Conspirator: a member of a group of people planning a subversive act

1.

I’M NO JULIAN WIKILEAKS

Fighter jets and military helicopters overhead. An ear-splitting bang. Nobody moves. Applause. Cannon fire – the saluting battery for the tourists.

Chris is seated in the outdoor café at Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. He looks up to check that he is understood. Then he wipes away the words with the side of his hand.

2.

‘He’s finally flipped, Steph. I hardly recognised him’ said Nick, putting his forefinger to his temple to signal insanity.

Steph could see Nick well on Skype. Nick Burgess was in a red and white, minimally furnished, hi tech, executive office at Supramax Life’s Chicago HQ. Steph was at the breakfast bar in her kitchen in Sheffield, England with a laptop precariously balanced on a pile of books and magazines that were on top of a stool. She was sitting, cross-legged, on another stool, wearing a russet blouse, grey suit trousers and no shoes. She was eating a slice of toast whilst asking Nick, who she’d never really warmed to, questions about Chris.

Nick had been ‘shooting the breeze’, as Steph, liked to call it, with her occasional lover, Chris. Nick had recently been in Malta on business and called in to see his old friend. Tomorrow Steph would be seeing more of Chris’s oldest friends at the ATP World Tennis Finals at the O2 Arena in London. They would want to know, some hopefully, whether Nick thought Chris was any closer to death’s door.

Short open questions would elicit long answers and allow Steph to finish her toast and green tea before she dashed out the door to catch the tram to work. It was just after seven o’clock in the morning, UK time.

‘What did he look like then?’

‘Just weird, Steph. He looked as if he was in fancy dress or perhaps he’s just acting out the batty Englishman. He’s always been a drama queen. He was wearing all red, apart from black cargo shorts. Red T shirt, red trainers, red trainer socks, red Skull Candy headphones, red rimmed shades and a red and, wait for this, silk scarf covering his mouth, topped off by a red and black striped trilby-type hat.

The hat looked like something you’d wear in a Ska band. He’d put an ‘I love Malta’ badge on the hat and hung those little black plastic bulls, that he gets from his red wine bottles, from the brim. Suppose that’s his version of the Aussie bush hat with hanging corks. Inconspicuous he is not.

He’s carrying the largest red canvas shoulder bag I’ve ever seen. It was packed full of books and plastic folders with newspaper clippings in. It means he walks lopsidedly too.’

‘How do you know what was in the bag?’

‘He kept rummaging around in his bag to find something and then jabbing his finger at the words for me to read them. If he wasn’t pointing at something from his files he was writing phrases down on, like, a mini whiteboard for me to read. It was like having a conversation with Twitter although he was using less than forty characters rather than a hundred and forty. He’s also got one of those red drawing toys, with the two white knobs, you know it makes stick drawings and shapes – it was in Toy Story. Anyway, he draws little pictures on it. For a man that can type quickly and has an iPad and iPhone which he could write messages on then his toys must be for effect.’

Steph was laughing: ‘It might be quicker and it’s safer. It’s very unlikely that he’s mad Nick. He’ll be known in all the places he goes to in Malta. He’s a friendly face – an eccentric, elderly writer on his last legs. Writers carry their research around with them. He probably has a poor memory. His world will be in that bag. What made you think he’s weird?’

‘For one thing, his apartment is a disgrace. For someone who used to tell us he was a domestic goddess, able to cook, clean and care for himself, he’s gone downhill fast. He always said he loved ironing and, I’ve seen his party trick of neatly folding his gear into an outrageously small kit bag, whilst the rest of us were just chucking ours into our coffins. I don’t think he’s done any ironing or folding for a while looking at the scattered clothes and what he was wearing.

Just about every door, cupboard, drawer and wall in his apartment has post it notes on them. The post it notes on the drawers say what’s in them. He probably doesn’t have a drawer for socks as they seem to be scattered everywhere. There are corks, empty wine bottles, milk cartons, yoghurt cartons, plastic spoons … it’s a mess. He’s got a heap; you couldn’t call it a shrine, like he had for Dusty Springfield, of books, magazines, photos, DVDs and CDs of Amy Winehouse on his dining table’.

‘Worse, far worse,’ Nick said with, for the first time a smile, ‘he now watches every game Man U play in the outside bars. This is a Yorkshireman that’s lived in London nearly all his life, so why would he start supporting Manchester United? He told me they only play well when Giggsy is playing. Did I want to know that?

He didn’t make a sound all the time we were together and kept his scarf over his face. Afterwards I worked out what was different about him. He’s clearly losing weight. He was always podgy – not anymore.’

‘Does it matter what he looks like?’ said Steph, softly.

‘Well if he wanted to be the centre of attention he’s succeeded. He looks and behaves like someone the Malta pulizija should stop and search his bag just because he’s so weird. Then where would we be? He’s spending money fast too. We walked around Sliema and we stopped for wine at three kiosks. He says he does the same walk every day. One old dear started pouring a half pint glass full of red wine as soon as she spotted Chris.

He gave them all a twenty euro note for our drinks and he let them keep the change. At one of the kiosks they gave him an envelope which he stuffed in his bag. He gave that kiosk owner a fifty euro note. You’re right, they clearly love him over there but I found it bizarre. He asked me to tell you he loves you. There you are – I’ve told you’.

‘Thanks Nick. It wasn’t the most sensitively delivered romantic message I’ve ever had – but thanks. Chris is a good man he would never do anything which could hurt any of us, Nick, and….’

‘He is, though Steph, I know he is. He’s changed and not just physically. Loose cannons are dangerous. Why not go and see him yourself? I gave him your envelope. He says he’ll be around for ages yet but I don’t believe him. If the cancer doesn’t get him the wine will’.

‘Something must have happened to make you think that?’

‘Two things come to mind. Firstly, he asked me to help him with his research – for him to ask me to help him so much is very unusual.’

‘And what’s the second thing? Then I’ve really got to get going Nick’ Steph looked sideways at the wall clock. Nick saw her look and appreciating the long elegant curve of her neck, thought how very attractive she was. Her skin was the colour of strong coffee and her hair, although it was tied back looked as though its curl was not too tight. Nick bet she looked knock out when she wore it down.

Steph felt his eyes on her and curved her neck a little more. Even though she really did not like Nick very much she was very aware of her appeal to red-blooded males, and occasionally enjoyed teasing them with what they would never have.

‘Well it’s nothing he did more the company he’s keeping. When we got to the restaurant in Valletta across from the Sliema ferry, there was a suited and booted, big gold watch, gold bracelet, Arab-looking gent – mid-fifties, I’d guess. He was with a young, probably Eastern European, tall, skinny, very classy, very pale, long blonde-haired woman who’d clearly been busy shopping. She had three or four designer shop bags. She may have been this guy’s daughter but I don’t think so. Chris pointed to a table for me to sit at and then went straight over to this couple.

He’s always been a bit deaf but I think it’s far worse now. I had to almost shout at him so it wasn’t difficult for me to hear some of what this guy, let’s say he was an Egyptian, this Egyptian said. Most of it was in another language, Greek, perhaps, I don’t think it was Maltese and it wasn’t Italian. The English words I heard him say were: ‘Game’, ‘India’ and ‘Portal’. I agree I don’t know the context – but it got my mind racing. He could have just been telling Chris a joke but no-one laughed. I suppose Chris couldn’t laugh.

The only saving grace is that the Egyptian wasn’t concerned about being overheard because close to them were two Maltese geezers, amongst the restaurant tables, fishing. Unbelievable!’

Now Steph was getting impatient, she knew it was a failing and had to bite her tongue to stop herself saying something cutting. Nick was beginning to waffle, and she wanted to go.

‘OK, look, thanks Nick and for the message. Let’s hope your imagination is running away with you. Chris is totally trustworthy. I don’t think I’ll be in contact with him though. He clearly doesn’t want to hear from me and I really don’t want to interfere with how he wants to see out his days. I’ll tell the others. I’ve got to go, Nick. Ciao’.

Steph tapped the red Skype ‘end call’ button and Nick’s face disappeared off the screen, his hand half raised in a wave and his mouth open – his farewell words lost in cyber space. Steph walked to the hall mirror and applied a clear lip-gloss, pursing her full lips together and then smiling back at herself. It was something that she had always done. The familiar image conjured up memories of specific occasions when she had stood in front of other mirrors, her first date, her graduation. Steph smiled as she shrugged her coat on, her mother had faxed everyone they knew in Jamaica, it had been a big day, the first of her family to get a degree.

The ‘others’ were the Chamberpots – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Steph wasn’t a Chamberpot but, she’d known them all for many years and thought of herself as an honorary member. Nick’s main role in the Chamberpots was to give Chris information on the movements of certain VIPs and who they were meeting with.

3.

Trude snorted with laughter. A furtive glance down the carriage showed that she’d attracted the attention of her fellow passengers. Tears were now running down her cheek. She felt the need to blow her nose. She fumbled for and found a grubby looking hanky up her cardigan sleeve. The recollection that had caused this spontaneous eruption had sneaked up on her while she was gazing out of the window.

A young girl in an impossibly tight dress that barely covered her modesty sashayed past holding a cup of coffee with a sandwich balanced on top of it. She wobbled dangerously as she passed Trude. The train swayed, and the girl fought to stay upright on her impossibly high heels. Trude noticed a young man opposite leering at her and another older man watching her surreptitiously from behind his newspaper.

There had been a time when Trude drew such looks, but then she had not been giving it away. She bet the girl was. The danger of a coffee shower passed, Trude gazed out the window again.

At the week-end she had taken her mother, Pat, and Pat’s two dearest friends out for lunch to a favourite pub just a few miles into the Derbyshire Dales. After lunch, they had adjourned for a final couple of proseccos. It was then that the following conversation took place

Pat: ‘Do we have to get back at any time?’

Vi: ‘Not for me but I’d appreciate being dropped off at the betting shop, the 2.30 came in for me.’

Lizzie: ‘I thought I saw the smirk of satisfaction on your face while you were tucking into the rhubarb crumble and checking your iPhone.’

Pat: ‘Eventually you had to win, Vi. What was it this time – a fave colour, a song title, the jockey’s name reminded you of a hot lover – what made you back the horse?’

Vi: ‘It was nothing of the sort. It was that my Bob, grouchy old git, said it stood absolutely no chance of winning. So, that made it a dead cert in my book. Anyway, I only bet a little bit. A pound each way or maybe a fiver. You’ve got to be careful, you know, it can run away with you.’

There was a moment’s silence. Trude thought to herself that this betting lark often does run away with Vi and that Pat often lent her money at the end of the week. Then Vi said, ‘Anyway we need some time to talk about Lizzie’s fancy man. ‘

Pat: ‘What? LIZZIE why is this the first I’ve heard about it?’

Lizzie: ‘Oh, you know him? Old Steve – him that goes into the cafe. Well, I noticed he seemed to come in the cafe on the days I was on.’

Pat: ‘And?’

Lizzie: ‘And the other day he asked me if I’d like to go for a drink with him. I think I said, Why?’

Vi: ‘As you do! My first thought exactly – Why?’

Lizzie: ‘Well, just for, you know, companionship. He’s on his own and he thought I was on my own too. It would be a drink and a chat and nothing more.’

Pat: ‘And?’

Lizzie: ‘Well we went to the Star. I’ve never paid much attention to him really. He’s well spoken, certainly not scruffy but I noticed his hand shaking. I said, ‘What’s wrong with it’? and he said, ‘a touch of Parkinson’s.’ and I thought to myself – that’s what this is all about.’

Vi: ‘Oh, Myyyyyyy God – not another one?’

Pat: ‘You don’t want to be bothering with all that.’

Vi: ‘And he could last for Donkeys’ years!’

It was Vi’s ‘Donkeys’ years’ remark that had made Trude snort. Moments later Trude was back to gazing out the window and wondering how her Lord Chamberlain’s Men reunion would go. She remembered that at the end of the conversation in the pub garden Lizzie had said, ‘Now Trude – do you ever hear from that friend of yours in Malta? You know the one with the throat cancer. Is he coping there on his own? Trude had no answer. Chris Hastings, the founder of the Lord Chamberlain’s men was a complete mystery to her.

4.

Pup couldn’t stop thinking about Charlie going to the O2 in a few days’ time for the next Chamberpots’ meet up and about the crap hand he’d been dealt which stopped him being there. He hadn’t been to a Chamberpots meet up for years, in fact the last one he went to, he’d organised. Charlene Wright’s presence, as a guest of Dave – the old dog – would have got him there any day but not this one. He had to go to work.

He yawned, put his fingers through a miscreant tangle of black hair that had fallen over his right eye. He nodded to the cat, which ignored him as it did every morning, and then he surveyed the breakfast debris all around him. Probably, around quarter past eight, Robbie Richardson, his youngest son would have flown out the door. The ‘late-as-usual Richardsons’ lived in Sunningfields Road in Hendon, North London. It would be stretching a point to say they lived together. Like ships passing in the night. Pup’s son, Robbie, would never think of loading the dishwasher.

Pup went over to the biscuit tin and broke a Rich Tea in half. One half he ate. Then he walked over to the dog that also hadn’t bothered, as usual, to greet him. The long haired, black, Bouvier remained stretched out, lying on his side, on an old, yellowing, smelly duvet cover that was inside a huge purple, badly gnawed, plastic dog basket. The dog’s head was upright, thanks to its chin being rested on the side of this basket.

Monsieur Le Shag, nicknamed ‘Mussy’, had one big brown eye wide open. The other eye may have been open but it was hidden under his thick, wavy fringe. Mussy knew what was coming and was therefore feigning attentiveness even though he was nearly comatose.

Pup went down on his knees and pulled out both his pockets to show that there was nothing in them. He then showed Mussy that there was nothing up his sleeves. Finally, he showed Mussy that he had two completely empty hands. He then reached over Mussy’s head with one hand and proceeded to pull half a Rich Tea biscuit from behind the dog’s ear. Pup then gave the biscuit to Mussy, who gulped it down in an instant, and then, quite dismissively, closed his eyelids and resumed his sleep.

Pup sat down and moved aside a plate with some half-eaten pizza slices that his daughter, Zoe, had saved for breakfast from the night before. Clearly, what had been a good idea at midnight hadn’t seemed so appealing to her at a quarter to eight in the morning. He filled a relatively clean bowl, probably his wife’s, with Bran Clusters and poured on the last remaining drops of a carton of skimmed milk. He made a sort of clucking noise that was meant to convey to himself, the cat and the dog that he was unhappy with the state of the breakfast table.

Before he began to refuel Pup took eleven handwritten sheets and three press cuttings, from a large, crumpled envelope. The envelope had a Malta postmark. Pup knew that he should have destroyed the contents, and the envelope, days ago. He hadn’t because this was the first letter he’d received from Chris in, at least, fifteen years.

The contents of the envelope deserved another reading. There was much hidden between the lines and in the cuttings but Pup hadn’t cracked it all yet. He knew that he was being asked to do something big but he had to completely get onto Chris’s wavelength before he could hope to fully establish the detail of his assignment.

Chris had clearly taken great care to ensure the bulky contents of the envelope would appear innocent to observers. However, Pup knew that Chris would feel he’d taken a risk in communicating directly by letter. Usually Pup was asked to do something for Chris by Dave. Face-to-face had been the only means of communication between the Chamberpots, until a month ago when Chris had broken his own rule by writing to Dave and now he’d broken the rule again by writing to Pup. Pup wouldn’t tell the other Chamberpots about this letter.

Pup had been by far the youngest in the cricket team that Chris captained. At the time, he’d felt that many of his team mates regarded Chris as an old windbag. Yet, to Pup, Chris was the finest teacher and mentor that he could have wished for. Chris was almost the opposite in beliefs and disposition to his own, straight laced father. Chris always said that he thought his father, Geoff, was out of his time and resembled Dickens’ descriptions of the professional classes.

Conversations with Chris were exciting. They discussed things that he wasn’t studying at school, such as philosophy. Chris taught him how to explore reason, truth and concepts such as ‘What is good?’; ‘What is being?’; ‘What is art?’; ‘What is real and what is illusion?’ Not just modern philosophers either, Chris was captivated by ancient Greek philosophers. He’d urged Pup to read articles written by the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks and a wonderful short book on the history of the world entitled ‘Power and Greed’ by Phillipe Gigantes. This book divided the key influencers of the world into the Rule Makers, mainly good, and Grand Acquisitors, mainly bad. There were far more of the latter and Chris wanted far more of the former.

Chris, or ‘Skip’ as Pup often referred to him, thought the advent of platforms, artificial intelligence and machine learning could speed up the replacement of corrupt power seekers only interested in an elite few, with positive rule makers interested in the many. They allow hackers to hit as many targets as possible whilst reducing the risk to themselves.

Chris wasn’t just a thinker though. He was an activist and passionate about changing society and righting wrongs. Most of his team mates thought Chris was probably too passionate about things and he shouted too much. This was caused by Chris’ bad hearing, which continued to deteriorate over the years, and the copious quantities of red wine.

The drinking became a problem, more for Pup than Chris. Pup may have turned out to be a good cricketer, but most matches he played he was just pleased to get out of them alive. He’d always feel so bad during the match because of the drinking the night before. Then there was the pre-match pint and more pints at the tea interval, with a whisky chaser in cold weather. Then there was the heavy post-match session and drinking games with the opposition. This was followed by mandatory team bonding around midnight at their regular curry house in Mill Hill, accompanied by wine and brandy.

Of course, he could have said ‘No’ or asked for a Coke but he felt the peer pressure, especially when his father and Dave were in the team. It was too much for a teenager. By the time Pup got to Imperial, to do an ICT degree, he had a problem with the booze. Chris’s drinking became even worse after his first wife, Sue, who he’d left but returned to nurse her, died. Chris seemed to start drinking red wine by the barrel. Even today, Pup would feel sick just thinking about the five dreaded words Chris would add to his invitation for them to meet up: ‘Bring your thirst with you’.

The Chamberpots get-togethers in the early years were great because of the outstanding sporting events they attended together but they were often spoiled by the amount of alcohol consumed. The meal after the event was the worst bit of the day.

Trude, was always the top cat to Chris. In those days Trude was stunning and Dave fancied her like crazy, all the cricket team did. Trude always tried, but failed, to stop Chris and Dave encouraging the rest of them to drink so much. Trude prided herself on her worldliness, hell she more than anyone had seen it all, but she knew that sometimes she came over prudish, and that annoyed her, she was anything but, she just knew the devastation too much booze could do. Fortunately, years later, when Steph started coming to the get-togethers she became the second moderating influence. For this reason, Pup thought the Chamberpots get-togethers were better because of Steph being there.

Pup remembered when Chris’s letter had arrived. It was the day after he’d seen Charlie for the third time. He’d first seen her, with Dave, when she was a little girl. Then recently, he’d seen her twice in quick succession. He knew his crush on her was crazy. Both recent times she’d been in a group of smart city types and she looked stand-out amazing.

She wouldn’t have noticed him, of course, even though they’d been in touching distance of each other. He’d been working the tables. Charlie was often in the papers but Pup had found out where she lived and that she wasn’t living with her husband. He knew where she worked now that she’d finished her tennis career. He was following her on Twitter but, for a celebrity, she wasn’t very active and was unlikely to follow him – certainly not as a friend on Facebook or as a contact on LinkedIn. He hoped she’d look at his Twitter profile and be impressed by his nine thousand followers and then follow him back. But she hadn’t. He’d worked out the age difference too. That bit wasn’t so good. Her haughty head girl look was irresistible to Pup but he knew she was way out of his league in the ‘likely to shag’ stakes. Still a man could dream.

He comforted himself that anything up to a twenty-year age gap was quite acceptable today. Why, Tony Curtis had died leaving a wife who was thirty years younger than him. Michael Douglas has Catherine Zeta Jones. Rod Stewart will have some young model whose legs come up to his shoulders. Ronnie Wood too – likely all the Stones have. That Baldrick and Time Team actor guy probably doesn’t reach the armpits of his younger partner. Do you need to be vertically challenged to get a young hot woman? Anyway…they all seem to be at it. That’s show biz, folks.

Pup knew he was lean, tall, assisted dark and, some thought him, handsome. Certainly, the full head of hair and the lack of belly fat made him look much younger than his age. Hell, when he meets her it’s not as though the first thing she’ll ask is ‘How old are you Mr Richardson?’ Pup thought the biggest hurdles to him and Charlie falling madly in love might be that he had a wife and three kids and she didn’t know who he was. Soon she would know who he was as Chris had asked him to invite her to a corporate product launch event he was working at.

Pup felt a definite hardening in his leisure shorts. He spooned in more bran clusters and looked again at the contents of the envelope. Reading his leader’s words seemed like the best thing to do to take his mind off this unreachable woman of his dreams. Of course, as a last resort he could ask Dave what Chris’s letter meant but this would be letting Chris down as he clearly didn’t want Dave to know Pup’s instructions. Chris regarded Pup as the smartest of the Chamberpots and so Pup felt it would be an insult to his intelligence and their friendship if he failed to work this out. ‘Focus Pup – get it right’; he said to himself.

There were three cuttings, from the Malta Times a long while ago. Two cuttings were about fireworks, the third was about the Lockerbie bomb and the supposed culprit Mr Al-Megrahi. Pup had seen Al-Megrahi on television, not long before his death, at a meeting supporting Gadaffi, during the Libyan uprising.

The letter didn’t refer to the cuttings at all. Each cutting gave Pup a task to achieve using technology and explosives. Pup was the techie in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The letter started with the greeting ‘Bonjour Jacques’ and finished ‘Au Revoir Jacques, Ernest Defarge’. The letter read like an essay on Chris’s time in Malta. The uprisings in each of Malta’s neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East were mentioned and Pup detected Chris’s anger with US/NATO interventions and the lack of them in Syria. His reference to ‘finding the medicine’ was Chris’s way of saying that if the Americans and British want to start bombing to effect regime change they’ll first invent a ‘smoking gun’ such as a chemical weapons attack, weapons of mass destruction and even a nuclear threat. Pup knew that his role was to use the darker side of the internet and social media to leak ‘smoking guns’ which would lead to the downfall of Chris’s targets and allow new leaders in the regimes Chris wanted to change.

Chris’s genuine interest in Anonymous and Luiz Security was joked about in the letter but it was in passing along with other comments on technology and gadgets. Chris and Pup had always talked technology and gadgets. The letter was mainly written as a description, to a friend, of what Chris had found were the best and worst things of him now living in Maltese society. This was an allegory for the good that needed to replace the bad in the USA and UK.

Pup realised that Chris’s latest project was the most dangerous yet. It would put the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s anonymity in jeopardy. Pup looked at his watch and realised he was running very late. He thought to himself one of the others can clear up the breakfast debris when they get back. After all, he hadn’t created the mess.

5.

Dave Moore was sat on a bench in his front garden in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. He was wearing a blazer, v necked jumper, tie and grey, pleated trousers – his normal attire. He had just returned home from his golf club. There was a golf club just across the road from his house but Dave rarely played it as he deemed the members far inferior to those at his club. The quaint, old pub at the bottom end of his road, the Old Scalby Mills, was delightfully located at the seafront, with a stream, rock pools and a pedestrian bridge onto the Cleveland Way. Dave only frequented it on Christmas Day because tourists and his neighbour, a builder, were among the pub’s clientele. All the spacious houses along Dave’s road to the sea had large front and back gardens.

Dave had bushy grey eyebrows, grey-green eyes, a slight bony nose, long pointy ears, high cheekbones and slightly hollow cheeks with a small mouth and thin lips. Everything about the parts of Dave’s body that were on show gave the impression of a man whose skin had been pinched rather too tightly. Apart from the face wrinkles there was no evidence of fat anywhere. This made Dave the envy of his peers and invited constant enquiries as to the state of his health. It annoyed them even more when he told them he’d never felt better.

Dave liked to position himself on this bench in his front garden as he could see through the front gate to the pavement and could admonish joggers, bicycle riders and dog walkers for any of their indiscretions. Dave had bought vintage sports cars over the years, which enhanced the cache of his front driveway on fine days. His current pride and joy was a 1946 Jaguar SS 100. Dave was always immaculately dressed. He felt he was always on duty. He was regularly photographed for the local media, with the Scarborough elite, attending fund raising events for charities and community causes. He gave the impression to everyone that he was the life and soul of the party and a prosperous and generous man.

Dave was reading the letter Chris had sent him. He’d read it again tomorrow when he was travelling to London for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men day out. Dave had instructions to give them. Then he’d destroy the letter. Dave was Chris’s oldest friend, they’d been together at school – Beverley Grammar School – and been in London at the same time when doing their degrees. It was in London that they played cricket for the same team which led to the founding of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Dave was enjoying his regular trips to London to meet with various contacts of Chris but it wasn’t so much the people he met that gave him pleasure but having access to Chris’s clubs and credit cards. Dave didn’t hate the Establishment or the UK being the 51st State of America in the same way Chris did but he never let on. Chris had said for the last thirty years that the UK and the US would soon have white supremacists as PM and President. Dave would never say to Chris that he was in favour of England being solely for the English.

Dave felt that the Iraq invasion combined with the financial sector crash and bail outs had been the tipping points that escalated Chris’s activism and moved it from just being focused on British targets. Then there was Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’.

Chris would rant about the impotence of the GPs’ campaign for an inquiry on Kelly’s alleged suicide and the failure of human rights groups regarding Guantanamo Bay and Bradley Manning’s incarceration, without trial. Dave’s view was that Chris should ‘Get a life’.

Dave had known Chris’s loathing for the US, which had now reached epic proportions had always been bubbling underneath even twenty years ago when he’d been an HR Director at a US multinational. Chris had labelled himself, to Dave, as a ‘Hire, Fire, and Settle Professional’. Even then Chris had felt implicated in the rich getting richer. He understood excess and what City Boy and City Girl revealed about the big swinging dicks and the incompetence of the guys at the top with the fat bonuses. Chris knew and loathed all the lobbyists from The City of London Corporation to the Taxpayers Alliance. Dave would smile in agreement at Chris’s rants but thought him a fool not to go with the flow. Early retirement hadn’t come too soon for Chris. Dave despised Chris.

Chris would argue that you fight evil propaganda with good propaganda and replace the bad guys with the good guys. Dave thought life was too short – what’s done is done. It was only the money, Chris’s wealth, that kept their friendship together.

Dave thought Chris saw himself as the English Michael Moore. ‘Who supplied the highly trained and experienced pilots? How did each tower collapse? Why did Bush say he’d seen the plane fly into the first building on a telly, outside the classroom he was waiting to go into? No-one had seen that bit live on TV, as those video pictures weren’t on air until the next day.’ Why are the US Drones massacring targets plus civilians, every day, from a base in Saudi Arabia? On and on he’d go. Dave felt it was megalomania – no just sick – for Chris to think he could get the answers to these questions and, anyway, ‘Who gives a shit?’.

Outrageously, to Dave, Chris believed that Saddam, Gadaffi and Bin Laden will have been tortured before they died. They knew too much having been funded by, and even trained by the US, that the manner and all the media content on their deaths will have been staged. Stooges, lookalikes, films after the event – all these were certainties in Chris’s world. He didn’t care about them being killed it was just that he took the mainstream media propaganda as a personal insult. Same with the major corporates running governments and major institutions. He hated FIFA and the International Olympics Committee as much as Government for the inexorable pursuit of wealth and power so the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. Chris thought in the same way that bribes and bungs bought votes for which country staged the World Cup or the Olympics, that a minority Government would even use bribes and bungs to buy politicians votes to stay in power. Dave’s view was that Chris was ‘One sad bastard’.

Dave thought it poetic justice that Chris could no longer rant about all this, since his last surgery in Malta. Silence is golden.

Dave was amused that it was entirely his own fault that Chris had formed the Chamberpots to get rid of the bad guys. Dave had just been trying to impress the attractive wife of a miner, during the strike in 1984, when he said to Chris: ‘We must do summat about it’.

Dave could still picture the miner’s wife. Pint glass in front of her, cigarette always poised within inches of her lips – pink lipstick. Slim, tall, light jeans, brown leather boots, black top, blonde, frizzed, shoulder length hair and a hard woman, no doubt, but she was amazing looking. Thankfully, for self-preservation, Dave thought, nothing happened. Mind, she was the one that told us that all the miners’ phones were tapped. The miners proved it by sending the police on wild goose chases. It was a lesson learned and why the Chamberpots, until Dave received this letter, had only ever communicated face to face.

Dave knew that Chris felt this was his final project. Chris dying of cancer was the opportunity for Dave to make a financial killing. After all, Chris had money to burn and some very wealthy contacts. Chris was already paying Dave handsomely to do meetings in London. Dave was particularly enjoying using the Institute of Directors magnificent buildings in Pall Mall as his London base – courtesy of Chris’s cards.

At his rugby, cricket and tennis clubs his fellow members thought Dave was well off. After all he had a good pension, some inherited money from his and his wife’s parents and a nice detached house in one of the most sought-after areas.

However, Dave’s every penny had gone into keeping up appearances. He had no savings. For the last eighteen years he’d been paying at least a quarter of his income into the account of an Orange Lodge in Scotland. This arrangement had been made by the late Geoff Richardson, a Chamberpot, and fellow Chamberpot Pup’s Dad.

To Dave it felt like blackmail but Geoff had regarded it as a fair price to pay to buy silence. The loan had covered a sizeable pay off. Geoff had never told him whether Geoff’s son, Pup, knew about this arrangement. It was not the sort of thing that Dave would ever bring up in conversation with Pup.

Dave resented that he hadn’t enough money to really enjoy his retirement. He would use Chris’s loss of speech to his maximum advantage. He’d started to dream of a better life from a new location and with a new identity. There’d be horse racing in Dubai and golf in Florida. His wife, Gill, would not be a part of his future. Gill would go into care.

6.

Matt Robinson and Ricky Sharpe looked like a comedy duo as they stood playing a slot machine at the Chequers pub in Hendon. It was a work day for both these business owners. Matt, or ‘Tricks’ as he was known to the other Chamberpots, and Ricky, or ‘Scalesy’ to the Chamberpots, were in their branded uniforms. The logo of Tricks’ gym was on a red and white Nike tracksuit and Scalesy’s plumbing firm logo was on a black waistcoat and black tie – he looked like a snooker player. Tricks with his towsly, peroxide blonde hair towered over Scalesy and looked twice the width of his neatly coiffured, dapper friend. They were both well-known characters but no-one in the pub would disturb their private conversation as they slotted coins into the flashing and beeping machine.

Scalesy: ‘Do you remember when we used to go with Chris and Dave to the Chinky around the corner?

Tricks: ‘Sure do Scalesy, the lunchtime special and it was usually Hot and Sour soup and then Sweet and Sour Pork with egg fried rice in a Tupperware bowl’.

Scalesy: ‘And all served at our table by the inscrutable Odd Job who I bet was bigger than you’.

Tricks: ‘Not as mobile though and not as good at gambling either. If his horses or dogs weren’t coming in he’d almost throw the plates as us. That was normal, in fact the only time I remember him winning big was when Chris tipped him that horse at Newmarket – Caravaggio’.

Scalesy: ‘And it was the scene of many a bizarre conversation between Odd Job and our leader. The Skip was always trying to teach him useful English expressions such as ‘Has anyone ever accused you of ‘putting a foot wrong’ or ‘putting your foot in it’ to which Odd Job would reply ‘No ray, nor ter my norredge’.

Tricks: ‘Brilliant. I remember one day after Odd Job had drunk about a gallon of Carling, because he drank more than any of the customers, he said to Chris: ‘Jus corr me ‘Misser Reeewhyabul’ and Chris said, ‘Why should I call you Mister Reliable, Odd Job?’ and Odd Job shouted, ‘Cos I nerra purra foot wong, innit?’.’

Scalesy: ‘Odd Job was a genius and he gave Chris as good as he got. Do you remember he persuaded Chris to make a visit to his mate who was a tattooist?’

Tricks: ‘Like yesterday, Chris wanted us all to go to be tattooed with a Chamberpots symbol. We told him to fuck off and that as the leader he should take one for the team and get it done first. If it looked alright, then we’d all get it done’

Scalesy: ‘Fortunately, it was rubbish’

Tricks: ‘Chris was probably Odd Job’s mate’s first customer’

Scalesy: ‘His masks of comedy and tragedy on his neck looked like they’d been drawn in a black felt pen by a three-year-old.’

Tricks: ‘Hilarious. Mind you, it was well inked – it’s still there. Fucking Dave never stopped taking the piss out of Chris’s tattoo’

Scalesy: ‘Right, I’d better get back to work. I don’t like checking on my guys because I do trust them but I know the thought of me checking keeps them on their toes’.

Tricks: ‘I trust no-one. Here’s the gear for Dave to get to Chris’

Tricks handed Scalesy a small white envelope.

‘Thanks Tricks. This is dangerous stuff we’re now doing for the Skip. I don’t like it. I’m to give it to Pup who is going to hide it in something and then Pup will give it to Dave when he sees him in town’.

7.

Chris put down his Cross-gold fountain pen. He put the magnetic clasp around the leather-bound book with gold leaf trim that he’d been writing in. He placed the book in the front pocket of his canvas bag on the seat next to him. After leaving Nick in Valletta he’d gone back to Upper Barrakka Gardens, changed his clothes in the public conveniences, carefully stacked all the files and props he’d been using with Nick into a locker and then taken a white taxi from the rank outside.

The taxi had taken him to Virtu Ferries where he’d caught the late afternoon catamaran to Sicily. It was a ninety-minute crossing which Chris made quite often.

The seats on the high-speed catamaran were like comfortable, wide, first class, airline seats but as usual, there were far more people being sick than in a plane. In the side block, there was no-one within three rows of him. He could now; unobserved, open the package Nick had given him.

In the package were three envelopes and a small packet. Chris had always enjoyed opening presents. He had a process for unwrapping to ensure he didn’t rip the wrapping paper. He’d then fold the wrapping paper neatly, ready for future use. He loved prolonging the anticipation. This, he thought, must be how prisoners or soldiers feel when they receive a present from home.

The first envelope that he opened contained a Roger Federer, red tennis sweat band and a postcard with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was from Steph and he’d look forward to reading it later when he was back in his apartment. He had fond memories of their week-end escapes to Paris.

The second envelope mainly contained diagrams, none of which made too much sense to Chris but he could give it to someone to whom it would. The diagrams were of the plumbing in a yacht. That envelope was from Scalesy.

The third envelope was from Dave containing a short progress report from the meetings that Chris had asked him to carry out in London. The progress report was only understandable to Chris. To anyone else it would have been an update on the new additions to Dave’s collection of old football programmes.

Chris hoped the fourth packet contained something from Pup and Tricks. He was relieved to find that it did. Inside were three small silver cups and some tiny red sponge balls. Chris pinched each of the balls between his forefinger and thumb. The second ball that he pinched had a hard centre. He slotted everything, including the folded packaging, neatly into his bag.

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