Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Journeyman - The Epilogue

The Anniversary.

Neil Hopkins

Neil was unaware today was the anniversary of a decision that had threatened his dream. It was the first Saturday in May and he and Cecil were waiting for John and Gerald to arrive with a guest, having borrowed Bramshott while Huntington was honeymooning in the Maldives. Their guest was Geoff Smith, CEO of the National Bank who believed he was attending to discuss a whispered crisis on Uniclor’s ability to meet its loan commitments. He was, but whether a solution was offered to him or not depended on the position he adopted on the future of UK plc.

They had survived the drama of Boxing Day when, as nothing more than spectator, Neil had watched the services experts being briefed on their task then with the efficiency of well trained professionals effortlessly form into teams and select the gear needed. Honour, if it could be called that had prevailed; though as the ranking naval officer in charge commented as the first series of spheres were collected from Datchet’s surface and they’d relaxed enough to attempt to stamp warmth into their feet. “They might be complaining of having their leave rodgered, but if your bandits are happy with the money and the file is a master plan and not a bastard plan, there’s a fair chance they will appreciate the opportunity to rodger or be rodgered again.’
Nodding his agreement, Neil had pondered on the honesty of his thoughts in wishing the threat had been a hoax. Would he still have regarded the twenty million as money well spent? No question. Not only had it bought him the time to finalise the deal with Uniclor but the bastards in setting up the threat, had paradoxically gave credence with the authorities as to the response they as a group had adopted and the knowledge within the group of the tactics he’d used on Uniclor and the potential of Kalex hadn’t done his standing either with the authorities or the group any harm either. And, amusingly, the mixture of relief and gratitude had cut the final bill to ICP to less than a handful of millions and with careful handling would lead on to the profit of billions: but, for the moment, that was akin to sneaking out of the restaurant because you didn’t tip the waiter as much as you should have. He’d still been wrestling with his conscience when the khaki Land Rover came hurtling towards them. An army colonel gave them a smart salute and asked Neil if he’d mind excusing them. Told there was no need, he gave his report. It seemed Neil’s dichotomy had been resolved. The Colonel asked, ‘Shall we speed it up sir?’

Neil noticed the almost imperceptible twitch of the Admirals mouth before answering, ‘We’ll assume nothing.’ Then reaching inside his greatcoat, went on, ‘Since I see neither sun or yardarm, there’s no reason we can’t have a small celebration.’

Keeping Cecil out of it had been their quandary on Christmas day. A quandary partially resolved when they’d been warned of the location and duplicity of the green file and the location of the red. Neil would have collected it that day had it not been for Huntington’s witless fury at the news of Dellows disappearance. He’d half told the truth, explaining the green as a trap and with the reds location promised to be made known to them next day, before sinking to the fiction that Mrs Huntington had not been harmed and wouldn’t be, provided they stuck to the schedule. He excused the lie knowing they needed their wit not emotions, but did that excuse his lack of concern? Meanwhile John had been organising a chopper to take Gerald up to Scunthorpe where he’d be briefed by Cecil on the details of the trek then, if time and conditions allowed substituted for him while a weary Cecil would be flown home

The next day Neil had taken Huntington with him to collect the file, primarily to keep him in sight and under control. Later that night Cecil told them of the ‘governments’ conclusion. Secrecy it seemed had more purpose in the roles of deceit and saving of face than any other usage; need to know a poor second to the need to tell.

On the twenty-seventh Huntington and Dixon had been sent to Derby after an anxious sales rep reported a break in. Adding shock and murder four minutes later followed by a scream as Ruth, feeling fresh wet warmth tingling her loins, woke then struggled to get out a curse. Crises over, and with Ruth diligently substituting Gerald for Cecil, Neil persuaded himself his lack of concern was only real-pragmatik. Nothing could be done for the dead except for history to lie for them.

In John’s opinion Geoff Smith was as concerned as they were at the city’s sod’em and tomorrer attitude. The delusion that real wealth could be created by the computers speed to buy and sell invisible values, while material reality was gradually eased out of the programme; its truths, whatever their limitations, so deeply buried they no longer existed. Technology was a good servant but a cold whore if all its purpose was to profit the global greed of the few while the poor drifted down to the lowest global denominator.

Neil had smiled, any ‘ism was no more than a title for power. The American empire had built its strength on the fatigue of the old, and now it was being threatened by the re-emergence of even older empires. And survival would mean playing both at their own game. Hanging on to its coat tails might be real in politics but a slow death to any business. U.K.plc, had to be ruthless in creating its corporate structure. It had to select, adapt and speculate in all the emerging developments and technologies, treat history as a side show and, initially at least merge with U.S Corp as an equal. If it was, for now, to soar with the eagle it had to lift its eyes from the chicken shit of the past.

Smith would have to see and be committed, they’d already dead wood in the shape of Huntington and removing mediocrity from any equation still left two ways to go either in the air or in the shit. If Smith grabbed the gain with the least pain he’d be looking at a takeover by Midshire after the dust had settled when Californian and Berkley called in their Uniclor loans. Commitment to the longer term would see an ICP owned Uniclor marketing Kalex in the Americas and Smith heading a merged National and Midshire. Restraint by the monopoly or mergers no longer mattered now that the government had put itself on the market. It was now a commodity like any other, to be bought, sold or ignored, dependant on its value to the bidders and they didn’t include voters. Concern- that was either a conceit or an excuse and they couldn’t afford either.

The Anniversary:

Brian Cameron.

The gull hovered, wings gracefully sweeping aside the demands of gravity while its honed instincts, ethereally demanded what it knew was its by right. I watched, delaying yet knowing I would give, and for my charity probably get a dollop of acidity proving the need for cows to fly had never existed.

Separating the soggy remnants of the bacon sandwich I threw them in opposite directions. Force the sod into making a decision. The gull did and scooped both, but it had only survival to contend with. Carried by the wind I heard the crack of the Pwhelli cannon announce the start of this year’s Dun Loaghaire race. Easing round I watched the kaleidoscope of spinnakers breaking out as the crews made the most of the southeasterly breeze. I allowed myself a smile, last year was a long way back and, I knew now, some things would never catch up.

I didn’t buy any of the yachts we’d arranged to inspect in January and in a couple of week’s time Rags and my divorce will be finalised. We did try. Tried perhaps too hard, and that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the effort, especially after the Azores when she told me to cancel one of the rooms. Problem was I couldn’t lay it all on the line for her. Couldn’t explain how far up the ‘up’ was while we both knew how deep the down had been. If I’d told her the truth she’d have believed me, might even have admired me, then worried about every knock on every door. I’d have made her an accomplice; a criminal who had committed no crime other than believing a past life could be resurrected. Perhaps if I’d been less impatient, chanced another year before trying to get back together I could have concocted a story to explain my wealth. Wove the twists of luck into a fabric that obscured by pattern what it lacked in weave. Or maybe it was far more simple, more primal, the exposure to desperation. The desperation she’d seen when I was trying to save businesses and homes could still be sensed when she held me, or I her, when all I was desperate for was her.

Still, we’re friends, and that’s not a bad way for a couple to bring up their children. There’s no bickering between us on visits or finances and candidly it’s getting to the stage where Gemma and Stuart sort of schedule us in on their social calendar and there are times when we have a meal or day out as a foursome. Maybe that’ll change if Rag meets a bloke she wants to change things with, but I don’t see why it should.

Money? I’m not aware of any problems and, according to John Fernyhough, Pats got even less. Even the piddling amount we gave Slieghtholme was, on Johns advice, eventually invested in Uniclor stock before they shot up, sold just about peak, then into ICP stock along with a lot of our December earnings when they dived down. It seems, for the foreseeable future at any rate, we’ll be hitching our investments to Hopkins star. Which, if you think about it is, in an ironic way, sort of giving the money back so he can use it while we continue to gain from it. As a means of wealth distribution it’s got a lot more going for it than asset stripping. Anyway from what I’m told I’m over two point five million up (pre tax and on paper) since December so what’s to bother with.

I did buy a yacht, a forty-year-old classic that’ll take about a year before her original builder has her fully restored and updated and she’s moored alongside my home in Ireland. Why Ireland, well it’s a fresh start and for me it’s a country without the baggage of establishment or shame of a past empire that permeates the U.K. It was a decision that came to me when Pat and I had the weekend with John and Joanna towards the end of February and I was still struggling to come to terms with Rags decision. Ostensibly the purpose of the meeting was to bring Pat and me up to date on the investigations by the spooks and their masters. There was little to tell, other than the IRA had been awarded the role of prime suspect. Conjecture that forced Special Branch and MI5 to compromise their undercover ops and informers, enabling the IRA to take out most of them. Strange how often vanity can defeat intelligence. It all seemed remote and when John merely shrugged when I asked if he was bothered by it, we left it at that.

There was one bother I wanted out in the open. Telling them of the red file I saw a look of annoyance easing across Pats face while Joanna and John seemed, if anything, amused.
Pat asked, ‘What file did I leave on the plane?’
‘The red, but I rang them and told them where it was and not to use the green once I knew you were airborne.’
‘When the fuck did you decide on this?’ Pat glanced at Joanna. ‘Sorry.’
‘When everything was going pear shaped over the report. And before you get on your high horse I knew you had made arrangements as well.’
Pat shook his head, ‘Only to use Mike and have you quarantined. It was you that was going ape shit about something we could do nothing about.’
‘We could now.’
‘Christ Brian, how do we do that without it leading them right to us?’
‘Use Rebecca and Jane they’re the ones that had almost direct access to it. Rebecca’s already agreed and has started an analysis to accompany the report, one that explains the reasons and the consequences.’
Pat asked, ‘Why Jane?’
‘Rebecca hasn’t got the funds but Jane has. Say a couple of thousand copies from three different publishers distributed to MP’s, Universities, Media, Unions; wherever it can raise questions and blood pressure.’ I turned to John and Joanna, ‘You have any problem with that?’
Johns smile was almost benign. ‘Not exactly how we were hoping to use it Brian, but since you or Rebecca obviously have copies we’re hardly in a position to prevent you. Though I have to ask you to do us a favour and delay its publication and I’d suggest you chose publishers outside the UK. That apart Joanna and I have also a confession to make and since she was the instigator I’ll hide behind her skirts and let her tell you.’
The smile Joanna gave Pat and me would, had John not been there, been downright inviting. ‘I got the idea from something you told John when you explained the job you did in Yorkshire. You see we were also concerned about the wedge the report had driven between us. On the one hand your suspicions Brian were quite correct, it would, or rather will, be used as a leverage tool in the cesspit of political manoeuvres.’
Sensing I was about to interrupt John took over. ‘If I can explain Brian. In that role it has terrific potential but very specific limitations in as much as it can only be used once and to maximise its leverage it must be used covertly. Once it’s out in the open the damage is done and it becomes an exercise of denial and damage limitation. We haven’t used it yet because we don’t want to sell it cheap.’
I nodded, ‘Okay, I can see the sense in that, but for how long John?’
‘Give us six months and, if it’s used sooner I’ll tell you.’
The look of relief on Pats face told me I’d still some way to go in convincing him. I’d already covered that by suggesting to Rebecca she approach Jane direct; now all I had to do was rein Rebecca in. No easy task but such are the rewards of deviousness amongst friends.
Having won his point John handed their ‘confession’ back to Joanna.

‘Pat was quite right when he said you could do nothing about it at the time other than use it as we did. After all it doubled our returns, gave us an insight into a unique and previously unknown club of powerful businessmen and, hopefully, one we will continue to profit from them.’

Joanna I’m aware of all that and I’m not proud of the stunt I pulled with the files, so what’s this all about?’
‘The files Brian, they didn’t matter.’
‘What! How?’
‘The detonators we supplied were all duds.’ Joanna reached over and put her hand on my arm. ‘ We were worried enough about the chemical and we knew you would dream up something. It was all we could think of that covered all the bases without causing further arguments. Sorry Brian.’
‘Don’t be, it was me that was being the pillock, Pat?’
‘I agree, you were being a pillock but tell me John, did Mike know?’
John shrugged,‘If we ever meet Mike, that’ll be the first time.’

The strangulated phut of the tenders’ diesel brought me back to the present. Catching the bags that were thrown at me I dropped them down below before stretching out my hand to welcome a grinning Mike aboard. Pat and John suffered the penalty of familiarity and were left to look after themselves. We’d allowed ten days to cruise easy up to Gometra in the Inner Hebrides before meeting up with the girls. Did I tell you I bought this house on the island for Rag, she wouldn’t be there; too busy with the boutique, but Rebecca, Joanna and Jane would. Ten days should give us enough time to rough out the groundwork for our next scheme and this time it was Pat who was the instigator. After Jane and him had spent two months in Dominica and witnessed poverty beyond belief while the bastions of free trade undermined its capability to find a viable market for its crop.

Seemingly in the worlds stronghold of rampant technology and commerce there’s a breed of insect that had it beat. From time immemorial this mite has pruned the arboreal forests of North America. Appearing in one area one year, it would be gone the next. Except for New Brunswick; there the foresters decided some years back to D.D.T. the pest out of existence. They’d failed and plastic nature took its revenge by increasing its demand. From a ten yearly cycle exacting little more than a one percent toll she changed to a yearly demand and almost ten percent toll on two hundred million acres of forest. It wasn’t the mite being avaricious, it was merely fighting to maintain its existence against a chemical holocaust; it didn’t even know it was winning.

Commercially sugar beet is of little interest to North America, less then three percent of the yearly revenue of soft and hardwoods. Man decided to use technical brain where chemical brawn had failed and set about planting beet in forest clearings. Then by dowsing the trees but leaving the beet clean they indoctrinated the mites into believing beet not buds was their true diet. Our scheme was to place shipping containers filled with beet in these clearings. Containers that, when suitably infected, would be shipped to the lesser Mediterranean ports before being distributed throughout Europe and the USSR.

Of course our motives weren’t entirely altruistic. It would be foolish not to have some discreet investments in carefully selected sugar futures. Could be they’d result in some very sweet dividends for us, and indirectly of course, the Dominicans. And, of course I wanted a quiet word with Mike.

So as yet I’ve only learnt how to fight the system. Real success is when you can afford to ignore it. So for now I’m at the level of journeyman.

The End
© Eoin Taylor


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