘And if they killed him?’
‘His replacement would not dare upset us. If he did, the Congo
Rifles would cut the country in half and we’d keep our bit. The
people trust us more than their own politicians.’
‘I reckon their best bet is exposure.’
‘Not really. Think it through: they expose us as … what, time
travellers who know the future. Who the fuck would listen to them
afterwards? Everyone would ask us!’
‘Yeah, I suppose. So they want us gone, and quietly.’
‘They still have the problem of Magestic: unknown, unseen,’
Jimmy insisted. ‘No, what they want … is the American public
against us. At least the American Administration against us, and the
idea of Magestic.’
‘So how do they achieve that?’ I wondered out loud.
‘A rift between us and Chase,’ Jimmy also thought out loud,
staring up at the ceiling.
‘And how would they achieve that?’
‘They may know that we have dirt on Chase. In fact, I’m certain
they do, from the first meeting with that Admiral in the room.’
‘Could they find that dirt?’ I asked, now worried.
‘If they did, they’d shoot themselves in the foot; I’ve made it all
look like they covered it up. Besides, whoever replaced Chase would
jump all over the CIA and not trust them again.’
‘So, they need to use that dirt as leverage … somehow.’
Jimmy eased back and gave it some thought. ‘Somehow …
meaning that they sour our relationship with Chase who – at the
moment – is doing more for me than I could have ever hoped for.’
‘Assassinate him, make it look like you?’
‘No one would believe that, I’d have no reason. And the “M”
Group countries would say so.’
‘So they assassinate Chase … and make it look like the Chinese?’
‘That … would be a worry,’ Jimmy admitted. ‘But they’re not
about to assassinate a President; he’s not Kennedy. And his
replacement would just carry on and deal with us. They need … a
lack of co-operation. But, at the end of the day, I designed my plans
for the future assuming that the Americans would always be
difficult, if not downright hostile. So even if they pull out of the “M”
Group it wouldn’t affect my plans. And they would never wish the
other countries to have a lead over them, so they’d never pull out of
the “M” Group.’
‘They must be up to something,’ I said with a sigh.
‘Keep thinking.’
‘Those coffee shops…?’ I posed.
‘No!’

Plenty aforethought

The CIA made its move a month later, Hardon Chase making a
frantic call to us. The two largest medical insurers in the States,
Republican Party donors, had received documents from the CIA
about us, detailing our support for Senator Pedersen’s insurer – the
stock market tip-offs. Chase could not risk annoying them, since
they were large donors and well connected. It was a mess for him.
Jimmy asked him to arrange a meeting with the CEOs of the
companies in question in a few days, and we packed a bag. In New
York we made a point of being seen having fun, not a care in the
world. Jimmy made a pass at a famous actress, and she was snapped
leaving his hotel in the morning. We had set the tone. The next day
we flew down to Washington on a private jet, a Learjet, and allowed
ourselves to be filmed getting in and out of it. We were whisked
straight around to the White House, a nervous Hardon Chase
waiting.
‘This is serious,’ were his first words.
‘Sure is,’ I agreed. ‘No tea waiting for us. I mean, you’re the
most powerful man in the world – and the beverages here are crap.’
He stared at me, controlling his disappointment in me. ‘They’re
waiting, so I hope you have a rabbit in the hat.’
‘Well, let’s go and see, shall we,’ Jimmy said with a confident
smile.
In the meeting room, five sour-faced men waited. They each
looked at us like we had driven over their flowerbeds.
‘God bless all here,’ I said with an Irish accent as I sat. ‘Who’s
round is it?’
No one bothered to try and shake hands, and no introductions
were offered.
Chase said, ‘I assume everyone here knows who everyone else
is?’ None of the men opposite responded.
Jimmy took in the faces of the men opposite, smiling
dangerously. ‘In just a short while the FBI will be arresting the CIA
agents who gave you the files.’
‘They will?’ Chase queried.
‘They will,’ Jimmy insisted, not having taken his eyes off the
men opposite. ‘So, why don’t I save us some time and sum up:
you’ve been provided with documents from the CIA, top secret
documents – the kind not to be caught in possession of – and you
think that this clairvoyant known as Magestic has been favouring
Chuck Pedersen’s insurance company. Well, you’d be right.’
Chase blinked.
Jimmy continued, ‘But you should have read the files in more
detail, and applied your brains a little more. A clairvoyant … is
someone who can predict the future. Predict … the future, such as
meetings like this. As a result of that ability to predict the future, we
knew about this meeting twenty years ago. Since that time we’ve
had private detectives monitoring you fine gentlemen. Mister
O’Leary, that nice man that your daughter married, and recently
divorced, was one of ours.’
The man looked horrified.
‘Mister Bankovich, your son’s existing wife is on our payroll.’
‘What?’ the man gasped.
Jimmy reached down and lifted his briefcase, taking out two thick
files. He slid them over. ‘We know every prostitute that you’ve ever
fucked, every bit of weed or cocaine you’ve ever bought, every
insider deal. And, we know which whistle-blower one of you had
killed two years ago.’
The men had been scanning the files, but now looked up,
horrified.
‘You’ll notice in there photographs of you going back twenty
years. Of course, the police, your shareholders, your wives, and the
SEC would be interested in some of the detail, if … it got out.’
‘Jesus,’ Chase let out. ‘I can’t believe I’m in this room.’
‘So,’ Jimmy loudly called. ‘What did you want to talk about
today?’
We waited with smug grins, the men sipping water and mopping
their brows.
‘Nothing?’ Jimmy asked. ‘Oh well, then I guess we’ll conclude
with me asking that you both donate ten million dollars to Rescue
Force Kenya and … it was a pleasure.’ We stood.
‘Some day, we’ll get a good cup of tea in this place,’ I
complained.
Chase led us out, staring wide-eyed at the floor as we progressed.
In the corridor, he stopped and forced a breath, shaking his head.
‘God damn, boys.’
‘The CIA waiting for us?’ Jimmy asked.
Chase led us on, now smiling and shaking his head. In the bowels
of the White House we stepped into a room of CIA directors and
managers, a reception even more frosty than the previous. And still
no bleeding tea!
‘Please, don’t get up,’ Jimmy told them when they stood for the
President. He sat. ‘So, who do we have here? Mister Drake and
Mister O’Sullivan, there are some nice gentlemen from the FBI
waiting for you upstairs, with proof of your involvement in the
Magestic documents that you handed to the medical insurers.’
As we sat there looking smug, the men were led out, their
colleagues both surprised and horrified in equal measure.
‘So,’ Jimmy loudly said ‘Here we all are. Now, I won’t keep you
long, because you’re going to be busy later today and … tomorrow.
You gentlemen would prefer that we did not give tips about security
matters, because that’s your job. Never mind that we’re trying to
save the planet, you’re more interested in your own careers.’
‘That’s not true,’ a few tried to argue. After all, they were not
about to have that label pinned on them in front of the President and
the CIA director.
‘And yet, here we sit, two of your managers under arrest for
trying to expose us and discredit us, classified documents handed
over to businessmen,’ Jimmy detailed. He waited.
‘They were not following orders from the top,’ the Director
insisted.
‘Guess they have no respect for your authority,’ I noted, the man
not happy. At all.
Jimmy said, ‘And then there were the other attempts to attack us,
and to discredit us.’
‘Those people have been dealt with,’ they insisted.
‘Lame,’ I put in, now even less popular with the Director, Chase
oddly quiet.
‘OK,’ Jimmy began. ‘Let’s get down to business. You have –
some of you have, yet again gone against the wishes of the President
– and the Director – and operated on your own to attack us. So
there’s going to be a penalty.’
‘Oh god,’ Chase muttered.
‘Many years ago, the then President Harvey asked us to boost
civil service pensions. That gave us access to CIA pensions and
welfare funds.’
‘Oh no,’ Chase muttered, dreading whatever Jimmy was about to
say next.
Jimmy explained, ‘So we traded that fund, and did quite well.’
‘Very well,’ I put in.
‘Extremely well,’ Jimmy added. ‘Unfortunately, we bought a
great many stocks just before secret takeovers were announced,
before the Pentagon issued contracts, and before the boys on the hill
sanctioned projects. As such, anyone looking hard at the trades
might conclude that the CIA – that’s you – had insider information,
and that you were making money for yourselves.’
Mouths opened and eyes widened when they realised where this
was going.
‘As of – oh – about an hour ago, the detail of those trades went to
the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.’
Chase put his hands to his face.
Jimmy faced the CIA Director. ‘I’d resign now if I were you.
Then there’s the problem of the SEC seizing your pension funds and
stopping all payments for former officers, including sick pay. That
should take about … oh … nine months to iron out.’
‘What have you done?’ Chase whispered.
Jimmy ignored him. ‘Gentlemen, we know what you’ll do …
before you do it. Every time you push, we push back.’ He stood, and
I followed him up. ‘I look forwards to your next move, which we
were planning for twenty years ago.’
I patted a stunned looking Chase on the shoulder as we left. In the
van, I said, ‘You knew all along.’
‘When I set-up the insurance scheme I figured that the others
would be unhappy.’
We met Pedersen on Capital Hill and explained what had
happened. He and his colleagues would now be calling for an
investigation into CIA activities, but supporting Hardon Chase.
A few days later, Mac called, his bank balance twenty million
dollars better off. We ordered the money spent in Darfur, on
relocating refugees back to their own villages. The American news
was full of the investigation into the CIA, Chase under pressure and
not a happy bunny. He had no choice but to sack the current director
and appoint another. That director had been in the job just three days
when Chase called. Jimmy was not about, so I took the call.
‘Home for fallen women, Matron speaking.’
‘Paul? Hardon Chase. Jimmy about?’
‘No, hence you’re talking to the monkey, and not the organ
grinder.’
‘Are you in the country for the next twenty-four hours?’
‘You can’t fire a nuke at us, it’s against some law …
somewhere.’
‘You in?’ he pressed.
‘Yes, no trips planned. What’s up?’
‘The new head of the CIA is on his way, military flight to RAF
Fairford – on the quiet. He wants to find a peaceful solution, so do I.
So I would really appreciate you speaking to him.’
‘I’ll get the kettle on. How’re things across the pond?’
‘Settling down, thankfully. But they’ve suspended the CIA’s
pension fund. We’re having to put money forwards for the payments
till this is sorted out. Try and work with Petrosi, eh?’ The line
clicked dead.
When Jimmy appeared, I relayed, ‘The CIA chief is coming over.
Guy named Petrosi. Is he OK?’
Jimmy nodded absently, picking up a file. ‘As soon as he’s gone
we’ll pop over to Zimbabwe, we just got their airline.’
‘Cool.’
Petrosi turned up at dawn the next day, a Saturday. And it was
just him, an escort of four RAF Military Police officers. We were in
the diner having breakfast when he was shown in, a short and stocky
man with thinning black hair and a pockmarked face.
‘Coffee, black, please Cookie,’ Petrosi said as he took off his
coat. He sat straight down. ‘Fucking C5 Galaxy flight. Jesus, at least
I was tired and slept most the way.’
I stared at him for a moment, then faced Jimmy.
‘I got Bouncy the masseuse coming around in an hour,’ Jimmy
told our visitor. I was still staring.
‘Good one, Jimbo. Gagging for a young bird with large hooters.’
Now my mouth was opening.
‘Daughter’s wedding soon?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Fucking yes! And I could do with a few dollars.’
Jimmy took out a dated gold pocket-watch with a chain. ‘Your
great-granddad’s heirloom. Have it appraised; should be thirty
thousand dollars.’
I was still staring.
‘Nice one, Jimbo. Fucking wife is bleeding me dry.’
‘And I’m Paul,’ I finally said.
‘Hey Paul,’ Petrosi offered. He turned his head towards Cookie.
‘Pancakes, buddy? Thanks.’
I said, ‘Would I be correct in assuming that you have met
before?’
‘You would,’ Jimmy replied. ‘I had to get a lot of people sacked
to get this reprobate into position.’
Now Petrosi faced me, and with a huge grin. ‘It was … 1985, not
long after I joined the agency. Jimbo introduced himself when I was
stationed in London. In fact, I think I met you, Paul, at a club
somewhere. Jimmy introduced me as a trader, which I was - it was
my cover. Thanks to Jimmy my trading did very well.’ He faced
Jimmy. ‘I miss those days. I was always drunk, and always getting
laid.’ To me he said, ‘Jimbo gave me tips about work, and I got
noticed and promoted.’ He stopped smiling. ‘He also told me what
was ahead for the planet. Twenty years of predictions – and never
wrong!’
‘I was wrong about your wife,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘I figured she
leave your fat arse by now!’
Petrosi laughed. ‘She gets money, and peace and quiet away from
me. What more does she want, eh?’
The pancakes were placed down.
‘So, how’s Hardon Chase working out?’ Petrosi asked as he
drowned his pancakes in treacle.
‘I confronted him when he was nominated and we struck a deal.
Since then … he can’t do enough. I’m well ahead of schedule.’
‘Africa is looking good,’ Petrosi commended, talking as he
chewed. ‘Financial crash sorted?’
‘More … or less,’ Jimmy responded. ‘I think they’ll still go over
the top, just a few years later.’
‘I uncovered a unit in the Congo, called their asses back,’ Petrosi
informed us.
I shook my head. ‘You rigged … the head of the CIA.’
‘Get some work done now,’ Petrosi firmly suggested. He faced
Jimmy. ‘Can you identify all the shits working for me?’
‘I think so. Keely has a secure link here, so if I can see the names
and faces I could probably tick them all off.’
Petrosi nodded as he chewed. ‘Later.’
Keely walked in sat. ‘Mister Petrosi. Sir.’
Petrosi regarded Keely coolly. ‘Later today, I’ll want to use your
secure link and show Jimmy some names and faces. See if he can’t
spot anyone that may be a problem … in the future.’ He wiped his
mouth with a napkin. ‘I don’t quite buy all this clairvoyant crap, but
I have a job to do – and the President is on my case.’
‘We’ll try and be as helpful as we can,’ Jimmy offered, now
acting a part in front of Keely. ‘We’re here to help.’
‘Cut the crap, Silo. It’ll take ten years to repair the damage
you’ve done.’ He faced Keely and stared. ‘You mind?’
Keely stepped out.
‘He OK?’ Petrosi whispered.
Jimmy nodded. ‘He’ll break a few rules on our behalf in the years
ahead. Oh, when you got the pension fund sorted, I’ll trade it up –
but in a legal way.’
‘Good of you, Jimbo.’
Jimmy faced me. ‘Helen … does not need to know.’
‘I won’t be mentioning Bouncy the masseuse either!’

Zimbabwe

Jimmy, myself and Big Paul caught a BA flight to Goma the next
day, hopping on a connecting flight to Harare. Peering out of the
window as we taxied to take-off, I could see ten aircraft at the
terminal, and smiled contentedly. Landing at Harare, we were met
by two cars and an escort of Zimbabwean Rifles.
General Solomon Beke, a young man to be the head of the Army,
was waiting in the car, a huge smile for us. ‘Welcome, old friends.
Welcome.’
‘Those guys outside, they Rifles?’ Big Paul asked.
‘Zulus, they like to be called,’ Solomon informed us. ‘And their
reputation is known to all citizens here.’ We pulled off. ‘Mothers tell
their children – if you are bad, the Zulus will come for you!’
‘Do you use them as police?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Yes, they patrol lawless areas, and then peace comes quickly,’
Solomon enthused.
We booked into a nice hotel, dumped our bags, and headed off
again. On the outskirts of the town we approached one of our new
orphanages. Pulling through a high gate guarded by two police
officers in blue, we halted next to a new brick building labelled as
“Office”. Anna and Doc Adam stepped out.
‘Any of these kids yours?’ I asked Doc Adam, shaking his giant
fat paw of a hand.
‘I see them all as my children,’ Doc Adam boomed.
I hugged Anna. ‘It going well?’
‘Yes, we have some good staff.’
‘How many kids?’ I asked as Anna hugged Jimmy.
‘Nine thousand, so far,’ Anna reported. ‘Many were … unwell,
but are better now.’
I glanced over my shoulder at Solomon, who was out of earshot.
‘Got the kettle on, love?’
Anna led us inside, and to the administrator’s office, the man
down from Ebede in Mombassa and looking familiar. After tea and a
chat we stepped out into the main courtyard and toured the various
buildings, the kids all dressed in blue and marching around in neat
lines, some chanting and singing as they went. It made me smile;
this was Ebede II, three if you included the Congo. We stopped to
chat to a group of English teachers that had a better grasp of the
Queen’s English than I did.
‘They’re all graduates from Ebede, Kenya,’ Jimmy proudly
pointed out.
‘Haven’t had enough of kids and orphanages yet?’ I asked them.
‘It is a calling,’ one responded.
They showed us around a modern school building, complete with
gym and swimming pool, tennis courts and football pitches outside.
Mounting up, we drove to a second section, finding it identical to the
first. Beyond that we found a large muddy field with the foundations
of two additional sections in progress. When finished, there would
be twenty thousand kids housed, fed and taught here. The uniforms
were uniform, the buildings identical, and the formula seemed to be
working.
We thanked Anna and headed back out of the gate, Solomon
oddly excited at the prospect of a trip to the Zulu’s barracks, an old
base that had been improved with a lick of paint and a new fence.
Passing through the main gate, I could see familiar formations of
men jogging around. At my request, we pulled up at the enlisted
men’s canteen. Stepping down, all the soldiers stopped dead at the
sight of Solomon and saluted. He returned a collective salute as we
entered the large canteen. Our presence created its own Mexican
wave as men scrapped back their chairs and stood, silence soon
gripping the room.
Jimmy stepped forwards. ‘Sit down, men.’ They sat, but
remained nervously silent. ‘Carry on and eat, please.’
We sat at the first table, a handful of men halfway through their
meals. I pinched a chip. As we asked questions, four meals were
brought over and placed down, good timing because I was peckish.
The men at the table answered questions about the training, their
time in Camp Delta and their fondness for the desert, and characters
like Mac and Ngomo. Turned out that some of these were going
back to Kenya soon for parachute training.
At the end of our meal we stood, everyone else standing. Jimmy
thrust his first onto the air. ‘Zulus!’
A deafening roar came back, shaking the building. ‘Zulus!’ If
these guys ever formed their own choir it would be enough to scare
the crap out of the enemy before the shooting started. I remembered
a Michael Caine film, a few British soldiers holding off thousands of
Zulus. They would have had no chance against this lot.
We waved, thanking the men, and mounted up, soon heading
back into town and our scheduled meeting with the President, the
guy having survived in office longer than anyone would have
predicted. Pathfinder bodyguards in plain clothes greeted us at the
parliament building and led us inside, part of the reason why the old
guy was still alive; two assassination attempts had failed. Outside of
the President’s office stood two more Pathfinders, this time in
uniform, M4s slung. They snapped to attention. Jimmy recognised
one and enquired about the battle at Scorpion Base. We left Big Paul
there to chat. Inside, we found the short and unimposing President,
and several of his aides, stood waiting.
‘How are you, sir?’ Jimmy asked, extending a hand.
‘Alive, thanks to your men.’ They shook, and we were soon
gestured to seats around a coffee table. ‘And the Rifles, known as
the Zulus, have returned with a loyalty to me and their country, a
respect for law and order, and a fearsome reputation. I fully believe
that just the thousand of them is all we shall ever need.’ He took a
moment to study us. ‘In Kenya, they studied the history of this
country, and our culture, returning to us as honoured sons – not as
strangers.’
‘That was always my intention, Mister President.’
‘We have sent another thousand young men to Kenya, but we
believe that within two years we shall be able to train the men here.’
‘We’ll supply instructors when you need them.’
‘You are … most kind, and an unusual benefactor.’
‘How’s the airline working out?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Very well; Europe has never been closer. I flew to a conference
in Portugal – if I pronounce it correctly, leaving in the morning and
arriving at night, passing through Goma Airport. I was … most
surprised by the size of your undertaking there.’
‘I aim to fix Africa, Mister President. All of it.’
‘You may just succeed, Mister Silo, from what I have seen.’
‘How are the tourist dollars?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Growing,’ the President responded. ‘I believe that the lodges are
at capacity, a direct flight from Livingstone to Goma – which makes
all the difference. These days, when us Africans wish to fly, we ask
for your airline: I fly Silo, or I don’t fly!’ We laughed. ‘How many
aircraft do you operate now?’
‘With those we took over … almost a hundred.’
‘It was something of a shock for my people to be able to board a
flight to Europe after all the years of sanctions, and a cheap flight at
that.’
‘How are the farms?’ I asked, as much of Jimmy as the old guy.
‘They produce food,’ the President quipped. ‘Which is an unusual
use for our land after all this time.’
‘And your currency is now US dollars?’ I asked.
‘Yes, we have stabilised things – to a degree,’ the President
explained. ‘The people do not worry so much. And, after another
two years, perhaps to return to our own currency.’
‘We’d like to look at mining, and oil exploration here,’ Jimmy
told our host.
‘There is no oil here,’ he said with a sigh.
‘It can do no harm to look,’ Jimmy insisted. ‘And your mines are
inefficient.’
The old guy nodded, soon handed a document from an aide. ‘This
grants you the rights, to mining and to oil exploration. Existing mine
ownership must be honoured, but you may enter into partnership
with them.’
‘We will,’ Jimmy assured out host. He handed over a bank
transfer confirmation for fifty million dollars. ‘An advance.’
‘You will take many years to recover this,’ the President puzzled.
‘We are in it for the long term, Mister President.’
I somehow figured we’d be lucky in our explorations, and two
hours after our tour began we arrived at the airport with Solomon,
farewells made. We boarded our own plane, and headed towards our
own airport, in our own region of the DRC.
At Goma airport we left what little luggage we had brought with
us at the security desk, Big Paul minding it, and took the control
tower’s elevator to the top. It opened to a darkened room of orange
screens. Passing through, we climbed the stairs to the busy glass
tower.
‘Jimmy,’ the senior man called, a Brit. He stepped over. ‘Jesus,
when you said this place would grow…!’
‘And more to come. How’s it going?’
‘Fine, enough bodies to cover everything. They’ve started
building work over there.’ He pointed. To the right of the huge
maintenance sheds a new area was now being prepared.
‘What’ll go there?’ I asked.
The man explained, ‘Extended parking area, and more
maintenance sheds, capacity for twenty aircraft. A lot of the old
stock will come here to be checked over, all done in one place.’
‘Boeing and Airbus mechanics?’ I enquired.
The man nodded. ‘There’s fifty of each, plus a hundred trained
Africans – from far and wide. Boeing and Airbus have offices here
now, it’s an important maintenance hub.’
‘Where are you living?’ I asked him.
‘Tower block Four, nice enough pad. Waiting for a house on the
hill.’
I faced Jimmy with a quizzical look. He grabbed a large pair of
binoculars and handed them to me. ‘Hill in the distance.’
I focused the glasses, soon noticing a gentle hill about two miles
away, a spiral road climbing up and around it, numerous houses
under construction.
‘Known as The Spiral,’ the man reported. ‘Two hundred houses,
getting nicer as you climb up; gate at the bottom, bar and restaurant
at the top.’
‘That’s all American money,’ Jimmy said. ‘When that’s
complete, we’ll start a second one nearby. Other side of the
maintenance sheds is an industrial estate, but we only let in
companies linked to the airport. Behind that will be apartments and
shops, an estate for the workers.’
‘I’ve started fishing in the new lake,’ the man informed us with a
smile. ‘Some real monsters in there.’
‘Our security staff said it was good,’ I put in, Big Paul and the
others having visited.
‘That the guy who hooked a croc and shot it?’ the man asked us.
Jimmy and I exchanged looks. ‘I think we need to have a chat to
Big Paul,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Although I haven’t seen him with a
new crocodile skin handbag of late.’
‘There’re crocs in the new lake?’ I asked.
‘It has a canal linking it to the main lake,’ the man explained.
‘They come up it, crawling the last fifty yards across the grass.’
‘Still,’ I said, ‘we shouldn’t kill the wildlife. The locals have
hunted the crocs in the main lake nearly to frigging extinction
already.’
We inspected dots on orange screens, lots of them coming and
going, then boarded our flight, soon heading north, the distinctive
shape of the volcano visible to the east. And Big Paul was fined five
hundred quid for shooting a croc.

Cyprus

The people and politicians of the island of Cyprus had already made
moves towards reconciliation between north and south; the Turkish
north and Greek south. We would now use hard currency to move
that along.
As part of an existing EU initiative, we paid for a register to be
made of people who had fled their homes, either when the Turks
invaded, or during the resulting civil war. On both sides of the
divide our people hunted around and asked just about every family
what they had lost, and who they knew who had lost property. When
that list offered up a reasonable number we began the difficult
process of tagging people who had benefited, rather than lost. The
biggest problem facing us was that land had been developed on both
sides, hotels and apartment blocks built over former homes.
Having identified the worst cases of profit being made on
someone else’s land, we compensated both sides – on consideration
that they assign their old properties to us. Having done that to five
hundred families we were twenty-four million pounds out of pocket.
With the UN behind us, and the EU, we then suggested that we
would take the existing occupiers of the land to court. Unless…
In London, we met with the Turkish authorities, the Greek
authorities, and the governments of Southern Cyprus and Northern
Cyprus – no love lost between them. The EU, the UN and the British
Government sat off to one side.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are not here to apportion blame. We
don’t care. What we are interested in … is in a peaceful and
prosperous Cyprus. Turkey has aspirations towards EU membership,
something that would be less easy with the outstanding issues of
Northern Cyprus. So we would like to use our money and influence
to try and find a solution, the solution to those who lost property.
‘As you already know, we have compensated several hundred
families on both sides of the divide, and they have signed their
properties over to us. If necessary, we’ll start legal proceedings
against the current occupiers of the land to get some of that money
back – if for no reason other than to acknowledge that land was lost
during the troubles.
‘Now, during the troubles, some people moved into vacant
houses, houses which are now worth a lot of money. They did not
buy the property, nor inherit it; they found them abandoned. We ask
that they now try and pay something towards their good fortune as
part of the peace process.’
‘The Turks have benefited the most,’ the Greeks unhelpfully put
in.
‘That may be true,’ Jimmy agreed. ‘But Southern Cyprus has
enjoyed a great tourist trade for decades, whilst the north has not.
Turks living in the south may have gone on to sell their property to a
hotel chain.’
‘It will be hard to define the land,’ the Turks complained.
‘Would the authorities of Northern Cyprus sell me land - that
which belonged to Greeks - and at a good rate, for the sake of
peace?’
‘What will you do with the land?’ they asked.
‘I’ll build houses, villas and apartments, then sell them, the profit
being paid to compensate those whose land it was.’
‘How much land?’ they asked.
‘Around five thousand acres to start.’
‘That’s a great deal of land,’ they noted.
‘What price for peace, and Turkish entry to the EU?’ Jimmy
posed. ‘And do I need to remind you that during your worst
earthquake I spent a hundred million pounds to help your people.’ It
was not so much a gentle reminder, as a punch in the throat.
The Turkish Government were in favour, their island counterparts
not sure yet. Jimmy went around the room and asked for opinions,
soon everyone in favour save the North Cyprus Turks, and they
would consider it. In reality, it was a good deal for them and they
knew it. We offered to send in mine clearance teams to those areas
on the border that were affected, and to pay for old barriers to be
torn down, and even offered to buy the abandoned properties in no-
man’s land.
A month later we reconvened, this time with the Turks from the
north in favour. They had come with a prepared list of available land
and property. Jimmy scanned a map that they showed us, and asked
for a large bay and its surrounding area; all of it, some six thousand
acres. That way, we could concentrate our efforts. They had come
prepared, and we bought the land for just five million euros, a token
amount.
After the meeting concluded we popped around to the offices of
our property business, and sold ourselves the same land for forty
million pounds. That money then winged its way quickly to Cyprus,
as compensation to families, provided that they sign away any future
claims. Hundreds of families were compensated, some on the
Turkish side. Jimmy handed over the designs of what we wanted
built on the land: six large hotels, twenty apartment blocks and two
hundred small villas. The bulldozers were already on their way.

Rubber gloves

At the end of 2006, Jimmy had given Han and myself a project, an
important one. That project was now just about ready.
In our region of the DRC we now housed a plastics producer,
using convenient local oil, and we opened a number of synthetics
factories, Po’s family involved. The smelting plants produced steel,
and that was shipped the very short distance to factories that utilized
the steel to make general goods, as well as quality instruments for
the medical world. Those instruments were tested and inspected, the
best of them being sidelined for my project. The rest would stay in
Africa.
On a wet Monday, Han and I flew down to Goma and booked
into the hotel, setting off the next morning to inspect our hard work
and planning. We first drove around to a factory unit near the
airport. It was not a big place, but they could produce a hundred
thousand medical goggles a year. We inspected the product, placing
on the plastic glasses and peering through them at each other.
Surgeons and doctors would wear them when at risk of fluid transfer
from a patient. We gave the factory boss the go ahead and their first
shipment was dispatched aboard a 747 cargo version.
At the next factory unit we tried on disposable surgical gowns,
headwear and over-socks, all blue, soon looking quite silly. The
items met with western hospital standards, and we shipped them out,
all two million of them.
At the third factory we inspected latex gloves that were not latex,
but something similar made from oil by a clever German engineer.
We tried them on, dispatching eight million of them as we wiped
talc off our hands. That led us to some rubber tubing that was not
rubber, and bits of plastic tubing that I dare not ask about its
applications. They were boxed up by the thousand and shipped out.
The next day we turned our attention to steel, and to scalpels and
surgical tools, clamps, and things that turned my stomach. Rescue
Force doctors and surgeons had tested them at length, and found
them no different to those bought elsewhere. Tens of thousands were
boxed up and shipped to the coast by train. Our final visit was to a
factory unit that employed as many Chinese as it did Africans, a
great deal of new high-tech equipment on hand, and the various
finishing rooms sterile; we had to don blue masks and over-socks to
enter, our blue masks and over-socks. Inside, we found an assembly
line making syringes and needles, tens of thousands of them. Rescue
Force had again tested these, and found no problems. A shipment of
a million was sanctioned, and dispatched by 747 cargo plane.
Back in the UK, we gave our people in Hawaii the go ahead, and
they prepped their medical sales reps - that were not quite sales reps.
The reps travelled around to the various hospitals in Hawaii as
typical medical sales reps would. But that’s where the similarity
ended.
‘We’d like you to try some free samples.’
‘How many?’
‘Here’s a year’s worth, let us know how they turn out.’
‘A year’s worth? You mad?’
‘We’re trying to conquer the marketplace, so make the most of it.
If you like them, you can have them at seventy-five percent of
normal retail.’
‘Seventy-five percent off?’
‘OK, you drive a hard bargain; let’s call it eighty-percent off.’
Within a week we had the medical community of Hawaii
confused. The equipment was good, it was not rubbish, and it was
free to start with, then damn cheap afterwards. Every hospital and
clinic in the islands received a visit from our reps, and got their free
goodies, those items that they used a lot of during the week.
When Keely expressed an interest in the project, I explained it.
‘A box of disposable over-socks, or headwear, is say … ten dollars
typically. A large part of that cost is distribution, fuel, salaries and
profit. We’re producing the equivalent for less than a dollar because
we have the oil and steel, the cheap labour, no salesmen or
distributors, no sales staff - really, and no profits to worry about.’
‘So … why?’
‘Jimmy says that after 2013 your Medicare goes crazy and just
about bankrupts you. For every billion your government will send us
at the time – in the future, we’ll take nine billion out of your costs –
at least for certain parts of it. And Jimmy has a few other things up
his sleeve towards saving costs there. Just across the Mexican
border, the Cubans have opened a hospital, part run by us. It’s open
to paying clients and the first few people from Los Angeles have
driven down to have operations they can’t get – or can’t afford - in
the States. The doctors are Cuban state surgeons, the medical
supplies ours.’
‘Medical tourism,’ Keely noted. ‘That used to work the other way
around; rich Mexicans coming up for quality surgery. Does Africa
get the supplies cheap?’
I nodded. ‘In those countries where we have a footprint. It’s a
massive saving for you, almost ninety percent. We’ve also started
making plastic sheets for the UN, for refugees, and tents from
synthetics. We even make the tent poles. Rescue Force now receives
a shit load from our factories each week, and we’re shipping the
stuff to Cuba to support their initiative in Central America.’
‘Cheap surgery,’ Keely noted. ‘I hear it’s making them popular in
Central America.’
‘As Jimmy says, most of the cost of these things is profit and
distribution. A lot is already made in China, but the price goes up
five fold when it hits the hospitals in the States.’
‘So why Hawaii?’
‘It’s socialist,’ I toyed.
‘Socialist?’
‘State run healthcare, different to the mainland. We’re going to
set it up as a shining example.’
‘Won’t the medical insurers get pissy?’ Keely posed.
‘Not really, it saves their core costs, while premiums stay the
same.’
‘Chase know about it?’
‘I sent him details yesterday, and he phoned me. He’s fucking
delighted. I didn’t tell him it was his aid money that funded it, I’ll do
that after a year or so. We don’t want people thinking Chase is a
socialist now, do we.’
I showed Jimmy the stats, the production costs and schedules.
‘Good work,’ he said. ‘Now treble the output.’
‘There’s no pleasing some people!’ I mock complained, and went
to find Han.
A few days later the Prime Minister flew down to see me. He got
straight to the point. ‘We want cheap medical kit.’
‘Oh, well … it’s all earmarked for various projects and people.’
He folded his arms. ‘OK, the way it works, is that for every pound
you spend with us in the DRC - it saves you nine up here. We could
open more factories in a few months.’
‘The National Health Service is just about our largest cost.’
‘That’s doctors salaries and building upkeep,’ I insisted. ‘How
much of that is plastic shoes?’
‘About three billion a year is spent on disposable items.’
‘Ah. OK, how much do you want to … invest?’
‘Start with a hundred million pounds, then we’ll ramp it up. We’ll
make the money a loan into CAR, transferred next week. And the
French already know.’
‘For fuck sake - we’re doing all we can!’
‘Do more, and faster.’
I wagged a warning finger as Jimmy entered and sat. ‘He’s trying
to bully me,’ I complained.
‘Kick him in the shins,’ Jimmy suggested.
‘He wants medical kit,’ I informed Jimmy.
‘So will everyone else in time,’ Jimmy said with a sigh. To the
PM he said, ‘Set-up a small office near our airport; health service
procurement team and quality testers.’
‘Be done before you know it,’ the PM threatened.
Jimmy slid his gaze across to me. ‘Been an incident in Somali.’
‘Al-Qa’eda?’ I asked.
‘No, Abdi.’
‘Ah. He topped his President?’
‘No,’ Jimmy began. ‘He’s in Kenya. But the President sacked
him as head of the Army, announcing it whilst Abdi was away. So
the President’s bodyguards shot him full of holes, along with the
new head of the Army. The Vice President has taken over, and re-
appointed Abdi.’
‘Or else!’ the PM commented, a disapproving look adopted.
‘Will Abdi try and get the President’s job?’ I asked.
‘Not yet, he’ll wait two years to the next election,’ Jimmy
explained.
‘Will he win?’ the PM asked.
‘Yes,’ Jimmy answered. ‘Why else would we have groomed him
all this time?’
‘And my successor?’ the PM toyed.
‘Won’t be your Chancellor,’ Jimmy suggested.
‘No?’ the PM puzzled.
‘No, he’s due a heart attack.’
The PM took a moment. ‘Oh. Should you … should we –’
‘Inject him? No, he’s a pain in the arse,’ Jimmy suggested.
‘Then … my successor?’
‘You could keep going,’ Jimmy suggested.
‘A forth term?’ the PM considered.
‘Why not,’ I said. ‘You behave well enough.’
The PM shot me a look. To Jimmy he asked, ‘What do you
think?’
‘It’s your call, your future, your family that you may wish to
spend more time with. But … but 2013 is … problematic.’
Big Paul stepped in. ‘Jimmy, you’re dad has died.’
We all stood. ‘Head back,’ Jimmy told the PM, Jimmy and I
driving down the short distance to the old house, an ambulance
arriving. In the house we found the family doctor coming down the
stairs.
He stopped on the last step and took in our faces. ‘He went to
sleep, and went peacefully.’
‘Thank you, doctor,’ Jimmy offered. We found Jimmy’s mother
in the lounge, her sister visiting. I called the undertakers and made
the arrangements, then called Helen and asked her to release a
statement to the press.
The unspoken question, on everyone’s lips at the house, was why
Jimmy had not injected him. The following day Keely delicately
enquired. Jimmy took a moment, and said, ‘I didn’t want him to see
what comes next.’ That left us a bit stunned.
Four days later we were stood at the graveside, blessed with a
glorious day of no clouds and little wind. After the priest had
performed the graveside service, we drifted back towards the cars.
Jimmy stopped, and took in the view towards the village of
Caerleon. ‘We used to come up here a lot as kids.’
I took in the pleasant view, the old bridge and the River Usk.
‘Not a bad spot.’
‘Jimmy!’ Big Paul called, his tone a worry.
We turned and walked towards him, Big Paul pointing out a
grave as we drew near.
Big Paul read out, ‘Here lies Shelly Holton. Magestic:
VAT14:JDI.’
‘What the fuck…’ I began, but could not finish.
‘Get hold of Sykes, seal this place off,’ Jimmy told Big Paul.
‘Then make sure no one sees that grave.’
We walked back towards the main group.
‘What the fuck is that?’ I whispered.
‘A message,’ Jimmy said.
‘A … message? It’s got Shelly’s fucking name on it!’ I stopped
Jimmy, a hand on his arm. ‘Is my fucking daughter in that grave?’
‘I … don’t know. Possibly.’
‘She went back? Is that why you favour her so much?’ I asked in
a strong whisper. ‘She destined to go back?’
‘No. Well, at least … not to my knowledge. We’ll exhume the
body and run a DNA analysis.’
I forced a breath. ‘If she did go back, how old –’
‘Could have been a hundred years old. I have no idea.’
We joined the procession and pretended that nothing had
happened, travelling back to the old house as the local police sealed
off the cemetery, and we made small talk with the relatives.
At 6pm Sykes stepped in, dressed suitably in black. ‘I’ve
removed the item, its here. The grave contains the remains of …
someone.’
‘Perform a DNA test against Paul, his blood is on record,’ Jimmy
quietly requested. ‘Then scan every other grave for odd messages.’
Sykes nodded conspiratorially. ‘You know what it means:
VAT14:JDI?’
‘Yes.’
‘You do?’ I queried.
‘It’s a message, another one,’ Jimmy explained.
‘Does that mean that 2025…?’ Sykes posed.
‘Not necessarily. The first time machine was built out of
desperation after World War Three. If I’m receiving messages, then
it’s because of a desperate situation at some later point. Maybe
beyond 2025. And … let’s not discuss this too much.’
‘I have a body to attend,’ Sykes said.
I grabbed his arm before he left. ‘Show her the respect she
deserves. Please.’
Sykes glanced at Jimmy, back to me – nodding, and left us.
I did not sleep at all, Helen worried as I paced up and down. I
explained that there was ‘a message’ but that I could not say what it
was. And I made no mention of Shelly being in that grave. For
several hours I sat in Shelly’s room, just watching her sleep. As the
sun came up, I felt rougher than I had done for a long time. When
cars arrived I rushed around, unshaven and looking haggard.
Sykes stepped down. ‘It’s not a relative of yours in there.’
‘No?’
He shook his head. ‘The gravestone replaced the original. In the
grave is a local woman, jewellery on her confirming it, no DNA link
to you.’
I turned away and took in a dog patrol. ‘So … they placed the
gravestone there knowing that we’d see it. See it now, this week.’ I
led Sykes inside and found Jimmy in the diner. We relayed the detail
to him.
‘From this moment on … no discussion of it. Sykes, make up a
story, a … bomb or something. Bury it deep, no records. If this gets
out we’ll have a problem.’
Back at the house I gave Shelly a big bug, despite her trying to
wriggle free. That was followed by a hug for a surprised Helen.
‘Shelly,’ Helen called. ‘Go clean your room.’
‘Ah, what for,’ Shelly protested, stamping a foot.
‘Just … do … it!’ Helen insisted. ‘J … D … I.’
I stopped dead, my heart skipping a beat.
‘What?’ Helen asked after a moment.
‘Nothing.’ I forced myself to look away, my thoughts jumbled.
Later that day I took Shelly out for a drive; she liked the Wye
River Valley. I played the dutiful father, and spent a lot of time
staring at my daughter as she threw sticks into the water. I found
myself wondering what ‘VAT14’ meant. That, and what the hell
were those coffee shops in Russia for?

New faces

The French voting public changed their President, and he attended


his first “M” Group meeting in New York a few weeks later; in at
the deep end. In an unusual move, Jimmy had sent me and Helen to
brief the guy after his own security people had given their briefing.
Helen acted as translator, and I answered his questions. Now, we
met at the UN building, re-occupying the same room that we had
used previously.
In the past two years, the various leaders had met each other more
than any of their predecessors had ever done. Previous American
Presidents had met with their Russian counterparts little more than
twice per term – if that. The current batch of various “M” Group
leaders now met at least four times a year, and relationships were
good. ‘Peace in our time,’ the papers had reported. I was still waiting
for something to go wrong.
Jimmy began with, ‘We welcome the new French President to
this group, and we hope that he does not get a kick in the shins in his
first year.’
The leaders laughed, the French President aware of the joke. He
has even met Shelly. But the good mood did not last long as we
moved onto vaccines, and who might produce them ahead of the
outbreak of Swine Flu in 2009, and for subsequent pandemics. After
thirty minutes we were getting nowhere; each country wanted drugs
sales for its own companies, and I could see Jimmy getting
frustrated.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, the purpose is to save lives, not to make a
profit,’ Jimmy reminded them. It did not do much good. The idea
that drugs would be mass-produced by the cheapest supplier was just
not being swallowed, or injected, not even by the British PM.
Suppositories came to mind as I listened.
Jimmy finally said, ‘I will make my own research available to all
at the same time. You may treat your own people as you see fit, and
I’ll try and treat those people that fall outside of those warm arms.
There’ll be an outbreak of Swine flu in the spring of 2009, in
Mexico. That will be a start point to a process that will either
become cheaper, or will bankrupt you all.
‘OK, moving on. Gibraltar has been settled, as has the Indian-
Chinese border. I would suggest to the British Government that they
take a similar approach to the Falklands as they did with Gibraltar,
and consider the benefits of co-operation. Because the South
Americans will not let you use their ports, and so the oil and support
ships will have a very long way to travel.’
The British PM did not look happy with that idea. More
suppositories came to mind.
‘Next, the Chinese have made a modest breakthrough in the use
of stem cell activation. By this time, I would guess that the
Americans have as well, but that they are keeping it to themselves.’
We all focused on Hardon Chase.
‘We’ve had some successes, yes,’ he finally admitted.
‘The progress of that research is not important,’ Jimmy
explained. ‘Quite the opposite: if it appears too soon, and is used
widely, it will cause more problems than it fixes – many more. But,
in addition to the various governments here conducting their own
research into the advanced features of stem cell medicine, there are
also various researchers around the world discovering it all by
themselves. Do my Chinese colleagues have a statement to make on
the subject?’
Han interpreted, and reported, ‘We have created a serum from the
blood, and can mass produce it. It does not cause strong appetite,
and does not repair injuries quickly, but it does cure a variety of
diseases. And we will share that research.’
Hardon Chase seemed most put out at being beaten to that
announcement.
Jimmy explained, ‘That serum could be used for AIDS, TB,
Hepatitis and a variety of diseases common to Africa and the
southern hemisphere. It will not, however, extend life or make
people stronger.’
‘When should we … announce that to the world?’ the British PM
delicately enquired.
‘It will benefit all here if a cure for AIDS is found and used. So
let’s vote on its release this year in Africa alone. All those in
favour?’
They all voted in favour.
‘Fine. China, kindly make the details of your research available.’
To Chase he said, ‘A cure for AIDS is worth billions to you. How
much will you save from treating those without health insurance?’
‘A great deal,’ Chase reluctantly agreed.
‘Do we have to buy it off the Americas?’ the French asked.
‘No, because by time the FDA approves the drug you’ll have
developed your own with the Chinese research.’
‘Another shopping list?’ the French asked.
‘A small one,’ Jimmy admitted with a grin. ‘Now, that serum,
once modified and improved – and mass-produced – will be needed
in the years ahead by all of you, and the rest of the world. The 2009
Swine Flu pandemic is not serious, those that follow will be. But
keep in mind that once injected it’ll last twenty years, for some
people perhaps a lifetime. So that serum could be used now, and
your key workers would be covered for later.’
‘Could that vaccine be passed on blood-to-blood?’ the French
asked.
‘Yes, but it would get very weak. And it’s not a vaccine - it
doesn’t really work like a vaccine – it’s an active agent. It’s best
used after someone is infected, to keep the potency strong. It will
diminish with time.’
The British PM said, ‘So, its best use would be waiting for people
to fall sick, then inject them, lowering vaccine costs.’
‘Yes. But some future pandemics will be quick, and by time you
reach a person they may be too far gone, or living in remote areas.
You don’t want a pilot to fall ill on a long flight, do you? I intend to
experiment with it in Mexico in 2009.’
The French listed a number of small conflicts in the Sahara
region. And should the Rifles be used?
‘If black African soldiers are seen to be aggressive towards
Islamic citizens - too soon - then that may cause more problems than
it solves. Most of the countries in question are not key players, and
will be cleared of terrorist elements at a later date.’
‘Do we all get cheap medical equipment?’ the French asked.
‘That equipment is earmarked for Africa and America, but for
two very different reasons. Africa does not have the money.
America has the money, but needs to re-structure its health service
before it has less money than Africa.’
‘We have a growing health tourism industry,’ Chase noted. ‘Your
doing. Got some twenty thousand people a year heading south for
cheap operations.’
‘Which saves you having that headache in Medicare, does it not?’
Jimmy posed.
‘Well … it takes some pressure off the public hospitals. But it
also highlights the problems we have!’
‘Really? Bummer.’
Chase cocked an eyebrow. ‘You want it to embarrass us.’
‘Sure do, old buddy,’ Jimmy said with an accent.
Chase said, ‘Hawaii is saving a lot of money in its annual medical
bill. Some people may start going there for some health tourism: get
a tan and have a melanoma removed!’
I laughed.
‘Don’t joke about it,’ Jimmy told Chase with a smile. ‘You’ll
soon see citizens of Florida hopping into planes to Cuba for
operations they can’t afford at home. But that’s not a bad thing, it
saves the US taxpayer.’
‘How much of an affect could you have on the health budget?’
Chase asked.
‘My aim is to shave twenty percent off it.’
‘That’s a big number,’ Chase cautioned, as if he did not believe
it. ‘Won’t do that with plastic tubes alone.’
‘Wait and see,’ Jimmy enigmatically stated. He checked his
notes. ‘OK, whilst on the States, let’s talk about the Mexican border,
because you’re still … not on top of it. First, may I suggest that you
change the law so that a citizen cannot sell a second-hand firearm
unless through an approved exchange, where background checks are
made.’ Chase made notes. ‘Then, may I suggest that your weapons
manufacturers not make weapons with a view to smuggling them
south. If you don’t act, I’ll expose them.’
‘You have a list?’ Chase asked without looking up.
‘I’ll send it to you,’ Jimmy offered. ‘Because by 2012 the
Mexicans will be losing twenty thousand a year dead in drug related
shootings.’ Jimmy took a breath. ‘Next, we need to discuss a future
nuclear attack on Israel.’
Everyone sat upright, Ben Ares and David keenly attentive. They
already knew some of the detail, more than the rest of the group.
Jimmy began, ‘As we speak, several senior Indian Army officers
– and members of the intelligence community – are considering a
way to rid themselves of the Pakistani problem … forever.’
Everyone was now focused on the Indians, who were horrified.
They looked like the guy who had farted loudly in polite company.
‘They will create a very realistic nuclear device that is not
designed to go off. It will be made to look like a Pakistani nuclear
device, complete with the correct components and specifications –
provided by their spies inside the Pakistani nuclear programme.
There will even be a few fingerprints to be had. That device will be
smuggled towards Israel by Pakistani agents who think they are
working for the Pakistani Government. It will be discovered on the
border, and will be quickly followed by a US strike on Pakistan, a
conventional strike … to start with.’
‘Indian?’ Ben Ares questioned.
‘The enemy of my enemy … is my friend,’ Jimmy stated. ‘If you
get rid of Pakistan, they don’t have to.’
‘You know who these men are?’ the Indians demanded.
‘Yes, but if you reveal the full detail of this plot you’ll do more
harm than good,’ Jimmy insisted. ‘They need to be dealt with …
slowly, and quietly.’
‘This is the attack you mentioned before?’ Ben Ares puzzled.
Jimmy nodded. ‘Members of Rescue Force Jordan will be
involved. Some innocent, some expecting the bomb to go off.’
‘When can we know who is involved?’ the Indians asked.
‘It has to be handled quietly,’ Jimmy reiterated. ‘So give me a
unit of the men we’ve trained, and we’ll decommission some of your
senior staff.’
‘I can’t believe it,’ the Indian Prime Minister stated.
‘If you don’t co-operate…’ Ben Ares threatened.
‘Gentlemen,’ Jimmy called. ‘If the Indians co-operate or not,
those men will be dealt with.’
We broke for thirty minutes, the various leaders a bit stunned.
Ben Ares came up to us as we made ourselves coffee, to a
confidential distance. ‘Should we allow the Indians to be in these
meetings?’ he angrily asked.
‘Funny, but in the years ahead, many of the people in that room
will ask the same about you,’ Jimmy illustrated as he stirred his
coffee.
‘What?’ Ben Ares challenged. ‘Exclude us? We have a lot to lose
in the decades ahead. We have every right to be in this room!’
‘The Indians may say the same,’ Jimmy pointed out as he lifted
his coffee. ‘Because they face ending up in a war with Pakistan. So
perhaps the person making choices of inclusion or exclusion … will
be little old me, and me alone.’ He walked off, leaving Ben glaring
at his back.
‘Do we blame the White House when the CIA poke us in the
ribs?’ I posed, Ben turning towards me. ‘No. And we don’t blame
the Indian Government … because they aint behind it. And without
their help we’ll have a hard time dealing with it. To quote Churchill:
jaw, jaw, not war, war.’
Back in the meeting, the mood was frosty and formal, a step back
after recent successes.
Jimmy took a moment to take in the faces. ‘The path ahead for us
… is a difficult one, even knowing what will happen. After 2011 it
will get … interesting, then dangerous, then life or death. All you
have to do, is to keep the final objective in mind: that we all get to
2025 in a reasonable condition, and shoulder to shoulder. Because
you can be certain that anything less than a united front will lose us
the war.
‘Now, the men in India - who will be a problem - are known to
me, and they will be dealt with … with the co-operation of the
Indian Government I’m sure. If not – should the plot succeed – I’m
sure some around this table may actually consider a strike against
India. The way to proceed, is to monitor those men and - when they
meet to conspire - to record their conversations, confront them and
make them resign whilst the plot is still just an idea.’ He glanced at a
sour-faced Ben Ares. ‘That way everyone is happy. And please keep
in mind that over the next ten years the members of this group will
be – at times – downright hostile toward each other. Poke your
tongues out at each other if you wish, just keep talking and listening.
‘OK, Russia, your internal postal service is a national disgrace.
Could you please look at it in the next few years. America: the small
country of Georgia, north east of Turkey, wishes to court both
NATO membership and EU membership. If they do, then Russia
will invade, and that will cause some significant problems for the
cohesion of this group. Mister Chase, if you arm Georgia I’ll put the
Rifles in South Ossetia, just so that there’s no misunderstanding.
This group exists so that such future flashpoints can be avoided, not
blundered into.’
‘Will they join NATO?’ Chase asked. ‘Eventually?’
‘I hope not,’ Jimmy answered. ‘Not least because I aim to
undermine their government. Their President is a nutter, who thinks
he can put himself centre stage by creating a conflict between
America and Russia.’
‘I’d like the names of the Indian plotters,’ Ben Ares asked.
‘No,’ Jimmy responded.
‘No?’ Ben loudly questioned. ‘They’re planning attacks on
Israel!’
‘And need to be dealt with quietly. As will the other - and more
severe - attacks on you later. If you wish to talk further on that
matter, see me after class.’
Ben got up and walked out, Dave Gardener trailing after him.
‘Moving along,’ Jimmy began before Ben had even closed the
door.
‘Do they not have a right to know?’ Chase challenged.
Jimmy took a moment. ‘That information … I have held for a
long time. I’m its custodian, and if you don’t trust me then you have
a problem, you all have a problem. The information must not leak
out ahead of time. I’ll give you a scenario. A major western city will
be destroyed, a million dead, a million or more injured, economic
collapse for that country. At what point do you give the warning?
Ten years before perhaps? Would people believe it, and how would
they react? Would property prices crash, the city evacuated,
economic collapse now? Or do they deserve nine good years whilst
the people around this table make plans for it in secret?’
He gestured towards Chase. ‘If you knew, for example, that San
Francisco would be destroyed in eight years time …what would you
do?’ He waited.
Chase took in the expectant faces. ‘I’d make plans now, sure.’
‘And risk it getting out?’ Jimmy posed.
‘Well … that would cause people to move, businesses would
move. But they’d have time to move.’
‘And they would move because they all believe in clairvoyants?’
Jimmy teased.
‘Well, no,’ Chase admitted. ‘Most wouldn’t move.’
‘So you’d have to force an evacuation … on what basis?’
‘Well, that would have to be … discussed with the emergency
planning committees.’
‘Who would all have to place their faith in the predictions of an
unknown clairvoyant,’ Jimmy pointed out. ‘You’d be laughed out of
office. So … how would you do it?’
‘The simple answer is … I have no idea at the moment,’ Chase
admitted.
‘I do,’ Jimmy pointed out. ‘I have a detailed plan of action, and a
way to move the people. What you have to weigh up and consider
… is how much faith you have in me and that plan, because at the
end of your second term – assuming you get one – we’ll activate that
plan.’
‘What?’ Chase stumbled with. ‘A major US city is hit?’
‘Yes, but not the one you’d expect. So, like Ben, you have some
thinking to do about how much you trust me, and this group.’
‘You’ve not been wrong so far,’ Chase reluctantly admitted. ‘But
I guess we’d still like to know.’
‘Not a pleasant feeling … is it, someone else in charge of your
destiny.’
‘Don’t know how you sleep,’ the British PM stated.
‘Will any great disasters befall India?’ the Indians asked.
Jimmy faced me. ‘Do you ever wonder if you’re getting
through?’ He faced the Indian PM. ‘I will tell you what you need to
know, at the right time, and not before. I could have created your
commando force years earlier, but the time would not have been
right.’
We got into small detail for an hour, the mood a bit off, and broke
for the day. The aides would now do the important work. Jimmy and
I had a 6pm appointment at the apartment, and I opened the door to
the CEO of Caterpillar and two of his sales directors. I got the kettle
on as Jimmy and the visitors introduced themselves.
Jimmy began with, ‘Good flight from Illinois?’
‘Company jet, quick trip,’ the CEO responded.
‘To business, then. Hardon Chase has been on my case to buy
some of your equipment for Africa. So, first of all we’d like you to
open an office at our airport near Goma, and establish a point of
contact with our corporation. The office space is free to start with,
cheap apartments nearby. We’ll then want you to open a showroom
near the airport, where mine exec’s can come and inspect your
diggers. But I’ll want a good stock held there so that people can buy
or hire without waiting eight weeks for it to be shipped. I’d like a
stock of close to a two hundred machines, a variety.’
Their surprise was clear as they took notes.
‘We’d then like to look at buying machines from you, the detail
to be finalised based upon price and availability. Now, you do
refurbished bulldozers, eighteen tonnes?’
‘Yes.’
‘We’d like to buy three hundred.’
‘Three hundred?’ the CEO repeated. ‘Would … have to pull them
in from a variety of places.’
‘Next, we’d like a hundred trench diggers, also refurbished. Then
eighty front loaders, and two hundred off-road dumper trucks.’
They exchanged looks.
‘That’s year one,’ Jimmy explained. ‘In the second year we
would need that again plus fifty percent, third year doubled.’
They stared back. ‘Doubled?’
Jimmy nodded. ‘And I want a yard full of your engineers to
maintain them, to offer on-site maintenance to the mines, and to
refurbish them when they get a bit worn. Unfortunately, it’s a big
area, and so you’ll need engineers in at least six locations, and your
own helicopters to get about.’
‘Helicopters?’ they queried.
‘From the farthest mines its eight hundred miles end to end,
twenty hours by car. And the mines would probably want help
sooner than three days later.’
‘It’s a big order,’ the CEO admitted.
‘The equipment needs to be shipped to Mombassa then put on the
train,’ Jimmy explained. ‘It’s a hell of a journey. We’ll pay fifty
percent up front, so that will help with your cash flow.’
‘That’s … very good of you,’ the CEO offered. ‘What timescale
are we working to?’
‘As soon as possible, the money’s been allocated. Step one is
your rep in the area. He’ll get the formal order once we have prices
and timescales from you.’
‘We can release this to the press?’ a second man asked.
‘Yes,’ Jimmy agreed. ‘Right, are you in a hotel?’ They nodded.
‘Meal at my club and a drink afterwards.’ We all stood.
‘Can we wash-up first?’ the CEO asked.
‘Sure, meet us there in an hour, taxi drivers all know it.’ With the
men gone, Jimmy said to me, ‘Did we buy some shares?’
I nodded, then answered my phone to Dave Gardener. Ben Ares
wanted to come straight around. Jimmy heaved a sigh and nodded.
Ten minutes later I opened the door to Ben and Dave Gardener, their
security waiting outside. Helen offered them some food, politely
refused, but made them coffees. Jimmy had been sat, and did not
bother to get up. He just offered our guests a fixed gaze.
Ben composed himself. ‘If something happened to you … we’d
get the right information?’
‘You’d get the right information … at the right time,’ Jimmy
coldly stated. ‘So don’t go bumping me off just yet.’
‘And there are other threats, besides the Indians?’
‘Plenty. It goes with the charming little territory you occupy.’
Ben took a moment. ‘It’s not easy to have someone else hold that
information.’
‘Without me, you would never have known,’ Jimmy pointed out.
‘And you, young man, will be out of office when these problems hit.
As you sit there, you presume to speak for your successors.’
Ben glanced at me. ‘And … when will we know that the Indian
plot is dealt with, satisfactorily dealt with?’
‘I’ll list the men to the Indians within weeks. After that, their
careers will be limited, but they won’t be released for a few years.
But, as soon as the plotters get together the Indian Government will
panic and just kill them.’
‘You just said they’d be released quietly,’ Ben challenged.
‘That’s the plan. Unfortunately, it involves people, and people are
unpredictable and emotional. I fully expected the Indians to make
plans, then to panic when you put pressure on the Americans to put
pressure on them. In an ideal world you would just trust my
judgement.’
‘You’re asking us to trust your judgement on the future of Israel.’
‘There’s only one thing that stands between you … and complete
destruction, and that’s me. And if I told you of each threat too soon
you’d alter the time line and a new threat would come around, one
that I don’t know about, and that’s the dangerous one. It’s a bit like
preventing a plane crash when a passenger is a future terrorist
leader. Saving the plane is the right thing to do, but has
consequences. I know most of the consequences, you don’t. If you
kill future terrorists now, you make terrorists out of their brothers –
people who may never have taken that course. The timeline is a
fickle thing; if you make a move out of sequence you’ll create a
more severe threat further down the road. Better to hit the bumps
that I know about … and make do.’
‘Seems reasonable,’ Dave tentatively put in.
Ben took a moment. ‘You said before I made it to Canada.’
‘Yes, and I helped you. The Israeli refugees were given an area of
their own and made a little Israel in Canada, soon building
settlements outside of their designated zone.’
I laughed, earning a look from Ben.
‘You take these things lightly,’ Ben complained.
‘I wouldn’t sleep otherwise,’ Jimmy told him. ‘Now, pay
attention.’ He eased forwards ‘We’ll deal with the threats, to your
country and others, with or without your co-operation, since my
plans were always for a world with more of a … lack of co-
operation. Being in the group is a privilege, not your right. If you
want what’s best for your people, oh great leader, you’ll follow my
lead.’ He eased back and waited.
Ben stared back for several seconds, then stood, Dave following
him up. ‘We’ll be there tomorrow,’ he reluctantly got out as he
turned for the door. Dave forced an awkward smile and followed
Ben out.
With the door slamming shut, I said, ‘You’re welcome.’ I faced
Jimmy. ‘Will they be difficult?’
‘I doubt it, but you never know. Americans politicians can be
difficult, but Israelis politicians are Olympic champions at being
obtuse. I think they run courses on it.’
We met the men from Catepillar at the club and enjoyed a meal,
Cat minding the kids. They had released the news, their shareholders
and staff delighted with our order.
The next day, the “M” Group remained a little sombre, a shame
considering how good things had gone in Delhi and Hawaii. I even
thought about bringing Shelly in to lift the mood. Some advances
had been made overnight, a US pullback from support of Georgia, a
few technology sharing agreements, and a Chinese offer of serum
sharing with the Europeans for a few favours. All in all it was not
bad progress.
Jimmy announced, ‘With the groups consent, I will make use of
the Chinese serum as an experimental drug in Africa. I’d like a
working group of medics from each country, ideally your Rescue
Force doctors, to work with me on it in South Africa to start with.
Anyone opposed? Any comments?’
‘How will it be applied?’ the British PM asked.
‘Treatment for worst cases, kids, but not a blanket roll-out,’
Jimmy suggested. ‘Once the results are in you can use it in Europe,
claim wondrous successes and save a great deal of money treating
AIDS patients in the western world.’
‘It’s a complete cure?’ they puzzled.
‘One simple injection, a complete cure; Jimmy explained. ‘The
cost savings will be huge. Unfortunately, the cured individuals are
then immune to most things, and if that gets known they’ll enjoy the
kind of lifestyle that got them infected in the first place.’
‘What effect on sexually transmitted diseases?’ Chase asked.
‘They’ll become a thing of the past,’ Jimmy informed them.
‘And these people, the cured ones, how do they fair during
pandemics?’
‘For the most part they’d be immune, but certain diseases will
need extra protein and short-term hospitalisation. What would kill a
normal person would hit them like the flu.’
Chase said, ‘So if all police, military and public officials get an
injection … they’ll not be at risk in the pandemics?’
‘Correct. The danger for you is that the drug companies develop
an early version of the stem cell booster and sell it to old women
with wrinkles, and men that wish to look younger. If that becomes
cheaply available you’ll have an obesity problem, and people will
live longer – drawing civil service pensions and costing you a
fortune.’
‘We can’t deny the benefits of a breakthrough like that,’ Chase
argued.
‘True, but adjust your retirement age when you do it, because
sixty-five year old men will be as fit as forty-five year old men – and
you’re committed to pay pensions till they die. You would see
someone working from twenty to fifty-five, then living another
seventy years on a pension.’
‘We couldn’t do it,’ the British PM agreed. ‘We have a shortfall
now.’
‘And if the poorer nations got hold of it?’ Jimmy posed. ‘A
shortage of food would be caused by a population explosion,
followed by famine and war. You solve one problem, and create
another. You may not like it, but population growth will be a serious
issue that you will all have to face in the decades ahead. Growth in
Africa can be sustained, because most of its land is not being used.
South America will see huge numerical increases, so to India and
Asia. But China will be stable, and European and Russian
populations will fall. On the matter of Russia, I recommend that you
keep capital punishment.’
‘Keep it?’ the British, French and Germans complained.
‘Yes. We’re not short or people, we will be short of resources and
money, and thirty years in prison costs a lot.’
‘Are there things beyond 2025 that we should be planning for?’
the Germans asked.
‘An excellent question, and typically German in your desire to
plan ahead,’ Jimmy acknowledged. ‘Yes, there are things to plan for
– assuming that we win - and we’ll discuss them at the right time.
That time … is not yet with us.’
Jimmy concentrated on the release of the serum, and warned that
its release could be volatile, and that no one should under-estimate
the impact of the drug. It would change the world forever. With
predictions of great cost savings in western hospitals, and the
eradication of certain diseases, the mood lifted. This was proper “M”
Group stuff, action that would change the world, and everyone felt
more important for being a part of it.
We broke on a high-note, talk of huge financial savings and large
populations being affected. For the first time in a while I was
looking at the direct benefits of future technology now. Back in the
apartment, Jimmy gave me a task, another joint venture with Han;
we’d be releasing the drug. Jimmy offered me a few guidelines, but
suggested that it would be fluid.

AIDS

A month later, Han and I travelled down to South Africa – through


Goma hub - and met with their health authorities. I informed them
that we had been working on a cure for AIDS for many years, and
we’d like to trial it on those victims that were in its late stages. You
could have heard a pin drop. I added that, due to copyright
technology, we’d not be giving them a description of how the drug
worked. After their initial shock they signed us off to operate out of
an AIDS hospice, where the prognosis for its patients was a
lingering death; they, us, and the poor patients themselves had
nothing to lose. A group of Chinese doctors, plus a few senior
doctors from Mawlini, set up camp at the hospital. Day one was
interesting, and years later I would look back at how stupid I was
being.
‘You have a cure … for AIDS?’ our RF medics asked.
‘Yes. Jimmy and I funded its research over many years, working
with the Chinese.’
They stood and stared.
‘You have a fucking cure … for AIDS?’
I was puzzled by their reaction. ‘Not just AIDS. If this works, it’ll
attack a whole host of germs,’ I explained in my non-medical terms.
‘And it’ll help late stage AIDS patients?’
‘It’ll cure them, not help them,’ I corrected our staff.
‘Cure … late stage AIDS patients? Paul, there are thirty million
people dying from AIDS in Africa alone, and no fucker has a clue as
to how to cure it.’
I shrugged. ‘We do. So one injection for each patient, plenty of
protein and water, and monitor their condition.’
‘Paul, do you realise what you’re saying?’ they gasped.
‘Just do it, and let us know the results.’
We left them with that, and I was being naïve. I had spent years
knowing the future and dealing with time travel, so it was not easy
to see breakthroughs like this from someone else’s perspective.
I made a mistake.
Landing back in London, Han and I were met by the media. The
news had leaked. Well, the news had not so much leaked, as spread
like wildfire amongst Rescue Force. Since they often had journalists
embedded with them it had reached the hacks and snappers. I made a
line straight for them, Han slipping by unseen.
After a million camera flashes, and a lot of shouted questions, I
waved my hands and asked them to be quiet. The first question was,
‘Paul, have you developed a cure for AIDS?’
‘We hope so. It’s under trial at the moment in South Africa.’
‘Does it work?’
‘We’ll know in a month, but other test subjects were cured.’
‘Completely cured?’
‘Yes, completely cured. Now, I have no more than that till the
trial is complete and the doctors give us the OK.’
‘How much did you spend on it?’
‘We spent a lot of money on it, as you can imagine, and worked
with the Chinese and other governments.’ I forced my way through,
the police now helping. Back at the house, I found a mountain of
faxes and a million emails, not quite understanding the reaction. In
the diner I found Jimmy. ‘The bloody press are going crazy,’ I
complained.
He nodded. ‘It’s an important breakthrough, not least for those
infected with it. It’ll be an interesting few months.’
I accepted a tea from Cookie. ‘I got a question.’ Jimmy waited,
and I glanced over my shoulder. ‘If we cure a lot of Africans, then
won’t that put pressure on the population growth curve?’
‘First, we won’t cure everyone; it would be just about impossible
to produce enough of it, and to get around to them all. Second, we
need Africa’s population to jump up and then stabilise; remember,
we need a lot of consumers. Third, a few things down the road will
thin out the population a bit. One of my main reasons behind
wanting its release now … is to reduce healthcare costs in the
western world, so that money can be spent on a few other things I
have in mind.’
He sipped his tea. ‘The problem with western healthcare, is that
the leading edge of technology is always moving along quickly – too
quickly. If someone invents something that extends life by a year –
just a year, then the patients want it and the damn hospitals adopt it.
If a drug eases suffering, but costs a fortune, the hospitals must have
it. A bed is not a bed, but a £2,500 bed that must meet the latest
protocols. And the drug companies are making a fortune out of us
taxpayers. If unchecked, western healthcare will bankrupt the
western world.’
‘How will the drug companies react?’ I knowingly asked.
He lifted his eyebrows. ‘We’ll need to tighten security.’
‘Oh.’ I didn’t like the sound of that.
The next day was Shelly’s first attendance at a nursery/junior
school, the school located just a few miles away, and a private
school that Jimmy had said she would attend. Sat in the
headmaster’s office, I lifted a sheet of names: Portia, Trixy-Belle,
Dizzie, Siobhan, Victoria, Rupert, Gladstone. Christ! This was a
posh private school, and I felt out of place. We had more money
than the parents of all the other kids combined, but we were not
‘blue blooded.’
The headmaster stepped in with a lady teacher. ‘Sorry about that.
So, this is Michelle, yes?’
‘The one and only,’ I said, a hand on my daughter’s shoulder.
‘Although her younger sister may follow in a few years.’
‘Well, we’re happy to accept your daughter, but you said you had
some issues to discuss?’
Helen glanced at me.
‘Given who we are, and the publicity we suffer, we’d like to offer
you a few security enhancements – and we’d pay for them of
course.’
‘Security? Such as … what, in particular?’
‘We’d like to pay for additional CCTV cameras for you, and a
few guards dotted around,’ I explained.
‘Well … we’ve not had any problems up to now,’ the headmaster
delicately complained.
‘We have … specific threats against us, so we’d either need your
help, or teach the kids at home.’
‘I see. Well, unobtrusive cameras could do no harm, and I’m sure
that the other wealthy parents would not mind such a measure.’
‘And a man sat behind them, another at the gate,’ I nudged.
‘They’d be police officers.’
‘Police officers? You … can arrange that?’
‘Yes. And before you ask, the officers dropping her off and
picking her up would be armed.’
‘Crikey,’ the headmaster let out. ‘Well, er, do you wish to look
around the school?’
‘No, we’ve done our research, we’re happy for her to be here.’
We left Shelly in their care, our daughter being shy for a change,
and arranged to pick her up at 3pm, a car waiting up the road. Helen
had given Shelly a good talking to before we left: no talk about the
house, or kicking the teachers here in the shins. Driving off felt a
little odd, Helen and I exchanging looks; it was our daughter’s first
day at school. Wasn’t that long ago that I was shocked at the news of
Helen being pregnant.
When Shelly arrived home she seemed happy enough, mention of
a few new friends. The next morning she dressed in her new
uniform, a few snaps taken, and I drove her to school. She jumped
down from the car and ran inside, not so much as a look back.
‘Yeah, you have a good day too,’ I shouted after her, a look
exchanged with Karl. We drove off. ‘You do your best for them,’ I
reflected. ‘Then they find new friends in school and … off they go.’
Back in the office, Helen asked, ‘She OK?’
‘The little bugger bound out the car without even looking back.’ I
settled behind my computer.
‘She’ll be fine,’ Jimmy commented from behind his screen. ‘And
the news just hit about early successes of the AIDS trail in Africa.
So you two are on press detail for a while.’
I led Helen to a lounge and found Han, and we made plans, to
both handle the press and to roll out the trial.
‘Helen?’ a voice called, a woman in the doorway, smartly dressed
and attractive. ‘I’m Trish, your new assistant.’
‘You have an assistant?’ I asked my wife. ‘I don’t even have an
assistant.’
‘You have many assistants,’ Han pointed out. ‘I am one of that
honoured group.’
I wagged a warning finger at the cheeky bugger, Helen greeting
her new assistant. I went and found Jimmy. Talking quietly, I said,
‘Helen need an assistant?’ He just stared back. ‘And you know her,
she’s OK?’ He held his fixed gaze. ‘She’s not in the know, yes?’ He
did not answer. I stood. ‘It’s been good talking.’
Helen and I, and her new assistant, drove over to Mapley and
fired up the video conferencing equipment. We called the BBC
back, they’d been nagging, and made a lengthy statement about the
successes of the drug. That done, Helen and her assistant created a
press release and fired it off around the world as I met with Bob
Davies.
‘A cure for AIDS?’ he asked. ‘Where the fuck did that just pop-
up from?’
‘We’ve been working on it for years,’ I said, and that was
basically true.
‘You spent a lot on it?’
‘Of course. And the trial has gone well.’
‘Late stage AIDS patients recovering? Fucking hell, Paul.’
Doc Graham stepped in and sat on the desk. ‘So why the fuck did
you keep all this quiet?’
‘Had to test it first. Didn’t want to give anyone false hope or get
the press worked up,’ I lied.
‘If you sold it…’ Doc Graham posed.
‘We’ll try and cover costs, but we didn’t do it to make a buck,’ I
said.
‘When will it be available?’ Bob Davies pressed.
‘We’re going to offer it at Goma hospital first - to check it out
carefully - because over there we can’t be sued. And the South
African trial will now be expanded to include a lot more hospitals.’
‘African times has been running the story every day,’ Doc
Graham informed me. ‘So has every African TV station. If it
works… Jesus, the implications, especially for Africa.’
‘While I’m here, send twenty doctors to Goma hospital for the
trial; kind of straight away. I’m having the drug shipped there now.
Another twenty to go to Kinshasa to trial it there.’
I had made a plan, but I had not thought it through, and was about
to feel the heat. Back at the house I asked my dear lady wife to issue
a statement to the African Times, indicating that paying clients could
trial the drug in Goma. Jimmy was there when I made the
instruction, but offered no comment, no words of wisdom, nor any
complaint. The blue touch paper had been lit, well and truly lit.
A few days later, middle-class Africans began flying to Goma on
our nice new aircraft, their flights subsidised. They checked into the
hospital and paid a modest $250 towards the drug and their short
stay. I then received a call from the head on our airline; they had
more people wanting to fly to Goma than we had planes. Thinking it
a matter of logistics, I told him to hire additional pilots and fly at
night, making better use of the aircraft. A few days later the man
was back on. Even flying at night we had too many people trying to
fly. I agreed for him to lease additional aircraft and pilots.
That led to the hospital officials calling me direct, and shouting
down the phone. They had beds for three hundred – already full, a
queue of two hundred people at the door, more calling ahead. I told
them to grab beds from Forward Base, and from the Army, and
informed him I would arrange more doctors.
I called Mapley. ‘Bob, get me another twenty doctors at Goma
hospital, and fifty nurses. Don’t care where they come from, just do
it today.’
The facilitators at Forward Base called, reporting a near riot
outside the hospital. I sent in the Rifles, unarmed, to keep the peace.
And the facilitators reported that we had taken half a million dollars
already, all in cash. I told them that the money was to stay with the
hospital. The next day a few white faces turned up at the hospital;
Europeans. I checked with the hospital, and it turned out that they
had flown down. Scratching my head, I went and found Jimmy.
‘People are flying down from Europe to Goma to get the drug.
I’m charging $250 to cover costs, but what do you reckon?’
‘That the trickle will become a flood.’ He held his gaze on me.
‘Oh. Then … we ask the airlines to put on more planes.’
‘Planes carrying late stage AIDS patients? Hmmm, the crews will
love that. Plus the odd law about people not well enough to travel …
not being allowed to travel.’
‘Well … those that are early stage could fly.’
‘And the rest?’ Jimmy posed.
‘I’ll give it some thought,’ I said, wanting to handle this by
myself. I discussed it with Helen, then got on the phone. I ordered
two new 747s on ten year leases, and asked our airline to find
African pilots and cabin crew, all of whom would get the serum –
plus extra pay and many assurances. The airline technicians at Goma
were ordered to receive the 747s, to add our typical paint job, and
then to remove some of the seats to make room for wheelchairs and
stretchers. I asked Bob Davies for twenty RF staff for the flights,
labelling them as medical flights, and got a license from the British
Government.
When ready, we announced it to the British and European press,
pricing the tickets at just over cost price. The first flight left from
Gatwick, the second from Munich, both full. Despite the press
coverage, the press did not wish to take the flight. Doc Graham,
however, did, and set-up base in Goma Hospital, in charge of the
advanced trial - as well as riots and shortages. He took one look at
an apartment block about to be completed and grabbed it, additional
beds moved in, RF staff turning up en mass. The sick, and their
families and escorts, were allocated an apartment each, charged a
modest rental fee by our property management company.
Over the next week, RF staff injected the dying, and observed the
miraculous transformations. And some of the first Europeans to have
travelled down were now flying back out on regular flights, not
standing out from their fellow passengers - other than their huge
smiles. A few had even stayed for a quick holiday at our safari
lodges.
Reading the reports, I ordered other apartments made ready in a
hurry, beds brought in. Some apartments offered nothing more than
a bed or two, but the sick and dying didn’t care. By the end of the
second week we were housing some fifteen hundred people in
apartments, close to three hundred RF nurses in attendance. Then the
next problem hit. AIDS patients from the States were jumping on the
subsidised holiday flights from JFK. When it became known, some
tourists cancelled rather than sit next to an AIDS patient. I
immediately imposed a rule: no one on a flight without a safari
booking, or valid reason to travel. Without realising it, I had
inadvertently damaged our holiday trade.
Hardon Chase was soon on the phone, frustrated because he
could not rush through a trial in the US; it would take two years at
least. Without meaning to upset him, I suggested a trial in Mexico or
Cuba. It did not go down well, so I consulted with the oracle of
knowledge that was Jimmy Silo.
‘Go ahead and run the trials in Mexico and Cuba,’ he said. ‘It’s
the end result that matters, not US law and procedures. I’ll talk to
Chase.’
I gave it some thought, then rang the British Prime Minister and
explained the situation. He offered to try and arrange a trial here as
fast as possible, and would consult with the French and Germans.
But, since the technology behind the drug would not be released, he
was not hopeful of a speedy solution. Han and I discussed the
situation and decided to roll out the drug in Mexico and Cuba. And
Jimmy, he admitted that he wanted the US public and lawmakers to
re-examine the FDA.
With the release of the news about Mexico, US citizens headed
that way, and not halfway across the world. Our tourist flights
started to recover. I settled into a routine, now in charge of the drug
use, as well as my other duties, and was kept very busy, concerned
when we were called to Shelly’s school one day. The headmaster
was apologetic for calling us out, but was concerned. He displayed
for us drawings that Shelly had made in class; they were astonishing
in their detail. He listed off her ability to speak some Chinese,
Russian and French, and delicately suggested that she may be
autistic.
‘We’ve had her tested,’ I told him. ‘We were just as worried. But
the expert says that she’s very bright, but not autistic. And as for the
languages, we have Chinese, Russian and French people living with
us. She’s grown up with them.’
‘Well, we have to check these things. We must be aware of any
special needs –’
‘She doesn’t have any,’ Helen insisted. ‘She’s just very bright.’
‘How’s her swimming?’ I asked.
‘Another … unusual set of observations,’ the headmaster
delicately broached. ‘She won the races, all of them, and beat girls a
few years older by swimming underwater … whilst they swam on
the surface.’
Helen and I exchanged looks. ‘I’ll talk to her,’ I said. ‘Ask her to
swim on the surface.’
The headmaster stared back, wide-eyed. ‘Oh. Right.’
‘We have a pool at the house, and she leant to swim at two years
old,’ Helen explained.
‘Ah, that might explain it. Parents and teachers evening next
week if you’re available.’
‘We’ll be there.’
In the car, I said, ‘What the fuck is she going to be like on school
sports day? Track events?’
‘We’ll have to talk to her,’ Helen said with a sigh.
At 4pm Shelly arrived home with two other girls in uniform,
bringing them into the office, a woman trailing them.
‘I’m Portia’s mother, Gwen,’ the woman offered, Helen and I
shaking her hand.
Shelly led her friends to the pool, so we led Gwen to the diner,
teas organised. And this was odd. It was my first time chatting to
another parent, a parent of one of Shelly’s friends. We had an instant
affinity, and common purpose, soon chatting about schools and
curriculum. Did we want Shelly to learn French or German? Gwen
had been quite awe-struck by us, but when Jimmy came in and sat
she went all wobbly on us, blushing. He informed her of a dinner
party that Friday night, and invited her and her husband, plus the
parents of the third girl. Half an hour later the girls burst in with wet
hair, bags dumped down, and sat at the counter and asking Cookie
for ice cream and pancakes.
‘Lots for them do here,’ Gwen noted, glancing over her shoulder.
‘I understand you have a gym, as well as the pool.’
‘It burns off the calories after pancakes,’ Helen suggested.
The Prime Minister stepped in, tickling Shelly, and ordering food
and drink from Cookie as he joined Jimmy. Gwen returned to her
previously wobbly state. When I managed to chat to the PM about
the drugs, he hinted at Holland; they would co-operate. The Dutch
had always maintained lax drugs laws, cannabis legal, but they also
just happened to sit geographically between Britain, Germany and
France. I got to work, and contacted the Dutch authorities after Jack
had informed me who to talk to. I asked for a drug trial to be run
there straight away and they readily agreed, the French and Germans
already having discussed it with them.
I found it all a bit odd, why those other countries could not trial it,
but arranged the Dutch trial in detail, burning the midnight oil. Their
first shipment arrived from Beijing two days later, the news
released. The net effect was the cancellation of flights to Goma by
Europeans, and a mad rush to Holland. Every hotel room in
Amsterdam was booked within twenty-four hours, the Dutch
authorities taken by surprise.
Meeting with Han to discuss the drug’s roll out, he admitted that
his government had been using it for many months, on AIDS
patients and others, whether they liked it or not. Drug addicts were
forcibly injected, as were prisoners, and anyone with a
communicable disease, the results nearly one hundred percent
successful. And the cost saving was huge. They had taken to
rounding up drug addicts and forcibly injecting them, as a way to
stamp out AIDS transmission in the future.
Across the pond I was not popular, not even amongst the sick and
dying. I had sent a great many doses to the hospitals on the Mexican
border, and the queues heading south were huge, tailbacks ten miles
long. Then something even more odd happened. One evening, a drug
gang broke into a Mexican hospital and stole twenty thousand doses,
soon shipping them over the border and selling them on the black
market. Since the drug was not illegal, just not FDA approved yet,
there was little anyone could do, the authorities not too fussed on
chasing down the dealers. An injection sold for between $200 and a
$1,000, a bargain considering what it meant to the people who
needed it. It gave me an idea, and I didn’t bother to consult with
Jimmy, I wanted to handle this myself.
I shipped a hundred thousand units to the hospital that had been
raided, and told them to sell the drug for $50 a vial. People
purchasing the drug for themselves soon bought boxes of the drug
and took them back, customs officials clueless as to what to do; the
drug was not listed as illegal, and people claimed that they were for
their own use. The drug dealers also bought boxes, bulk discounts
applied for at the end of a machinegun, and the vials all ended up
north of the border. And the funds created? I ordered the Cuban
medics to perform as many operations as they could free of charge,
using the money earned.
With the last batch of drugs disappearing inside of a week, I
ordered up more, the TV news full of it. I waited for a call from
Chase, but none came. Curious about my lack of a kick in the shins,
I went and found Jimmy and confessed all.
He listened, seemingly unconcerned. ‘If, and when, the drug is
produced by US drug companies, it will cost the US taxpayer a lot of
money. You’ve circumvented those drug companies, and negated
much of the cost to the taxpayer, which is what I wanted. Keep it
going till it slows up. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the same is
happening in Holland. Sykes arranged for vials to be stolen, and his
friends in low places are selling them around the UK. At the end of
the day we want people cured, we don’t care how we get to that
point. And in Europe, as in the States, it’ll save on medical bills. The
medical community now knows that it cures Hepatitis, TB, Herpes
and a variety of other things - and treating someone for those
diseases in a British hospital costs hundreds of thousands of pounds.
We’ve now got doctors secretly injecting people late at night,
nothing on the records. One simple injection saves half a million
pounds in treatment costs, at least. Someone dying, and taking a year
to die, costs the taxpayer a million or two. I aim to shave ten-percent
off the UK health budget, more for the States. And those cured …
can return to work and pay their taxes like good little citizens.’
‘And the deal with the Chinese?’ I asked.
‘They got it ahead of anyone else, and they’re enjoying the cost
savings. They’re also using it like a weapon with addicts; after being
injected the addicts don’t enjoy the high, and typically either kill
themselves with overdoses, or go cold turkey. And they have
millions of addicts, many more than they would admit to. They’ve
also injected their soldiers and key officials, millions of them.
They’re all now immune to future threats.’
‘Should I ship more to Holland?’
‘Definitely. More the better, young man,’ he commended.
There was more trouble ahead, and I was still being naïve. A few
days later a US TV show displayed “before and after” pictures of a
man, a minor celeb’ that had been injected. The price of the drug on
the black market rocketed, the stocks running out at the Mexican
border.
Now Chase called, not least because of gang related deaths at the
border. ‘Paul, we’re rushing through a piece of legislation, and the
FDA will co-operate. We’ve got the data from the trial in Africa,
and we think we can just about get away with it.’
‘Don’t you need a few years - to see if patients remiss?’ I posed.
‘Normally, yes, but this is too important, so we’re bending a few
rules. Our batches are not ready yet, so we’d like some of the
Chinese batch sent over.’
‘I’ll check stock levels. Email me the details of where to send it.
But there is one thing I’d like to know: how will it be charged for?’
‘It’ll go through the public hospitals to start with, that was my
deal with the Democrats.’
‘I’ll get you a batch as soon as I can,’ I promised.
As soon as I had hung up, Helen grabbed me and led me outside.
‘We’re late. Apparently.’
‘For what?’
‘Shelly promised that we’d go around to her friends for dinner.’
‘Oh. OK.’
We drove out the top gate, avoiding the press at the main gate,
and to a small estate on a hill overlooking the town of Monmouth. I
knocked the door and waited.
A woman appeared, tea towel in hand. ‘Paul, Helen, come in.’
We wandered inside, glimpsing our daughter lying on the floor
and playing a board game with two other girls. In the kitchen we
were introduced to other parents that we already knew, soon stood
with drinks in hand.
‘So how’s this AIDS drug panning out?’ a man asked.
‘So far, very well,’ I said. ‘Releasing it was always going to be a
problem, a bit of a mad rush, but its been crazy. In Mexico they
break into the hospitals, steal it, and then sell it north of the border.
But I just spoke to Chase and we’ll ship it direct to the States now.’
‘Chase?’ a woman queried.
‘Hardon Chase. Grey haired fella in the White House.’
‘You speak to him often?’ she queried.
‘We’re not supposed to say,’ Helen cut in with.
They exchanged looks, knowing full well there were many things
we did not like to discuss.
‘You’re Shelly is teaching the girls to swim just like her,’ they
informed us.
‘Shelly’s style is … unusual,’ I agreed, our daughter swimming
like a Dolphin, her hands out front and elbows locked, her legs
straight back, and undulating through the water like the Man from
Atlantis off the TV. I found myself picturing the guy, Patrick
something, married to the tasty bird off Dallas with big tits, Pamela
something.
We waited for the food to be ready, two of the ladies checking in
on it occasionally. I got into a conversation about the property
business on the Spanish coast with one of the fathers, since we had
properties down there, as well as on the Spanish Isle of Tenerife.
During the meal we discussed Kenya and the safari lodges, Shelly
wanting to return. I offered to take the whole group, and we threw
around a few provisional dates. Shelly was very well behaved in
front of the other girl’s parents, and I could detect a few new words
in her vocabulary. She was starting to sound posh, and I was not at
all unhappy about it. Even her table manners were improving, things
getting cut up first and not wolfed down sideways. Driving back,
Shelly alive with new ideas and things to tell us, Jimmy rang.
‘Your parents are here, you forgot.’
‘Shit!’
‘I told them you had a teacher/parent thing that you could not get
out of, and that you were due back earlier.’
‘Thanks. Be back in ten minutes.’ I hung up. ‘Shelly, darling,
Grandma and Grandpa are at the house, so we need to tell them
we’ve been to a parent/teacher meeting, OK?’
She nodded, and I exchanged shrugs with Helen, both of us
overlooking their arrival. Shelly greeted my parents quickly,
fortunately still in uniform, before we told her to attend her
homework. The next morning, a warm June Saturday, my father
took Shelly fishing, and I found myself observing them from a
distance, thinking about the relentless advance of time. I was forty-
three, and I couldn’t decide if I felt my age or not. The stems had
kept me young, but they did not alter your mind or your memories,
and those memories pegged my age for me; I was married with two
growing kids, talking with other parents about school curriculum.
A phone call brought me back to the here and now. A new
website had appeared, this one labelling Jimmy as a time traveller
who had brought back super-drugs from the future. Oh, shit. Sykes,
and Petrosi at the CIA, had tracked it down, only to find that it was
hosted in the Middle East and beyond their influence. I emailed the
brain trust kids and they attacked it, but the web designers had
anticipated that. They swapped urls every thirty minutes, hundreds
set-up in advance. They also bombarded the world with emails about
Jimmy and the new drug, email attachments offering a lot of
information, most of which was true to some degree.
Jimmy’s unofficial biography had been published years earlier,
and he had a hand in its editing. He looked like his brother and
father, and his family and school-day friends had been interviewed.
No one really believed that he was anything other than himself.
Jimmy was not that fussed at this latest hiccup, and said an odd thing
to me. ‘If you’re going to fall off a wall, reduce the height of the
wall first.’ He had said the same thing to Hardon Chase about US
dollar levels a while back, and I puzzled it. Was he thinking of going
public?
I went and found Helen in our house. ‘Some time ago, Jimmy
said to me that it was inevitable that we’d be exposed. And … it
terrifies me.’
‘You’re not the only one,’ Helen admitted. ‘We have one
daughter in school, another to follow. If this got out we’d have no
life.’
‘I’m not sure how the world would react to it,’ I said, heaving a
sigh. ‘They may like the idea, or may want to string us up.’
‘We wouldn’t be able to show our faces in public.’
‘No, it would be … difficult. But I know what Jimmy would say
– stop thinking about yourselves, see the big picture!’
‘He’s not wrong; we’re talking about World War Three. Shelly
would be twenty-six, maybe with kids of her own by then.’
I hugged my wife. ‘Yes,’ I whispered. ‘We’re doing it for them,
and their little webbed feet.’ Problem was, I was still terrified.
Jimmy gave a recorded interview the next day, and made light of
the website claims, again suggesting that he would go back to the
days of disco if he could travel through time. Unfortunately, his
interview had barely finished when a group of eminent doctors and
biologists got together and made their own statement, suggesting
that the AIDS drug was like nothing seen on this planet. I stood in
front of the TV, hands in pockets and wanting to arrange a hit squad.
But Jimmy was ready for them. I just wished he had warned me the
earth was about to shake.
The next day he gave another recorded interview, to explain the
drug. ‘Back during the Cold War, various countries experimented
with biological warfare. The Russians came up with a drug that
made use of the bodies natural defences, but don’t ask me how – I’m
no scientist. That information was leaked to The West, but the drug
was found to be unstable. It had remarkable qualities, but was
difficult to implement. The Chinese then picked up on the
technology, from a Russian source that sold it to them in the 1980s. I
got involved because of my interest in Africa, and the AIDS
epidemic there. When I heard about the Chinese research I offered
funding, on condition that I could buy the end drug at reasonable
rates and use it in Africa.
‘Fifteen years ago the Chinese had a breakthrough, as much by
accident as anything else. That success was leaked to the CIA,
who’ve been experimenting with it all along. Many years ago we
tried the drug in Africa, injecting AIDS patients without their
knowledge; and it cured them, it cured them all. We experimented
with the drugs potency, and finally had a version of the drug that
was cheap enough to mass-produce whilst at its best potency. That’s
the drug that has swept the world; it cures AIDS, even late stage
AIDS, and could act as a vaccine.’
He took a breath, and time stopped. ‘We’ve also found that it
cures TB, Hepatitis, Herpes, Dengi Fever, Malaria and a whole host
of other diseases.’ The interviewer just stared back, dumbstruck.
Jimmy continued, ‘We’ve been experimenting with Cancer patients,
and so far we enjoyed a ninety-five percent success rate curing
cancer with it. I’m certain that, within a decade, this drug will cure
all diseases currently known to man.’
The interviewer just sat there when it was his turn to speak. He,
and the rest of the world, held its breath.
I stood with my hands to my face, staring wide-eyed at the TV,
Helen stunned, Shelly not understanding the problem with Uncle
Jimmy on the TV. ‘What … what has he done?’ Helen and I
exchanged looks for a good thirty seconds, before slumping down,
too stunned to speak.
When I had recovered, eventually recovered, I walked around to
the house, my head still spinning. I found Jimmy in the diner with
Han, Ivan and Michelle. I slipped down. ‘What have you done?’ I
whispered.
‘Deflected attention away from us,’ he calmly began. ‘The
Russians get the credit, and tomorrow they admit to designing it.
China gets some credit, and the money from sales at the moment,
and tomorrow Petrosi at the CIA will admit they knew about it for
fifteen years, getting previous administrations some heat. Everyone
will focus on them, not us.’
I forced a breath. ‘You said you’d cut the US healthcare bill by
twenty percent, not a fucking hundred percent! You trying to put the
world’s doctors out of work?’
‘Some of them, yes,’ he said with a grin. ‘You know, I wasn’t
planning on making that statement for almost six years. I must be
getting adventurous.’
‘The news…’ I began.
‘Will rock the world back and forth for a while, yes.’
I didn’t sleep that night, and neither did Helen; we stayed
downstairs watching the news as it evolved around the different time
zones. The CIA admitted their knowledge of it, and Hardon Chase
made a statement, basically saying that they could not get it to work
effectively. Russia claimed the credit, but China stated that it was
their scientists that did all the hard work to perfect it. And not a
single person on the planet believed that Jimmy had brought it back
from the future. Unfortunately, every sick person on the planet now
wanted some.
Karl dropped off the newspapers when he picked up Shelly for
school, and we scanned them, the first ten pages covering nothing
other than the wonder drug. The PM tipped us off about his
statement, and we watched him live on the news an hour later.
‘Given the extraordinary properties of this drug, we will rush
through the licensing of it, and move quickly ahead with large scale
tests in this country as quickly as is practical.’
I met Han later, and he reported that just about every country in
the world was trying to purchase it from the Chinese. China was
selling the drug at a modest rate but, considering how much money
it saved, it was a bargain. The People’s Republic stood to make
themselves a trillion dollars, but Hardon Chase didn’t care. He was
buying it at $25 a vial, an injection saving him probably a hundred
thousand times that much. His cost saving would be around $200bn
a year to start with, and this was a politicians dream - a cut in the
largest part of public spending. Pie charts would have to be re-
drawn.
Trying to digest what had happened, and the magnitude of it, I
took a walk around the grounds, the day glorious, not a cloud
visible. Stood staring into the brisk river, Rob the dog handler joined
me.
‘OK, Boss?’ he asked.
‘A bit stunned, actually.’ I stroked one of the keen dogs.
‘I just seen it on the news; it’s fucking incredible. You must be
popular.’
I slowly turned my head. ‘Huh? Popular?’
‘Yeah, all those people cured.’ He led the dogs off on their patrol,
and I realised that I had been focused on being exposed. The drug
had already saved tens of thousands, now it would save tens of
millions.
All these years, all the problems, all the hiding of the truth, they
suddenly seemed insignificant. If we did nothing else, then we had
advanced the world and saved a lot of lives. My faced smiled all by
itself. It didn’t matter any more, even if we were all killed tomorrow.
It didn’t matter. I headed back, walking slowly through the grounds,
and they had never looked better. The sky had never been more blue,
the breeze more pleasant. I remembered Jimmy’s speech to the UN
in Hong Kong, all those years ago, his idea of a connection to the
planet, to the earth itself. Well, what we had just done made me feel
like I was now on first name terms with mother earth.
I sat in the office for a while, but I couldn’t think straight. I
grabbed Helen, and then pulled Lucy out of nursery class, and went
for a walk, just the three of us. We strolled around the lake, Lucy
chasing dragonflies, Helen and I hand-in-hand. It had been a while.
Above the lake we lay on mown grass and watched Lucy play with
Rob’s new Alsatian pup, the rest of the world somewhere else at the
moment.
I made a call, and ten minutes later the “M” Group members
joined us via the golf carts, Cookie laying out a cloth and placing
down strawberries and cream. Jimmy joined us five minutes later,
and just lay down, not saying anything. Lucy jumped on him, and
used him as a seat as she ate ice cream, letting the pup lick her
fingers.
An hour later we were still there, just chatting about all sorts –
but not about work. Jimmy stepped away a few times to take calls,
but did not trouble us with the detail. It was as if no one wanted to
spoil the moment. And when the PM’s helicopter landed no one
bothered to get up. Our illustrious Prime Minister and his aides
walked up past the lake and joined us, offered the last few
strawberries.
‘Problem, Mister Prime Minister?’ Jimmy asked him, squinting
against the bright sunlight.
‘A lot of out-of-work doctors, if you call that a problem.’
‘No,’ we all said.
‘The cost saving will be huge,’ he admitted. ‘But we will have to
make people redundant in the years ahead, so we’re planning for it
now, and slowing recruitment and training. A lot of unhappy people,
some mixed feelings.’
‘There’s no pleasing some people,’ I said.
‘Health Service has been inundated with people asking about the
drug. They’ve left their phones off the hook.’
‘Your first batch of a hundred thousand vials will be here
tomorrow,’ Jimmy told him.
‘Tonight, I believe,’ the PM said. ‘And heavily guarded.’
‘How will you prioritise it?’ Helen asked the PM, fiddling with a
daisy.
‘Terminal cases first, youngest patients. Then early onset cancer.’
Jimmy idly mentioned, ‘It doesn’t work if someone has a large
tumour or cancerous lump.’ Easing up, he led the PM away, chatting
as they strolled back towards the house.
That evening, the news was still full of the same story, the
various shipments from China being awaited like a drug addicts next
fix, the aircraft being filmed landing. Doctors in Holland were
filmed explaining their successes with a variety of diseases, South
African doctors being interviewed and relaying their dramatic
successes with AIDS patients. They had also cured people with TB
and Hepatitis. I was waiting for someone to claim it cured male-
pattern baldness and premature ejaculation.
The only dampener on the whole thing came when Chinese
doctors admitted that the drug was filtered through live pigs. That
ruled out the Muslim world, and I wondered it was deliberate. We
stayed up late again, transfixed by the news, but slept soundly that
night. The next day we drifted back to work, deleting emails by the
thousand, binning faxes, and returning a few hundred calls.
Rescue Force Kenya took delivery of twenty thousand vials and
travelled down to Nairobi, distributing it to the hospitals in a well-
advertised move. I didn’t now if we could have been more popular
there, but I guessed we could squeeze a few more percentage points.
The next “M” Group meeting of world leaders was due, in Paris, but
Jimmy had delayed it. He asked them all to deal with the immediate
issues, to make assessments of impact – and the all-important cost
savings.
All that week we were never far from the TV, people previously
diagnosed as terminal giving interviews, the medical world amazed.
They filmed the children’s wards of various cancer hospitals, not
least because they were emptying out. It touched Helen and me, and
we held hands when the story was being relayed. After everything
we had done with Rescue Force, these were direct and tangible
benefits of our work – and on a grand scale.
Three days later, Gwen – the mother of Shelly’s friend, called
and asked if we could come up; someone wanted to meet us. We
jumped into the car with Shelly and Lucy, escorts in tow, and
slipped out a side gate, still a small crowd of reporters and spectators
there, but less than the front gate. We lost the cars following us on a
country road, the police slipping in and halting the traffic, allowing
is to proceed on alone. Above Monmouth, we pulled into Gwen’s
house, a few other cars already there.
Shelly ran forwards and opened the door, disappearing inside as
we held Lucy’s hand and walked in. They greeted us in the hallway,
all smiles, and we followed them into the lounge. A new couple
stood there with their son, as if posing for a family photograph, each
parent with a hand on the boy’s shoulders.
Gwen began, ‘This is my cousin, David, and his wife Jane, and
their lad Dave Junior.’
‘How you doing?’ I asked, shaking their hands. Helen repeated
that gesture, the couple just standing there and looking stunned.
Gwen added, ‘David has something to say.’
‘Thank you for saving me,’ the lad formally announced.
‘Sorry?’ I asked, turning to Gwen.
Gwen explained, ‘David Junior was diagnosed with terminal
cancer six months ago, chemotherapy not an option. Six weeks ago
they took their son to your safari lodge in the Congo, the Rift Valley.
A … final holiday.’
The father cut in, ‘While we were there we heard about the
wonder drug, so we queued up at that hospital for two days, sleeping
rough, and paid for the injection.’ He glanced down at his son.
‘Doctors say he shows no signs of cancer now.’
Helen went all weepy and wobbly, kneeling down and hugging
the lad. I just stood feeling really damned awkward, cursing our host
under my breath.
‘We didn’t invent it,’ I quickly explained. ‘We … just paid for
some of the research, and the trials in Africa.’
‘And without it we’d be without our son,’ the wife laid on me,
making me feel even more uncomfortable.
The hostess made us tea and we sat, and I steered the
conversation towards the safari, asking the lad which animals he
liked. We used the excuse of Lucy’s bedtime to get out of there, and
I was glad to get back into the car.
I blew out. ‘God that was awkward.’
‘Hits you when you meet people like that - what Jimmy’s done.
The scope of it.’
‘Yeah, well we had the world at our door before all this. From
now on it’ll be even more difficult. Should we pull you know who
from school?’ I asked, Shelly puzzling the coded references.
‘Well … no, not unless absolutely necessary.’
At the gate I spotted a group of Japanese tourists. ‘What the fuck
are we, a circus?’
‘Paul, not in front of Shelly.’
The next day we requested our Agusta helicopter and flew over to
Mapley. Greece was suffering wildfires and we would dispatch
Rescue Force.
‘Awake, Bob?’ I asked as we entered.
‘Fucking hell, Paul. We aint getting any work done; whole
fucking world asking about the drug! And may I take this
opportunity to say … fucking fucking hell!’
Jimmy stepped in. ‘Grab the comms officer, when you’ve
finished swearing.’ Bob called the man, who once again attended his
computer screen. Jimmy instructed, ‘I want British, French and
German units to deploy to Greece to help with the wildfires. They
can drive down. Use the Supplementals as well, but no one outside
of Europe.’
The signal was dispatched.
When Doc Graham stepped in, Jimmy said to him, ‘Crusty is
predicting a quake in Peru in August. Make some plans, but let Cuba
take the lead. And no, you can’t go. Run it from here.’
‘Can I go to Greece?’ Doc Graham testily asked.
‘For a few days, sure. How’s the sprog?’
‘Fine,’ Doc Graham responded.
‘Bring the baby to the house,’ Helen suggested. ‘If you can get
through the gate.’
‘We’ll fly in,’ Doc Graham joked. ‘An escort of Rifles.’
We caught up on the gossip, answered questions and agreed
budgets and deployments, Mackey coming over to discuss training
at the base. Two hours later we flew back, and I figured we bought
this helicopter a few years too soon. Now it may be used more often.

Paris

When it came time to attend the next Paris “M” Group meeting we
drove up to Heathrow in the early hours, through tight security at the
rear of the airport, and boarded the waiting Air Force One, the
British PM already aboard for the short hop across to Paris. The “M”
Group representatives at the house had travelled over the day before,
aboard a private jet. Now we sat with Chase and the PM, discussing
the many features of the famous Presidential aircraft as we took off,
Jimmy pointing out a few features of the plane that even the
President was not aware of.
En route, we discussed NATO matters, East European countries,
strategic areas of the world for the years to come, and how western
armies could be shaped most effectively.
‘You’ll never get away from fast jets and aircraft carriers,’ Jimmy
told Chase. ‘The boys on the hill will never allow it. They’ll see
Russia and China as threats for a long time to come. And, to some,
extent, your navy is a great asset. As I said before, you have two
great big oceans between you and the rest of the world. Your armour
could be scaled down in favour of mobile units and infantry, but you
have a few years yet.’
‘What medical cost-savings are you figuring on?’ I asked Chase.
He tipped his head and lifted his eyebrows theatrically. ‘They
keep revising them up - every damn day! Assuming we get as much
of the Chinese serum as we need this year, and produce our own
next year, we’ll knock half a trillion off the medical budget over
three years.’
‘That’s a big number,’ I noted.
‘Start putting money aside for a disaster,’ Jimmy told Chase.
‘You’ve got nine years.’
Chase slowly nodded to himself. ‘Was thinking about a few tax
cuts.’
‘Sure,’ Jimmy agreed. ‘It’ll boost the economy. But also put
some money aside for that disaster, or it’ll cripple your successor.
Hide it in the military budget for … emergencies.’
‘How does the release of the drug affect your interest in health
insurance companies?’ Chase asked.
Jimmy glanced out of the window. ‘I wasn’t planning on
releasing the drug for almost seven years. I changed my mind.’
‘Why now?’ Chase puzzled.
Jimmy took a moment. ‘The drug, and its effects, will cause a
few problems of their own around 2025, but will save a great deal of
money before then. That money saving can be used for many things.
It’s a bit like getting to 2025 well prepared, but with only enough
energy for a short fight.’
‘Is that … wise?’ Chase posed.
‘The year after 2025 is the important one. That’s make or break,
not the following decade.’
‘What adverse effect will the drug have on 2025?’ Chase puzzled.
‘A baby boom, starting the year after next. They’ll all be twenty-
five in 2023, many born to former druggies, and not raised well.
When you help good people, you also help the idiots.’
In Paris, we travelled in the motorcade around to the Presidential
Palace, the new French President stood waiting, the man surprised to
find Shelly the first out. At least she didn’t kick him; school was
having a good effect on her. She even greeted him in French with a
curtsey. After posing for a photograph we met the others inside, the
same room that we had used previously. Han introduced me to a new
face in the Chinese party.
‘Your sister is a goat,’ I told him in Chinese.
Embarrassed for me, he turned to Han, who explained it away at
poor pronunciation. The various delegates chatted away in small
groups, drinks in hand, and Jimmy got around to them all, enquiring
after their families, and the various long flights to get here. He even
managed to get a smile out of Ben Ares. At his designated seat, he
called, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, politicians, and hard working aides.
Please be seated.’
We waited as they settled, notepads made ready, prepared notes
taken out. As usual, I sat at the table with the leaders, right hand to
Jimmy, Helen immediately behind me.
‘The first order of business is obviously the wonder drug, and the
profound effect it is having on the world, on your governments, and
on your health budgets.’ Leaders smiled. ‘To answer a question – I
had intended only to release the drug for use with AIDS in Africa,
not indicating the fuller effects till later, many years later. But,
knowing some of the problems that we will face in the next few
years, I decided to be bold, and to try and get the maximum benefit
of it now.
‘A little while ago, meeting with the nice man from the White
House, he asked me how we could accelerate the process whereby
Africans become consumers earlier – rather than later. He then made
a rather large investment in those areas of Africa where I have some
influence. The release of this drug ahead of time is a parallel move
to that, a way of accelerating the processes I had planned. I have
asked all of you to consider the implications of cost savings from the
use of the drug, with a view to asking you to invest some of the
money saved into projects in Africa, thereby making consumers of
them much sooner. I will not try and bully anyone over the amounts
-’
‘Hah!’ Chase let out, causing a few smiles.
‘- but I will leave it to you. I may suggest a few figures. In
particular, I am interested in railways across Kenya, Somali, and
road projects across the Congo, south towards Zambia, and hydro-
electric projects that you may wish to be involved with there. I
would also appreciate investments in Zimbabwe.
‘OK, coming back to the drug. What is not known to the world
yet is that its generic properties will cure a very wide range of
diseases, far more than are currently realised. There are no side
effects, and its potency is limited - someone bitten by a poisonous
snake would probably still die. You will find that your doctors will
experiment with it, and that none of them will fully understand it,
not for a decade, and that people will start to wish to be inoculated
with it. If they are inoculated they will avoid catching most of the
diseases they could be exposed to, although boosters may be
necessary for some diseases. But, if people know that they cannot
catch a sexually transmitted disease, they will be less inhibited, and
more pregnancies will follow – a lot more.
‘It’s fair to say that those sexually transmitted diseases will
reduce in time, and start to disappear, and the world’s population
will be healthier – more or less. Unfortunately, all diseases are
adaptive, and they mutate, so there is no knowing what’s around the
corner. This drug may cure them, or make them worse. And let us be
clear about one thing: if this drug was available to all poor countries
in quantity, the population explosion would cause great problems. It
may sound harsh, but the availability must be managed. If you don’t
wish to be that harsh then you can, of course, feed the people of the
world and bankrupt yourselves.
‘So I say this: make the drug available for the worst cases, for
emergencies, and not to be used as an inoculation yet. And do not
flood the poorer nations with the drug.’
‘Are we included in that?’ the Indians asked.
‘Yours is a country of contrasts: some very rich, many very poor.
How you deal with your own people is your choice. But I will be
asking the other nations, the richer nations, not to make the drug
cheap for you, because if widely used you’ll have uncontrollable
population growth. The drug has benefits, it also comes with
penalties. If, in Great Britain, everyone had access to it, then people
would live longer – not dying from disease – and the state would
have to pay pensions for longer, a serious burden on a country with
an old population.’
‘But we would save on health costs,’ the British PM noted.
‘For the first few decades, yes. Then you would get used to the
adjustments, and still spend more money than was prudent – just on
other things. All of you would be wise to put the health savings
away into pension funds, because people will live longer, and there
will be more of them.’
People took notes.
‘OK, future events – near future events. Next year there will be a
serious flood in Myanmar. That will be followed by a serious quake
in China. I ask the Chinese to consider allowing in foreign Rescue
Force units to show solidarity - peace and harmony amongst the
nations represented here. We will then have to consider Georgia. I
would appreciate it if the European Union and the United States
would look into the matter before its too late. My advice is to leave
well enough alone. Next, US elections.’ He focused on Chase. ‘Will
you be standing?’
Chase took a moment, taking in the faces. ‘I aim to … yes.’
‘Then you will have my support, as far as that influence goes.’
‘It goes very far,’ the Indians noted.
‘You’ll endorse me publicly?’ Chase asked.
‘Yes, very publicly,’ Jimmy emphasised.
‘Will there be a shopping list?’ Chase asked. Faces creased.
‘Yes. Shelly and her school friends wish to stay at the White
House.’
Everyone laughed.
‘Be wiping the crayon off the walls,’ I cautioned.
The French put in, ‘We’d like to try and find a solution to the
Middle East crisis.’
Oh dear, I thought. It was going well up to that point.
‘There isn’t one,’ Jimmy told them. ‘Because the nice man from
Israel does not want peace, he wants victory. And why shouldn’t he
desire that, he outguns the Palestinians a million to one, and has the
every amenable United States to back him.’
‘There will be no solution in the years ahead?’ the French pushed.
‘None that I am aware of,’ Jimmy responded. ‘There will be
continuous conflict, ebbing and flowing like a tide, then a gradual
turn away from Israel by its friends, followed by economic crisis.
Their future is a long and painful struggle.’
‘It’s very good of you to share that with us,’ Ben Ares quipped,
not looking happy.
‘Is there a solution?’ Chase asked.
‘Of course, just not the will to implement it. And I will not be
getting involved until my good friend across the table needs a boat
to evacuate on.’
‘Is there a more practical solution than that?’ the British PM
asked.
‘My aim is to wait until Israel is on its knees, then to help,
because nothing short of that will get them to talk peace, seriously
talk peace, and not just go through the motions.’
‘You’ll let us suffer like that?’ Ben asked.
‘I’m just one person, what can I do?’ Jimmy held his hands wide.
‘You have America behind you, you’re in control of your own
destiny, what more do you want? You can’t possibly want guidance
from little old me.’
‘You’ll not get involved?’ Chase puzzled.
Jimmy faced him. ‘There are two times to help someone: when
they ask for it, or when they are so badly hurt you feel obliged to
help. I’m waiting for the later, because only then will they finally
listen. And if, before then, they wish to save themselves, they
already know what to do.’
‘I’m right here,’ Ben quipped.
Jimmy ignored him. ‘OK, do Russia and China have anything to
report on Iran?’
Thirty minutes later we broke for coffee and cake. I brought
Shelly in and she worked her magic on the room, practising
greetings in many languages, several of them perfect due to a lot of
practise at the house. She was even civilised to Michelle and Keely.
When we reconvened, Jimmy started on electric cars, and
thumped the table a few times, raising his voice. ‘Oil – limited –
going to run out!’
We moved onto an experimental nuclear reactor in China, but one
that would have co-operation from all here, a sister reactor planned
in Somalia inside of two years. All would benefit from the next
generation of cleaner nuclear power stations, technological hints to
be provided by Jimmy. That would lead to desalination plants, of
keen interest to Ben Ares. When he asked if the use of desalination
plants for Jordan constituted helping Israel, Jimmy replied, ‘I’ll help
you when you’re desperate, not after you’ve died from thirst. There
would be no point then.’
Russia, China and France were putting pressure on Iran to limit
its nuclear ambitions, China threatening to half its Iranian oil
purchases. They were having some success, not least because Britain
and America were not involved. Breaking for the day, we headed off
to various hotels or embassies, meeting up later for a state dinner at
the palace. The aides would now work their magic, as well as
remove paragraphs, words and commas from communiqués.
The next morning we got into beating up British and American
banks, talk of limiting size, and greater scrutiny of risks taken. At
the end of the day, Chase had no choice if he wanted Chinese money
for bond sales. That evening session was one of the most upbeat we
had ever held, many jokes made, all leaders looking forward to
massive healthcare savings. And we secured the promise of
substantial investments in Africa. A private jet returned us to Cardiff
airport the next morning, Air Force One on its way back to
Washington.
Jimmy gave me the task of prioritising the investments in Africa,
so I figured the best place to think about it was in Kenya, and with a
cold beer in my hand. We checked if the parents of Shelly’s friends
were available, packed a bag and set off a week later. In addition to
Cat, we dragged along the nursery teacher that taught Lucy, and her
own daughter, so that Lucy would have a friend of her own age.
The other parents found the escort to the airport a bit odd, the
room just for us at the airport strange, and the reaction of other First
Class passengers a little bewildering. Touching down at Nairobi, we
were led off first, just the usual two hundred soldiers to greet us,
little more than sixty police officers forming a funnel as we boarded
the coach. The other parents were wondering what the hell they had
let themselves in for. Our coach followed a police escort, and four
hours later we arrived at the golf complex in the dark, no reporters
or crowds apparent.
Booked in, we met in the rooftop bar for a few beers and a snack
before bed. In the morning we all gathered to have breakfast in the
main restaurant, suffering the stares of the other guests, a few
photographs snapped. With swimming costumes and beach bags
collected, we led the group down to the beach hotel, our Pathfinder
bodyguards hovering at a discreet distance. The girls ran screaming
across the sand and into the water, Cat keeping an eye on them, as
we grabbed sun beds in the shade, soon sat with a cold beer in a
warm breeze.
Watching the girls in the surf, I felt very contented, and very
relaxed. The release of the drug had been a shock, followed by a
growing pride, some relief, and ultimately great wonderment at what
we were doing. What Jimmy was doing; I was still Robin to his
Batman.
The other parents got over the shock of the airport and soon
relaxed, seats moved around so that the ladies could gossip and the
men could sup cool beers and talk ‘man-talk.’ The men had all been
scuba diving before, so after lunch I took them out, finding the damn
turtle still there, although appearing a little old and slow these days.
Returning toward the beach, an elephant swam over the top of us, an
usual sighting for any diver. At the dive centre, Steffan and Lotti
now off enjoying Cuba, we poked the wall chart of local fishes and
asked about the elephant fish, taking the piss at length.
Returning to the families, I noticed Shelly on the back of the
older elephant, the animal now in the shallows. She stood up and
confidently dived off it, surfacing some thirty yards out. She was
growing too quickly, and I wanting to stop the clock. Later, the
scuba instructors found her a small wetsuit and jacket and took her
diving, the other parents not so keen for their girls to try it. I found a
snorkel and mask for Lucy and took her out, finding that, like her
sister, she had no fear of the water.
At 4pm the beach was hot, the air still - no breeze off the ocean,
and most people on the beach were asleep. Even I felt drowsy.
Shelly and the girls were under the trees and chatting about stuff that
six year olds chatted about. It was just about perfect, and I sat there
taking it in, wondering what might go wrong, then chiding myself
for being so negative.
That evening we listened to one of our singers, and then strolled
slowly as a group around to the next hotel and up to its rooftop bar,
the girls peering out at the twinkling lights in the distance. Two RF
staff introduced themselves and I vaguely remembered them, from
the Mozambique deployment. God, how long ago was that, I
wondered.
After some debate, the other men nagged for a visit to Mawlini
rather than just sitting on the beach the next day, so I made a call
and arranged the Dash for the next morning. After a quick early
breakfast we all drove the short distance to Mombassa field, Tubby
stood waiting.
‘Carry your bags, sir? It’s only a dollar.’
‘Got a flight suit that fits you yet?’ I asked as we boarded. I took
right seat, taxied us around and lifted off, not too shaky considering
it had been a while. I caught up on the gossip for twenty minutes,
then moved back to the passenger cabin, swapping with Sue. When
Shelly walked forwards to the cockpit I was curious; she seemed to
be pointing out bits of instrumentation to Sue. I exchanged a look
with Helen. Sue moved her seat right back and put Shelly on the
armrest, our daughter fascinated by the numerous cockpit dials.
For the most part, the ladies slept en route, and the men glanced
down at parched Kenyan countryside. Arriving at Mawlini, Tubby
did his tour guide bit and detailed the various compounds for our
party. He flew us over the oilfields, now some twenty derricks
spread out, and turned to the border, illustrating what was left of the
refugee camp. On the way back he pointed out the various live-firing
ranges, a few Hueys passing underneath us.
On the apron, a line of jeeps awaited, Mac greeting us. ‘Had the
ten dollar tour already then.’
‘You weren’t kept waiting, were you?’ I asked, feigning concern.
‘Aye, I was, your majesty.’ We mounted up, our Pathfinder
bodyguards joining their colleagues in jeeps at the rear. ‘You’re in a
house down the road, there’s a big one empty.’
‘How many bedrooms?’ I puzzled.
‘Eight, I think.’
Mac drove us out the gate, turned south and soon entered the
estate where he lived, turning right this time and to a large house
with neatly mown lawns, sprinklers working and creating mini-
rainbows. The girls ran straight for the sprinklers, shrieking and
running away when wet. Four locals walked out and helped with our
luggage, our party soon in the cool white marbled interior of the
house, the patio doors opened. Shelly stripped to her pants and
plunged into the inviting blue pool, the other girls soon following,
Cat keeping a watchful eye over her charges.
On the patio we sat in the shade, cold drinks bought out, and
caught up on the gossip with Mac, the others fascinated by Rescue
Force work. Cassie was still here, she and Anton at odds about
where to live – still. Dunnow was visiting with a group of Huey
pilots, Ratchet and Spanner involved in the airborne exercises. I was
jealous. The men folk wanted to play with the boys-toys at the base,
the ladies happy enough to sit here all afternoon, so we left them and
drove back. On the apron I found Dunnow, hugs given, insults
exchanged. He was about to take off, a quick sortie to a firing range,
so we caught a lift. The doors were clipped open, safety harnesses
employed, and my guests perched with their feet dangling as we
lifted off, soon skimming low over the sand, a roar and a breeze. I
was now very jealous. At the range we blew up a sand storm as we
touched down, spare ammo unloaded by the Rifles as I led my
guests forwards.
I spotted Skids and closed in. ‘What boys-toys you got?’
He glanced at my guests, and led us to a range, beckoning
soldiers over. He handed Gwen’s husband a grenade, waving down
the soldiers. ‘Pull the pin, throw hard towards that target, then duck.’
Gwen’s husband pulled the pin and threw. When the rest of us hit
the dirt he figured he should as well. The blast washed over us, loud
without ear defenders. Standing, and dusting down, we could see a
few jagged cuts in the target.
‘Not bad,’ Skids commended. ‘Thing about a grenade – you don’t
need to be too precise. Grenades are not selfish creatures, they’re
happy to give everyone a piece.’ He made ready an AK47 and
handed it over to the same man, correcting the adopted stance.
‘Finger on trigger, gentle squeeze.’
A burst of rounds flew out, the muzzle climbing.
‘OK, now do that again, but hold it tighter – expect the rise.’
A second burst of rounds flew down the range, less movement of
the muzzle this time.
Skids put the weapon onto single shot. ‘Single shot: squeeze -
release, squeeze - release.’
Gwen’s husband put ten rounds into the target, the next man
firing another ten. We all accepted weapons, moving onto fresh
targets, and lay down, firing carefully aimed shots. Making safe the
weapons and walking forwards, we inspected our handiwork. Skids
then showed us to a brick wall, a target placed behind it. Standing
back, he fired at the wall. On close inspection we could see no holes,
but the target was shredded.
Skids explained, ‘If you duck behind something solid, and get
shot at, the force of the round goes through and chips off bits of
concrete or brick, and that hurts a tad if it hits you.’
We moved on to a breezeblock wall, another target placed behind
it. This time the rounds went straight through.
Skids said, ‘Never duck behind a breezeblock wall. Even if there
were two of them, you’d still be hit. And most houses in the UK are
fucking breezeblock.’
We stepped up to a jeep and accepted cold drinks, Skids relaying
war stories from his days in the SAS, the men keenly attentive. They
had read the book about Scorpion Base, and were fascinated when
Skids drew a map in the sand and explained his part in the battle. I
explained my role, on the control tower with the snipers, before
Skids drove us back, a cold beer enjoyed in the NCO’s bar in the
Rifles compound. Many familiar faces came across and said hello,
and we reminisced about battles, dust and heat, and some dodgy
flying.
As the sun hit the far horizon, creating my favourite time of day –
complete with amber glow – we drove back and found the ladies
making dinner. I explained that we’d make a formal tour of the base
the next day, to inspire the troops. Over dinner, I brought up the
subject of the new money to spend in Africa, my assigned task.
Gwen’s husband said, ‘Schools. If the people are better educated,
they don’t need us, do they.’
It set me thinking, and the thought would not leave me. After the
meal, with the girls playing a board game in the lounge, I sat on the
patio with a cold beer and stared into the night sky and up at the
stars.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ Helen said.
‘Hmm? Oh, just thinking about the new budget for Africa.
Schools are a good idea but, well – it’s a big old area, Africa.’
‘Then we should create teacher training colleges, and they go off
to teach in the towns and villages when qualified.’
I nodded absently. ‘Doing that already at Ebede, and the Congo.’
I grabbed my phone and called Anna. ‘Anna, how many kids opt for
teacher training?’
‘Many wish to do it, but difficult to find jobs afterwards.’
‘And if we paid them, but they taught around Africa...?’ I asked.
‘We could produce five hundred teachers a year. Many former
pupils come back, asking about jobs.’
‘Hire them, all of them, I have a new budget. Anna, I want as
many teachers as you can produce, at Ebede and the other
orphanages. We’ll sponsor them, they can go and teach in the towns
and villages.’
‘I’ll call back those that are seeking work. Where should I send
them?’
‘Anywhere that they’re needed. Start with Kenya, the Congo,
Tanzania, and work outwards. Hire a co-ordinator, please.’
‘And the budget?’ she asked.
‘I have a spare billion or two, don’t worry about the cost. Bye.’ I
hung up and faced Helen. ‘Teach the teachers, send them out to
produce more teachers.’ I called Jimmy and told him, and he agreed
it was a good idea. He then hinted at water.
‘Water?’ Helen queried.
‘Water … clean water for people to drink?’ I considered.
Gwen’s husband put in, ‘We make stand pipes.’
I stared at the side of his head, then glanced at Helen, a secret
look exchanged. ‘What … er … what kind of standpipes?’
‘We used to make them for the building trade, plus pipes. We
now produce plastic pipes, but we helped a local charity a year or
two back, made standpipes for them to send to villages in India;
pumps, simple hole boring equipment. You know, two people stand
next to it and walk in a circle, and it digs down to get at the water. It
takes a day or two, but there’s no fuel or electricity needed - the
villagers do it themselves.’
‘You fancy a trip to the Congo?’ I asked.
‘OK,’ he said with a shrug.
The next day we found the Rifles lined up, and patrolled the
ranks like Prince Charles – but without the annoyingly slow voice,
questions asked of the men. They marched up and down for us, and
Helen and I presented medals, stripes for those being promoted. In
the RF compound we observed new recruits performing drills, and
issued awards for good years of service and exams passed. We led
our guests to lunch in the famous rooftop bar, the gang offered an
hour or two in the pool below whilst we caught up on RF work with
Mac and Coup. At 3pm we boarded a scheduled 737 full of RF and
UN staff, and landed at Goma hub just over an hour later, the sun
setting.
The airport concourse bustled, Africans still flying in for
treatment at the hospital, and the hotels were packed. So we stayed
at Yuri and Marko’s penthouse apartments, our lofty perch affording
us a view of the airport lights in the distance, and the brightly lit
boulevard below. For the first time here I noticed a lot of yellow
taxis darting about, no idea where they came from, perhaps Goma
town. The next day I arranged for a coach and escort for the gang,
for a visit to the lake, whist I took Gwen’s husband to the local
plastics factory – without explaining why.
After a quick inspection of the facilities and machinery, I asked,
‘Could you make your standpipes and water drills here?’
‘Sure, all the right equipment.’
‘If I gave you a factory like this, only bigger, could you run it for
me?’ I posed.
‘Well, I have the business in the UK keeping me busy,’ he
delicately mentioned.
‘This would make you more money, a lot more. Basically, the
raw materials are a tenth of the cost in the UK, labour costs very
low, and I’d be giving you a very large order.’
He thrust his hands in his pockets and made a face, pursing his
lips as he blew out. ‘It would be done through my UK business?’ he
finally asked.
‘They’d be the parent company, you’d send down a few staff with
the right knowledge.’
‘How many units would we make?’
‘How many villagers are there in Africa?’ I countered.
‘A lot, I’d guess,’ he said with theatrical emphasis. ‘So, you’d
buy the pumps, wells, and filtration kit … and give it to the
villages?’ I nodded. ‘Be a worthwhile venture as well,’ he admitted.
‘OK, I’m in.’
We shook. ‘You start as soon as you get back. I want as many as
you can produce.’
At the lake we found the rest of the gang, photographs being
taken of Pelicans, and nudged them aboard the coach, soon on the
way north and to the nearest lodge. We stepped down from the
coach to a commanding view of the troublesome volcano, a wide
valley of savannah stretching out before us, a variety of grazing
animals conveniently on display for the paying guests. The manager
rushed out in a flap, not expecting us, and I put him at ease; we were
only here for lunch.
The lodge rangers brought out a Cheetah cub, and the girls knelt
down in a circle to stroke it. When the cub’s mum came out on a
lead they shrieked, hiding behind their parent’s legs. The mother
Cheetah flopped down, panting in the heat, and allowed the nervous
girls to stroke it, many snaps taken of mother and cub. It turned out
that the cub did not belong to the Cheetah, but she tolerated it
anyway. The rangers offered bottled milk and the girls fed the cub in
turns.
This particular lodge was close to civilisation - to Goma and the
nearby villages, but it offered one of the best views of the Rift
Valley and the distant volcano. With the staff moving tables around
for us, we sat on the bar’s veranda for lunch, enjoying the view.
I pointed at the valley. ‘Tectonic plates divide right there.’
‘This an earthquake zone?’ they asked.
‘No, these plates don’t cause earthquakes. Most do, these don’t,
because we paid them off.’
‘But that volcano did blow?’
‘Yes, it blows quite regular – in geological terms,’ I explained.
I ordered the Dash for the morning, and we deliberately flew over
the volcano, no ash clouds for Tubby to fly though this time, along
the north end of the lake and across Rwanda to the southern tip of
Lake Victoria, landing at the grass strip at River View many hours
later as we continued on our magical mystery tour.
At the larger of the two lodges they now housed a variety of cubs
and, after booking-in, the girls were kept busy with furry balls of fun
to stroke and feed. The others in the group had already heard about
this particular lodge, and now appreciated the views from the
rooftop bar, binoculars provided. When I spotted a large pair of ears
I suggested to the women that they try the east view, soon a scream
let out as a giraffe’s head came over the wall, a huge pink tongue
displayed. With a larger lion cub being brought out, I dropped to the
floor and held it, soon getting cuts on my arms as the damn thing
tried to eat me alive. I had missed this, and made a mental note to
have more “me” time.
The weather held, and we enjoyed five days of safaris, the girls
enjoying the abandoned offspring of many local species, including
orphaned elephants. They rode on tame ostriches, on elephants and
zebra. All in all it was a great holiday for the girls, and I found
myself thinking - that I was thinking like a parent: we were here for
the kids, not for us. Still, I got to play with the cubs as well.
Back in the UK I went and found Jimmy upon our return, and
detailed my ideas and plans.
‘Good ideas, but not what I had in mind.’
‘No?’
‘No. If you feed a hungry man, he’ll be hungry tomorrow. Give
him a fishing rod and he’ll catch his own food. Give him a hoe and
he’ll grow his own crops.’
‘You wanna get to the bloody point,’ I urged.
‘Africa cannot produce goods to sell abroad, the quality is not
there, so they sell resources – like ore from the mines. That makes
them money, and creates jobs. And that’s what Africa needs;
genuine jobs, not handouts. If you start with the big cities, and help
them to create genuine jobs, then those jobs will filter down to the
towns, eventually the villages. Give the villages clean water … and
they’ll be poor villagers with clean water. So what? Now, what does
a factory in this country have … that they don’t have in Africa?’
‘Good roads, rail links.’
‘Transport infrastructure, yes. What else?’
‘Ready markets.’
‘Well, Africa is a big place, lots of people, a growing economy.
So the markets are there, you just need to identify them. What else
do their western counterparts have?’
I gave it some thought. ‘Skills?’
‘Yes, training and education – as you intend to tackle. What
else?’
‘Finance?’
‘Correct, you win a cookie. A struggling factory in Nairobi can’t
get the skilled workers, or the finance, or use the transport
infrastructure as well as they’d like.’
‘So we tackle all of them,’ I suggested.
‘That’s a big job. So, what do we have plenty of?’
‘Money...?’ I said after a moment.
‘So create a bank, and put branches in each country, then offer
venture capital to existing small businesses so that they can do more
of what they do already.’
‘Our own bank,’ I stated, considering it.
‘Create a partnership with an existing Kenyan bank, offer them
forty percent of the shares. Or just buy them out. Then put a branch
in each town, and offer business capital. And, for certain areas, offer
mortgages.’
‘In Gotham City,’ I realised.
‘Yes, for mine workers and managers.’
‘What about the water pipes?’ I nudged.
‘Still a good idea, spend some money, just don’t go crazy.’
‘And the teachers?’ I asked.
‘Can never have enough of them. But again, get them teaching
adult literacy in towns and cities first; poor villages contribute
nothing to the economy. Start with the cities and work outwards.’
I was deflated as I walked the short distance around to my house.
‘Grumpy Guts shot down my master plan’, I told Helen.
‘Oh, it seemed to fit.’
‘We’re going to open our own bank in Africa and offer business
capital.’
‘Ah, well that would have a greater effect on their economy,’
Helen agreed.
I joined Shelly as she downloaded images from her digital camera
to the house computer. One caught my attention, and I took charge
of the mouse. I zoomed in on people in the background of a shot of a
cheetah cub, at the lodge in the Rift Valley. A face seemed out of
place, and familiar. The man had been frozen in time, an unfriendly
stare towards the back of my head. I printed it off and found Jimmy,
showing him the image.
‘Where was this taken?’ Jimmy puzzled.
‘That lodge overlooking the volcano. Seven days ago now.’
‘It looks just like the Belgian who set that car bomb at Skid’s
place. But he’s dead. Oliver Hest, his name was.’ Jimmy called
Sykes, who ran the name. Oliver Hest had a twin brother, Maurice,
also former French Foreign Legion. Jimmy asked me, ‘Your trip to
Goma – it was unplanned?’
‘Spur of the moment.’
‘And this was taken when?’
‘Day after we arrived.’
‘Not enough time for him to get into place,’ Jimmy puzzled. ‘So
what was he up to? No bombs have gone off, no shootings?’
We faxed his image and details to the airport and Forward Base,
putting him on our most wanted. We rang the lodge in question, but
no one of that name had stayed as a guest. One Belgian man had
stayed for five days, no record of him at the airport or with the
border police. We called Sykes and put an alert out for him around
the UK.
The next day we got a call, from the security staff at the hospital.
Hest had been a patient. Jimmy and I exchanged puzzled looks, then
checked his treatment regimen; he had booked in with advanced
syphilis and herpes, and was wheelchair bound. And we had cured
him; he walked himself out.
I sent the digital image to all of our contacts in Africa, and Jimmy
put Skids on the case. The days ticked off the calendar … and
nothing, no one spotted him. Sykes mentioned that our friend was
wanted for minor offences in Belgium, so he exaggerated them and
added him to Interpol’s list, plus every UK watch list.
Another week went by and nothing happened in Africa; no
explosions, no incidents. Our friend had disappeared, which worried
me. A wanted poster was emailed to every lodge and hotel that we
had contact with, just to be sure.

Setbacks

Things were going well, the world still talking about nothing other
than the wonder drug, all sorts of uses being found for it, the rich
taking it for supposed cosmetic reasons, and to act as a vaccine.
Wrinkly old woman were taking the drug and claiming great
benefits. In reality, everyone had a few bugs hanging around all the
time, and the drug removed them, making people feel a little better,
affording them a little more energy in the mornings. It also had the
placebo effect, in that people felt better from a psychological
standpoint, Jimmy amused by some of the claims.
The drugs companies, however, were not so amused, a sixty
percent drop in their stock values, people made redundant, research
projects cancelled. After all, why look for a cure for cancer when
one already existed. I asked Jimmy if the drug companies would
come for us, but he said no, since the Russians and Chinese admitted
responsibility for it. We were just seen as wanting it for Africa,
which was typically philanthropic of us. Jimmy had bet the
downside of the drug stocks and the markets, without telling me, and
made a killing, a few people at McKinleys enjoying a new villa or
two in the South of France.
One man in Holland had injected his sick dog and was claiming
that it cured the animal, leaving Jimmy wondering if it could, but
doubting it. It would, however, cure any ailment that a pig suffered,
and was being tested on sick Gorillas in various zoos. I was amused
to see that it did not yet cure male pattern baldness.
Then the first athlete admitted to its use, and got himself banned.
That ban was over-turned by the courts, since the drug was not
known as performance enhancing. Jimmy had a word with the “M”
Group, and any athlete testing positive for it would be banned for
life, a way of preventing people with the blood from scooping all the
medals. That was another shock that the world was yet to endure,
and for the moment any talk of the blood was hidden behind the
drug, or variants of it. We were safe from exposure for the moment.
Then one of our planes fell from the sky, a 757, no survivors. The
manifest listed over two hundred people on board, a flight from Dar
es Salaam to Goma hub. Another aircraft, close to the doomed
airliner, reported that it was fine one minute, and in two pieces the
next. A bomb. The “M” Group met at the house and an investigation
was initiated, Sykes sending down forensic teams, plus men to the
airport. We moved a hundred Pathfinders in plain clothes to Dar es
Salaam, and I had my eye on Zanzibar.
The next day a series of bombs went off, both on the island and in
the city of Dar es Salaam, western interests or oil concerns targeted.
A claim of responsibility about the aircraft bomb was also made
from Zanzibar, a group with links to al-Qa’eda. That just about
sealed it, and we tightened security at all airports. The air crash
investigators found evidence of a bomb straight away, the device
placed in the forward cargo hold.
At the house, I read the passenger manifest, finding that the flight
had held many sick people heading towards Goma hospital, ten oil
workers, and eight American advisors to CAR; geologists. Without
consulting with us first, Chase dispatched FBI investigators to see
who had killed the US citizens. Before their plane had even landed,
two bombs went off at two separate mosques on Zanzibar during
Friday prayers, the dead and injured in the hundreds.
Jimmy was despondent, worried about the American reaction to
the terror attacks, and the damage it could do to the oil industry in
that region. We did not need Zanzibar to become a war zone. He
also suspected that the Tanzanians were behind the mosque
bombings; they were not about to let anything come between them
and their growing oil revenue.
We dispatched sniffer dogs to Dar Es Salaam airport, and bought
extra luggage scanners for passengers booked onto our flights.
Spending money with a purpose, we ordered up extra scanners for
Nairobi and Goma hub, additional western security staff sent down
to operate them. We also insisted that all transit passengers have
their luggage re-examined at Goma hub, and carefully, the sniffer
dogs gainfully employed.
Few westerners related the air disaster with African safari
holidays, because where the hell was Dar es Salaam, the Middle
East? Kenyan tourism was unaffected, Congo tourism still a little
down due to the sick flying in. Overall, we did not suffer any bad
publicity from the incident. The Tanzanians took to screening
anyone and everyone using the ferries and planes to Zanzibar,
internal flights now subject to the same scrutiny as international
flights. That led to the next incident. A man on a ferry panicked
when he saw the guards searching, so pressed the button. He took
down the ferry, and two hundred people, western oil workers now
growing fearful of Zanzibar.
The Tanzanians put Rifles at the docksides and searched
passengers before they got near anywhere sensitive. They also
instigated random road searches, and found something that I wish
they hadn’t. They had stopped a family in a car; mum, dad and kids.
In the boot they found explosives, instructions, and documents.
Sykes team flew straight over and pinned the explosives handiwork
on al-Qa’eda, Afghanistan, but the encouragement and funding on
Saudi Arabia. When the man’s home was searched they found more
links to Saudi Arabia, and the man’s relatives offered up similar
leads when they were raided. The Rifles “interrogated” the people,
getting the names and details of contacts in Dubai, linked to the
Saudis.
The editor of the African Times called, worried about running the
story. Jimmy told him to go ahead, but to be accurate and impartial.
‘Which part of impartial did the editor not understand?’ I asked
when I read the story.
Everyone in Africa now blamed the Saudis for trying to disrupt
the Tanzanian oil supply, to their own benefit. They also blamed the
Saudis for bringing down the plane, various Saudi missions in
Somali, Kenya and Tanzania being stoned, its staff evacuated. And
Abdi, he had slapped the Saudi Ambassador about the face and
booted his arse onto a plane, the story causing Jimmy to put his head
in his hands. He had expected trouble on Zanzibar, we had discussed
it and planned for it, but this he considered excessive compared to
what should have happened. But our problems were nothing
compared to those of Hardon Chase, who was now pressuring the
CIA to make the evidence go away. The last thing he wanted was
the Saudis blamed for the deaths of US citizens. Jimmy made a few
cryptic comments about something called 9-11, but I did not
understand the reference.
The Saudis denied involvement, and the British and American
Governments played down their link. The Chinese, however, just
about threatened a war with Saudi Arabia if such attacks continued.
They sent extra coastal gunboats to the oilfields, plus four
destroyers, and began to look at re-supplying their rigs from Sri
Lanka or Kenya.
When Jimmy took his head out of his hands, he said the time was
right. He called a meeting of African leaders in Goma, but only
invited certain countries, mostly the sub-Saharan countries. “M”
Group security ministers were invited, and we flew down with Sykes
and the British Home Secretary, the security tight.
The hotels had been cleared of health tourists, and apartments
were made available for leaders, plus a few lodges within a
reasonable commuting time. The large conference centre had been
used twice already for meetings of the African Union, its central
location very popular. It had also been used for various other
meetings, including the African Football League, and various
meetings on co-operation and trade, an international trade fair run
every three months. Now Jimmy had an idea.
The first morning of the meeting, Jimmy kicked things off,
managing to speak after a ten minute standing ovation. And that was
for just turning up. He invited leaders to say their piece on security
matters in the region first, the politicians setting the mood. It was
4pm before they were all done on their opening speeches, not much
in the way of practical steps to defeat the terrorists.
When Jimmy got back up, and the applause had subsided, he
suggested the expansion of a counter-terrorism unit we already made
use of, suggesting that it be called Pan African Counter Terrorism,
and that all the nations here commit a few men to it. Jimmy would
fund it, of course, and we’d bring in experts from Europe and
America. He asked for a vote from the leaders, a unanimous verdict
given. The new unit would be based here, at Forward Base, with
offices in many countries. Its officers would be granted the right of
travel about Africa, and the power of arrest, and would be made up
mostly of former and current members of the Rifles. He handed out
a discussion document, and closed the session for the day.
Afterwards, as we mingled, Sykes asked, ‘How big a unit?’
‘As big as MI6, and with teeth,’ Jimmy responded. ‘Get me
twenty former officers that are not yet ready for a pipe and slippers.
Then ask the PM for ten current officers.’
‘This will grow?’ Sykes nudged.
‘Yes, and be used for counter-Islamic threats ahead of … you
know what.’
The delegates and leaders hung around for a while, chatting in
small groups, drinks served. I greeted Abdi, and asked him if he was
practising his diplomatic skills.
‘I wonder if I am suited for this work,’ he said with a sigh. ‘I
thank people with a false smile - that I wish to shoot between the
eyes.’
‘How’s you’re northern border?’ I probed.
‘They come across, we torture and kill them. It is the game we
play. But now they are from Yemen, not so much from the camps in
Afghanistan.’
‘Is that US Naval base finished?’
‘Yes, and a runway nearby. It is good to see the large ships there,
but they do not discourage al-Qa’eda. They tell us when the small
boats come, and we play our game.’ He wagged a finger. ‘Some day
I will land on the beaches of Yemen and see if they like it.’
‘Please, let us know first,’ I encouraged. ‘Besides, the Yemen
Government is fighting these terrorists. You can’t blame them all.’
‘You have a wisdom that I lack, or maybe my anger defeats my
wisdom,’ Abdi wondered out loud before walking off.
The diminutive Zimbabwean President squeezed through to greet
me, Solomon at his elbow and beaming as ever. We caught up on
tourism, and quickly moved onto the wonder drug, Zimbabwe
receiving its first batches not long ago and seeing dramatic results.
‘Mister Silo said he would change Africa, and I labelled it as a
dream. I think, maybe, I will eat my words. He is more African than
we are.’
‘How are the soldiers?’ I asked.
‘They put their regular colleagues to shame, the occasional fight
– which they invariably win, quickly and easily.’
I greeted a few other leaders, all happy to co-operate with PACT,
and we got into tourism and the wonder drug. Seemed like half these
old boys had already taken it, and their wives, some twice. Back at
the hotel we held a mini “M” Group meeting in a bedroom, people
sat on beds, some standing against walls.
Jimmy explained, ‘The Rifles are a great force here in Africa, and
could be used to push north, but they also need to know who their
targets are ahead of time. PACT will be their eyes and ears, both for
counter-terrorism and battlefield intelligence. All we need to do is to
get them up to speed. Here, in Africa, a few dollars goes a long way,
so there are a great many potential spies sitting at every street-corner
café, behind the wheel of every taxi, in every bar, and in the
mosques. I want each of your countries to send a liaison, and we’ll
build up PACT quickly. The legwork will be done by the Rifles,
because white folk will stand out in back-street bars. And tomorrow,
we’ll see if we can’t upset the North Africans.’
Jimmy and I split up after the evening meal, and we worked our
way around the delegates, gently suggesting that a new body may be
created, a Central Africa Co-operation Group. Oh, and no Muslim
nations would be allowed in.
The next morning, Jimmy again opened the conference, detailing
what he thought PACT would need, and which areas it would tackle.
He then publicly suggested that a new body be formed, since the
African Union was not achieving much for sub-Saharan states. He
suggested that he would speak to each leader and poll their opinions,
offering this conference venue and free flights and hotel stays for
leaders who joined that new body. I was sure that they’d all sign up
there and then.
An officer of Sykes’ mob took to the podium and worked the
slide machine, reporting what they knew about the bombs in
Tanzania, little mention of the bombs in the mosques, which we felt
were down to the Tanzanian Rifles, officially or otherwise. The
Saudi link was detailed, and the propaganda flowed. Problem was,
we didn’t make it up - the Saudis were linked, officially or
otherwise.
Security Ministers gave speeches, some discussion of co-
operation between the Rifles units, and we halted at 3pm, drinks
served. Delegates either stood about chatting in small groups, or sat
in discrete groups and whispered conspiratorially. That went on till
5pm, when the various groups headed towards waiting planes, and
matters of state back home. Bag searches were intense, more sniffer
dogs on duty than there were people queuing up. The planes got
away without incident.
That evening, the “M” Group representatives drove to Forward
Base, the new building ready for PACT. In fact, it had been ready
for many months. It offered satellite uplinks, the latest computers, a
forensics lab, many offices, and a command centre with real-time
streaming TV news from around the region and the wider world.
Two-dozen people already worked in the unit, and ex-SAS and
Rifles “hit squads” were on call.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Jimmy called in the command centre.
‘Let me say one thing. In the decade ahead, careers will be made in
PACT – more so than elsewhere. It will have a large budget, a very
large budget, its operatives enjoying the best of everything. Kindly
relay that to your colleagues when looking for people that may be
suitable to work down here. Bill?’
A man stepped forwards, a colleague of Sykes; stocky, five ten,
late forties.
‘This is Bill Chambers, the first acting head of PACT. I’ve
selected him … because I know how he turns out. PACT will report
to me, I’ll report to the “M” Group, so let’s not get jealous of who
runs this show. National section leaders, and departmental managers
here, will be recruited as soon as we can find them. Now, in addition
to problems like Zanzibar, and al-Qa’eda in Somalia, the group will
also tackle any and all small guerrilla groups in Africa, rooting them
out and using the Rifles to shoot them full of holes. It will be a large
task … for anyone to undertake.’
We toured the building in small groups, finding that the CIA had
already taken up station, plus Mossad and MI6. The Pathfinders had
an office - a Captain now in residence, as did the Congo Rifles and
our border police. The Somalis had a sizeable team here, satellite
equipment from us linking them back to Mogadishu. From what I
could see, the facility was just about ready to go. Leaving the
building, Jimmy explained that the walls were a metre thick,
concrete, and that the windows were bullet proof; a small bomb
would have no effect. Even the office doors were blast proof.
Whether the children would get along and play nicely together was
another matter.
Back at the hotel, I held a meeting with Kenyan Government and
Bank of Kenya, my desire being to create a new bank, this new
entity imaginatively called The Central African Bank. They liked
very much the idea of venture capital for Kenyan companies, and the
Government gave the bank chiefs a firm nudge to co-operate. The
papers had been drawn up ready and I signed for CAR Ltd, the
ultimate owner of the new bank. I offered not to try and take
domestic business away from Bank of Kenya, and explained that it
was all about providing business capital. Still, the men from the
bank seemed a little reticent, no doubt worried about their own jobs.
They went off to create the bank, its headquarters in Nairobi – at
least its registration there, its de-facto headquarters here. I had even
started the recruitment process.
After the meeting, I met with staff from CAR and some of our
facilitators in the corporation here, and signed off the building of
bank branches in twenty five small towns in the area, positioned to
be near the mines so that payroll and wages could be handled for
them. Armoured cars had been ordered, plus specially modified S61
helicopters that would carry cash around the region. A central cash
repository was to be built at the airport, used as a clearinghouse for
foreign currency. The British PM had leant me a few “chaps” from
the Bank of England, and they would sit down here for a few
months, ironing out any wrinkles as the bank got started. The banks
first customer would be CAR, followed by the corporation, then the
individual mines and the privately operated mines. It would handle a
great deal of money, the deposits and weekly movements propelling
it to Africa’s largest bank within months.
International branch offices were planned for London, Beijing,
Moscow and New York. That done, I went for a swim, and
afterwards enjoyed a lengthy massage from two Thai ladies that had
just seemed to appear at the hotel. And from my room’s window I
could see fifty yellow taxis, still not sure where they came from.
Flying back, I mentioned to Jimmy the Thai ladies and the taxis.
‘Civilisation and commerce will always creep in where there is a
need. All you need is to create the right conditions. And the taxis,
they were provided to an existing company in Goma, that’s now
licensed to service the hotels, the airport/hospital run, and the
conference centre when it’s in use. Can’t have Gotham City without
taxis. I’ve also ordered a sports stadium and football pitch, and a
golf course north of the airport.’
‘People will see it when they fly in,’ I said with a grin.
‘It’ll be a good course, regular competitions – once the hospital
has emptied out. The drug is being shipped to all the African
capitals, so the people flocking here will ease up and stop. That just
leaves us with some extra pilots and aircraft.’ He held his gaze on
me.
‘Extra routes to the US, I reckon.’
‘The Russians will give us a slot, as will the Germans, so both
747s will be gainfully employed on those routes.’
‘That was my second choice.’
He gave me another look.

End of year

As expected, the North African states did not like the idea of a sub-
Saharan group meeting and excluding them. We didn’t care. What’s
more, neither did the other nations involved. The first full
conference was held in October, the leaders curious about the new
golf course as it took shape. Po and his family came over, a large
side-room set-up for them to showcase the products they made, both
in Hong Kong and here in our region. Not wanting a long argument,
we gave Po shares in the sub-company that would own and run the
golf course and its hotel. The rest of the shares would go to CAR.
The meeting went well, a great many topics to discuss. Oil deals
were struck between those that had, and those that had none. Roads
and rail links would be extended, sections repaired where necessary.
The medical equipment company diverted some of its production
away from the States and serviced the nations represented, the cost
savings appreciated. PACT was coming along, already responsible
for a number of key arrests of terror suspects, and the delegates at
this conference were left in no doubt about the benefits of brand
Silo.
The two hotels at the airport were now four hotels, the second
two built outside the airport fence and aimed at the low budget
traveller, one of the hotels a whopper at six hundred rooms.
American money had been used. On the second morning I grabbed a
taxi before dawn one day, wanting to see what they were like, my
escorts in a second and third, and we drove the short distance to
Spiral I, an estate that climbed and circled a low hill that was
actually the very old remains of a small volcano. The houses
increased in size and grandeur as we circled around, many high
walls and guards visible. At the top I found a viewpoint opposite a
restaurant and bar, spotting a great many blue pools surrounded by
well-tended grass. I could see Spiral II across a small valley, some
of its houses still under construction. It reminded me of Beverly
Hills. Given that much of it was down to American money, it was
appropriate.
The restaurant staff came out to see who the three taxis belonged
to and let me in to have a nose around. The balcony offered a view
of the airport, the golf course, and in the distance you could make
out the lake and the volcano. The restaurant offered a rooftop bar
and I climbed up dark wood stairs, finding the upper bar all dark
wood, and somehow very African. The deputy manager of the
restaurant pointed out houses below and labelled who lived in them.
Many I didn’t know, but I recognised the names of a few of the
African Presidents. Seems that they kept houses here, possibly as an
investment.
Back at the hotel I inspected a small branch of the new bank,
housed just off the main concourse, and chatted to the staff. Turned
out they were kept very busy with currency exchanges and the
cashing of travellers cheques, taking that task off the hotel staff. The
tourists also drew money here. Since there was another outlet in the
airport itself, the tourists were now spoilt for choice.
In December, we returned for the grand opening of the golf
course and hotel, all of the various national leaders invited, Kimballa
Jnr given the honour of teeing off first. Po went second, his handicap
improving, and a quick tour of the hotel confirmed to me that it was
a copy of the one in Mombassa. Escaping the crowds, my escorts
and I drove around to the factory that was making water pipes and
filtration systems, thousand of the completed products stacked up
outside and awaiting allocation to an NGO for delivery to a remote
village somewhere far off.
I pointed my escorts towards the factory that made bits of
medical kit, and found that it was now a complex, not a factory, at
least ten times bigger than its original, long lorries coming and
going. The manager rushed out with his staff and greeted me, and I
inspected charts on walls in his office, all of them pointing upwards.
I found nothing to complain about. I thanked them and told them to
return to their work, before wandering through the design section,
picking up and examining bits of equipment to see what they did as
technicians in white lab coats moved back and forth.
Someone moved quickly, I caught it out of the corner of my eye.
I felt the jab in my arm and turned. There stood Hest dressed in a
white lab coat, smiling contentedly, a syringe in his hand. He had
four guns pointed at his head a second later as the Pathfinders rushed
forwards, not sure what had happened.
They were too late.
Whatever he had jabbed me with was already in my shoulder, and
I found myself wondering what it was that might kill me. I stepped
towards him and glanced at the syringe as the guards held him.
‘You’ll be dead in thirty seconds,’ Hest spat out.
‘At least I won’t have too long to think about it then,’ I quipped,
making him frown, and puzzle my attitude. ‘What’s in the syringe?’
‘You’ll never get the antidote in time.’
‘Then there’s no point in not telling me then, is there,’ I lightly
suggested.
He stared back. ‘Snake venom. I’ve been keeping it for just this
occasion.’
‘Oh,’ I casually commented. ‘And you work here?’
‘I’ve endured this place for months, waiting for you or him to
return.’
‘Should I be feeling anything my now?’ I asked my attacker.
He looked me up and down, then at the syringe still in his hand. It
was almost empty.
I checked my watch, then considered that my shoulder felt a little
numb. ‘What time do you have? Silly me, you can’t see your watch.’
I shifted my weight to one leg and tapped my foot. ‘Should anything
… you know, have happened by now?’
My attacker was most vexed. I tipped my head to the bodyguards
and they led him outside, a good minute taken to reach the jeeps.
‘Guess your venom has no effect on me, although I do feel it in
my arm a bit.’ I made eye contact with a Pathfinder. ‘Take him to
PACT at Forward Base, interrogate him.’ They bundled him into a
jeep as I mounted mine. At the golf hotel I found Jimmy and led him
to one side. ‘That man Hest, the brother, he just stabbed me in the
shoulder with snake venom – fella was working at the medical
factory.’
‘How do you feel?’ Jimmy asked, concerned.
‘Fine. Arm is a bit numb at the top.’
‘You have my blood, so you’re just about indestructible. Still,
worth taking it easy. Grab some protein and drink a pint or two of
water, that’ll speed up the recovery.’
I made like a good patient and stuffed my face, drinking plenty of
water. The arm felt numb for many hours, but eventually started to
recover, like a gum after the dentist. The Thai ladies helped, and I
made sure that they pounded on that arm and shoulder, completely
recovered by 10pm.
Bill Chambers then called me. ‘Paul, you OK?’ He did not seem
to know about the blood.
‘I am now, was just a bit numb where he jabbed me.’
‘It was snake venom in the syringe...’
‘You know that wonder drug we developed … well I inject
myself regular. Had one this morning.’
‘Fucking hell. I’m going to carry some around with me.’
‘What did he say?’ I probed.
‘He wanted revenge for his brother – he knew that he had died
coming for you, and when your frigging wonder drug cured him he
was mobile again. He’s being working at that factory for months,
false passport.’
‘And you all missed him…?’
‘The authorities were looking for him everywhere apart from on
the payroll,’ Chambers explained.
‘Lesson to be learnt there,’ I nudged.
‘A bit beyond my authority, but I’ll mention it to the right people.
What happens to Hest now?’
‘I think the Congo Rifles should see if they can get anymore out
of him.’
‘Oh. Well, gets him out of my hair, closes the case.’ Bill did not
sound happy at handing the man to the Rifles.
‘We’re in a war, Bill. Don’t dwell on foot soldiers, or
individuals.’ I hung up.
Putting down the phone, I stood at the window of my room, my
hands in my pockets, staring down at the yellow taxis. I had just sent
Hest to his death, and a very unpleasant death it would be, surprising
myself. Just when did I stop worrying about the value of a life? Or
maybe it was that I cared more about saving lives, no time to dwell
on individuals. We had saved millions, we’d save more, and this was
too important to worry about an arsehole like that. No, it wasn’t that
I had lost sight of the value of a life, I had a greater appreciation of
the numbers game. A million was more than one: I could save a
million, so I’ll lose the one along the way. Or many ‘ones’. Jesus, I
was starting to think like Jimmy.
I found myself wondering about 2025, the African Armies and
the battle ahead. Now, for the first time, I thought I could send
armies into battle, knowing the costs. I went and found Jimmy, and
relayed what had happened, and my feelings, over a cold beer in a
quiet corner of the bar.
Jimmy had listened patiently, and now took a sip. ‘In Canada,
when I first started to come across injured, dead and dying, it was
hard. Then I got used to it, and stopped caring for a while, quite I
while if I’m truthful. But then my attitude changed. I would give
people first aid then see them walking around weeks later, all smiles.
That act of saving was like an act of creation: here’s something I
made. After that, I fought to try and save as many as I could, without
worrying about the losses, but I was delighted when I could fix a
broken body and see them recover, get up and walk around. I’ve
always liked making things, fixing things, and first aid and medicine
was like that; making things and fixing things.
‘Releasing the drug early was an act of hope; I was rebelling
against my own sense of order and timing. I just wanted to shout it
off the rooftop, frustrated with all the sneaking around, doing deals
and persuading people. I think part of me just wanted it over. Part of
me wants to be exposed.’
‘I know how you feel,’ I admitted. ‘It’s a constant stress. I was
stunned when you made the announcement, but relieved as hell
afterwards. Of all the things we’ve done, the drug has been the most
dramatic: you can actually see the results. And no matter what
happens to us its out there, they can’t take it away from us.’
‘Very true,’ Jimmy approved. ‘It’s odd really, but right now we
should be in a small war with the CIA and Hardon Chase, and the
Americans should be in Afghanistan. My gamble with Chase has
paid off better than I could have ever hoped for, and now the drug is
out there, so a great many ticks in boxes. Problem is, now I can’t see
the future so well because I’ve altered the time line so much.’
‘That’s a good thing, isn’t it?’
‘Good in that things are going well, bad in that I can’t see next
months assassins.’
‘Yeah, well there is that,’ I said with a sigh.
‘It’ll take a while to get back into synch, so I won’t be trading the
markets as much.’
‘Don’t need to,’ I pointed out. ‘CAR is making enough. I see
Zambia has offered us the mining rights to just about whole country.
Now Botswana wants a deal.’
‘I like Botswana, best run country in Africa,’ Jimmy mentioned.
‘Don’t need police or Rifles there, you can walk the streets.’
We were soon interrupted by delegates, and spent the night
playing politician, never quite saying to people what we really
meant.
At the end of the evening, with the mere mortals off to bed, we
found ourselves again in the same corner, cold beers.
Jimmy began, ‘I was once captured by the Brotherhood.’
I sat up and took notice.
‘I was held in a camp with hundreds of other prisoners, and
conditions were pretty harsh – even with my blood full of stems.
They didn’t know who I was, they didn’t recognise me, and when I
told them I was a medic I got better treatment.
‘Conditions were harsh, in that they made the prisoners play
Russian roulette every day, or they’d hack of a limb for fun. One day
a guard took a disliking to me because I was big, so he beat me.
When I healed quickly he was annoyed, and nearly beat me to death.
In the camp’s hospital I recovered quickly, and he was re-assigned
somewhere. But I had taken the decision to do something. I stole the
food off the terminal patients and eased their suffering, building up
my strength. I ran on the spot, did exercises, practised martial arts
moves, biding my time till I was ready. On the final evening I killed
four patients with no hope, ate their food ration and made my move.
‘I killed the guard in the hospital hut easily, took his weapon and
webbing, spare ammo. I killed the second and third guards quietly,
but then got spotted, the alarm raised. I shot dead more than ten, and
by this time other prisoners were grabbing the weapons of dead
guards and firing back. That gave me an edge, because it caused a
distraction as I circled around the guard barracks. I killed the camp
commander and his cronies, then picked off the rest one by one. It
was dawn by time the shooting finished, probably fifty dead on their
side.
‘I grabbed what food I could find, water bottles, and walked out
the gate and into the woods. I walked day and night for three days,
being careful, and reached a river. I found a small boat, and slipped
into the water at sun down, drifting quietly along. It then rained like
hell all night, keeping people in doors, and I wasn’t spotted. That
river, it took me almost thirty miles overnight. In the morning I
grabbed branches and waded to the bank, walking for a day before I
spotted a NATO patrol. They knew who I was and whisked me out
of there.
‘So you see, when you consider Hest, and the value of his life, I
don’t stop to do the sums. I believe in my own cause, and it’s not a
cause to line my own pocket, it’s a cause to save this planet. So if I
need to kill patients and take their food for me to keep going … I
will, and I won’t worry about it.’
‘I hate to say it, but I’m edging that way.’
‘Nothing wrong with that, Paul. Nothing at all.’
Back in the UK, the choice of where to spend New Year came up,
something of a debate for a week or so. Jimmy surprised everyone
by suggesting the Spanish Isle of Tenerife, off the coast of Morocco.
No one had any particular objections, and we booked rooms at a five
star hotel between Los Christianos and Las Americas - the famous
haunt of drunken young Brits. Our IT guy, Gareth, had bought one
of the apartments we had built in Los Christianos, and he was down
on the Isle with his family.
On the second day, Jimmy drove me to a marina close to the
airport whilst the girls enjoyed the beach, the Spanish Police kindly
providing us an escort. At the marina we strolled along the concrete
sea wall, glancing at boats, Big Paul and Karl hanging back.
‘This is where it started,’ Jimmy reflected. ‘Right here.’ He
pointed at the water. ‘I was here when World War Three kicked off,
and where it ended a few days later. From here I set sail on the long
voyage, and I’m still on that voyage.’ He noticed a boat, and
recognised the name. ‘Mind if we come aboard?’
A grey haired man raised a hand to his eyes. ‘Jimmy Silo?’ he
gestured us on board. ‘You … er … you have a boat down here.’
‘I did, some time ago,’ Jimmy said. ‘You cross over to Gomera
much?’
‘Now and then, nice run. But if the winds are wrong you can’t get
back in here.’
‘Yes,’ Jimmy reflected. ‘Better to have the wind with you, than
against you.’
‘Get the kettle on, mate,’ I urged the boat’s owner.