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Table of Contents

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STEPHEN DAVIES

 

 

 

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ISBN 9781849398190

 

First published in 2007 by Andersen Press Limited,
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
www.andersenpress.co.uk

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Copyright © Stephen Davies, 2007

The right of Stephen Davies to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

ISBN: 9781849398190

Version 1.0

Acknowledgements

What follows is fiction but it is grounded in reality. I would like to thank the following people for their freely given expertise: David and Nikki Sudlow, Dr Reuben Rubio II, Chuck Manning, Andy James, Nick Harrison, Peter Jones, Jocelyn Elliott, Simon Cross and Keith Smith.

Thanks also to Anout ag Ahmed for his hospitality in Niger, and to editor Rona Selby for her good advice during the writing of this book.

For Charlie

1

'The production of nuclear weapons is on the rise,' said the man on the platform, flinging his hands high into the air to emphasise his statement. 'If we sit by and do nothing it will continue to rise.'

A murmur of agreement, or perhaps of fear, ran round the conference hall. In the front row, Dr Talata knit his brows and sighed. The International Atomic Energy Agency's annual meetings in Vienna were never a bundle of laughs, but this one was turning out gloomier than most.

'What is more,' continued Dr Belem, 'the threat of nuclear terrorism hangs over the world like the sword of Damocles.'

Dr Talata glanced sideways at his wide-eyed neighbours. Whoever Damocles might be, the words nuclear and terrorism had evidently hit the mark.

Dr Belem took the microphone off its stand and walked to the front of the platform. 'All of us in the International Atomic Energy Agency are terrified about the possibility that one day an explosive device will be created using . . .' He paused and his voice sank to a confidential whisper '. . . stolen nuclear material.'

The phone in Dr Talata's lapel pocket vibrated silently against his chest. He took it out and looked at it.

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The text message was in his mother tongue, French:

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Dr Talata bridled. Did he know SILVA? What didn't he know about SILVA? He stabbed out a reply:

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On the platform, Dr Abdul Belem had put his microphone back on its stand and was reading from his notes: 'The IAEA must be vigilant. We must work with governments and security services to prevent the theft of nuclear materials . . .'

Dr Talata's phone vibrated in his palm.

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Talata cocked his head to one side. There was no way to tell if this was a genuine job offer. It could be a trap. His thumbs danced over the keypad of his phone:

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'Terrorism is a hydra,' Belem was saying. 'Cut off one head, another grows in its place. Together we must formulate a range of detection and response measures . . .'

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The hairs on the back of Dr Talata's neck stood on end. This could be interesting, he thought.

 

*

 

Haroun woke to find that the sun had already risen. He was glad to see the sun and the vast open sky. In his dream he had been down in the mine and the roof of the tunnel had collapsed on either side of him. Pullo yidaa ombeede, went the Fulani proverb. A Fulani man does not like to be enclosed.

His elder brother Hamma was watching him with a frown of disapproval. 'By the time the first cow got up this morning, I heard her,' he said. 'Even before the first ray of the sun touched her horns, I had already washed my ears and prayed.'

Haroun sat up and rubbed the crick in his neck.

'You are no longer a Fulani,' continued Hamma. 'The cows could all have wandered off and got lost while you were asleep and you would not have heard a thing.'

'I wish you'd wandered off and got lost while I was asleep,' said Haroun. He crouched on his haunches next to the water bucket and washed his face and neck.

'And you missed dawn prayer,' said Hamma, shaking his head. 'Look where the sun is. Even if you do your prayers now, it is too late.'

Hamma had been like this ever since Haroun got a job in the Tinzar uranium mine; he was jealous because Haroun was in paid work and he was not. He should be grateful, thought Haroun. After all, it was the mining wage that paid for Hamma's cola nuts.

Haroun prayed, then rolled up his grass sleeping mat and put it in his hut. His brother Hamma began to herd the cows, twirling his staff to make the lazy ones stand up. 'Oss, oss!' he cried, and the cows moved off towards the pasture in the west. They knew the routine.

Tinzar was right on the edge of the arid Sahara desert, but after the annual rains a few acres of green grass appeared to the west of the town. Haroun's family would graze their cows here until the grass was finished and then move on to pastures new. Such was the life of a nomad.

As they walked, the cows kicked up clouds of dust which drifted away on the warm breeze.

'Seems to me that your legs are tired, brother,' called Hamma. 'You have forgotten how to walk.'

'You know nothing,' said Haroun. 'Yesterday I walked from one o'clock in the afternoon to nine o'clock at night.'

Hamma snorted. 'What you do down in that mine is not walking. When a Fulani man walks he walks in the light under an infinite sky. He holds the staff across the back of his shoulders and walks towards the horizon, and in front of him walk a herd of cows. Scrabbling around at the bottom of a dry well is not walking.'

 

*

 

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You are logged in as Agahan.
Zabri has come to the table.
Play? YES | NO   YES
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Agahan: Salam aleykum.
Zabri: Aleykum asalam.
Agahan: Fifty years ago, what did the imajaghan desire?
Zabri: A fast white dromedary, a red saddle, his sword and a song of love.
Agahan: And today, what does the imajaghan desire?
Zabri: A plate of rice, a blanket to cover himself, his sword as a souvenir. These security questions bore me.
Agahan: They are important. Are you still in Vienna?
Zabri: Yes.
Agahan: Did you contact Dr Talata?
Zabri: Yes. He says he knows SILVA.
Agahan: What does he want in return?
Zabri: Poetry.
Agahan: Don't joke.
Zabri: I'm not. He wants the Seven Golden Odes from the National Museum of Jeddah.
Agahan: Do we have a man in Jeddah?
Zabri: No.
Agahan: I will send the Gecko – he will like Saudi Arabia. Salam aleykum.
Zabri: Aleykum asalam.
Agahan has left the table. Play again? YES | NO   NO

 

*

 

It was Haroun who first noticed that one of the cows was missing. They had taken the animals in amongst the chilluki trees where the grass was tall and lush, and somehow Naaye, his mother's reddish milk-cow, had wandered off.

'I'll go and look for her,' said Hamma. 'You stay here and try not to lose any more of them.'

Haroun waited until Hamma had disappeared into the trees and then he wandered over to a nearby breadfruit tree. He spied a ripe breadfruit high up in the branches, took aim and swung his staff.

'Salam aleykum,' said a voice behind him.

Haroun jumped at the sound and his staff flew off into the bushes. A white man was leaning against the chilluki tree behind him.

'Aleykum asalam,' he said, wondering what a tuubaaku was doing here.

'My name is Remy,' said the tuubaaku. 'I work for Bibliothèque Nomadique.'

Haroun said nothing. He had heard talk of this Frenchman, who had appeared in Tinzar during the last week. They said he had a van full of books which he took from school to school.

'And you must be Haroun,' continued Remy. 'You are the man who walks a hundred miles every week.'

Haroun retrieved his staff from the bushes. He could sense the white man walking alongside him. What could this tuubaaku want with him?

'Who told you my name?' said Haroun at last.

'One of the Uranico miners. Is it true you have access to every part of the mine?'

'I am the lamplighter,' said Haroun. 'I can go anywhere.'

'Do you enjoy working at Uranico?'

'Yes,' Haroun lied.

'Do they pay you well?'

Haroun looked at him. 'We Fulanis say that it is shameful to ask a lot of questions.'

The cows were moving off again. Haroun followed them and the tuubaaku followed Haroun.

'Would you like to work for me?' said the white man.

'No,' said Haroun.

'You are young and discreet and you know the mine. Come and work for me.'

'No.'

'Why not?'

'I do not know you.'

'I am French. I am a librarian. I travel round in my van and lend books to children.'

'I still do not know you.'

They walked on in silence. The only sound to be heard was the chomping of the cows as they tore tufts of grass out of the hard ground.

'Do they never get full?' asked the tuubaaku.

'Not until afternoon,' said Haroun. 'I saw your library parked near the mine last night,' he added.

'You are observant.'

'I am a herder,' said Haroun. 'If I were not observant I would have no cows left.'

Remy gave a sudden yelp and hopped about in pain. He had stood on a chilluki thorn, a vicious spike which could pierce even the toughest sandals. Haroun leaned on his staff and watched the white man's antics. What a shameful display. A grown man should bear pain in silence.

'This work you want me to do,' said Haroun. 'What kind of work is it?'

'Research,' said Remy, sitting down and taking off his sandal. 'I want you to find out things for me.'

'Things about the mine?'

'Yes. I need you to ask questions.'

Haroun walked away. 'When a man asks questions in Tinzar he loses his job,' he said.

'Haroun, listen to me,' called Remy. 'I believe your mine director Monsieur Gerard is in danger.'

'What?'

'There are bad things going on at your mine.'

Haroun swallowed. 'Go and talk to our director Monsieur Gerard about it,' he said.

'I tried,' said the white man. 'He won't talk to me.'

'Then neither will I.' Haroun broke into a run. The cows would scatter if he did not round them up quickly.

'Wait!' called Remy. 'There is a red cow tied to the baobab tree over there.'

Haroun's head spun. 'You took Naaye? You stole my cow?'

'Forgive me,' said Remy. 'I had to talk to you on your own, you see. Borrowing a cow was the only way to split you and your brother up. If you change your mind, come and see me at the library.'

Haroun herded the cows towards the baobab tree that Remy had pointed to. A Fulani does not feel fear, he told himself.

 

*

 

Aziz waited at the luggage carousel and checked his watch. Five o'clock. It had been a long journey: Algiers to Jeddah, changing planes at Tripoli. Jeddah was close to Mecca and most of his fellow passengers were heading there on the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage.

He picked his two cases off the conveyor belt and walked towards customs, sweating. Jeddah airport was not air-conditioned. The temperature this afternoon was about 38 degrees and the gecko suit under his clothes made it feel hotter.

A young, clean-shaven customs officer beckoned him over. 'Open the cases,' he said.

Aziz had two cases: a small black suitcase and a long canvas bag. He opened the first case. Trousers, socks, shirts, gloves, books, night-vision goggles.

The customs officer held up the goggles and raised an eyebrow. 'Explain,' he said.

'They are for fishing at night,' said Aziz quickly. 'Fly fishing.'

The officer opened the canvas bag. Inside was more fishing equipment: a travel rod in an aluminium tube and a pouch of flies. A Gecko likes his flies.

'Nice flies,' said the officer, peering into the pouch. 'Did you make them yourself?'

'Yes,' said Aziz. 'Do you think they'll fool the fish?'

The officer looked at the night-vision goggles, and back at the flies. 'Inshallah,' he said at last. 'If God wills it, your flies will fool the fish. Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Please do not empty the kingdom of all its marine life.'

Aziz thanked him and walked through the double doors out into the arrivals concourse. He went straight to a cash dispenser and took out a thousand Saudi riyalh. All he needed now was a SIM card for his phone and a hire bike. When the heist was over, he told himself, he would take off this stifling gecko suit and have a long, cool shower.