Chapter 15 – Remote control
If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.
48 hours after the Thames tsunami, Eric headed east along the A1060, in his anonymous blue Ford estate. After the heaving M11 traffic, the Essex roads were quiet.
The PM kept the radio off, to escape the endless verbiage about the Southend event. Approaching the tiny hamlet of White Roding, he turned south, and then south-west, driving through remote back roads dissecting sprawling farmlands. When he needed thinking time, away from the City, this remoteness was his refuge.
The earlier conference call kept looping around his head. The estuary explosion had shocked and surprised all of the families. In over three decades of video link ups, that was unprecedented. At MI5, the sharpest brains were convinced that the Montgomery had blown up through tidal causes. The other agencies under clan control had offered zero intelligence, which was also a first. Even Mossad, God bless them.
During the last mile of Eric’s journey, remnants of the former Matching airfield – used in WW2 by the RAF and US air force – were visible. Out on an old runway, doing nothing, sat a dark Tata International lorry. An Indian company originally.
The Asians had been the most vocal on the video call. Speaking from New Delhi, Mukesh had suspicions that Pakistan could be testing a new detonation device. The Americans also could not see beyond a military operation, with Russia as the prime suspect. The heads of the two major ‘Dragon’ families had both asked about the scope of weather control systems. And precisely which groups were in possession?
George had pulled it down to a practical level, where they shared common interest: the insurance claims flooding into companies that were about 80%-owned by the clans, directly or indirectly. “We have a very legal loophole out of the business and property claims,” he explained, firmly.
It went without saying that all media coverage would be tightly controlled. The now-standard ploy of blaming terrorists would be rolled out, again. “The usual suspects, yeah I like that,” chuckled Frank. Incipient chinks of New York sky framed the former mobster’s face.
The meeting had ended in gales of laughter. In Rome, Frank’s blood relative Vito spoke of the boatloads of Libyan refugees steadily entering southern Italy, and the hugely polarising effects on Italians. “In all its glory, we look upon the democracy of the Arab Spring,” he suggested, almost hissing. Every time, without fail, the ‘D’ word was guaranteed to tickle and cheer the men with no surnames.
Cricketers in whites were moving slowly in the distance, as Eric pulled into The Chequers’ car park. Nowhere in the world relaxed him quite like Matching Green, bathed in early evening sunlight. He turned his phone to vibrate. Nobody batted an eyelid at the white-haired man who quietly entered the bar.
He asked the serving wench for a pint of Noble English Craft Lager. Exceptionally flavoursome, ice cold. One glass only. Enough to slake the thirst; and jog the thoughts. But insufficient to jeopardise the return drive.
He took his beer outside, to a faraway table. Crows hopped around in the foreground. A span of detached, expensive houses backdropped the cricketers. Reminding him that he owned a property a few miles away, in deepest Magdalene Laver. A pragmatic retreat, once home to discreet trysts.
Each chilled sip acted to reanimate the morning conversations. All the families had the singular, similar aims of limitless profit amid zero publicity. And they shared sufficient common ground to keep from each other’s throats, whether it be the bread and butter insurance and banking businesses, or the mind-boggling margins produced by asteroid mining.
His nagging discomfort was specific. He and George still knew nothing about the true provenance of the Thames events, on their own manor. There were huge reputational risks in not controlling one’s patch.
Lev, who ran Eastern Europe with an iron fist, had highlighted the fact that Old Leigh remained nearly unscathed by the tsunami. “Makes no sense. What’s actually going on Eric….daan in Sarfend?” His estuary mimic masked the probe. ” You boys been sellin’ ouija boards, or what?”
Two couples in their sixties sat at a nearby table, laughing and enjoying the evening. The tsunami peppered the conversation. “It feels so good, just to be alive, sitting in the sunshine” said one of the women. She was plain-looking.
For relief, he listened to a pair of middle-aged men discussing whether to invest in Tuscan real estate. Small-timers. Wrapped up in ideas of themselves as canny investors. The louder of the two know-nothings was questioning whether Italian banks were a safe vehicle through which to operate, given the debts they had piled up. Vito was one of just a few who could answer that. Europe’s middle classes were in for big shocks, if the banking and derivatives markets came undone again. That was still to be decided.
Eric nodded hello to an arriving cyclist, who pulled a water bottle from his bike, strolled to a tap used mainly to fill dog bowls, and topped it up. The man drained it slowly and returned to fill it again. He clipped it to a bike that might grace a Tour de France, stood up, and took his leave. His achievement, of hydrating while not spending a penny, impressed the PM.
One hundred yards away, a bowler shuffled towards the wicket, arm coiled, like a scene from a bucolic 19th century painting. Simultaneously, the cyclist appeared, at the very back of the canvas, swift as a falcon, propelling his state-of-the-art machine to somewhere. For a second, the PM’s dormant artistic sense stirred.
Just as quickly, a woman sitting down 50 yards away triggered his habitual instincts. There was an unknowing grace, almost an innocence, to her movement. His lizard brain tuned in. Watching her pretty face, and its waves of dissatisfaction with a male partner who misunderstood her food order. Of her lower body, only a shapely calf showed. As she glanced down at her phone, he thought of his nearby house. The display of wealth was the ultimate seduction tool around these parts. At the business end, his pills made Viagra look like tic-tacs.
Eric had long concluded that relationships were both dangerous – too many questions about the business – and tedious. The last one ended in the woman calling him a psychopath. “Is that supposed to be an insult?” he replied. “It may have escaped your notice, but I have done rather well in life.”
His choice had been to reactivate the oldest profession under his own roof. To pay his live-in females £8,000 for each session. Loose change, for satisfactions that he defied any man of his age to emulate. Naomi was his current favourite. Money and sex. The only things really worth a damn, his father always said.
He finished his pint, shadows lengthening. As he fished for his Mondeo keys, he smiled at the woman. It would always be her loss, never to have known him. He could, literally, do anything to almost anyone in Britain.
The man’s face told him he had overdone it. “Can we help you mate?”.
“I intruded. Yes….So sorry. This young lady reminded me of my lovely daughter. A good evening to you both.” Eric headed for the car.
“Fucking old perv,” muttered the male. Eric smirked inwardly. Little Essex man would be missing his oats tonight.
Two other decisions had been made by the clans that morning. Firstly, a new lease of life for the spavined finance system, still hobbling after the global bailouts. Driven by nascent media campaigns, the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ would help reinvent the fiscal wheel. A UN conference would be held in Paris, two years from now, to push ‘green’ taxes and ‘sustainable’ finance. Maybe the planet really was on its last legs. If so, the new catch phrases were perfect.
More pertinent, for him, was support for his idea that Britain’s long-discussed referendum on leaving the European Union might be dusted off and brought to bear, in the next few years. The result could be manipulated, either way, near the finishing line. The important thing was the old game: divide and rule. All the initial signs from the Thames events indicated Brits finding a new sense of togetherness. If it persisted, it could be ripped apart again. In the US, Frank told them, the real estate and casino mogul Donald Trump had been singled out for a run at the 2016 presidency. “Gonna be fireworks, guys,” he predicted. “Next civil war, maybe.”
On the surface, all good then. But throughout the drive back, his gut said something new was gestating, untraceably. He had to find it. Control it.
At 8 p.m., the PM turned on Radio 4, to hear the BBC headline. The female newsreader could have been a condescending schoolteacher. Her bulletin was prim, not for contradicting.
“Essex police have in the last few minutes announced that a group of Muslims are under arrest, in relation to Sunday’s events in the Thames Estuary.”