I packed, paid and left. I took out my British passport and handed it over unconfidently. Michael Stanley Gordon stood in line, shaking, sweating and heart pounding so hard that it hurt and certain that the beating could be heard if not seen but the woman obviously fooled by my all-American exterior smiled at me, glanced at the fake passport and waved me through. I ran straight to the toilet and into a cubicle, down on my knees and vomited into the bowl. I stood up feeling much better having got rid of my fear, washed my face and looked in the mirror. I was smiling. It felt so good to commit a crime and get away with it.
I boarded the plane, sat down in first class and closed my eyes. There was a stopover in London. 23 hours later and I was in New York. I had thoroughly prepared my story for passport control. I queued in the line for tourists with my British passport in hand, repeating my lines over and over again. The fear was taking control of me once more as I approached the customs official. I felt somehow comforted with the familiar heart, the sweat, the shaking and the total panic as I stood before my all American official and he spoke with his all American accent and I answered with my best British accent.
“Michael Stanley Gordon?”
“What’s the purpose of your visit Mr Gordon?”
“Just a tourist.”
“Do you have family here?”
“Is that an American accent I detect there?”
“Yes it is. My parents lived in America when I was a child and then we went back to London.”
“And your parents are English?”
“Yes they were. Unfortunately they’re not with us anymore.”
“You sure have a strong accent for someone who hasn’t lived here since a child. Where did you live in the States?”
“In LA. Actually maybe you can tell me how I get to the Four Seasons Hotel.”
“You can get a cab outside the airport. Sir you have a good trip.”
I’d got away with it and so easily. I wanted to tell the officer that I’d fooled him to see if I could get away with it again. Instead I took a cab straight to the hotel. I called Walter on a phone I had bought in the airport. He was waiting in the lobby for me with two suited men. We shook hands, did the introductions, ordered drinks and sat. They were both lawyers. They smiled like lawyers, shook hands like lawyers and talked like lawyers. I had dealt with many of these creatures in my business life and give or take they were all the same, coated in slime, Hollywood smiles, vicious handshakes, forked tongue and venomous.
“Goris, we’ve examined the picture and it appears to be genuine. The boys here have said that we can publish the photo without risk. We can publish your name but not the Angolan’s. We need written consent and a waiver from you. The documents are here and you’ll need to sign them today.”
“Sorry Walter, may I? Listen Goris, this is one of the biggest stories in our history. We can’t afford to fuck it up. You need to understand that once we go to print, there’s going to be a lot of heat on you. It is our view that you won’t be safe. We don’t believe that the government has any legal grounds for your arrest but they will for sure, pull the terrorist card. That means they’re coming after you as soon as the story is released. Now we can’t protect you and we won’t protect you. The paper cannot be seen to harbour a terrorist. We are not willing to take on the US government. You’ve come to the wrong paper. What you do is up to you. Walter is taking a big risk here as it is. If you decided to go back to Angola for example, you might be safer. We don’t want to know.”
“Goris, what Phil’s trying to say is that your life is likely going to change forever if we break the story. You might have to go on the run until things calm down but the way things are going, that might be a long time. You’ll lose your life, your wife and daughter, everything you’ve worked for. The US government is not exactly a thinking machine. It is a frightened animal that will attack anything that comes close. At this moment they don’t even know that they are looking for you but once we print, they will turn to you not because you can help them or stop this but because they need blood. It’s as simple as that. It has nothing to do with justice or morality. It is just a collective survival instinct and you will be on the menu. Are you ready for that?”
“Wait a minute. I’m giving you the story because I need protection not because I want fame. Aren’t you interested in protecting the innocent? What’s funny with that? I would have thought that a paper like yours is interested in truth and justice not just circulation.”
“Goris, you’re not thinking straight. Assuming what you’re claiming is true, you Goris Hoff have unleashed hell on every government in the world. Every dirty little politician is fighting for their lives and the ones that aren’t , are waiting for the knock on the door. They all want to know who started it. President Howard is on a list of corrupt politicians. They’ve published evidence of his corruption. If you think that he doesn’t want revenge then you don’t understand human nature. He’s the president of the United States for fuck’s sake.”
“And tell me, do you have any idea how DRI will react when you publish that photo? You’re not just exposing a traitor but also a hero. If something happened to the founder of DRI then I reckon hell would be unleashed. I don’t think that any government can do anything.”
“Except kill you. You’re not thinking. If we publish, you’re dead. Maybe they won’t arrest you but they won’t leave it. Simple as that. Is that what you want Goris? You have to choose. Go back to your life or run?”
“I don’t know. If you’re right, where the hell would I go? How would I live? I can’t just leave my life. I can’t.”
“Then we don’t publish.”
“Can I borrow your phone? I need to call someone.”
I walked into the lobby and leaned against the wall. I had no idea.
“Steve it’s me. Listen I need to talk to you. Just listen. Steve. I am in New York with Walter Caring. They’re ready to publish but it means I’ve got to go. It won’t be safe here for me. I couldn’t see it but that’s what they think and I think they’re right.”
“I told you that it wasn’t safe and it’s not. Have you been watching the news? It’s crazy. Popov is in hiding. Apparently he’s the richest man in the world, exposed on DRI. Apparently he owns the oligarchs.”
“Steve can you be quiet a minute. I don’t know what to do. I know I can’t go back to my life but if I run, I can’t come back. What the hell am I going to do? I’m going to need money. Steve I want you to take my shares in your company but I need you to send me money. They will come after you and Gallie and everybody. You’re going to take a risk for me. You said that the shares are worth a lot. I want you to transfer just $5m dollars into my account and you can keep the shares. I don’t care what they’re worth. I want the cash but you’d better do it today before the papers come out tomorrow. Write this down, account details………………. Withdraw cash. I know it’s a lot but I know it can be done. You need to take the cash to this guy…………..…write his name down and he’ll transfer the money. Give him the account details. Don’t ask questions. Just do it please.…..”
“Goris, I’ll try but what about Gallie and Jazzy?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to tell you to look after them but what choice do I have? Steve, I don’t know when or if I’ll be back and I don’t know where I’m going but tell them that I did all this for them. I can’t call her. Please explain to her. Tell her….just explain.”
“Gallie, it’s me. Please listen to me. I had to call before…. I haven’t got a lot of time. I’m in danger.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just listen please. Gallie, the New York Times are going to publish proof tomorrow that I founded DRI. They’re going to publish my name and a photo of me and then it won’t be safe for me and they’re going to come to you. I’m leaving for good. I don’t know where. Gallie I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I never meant this, never but it’s too late now. I won’t be coming back. I love you and Jazzy. I always have and I always will. You must believe me that I don’t want to do this but I have no choice.”
“Goris, what are you talking about? You don’t have to go. Even if it’s true, you haven’t committed a crime. This is America for Christ’s sake. They can’t just arrest you. You can’t go. You have a daughter and a life.”
“Gallie, this is America and that’s why it’s not safe. Do you really think they’re going to let me get away with it? They’ll come after you and me and everyone we know. We’ll be living in fear forever. The lawyers say they’ll say I’m a terrorist and just throw away the key or I’ll disappear. Maybe it’ll be safe one day and I’ll come back.”
“No you can’t go. Stop them publishing the evidence. You can stop it. You can give us our lives back.”
“I can but I won’t. There’s a war in Iran because of me. How far would they go to protect themselves? I have to own up so they don’t kill anyone else. As long as they don’t have someone to blame, they’ll want blood and I can’t live with that. If I don’t do it then I give up on everything I believe in and I can’t do that. I am sorry but I can’t do that.”
“Goris, you’re choosing your goddamn principles over your family and your life.”
“Yes Gallie. I’m sorry. Please don’t cry baby but what else can I do? Gallie I want you and Jazzy to be proud of me. I want you to explain to her why I did this. Tell her that it’s only because we live in a corrupt world that I had to go and when she sees the good, to remember I helped create it. Tell her that I’ll come home one day I promise. Gallie I love you. I really do.”
“Goris, I can’t believe you’re doing this. How could you? I will never forgive you, never.”
I wiped the tears away. I went to the toilet to wash my face and hide the evidence. I walked back into the room ready for my total execution. I sat down and told them to print. I got into a taxi and went to the bank. I walked for some time withdrawing all the cash I could from every hole in the wall. My bag was full of dollars. I bought some clothes, a few necessaries and filled a new suitcase ready to leave for a new world. I went into a travel agent and booked my ticket, paid in cash. I left the suitcase with them. I had eight hours before the flight. I walked through Central Park savouring a hot dog with ketchup and mustard. I strolled down Fifth Avenue admiring the architecture, meandered through the Guggenheim, crossed Times Square and then a few blocks down and I was at the Empire State. From the observation deck I could see it all. The infinite office blocks piled 100 storeys high with cash and the Statue of Liberty lying through her back teeth. There is no equality. There is no freedom. There is only greed. The Lady is made of money.
Once again I was in the airport with my fake passport in hand approaching Passport Control, this time numbed by reality and with no care for the consequences. I answered their questions and they waved me through. I felt nothing. I boarded the plane, turned left and slept until Brussels. I did what I had to do, popped a pill and 24 hours later I was back in Luanda. I recalled the name of a hotel that someone had mentioned, maybe John and the cab driver stopped outside a building that might once have been significant but now it was run down and old. Nevertheless, I went in and talked to the receptionist who was in a similar condition to the building. Once she too might have been attractive. She took my details. I said I preferred to keep my passport and gave her a few dollars which she took without flinching or looking up. She entered a name in the register, took some more dollars and asked the man sitting on a stool smoking a cigar in the small office to take my case up and then she disappeared behind the scenes. I told the man that I wanted a whisky and two girls brought to my room. He smiled at me and I took the suitcase from him, handed him some cash and climbed up to the fourth floor, room 106.
I lay on the bed and dozed off into a world where I was a child again, holding my father’s hand on the bank of a river fishing. Then I was on a boat with my father, trout fishing and he was asleep on the bottom of the boat whilst I fished. I had a trout on the end of my line and so I stood up and played the fish. It was a monster and I couldn’t wait to show my father. I tried not to wake him as I struggled to bring the fish up and then it dived down. I lost the fish because there was a knock on the door which woke me up and the man whose name I found out later was John, was standing in the doorway grinning and waiting for my instruction to bring in the glass of whisky on a tray. I invited him in and he placed it on the coffee table. He ushered in a couple of young girls, gave them instructions, demanded a $100 from me and left. The girls seemed to know what the procedure was. I presumed that this was not their first time. I lay on the bed sipping the whisky. The girls who were no more than 18 simply lifted up and over what they were wearing and there they stood both naked. They came over to the bed and removed my clothes. I was disgusted with myself. They were too young. I asked them how old they were and they said 16. They could have been Jazzie’s friends. I explained gently that I wanted them to go. I told them about Jazzy. I said that I was too old. They understood nothing. They didn’t move off the bed like I had asked. Instead they came closer to me and I knew immediately that there was no use fighting it. Anyway if it weren’t me then it would be some other male meat. I was helping them by giving them work and I would give them extra. Whilst I was trying to justify my perverted, near paedophile actions, they did what they were paid to do and I did what I needed to. After the inevitable, I felt guilty and so I gave them a $100 each. They jumped up and down hugging each other. The little sisters were happy and I felt vindicated for a few minutes. I swore that I would never see them or any young girls again but I knew that I was lying.
I showered and fell asleep. The window wide open with no curtains, allowed the sun and the street noise to enter my bedroom without permission and so just after sunrise I awoke. I dozed for some time and then when I had had enough I went into the shower to wash off. The shower was old and dirty but compensated by steaming hot water. I took my large holdall filled with Dollars downstairs and ate what they classified as breakfast, egg and bread and coffee. John enquired about the night before and I thanked him. I asked him a few questions and he answered precisely and in good English. It was quite clear that he was a highly intelligent man and working well below his ability. He said that he could arrange whatever I wanted. I gave him $5.
“John I want to open a bank account. Can you help me? Which bank do you recommend?”
“Mr Gordon. You do not open a bank account in Angola. Nobody opens a bank account. That is not what the bank is for. Your company pays you in Kwanza.”
“I have no company. Why can’t I open an account?”
“You can but they might call the police. It is suspicious for someone to open an account and your money is not safe. Most of the banks left Angola because of fraud. It is better to leave your money in our safe. You must not leave anything in your room and you must not carry any money with you when you go out.”
“So where is the safe?”
“If you give me your money, I will put it in the safe.”
“Is there a big bank in Luanda? I want to go there please. Can you come with me? I will give you $50 if you help me open an account there. Can you call a taxi please?”
We entered the Bank of Angola and John asked a cashier about opening an account. We sat down and waited for a few minutes until a man escorted us into a room.
“He is asking why you want an account.”
“Tell him that I want to stay in Luanda and do business.”
“He said what business?”
“Why do you need an account?”
“To pay the workers.”
“Where is the business?”
“I don’t know yet but explain to him that I only want to put money into an account.”
“He says that there is a lot of paperwork. They need your passport. They want your bank details in England. They want to talk to your accountant here. They want to see your visa.”
“Ok John, I am asking you. Is there any way to open an account now with no questions and no passport and no visa? Is it safe to ask him this?”
“Of course it is?......He says that it will cost $1000.”
“Tell him, $500 now and $500 when it is opened and my money is in the account……Gordon Hoffman, British, London and thus he took all my details through John, he took $500 from me and made a few photocopies, ushered us out and we sat waiting for something. After half an hour, he returned and handed me a document with my new bank account. John asked him how I deposit cash. He pointed to a cashier. I shook his hand and passed $500 into his but I did not let go of his hand until John explained that I wanted to deposit the cash with him in private and that I wanted a receipt. He led me by the hand back into the room. I asked John to remain outside. I gave him the holdall and he counted the cash in front of me, $285,000. I wondered if he would return or if he’d run off with my money. He was taking too long and I started to pace. Finally the door opened and he handed me a statement showing $280,000. He looked at me and smiled.
“John please tell him that when I come to the bank, I will ask for him.”
“He says it is his pleasure.”
“He is a bad man Mr Gordon. You can see in his eyes.”
“Yes John I know but as long as he sees money he will be my friend. How come you speak such good English?”
“I was born in Namibia and I moved here when I was younger. I read the papers and listen to the BBC.”
“John, are you married?”
“Yes and I have two children. My wife is a cleaner in the big hotel. My children go to school usually. I live in Musseques with my family.”
“That’s interesting. I have a friend who lives in Musseques. His name is John and he has a daughter called Camila.”
“I don’t believe it. How is this possible? He is my brother. How do you know him?”
“That’s amazing. He mentioned the hotel to me but he didn’t say you were here. He sent me here, to you. Now it makes sense”
“But how do you know him?”
“Have you heard of DRI?”
“I don’t believe it. You are the man, John’s white man. You are the one in the photo. You are John’s partner.”
“Yes I am. I see how you look like him and you have the same handshake.”
“Yes because I am from Namibia. He is my brother-in-law but he is truly my brother. My sister was always in love with him as a little girl in school in Namibia and when he had enough money, he married her. We came to Angola to open a business but it was no good. All our money was stolen and so I work here and John works in a hotel also.”
“Where is your sister?”
“She was killed.”
“Yes it was very sad for Camila. It was a warning.”
“A warning from what?”
“We were prospecting for diamonds. We had a licence and we found diamonds. Nigerian people came and took our diamonds with guns. There was a small war. They were evil people and they kidnapped my sister and said that if we leave, she will be returned to us. We had no choice. We left everything and they returned her naked and beaten but she died. They had raped her and shot her.”
“I’m so sorry John. What about the police?”
“The police are paid by the Nigerians. There was nothing to do if we wanted to live. I had family and John had Camila. So I work here and John works in the President Hotel. That was a long time ago.”
“Why did you stay in Angola?”
“There was nothing left in Namibia for us. We just stayed.”
“John, where can I buy the New York Times?”
I walked alongside John and soon we were inside The President Hotel. The staff seemed to know John and looked a little surprised to see him. There was a shop and there in front of me was The New York Times but there was no photo as Walter had promised. I picked it up and opened it. It was a report about the DRI declaration of war. I asked John to find out if they had yesterday’s Times. The girl brought it from the back room and there I was, half the front page was my photo. ‘E-DRI Exposed’. I gave $20 to the young girl but she demanded fifty for both papers and certainly I was not going to question her. I left immediately clutching John’s arm conscious that I could be recognised. It occurred to me that I was now a fugitive on the run. It felt safer on the streets than in the hotel. We stopped at a café, ordered a couple of shots of coffee and I opened yesterday’s paper.
‘ After worldwide speculation and an unjustified war against Iran, the New York Times can reveal that the founder of e-DRI is LA based Goris Hoff. Hoff, a celebrated internet tycoon, founder of Jazzgallie.com sold to 7point1b.com for $850m in 2005. Little has been heard of Hoff in the last few years. He was thought to have been enjoying an early retirement out of the limelight but it seems that this very private and uncanny entrepreneur is the creator of the most influential website in history - a website that has declared itself an e-government. The emergence of a web-based international government has had a profound effect on world politics and major economic impact on the global economy, the repercussions of which are still not fully understood. President Howard has himself been accused of corruption along with a who’s who of politicians across the globe. E-DRI has declared itself a non-revenue producing website. Inadvertently or not, Hoff has once again hit the jackpot with a membership in excess of 1.4 billion. E-DRI is the most valuable website in the world today and Hoff, potentially the richest man in the world. Is this brilliant business strategy or true social conscience? He has been placed number 1 on the list of most wanted by Interpol but nobody seems to know his whereabouts. Is he in hiding or is he in custody? The US government has issued a $50m reward for his capture……..’.
“John did you know? Where is John? My god, I’m in danger and John also. We need to go now.”
“Yes John told me and he said to watch out for you but don’t worry, nothing will happen here.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Oh my god. Look at today’s paper…..World war declared – virtual world against real world. The members of e-DRI have given Hoff and Angola sainthood status and issued a dire warning to any government or individual who harms them. After a 12 hour emergency session of the e-DRI parliaments, the upper and lower houses voted in favour of a global petition for ‘e-declaration’. The motion was posted online for DRI global vote and passed overwhelmingly. DRI issued the following statement: ‘It is hereby declared that a motion for conflict has been passed. E-DRI declares itself in e-conflict with any Government or individual that harms, incarcerates or holds Goris Hoff or John Angola and they will be subject to the full force of e-DRI. It seems that history is in the making as the virtual and the real world are at war.’ John this is crazy. What the hell are we going to do? They’re looking for us. They’re going to kill us.”
“Can I call you Goris now? Thank you. Goris, you need to calm down. You are bringing attention to us. I am sure that you are safe here but you must be calm. Let’s go to John. He will know what to do.”
John stopped a cab and we jumped in. He dropped us close to the village where apparently both Johns lived. John gave the driver some cash. I followed John through the alleys of their village but this time I was too overcome with fear and panic to notice the people. I was inside John’s house and sitting in front of them both whilst the beautiful tiny Camila made tea for us. John must have sensed my state and handed me a shot of some village-made alcohol which I threw to the back of my throat and down my gullet. He handed me another.
“Goris, I am happy that you are acquainted with my brother John. Now it seems that you are a famous man. I am not so famous and I am happy. You are wanted by every government and many people. We have to think what to do. Soon there will be a lot of people in Angola looking for you. We must leave. You, me and Camila, John and his family. Now that the President and his family have gone, there will be chaos and maybe soon war. It would be safer in war but the US has offered a reward of $50m for your capture. Once they know that you were here, there will be a lot of people looking for you. All the criminals fighting over gold and diamonds will pack up their bags and start digging around for you. It won’t take them long to find us, believe me. Money talks very loud in a poor place. We will be safer back home, in Namibia and we must go very soon.”
“John they are coming for you too. We are not safe. Namibia. Where is it?”
“Goris you really make me laugh. You white people think that Africa is one big black country. It is true we are all black and true that we are all African but there are more than 50 African countries?”
“Sorry I did not mean…”
“No it is I who must apologize. I am joking with you. You are our King. You have filled our world with hope.”
“John I am your friend. Please it’s embarrassing. I have done nothing. Anyway how far is Namibia?”
“Namibia is on the border with Angola. From here it is more than 1000 kilometers and we will have to go by car. We can cross in Santa Clara and over to Oshikango and then we are in Namibia.”
“How long will it take? I’m in your hands John. I really don’t know what to do?”
“It takes about one or two days. Before we go, we need to cut your hair and you must not shave. Camila will cut it now. It is better. Camila my little lady please come to cut our friends hair. She is a good girl. I have been blessed.”
“Thank you Camila. You are a beautiful girl and I am very happy that you are cutting my hair.”
“Now Goris, John will go back to the hotel with you and get your things. You come back here and sleep. Tomorrow we go. We must find a car. I will get a car. Goris, stop moving please. Camila cannot cut your hair properly.”
“I can’t leave tomorrow. I don’t have enough money. I need to go to the bank.”
“So first you go to the bank and take money. You must also bring $5000 for the car. Your hair is looking good.”
John and I left. It was extremely dark. Camila had cut off most of my hair. I swept my hand over my skull and against the grain and felt the remaining centimetre of hair, rebound. It was a good feeling and gave me a sense of criminal. It was a convict’s crew cut possibly to prepare me for what was to come. The exhilaration of being the man on the run freed me from everything. I couldn’t think. I wasn’t angry. I had no fear. My mind was empty, totally empty. I felt invincible and powerful. It was one of the few moments in my life that I had no sense of anything except pure and utter joy, perhaps and only equal to pulling out a 200 pounds Arapaima from the Amazon. I couldn’t see the slums, the alleyways, the women, the men, the children or the dogs. I couldn’t smell the food, the sewers, the chickens or the garbage. I heard nothing, no dogs, no children, no music and no motorcycles. However, as soon as we were out of the slums and in the streets of Luanda proper, I realised that all my power had been false or at best fleeting. I became aware of everything, every man, woman and child, the smells and noise of the city, the stench of poverty and the aroma of wealth. Once again I was filled with panic and fear and suspicion and a feeling of embarrassment that my hair had been cut so short and so badly. John walked close to me. We walked into the hotel, stopped to pick up my key and upstairs, packed my few things, searched the room and left. John told the woman that he was taking me to the airport. He said that I was going back to Queen Elizabeth. He laughed. She didn’t flinch. She couldn’t care. I had paid in advance and so I was of no interest.
We must have walked back to John’s house because I was sitting inside it watching a very bulky colour tv connected to a hundred different cable channels via several different sized boxes and a mass of tangled cables. Everything was about DRI. Our picture kept appearing. The door kept opening as one person after another arrived to watch with us. People were flicking through the channels to see the picture of John and me. I tried to catch a report on the economic crisis, the disappearing politicians, the arrests, the riots and lastly the war in Iran but it was not possible as someone or other changed the channel. I asked John to stop on CNN.
‘A report from the Whitehouse has confirmed that special agents are closing in on Goris Hoff and accomplice. We understand that his wife Gallie Hoff and daughter Jasmine have been questioned at their luxury home in LA. Friends and business associates have been also taken in for questioning. Goff was last seen in LA some weeks ago before he went missing in Angola. It is assumed that he is on the run with his partner, John Angola and police across the region have been called upon to assist in their capture. Hoff, the most wanted man in the world, the creator of DRI surely has nowhere to hide. His picture can be seen on every television and computer screen across the world and in one of the poorest parts of the world, a lot of people will be hoping to cash in on the $50m reward offered by the US government leading to his capture. It seems that the US government has forgotten the DRI declaration of war subject to capture. The question that everyone is afraid to ask is what will be the repercussions?’
“John we have to go. Have you got a car?”
“Not now my friend. We have guests and I may never see them again. Do not worry, these are my family.”