The world is weary of statesmen who have
degraded democracy by politics
and politics by profit.
The list had been waiting in his mailbox when he got back from Moscow. Its envelope franked from a Mid West town he’d never heard of and dated as though posted before he'd even gone. It intrigued Klaus this use of the mundane, when every exotic code and system would be available. Perhaps Mair and Varbagin were still only courting, not yet wedded? Something else for him to weigh and balance in his mental checklist.
Listed were the names he could approach. Should was the word used but Klaus’s interpretation was the list was more instructive than suggestive. The how and when were down to him except he had to start in London. The location and the first listed name, giving him a fair idea of whom they wanted approached first.
The Sundays had run the story. ‘BANKER FOUND DROWNED’ they screamed or announced, depending on the quality of print and its relationship to lifestyle. Some gave the bare facts, padding with eulogies on his prominence within the world of banking. The screamers hinted at darker plots, but with nothing to go on relied on innuendo. A tabloid managed to find fifteen other drowning’s in the States that night and related them with an intergalactic execution squad. None told the truth because none knew it. Denise Draper on being discreetly told the official “facts,” dried her eyes, got drunk on his Napoleon brandy and, visualising him in the dress missing from her closet scrutinised her lingerie. Giving an involuntary shudder she tipped the lot into a heap of possible shame before adding all his clothes to it. Followed by hours of wondering what else she hadn’t known about the man she’d slept with for twenty odd years, till her brain succumbing to the brandy, allowed her to fall into a deep sleep in the guest suite. As promised none of the papers had commented on the sartorial splendour of his lingerie or the differing semen traces found in his mouth and rectum.
The woman dog walker thought she'd seen the corpse of a woman. The police on the scene knew it wasn't a woman, but not who it was. The switch took place in the medical examiner's truck where the remains of a bum became a transvestite, while a dead banker regained a prudent nudity. A very select few knew all the details. Three men knew the truth behind the facts but not why. One had spent some time trailing behind short time whores, picking up warm condoms before waiting with his companions for Draper to arrive. All three had accompanied the Treasury Secretary William Croxton the Third on his early morning Washington flight before returning to New York to control developments. Mrs Draper was only too happy with the silence and the promise that her silence would ensure the ten million would stay in her husband's estate.
Reading the headlines Klaus, surprised more by the speed of the execution than by the act itself, accepted there was a warning in it for him. Croxton knew what had to be done, but not why. Andrei Cuirakan, having activated Stygian’s code, considered it just another particle of confusion thrown into the cloud of chaos.
Monday, Klaus was in London trying to pin the first name on his list down to a meeting. He’d all the official background on the Canadian Glen Shafner but never having been an acolyte of the world of academia, the graffiti of qualifications after Shafners’ name and the volume of articles and books accredited to him meant little to Klaus. So he did what he normally did when he wanted a gut background, he rang his media contacts and Mervin, gauging Shafners standing by how quickly his name registered and the response that followed. All the responses were immediate and the consensus leaned towards a maverick messiah. Klaus got the impression Mervin wouldn’t have minded if the messiah had been capitalised. He also learnt that Shafner had refused all the permanents positions offered by governments the UN or academia, preferring the freedom of consultant or visiting professor and, with one exception, had refused point blank to work for any of the conglomerates. What he didn’t learn was that the files photo of Shafner in a dinner jacket was, as events go, about as rare as standing in hobbyhorse shit.
He’d rang three times before being told by a helpful secretary that ‘Mr Shafner was in; though often he simply ignored the phone. But, if he would give her a number, she would try to get Mr Shafner to return his call.’ Klaus emphasising his name and the importance of the matter, settled back to wait. And waited while his stomach growled and he wished he’d chanced going out for lunch. By four he was considering getting in a cab and cornering Shafner at University College when his phone rang. If Shafner was intrigued or impressed he gave nothing away. Finally, with an air of reluctance, Klaus was given an address in West Ealing; advised to stay clear of the underground and told to be there for eight-thirty that evening.
Carlyle Road, West Ealing is a two way, one-at-a-time street; caused not by law or design, but by the phalanxes of cars shoehorned along its gutters. The houses were century old shells where the smeared and spalding brick of most sneered at the facelifts of the others. The road had been saved from the anarchy of its Southall, Greenford and Northolt equity wipeout neighbours by the simple expediency of being sandwiched between Richmond and Ealing. It was in the safe zone- just. Tourists could go there if there was a reason. There wasn’t, so few did. Taxis would, but at a premium. Number 142 from the outside had an aura of tiredness and promised a stuffy interior of faded chintz, while parked by its door was a heavily chained motorbike.
Klaus was made to wait. The grey green eyes looked down over and through him as though searching their mind's recesses for niggling knowledge long since discarded as irrelevant. He got a nod when the process was over and a feeling of bewilderment at having noticed eye colour.
'Got to admit you were the only Schultz I could think of. Though I'm damned if I know what we have to talk about?'
It was not an opening he'd expected and now he floundered like a soft shoed salesman waiting for the pain of a slammed door. 'Perhaps if I can come in and explain I might gain your interest.'
'Sure.' The Canadian stepped back and on to the first step of the stairs to allow Klaus unhindered access. 'First door there on your right. Throw your coat over the rail if you want.'
Klaus had to wait till Shafner parked his computer before getting his attention and then it was shared with the kindling of his pipe. He used the time to weigh up a room that had the effect of making Shafner look like a dray horse in a cut-price poodle parlour and decided it was rented. Smoke was getting to the diaphanous stage before he got the nod. 'Go ahead. I'll admit to a twinge of curiosity.'
Klaus tried to establish control. 'I must ask you to regard our discussion as strictly confidential.' Only to see Shafner’s palm raised to stop him.
'Hold it right there. I'll say it now. I'm a scientist, not a mouthpiece or a politician. If I'd wanted to dabble in any of them I'd have taken a university post, worked for the government or worse still, the pharma conglomerates. If that’s your thing, you’re wasting breath'
'Mr Shafner this has nothing to do with politics. In fact we will have failed if it sinks to that level. My reason in asking for your discretion is because the process we intend to initiate and the platform we need hasn't been announced let alone set up yet.'
'Well it's down to you. If I think you're way off my sphere of interest I'll tell you. Might help limit your disclosures and you can start by telling me who the “we’s” are.'
Klaus shook his head. 'I've got off to a bad start, probably through force of bad habits. There's nothing clandestine or underhand in my request. Except if it got out, its purpose could be distorted.' He stopped when he saw Shafners shoulders heaving.
'If that's a sample of diplo-speak it's a wonder we've moved so fast into the mess we're in. Look Schultz, I suspect I’ve been well documented for you to read up on, but probably not in the right context. So here goes. I'm a mathematician, because that's about as far and as pure as the brain can go. My other interests, or qualifications along the Bio lines, take me into a more capricious world. One where we have created nothing but problems by our arrogance, wastefulness and stupidity. My passport tells me I’m a Canadian, but that I regard as chance not a right or a privilege. In my view the red lines on the map of this world make no sense other that to create huddles of power. There’s way too many clubs, camps and clans with their contingents of isms or chiefs. Now if your proposal’s intended to play one off against the other, my interest won't jump a gnat's crap.'
Knowing there was more to come Klaus waited while Shafner tamped his glowing tobacco. 'I regard your breed with downright suspicion. Alone and in limited amounts you seem reasonable. That's what makes you dangerous. You're the manipulators of power in whatever manner fashion decrees and the sad fact is so few of you are creative. Your lot claim to cure problems, when in fact you generally are the bloody problem. Okay now you know all about me that matters and what I think about you, so take it from there. How about I fix us a drink. Or, if you haven't liked what you've heard, you can be on your way. I know I've got whisky and beer, anything else will be pot luck.'
Klaus's request for a small brandy had Shafner on his knees, arse up in front of the drinks cabinet. A troop of empty bottles was discarded before he found a half empty bottle of middling brandy. Shafner swept the empty bottles back against the wall. 'Sorry about this, Mrs Sipi the cleaning lady reckons it's for her to tidy and me to trash.' Middling or not, the bottle had joined the empties before Klaus's taxi eventually turned up.
Trundling back to Kensington his troubled gut warned of the price he'd pay; a small token for the conviction he'd gained and he was certain he’d interested Shafner. He'd started by emphasising the U.N. role but had changed tactics when Shafner cynically bastardised Shakespeare. "Much to appear to do; gaining nothing. You ever been to one of their symposiums. It’s a talking shop with no teeth; unless it suits the big boys. Two years to set it up, four days of hot air then a formal agreement that’s been bodged together in the last two hours and is ether in a week."
Grasping the nettle Klaus told him of WREC and its aims while confessing to not having a clue if the aims were achievable. ‘Put it this way. You guys are forever blaming us for ignoring your findings or stone walling your research. Getting WREC up to speed and getting results will not only prove your point but does it without any losers.’
‘Your lot would be.’
‘Klaus laughed, ‘As you said ambiguity is our grail. We’ll find a way to take the praise if it works and diverting the flack if it fails. So forget about that, my question to you is quite simple. Forget budget restraints, resource limitations, logistical tie-ups, bureaucratic black holes, could we get something done to increase yields, prevent wastage; feed a few hundred million more?’
‘Easy, but your forgetting the two main plagues and I doubt if we’d get the go ahead to spray them to hell.’
‘The markets and the moneymen. They distort everything.’
‘Not if we take the legs from under them.’
‘Your kidding?’ Glen gave a puzzled frown. ‘Who the hell’s backing you?’
‘Convince me it can be done and you’ll get to know.’
Perhaps that had been the evening’s real result. Having been hooked on the possibilities by Mair and Cuirakan, he'd been given a taste of the practicalities that could net a result. And how benign and comprehensive a cover WREC could appear to be. Shafner had bounced ideas and methods at him quicker than a Korean ping-pong player. Many of the techniques he described, he admitted were known, if not all proven. God knows what benefits they could bring if they were all correlated and maximised. One possibility Klaus had paid special attention to, had the simplicity of genius. Gaining access or control of satellites would take time and he supposed, a lot of persuasion, especially of the military. But military and civilian planes criss-crossed the globe daily. They could be easily adapted to gather meteorological and bio data by automatically dispersing disposable pods aimed at specific locations. The pods would bounce data to the satellites, eventually producing a global model of Earth's meteorological hormones and the defiling protein distributed by it. “Not a computed simulation,” Shafner had said, “but a solid database based on current facts allowing precise pinpoint control.”
'In order to eliminate them?' Klaus had asked.
Shafner's eyes had narrowed. 'Can't see that happening. We’ve tried too many times and found we’ve cocked up.’ Seeing the confusion in Klaus, Shafner went on to explain. ‘When we have tried to eliminate bugs in the past they have either become immune to the treatment, upped their reproduction rate or modified to combat it. No, it's prime function would be to identify the exact location, decide if it’s a problem that affects us and its scale real fast, then deploy the solution at minimum strength for maximum effect.'
Klaus, struggling to keep his eyes unblinking against the stinging smoke while his brain searched for relevant questions then sifted answers into the overt and covert departments. 'Going to cost?' he’d asked, then saw suspicion edge into Shafner's eyes.
'Depends on how you value it. The military already have an arsenal of space hardware that could be used if they were told to make it available for something that really mattered. Tie that in with accurate ground data from the pods and we could be into prevention rather than cure. Given time and done right it would probably show a net gain in yields and a massive reduction in the amount of insecticides used to effectively control without the pollution. It would be the bio equivalent of the precision bombs our military morons are so keen on showing us when they claim to get it right. Look at it this way. In the cold war, when the threat was all about nukes, the world spent trillions on a game of bluff. The Earth doesn’t bluff'.’
Interesting how for all his high moral stance, Shafner had weighed the costs in crop returns and chemical savings, rather than arguing the worth of saved lives. Shafner had sketched his “pod's” outline; Klaus's pulled the sketch out of his vest pocket and studied it. Flying bean can - catering size- with gossamer energy gathering wings. Perhaps mans' ultimate bird of prey and, cheap; oh yes, so cheap.
He'd asked Shafner, 'Would you take charge of setting up a committee of experts?'
'Would you be interested in chairing it?'
Klaus cocked a querying eyebrow and Shafner heaved a resigned sigh. 'Any scientist chairing other scientists is either in senility, second rate, or both. A scientist wants to prove or disprove theories and develop his findings, not stroke egos or play politics. And whether he was doing that or not, he would be believed to be by the others. You need somebody they can respect and be pretty sure they’ve no hidden agenda.'
'Nope, it's your problem. But definitely not a politician, or ex-politician with a legal background.'
'That would put me right out of contention.'
Shafner had smiled. 'Thought it might.'
Returning the sketch to his vest Klaus pulled out his diary and turned to the question he'd posed himself on the flight back from Moscow: damage limitation? He scored it out. The news on Draper had answered that: obviously there were no limits. Instead he hardened in the title World Resource and Entomology Control – W.R.E.C.- it had a ring to it, almost judgemental; on the past, definitely. On what was yet to come?
Stiffening against the seat as the taxi swung into Lancaster Terrace he glanced at his watch as equilibrium returned, 11.30; Martyn would be waiting. Perhaps another, smoother brandy and he could start an illusion of his own. One that was expensive but not priceless. Then he thought of damage limitations and mentally scored Martyn out, contacting Andrei instead. Andrei chuckled while Klaus outlined Shafner's thinking on the bean cans then said it was Klaus’s show now; that protocol didn’t come into it and to go ahead. Which left Klaus with one other call to make.
Glen settled down to a nightcap of whisky and assessed his visitor and their discussion. Question was, had he been pumped or primed? If, as he suspected, it had been both, was he right to automatically chuck the offer into the cynical trash for rejection? Maybe that was too easy a cop out. From next door the nightly strife of argument in foreign tongues alternatively diffused or swamped the sounds filtering through from their box. Glen wondered if they would ever embrace harmony, whether they'd ever embraced. He supposed they must have; they'd two sprogs. Lifting his glass he gave them a silent toast, an ethereal thanks for making his mind up for him. He'd had enough of London; it was a city grey with strife and hype. Any character limited to its buildings and, no matter how hard it tried, the UK no longer had the clout to influence the major players. The big boys don’t plead, they act; the last few decades had proved that.
What if Schultz did have the clout behind him? If he had been pumped for the right reasons and the resources would be there. Why not? What price cynicism then? Lifting the card Schultz had left, he wiped off the whisky ring. Who to recommend? Morice, definitely. Kench, why not? If he'd be allowed by his masters. Hemel? No, bright enough but seduced by politics and could carry enough weight to divert others. Christie? Maybe, though the word out was that he was going into the realm of corporate megabucks. Christ, he could recommend the bloke to chair them. Might mean him swallowing his words on politicos but at least this one had swum out of the net and didn't seem interested in being hauled back. Been working off and on for him for the last twenty years developing his ultra sound product. He'd hit on the idea at the right time, with the right product and managed it the right way. Made a fortune and since the day they'd met he had always found him dead straight and he’d no reason to change that opinion. Every quarter like clockwork his dividend from the patent licence fee boosted his bank account, funding the freedom to work on his interests. Powering up his laptop Glen scrolled through his contacts, pencilling in names and their specialities on the notepad by his side. He’d give it a couple of days and in the meantime try to find some way of gauging just how much clout Schultz had. Of course the real question was, why the new set up? Give the UN’s FAO the same resources and clout Schultz had promised and there was no reason why they couldn’t produce results. Perhaps he should have tempered his cynicism and probed a little deeper.
He was still scribbling names and trying to balance out their specialities when the phone rang. Jim Mair? He’d almost said you’ve got a wrong number before the name clicked. ‘Seemingly Glen we need to talk about these bean cans. How about you get over for a couple of days we’ll have a plane waiting for you 05.30 local time Wednesday, Northolt – Washington direct. How’s that sound to you?’
‘Yes, I can manage that.’
‘Great, pack light. Looking forward to meeting you Glen.’
Well so much for gauging Shultz’s clout. Casual maybe, but definitely clout.
It was a day for the world's losers.
There are days like that, when hope has substance and justice threatens to become more than a promise. Mulk had a job and today should be his second payday.
The job was the third gift from the gods, linked by whatever faith (he wasn't sure which - yet) had worked the earlier miracles of the chickens. Last month's work had been removing the bus and its associated debris; though not the seats, wheels, dash, steering wheel or engine and ancillary parts, these had already been re-cycled into bustee bus, beds, three piece suites, carts and parts. Then Mulk had another three days helping a widower build a new flower stall only to hear the road from the airport to the city was to be widened and the bureaucratic deities had decreed the flattening of all the stalls in order to contain the traders and their customers safely. Two lanes were to be added each side and the compounds flattened ready for the eventual re-establishment of trade.
For days Mulk had studied the artistry that covered one hundred feet of wall that was now part of the hiring compound. And this morning he'd plenty of time to meditate on its avenue of promised paradise as the coil of bodies slowly snaked towards the compound's gate. His prayers to be allowed to form part of its manifestation disrupted only by the occasional crack of a whip when the police decided somebody had stepped enough out of line to threaten the symmetry and hush of their control.
'Good job to get into this.'
Mulk turned his head to study the speaker. 'Any job is good.'
'Maybe, but not like this. They're playing with us. Keeping the best for last. They have become impatient, hiring us candalas to build their road to Brahmaloka. No longer are they willing to ascend through spirit, they want to drive there.' Mulk got a playful elbow in the ribs. 'Play it right and we might be able to sneak through at the end. Either that or the Lord Brahma's been living in Mumbai all the time.'
Mulk cringed, felt the tension twist and sink his neck towards his chest. This fool was mocking the gods and, by the worst misfortune was next to him in the line. He imagined the compound's gate closing against his chest, making him among the first of the losers. Not even a candala, out of caste, cast out and out of dog to eat. He prayed silently. What was it to him if the Lord Brahma lived in the city; the gates of the temple were closed to him whatever the distance. 'It's a picture fool. An idea, no more.'
'Oh, what a pity. Here was I thinking we were to build the road to paradise and you tell me it's a lie.'
'It's not a lie. For me I hope they keep building it to the end of the earth.' He turned to find his companion's eyes mocking him.
'So it's a picture of a dream. A deceitful spectre, Mumbai's Maya of the road to its temples of wealth. See how straight it runs so the promise can be seen. How it's shaded by trees that are somehow immune to our fires. How it's lights stand sentinel to keep out our nights. Look how it's fenced to keep the dogs and we, their eaters, from straying from these mystical fields it dissects and into the paths of their vehicles. We are not part of it. Nobody walks or pulls a cart, even the holy cows have to bow to the milk of petrol and be fenced out.' The mock concern turned into a chuckle. 'Perhaps we're being forewarned. Perhaps it would be better for us if it were the true road to Brahmaloka. Where are these fields but under our homes. Are we being warned? Look at the market compounds, all fenced with only one way in and out. How do we harvest our crops? This is progress my friend and we the builders will be its sacrifice.'
Mulk grabbed his chance to appease the gods. 'Why are you here? Leave, and let someone who wants to work get the job.'
The man laughed and, like the chuckle before, it gave no sense of fear. He turned and started jumping up to study the coils of bodies before and behind them. Now, in the full light of morning he saw they were nearer the head than the tail, 'Can't see anybody I like enough or anybody that looks rich enough.'
'To give the job to. No, no, what I'll do, I'll wait until I get my hired card. Then, if I see him, I'll ask how much he'll pay to work for me.'
'Fool how can anyone work for you? You're as poor as I am.'
'Not so my friend, not so. You pray for your bread, I pray for my wits.'
Mulk stayed silent.
'You don't recognise me, do you?'
Already shaking his head, Mulk glanced over at the face smiling at him, 'No, should I?'
'I'm the one you shared your chickens with. Remember, the one that got loose.’ Mulk’s face reddened with the memory, not for losing one but for nearly losing both. Even when he’d found the third he was convinced he'd lost the best bird. 'I didn't lose it; you took it.'
'How can you say that? I did it so you could concentrate. Had I not done so you would have been like a dog confronted with a feast. Trying to keep it all you would have chased around and lost the lot. So, by allowing you to concentrate we shared.'
The philosophy was lost on Mulk and not wishing to have to share any more he didn't say about the other he'd caught. 'You took it.'
'No my friend, you lost it. We were both stealing it, so shared is the better way of looking at it. Then it becomes an equal gift or curse for both of us.'
Mulk stared ahead, wishing the idiot would shut up and the coil would move faster and the gates draw nearer. Confusions over the worthiness of sharing were swamped by the ache already in his gut and the memory of chicken on his tongue. He'd promised himself the ache would go and the memory be transformed into reality by the end of the day.
'You worked on roads before?'
Mulk didn't know of any roads he could have worked on. 'No, not roads.'
'You worked on the power station?'
Mulk knew of the power station, had heard the paddering rain of feet working their way through the bustee towards the rail line. 'Yes, I worked there.' He lied, then wished he hadn't because it might mean the Gods would hear and he wouldn't work here.
His companion didn't seem to be bothered. 'I worked for the British when they built it. They said I was pretty damn good. Said I was jacked by all trades and mastered by none. I used to drive winch to haul pipes for the boilers. When that finished I got another job building the security fence. Best job here will be on the fence.'
'Because working on the fence you can be in or out; you can make it strong where it doesn't matter and weak where it does. Knowing exactly where it's weak gives you the escape routes from the market or across the road. Not for long, because the mesh will be stolen and they will tire of replacing it. Manna takes many forms but eventually changes nothing. We exist on the ache of hunger and yet we breed more to the same ache. We are more pure than any of the castes, even the mighty Brahmans. They chose to fast after they have feasted, we have no choice. They choose to meditate to cleanse their souls of this world. We have to live in the filth of this world and give no thought to our souls. As nothings our greatest sin is less than their smallest deviation from the path. We are the angels, closer to Nirvana because we have not the materials to posses us. So, do you feel noble my friend? Do you feel chosen when your roof leaks, your belly aches, your wife cries and your children whimper with hunger?'
Mulk had started a silent mantra. 'I'm not with him; I'm not with him,' but he was irrepressible.
'So, sod the gods. That's why I pray for my wits rather than my belly. And my wits tell me we will be experts in fencing when we get to the table. Because next to the fence are the lights shining with electricity. The other side of the fence is not the fields the painter has dreamed of but our homes, the hovels of the damned. This electricity can be shared with the hovels. We sell them progress; we give them the manna of light for a very good price. Now do you see why it's better to share?'
'Some tried that when they built the lights out from the airport. The police shot them like dogs.'
His companion shrugged. 'We only sell to those who want to buy. If they get shot who cares? They won't.'
Mulk wasn't sure, but there was nothing unusual in that. The line was still moving, shuffling along in a hurry, hurry, wait pace. Now he'd to turn his head to see the painted lights on the painted road. 'How much do you think we will get?'
'For the electricity? Who knows? Whatever they have to pay. Take anything if what you're selling costs you nothing.'
Mulk shook his head. 'No, I meant what will the job pay?'
His mentor shrugged as though dismissing its value. 'Probably two rupees.'
'A day?' Mulk's excitement had his voice squeaking.
'No, a week.'
'A week! We used to get that a day.'
'That was old rupees. These are supposed to be worth a hundred times more.'
His companion shrugged. 'Don't know. Don't think so for us. Anyway they don't pay by the day here, you work a week then get paid.'
Mulk knew the ache wouldn't leave him. He'd expected the daily pay of the casual worker. To work a week and struggle for food was adding penance to survival. He'd never thought a week ahead. Years yes; the markers of indeterminable time to being old, growing sick and waiting for the inevitable. He'd pictured his Ronila grown old, outlasting him by the patience of her genders inner steel while his sap dried to dust. Years he'd allowed for Gita to be told of the mistake they'd made. Time was a downhill grind helped by the boulder of fate pressing on your back. A day was the amount you tried to handle, an hour insignificant to the day, minutes didn't exist. Mulk cleared his throat. 'You think we'll get hired?'
Mulk almost believed him. 'I need to get food.'
His companion nodded sagely. 'Ah, yes, now you are worrying about surviving until payday. See how soon it starts. See how clever they are to pay you once a week and how your prayers taunt you for your daily bread. Till now your daily bread has been your only worry, now it's increased seven fold. Can you see now why I pray for my wits? Seven times the wit is a blessing; seven days bread is perhaps asking too much. I will think about this.'
Mulk waited, listening the thisp, thisp as the fool aided his thoughts by sucking air through a missing tooth.
'You have shared with me, so I will with you. You will be a fencer like me and will have food for your family every day, believe me. My name is Malik.'
Mulk didn't know what he could believe other than what he wanted to. 'Mulk, Mulk Mehta.'
'Good Mulk Mehta, together we will profit from this work. One thing you mustn't do. You see these men by the other side of the gate?'
Mulk saw those who had been hired walk over and hand the men something.
'They are the moneylenders. The fools are handing over their cards so they can buy food. Stay away from them Mulk or for one week's feasting you will have many months fasting.
They’d got on the fencing gangs, Malik as a leader and, although his wit hadn't proved as lucrative as he'd promised, it provided enough to see them through double the seven days. So far none of the light standards had materialised, however that hadn't stopped Malik from negotiating his own private grid to the more permanent shacks along the way, convincing most, depending on which side he was negotiating, it was the other that was to be flattened. Mulk hadn't seen much of this activity, his job had been to cover for Malik by doing both their work. They hadn't been paid for their first week because Malik was late through negotiating with a customer. At the tail of the line the money had run out when there were still a couple of hundred ahead of them. Mulk had wanted to scream his frustration and demand his due. Malik only shrugged and put it down to the moneylenders making extra cards. Next week, he promised, they'd be early.
Not appeased by Malik’s sanguine approach Mulk started weighing up his chances with the crowd threatening the pay clerks. Malik directed his attention to the police captain unbuttoning his holster which swung him towards accepting the injustice. Others decided not to. The officer's warning shot went skywards, his men's didn't. Mulk landed softly when he threw himself behind a store hut. Too frightened to whimper as bullets rattled and whined around him. Five minutes and there were no more shots, only the sound of barking voices. Rising he discovered the softness of his landing was due to Malik who wasn't at all phased by the indignity.
About fifty protesters had become bodies. Some were already at peace, others jerking as though copulating towards the afterlife. Among the scattering runners were many who would have a longer wait to find out if they were to live or die. The crawlers knew quicker, they were shot in the head; as yet there was no market for brains. He heard a sergeant call for the ambulances.
Mulk turned to find Malik dusting himself off.
'How can nothings protest at getting nothing? Ask for justice from the law and become food for dogs.'
Crass as Malik's comments were, they were not as troubling as the thoughts going through Mulk's head. He'd a sense of envy for the souls that had made their escape. A few seconds of courage, of blind commitment, had got them out. He had dived for life and only won survival. The same trial, another week of putrid fruit and split maize. 'Maybe it's better their way. Even your famous wit hasn't filled our bellies.'
The customary thisp from Malik and the ten rupees pressed into his hand swung his protest into a spin. Malik's grin spread from ear to ear. 'Electricity is a great thing, my friend; it is as invisible as the Gods but has more substance. And we are only at the beginning of a harvest stretching many miles.'
Half way through the week Malik fell into a sullen mood, enough to dampen his zeal for sales and make him lose himself within the gang. Seemingly the artist had used more licence than merely creating the green fields. The deity had directed the light sentinels to be positioned on the central divide. Malik didn't stay depressed for long. Next day he discovered the fence was to be electrified. Mulk gave a sigh of relief, happy to be back doing the work of two men and making more than five.
The Carter’s. MIDDLE ENGLAND
Bob stayed in the rotor's draught allowing it to act as an insect free zone. He'd offered to fly Dick across, staying well clear, but close enough to act if needed. Obdurate bugger at times Dick. Wouldn't break the law and wouldn't use it, which was probably the clearest indication of his regard for it.
These were months of leaden time for Dick. Setting up a web link with the business. Visiting kennels searching for a replacement for Orson then shying from the commitment. Maintenance visits to Whisperwind with a couple of overnight single-handed sails thrown in. Always asking if Bob needed a hand, knowing he was bloody useless with beast or machines. Then, knowing he wasn’t needed, borrowing the old pick-up and disappearing for the day. Times he’d mope around, hold out for a few days then arrange meetings with Bow. Mostly as an excuse to see Mary; something to be discussed, to be signed, to find out how she felt? Always with the dread of hearing 'see my solicitor' and some sort of sense of relief when he didn't.
One night, the air thick with cigar and pipe smoke, forcing Bess to slouch from the couch for fresher air in the hall and the malt had taken more than its usual hammering, Dick asked. ‘How the hell can you stand it Bob?’
Dick swung the hand holding his cigar round the room encapsulating the world beyond it. ‘This bloody isolation. Is it just because I’m here and you feel obliged to keep me company? Surely to Christ you can’t live this monkish an existence all the time?’
‘Pretty much. I won’t chance taking the chopper up if I’ve had a drink. Sometimes Jon comes across from Betley or he’ll send his lads over to mind the place and I’ll go over there. I don’t mind taking a chance on the driving and the police seem to have more to do now than worry about drink driving. Jon usually rides shotgun with me on the way back. Wakes up when he gets here then rides back with his lads. Other than that, unless it was over to the Keep or something you or Mary roped me into, when I usually stayed the night. I’ve the occasional outing to Stoke when I take the chopper, leave in daylight back the next day. Leave Bess free to roam and only then if I can leave the stock in the fields.’
‘ I would’ve thought they’d be safer in the shed’s?’
‘Safe’s maybe not the right word but after the fire over at Budworth’s, at least if they’re out they’ve a chance to run. The way I see it the bastards will take what they can transport and hopefully leave the rest. Anyway bro, what’s so different about yours and Mary’s social life?’
Dick shrugged, ‘Nothing really, which is probably why I’m asking you. Just, as a couple, it seemed tolerable.’
‘You’re just missing her.’
Dick shrugged ‘Not so sure about that.’ Seeing the concern on Bob’s face Dick felt he’d to explain, though he wasn’t sure how. ‘I haven’t been entirely straight with Mary for some time Bob.’
‘Shit, if this’s a shagging confessional I don’t want to know.’
‘Nothing like that. The day Mary left there was no meeting with Haverick or the insurance guy. I’d talked to them over the phone, got the jist of their excuses and sort of rattled it into a script. Mary’s pretty easily led on anything where Archie Bow’s concerned. Poor bugger's been getting the sharp side of her tongue for years for doing exactly what I’ve asked of him.’
‘Christ you’re not shagging Bow?’
Knowing Bob was ragging didn’t make his inane interruption any less annoying. ‘Fuck off Bob, I’m trying to sort something out here. Sort out the possible from the dreams and maybe, just maybe, come up with answers I can live with.’
‘Dick I’m not the one you should be sorting things out with; she’s in Chester.’
‘All right Bob answer me this. How much did I make out of the firm last year?’
Bob, confused by the questions obliqueness shrugged, ‘Not a clue and none of my business. I’m quite happy with the dividends you pay me.’
‘You don’t get dividends Bob, your cheque is payment as a non executive director.’
‘Whatever; I’m grateful for it keeping this place out of hock to the bank.’ Bob hesitated, ‘Wait a minute, is this leading up to wangling on a divorce settlement? If it is don’t say another word because I’m so far out I’m in orbit.’
‘Jesus – look Bob I’m not setting you up or trying to get you in my corner against anybody, least of all Mary. All I’m doing is using you, my brother, somebody I trust, as a sounding board. So just let me spit it out the best way I can, okay.
Bob grinned and topped up their glasses, ‘Right brother, start spitting.’
You get paid the way you do because Insect e Cute UK doesn’t make profits, at least not on paper. It wipes its face and that includes my salary which jogs along at around the million and from that salary I pay the full whack of UK taxes etc. ’ Seeing Bob’s head beginning to shake, Dick held his hand up to hold him off. ‘But in real terms Bob, last year the company made over £800 million in profit worldwide. All of which went to its holding company and that’s a company called DMC Holdings. DMC has a brass plate somewhere in the Dutch Antilles and has its investments and tax liabilities all handled by a clever Dutch finance management company. Last year on that eight hundred odd million I paid less than two million in tax. Not tens of percents Bob, not even two percent in fact it’s nearer to a tenth of a percent and I own DMC lock stock and barrel.’
‘Okay I’m impressed, knew you were well heeled but not that well; but it still doesn’t tell me what this has got to do with me?’
Dick shook his head, ‘Not the point Bob. Not that I’ve ever bothered with it but my heels wouldn’t get me near the running for the Forbes 500. What I’m trying to get across is this, Because I have access to lumps of cash, enough to afford the management company’s fees and commissions, I pay a miserly amount of tax compared to anybody living off a salary and being taxed directly by the state.’
‘We’ll if you feel that bad about it bring it all back within Westminster’s grubby claws.’
‘It would be a raindrop attempting to calm a stormy ocean. Fact is Bob, whatever I’m worth hasn’t stopped me looking at myself in the mirror of a morning and asking if this is all life is? Because, if it is, life’s shit.’
Christ most people would say you’d nothing to complain about.’
Dick shrugged, ‘I know that Bob and that just makes it all the more baffling. At least I thought it did until a few weeks ago. Before that I put it all down the Dad. The way his and Mums world fell apart when the business went. Then him disappearing after Mum, Gemma and me left to live in Chester. Can’t remember it all and probably what I do remember are only details that were significant to me. I know it lasted over a year because it was the second Christmas, somewhere abroad, probably the Canaries, when he just reappeared as we were eating dinner in the hotel. Can’t tell you how I felt; just that my world had gone from shit to sorted in one second flat.’ Dick gave a dismissive shrug and threw his cigar end amongst the ash in the fireplace.
‘You already know it wasn’t quite as sorted as that. It was Gemma who gave the game away. Mothering me to death, giving mum and dad space. Letting them lie in bed in the mornings; the two of us having early dinners so they could go out by themselves at night. As though she had her fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed for it all to work out. So I began to worry again only this time I didn’t know what I was supposed to be worrying about. If I asked mum I’d get a cuddle and told that she loved me, that dad loved me and Gemma loved me to death. Dad told me the same, Gem I didn’t need to ask.’
Bob was only half listening while his mind ploughed up memories of his own early years. How he’d struggled to know Dick before the age differential settled into friendship. Wondering as a boy, whether the ten-year gap made him a miracle or a nuisance to their parents and, with Dick developing the build, blondness and aura of a younger version of their dad, what was a half ling, a dark Celt, to think? He could remember even now the delight of mystery that came with thoughts of adoption from dark tragedies. Then through time the discovery of Dick being his half brother. Of the accident that killed Dicks mother and sister and the resentment he felt on learning all the dark tragedies had been Dicks and the dark Celt was purely down to the genes of his mother, Rebecca.
The dramas had all disappeared through the balance of time, when build had evened out and the genes of character could be seen as shared. None more so than when the rank rooks of tragedy decided to roost with him. When Sal was lost and his own mind was dissolving in despair, Dick and Mary had been there for him. Now he imagined he was seeing the same look in Dick's eyes. Except, without mortality to blame he wasn’t sure what, if anything, he could do for Dick. Perhaps he was about to find out.
Dick, peering into the amber at the bottom of his glass gave a wry grin. ‘Never did find out what the bugger had been up to before he turned up for dinner that night. Not that I thought about it at the time but I knew he was flush. Flew about for the rest of the holiday staying at top hotels and checking out yachts. Probably explains the confusion I felt when mum and him split again; followed by him taking Gem and me to meet Rebecca. Then the fucking car smash must have overwhelmed all my confusions and became the reason behind every change I saw in him. First the change of name to Carter, then I had to drop the Stuart in favour of my middle name Richard. I thought at the time it all had something to do with Rebecca. Some name dragged from her family tree till dad told me it was his mother’s maiden name. It was years before the cash question trickled back into my mind. In fact it wasn’t until I was going through his private papers that it dawned on me. There was nothing, not a scrap of paper, birth certificate, nothing, from the day he was born till the day he turned up at the hotel. Plenty after that. His share portfolio, his holdings in the private companies, endowments, pensions all the usual guff that went a lot of the way to explaining our lifestyle but not quite.
Then the enigma of the Dublin telephone number I’d to ring and be prepared to answer a question a five year old would know. Had me wracking my brain till the question was asked’ Dick chuckled,’ He was a bastard. All those bloody years I just took it for granted Carter was Rebecca’s’ maiden name and we’d adopted it to save her any hassle…. Anyway you know all that, but I’ve got to tell you when we went to Dublin to meet Fernyhough and found Uncle Pat there to meet us, I got to thinking we were in the presence of two of the three wise monkeys. Hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil. Didn’t know which one Dad represented but I knew the other two knew all the answers to the mysteries that enveloped my life.
Anyway, when we got back and the true amount of Dads estate emerged I went through the papers again. Because, while it explained the lifestyle better it made it even more of a mystery how it got to the size it had. Again nothing, not one bloody trail that failed or disappeared, not even a bloody blip. Not until Uncle Pat died; and this you don’t know. About a month later I got a letter from (………), inside was an envelope addressed to me and inside that was a short note from Pat to both of us, wishing us well, saying we’d be hearing from Fernyhough again, which you know and a sentence saying – While a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, a lot can a downright disaster. The rest of the envelopes contents were four newspaper clippings. Three dated during the time Dad was walkabout. Two were financial reports about International Chemicals; the first had its shares in crises. The other about some sort of coup when it sold most of its plants to an American company. The third was a couple of paragraphs about an anti terrorist exercise being carried out by the security services on London’s water supply systems. That was taking place the same Christmas Dad walked in on us. The other cutting was from an Irish paper dated a couple of years before about a family being blown to pieces in some bomb plot.’
‘Christ, did you ever make sense of it.’ Bob asked.
Dick shook his head, ‘Couldn’t make anything out of the Irish thing, except to wonder if that tied in somehow with the security exercise. The financial thing I decided to take at face value. Pats way of telling us how the turn in Dads fortune had come about.’
‘Had he shares in International Chemicals when you went through his portfolio?’
Dick chuckled, ‘Some.’
‘But not enough?’
‘Not by a long shot.’
‘Christ. So what does it mean?’
‘I gave quite a lot of thought to that at the time and decided to just let it lie. Because whatever it was, once the grieving was over, we had a better dad through it. Young as I was I knew I saw little of him before his business went bust. I’ve got this picture of him in his suit and tie, out before I was up in the morning, back home shattered at night, quick kiss and a tussle only to find he’d the phone stuck in his ear. Work was his religion and his excuse and both failed him. The second time around he was completely different. We came first, friends a close second. Fun was an education and the only thing we couldn’t waste was time. Admittedly a great lump of it was down to his relationship with Rebecca. Couldn’t get my head round that for a while, thinking I was being disloyal to Mums’ memory or whatever. Maybe it was all down to the compatability thing; where my mum worried, Rebecca encouraged. But whatever it was his, attitude to life and business, especially business, was far more relaxed as though he was on a different plain.’
‘Christ Dick this’s all ancient history. If for all there was to get over, surely it’s done and dusted now?’
Smiling, Dick filled both their glasses.’ Didn’t mean it as a criticism Bob. We were a family and when I started to call Rebecca Mum I meant it, just looking at the parallels and wondering why even with the illusions of time and distance they’re not converging.’
Bob shook his head, ‘No, might be the whisky, but I’m definitely not following?’
‘Look, after Insect-e-Cute was established and all the patent litigation had settled down and we’d come to terms with the double whammy of what Dad and Pat left us. I got to thinking about what I wanted to do with it all. I thought when I went into politics that would give me some ideas but all it did was convince me government was the last place I wanted it to go to and I didn’t want to be landed with the dubious roles of charitable trusts. So cutting a long story short using Archie Bow as a front we set up credit unions, bought up streets of houses in areas the banks wouldn’t dream of raising a mortgage on. Done them up a bit then rented them out to any family that wanted one. That was our only rule; it had to be a family, in some instance the same family who’d just been evicted from them. No credit checks, guarantors or references or the rest of the shite tape that label people as losers.’
Christ it must be eating through a fortune?’
Dick chuckled. ‘ In fact it isn’t. On a straight accountancy bases it’s washing its own face. Anyway on the days I’ve buggered off with the pickup I’ve been going over to the Keep.’
Bob smiled ‘Thought you might be.’
Dick shrugged, ‘There’s fourteen of them you know. Five kid’s step and stair'd between five years and months old to two of his son’s and a daughter, with another son and daughter that are single. His eldest son Nate’s a DCI, works for Haverick; say’s he’s no difficulty keeping his life separate. Libby, that’s the married daughter and her husband Mark were both teachers, George, his second eldest was in oil and his wife; I keep forgetting whether its Betsy or Gail? No it’s Betsy. Gail’s married to Nate and she was something in banking. I think the singles, Jamie and Ruth never got beyond being students.’
Bob couldn’t quite suppress his smile when he asked. ‘And the kids, what are they called?’
Dick didn’t hesitate, ‘David’s the eldest, Simone, Donna, Greg and Gavin’s the babe. Don’t ask who belongs to who I haven’t got my head round that yet.’
‘Shit Bob the house is alive. I mean they’re careful and organised but at least they’re not wondering if the hired security is selling them out or hatching something to rip them off. Which is how Mary and I would be living if we got them out.’
‘But they stole it from you?’
‘So bloody what! Sometimes Bob luck doesn’t happen in the form you expect. They’re decent people, trying to make a go of life. Get over the bluster and the bullshit and I’m beginning to see it as a chance, maybe our only chance to enjoy living there. I want part of that because it’s the nearest I’ve come to contentment since the moment Dad walked back into my life.’
Dick shrugged. ‘You can lead a horse to water? Maybe she’s bloody-minded or stronger than I am but I couldn’t live at the Keep if there’s only the two of us. It wouldn’t make any sort of sense now.’
‘So what was all this earlier anal angst about cash and tax about?’
‘That! Just my rambling approach to the fact that there’s one aspect of life that really matters and it hasn’t changed in the last millennium. Anybody that runs a small business or is salaried wouldn’t get off with that amount of tax. So Joe Blog’s of this world is still just a bloody serf. Only from the kings and earls we’ve changed to the state and the magnates and in the process allowed them to be released from their responsibilities. Maybe that’s part of the reason life’s so bloody venal’
‘From what you’ve just told me, you’re a bit of a magnate yourself?’
‘A minor magnate Bob. Too weak to be a threat, too small to be much of a catch and the only bugger they can buy it from. The money boy’s don’t like that, they’d far rather wheel and deal with shareholders, that way they only have to buy a minor percentage of it, with me they’d have to buy the lot.’
So here he was, the morning after, head still tender, squatting under the rotor blades while Dick, sailing bag slung on his back, was walking towards where it had all begun, or finished, depending on the outcome.
Back home Bob gave himself an hours soak in the bath and read a couple of the papers Dick insisted on getting. He wished he hadn’t bothered, but they did help to reaffirm a decision made for him by the events of the past weeks. He knew he'd probably added to Dick's despair by saying he'd top himself. Wouldn't have said it had he known it was more than a tiff they were going through. Though once said, it had surprised him how much he meant it.
Serf, well maybe? Time and exposure had made the political propaganda and hype easily ignored. Listen with half an ear to what was said or claimed then consider the opposite and, if that was too simple look for another tangent. Leaving you to wonder at first why the idiots thought you believed them. Until you realised they couldn’t give a fuck whether they were believed or not. And, while the winners hugged their cynicism the losers became brutalised as societies benchmarks were faded out in favour of the consumer conscience. The new millennium had brought the shock headlines back home. Of burning streets, homes, barns and steadings. Of instant riots, mob justice and collateral corpses. Leading to knee jerk legislature claiming to protect society while all they protected were the chattels of the “they’s” that controlled the State.
At first the media had shown their intrepid reporters, suitably armour vested, standing by the corralled police vehicles while the cameras zoomed to carefully edited corpse of being or building. But the incidents gradually slid down the ratings, then on down from the national to the local news, as apathy spun the new reality.
That was the reality Dick and Mary had fought against. Dick had rationalised it; Mary, for whatever reason, had developed her own agenda. Dick, always searching for reasons, had mumbled something about mid life hormones but Bob knew little about that; he and Sal hadn't got that far. What he did recognise was how fragile his own bubble had become. Yet his own belligerent denial still persisted.
Even when he'd invited Dick and Mary to stay he'd been quietly pleased when they turned him down. Mind you if Rab and Lyn were to produce a grandchild that would be enough reason to paint the house and outbuildings whatever blue, tartan or pink they wanted. No sign of that yet and he suspected there wouldn't be, unless Lyn got promoted ahead of Rab, or threatened to out fly him.
He'd adored Lyn from the start, encouraged the thought of her as Rab's wife and gave him full marks for having sense enough to catch or be caught by her. She was in every sense a cracker who could twist him round whatever finger she chose. None of which helped Bob picture her behind the driving seat of one of the thundering darts scraping their lethal bellies above the hedgerows at a rate of knots that told you where they'd been, not where they were.
Maybe he was out of time and maybe it didn't matter. Maybe nothing did and maybe Rab and Lyn knew it. Perhaps it was the reason they chose to play the games they did rather than producing his grandkids. And maybe he was pondering on something on which he'd no right to pass an opinion. But, and if only, any child of theirs was as black as Lyn, he'd a secret dream of teaching it the Gaelic, a true Black Douglas or Dark Bess. Somehow, it wouldn't seem as much fun if Rab's genes proved dominant but, no doubt, reality would cure him of that. All he could do was to see their option stayed open, which meant rigging something up to give him more than just a loyal dog and a determined farmer with a quivering shotgun to rely on.
Mind, after the revelations Dick had made about his wealth, it put into some sort of perspective the wedding present he’d given to Rab and Lyn. His half of the farm had seemed beyond mere generosity. No – that was jealousy. It had been generous then and still was.
If Pytor Brodregan had perfected any traits in his sixty-two years of life, politics wasn't one, nor was style. But somehow they'd made him look enough of a steward to slip him aboard before Varbagin and Pavlovin arrived. Cuirakan, already installed in the president's private suite, welcomed him with a sardonic, 'My Pytor, they have got you smelling florid.' None of which helped to reassure him. After a moment Cuirakan took pity. 'Settle down Pytor, be comfortable. You were promised a meeting with the highest level of security; you can't get any higher than this. All the way to Reykjavik and back without even Pavlovin knowing we're onboard. So relax, we could be here for the next thirty hours.' Then, hesitating as though reflectively, 'You have implemented all the additional security at Irkutz?'
Pytor Brodregan's eyes widened in affirmation. 'Yes, yes everything as we discussed.'
Andrei, hearing the whump of the plane's doors closing and the immediate whine of the engines, swung the recliner so his back was to the pilot and settled to resume his nap, then, as though reminded of his manners, opened his eyes and smiled. 'That is good Pytor, very good.' It was only conversation, he already knew of the security measures that had enveloped the labs, the scientists, technicians and administrators at Irkutz in the last few hours.
Irkutz was to be sterilised of all that had taken place within its laboratories for the last nine years. All of it, animal, vegetable or mineral, would, within forty-eight hours, be destroyed or transported to Zhigansk. Another misnomer, Zhigansk simply the nearest recognisable place and hardly a metropolis: where any stranger was instantly identified. From there you had to cross the Lena and travel on east for another one hundred and fifty kilometres before you came to the foothills of the Verkhoyansk range. Another twenty took you to the caverns dug in their bowels; but you had to be cleared to travel the twenty. They had their breakthrough. Not the first, that had happened sometime ago and had been labelled the X and called the enticer, this was the Y and called the enforcer. They'd left Z for the chance that often buggers mortals.
Brodregan found that reading his own report in the hour before Varbagin joined them hadn't in any way slowed his heart rate; indeed it seemed to find another gear when the door opened and he was told to stay seated.
He waited for Cuirakan to respond before adding his, 'Thank you.' Then, to the raised eyebrow, 'Oh, black one sugar, sorry.' Everything seemed to stop while his president prepared coffees and arranged a plate with honeyed almond biscuits that made your fingers sticky. Cuirakan's arthritic hands struggled to sort and separate two copies of his report. Pytor had just taken his first sip of the scalding coffee when Varbagin with immaculate timing asked.
'Brodregan, Andrei's impressed by your report. Run me through it.'
Pytor had to gulp before answering. 'Well, Mr President, Botulin has four main types A through D.'
Varbagin looking over his eyeglasses was slowly waving a finger at him. 'You explained it very well when type X was developed. All I need to know is how this relates to our American friends' antitoxins. Is it effective on Y, and if not, how long before they could develop one?'
Pytor shuffled uncomfortably. 'I still cannot understand how they got hold of the X strain.'
Varbagin shrugged as though dismissing it. 'Everything leaks Brodregan, that's why you piss dying in a desert. You stay with your own problems; the others are mine and Cuirakan's. So?'
Varbagin glared at him. 'Simply X or Y will do, remember.'
'Yes, sorry. X then, caused immobility within the hour. Death certain within two, three hours maximum. When we tested the antitoxin we found it had a one hundred percent effectiveness if taken immediately. For the first hour after infection between sixty and seventy percent effective, dropping steeply after that. It could still work after two hours but what was left would probably be better dead.'
'Has the Y strain speeded that up?'
'No. It can't really be speeded up as you put it.'
'Any infection that invades the body, it will try to fight. It may well kill itself in the process but it will fight and that takes time. Any other way, in the numbers envisaged, would be seen immediately as unnatural and that's not how you asked for it to look. Even the figures we have discussed are averages, the stronger last longer the weaker less. To an African malaria might grind him down eventually but the intervening bouts are like a European with flu, something to be got on with while the immune system battles.’
'So Y puts us back to where we were with X, before the antitoxin was developed?'
'More or less.' Then, seeing the look in his president's eyes, ' It’s definitely more virulent.'
'And, if by some miracle they were to get hold of a sample of Y, how long do you think before they could develop the antidote?'
'I don't know. Why should we assume they get the Y?'
'They will once we've used it. So is Y only a development of X and by merely modifying the existing antitoxin can it become viable on Y?’
'No, Andrei was quite specific on that when he knew we had to develop a new strain. If they use the antidote they have now against the Y strain it's useless; in fact it may speed up the process.'
Varbagin pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. 'Good, excellent. Right, forget the imponderables. Knowing what you know, how long for you to develop the antidote to Y?'
Varbagin, having given him a lifeline, sighed. 'As before. As much as you imagine you need.'
Brodregan swallowed. The bliss of ignorance was always the prerogative of power. Knowing the formula he already had an intuitive answer but the chasm from intuition to developed fact shouldn’t be leaped, but carefully tested step by cautious step. Between X and Y strains he’d already witnessed over three thousand “clinical” deaths in trials and none had been pleasant. Especially the “lucky” control groups who, having been given the antidote for X and survived, had been tested again and again to destruction. When guinea pigs had two legs and could plead with their eyes, when did research become murder? Searching for courage he opted for caution. 'Eighteen months, two years.' And felt every atom of self esteem leave him.
‘Do we need to modify the method of distribution?’
‘No sign in the trials of any loss of immunity. They simply pass it through their gut.’
'We should be able to use eighty percent of the X line. About four months and we should be under way.'
'Andrei?' It was Cuirakan's turn to get the look, though somehow it seemed to wither him less.
'I think, Mr President, we keep up production of X at least until we have a line for Y fully operational, then close X down to modify as a second line for Y.'
'Do it. I'll leave the two of you to sort that out. You may have long enough together if, as Pavlovin believes, they extend this conference into a second day. Still you should be comfortable enough here. Now, before I go back into the dungeons of international politics, shall we have another coffee? And Brodregan, you do have all your relevant notes and formulae whatever you call them with you?'
Brodregan tapped his chest, revealing a solid sound beneath his shirt. 'I have them here Mr President. I didn't know what else to do when they wanted me to dress as a steward. Excuse me.' Turning he unbuttoned the vest and shirt and drew out a thick envelope. 'It's all here. I've destroyed any copies.'
'Good, keep it safe Brodregan. Now for that coffee.’
Pytor woke with a start, and then relaxed when he took in his surrounding and remember why he was in them. The envelope was still in its place beside him while Cuirakan was absorbed in a game of chess. In fact Andrei had only been playing for twenty minutes. While Brodregan slept he’d made copies of the papers and arranged a flight back to Moscow in one of their escorting fighters. Two days he couldn't afford to waste. They had an enforcer that was as old as time and a carrier that was biblical. Now it was for Varbagin and Mair to get the team together and the ball rolling. He would act as the conduit to Schultz, handing him the formula for Y. Two labs were better than one for antidotes.
The Awkright’s, SALFORD
'Get out you dirty old fucker.'
Deek felt himself being dragged unwillingly from sleep, unsure whether the words had been his. Motionless under the duvet he gave his mind the moments needed to settle. It was late. He'd slept in? No, it was Friday, special, a holiday. Mum and the Old Man at Aunty Eph's in Stockport, for a break his mother had said. More of the same, more spent and Lord's my Shepherd grub for the next fortnight. Deek didn't know why they bothered.
'Get te fuck you old goat.' Venom forced through clenched teeth. Less decibels but somehow more threatening.
Deek already knew who the old goat was and why he was being told to do what age probably made impossible. He peeled back the duvet to absorb the latest family soap. Script wasn't so slick but the action far more lifelike.
Granddaddy Awkrights jowls were vibrating as he tried to cool her rage by shushing air at her behind his raised finger. Seeing Deek awake, his eyes jerked from him to the door, to Rosie, back to the door, then back to Deek. Rosie's rage overcame her nudity, though neither were strangers to Deek.
'I was only wakening you up,' the old goat pleaded.
'The only thing you were trying to get up was your fucking grotty fingers.' Rage transformed to action, a beaut of a roundhouse that caught Granddaddy right on the jowl. Air plopped from his toothless gob and the expression in his watery eyes changed from leer to fear. The old fucker adopted a boxer's crouch that was neither a threat or counter to the windmill of blows hitting him round the head and shoulders. Deek, waiting for the knock out blow, saw the gnarled hand fumble towards the doorknob, find it, and then hesitate. Deek wondered if the old goat was going to be allowed to escape. If he turned right Gran was in the kitchen. She might be deaf but she wasn't daft enough not to put the tits and smacks together, she’d zap him with the heavy stuff. If he got past her it would be out to the hall and that wouldn't stop Rosie from kicking him down the stairs. So it was either a swift dart straight across into mum's room or left down the hall and into his own. Mum's was nearest. Nah, odds were he'd go for his own. Seeing the door opened he got up on his knees ready to follow the action and felt disappointed when Rosie kicked the door shut.
Flouncing back to bed, she demanded, 'What the fuck ‘r'you grinning at?' before pulling the covers over her head and beginning to weep. Deek shook his head. He liked her better fighting. Still, grown ups were strange and Rosie was well on her way. All that hassle for a grope of road kill. Maybe the old git hadn't clipped his horny nails. Maybe he should ask his Gran to trim them. Deek whistled his way to the bathroom; he'd forgotten that as a possible sanctuary, but not much of one when the latch didn't work. He'd have to decide on either putting the question to Gran or fixing a price off the old goat. Ah well, you had to make the best of what the world gave you and pick your moments.
© Eoin Taylor