Post 59 – Carla suggests a water-boarding session – excerpts from DARK CLOUDS

Chapter 14

I’m moving quickly; shuffling and speed-walking towards the door. Downstairs, in the Claridges lobby, my Valkyrie princess is waiting.

‘I hope you don’t mind my not coming up to join you,’ she says. ‘It’s just that Fiona was a little strange when we spoke on the phone … I think she has this idea that we might spend intimate time together.’

I’m very disappointed in my neighbour, Fiona Adler, and I shall say so when I next see her.

‘Let’s go and eat or have a drink,’ I suggest and Ingrid responds with a promising kiss on my cheek.

I think I’m in love. It hasn’t been like this since Faria held my face in her hands on the Lower East Side and smiled silently.

‘I want to tell you about my secret life, Rudi,’ Ingrid says.

I’m intrigued but a little concerned. Is she involved with a Scandinavian billionaire? If she is, I can’t compete. But it’s a long and fascinating story that starts over a cocktail in a small French restaurant and ends blissfully in the Islington house where I’m staying.

‘I’ve had this dream for several years,’ she says. ‘I’m living in a Montparnasse attic when, one evening, I meet someone in a café on the Boulevard St Germain. He’s a little older than I am but he’s very confident, and I like him.’

I’m worried about the competition, but Ingrid wants to involve me. ‘He’s a painter,’ she says, ‘and his work is popular … I think I’m falling in love with him, Rudi, so we go back to his studio in Montmartre.’

OK – it’s all bliss with Fabio whoever or Pablo ‘I’m the hottest thing in town!’

 ‘Right – ‘

‘And I think it’s the same for artists everywhere. We all need our eureka moments – and that’s what I got from Claude.’

I need a sense of perspective here. ‘Stay cool, fellah. Go with the flow. Ingrid Cesaro is an artist. These people think outside the box all the time.’ I must try not to see Claude from a hundred and thirty years ago as a rival. He’s more of an inspiration, I guess: A role model whose jacket I might try on and walk around in for a while.

‘You’ve completely bowled me over,’ I tell Ingrid when we’ve sipped at some cocoa in Islington and finally made it to my bedroom at the top of the house.’

‘So you will come to Newcastle to see my exhibition?’

Of course. I’ve already Googled the gallery, but Ingrid wants to probe a little.

We’re down to our most basic underwear and I’m overly excited by the incredible proximity of a Norwegian goddess.

‘Your great grandmother, Róisín,’ she says as our chests come together. ‘What drove her to become a Fenian rebel?’

It’s difficult to concentrate. Ingrid’s aura is overwhelming as she caresses my back and buttocks. We need to embrace and go through a physical and emotional tsunami.

‘But first I want to know about Róisín, Rudy.’

Titanium controls. That’s what I need as I try to shift my brain back a hundred years while ignoring the incredible carnality of Ingrid’s almost naked presence.

‘She loved this Protestant,’ I stammer. ‘And I imagine that it was an intensely physical and mutually agreeable relationship.’

I can see it happening as I speak. Róisín and Piers embracing by the lake at Ballyalla. They’re in love and they don’t care about what other people think. Protestant Piers’ land-owning father, Sir Robert, has other ideas however. He’ll not have his son and heir canoodling with a Catholic.

The boy is packed off to oversee sheep-farming interests in Australia and Róisín is distraught. She falls into the welcoming arms of Fenian nationalists, and while she’s preparing for a rising against His Majesty, a vibrant rebel leader appears. He’s handsome and courageous. They fall in love, but her man is then ambushed and shot. Róisín’s ailing husband, Pat, has died and now her emotional star has disappeared. What is she to do? Well, the civil war is over in Ireland. The rebels have to rebuild their country. They’ll need strong men and women like Róisín … only that’s another story.

‘The thing is though,’ I say to Ingrid. ‘I see Róisín’s daughter, Joanie, as a follow-up heroine. ‘She’s with SOE in France during World War 2. She’s got all of her mother’s passion. She saves lives and thwarts the Germans. It could go either way. But she survives the war and is decorated by the King in London on VE day.’

‘Oh my god!’ Ingrid’s pulling me in close and I’m thinking passionate mermaids with a cheeky fin locked around my throbbing calves.’

‘I love these stories, Rudi … is there another?’

Maybe – possibly; if I can get my head into it. I can’t concentrate though. I’m totally overwhelmed. Ingrid’s taking me to another planet. The journey’s exciting beyond my wildest dreams, and when we finally arrive, I’m waiting for the good lord and mother Mary to step down from a celestial cloud.

_______________________________

I’m thinking log cabins and loveable Nordic children when the dawn comes up, followed by a hint of sunshine. It’s perfect, but my mobile’s ringing on the bedroom floor.

‘Rudi?’

Holy Jesus – it’s Carla Hirsch!

‘What do you want?’

‘We’re outside your house, and we want you to join us.’

But it’s six in the morning. The birds have only just woken up.

‘Now – please … immediately!’

Did something go wrong with Fiona Adler? Am I about to get an indignant earful from a spurned and disappointed lover? I write a note for Ingrid and leave it on the pillow beside her fragrant blonde hair. ‘I’ve been called away, honey …but see you soonest.’

Earl’s people carrier with the smoked glass windows is parked under a drooping robinia tree just outside my front door. Robson’s beside him in the front and Carla Hirsch is on her mobile in the back.

‘We’re going to see Jeremy Wagstaff,’ she tells me as Earl leaves Crowndale Square. She’s wearing an expensive looking scarf around her slender neck, and as she turns, I think I’m catching what looks like a small bruise: The remains perhaps of a passionate bite. We’re heading into unfamiliar territory. There are Turkish stores on the Green Lanes, and it’s a little edgy until we cut off towards Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace. Someone I know lives here and he says he’s got psychiatric analysts on either side of his Edwardian home.

Carla’s preoccupied with text messages and voice mails while Earl and Robson concentrate on the built in sat nav screen. We’re entering a quiet tree-lined street when I’m aware of anonymous vans parked at intervals outside the houses.

‘Surprise is crucial here,’ Earl explains. ‘We’ve had surveillance vehicles in place during the night and it seems that Wagstaff’s wife, Annalise, has just left the house.’

‘She was wearing slippers and a cardigan,’ one of the observers reports. ‘So she could just have popped out to get something.’

‘Very good,’ Carla says, snapping the lid shut on her mobile. ‘We’ll go straight in and see what happens.’

So – what about me? I ask. Shall I wait here? That would be my preference. I could maybe listen to the radio or experiment with the sat nav. Carla’s not amused by my flippancy, however.

‘Listen,’ she says, homing in for a moment like I’m a pathetically inadequate encumbrance. ‘We need to go in hard with this asshole – and we don’t leave until we have a result. So try to keep your wits about you, Rudi. Maybe think of it as the assignment that makes or breaks your career. Only the stakes are higher … because if we don’t get lucky with this guy, a lot of people could die.’

I’m suitably chastened. We’ve got a D-Day situation and Commander Hirsch is in the lead landing-craft. A few curtains twitch as we disembark and Earl presses a bell on the door of a fading villa that was built – according to a plaque on the gatepost – in 1911. There’s no one else out on the street, but Robson’s fondling the holster under his left arm when we hear footsteps in the hallway.

‘Jeremy Wagstaff?’ Earl asks formally when the glass-panelled front door opens.

‘Yes – ‘

‘We’re police officers, and we have a warrant to search your house, sir.’

‘But you’re a …’ He stumbles, pointing at me as Earl waves his ID card and a warrant. Three more plain clothes officers have now slipped out of a surveillance vehicle and Wagstaff, who’s only wearing a dressing gown, is being backed down the hallway.

‘We’ll start in the attic,’ Earl tells the anonymous officers while Carla Hirsch disconnects a house phone and beckons Wagstaff into a large living area that leads through an open plan kitchen to a sad, rather abandoned garden.

The place has potential, I’m thinking. But I don’t see too many signs of a happy family live as Wagstaff protests.

‘You can’t just come barging in here for no apparent reason … England’s not a police state yet you know. And just what precisely might I ask are you hoping to find in our house? We don’t smoke or drink or take drugs.’

‘Sit down and shut up!’ Carla commands, pushing him towards a sofa.

There’s a shocked look in Wagstaff’s righteous eyes. He’s never been spoken to like this before. It’s outrageous, and he’s gearing up for a second objection when there’s a commotion in the hallway.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ Annalise Wagstaff cries. ‘You’re welcome to the television, but I can assure you we don’t have anything else of any value!’

She calms down when she sees the police ID cards and two Anti-Terrorist officers escort her into the sitting room. She’s a dowdy, listless woman with spectacles and she clearly stopped thinking seriously about her appearance a while back.

‘Come in, honey,’ Carla says cheerily.

‘This is preposterous … we’re not criminals!’ Annalise shouts when she’s taken in her husband’s dressing gown on the sofa.

‘No, of course not,’ Carla concedes. ‘But I think your guy’s been playing away from home, babe.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well – this is kind of personal, ma’am … but can you honestly say that Jeremy here has really satisfied you in every way … and I mean emotionally as well as physically?’

This seems to be a subject that Annalise Wagstaff could talk about with the right person for some time. As it is though, she’s feeling both hard done by and furious.

‘Who are you?’ she screams, advancing on Carla. ‘You’re not British … you’re an intruder in my home … and I know someone who works for a national newspaper.’

My controller is quite enjoying being upbraided in this way, but as Wagstaff attempts to get up from the sofa she pushes him back down into the cushions. His wife then intervenes with flaying fists. It’s a brave gesture, but as she advances, Carla slaps her hard across the face, twice.

‘Sit down – and shut the fuck up, lady!’

‘But – ‘

‘Believe me. By the time we’re finished with you this morning, you’re not going to want to talk to anyone … and you know why?’

Annalise shakes her bedraggled hair and bites her lower lip. She has definitely misjudged Miss Hirsch’s capacity for assertiveness. Her hands are shaking and she’s glancing anxiously at her husband’s ankles when Earl appears with two Anti-Terrorist officers.

‘Jeez – there’s so much fucking junk in that attic,’ he says to Carla, ‘but I think we’ve found something interesting.’

His colleagues are carrying large boxes. One has a label that says, Sociology – pre- Thatcher while the other has a Recent Russian Politics sticker. Each box is filled with postcard-sized photographs, most of which have been stuffed into unlabelled envelopes. Wagstaff has suddenly become very pale and his dressing gown has slipped to reveal an unflattering view of definitely untoned thighs. His wife, Annalise, is staring fixedly at an ugly pattern on her stained slippers. Carla Hirsch smiles at both of them as she spreads photographs from the Sociology – pre-Thatcher box across a glass-topped IKEA coffee table.

‘Well … hot dickety, Jeremy!’ she exclaims. ‘And I think we could be speaking almost literally here, because you do seem to be unusually well endowed. Although, to be honest, if I had just met you socially for the first time, I’d probably have put you in the not too interesting – possibly under five inches category.’

Wagstaff is embarrassed and concerned. The situation is serious, and as his wife looks at him with a puzzled expression, he’s doing his best to avoid eye contact with her.

‘What are you talking about?’ she asks apprehensively. ‘And what are these photographs?’

‘I hate to break it to you this way,’ Carla says when she’s fanned out a few graphic images on the coffee table. ‘But your husband’s been a very naughty boy. In fact, I think he’s been a real prick, Annalise, because he doesn’t seem to have included you in any of the fun he’s been having.’

The guy in the dock is cornered, irrational and foolhardy when he gets up and charges towards me. ‘You fucking cunt!’ he yells.

I’m retreating, but I get kicked hard between my legs before Wagstaff is manhandled back into the sofa by Earl’s Anti-Terrorist officers. His wife, Annalise, is meanwhile gazing in horror at the photographs of her husband’s organ being sucked, licked and accommodated anally by three different Thai boys, who in turn are satisfied by Jeremy.

‘You absolute fucking shit!’ she exclaims, kicking her husband mercilessly on his unprotected shins. ‘And presumably this all happened while you were representing the University?’

For it seems that the King’s Cross Academy had a reciprocal arrangement with a Bangkok polytechnic, which meant that Jeremy Wagstaff got to visit Thailand a couple of times a year to facilitate the transfer of UK degree schemes in sociology and political studies.

My testicles are numb, but Wagstaff has been fired up by the assault.

‘All right …big deal!’ he shouts. ‘So what the fuck do you want?’

‘I think we’ve got quite a little treasure trove here, Jeremy,’ Carla says. ‘And that’s without even opening the second box or going through the rest of your house, which of course we will.’

‘What do you mean?’ Wagstaff asks nonchalantly. ‘They’re just photographs. It was all a bit of fun … it’s not a big deal.’

‘Oh, but it is, honey,’ Carla says. ‘First off – you could … no – would lose your job if your Principal saw what you’ve been up to. They couldn’t afford to keep you on, sugar … and I don’t think anyone else would want to employ you, which could be tricky. Because my understanding is that you have a large mortgage on this house … and I don’t think your wife works, do you babe?’

Their marriage may be on the rocks. But whether they stay together or split up, their income requirements are important.

‘All right …what do you want?’ Wagstaff asks. His tone is petulant, but Carla’s cool.

‘There is an al-Qaeda cell operating here in London,’ she says matter-of-factly, almost like it’s no big deal. ‘We think they’re going to do something really silly, which could have a nuclear dimension … and we’d like you to help us stop them, Jeremy.’

Suddenly, it’s gone from sex with minors to conspiracy, treason and radiation. It’s big time stuff, and it could be jail for life.

‘I don’t know anything about these people,’ Wagstaff protests and there’s a red flush creeping up from his neck to his face.

‘But you are friendly with some fundamentalists,’ Carla says.

OK – he might put his hand up to this. He is after all a liberal, lefty academic in a multicultural institution. Talking to people with pro-Muslim views is part of his job.

‘It is a free country you know,’ he answers snootily. ‘People are permitted to have views and opinions … we’re not all die-hard neo-con supporters.’

I’m impressed by the way he’s standing up to my Controller even though my fragile nuts are still numb from the bastard’s kick. I think their marriage has had it. I can’t see Annalise ever forgiving her hubby for the way he romped around with the Thai boys. Only the plates are moving. Miss Hirsch has had enough fooling around. Her expression has hardened, and she wants results. I can sense it in the way her eyes and mouth are moving. It’s Guantanamo time for the Wagstaffs. Earl’s standing well back towards the door. He and his wife have just put down a sizeable deposit on a holiday home in Jamaica. He doesn’t want to jeopardise anything, but his mouth opens when Carla takes a Glock pistol and a small camera from her calf skin designer bag.

‘Fill that basin,’ she tells one of the Anti-Terrorist officers. He hesitates for a moment, but then goes to turn on a tap in the kitchen sink.

‘Now, Annalise – come here!’ she commands.

‘No … what do you want?’

‘Move your fucking ass, bitch!’

The cops are all up against the back wall and I’m feeling uneasy when my controller slips the safety catch on the Glock.

‘Take off your shirt,’ she says to Annalise.

‘No – I won’t!’

A single shot from the Glock goes through a Cuban lampshade in the ceiling. And as Annalise screams, Agent Hirsch rips her blouse apart. I can’t collude with any more of this. Wagstaff’s just soiled his pants, but it’s the sink full of water I’m worried about. It looks like water-boarding with extraordinary rendition in Muswell Hill. I’m moving forward when my controller glowers and fires her Glock again. A shot goes over my head; another shatters the remains of the Cuban lampshade and she’s pointing the pistol at Wagstaff’s slavering wife when the polyversity tutor vomits onto their Persian carpet.

‘No – please!’ he cries. ‘I’ll do whatever I can to help you …but no more of this … it’s not necessary!’

‘OK – ‘ my controller says as her suspects kneel and shake amidst the debris in their sitting room. ‘But if you fuck with me any more, I’ll take some photographs of you, Annalise, pleasuring your asshole husband. We’ll then enhance the shots and incorporate them with that stuff on the table.’

I can see the results selling around the world. Any tabloid editor with a flair for leverage would find Wagstaff’s errant youths in Thailand. They would of course be suitably pampered and rewarded. After which, they would deliver graphic accounts of how they had been maltreated and abused by the visiting tutor from the King’s Cross Academy.

None of that will now be necessary, however. Agent Hirsch has made her point. A woman police constable has been called in to take care of Annalise while an Anti-Terrorist officer escorts Wagstaff to the bathroom. We’re having a break before the interrogation begins and Earl has volunteered to make tea.

Chapter 15

 I’m still concerned about the sink full of water in the kitchen. It’s quite big and I can see a suspect’s head and neck being submerged. ‘This may not be Guantanamo in South Cuba, or Abu Ghraib in Iraq … but we can get whatever you have, fellah, simply by holding your head down under until you deliver for us.’

Wagstaff is subdued and respectful when he returns with clean trousers and underwear. Carla’s sitting at a large table in the kitchen. She motions her target to sit opposite her and Earl pulls out a chair between the two of them.

‘I think we’d better start with Mohammed Sharif, Jeremy … he has sent you some money, right?’

For most of the past twenty years, Wagstaff has hated the Americans and everything they stand for. He feels we are responsible for most of the world’s problems, and have been for almost a hundred years. It’s therefore difficult for him to sit down with US Homeland Security Agent Hirsch and to start negating everything he believes in. The kitchen sink full of water, however, and the Glock pistol in my controller’s bag are scary reminders of what lies in store for him if he doesn’t co-operate.

‘There is a lot of anger in Muslim communities just now,’ he says and Carla Hirsch nods. ‘Of course …we know all about that, babe. We’ve been taking serious stick from you Brits and liberals everywhere since the war in Vietnam …we’re used to it.’

 His wife, Annalise, has now returned with her female police escort. Her face is pale. She’s been crying and the future with her husband is uncertain. ‘He’s a pederast who enjoys having his cock sucked by under aged Thai boys. So what does that say about my relationship with Jeremy …does he seriously think I’ll ever be prepared to stay in the same room with him again after what he’s done … I don’t think so.’

 ‘Come and join us, honey,’ Carla Hirsch says, beckoning her over to the table. Annalise sits reluctantly facing Earl with Carla and her husband on either side of her.

‘So – the money, Jeremy. How much did you get?’ My Controller asks.

He doesn’t know exactly. The cash came with a courier and he then passed it on.

‘OK – so are we talking tens or hundreds of thousands … or millions?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Wagstaff mumbles. ‘Maybe five hundred thousand US dollars … I only counted one bundle of notes.’

‘So you were the go-between … who got the money?’

He’s holding his head in his hands and looking down at the table when Carla gets up. She stands behind Annalise with her hands around the unfortunate woman’s neck.

‘You like swimming, honey?’

‘No – ‘

‘Well we got a basin full of water over there … how would you feel if we put your head in it … maybe for fifteen seconds to start with? Then we can extend the time – OK?’  

Annalise sobs uncontrollably. I’m opening my mouth to protest, which gets me a kick in the shins from my controller’s pointy stiletto. Wagstaff jumps up and there’s a shriek in his throat when Carla takes out her Glock pistol and shatters a huge Victorian mirror.

‘There is a cleric called Mustapha!’ Wagstaff shouts. ‘He’s presently in Afghanistan … and there are some mentor figures who come to the UK.’

I’m feeling for him. There’s an increasingly large damp patch on the front of his trousers and his spirit is broken when he sinks back into the chair.

‘So – the mentors?’ Carla asks. ‘You’ve met them?’

‘Just one … he was a scientist.’

I think my shin’s bleeding. I’m not prepared to tolerate any more violence. I’m disappointed in Earl. He’s just sitting there taking notes and behaving himself. I guess it’s down to the second home he’s buying with his lawyer wife in Jamaica. ‘Put one foot out of line, Connors, and you’ll be joining an unemployment queue, or worse. There won’t be any rum to sip by the Caribbean, and your wife will probably want to divorce you.’

‘Well, Jeremy – we’ve got Mustapha the cleric, who’s with the Taliban and a

mysterious scientist … you know his name?’

‘No!’ Wagstaff blurts and this time he’s shaking.

‘That’s not good enough, sugar … is he an Arab or an Asian?’

‘I believe he’s from Pakistan,’ Wagstaff answers, and there’s perspiration on his forehead.

Carla’s examining her nails. Her two tone hair spikes are neatly gelled. I think she knows that I don’t approve of her intimidatory tactics with defenceless people. One has to draw a line somewhere, and if she gets physically frisky again, I’ll make a strong complaint.

‘We have a couple of options here,’ she says. ‘We can take you and your wife into custody. We can charge you here in the UK with funding terrorists … and I guess you could go down for ten to fifteen years – maybe longer.’

‘But you have no evidence.’

‘Oh, we do,’ Carla says passing Wagstaff and Annalise copies of the e-mail I had photographed in Sharif’s Geneva study. ‘Alternatively, we can get you both to a US Air Force base here in the UK. A transport plane would then take you to a holding facility, which could be anywhere … and I guess we’d keep you there for as long as it takes. Either way, your academic career would be finished. No one would ever employ you again, and you wouldn’t be able to keep up the mortgage payments on this nice house … you’d be on the street.’

The sweat from Wagstaff’s forehead is trickling down along his cheeks. His totally disoriented wife is staring blankly through the kitchen window to her once loved but now discarded garden. Her whole life has been rudely disrupted. She doesn’t work and hasn’t had a job for years. Her prospects are bleak.

‘The scientist I met has a niece who writes as a fashion journalist,’ Wagstaff mutters.

‘Ah … here in London?’

‘I think so … it was just something that came up.’

One of the Anti-Terrorist guys at the door is already on his mobile as Earl gets up and leads Wagstaff to a computer in the corner of the room.

‘There is an alternative for you,’ Carla says to Annalise, who is confused.

‘What do you mean?’

‘We are going to take you into custody now. But if your husband co-operates with us and continues to do so, we could relocate you here in the UK, or elsewhere. You could start again, honey, with a new garden … either on your own or with your husband.’

There aren’t too many Pakistani fashion journalists working in London. But within an hour, there are photographs with details of four on Wagstaff’s computer. Bright youngsters in UK security service offices are presently checking out various family connections. By lunchtime, the search has been narrowed down to two serious possibilities and Carla points to a computer printout picture of a woman known as Sunita Malawi.

‘We’ll check her out,’ she says as Wagstaff and his wife are taken from their sitting room.

‘You don’t need me for this,’ I say, doing my best to give it an assertive pitch.

‘Oh, but we do, Rudi … you’re working for us now, and we’re only just starting.’

I’m shaking my head when my controller motions me towards the dining room table, where she considers me for a while in silence.

‘In the days, weeks and months after 9/11 … how did you feel?’ she asks.

Angry, embittered and frustrated. I had lost my first true love. Faria Bailey was mixed up with a massive pile of rubble and I wanted to avenge her death. My problem, however, was that half of her family were Muslims. So I ended up trying desperately to opt out from the whole conflict that followed. It was futile, of course. London is my home of choice. I have friendly feelings for the people, and I can’t stand aside if someone I know is putting up money to nuke those who have almost become my adopted family.

_____________________________

‘We need results,’ Carla Hirsch says.

Robson is driving the people carrier and Earl is on his BlackBerry. He keeps showing Carla e-mails he’s getting on Sunita Malawi and as we enter Manchester Square in Central London, I recognise the former Duke’s residence that now houses the Wallace Collection. This is a classy part of town, and Earl’s talking to two of his guys who are parked in a surveillance vehicle outside a house with a fine Georgian doorway.

‘We think the lady is at home,’ Earl says. ‘They’ve picked up a mobile signal from the house and a couple of calls have gone out on a landline.’

It could be a maid or a friend, but Carla’s confident.

‘We’re marauding intruders,’ she tells me. ‘And we’re going to scare the shit out of this woman. Maybe even literally – like in the Clockwork Orange. Do you remember the Movie?’

Vaguely – yes. I hated the mindless violence, and especially the guy in a bowler hat. I don’t want to terrify a defenceless fashionista. But we’re looking at potentially huge casualties here, and no one in their right mind wants radiation particles floating over Oxford Circus.

‘Hello – Royal Mail Special Delivery,’ Earl says when he’s pressed an intercom button and someone answers.

‘Oh, all right – I’ll come down,’ a woman’s voice answers. It’s deep and cultivated with just the hint of an Asian inflection.

‘Hi there … Miss Malawi?’ Carla asks with a friendly grin when the door opens.

‘Yes – but …’

She’s gorgeous and I’m sure her family have carried some weight in Pakistan since the days of the British Raj. I think she’s in her thirties, although her rich black hair has been pinned back in a businesslike bun and she’s holding a pen.

‘We need to talk with you,’ Carla says with a greasy smile, ‘and I think it would be best if we come in.’

She’s taken her Glock from a Stella McCartney bag and Sunita recoils when she sees the pistol. ‘Oh my God …it’s like some rough insurgent from the hills of Kashmir suddenly exposing his organ as a weapon to intimidate her.’

‘But I’m expecting a colleague,’ she stammers.

‘That’s all right, honey,’ Carla says as her target backs off into a fine Georgian hallway with all of the original features. ‘You can call and say you’ve had to go out. But if they come round anyway, you can let them ring on the bell … and when they don’t get a reply, I guess they’ll go away.’

Upstairs, the sitting room is not too different from what it might have looked like in the 1770s or 80s. It’s pretty opulent in a discreet sort of way. The only things slightly out of place are an Apple Mac computer on an antique desk and copies of Vogue and Harpers on a pretty pricey Kashmir carpet.

‘Sit down, sugar,’ Carla commands, pointing towards a Sheraton chaise longue that has recently been re-upholstered. ‘This is Biff,’ she says, pointing at me, ‘and that’s Boff,’ which is Earl. ‘And we’ve got more people downstairs. I’m Charlene, babe, and we’re here to ask you some questions. If you’re nice and co-operative, we’ll probably just leave you to get on with your stuff. But if you give us any grief, honey, we’ll get so heavy you’ll wish you’d never left your mother’s womb … do you hear what I’m saying?’

Sunita may be writing mainly about social gossip and sexual speculation for the world of fashion and popular culture, but she has harsh memories of rough and undisciplined soldiers mistreating her family in Pakistan; usually when one set of ruthless opportunists replaced another in Government.

‘Yes – of course.’ Her eye contact is cautious and she’s nodding respectfully. ‘But what do you want?’

‘We’ll start with your family,’ Carla says with an encouraging smile. She’s sitting in an expensive winged armchair while I perch on a piano stool and Earl folds his arms by the door.

‘You have, I think, an uncle who is a scientist – right?’

‘I have two actually … Mukhtar and Pandit.’

‘OK … so who does what?’

This wasn’t at all what Sunita Malawi expected when she saw the obscene Glock pistol coming out of the Beatle girl’s handbag. She had assumed that we were the worst sort of opportunist thieves: Educated people perhaps who had been diverted into heroin or crack and needed money to pay for it. Only the accents are out of line, and what’s an apparently respectable Afro-Caribbean doing with a couple of American hoodlums.

‘I’m sorry – I don’t understand … what do you mean?’

‘Oh, honey – please … don’t get all cutesy with me!’

‘But … ‘

Only Carla’s already on her feet and moving to sit beside the fashionable columnist on her Georgian chaise longue.

‘You’re a very attractive woman, Sunita,’ she says, running an excited hand down along her shocked target’s short Prada skirt and along the slightly shiny silk of her stockinged lower thigh. ‘I would really love to take your clothes off and explore the delights of your beautiful body. I think Biff and Boff might also like to do something similar, albeit a little more forcefully … you hear me, honey. I mean, these guys have agitated dicks, which I think they’d really like to stick all the way into your lovely soft, silky cunt and fuck you to hell and back, babe … and maybe they’d follow on with some anal penetration.’

Earl’s looking pointedly out through a window, while I try hard to think up the sound of my meditation mantra. It’s outrageous and embarrassing. I’m appalled by Carla Hirsch’s crude intimidatory techniques. But Sunita has the message and she’s struggling to speak.

‘Pandit’s a horticulturalist, and Mukhtar’s a physicist,’ she exclaims.

‘So Pandit’s into flowers, crops and seeds?’

‘Yes … he’s presently working for the World Food Programme.’

‘In Pakistan?’

‘No … he’s based in Switzerland. He’s essentially a strategist who does occasional field trips.’

‘OK – so Mukhtar’s a physicist … tell me more, sugar.’

Agent Hirsch now has a hand under Sunita Malawi’s left breast and she’s running her fingers up towards an extended nipple.

‘No – please, don’t!’ the Muslim columnist pleads.

‘So – ‘

‘He has worked mainly on the Pakistan Government’s nuclear programme … but more recently he has been travelling and lecturing.’

‘Where?’

‘In the Middle East, I think … and in London.’

Carla has reluctantly joined her hands between her legs and I’m confused. This is not a part of my country that I can identify with. OK – I’ve heard about water-boarding and rendition. I’ve seen pictures of the Muslim victims from Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and I’ve heard pretty unsettling stories coming out from Guantanamo. A part of me, however, still stands to attention when I hear our national anthem. I’m proud of the Stars and Stripes and what it represents. And Mukhtar Ali is a nuclear scientist, which is worrying.

‘I’d like some iced water, ‘ my controller says. She needs a break and I’m happy to oblige. Earl’s grinning reassuringly like we’re in it together when he opens the door. ‘I’m not a bad guy, Rudi – don’t worry.’ And I’m reassured by thoughts of him singing hymns on Sundays in Jamaica, so I wink back. He’s OK, and we all have to deal with people like Carla occasionally. She’s the support structure for our ostensibly laid back reality. The kitchen’s mainly Smeg and Neff and there’s some chilled French water in the fridge.

When I return to the sitting room overlooking Manchester Square, Carla’s back on her target’s magnificently toned thigh, and Sunita’s perfectly sculpted forehead is covered in a thin film of nervous sweat. What did her uncle lecture about, Agent Hirsch wants to know.  Who were the students he mentored, and what sort of relationship did he have with them?

A part of the lovely Sunita Malawi is genuinely puzzled by the queries. She’s also becoming a little impatient as her interrogator sighs, removes a lingering hand from her target and stares pensively for a moment at the pointed toes of her elegant Manolo Blahnik heels.

‘You’re fucking with my head, sugar,’ she says eventually. ‘And it’s making me feel mean.’

‘I’m sorry … I don’t understand.’

‘Come here – ‘

‘What … why?’

‘Stand up – ‘

Reluctantly, the Pakistani fashion journalist gets to her feet. She is followed by Agent Hirsch, who stands in front of her with her eyes lingering on her target’s inviting chest.

‘I think I’m going to take your clothes off – ‘

‘No!’

‘But first, I want to kiss you … nice and slow, on your mouth. Then I want you to bring me off, slowly, with a nice build up … can you do that, honey?’

I want to intervene to try and save the vulnerable Sunita from my insatiable controller. Only I’m thinking about the columnist’s Uncle Mukhtar, so I hold back on any coughing as Carla fondles the fashionista’s breasts.

‘No – please … stop now!’

‘OK – but we are going to talk seriously … because I don’t need any more footsie crap, babe. I want the goods … right!’

‘Yes – I know. I understand … but please – ‘

There is a little chilled water left in the bottle I’ve brought out from the kitchen. Sunita gulps a mouthful. She’s been defiled by a gross infidel. But she eventually sits back down on the chaise longue as Carla faces her from the period wing chair.

‘Mukhtar’s a committed Muslim,’ she says quietly, with her eyes averted like she’s ashamed of what she’s about to reveal. ‘He has become a mentor figure for some people recently.’

‘What sort of people are we talking about, honey?’

There is a pause, but as Carla gets up from the winged chair, Sunita breaks down and weeps.

‘Activists, I think,’ she concedes amidst the sobs.

Her carefully applied eye makeup is dripping down along her photogenic cheeks. She’s ready to talk and Earl records the details. Uncle Mukhtar is not presently in the UK. But he has an apartment in Knightsbridge, which is close to Harrods. There is an address book in Sunita’s antique desk. It has a gilt line around the edge of the pages which Carla is now flicking through. I want to tell the vulnerable beauty from Pakistan that this really isn’t my scene at all, and if I could, I’d get up and walk out, period. Biff and Boff are unsavoury characters from Agent Hirsch’s lurid imagination, as indeed is the seamy Charlene. I’m getting a small flicker of recognition for my thoughts in Sunita Malawi’s pleading eyes. ‘I so need your help, kind sir … please; anything you can do to end my ordeal would secure my everlasting and most meaningful gratitude.’ I’d really like to step in. ‘Your knight in shining armour has arrived, dear lady – so fear not.’ But Carla Hirsch’s probe is just beginning.

‘We’re going to have to take you into custody, sugar,’ she tells her beautiful target. ‘I think you’ve been helpful so far, and if this continues, you should be OK.’

Sunita’s raising and lowering her head like Agent Hirsch is an oracle who’s just appeared with a helpful revelation. She’s still sitting obediently with her head going up and down when two uniformed female cops arrive to escort her to a secure facility.

‘Honey, you’re gorgeous.’ Carla tells her with what I suspect is genuine admiration. ‘And in any other circumstances, I’d really like to get something going with you. But I don’t want you to tell anyone about our little get-together here today … that’s just between us. OK?’

‘Yes, of course,’ Sunita agrees with a truly sincere nod.

‘And if you’d like some useful advice, I would suggest that when this is all wrapped up, you should maybe take off for a month or so. Go somewhere nice and quiet where you don’t know anyone and just get in touch with your spiritual side. The world’s a very fraught place just now, babe. So you shouldn’t trouble yourself too much about politics and strife and all of the heavy stuff that might exercise your Uncle Mukhtar.’

I think the elegant fashion columnist’s world is slowly falling apart. All of the clothes, sex and trendy gossip stuff will have to be left on hold for a while, maybe forever. It’s not looking good for Sunita, but in a strange sort of way I think she appreciates the small consideration that Carla Hirsch has just shown her.

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