Another piece of fiction from me, again featuring my spy character B.
# # # The B. Files Report 2575.9 # # #
Classified : A Deal In Africa
The jeep bounced along the dirt road sending B. up from his seat and back down again with a crash. His stomach was not happy about this. Over in the drivers seat, Roddy Duncan, AKA ‘Our man in Africa’, guffawed happily as public school boys were want to do at the sight of suffering. B. had met hundreds like him in his time, taking more orders from them than Roddy had had G+T’s for breakfast. But now B. was on level pegging with his type and he was very happy with that.
Still, B. thought, the country probably needed more men like Roddy Duncan. Men who would charge into the valley of death armed only with a tooth pick, and B. was glad Roddy Duncan was a man of that ilk. As long as he was around, B. wasn’t required to do the charge. He’d have a lie in that day.
"Not long now dear boy" Roddy bellowed over the jeep’s engine and the howl of the dusty winds as it zipped past them.
"Good" B. managed to reply; in-between gulps to keep the BOAC in flight meal down.
He had been in Africa for an hour now, the old man had told him this was a one-day job and B. was most definitely thankful for that, because he felt out of his depth the minute his pale North Country skin was hit by the heat and dust.
It was a simple job. B. was representing the department in a business matter between themselves and a group that the department favoured to have control of the township. This group was very nice as the old man and Roddy kept telling him, very loyal. It was imperative that a group that was very nice and very loyal got into power rather than a group who were KGB financed.
But, as B. pondered on the flight over, just how nice and loyal can revolutionaries actually be? And if we needed to keep this place ‘on side’ then why the hell did we give them independence in the first place?
B. was a field agent who knew every aspect of The Cold War but this continent was too hot, both in terms of climate and politically. He was a Berlin boy at heart. He had served there for national service impressing all with his flair for languages before his extra curricular activities brought him to the attention of the military police and then the unlikely saviour that was the old man himself. These questions were too hard, and like Africa, another person’s problem. But as a favour to the old man, he was diversifying. After all it was a quick in and out deal.
Finally the jeep stopped outside a small township of crumbling brickwork and dead dogs. Flies buzzed around as the heat haze bounced off the ground and B. felt immediately homesick for the rainy streets and the lovely mac wearing Boots counter girls dashing along between the puddles that were visible from B.’s third floor office. He snapped to as Roddy jumped eagerly out and whipped off his sunglasses to take in the vista. B. stepped awkwardly from the jeep and felt sick once more. The sweat was dripping into his eyes, making him feel like he was in a sauna. His blue striped shirt was slick with sweat and he could feel a trickle run down to the small of his back. Roddy slapped him on said back and motioned B. to walk with him. If horses and B. sweat, and men perspire, then it was the female of the species and an old African hand like Roddy Duncan who glowed.
"We’ll have no bother here old boy, just straight in and out, Manu Bobi, he’s our man, will be very agreeable to our terms I’m sure, wave a doctorate at him and he’s ours that’s all these jungle bunnies want really, to be a bit like us”
B. eyed Roddy with some disgust. Hurriedly Roddy added “And I’m sure he’ll be most pleased to see a representative from London". He flashed a smile akin to a boat race winner and B. realized he probably put his disgusted look down to the sickness.
“Yes a rep from dear old blighty is just what Bobi needs to seal this deal, he’ll be cook-a-hoop with you” Roddy continued.
"I should have worn my union jack underpants then" B. said drolly.
"No those fashionable togs will be fine" Roddy replied running a hand across B.’s rolled up shirtsleeve “All the rage in the, ah, boutiques back home are they?” Roddy asked with the manner of a man who really had lived out here too long but wanted to sound like he still kept abreast with the old country.
"You must be joking!" said B. "On my pay grade? This is Marks and Sparks mate"
"Well it’s most agreeable um, mate, really swinging, and the hair too"
B. ignored Roddy’s jovial attempt at the lingo from home, he also flinched a little at his dull attempt at replicating B.’s own Salford tones with the word ‘mate’. Like fingernails down a blackboard it grated. B. ironically tugged his forelock before answering, "The old man thinks the hair is in need of a cut too"
"Damn right" said the short back and sided Roddy Duncan not entirely humorously.
B. smiled inwardly; the day this man gets home leave will be a revelation if he thinks he is a longhaired beatnik. His hair hardly reached past his collar, but he supposed to a man like Roddy that was positively bohemian. Poor Roddy hearing of the changes back home from days old newspapers and Sunday supplements. How he must flinch at hearing the provincials were now making movies and records and a cockney barrow boy had taken the photos of the girls adorning the glossies who presumably looked more like his old fag at Harrow than an actual woman in the sense that Roddy knew. B. chuckled inwardly, Roddy was a man lost. Why did he chuckle? It appealed to his working class angst he supposed.
An hour later and B. was grateful for the water Bobi offered. Not only was the heat getting to him, but the heated atmosphere in the room was beginning to get to him too. They had been bartering backwards and forwards with no clear sign of either side agreeing to the deal. Bobi was younger than B. expected and he said so, but Bobi’s reply in halting English and drum beat accent was as priceless as the locally mined diamonds; "Please, do not judge the number of birthdays I have had, judge the life and experience I have had between them" and B. could see in his big white eyes a wisdom that only a man growing up in harsh realities could ever attain.
Now those eyes flashed more wisdom as he spoke with arms outstretched; "Gentlemen, we have been here now for some time and have yet to reach an amicable agreement. I fear that we may never do so. Maybe my people and I should just accept the guns from our American friends and continue our struggle with their help alone?"
Roddy shot B. a look that said one thing; do something. B. sighed and reached into his breast pocket for his cigarettes. Finally he pulled several out and offered them round to the Africans. "Gitanes, they’re a French brand" he said by way of explanation. The assembled men smoked them and remarked on their quality whilst jovially discussing the French mercenaries who were ‘pissing in the river upstream’ B. wasn’t sure if they were speaking literally or figuratively, but settled for both just in case.
B. suddenly broke the silence brought on by the brotherly smoke; "Sixty percent of the funds now, forty percent after you can prove to my superior and I in London that you have control of the area" he said and gave Manu Bobi the dead eye that he used to reserve for poker in the barracks back in his army days. He just hoped the old man would condone his offer. Out of the corner of his poker face he could see Roddy wasn’t so sure.
Bobi narrowed his eyes and raised his head a little looking B. up and down. Finally he spoke; "And a degree, to be a leader I must have an education."
"Certainly," said Roddy, pleased with himself that his guess had come up trumps.
"From your Oxbridge University," Bobi concluded
"Naturally, where else?" B. butted in before Roddy would point out the error.
Bobi’s dark features broke into a gleaming smile and he slapped his palm outstretched across the table "Deal!" he boomed as B. took his hand "Let us take what is rightfully ours and beat these red communist funded bastards! I look forward to it!" he said laughing heartily. “I like you sir” Bobi said to B. “You are thin like a malnourished dog but are just as quick in thinking as the dog would be in running eh?” More laughs broke out in the room and B. smiled to share in the joke before he breathed deeply with relief. Right now the only thing he looked forward to was his flight into London airport and the grey wet weather that awaited him. He hoped the Boots girls would be just finishing their shift.
* * *
It was a similar grey wet day that B. stormed into the old man’s office some two months later without an appointment and waving that morning’s newspaper at the old man.
"Sit down" said the old man calmly after B. had yelled out a ‘would you care to explain this sir?’
The old man made a show of slowly finishing what he was writing before replying to B.’s thunderous query. Finally he raised his head up, placed down his fountain pen, and looked at the fuming younger man.
"I take it you are referring to the Manu Bobi business in Africa?"
"I bloody well am," B. said, "Like, why sir, have we got white mercenaries putting him to death on the front page of the bloody newspaper?"
The old man sighed and slowly began to pluck at the fingers of the white glove he wore on his right hand when he wrote or smoked his Senior Service. Finally taking it off, he put it neatly down alongside the fountain pen and began the familiar habit of rubbing his newly naked thumb into the crease of his cheek.
It was a habit B. knew well; it usually meant he was tired of B.’s behavior and put him in mind of a teacher having to explain something to a small and particularly backward child.
"It came to our attention that Bobi’s men were not sharing our concerns one hundred percent. In short, they were riddled with communist sympathisers. It was only a matter of time before they overthrew Bobi and took control, leaving that region back in the same bloody mess it was that I sent you to solve two months back, so we unofficially sent a unit in run by one Col Faulkner-"
"To kill the innocent Bobi, who you paid to run the region." B. concluded with venom, his Salford accent growing thicker, partly in disgust and partly because he knew it would annoy the old man’s upper class standing. "An innocent man sir put to death by British mercenaries on your orders." he added.
"Time was short, we couldn’t provide full identity and therefore immunity of Bobi and his faithful to Faulkner and his men" the old man explained.
"So they didn’t even know who they were executing…marvelous sir, bloody marvellous" B. said incredulously.
"It’s Africa, man; you can never change it…”
“Then why the hell did we just try?!” B. shouted in interruption.
The old man hardly flinched; instead he just carried on as if B.’s outburst was as little a disturbance as a fly brushing past his nose. It impressed B. against his better judgement, he could easily stand up and applaud such calmness in adversity, but today wasn’t one of those days.
“This deal went awry for us,” The old man continued barely missing a beat, “we could not be sure that Bobi would survive a coup against him, not after fighting such a successful coup two months previously. It was expedient to scratch it all and start again."
B. was about to say something when the old man stopped him short; "These things were heavily discussed," he said and pointed a finger to the ceiling. The floor above was the domain of ‘C’ the head of MI6 and power plays were a daily game to him as much as crosswords were to Felicity, the old man’s administrator. "It was not entered into lightly by me or any of my colleagues and was authorised to go ahead. You are not in the position to question the orders of above" the old man completed with the barely suppressed but clearly implicit force of a superior who had generations of ruling over men like B.
B. bit his lip and forced down the bitterness and anger he felt inside him. "So what happens now?" he finally said quietly.
The old man coughed slightly, relieved that B. finally seemed to have seen sense. He began; "Duncan find another underdog to take Bobi’s place, we feed the press that this was the right decision, that Bobi was a tyrant and had to go and thanks to Faulkner and the noble village folk who are loyal to democracy, go he did"
"The end" B. said sing song sarcastically
"No!” the old man spat angrily "It is not the end, it’s never the end. The game continues as it always bloody well will and just you remember that my boy”
They faced each other across the desk barely suppressing their anger. The old man continued knowing full well he could put B. in his place; “I found you and realizing your talents, realizing you had brains, I plucked you from the rank and file and gave you a deal to work with us and if I hadn’t then where would you be now? Out on your bally ear that’s where, back in the slums”
“Now just a minute!” B. interjected.
The old man waved a hand silencing him instantly; “Ok, may be you wouldn’t be working down some pit colliery somewhere, maybe with your education you’d end up teaching” he pronounced teaching with great disdain before continuing, “If you were lucky. It could also be possible that a little shit such as yourself with your instincts for criminality would be running squalid little errands for gangsters in Soho”
“Oh so that’s it is it?” B. said pacing across the room “I might have known you’d throw that in my face”
“And why not? If it weren’t for me, you’d have ended up court martialled for that trick you pulled in Berlin. Fraternising with the enemy, selling them our medical supplies”
“They were gravely ill. You know as well as I do how shoddy treatment is in the east, I was helping, and it was never proved I took a penny that was pinned on me from the start, ok so some of the others may have done, but I just nicked the stuff and passed it along the chain, I wasn’t in it for the money, but no one believes that, because of course a good man in Berlin is a rare and precious thing! I wanted to make a difference” B. argued.
“Just you remember that you wanted to make a difference and I gave you the chance to do that here in the department” he said with a flourish.
“You had me over a barrel after University. You think I’d be out with gangsters now if it weren’t for you? Oh yes, and tell me Col xxxxxxxx what makes you think that just because you work for Her Majesty that makes you any different from those kind of murderous bastarss? Don’t kid yourself cock. You’re the state executioner sure, but you’re an old Etonian Al Capone and you bloody well know it”
The old man rubbed his thick thumb into the crease deeply, creating a red weal “And you are my runner and you do my squalid errands” He said with finality.
Slowly B. got to his feet and fastened his raincoat “Yes I am aren’t I? …. And God help me” he said thick with bitterness and made to leave.
"And where are you going?" The old man called after him.
"Berlin," B. called back "Finland…Latvia…Salford…The Boots make up counter….somewhere I can bloody understand!" and with that he was gone, leaving the door wide open. For The old man, it was a sure sign that he’d come back, when he cooled down, after all, where else could B. really go?
# # # Report Ends # # #
(C) Mark Cunliffe