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Merde And Mandarins

Merde And Mandarins

Book excerpt

Prologue

Jonathan Crumb, a distinguished Civil Servant, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence and a key Whitehall Mandarin, was on his second circuit of St James’s Park in London. He jogged every working day at lunchtime. Like clockwork, at one pm, he could be seen jogging around the park, come rain or shine. Since his heart attack, he had religiously maintained a rigorous fitness regime and lost his tubbiness and all evidence of a sedentary, comfortable lifestyle, achieved not just from his considerable salary and perks.

He jogged – ordinarily an anathema for this man, and indeed this type of man; outside with the Plebs? – and, after some time of practicing the art, for he treated it as if it were an art form, he jogged with a spring in his step and a sense of wellbeing you acquire through having dodged a bullet, and when he told people this, only he knew he did not just refer to his heart attack. He did continually place a hand over his heart, though, it was only natural, but the monitor would register any unusual, potentially troublesome warning signs.

He had an in-depth knowledge of classical music, encyclopaedic, some might say, but on his runs he listened to pop music, which was unusual for a Mandarin of this stature, but he liked it, having picked it up by listening to his children’s popular beat-combo stuff. So, imagine his confusion when his Duran Duran track switched unexpectedly to Shostakovich Piano Concerto Number Two, the second movement, a particularly elegiac, lyrical and emotional refrain. Crumb eased his pace and looked down at his chest where the iPod had bounced rhythmically with his jogging step and to that of the music, but was now still, providing no popular musical beat to run by.

He felt the thud, no pain, but immediately registered the crimson staining that grew like an ever-expanding red ink blob through his white vest. He clutched his chest and the remnants of the music machine as he dropped to the pavement with a shocked look on his face, and eventually others around him shared that look of horror. It was a cold, early December day, bright sun but frigid air, and people hurried around the park on personal missions, too cold to be strolling, eager to be where they were going, and dressed for the winter weather. However, though they may have wished to avert their eyes in the time-honoured English manner, they could not avoid noticing the jogger drop to his knees. It took a while before anyone reacted. People were not cognitive of such events in London, even though there had long been terrorist incidents. It was the British way; it didn’t exist. After a brief time of inanimate shock and awe, people screamed and dashed for cover, heading this way and that way. After all, what do you do? Hide? See to the victim? Think of yourself? And wasn’t this the way people had become? Bugger everyone else?

Crumb, hunched on the tarmac in a kneeling foetal pose, coincidentally took in the crisp scene of the Royal Park, the bandstand, birds and the winter bare trees, as though he were newly born and only just become aware of his surroundings. He sensed life’s essence draining from him. Nobody was running toward him, they were all escaping – all, that is, except for a skeletal form in a morning suit, a shadow of a man who knelt beside him. He took Crumb’s head in his hands and laid it gently back to the pavement, unfolded his Civil Service legs and whispered into the Mandarin’s ear, ‘Life is for living, and everyone should live and enjoy life; the pleasure of life is not just for the privileged few, and it is not for the privileged to manipulate life, or to dictate how others should live it. It is time to make amends.’

That was it, other than a parting word: ‘I have to go, you will be okay, a true near miss. Remember it.’ At least this is what Crumb thought he said, or meant, because it sounded remarkably like, “ner bet yeg bun coten nechtmiss, mush”, the frontier gibberish of the parting words, indelibly stained in his memory. It was a special skill of Crumb’s, to remember exactly what was said to him, and so he was able to repeat it, word for gibberish word, to the police.

* * *

 

Quentin Bryant, Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, a most senior Whitehall Mandarin, had serious palpitations after hearing the news of Crumb via a phone call from Archibald Pointe-Lace, known affectionately as Buttonhole to his Eton boyhood chums, and stalwart members of the St James’s Gentlemen's' Club, Bumblin’tons. It didn’t make sense… well it did, and they thought it could soon be significant, but chose to ignore that sense for the time being.

Pointe-Lace further reported that in the hospital, Crumb had been mumbling incoherently about the second movement of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto Number Two. Crumb wasn’t known to have leanings towards Moscow, was he? He was one of us, wasn’t he? However, as Permanent Secretary of Defence, these things needed to be run up the Civil Service flagpole, to be batted around, and not to do so, was not cricket.

So those Mandarins in the know thought seriously; at least nobody was thinking of them. Poor old Crumb, expressions of faux concern; however, was this coincidence? Maybe, but not likely? Does Buttonhole have this buttoned up? When was their next embroidery meeting, and could this wait?

* * *

 

Professor Roy Rogers, Head of the Faculty for Strategic Defence, Military and Cowboy studies at the University of Portsmouth, had watched the news conference and thought their friend may have overstepped the mark. But wasn’t that just like Jack, and wasn’t he just a little pleased he had? He considered calling his colleague in the Faculty of Political Sciences, but didn’t have to as Professor Will Manfred called him.

‘Feck me, Roy, did you see Jack on telly?’

As close drinking pals of Jack Austin, though they drew the line at sharing the bathwater with him, both espoused Cod-Irish as an ordinary manner of speaking.

Will Manfred was a political academic who had his students examine not only the concept of politics, constitutional law, contemporary societies and so on, but principally, he tried to instil in all his students an ability to think for themselves. He encouraged them to deconstruct doctrinaire politics and look deep into government, to the controlling seat of power in Britain, the Civil Service, and especially the Whitehall Mandarins. He was not there to churn out career-minded, political nonentities; he wished to create open and fertile minds, to educate, inspire, and to illuminate a pathway of free thought.

His students, when eventually they went out into the world, could argue and debate their true beliefs and comprehend others, and were not afraid to change their minds if a convincing argument won the day. They were free thinkers, not groomed to be party politicians, not educated in pertinacious tripe you can get from a book, and were especially coached not to be seduced by party political dogma. They left Professor Manfred as philosophers. His students had resolve in their heart and soul. Politics was not a job, but a way of life, and not their own life, but the lives of everyone else who would have to live with the consequences of their thoughts, and ultimately, their actions.

Beth Mayhew had been a student of Manfred before she was believed to have drowned in a jet ski accident on the Solent, just off Portsmouth. She had, though, survived, and had later been found embroiled in a fascist plot, not a philosophy shared by Will Manfred but, when she was in his seminars, he did enjoy debating with her. Beth was bright, a one in a thousand mind, and he had felt confident that her breadth of comprehension would balance as she matured. But it didn’t. She did not mellow.

‘I did see him, Will,’ Roy answered.

‘Well?’

‘Well, I imagine it starts now, but in truth, hadn’t it already started, and I see he mentioned My-loft,’ and they both tittered, thinking of their police detective friend, Mr Malacopperism, knowing who he meant, but not who My-loft was.

‘He means to track him down, you think?’

Will sighed, an audible breath down the phone, ‘Yes, that is exactly what I think, but what does that mean for us? I suppose Jack will brief us? I bloody hope so, because I feel a right lemon, and not a little exposed. You at C&A’s later?’

Roy replied he would meet Will and most likely Jack, too, in the Crown and Anchor, their local pub, later.

* * *

 

It is a painstaking process to unravel brainwashing, primarily because, for the technique to have succeeded so well in the first place, the victim needed to at least have sympathetic views, and Beth Mayhew did have serious right-wing views. However, she was responding to treatment by specialist psychiatrists, (Jack Austin called them Trick Cyclists), under the overall supervision of Dr Jim Samuels, a Harley Street Trick Cyclist and, unknown to most people, the head of a discreet MI5 division. Daily hands-on work was being done by Dr Jackie Philips, at the request of her good friend, DCI Jack (nicknamed Jane) Austin, police detective, retired. Did he retire? He may have just flounced out in a hissy fit after the press conference; after all, he considered himself a prima donna copper, and thus, Mr Malacopperism was a consommé flouncer. And, if he had retired from the police, had he retired from MI5, as he had already done previously, and also not really; clear?

Beth was a wealth of knowledge, making her useful to some and a danger to others, something Jack Austin was aware of.

* * *

 

Keith Bananas liked to think he was an East End of London gangster, but was actually a lanky, gangly, twenty-three-year-old thug from Hither Green, in South London, who had the look, with goofy teeth contained by thin, parallel, crusty lips, of a Hillbilly retard. His eyes swivelled like a ventriloquist’s dummy and looked in different directions, contributing to his shifty appearance, though an asset when looking out for the police.

“It’s Keef and I’m not from 'Ivver Green,” he would say in a spiky London accent, estuarine, not cockney, and if you called him Keith, you would get a bunch of fives in the face, and we’re not talking actual bananas, though that really was his name. Having said that, he did have a “A lardy-da, Uncle Josh, posh aunt, what lived in Sowfsea, a poncy bit of Portsmuff on the sowf bleedin’ coast of England, innit.”

The aunt was Lady Francesca Blanche-Teapot and, unknown to many, she was originally a Bananas, and had been a wheel tapper at Hither Green shunting yards, before she married Sir Reginald Teapot and was elevated to the aristocracy and a life of leisure; this latter assertion she refuted unequivocally, arguing she was a very busy-body, and, there was no disputing it, and what would be the point, as one did not dispute points with the Duchess, as she was known locally. The Duchess knew what was what, don’t you know. She did, however, have a soft spot for her nephew and the whole Bananas family, from whom she hailed, not that you would ever know or be informed of this fact. The soft spot was more of a blind spot, which was very much the way she viewed life, and people for that matter, especially if they, or life, happened to disagree with her point of view on matters.

Keith Bananas visited his aunt on a regular basis, had done so ever since he was a juvenile delinquent. We know this because Detective Chief Inspector Jack (Jane) Austin, retired (we need to check on this), observed it thus. Well, his wife, Detective Superintendent Amanda (Mandy) Austin did, and happened to mention this to her husband who later claimed, “It was him what noticed it, so shut yer trap.” But what they both knew was that the said Mr Bananas was on the “To watch list”, and not just the Metropolitan Police (London) but also MI5, and since Mr and Mrs Austin were indifferently attached to MI5, in an inept monkey spy way, it was duly noted.

* * *

 

Mandy was worried about her husband; was he in meltdown? Jack Austin suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and often behaved in an irrational manner, but always with a semblance of lucid thought. She had thought interesting him in gardening would help, but it had backfired, in a way that could only happen around Jack Austin, getting the neighbourhood up-in-arms about his landscape designs, and now, apart from all of his other distinct mannerisms, he was behaving as if he was Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise. It was amusing at first, especially as his empty eye socket had wrinkled, sunken skin with the look of an inverted Klingon cornish pasty. And this was her chaotic but lovable husband, Jane, and was he retired, or was his performance in the press briefing simply consommé flouncing, after which he had disappeared, though she had a shrewd idea where to look.

 

Chapter One

‘May I join you?’ He looked up, nodded, and she sat. ‘How long have you been sniffing the Dogs Bollix?’

His one eye swivelled accordingly, he thought his wife beautiful. He shrugged, he was good at shrugging. ‘Kirk out,’ he said.

 She’d seen this before, though not the shrugging, although she had seen that before as well. Sometimes he would pour himself a Jameson’s and swirl it, sniff it, put it to his lips, but not sip, and here he was sniffing, not sipping, the Dogs Bollix, an ale second only to his favourite London Pride, and doing it very much as he would with his Irish whiskey.

She looked across the C&A’s narrow, intimate bar and saw, as she expected, perched precariously on a stool too big for him, the dishevelled short-arse, Bernie ‘LeBolt’ Thompson, Portsmouth Evening News crime reporter, who was here following the chaotic conclusion to the press conference, looking to get some news crumbs off Jack’s broken emotional table. Bernie looked at Jack then swung his gaze to Mandy, who gave him her best Leave my man alone stare in return.

The skinny runt of a reporter averted his eyes to the table in front of Jack and his untouched, and only sniffed, Dogs Bollix, and shrugged himself; as far as shrugging went, it was pretty amateur. She also expected to see Roy and Will, the people Jack was probably waiting for. She decided would wait with him. She didn’t expect to see Della, though, in an extraordinary way she hoped she would, but it had been a tough day or two, and Jonas had picked up a couple of wounds from the shoot-out in the cemetery, and must be wondering what he had gotten himself into with his cockney sparrow.

Bruce, the burly oaf landlord of C&A’s, a gentle soul, brought Mandy a drop of cry and tonic and waved away the charge, asking,‘You okay?’ A gruff voice which suited his ox-like, beery frame. ‘Saw the news conference, been hearing all that happened, and Sponge Bob’s been in, moanin’ on and on about Jack, how he’d not owed him one, or something like that. His lifeboat is all shot-up and he's at a loss as to how he was going to explain that to the RNLI.’ (Royal National Lifeboat Institute).

Sponge Bob was the local lifeboat skipper, and Jack had recruited him and his lifeboat, calling in a non-existent favour, to assist in the rounding-up of a brutal horde of Fascist thugs someone had coordinated sufficiently well for them to act as a small militia, attempting to take over the secret military command bunker, known as the Glory Hole, in Portsmouth. This plan had been thwarted by Jack Austin and Della Lovington. Della was a Detective Inspector, down from the Met in London, but also MI5, and coincidentally, she thought she had resigned but hadn’t. Della did, however, think Jack should retire, and had told him so several times, much to the chagrin of the more experienced and uglier of the two cockneys.

Mandy was exhausted and looked it. It had been a hell of a few weeks for her, too, coordinating the police operation, being in the thick of it, being shot at, and eventually rescuing Jack from a fireball sea, off Sponge Bob’s lifeboat, that Jack called Thunderbird 4. She was grateful for some small mercies in that they had moved from Thunderbirds, where everybody wanted to be Virgil, onto Star Trek; no argument, Jack was Kirk. Mandy knew she was someone, but couldn’t be bothered to find out who, likely O’Hurra she thought, subconsciously playing around with her ear.

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