Episode 1: Jersey Boys
Baz poked desultorily at a baked bean with his silver fork. It skewed away from the prong and bounced off the black pudding onto the priceless eighteenth century Tavis Knoyle rug. Baz sighed. Without looking up, he signalled to his butler to come and look. “I didn’t ask for black pudding Vickery and yet you appear to have given me three.”
Vickery looked offended. “Those are your Cumberland sausages sir.”
Baz gave his retainer a dismal look. “And these eggs man. They would be fine if the second-best Bentley needed new seals. And I suppose we wouldn’t have to trouble to grease them.”
Vickery looked hurt and Baz suddenly felt guilty. The man had been watching nightly episodes of Masterchef all that month. Baz had found a half-completed application form for new contestants tucked under Vickery’s pillow.
It really was time that they secured the services of a new cook. There had been a decent enough response from the ad in The Lady, but few had passed their security checks and of those that did, none was able to both handle a Glock under pressure and produce a decent Welsh rarebit.
Baz’s graphene Son of Samsung phone sprang into life by playing the James Bond theme. Baz flicked his thumb across the screen. “Smirkey. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Sorry to disturb your morning repast Baz.”
Baz looked at the greasy Jackson Pollock painting that was supposed to be his breakfast. “That’s alright. I was about to make myself a piece of toast. What’s up?”
“We’ve hit a problem Baz. Quite a big one as it happens. I need you here now. I’m sending a chopper over from Brize. See you in a couple of hours.”
“Smirkey, where are you…?”
“Sorry Baz. Got to go. The pilot knows where to go.”
* * *
Smirkey recoiled as he entered the low-lit building as a heady cocktail of stale lager, body odour and cheap after-shave assaulted his olfactory sensibilities. He shook his head as he watched St Hellier’s boys in blue blundering around the crime scene. He turned to Baz. “We need to get this place sealed off immediately.”
Baz summoned a dishevelled looking plain-clothes man. “Inspector, I’ll need you to clear this place right away.”
The sandy-haired policeman looked up at them resentfully. “And who might you be?”
Smirkey flashed his identity card. “I have my own team outside. If I need you inspector, I will call you.”
There was a sourness to the policeman’s tone. “Bloody Circus act eh?” Resentfully, he called across the room. “Alright boys, we’re done here!”
Baz nodded in a friendly way as the policemen sauntered out. One of them acknowledged him with a raised forefinger. Baz sighed, “You know Smirkey, I feel a bit sorry for them. This is the biggest thing that’s happened here since Charlie Hungerford tried to fiddle his electricity meter.”
A glimmer from the doorway turned into a flood of light and six silhouetted figures slinked into the building, each of them carrying a large kit bag, which they emptied onto the floor. Without speaking they changed into their white haz-mat suits.
Smirkey removed his spectacles and polished one lens with the end of his tie. “Ladies and gentlemen, I think you know what we are looking for. It will be here I am sure. We just need to be diligent.”
As the search continued Baz and Smirkey sat at a small desk in the manager’s office. Smirkey logged himself onto the CCTV system and watched as fuzzy images flashed across the screen like scenes from a flicker-book. Fake-tanned girls in mini-skirts swirled between tattooed blokes in tight shirts, drinking and dancing and falling into each others’ arms and engaging in what is known among public swimming pool habitués as ‘heavy petting’. Baz raised an eyebrow. “I assumed Jersey Shore was set in New Jersey.”
There was a knock. Smirkey looked around expectantly. A face appeared around the door. “Begging you pardon sir. I think we’ve found it.”
Baz and Smirkey hurried back out into the nightclub. The inversigators were gathered around a piece of grubby white cloth on the floor behind the bar. The operative who had interrupted them stood was standing to one side. Smirkey looked grave. “So, what have we found Edwards?”
“It’s a barmaid’s apron, sir. We’ve run some initial tests and it appears to have been impregnated with a powerful hallucinogenic. One sniff of this and our man would have been off his head for hours.”
Baz and Smirkey were hunched over the screen. They’d been replaying the footage taken of the bar staff. A number of barmaids were pulling pints and flirting with customers.
Smirkey suddenly leant closer to the screen and pointed. “There! Do you see Baz?”
Baz squinted, “Not bad looking – if you like them on the stout side.”
“Take away the blonde wig and replace the black halter-neck top with a pink house-coat.”
Baz took a closer look. It took a moment for the penny to drop. “Good Lord!”
Smirkey exhaled softly. “Exactly. We thought Mrs Kalamafoni was back in charge of black ops at Moscow Central, but here she is in a Jersey nightclub. Bold as brass.”
Smirkey downloaded the footage onto an SD card and slipped it into his pocket. “I’ll get Edwards to wipe the hard drive, while we go and have a talk with our victim.”
* * *
At St Helier polices station the inspector was still being uncooperative. “He’s a bloody monster that one! Tried to throttle one of my WPCs. It took both members of the Jersey Tactical Support group to subdue him. If I’d have known, I’d have borrowed a couple tasers from Alderney nick. You ought to see their kit. – they’ve even got their own water cannon. Got it off Ebay last year from the London Mayor’s office.”
Smirkey nodded. “I’m sure your colleague will be able to give her account in court in due course inspector. Meanwhile, we would like to visit the accused.”
After working their way to the back of the police station, Baz and Smirkey passed through a heavy, studied oak door and descended a set of narrow spiral stone stairs . Water dripped from the walls into large murky puddles on the floor.
The inspector led them along a narrow stone passageway towards an iron gate. A sputtering candle on a wall-sconce gave the cell a dim yellow glow. Lying on a filthy straw-filled pallet on the floor was the prisoner. A long chain tethered him to a large iron ring that had been hammered into the wall. An old zinc bucket in the corner spewed its stench into the passageway. The inspector took a large key from his belt, unlocked the gate and swung it open with a loud clang.
Smirkey gave a gracious smile. “Thank you inspector. That will be all.”
The inspector raised an eyebrow. “You watch him. He may look like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but underneath that, he’s a demented psychopath. At least, that’s what I told that bloke form The Sun.”
The prisoner didn’t turn his face from the wall. Smirkey gave a polite cough. “Good evening. We’re friends – here to look after your interests.”
The prisoner groaned and turned his head towards them. “I’ve already got a lawyer.”
Smirkey looked surprised. “Really?”
The prisoner reached into his pocket and pulled out a tattered business card. “Yeah, he’s on his way from New York apparently.”
Smirkey took the card and looked at it. “Rudolph Guiliani – Attorney at Law.”
“Who gave you this?”
The prisoner waved his arm. “I don’t know. Some guy. Said he was from the RFU. Said that this Guiliani was the best lawyer money could buy.”
Smirkey shook his head, tore up the card and scattered the pieces on the floor. “Don’t worry young man. We are going to get you out of here.”
Outside the police-station Smirkey was on the phone. “That’s very good of you Sir Alan…. I will ensure that you are given an adjournment of your current case. Lord Justice Blakeway understands that this case is of national importance…. Yes indeed. Thank you…. You know where to send your account.”
* * *
Smirkey and Baz watched as the freed prisoner hurried past the throng of photographers and reporters who had been camped outside the coutshouse for hours. Harry Ratface, The Sun’s senior investigative reporter, was there calling over the throng. “Is it true you was spotted lurking outside Marilyn Monroe’s apartment the night she died?”
The prisoner darted away towards a waiting taxi. Ratface called after him, “So I’ll put that down as ‘no comment’ then shall I?”
Baz turned to Smirkey. “I don’t get it. Sir Alan was superb in court, but why would the RFU be trying to have our friend represented by Guiliani?”
Smirkey removed his spectacles and polished the lenses with the end of his tie. “I should have thought that was obvious. If Guiliani was representing him, he would be looking at ten years at least – most of that in solitary.”
Baz frowned. “I get that, but why would the RFU want to see him put away?”
Smirkey replaced his spectacles. “I’m afraid the RFU has been completely infiltrated by Moscow Central. You see Bazit is in the Russians’s interests to see us entirely humiliated in Japan next year. If there is a no-deal and there are food riots post-Brexit or people dying in the streets for want of medicines, a group-stage exit from the World Cup might be all it takes to push the country into full-scale revolution. This is why they are pressing their buttons at the RFU to get them to put out a truly second rate team. Knobbling the best fly-half in the country is key to that.”
Baz whistled silently. “Well they’ve been thwarted this time.”
Smirkey looked at him sceptically, “It’s not over until the referee has blown his whistle Baz. You of all people should know that.”
* * *
Baz handed Smirkey a large glass of McCrae’s 25 year old Speyside whisky as the old spymaster looked out over the tall French windows of Baz’s study over the south lawn. “To another victory my friend.”
Smirkey nursed the glass between his fingers momentarily before taking a long draught. “Not quite I’m afraid. You might want to check Shedweb.”
Baz walked over to his laptop and clicked on the browser and saw at the top of the screen a thread that was already 20 pages long . (This was always a sign that something momentous was happening at the club – an international signing, a takeover by a foreign billionaire or a pen missing in a season ticket pack.) “RFU & DC.”
“Bastards! The RFU have only gone and called their own disciplinary meeting. Probably going to ban him until after the World Cup. So all that effort in Jersey was for nothing Smirkey?”
Smirkey wandered over to the desk and placed a hand on Baz’s shoulder. He felt in his pocket and pulled out an SD card. “Stick this in your lap-top will you?”
Baz obeyed. “What is it? We know who it was who administered the toxin. She is probably a couple of thousand miles away by now – selling Golden Gamble tickets at the Enisei game.”
“It’s not only the Russians who can deploy kompromat, Baz. Click on that file there.”
On the screen appeared an image that might have been a scene from a German porn movie from the 1970s. Only the quality, full HD, suggested it was of more recent vintage.
Smirkey continued. “The RFU hold their annual dinner at the Golden Showers Chinese restaurant in Pimlico. Afterwards they retire upstairs to the VIP room for a little after-dinner entertainment. We had Q set up a little surveillance operation for us. This is the result. Click on ‘play’ why don’t you.”
Baz watched as a dozen naked women entered the room. In moments RFU ties and blazers were removed and soon the scene was one of a seething mass of intertwined bodies.
Smirkey looked on, a deep sadness in his eyes. “Turn the sound up a little, would you?”
Amid the sound of animal noises, there was actually an animal noise. “Is that a goat I can hear?”
Smirkey nodded. “Yes, a good number of the committee members are also freemasons.”
Baz heard could hear one conversation clearly. “No one from Gloucester is ever going to play for the national side while I am on this committee!” brayed one voice.
Baz was impressed. “Where on earth did you conceal the microphones. I can hear every word.”
“You see those pink plastic things that those young ladies are inserting…”
“Butt-plugs?” offered Baz.
“I believe that is how they are known. Each of those has a very powerful radio mic hidden in it.”
“So the RFU Committee are literally talking out of their….”
Smirkey allowed himself a rare smile. “Exactly, Baz.” Smirkey handed him a scrap of paper. “Now here is the log-in to the chairman’s Dropbox account. Let’s leave that here with a little note asking them to go easy on our man at the disciplinary panel, shall we?”
Baz typed in the password and pressed ‘upload.’ A little box appeared on the screen saying “Complete”. In the background somewhere a goat gave a long plaintive bleat.
Episode 2: Baz’s Millions
It was late November and the rolling fields and paddocks of North Cotswoldshire were cast in dismal shadows of grey and brown. A cold persistent drizzle was transformed by a strong north-easterly blast into a relentless driving spray that penetrated the seams OG’s high-vis jacket, the one he had scavenged from the abandoned building site by the swimming pool. The Burns brothers had not been seen at Fumblings since Freddie had accidentally collided with a pirouetting Maxime Médard (Camilla’s French cousin on her mother’s side) who had been visiting from Toulouse for the duration of the Matson Contemporary Dance and Cider Festival. Freddie had been carrying a large sledge-hammer which had spun out of his hand and directly into the swimming pool, which over the next few hours had emptied into the nearby meandering Thorley Brook, leading to numerous complaints at Soho House the following evening by that the “locally-sourced” river trout bore a distinct flavour of chlorine.
It was Vickery who had found Freddie and Billy at the bottom of the empty pool with a pallet of Polyfilla and a five litre tin of blue bathroom emulsion in a vain and typically inept attempt to cover their mishap. Since their firm had been placed into liquidation, there had only been a few fleeting reports of the whereabouts of the two gaffe-prone brothers. Freddie had been spotted juggling for pennies on Pulteney Bridge and Billy was said to be teaching tantric yoga to Arlene Foster and her DUP colleagues at their Buddhist retreat in a quiet suburb of East Antrim.
As OG climbed over the final style that led down into the old water meadow, he and Hamilton arrived at the small oak bench that had been placed there in recognition of the many good deeds that Baz had performed for the North Cotswold Distressed Gentlewomen’s Society. It was one of Baz’s favourite spots. Hamilton bounded over to the bench and started sniffing. As he caught his master’s scent the dog started barking loudly and then gave out a long mournful howl. “So you miss him too, do you old boy?” Hamilton looked up at OG with his big baleful brown eyes, seeming to understand exactly what OG was saying to him. Without looking away, the dog cocked his back leg against the bench and let loose a torrent of vivid green “Eau de Deerhound”.
It was a week later and Vickery was polishing the huge brass boss on the door to the main entrance to the house. It had been commissioned from the country’s leading designer of ironmongery, Julia Maxwell-Keys. Baz’s door had been widely admired by visitors who often commented that Mrs Maxwell Keys had succeeded in producing the biggest knob ever seen in the county. As Vickery buffed away he caught out of the corner of his eye a sleek black van with blacked-out windows tearing at high speed down the driveway towards the house. The van skewed to a halt, spreading gravel up the front steps. Next thing, the vehicle’s rear doors flew open violently and a large object shapeless was dumped ceremoniously onto the ground. The doors slammed shut again, the van did an elaborate u-turn and screamed off down the drive whence it came. The object on the ground appeared to be moving.
Vickery started cautiously down the steps to investigate, but was brushed aside by Camilla who came bounding the steps, calling at the top of her voice “Baz, can it be you? Oh my god Vickery, quick get some brandy from the study”
Camilla rushed over to the stricken figure and clasped his head to her bosom – a bosom that was amply revealed by her plunging silk shirt, an exclusive line from Polledri of Milan. Baz appeared to grimace (but it could equally have been a smile). “My God Baz we’ve been worried sick. Are you hurt?”
At that point Hamilton came bounding along the drive with OG in hot pursuit. Baz turned to the dog and croaked “Miss me boy?”. Hamilton raced past the stricken Baz was being not deviating from his pursuit of a terrified rabbit that was desperately trying to making its escape into the safety of its burrow in undergrowth beyond the south lawn.
OG pulled up behind Camilla. “Bloody hell. Baz, is it you? Where the hell have you been?”
Baz looked up. “Umm I’ve been polishing up the old thesis.”
OG looked sceptical. “What thesis? You never mentioned anything.”
“Um yes, didn’t I tell you? I’ve been doing a PhD at the err…. University of West Bromwich Albion.”
OG shook his head. “No you never said. I had no idea. What in?”
“Umm… International Relations.”
OG scratched his chin sceptically. “And what is the title of this thesis?”
“The Air Defence Systems of the United Arab Emirates (with a Particular reference to its Capacity to Detect Hostile Aircraft Equipped with Stealth Technology). Anyway, the thing is I’m back now. Much been happening while I’ve been gone?”
At that moment Baz’s Son of Samsung graphene phone that had been lying next to him on the gravel sprung into life. Baz looked at the number on the display. “Look I’d better take this.” Baz flicked his finger across the phone. “Theresa, hello. How are you?” Baz turned his head away from Camilla and OG. “No calm down. Stop. Stop. Take a deep breath. You’re not making sense.” Baz’s face darkened. “You agreed to what? Good lord!” Baz turned back to Camilla and OG and raised his eyebrows. “ No, no, I mean what’s 39 billion between former friends. What else? No, no, stop there. You’d better email me a copy. Christ Almighty Theresa, I go away for three months…No no. Look you’d better text me Michel’s number, Claude’s too. Oh and Theresa, stick to running through cornfields in future.”
Baz was sitting in his study, nursing a large tumbler of McCrae’s 25 year old
Speyside malt leafing through the 530 page document, occasionally ripping out whole pages and throwing them into the roaring fire that Vickery had set in the hearth. There was a knock at the door and Vickery entered, “Begging your pardon sir, Mr Jones is here to see you. He says he has an appointment.”
Baz sighed. “You’d better send him in. Baz stuffed the document under a cushion and turned to the door. His guest bustled in.
“G’day Baz. My God you look you’ve been stuffed up the backside with a sharpened boomerang – sideways.” Baz pursed his lips disapprovingly. “Aw come on mate. What’s the matter, can’t take a little joke. The world’s lost its bloody sense of humour. No one’s allowed to laugh anymore.”
Without waiting to be invited, Jones slumped into the most comfortable chair by the fire. “I’m not gonna beat about the bush Baz. We’re skint. Skinter than a bloody sailor with a hole in his pocket and a bumper box of johnnies in a Bali brothel.”
“And you are telling me this why?”
“Aw c’mon Baz, everyone knows you ain’t short of a brass farthing or two.
“And where has all your TV money gone?” asked Baz.
“Well you see Baz, a few of the blazers and me were at the Golden Showers Chinese restaurant last season and we were upstairs for a bit of afters… anyway some bloody idiot took a video and it’s ended up in the hands of some unscrupulous bastards, who’ve been threatening to send the bloody thing to the Daily Mail. Anyway, we’ve had to dig deep as a result and now we’re 31 million quid in the hole.”
Baz replied with a distinct chill in his voice “And I suppose you want me to bail you out?”
“Yeah, and if you could bung in a couple of extra to cover a few incidentals, that’d be very helpful.”
Baz crossed to the fire. “Before I answer your question, perhaps you could remind me – exactly how many Gloucester players are in the current England squad?”
Jones squirmed. “Er… none.”
“Well, I am not an unreasonable man. I will agree to sponsor England.” Jones couldn’t help flashing a satisfied grin. “Here are my terms. I will give you £5 million for each Gloucester player that is selected for the World Cup squad. How does that sound to you?”
Jones went red, not knowing whether to curse Baz or to hug him. He got up from his chair. “I can’t promise anything Baz.”
Baz gave an insincere smile. “Of course you can’t. I quite understand. If that is all, Vickery will show you out.”
Baz pressed the butler’s bell by the fireplace and Vickery escorted the shuffling Australian out to the drive where his official RFU Renault 4 was waiting for him. Baz saw something on the armchair by the fire. Five rolled-up ten pound notes were tucked at the back of the chair (Jones was notoriously careless with money). Baz went over to the book-case and felt behind the slimmest volume, “My Life in Rugby” by Nigel Davies. He flicked a switch and the shelves rolled away to one side revealing the door to a large safe. He dialled in the combination, pulled on the handle and reached inside, placing Eddie’s money in a small gap between the piles of used £50 notes, which had Baz bothered to count them, would have amounted to a little over £30 million.
Episode 3: Let them Eat Kale
Baz tripped past the boutiques and coffee shops of Montpellier, careless of the fine patina of dust settling on his made-to-measure Gleave and Clarke brogues, waving gaily to the immaculate girls sitting at their lonely desks in the galleries and nodding familiarly to the weary salesman in the Farrow and Ball showroom. Once a month, tiring of the gilt and grandness of the routine in the great house, Baz would slip into his pocket the keys to Camilla’s Audi TT and drive incognito into Cheltenham. Here, for a few precious hours, he would live the life of an ordinary citizen. Sometimes he would take on the guise of a humble marketing consultant, or a lowly financial advisor and for a while he could be someone else, no longer the owner of a global organic-cheese-to-technology conglomerate, no longer a power-broker to governments with a steady side-line in counter-espionage.
To sustain the fantasy he had snapped up a humble, unmodernised two up-two down terraced house situated in an anonymous side-street just behind the College. The vendor was an elderly widow who had wanted to use the proceeds of the sale to retire somewhere far away from the winter Cotswolds chill. She was eventually able to relocate to the Cayman Islands, to a beachside villa on a sizeable atoll with a dock and private landing strip. Baz thought, not without some justification, that he had secured himself a fine bargain.
Wandering along the Promenade, Baz stopped at the door of his local greengrocer. He checked his reflection in the glass, smoothed back his long curly locks and entered. He scanned the colourful array of produce piled on the shelves. Cucamelons, kalamansi, jabuticaba, the choice was endless. He nodded to the sales assistant, neatly attired in a brown “Daylesford Farm Original” dairy-man’s apron over a carefully ironed Paul Smith fatigue shirt. “Good morning Sebastian, I’ll take two pounds of kumquats and half a dozen paw paw – the Guyanese ones, not the Senegalese please”.
As he placed the fruit into hand-made Indian paper bags, the assistant sighed, “I’d start stocking up if I were you Baz. I’m not sure the good people of Cheltenham will be able to get any romanescu after March 29th.”
Baz stiffened. Did no one have any backbone these days. “Then let them eat kale!” he sputtered, dropping a fifty onto the counter, picking up his shopping and marching out of the shop.
Once out on the street he felt his Son of Samsung graphene phone start to vibrate in his inside pocket. The ring-tone kicked in. Three short beeps followed by three longer ones, followed by three short beeps again. Mayday. Baz flicked his thump across the screen and sighed.
“Hello Theresa. What is it today?”
There was a pause. And a curious rasping sound.
“I’m sorry, the signal’s not very good. I’ll try the other side of the street.” Baz dodged neatly between two Teslas and stepped onto the other pavement.
“Nope, still no good. We’ll just have to persevere.”
Baz managed to make some sense from the crackling noise.
“I asked him. He says his vote is not for sale. Anyway 100 million is way too much. The village hall only needs a new lick of paint and a couple of sashes repairing… Uhuh… that’s right…. I’d heard that you had offered Barnet the same amount for a new Saracens Cultural Centre… That’s as maybe, but what on earth are they going to put in it? ….. “
Baz pressed the phone to his chest in exasperation and then returned it to his ear. “Yes I did see the outcome of the vote. Well I used to visit my old mum every week and she always used to say, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. Mind you she was doing 20 years in Holloway and in the end she was crushed to death when the tunnel collapsed.”
Baz’s phone vibrated and he looked at the screen. “Sorry Theresa, got to go. This is important… No much more important. Send my love to Michel. Bye…no… got to go… bye.” He swiped the screen. “Ollie? What’s up man?…. He’s left you out again.” Baz glowered. “Leave it with me.”
Baz took the familiar path down from Painswick Beacon, past the faded pentangle carved into the rock, through the fissure and into the opening to the cave. He summoned up hisall courage and called out, “Old crone, Sorceress of Slad, Wise Woman, I have called upon the spirits to guide me to your door once more for I seek your help in righting a great injustice.”
The Banshee’s terrible visage appeared from out of the gloom. Baz shielded his eyes. “Oh Baz it’s you. You should have said. And I keep telling you to call me ‘Carol’.” She pulled an old alarm clock from the pocket in her floral pinny. “You’re in luck my 3.30 has just cancelled. Come in and sit yourself down.”
Baz’s eyes took some time to accustom themselves to the gloom. Baz felt behind him and he sat down on an old packing case. From the back of the cave he could hear the noise of dripping water and a strange guttural murmuring. ““It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.” Baz squinted and he could just make out a wizened figure in an old RFU blazer, nursing something metal, gleaming in his hand.”
The Banshee screeched at him (Baz had to put his hands over his ears). “Shut it Mutey, will ya! I’m trying to run a professional business here!”
The Banshee raised her eyebrows and gave Baz a knowing look. “The Referees’ Society sent him a new whistle last week and he’s been like this ever since.”
Baz gave her a sympathetic look. “I’m sure if you just give him some time…”
The Banshee spat on the dirt floor. “I ain’t got time. Wednesday nights, Glen Sannox and that nice Mr Burnley come over and we all share a rubber.”
Baz could not conceal a look of surprise. “I had no idea you played bridge.”
The Banshee gave him a sly look. “I ain’t talking about bridge.” She started cackling to herself at the pleasure of some private recollection, then she collected herself. “Now then I can’t stand around here all day gassing with the like of you. What do you want?”
“I have come to you because a grievous wrong has been committed.”
The Banshee looked at him with one eye (the one she preferred to use when standing in The Shed). “Go on.”
“Ollie Thorley has been left out of the England squad again.”
The Banshee scowled and spat on the floor, “That’s bad, very bad, but what do you want from me?”
“I want you to punish Eddie Jones, so that he learns the error of his ways.”
The Banshee suddenly cheered up. “What you thinking? Plague of boils, a swarm of locusts on his allotment?”
Baz looked grave. “No I want Wales to win the Grand Slam?”
The Banshee hissed. “Are you serious?”
Baz nodded. “As serious as I have ever been.”
The Banshee, grasped Baz by the collar and he caught a whiff of her foul breath. “You know that my kind, my sisters, have been burned at the stake for this sort of thing.”
Baz nodded. “I realise you are taking a risk and you will, of course, be rewarded. I was thinking we might agree on ten thousand pounds.”
The Banshee scoffed. “Ten grand for a job like that! With all the risks? You’re ‘aving a giraffe!”
“What do you want then?”
The Banshee stroked the tips of her moustache. “I wants more than money.”
Baz pursed his lips for a moment. “What then?”
The Banshee sneered “You wants this so much, then I wants two ten year memberships of the 1873.”
Baz recoiled involuntarily. He started protest but then, realising he had not choice, relented. “I suppose I could arrange that.”
The Banshee continued to press her cause. “With parking!”
Baz nodded. The Banshee wasn’t finished. “And a Laurie Fisher hat for my Mutey. One of the ones with the hair. He’s always wanted one of those.”
Baz nodded again and quietly prayed to Saint Quinton (the patron saint of hospitality – hint, hint) for forgiveness. The Banshee grinned, showing her two remaining canines. “Then we are agreed. Right, let’s crack on then. I needs a single hair from our victim.” A sudden realisation came over the old crone. “Oh, we’ve got a bit of a problem there ain’t we?”
Baz shook his head and reached into his inside pocket, pulled out his wallet and took from it a single thick, black curly hair.
The Banshee was impressed. “Ooh, where did you get that’”
Baz gave her a knowing look. “The head waiter at the Golden Showers Chinese Restaurant in Pimlico is a personal friend.”
Baz was in his study, sitting in front of wide screen Fuimano television screen, nursing a large glass of McRae’s 25 Year Old Speyside Malt, waiting for the match to begin. A high-pitched excited commentator was recalling the many great victories by the Welsh, starting with the early successes of Owain Glyndwr over the English in 1400.
Vickery leant forward to top up his master’s glass. He suddenly recoiled, nearly spilling some of the precious liquid on the precious Ackerman rug. “Sir, are you sure you are feeling quite well?”
Baz turned and looked at his retainer rather puzzled. Vickery stammered “It’s the shirt sir. It’s red and it has, I believe, the Prince of Wales feathers on the badge.”
“Oh this?” said Baz, plucking at the shirt. Don’t worry, I’ll soon be back in my England shirt. I’m only wearing this for a short spell.”
Episode 4: Danny in Love
Fumblings in the early springtime would normally have lifted his spirits. Drifts of daffodils along the edges of the long drive swayed in the breeze, blackbirds chirruped merrily in the hedgerows and new-born lambs frolicked around their weary mothers in the distant meadows. Towards the south lawn, beyond the haha OG was rolling on the floor with Hamilton, the staghound nipping playfully at his groin. Normally Baz would be clapping his hands in delight, but on the other side of the French windows he looked grave. His Son of Samsung phone was clamped to his right ear. His voice was measured, but the tone was grim.
“Look we can’t allow the bloody Europeans to out-negotiate us… there can be no question of a ‘no deal’ ….you have to deliver us an extension – a very long one if necessary…. we have to get remain firmly back on the table.”
As he was speaking the phone beeped urgently. Baz looked at the screen, rolled his eyes to the ceiling and sighed. “Sorry David, I’ve got Theresa on the other line. That’s the third time this morning banging on about all this Brexit stuff. God knows what she thinks I can do to help. But you leave this thing with me. I’ll see what I can do.”
Baz was pacing up and down the Orangery, which now served as a temporary ops room (his old friend Mike Teague had kindly allowed The Bazettes to practise in the professional dance studio at the rear of his premises on the Kingsholm Road – generously installing poles and other essential equipment at his own cost). At one end of the Orangery was a large map of Somerset around which were pinned various photographs of a vaguely attractive blonde woman in her late thirties. Baz looked at the board and scratched his chin. Standing next to him was his old friend George Smirkey, who was polishing his glasses with his tie.
Baz slapped his hand against the board. “Forget Prague, Smirkey, forget Archangel… this is probably the most important mission we’ve ever conducted.”
Smirkey nodded. “You might well be right Baz. It’s certainly costing you an arm and a leg.”
“It’s costing me a lot more more than that my friend. I swore after she took that briefcase from my hotel room in Tripoli that if I ever saw Nell again, I’d wring her bloody neck. Oh don’t get me wrong – she was good. I was convinced it was Stella Rimmington herself who’d pop round for a glass of raki. She walked straight out with it and disappeared into the ether. I’ve never forgiven myself… or her.”
“You couldn’t know it was her Baz. She‘s the best.”
Baz nodded. “That’s true enough.”
Smirkey continued, “We’ve moved on since then. She’s on our side now. Or at least she will be while you’re paying her retainer”.
“But that dossier contained the names of all the MPs who are on the Kremlin payroll.”
Smiley arched an eyebrow, “Did you read it?”
Baz shook his head. “I suppose Corbyn and McDonnell were in there.”
Smirkey could not supress a chuckle. “Good lord no. I would have thought you would have known better. Corbyn and McDonnell are two of our top men – recruited by the Circus in the early seventies. I must say thought that the counter-intelligence had gone a bit overboard with their identities, but the public seem to have bought it entirely. Mind you we can always rely on the Daily Mail for a bit of helpful propaganda.”
“Come on Baz it doesn’t take a lot of working out does it. Burgess went to Eton, Philby to Westminster, Blunt was at Marlborough. Things don’t change much you know. You wouldn’t think that wearing a top hat would convince anyone, but never underestimate the gullibility of the British public. Look at the effect. The mother of parliaments in a state of complete paralysis – confidence in British democracy has been shattered. It’s not difficult to work out in whose interests all this might be. ”
Baz puffed out his cheeks and exhaled noisily. “So Corbyn with his silly workers’ hat and the other side with their double breasted suits and their St George’s flags…”
“The bigger the lie Baz, the bigger the lie…”
“So in Tripoli Nell was working for the Russians? They’ve got the dossier?”
Smirkey shrugged. “Who knows? Nell works for whoever will pay her.”
The woman in question was an unrivalled mistress of disguise. With a vast collection of prosthetics and skilled in make-up, she could tranform herself into almost any woman or, on occasion (once when Baz thought he had spotted her in the Bath directors’ box) man. Her ability with prosthetics and her expertise in infiltration and escape, had caused her to be nicknamed by MI6 and other international agencies ‘Pimper Nell’ – or Nell for short. On one occasion, after a particularly audacious mission, she had hidden out with an Inuit tribe in northern Canada for six months, an enterprise which had led to a famous ballad being written for her.
Baz hear someone cough gently behind him. He turned in surprise. Standing behind him was a woman of indeterminate age, of average height, weight, a pale complexion and short brown hair.
She spoke softly in an accent that could have come from anywhere between Paris and Istanbul. “Good morning gentlemen.”
Baz peered at her. “Is that you Nell?”
She was completely expressionless “If you want it to be.” She waved her hand impatiently. “Can we get to business? You have an assignment?”
Baz wasn’t going to be deterred. “Last time we met you were an African princess who was offering to reveal a plot involving the son of a former British prime minister to overthrow the government of your country. That was you, wasn’t it?”
Again the voice was flat, almost toneless. “I cannot say.”
Smirkey interrupted. “Look, what’s in the past is in the past. The lady is eager to proceed. Let’s get on with the briefing shall we…”
Baz was just finishing his peroration. “So the plan is based on this vital data. We’ve hacked and downloaded the past six months of the target’s television viewing.” Baz reeled off the list. “Celebrities Skating on Thin Ice, Dancing with Drag On, Celebrity Cash down the back of the Sofa, I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Rehab and Only Connect.” Baz paused and looked quizzically at Smirkey “Only Connect?”
Smirkey nodded. “Victoria Mitchell-Coren.”
Baz acknowledged the point with a thumbs up. “So the common factor in all of these shows – well with the exception of the last one – is the same female presenter.
Baz handed round copies of photographs showing a brash young woman, in expensive but cheap-looking clothing with a fake tan and brilliant white teeth.
Smirkey shook his head. “Not my type.”
Baz looked irritated. “We all know your type Smirkey – Mary Beard.” Smirkey looked away, hurt. Baz immediately regretted his outburst. “I’m sorry, I know it’s still painful.”
Smirkey waved his hand dismissively, “Best not dwell Baz. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Baz nodded sympathetically, knowing that Smirkey still slept with that ostrich feather under his pillow.
Baz picked up a remote and pointed it at the video screen which burst into life. The presenter in question was somewhere in the Australian outback force-feeding a wombat’s scrotum down the throat on an uncomfortable-looking Princess Michael of Kent. ”Can you do it do you think?”
Nell smiled. “It is child’s play.”
Nell went outside to the back of an anonymous looking black camper van and clambered inside. Twenty minutes later into the Orangery walked the popular television presenter.
Baz looked at her quizzically. “Nell?”
The presenter replied. “Yeah, well. I was at the after-show at the BAFTAs and yer’ll never guess wha’. I bumped into that bloke from YouTube who’s filmed himself using the gents in every McDonalds in the America. ‘E’s got 5 million followers on Instagram. Stuck-up bastard wouldn’t even let me take a selfie.”
Smirkey couldn’t help himself. “It’s remarkable. You’d never know the difference.”
Baz clicked open a foam-lined briefcase and took from it a vial. It was probably the vilest vial he had ever handled. He recoiled slightly as he remembered the Banshee handing it to him with a cackle. “You go careful with this Baz,” she had warned, “It’s three parts Glenn Sannox, two parts Ken Burnley and one part old Mutey. It should really be two parts Mutey, but he’s a bit past it these days.”
Baz had asked the Banshee what else was in the potion. But she had simply touched the side of her warty old nose with her finger. “Best you not ask Baz – just don’t mix it with perry or he’ll be on the khazi for a month. Most powerful love potion in the book. The first thing he sees after drinking this he will fall in love with for the rest of his life.”
Baz had placed the vial in the briefcase. “And you’re sure it will work?”
“Well it worked with young Zara!”
* * *
As the target was crossing the hotel car park, Nell walked behind him and brushed his arm. She gave a giggle of surprise and stammered in a north London accent. “Well I never. It’s you innit? You’re that rugby player?”
* * *
Four hours later, having polished off a four course dinner and two bottles of strongly-oaked Australian Chardonnay (her disguise was impeccable), Nell suggested that they retire to the target’s room for a nightcap. She placed two glasses of champagne. Into his she had discreetly poured the contents of the small vial that she had concealed in her bra.
She gave the target a sexy pout. “Why doncha have a drink, while I slip into something more comfortable? The target laid back on the pillow, grinned and took a large swig of champagne.”
In the bathroom Nell disrobed completely and took something from her bag. She slipped on the garment and covered herself with the bathrobe that had been hanging handily on the door. As she emerged into the bedroom the target looked up at her expectantly. She pressed her finger to her lips and breathed sexily. “You ready?”
The target nodded eagerly, his eyes fixed on her shapely torso – eager for the unveiling. She unknotted the towelling belt. It was a Gloucester rugby shirt. An original player’s shirt, not a replica. It had the number 10 on the back.
On the bedside table, the victim’s phone started to vibrate urgently. On the screen there was a phone number, beginning +33. It was too late. The target was already deeply and hopelessly in love.