Well, dear readers...
Such a nice new space... I wondered how to do it justice with my post this week.
Everything has changed, yet Wicked Writers remains the same. Is it a Bill Murray case of Groundhog Day, or is it an Aladin's New Lamps for Old?
I'll go for the Arabian influence...
I thought, given my recent missives on my trip to Tripoli, that it would be interesting to see what changes occur as I redraft the opening scene to the sequel to River of Judgement. I did think maybe I could run the two scenes side-by-side and run a "spot the difference" competition. But my knowledge of HTML programming on blog posts would mean I would spend the next day messing about in code and miss the posting deadline (that I am already late for).
Tripoli, Summer 2008
It was not a good day to be hauled out of his hotel bed – out of his afternoon siesta. The Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli had all the comforts he could wish for. But the day had not been good. No! There really had be no good days recently.
The Corinthia suffered from the fact that it had little competition for its International-class accommodation. He’d had his fill of CNN and the hotel’s facilities held no attraction. While the staff were friendly, he’d seen better service and, although his room was clearly modelled on five-star luxury, the price he had been paying since his exit from London was proving outrageous. But, strangely, if it had not been for his circumstances, he might actually have enjoyed the sojourn. He’d always relished his previous trips to Libya. But it was different, then.
Exile was a good descriptor for where he found himself now. Oh, yes! He could roam about if he wished. There were no bars on his windows. He was free to come and go… but to go where? For what reason? He was fed up of the hotel food, but there was little alternative than to eat in. Of course, he could get to the City’s Green Square area, but the walk through the old town rarely seemed worth the effort – he’d become immune to its charm, the gold and silver and colourful silks of the souk. The irony suddenly struck him. Green Square? To the uninitiated, the thought of a public space of trees and historic artefacts held a certain romantic attraction. The reality – his reality – a dust covered green-painted concrete square, for the most part a car park full of dented, salt-corroded rusting vehicles and surrounded by rushing, pushing cars, horns blaring as signals of intent and distraction. Except for Friday, of course.
But today was not Friday. And, at the height of a North African summer, any movement was a game of jumping from what passed as an air conditioned environment to whatever else might pass as an air conditioned environment, such as he could find. A taxi with open windows just did not work – but it really was the only means of getting around. That is, if he could stomach the seemingly lawless nature of the Libyan driving style. The charm was lost on him now.
Aaron longed for the days of his previous visits, the days before all the trouble began, the days before his “exile”, when his frequent visits to Tripoli were marked by a distinct feeling of importance, where traffic seemed not to bother or hinder the progress of the luxurious, chauffer driven cars he was provided with. Ones with proper air-conditioning and no scratches, no odd coloured door panels nor broken and discarded wing mirrors; he was important then. He’d come to love the Tripoli of his past. The Tripoli before Finn Bloody Jackson!
No! For Aaron Philips, fugitive from British justice, today was a bad day, and it was going rapidly down hill. He closed his eyes, briefly.
‘Mr Philips?’ said the man in front of him now. ‘I do have your full and undivided attention, do I not? …Mr Philips?’
His contemplation abruptly terminated, Aaron sat forward on a low, white leather stool – eyes wide, now. He was uncomfortable. His concentration returned to the man opposite. Despite the air conditioning humming in the background, he felt the beads of sweat gather at the nape of his neck, and run, uncontrolled, onto his shirt collar.
The man looked at ease as he sat wearing his traditional cloak of thick white wool, and his matching white, flat-topped brimless hat. Two other men stood, patiently, either side and to the rear of the large sprawling white leather sofa the man occupied. The man’s aides were of similar height and features: around five foot ten or eleven, dark wiry hair cropped short and dark eyes. The one on the man’s left was clearly built to do damage. The other had a neat one-inch scar running perpendicularly upwards from the centre of his right eyebrow. It was no less a sign of competence than the other’s chest measurement. The two stood motionless in clichéd black suits, with black open-necked shirts. The dark, North African features of the three men made a stark contrast with the clean white contemporary lines of the furniture.
‘Yes,’ Aaron said, finally.
A white cat would have been too much. But, surreally, the thought amused Aaron. A white cat would have been welcome; it would have brought with it an air of Hollywood ambivalence – the chance that this encounter was merely some staged joke over which he could conjure his own outcome, if he wished. Take it or leave it. But he could not leave it. This was no joke – just the menacing presentation of a single option for his continued presence on this earth.
The day was not going at all well, thought Aaron. He was, for the first time in his life, scared. He had no idea where all this overt menace was leading.
‘Mr Philips, you…’ began the man, speaking quietly and deliberately. ‘You have created a problem for me and for my clients.’
Aaron was all ears now, intent, listening.
‘We came to you,’ the man continued, ‘…because friends recommended you.’
Friends, Aaron thought. More people with a grudge against me now.
The use of the past tense struck Aaron hard. Unseen, his body reeled from the metaphoric blow. His career was shot, but that seemed the least of his problems.
‘…highly recommended,’ continued the man, who clearly had no interest in what Aaron might be feeling at this moment. ‘We wanted a legal, financial vehicle to move a great deal of our cash through London. You “were”…’
Again the past tense, again the sudden blow to Aaron’s psyche.
‘We are very disappointed. You have cost us a lot of money. It is time, Mr Phillips.’
‘Time?’ echoed Aaron.
‘Yes, time. Time for you to take action.’
‘Time? said Aaron, pathetically. He tried his best not to comprehend what was happening.
‘Time for you to clean up some loose ends.’
‘But…’ began Aaron.
‘No buts, Mr Philips. This is embarrassing for us all. We will, of course, provide you with some assistance. However…’
‘Yes?’ said Aaron.
‘Make no mistake, the situation will be resolved. And in our favour.
Had there been a white cat, then it would have been purring under the attention of its Master.
‘It will, of course, begin without you, Mr Philips.
Aaron felt a chill rake his spine. ‘What will begin?’ he asked. His question was ignored.
The man quickly brought his hands together with a clap, and held his left hand up and out, reaching behind. The aide to his left, with a speed that belied his bulk, deftly produced a mobile phone and placed it in the outstretched hand. The man dialled a number. He spoke again, while waiting for his call to connect. ‘Friends, Mr Philips. We will put you in touch. They will make sure that you do no get… shall we say, arrested? Yes, arrested! They will make sure that you are not arrested.’ The man smiled at his own choice of words. ‘At least until the work is done.’
‘What work? asked Aaron.
‘Come now, Mr Philips. Such naivety in one so cunning as yourself…’ he raised his other hand, signalling a halt in the conversation. He turned his attention to the phone. The other party had replied.
The man spoke briefly in a language that Aaron had not heard him use in past meetings. It was not Arabic. Aaron had heard enough Arabic in his lifetime to sense this was not Arabic. Aaron was puzzled. The man returned his gaze to Aaron, and continued in his perfect Oxford English, as if he had not been interrupted by the call.
‘Ah! Mr Phillips, you are perplexed, are you not? I see your disquiet… I am Berber, a Kabylian – Algerian, if you like. The language is the language of my people, of my friends and my clients.’
Aaron remained mute.
‘I see you did not know that. You have much to learn.’ The man shook his head, slightly. ‘Due diligence, Mr Philips, due diligence… Isn’t that what you accountants live for? Or did the promise of our money so tempt your greed?’
The man paused and smiled, apparently considering if Aaron deserved to know what he had really got involved with. Then, continuing… ‘I would find this situation charming if it was not so potentially disastrous to us. But now the work has begun.’ His smile, toward the nervously seated Aaron, broadened.
‘What work?’ Aaron found himself repeating the question. He was not about to be told more than he needed to know. What the hell have I got himself involved with, he thought.
‘The clean up, Mr Philips. Your clean up.’
The man passed the phone back to his aide and reached his right hand out and behind. This time, Scar, the aide on his right, passed the man a ticket wallet. Swinging his arm around, the man reached forward and held the wallet out to Aaron.
‘Your flight to Paris leaves in one hour, Mr Philips. My aides will escort you. Your case has been packed; it is in the car. And…’ again the man paused, ‘…do not fail us this time.
Aaron sat in stunned silence. The ticket wallet seemed to hover but a foot away from his face. He slowly reached up and took it. The aide on the man’s left moved round to the front of the sofa and stood next to Aaron, placing a hand gently on his arm.
' Il est temps, Monsieur Philips,’ said the aide, in a thick Arabic accent.
And I promise that I will mov on to something else next time!