Coincidence: A chance concurrence, happenstance or twist of fate.
SIR NIGEL MORRIS WAS BEGINNING to feel his age. He was already convinced that sixty-two was an old age. This was despite his wife, daughter and even his niece, Charlie, trying to assure him that seventy was the new fifty. Sir Nigel certainly wouldn’t fit the archetypal image of a retired senior civil servant. For a start he wasn’t stooped and there wasn’t a grey hair on his head. He had a full head of mousey coloured hair and was an upright, but slim and muscular, six-footer. He was very fit and swam every morning at his London club. He also ran marathons when the security allowed.
His back and head hurt this morning, but that was caused by nothing more sinister than the hotel bed. The Royal York hotel, adjacent to York railway station, was convenient and it had beautifully furnished bedroom suites with all the refreshments you may require. Nevertheless, Sir Nigel would just mention to the Hotel manager that it was important that they improved the quality of the double beds.
Fortunately, it was a one night stay and he would be back in London by early afternoon. He had three meetings in the hotel that morning and the last one he was looking forward to most of all, because that was with his favourite niece, Charlie. He thought to himself how refreshing it was not to have to tear around from place to place making speeches. When he’d been Cabinet Secretary and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, he was also effectively Head of the Civil Service. This meant that wherever he travelled there was likely to be some Civil Service office where the ‘troops’ required a morale boosting visit and speech from him. Not that Sir Nigel had ever been complimented on his ability to make motivational speeches. Thoughtful, intelligent and ruthless were the adjectives most applied to Sir Nigel’s demeanour.
Charlene’s father, his brother, had been a silly man. Like Sir Nigel he’d been well-educated, Oxford, and he’d had a very successful career as a dentist, a dentist to the stars on many occasions. However, none of this had stopped him from being a silly man.
Sir Nigel had never thought of his brother as a particularly brave man either. So it was a surprise some six years ago when his brother, James, had left his wife and family to live in Australia with a much younger male anaesthetist. It was even more surprising to Sir Nigel that someone who wore purple shirts could have hidden his plans so well about escaping Britain. He’d also done well to hide the fact, for so long, that he was gay, especially as so many family members had always suspected he was.
Sir Nigel had promised his sister in law that the next time he was ‘Up North’ he would make sure that he saw his niece, Charlie. This was a pleasure. Charlie had all the languid, lean, tall, athletic, good looks and manner of her mother. Sir Nigel knew that Charlie was ambitious and wanted to achieve a great deal in the world of sports media and marketing, and certainly his contact network could be of value to her ambition.
Sir Nigel had been in Commerce early in his career which had made him attractive to the Treasury, which then led to him becoming Press Secretary to the Chancellor and finally to be appointed Cabinet Secretary. Even then he’d represented the UK on the IMF and nowadays had a number of Non-Executive Directorships. He was currently Chair of the finance committees of two of Britain’s greatest sporting institutions. He could, and would happily, be useful to Charlie.
Sir Nigel had always acknowledged that women were not appreciative subjects of either his wit or his wisdom. He wasn’t expecting an easy ride from his somewhat fiery niece. He’d pretty much got out of the firing line by the time Condoleesa Rice and Hillary Clinton became regular visitors of the PMs, but he could imagine that Charlie in 20 years’ time would have their similar, and fearful to many, presence. Thatcher could be frightening in her conviction too, but, surprisingly to those who did not know her, her feminine wiles seemed to soften the blow.
There was a delicate matter which would require some of his famed tact and diplomacy. His sister-in-law had made it clear that she wanted Sir Nigel to convey to Charlie that she needed to do something about her relationship with her husband.
The Morris family did not like it that Charlie’s husband, of only a few years, lived so publicly far apart from Charlie. This would be fine if they were in different countries, work commitments could be the excuse. In the same country being two hundred miles away from your husband, who didn’t appear to have any intention of working, made it a very public separation. Sir Nigel’s wife couldn’t give a damn about Charlie’s marriage, but she really would not tolerate them making it so easy for the press to create news by gossip and the constant stream of photographs of Charlie and her husband’s new partners.
Sir Nigel agreed that it was not a good idea for the Morris family to be in the public eye so regularly. The Chilcot Inquiry into the rationale for the Iraq war had dragged Sir Nigel back into the public eye briefly but that would soon be forgotten. If Charlie and her husband could be divorced quickly then much of the gossip about Charlie, her husband, her father and her Uncle would stop. So, he had some contacts that could help Charlie and Charlie could help him by divorcing her husband. This would be a classic win-win negotiation. Sir Nigel enjoyed negotiating.
CHARLIE WENT THROUGH THE SWING DOORS of the Royal York hotel and walked down the long corridor towards reception. About halfway down this corridor Charlie saw, or at least she though she saw, in the distance walking from left to right, her Uncle Dave. Charlie quickened her step, turned right at reception and fully expected to see Dave in the cafe bar, but there was no sign of him.
She walked outside onto the balcony of the cafe bar, which gave her a full view of people walking into the station and walking away from the station into York. Dave was nowhere to be seen. She texted him
‘Just saw you – same hotel. Where u go?’ Almost immediately the reply came back ‘Not me – home in Scarboro’.
TRICKS OVERHEARD HIS BUSINESS PARTNER, Spit, demonstrating his life-long belief that the customer is always wrong:
‘Nah you can’t have a year’s membership. Tell you what. I’ll give you a deal on six weeks. Doubt if you’ll last that long but if you do we can talk about extending it.’
The forty something father of irritable twins, with ice cream covered noses and mouths, was leant on the reception desk looking at the price list. Meanwhile the twins, in the double pushchair next to their father, were throwing toys at each other. The father picked up a green elephant and purple Martian off the floor, threw them back in the pushchair, said ‘I’ll think about it’ and walked out.
‘Ding, ding. Another sale made by the Peak Fitness top salesman of the year’ said Tricks with a big grin. Tricks was standing just inside the entrance to the gym. He was spotting for a heavily tattooed gorilla that was bench-pressing over 200kg.
Spit was named after a TV comedian-come-ventriloquist’s dummy. Spit the dog only made one sound – the sound of clearing his throat, ready to spit. Spit didn’t turn round to look at Tricks but stared through the open door, cleared his throat and slowly croaked:
‘Fuck me. Today is our lucky day – one timewaster out and another in. Here’s your young magician friend – ask him if he knows how to make my missus disappear’.
‘Hi Spit, Hi Tricks’, Pup said walking through towards Tricks and the gorilla. Only Pup called him ‘Tricks’ in his gym and no-one called him by his real name, Matt.. To everyone in the gym, for as long as any of them could remember, Tricks was Rick – a look-alike for the American wrestler and superstar Rick Flair. To Pup he was Tricks because of his bar diving exploits and drinking challenges on cricket tours and Chamberpots get-togethers.
Pup and Tricks, lived in Hendon. The gym was just off Brent Street, behind the Tesco .supermarket. Pup dropped by, now and again, on his way to Hendon Central tube station. Tricks and Pup knew a lot of the same people in the London nightlife, a charged, blurred and neon world that starts late and finishes as most people wake up. Particularly theirs is a night world of glamorous women as entertainers, waitresses, strippers, hostesses, dancers and even, high class prostitutes.
Only, they’re not glamorous when Pup sees them arriving to get ready for work or Tricks sees them at his gym. Most men who slaver over them at midnight would pass them in the street, without a second glance – young Mums and students. Most don’t even wear make-up during the day and everything they do wear is loose fitting and sexless. Many are tall and skinny, boyish – skanky even, until they put on the glad rags, the glitter and the glam.
Pup was nearly out of that scene now. Tricks helped Pup, more than anyone but Chris, with his switch from night club residencies to corporate functions – and helped him slim down and dry out.
‘Have you got the stuff for Chris? I’m seeing Dave and Nick in town tomorrow.’
‘Nick’s already got it Bud, he was here last night. Flash bastard’.
‘Flash bastard?’ teased Pup, ‘You’re not exactly easy on the bling yourself.’
‘He’s the worst kind, he’s snake oil – he and Dave have looked down their noses at me for years. Chris never did that but he’s always been fucking rich in comparison with us lot. Since Chris fucked off, well … if it wasn’t for the girls and you and Scalesy I wouldn’t be sorting out the Olympics.’
‘It’ll be cool Tricks. Are you off the sweeties?’
‘Pretty much, as much as you can be in this game’.
‘Charlie Wright’s coming to the Globe – what did you think of her at the tennis?’
‘Smart – but a pain in the arse. She’s about the same age as my daughter but not as good looking.’
‘That’s the trouble with you old guys, first the hearing goes then the eyesight ….’
‘Cheeky bastard – so … have you worked out what Chris is doing now? What’s he going to do with the stuff I’ve given him? He’ll soon have enough to open his own sweet shop.’
‘Well firstly, he’s bought it and secondly if he’s going to use it himself he’s going to make sure he’s got enough to do the job. Yeah, I can guess what he’s doing – he’s building a much bigger collection to leave behind for others for when he’s gone’.
‘Is it safe for him to use Nick as the messenger? After all Nick’s been the least active for years and always was up his own arse.’
‘Yeah but Chris knows that. He’ll be working on the fact that Nick has already taken one lot of presents to him so, even if Nick checks out what’s in them, which I suspect he will, then it’s a question of who does he trust not to implicate him – Chris or the authorities? After all these years he’s going to back Chris to keep him safe, isn’t he? Chris will have worked out the odds on all of us?’
‘So what’s tomorrow’s meet about?’
‘Dave wants to make sure that Nick has everything for the trip and he wants to ask Scalesy and I some questions so that Nick hears the answers. It’s something to do with Chris asking Dave to track down the old landlord of the Spoons pub in Muswell Hill. Remember him?’
‘Do I remember him? I nearly lived and died at Spoons in the early days. He was a very, very scary man – someone you definitely, never ever would say ‘No’ to. I used to sleep on his couch after a Saturday night session and he’d do me Sunday roast in his flat, we’d watch the football on TV, with a few beers and brandy chasers and then we’d do it all again on Sunday night. How he kept it up, how any of us kept it up I dunno.’
‘There’s one more thing, Something that you as a Chelsea fan might be able to do…’
‘It depends on the manager as to whether I’m a fan or not and as we have a different manager every other week so I’m not sure if I am a fan this week’.
‘But the owner stays the same. Roman Abramovich’s super yacht, well one of them, he’s got five, was in Valletta Grand Harbour in Malta. It’s called Titan and is very big. ‘Very big’ is Chris’s technical term for something that’s 78 metres long and ‘looks like 3 storeys with bags of space underneath’. Anyway, Chris has started yachtspotting, like trainspotting, and wants us all to help him. He wants to know where the world’s super yachts are and who will be on them on what dates. Anything we find out, we let Dave know. Dave’s in London most weeks now.’
‘OK bud, that shouldn’t be too difficult – plenty of staff on board or going to entertain. Nick and Scalesy will get as much as me. Now private jets – they’re easy’.