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Four Nathan

CHAPTER FOUR - NATHAN

 

London, 2 December 2000.

 

In the week preceding the Singapore Board meeting, London was grey and cold. Nathan sat, overlooking Beaufort Street below, in his first floor mansion flat in Chelsea. His mood was as grey as the December morning. Just when his career should have taken off, he was stuck in an impossible no-man's-land, outside the law and outside its protection. Six months ago he had seen himself as an up-and-coming private banker. Now he was supposed to betray his major client's confidence. How could he do this? Yet it seemed the only way out. He looked down at the dossier they had given him to study. He had studied it and still did not know where to start, or even if he should start. If he could just escape, start again, a new career, could he?

 

He thought back to a conversation with his first boss in private banking, when he had started in the business five years ago. Nathan, you have to understand the rules. What we do at the bank has to be entirely above board: we do not assist in illegal activity; we do not deal with illegitimate money; we do not help our clients move money out of their country in contravention of foreign exchange regulations. However, and listen carefully, when money is offshore in a legitimate account, then we want that money, we want to manage that money, that is our wealth management programme. Don't misunderstand me. We are not talking about handling a pirate's buried treasure trove: we are talking about legitimate offshore banking.

 

The nub of the problem was that Nathan had become aware of evidence of apparent fraudulent activity, dubious financial transactions, and maybe worse, by his major client. Not a problem in itself: the problem was that the client knew this, and might, no would, want to do something about it. The choice looked stark: either he was in his client's pocket and would sacrifice a promising career; or he was dead. His information was dynamite, or so he surmised.

 

My bank will step in to protect me, he had thought at the time. But then he had tried to work out whom to approach in the bank. He had looked at the procedures, the compliance process he would have to follow, the committees that would debate steps to be taken, referral to the legal department, focusing principally on how to protect the bank, and in the end he would simply be re-assigned, and remain as personally at threat as ever.

 

He had experienced two anguished weeks of doubt, inner turmoil, until he concluded that he must secretly contact the Fraud Squad, in flagrant breach of his employment contract, but in tune with his sense of morality. A meeting had taken place. The Fraud Squad could do nothing. There was no proven crime and certainly no connection with the UK. He was left high and dry at the mercy of the bad guys, should they wish to move in.

 

Since then, he had spent three months in purgatory, trying to maintain his normal role at the bank but fearful of the impending demands of his client He would check the street in the morning before stepping onto the pavement, vary his route to work and follow the most haphazard time-table which could fit his professional life, to outwit imagined pursuers. Then the call had come. There had been a bland meeting at which he was advised that a connection had been established between his client and international terrorism. His approach to the Fraud Squad had been noted, and it was considered that he might be of particular value in view of his special position. If he would be prepared to read a little background material, they would take the discussion further. There had been two further interviews at which it seemed he was vetted. He had agreed in principle to seek and provide information. He was to be an informer. Returning to the present, he looked at his watch; 11.30, time to go to the meeting. If he had been in purgatory, now he was descending into hell.

 

Nathan donned his Barbour hanging in the hall. He studied himself in the mirror. I feel like Jesus on the cross, he thought, but nothing shows and I still look like Nathan. Green eyes stared back at him. Maybe I am a bit pale, he thought, but it is the same dark hair; perhaps a bit serious, but no, the corners of the eyes indicate a smile, a friendly smile; I am still five eleven, seventy kilos. Yes, I do look like some guy just off to the pub. He picked up a couple of letters for posting and headed down the stairs. He turned left into Beaufort Street away from the river, dropped the letters into the post box, and headed towards the King's Road. Turning left at the corner, he came against the flow of shoppers heading east, and continued to the Devil's Retreat pub. Pretty appropriate choice of venue, he thought weakly, stepping inside.

 

"Nathan, Nathan, do come along." A dumpy man, wearing a priest's dog collar under a tweed jacket, greeted him as he stepped through the door.

"You must be Reverend Coulthard."

"Yes, yes. Come, take a seat over here. I'll just get us a couple of pints of bitter - so that we don't stand out too much, you know."

Nathan watched him order at the bar. A short man, thin grey hair and a round face, somehow exuding a natural friendliness and, he thought, with insignificance flowing off him in waves.

The Reverend returned, slopping the two pints as he walked. His appearance contrasted with Nathan's tall slim form, dark brown hair and clear open expression.

 

"Let's get the formalities out of the way, or should I say informalities. Call me Peter, not Reverend, most do. Don't be too concerned about the dog collar. I was a vicar once, C of E, until they, eh, defrocked me." An ingenuous grin played across his lips. "Cheers. To our, eh, con-eh, co-operation, whoops I almost said conspiracy. Let me explain. This is the sort of place I like to meet, have a couple of pints, pretty convenient for you, just around the corner. We won't need to do any clandestine undercover stuff, when we meet. We're part of the furniture here. We'll stand out as being familiar and hence blend in. Think, even spies must have their regular habits and friends. The laundrette doesn't get taken a part every time they drop by to operate the coin machine to wash their underwear. Normality, that's the best cover. And we've known one another for years, haven't we. Come on practice. Laugh." And they both leant back with a hearty laugh, and Nathan actually felt amused, well, at least a little anaesthetised.

 

"Now let me fill you in on a few basic points. It's unlikely that you will see anyone other than me. Mostly we'll chat right here, and you or I will make a few pertinent points in the course of the conversation, just as I am doing right now. But let me tell you rule number one in the Reverend Coulthard's Everything You Need to Know to Stay Alive in Espionage: if it's serious, smile, relax, lean back and never speak in an undertone." He raised his voice, but no heads turned. "Well, that's basically it. I never got on to rule two, and haven't found a publisher either." The Reverend smiled, drew a long satisfying draught of beer, and his eyes invited Nathan's confidence and trust.

 

"You should think of me as your guardian angel. If you think things may get tough, it is I who calls the cavalry. Custer answers to me, as far as you are concerned. Whoops, maybe Custer's a bad choice, didn't go too well for him did it. No, I'll tell you what, think of me as not just your guardian angel but as an archangel, if it gives you a bit more confidence, you know, omniscient that kind of thing." Nathan drank his beer in the ensuing pause, thinking of purgatory, and now, with the Reverend's banter, seeing a dot of light at the top of the mineshaft. The Reverend downed his pint.

"Don't go away. I'll just get us another. Same again?" The Reverend jostled his way through the growing lunchtime crowd to the bar.

 

Ordering took a little longer this time, giving Nathan the chance to ponder what it was that they would really expect of him. He had no idea of what he was supposed to do. Yes, he had read the file, but it all seemed so, well, Middle Eastern, and he really could not see how he would fit into the pattern. He could not see his client dropping him deep insights or even hints at his nefarious activities. What he had learnt had been by freak accident - he had clearly not been supposed to know, and that is why he was so, well to put it bluntly, terrified. The Reverend was back.

"Just let me say that the situation is moving fast." A new seriousness in his tone. "You've read the file, here's the face." He passed across a photo. "Take an appreciating glance now and put it in your pocket. Later I suggest you destroy it. She's very attractive, isn't she? Just let me point out that in the Church of England we do not have regular confession, unlike the Catholic Church, so," he quipped, "on that side of things you're on your own."

 

"Peter, I've read the file, and I honestly don't see where I fit into this. In fact, before reading the file I thought maybe, but now, well, it's all just so convoluted, and I can't for a moment see any of these people revealing confidences to anyone like me. I mean, I'm just so establishment."

"Absolutely, absolutely. Our Arabian friends race horses just like the aristocracy does here; in fact, they do much of their horse racing right here in England, hobnob with the Queen, that kind of thing, so don't worry about that side of things, old boy. In fact, your chap's even Sandhurst trained, good officers' mess material, just your type. We'll just take it in steps. Now this is it, and it's very simple. We believe this femme fatale in the photo is very close to the centre. She seems to have been involved in a number of what I would call recruitment operations in Europe, and is always on the look-out, and her judgement is trusted."

 

"We think she operates under an alias, and maybe more than one. For our purposes I have named her Jemimah. We believe they are pulling something together right now, and I will not burden you with that knowledge. She does not know this, but you are going to meet her on, we hope, Tuesday night, probably mid-evening, in a City wine bar. Don't ask me why, just turn up and get into conversation with her group. When we leave, I'm going to give you a couple of dialogue scripts to help out. If you gain her trust, she will report back. You will be immediately matched up at the centre with, well, let's say you, since they already know you through your work. And you are in."

 

"We'll see what happens. There is no way, I repeat, no way, that they are going for one moment to believe that this is anything other than happy coincidence, Christmas combined with Easter, triple "A" serendipity. Capito?" The Reverend seemed to enjoy the discrepancy between his manner of his speech and his priestly appearance. "So that's it, the agenda. Any other business? We'll have another pint - you're not driving this afternoon are you? Let's shoot the breeze for twenty minutes, our cover remember, and leave boisterously. Vindaloo!" He finished, echoing the refrain of much played song.

 

On Tuesday Nathan left the office early. He thought he would have a beer or two to calm his nerves, before going over to the wine bar for his assignation. He strolled over to Leadenhall Market. The pubs were already busy in the pre-Christmas season, people meeting early after work as their workload dropped off for Christmas. He pushed his way through to the bar, and after some time managed to attract the attention of one of the chaps behind the counter to bring him a pint of lager. I know the girl's face, he thought, I have read the scripts, but how do I do it? I have never managed to pull girls in bars before; we get introduced by friends or family, and the Reverend had not been that much help with his boozy wit. He mused for a bit, but then he saw a couple of the dealers from his bank's dealing room crossing to the bar, and thought he had better get out of there quick, if he wanted to remain halfway sober for his assignation. He left the market, walked up Bishopsgate and turned into London Wall. It took him fifteen minutes to reach the wine bar. It was almost empty, so he took a place at the centre of the bar and ordered a bottle of Chablis. Centrally positioned, he thought, he would be able to move strategically when his target arrived.

 

He did not have to wait long: they entered as a group of five, three young men, the target and a girl in her early twenties. The equanimity won from two pints of lager and a glass of Chablis left him. "I don't even know her name, but hold on, I wouldn't, would I? I'm not supposed to know her. I don't know her. Will I give myself away? How? I've only seen her picture." Confusion raced through his brain. He began to flush. The five moved to towards the bar, sharing some joke, laughing, almost boisterous. She sat at the very end of the bar. He glanced across, trying not to be surreptitious and failing, as he poured a second glass of Chablis. The five continued with an animated discussion and the bar gradually filled.

 

He was soon on his second bottle of Chablis, wondering what he could do, as he eyed her, where she was squeezed into the corner. He could not just go over and say, Hi, mind if I join you, or, Excuse me is this place free? It manifestly was not free. He thought back to the meeting at the Devil's Retreat, the confident manner of the Reverend. Clearly they had chosen the wrong stooge here. He was hopelessly out of his depth with this kind of thing. He, Nathan, pick up a girl in a bar, or even introduce himself and start a conversation as they had suggested. Someone squeezed into the space next to him as he poured himself another glass.

"Hello, I can read your mind, I think, maybe." A soft suggestive voice.

He turned and looked into blue-grey eyes surrounded by a mass of red hair, falling over her shoulders.

"Sorry?"

"You've been knocking back this," she twisted the bottle to her, "Chablis, and glancing down the bar in our direction, my direction, since we came in, as if, like, well, you wanted to meet me. Do you?"

"I've blown it?" he thought. Well thank goodness for that; I'll be out of this crazy situation. But her look held him, deepened and drew him. His courtesy took over and he offered her a glass.

 

Nathan woke late on Wednesday morning. He thought back to the evening before, to recollect what he had learned about her, and he realised it was nothing. It was he who had talked of his successes, his aspirations, at first. Then unintentionally, his true concerns had begun to voice themselves, but thankfully only in general terms. What would he say when the Reverend Peter called to debrief him? As it transpired, the Reverend didn't seem interested. He called Nathan on his cell phone on the way to work, simply uttered, "Let me know when they make contact," and hung up. But even if he had learnt little about her last night, she remained in the forefront of his mind, all Wednesday, all Thursday. Then on Friday, as he left the office after work, he saw an elegant redhead in a camel coat, walking fifty yards ahead on his side of the pavement, away from him. She cannot have seen him, but without thinking he had already quickened his pace. Too late, she hailed a taxi and was gone. Was it her?

 

It was gone seven by the time he was back in his flat. He had no plans tonight; somehow his mind was too unsettled. He needed something to happen, instead of living with the turmoil of these "what if" scenarios floating in circles round his brain, and they were mainly pretty nasty "ifs".  At eight the phone rang. He reached for it.

"Hello."

"Hello, I'm so glad to catch you at home tonight, Nathan." A familiar female voice, which he could not place immediately."

"Yeah, no special plans tonight." He said, waiting for the clue as to who this was.

"You know, I had this incredible co-incidence. I was just mentioning our talk, and it turns out Bill Robinson knows you, or I mean, knows who you are. He was supposed to give you a call next week while he's in London, so I showed him your card, and he said we ought to give you a call now, check what you're doing tonight."

Bill Robinson, Nathan thought, still no clue. "So who does Bill work for?"

"Well, not so much for as with," the voice said. "Suleiman."

It clicked. So this was she, the redhead from the photo, from the wine bar. Suleiman was the client from whom came the threat to Nathan's existence. The Reverend's plan had worked. Nathan was in. And a cold chill settled upon him.

 

"Nathan?" she prompted.

"Yeah, sorry, I was just looking at my diary," he lied. "What do you propose?"

"Bill, wanted Italian, so we've got a table at Il Duce Bianco in Montpelier Street. We'll be there at eight thirty. They have valet parking if you want to drive." She said.

"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," Nathan said. "I shall certainly look forward to seeing you again, and Bill, of course. Just shows you that you should chat to people in pubs and wine bars, doesn't it?" He laughed.

"OK, see you later, bye for now."

 

He called the Reverend. This bubbly little chap, full of jokes in the Devil's Retreat, simply said, "Let me know what they propose," and hung up.

 

Sure enough, as Nathan drove up to Il Duce Bianco, a uniformed valet stepped forward to take his car keys. The restaurant had been heavily decorated for Christmas, which he felt detracted from its elegance. He was punctual, but they were there, and he was ushered across to a table near the window. Bill Robinson, about five eleven, hair greying at the edges, stood to greet him. Like Nathan, he was wearing a dark suit. She - I still don't know her name, he thought with a moment's panic - remained seated.

"Bill Robinson," he introduced himself in a moderated American tone. "Glad you could make it at such short notice. As for me, this is a flying visit, so this opportunity to meet really does work very well." He waived to the seat next to him. The round table was set for four. Nathan was next to Bill but there was a chair between Nathan and her. Maybe someone else is coming, Nathan thought, but he did not ask.

 

She suggested that they start Italian style with aperitifs, choosing a Campari soda, and soon she was leading an animated discussion. Nathan relaxed and found he was enjoying himself. Bill was regaling them with an anecdote about a conference he had just been to in Delhi.

"So I had to fly in from Karachi on a Pakistani plane," he was saying. "Now the fact is, as I understand it, that Pakistani air traffic control always delays the Indians and vice versa, so this has escalated to about four hours of delays. Anyway it gets worse. I've got this Pakistani client with me. So once we finally land in Delhi, we're first off the plane, and I usher this guy ahead of me to immigration, and the clerk at the desk says - sorry, special forms for Pakistani, I get them later, back of the line - and the line is by now one whole aircraft long. So I breeze through, telling my client that I'll secure transport for us. Sure enough this young Indian from the hotel is waiting outside. I've met him before. He always turns up with a rose for me, which does not have the significance it might have here in London, by the way.

 

After a bit of chitchat, he points to a spot thirty yards away and says there's a bomb. This is, like, right were all the international passengers are walking by. So I ask him how he knows, and he says, they threw a red anorak over it."

"Shows great presence of mind and public concern to mark the bomb," she chipped in.

"Yeah," Bill continued. "So he goes across to take a look, while I retreat behind a concrete pillar for safety. Then this big truck arrives, stops eighty yards away and this guy, all suited up in bomb disposal gear, waddles over to take a look, so do about a hundred Indians who are waiting at the bus stops, which are also right there. They all stand round in a tight circle peering in at the bomb in the centre. Only the one guy is suited up for the occasion."

"I hope this has a happy ending." Nathan said.

"So you do believe in reincarnation," Bill laughed. "Then the bomb disposal guy gets out this big reel, ties it to the bomb and walks backwards, unreeling as he goes. Then he stops, gives the line a couple of tugs and reels it back in. By now the hotel guy is back, so I ask him what the reel is. He tells me it's just a bit of rope. The officer wanted to check the bomb wouldn't go off, he says, so he tied the rope on to give it a yank. It's probably not high explosives is what he told me. Great, I think of the still living onlookers in a close circle around the bomb. The truck drives up to the bomb. They unload a big container into which they drop the bomb, reload the container and leave, probably right through the centre of Delhi, or maybe they wait for rush hour."

"You know Kashmir's not so far, and a couple of bombs did explode in cafes there recently," said Nathan.

"I can tell you, I was very aware of that, as I stood behind my pillar."

 

" In the meantime, we call the hotel, to hear that my client was taken out of the airport the back way, and has been asleep in bed for an hour. Such consideration for me, waiting for him at the airport. So now comes the punch line. At the conference the next day, this Italian comes up to me and says he heard there was a bomb scare at the airport last night. And I tell him, I don't think so, I was there, yes, OK, there was a bomb, but no one was scared." They all laughed and Bill leaned back in his chair.

 

"Now to business," Bill said. "You work on the Suleiman account."

"I do," Nathan said, "but really just to kind of co-ordinate. I've met various representatives but never him, so I'm not fully apprised of his real needs." Nathan was glad of the opportunity to distance himself, maybe get the message across that he was not a threat, they need not worry about what he may have inadvertently discovered. This balloon of hope was punctured instantly.

"Mr Suleiman," Bill said, "is appreciative of your work to date and wishes to continue the relationship with your bank. However, he does have concerns about you." Nathan looked at Bill and at her, but she seemed to see nothing unusual about the direction the conversation was taking. "I have told Mr Suleiman that there is a solution, and I am going to ask you if you wish to be part of this solution, instead of being part of a rather large potential problem, which has the potential to quash your professional life for the next five years - at best." Nathan flinched at this at best, remembering his speculations of the last few months.

 

"But before I give you the solution," Bill continued, "just let me give you some advice, or tell you the way I see this. We all do our bit; we're each just a detail in the big picture. Mr Suleiman does his thing. I do my thing. He is not in my jurisdiction: he can do what he likes as far as I am concerned. You should be aware of this, as a private banker. And right now Mr Suleiman would like you to work with us. By that, I mean continue to develop the relationship with your bank. At the same time, we would like to introduce to you some new clients for your bank. This is the way Mr Suleiman operates. He likes his associates to deal with the same institutions. He sees business synergies in this. Very specifically, I plan a meeting with your boss on Monday, so I want to know your answer."

 

Nathan was not sure he had been asked a question or that a proposal had been made. But if this was being routed through his boss, i.e. his bank, that should be OK, and he began to feel more comfortable about the whole situation. Maybe they were heading for resolution to his problem after all.

"Compartmentalisation is the keystone of my approach to business," Nathan answered.

"Great," Bill said, standing up, "I'm sorry I have to take off like this, but I'm sure you'll appreciate that I was expecting to meet you tonight as little as you me. Got to get on. See you on Monday. No on second thoughts perhaps we don't need that meeting anymore. I'll give you a call."

 

Bill left, and she turned towards Nathan. "I do hope this was alright, Nathan. You see this was such a co-coincidence. The subject came up because Bill was putting the proposal to me and I just happened to mention we had met. He said he was planning to approach you anyway. You see, you and me, we're supposed to be working on the same programme." This really surprised Nathan. Many things he may have anticipated but not this, so he reacted with the blandest of comments, in the manner of his profession.

"You know this has happened so fast, and, actually, I don't recall your telling me your name by the way." He felt somewhat awkward.

She leant across, "Howdy, partner. Shake." She reached out her hand, which he shook and released, reluctantly. Her smile seemed to know that. "Nathan, to you I am Zelda, just to you. Let this be our secret. Zelda." She held Nathan with her gaze, her lips holding a gentle smile.

"Nice to know you, Zelda," he said. "Now what's this about partners?"

 

"I think your bank will want to join in, when they hear about the programme," she responded, adopting a more business like tone. "We're going to be setting up a number of private banking accounts related to the energy trading and derivatives businesses. Basically your bank will be providing account facilities, domicile for the operation, and so on, while a consulting outfit works out the appropriate structures with the lawyers. As to me, I've been asked to set up some meetings in the States, for the moment. You and I will be making the cold calls on these potential clients together."

 

Nathan was not sure of what she meant by "domicile for the operation", but this did not seem the best moment for a display of ignorance, so he nodded in agreement and thought he would be practical by exchanging contact numbers.

"We'll need to contact one another. What's your mobile number?"

"I don't have one: I meet people," she laughed and continued. "I'm glad Bill had to leave before the main course. If we're going to travel together, we might as well get to know one another. And just to get off on the right footing, I stake my claim to half Bill's veal when it arrives." Nathan toasted her with another glass of Bardolino, admiring her slender form and elegant style.

"You cut, I choose," he said, returning her smile.

 

***

"Farah! It is so wonderful to see you!" She said, as she opened the door. "I do miss you. Come in. Come in. It is very late, but I am so glad you came."

Farah's aunt had move to London three years ago. She lived in a purpose built redbrick building on the corner of Marloes Road and the Cromwell Road.

 

Parasites had formed an abscess in her liver and she had come for an operation at the Cromwell Hospital, a first class hospital in London with the very best liver consultants. Her doctor in Madras had trained in the UK in the fifties. As soon as he saw her problem on the ultra-sound scan he had called his friend who had established the hospital and arranged an appointment.

 

Farah had brought her to the hospital and rented an apartment as close as possible. When she came out of the hospital, Aunt Fatimah had loved to hear the languages in the corridors of the apartment block, so familiar to her, the cooking smells. Close to the hospital, the apartment block had become a favourite for middle eastern patients and their relatives. Life was so different from the big house in Madras: there she was important but lonely; here she would stop and talk to people coming into the building, often with relatives at the hospital. They would love to talk their languages with her in this foreign place. She had little space and no staff, but life was fun. She had stayed on.

 

Fatimah watched Farah's slim, elegant form as she moved through to the room overlooking the Cromwell Road, and she thought of her own youth, so different in Teheran. As Fatimah prepared tea for them both in a cubicle off the room, Farah sat and gazed into the middle distance. She felt so comfortable with her aunt, at home, a feeling she only experienced with her aunt, since the aerobatic accident when her brother had died.

 

Fatimah was a beautiful woman. She looked just like an older sister to Farah. Tresses of red hair hung around her shoulders. Her blue-grey eyes looked deeply into you, and her complexion came close to matching Farah's thirty years, cast in the marble used for Greek goddesses. Imagine the goddess, Diana, and you have Fatimah, and then if Diana had an identical daughter that would be Farah.

 

Farah always visited her aunt when she was in London, even when it was almost impossible, like tonight, close to midnight. It was her only link with her family, after her brother had died while she was in Moscow.

 

Fatimah brought the tea on a Persian silver tray and sat opposite her. They simply sat and gazed at one another, the mirror reflection adding years as the image of Farah came back from Fatimah.

"You know, Auntie," Farah said, "I so love what I do. I love what I want to do. I do it. And when I come to London, I see you."

"You are the only one now, Farah," Fatimah said with regret in her voice.

"You are tearful, Auntie. And so am I, but only with you."

"Farah, I remember them all when I see you," Fatimah whispered, thinking of the family in Teheran, as it was.

"I remember the harem," Farah said. "You were always there. We used to line up to see father every Saturday, in order of age. Jem was always in front of me, and she would pinch me and make me cry and get into trouble."

"She was my favourite," Fatimah said.

"But not mine. And then Zuri, in front of us, still young enough to be in the harem, would talk to father and Jem would be quiet. I would always listen to my brother Zuri as he told father what he had done during the week. I loved Zuri, Auntie. I loved Zuri."

"I loved you all, Farah," Fatimah said. She had not told Farah of that day, nor ever would, the day when she had rescued the young Farah and her eldest brother from the blaze that had destroyed their house, their servants, and - she could not bear to think of this and never did, of their family, all the uncles and aunts and children, everyone they loved, in the Revolution of 1979 in Iran.

 

Farah was so young then. She had not known. Farah hoped she would never know. Fatimah had learnt to live with this. She did not want the next generation to suffer as she had. Farah's older brother had re-established the family in Bangalore. His death had been devastating, but also in a way a blessing, because he bridged the gap of knowledge between generations, now gone with him. With her, Fatimah, the painful memories would die.

 

Fatimah sipped her tea and sighed. In Farah before her she saw her father, Farah's grandfather. He had established the family, and now Farah seemed so intent on doing the same. It seemed uncanny to see this young girl, so like her father.

"Why do I see you so seldom?" Fatimah asked Farah.

"You see me every time I come to London. Even now at midnight, when it is not possible." Farah replied.

"Why not more often? Why not stay?" Fatimah asked her.

"I don't know, Auntie. I know what I must do, and I do it. Somehow I just know what I should do."

"What is that, Farah?" Fatimah melted into reminiscence of her youth, the life they had known, long gone. Farah gazed back at her.

"Auntie, I do not know. I think you know better than me. I do not know. I do it. I have no choice, Auntie. It is me." Farah slid back in the armchair, exhaling deeply. Almost dreamily, she said, " Auntie, they have taken so much from us. I just feel it. You do not tell me, but I see it in your eyes. In my heart, Auntie, deep in my heart, I must redress this, redress this before I can be who I want to be. Auntie, I met a man tonight. I could love him, but not yet."

Fatimah moved across to Farah and hugged her tight against her. And for Farah the outside world, the word in which she lived, was in retreat, but only for that moment.

 

 

***

 

Dubai, 21 December 2000.

 

Vermouth had been impressed by Nathan, when he had met him in London in his role as Bill Robinson. Smartly turned out, Nathan was very clear headed, very competent, but above all upright and inspiring trust, a rare quality in such a young man. He was an excellent prototype of a private banker, Vermouth thought, who could go far. It was true that in a sense he had been "entrapped", but he was making the best of it, and clearly seeking the solution which would allow everyone to come out clean. Apart from his unfortunate glimpse behind the curtain, there was no reason why he should not undertake the programme that had been presented to him. Certainly he was a cut above that slimy slug, Frank Chardonnay, the type of guy who would slide from one disaster to the next, too weak-minded to have any semblance of control over his destiny. Maybe that was part of the penalty you paid for sticking it out in that tin pot bank where Frank worked, in Frank's case for far too long.

 

As to the woman, despite his mistrust of her, he had to admit, that if he were to describe her in tennis terms, it would be that she only ever served aces. Where on earth had she got the information on Constexo Energy to start with? How did she manage to get their chairman, Brewster, to bite? Vermouth had worked with some pretty slick operators but this was uncanny. What was it about her that he did not like? Some visceral, some innate mistrust. The wicked witch? In fact, he thought she was more like a female Dorian Gray, charming the world, while...

The telephone interrupted his reverie. The call he was expecting, routed through from a spare line on the switchboard. "Hello."

"Hello, this is Nathan, calling from London."

"Nathan, thank you for returning my call, and thank you for meeting us in London. I was very impressed by your understanding of the programme, and I am looking forward to working together with you."

"Thank you, sir," Nathan replied.

"I'm sorry it took a while to get back to you. Travel, I'm afraid. Now Nathan, the real reason for my call is to say that the calling schedule has been set up for January and your tickets are on the way. Now that it's definitely going ahead, I want to make two points to you: the first is that this is a private banking matter and your disclosure and confidentiality requirements are exactly those in the policy of your bank; and the second is that I am running this programme, so for the purposes of this programme, save as I have just mentioned, you report to me and no one else. Don't bother to call me, however. I will ask you what I need to know and that will suffice as far as this reporting line is concerned. I know what I need to know. Is that clear?"

"That is very clear," Nathan said. He had a good feeling that this new dotted line boss knew exactly where things were at.

 

"As to your partner," Vermouth continued, "she has a track record of achieving every objective and more, and half the time that's before we've even worked out what the objective is. The point I am making is that you should not hesitate to use her as a resource. I wish you success."

Vermouth put down the phone and smiled. He thought he had pulled off a pretty good Bill Robinson earlier in the month in London. What would he tell Nathan, when they met? Yes, funny you should mention that, others have said we're very similar.

 

 

Contents

The Beginning

One Frank

Two Dubai

Three The Board

Four Nathan

Five Energy

Six Brewster

Seven Bangalore

Eight Lannington

Nine Economy Class

Ten Afghanistan

Eleven Meribel

Author's Comment on Means to an End

Publisher's Review of Means to an End

Author's Foreword

Czar Rising