The Old Farmhouse
The Old Farmhouse

If He Should Lose His Own Soul
by Jan Luthman

A full-length book in sixteen weekly instalments for grown ups


Instalment 10

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Chapter thirty one

"For me?" Julie's voice was squeaky with incredulity.

"Yup," James was close to bursting with a mixture of excitement and pleasure.

"It's…" Julie searched for superlatives, but couldn't find them, "It's lovely," She said simply

James glowed happily.

In front of them both, gleaming blue and white in the sunlight, stood Julie's brand new car, fresh out of M&M's showroom.

"My favourite colours," She sighed, "You clever thing."

"And no battle scars," James added solemnly, "Yet."

Julie opened the front door and slid in behind the steering wheel.

"MM.," Julie marvelled, "And it's got…." She paused, peering carefully at the dashboard to make sure she was right, "It's got air-conditioning."

"Just wait," She ran her hands gently over the dashboard, "Just wait till Helen sees this."

"Call it the spoils of war," Suggested James.

There was no more to be said: it had all been worth it after all.

"I say," Rupert hopped agitatedly from foot to foot on the burning sand, bursting with Very Important Gossip, "Have you heard? Robert's retiring; we’re about to have a new ambassador."

"Mmm," James had forgotten the corkscrew, and was rummaging around in the boot of Julie's new car for a screwdriver, "Name's Wainwright, or something like that."

"Hear he's a bit of a bridge fiend," Tom flapped scalded fingers as he juggled red-hot sausages on the barbecue stand.

"Nina said she thought his wife played golf," Julie was laying strips of dull green lettuce across paper plates set in the sand.

"I hear she's his second wife," Helen was laying stripes of brilliant red polish across nails that precisely matched her swimsuit, "They say she used to be his children's nanny."

Quite plainly, the Very Important Gossip was old hat. Crestfallen, Rupert attempted a rally.

"Gather Ngombia is a bit of a demotion for him," He ventured gamely, "Used to be a much bigger fish; ambassador somewhere in East Africa."

"Why's he coming here then?"

"Upset our foreign secretary by negotiating with a bunch of terrorists for the release of some voluntary workers." Rupert was thrilled to have scored a hit at last, "Not supposed to negotiate with unrecognised terrorist regimes. Been a touchy subject with the ambassador ever since."

"When's he arriving?"

"Another couple of months or so, in the New Year. His wife didn't want to spend Christmas in a new post where they wouldn't know anyone."

"Wonder what the Murchisons will do once that they're retired?" Julie doled out spoonfuls of potato salad, "Probably play bowls every afternoon."

"Funny, isn't it," James dragged a screwdriver out from under the spare tyre, "One minute you're an ambassador, with everybody calling you 'Your Excellency’ then," He hammered the screwdriver through the cork of the wine bottle with a rock, "Poof! you're just another OAP creaking back to your flat in Hove with your string shopping bag and two tins of cat food."

James turned the screwdriver and pulled; hard. To his delight, the cork emerged in one piece; the trick didn't often work. Today was going to be a good Saturday.

"James?"

"Yes, Charles," Fresh back from the beach, James could feel a thundering headache brewing from too much sun and too much wine. He clutched the phone to his ear, trying to concentrate.

"James," Charles’ voice came again, "Guess what?"

"What?"

"I was at a barbecue at Nagbeh's new country house this afternoon."

"And?" James was feeling irritable; there was sand in his hair, sand in his ears, sand everywhere.

"He told me he signed the order for the paint yesterday."

"On top of the order he already gave us?"

"Yeah; one hundred thousand gallons."

"Christ!" Suddenly, the headache and the irritation were gone: James felt his head clear like mists in spring.

"And the same again for delivery three months later."

Silence. James sat on the floor, his back against the wall, his eyes glazed.

"James?" Charles sounded anxious, "You still there?"

"Yes," He croaked at last.

"James," Charles’ voice came from far away, as if in a dream, "James, we just made ourselves a whole pot of money."

"I know," Said James.

He had been right. It had been a good Saturday.

"Daddy?"

James looked up from where he sat on the floor, still dazed with excitement.

"Daddy, something's wrong with Puddle."

Lucy dragged James by the hand to where Julie sat on the porch step, Puddle's head in her lap. A silent Annie sat next to her, ceaselessly stroking the dog's nose. Julie looked up as he approached.

"James," Her eyes were brimming, bright, "Puddle's back legs are paralysed; he can't walk."

"He can still wag his tail, though," Lucy told him reassuringly.

James felt suddenly helpless.

"We could try Alan Dempster," He suggested.

"He's not a vet."

"No; but he is a doctor."

Annie lifted her head from her rhythmic stroking.

"Will he make Puddle better?"

"Let's ask him, shall we?"

"Snake bite," Said Alan briefly, "Or poison."

"Can he be cured?"

"No," Said Alan, "I'm sorry; he can't. We don't know what type of snake or what type of poison, and it wouldn't make any difference if we did."

"What does that mean?" Julie spoke quietly, calmly.

"It means," Alan told her, "That your dog is dying; slowly and painfully."

It was all so incredibly matter of fact; so quick. James struggled to take it in.

"Could he be..? Could you..?" The words were sticking in James' throat.

"Put to sleep?" Alan rescued him, "Yes, he could; I could."

James walked with Alan across the AMEN compound to the clinic dispensary, leaving Julie to try to explain to two stricken, unbelieving faces.

On the way back, James carried the brown glass flagon of chloroform, Alan the blue-wrapped tube of cotton wool. They could as well have been a noose and gallows.

It was all really very simple.

Julie sat on the floor, her legs straight out, childlike, in front of her. She held Puddle's head gently whilst Alan soaked the large cotton wool pad and placed it over the dog's muzzle. Lucy and Annie knelt next to her, each holding one of Puddles' paws. Thick, giddy perfume filled the room and, slowly, gradually, Puddle's ragged breathing began to ease. Julie scratched his ear gently.

"Silly, silly mutt," She said quietly, "I warned you about snakes."

Puddle's tail brushed softly against the floor then, quite suddenly, his eyes closed and he was gone. For a moment, all was quiet. Annie stroked a paw, not looking up.

"Bye, Puddle," Whispered Lucy.

As if stung, Annie leapt to her feet.

"He's dead," She wailed, tears streaming down swollen cheeks, "He's dead and he won't ever ever play with us again."

Furious with grief, she spun and ran across the room.

"I'm never, ever going to have another pet," She wrenched open the front door, "All they do is just die."

She fled out into the night, too angry even to slam the door behind her.

Charles was looking as close to grey as a Ngombian can.

"Goddam," He scrabbled open a packet of aspirin and threw two into the back of his mouth, "That Nagbeh can drink."

James waited whilst Charles washed the aspirin down with a cup of coffee.

"And he likes you, James."

"How come? I hardly know the man."

"Ever since you cooked up that new car deal for him, when his transmission packed up a couple of years ago." Charles waggled his coffee spoon at James, "I told you about taking care of the right people, remember?"

James remembered.

"So what's on your mind, Charles?"

"First," Said Charles, "We order a very expensive birthday present for the minister. How about a new car?

"He's got one; we gave it to him, remember?"

"A new limousine then, twice as plush?"

"It'd take months to get here."

"Nagbeh's birthday's not for months."

"O.K.," Agreed James, "What's second?"

"Second," Said Charles, "Is the mayor."

"The mayor?"

"The mayor," Repeated Charles, "He gave us an order for street names, remember?"

"Christ!" James was aghast, "I’d completely forgotten."


"Yeah," Growled Charles, "So had I; but he hasn't, and now he wants to know where all his signs are."

"Charles, they're not anywhere, you know that as well as I do. He gave us the order, but we couldn't finance it."

"Hah!" Exclaimed Charles, "With the money you and I just made, we could finance a new presidential palace."

"Yes," Agreed James, "Now, we could. Then, we couldn't."

"Can hardly tell that to the mayor, can we?"

"No."

"You're the ideas man, James, you start thinking. The mayor wants to see us, in his office, today."

Daniel Genesis Digbeh, Mayor of Tuehville city, was very upset. He sat behind his desk and glowered; livid.

"Dammit, Nyamplu, how come Nagbeh's order got in front of mine?"

The minister's order, the mayor had been given to understand, was already being manufactured. Soon Nagbeh would have new traffic signs and road markings all over the place and he, the mayor, was going to have to put up with months of the minister banging on about how the mayor couldn't even organise street names.

"Dammit," Digbeh repeated, "What the hell am I supposed to say to keep the man quiet?"

Upset mayors are bad for business and James and Charles were acutely aware of the need to find a tactful solution.

"Mr Mayor," James' cleared his throat; he hoped his voice sounded more confident than he felt, "It was our understanding that you were simply conducting a thorough analysis of your departments capital expenditure."

A puzzled frown crossed Digbeh's forehead.

"I was?"

"We also understood, Mr mayor, that your analysis was coupled with a most careful evaluation of alternative suppliers."

"Really?" Digbeh looked baffled

"Yes, indeed, Mr mayor," James was beginning to relax, "And we believe we have the documentary evidence still on file."

"You do?" The mayor was looking cautiously hopeful.

"Perhaps we might put it before you," James did not bat an eyelid, "Tomorrow?"

"Indeed you may, Mr Davidson," The mayor regained his composure, "I shall look forward to that."

Charles was bursting with impatient curiosity.

"What was all that evaluation of alternative suppliers business, James?"

"I just thought it might be helpful if the mayor had a confidential file, full of inferior quotes from other suppliers."

"But, James, we know he hasn't: he hasn't got any other quotes at all. We made sure of that."

"Suppose we made some up," James suggested, "On imaginary letterheads. We just need to make sure that the prices are too high, or delivery times are too long, or specifications are inadequate. That way the mayor could show that he'd selected the best choice for the city."

"My dear James," Charles peered admiringly over the top of his glasses, "Whatever happened to all your ethics?"

James grinned.

"They got adapted," He said.

The mayor was delighted.

"Fantastic!" He riffled through the file of painstakingly prepared quotations, pausing only to examine the detailed summary sheet at the back. It scrupulously evaluated all the bogus offers and concluded that the proposal from AAA was in the best interests of the City Corporation. The file had taken James hours of careful work to prepare.

"Dammit!" The mayor slapped the file down on top of his desk, "Just let Nagbeh try and suggest that I don't look after the city's affairs properly!"

There was a moment's silence; Charles leant down to pick up his briefcase.

"Mr Mayor, there was one other thing."

"Yes, Mr Nyamplu?"

"My colleague and I would appreciate the opportunity to extend seasonal good wishes." Charles rested his briefcase on his knee and undid its catches, "We had thought that you might allow us to present a suitable artefact to City Hall."

"That would be most kind," The mayor spoke with polite non-enthusiasm.

"However," Charles lifted the lid of his briefcase, "On reflection, we felt it might be more suitable were we simply to provide the appropriate funding."

Charles withdrew a bulging manila envelope; the pupils of the mayors' eyes dilated slightly.

"Thank you, Mr. Nyamplu," Tuehville’s mayor replied graciously, "A most wise and generous gesture. I am sure it will do much to establish mutual and enduring goodwill."

Like a plump brown seal diving for fish, the packet slid silently into the depths of the inside breast pocket of the mayor's jacket.

James stood beside Tom at the edge of the fifth green, daydreaming about Nagbeh and the mayor and being rich. The sun had emerged from behind the soggy grey clouds of a stray dry-season shower, and all around them the ground steamed in the heat. The humidity was suffocating; James ached for the sixth tee and its oildrum full of cold beers.

Four feet from the hole, Rupert hunched over his putter, twiddling endlessly with tiny practice swings. Eventually, satisfied, he grounded his club head and began his backswing.

"Have you heard?" Tom enquired of Rupert's back.

"What?" Rupert paused, mid-swing.

"Climax have pulled out of Gbang Mine."

Unable to stop himself, Rupert putted. The ball sped past the hole, a foot wide and yards too strong. He straightened slowly, furious.

"No," He said, without turning round, "I hadn't heard."

"You're not supposed to have," Tom was wiping sticky black oiled-sand off his ball, "Still your putt," He added easily.

Rupert was torn desperately between outrage at Tom's tactics and the prospect of some really scorching gossip. Gossip won.

"Tell us more," He lined up his putt and swung grimly.

To Rupert's considerable surprise, and even greater satisfaction, his ball caught the edge of the hole and corkscrewed in.

"Not that much to tell," Tom waited until the greenboy had smoothed out the dark brown putting surface with his wooden drag before replacing his ball on the sand, "A telex arrived at the minister's office from Climax in Cleveland, formally terminating their concession and management agreements."

There was a stunned silence. Tom swung his putter gently and watched his ball roll across the green, trailing its little furrow in the sandy surface. It plopped unerringly and satisfyingly into the centre of the hole.

"When did all this come to light?" Demanded Rupert.

"Three days ago."

Tom slung his putter nonchalantly through the air to his waiting caddy.

"So who's running Gbang mine now?" Asked James.

"Nobody," Said Tom, "As of now, Ngombia's principal source of foreign revenue is just a great big hole in the ground."

Chapter thirty two

Matthew Kpendeh knew nothing of international commodity prices; he had never heard of proven world reserves of iron ore; he knew nothing of slackening economic development in the Northern Hemisphere. Matthew Kpendeh was illiterate, utterly poor, and about to be flogged in public for stealing fifty cents worth of fruit.

Gbang Mine had pulled the plug, and Matthew Kpendeh was one of those that got washed down the tube.

Starved of ore revenues, the government was cancelling projects and orders. Starved of business, suppliers and contractors were mothballing equipment and laying off people. Starved of jobs and food, people were stealing. To discourage theft, the Government decided to set an example.

They chose Matthew Kpendeh.

"It's so unfair!"

Julie jabbed the television off. She was really upset; more upset than James had ever seen her.

NTV, Ngombia's only television station, transmitted in black and white with a picture quality reminiscent of London smog. But the images of the scene that James and Julie had just witnessed were etched on their minds with absolute clarity. The wretched beggar, drumstick malnourished, his wrists roped around a post in the middle of Tuehville's football ground, the pathetic remnants of his filthy, tattered shirt ripped from his back. The soldier in crumpled fatigues, slashing with his monstrous six-foot stave. The terrible weals, the lost cries of the victim, the baying of the crowds packed into the stadium.

"Public flogging of some poor wretch who stole a few cents worth of rice or fruit because he was starving," Julie quivered with indignation, "When every minister is grabbing whatever he can lay his greasy hands on."

She slumped down in her chair, brooding, then burst out again.

"The fat cats cheat and steal on everything," She almost spat the words, "And we just say WAWA and have another gin and tonic."

James was silent; he had no adequate answer. If you want to join the game...

"One day," Julie sat and simmered, "They'll meet their fate, and it won't be a happy one."

"Probably wouldn't make things any better."

"Why not?"

"Remember 'Animal Farm'?" He asked her.

"George Orwell? Yes, of course I do. We read it at school when I was about thirteen. So?"

"Don't you think that's exactly what would happen here?"

"You mean if this lot were overthrown, the next lot would end up being the same?"

"Yes," He said, "I do. Within a year any new regime would be just as corrupt and grasping as the one they'd kicked out."

"Cynic."

"No," Said James, "Just a realist."

"Hmmph," Unconvinced, Julie rose from her chair and headed for the kitchen.

"I just wish," She called over her shoulder, "That some divine providence could get hold of all those ill-gotten gains and give them instead to people who really need them."

"This sort of thing is bad news, James."

"I suspect Matthew Kpendeh would probably agree with you."

Charles sucked disdainfully through his teeth.

"What he had was bad luck; not bad news."

"What's the difference?"

" Bad luck is getting flogged; bad news is doing it in public."

"OK," James shrugged, "So it's bad news, but why the gloomy face?"

"James, our business depends on the OAU, the OAU depends on foreign aid, and foreign donors tend not to like Governments that flog their people in public."

"Looks like the president needs a good PR agent."

"What the president needs," Said Charles, "Is to be seen doing something useful for his people, not for himself."

'Useful for the people'; deep within James' memory, a bell was ringing.

"Charles, have you ever heard of the Farm-to-Market project?"

"Farm to Market?" Charles was puzzled, "What's that?"

James explained what he knew.

"The entire country?" Charles' eyes were impossibly wide, "A road network? You'd need an army to build all that."

"That's right," James nodded, "A nationwide army of earthmoving and construction equipment."

Charles had gone silent, his eyes distant; James sensed a plot being hatched.

"James," Charles spoke at last, "I just had an idea."

Chapter thirty three

It was a very good idea, said Charles.

"You remember when I first told you about the OAU conference?"

"At Willie's?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"Of course I do."

"Well, this is it?"

"What is?"

"The Farm to Market thing," Charles did a little jitterbug of excitement, "It's the way to pay for the OAU shindig."

"Charles," James was totally confused, "I'm not with you."

"Then listen."

One, said Charles, holding up a finger, the OAU project would need vast fleets of construction and earthmoving equipment. Two, he continued, holding up a second finger, USAID were prepared to supply just such vast fleets of construction and earthmoving equipment for the Farm to Market project. Would it not be a very good idea if one and two could somehow be brought together?

James thought about it.

"You're suggesting," He said carefully, "That the president ask USAID to supply millions and millions of dollars worth of equipment to build farm-to-market roads throughout the country but instead use it for his OAU projects."

Charles had the grace to look mildly uncomfortable.

"Not instead," He said, "Just first."

"First? You mean use the equipment first for a couple of years to build new VIP conference centres, luxury hotels, presidential palaces, government ministries, six-lane highways, and all the other paraphernalia. Then hand over a bunch of beaten up old machinery that will be fit only to knock out a few tracks in the bush?"

"Well, yeah," Charles was looking sheepish, "Sort of."

James didn't think it was a very good idea at all.

"Number one," He said, a trace of sarcasm in his voice, "The President's not interested in the Farm to Market project: it won't work unless he lets rice prices rise, and there's no way he'd agree to that. Number two, it's got nothing to do with us, anyway. What the hell are we doing even discussing it?"

"Because we'll be arranging it all."

"We?"

Charles sighed, as if dealing with a slow-witted child.

"James, I didn't think up this idea for nothing."

It was preposterous; utterly preposterous. Besides, neither of them had a clue where to begin.

They began by asking Stan Borman what equipment his project would require.

‘Lots,’ He’d said, ‘Lots and lots’. He ran through his list.

Immense fleets of dump trucks, tankers, pickups, wheel loaders, track loaders, bulldozers, motor graders, scrapers and compactors. Plus crushing plant, asphalt plant, asphalt sprayers, spreaders and rollers. Not to mention all the various bits and pieces of support equipment. Plus, of course, a two year supply of spare parts for everything.

USAID, explained Stan, would work with the Ngombian government in determining the scope of the project and the equipment required. USAID experts would then develop appropriate specifications, which would be incorporated in tender documents. These would be issued to pre-qualified suppliers, who would be invited to submit bids to an officially appointed purchasing agent. It would be the purchasing agent who placed the orders and paid the suppliers.

"So who is this purchasing agent? Is it part of USAID?"

"No," Said Stan, "The purchasing agent is appointed by the Ngombian government, and paid a fee based on the size of the project. USAID just provides the funding."

"You mean," Charles interrupted, "The government here get to choose who they want to do their shopping for them, and how much money to give them, and you pick up the bill?"

"That's about the size of it."

"Wow." Breathed Charles.

Somewhere inside all of this there was a gold mine; a great big enormous twenty-four carat gold mine.

James started to get up from his chair.

"One last question before we go, Stan."

"Fire away."

"Who in the government would be responsible for appointing the purchasing agent and negotiating its fee?"

"That's easy; in a project of this size, there's only one person who could approve the expenditure."

"Who?"

"The president of Ngombia."

"Damn," Said Charles.

Someone had just filled in the mineshaft.

They were driving; nowhere; just driving. It was pouring, really bucketing, and the windscreen wipers were going thump swish, thump swish, thump swish.

"Damn!" Said Charles again, harder and louder.

James was trying to think, but he couldn't even think where to start.

"When you're President," Charles swerved to avoid a lone, rain-sodden policeman standing in the middle of the road, motionless and miserable, "Everyone wants to deal with you. Trouble is," He pulled out to pass a taxi stranded in the middle of a vast puddle, its passengers vainly trying to push it ashore, their legs knee deep in water, "Trouble is, presidents only want to deal with two types of people. Those who helped them get to be president, and those who can help them stay there."

"And we're not either," Muttered James from the passenger seat.

"No," Said Charles fiercely, "We ain't."

They drove on.

"Charles?"

"Yeah?"

"You remember those two types of people that we weren't?"

"Yeah; we still ain't."

"I know; but we know someone who is."

"Who?"

"Aloysius," Said James, "He's both."

"Both what?"

"Both types; he helped the President up the ladder and, if he wanted, he could knock him off."

"So what?" Charles was feeling uncooperative.

"He knows us; he’s dealt with us. Maybe we could use him as a go-between."

"No way, James; he’d just take it for himself."

"He didn't take the paint for himself."

"That's because you persuaded him not to."

"No," Said James thoughtfully, "I didn't really persuade him; he was just looking for an excuse to let the deal go."

"He didn't let it go; he took a nice fat fee."

"Either way, he didn't take the deal," James was thinking hard, trying to work something out, "I don't know why, Charles, but for some reason he didn't want the deal for himself. Something was worrying him."

"The man's getting old, James; maybe he thought it was time to let someone else do the running for him."

"Yeah," Said James, "Maybe."

But he wasn't convinced.

Aloysius listened carefully as James outlined their proposal; he was as imperturbable as ever.

"Interesting," He murmured.

"Ambitious," He added.

"But why are you giving it to me?"

"We're not giving it to you; we’re offering you a share."

"Offering me? My dear Mr Davidson, what could you possibly offer me that I could not take for myself?"

James didn't know; he couldn't think of anything; but he did know that something was bothering Aloysius - otherwise he wouldn't still be listening.

"Protection," Suggested James, "We would be the ones in the front line if anything went wrong."

"Went wrong? What are you suggesting?"

He's fishing, thought James, fishing for what I might know.

"Mr Davidson," Aloysius pressed home with his argument, "You're not in a position to offer me anything. You need me; if you didn't, you would not be here."

"Mr Sharman, if you really believed we were not in a position to offer you anything, you would not be listening."

"Touche," Aloysius smiled, but said no more. He sat, silent, drumming his fingertips lightly on his desk top, lost in thought.

"You intrigue me," He said at last, "Tell me, what is it you have in mind?"

"All that we ask is an introduction to the President."

"All?"

James swallowed.

"Yes."

"My dear young man, I can arrange an audience for you with the President very easily, but it would be of no use to you whatsoever."

James' and Charles' disappointment was obvious.

"Let me explain it simply," There was no condescension in Aloysius' voice, "Presidents get to be presidents by learning who they can trust. They get to stay presidents by remembering who they trusted. Anybody else is avoided; discreetly, of course."

Exactly what Charles had said.

"Is that it, then?"

"It is, unless you're prepared to trust me to handle negotiations entirely."

What choice did they have? James decided for them.

"We have no difficulty with that."

"In that case," Declared Aloysius, "I shall be in touch."

He rose from his chair, his right hand extended. The meeting was over.

"Charles, I still don't see why Aloysius is doing this."

"Maybe he likes us."

"Not that much."

"James, he's retired, he's getting old. He's like any aging beast of prey. He's too slow to hunt with the pack anymore, so he just waits for juniors to bring him the tastiest morsels."

"Maybe."

But James still didn't think so. He'd smelt the whiff of fear.

That Christmas Eve, James and his family joined Alan and Sarah Dempster for the evening carol service at AMEN.

Along with the rest of the congregation, they took their place in the candlelit warmth of the plain square chapel on the hummock by the sea. Far to the west, behind Mount Erskine, the sun was setting, dull red and enormous. James ran a finger between his neck and collar; he hadn't worn a tie since the Q.B.P., but Julie had insisted.

Darkness had fallen when, just over an hour later, they filed out of the chapel and wended their way back along the path that ran by the shore. Lucy skipped past with Annie; she had been thrilled to find "Away in a Manger" on the hymn sheet, but temporarily bamboozled at finding that AMEN sang it to a different tune.

"Now I've got two favourite hymns," She warbled, "And they've both got the same words."

The murmur of the gentle surf of AMEN's lagoon drifted in on the night air.

"You were right," James adjusted his pace to Julie's smaller steps; Lucy and Annie flitted, wraithlike, between the trees in the pale, clean moonlight, "It is peaceful here. Picked your plot?"

"Me?" She asked, "I know exactly where I'd choose. Right here, near the trees. Enough sun for the grass to grow, enough shade to shelter the flowers, and you'd always have a view of the sea."

They ambled on, silent for a moment.

"And don't forget," She slid an arm around his waist, "I'd want lots and lots of bright cheery Periwinkles."

On January fourth, at Gbedeh International Airport, George Wainwright, her Britannic Majesty's new ambassador to the Republic of Ngombia, and his wife Annabel stepped off the British Caledonian overnight flight from Gatwick.

Tall, elegant, and with an air of quiet and accustomed authority, the ambassador had been treated kindly by the years. Some men go grey, some go bald; George Wainwright had gone silver. To his delight, and other wives' fury, the years had yet to pay any serious attention at all to Annabel; blonde, buxom and irreverent, she could walk upright under her husband's arm whilst wrapping him around her plump little finger.

Together, they walked across the tarmac and into the little used and cockroach infested VIP lounge. The bar was empty, the coffee machine broken, and the protocol officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had forgotten to come. Robert and Nina Murchison escorted their new replacements straight to the black jaguar waiting on the dusty brown parking lot outside. There was no room for five, so Robert had given the embassy driver the morning off. Nina thought how fortunate it was that January was cool in Ngombia; the cars air-conditioning system had collapsed nearly a year ago, and nobody in the country had been able to work out how to fix it.

Thirty six hours later, Rupert Mainwaring called at the embassy to introduce himself and to enquire whether the ambassador wished to be proposed for membership of the golf club and for election as honorary president of the Ngombia St. George's Society.

Instalment 11

 
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