Chapter forty two
"Mr Davidson," Major General Stanley
Livingston picked a sheaf of documents up off his desk, "Do you
James recognised them instantly.
"These," The General held the papers
in front of James, "Refer to the first shipment of equipment
under the Farm to Market project."
James knew that.
"You presented these yourself to the
Ngombia National Bank, did you not?"
James shrugged; he could hardly deny
"Mr Davidson, the documents bear two
authorised signatures," Stanley Livingston dropped the papers
back on his desk, "Who's are they?"
"You already know that," James felt
as if a noose had been placed around his neck; he forced himself
to remain calm, "Charles Nyamplu and myself."
"Where is he, this Nyamplu?"
"I don't know."
That was true; James hadn't got a
clue where Charles was at that moment.
"But you do have ways of contacting
The noose was frighteningly tight.
"Tell me, Mr Davidson," Stanley Livingston
suddenly switched tracks, "How much did you bribe the members
of the last government?"
Stanley Livingston may not have possessed
significant schooling but he did possess significant cunning.
And power; absolute power. James said nothing.
"Come now," Livingston moved round
behind his desk, "This is a very substantial order; AAA would
naturally wish to demonstrate its gratitude to those concerned."
James wished to goodness that the
man would let the matter drop, but Livingston wouldn't; he worried
at it like a dog with a meaty bone.
"How much?" Livingston tugged at the
"Does it matter? The people are dead
"Your partner could be too."
James said nothing; he watched as
Stanley Livingston slid down into his chair.
"You met minister Gbandulo this morning."
"Yes," James was caught off guard;
where on earth did Gbandulo fit in?
"Why?" Livingston persisted.
"To pay my respects to the new Mnister."
"Who was your friend?"
"Steven Harrison," Livingston probably
knew already, "From GTE."
"Why was he there?"
"The Minister of Agriculture is chairman
of GTE. Mr Harrison came to pay his respects as the company's
acting general manager."
"And you want to do business together
with your friend?"
"My company would like to do business
with GTE," James corrected carefully.
For a moment, Livingston wondered
if he had perhaps been over-generous in giving Agriculture to
his young cousin; Tourism might have been more appropriate.
"And did the Mnister give you any
"Maybe GTE has no need of anything."
"Maybe," James wasn't going to give
Livingston knew perfectly well that
two white men would never have risked such an approach unless
there was a great deal at stake. He would like to know more,
a lot more.
"Coffee, Mr Davidson?" Livingston
loosened the rope for the moment, "Or do you English prefer tea?"
Livingston had probed cautiously,
sounding out what it was that James was offering, hinting that
the new People's Emancipation Committee could be in need of many
things, but that they would need to evaluate potential suppliers
Privately, the leader of the PEC could
not understand Gbandulo's hesitation; the potential for personal
gain was so obvious. Perhaps the man simply had not understood
what was being said. The thought did not entirely surprise him.
"Perhaps," Livingston had suggested
carefully to James, "Minister Gbandulo and I might review your
company's value to GTE, just in case there have been any misunderstandings."
"I think we've found the key, Steve."
"Not what, Steve, who."
"OK," Steven waved his half-empty
whiskey glass in acknowledgement, "Who?"
"You remember you said we needed an
"Yeah, but I was sort of joking."
"Well, I'm not, and I've found him."
"Alright, who've you found?"
"Stanley Livingston?" Steven almost
choked on his whiskey, "The new President?"
Steven signalled the bartender for
two more whiskies.
"How'd you get to meet him, James?"
"He had me arrested."
"Oh, great; that’s just the
interpreter we need. How the hell is that going to help our cause
As briefly as he could, James outlined
the afternoon's course of events.
"Livingston thinks Gbandulo's struck
it lucky, and he wants in on any deal," James concluded, "But
he's being very, very careful. He's never played this game before,
and the stakes could be huge."
"Not huge, James," Stevens’
knuckles were pale around his glass, "Fatal."
Chapter forty three
"Mr Davidson, I talked with Gbandulo
What had happened to the Minister
"I think he understands the situation
more clearly now."
"Thank you, General," James still
didn't know how Livingston preferred to be addressed, "We appreciate
your assistance very much."
"Since this is a non-military matter,
I think 'Mr President' would be better."
"Yes, Mr President," James knew now, "My
Livingston waved the apology aside.
"Mr Davidson, you say your company
could help GTE and the People's Emancipation Committee?"
"Yes, Mr President." James' face was
"Perhaps we could discuss that in
Livingston was nibbling.
"How long would it take you to prepare
a trial order?"
"Trial order? What for?"
"Anything you like."
"To see if Gbandulo will approve it.
I think Livingston's convinced him we're O.K."
Stevens' eyes widened; a tiny gleam
of greed lit up within them.
"In that case," He said, "I'll make
it a big one."
"James," Julie poured herself a second
mug of breakfast coffee, "You remember, ages ago, when you said
that any new government would become as corrupt as the old one?"
"Yes; and they did, didn't they?"
"Don't you feel that perhaps the same
sort of thing is happening to you?"
"No," James was somewhat taken aback, "I
don't. Why? Do you?"
"Sometimes," Said Julie, "Sometimes
I do. I remember when we first came here how upset you used to
get about the greed and injustice, and now look at you."
James shrugged. "If you want to
join the table..."
"It just seems as if the fun has somehow
gone out of what you're doing," Julie sounded almost sad, "When
you first started it was exciting and, in a way, innocent. Now
it's just plain cold-blooded bribery and corruption."
James shrugged again
"I may be bribing," He acknowledged,
"But I'm not corrupting; corruption was well established long before
I came along. I've just temporarily adjusted my business tactics
to suit local circumstances."
Julie didn't reply. Instead, she stared
into her coffee, thinking quietly.
"I just want," She said at least,
not looking up, "I just want for you to be the way you used to
be; and for us to be a family again."
"But we still are," Protested James,
"Always have been."
"Are we?" Asked Julie, looking up
at him, "Are we really a family, James? Sometimes it seems as
if you're out there, centre-stage, doing what's important to
you, and we've become just background silhouettes."
"Yes, James," Julie stared straight
at him, "Silhouettes of the family you used to have."
The order from GTE took James by surprise.
"I said I'd make it a big one,"
James scanned through it. Tyres; thousands
of tyres; and not little ones. Tyres for graders, tyres for logloaders,
for log-skidders, for trucks, for trailers, for pickups. And,
of course, for cars. For a trial order, it was very big. But
then, GTE was a very big timber concession.
"I decided to consolidate our entire
annual requirements into one single consignment," Explained Steven.
James inspected the space at the bottom
of the last page.
"The order still needs Gbandulo's
signature," He observed.
"Yup," Agreed Steven, "And so does
He held out a rectangular slip of
paper. It was a payment voucher, made out to AAA, covering the
"As indicated in your quotation,"
Steven smiled, "Cash with order."
He got up to leave.
"If you can get this one through,
there are dozens more ready and waiting in my office."
"Your order," Gbandulo handed over
what had become a somewhat dog-eared document, "Has been approved."
"Thank you, Minister."
Another, smaller, equally dog-eared
document appeared in Gbandulo's hand.
"And so has your cheque."
"Thank you very much indeed."
Gbandulo did not pause.
"All commission," He instructed,
"Is to be paid into my bank account."
Clearly, finesse was not one of Gbandulos'
"I am to pay Livingston his share
in cash; later."
Gbandulo liked the arrangement. He
liked having his own bank account; it made him feel important.
And he liked the way Livingston had to ask him for money; it
made him feel as if he were the one in charge.
"As you wish, minister." James murmured, "May
we have details of the account into which you would like us to
"Brilliant, man!" Charles signed the
application forms for the documentary credit to cover GTE's order, "I
knew this was going to go well."
"Livingston was the one who persuaded
Gbandulo to deal with us," Said James, "Yet he knows I need your
signature on every transaction."
Charles grinned happily
"Must have decided to let bygones
to be bygones."
From the back of the room, Aloysius
"Only for so long as it's worth his
Charles fell silent.
"Tell me," Aloysius continued pensively,
"What are the financial arrangements on this transaction?"
James recounted Gbandulos' instructions.
Aloysius thought for a while.
"There is something not quite right
here," He said at last, "May I suggest that, before you pay anything
into Gbandulo's bank account, you air the matter with the new
Aloysius had acknowledged, if not
accepted, the new political status quo.
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"With your usual delicacy."
"Mr President?" Strange how the title
no longer seemed out of place.
"Yes, Mr Davidson?"
"There is a delicate matter on which
we would appreciate your advice."
"We have recently received a substantial
order from the Ministry of Agriculture for tyres."
"Mr Davidson, this is the Presidential
Office; I do not see quite what an agricultural order for tyres
has to do with me."
"It concerns the matter of fees."
"And what are they, Mr Davidson?"
"The Ministry of Agriculture has indicated
that it wishes us to agree to certain disbursements. However,
since this is a financial matter of some delicacy, we felt that
your office should be consulted first."
"Very wise, Mr Davidson, very wise,"
Livingston spoke carefully, "However, special arrangements between
the Ministry of Agriculture and its suppliers do not concern this
office. I know nothing of this matter and would suggest that you
be guided by Minister Gbandulo."
"Yes, Mr President."
Livingston was giving Gbandulo a lot
of rope; the new Minister of Agriculture would either climb to
the top of the mountain, or hang himself.
"The British School breaks up in a
couple of weeks," Julie poddled round the kitchen, clearing the
remains of their breakfast off the table, "For Summer holidays."
Summer holidays; James hadn't really
given them a thought. Suddenly, impulsively, he did.
"Fancy a spot of leave?" He asked.
"What? Back to the U.K?"
Why not, James thought, they could
afford it. They could afford it every month of the year for the
rest of their lives.
"Yup," He said
"Last day of term suit you?"
Julie squealed and leapt on him, arms
winding round his neck like a starving python. Visions of home
flooded her mind: of bus stops and railway stations, pavements
and gardens, hedgerows and meadows, of her parent's modest house
with its birdtables and nesting boxes. Never had suburbia seemed
so overwhelmingly appealing.
"Can I start packing?" She mumbled
in his ear.
On Friday July Fifteenth, term ended
and British Caledonian flight number 268 left Gbedeh International
Airport bound for Gatwick. On board, Lucy and Annie debated with
fierce intensity who would tell which grandparent what stories.
There were so many to remember that, long before negotiations
had been completed, both children had fallen sound asleep. Beside
them, James gazed out of his window at the grey sea of cloud
beneath them. He still found it strange that ten inches of rain
could fall on the first day of what every Brit in Ngombia insisted
on calling the summer holidays.
Chapter forty four
"How was your leave, James?" Steven
Harrison beamed from behind a phalanx of brown beer bottles arrayed
in front of him across the hotel bar, "Do anything interesting?"
How had their leave been? Done anything
interesting? Where did one start, James wondered.
For all of them, there had been the
pleasure of their parents delight at their offsprings' irrepressibly
good health; their congratulations at the success of his venture;
their rapt attention to endlessly repeated children's stories
of events beyond childish ken. And everybody's concern at what
those really meant.
For James, there had been the unique
experience of a bank manager bounding out of his office to greet
him; of a secretary despatched scurrying for coffee; of comfortable,
unhurried discussion peppered with phrases like 'successful entrepreneurs'
and 'substantial assets' and 'valued high net worth clients'.
His bank manager had been curious; did James have an exit route
for the wealth that was locked up within his company? Was he
thinking of transferring some of this back home? Yes, James had
said, but not just yet; cash assets gave them a unique advantage
over their competitors. His bank manager had persisted; he really
should give the matter some thought. Yes, said James, thank you,
he would think about it.
For Julie, there had been the strange
excitement of browsing through back numbers of Country Life and
realising that, if she and James wished it, any of the mellow-bricked
mansions and timber-framed manors that nestled within its luxurious,
glossy pages could be theirs. Curled up in her favourite armchair,
she had wrapped the dream blissfully around herself all evening.
They had looked at a few of them;
just for fun. James had asked his bank manager for a reference,
and had requested that he be specific. Observing its impact on
the sniffy young man at a particularly upmarket estate agent
had provided one the holidays more memorable moments.
It had all been wonderful, heady stuff.
"How was our leave, Steve?" James
helped himself to one of the contingent of beers, "Usual kind,
I suppose; took the children to see their grandparents; paid
my respects to the bank manager; pottered around a bit. That
sort of thing."
Steven lifted an arm to beckon the
barman; with the other, he pulled a crumpled piece of paper from
the hip pocket of his trousers.
"I thought this might interest you," He
"Looks like a list; what is it?"
"Just that," Said Steven, "A list."
"All the orders I've placed on AAA
whilst you've been away," Steven accepted the refilled glass
from the barman with a nod of acknowledgement, "They're waiting
for you in Gbandulo's office."
Gbandulo's driver would have needed
a year's wages to pay for his master's new suit - a tenth of
what he would have required for the diamond cufflinks and tie-pin.
"Tell me," Gbandulo began to sign
the haphazard heap of papers, pushing them one-by-one across
the desk to James, "Who is this guy Nyamplu?"
James explained, paying particular
attention to Charles' close relationship with Aloysius.
"Sounds like he might be O.K.,"
Gbandulo lifted a goldbuckled, stacked-heel, patent leather shoe
onto his desk, "Maybe he and I should meet sometime."
Nathaniel drove wordlessly away from
Gbandulo's office. James sat silently beside him, thinking what
a good choice he'd been as a driver. Julie hadn't been too thrilled,
but the extra hours of work and the overtime pay had delighted
Nathaniel. They drove past glistening, rain-smoothed mounds of
mud and rubble, the wheels of the car splashing and thumping
every now and then into one of the scores of rain-filled potholes
that littered the road. It was now late in the wet season, and
work on the roadbuilding programme for the new OAU Conference
Centre had been abandoned. On either side of the car, walls of
rubble and haphazardly parked machinery made the road a grim
grey cresta run. James was glad there was no other traffic around,
particularly military vehicles with their manic drivers and automatic
The office was still an island, surrounded
by a lake a hundred yards across. The same arrangement of planks
and concrete breeze block islets lead to the front door. It was
still raining, and the surface of the lake was pocked with raindrops.
Not much had changed.
James teetered along the planks, using
his opened umbrella as a balance. He reached the doorway, let
down the umbrella, and stepped inside.
"Yes?" He turned.
"Mr Davidson," James wondered if he'd
ever get used to meeting the wrong end of an M-16, "You're under
Stanley Livingston waved the last
of the soldiers out of his office. James stood in the middle
of the floor, waiting for the roof to fall on his head. He wondered
what it would be like to share a cell with Gbandulo.
"My apologies, Mr Davidson."
Livingston almost smiled.
"My apologies," He repeated, "Arresting
you was the only safe means of arranging a meeting."
"Oh," Said James; he could think of
nothing sensible to say, "Oh, I see."
"Have a seat," Livingston was very
clearly in charge; and so very clearly enjoying being so. James
pulled a large black leather chair out from beside the massive
presidential desk and sat down.
"There are some matters," Livingston
began, "That I should like to discuss with you."
"As you wish, Mr President." James
tried his best to look attentive, relaxed and confident all at
the same time.
"As you know, there are more than
twenty timber concessions in this country," Livingston spoke
as if reciting a memorised passage, "All competing and bickering
amongst themselves. This is wasteful and does not benefit Ngombia."
James listened, curious to hear what
was coming next.
"It is our intention," Livingston
continued impassively, "To harmonise matters by creating a National
James felt his breath quicken; he
could sense what was coming.
"We would eliminate waste and inefficiency
by centralising procurement of machinery, spare parts, and other
requirements through one officially approved agent."
James nodded, not daring to interrupt.
"There is no reason why AAA should
not be considered for such an undertaking."
Twenty-two concessions, James thought
to himself, the entire Ngombian timber industry. The business
would be worth a fortune.
"To avoid competing amongst ourselves,"
Livingston forged ahead relentlessly, "And to achieve better prices
for Ngombia, export of all timber and timber products would be
processed through one central marketing organisation."
There was a pause; James had stopped
"Again, I see no reason why AAA should
not be considered for this role."
Two fortunes thought James, immense
"Thank you, Mr President; we would
"The two organisations would, of course,
form a part of the Ministry of Agriculture."
"Of course, Mr President."
"I would suggest that you discuss
with Minister Gbandulo how he would like to proceed."
"Yes, Mr President."
James already knew exactly how Gbandulo
would like to proceed.
Chapter forty five
Back to previous page
"Well, well," Said Julie, "Does
the new president intend to make a habit of arresting those with
whom he wishes to speak?"
James told her what Livingston had
said; he was still shaking with excitement.
To his utter disbelief, Julie wanted
nothing to do with it.
"James," She gave him one of her steeliest
looks, "Quit; you’re out of your depth. These characters
murdered the previous regime and they'd do the same to Charles
if they could find him."
"Gbandulo said he'd like to meet Charles."
"I'll bet he would," Julie’s
voice was scathingly sarcastic.
James sighed exasperatedly.
"Not for revenge," He tried to sound
convincing, "The coup's over; forgotten. Gbandulo wants to do
Julie was still deeply uneasy.
"James," She tried again, a more placatory
approach, "You and Charles have had a wonderful run for your
money. You've got a fortune stashed away in the bank. Now it's
time to leave the table; cash in your chips whilst you're ahead."
"But, Julie," James was not to be
deterred, "Don't you see what Livingston's doing?"
If looks could have killed, James
would have been ashes. He plunged on undeterred.
"He's using Gbandulo as a stalking
horse to flush us out with the big deals," James felt his excitement
return, "Whilst he stays out of sight."
"And what," Julie was wholly unimpressed,
"Do you think happens to those who get flushed out?"
James hadn't a clue.
"The hunter stays out of sight,"
Julie glowered darkly at him, "And shoots them."
The next day was Lucy's birthday.
Julie baked a cake with nine candles
and, after tea when it was dark, Lucy lit them with a single
"You got a wish," Said Annie.
Lucy promptly blew them all out with
"And another," Said Annie.
"Mummy, can I open my presents now?"
"You're not supposed to say your wishes," Protested
"I didn't," Lucy contested hotly,
"That wasn't a WI..."
The thumping at the front door was
thunderous; peremptorily urgent.
"What on earth?" James got up from
the table and walked out into the hallway; he was halfway across
it when six unkempt Ngombian youths burst through the front door
into the house, four of them carrying crude wooden clubs. They
halted in the centre of the hall, glaring balefully around them.
The stale odour of cheap liquor swirled about the room like an
invisible, nauseous fog.
James wondered if these were what
George Wainright had meant by self-appointed vigilantes. Rupert's
vision of marauding hordes seemed much more appropriate.
"People's Protection Party," Announced
one of the gang, his eyes red and swollen, "We're here to inspect
Out of the corner of his eye, through
the doorway to the dining room, James could see Julie edging
up from the table. Lucy and Annie stood next to her, staring
wide-eyed at the intruders.
"We need to see what you got man,
in case you get rogued."
The leader stalked across the hall,
his group knotted tightly around him. James could neither stop
them nor push his way past them. He followed the gang through
the doorway into the dining room. A clearly frightened Julie
was backing away from the table, Lucy and Annie clinging in terror
to her skirt.
"What you frightened for?" The leader
spat contemptuously, "We here to protect you."
He moved forward; Julie pressed herself
back against the wall, sliding along it towards the kitchen door.
"Leave them alone," James was furiously
aware of his powerlessness, "That's my family. Just tell me what
For a tiny moment, the leader's gaze
left Julie. With a shriek, she leapt through the swing door to
the kitchen, Lucy and Annie almost flying behind her. Unopened
birthday presents cascaded from the table onto the floor. The
youth shrugged and turned to James.
"We're here to inspect your house,"
He said, "See if there are any things we need to protect."
His gaze travelled to the sideboard.
"What's in there?"
The youth sucked through his teeth.
"We'll see." He knelt down and pulled
open the sideboard doors.
"Dammit!" He exclaimed, "You got plenty
"For parties," Explained James,
"Rogues could steal that," The youth
was lifting bottles off the shelves, onto the floor, "We look
after them for you."
"Thank you," Said James, "But I don't
need your help."
The youth sucked loudly, not listening.
"Here," He said to one of his gang,
"You take these."
He climbed back to his feet, looking
leisurely around him.
"What else you got, man?"
James stood, helpless, acutely conscious
of the youths' weapons, and of their volatile, drink-fuddled
mood. There was no police force that he could call, there was
nothing he could do to protect his family except keep calm and
let the mob take what they wanted. Anger at his impotence swelled
hotly within him.
There was an unearthly howl from outside
"Whassat?" The leader of the pack
swivelled, his eyes darting from side to side, alert, deeply
"Shiiiit!" Frozen solid, he stared
horrified at the window. James turned to follow the stricken
man's marble-eyed gaze.
In the dark beyond the window two
hideously grinning disembodied skulls floated in the night air,
orange fire flickering from within the sockets of their eyes.
With lost, terrified, despairing wails
the group fled for the front door, crashing through it with desperate
haste. James stared in utter disbelief as they disappeared down
Banda Avenue, shrieking as if the very fiends of Hell were at
"What on earth's out there?" James
strode through to the kitchen, yanking open the back door.
On the step in front of him, a grinning,
candle-lit pumpkin lantern in each hand stood Helen Edwards.
"Happy Hallowe'en," She said, and
fainted into James' arms.