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Now here is a character that knows how to take advantage of change…


Brain Dead


Brennig Jones



Illegal brain surgery...


Ever had it?


Nah, even if you’re among the small number of people in the UK who have had any kind of brain surgery, the only type you’ll have had is the standard ‘Health Service’ variety.


And you’re probably thinking that I’m mad and that there’s no such thing as illegal brain surgery.


But I’ve had it.


I’ve been strapped down, my head held fast in a binding of leather straps while a maniac drilled holes in my unanaesthetized skull - without the benefit of any local or general anaesthetic.


But that’s how I got it.


The power.


The Gift.


They’d been working on me for a while.  I’d been there for two, maybe two and a half days; it’s easy to lose track of time.


They’d already moved on from having extracted all of my teeth with a pair of pliers and they’d broken my left leg and my right arm with pickaxe handles.   Now they were digging holes in my head with a Black & Decker, trying to get me to tell them something more revealing than my number, rank and name.  Asking questions about the unit I was from, about our infiltration plans, what intelligence we had and the names of my local contacts.


That’s when he must have touched something in my head.  Caused a short circuit.   Switched on a part of the human brain that normally lies dormant.


One minute I was in screaming agony - could barely see through the veil of blood that was running down my face.  The next I was in complete control of my pain receptors.


When I looked around I could see their thoughts, their emotions.


And I knew I could control them.  Control them… and their thoughts and emotions.


I don’t know how I knew I could.  And I don’t know how I knew what to do.


There were three in the room with me.  Behind me, working on my head was the one I called ‘The Surgeon’.  Standing beside me was the Grand Inquisitor, the master interrogator.  He’d enjoyed working on me since I was captured in the desert and brought to this place. Over by the doorway stood the Fat Guard. He alternated duty with the Thin Guard.


I didn’t know these men, what their real jobs were, or their ranks.  They’d never told me their names.  Giving me information wasn’t part of their plan.  But now I had something else in my head.


Projected around each of the two heads in front of me was, well, what I can only describe as individual coronas. - containing many shades of colour, that weren’t quite colours to my eyes.


Suddenly, in hundreds of shades that were almost like purples, blues, greens, yellows and blacks, I could see their thoughts, their feelings and emotions, everything revealed.


In my thoughts - and for the hundredth time - I asked The Surgeon to stop.


This time he did.


The Grand Inquisitor looked up and angrily barked some kind of a question at The Surgeon.


I reached out with my mind and ‘told’ him to shut up.


He did.


They stood there, frozen, waiting for their next command.


Without opening my mouth, I invited The Surgeon to clean me up.  The Grand Inquisitor waited for something else to happen or for his next instruction to arrive.  As The Surgeon cleaned and stitched my head the Fat Guard began shifting his weight from foot to foot.  Creases appeared on his sweaty forehead and he looked concerned at things taking an unusual turn.


I ordered him to keep still and silent.


He obeyed.


I ‘told’ the Grand Inquisitor to go and find a trolley and some clean clothes. He nodded and left the room.


While he was gone I experimented with The Surgeon and The Fat Guard.  The black shades in their heads seemed to be strictly command-orientated imperatives: Do this; Go there; Say this; Stop.


I didn’t seem to be making much progress with the purple shades.  Perhaps they worked in conjunction with one of the others - or a group of the others - or perhaps their manipulation required more subtlety than I commanded.


Christ, I thought, this could take years to perfect.


Instead of being active I tried to be less aggressive, tried to reach out gently with my mind and insinuate myself into their minds.  This was easier.


By the time the Grand Inquisitor came back with a hospital gurney I knew that the Fat Guard was the equivalent of a corporal, The Surgeon was a specialist in the physical aspects of interrogation and the Grand Inquisitor was roughly equal to a Captain in the Army.


I made them finish cleaning me up and lift me on to the gurney.  When I was comfortable I gave The Surgeon an instruction and watched while he picked up a wickedly hooked scalpel and opened the veins on his left wrist.  After a few moments he gave a slight sigh and collapsed onto the floor, his body emptying its warm, sweet-smelling blood into a wide spreading pool around him.


I felt nothing for him; neither for the person he was, nor for the bag of bones he’d become.  Perhaps his drill had taken away my emotions at the same time it gave me this power.  


At my command the Grand Inquisitor and the Fat Guard wheeled me out of the cell, down the corridor, up two floors in the lift and out of the back of the hospital.  It was warm outside and the air smelled sweet. I guessed that it was early evening, not quite dusk. There was surprisingly little sound. Perhaps, I thought, they’ve killed everyone.


My two escorts manoeuvred me into the back of an ambulance, secured the gurney then got in the front.  We drove away from the suburb and out into the shell-shocked district that used to be where the politicians hung out. From what I could see through the windows the diplomatic district didn’t look too badly beaten up. Some walls were peppered with small arms pockmarks and there were a few holes in upper stories made by stray HE rounds.  Most of the embassies were vacant, some looking like empty, broken shells, their former contents spilling out into the road, the remains of computer equipment scattered along the pavement. The four-storied, whitewashed building at the southeast corner of the main square still flew a flag of a foreign nation, though.


The front perimeter of the building was guarded by twenty-or so heavily armed UN troops - mostly wearing uniforms of the Republic of Ireland, I also saw a couple of Gurkhas, thank God.  Thirty metres from the embassy a cordon of local troops had been thrown around the UN soldiers.  I guessed at forty of the enemy there, ‘guarding’ the only independent foreign diplomatic mission still in town.  In town?  Hell, in the country.


At my ‘suggestion’ the Grand Inquisitor got out of the ambulance, waved his pass around and issued orders with great authority.  The tide of desert camouflaged battle-dress parted, barricades were moved and we were admitted forward to the UN contingent.


The UN troops were less impressed with my escorts but the rear door of the ambulance was opened by a Gurkha corporal.  I could see his corona but decided to try the orthodox approach.


“Virus Rhodes,” I said, hoping to hell that the Gurkhas were still receiving Intel updates.


He responded with, “Jacob’s Carcass.”  And I closed my eyes with relief.


“Bravo force,” I said.  Then added lamely, “I’m it.”


He leapt back from the ambulance and shouted orders in his native tongue.


I don’t know whether it was through sheer tiredness or my inability to hold off the pain any longer, but a dark cloud began to overtake me and I lost consciousness as I passed a thought forward to my two escorts.


Three days later I woke up in an RAF hospital back in the UK.


The nursing staff was good to me.  They cared for me, keeping my mind and body occupied so I wouldn’t have too much time to dwell on the mission.


The intelligence bods put me through as many debriefing sessions as possible.  They were detailed and obscenely technical.  I gave them a full mission debrief, from insertion to the complete balls-up that led to our capture, but I feigned haziness about my escape and how I came to be taken to the New Zealand embassy.


Intelligence wanted to know why my two captors had helped me and why - once I was safe - they’d pulled their pistols and spread their brains over the inside of the ambulance. I shrugged, said, perhaps they’d developed a conscience.


The debriefings began to wind down and became more like reorientation and rehab sessions.


After three weeks of eating meals that varied between baby food, rice pudding, jelly, soup and a lot of pureed chicken, mushroom and rice, I was given a nice set of dentures.  They looked exactly like my old teeth never did, and made my mouth feel alien again for a little while.


My physical rehab continued. At week 8 I began walking without the aid of a stick, by week 10 I was managing a couple of miles a day.  At week 12 I was jogging short distances and started light work on the weight bench in the gym.  My stitches were removed.  The holes in my head healed and my hair had started growing back.


And I still had The Gift.


I could see everyone’s corona.


I resisted the temptation until week 11.  Up until that point I was sure I was under more than one kind of observation.


My CO came down from Hereford that day.  It could have been awkward.


I saw in his mind that he’d read the reports - my debrief, the reports from the Royal Irish Rangers (Bravo force’s ground support for our Op) and an overall data analysis from the intelligence bods.  I saw that there’d been a cock-up, several cock-ups.


Because of the storm in the desert, Bravo force had been inserted two kilometres southeast of the drop zone.  The poor bloody Royal Irish Rangers, who were already on the ground, had been issued with radios that were thirty years old and prone to malfunction.  They couldn’t talk to us.  We couldn’t talk to them.


The intelligence we’d been given had been flawed, and what the desk jockeys back in Northwood had concluded was an enemy Observation Post was in fact a Forward Command Bunker supported by two light tanks, and fifty infantry with an assortment of medium artillery.


The F-15 pilot, who had strafed us with canon fire and air-to-ground rockets as we overcame the enemy FCB, was twenty miles outside of his combat zone.  The pilot had failed to get authorisation for his attack. The report concluded this was probably due to him being out of his head on speed at the time.


I saw all of this.  I saw that the CO didn’t blame me, despite the other three members of the team never coming home.  He blamed himself that they wouldn’t be eating Christmas lunch with their families ever again.


I asked him how my future looked, but before he could reply I saw the word ‘discharge’ in his mind.  I felt OK with that.


That day I decided that the time had come to begin experimenting with The Gift.


A few weeks previously we’d formed a nighttime card-school: me, the ward Sister, Duty Nurse and the ward porter.  We’d been playing poker every evening since - for pennies, but our debts soon mounted up and we joked about calling in our debts and buying ourselves out of the service.  That night, after an hour of light bantering and gambling, I gently ‘suggested’ that the night porter didn’t want to play any more.  He stayed for two more hands then announced he had a headache, pushed his chair backwards and left for a his duty room.


Catherine, the ward Sister, said that now would be a good time for a break.  She and Angela - the duty nurse - did their rounds, took temperatures, wrote notes, and then came back to the table with hot drinks and a few rounds of sandwiches.


We played on.


I learned as we played.  I learned that if I used the third strand of ‘purple’, joined it with the fifth strand of ‘black’ and sent a gentle suggestion - down the newly joined pathway, the person on the other end believed that the suggestion was his idea, that he wanted to do it.  If I added a strand from the fourth layer of ‘yellow’, I discovered that the planted suggestion had a fraction more compulsion - to which the person on the other end received a slight feeling of gratification when they yielded.  When I added in the very lightest of the ‘blue’ strands the suggestion became an intensely compelling desire.


At the poker table that night I won and lost some hands.  As the three of us played I learned the art of subtlety in manipulation.  I also learned how to combine the intricacy of ‘suggested’ manipulation with the ethereal touch of ‘seeing’ into another person’s mind.


I saw the game through the eyes of both Catherine and Angela and made suggestions accordingly.  Sometimes I made them throw in strong hands, other times they played ‘long’ on hands that didn’t even mount up to an opening bid.


All the time I was learning, suggesting, observing, adapting, and practising.


The next night the porter joined us as usual and I learnt to play the three of them - or rather, I learned to play three minds at the same time.  To begin with, that was a challenge, but after a couple of hours I soon mastered the technique.


By the end of that week I could maintain sight and suggestion over three minds at once.  I was also able to exert subtle degrees of control - of different levels of control - in one, two or all three minds at the same time.


On the last night of their joint shift I sent the porter to his room, stopped experimenting with cards and got more physical. Angela and Catherine loved it; I made sure of that.


Four weeks later I was discharged from hospital and ordered to return to Hereford for a final debrief and my formal discharge from the service.  I was sorry to leave the hospital, sorry to leave Angela and Catherine.  I would miss them; miss the nights of sexual gymnastics that the three of us had enjoyed.  More than that, I would miss their care for me - they had seen me through my recovery from beginning to end.


Five weeks later I was on a train.  Almost all of my worldly goods had been sent to storage, I’d left Hereford carrying a suitcase and a rucksack.  In my pocket was a single train ticket.


I took it out, together with the envelope that the RAF Personnel Assistant had given me before I left the unit.


One single journey, Hereford to London.


Why London?


Why not?


Before I’d joined up I used to live in Glasgow.  That was 21 years ago; I haven’t been back there since.  For over two decades the Army had been my home: Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Wales, Belize, Scotland, Hong Kong, The Falklands, Kuwait, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Ireland (north and south) and, of course, Hereford.


I opened the envelope. HMtQ’s crest on thick, textured, headed paper with a WC1 address.  The letter was hand-written - an extravagant copperplate script, which had flowed from the nib of a fountain pen.


I was invited to contact the writer at the above address, or if it was more convenient perhaps I’d like to give him a bell and arrange to pop in for a cup of tea?


My words, their meaning.


I folded the letter, put it back in the envelope then tore it into pieces as small as I could make them. I put the remains in the pocket of my rucksack.


‘To spook or not to spook, that is the question’, I mused.


I gazed out of the window, wondering what career path I should take as a brand new member of the civilian community.


When we arrived in London the shock - whilst walking around the streets - of seeing all those coronas, was overwhelming.


It didn’t take me long to realise that a few - a very few - had the appearance of being a little ‘tainted’, slightly darker in all shades than other coronas.  I also noticed that another very small number of coronas were discoloured in a different way, a little lighter than the shades that I had come to call ‘normal’.


I sat in an Italian restaurant and looked into the mind of a lighter corona.  It belonged to a person who was good, who had a set of morals and wasn’t ever going to come close to breaching them.  This was a person whose head was just a little empty, a person who lacked a fraction of intelligence.  A person who might be described as a bimbo.


As I used my eyes, rather than my new 'sight', to study the owner of this corona, it struck me that I’d been so busy looking at coronas I’d not been using my eyes at all.  Or perhaps I had, but I hadn’t registered what they had been telling me.  This corona belonged to a guy in his mid-twenties. A nice guy, harmless, he looked smart - just a bit of an airhead.


I 'looked' around the restaurant and found a darkened corona.  The owner thought she was tough, mean, cool, hard and attractive.  I smiled to myself.


The RAF cooks who’d kept me fed for the last few months had probably killed more people with their cooking than this person had with weapons.  Thinking about it, the RAF cooks had probably fired more weapons than this person.  Then I delved deeper and found what was different. It wasn’t just an extra degree of meanness.  This woman was more than bad – she had no morals, no rules, would lie, cheat and lie and cheat about lying and cheating - and all before breakfast, whilst thinking this was perfectly acceptable behaviour.


I dipped into memories and skimmed through past examples of her deviousness that would have made Machiavelli envious.  The way she used people was impressive, but her total disregard for her colleagues and those who depended on her - that was what offended me (as a person whose life depends, had depended, on his colleagues) more than anything else.


I used my eyes to sweep over the smart suit, the silk blouse, neatly styled hair, and immaculate fingernails.  I didn’t mind the appearance but I hated what I’d seen inside her head.  I sent a hard-edged command into her corona.  Her demeanour didn’t change but I knew the message sank in.


I spent the night in a cheap hotel near the train station.  From my room I telephoned London City Airport and booked myself on the breakfast flight to Luxembourg.  I found myself wishing for the company of Angela and Catherine before I finally drifted off to sleep.


The next morning, somewhere over France, I read the announcement in The Telegraph that the fast-rising MP for a Sussex constituency had unexpectedly announced last night that she was resigning from Parliament with immediate effect.  There was a lot of press speculation at this unexpected turn of events.  I smiled, message received all right.


We landed at Luxembourg airport and I took a taxi to the city centre where I found a hotel, checked in then went for a walk to stretch my legs.  Soon I was walking through the amazing parkland that is set in the valley between the two hill-topped halves of the city.  I ambled through the open space, admired the sculptures and works of art just like any other tourist and was back in the centre of town by 2pm.  A quick walk through a small but exclusive shopping arcade on the way back to the hotel and I was positive that there were no tags on me.


I hadn’t been sure in London yesterday.


It takes a minimum of five front-line operatives to make a surveillance box work, but a box of five people is easy to spot if you know what to look for.  But if the people in the field had twenty staff in the pool - and if the field was a busy place like west London, then not even an old pro like me would spot the box very easily, not without ducking and diving to flush them out and throw them off the scent.


And I didn’t want to duck and dive; I didn’t want to alarm anyone.


I changed into a suit and presented myself to the smart office of Sveizerrische Kredietanstalt, and then 40 minutes later I was in the equally impressive Kredietanstaltbank Verein.


Five-thirty, I was back in my hotel.


The next morning I caught a flight to Zurich where I kept similar appointments with two other small, privately owned banks.  After Zurich I took a train to Basle where I visited two other - similar - banks, then took a much longer train journey to Liechtenstein.  In Vaduz I kept appointments in four banks then caught an evening flight to Brussels.


After an overnight stay I kept my single appointment there - at the Belgian branch of Chemical Bank.  From Brussels airport I sent the manager of each bank I’d visited an account number for another branch of Chemical Bank, and then I caught an evening commuter flight into Heathrow.


It was almost 10pm. I was on the tube back into central London; we’d travelled four stops from the airport when I realised that I’d walked into a red zone.  The lads who’d got on at Osterley were looking for trouble.  Three bored, slightly drunk lads out to humiliate some passengers and brag to each other about how big and bad they were and how scared people were of them.  They ignored me and clustered around an immaculately suited, shortish, dark-skinned businessman sitting opposite.  As they hassled him one of the lads began trying to pull the businessman’s briefcase away and his corona went into overdrive.  I looked inside and stood up straight away.  I worked on their coronas as I put my hands on the shoulders of two of the lads and asked all of them to sit down quietly until it was their stop.


They did.


The relief in this guy’s face was so real I could almost touch it. The relief in his mind was just as tangible.


At the next stop I picked up my bags, nodded to him and got off - but got back on in the next carriage.


I fished out my phone and called the telephone number that had been written on the letter I’d received with my discharge papers.


“This is Sam Barkes. I got a letter.”


“Yes, Mr Barkes. This is an unusual time to call.”


The voice was female, accent-less, but belonged to an older generation than mine.


“This is an unusual matter.”


“I see, well you’d better tell me more then.”


“There’s a man here, on this tube train.  I believe I recognise his face.”


There was a pause.


“You’re telling me this because he’s not an asset?”


Translation: He’s not on our side.


“Correct.  And his actions trouble me. I think he’s carrying something that could make a very big hole in the infrastructure.”


Translation: This is an explosive situation.


“We’re not exactly set up for this kind of operation here.  I could alert Bomb Disposal and Special Branch…”


“OK,” I said.


Christ, this dopey woman was going to ring the Royal Engineers and the civilian plod!  Well of course she was.  She didn’t know what I knew.


I added, “You might want to ring my ex-boss in Hereford. Get him and a bunch of his friends down here in one of those nice fast helicopters of theirs.  And perhaps some people from Thames House.” I hoped she’d understand the code for MI5.


“Do you think you might be over-egging the pudding a little, Mr Barkes?”


For fuck’s sake.


“Are you recording?”




“Send him a copy of this conversation. Tell him that if he plays his cards right there’s a case of Echo Uniform in it for him if he’s quick.  I’ll give you his number if you don’t have it.”


Translation: Echo Uniform, enriched uranium.


“Of course I have it.”  She sounded offended.


“I’ll try to stay with our friend.  I’ll call again when I can.  Don’t ring me, my phone will be off.”


“Where are you now?”


“Acton.”  I switched off before she could respond.


I positioned myself so I could watch him through the glass in the dividing doorway.  He looked calmer now, his corona less stressed.  I still had my baggage with me so my chances of following undetected were nil.  I looked inside his mind and found out where he would be getting off, where he would be going, and what he’d be doing.  It was all straightforward stuff.


At Gloucester Road I got out, caught a cab back to my hotel in Paddington, dumped my things and took the cab to Knightsbridge.


His hotel was a large old house that had probably been converted in the early 1950s.  I walked up to the receptionist and engaged her in harmless conversation while I probed her mind for information on my target.  He’d arrived an hour ago and was upstairs in his room.


 I did a sweep of the reception and bar and detected no suspicious coronas.  But my eyes thought the man sitting by himself in the bar looked apprehensive.  I checked him out.  No, he was just a married man, waiting for the receptionist to get off duty so he could go upstairs to her room and continue their affair.  The word ‘vibrator’ was at the forefront of his mind but I didn’t dwell there - didn’t want to learn for whom it was intended.


I settled onto a stool at the end of the bar, and ordered a drink.


As I looked around again I noticed that the elegant, smart-suited woman sitting by herself seemed to be reading Le Soir without turning pages.  Well, I’d take my time over that one too. I looked inside anyway.




I told her not to assess me as a threat.  I delved some more.


I rang the number once more.


She answered.


“Sam Barkes.” I said. I told her where our friend and I had got to.


“I’ve spoken to Thames House,” she said.  “They’d like to know a little more.”


I bet, I thought.


“Is there a duty officer they could send round?”


“I’ll arrange that.”


“Anything from my ex-boss?”


“Yes, he said you’d better be right because the European Cup Final is on tonight.”


“I’m not usually wrong,” I said simply.


“So I’m told.”


She hung up.


I sat at the bar and alternated between coffee and diet coke.  Before an hour had passed a man in his 30s strolled in, wearing smart shoes, casual trousers and a leather jacket that must have cost £500.  He saw me, walked over and greeted me with a handshake and a hug.


“I’m from Thames House,” he whispered in the hug.


“Pleased to meet you,” I said, looking over his shoulder at everyone else.


“He’s in room 42, third floor.  There’s someone in the room next door and that smart looking thing over there in the Armani two-piece is a pair of eyes.  She’s carrying.  I’d guess a pistol and maybe a knife as well by the way she holds her body.  It’s a cert there’s more unfriendly tools upstairs.”


“Thanks for the invitation to the party,” he said.  “What else can you tell me about the chap on the train?”


“His reputation is not as a courier,” I said.  “But I’m sure he was holding something nasty.”


“Where did he get on?”




He paused.  “How would he get something nasty through customs?”


I laughed as though we were still exchanging greetings.


“Why don’t you pop upstairs and ask him?”


His turn to laugh a little now.


“Think I’ll wait.  We’re going to send in SB.”


He saw my expression.


“Not happy?”


“Civilian police is civilian police.  For something extraordinary you need some specialist help.”


His eyes hardened a little.


“They’re the best…”


“Of a bad job?”  I finished for him.


“We’ve got,” he said, emphatically.


I was tempted to goad him a little more but picked up his sense of urgency.




“Five minutes.”


“Mind if I watch?”


“It might be helpful if you’d stay here and watch for any unexpected developments.”


I nodded.


A couple of minutes later a fine looking lady walked through reception and into the bar.  She walked up to us, kissed him on both cheeks and then offered me her hand.


He introduced her. “Sam, this is DC Greenwood of the Branch.”


“News?” she asked him.


He nodded towards me, so I briefed.


“Female, over there, late 30s, brown hair, gold necklace, smart checked suit.  Plus our friend upstairs in room 42, third floor.  There’s A.N. Other in the room next to him.  She and A.N. are armed. Our friend may be too.”


“That it?” she asked.


“That I know of,” I said.


She signalled to the barman and asked for the Ladies toilet.  He pointed out to reception and told her how to get there.  She thanked him and walked in that direction.


“Smart cookie,” I said.


He nodded.  We both knew that what she’d done was provide herself with cover so she could go outside and brief her colleagues.


We ordered a couple more drinks and exchanged small talk about the evening’s football match.


A noisy group of German tourists came into the hotel reception, headed for the bar.  Halfway there one of them noticed the elegant woman in Armani and made a beeline for her.  As two of his friends walked over to try to call him off I noticed six people, in three groups of two, slip into reception and head for the stairs.


The Le Soir reader was taking the unwanted attention in her stride when suddenly, at a silent signal, the three Germans nearest the woman threw themselves upon her, wrestled her to the ground and flipped her over on to her stomach and pinned her hands behind her back.


A moment later she was hauled to her feet and marched outside by two of the ‘Germans’.  The others remained on their hands and knees, searching the area where she’d been sitting for any items that she may have dropped or concealed.


My new friend and I continued sipping our drinks and watching silently.


Four people came nosily down the stairs, three of them half-carrying, half-walking someone I’d never seen before.  They went out into the street, which now seemed to be bathed in red and blue flashing light.


A few minutes later another three people came down the stairs.  They were half-carrying, half-walking the man I’d seen on the underground earlier.  My companion raised an eyebrow and I nodded.  He ordered another couple of drinks.


After half an hour of chat DC Greenwood came back in.


“Gentlemen,” she said.  “As of a few moments ago we have charged three foreign nationals with various offences under anti-terrorism legislation.  One has also been charged with illegally transporting nuclear material.”


“Shit,” we both said.


She smiled, a crooked smile, but a nice one nevertheless.


“We owe you our thanks, Mr Barkes.”




She stuck out her hand.


I shook her hand.  “You’re welcome, DC Greenwood of The Branch.”


“Do we know where to get hold of you?” she asked.


“I’m sure someone does.”


“In that case I’ll say goodnight.”  And she went.


So did the blue and red flashing lights.


“Another drink?” asked my new friend.


“Umm, no, not for me thanks.  It’s been a bit of a day and I need some sleep.”


“Can I give you a lift?”


“Going anywhere near Paddington?”


“For you, that’s the least that the taxpayers of London can do.  My car’s outside.”


I walked through reception and was halfway down the stone steps when I lost consciousness.


When I woke up the first thing I saw was Catherine’s anxious face.


“Hello you.”


I tried to respond but my tongue was too dry to speak.  She passed me a glass of water and I tried again.


“Hello you too,” I croaked.


“Fancy a game of cards?” she asked.


I tried to laugh but my mouth was still too dry.


“Be still,” she said.  “I have to tell someone you’re awake.”


A few moments later she came in with my new friend from the hotel.


He looked around my room.  “Nice place you’ve got here, Mr Barkes.”




He looked at me and smiled.  “Want an update?”


I nodded; Catherine passed me some more water.


“There was another,” he said.


I took another drink.


“She was in the room opposite your man.  When she heard the commotion she went downstairs by the back stairs - just in time to see the woman who'd been sitting downstairs being taken outside.  Then she saw the two people from upstairs being marched out.”


He paused for a moment.


“Then, unfortunately, she saw DC Greenwood and me talking to you.  She thought you were in charge.  When we left the hotel she was waiting outside.  She got off a shot, which grazed your temple.  You fell forward spoiling her aim and, umm, I jumped on her.”


I liked the image.


“The graze was nothing, but when you fell forward you hit your head hard on the steps.  You’ve been unconscious for three days, they thought it best to bring you back to the RAF Hospital where they knew you.”


“I see.”


What else could I say?


I couldn’t read him.  I couldn’t read Catherine.


The Gift was gone.


I couldn’t read minds.  I couldn’t influence people any more.


He saw my expression and hastily said, “Don’t worry old boy.  No permanent damage.  The best surgeon in the country has looked at your X-rays and scans.  You’re perfectly normal.”


Again, I said silently to myself.  Perfectly normal again.


“There’s going to be a gong in it for you, next Honours list.  I understand the PM’s office has nominated you for a very serious award.”


“Lovely,” I said. “I’ll keep it on top of the wardrobe with all the others.”


“I expect you need to rest for a little while,” he said.  “I’ll be in touch.  Take it easy.”  He shook my hand.


It was only when he’d gone that I realised I didn’t know his name.


A few minutes later Catherine walked in closely followed by Angela. I looked from face to face trying to read their expressions, then suddenly they both smiled and I knew we were going to be alright.


In the middle of the night the Email alert on my mobile phone beeped.


“It’s been doing that a lot,” said Catherine.  “Have you got yourself a bit on the side?”


I laughed gently, “No, it’s my bank manager.”


I opened the file of incoming email messages.  It was indeed from my bank manager.  Or more accurately, it was from the transfer manager at Chemical Bank in Brussels.  He was informing me that as of close of business today my offshore account with the Grand Cayman Islands branch of Chemical Bank stood at £285,000,000.


“What is it?” asked Catherine.


“Told you. My bank manager.”


“What’s he say?”


“He says, ‘would you like to retire to somewhere warmer and live the life of O’Reilly, never having to work or worry about money again?’”


“Oh really?”


“No, O’Reilly.”


She dug me in the ribs with her finger.


“Be gentle with me.  Angela’s turn to stay with me in an hour or so.”


“Sleep for a while then,” she said.


I tried, but I couldn’t.


I lay there and contemplated my meetings with the bankers in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Zurich, Basle and Vaduz.


I’d used The Gift.


I’d seen the Director of each bank and told them to transfer all balances from every account that had lain dormant for over 20 years to my account at Chemical Bank in Brussels.  My instructions to Chemical Bank in Brussels were simple: open an account in my name in their Grand Cayman branch, and transfer all incoming money from Brussels to the Grand Cayman account.


I lay there a little while longer.  I didn’t know if I could love yet, but I knew I’d missed both Angela and Catherine - and they’d missed me.


They weren’t under my power any longer but they wanted me, wanted to continue sharing me and wanted to live with me.


I supposed that with £285,000,000 in an offshore bank account I could afford to have two women in my life.


All the same, I was going to miss The Gift.