By Parson Thru
“I hate flying in these things.”
“I’d have thought you’d have been used to it by now.”
“I was. Until that idiot at Langley told me how badly it can go wrong.”
“I thought they were pretty safe. If the engine fails, the pilot can auto-rotate to the ground. Just a bumpy landing.”
“Yes, but it’s the fucking transmission. If that goes for a shit, we adopt the flying characteristics of a brick. Go ballistic.”
“Ha! A bit like Tessa if she finds out where you are.”
“Quite. Good lord! Is that it?”
“I think so, yes.”
“It’s bloody huge. Says something that the Queen doesn’t justify something like that these days.”
A voice spoke in the headphones.
“What did he just say?”
“Probably that we’re about to land. Hold on.”
The helicopter put down gently on the after deck of the yacht. The pilot kept the engine running.
Someone opened the cabin door from outside.
The two men took off their head-sets and unbuckled themselves.
“Good afternoon and welcome aboard. Please. Follow me and keep your heads down.”
They followed the man as instructed and entered the ship through a mahogany door. The engine of the helicopter was cut and the sound of the rotors began to abate.
A large middle-aged man dressed all in white was waiting for them at a table on the sun deck. A canopy kept the heat away and offered a degree of privacy.
The man stood up.
“Ah! Welcome aboard the Angel of Freedom, gentlemen.”
They shook hands.
“I trust you had a short but pleasant flight. I’m grateful that you could spare the time in your schedule…. May I call you Mr. Sandringham, or would you prefer if we were more formal?”
“Please, just Giles.”
“First names. Good. Much easier to do business in a relaxed atmosphere.”
“Perfect. First, I just need to ask. Who knows that you are here?”
“Nobody except my personal adviser, Alistair, here.” Sandringham indicated with his hand.
“Yes. Alistair, thank you for arranging this visit.”
Oleg Stanovich beamed his smile.
“And now, my friend. The Angel of Freedom holds just a few of the many delights of our lifestyle. Please, you have the freedom of the Angel. Vasili will show you below while we grown-ups speak in private.”
Alistair looked to his boss, who nodded his consent. Vasili took him below.
“Well, I hope you are hungry, Giles. We have many culinary delights from my country, a choice of the finest vodka and, of course, Champagne from France.”
He lifted the bottle out of the ice bucket and cocked his head.
“Although I hear that the English are producing very drinkable wines these days, no? Please, sit down.”
Sandringham sat himself at the only other chair. A white-jacketed waiter was instantly at his elbow.
“Caviar, of course.” Stanovich offered half in suggestion, half instruction.”
“Yes. I’ll have the caviar.”
“Good choice, Giles. What about your security? What have you told them?”
“National interest, of course. Above their pay grade.”
“Good. How long do we have?”
“An hour and a half.”
“That will be sufficient.”
A platter of caviar was laid in front of each of the two men. The waiter discreetly opened the Champagne and poured two glasses.
“So how can I help you, Oleg?”
“My dear friend, you already are. Me and many like me, who followed the invitation extended by your great nation,... Well, you are well aware of the issue. We have communicated at great length."
He looked Sandringham in the eye.
"Everyone is most grateful for the service you have done us so far. You are a great politician. You have made history, it is fair to say.”
“You flatter me, Oleg.”
“Giles. I am not a flatterer. Do not make that mistake.”
Sandringham looked back across the table and sipped from his glass.
“Why did you want to see me?”
“We have some concerns. Why is Tessa faltering?”
“She has a lot of demands to balance. We also need to be careful not to create economic problems. Ones that the press will find themselves unable to avoid linking to the withdrawal. Jobs, in short.”
Stanovich chewed in silence.
“Many UK firms are trading heavily with Europe. They are likely to tank somewhere between 2019 and establishing new overseas markets. Then there are the City jobs. It’s political dynamite.”
Stanovich looked steadily at Sandringham, then wiped his hands on a crisp serviette.
“You are losing your resolve, Giles.”
“No, Oleg. I have been immensely vocal, as you are aware. Media friends have shown
great loyalty in reporting the facts as I’ve spoken them.”
“Loyalty, Giles? Loyalty to whom?”
Stanovich let his words rest.
“Well, to me and to our cause, I suppose.”
“To the cause, Giles. Please do not be so naive as to elevate yourself above the cause. The cause predates you and I." Stanovich’s voice rose in anger. "It predates your great-grandparents, the Olonovs, who were themselves loyal and paid with their lives.”
He waved the empty plate away.
“Your family were emigrés. They ensured a privileged life for you in the west. They avoided the horrors that overcame families like my own. We don’t forget that, Giles. We never will. You owe us something.”
“I have to be careful, Oleg. I’m in the public eye.”
“By choice, Giles."
He waved the waiter across.
"You can’t pretend to be a wallflower. We do not ask much. Just that you deliver what you promised. If Tessa backslides, hundreds of billions are at risk. You have to keep the tax regime away from Brussels.”
The waiter came to the table with a silver tureen.
“Boar, Giles. From our own forests. Shot by one of our own parties. Take it. It is good.”
Sandringham nodded at the waiter, who ladled the stew and potatoes into a shallow bowl. He tried some. Stanovich was right. It was good. He mouthed his satisfaction across the table.
“So, Giles. How was your trip to Washington? A success? How is the great man?”
“It was very successful, thank you, Oleg.”
“Very discreet, Giles. We like your discretion. You will show us the same courtesy, I’m sure.”
Sandringham smiled, charmingly.
“Good. I wonder how your man is getting on below?”
Sandringham suddenly looked concerned.
Stanovich bellowed with laughter.
“Don’t worry, my friend. There are no cameras. Well, there are, but today they are not in use. You are among friends!”
He leant his head back and bellowed again.
“Oh, the English. You are such prudes!"