Enda meets 'B'

 Attending a cocktail party and rubbing shoulders with civil servants and those who tread the hallowed corridors of power is something I love to do. I am in my element. Engaging in small talk that rewards one sometimes with news of a forthcoming row in the House of Commons is exciting. Attending a cocktail party in Belgravia and engaging in small talk about art and artists is quite another.

Jessica looked her usual immaculate self in a bright red flared cocktail dress with a hem that stopped just short of the knees. The strapless top and bare back inflamed desire within me and I wished we were somewhere else. Three years married and my love for her was even stronger. I could not imagine living without the woman who was the biggest influence of my life in many ways.

“Oh, darlings…I’m so pleased you came. How lovely to see you. I’m thrilled you’re here.” The loud shrilling voice came from behind us as we entered the studio gallery.

We turned to catch the theatrical wave of a limp hand and a flash of brilliant white teeth. The man was in his sixties at least. His shock of white hair lay carefully groomed with a huge curl adorning his forehead. A mauve trouser suit, white shirt and mauve cravat completed his dress apart from a heavy gold chain that hung from his neck and fingers festooned with rings. It was not until Jessica introduced us that I realized he was wearing lipstick.

Jessica turned and smiled as the man blew a kiss past both her cheeks. “Darling, this is Cecil Douglas-Horner, a wonderful friend and colleague. He’s the art correspondent for the ‘Mirror’.”

I held a hand out smartly. “Nice to meet you too, Cecil.” We shook and Cecil looked into my eyes with a mischievous grin. “So nice to meet you, Enda, I’ve always been a fan of sharp wit and good political insight. I was so annoyed when you got married.” He looked at Jessica and pursed his lips. “You won him fair and square dear, I don’t hold it against you.”

A little giggle escaped Jessica’s lips. She put a hand to her mouth and grinning, looked sideways at me, her eyes willing me not to say a word.

I followed them into the studio. Cecil had an arm around Jessica’s waist, and I trailed with a glass of cheap champagne a flunky with white wig and stockings and green livery gave me at the door.

Jessica turned as we reached the studio. “Darling, I’m going to see the artist, Roger Drew. Why not go and talk to an old friend of yours I just spied over there?” she pointed to the far end of the studio.

I followed her gaze and spotted ‘B’, someone I had not spoken to since retiring from the Herald. As she moved away from me I heard her whisper in Cecil’s ear, ‘Stop being a naughty boy or I’ll disown you.” They both giggled.

Roger Askew–Broughton was a civil servant who had been a lukewarm friend for years. Another Oxford man that I studied politics and modern history with, he went into the Foreign Office care of his father in the diplomatic corps while I decided to keep him and his club in line by writing about the residents of Whitehall and Westminster. He was a useful man to know and someone who had helped me out of a couple of scrapes in the past.

He had not changed a lot. A full figure still threatened to pop the buttons on his waistcoat and the well groomed dark hair was thinning on top. Dressed in the usual Whitehall navy suit and university tie, he was a staunch member of the Westminster set. I guessed his age to be around late forties, a couple of years older than myself. His face was young though, belying his age, with ruddy cheeks and bright blue eyes.

“Hi ‘B’, well fancy bumping into you…here of all places too. We have to stop meeting at art galleries or people will start talking.” I nodded in the direction of Cecil.

He guffawed loudly. “Enda, it’s so nice to see you again, old boy. It’s been a long time.”

We shook hands and sat looking at a painting consisting of colored brush strokes on a white background.

“The artist is the son of a Swedish diplomat here in London. I drew the short straw. We at the FO have to represent the government.” He sipped wine and looked at the painting. “Bloody awful, isn’t it?”

I agreed and suggested we find a quiet spot to talk about something more interesting. It was a fortuitous meeting and I meant to make the most of it. Besides that, I saw an opportunity to rekindle a partnership with one of my old contacts in Whitehall. We headed for a door at the back of the studio that led out onto a small balcony overlooking a small landscaped garden. A large overhanging Japanese maple tree and tall brick walls kept half the garden in shade during the day.

Roger took a cigar from his pocket and lit it. Clouds of smoke drifted upwards and I closed the door. I came to the point right away. “Roger, what do you know about the Orbit Corporation?”

Roger twisted the cigar between his fingers and looked down at the garden. “Not a lot. They are an American concern developing experimental aircraft as far as I know. Why?”

As much as he was an old friend, I had not spoken to Roger for some time. I decided before I asked the question not to tell all but see if I could find out if Whitehall had any concerns about Orbit. If anyone knew, Roger would.

“Oh, I heard they were about to test a new hypersonic craft. I also heard a rumor that a European concern has been working along the same lines. Are the EU involved in that?”

Roger puffed on the cigar before answering. “There is a European consortium…no secret in that, but what they are developing is not something I would be involved in or can discuss. The UK Space Agency might be a good place for you to ask although I doubt you would get much from them apart from the usual PR press release. What are you digging into?”

“Not a lot,” I answered. “I do find it strange though that Whitehall knows very little about the SX1 or the European competition. I know you better than that.” I lent on the guardrail next to him. “How close are we to winning the race to fly first?”

Roger blew smoke and looked at me. “It’s a highly sensitive subject. You know better than to ask. Anyway, what do you know about it and what are you really up to?”

“Hyper speed is the next step in the NASA program and if I know the US government, the military will already have plans for the SX1. If we win the race that could mean big money for Europe and lots of jobs and I want the story. I want to know how deeply Whitehall is involved and what happens with the US military if we win.”

“You never change, Enda.” He shook his head.  “I can’t tell you anything but I’ll see what I can find out about the Americans at least. The European project is another matter altogether.”

“So you do know what’s going on then?”

Roger stood up and turned to face the door. “We should be getting back.” He opened the door. “You know, Enda, you left the Herald and that meant Whitehall as well. Leave this one alone. All I can tell you, is there will be a news conference called within two weeks.” He held a hand up as I opened my mouth. “Leave it, Enda, this is too sensitive for me to discuss.”

“Can you at least tell me if the Americans have had any problems with stability?”

He pushed the door open and ignored me, then said as we joined the other guests, “Call me next week and we’ll have lunch at the Hilton.” He patted my arm. “I’m sorry, old chap but I can’t help you but here, take my card and give me a ring for lunch.” He looked a little angry as we parted and I got the feeling that he brushed me off because he did know a lot more. Roger never lost his cool with me. Something did not feel right.

Later, as Jessica and I drove home, I told her about my conversation with Roger.

“I think you are right about a race. The trouble is… who is stealing the plans. You can’t accuse anyone. I am surprised you did not tell Roger about the stick. I think going to Berlin is a mistake.”  She kicked off her shoes and sighed with relief. “What did you find out from Lionel? You haven’t told me yet.”

Lionel had wasted no time in finding out what information the memory stick contained. The drawings showed a computerized command circuit. The application of this circuit was lost on both Lionel and myself although we guessed it had something to do with guidance systems. That meant that we were looking at some very advanced technology and with Orbit being the owners of it, I was holding the key to a great story. I told her of the understanding I had with Lionel.

“Okay, so Lionel will be reporting this on Monday. I take it you have decided to go to Berlin with Fish to deliver the stick. Have you thought about your safety? We are talking about industrial espionage here and these people would probably kill anyone getting in the way. That device, whatever it is, will be worth billions.”

“Hey, listen, everything is going to be -.”

“No, it’s not going to be fine,” said Jessica firmly. “Chasing a story like this is not easy and involves risk. We both know that from experience. Just make sure Fish realizes that too before you both embark on this. I agree this looks like a good story, but…if things start going wrong, promise me you will be talking to the authorities.”

I said nothing until we were nearly home. “Can you find out anything about Orbit? I need to know about the craft, and who is involved with designing it. Can you do that and send it to me on my tablet before I leave on Monday?”

She smiled and nodded, then squeezed my knee. “In the meantime, Mr. Osin, let’s enjoy the weekend together…please.”

I could’nt wait to snuggle under the covers.

***

Heathrow is a busy place that never slows, no matter the time of day. I stood opposite the Lufthansa desk waiting to hear from Jessica and hoping to see Fish appear from somewhere. His trip to a library produced results. There being too much information to either remember or write down, the library copied and printed a selection of stories about Weimer Aviation going back to 72’.

My cell phone rang. Jessica had sent a lot of information to my tablet and I promised to call her as soon as I was at the hotel. I reassured her Fish could keep a watch on my back and as soon as I made the delivery, trail the person doing the pick-up and hopefully find out the identity of my- or rather- Mr. Swanley’s paymaster.

I looked up at the flight information board and saw our flight was thirty minutes from departure time.

“Hi guv’, sorry I’m late. I had to go and get me stuff.”

Fish, minus the hat but still dressed the same, was breathing heavily. A small duffle bag carrying his ‘stuff’ hung over one shoulder and he carried a supermarket carrier bag by his side.

I pointed to the duffle bag. “I hope you have enough there for a few days, Fish?”

He grinned. “Yeah, I always travel light.” He raised the carrier bag up a few inches. “I’ve got a lot of stuff for you to read. Mostly boring stuff about stuff that went wrong in some plane crash.”

It didn’t sound boring to me. After negotiating the security hall, we walked quickly to the departure gate in time to be the last passengers to board. Within minutes, we were taxying out to the runway and I was looking at the paperwork Fish brought me. Fish, head back and mouth wide open, was getting comfortable.

The first piece of information regarded the crash I remembered. It happened in 2007 with three crewmembers dead. The plane, an Airbus, crashed shortly after take-off after going into a steep dive from twenty thousand feet. New navigational equipment under test conditions carried the blame and a court of enquiry put the fault squarely on Weimar Aviation Group for poor installation and sloppy quality control. The next article concerned a lawsuit that Weimer brought against the Orbit Corporation. Weimer claimed that Orbit sent letters to Weimer shareholders, secretly offering to buy shares at double the original share price; this was while the Weimer shares plummeted to an all-time low. Weimer lost the case and CEO Redenbacher called Curtis Fairweather, CEO of Orbit a crook. There were several other smaller stories of a similar nature.

I nudged Fish and checked the time. I thought I would leave the rest of the articles for reading when I got to the hotel. I spent the next hour making notes. The seeds of this mystery looked as though they were festering for a few years and the bad blood between the two companies had become a blue touch paper someone ignited. There were many reasons why Weimer would want to get their hands on the plans but I decided to wait until I read the rest of the articles before coming to any conclusion.

We booked into the Teigel airport hotel three hours later and despite Fish’s generous offer to share a room, I politely declined because I snored and I wanted him to be wide awake in the morning. 

Comments

Engaging in small talk that rewards one sometimes with news of a forthcoming row in the House of Commons is exciting. Attending a cocktail party in Belgravia and engaging in small talk about art and artists is quite another. - See more at: http://www.thestorymint.com/writers-pad/ray-stone/titles/twisted-wire/enda-meets-b#sthash.3q5bFjoP.dpuf
Engaging in small talk that rewards one sometimes with news of a forthcoming row in the House of Commons is exciting. Attending a cocktail party in Belgravia and engaging in small talk about art and artists is quite another. - See more at: http://www.thestorymint.com/writers-pad/ray-stone/titles/twisted-wire/enda-meets-b#sthash.3q5bFjoP.dpuf
Engaging in small talk that rewards one sometimes with news of a forthcoming row in the House of Commons is exciting. Attending a cocktail party in Belgravia and engaging in small talk about art and artists is quite another. - See more at: http://www.thestorymint.com/writers-pad/ray-stone/titles/twisted-wire/enda-meets-b#sthash.3q5bFjoP.dpuf

Engaging in small talk that rewards one sometimes with news of a forthcoming row in the House of Commons is exciting. Attending a cocktail party in Belgravia and engaging in small talk about art and artists is quite another. - See more at: http://www.thestorymint.com/writers-pad/ray-stone/titles/twisted-wire/enda-meets-b#sthash.3q5bFjoP.dpuf

 

Take a look at the first paragraph. You repeat a similar idea. One of the sentences could go and it would give the opening a tighter start.

I loved the "Oh darlings...." I could hear that character and I loved your portrayal of him. Flamboyant and gushing. Marvellous. And the interaction between them and Jessica was just super. I was a fly on Enda's should laughing at them all. Lovely characterisation and description of the party and the people there. I was in that room. Watch out for long speeches.

The bit about Fish and Enda's flight - very nice with lovely touches of humour when you describe Fish sleeping. Really good Raymond