Tuesday, March 24, 2009

16 A Brilliant Idea


Daphne noticed Tom half turn to watch the Mongolian girl hurry up the steps and spin through the hotel’s revolving glass door.

“Someone you know?”

Tom’s face reddened with cold and embarrassment. “No, not really.”

A gust of cold wind blew across the square, picking up flurries of freshly-fallen snow. Tom shivered, turned up his coat collar, and followed Daphne to the embassy Range Rover.

They turned out of the square to find the road ahead blocked by a slow-moving military convoy. Daphne pulled over and waited for it to pass. Tom counted six T-72 tanks, with the long barrels of their guns pointing towards the city centre. Some of the soldiers in the long line of vehicles whistled and shouted when they spotted Daphne.

Tom turned to her. “So, what’s the situation in Mongolia?”

She laughed. “Well, you’re working for the MPRP, so you should know.”

“I’ve only just got here and I don’t even know what the MPRP is.”

“The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party – the communists.”

Was she accusing him of being some sort of traitor? “I was recruited by the Foreign Office. So, how does that add up?”

“I’m not sure that I can answer that.” She smiled as she put the car into first gear. The convoy had passed. “But, in answer to your first question, the situation here is volatile. The regime here is teetering on the verge of collapse. The opposition is disorganised and lives in the shadows.” She shrugged her shoulders as she gripped the steering wheel, “So who knows?”

They reached a no man’s land between the brick and concrete buildings of the inner city and the yurt suburbs. Daphne turned off the highway onto a dirt track and after a few hundred metres, stopped in front of an English-style house, with whitewashed walls and a sloping orange-tiled roof. All of the lights were on and smoke was spiralling skyward from the brick chimney.

Registering Tom’s surprise, Daphne said, “Yes, it is small, isn’t it? They wouldn’t let us build anything bigger. In fact, I believe it’s the smallest British embassy in the world.” As they got out of the car, she added, “But we should consider ourselves lucky, as they wouldn’t let the Americans build anything at all.”

She opened the garden gate. “Let’s go inside. Everybody’s waiting to meet you.”

Tom followed Daphne through the front door, along a corridor in which hung a portrait of the Queen, then into the kitchen, where he noticed the reassuring domestic details of a packet of Weetabix and two cans of baked beans standing in front of an impressive Royal Doulton dinner service.

Daphne opened the back door and led Tom out of the house. He could see their breath form clouds as they crunched across the frozen lawn to what looked like a large wooden shed at the bottom of the garden. Voices were coming from inside. Above the doorway was a hand-painted sign: “Steppe Inn.” A drop of white paint had run down the letter ‘S’ making it look like a dollar sign.

Daphne swung open the door. “We have a new customer.” Tom felt a blast of heat, smelled a mixture of wood varnish, paint, whisky and beer and saw six pairs of eyes staring at him.

Tom and Daphne added their coats to a pile on a table just inside the door and stamped the ice off their shoes.

“Let me introduce you to everyone.” She raised her voice: “This is Tom Rawlinson , a young British entrepreneur, who we hope will be one of the first of many to come out here and do business with the Mongolians.”

There were some raised glasses and nods. Daphne turned to Tom, “So what would you like to drink?”

“A beer would be fine.”

Daphne called to a tall man, in a yellow cardigan and green corduroy slacks, who was standing behind the bar, “David dear, a pint for Tom and a glass of red wine for me.”

The interior of the Steppe Inn was like a miniature English pub, but Tom found it incongruous to see someone who looked remarkably like Prince Philip, serving behind the bar.

Bar stools, with red plastic seats which matched the colour of the carpet, lined both sides of the room. Deirdre held out her arm towards a young couple sitting on the nearest two and said, “Jim and Jenny Lockey – the other half of our embassy team.” They stood up. Jim shook Tom’s hand vigorously and said with a strong Geordie accent, “Welcome to U.B.”

“You’re from the North-East?”

“Yes, we’re both from South Shields,” Jenny replied chirpily.

Jim let go of Tom’s hand and stood rigidly as if waiting for the order, “At ease.” He had soldier written all over him. His honed body spoke of years of physical training and there was a hint of aggression in his eyes. His upright stance and neatly-trimmed dark brown short-back-and-sides contrasted sharply with Jenny’s stooping round shoulders and slightly dishevelled blonde hair. With her heavy mascara, pink lipstick, low-cut blouse and tight black skirt, Tom thought she probably felt even more out of place than he did in an embassy garden in Central Asia.

Next to them was the one person Tom knew: Gerald. They exchanged stiff greetings:



Daphne then led Tom across the room to a small, balding man, with brown metal-framed spectacles“. Meet the new Japanese ambassador, Mr. Itou.” Tom bowed his head slightly as they shook hands.

Then she added, “Mr Itou has just arrived in Mongolia. A big Japanese expedition is coming out here soon. It’s one of the most exciting things for years. They’re going to look for the tomb of Ghengis Khan.”

Tom’s face lit up. He clenched both fists and almost punched the air. He had just had a brilliant idea.


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  1. you're back! welcome back! jane and i have missed you - i'll pop in later to read -- right in the middle of a project, but glad you're safe and sound

  2. what? what idea???

  3. Great read. I'm glad you posted on my blog so I could find you! Now, I just have to go back and read the rest...

    (I'm unbearably jealous of your travels, by the way.)

  4. I'm not surprised many foreigners have found their way to this beautiful country. I would love to live here myself. :)

  5. cnn here, reporting from savannah, georgia - all's well on the cat front - thank you for expressing your concern (let me guess - you're not a cat person?)

  6. Hey Ian, You´re back. Hope all is well. Sending you a big hug! Your descriptions are great. I feel like I´m there. Cheers.

  7. oiy! You've deleted my comment (pout).

  8. Shrinky, what was your comment? You've intrigued me. Please re-post it!


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