3-3: Thailand

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I

At the Royal Cliff Beach Resort fitness centre complex, near Pattaya, the weight training had finished and Hugh returned to the hotel complex, taking the lift down to the private beach for guests staying in condos.

Nikki was on a blue deck chair, soaking up the sun.

The complex was virtually a series of hotels set on the seashore, interconnected by walkways and multi-tiered patios, interspersed by various pools, restaurants and bars. The crisply uniformed staff were everywhere and nowhere at the same time. On hand when needed, discretely withdrawing when not needed, the opposite situation from home.

The little trolley bus which carried him to and from the sports complex, the doormen who sprang into action with smiles and opened their doors, passing pleasantries along the way, they got to him as well. The outstanding politeness was what got him most. He knew that it was all predicated on his wallet and upon his dignified bearing. The servants all knew who the boss was and he appreciated that.

As for Nikki, well, it was all of the above, plus everything from the cool feel of the Thai linen robes, with their discrete, yet distinctively embossed emblems, to the beauty salon with its semi-erotic massage service – a woman could be forgiven for throwing all her cares to the wind and feeling very, very special.

Having swum in the pool and then showered and dressed, they were seated for dinner at the white linen, outdoor patio restaurant attached to the adjoining hotel, with one head waiter and two waitresses attending, the cool afternoon sea breeze rustling the table cloth and causing her to put her wrap round her shoulders.

Their penchant for traditional Thai cuisine and in particular the desserts, which do take some getting used to, had endeared them to the restaurant staff. Nikki was in her element, far from the cares of the world.

The best was yet to come.

She’d asked at reception about excursions and one in particular had caught her eye but it was expensive. Hugh asked her how much and cogitated – a safari into the Thai jungle. He warned her that they’d be roughing it, warned her to put in some sturdy clothes and even boots, which they’d buy from nearby Pattaya. Did she really want to go on it?

Her silence clinched it.

.o0o.

The deathly early morning hush in the huge hotel foyer as they awaited the airconditioned minibus was broken when a woman came out to give them their boxed lunches. Nikki yawned and tried to curl up on the foyer seat like a kitten but the back was too low to rest her head against.

.o0o.

Twenty five minutes later, the minibus arrived and they soon found themselves in the Thai road system, the minibus picked up some speed and the passengers started to unwind.

She passed him a mineral water.

There were a couple of British pensioners, a middle aged woman with a weight problem, a tall girl who looked Russian to Hugh, with her boyfriend who seemed Spanish, if anything and so an English language tour made sense; then there was a sort of little professor in the back seat, maybe 60 years old.

They stopped for 15 minutes at a roadside stall, got out and sampled the local delicacies, fried food, not unlike battered sausages. The battered bananas he recognized.

.o0o.

Three hours later, they’d already crossed the top of Bangkok and were heading west.

The bus eventually pulled into a parking area in some town and they were all decanted into a long speedboat, only two persons wide, bobbing on a canal. The long propeller shaft hung out the back and then they were off.

The acceleration jolted them as the young man pushed the craft at maximum speed, heading straight for a bend, then suddenly shut down the throttle and they coasted around the bend over the back of the bow wave and down the next ‘straight’. This went on until they reached an embankment, where they moored.

Up on the landing stage, they were offloaded at some sort of riverside market – the greatest collection of tat they’d ever seen – everything cheap and glittering. It was clear that this was all about buying, buying, buying, with no ceremony, no beg pardons.

There wasn’t one item they could find that made any sense to buy, but that was OK because the stalls were swamped by other tourists and nobody would notice the ingratitude of one couple.

Next stop meant something far more to Hugh – the Bridge over the River Kwai – the appalling inhumanity of one race towards another. Enough has been written and said about it. Just to get out and walk onto that bridge and to imagine what it was like for those allied prisoners of war, totally cut off from civilization, at the mercy of a sadistic and fickle enemy – those metal spans were testimony to all this.

Nikki stared at the bridge and Hugh was pleased to see that she was greatly affected by it as well.

.o0o.

Back in the minibus, it was onwards, ever onwards, towards the Burmese border. He knew they were going to a river but nothing more than that. When they eventually pulled up, late afternoon, at some sort of picnic spot or camping area, it was with a tinge of disappointment.

All this way for a commercial park?

.o0o.

However, when they followed the driver down a path, the grass banks profuse with pretty pink, purple and blue flowers; down, down, down to some sort of system of huts by the water, it was like the old Siam of the movies.

There appeared to be some sort of covered, al fresco restaurant and behind it, further back along the river from where they’d walked, were the sleeping huts. It became clear that these buildings were not on dry land but on pontoons, moored hard against the riverbank. The thatched roofs gave an exotic, oriental feel to it.

They were allocated their quarters for the night and to Nikki’s delight, they had the hut at the end, complete with its own narrow walkway, abutting the river, with a two person rustic wooden bench outside their window. Sitting here gave an uninterrupted view downstream, a view dominated by an enormously high but quite narrow wooden footbridge across the river.

Settled in, having arranged a few things, they set off to find their guide relaxing with the owners and she asked if they’d seen the bridge. ‘This bridge – it call Monkey Bridge – water on river go up bridge.’

‘When, not today?’

‘No, corr not – wet season we had, river very high – it go up bridge orrmost.’

It was a rise of about eight metres. ‘And all of this goes too, the restaurants, the huts?’

‘Yeah they also there – look photo on wall.’

Scrutinizing the photos, it sure as hell was true. The very hut where they were domiciled was knocking against Monkey Bridge in the photos. They looked at one another, decided to cross the bridge and do some further exploration.

‘You come back 5 o’clock orright.’

‘5 o’clock?’

‘Yeah, 5 o’clock. We go trip on river. Waterfall very pretty. You take swimming costume.’

They crossed the river and rambled around a while but it was just another bushwalk so they decided to return, potter about and take a few photos with the disposable they’d picked up at the hotel.

.o0o.

Eventually it was time for the first beer on the verandah, stretched out on the bench, watching the river flow by.

‘Like it?’ asked Hugh.

‘It’s wonderful.’ And she meant it.

.o0o.

Just before 17:00, they made their way along the verandah towards the restaurant.

Everyone was congregating and had already claimed a bench and table. Hugh was wondering where the boat could be which would take them up river. Then he saw it – not unlike the thin craft at the market but much smaller. He was puzzled when it moved past them, out of sight.

Next thing they knew, there was a slight jolt and the whole restaurant started drifting out into the river. Not just drifting either, as soon became apparent. The motorboat was towing the restaurant itself upstream, at a rate of knots, and all they had to do was hang on to their drinks.

Nikki was delighted – there’d be swimming, after all.

The falls could be heard even before they saw them then, around the bend, they came face to face with a sort of giant grotto and running down its steep face were the said falls. The motorboat didn’t just prop and let them take snapshots but started moving towards the falls.

Actually, they didn’t appear to be stopping.

Thirty seconds later, they were sure something had gone wrong. Murmurings among the guests had turned to sharp exclamations of worry – it was clear they were going to plunge right under the massive torrent of water and crash into the grotto.

The front corner of the restaurant barge had already wedged itself under the fall, the torrent was crashing down on the slatted wood deck and the guide was chuckling. ‘Who go under first?’

Hugh had a rush of blood, stripped off and walked under the torrent. It was bloody freezing and painful too – like a ton of bricks falling on his head. He jumped back. Then he decided to try again, hands over his head to stop his skull being beaten in and in a perverse way, it was starting to become fun. Flashlights popped and he was joined by others, Nikki too.

It was grand fun and when they finally chugged back downstream an hour later, there was not one dissatisfied voice.

Back at the landing stage, it became apparent that they were not on an actual restaurant barge but just the barge which moored against the land bound restaurant. That made sense – they’d need power and a water supply. It was already supper time and the Thai cuisine took care of the next few hours.

The evening brought the chirrup of various wildlife, the mosquitoes were non-existent around the restaurant area itself and most people just sat around and chatted, finding out about each other.

Hugh and Nicolette worked ‘in a government department’, dull by comparison with other folks. The beers eased the conversation and cares dissipated in the exotic headiness of the warm evening; finally it was time to hit the hay, as they’d been asked to rise early next morning for some sort of mystery breakfast. They now discovered how lucky they’d been to take this trip when they had – apparently, it was the last of the season.

He took her hand and led her to the bench outside their window on the riverside, glasses in the other hands.

The soft flow of the water lapping against the pontoons beneath their hut, the smell of the warm, flowery Thai evening in their nostrils, Nikki’s thin sari, Hugh’s tenderness, these things intoxicated them more than the beer itself. Standing and swaying together in each other’s arms, finely balanced on the walkway, centimetres from the river – it added a touch of piquancy.

In the little hut later, on their bed of fresh white linen, he cradled her and asked how she liked it so far. He began at her toes and moved up to her calves, kissing, massaging, onto her thighs, on to her tummy, avoiding the centre of later operations, spending considerable time on her breasts and finishing in a kiss as he moved into position.

As he went in down below, it wasn’t so much the sex itself as the relaxed way it all happened and she found herself thawing even more – they’d remember this moment for a long time, they were sure of it.

.o0o.

He woke first, the voice of their guide outside the window calling for everyone to rise and greet the dawn.

‘Sh-t,’ he thought and sat up.

It was glorious through the window. They’d been bobbing around on the river, tethered to the bank all night and there was that same river, through the flora, inexorably flowing by and there she was, his darling.

‘Nikki.’

‘Oui?’

‘We have to get up. We’ve only 30 minutes. Shall I tell them we’ll be a little late?’

‘No, no, I’m getting up. Get the water please.’

.o0o.

On the restaurant barge they’d put what looked like a giant burner or barbecue of some sort. Each guest was ceremoniously welcomed and took his or her place at the table.

The barge cast off and started downriver this time.

Variegated stone cliff faces and the occasional little waterfall broke the monotony of the brown water, as the barge slipped downstream with hardly a sound.

Breakfast was served by boys in orange and brown short sleeved shirts and shorts.

Surreal – cooked breakfast, waterfalls, river, Thailand, love.

.o0o.

Back at the hut once more, packed, they stepped onto the little walkway with the bench one last time, looking out over the river. Easy to see how the locals were completely dependent on it.

.o0o.

It was the dead of night when the minibus finally dropped them back at the Royal Cliff and like zombies, they went to their room and plonked their things down on the dresser.

On the bed were messages and two complimentary chocolates.

While she went off to the bathroom, he set to reading the messages. One was from the hotel – would they like to go on an excursion – yeah, yeah.

Another from the hotel. Fire practice today at 14:00. OK, they’d missed that one.

A couple of letters – he ripped them open – one from the tour group, one from the shop where they’d ordered the bathrobes. OK.

One from Sophie: ‘We have to go back. Trouble. Call me on that mobile. Marie-Ange sends her love.’

Not from Janine nor from any other source from whom he’d have expected such a message. He told Nikki he was going to try to contact Janine from the internet room. ‘Look at the letter.’

.o0o.

‘Nothing there,’ he said to her once he’d returned. ‘Try the TV, love – see if there’s any UK news. I tried the private email and a few blogs – nothing there either.’

She hit Sky News and there was a long list of pretty standard scandals, councillors on the make, resignations, divorces, a lost puppy – nothing which would have prompted Sophie to write that.

She looked at the note again. ‘It might be a fake.’

‘No, it was her. It had the three ‘e’s. Her code during this trip.’

‘Call her.’

‘Doing that now.’ He fished out the mobile, made sure it was the right one and called. She answered immediately and told him they were booked on the 05:50, plus they were to be too but they would need to call the airline immediately and hope there’d be seats. ‘OK, Sophie.’

‘We have to go but the taxi would leave a little after midnight and you’re tired.’

‘Never too tired to stay alive. Let’s pack, we’ve eaten, we’re fine.’

.o0o.

There was no little obstacle in the tourism trade which a bit of soft talking and money could not overcome and so they made it with twenty minutes to spare – those two were quite calmly in their seats, reading the in-flight magazines.

.o0o.

It was only after the signs went off that he unbuckled and went to find those two, Nikki following.

‘Who contacted you?’ asked Hugh.

‘Janine, private call, must have cost her, PM’s still the PM by a thread, he thinks the coup is coming and he needs to get out. Plans are made but the sad thing is that loyalties have now split – many of the units see the writing on the wall and well – they have a new government to be loyal to.

All this is to stop some of the executions of high people – they couldn’t care less about the plebs. he’ll be toppled before they’re carried out. There’s a plan which has been in place for months, we need to be back there to join in delaying it.’

II

In the middle of Peterson Park in a northern city, Hugh called Janine’s UK mobile for just such a situation as this – that had been pre-planned too.

She was delighted and made the rendezvous – they were to be supercareful.

.o0o.

Fifteen minutes later, Janine appeared and beckoned them, they followed, there was a Range Rover Vogue and there was Doug Baines at the wheel, he certainly got around, our Doug.

Hugh, Nikki and Janine piled into the back, Sophie and Marie-Ange, amazingly, climbed into the boot which had dicky seats and off they went, out of the city, into the winding lanes, left onto a narrow road.

As the Land Rover sped along, each were lost in thought.

.o0o.

Doug slowed down and turned into a lane to the left, unmade and potholed. By climbing up on the raised part near the fence and weaving his way along, he made forward progress – hence the SUV of course.

They stopped near a wooden structure which could best be described as a farmer’s shed and a hooded man came out through the opened rotting door, followed by an armed man in uniform, they squelched across the muddy grass, Robin Hood got in the front passenger seat, Doug had opened the hatch and the officer climbed in with the two women.

Doug closed the hatch, took up position, backed onto the narrow road again and off they went.

‘Fine,’ said Nikki, ‘this is fun, I like country drives.’

To their surprise, it was the front passenger who answered. ‘Quite partial to them myself as a matter of fact.’ Nikki checked a gasp, Janine and Hugh smiled, Janine passed the PM some folders, he opened the top one and started going through it. There was silence apart from that, as if this were the most normal occurrence on earth.

The Prime Minister paused and addressed those behind. ‘Hugh, my predecessor valued your hide and that of Emma according to these files. He would value Nicolette now. He gave Jones the job of watching your back from a distance but somewhere along the line, someone got to Jones. I’m not saying it was Emma but someone did. Jones did get fresh with her beyond the call of duty, I’m sorry to say, I have it on good authority – ’

‘Means nothing now, sir.’

The PM was incongruously chuckling to himself. ‘Hold on, haven’t finished. Apparently, she slapped him across the face and … er … used her knee to telling effect.’

Hugh grinned for the first time in a long while. ‘Well, well, well.’ Nikki was happier too.

‘He was very much in their pocket by then. At the hangar, he was trying to kill everyone, including both of you. All the naughty people have been named or arrested, once we got to the big boys and girls though, the hidden authority stepped in and here I am now.’

The car came to a stop under a tree heavy with moisture, near a river embankment.

‘Now we walk,’ announced the PM, ‘shanks ponies, my friends. Hope you’re up to it.’

.o0o.

A long period of silence ensued, during which they trudged cross-country, occasionally climbing over stiles.

.o0o.

They’d probably put in about three kilometres all told when they came out into an open area where a naval helicopter was awaiting them. The carrier was lying ten kilometres offshore, already steaming in the direction of their new home, one of the nation’s lesser known dependencies.

The helicopter alighted on the upper deck and they were piped below.

.o0o.

‘Prime Minister,’ asked Hugh, seated at the dinner table, ‘there are anomalies here and we’re not privy to the news broadcasts. With respect, you’re the Prime Minister of this country. Now, such a man does not hide in sheds and walk three kilometres with some of his staff to join a helicopter, thence to a secret destination.’

‘One of me is currently fleeing for Edinburgh and another’s catching a flight from Teeside. The Teeside seems the genuine one – it was always planned out that way. As you say, I am still PM in the eyes of the nation and they are not yet in a position to declare anything, there are friendly forces whom we’re getting out but as they reduce, of course, they are more vulnerable. The toughest are last.

The reason we’re being allowed this subterfuge and let’s not kid ourselves – we’re being allowed this – is for PR, should Mr. Jamieson need it, plus to ensure we really do go offshore and leave him to it. If we stayed, there is not the slightest doubt we would have had unfortunate accidents, even torture. From where we’re going, we can organize PR to the old country and mess up their plans something awful.’

Nikki spoke for most at the table. ‘Coming from France, the home of intrigue, these things happen all the time. Two or three senior people combine and force a leader out, a new one takes his place -’

‘In this case, instead of me being forced out by a vote, I’ve been forced out by a supposed life-threatening illness. The public never get to hear the fine detail.’

Hugh saw the logic but it was flawed logic, all the same. ‘No sir, this was not a loss of community support or a loss through the numbers game. This was a coup d’etat, plain and simple. Your game, if you’ll forgive me, is not the cleanest and how people come and go is best not broadcast far and wide. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the people who return their representatives to Westminster, you are still the Prime Minister of this nation, not him.’

‘Hear, hear,’ chorused a half-dozen voices around the table and the PM nodded his appreciation. He then opened up to the officers present.

They were on the way to a former British possession and ‘former’ was the key word – Jamieson had no jurisdiction but neither did the French. The locals, in the international law set up by the very global elements who wanted them dead, had also inadvertently set up a temporary protective screen around them. The head man on the island was boss and money was being poured in by those keen to see Britain falter.

Was this not treason, Hugh asked.

Yes and no. If it protected them and led to the assassination of Jamieson and Co, then no it wasn’t – it was legitimate for a legitimate government in exile to ally itself with forces who wished to see it return.

Nikki thought the PM was welcome to his high stakes politics.

On this island, they was to be a military unit, rather than a thriving civilian community. They had part of the UK arsenal with them, which ensured the island peace in a troubled time or at the very least was not a bad deterrent, the head man was still king, but they had a haven. They were essentially the new warrior class of the island.

III

May, 2010

Beddoes Island lay outside the tropics but was uniquely positioned, in that it was surrounded by other islands of varying sizes, five in all, some of them kilometres away from each other but one only half a kilometre, easily reachable.

Not particularly mountainous, there was a bulge to the northern end of the twenty kilometre north south configuration, the shape being close to a halved and upturned pear. A ridge ran down the west side and most of the jungle was over that way.

Running along the foot of the ridge, on the east, were the settlements – villages essentially, and a short way up the northern bulge – the gubernatorial compound, enclosing the PM’s mansion, with its Big Room and the officers’ barracks.

Some way down the path were the various huts, at unequal distances, each with native staff attached – these positions were highly paid, and thus highly sought after by the local population.

Then came, at a drivable distance to the south, the first native village. There were three main villages, overall, each governed in its own right by a local chief.

Any British soldier who showed the slightest disrespect to a native was to be summarily punished by his superior officer. Conversely, young native patriots who raised the question of sovereignty were quietly put in their place by the native authority.

The island was not going to know peace, power and prosperity on this scale again. There was money and prosperity coming to Beddoes.

The bulk of the territory on the main island, aside from that western ridge, was grassland, where all the grazing and agriculture took place and then came the eastern beaches and the fishing industry.

All five militarized, outlying islands were administered by the PM – they were the outer defence for the natives as well. There was constant water traffic to the nearest by means of proas, and countless proas were parked on beaches all over the archipelago. Anyone could just borrow one and travel to another island.

The thatched huts for the white population of officer status were large by village standards and enjoyed shaded locations and insulating second roofs of thatch creating a sort of vast verandah effect.

The inside of the huts was of the same design and that was the downside – the native population did not believe in diversity of design – only in what worked. Living and eating was done in the large room at the front, maybe seven metres by four and behind this were the two bedrooms. Cooking and ablution were done in the outhouses on either side of the main room, accessible from outside the hut as well.

Thus, the native ‘assistants’ were able to arrive early morning and not unduly disturb the occupants. It was rare for an assistant to live in, certainly not when the hut was occupied by either a married couple or a single male.

.o0o.

Sipping Chianti in the living area of their thatched hut, in the evening cool, a sari clad Nikki asked her husband, dressed more formally in uniformed shorts, ‘Would I be a help or a hindrance to you over there?’

‘What would you do here by yourself, darling?’

‘Have an affair with the local men.’

‘Don’t joke like that.’

‘Who’s joking?’

‘Then you’re coming with me.’

‘That’s what I’d hoped you’d say. Besides, I think Sophie’s going too, isn’t she?’

‘Oh, now I see.’

Nikki smiled. ‘Let’s visit Sophie.’

They finished their drinks and wandered down the dusty pathway leading to her hut and were pleased to hear movement inside. They were called in, Nikki stepped up and kissed her.

‘Will you both have a drink? There’s some white wine.’

‘Merci.’

She rummaged around and found two more glasses packed in a box, wiped them clean and poured the wine. Sitting on a tarp covered box, Hugh asked something which had Nikki staring at him and shaking her head:

‘Tell us about yourself, Sophie, from your childhood onwards.’ Sophie’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Please, as friends now.’

She thought for a moment or two and launched into it. ‘It was a normal upbringing so I don’t know where it all went wrong. I was a local girl, went to a local school, had normal friends, made the usual mistakes but there was always something not quite right with the way boys looked at me – I always found myself with the type of boy, type of man, who turns nasty and hurts me. Maybe I just like it hard. That’s how they found me – drinking in a bar.’

‘You … er … had a few boyfriends at the time?’

Hugh’s question had been pathetically clumsy, Nikki’s eyes opened wide, she looked at the ceiling and groaned, Sophie grinned but was not averse to answering, nor trying something of her own.

‘No, Mr. Jensen … Hugh. I was not pure, sorry to disappoint. I wasn’t the school harlot, if that’s what you’re worried about. If there were parties when parents were absent, I wasn’t the one in the bedroom, taking four or five boys – I was the one in the bathroom with the locked door, with the boy I’d gone to the party with. That’s just one step up, isn’t it?’

What he did not want to admit, for his own reasons, was that he wasn’t familiar with the type of parties Sophie was speaking of. His late teenage seemed to have been a time when you really did go to a party to enjoy the music and if you had alcohol, you needed to stay at your mate’s place overnight so your parents wouldn’t know or smell the smoke on you. Only in later years had come the grass and acid.

The incident which remained in his mind, even to this day, was meeting a girl at a bus stop one day, a girl he’d once taught. He couldn’t remember but he might have been fifteen years old and she was still in school, perhaps in Form 4, Year 10.

She’d mentioned a school camp and how the boys and girls were in separate buildings but, she now skited to him, the boys had managed to get to the girls’ room. There’d been a girl named Jenny, whom he’d also taught, with a sister Sarah and he knew the mother. Both sisters were genuine innocents but Kylie – ah, that was her name, he recalled – well Kylie had never been innocent, so in a way, he didn’t mind so much.

Now Kylie was skiting about how Jenny had been had by every boy in that room, in every orifice, from what he could gather from Kylie’s garrulousness. Many people would have shrugged it off and said that that was life, those things happened. They might even had said Hugh was jealous that he’d missed out on all that in his own schooldays.

He came back to the present and they were both looking at him curiously. He toasted their friendship.

.o0o.

On the path back, later, she was annoyed. ‘That was quite wrong to ask Sophie that, you had no right. Also, would you have kissed her if I hadn’t been there?’

‘Now who’s doing it? No, Nikki, I would not.’

‘Good.’

Next stop was Marie-Ange’s hut and she was more effusive.

‘Enter, enter,’ she rushed round to get some wine to them.

‘So nice you came with us,’ said Nikki. ‘The issue now is going to be jobs. This is a military base and they do the guarding. I’m worrying about it myself. I’d like to have a role.’ She looked at Hugh.

‘There’ll be roles all right, it’s just too soon right now. You’ll have input on that question.’

IV

The weeks slipped by and training was the order of the day for twelve operatives – the task force bound for the old country, which provided ready made employment for Nikki and Hugh, who brought in this paired business and how to cover each other.

Evenings often saw the Jensens, Sophie and Marie-Ange invited for drinks – the PM delighted in the company of sari clad women. Sophie was the logical choice of the two to go on the task force to Britain, Marie-Ange not so much – she was a more delicate specimen and she knew it. Besides the PM … well … company and so on.

‘Ladies and gentleman,’ announced the PM, ‘Marie-Ange has agreed to be my domestic manager, a salaried position. Janine will remain my PA.’

There was polite applause and then the PM pulled his masterstroke. ‘Nicolette, Sophie and Hugh, we are a war council here. Any of you have any problem with the danger involved?’

The order of precedence was pointed, he’d looked at Hugh and had seen the smile, so that was settled then. Nikki and Sophie were delighted. Marie-Ange poured the first drinks of her tenure.

Sitting back in the chairs after that supper of cold cuts, the Prime Minister asked:

‘Legitimacy, what’s your definition of a legitimate government, people? The Cartel has labelled us insurgents. How vital is it that we get back there and represent the people? People see us pollies as self serving, elitist toadies – the ruling status quo.’ Another classic from the PM which raised eyebrows.

‘People in our country, as you well know, are basically apolitical. As long as you don’t touch their beer or weekly football or if you hand them the occasional mini-windfall, that’s all that matters. So, there’s now been a reshuffle in the pack at the top. Most people will yawn and think, ‘Let’s see how this lot goes.’ ’

‘More than a reshuffle, sir,’ observed Hugh, dryly.

‘Is it Hugh? Is it? I believe it is more but I’m biased – I’m the one who stands to be the leader.’

‘The leader also serves.’

‘You’re certainly feeding me the right lines this evening. I do believe it, Hugh, I do believe I was doing a job for the good of the country. Yes, there are the cars, the yachts at the marina, yes, I loved all those things, but in the end, they’re peripheral, they’re the reward at the end of the day’s work. We do line our pockets and secure our family’s future and who doesn’t take the opportunities presented to him?’

‘There is the question of principle, you know.’

‘Ah, principle. Yes, good old principle. There are certainly things most of us wouldn’t countenance but then there’s something else darker at work, Hugh. Let me replenish our drinks – would you then hear me out?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘The Club is dark, ladies and gentleman. You start aspiring for political office because you see the glamour of it, as well as the chance to serve. It’s vibrant, flying into parliament, returning to the constituency, people calling you Minister, taking Sunday morning off and walking with your dog in the forest, putting in a couple of hours swimming.

You have the best wines at home. Your wife is seduced by it all, possibly more so than you are. She’s a good woman but, like Eve, can be led down the path of excess. Then start the rationalizations for what you do. Like a drug, you can’t give it up. It consumes you. Imagine how many ordinary people are in this situation? They can’t give up their habits.

The young bespectacled man with his death games, the middle-aged, balding man, in the wee hours, with his internet images of young girls, the all-consuming shopping mentality – if it shines, if it glitters, if it treats you like a VIP, it seduces. Where does it all come from? You join the Cartel, look at them – mild mannered, besuited, bespectacled men, fine men on the surface. But you see the empty look in their eyes, the arrogant nonchalance when speaking of the common herd and how they react to a half point increase in interest rates.

Then you start to believe your own rhetoric and it’s fed back to you, at all levels, by the sycophants and by those more sinister, that you are doing vital work for the country, which the ‘little people’ can’t hope to understand, not having all the facts at their fingertips. The perks are no more than your rightful due. You are the elite, you are more than human, you are almost the master race, certainly the master class. You’re in a lofty world there and it’s divorced from the common herd, it’s divorced from the real world.

You lose your grip on humanizing constraints. You can do anything and nobody dare oppose you. And it’s treacherous, even for you. You can’t show the least sign of rebellion against this madness. Eyes stalk constantly for signs of backsliding. They report. To whom do they report?

Men of principle, like the former PM, eventually say ‘enough’ but realize they can’t stop it. It’s a juggernaut. The Club knows you’re restless and shows you the alternative – scratching for a living, your wife having left you and having taken the children, then the wine bar and finally … the street.

Oh yes, there’s another side to all this. The glitter, the manners, the Mercedes door opened for you, the red carpet, panelled conference rooms, the elegant luncheons, the artificial seating arrangements in the oval office – a weak man will never buck the system. His livelihood, the life his wife has come to expect as her due, so susceptible to the glitz.

No one is saying that wanting a better life, a higher standard, is wrong. But somewhere along the line, something creeps into it all, very subtly. The desire to be clean becomes the desire to buy some product to ensure that cleanliness, then another and another, because the first product doesn’t cover all contingencies and so it exponentially escalates expectations. You tell yourself you must have more to survive. What is fuelling this? Is it the dark side of human nature?

‘I have a feeling you’re going to reveal something not particularly pleasant,’ said Nikki.

‘Yes, yes I am. You see, I was part of that point of view until I attended the most grotesque party I’d ever witnessed, in Omaha. Everything was laid on – girls, narcotics, whatever your heart desired. There were no limits, none. We were the tired, bored, cynical elite of the world. Some of those girls were thirteen or fourteen and the overweight men didn’t even retire to another room.

It was grotesque but the stalking eyes were in that room, ready to report on the least revulsion against the spectacle. I tell you, ladies, people were afraid of something, an unknown enemy.’

‘Why can’t you come out and name this enemy, Prime Minister?’

He shook his head. His hands were now clammy and his breathing had shortened considerably. ‘I’ve been there. There was an atmosphere in there I can’t describe and something was urging it on, driving it on. This reduction to human baseness, blindness and obedience was seen as sophisticated by those indulging in it.

I rebelled and the reaction was not slow in coming. The PM asked me in to see him some days later, over some peripheral matter regarding my treatment of a fiscal policy paper. In short, someone had shopped me. And here’s the thing also – the PM was no fool. He equally knew I’d been shopped and he’d been thinking along the same lines as me.

Why do people descend to this? I’m not explaining myself well. What I mean is, why don’t people become naturally philanthropic over time? Why, instead, do people regress to baseness, if unchecked?’

‘Are all people at that level like that?’ asked Hugh.

‘Yes,’ said Sophie.

‘The ones you saw were, Sophie but some rebel, they’re not like that – they never achieve higher office, they are often not heard of again.’

‘And you, Prime Minister?’ asked Sophie.

‘I was one of them but not now.’

Hugh looked at the Prime Minister.

‘Sir, I know you were elected by the people to parliament and by the party to the Prime Ministership. Those now in charge in the old country were not. The rest of it is done with, assuming you’ve mended your ways.

Nikki nodded.

‘May I add one more thing?’ asked Hugh. ‘Something that perhaps we’re all missing, including me. We’ve indulged in a bit of doom and gloom here this evening but there’s a danger in dwelling on it. I once had a short correspondence with a writer for the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten and he did a funny piece called, ‘A foolproof way to pick the loser’. It was about Dukakis’ bid for the presidency. May I go on?’

‘Please do.’

‘A bunch of Niemian Fellows were interviewing Dukakis and afterwards, the Senior Fellow asked the others, ‘So what do you think?’ They all waxed lyrical about Dukakis’ abilities, his grasp of the economic situation, his sheer intellect. The Senior Fellow said, ‘He won’t win. No sense of humour.’ ’

‘Point taken. All right, let’s get down to details. There are four pairs in two groups, narrowed down from the twelve:

Janine and Rory Cale go with Julia Federova and Frank Mills. Their brief is damage, trouble, done in pairs and meant to take out key personnel and infrastructure. They have specific targets, they have no face-to-face with the second team and have their own transportation back. They do have secondary communication with Team 2 though. Janine has the contacts in case of trouble and is Team 2’s communication point. She’s the nerve centre, Hugh and Nicolette among the other four.

The second team are Nicolette and Hugh, Sophie and Doug Baines – they’re more for red herrings, disinformation, sabotage and laying booby traps away from the main action. Doug and Sophie are the action people, the mobile ones, should they be needed.

All have emergency codes, in the form of entries to the national newspapers’ classifieds, plus the net, with fall-back venues and pick up points. You had a system, Nicolette, with Sophie-Fleury, that the partners are platonic in the main but share a room and work that out themselves. Frank is a pain from what we can gather but he’s a handy man to have around.

Tomorrow, I make the big speech, then off you all go. That’s the plan, now the fine detail and this involves you’re input.’

V

It was a solemn and grim faced group of individuals who congregated under the thatched roof of the ‘Great Hut’ which the village chief had made available at short notice.

There were thirty seven of them, some from security, some from departments of state, all materializing from the various islands.

The Prime Minister addressed them.

‘We are the last established democracy in Europe to fall. The peoples of the world are still largely oblivious to the true state of affairs and every effort has been made to secure their acquiescence by means of massive capital inflow at middle and lower levels of society.

Where we were urging people to tighten their belts and to prepare for grim depression, brought on by mass foreclosures, the ‘interim’ government is creating an artificial land of milk and honey, to win the hearts and minds of the many.

Meanwhile, the intense militarization of our country is specifically designed to prevent any counter-insurgency by the discredited, traitorous, greedy and amoral lowlifes who have been bleeding the country dry for years – namely us.

The mindboggling levels of cash at the beck and call of the Cabal beggars description and is being disbursed globally through ‘benign’ conglomerates. All legitimate avenues and instrumentalities have been co-opted for this cause. The simple question facing us is – to oppose it or not.

And if so, then how to oppose it?

It’s no accident that it’s reached this stage. The other democracies are assured that my fall was some localized affair – nothing to do with them, of course, and they were blissfully unaware of what was just around the corner for them too.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, what the hell can we do?

On the surface, not much, short of vain heroics. Everything from the moral fibre of the people to the means of communication and the monetary system have been carefully weakened until all the strings are finally in the hands of the Cabal.

Again, what to do?

A religious person might point to Ephesians 6:12 as the relevant passage. Either way, this thing is global and we are targeted.’

‘These dear global friends of ours,’ continued the Prime Minister to the assembled gathering. ‘If, as I have been assured, their policy is the reduction of the world’s population by 4.5 billion, who is likely to be among the first targeted? The sophisticated search and destroy systems are in their hands. Small wonder that Mr. Jensen’s department was white-anted.

There is another choice – heroic action.

This assuages consciences far better and is more in line with the mood of the assembly but in strictly military terms, what targets can realistically be hit and of what lasting military value would they be, given the level of risk?

To be fair, we have billions flowing in too if we wish but you must understand, it is from former foes – so who would then be the traitors – us for accepting the weapons and supplies … or the usurpers in Britain? Interesting question.

Would the enemy collapse in a heap if we were able to win some victories? These people’s minds are cold and clinical. They will note the failure, learn from their errors, redress them and then continue the agenda with renewed vigour.’

The meeting was silent. No one had much to add to what had already been said. Then one of the officers spoke out. ‘Question, sir?’ Frank Mills stood up. ‘Isn’t it a bit far-fetched to equate this thing with a biblical apocalypse?’

‘And what do you equate it with, Mr. Mills?’

‘Well, it’s … well … I don’t want to bring religion into this at all, sir, not when it’s a simple military and political threat we face.’

‘Mr. Mills, this thing hinges around whether you accept a certain principle or not. Look at World War 2. Did a form of madness grip the German people, something more than just mob instinct at work, or was it just clever propaganda?

In the French Revolution, why did they bother to seat a prostitute on the altar of Notre Dame? Simple disrespect? Psy ops? Why not just tear the cathedral down or convert it to secular uses? Why all the spitting and mocking, if such things presented no military threat? And why does an occupying force decimate the forests and convert the landscape to a moonscape? How does that help the occupying forces?’

‘To instill terror, sir. The terror principle.’

‘Granted, Mr. Mills, at the start and until you achieve the victory. But after that, you inherit a blighted landscape. And you above all people know full well what psychological state a soldier enters into to be able to participate in a group act like that.’

‘I’ve listened to your arguments sir, I know what you’re driving at but I have to say that I can’t accept this, as it’s been presented. These things have been around since long before you and they’ll be around long after you’ve gone. You can’t fight the depths of human nature, sir.’

‘If that’s so, Mr. Mills,’ asked the PM, ‘do we just lie back and accept it? If it’s only human nature, do we accede to it?’

‘I didn’t say that, sir. I just don’t think there’s anything particularly religious in it.’

‘Do you accept that the new PM may be working for powers which are not British?’

‘You mean Europe? Yes, I can well believe that and I support you in getting back.’

‘Well, let’s leave it at that then, shall we? Time to get down to brass tacks. You could view this gathering, if you like, as some sort of Grand Council and it’s fairly vital we decide now between two variants: either waiting here for them to come and put us to gruesome deaths or else trying some things before they come and put us to gruesome deaths.’

‘He certainly has a way with words,’ Nikki muttered to Hugh.

‘There seems little choice, in my book,’ concluded Hugh, out loud.

‘Do we all concur?’ questioned the PM, running his eyes over the entire gathering.

He hadn’t asked for a show of hands, exactly, but this is what now happened, as one by one the hands went into the air. The PM couldn’t help noting the power of group dynamics.

Chapter 3-2 hereChapter 3-4 here

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