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Authors: Boris Johnson

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Seventy-Two Virgins

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BORIS JOHNSON

 

Seventy-Two Virgins

 

 

 

 

Optimis parentibus

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

THE TROJAN AMBULANCE

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

0752 HRS

 

On what he had every reason to believe would be the last day of his undistinguished political career Roger Barlow awoke in a state of sexual excitement and with a gun to his head, the one fading as he became aware of the other.

The gun was equipped with an orange whale harpoon, and would have been lethal, had it been more than six inches long and made of something other than plastic.

‘Say your prayers, buddy,’ said the four-year-old. Roger’s eyelid quivered.

If Sigmund Freud had been able to catch this kid’s conversation, he would have been thrilled. Seldom had there been so exuberant and uninhibited an Oedipus complex.

One morning they were lying all three of them in bed, and Roger was trying to persuade the kid to go and watch
Scooby Doo.
The child turned to his mother.

He spoke prettily, in the kind of voice he might use for ordering another fish finger.

‘I am going to kill Daddy, and then I am going to marry you.’ Today, Roger didn’t want to be rude to the four-year-old, and he didn’t want to exacerbate his complex, but he was damned if he was going to be treated in this way. He grunted, and rolled away, gripping his slumbering wife with both arms.

The four-year-old fired the plastic dart carefully into the back of Roger’s neck.

Barlow’s blow went wide. Ceding his place to his rival, he rose. He tended to wear T-shirts in bed, and this one was a relic of a brief but illustrious former Tory leadership under which he had been proud to serve.

‘It’s Time For Hague’, proclaimed the T-shirt, while the back announced: ‘The Common Sense Revolution’. As a piece of nightwear, his wife claimed that it had anti-aphrodisiacal properties of a barely credible order.

‘MMM,’ said his wife.

‘Mmm,’ said Roger. ‘Back in a mo.’

As he went into the bathroom he heard the flap of the letterbox.
Cee-rist!
he thought, the papers!

He scooted downstairs and scooped them up off the mat. Quickly he went through the brutal tabloid that was most likely to have done him in, and then the ones that pretended to be more responsible.

Nope.

Nothing.

Nope. Nothing.

Phew.

Just the usual flammed-up load of old cobblers, masquerading as news.

There was allegedly a ‘dirty bomb’ threat to London, or so said ‘sources’ in the Home Office, with an eye, no doubt, to stirring up public alarm, and then introducing some fresh repression of liberty. There were acres of predictable drivel about the security arrangements for the celebrations today.

The police had launched some Al-Qaeda raid in Wolverhampton and Finsbury. But then there was one of those every month.

In other words, there was nothing important, and certainly nothing to feed his ludicrous paranoia. But some guilty instinct told him to purge the house of these bullying quires of paper.

So he stretched down the Common Sense Revolution to make it a kind of nightshirt (common sense, innit?) and zipped outside into the summer morning. He stuffed them into the fox-ravaged bin, and then checked that no one had seen him.

Drat. Someone had indeed seen him. It was that funny woman who was always muttering under her breath, and who had once seen him administering physical chastisement — in fact it was about the only occasion he had ever done so — to one of his other children.

He beamed at her, tugging the T-shirt over his hips.

With a shudder his neighbour hurried about her business, and Roger darted back up the steps to see the door shutting in his face.

‘Oi. You. No!’ he said.

He bent down to look through the flap.

‘Please,’ he said.

The child’s sweet face came closer. He was now dressed in a red crusader’s tabard, and brandished a plastic gladius or stabbing sword.

‘You are not necessary,’ he said to Roger through the letterbox. ‘Mummy,’ he called, looking back over his shoulder, ‘do we know this man?’

Five minutes later, and with the help of his wife, Roger Barlow had regained access to his house, dressed, washed, and was thrashing around the kitchen looking for that …that thing.

‘You know,’ he said to his wife, ‘the thing with the thing in it.’

His wife had been around long enough to know what to do in these circumstances. She got on with drinking her coffee. ‘Ah yes,’ she said, ‘that thing.’

Barlow cast a worried glance at his watch. It was that green folder thing, the one all about poor Mrs Betts. They were threatening to close the respite centre she needed for her son, who had such severe learning difficulties that he had no realistic hope of education. And last night, in a fit of alcohol-induced elation, he had been staring at the autistic Betts kid’s drawings, which were pretty good, and thought he had seen the answer. But he had had had HAD to have the file.

He was going to ring Mrs Betts that afternoon, and it was no use if he …

Maybe Cameron still had it. He looked again at his watch and wondered whether to dial his beautiful, omnicompetent American researcher. It was too early.

He searched again in his office, under the bed, under the sofa, under the doormat, in the stuff being put out for recycling. He had a sudden horror that he had accidentally thrown the folder away with the papers, and went back to the bins. And then he saw something under his son’s chair, where the child was eating his second breakfast.

He had no time to ask how it had got there. He had no time to speculate on the industrial-strength adhesive with which it was now covered, and which is created by mixing Weetabix with milk.

He had no time because he had a speech to prepare, a respite centre to save, and he had to get to the Commons before the whole of Westminster was blockaded by the Americans.

The President was due to start speaking at 10 a.m., and Roger had to be in his seat in less than an hour. He pointed the bike south and started to churn his legs.

 

As for the President’s breakfast, it differed from Roger’s in almost every respect. It was a leisured and ruminative repast, taken at a round table in a vast bay window in the same vaulted apartments that have been given to every visiting head of state for the last fifty years.

Olaf of Norway had slept there. So had King Baudouin of Belgium. So had the Pope, and come to that, President Marcos of the Philippines and sundry other thugs the Foreign Office had once thought fit to foist on Her Majesty, notably President Ceaucescu of Romania in 1978 and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe in 1994.

On the bedside table was a guide to the British Museum, a volume of Tennyson and a Dick Francis hardback that might have been new in 1973, when the room was used by President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

Now the President looked out over Windsor Great Park, at the ancient oaks, trussed and propped with iron, and the deer, and, in the distance, the looming turrets of Legoland; but what fascinated him most was the yellow packet of breakfast cereal, reposing in a specially constructed silver cruet.

‘Say, honey, look at this,’ he said to the First Lady, and read out the awesome royal warrants. ‘By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, Weetabix and Co., purveyors of breakfast cereals. And Prince Charles. And the Queen Mum. I thought she passed away.’

‘Gee,’ said the First Lady, who had also been trying to eat the Weetabix. ‘Does that mean they make this stuff specially for the Queen?’

‘I guess she has to sort of approve it.’

‘How much does she have to eat?’ asked the First Lady.

They both stared at their bowls. ‘I dunno,’ said the President. ‘Kind of soaks up the milk, doesn’t it?’

Like Barlow, the President considered the amazing physical properties of a Weetabix/milk solution, and its possible application in the construction industry. The First Lady fleetingly wondered what it would be like to have the Presidential seal on the back of a packet of Froot Loops.

There was a knock on the door.

‘Sir,’ said a US Secret Service man in a blue blazer, ‘Colonel Bluett just called. He wanted to be sure you were aware of the security implications of the arrests last night.’

The President grimaced. He had naturally read the papers, but had been hoping not to bring the subject up in front of his wife.

‘You bet,’ he said. ‘Good job by the Brits.’

‘We should go now, sir, if you’re ready, ma’am.’

‘Too bad they didn’t catch the main guy,’ said the First Lady, who had also read the news.

 

That wasn’t the only detail troubling Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Purnell, who had been sitting at his desk since 6 a.m. in the New Scotland Yard Ops Room. News had come in of a vehicle theft in Wolverhampton, a crime that appeared to have taken place shortly before the not-quite-successful synchronized raids. It might mean something; it might mean nothing. But it was a very odd thing to steal, and his dilemma, now, was whether or not to share the information with the Americans. After ten days working on this visit with Colonel Bluett of the US Secret Service, he somehow couldn’t face the conversation. ‘Don’t worry, sir,’ said his assistant, who was called Grover. ‘Even if it was our friends who took it, where the hell are they going to park it? I bet someone will find it within an hour.’

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

0824 HRS

 

It was going to be a beautiful day, thought William Eric Kinloch Onyeama, as he walked across Lambeth Bridge.

No. Wait.

He stopped, and his delighted eye scanned the landscape, dapply and wavy and branchy. He could do better than that.

He searched for his new favourite word. It was on the tip of his tongue. He had just confirmed its rough area of meaning with his teachers at the Euro language school in Peckham Rye.

He looked at the happy brown river, winking beneath the bituminous scum.

He looked at the gilt flèches and steeples of the Houses of Parliament, which inspired in him a deep and unfashionable reverence. That building was, in his view, heart-stoppingly lovely, but too spiky, surely, to qualify for the adjective he was now struggling to recall.

He took in the roses in Victoria Tower Gardens, and the red, white and blue flags that flew over the heart of Westminster on this day of glorious commemoration; the white ellipse of the London Eye; the leaves on the plane trees, turning up their light undersides in the breeze.

They were all beautiful, beautiful, but they were not exactly b— What was it again?

He looked down at his shoes, which he had polished the night before. They were fat Doc Martens, burnished and blushing like bumps or buns. They were bu— What was it? They were like the black rumps of the taxis, the bashful bums that beetled before him over the bridge. They were b—; they were bu— they were busty — no, they were buck, they were bucks— That was it.

It was going to be a buxom day.

He grinned, and thought of all the things that might be classified as buxom.

Obviously there was Mrs (Nellie) Naaotwa Onyeama. She was as buxom as all get out. This he had amply confirmed a little while ago, just before he rose from her bed.

And the clouds above him were high and fleecy. How foolish they were to talk of rain, thought Eric; and how typically gloomy of the Apcoa people to make them take their pacamacs.

If you added it all together, thought Eric, if you looked at all the glitter and lustre and promise of the new summer’s day, then you could argue — and he stood to be corrected —that this July morning stood fully in the semantic field of his new best word.

So he went on down Horseferry Road, past the obelisks with their odd pineapple finials, past the bearded stone Victorians who had conquered the continent from which he came, and he, the colonial, began to hunt in the former imperial metropolis.

He checked the Resparks. He checked the tax. If someone had stuck a ticket in the window, he noted the time of expiry and plotted his return.

All the while he was savouring this language which ruled the world, and over which he was acquiring mastery.

And there in Maunsel Street was his first prey of the morning, buxom in the curvature of its forequarters, a gleaming black four by four which had flouted the Respark and was therefore in defiance of Code 04 and a thoroughly ticketable vehicle.

He reached down for his Sanderson Huskie computer, the wizard device that has given the parkie the whip hand over the motorist. Eric started to record the time, place, and exact dereliction of a Pajero station wagon, licence plate L8 AG4 1N.

But now a woman was running back down the pavement towards him. She had a kid in tow, with a satchel and a blazer, and she wore an expression of tragic supplication.

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