Thursday, March 26, 2009

17 The Ambassador's Wife


There was one other person in the Steppe Inn that night: a large, dark-skinned man with a glossy black beard and big brown eyes made to look even bigger by his black-framed spectacles. He thrust out a huge hand and gripped Tom with a crushing handshake.

“You’ve just stepped into the middle of nowhere and probably wonder what the hell you’re doing here?”

“Yes,” Tom replied as he tentatively tried to retrieve his hurting hand.

“Olof Singh,“ he said in a loud, ringing, nasal voice, then added, with a chuckle, “That’s a name; not an anagram.”

“Tom Rawlinson.”

“You’re probably wondering about the name, right?”

Tom wasn’t, but he nodded.

Olof then explained that he was an English Swedish Indian. His parents were Indian Sikhs, who’d gone to live in Sweden, where they both worked as doctors. When their son was born they decided to give him a Swedish name. They thought that it would help him to integrate at school. Unfortunately, soon after he was born they moved to Birmingham in the English Midlands, so he now had a Swedish first name, an Indian surname and a Birmingham accent.

Tom sat on the empty bar stool next to him, keen to establish a friendship and asked, “So, what are you doing here?” But before Olof could speak, Daphne grabbed both of Tom’s hands and exclaimed, “Oh God, I almost forgot the most important person here.” She laughed and added, “At least he thinks he is.” Then she hoisted Tom to his feet and led him to the bar. “My husband, David Farquharson, the British Ambassador.”

Tom reached across the bar, between a beer pump and a lemonade tap. “Very pleased to meet you, sir.” But, after a perfunctory handshake, the ambassador looked straight past Tom and called across the room, “Jim, would you mind giving our new arrival the embassy tour?”

Jim nodded, stood up and looked straight at Tom. “Certainly. Follow me.”

Tom took one quick sip of beer, placed his pint glass on the bar and followed Jim out of the door.

They crunched across the lawn to the kitchen door. Jim marched straight in leaving the door swinging. Tom lunged forward and just caught it before it closed.

Jim strode through the kitchen then turned right into a room Tom hadn’t seen before.

“This is our sitting room and library.”

He pointed at some piles of books on top of a glass-fronted sideboard, in which there were rows of crystal glasses and added, “You can borrow some books if you like.”

Tom quickly perused the books and extracted ‘A Modern History of Mongolia’ and ‘Teach Yourself Mongolian.’

Jim tapped an open ledger. “Sign them out just there.”

Tom wrote the book titles and his name below the last entry, which he saw was ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ borrowed by Gerald Langley.

Jim marched into the next room, which was an expensively furnished office with rows of old black-and-white photos of Mongolia lining the walls, but said nothing about it. He simply opened a door on the left, entered it and called, “This way.” Tom followed him down a short corridor, where Jim opened another door and snapped,“Come here.”

Tom hesitated, but felt compelled to follow. He stepped in the door and was surprised to find himself in the glare of a fluorescent-lit bathroom.

Jim put his hand on Tom’s left shoulder and guided him towards the toilet. “Sit down.” Then he stepped away and turned on all of the taps in the shower, bath and sink.

Tom sat on the wooden toilet seat, his mind full of white noise.

Jim stood menacingly facing him, hands on hips. “Right, young man, it’s time for us to do business.”

Tom, who reckoned that Jim couldn’t be more than five years older than him, started to rise.

“Now look here. I don’t know what your game is, but..”

“There are no buts,” Jim snapped, digging his fingers into Tom’s shoulder. “This is the way it is.”

Tom looked through the rising steam at the blue dolphins leaping across the plastic shower curtain. Droplets of water were starting to run down the pink gloss walls.

“Right, you are here to make some money, right?”

Tom said nothing.

“Well, I hope you realize that the MPRP are going to pay you in tugriks.”

Tom’s eyes registered some interest.

Jim reached down and pulled out some toilet paper from the roll on the wall. He draped it across the palm of his hand and held it in front of Tom’s face, then added, “Which are worth about the same as this. They call it fiat money, but you couldn’t even buy a second-hand Fiat Panda with it. In fact, outside of Mongolia you couldn’t buy anything with it.”

Tom stared down at the shiny green tiled floor.

Jim ruffled Tom’s curly ginger hair. “But cheer up, young man, because I have some good news for you. We are going to help you.”

Tom shook his head free. He did not like Jim Lockey at all, in fact he was feeling real hatred towards him, but the thought of the £100,000 fee was paramount in his mind now. He looked up at Jim and said very deliberately, stressing the ‘you’ and ‘me’, “How are you going to help me?”

Jim glowed yellow in the bathroom light. “Right, it’s like this, if you don’t deal with us, you’ll be able to change tugriks at the official exchange rate of seven to the dollar, up to a maximum of $1,000, at a bank. You just might be able to change some more at the real exchange rate of a hundred to the dollar on the black market, but as you are certainly being watched, if you attempt that, you’ll be arrested and end up in a Mongolian prison cell with nothing.”

Tom looked up and glared at Jim. He desperately wanted to assert some control over the situation. “But, you need something from me, don’t you?”

Jim softened his tone slightly and even managed a false smile, “Well, yes young man, we do.”

“What?” Tom snapped back instantly.

“Steady tiger. How many men have you killed?”

Tom’s shoulders involuntarily slumped.

“Right, so it’s like this. We want you to report here every Friday and tell us everything you see and hear at the House of Friendly Relations. And I do mean everything. From time to time we might ask you to do other things. If you do as you're told, you’ll get your money. We have a need for tugriks and we have to exchange them at the official rate, so we can give you your £100,000, and we are the only people who can.”

Later that night the British ambassador’s wife stopped her Range Rover just short of the hotel entrance, engaged neutral, but left the engine running. She turned, placed her hand reassuringly on Tom’s knee, looked him directly in the eye and winked. “Same time next week?”

At the same time, Jim Lockey dialled his phone on a cold dark Mongolian night. On the other side of the world, a phone rang in a government office, where it was eight hours earlier and twenty degrees warmer on a grey, wet English afternoon. A pale, soft manicured hand picked up the phone.

“Peter Hargrime.”

“Hello Peter. I’ve met him and he is exactly as you described: just what we were looking for.”

Tom entered the revolving door of the Sukhe Bator Hotel and smiled. He still had his brilliant idea and where did that leave Jim Lockey? And, better still, perhaps he was about to meet the Mongolian girl.


  1. Swedish name, Indian surname and birmigham accent, I love that!!!^_^

  2. you left us hanging again!!!

  3. You have peaked my interest. Oh and to answer your question yes that was the first page.

  4. thanks for follow me , u blog and photos are so nice :)

  5. A Sikh? With his turban and beard? That sounds awesome!

    it's like watching tv series that makes you wait anxiously for the next episode!

    And the last comment: Aww, Come on! Tugrik wasn't fiat currency in the eighties like it was now!

  6. Natso, the Tugrik really was fiat currency back in 1990, and the exchange rates are fairly accurate.

    Anyway, thank you for reading and making comments on nearly every chapter. It's really great to have a Mongolian reader.

  7. It´s getting really interesting! Call in sick tomorrow.

  8. Fascinating. Tales from over the horizon always are interesting. Your writing about them, however, demonstrate a use of the craft that you must have been born with. I will now add your blog to my RSS feeds so I don't miss a chapter.
    If your interest in things tribbasl includes tribal art, you may find my blog, of interest. You are invited to visit.

  9. Nice to read you again !!! and to travel with you !

  10. if you haven't heard of it yet, check out - I took advanced fiction workshops with the editors and they are super! I've read the first couple of your chapters, I'll have to catch up.
    The Vision Board is coming along, btw:)


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