Magestic - Part 1 by Geoff Wolak - HTML preview

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‘A hotel we’ll buy in years to come.’

‘Really. Looks a bit, you know…’

Jimmy grinned and nodded towards a path. ‘Walk down there, I’ll check us in.’

So off I went; sunglasses, squint, parched throat and headache. I followed the path, winding past thatched huts, nicely decorated inside from what I could see, and onto a beach. ‘Oh, yeah,’ I let out, clanking along a wooden walkway over the sand and to a beach bar. I took a seat in the shade of the beach bar and accepted a fruit drink of some sort with ice-cubes in. It did the trick.

The horseshoe bay enclosed five hundred yards of turquoise ocean, its sand a brilliant white. The water looked shallow and inviting, some sort of net strung out across the mouth of the bay. At the back of the sand nestled two-dozen huts, all similar to those I had passed, some guests sat outside their hut doors and sunning themselves. I could see a few white families, but also a few black families. At least there was no segregation here, I noted. The edges of the bay were bracketed by rocky outcrops, perfectly symmetrical and opposite each other. And at one end of the bay a local man was showing a young elephant to some guests.

Jimmy plonked down and ordered a beer. ‘Room twelve for you, for your drinks tab. So, what do you think?’

‘Great location, fucking excellent beach. Better than Brighton beach! What’ll this place cost?’

‘We’ll buy it next year, just over three hundred ‘k’ for all the land.’

‘K? Is that the currency down here?’

‘Sorry,

K … is computer talk; it means a grand. In the future everyone says K. How much is that house? It’s two hundred K.

I took in the layout, that which I could see. ‘How far along does it go?’

‘Long old way, almost half a mile to the north. There’re gardens here for growing food for the hotel, farms with chickens and pigs.’

‘And an elephant,’ I said, pointing. Checking that no one was in earshot, I said, ‘There’re black families here. I figured the white folk here … you know.’

Jimmy nodded. ‘There’s some de-facto segregation here, but that’s about money more than skin colour. The black families you can see are rich, and they don’t want poor black families in here anymore than the white folk do. You’ll soon learn that African blacks are far more racist than their white counterparts. If you’re not from the right tribe or region, they’d happily kill you. You see the staff here … they’re all from this region. If someone from another region came here with a different accent the locals would attack him.

‘It’s something you have to learn about Africa, and quickly; it’s all tribal, with fuck-all unity at national level or for the continent. If someone from Tanzania was in the UK

and he met someone from Kenya, then fair enough they’d probably chat. Here they wouldn’t, even if they were neighbours. The locals can pick up an accent and see it in the faces. So if the new neighbours don’t look and sound as they should … its war! One of the problems here, especially in years to come, is the Somalis. Their own country is about to implode into civil war, and many refugees will stream south, taking land here as squatters and causing lots of problems.

It’s one of my tasks.’

‘Tasks?

What

is?’

‘Fixing

Kenya.’

‘Why?’

‘In years to come a Muslim terrorist group called The Brotherhood will rise up, various places at various times. One of the first things they’ll do is move south from Somalia, attacking Kenya. Before that happens we need to fix the economy and politics of Kenya and get them ready.’

‘Nice of us,’ I grumbled.

‘There’s still a hell of a lot you don’t know. We can stop The Brotherhood here … or wait till they walk down the Richmond High Street.’

‘Here,’ I firmly suggested.

‘Right, you’ve never been scuba diving.’

‘Nope.’

‘After lunch.’

And two hours later I lay in a few feet of crystal clear water, exhilarated by the curtain of orange fish darting about as the dive instructor, German again, cut up a dead fish and thrashed it about. I was now hooked on diving, and lion cubs the size of my hand. And I never did find out why they called that damn hotel ‘River View’; the nearest river was miles away. Sea View, sure, or Mountain View, but we never did find out why it was called River View.

The music business

A few days after getting back from Kenya, suitably tanned and showing it off, we headed for a small office in Kentish Town. Jimmy was keeping the trip a secret to “see what a dull twat I was”. We jumped out of the taxi around 11am and pushed the buzzer on a purple door between two antique shops. I have to admit, I though it might be some dingy brothel. A small card declared it to be Pineapple Records.

‘Yes?’ crackled a woman’s voice.

Jimmy leant in. ‘Here to see Oliver Standish.’

A buzz preceded a click, and we pushed the door open, met immediately by a steep set of stairs whose carpet had seen better days. Our footfalls were heavy and echoing, announcing our approach. We opened into an office that seemed much larger on the inside than I would have expected.

‘Bigger on the inside,’ I noted.

‘We get that a lot,’ a pretty young girl stated. ‘This office is actually three houses knocked into one, at least their upstairs parts. You after Oliver?’

‘Please,’ Jimmy said.

The girl took a moment to study Jimmy. ‘Haven’t I seen you in Tosca down the Kings Rd?’

‘Probably,’ he replied. ‘Next time, kick me in the shins and I’ll get you a drink.’ We edged towards a man striding towards us. ‘You must be Oliver,’ Jimmy said, a firm handshake initiated. The boss, Oliver, was average in every sense; height, weight and looks, easy on the eye with a friendly and welcoming face. To me he appeared to be in his early thirties.

‘Yes. And you are…?’

‘I’m Jimmy Silo, this is Paul, and we’d like to buy your company.’

That caught the guy off guard, as well as the staff within earshot.

‘I didn’t know it was up for sale,’ Oliver quipped. ‘But still, nothing to lose by a coffee and a chat.’

We settled around a neat desk floating in a sea of untidy floor littered with files and tapes.

‘The reject pile,’ Jimmy told me.

‘Not all rejects,’ Oliver countered.

‘You sign up one in fifty-two, I’d guess,’ Jimmy told him.

‘That’s … a good guess. I see you’ve done your homework.’

I picked up a music sheet with some lyrics in pencil.

Oliver asked me, ‘Do you have an eye, or indeed ear, for such things?’

‘He doesn’t, I do,’ Jimmy cut in.

Oliver raised an eyebrow. ‘Forgive my impertinence, but you don’t look the music type. More the … nightclub doorman type.’

I said, ‘More the multi-millionaire type,’ still reading the lyrics, someone’s hard work. Either that or their drug crazed delusional ramblings.

Oliver smiled. ‘I see you gentlemen like the direct approach.’ He asked Jimmy, ‘Where are you from, I’m not picking up any accent?’

‘All over,’ Jimmy replied, easing back into his seat. ‘So, down to business. You … are doing OK for a small record company, but going nowhere in particular. Last years accounts were the same as the years before, and will be same as this year.’

‘That’ll save money with your accountant,’ I helpfully suggested. ‘Just photocopy them.’

Oliver did not see the joke, Jimmy shooting me a look.

Jimmy continued, ‘So what I would like to do is this: I buy seventy percent of the shares for three hundred thousand pounds.’

I could see from Oliver’s expression that the numbers were exciting him.

Jimmy continued, ‘That would be spread over three years so that you don’t run away. You stay on as boss and draw a salary of … what … forty-grand a year? I give the company a director’s loan of half a million and you get some decent offices and some advertising going. You leave the selection of budding musicians to me.’

Oliver coughed out a laugh. ‘Well … that’s er … quite an offer.’

‘Given what this company makes, it’s above appropriate and generous, yet factors in your loyalty. And no staff would have to leave.’ Jimmy took out a thick envelope and handed it over. ‘The details are all there, so you can peruse them at your leisure.’

Tea and coffee finally arrived. We waited, Oliver now under the spotlight. At least he hadn’t thrown us out yet. And the pretty girl gave us biscuits, none for Oliver. Guess she didn’t like the boss.

Oliver scanned the document. ‘And how much … input would you have into day-to-day running?’

‘Some, obviously,’ Jimmy answered. ‘My accountants and solicitors would breathe down your neck once in a while, I’ll pop-in twice a month or so and we’ll obviously link anyone you sign up to the nightclub I’ll be opening.’

‘Nightclub?’ Oliver repeated.

Jimmy forced a neutral smile. ‘One with a large room with a stage to showcase new bands, as well as to select new bands. You know … talent contests.’

Oliver seemed to be nodding as he considered it. ‘You said

you would select new artists?’

‘Yes, get that chore out of your hair.’

‘You’ll be able to see your carpet again,’ I suggested.

‘What colour is it?’

Oliver smiled widely, but briefly. ‘I guess there now follows some hard sell?’

Jimmy stood, so I followed him up. ‘No, take your time to think about it. No hurry. My contact details are on the proposal.’

Oliver followed us up, Jimmy shaking his hand. It was just a brief meeting, but I liked Oliver straight away.

Outside, Jimmy said, ‘Well?’

‘Nice bloke, I liked him.’

‘And what do you think I’m up to?’

‘Going to get your own record company so that you can shag nice lady singers?’

‘Partly right,’ Jimmy admitted. ‘What else?’

I was being thick again and shrugged my shoulders.

Jimmy said, ‘The future?’

I was still being thick.

Irate, Jimmy explained, ‘I know every band that’s going to be a success, dumb fuck.’

‘Oh … yeah.’

Jimmy shook his head. ‘Fucking Batman never had this much trouble with Robin.’

Would you kill Hitler as a child?

Metropolitan Police Commander Harris waited in a nondescript café, a mug of tea cooling, his uniform carefully covered by a trench coat.

With a ‘ding’ the door opened, a man sitting down opposite. ‘Tea, love,’ he shouted at the woman behind the counter. Facing Harris he said, ‘So … problem?’

‘A … dilemma.’

‘Ah. Guess that’s why you’re paid more than me.’

They waited as a mug of tea was plonked down. Harris slid across a small slip of paper.

The newcomer read it. ‘What’s this guy done?’

‘It’s what he’s going to do,’ Harrison carefully mouthed.

‘Ah. Another one of those.’

‘This chap, when he grows up, will kidnap, rape and kill a string of twelve-year-old girls.’

The newcomer’s features hardened. They stared at each other for several seconds till the newcomer lowered his head and re-read the note. In a low, husky voice he said, ‘Be difficult for him, not being able to see and all.’

Students on planes

‘Remind me again why we’re here?’ I asked, already knowing the answer.

‘World

peace.’

‘Yeah, thought so. Just checking.’

We stepped into a damp stairwell and up numerous flights of steps, this nondescript building off the Tottenham Court Rd, Central London. Finally we were to the Student’s Union Travel Department, what it was. Apparently, they advised long-haired students on getting cheap flights around the world. It reminded me of my own student days in Kingston Polytechnic. Jimmy knocked and entered, the two of us stepping into a cramped and untidy office.

‘Been burgled, have we?’ I asked a bored looking middle-aged woman, Jimmy shooting me a look.

She studied us over the rims of her bifocals. ‘Not students.’

‘Worse,’ I said. ‘Stockbrokers.’

She raised an eyebrow.

‘I’m looking for Mr Timms,’ Jimmy told her.

A young man stepped in at the mention of his name, looking like a student in a three-day-old shirt. ‘Yes?’

Jimmy got straight to the point. ‘We’d like to give you some money.’ That got their attention. ‘You handle student exchanges, in particular with Russia and China?’

Young Mister Timms nodded. Jimmy gestured the man back towards his own office, which turned out to be a corner of an even more cramped room that he shared with six others.

There were just enough seats for the staff, none left over for guests, charitable donors or otherwise.

Jimmy asked him, ‘How much do you spend each year on exchanges to Russia and China?’

Timms shrugged. ‘About five grand, I think.’

‘And how many people does that allow to travel?’ Jimmy asked, the rest of the young staff now attentive to the two stuffed suits in their midst.

‘About … twenty five.’

I made that two hundred quid a throw.

Jimmy presented a cheque in an envelope. ‘Now you can send an extra hundred each year. My address is in the envelope, and I want a list of names and places they visited.

If I’m satisfied with your progress I’ll double the amount next year.’

Timms read the cheque with an expression, as if it might be a fake.

I closed in on a pretty girl. ‘I went to Kingston Polytechnic myself.’

‘Errrr,’ she let out with a pulled face.

Jimmy grinned. ‘Should have told her you were a millionaire, might have worked better. Come on.’

We turned and left, my pride hurt. What the hell was wrong with Kingston Polytechnic? And we gave the fuckers money.

Our faces in the papers

Next day we got up early and hopped on the train at Paddington Station, bound for sunny Cardiff. I had not been in the First Class section of a train before and sat looking the place over.

‘We’re not in First Class,’ Jimmy pointed out as he stood waiting.

‘Oh, yeah, right. I knew that … I was just, you know, checking it out.’

We squeezed past people in the queue at the buffet car and grabbed two seats on a table of four, suit jackets off and neatly folded, placed overhead. Jimmy started on his newspaper as we pulled out, the train almost empty.

‘Empty,’ I idly mentioned.

‘Going the wrong way,’ Jimmy quietly stated without taking his gaze off his paper. ‘Workers come in to London in the mornings, students - and people visiting relatives - go out from London. Same with the motorways.’

Five minutes later we were slowly clanking over points and picking up speed.

‘Grub?’ I asked, sat in the isle seat.

Jimmy nodded. ‘Burger, sandwich, tea. Something for you.’

I joined the queue.

Two hours, and several teas later, we pulled into Newport.

‘If you look left,’ Jimmy said without raising his head.

‘You’ll see where I was born. Parents now live off to the right.’

I scanned what detail I could, the track raised to the height of the tops of the terraced houses. I could see urban hills and then a river. ‘Low tide?’

‘It’s the River Usk, second highest tidal range in the world

– about thirty feet.’

‘We close to the coast?’

‘Couple of miles to the Severn Estuary, off to the left.’

I clocked the town centre, what I could see, before we ground to a squeaky halt at the station. Jimmy looked up, issuing a sigh after studying the platform, alone with his own thoughts. He appeared saddened. Ten minutes later we were in Cardiff.

The first impression of any place is often from a train carriage. As I sat there I thought, what a shit hole. Why the fuck didn’t the council clean up those houses facing the track? It would make a better impression on visitors. Still, London was just as bad; rich people didn’t live in houses overlooking the train tracks. We walked out through the crowds, grabbing a taxi.

‘Heath Hospital,’ Jimmy told the driver.

As the streets blurred by I tried to take in as much detail as I could, clocking the old castle and the civic centre. The hospital was a giant white edifice, almost a single block that had been unimaginatively designed by the same guy who commissioned the rest of the high rises in 1960s Britain. If I ever met that guy. We stopped next to a park, Jimmy checking his watch. After paying the cabbie, Jimmy approached a photographer.

‘You from The Echo?’ The guy nodded. ‘Follow us, then.’

Jimmy led us to a building next to the park, looking as if it had been designed after a trip to Japan and some Saki downed. This is where our taxes went, I considered as we stepped down a flight of steps and into a reception area.

Medical Genetics it read, a brief flash in my mind of Jimmy strapped to a chair and being drugged up by mad scientists. I was, however, reasonably sure that these guys had nothing to do with that. I could see parents with kids, toys on the floor.

We ignored the lady receptionist and trailed up a flight of steps, turning right at the top.

‘Jill, Prof Harper,’ Jimmy offered.

The ‘Professor’ could not have looked more like an archetypal professor if he tried; wild grey hair and a tank top.

He seemed confused, or in pain, I couldn’t figure out which.

‘Sorry for the unannounced visit but I’m a rather busy man,’ Jimmy said. They shook as a peeved looking secretary peered around the door. Jimmy pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket. ‘I’d like to donate some money.’

‘Oh … well … that’s always appreciated,’ Prof Harper offered. He opened the envelope to a cheque for quarter of a million pounds. Poor bugger had to hold a finger to the digits to work them out he was so surprised.

‘That’s a quarter million quid,’ Jimmy casually noted.

‘Can we have a photo before we set off back for London?’

‘Um … er, yes ... of course,’ the startled academic managed to get out. Jimmy and me stood either side of the recipient, a photo quickly snapped. ‘My details are in the envelope if you want to put me on your Christmas card list,’

Jimmy told him before nudging me out the door.

With the snapper trailing behind, we walked the short distance around to the children’s building, some sort of new centre for kids and their parents to gather at. Jimmy went straight in, and straight to the office he wanted. With as much haste as previously, we stunned another academic medic. And I was getting confused by all the wall-signs and directions, not least because they were doubled-up into Welsh. What the hell was Obstetrics? It sounded painful. We got our pictures taken with someone who looked like he would need the Cardiac Department, wherever the hell that was. At least I could see the signs for X-Ray in case I broke a leg. Jimmy thanked the snapper and gave the man a twenty note. Soon we were in a taxi to Newport.

‘Parents,’ I figured.

Jimmy nodded, looking both concerned and saddened, no explanations forthcoming. We sped along the motorway into Newport’s suburbs and to a bland semi. ‘Mum’ was surprised to see him.

‘Oh, Jimmy.’ The white-haired lady held the door open and let us in, Jimmy towering over her. ‘You’re smart.’

‘This is Paul, he works with me at the stock brokers,’

Jimmy lied.

We entered the lounge, a tanned, grey haired man easing up, somewhat reluctantly. I could see the family resemblance.

‘Tea?’ came an unseen voice.

‘Two, milk and sugars,’ Jimmy shouted back as he sat.

I said hello to his father, then clocked some of the family photos. As his mum returned I plonked down. ‘So, you two are responsible for bringing the big guy into the world.’

‘Getting bigger all the time,’ his mum mock-complained.

‘Are you seeing clients down here?’

‘Came to see a broker in Cardiff,’ Jimmy lied. ‘You well?’

‘Yes, all OK. Your bother was down on the weekend,’ his mum enthusiastically reported.

‘Did you drive?’ his dad enquired.

‘No, train,’ I put in. ‘Read the papers on the way.’

We made small talk for twenty minutes, tea and scones downed, before Jimmy gave his father a wad of money. He had to spend ten minutes justifying how much he was on before his father would grudgingly accept it. Leaving the house, we walked back towards the train station, a twenty-minute stroll, Jimmy pointing out a few places of interest; it seemed to be somewhat of a trip down memory lane for him.

Passing through a run down area he pointed out where he had been born.

‘You know, when in Canada – and they were finishing off the time machine – one bright spark suggested that anyone going through the portal would re-appear as a younger version of themselves, probably with no memory of the future; which would have achieved nothing. I had to consider that I might re-appear back here as a kid or teenager. Wasn’t a pleasant thought, I could not have done my school years again. I figured that, if I re-appeared here, I’d top myself rather than do my school years again.’

‘That bad, were they?’

‘No, not bad, but just imagine it: fifty pence pocket money and in bed at nine o’clock, bath on a Sunday, spelling homework! Could you do it … with an adult brain in your head?’

‘Be hard, but maybe fun.’

‘It was hard enough going back to twenty years old, damn hard to pull off. And that was without re-possessing a younger body.’

‘Then

how…?’

‘The other me, the original, went forwards. It was a swap.’

‘So, what would have happened to –’

‘An uncertain future. Probably would have been dead quickly knowing where I came from. Conditions were harsh.’

On the trip back he was gloomy, but for reasons I could never have understood.

I said, ‘Your folks … they’ll see us the in the local rag?’

‘No, we’ll be in the Cardiff Echo, they don’t read it. But someone will tell them and … and it’ll be a big row.’

‘Why?’ I delicately broached.

He held his gaze on the countryside shooting by. ‘Because I should keep my money for a rainy day, or give it to the family.’

‘Your dad didn’t seem too pleased to take any money?’

‘Exactly. But that don’t mean I should give it to strangers either.’

Pineapple records

I answered the phone to Oliver Standish from Pineapple Records on a wet Tuesday morning, two weeks after meeting with the guy at his offices. ‘How you doing, mate?’

‘Good, good. Is … er … James about?’

‘Sure is, and he don’t like James very much – Jimmy will do.’

Jimmy took the phone. ‘Home for fallen women. Are you dropping off or picking up?’

Oliver laughed. ‘Picking up, definitely. How are you?’

‘Keenly awaiting your next sentence, Oliver.’

‘Well, I’ve given it a great deal of thought and I like the proposal. So, where do we go from here?’

‘My accountants and solicitor will be around to you this afternoon with some papers … and a big cheque. Can you join us for a meal this Friday, bring the whole gang?’

‘I should think so.’

‘In the meantime, could you send around every tape that was rejected or not yet screened, use a courier and I’ll pay this end.’

‘Will do, quite a few boxes full though!’

‘You’ll be able to Hoover after. I know you probably have things to do, but I’d appreciate that pile of tapes in a box in a matter of hours.’

‘Not a problem, I boxed them up on the weekend, kind of a clean sweep through the office. I’ll send them round c.o.d.

right away.’

‘Thanks. We’ll pop in this week, dinner Friday – treats for the staff.’

‘Sounds like a plan. Your people –’

‘Will be with you around 2pm. Call me if you have any questions, anything at all. Bye.’ He put the phone down.

‘They got any sexy chicks on their books already?’ I keenly enquired, closing in.

Jimmy made a face. ‘Not really.’

An hour later we took delivery of three large cardboard boxes.

‘Right,’ Jimmy began. ‘Earn your bloody keep.’ He upturned a box, its contents spilling over the floor. ‘Call out the name, the stage name and the name of the song.’ He picked up a tape as I grabbed several.

‘David Wilson, Call me back baby.’

‘Nope. Back in the box.’

‘Susan Chasilton, a.k.a Sugar Sweety, Blow my mind.’

‘Nope.’

An hour later we had selected just three artists from three big boxes.

‘Take that lot down to the garage, ask the doorman to bin it all and slip him a few quid.’

We put the tapes that we had selected - that Jimmy knew would be hits - into a big envelope and couriered them back to Pineapple. Our note said: Sign them up pronto, please

bring them out Friday.

‘They going to be big hits?’ I asked.

‘Two will be big, one will be a one hit wonder, like a lot of artists. Eighty percent of who we sign up will have just the one big hit.’

‘Why just one?’

‘After one hit they go a bit crazy, often hit the booze and the drugs, let it all go to their heads. A hit record makes you very arrogant, especially if you’re living in a bed-sit at the moment. From Hackney to a limo fucks with their heads, they lose it.’ He cracked a cheek into a smile. ‘One of the singers you’ll meet Friday will be big across twenty years, and she’s a babe.’

‘Which of us … er … dates her?’ I carefully nudged.

‘Neither, she likes girls.’

I took a moment to get my head around that. ‘Do you think…?’

‘Once or twice, her and mate, when they’re drunk.’

‘Yes!’ I punched the air and did a little dance.

Rubber veins

A few months later we reached a financial target. Actually, we were ahead of schedule, and so headed back down to Cardiff. I figured we’d be donating some more money, but Jimmy said no. He had contacted the Professor at Medical Genetics and asked for an introduction to the head of Medical Physics, which did not sound as painful as Obstetrics. This new fella must have been salivating at the prospect of some money.

The aforementioned department was down in the bowels of the hospital and it turned out they made things, weird bits of equipment for specialist use, all of the stuff they showed us turning my stomach. A new clamp for holding open a chest did nothing for my appetite. We finally sat in the Manager’s office, not a professor, and the guy was called Dyke -

pronounced ‘dick’. I held my tongue.

Jimmy kicked off with, ‘I would like to invest some money into designing and building a training aid for medics, both doctors in the hospital environment, as well as paramedics and ambulance staff. I’m looking for someone like yourself to design an artificial sick person. What I mean by that is an advanced dummy – not a robot or anything clever – but a dummy that lies down and looks and feels like an unconscious person.’

Dick was intrigued, but I could see a hint of disappointment that he had not got a fat cheque yet.

‘What … er … what would it be used for?’

‘Training, since there are many things that you cannot practice on a live person or simulate - such as rapid pulse, unless you inject the willing volunteer with adrenaline, or stop his heart.’

‘Ah. I see,’ Dick offered.

‘Got a paper and pen?’ Jimmy nudged.

Dick got himself ready.

‘We need to find a rubber tube with the consistency of an artery. It stretches like an artery, it breaks like an artery and it can be cut like an artery. Then we map out all veins and arteries in the body and make a working model in rubber, or similar material. Then you find a suitable material to make an artificial bone that breaks like a normal bone, weighs the same. Then you build an artificial muscle from strands of something else, so that it looks, feels and weighs the same as a muscle, and when you cut through it looks like muscle –’

‘For training surgeons?’ Dick said without looking up, scribbling away.

‘Yes, but also for a few other purposes. You then find a substance that looks and feels like skin, cuts like skin. The arteries are attached to an external pump that creates a pulse which can be varied –’

‘To simulate various medical conditions,’ Dick put in as he scribbled away.

‘Yes, and rubber lungs attached to external pipes so that they can inflate or deflate; in essence, a complete artificial person. The head should be realistic, with eyes that either dilate or weep.’

‘Complicated.

And

expensive,’ Dick let out as he eased

back.

‘You get fifty thousand a year to start plus capital costs, plus the rights to a commission on sales when it’s sold around the world. Year by year, depending on your progress, I’ll increase the budget. If you can show that it works, to my satisfaction, we’ll accelerate the timescale and you’ll receive more money. I’ll even look at giving you a grant for a full time researcher or two to work on it.’

Despite the fact that he would not be getting a fat cheque, Dick seemed interested. It was done deal, a cheque for twenty thousand handed over on good faith.

Hong Kong’s Mr Wang Po

We landed at Hong Kong airport at a time when it was still under British control, and when 747s flew in at an angle designed to catch washing lines with their wing tips. Jimmy enjoyed my discomfort as we banked hard to line up with the runway. Peering out the cabin window I could see into people’s houses through their windows.

We had refused the recommended Drysdale Hotel when we booked the trip at the travel agents, a small firm around the corner from the flat that specialised in long haul. Being the excellent customers that we were they didn’t argue. When we landed in Hong Kong, Jimmy explained that the Drysdale would burn down, but he could not remember exactly when.

We booked into the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jimmy explaining that he needed to bump into someone there. We would not have normally spent so much money on a hotel, but this was business. As it turned out I really liked the Mandarin and would return many times in the future. Within an hour of hitting my room I was enjoying my first massage, two local ladies at the same time, with Chinese music playing in the background. I even had the James Bond style massage with a little lady walking on my back. Fortunately, the little lady weighed six stone soaking wet.

Later, Jimmy led me down to a large and empty function room, saying, ‘What do you reckon to the acoustics?’

‘Uh?’ was all I offered as I scanned a large room with red curtains and red carpet. The door sign said it was called ‘The Red Room.’ Fair enough.

‘Tomorrow, there’s a convention on stock market trading, including technical trading and derivatives. We’re going to crash.’

‘To find the guy you want to bump into,’ I surmised.

‘He should be in the audience. Mr Wang Po.’

‘Poor fucker,’ I muttered. ‘What does he do?’

‘He’s in property, shipping and food. At least he’ll be in those industries in a bigger way in the years ahead.’

‘Successful guy?’ I asked as we took in the room.

‘By time we get to 2009 he’ll be one of the richest men in China – worth about twenty billion quid.’

‘Shit…’

‘Exactly. And you know how he made a lot of it?’ Jimmy teased.

After a moment I said, ‘You don’t?’

‘I do.’

‘Why? He’s Chinese, a communist rice nibbler!’

‘In 1997 this place goes back to China and infects the whole country with capitalism. China rapidly becomes a very rich nation and ultimately catches up to the Yanks –

becoming the second super-power. And Wang Po is going to help me make a few quid … as well as influence the Chinese Government.’

‘Jesus,’ I blew out. ‘Don’t tell the UK Government.’

Jimmy focused on me. And waited.

‘I know,’ I admitted. ‘You’re already a very secret squirrel.’

‘And so should you be, underling.’

‘Less of the underling, I went to Kingston Polytechnic.’

‘Got your old McKinleys’ pass?’

‘Nope.’

He handed me my old pass. ‘You do now, underling.’

That evening we dined at a restaurant that gave me vertigo, glass panels below our feet that viewed the street far below.

At least the food was good. It was similar to that which I had sampled in the UK, but somehow better; I guess the ambience helped.

After the meal we sat on high stools at the bar, a huge glass front allowing an uninterrupted view over the brightly lit city. Numerous local girls made clumsy attempts to get a free drink and a new customer for a few hours, but we resisted. Jimmy surprised me with his fluent Mandarin, the brightly coloured little ladies in no doubt as to the firmness of the putdown.

‘Not before the main event,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Work comes first. Couple of beers, bed, get rid of your jet-lag, fresh in the morning. Sauna and swim, late breakfast, then crash the big show. You might recognise some of the faces.’

‘Anyone from McKinleys?’ I puzzled

‘They’re on the list, so our passes will get us in, dummy.

Old Bob is here.’

‘Old Bobby,’ I repeated, fond memories of the rotund senior broker, something of a mentor to me in my first few weeks.

Jimmy tipped his head. I followed his gaze to a table with a colourfully dressed local girl facing a rotund man. With a smirk, we eased up. Sneaking in quietly from behind, Jimmy slapped his hand onto Bob’s shoulder. In a Chinese accent, he said, ‘What you do my wife?’

‘Wha … what?’ Bob stumbled, suddenly horrified. He hurriedly wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood. ‘By God! Jimmy Silo!’ He clocked me. ‘Paul?’

‘In the flesh,’ I said, shaking his hand.

Jimmy shook Bob’s fat claw of a hand, then slipped the girl some currency and told to her leave quickly. There were seats for four at the table, so we plonked down.

‘What are you two doing here?’ Bob puzzled.

‘What

are

you … doing here?’ Jimmy countered. ‘Besides shagging locals.’

‘I’m here for the seminar … ah, you as well, eh?’ Bob surmised.

Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded.

‘And I’m here for the booze,’ I put in. ‘So, anyone else from McKinleys here?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Bob replied. ‘Couple. Right now they’re down the local brothel. I decided to give it a miss.’

‘Really?’ Jimmy teased.

‘Well, the young lady sat down –’

‘If you don’t get rid of them quickly they see it as a contract,’ Jimmy warned.

‘Oh … really,’ Bob mused. ‘Never mind, only here for three days. So, what you two been up to? I heard you had joined forces.’

‘Bit of trading,’ Jimmy nonchalantly stated.

‘Still doing well?’ Bob whispered.

‘Very well, of course,’ Jimmy responded.

Bob addressed me with, ‘Are you day trading, or client account, or what?’

‘Learning to fly helicopters,’ I said. ‘So that I can impress birds.’

Bob frowned his lack of understanding.

Jimmy explained, ‘He’s spending his pocket money on flying lessons. Something to impress the birds.’

Bob again focused on me. ‘You should get Jimmy to take you to some London clubs. Bit of a ladies man, our Jimbo.’

I resisted the temptation to respond to that. ‘Slave driver he is, I’m always too tired to go out. He’s got me on the Dow and the Hang Seng – twenty-four hour job.’

‘Bit of arbitrage, ay?’ Bob assumed.

Fresh drinks were placed down.

‘So,’ Jimmy began. ‘Got your speaker’s pass for tomorrow?’

Bob fetched it out. ‘They gave us these today.’

Jimmy took it off him and pocketed it. ‘I lost mine, so this’ll have to do.’ He gave Bob a wad of notes. ‘Tomorrow you’re going sight-seeing and shopping.’

‘Oh, er … right you are, Jimmy.’ Bob pocketed the wad.

‘Hate public speaking anyway.’

And just in case Bob changed his mind about speaking at the seminar we got him right royally drunk, before making sure three ladies took him home. Jimmy removed his wallet first, paying the ladies well and telling them, in Chinese, which hotel to drop in at, no earlier than 2pm. On the way back, Jimmy explained that the ladies were under contract to the restaurant and high class, so they would not abuse a customer – and no, I could not have one.

As we again approached the aptly named Red Room we encountered a throng of Chinese, most of who seemed pleased to see us. Jimmy explained that the Chinese were into their trading in a big way and that seminars like this were always well attended. Some of the Chinese were even from across the border.

We flashed our McKinleys passes, although they were not needed: we were Caucasians in suits and in the minority, being treated like honoured guests, and there could not have been more than ten westerners present. Jimmy approached Bob’s massage-parlour visiting colleagues, the men startled in their recognition.

‘Jimmy Silo!’ they questioned. ‘By God!’

We shook hands.

‘Bob’s not well, so I’m speaking,’ Jimmy told them.

‘Do my slot as well,’ one of the men grumbled, not wanting to speak.

‘I will, I need the time,’ Jimmy said. ‘Give me a good write up, lay on thick, then wait for us in the bar.’

The first representative of McKinleys spoke after two other Brits, boring talks about currency arbitrage and day trading. Then Jimmy took the podium. Unlike his countrymen, he gave a welcome in Chinese, then French, Russian and finally English. And the bugger could have warned me in advance about what was to come next. He gave a one-hour talk, complete with numerous diagrams on a white board, in Mandarin Chinese. At the end of it, the other Brits waiting to speak looked peeved, but the locals loved it. And I was wondering just where, and when, he learnt to speak Chinese.

When Jimmy rejoined me, he asked, ‘How did I do? Clear enough?’

‘Fuck off,’ I whispered as numerous locals closed in on us.

‘Is your boy here?’

Jimmy nodded. He answered questions from several locals as tea was served, then seemed to be heavily engaged with one particular gent, a round-faced local with dimples in his cheeks and a permanent smile. He introduced the man to me as Mr Wang Po and we shook.

Jimmy said, ‘Mr Po speaks excellent English.’

‘It OK,’ our new friend suggested, his words accented.

Jimmy told him, ‘I’m happy to answer more questions, but not on an empty stomach.’

‘We go, we, go. I have restaurant,’ Po insisted.

‘Not wanting to hear the rest?’ I teased.

‘No, no. Jimly theory vely good.’

We walked out through the crowds and to the taxi rank, but Po had a car waiting, a dark blue Rolls Royce. Chatting away like old friends, we got in and headed off, Jimmy trying to keep the conversation English for my benefit. But the big guy looked, and sounded, like a nerd in a suit when he spoke Chinese. ‘Jimly’ could not seem to maintain the butch image as he contorted his face to form the Chinese words. It took half an hour to reach the restaurant, which turned out to be a staff canteen of sorts for the executives of one of Po’s companies, numerous security gates negotiated as we spiralled up a hill. But the place turned out to be posh enough.

Po was not the boss, but the boss’s son, his father elderly and infirmed, Po being the heir and de-facto managing director. We settled down at a round table, many different offerings placed down, the idea being to sample a little of each and then order some more. I tucked in as numerous executives entered, each man bowing politely in our direction. Guess it was lunchtime around here.

I heard Po say, ‘You can predict big crash in market.’

Jimmy suggested he could, and Jimmy did not get involved in guesswork. He and Po discussed ‘bubbles’ and

‘saturation points’, some of which I understood: if everyone was in the market, where would the new money come from?

My ears pricked up when Po suggested Jimmy trade some money for him.

Jimmy replied, ‘Mr Po, the fun of stock market trading …

is to do it yourself. I am happy to provide you with recommendations for a few years, for you to see how good I am. After that we can talk about commission.’

Po was stunned. ‘A few years – no commission?’

‘That’s correct. I am in no hurry … and a good friendship takes time.’

I decided to be helpful. ‘If you visit London we will show you around.’

‘I have UK passport as well,’ Po explained. ‘This Hong Kong, no bleeding China!’

Trying to be even more helpful, I turned my head to Jimmy and said, ‘What was that company we heard about, the secret takeover?’

‘Ah, Anglo Oil,’ Jimmy responded, the company we had bought shares in the day we left. He faced Po. ‘Anglo Oil should be a good bet in the next few days, they’ll be a bid by Shell.’

Po snapped his fingers at a lady and had a phone to his ear a few seconds later, a rapid exchange with his broker. Little more than a minute later Po had ordered a million shares at just about two quid.

Jimmy said, ‘Hold them till they reach two-eighty at least.’

Po thanked us as we stuffed our faces. I didn’t know what work Po did, but we remained there till the sun went down, waited on by the nice ladies in traditional dress. Jimmy told Po that we had to meet the other Brits, which we didn’t, but offered to see him at the casino that night. It was a date, Po sending us back in the Rolls.

Back in the hotel, I said, ‘We meeting McKinleys?’

‘No, just needed a break, or he would have adopted us as family. Get some rest and be ready for 9pm, the car’s coming back for us, and it could be a late night. Oh, and his daughters

– not a finger on them nor innuendo spoken, you’d wash up in the harbour.’

‘Nice, are they?’

‘Very. And sixteen with it.’

We were almost half a day ahead of the UK, the FTSE

opening as we were losing shed loads of money at the tables.

At least I was, Jimmy was playing blackjack and doing OK.

At some point someone must have handed Po a phone or given him a message, because the UK market had opened with the news of the takeover leaked, Po now a million quid or so better off. First I knew of it was a member of staff offering me a silver tray with bundles of British Pounds on it.

‘For you, sir, from Mr Po.’

With quite an audience observing, I accepted the money, a stack the size of two house bricks, then decided to head to Jimmy instead of my first impulse, which was to put it all on black.

‘Anglo Oil?’ I knowingly asked.

A smiling Po, sat next to Jimmy, nodded the answer: it was already at three quid ten. Jimmy also had a pile of cash, stacked up on the table, but he did not seem to be gambling it.

It was my turn to surprise Jimmy. ‘Mr Po, can I ask a favour?’

‘Of course, of course.’

‘Can you hold this,’ I said, handing him the bundle. I took out the flyer that I had found in the drawer of the bedside cabinet and held it for Po to see. ‘I want you to take our money and give it to The Red Cross mission here in Hong Kong.’ I handed him the flyer.

Jimmy was as cool as ever, stacking his money on top of mine without making eye contact with me.

Po was surprised, to say the least. ‘You want to give it all

– to Red Cross.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘And I trust you to deliver it, of course.’

With a quick tip of the head Po had two members of staff at hand, collecting the money with instructions on what do with it.

A minute later Po’s two daughters arrived, introductions given, Jimmy turning and standing. He engaged them at length about their studies, before switching to English, asking a few more questions; it turned out that nearly all of the educated locals spoke English. And the two girls were just nice enough to eat. I took them to the bar, and helped them practice their English.

When the girls had to leave, Jimmy explained that we were due to meet our friends from McKinleys in the morning, and we thanked Po. Jimmy got Po’s fax number and card and gave him our details before we left, the Rolls taking us back again. We flew out the following afternoon with a new friend in the colony. And the local branch of the Red Cross got a surprise, Po as trustworthy as the Pope. From now on I was to fax our new friend regular tips.

Kenya, Feb 1987

Staying at the hotel that we were due to buy, one day Jimmy ordered us a taxi and we set off through the dilapidated gates, a half-hearted salute from the fat old guard.

‘You’ll need to be good at improvising today,’ he said as we bumped along a road that I was determined to fix some day. ‘Don’t react to weird stuff, I’m going to frighten someone.’

‘Frighten them?’ I asked, a careful study of the sweaty taxi driver. But the man seemed ignorant of our discussion, concentrating hard on trying to run over chickens in the road.

‘There’s a woman … you’ll see. She thinks I was in the Second World War.’

‘Were you?’ I testily asked.

‘No, but her belief serves my purpose. You see, the first time I met her she thought I looked familiar, told me a story about an English soldier who saved her during the war. I’ll adopt that persona so that she’ll assist us.’

‘Assist us how? If she was in the war then she’s gotta be fucking ancient!’

‘Seventy

now.’

‘So…’

‘She runs an orphanage,’ he said with a smirk.

‘Oh,’ I muttered. ‘I got a few quid to give them.’

‘Me

too.’

‘You Englanders?’ the taxi driver finally asked.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘From the Chicken Protection League.’

‘I like da chicken, man,’ I got back.

‘Get your wife to scrape some off the tyres later, be well cooked by time you get home!’

We had passed this orphanage before, on each trip to the hotel. It was a red brick building on a corner of the main road and resembled a school from the outside. It also looked a hundred years old and falling down, the outside dilapidated. I wondered what the inside might be like, and I wondered too soon. The inside stank, a curtain of buzzing flies hanging in the air, the pungent odour of stale urine greeting any visitors

– no need for a guard dog. I looked inside a hanging bell, but found no striker, so I tapped it with a coin. A local appeared, a face so black that I could not make out any features other than bloodshot eyes.

‘Sister woman,’ Jimmy told the man.

The man, dressed in a sweat-stained blue shirt, turned around and hobbled into the bright sunlight of an internal courtyard, the distant echoes of kids’ voices coming from somewhere. We followed him across the courtyard and into another building, to an office, finding the diminutive ‘Sister woman’ sat attending some paperwork. Her hair was grey and unkempt and she appeared as if she had neither had a good bath, nor a good meal, since the end of the aforementioned war. Maybe even the First World War.

‘God bless all here,’ Jimmy stated as we stepped inside, causing me to puzzle the line. Blocking the sunlight of the doorway, Jimmy towered over her. ‘Are you all alone under the rubble, Mary?’ He held out his hand.

She stood slowly, her wrinkled face contorted in confusion. For a full ten seconds she stared at him before holding a hand to her mouth and shrieking.

Jimmy took her frail arm, lifting her shirtsleeve and revealing a scar. He ran a finger along it. ‘I did good stitches, child.’ She collapsed back into her seat with another shriek, uttering some words in Dutch. Her assistant looked worried for her, pouring her a drink.

‘Are you not glad to see me?’ Jimmy asked. ‘It has been a while.’

‘You … you,’ she struggled to get out, pointing a shaky finger. And I was starting to feel uncomfortable; poor woman looked like she had seen a ghost.

‘Yes, Mary. I have come to help.’ From his pocket, Jimmy handed over a thin wad, totalling ten thousand dollars, which out-trumped the ten dollars I was going to give them. She examined the wad. ‘I think some food for the children is in order, some more staff and new toilets in the boy’s building,’

Jimmy told her. He turned about and led me outside. ‘Give her a minute, I’ll show you around our new orphanage.’

‘Our … our orphanage?’ I queried.

‘Our … AIDS orphanage.’

I stopped dead, not least because some of the sickly looking kids were closing in; snot noses, a dozen personal flies each, tatty clothes, ribs showing. I swallowed. I was not ready for this and Jimmy, bastard, had dropped me right in at the deep end. He began to chat to some of the kids in various local dialects as I tried hard not to touch them. I was walking through them with my arms up, as if negotiating a field of stinging nettles.

‘They will not bite you,’ came a weak and husky voice from behind as Mary joined us.

‘You can’t know that for sure,’ I told her. ‘They look hungry.’

‘You are not like him.’

‘No, I’m mortal,’ slipped out, immediately regretted. Now I was winding up the old lady as badly as Jimmy, and by accident.

She put a hand over her eyes and stared in his direction. ‘I had prayed for help…’

I gave it some thought, trying not to make a joke. ‘Some solutions come in extra-large size.’ We observed Jimmy pick-up two ten-year-old boys and swing them around. He straightened his arms level with his shoulders and spun around, the boys flying over the heads of the other children, the gathering staff amazed.

Finally he joined us, three members of staff now stood flanking the old woman. ‘I’ll be sending ten thousand dollars a month to start, more next year. We’ll be visiting regular, three times a year, and we will be taking over this orphanage, rebuilding it to hold more children. I will build a school and bring in teachers, also a permanent doctor based here.’

To say they were stunned was an understatement.

‘Going to get some fly traps as well,’ I put in, hoping it did not sound too sarcastic.

He closed in on the old lady. ‘Now, show me the children who are dying.’

I swallowed. If the rest of the orphanage was anything to go by, what the hell awaited me in the Terminal Ward?

It was a bad as I thought; I was fighting not to be sick with the stench. The kids lay in their own excrement, many with limbs dressed in bandages that had been white at some point.

Mary saw my look. ‘No money, no care. When they die we burn them. One or two a day.’

In the space of an hour I had gone from a nice beachfront hotel and a cold beer … to hell on earth. My guts were turning and my thoughts jumbled. What I would have paid to be out of there that instant.

Jimmy faced Mary squarely. ‘Do you trust me?’

‘Of course,’ she offered, seemingly shocked that he would ask.

‘Get a needle and syringe.’

My guts tightened some more as I stood as close as I could get to an open window. I could see out over some low brick buildings toward a wooded area at the rear, smoke coming from a fire. I remembered what she said about the bodies, vomiting hard through the window and gripping onto the peeling paint frame. Turning around a minute later I saw Jimmy prepare a needle, hand it to Mary and offer her his straight, forearm upturned. After a moment’s hesitation she drew dark red blood.

‘Inject a quarter into the four children with the best chance of survival.’

What had she to lose, I thought as I observed; the beds held the living dead. These kids didn’t even have the strength to move their eyes towards us. She carried out her task diligently, returning to Jimmy as I retched again. My brain was fried and not working. As I stood there I realised he was immune to everything, future genetics, and now I understood.

His blood, in them, would make them better.

He informed her, ‘If it is not too late they will run a fever for a day, then start to recover. They must have protein and water, so use the money I gave you. You understand?’

She nodded, holding the needle reverently.

‘We will be back in seven days, use the money, there will be more. And Mary, do not discuss me with anyone.

Understand?’

I was very grateful when he grabbed me by the arm and led me out, delighted to be on the street again, but also a little angry at having been dragged in there in the first damn place.

Still, what he had done had put me to shame and I felt it as badly as my stomach hurt. We made the short trip back to the hotel in silence and I plunged into the cool waves, several beers at the bar before I forgave him. And forgave myself.

‘Better?’ he asked without looking around, Abba playing from a badly tuned radio behind the bar.

‘Yeah. Sorry about that.’

‘It’s part of my world, not yours. Not yet.’ He faced me.

‘There’s something you need to know. If I inject you with a syringe full of my blood … you’ll change, you’ll be just like me.’

‘Change?’

‘You’ll have extreme endurance … and be immune to every disease known to man. You’ll also live to be around one hundred and twenty, at least. You won’t be a hundred percent like me, maybe sixty percent, but you’ll be able to break every Olympic record. And if you’re going to piss about down here with me … you’ll need the immunity, or you’ll die. And … most of all, you’ll be able to provide a very important backup to me, in case I’m killed.’

‘Back

up?’

‘My blood has the key antibodies to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Later on, decades from now, doctors will use it to reverse engineer cures for a lot of things, saving millions of lives. And, when the time comes, if I’m not around you could inject your mother.’

‘Your blood … it will cure her,’ I realised.

‘My blood will cure more than just her, she’s just one women – but whatever it takes to motivate you to do the right thing.’

I walked off, not returning till sun down.

Jimmy greeted me with, ‘For you the fun part is over, we’ll start to get serious in the years ahead. Sit, there’re some things about the future you need to know.’

I was as sick as the Terminal Ward, my head now filled with what the future held: disease, wars and financial crisis.

Sat there, I must have aged ten years. Ten cool beers later and I fell unconscious, unable to rid my guts of the feelings that gripped me.

The next day was a blur. I managed a quick swim, some bread for breakfast, whilst Jimmy was off scuba diving, then a few beers and back to bed. By sun down I had a thick head and took some Anadin with my beer. I joined him for dinner, but we said little. I retired to my room and watched a black and white TV, mostly local Kenyan programmes. Seemed the Ford Capri had just arrived and was being shown off, and the in-crowd all had Sony Walkmans on their hips. I started to wonder about what decade I was in.

Jimmy left me firm instructions to get my dive certificate sorted, PADI Open Water followed by Advanced Open Water, which seemed to just consist of looking at fish and filling in questions in a book that had the answers in the back.

I went diving, as he headed off to ‘plan things’. A week later, freshly qualified as an Advanced PADI diver, I joined Jimmy in a return to the orphanage from hell.

As we pulled up I noted numerous locals up ladders, some scraping the walls and others painting them a tacky bright blue. Hell, it beat the old natural brick surface, I considered.

We stepped over upturned paint pots and ducked inside.

The man with the very black face and no features shrieked, running away as fast as his gammy leg would allow him.

Guess he was a convert, and buying into the story of Jimmy being in the war. If he knew the truth, I considered, he’d do exactly the same thing and run off again. The courtyard enclosed happy playing kids, this time all dressed like school children in blue shorts and shirts; albeit dying from AIDS. I figured the guys painting the walls were trying to be consistent. There seemed to be more members of staff, now dressed in blue shirts, or maybe just the same staff had a bath and makeover. We ran an eye over more painting work, again blue, then entered Mary’s office.

She jumped up as fast as she could and gripped his outstretched hand with both of hers. ‘Welcome, welcome,’

she said in an accent. ‘Come.’ She led us back towards the Terminal Ward.

‘Hardware store had a sale on blue?’ I asked, trying to take my mind off what awaited us.

‘In Kenya … it’s the law for children and kindergarten,’

she explained as we climbed the new blue stairs. Well, that explained it.

The ward had been metamorphosed into something closer to this decade; and fucking blue. The floor was covered in lino painted blue, the walls smoothed down and painted blue, the windowsills painted blue. The ceiling fans were still rusted, so I guessed they hadn’t reached that far yet. The bed linen was clean, the kids alert and awake, their bandages white. At the far end of the ward, which now looked like a ward and not a death camp, a lady doctor from the Red Cross sat attending a child.

Mary stood proud. ‘You see. You just need money.’

Jimmy half-turned his head towards me. ‘You just need money.’

‘You just need money,’ I repeated, suddenly realising something. I stood nodding at my own understanding.

‘Come, come. Quick,’ Mary got out, squeezing between us and back down the stairs in a hurry. We trailed behind. In the courtyard she called four names, the children falling-in as if soldiers on parade. ‘They had the blood,’ she explained.

I halted. For many seconds I could not move as it dawned on me; these four kids, shiny faces and broad smiles in their neat blue uniforms, had been in the ones in the ward above, dying in their own filth.

‘They put on weight quickly,’ she commended, adjusting their collars.

Jimmy stood proudly inspecting them, the children stood like soldiers before their commander, exchanging a few words in the local dialect again. He was contented and sent them off to play. Facing Mary he said, ‘The Red Cross doctor lady, she is Anna Pfunt?’

‘Anna, yes,’ Mary responded. ‘You know her?’

‘Let’s go and see.’ He led us back up the stairs. It was wind-up time again.

‘Anna?’ Mary loudly called, no regard for sleeping kids, the doctor walking down to us. She stood dressed in a white overall with Red Cross flashes, an image that I would see a lot of in the future. A well-built woman, she looked like she could handle herself in a bar fight. Her face was reddened from the heat, no make-up, her blonde hair tied back.

‘Yah?’

‘This is the man who gave the money,’ Mary stated.

That did not seem to impress the big lady. She looked us over.

Jimmy said, ‘Have you forgiven yourself yet … for your sister’s death?’ The Amazon warrior blinked. Jimmy continued, ‘It is why you came here, Anna. Do you still blame yourself for Lotti’s accident? It was not your fault, you were trying to get away from the old man … the dirty old man in the big house at the end of Aust Strasse, but she could not ride her new bike well.’

I could not tell if Anna wanted to punch him, or keel over.

‘How … how do you know this?’ she demanded in a whisper. ‘I tell no one this.’

‘You told me.’

‘When? When do I tell you this, I do not know you!’

‘When you were asleep.’

Mary smiled contentedly, seeming to enjoy it.

‘When I was … asleep,’ Anna asked, her brow pleated to the point of pain.

‘When you were six,’ Jimmy began, ‘you asked God for a wish. You remember what it was?’

‘Yah…’

‘You now have a big brother.’ He handed her a wad of dollars. ‘Buy a bus for the children, and take them to the ocean as you want to do. In the meantime, I want you to sit and watch us.’ He helped her down onto a bed without resistance before facing Mary. ‘Syringes bitte, schwester.’

With myself sat on a windowsill, blue of course, Anna on a bed, Mary ruthlessly and hurriedly extracted blood, Jimmy wincing one or twice at the haste. Soon ‘Sister woman’ was injecting the kids, Anna on her feet after the second kid and seemingly not in favour of injecting one person with another’s blood, or the sharing of needles. When she finally managed to open her mouth, Mary snapped at her, told her to shut up and watch the miracle. I had to commend her, the old lady attended every kid, the whole room in fifteen minutes or less, jabbing Jimmy in both of his arms, no antiseptic swaps applied or consideration for his human condition. Nothing was going to stop her.

When done, Jimmy told Anna that he wanted her to stay for seven days and to observe the children, but not to say anything to anyone; as a doctor it would go bad for her to be part of this. Now that was something of an understatement.

Even I knew that, and all I was … was PADI Advanced Open Water with a temporary paper certificate.

Back in the courtyard, I noticed the stack of three grubby mattresses. Pointing, I said to Mary, ‘Throwing them out?’

‘No,

no.’

‘No,’ I challenged. ‘They’re filthy!’

‘It is for the children, for the wall.’ She pointed, but I was lost. She clarified, ‘The painting work; people know we have money now. They come at night, here – this wall, and throw the kinder over the wall.’

My eyes widened. ‘People … throw their kids over your wall?’ I was getting louder as well.