Copyright © Geoff Wolak. October, 2009.
No 10. Downing Street, London. Summer, 1985.
The Prime Minister ran a quick eye over a letter, initialling the corner before handing it back to the waiting messenger.
Thirty minutes later a buff coloured file was being keenly opened by Jack Donohue at the Ministry of Defence. The letter, a tip-off about an upcoming IRA terror attack, now had the addition of TOP SECRET stamped onto it in blood red ink. He touched the edges of the letter reverently and squared it off to the file; neatness was next to Godliness for Jack. He curled a lip at the fingerprint dust still adhering to the paper, pursed his lips and blew delicately.
Jack read the brief letter over and over, trying hard to read between the lines. He attempted to judge the tone and the style of writing, trying desperately to glean some intelligence about the sender – his assigned task. Magestic with a ‘g’, whoever the individual was, had already caused him some sleepless nights. If only the letter had been signed “Majestic”.
Majestic had been the CIA campaign of misinformation about UFOs in the 1960s; a pet hobby of Jacks. But why spell the word with a ‘g’? Was our friend simply a bad speller? No, the writing style had been exhaustively analysed by various linguists and experts. Our friend was deemed to be well educated and cultured. So, it was a deliberate spelling mistake. ‘Magestic’ was a noun, a few references around the world, but none that seemed to be of significance or relevance.
This new letter, typed like the rest, had been numbered by the sender in handwriting as ‘12’ and detailed an elaborate IRA attack, so much detail that some in the government were certain that Magestic was in the community of spies, possibly a high ranking member of the IRA itself. Jack knew that to be nonsense, because lying next to him was a file of the first eleven letters, many detailing natural disasters. Being an intelligence researcher, Jack knew the limitations of field agents and double agents, and predicting the next winner of the Eurovision Song Contest was not amongst the attributes of any spy he ever knew of. No, this was something quite, quite different.
The fact that the Magestic letters had been assigned to him was a great honour for Jack, his career not quite working out as anticipated in his youth. Thirty-eight years old, if he was going to do anything noteworthy, he figured, he would have done so by now. Civil Service retirement at fifty-five loomed as the only light at the end of the long dark tunnel as he sat in his basement office, longing for a window.
He smiled when considering why they had assigned him this task; a degree in psychology. Actually, it was a 2.1, not so clever. But still, here he sat, grinning smugly at his assigned task, a task that his superior resented Jack handling.
His boss always read the letters first, just to make a point, but never gleaned anything of use outside of the obvious facts detailed. Like the other so-called ‘experts’, Jack considered, his boss was stuck in the detail, not the topics or the style.
Now, he considered again the detail of this latest message as he worked alone in his office, muttering to himself. ‘Playful, confident, sarcastic almost … yet important, direct, necessary.’ He made notes, comparing them to a previously prepared summary.
‘Terrorists actions … but only related to us, to the UK, not to any other country. Posted in the UK, in London, various central locations, plus Cardiff, Reading and Swindon. Our friend uses the train a lot, a commuter like myself. Hell, I may have even sat opposite him, and I’m sure by the tone that it is a him. Mid to late forties, ex-military or similar I believe, and a powerful clairvoyant.’ Easing back, his chair issued a creak of complaint as he tapped his top lip with his pen.
He tipped his head back as far as it would go, stretching his neck muscles. ‘So why tip us off? Why not … bet the races.’ He raised a pointed finger. ‘Maybe he does. Note: look for big, consistent winners at the races - stock markets maybe.
‘So far … three IRA attacks, one faulty ship – which sank unfortunately, one spy escaping the safe house a day early, a rail crash averted – but disputed, an aircraft with a faulty fuel line – gratefully found in time, Reagan’s win at the polls, an attempt on our Ambassador in Angola – averted, the Eurovision Song Contest winner – just to make a point, the Iran-Contra affair…’
A thought surfaced, Jack’s features hardening quickly. He typed a hurried note and sent it directly to the Cabinet Office by courier, a deliberate breach of protocol.
The Prime Minister read the note, took off her glasses and eased back in her chair, staring out of focus for several seconds. ‘I want the intelligence chiefs. Tonight. Oh, and this officer … Donohue, fetch him as well.’
When the officers had assembled in Cabinet Office Briefing Room ‘A’, COBRA, the Prime Minister stepped purposefully in and sat quickly, placing down her handbag. Jack adjusted his tie, wondering just how annoyed his manager would be, yet not giving a damn. Deputy Director Sykes was in attendance for this meeting, and eyed Jack suspiciously.
Straight to the point, The Prime Minister said, ‘This gentleman –’ motioning toward Jack. ‘- has come up with a
… very significant point. What if our good friend Magestic is sending tip-offs to other nations?’ She waited as concerned looks swept around the assembled faces. ‘Up to now we have assumed that this was just about us.’
Jack delicately raised a finger.
‘Yes?’ the P.M. curtly prompted.
‘I hope you don’t mind, but when I … er … got the idea I rang a good friend in the London CIA section, the researcher I’m supposed to co-operate with on the psychology of the Russian leadership -’
‘Yes, yes,’ the P.M. urged, beckoning Jack onward with her hand.
‘I figured that, if they didn’t already know, then they wouldn’t register anything about the name. I asked if he had heard the word Magestic…’
‘And?’ Sykes firmly nudged when Jack hesitated.
‘My contact went apoplectic at the mention of the word, demanded to know what I knew.’
Numerous whispered conversations broke out, the P.M.
staring hard at Jack. She cut through the chatter with, ‘You have short-cut … what could have been a lengthy process.
Now they know that we’ve been getting letters. But, more importantly, we know that this is not just about us.’
Jack forced a breath. ‘Prime Minister, we know that Magestic is probably London based, or a commuter along the M4 motorway. So … so if the Americans have had letters, they would, most likely, be posted to the US Ambassador here … in London.’
‘Are you suggesting … that we intercept the American Ambassador’s mail?’
Jack decided to be bold. ‘They can’t possibly know when the next letter will appear, so they won’t miss it if … it went missing.’
The P.M. stood, a nod toward Sykes before exiting quickly. A chorus of overlapping whispers began. Jack tentatively raised a finger.
‘Donohue, you don’t need to raise a finger like a schoolboy wanting the toilet,’ Sykes suggested. ‘What is it?’
‘Well … er … I firmly believe that our friend, well meaning that he is, may also be sending letters to others; Russians, Chinese…’
‘Jesus,’ Sykes let out.
November 21st, 2035, aboard the eco-submarine Warrior III, North East of Bermuda.
As I sat down at my cabin’s small desk I knew exactly what I wanted to write, but my hand just hovered over the data pad. I finally touched the screen.
‘Ready to begin recording and transcribing’ came a pleasant, yet detached female voice. It had obviously been thoughtfully designed by some youngster at Chinchen-Microsoft to be non-patronising, and was the same voice as that on my PCD. If she was real I hoped she was on a commission; a penny a device would have made her billions!
‘PCD’ I repeated in my mind: Personal Communications Device. When I was lad a computer was called a computer, then they became desktop computers – fair enough, then personal computers, PCs – or was it the other way around.
Then everyone had a laptop to carry around. Soon mobile phones started to do what computers did and so they became Personal Communication Devices – shortened eventually to PCs, and it all got confusing. Your laptop worked like a phone and your phone worked like a computer, only smaller.
And me, I often longed for the first IBM PC’s keyboard, ivory keys that ‘clunked’ heavily when you hit them, so much better than touch screens with intuitive algorithms. The number of spreadsheets I accidentally sent my mum from forty thousand feet over the Atlantic.
When I first started work in the city of London, mobile phones were called phones and were the size of a house brick, a thousand pounds to buy; only city brokers with pink shirts and briefcases lugged them around. Then they got smaller, soon everyone and their kids got one, then there were suddenly more mobile phones on the planet than people, and poor Africans tried to fix them, or melt them down or something; I remembered images of poor black kids sitting on a mountain of old phones, trying to make enough money to cover their next meal.
When was that, I considered, thinking back over the years; probably around 2013, before the troubles began. And talk about city traders, I was one for a whole six months before starting to work for Jimmy Silo. It was how we met. Actually, it was how he recruited me, and not for the first time. He came looking for me.
I took a breath, a quick glance at the wall and the photographs of my kids and ex-wife. ‘Kids’, I repeated in my mind, they were now parents themselves. But they would always be kids to me. ‘My name … my name is Paul Holton
… and this is my account of my life with Jimmy Silovich; time traveller, womaniser, philanthropist, reluctant politician
... and my friend.’
I caught my own image in the desk mirror; seventy years old going on twenty-five. At least I appeared twenty-five on the surface, thanks to the genetically modified stem cells floating about my system, hunting earnestly for something to repair and rejuvenate. I could pass for twenty-five, but these days so could a lot of people if they had the money. My mop of black curly hair was still there, and still a mop. As a teenager I had tried to tame it, around the time I had tried in earnest to stop my mum from buying me shirts with wide collars, and cuffs that took ages to iron. The taming hadn’t worked, neither the hair nor my mum. No matter what I tried, my hair had its own ideas. It was cut every six weeks and we agreed to ignore each other and do our own thing. In its favour it never needed combing and looked exactly the same after a futile attempt at male grooming.
Sometimes, these days, my eyes looked tired and I could imagine how I might actually appear at seventy: grey hair, or no hair, wrinkles and sun spots, opaque skin and errant strands of hair trying to escape from my nostrils and eardrums. But, thanks to my mentor, I - and everyone else on the planet - had the chance of eternal youth, a subject of much debate amongst many groups, some of whom wanted me dead.
1986, London. My ‘digs’ in Richmond.
The new guy was shaping up nicely. Six foot four, built like Darth Vader’s big brother and smart with it, we were getting on well. He did the dishes, cleaned the house, bought way too much food and drink for just his own consumption and he nearly always picked up a take-away on the way home, from the Chinese next to Richmond tube station. Me, and Dave the other lodger, were getting fat and lazy after just two weeks.
With England playing in the World Cup, and tonight’s match against Argentina of all countries, we were well geared up; Chinese takeaway, cans of lager, ice cream slowly defrosting and some popcorn for later. Dave and I were as snug as we could get. All we needed was a pair of lap-dancers for half time and life would have been perfect.
Jimmy had joined McKinleys Stock Brokers almost a few months ago and had noticed my advert for a lodger. Rents were high in London, especially in posh Richmond, and I had taken the lease on a whole damn house just to be near my parents. Four streets distant, it was far enough away to be independent. Just. I was twenty-three and the hormones were raging. All I needed was some money, and not to be so damn tired on the weekends that I just slept. Somewhere out there was the big wide world and the bright lights, yet to be discovered.
Getting out on a Saturday night and going large was proving to be more difficult a task than I had anticipated when I had moved out from my patents. Money was tight, better now with the last room occupied, and the working day was killing me; I was running on chocolate and coffee. Didn’t know how Jimmy did it, he hardly slept and was always wide-awake, polite and pleasant. I suspected cocaine, since many of the lads in the office were using it, especially on a Saturday night. We were up at 6am, on the tube at 6.30am, two changes, into the office for 7.45am, pink Financial Times under arms and looking quite the part in our smart suits. We hadn’t yet opted for pink shirts, and I definitely couldn’t afford a mobile phone. Still, we were 1980’s city traders, sons of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution and yuppies in the making.
The football match had proved boring so far; a few chances, a few nudges and hard tackles, plenty of shouting at the TV. At least the food had been good and the beers were going down nicely. Holding my aching stomach, I remembered the threat we had made to go around the corner and show the local girls how to dance. This was why I was single: getting home at 7.30pm knackered, stuffing my face and falling asleep till bedtime. I was twenty-three going on sixty!
With ten minutes of the match left to go, Jimmy said, ‘You know what I reckon will happen.’ He stated it in a voice that made him sound much older than myself, even though we were both the same age. ‘I reckon … that Maradona will punch the ball over Shilton’s head, winning the match one nil.’
‘What?’ Dave said with a heavy frown. He shot me a look.
‘If he hand-balls it, it won’t be a goal, will it?’ He looked embarrassed for Jimmy, who we had already figured was not a football fan.
‘They’ll allow it,’ Jimmy suggested. ‘Ten quid on it.’
‘Twenty quid on it,’ Dave countered, easing up from his slumber and flicking noodles off his smart work trousers.
‘Make it a round hundred,’ Jimmy confidently suggested.
‘A hundred?’ Dave repeated, another glance toward me.
‘That Maradona … will hand-ball in the winning goal?
You’re on, sucker.’
Jimmy opened more cans and politely offered them around as we waited. A few minutes later Dave and I were on our feet, our jaws touching the floor. And I should have known then that there was something very odd about the big guy.
Dave couldn’t speak for a whole minute. He rang his mates to check that the match really was live and not recorded. He even rang the BBC as Jimmy insisted that he didn’t want the money. And that was the start of it. My lodger could predict the future with pinpoint accuracy, a handy trait for a budding stockbroker.
The second clue came that Friday night when I actually felt like I had the energy for a few beers in the pub around the corner. In those days they were smoke filled, no laws against smoking in public places yet. And if there was a pretty girl present then she most definitely was a smoker. Still, in those days the birds were British at least, we weren’t knee deep in East Europeans yet. With no seats free, we stood at the end of the bar, me and Dave picking Jimmy’s brain on politics, which he seemed to know way too much about; he had an opinion on everything. And I mean everything. In our work suits we soon caught the attention of two nice girls, smokers of course, and Jimmy bought everyone several rounds. Oddly, he had deep pockets, just one more mystery about mister mystery guy.
‘That’s my ex-boyfriend and his mates,’ the first girl whispered at some point, a nod towards the other end of the bar.
‘Not to worry, and not a problem,’ Jimmy quietly and confidently assured her, not even bothering to scan the would-be troublemakers.
I, on the other hand, was worried and glanced their way, a bit too obvious. Now the former Romeo knew we were discussing him, maybe even the size of his dick. Judging by the size of the rest of him it could well have been a whopper.
We were in trouble. Dave was no fighter, and I preferred the run very fast approach to these things.
‘I think your ex is still interested,’ I suggested to the girl.
‘He’s such a wanker,’ she came back with, shaking her head. ‘Watch out for flying bottles.’
‘Shall we … eh … go somewhere else?’ I suggested.
‘Curry maybe?’ That was a bad idea, I just remembered, since I couldn’t have even stuffed a packet of crisps into my bursting abdomen.
‘Sounds good,’ Jimmy enthused, a budding world champion at face stuffing; fella had the size to squeeze it into.
Outside, in the cool night air and smoke free environment, Jimmy said, ‘Start walking, I’ll be a step or two behind you.’
With curious frowns, the four of us plodded slowly towards the local curry house, Jimmy trailing behind. We could not have made ten paces before a shout caused the girls to snap their heads around; ‘wanker’ was on our trail. Jimmy waved us on as he turned to face six angry men. We took a step before what was left of our chivalry caused us to stop and turn, and to wait.
‘You six gentlemen must be the local mutual masturbating society,’ Jimmy offered them. I turned my head to Dave. As far as tactics for diffusing situations like this went, it was a first for me. Dave and I exchanged worried looks.
Neither of us had seen someone move like that. To kick a man across the bonnet of a car, another through a plate glass window. In the time it took me to take three small steps there were six unconscious men sprawled on the pavement and road. And Jimmy, he stepped casually towards us combing his hair.
‘So … curry?’ he said as he joined us.
Stunned, we fell into step with him and plodded on, numerous glances back. The second girl was most impressed and linked arms with him, a come-on smile spread across her face. It was clue number two, number three if you include his very deep pockets. We rounded the corner and ducked into a curry house just as flashing blue lights flickered by. The waiter offered us a table by the window but Jimmy, ever the tactical thinker, chose one at the rear, me and him sat with our backs to the wall in an alcove. If the local coppers had looked in they would have seen the girls and Dave, probably not clocking us. I was getting suspicious of Jimmy, pleasantly suspicious. Was he a junior trader like me, or a secret agent of some sort?
Jimmy faced me. ‘Why don’t you guys just have some drinks, soft drinks, sober up a bit so that after this we can hit Stringfellows. I know the head doorman, get us all in.’
It was a plan I liked the sound of. Jimmy stuffed down a curry with the girls, God knows how he had the room for it, as me and Dave sipped shandys. And the odd thing about the big fella - he let me and Dave take the lead with the ladies, always managing to put himself down and play us up. He was helping me out like the big brother I never had.
At Stringfellows we found a monster of a winding queue, and it had just started to rain, but we walked right past everyone. I noticed Jimmy fold a note into his palm before he shook hands with a doorman, who seemed to recognise him.
The note changed hands with practised ease and I was back to thinking about secret agents again, as well as how little money I had on me, since drinks in here had to be pricey. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than Jimmy gave me four tens without the girls noticing. Back then forty quid was a lot, especially for a night out.
‘Pay me back when you can,’ he whispered as we headed towards the VIP area. He stopped at the bouncer policing the VIP area entrance, another handshake and some whispered words in an ear. We were in, and rubbing shoulders with football players and TV stars. I rubbed my hands with glee.
Little more than an hour later and Dave was done, well done and wobbling. Someone had given him a half-drunk bottle of champagne, mistakenly believing him to have just won some international award, and he had finished it off.
Jimmy grabbed a bouncer and gave him some notes, telling him to stuff Dave in a taxi whilst placing our address in Dave’s lapel pocket. Smooth, real smooth.
Suddenly, Jimmy and the girls seemed to be getting ready to go somewhere else, a worry for me because I was struggling as it was. ‘I’ve got the use of a friend’s penthouse flat, not far,’ Jimmy told me. ‘C’mon, let’s get you some fresh air.’
We took a taxi around to Belgravia, pulling up in front of a very posh set of marble pillars, a doorman coming out to greet us, a strange fella in a long green coat and green top hat.
‘Evening, Jimmy,’ the man offered, holding open a set of glass doors.
Jimmy slipped the man a note without the girls noticing as we stepped inside, the girl’s heels clattering on the marble.
We took a snug, gold coloured lift up to the tenth floor and opened to a corridor with just the one door, which I found puzzling in my drunken state. Jimmy turned a key in the door and we stepped inside, the heating already on, a champagne bottle in an ice bucket on a coffee table.
With a frown I touched the bottle. ‘Is he in … your mate?’
‘No, away working,’ Jimmy replied, slipping off his jacket. ‘We can crash here, go home in the morning on the tube.’
As I stood there I was waiting for the girls to object, or to run off. I avoided eye contact with them and I waited; no objections came, no running off. Oh bloody hell - did I have clean underwear on?
Jimmy opened a door and said, ‘Your room. Try the balcony, get some cool air.’
I stepped in and glanced around, almost fainting; it looked like the inside of Buckingham Palace, making me terrified to touch anything. Stepping across the vast room I noted the en-suite bathroom before opening a glass door onto a balcony.
Breathing the cool air, I tried desperately to sober up, finally turning around and closing the door to find Sophie, the girl I had spent most of the time chatting with, bouncing on the side of the bed. Something started to get hard.
‘Very posh,’ she joked, kicking off her shoes with scant regard for whatever they impacted with.
‘Er ... drink?’ I asked, taking off my jacket.
‘Champagne,’ she said with that look in her eye. Actually, I had very little experience of that look up to that point, but I figured it out all by myself. Back in the lounge I found Jimmy sat alone, sipping the cooling champagne.
‘So?’ he asked. ‘All … OK?’
‘It’s like frigging Buckingham Palace,’ I said as I eased down opposite, two champagne flutes already full and fizzing. ‘What does your mate do?’
‘Trader, like us. Older and richer.’
‘Where’s your bird?’ I whispered.
‘Shower,’ he mouthed.
‘Have you got any –’
‘Bedside cabinet,’ he said with a grin. Easing forwards he softly said, ‘Let me be so bold … as to offer some advice.’ I was all ears. ‘Shower together, do the business, robe on, back out here, cool off, coffee, do it again … then to sleep. Get up first, shower – smellys in there, coffee, make her a tea, do it again, give her money for cab home and get her number. Fix a provisional date for tomorrow … here.’
‘Beside cabinet. Now, take the glasses and … have fun.’
I was terrified and exhilarated, but I had been given a plan.
I was even tempted to stop and write it down in case I screwed it up. As it turned out she was great, not pushy, and quite understanding of my drunken state. Coffee was waiting for me in the kitchen as she lay in bed and round two was better than round one.
In the morning I found Jimmy reading the papers. God knows where they had come from, since I hadn’t heard anyone go out.
‘Well?’ he gently probed. I gave him a thumbs-up sign and a silly grin. He pointed at the second coffee mug. ‘I heard you moving. Milk ... and plenty of sugar.’ I sat. ‘Oh, if you need to take a dump then use that door there, separate small bathroom that she won’t be able to smell.’
God he was good. I took my coffee and made a horrendous smell, extractor fan turned on. After another shower and a firm wake-up call for Sophie we both got dressed, finding Jimmy and his girl sat in robes.
‘Hungry?’ he asked.
‘Starved,’ we both said.
Jimmy checked his watch. ‘Be some food brought up in …
oh, about ten minutes or so. Grab yourselves a fresh tea, all laid out in the kitchen.
It was, and the damn kitchen was as big as the bedroom.
Ten minutes later a woman appeared with a trolley, leaving with only a smile and a nod; four English breakfasts and extra everything. We settled around the kitchen table and tucked in, Jimmy and me trying to explain derivatives trading to the girls, who were both secretaries up the East End somewhere.
After an hour of munching we flopped on the sofas around the coffee table and dozed, except Jimmy, who read the papers, circling a few articles. The girls eventually had to head off and change, arranging to meet back here at 8pm for dinner; Jimmy was taking us somewhere and it was a surprise.
With the girls gone, I said, ‘I’d better get back and get some clothes.’
‘In the left-most wardrobe, have a look.’
I found shirts of all sizes still in their packets, socks, pants, even trousers and shoes. Many were my size. ‘Won’t your mate be pissed?’ I asked as I re-entered the lounge.
‘No, he owes me loads-a-money. Help yourself, I’ll settle it when I see him.’
I sat, my brain starting to play catch up. ‘What do you do for McKinleys … exactly?’ Up to that point I had not even seen where he sat in the office.
‘Private client investments and company trades.’
That put him about a million grades above me. ‘At your age!’ I blurted out, immediately regretting it.
He smiled. ‘I’m very good at what I do.’
‘So why are you staying at my gaff, you must be on good money?’
‘Money’s OK, but I tend to spend it quickly. I needed a room … and you’re a trader from the firm, someone who’s not going to go through my company papers at home.’
‘Oh, well … yeah, naturally like.’
Jimmy checked his watch. ‘It’s 2pm already –’
‘Shit!’ I said, checking mine.
‘So why don’t you get some sleep and be fresh for the ladies when they return.’
‘You think they will, you know, come back?’
He smiled a knowing and confident smile. ‘I’d bet good money on it.’
‘Right, well, er … I’ll crash out for a bit then.’ I headed for the door and stopped. ‘Thanks … you know… for all this.’
‘Someday you can help me out, when I need it. I’ll call Dave and see if he got home OK.’
‘Ah … fuck ’im,’ I said, and got some sleep in a bed so big I couldn’t touch both sides, still smelling Sophie on the pillows.
That weekend’s format was repeated three times before we took the girls down to the coast, Jimmy borrowing his mate’s posh Mercedes. Dave got transferred to an office in Leeds for six months and so he moved out. It was just me and superman, and sometimes the girls since they only lived a few streets away with their parents.
One long weekend we drove the girls across to France, to a secluded chateau that Jimmy said he read about in The Times.
And I was heavily in his debt, something that was starting to weigh on my mind. We took the girls on trips down to Bournemouth and to the Cotswolds, before Sophie had to move with her family to Germany for a year. We said we’d stay in touch, but I never saw her again. By then I was cool and relaxed about the whole sex thing, and one of Jimmy’s numerous mates was teaching me to drive. I didn’t work on Jimmy’s floor, but I began to visit regular, often surprised to find the senior managers in with him having coffee; everyone treated him like he owned the damn place.
Six months in and Jimmy said he was going it alone, going to trade some private client funds, and would I like to join him. There was the worry about making enough money to cover my salary and to live, but Jimmy showed me a trading statement that indicated he had millions of pounds of client money under his control. I took the chance, afraid to upset him, not least because he could always sniff out a beautiful woman whose mate would shag me.
Jimmy explained that the owner of the posh apartment had moved to Singapore for at least a year and that he could now afford to rent it. A side room was converted to an office and it soon housed a multi-coloured live computer feed, stock prices ticking over. The second bedroom was now my room and the side room our office, no more trains to work. Jimmy was paying me more than I had been on, no rent for the room, so my money was mounting up nicely. As was my debt to him, and my concern about it.
My old landlord took back the house and I threw out a lot of stuff, buying new clothes. I had to look the part, I even thought about a pink shirt and a mobile phone. I never did get a straight answer from Jimmy about Maradona’s handball, or a bunch of other things, but life was too good to knock it. But something was always nagging at me, and for good reason.
First day at school
Jimmy sat me down after we got the IBM PCs set-up and running, a link to the stock exchange via a dedicated phone line.
‘Right,’ he began. ‘Trading: lesson 1.01. Don’t trade when you’re bored. Don’t trade because you’ve just made a mint.
Don’t trade when you’ve just lost your shirt. In essence …
don’t trade unless you planned it. I make good money by holding out for the right trades. I may make no trade for the next six weeks, or fifty. It depends.
‘If I have a feeling for which way the FTSE is going then I’ll rotate overlapping Index trades, never selling against my stock or reserves. If I have such a feeling, as I do now, I’ll tell you what I think the FTSE may do … and you manage the small, overlapping positions. That’s the trading part of what we do. There’s also investing, some of the stock tucked away for the long term; you’ll see them listed, so don’t go selling them. I’m hanging onto Microsoft, Apple Computers and Nokia in Finland. When there are large market corrections on the downside I often pick up more stock, sometimes off-loading first.’
I was following so far.
Jimmy continued, ‘So … at the moment I think Unilever will break out. Watch the FTSE and Unilever, wait for the index to stop falling and start to level out, then we buy about a hundred grand’s worth of shares, not options, and hold for around six to eight weeks. I’m expecting a thirty-five to forty-five percent return.’
I did the sums quickly in my head. It wasn’t hard. ‘Not bad for six weeks.’
Jimmy nodded. ‘Read the FT, do your bits, I’m off to the gym for three hours.’ He stood.
‘Any totty in this gym?’ I enquired.
‘Some, yes. And no, you can’t come. I’ve got to have some time away from you … employee.’
I read the papers, checked the charts, had several cups of tea and made myself scrambled eggs, and stood on the balcony a lot. Soon I had a work from home routine going, long before it became trendy or financially expedient. But also long before internet porn and music downloads.
We hit the nightclubs Thursday through to Saturday, so we were not always in the apartment, and Jimmy disappeared for a few hours every day to the gym. But the trading was worrying me. I was starting to believe there might be some insider-dealing going on here, but Jimmy firmly denied it when I nudged. Still, we were one hundred percent right in our trades, numerous accounts set-up with half a dozen brokers so that money could be spread around. Jimmy said it was in case one went bust, but he always said it with a grin.
We had made our client fund two hundred thousand pounds in eight weeks, not including investments. For the 1980s it was a shit load of money.
But it was not just the stock market that Jimmy was good at predicting. He also had a bad habit of predicting world events with uncanny accuracy. Looking back, I was being a bit thick, blinded by the money and the lifestyle. And the big guy often joked about crystal balls and other mumbo-jumbo stuff, joking away reasons to make trades and anticipate what the news would bring. It was as if he wanted me to catch him out, to confront him. I was just being slow. A good salary, a posh apartment and an endless supply of pretty girls will do that to you.
One day I bumped into a senior trader from the old firm.
‘Ah, Paul, how’s it going? You learning loads from the big guy?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, since Jimmy had been teaching me a thing or two that I did not already know.
‘Must be great to be a trader … and a fucking clairvoyant!’
the man joked.
As I walked off a bad penny finally dropped. I stopped in Oxford Circus and stood rigid for so long that a copper came up to me and asked me if I was OK. Back home I found Jimmy sat reading the papers, something he spent an inordinate amount of time doing.
‘Er … tea?’ I asked, trying to summon up some courage.
‘Take a seat, Mr. Holton,’ Jimmy said without detracting from his study of some obscure war in some obscure country that I had never heard of. As I eased down, he lowered his paper. ‘Something on your mind, young man?’ He waited. I didn’t know where to start. ‘Guess you’ve been wondering about … many things. Such as … my ability to predict the future, and not just in stocks.’
‘It’s a bit … you know … spooky.’
‘But a good kind of spooky … because it makes me lots of money and allows me to have nice apartments and cars and the money to … well, help you live the life you’ve become accustomed to.’
He hit the nail on the head and made me feel very ungrateful for all he had done for me. ‘Well…’ was all I could get out. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil our friendship.
‘If you have a question … ask it, before we both get hungry just sitting here.’
I forced a breath. ‘How can you predict the future? Are you, you know –’
‘Clairvoyant? No, not clairvoyant, but I can predict the future with great accuracy.’
My poor brain was puzzled. ‘Isn’t that … a clairvoyant?’
He seemed amused. ‘A clairvoyant can see the future… if you believe in all that crap. I can remember the future. Your future, my past.’
‘My future … your past?’ I gave it some careful thought.
‘That would make you a … what, like a time traveller?’ I said in an off-the-cuff manner, a dismissive wave of the hand.
‘Yes,’ he answered with a smug grin.
‘Yes … to what?’
‘Yes … I’m a time traveller.’
‘You’re a … time traveller. What, like Doctor Who on the TV?’ I scoffed.
‘Similar, I guess. But my TV sidekick doesn’t have large breasts.’
‘Not from this planet, then?’ I joked.
‘Technically … no,’ was not the answer I expected. He focused on me. ‘Ever seen me sleep?’
I thought back, realising that I hadn’t, that he was always awake; last to bed, first up. And if I got up in the middle of the night he’d be reading, telling me he couldn’t sleep.
‘You’ve seen how strong I am,’ he added. ‘And yesterday you saw me burn my hand.’ He held up his hand. ‘See any scars? Any red burns?’
I was getting worried. He fetched a file and plonked it into my lap. It consisted of a series of letters, typed and signed, and all address to the Prime Minister. I gulped. Each had been signed “Magestic, the man in the middle” .
‘The … er … man in the middle?’ I queried.
‘Someone in the middle … sits between opposing parties,’
he enigmatically explained.
I scanned the first letter. It was warning the Prime Minister about an IRA terrorist attack, and suddenly this was all way out of my league. The next letter itemised a train crash from a faulty signal, the third another terrorist attack by the IRA -
this time in great detail, and naming names. The fourth outlined the election victory of Ronald Reagan and the capture of a British spy in Tehran. It got worse. Predictions of things to come in years ahead, ferries sinking, aircraft crashing and being hijacked. I finally looked up.
Jimmy casually asked, ‘If you had the ability to predict the future, what would you do with such a skill? Trade the stock markets like me? Sure, got to make some money and oil the wheels. Bet the horse races, make a mint? Why not, you can always give some money to charity. But would you not, also, warn people about things like … plane crashes? Terrorist attacks?’ He eased back and waited.
‘Well … yeah, of course I would,’ I firmly suggested.
‘So you would use such an ability … for the benefit of mankind?’
‘Well … of course.’
‘Sounds laudable. And if you had this ability, and you were warning people and saving lives, then you’d be … what
… one of the good guys, yeah?’
My head nodded itself.
‘And if you knew that … let’s say … your mum was due to get cancer in twenty years time … then what?’
‘My … my mum will get cancer?’ I was horrified.
Jimmy nodded, looking solemn. ‘What would you do?’
‘Get her to the doctors before that time, for a check-up,’ I rushed to get out.
‘Check-ups … reveal things, they don’t cure them.’
‘She … she’ll die at sixty-seven?’
‘Not if we don’t let her.’
‘What could you do?’ I asked, almost sounding angry with him. Calmer, I said, ‘You … you’d help me pay for private medicine for her? Early treatment?’
‘Something along those lines.’
This was now a different ball game, a very different ball game. When I had come up in the lift I figured he was some sort of clairvoyant, and that he used his gift to trade the markets. I had completely missed the other uses of such foresight, such as plane crashes. I felt very guilty all of sudden. We simply sat and stared for a moment.
Finally, Jimmy said, ‘Of course, if you expose me … I won’t get to carry on preventing plane crashes. And I certainly could not help your mum and others.’ He opened two cans and poured me a lager, which I needed. ‘So’, he finally said. ‘You going to turn me in to the authorities?’
My mind was still on my mum, and plane crashes. ‘No, of course not.’ There was also the matter that he was the best friend I had ever had. In fact, just about the only decent friend I had ever had.
of course not? I could be a dangerous alien for all you know,’ he toyed.
‘Are you … you know?’
He laughed. ‘No, I was born in Newport, South Wales.
You’ll meet my parents soon enough.’
‘Time travel,’ he carefully mouthed. ‘In simple terms: I lived to be sixty-four years old, went to Canada after World War Three destroyed the planet. –’ My eyes widened. ‘-
Became Commissioner for British, European and Israeli Refugees, stepped into a time machine built by the United States Air Force and came back here knowing what I know.
My body is full of genetically modified stem cells and other drugs, giving me greatly extended endurance and strength.
I’m immune to all diseases known to man - and a few they haven’t discovered yet. I heal quickly, I don’t sleep much, I eat a lot, but I can’t jump tall buildings in single bounds and I most certainly do not wear my pants outside my trousers.’
‘Wa … World War Three?’ I repeated, now wide-eyed and transfixed.
‘Kicks off in about seventeen years time, give or take.’ He raised a finger. ‘Unless, of course…’
‘You warn them. You stop it.’
‘Tricky.’ He shook his head. ‘Would they listen? I’d need some … credibility, built up over twenty years or more.’
I lowered my head to the letters, suddenly realising where this was going.
Jimmy added, ‘Of course, it would be a difficult task all by myself.’
I scanned him from under my eyebrows, finally switching my brain on. ‘You didn’t need a room, did you?’
‘No, I’m worth millions. And this place, dumb fuck, is mine - I bought it for two hundred grand. You’d make a lousy secret agent.’
‘Why come to me? I’m no James Bond.’
‘You have a destiny.’
‘I do?’ My expression made him laugh.
‘Yes, you do. I’ll guide you, so all you need to do … is to think more about others than yourself for the next twenty or thirty years. Do you think you could do that?’
I nodded, although I had no idea what I was nodding about. ‘What would happen –’
‘If the authorities found out about me? We’d be locked up, tortured for information, dissected probably. So, you know, not a word to anyone. And I mean … anyone. Your life …
depends on it.’
‘Bloody hell,’ I let out before setting about my lager.
‘If you accidentally tell your parents, or some lady you’re dating, you’ll put everyone you know in danger. In time, in the years ahead, I’ll be rich enough and powerful enough to stop any such action. But for now we have to be careful.’
‘So, your plan –’
‘Is to make some money, build up contacts and friends, build up credibility with the tip-off letters and, when the time is right, go public.’
‘Years from now you’ll be very rich, and have your face all over the TV and papers, so start thinking like a celeb’ in the making. And now that you know what you need to know
… we’ll be off on our travels.’
‘Starting with Kenya, then the States, Australia, everywhere. I need to educate you in the ways of the world.’
It sounded good. But I foolishly asked, ‘What if the plane crashes?’
‘It won’t, dumb fuck –’
‘Because you know which ones crash,’ I said, feeling silly.
‘So what’s the weather going to be tomorrow?’
He laughed. ‘No idea, check the news weather. I only know what I need to know.’
‘So how come you don’t look like … you know … a wrinkly old guy?’
‘Stem cells, my lad. Everyone has stem cells, they’re what builds our bodies when we’re in the womb. After about eighteen-years-old the production of stems slows down; enough to keep us alive and to heal wounds, but not enough to keep us looking youthful forever. I’ve been genetically modified so that I produce an excess of them, something that doctors will be able to do in around … oh … twenty-five years time. When I was an old guy I was strapped to a bed and intravenously injected with stems for ten weeks, stems taken from the wombs and umbilical cords of ten ladies I made pregnant for that very procedure. Because the stems were fifty-percent genetically my own, they worked well.
‘I was only given enough protein to survive, and so lost a hell of a lot of weight – appearing like the twenty-year-old me at thirteen stone. The genetically modified stems basically reverted me to a full adult at the youngest age, around twenty, which was what I needed for my parents to accept me as me.
‘That particular story … is very secret, so we’ll discuss it at some point later. So is the exact mechanism of time travel
– the people here can’t find out by accident. If you don’t know … then you can’t accidentally disclose it. As for my appearance … ten or twenty years will pass and I’ll age just a couple of years. Eventually I’ll grow old and die if I don’t get another injection … from doctors that are in nursery school as we speak.’
‘Bloody hell.’ I sipped my beer. ‘So … so what do I do…
in the future?’
‘Mostly, you’re my assistant, helping me do what I need to do. There’s no one else I can trust with what you now know, and what you’re going to know.’ I felt honoured, then immediately concerned. He added, ‘And if, and when, I’m killed … you take over.’
‘It’s always a possibility. Accidents … or getting shot by irate husbands.’
‘And then what do I do?’
‘I’ll tell you what the future holds and you … you fix what you can. But don’t worry, you’ve got ten or fifteen years before we get near a situation where the CIA will want to shoot me.’
‘In the future, the Americans are going to want to invade a few countries, but I’m going to try and stop them.’
‘Bloody hell.’ I sipped my beer as he fetched a large box.
‘Reading material.’ He took out each book in turn and made a pile on the floor that grew to a height of three feet: history of the world, UK history, first aid, advanced first aid, Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support, expedition first aid, mountain rescue, UK politics, The Global Economy, principles of flight, piloting helicopters…
‘How else are you going to impress a bird … other than by flying her home the next day in your own helicopter?’
‘Your language tutors will arrive in a few weeks.’
‘I’m like Luke-frigging-Skywalker being trained to use The Force.’
He eased back. ‘You know, in years to come they’ll make three prequels to Star Wars.’
‘What the fuck’s a prequel?’
He sipped his beer. With a deadly serious expression he answered, ‘My life.’
After a reflective beer, I asked, ‘Well … what exactly do I do now?’
‘Now you carry on trading the markets, you study, you travel … you get ready for the future. I’ll give you some money so that you can trade your own account - to make you eventually look rich on your own, so you appear to be my business partner and not an employee.’
‘R … rich?’ I repeated, making him smile.
‘Yes. By time we get to 2005 you’ll be one of the richest men in the UK.’
Wide-eyed I said, ‘I will?’
‘ You will, I won’t.’
‘Huh?’ came out without any help from me.
‘I’m going to make a lot of money and give it all away.
You, on the other hand, will hang onto a lot so that we have a reserve.’
I suddenly considered that my future self was quite mean.
‘Don’t I … give any money away?’
‘Some, yes. Quite a lot in fact – compared to most; tens of millions. But I need you to act as banker. If someone sues me we’ll have a fall-back position.’
I pointed at myself. ‘I … I’ll have more money than you?’
‘Lots more; nice cars, helicopter, lots of women chasing you.’
‘So … so what’s the catch?’ I finally asked.
‘When you have a lot of money – a lot of people try and take it off you. You can’t just pop down to the corner shop …
because someone will claim that you punched them – even though you never did. Girls will claim you attacked them, hoping to make some money from the story or from a settlement. If you’re in a car and some idiot nudges you from behind they’ll tell the police you deliberately reversed into them and how bad their neck hurts and … could they please have a million quid.’
‘Little fuckers,’ I quietly let out.
‘It’s no fun being a millionaire; you’ll have to watch your back. If someone asks you if you like your mum you’d say yes. Next day in the papers it would say you hate your mum.’
‘Little bastards. All because you got a few quid?’
Jimmy explained, ‘In the years ahead the tabloids will become more aggressive than they are now; they’ll print anything, till some privacy laws start to take effect after 2009.
So anything you say or do now – that people will remember –
will make it to the papers in years to come. Probably be an unauthorised biography about you as well.’
‘Biography? About me?’ I challenged.
‘Should think so.’
‘How can they write it … you know … without my say so?’
‘No law against it. If they say you hate your parents it’ll sell better.’
‘So anything I do –’
you did,’ he emphasised.
‘Shit. I lost my virginity to a middle-aged hooker up the West End for forty quid.’
‘Who knows about it?’
I thought back. ‘I think I told a mate in school…’
‘Then make sure you look him up, buy him dinner, stay on his good side.’
‘I got arrested for nicking a cricket ball from a pavilion when I was sixteen.’
‘Fine, tell them you were a rebellious teenager, no one will give a shit about stuff like that. It’s what you do in the next ten years that matters.’
‘What about all the one-night stands?’ I asked.
‘Not a problem: man about town; money, cars, women.
Papers love that sort of stuff.’
‘I haven’t even made any money yet and I’m worrying about it!’ I complained.
‘That, young man, we have in common.’
After two beers, I said, ‘What’s the future like?’
‘I dunno … girls.’
‘They shave off their pubes.’
‘They … what?’
‘Nearly all girls shave off their pubes, or have them cut into patterns – like butterflies. And tattoos, they all have lots of tattoos.’
‘Girls … have tattoos?’
‘Just about all of them; up their arms, on their boobs, sides of the hands - it starts in the 1990s. Around 2020 you see old women with stupid tattoos misshapen by their ageing skin.
Singers like Robbie Williams have lots of tattoos.’
‘Wait and see.’
‘Christ. What’s music like?’
‘In the 90s it’s good, but by time we get to 2009 there’s a lot of Rap music in the charts.’
‘Rap? Like what those black kids do in America? Here?’
‘You’re fucking kidding me!’
Jimmy shook his head. ‘But after 2010 there’re lots of covers, not much original stuff. Guess everything has been done. I’ll commission a clever bit of software that’ll compare songs.’
‘A computer program. And those mobile phones you see yuppies with, Motorolas, they’ll be small as a credit card.’
Jimmy lifted his eyebrows and nodded. ‘They end up as small as a playing card, and either touch screen or voice activated. You’ve seen Captain Kirk use his communicator?
Well … just like that.’
‘You can get a small device to put on your belt and wear around. It bleeps if you’re going to have a heart attack.’
‘Strange … but cool.’
‘Imagine this … walking down a street, you take out your phone – size of a credit card - and say where am I? It tells you where you are, what direction you’re walking. You ask it where’s the nearest curry house? And it tells you.’
‘Fucking hell. They expensive?’
‘No, you get them free and pay a monthly charge of around fifteen quid.’
‘Jesus,’ I let out.
‘Everyone has one, kids as young as six. Everyone. If a parent wants to know where their brat is they ask their phone and it tells them.’
‘Many cars go electric around 2015, I have a hand in that.
Some things are great, some crap.’
I gave it all some careful thought. ‘What do you like the most … in the future?’
‘ Our computer is connected to the phone line, and in the future all computers are connected to central super-computers that hold information on everything. You can click a button and find out the news, the weather, everything. The best bit is the social networking by computer: it’s a gossip shop on the computer screen. You type in something … and lots of people see it, tell their mates. So when the CIA are about to do something naughty you tell people down the computer wire and it goes all around the world in minutes, soon on the news, so that the CIA can’t do what they want to.’
‘Better than letters warning people,’ I suggested.
‘Much,’ Jimmy carefully mouthed. ‘In the future, people watch the TV news – about some idiot behaving like an idiot
- go online and complain about it, and an hour later the idiot stops doing what he’s doing; real democracy in action.
‘But in the future jobs are still crap, the tube is still crap, British Rail is still crap, plane flights are the same, cars are the same, houses are expensive as fuck – ten times the average salary, and night life goes to shit.’
‘Whooa there, buddy. Nightlife does what?’
‘They relax the licensing laws, so anyplace can stay open and put some music on, dance floor in a corner at the back.
No more nightclubs, no one going out in suits after … say 1993. It’s all jeans and t-shirts.’
‘Jeans and t-shirts … in a fucking nightclub?’ I was staggered.
Jimmy nodded reluctantly. ‘It’s why we’ll open our own.’
‘I knew there was a reason I hired you,’ I said loudly. We laughed. ‘Our own nightclub. Yes!’ I broached the subject of Jimmy’s fondness for the ladies. ‘If you’re, you know, so old
– young looking with the wonder drugs and all – then mentally, you know, you’re old –’
‘Yes?’ Jimmy slowly let out, his brow pleated.
‘Then … inside … you’re old, yet you still like the young ladies–’
‘And … so?’
‘Well, there’s … you know … quite an age gap,’ I delicately suggested.
‘And you’re wondering why an old man would go for the young ladies instead of … what … a fine fifty-year-old. How do you think I would look with a fifty-year-old woman?’
‘Well, a bit silly really.’
‘Exactly, dopey.’ He sipped his beer and took a reflective moment. ‘When I got to Canada I was fifty, knackered and despondent – women were the last thing on my mind. The conditions were harsh and I grew old quickly, you do in those circumstances. When I became the Commissioner for European Refugees, some five years later, I had some power
… and better food and living conditions than most. After a year or so I entertained the odd young lady, paid for in food like the rest, but it was not a priority. It felt … not right. So much death and starvation, it just doesn’t do anything for your libido. At least it didn’t for me at the age I was at.
‘The young men raped regularly, punished when they were caught – typically a week in solitary. Others used prostitutes, although it was fair to say that all women there would lift their skirts for extra rations; when you’re starving, all other considerations go out the window. People here don’t understand that because they’ve never lived through it, but the Second World War generation would understand.
‘There was one woman, a doctor under my command -
Elizabeth her name was, who spent a lot of time with me. I suppose you could say that she was a girlfriend. But one day she went to an outlying region and never came back - that happened a lot. And now … now I have to be very careful –’
‘Why?’ I stupidly asked.
‘Why do you think, Dumbo?’
I shrugged. ‘So you don’t slip up and say who you really are?’
‘And what else?’ he prompted.
‘Er … you don’t like commitment?’ I toyed.
‘Never did when I was a mere mortal, stuck four years once. But what would happen if I did marry someone?’
‘You’d … need to find a big-fitting tuxedo?’
He smiled. ‘What else? What would happen to the lady in twenty years time? And the kids?’
‘Ah, they’d grow old,’ I realised. ‘Your kids would grow up and go down the pub with you, looking more like brothers and sisters.’
‘And don’t you think that might be a bit … odd?’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ I agreed. ‘You’re right. What you should do
– to make up for the heavy heartache of not being able to marry – is to shag loads a pretty girls without commitment.
Console yourself.’ We laughed, toasting each other with our drinks.
‘This job’s not all bad,’ he said with a glint in his eye.
We spoke till the small hours, made some plans, and ordered-in a curry like normal. When I woke the next day I was Dr. Who’s assistant, but without the large breasts. After a coffee by myself I went to see my mum, and gave her a big hug. She was so surprised she thought I’d made some girl pregnant or lost my job. It took a whole hour to convince her that I just missed her, and even then she was suspicious.
I put down the keyboard, letting out a tired sigh. ‘Computer.
“Closing down” , came a pleasant voice, followed by a chime as I stretched out on my bunk. My back was aching from sitting hunched for so long and my eyes closed themselves, fatigued with concentrating on the screen.
The door burst open, the patter of small feet followed by a heavy four year old landing on my stomach, air bursting from my lungs.
‘God, you’re getting heavy,’ I whispered as my youngest granddaughter snuggled up. Reaching down, I put an arm around her, finding her well-worn teddy; they were inseparable. Adult footsteps caused me to open an eye briefly, my youngest daughter stood with hands on hips, an expression of motherly disappointment and exasperation. She stepped closer, reached over and pulled a blanket up, covering her disobedient offspring. I heard the door click shut a moment later.
There would be gentle nagging in the morning about letting my granddaughter snuggle up, again, but I didn’t care.
I didn’t see that much of them, so they could snuggle up anytime they wanted. It took me back, back to when my own daughters slept in the bed with me and my wife. My ex-wife.
As I lay there, I thought back to the day Jimmy revealed who he was, well – part revealed the story. It seemed like a million years ago, it seemed like yesterday. Now Jimmy was gone, missing for almost four years. The search had been extensive, large rewards offered. Some believed he had gone backwards or forwards through time, even some of the politicians firmly believed that, but I knew different, and I kept the secret. It was his wish, and I would honour that wish.
The need for some sleep robbed me of further thought on the matter.
1986. First name terms
Jack Donohue was worried, being summoned to No. 10 early one morning. He adjusted his tie as he entered through the rear, ushered quickly to the COBRA meeting. Everyone was staring at him, especially Deputy Director Sykes. Gingerly, Jack sat as directed. ‘Morning,’ he offered, just before the Prime Minister entered.
The P.M. sat and studied Jack for a moment. ‘First, the Americans have admitted, finally, that they also receive letters. Those letters, posted to their Ambassador here in London, are just about identical to those that we receive. We could not say, at this juncture, that they get anything more than we do. They’ve had some specific warnings of mishaps in The States. Question is, do the Russians and Chinese get letters?’
The head of MI5 answered, ‘We intercepted a letter to the Russian Ambassador, but then sent it on its way the same day. It was a warning about a fire at a chemical plant.’ He pulled a face and shrugged.
‘Then we received today’s letter,’ the Prime Minister announced, opening the file she had brought in. Paraphrasing, she read, ‘It was a good idea of Jack’s -’ Everyone focussed on Jack, the P.M. lowered her gaze to the letter. ‘- about the other letters. Just for the record, the international community receives warnings of disasters where I feel my tip-offs may do some good.’ She cleared her throat. ‘ Keep your panties on, luv.’
She took a moment as people shifted uneasily in their seats. Continuing, she read, ‘I am British, and you can be assured of my loyalty of purpose to state and crown. Tell Jack that I do not bet the races.’
Jack tried, and failed, not to smile.
The Prime Minister continued reading, ‘If you wish to send me a message, use the personals in The Sun newspaper, messages to … Big Wobbly Bertha. We will not meet for many years to come, nor should you disclose these letters, since it would most certainly be unseemly for the Prime Minister of our great country to be seen to take seriously the advice of clairvoyants.
‘P.S. If the nice gentlemen –’ She glanced about the assembled men. ‘- intercept letters to foreign embassies I will know about it and direct such letters by alternate means.
Kindly remember who you are dealing with.
‘P.P.S. Jack will eventually figure out more about me.
How about an office with a window for the poor fella?’ She focused on Jack. ‘We carefully checked the signature, just in case it was you … who sent the letter.’ Faces creased.
‘Fortunately, it stops short of suggesting a pay rise or promotion for you.’
That afternoon Jack got a visit from his departmental manager, Wilson, a sour-faced man with little hair, little patience, and even less in the charm department. He scanned Jack’s office without a word then sat. ‘Despite your fondness for your new pet pen pal , I don’t share your views that this guy is a benefit to anyone.’
Jack’s brow creased. ‘Sorry?’
‘He’s not just a clairvoyant, he’s a seer – someone capable of remote viewing.’
‘Remote … viewing?’ Jack repeated, despite the fact that he had recently read a dozen books in the subject.
Wilson flicked dust off his knee. ‘The CIA experimented with it, probably still do. They’re people who can see into the USSR at some missile base and draw a picture of the layout.
Uncanny, some of the stuff they could do but, overall, very inconsistent. Every time the Yanks used them for real missions they screwed up.’ He jabbed an angry finger towards Jack. ‘And so will your boy.’
‘He’s dangerous. He should be behind bars, or in a psych’
ward where he belongs.’ Jack did not agree with that sentiment, but held his tongue. Wilson continued, ‘If he can see into this office, if he knows what we’re up to, he can also see into other areas. That kind of power cannot be left unchecked. So I want you to find him. Use the newspaper message system, arrange a meet, tell him you’re not well or something – since he seems to have an affinity for you. Just find him.’ He stood. ‘Or else!’
A knock at the door preceded two senior police officers stepping in. ‘Mr Wilson,’ the first stated. It was not a question.
Wilson was caught off guard. ‘Yes. Who the hell are you?’
‘We … are the nice gentlemen who’d like to talk about the death of a young lady you were seeing in college, 1958.’
Wilson stood rigidly shocked.
‘If you’ll come with us, please.’ They led him out, one officer remaining. Jack was on his feet, his mouth hanging open.
The officer neared. ‘Mr Magestic said to say hello.’
‘How … how do you know about him, its top secret?’
‘I’ve been getting letters for years - our clean-up rate is through the roof.’ He smiled and winked, letting himself out.
For ten minutes Jack stared at the door with a contended smirk. Despite Magestic’s suggestion, no new office had been forthcoming. Still, it was time for a little celebration. He opened a side drawer and took out a packet of Bourbons biscuits. No, this was a special occasion. He replaced the packet and retrieved a Kitkat.
Our first trip was to Kenya a month later, landing at Nairobi airport. My first impression was … what a shit hole. And the heat was intense. The paint was cracking off the terminal walls, fans on worn bearings competing to see which could emit the most annoying sound - I guessed they were trying to attract mosquitoes, and the staff all stank. Unlike Jimmy, I was not in love with Kenya in particular, or Africa in general.
A local stood with a sign saying ‘Silo’ and directed us to a cab that had seen better days, a Ford Cortina like my dad used to drive. The driver put our luggage into the boot, eventually getting it to close, and we settled in, Jimmy telling the man which hotel we wanted in the man’s own regional dialect. To say the fella was surprised would be an understatement, and we were tooted from behind to get a move on.
Jimmy tipped the puzzled driver well, thanking him again in his own tongue. At least the hotel looked half decent. The staff, dressed in green waistcoats and funny hats, took our luggage and directed us into an air-conditioned interior with lots of white folk milling around; I guessed that it was the local tourist trap. Jimmy signed us in, talking in French to the dark skinned local, who questioned our nationality when the passports were handed over. Jimmy offered him a few words in another dialect, pleasing the man. The rooms were nice enough, good views of the city centre, but Jimmy nodded his head towards the door.
‘Follow me,’ he enigmatically stated.
We took the lift up to the top floor, opening to a roof garden with a small pool and a good sized bar. We sat, Jimmy ordering drinks in some weird dialect. He checked his watch, so I checked mine. 5.45pm.
‘Sunset over Nairobi,’ Jimmy let out with a contented sigh.
‘It’s been … many years since I was here last.’
With cool beers in hand, we sat on sun beds by the pool, several nice ladies swimming lengths and clocking us, the sun going down to the west, the way we were facing. Fair enough, it was very pleasant, and two French ladies joined us, doctors with some agency linked to the Red Cross. Despite Jimmy’s strange knowledge of local dialects his French was limited, the two lady doctors conversing in near perfect English.
I was lost after ten minutes, Jimmy amazing them by knowing more about their mission in Africa than they did. He even told them when their project would end, something they had not yet been informed of. Hairy armpits aside, four hours of slow drinking resulted in Michelle dragging me to my room, thinking I was twenty-nine. Kenya was growing on me.
The next day we were up early, kicking out our guests and telling them we would be back in a week. We hadn’t even unpacked. We hired a taxi, making the driver very happy by booking him for three full days, expecting him to stay overnight with us. Jimmy negotiated a rate equal to a month’s pay for the fella, about a hundred pounds, with petrol on top.
Off we set to some place with a long name. After two hours I was back to my original thought: what a shit hole. I made allowances because it was Africa, but God was it dusty and dirty, the roadsides littered with tatty shacks and naked kids.
We eventually left civilisation behind and hit the countryside proper, stopping to let a lion run across our path.
An hour later and we arrived at the place with the long name, a small lodge of sorts that looked like cluster of Canadian log cabins, albeit dusty and dirty. Jimmy booked us in, speaking in German to the German owner - a room for the taxi driver arranged, then tipped his head for me to follow. On the veranda of a well-stocked bar we sat, cold beers placed down, and looked out across pure African countryside; a gentle slope down to a winding river, all sorts of animals milling about, forest in the distance and hills beyond, the sun setting.
Whoever had positioned the bar had done so deliberately.
Jimmy pointed. Following his finger, I could see my first herd of Elephants, lolling about at the river’s edge. After saying something in German, a man brought Jimmy two pairs of binoculars and we peered through.
‘David Attenborough, eat your bleeding heart out,’ I said.
‘Met him many times,’ Jimmy idly commented. ‘Great man.’
And for the next four hours we sat there. Sundown, sunset, afterglow and pitch black, roars of unseen animals echoing through the dark. Not to mention the million flying insects buzzing about the bar’s lights.
The next morning we ate an acceptable breakfast in a communal hall, a few German guests present, before hiring a private guide and two wardens to take us on a jeep trek. A dated and uncomfortable green Land Rover bounced us along, but we stopped many times, whenever Jimmy uttered some odd words to the driver. My first lion family was a joy; we could not have been more than twenty yards from mum and cubs at one point. We got up close to an Armadillo that seemed to just ignore us, then found a herd of Elephants the other side of a stream. We sat quietly, and they looked us over a few times, the youngsters frolicking in the water. Must have stayed there for an hour, but I was not complaining, I was starting to really enjoy the experience. Further on we spotted Cheetahs, Zebras in the distance, before pulling into what looked like a farm. And there started one of the great loves of my life.
It was not a farm, but an animal sanctuary, for injured or orphaned animals that the rangers and wardens found. The German staff greeted Jimmy, who offered them ten thousand in dollars towards their costs. Fair to say we got the run of the place after that. A teenage girl with a lopsided hat and cute smile took me to one side and sat me down against a wall, re-appearing with a bottle of milk and a bundle of blankets. She handed me the bottle and unwrapped the bundle; a lion cub with its eyes still closed. And for the next hour or so I fed numerous lion cubs, a Cheetah cub and a baby monkey with wrinkly pink skin and an improvised nappy. I was hooked. As she knelt next to me, making sure I was playing mum correctly, her khaki green shirt fell forwards and revealed her small breasts. Then she began talking about nipples and teats.
I got her back onto the subject several times.
They cooked us a meal, not least because of the ten grand they’d got, and we all got along like old friends. Jimmy’s knowledge of animals and the country amazed them, so he explained it away by telling them he had visited many times before. Good job they didn’t check his passport. During the meal Jimmy took a sandwich to the black driver, who seemed not to be allowed inside. When Jimmy returned, the family avoided eye contact for five minutes.
As we sat at their kitchen table, the sun going down, a variety of animals wandered in. A fully-grown Cheetah forcing its nose under my armpit and pinching my food was a shock. Not the table manners, but the fact that it was a grown Cheetah. Second time around I stroked its chin and head and it seemed to like that more than my meal. Guess he had tried the hostesses cooking before. A fully-grown lion caused me to stand and look worried, Jimmy grinning at my discomfort.
‘Not to worry,’ the teenage girl told me in her accented voice, sounding like the South Africans I had seen on the TV.
‘It has a gammy leg and we file down its teeth and claws. It cannot hurt anyone.’
Jimmy got up and grabbed the beast around the neck. It struggled, but he held it firm. He got the animal to rise up and put its paws on his shoulders as he grabbed it by the mane, the lion seeming to enjoy the encounter. They moved outside and started rolling around on the floor like old friends, carefully observed by the bemused staff. Finally, Jimmy poured water into the lion’s mouth, hand feeding it some meat.
‘It is not normally so easy to control,’ the surprised manager informed me. ‘He is a strong man, your friend.’
‘Either that … or he smells like a lioness,’ I suggested.
Jimmy returned to perplexed looks, letting out a sentence in some local dialect: a lion knows another lion when he sees one. That shocked the man even more, Jimmy taking off his ripped shirt and adding to their fixed gaze. Back at the lodge we nagged the staff to join us at the veranda bar, and Jimmy bought everyone way too many drinks, soon a round of German songs filling the night air, some quite rude, followed by the black driver singing a local lament about a boy who lost his goat. In fairness, the lament was quite good, and somehow very African.
I missed breakfast, sleeping in, and missed the big row with the owners. The previous night’s activities had resulted in everyone being hung over, Jimmy paying the manger a thousand dollars for his troubles – principally a lack of available staff. I eased into the taxi with a squint, a water bottle and a hangover and we set off again. As we trundled along poorly maintained roads I tried to sleep, feeling guilty because I was supposed to be getting an appreciation of Africa in general and Kenya in particular. But when you’re hung over everything is a chore.
River View Hotel
Another four hours and we were to the coast, although I slept some of the way and had no idea where we were. We were checked through tall security gates with large holes, making me wonder why they were there at all, and piled out at yet another reception desk.
‘What’s this place?’ I asked.