CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
Ben Santiago awoke early. Refreshed and strangely invigorated by this place he washed, shaved and dressed quickly before bounding down the hotel’s twisting oak stairway to the lounge. A thrill of excitement surged through his body. Today he would meet the stranger who had summoned him to this small, sleepy Staffordshire market town and who had almost completed an arms deal without a single spoken word.
Sitting down in the almost deserted restaurant, he laughed softly to himself as he studied the breakfast menu. Curious he thought, well it was more than curious actually, almost insane that he, Ben Santiago an international arms dealer was sitting here considering the best arms package for a man who he had never met outside his dreams.
Yet despite the fact that he still wasn’t sure that this person existed outside his own mind he was feeling incredibly happy and vital. Perhaps he had flipped, he thought and laughed loudly, his eyes sparkling humourlessly as he noticed a waitress who stood bemused by his table. She cleared her throat.
“Mr. Lopez? ” she asked, caught up in Santiago’s steely gaze. He held her their like a rabbit trapped in the bright beams of a car’s headlights, his eyes had her rooted to the spot. He licked his lips as he examined her slim and youthful form. A rush of desire flowed through his veins.
Then he smiled at her.
“I am he.” he replied to his alias.
“There is a man waiting for you in reception.” she informed the middle-aged, yet attractive guest. She sighed slightly and turned and drifted back to the kitchen. Santiago sat back in his chair. So this was it. Contact. He was impressed; they even knew him by an alias he had not used for some time. Perhaps they were a bigger organisation than he thought and knew him from the past.
He got to his feet and strode into reception. In the reception area, over-decorated with fox hunting memorabilia, a small, chubby, bespectacled and balding man in ill fitting clothes leapt to his feet as Ben approached. The little man smiled nervously.
“Senor Lopez?” he stammered, as he pushed his spectacles back up the bridge of his nose. Ben nodded as he studied this curious person.
He was a little concerned. Hardly a revolutionary or military type, he thought. He looked more like a librarian from some long forgotten and dusty hall of unreadable literature. Was this his contact, the man he had summoned him here?
The man began to walk towards the door.
“Come with me please.” he suggested rather than commanded. Santiago stood his ground.
“Where?” he laughed. “Is there not time for breakfast.” a hint of accent slipped through. “Why not join me?” Pinky Makepeace, no longer the inquisitive scholar today, merely an errand boy, which annoyed him greatly, became serious. Flax would not be amused if he had breakfast with this man and he was not in the best of moods as Scoggins had not returned from his foray into the town last night. Flax would wait for no one.
“You must come now. His eminence asks you to come to breakfast with him.” he almost pleaded as he opened the door top the hotel foyer and indicated that he pass through into the street. Santiago looked at his summoner’s emissary. He looked familiar. After a few moments of contemplation he arose from his seat.
“I’ll get my coat.” he stated firmly and returned to his room as Pinky sighed at the delay.
When he returned in his ankle length, grey suede coat, the little man walked rapidly out onto the street gesturing impatiently for him to follow. It was still bitterly cold and the pavements of the small town glittered with a carpet of ice. The light sensitive street lights still glowed.
It was dawn, but the heavy clouds, which had rolled across the country during the night, kept the morning light temporarily at bay. Santiago looked up at the dull, ominous cloud ceiling.
“Looks like it may snow.” Ben ventured, remembering the English pre-occupation with the weather and attempting to stimulate conversation. The little man who skated uneasily over the icy pavements ahead of him looked back, a puzzled expression on his face.
“Snow?” he asked, then shrieked out loud as his feet shot from under him and he landed flat on his back on the cold, frosty pavement.
Santiago helped him back to his feet, an amused grin on his face. “Less haste, more speed?” Pinky shrugged his shoulders and grunted irritably and then continued once again at a suicidal pace ahead of his charge.
After a five minute walk, during which Makepeace had fallen over three times again, they entered a narrow back street and soon approached their destination, the Cross Keys public house.
Santiago stood and looked at the sign. This was it.It was no dream, no insane mission borne out of some form of dementia as he had on occasions feared. He really was here. It was all real. He shivered. Santiago looked up at the Tudor buildings which overhung the narrow cobbled street and realised how easy it had been to miss this place. It was well hidden, quite deserted and silent except for the moan of the winter wind above. The Cross Keys sign creaked gently on its hinges capturing Santiago’s attention almost hypnotically. He stood for a while staring at the golden crossed keys. What did it mean? he thought.
Then a loud cough from ahead of him informed him that his guide was becoming impatient again.
“Mr Lopez, please hurry.” he almost snapped, as he indicated that he should follow him through a set of wooden gates into the backyard of the Public House.
They turned into the backyard and entered the house through a side door. The smell of frying bacon reached Santiago and he felt his mouth water as he studied the ancient oak roof beams that supported the low roof.
A typical English tavern, just like all the replicas they had at home. This example was a little the worse for wear, but the real thing no less. Pinky closed the door behind them and a plump little old woman appeared a friendly smile upon her face.
“You must be Mr. Lopez. “she held out a liver spotted hand and arthritic hand which Santiago dared not to shake to firmly.” I’m Mrs. Lovenberry, Mr. Flax’s landlady she informed him proudly. “Come this way and sit down. He’ll be down shortly.” she warbled as she ushered him to a table which was set for breakfast.
Then, instructing her new guest to help himself, to the toast, bacon and fried eggs piled on her best crockery, she disappeared hoping that Mr. Flax’s ‘very important guest’ would be pleased with her efforts.
The arms dealer picked at the food, contemplating the cholesterol content, while he awaited the arrival of the enigmatic Mr.Flax. He poured himself a large cup of coffee and noticed his guide lurking outside the room. “Come in my friend.” he gestured. “Join me until your boss arrives.”
Pinky Makepeace slid slowly into the room, looking over his shoulder. Flax had told him to keep away from the guest until he had spoken to him. But he was starving and the smell of Mrs Lovenberry’s offerings was irresistible.
He sat down and smiled sheepishly at Santiago, keeping his ears open for the sound of Flax’s boots on the stairs.
“Eat?” Santiago suggested. “There seems too much for just two here.”
Pinky happily began to eat.
“So, what is your name my friend.” Santiago asked. Speaking with his mouth full Pinky replied.
“Mr Makepeace” he gurgled as he stuffed another rasher of crisp bacon into his gaping maw which flew out as Flax’s hand hit him hard behind the head. Pinky yelped and scuttled from the room, choking as he went.
Flax looked disturbed, nervous even, to Santiago, but not of his guest who stood up and stretched out a hand in greeting as he watched as Makepeace fled.
Flax looked at Santiago, a glint of excitement in his deep, dark eyes as he took the hand gripped it firmly. He smiled genuinely.
“At last you are here, a true man of my own blood and ambition.” he said quietly. “Sit and let us talk.” he said as he sat opposite the arms dealer in the chair vacated rapidly by his subordinate.
Here was another face he vaguely recognised, he thought, from a photograph or painting or a obscure memory of an old client perhaps. But try as might, he could not place the man. He smiled at Flax who responded with a grin which sent shivers down his spine. “Have we met before.” he ventured. “Your servant looks remarkably like a man I know in New York.” He thought outloud.
“Perhaps.” Flax murmured, his cold, predatory eyes fixed upon his guest. “But let us continue the business of the day. Can you supply my needs?” he asked bluntly.
Santiago sat silent for a moment, and then nodded. “Such requirements are easily met. A campaign such as this is most common nowadays.” he smiled and almost laughed in disbelief, reflecting on the fact that his brief for this contract had been communicated entirely through dreams.
“When?” his client almost barked as he became intense, his eyes narrowing to slits of depthless onyx.
“A couple of weeks.” Santiago responded. “Enough time to include the necessary advisors to train your men. “Weeks!” howled Flax. “Weeks? I have only days and talk of weeks! “he hammered the table in exasperation sending Mrs. Lovenberry’s prize Wedgwood crockery somersaulting into the air.
Santiago was inwardly shocked by Flax’s rapid mood change, but remained outwardly calm and collected. He had experienced such outbursts from clients as deranged as this man was in the past and knew how to deal with them.
After a period of silence, during which Flax had ground spoon into the table until it bent and finally broke, his potential buyer spoke again, as Ben knew he would. “The reward for you will be great, greater than any other could give you. But you must fulfil my needs quickly, I have very little time.” He whispered, almost imploring Santiago for assistance in his tone.
The two faced one another in silence over the disorderly breakfast dishes. Then Flax stood up looming over his guest.
“Come with me. “he said quietly.
The two left the table and entered the frosty air of the yard. Flax led Santiago across it and around the corner to an open faced shed. Once inside he threw back a large tarpaulin to reveal a rainbow coloured vortex of swirling light and distorted images. Ben stepped back in shock as the lights played across his stunned face. Flax watched him closely.
“A portal to another time, another place.” he said, “When it is full again shortly, I shall return, back to my world, to my destiny of which you are a part.” he explained and placed a hand on Santiago’s shoulder. It was chilling and incredibly heavy, a monstrous threat. “But time is short and the enemy plots my world’s downfall. I feel him! I must have arms by tomorrow, tomorrow when the disc is full and my people come to take me back and crown me emperor.”
Santiago listened intently. Flax observed him. “Look here.” he walked over to a barrow laden with bulky sacks. He plunged his hand into the first and withdrew a fistful of diamonds and rubies. Then the next from which he pulled out crudely cast gold ingots and coins. In the final sack was a fine white powder. Santiago knew it wasn’t baker’s flour. He dipped in a finger, tasted it and his eyes lit up.
There was enough in this sack alone to pay for a hundred times what Flax needed. The other sacks represented millions of dollars in value. Santiago turned to Flax and grinned, hardly able to contain his excitement. “Give me an hour and I will contact you. I may be able to fulfil your conditions.” he stuttered.
Flax returned his smile.
“All of it is yours. All of it and there can be a wealth of different pleasures to follow our victory.” Ben’s jaw dropped. All of it. He began to tremble.
“An hour “he repeated and almost ran from the shed. Flax watched him go and smiled.
“A man of my true blood and ambition he whispered to himself.” and smiled again.
Back at his hotel, Ben Santiago allowed himself the luxury of a treble vodka at the hotel bar. An hour he smirked. He didn’t need an hour. Someone must have been smiling down on him today or perhaps more accurately grinning upwards at him, he thought and laughed out loud at his own joke to the amusement of the young waitress he had met at breakfast. She smiled coyly at him. Santiago grinned back at her, finished his drink, and returned to his hotel room.
The sight of the wealth Flax had revealed to him had enabled Ben to think clearly. He already had a shipment of equipment in the country destined for another client which, at this moment, sat in two articulated lorries awaiting for the payment of the contract to be finalised and shipped as agricultural machine parts to the Mediterranean. His client would pay in due course, but Flax offered him a thousand times more.
The shipment was just waiting there and it had most of what was required, even some extras which might come in useful. Ben could hardly believe his luck. If it was luck he wondered. It didn’t matter either way. He chuckled to himself as he dialled the number of his English agent and waited eagerly. The phone was snatched of the hook immediately at the other end of the line.
“Harris? Ben here.” he spoke without a trace of emotion to his employee. He exchanged formalities and got down to business.
“The goodies we have there, get it moving now. I have a new client.”
Santiago continued and passed on the destination to the puzzled subordinate. “How long Harris?” Three hours was the reply. “Good. No foul ups and there will be a considerable bonus. Remember Harris, this special consignment for a special customer. No one and nothing get in its way. Do you understand? ”
Harris did and Santiago put the receiver down and sat staring into space for a moment. There was only the problem of advisers now, but that was easily solved. He would go himself. He laughed; this was a time for celebration. He still had thirty minutes to kill before he returned to the Cross Keys gave Flax the good news.
Reclining back on his bed and sighing, he then called room service, hoping that the pretty young waitress his attention had been drawn to was on duty to deliver his celebratory champagne.