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IN THE DAYS OF DREAD BY

Anton Marks

Copyright © 2010


Published by Marksman Studios PO Box 616 Southall, Middlesex UB1 9JU Tel: 0845 331 3126 E-mail: info@anton-marks.com Website: www.anton-marks.com

Second Edition 2010

CopyrightŠ Anton Marks 2010 The right of Anton Marks to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988. The characters and situations in this book are entirely imaginary and bear no relation to any real person or actual events. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publishers prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without either the prior permission in writing from the publisher or a license, permitting restricted copying. Distributed in UK by Turnaround Distribution, Unit 3, Olympia Trading Estate, Coburg Road, London N22 6TZ Tel: 0208 829 3000 Fax: 0208 881 5088 Contact Anton Marks on: contact@antonmarks.com www.anton-marks.com

ISBN 1-902934-20-2


This book is dedicated to the memory of my father Evelyn Leopold Hewitt. He taught me the fun in curiosity and the ethos of hard work. My love always


Acknowledgments

There are so many people and organizations I need to thank for their inspiration and encouragement. Here goes: To my family in Jamaica - Miss Hewitt and the Brown family; in England - Yvonne, Akil, Omel, Sabrina . You make it all worthwhile. To all the readers of my first novel Dancehall, especially my loyal female fans, I love you. For Reggae music and the musical heroes it has given me: Bob Marley, Luciano, Anthony ‘B’, Junior ‘Gong’, Junior Reid, Burning Spear, Marcia Griffith, Buju Banton, Sizzla, Coco Tea, King Sounds, Macka ‘B’, Culture, Freddie MacGregor, Capleton, Judy Mowatt, Vincent Knapp and many more. Super Journalist Norman Gentles, for his unceasing promotion of my work. Katherine Shewell, Patsy Antione Isles, Suzanne Couch, Malorie Blackman, Cicely Dayes - Five strong women who I deeply admire and thank. Merton Library for your hospitality. Sylvester’s and Diligence Barbers and the crew, easy. My lasting gratitude to the posse at X-Press. Peter Kalu - A fellow author and lover of the fantastic, friend and inspiration for In the Days of Dread. Victor Headley, Patrick Augustus, Marcia Williams, Diran Adebayo and Ricardo Allison For their example and belief. Desmond Spencer, George Frimpong, Louis Paya, Devon Montieth and Clay Maclean. My brothers who were always there when I needed support and first hand knowledge. David Rodigan and Jazzy ‘B’ - My respects to you gentlemen. Choice FM, Kiss FM and BBC 1Xtra - Keep playing the ‘riddims’ - and to all the pirate stations - Unique, Roots. To Jetstar and Greensleeves record distributors. The New Nation, The Voice, The Gleaner, Pride, King, Black Men, Smooth and Vibe - My fonts of current information. To my friends at Heathrow Express, plenty a love. To Mister. Seymour McLean and his unceasing efforts to have priceless artifacts seized from an Ethiopian church by British troops in 1868, returned - nuff respect boss! And last, but by no means least, to the world Rasta faith, for challenging what we all took for granted, for far too long.


The Prophecies of Redemption as revealed unto the Prophet Leonard Howell, one of the founding fathers of the Rastafari faith. Bellevue Mental Asylum, Kingston, Jamaica, 1936. It came to me in a vision of glory, I have seen the golden city in a place called Shashemane, Ethiopia. Jah-Jah, the God of Abraham took me and pointed to the place and told me a home of splendor will rise from the dust and it will be an example to the world. A man will come forth, a prophet who will lead us to this glory. He will take his rightful place as Negusa Negas elect of The King of Kings. Jah, the father burnt a message on a stone tablet like he did for the prophet Moses and beckoned me to read them and bring it back to his flock. The words from the Almighty’s hand read: When Ethiopia cleaves with the nation of Ras and Africa begins its long struggle toward unity, the Prophet will come. Known as the Peacemaker he will end the war and lead the people to the golden city. All who have eyes to see will see and who have ears to hear will hear. Selassie I!


Weep not: Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof. Revelations 5:v5 Centuries after these words were set down in the Bible, Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, taking the name Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah. He became the 225th ruler of the 2,000-yearold Solomonic Dynasty. In faraway Jamaica religious men saw the crowning of a black king in Africa as significant and, in interpreting the scriptures, they realized the coronation was the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy. Soon they would take the name of Rastafari which in Amharic means ‘Head Creator’. Over the new century their power and influence would be felt worldwide. All the days of the vow of his separation, there shall be no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled in which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy and shall let the locks of his hair of his head grow. Numbers 6:v5


Prologue Cockpit Country, Jamaica. Sometime Soon. It came as it always did, with no warning. An explosion like a sudden blast furnace of heat and sound. And as always, he found himself on his hands and knees, lifting his pounding head, the world he knew upside down. Everywhere he looked, there was death. He saw men with guns moving purposefully through the confusion, killing indiscriminately. His weary eyes witnessed bombs being thrown into crowds of innocents. His eyes witnessed explosions that left nothing more than charred limbs and steaming splashes of crimson pulp. Tears streaked his cheeks. He would die here, wherever here was. Die far from home, far from his family. Cowering behind a marble pillar, his throat scorched from the acrid smoke, ears ringing from every explosion, gave him no relief. Protect an guide mi father! He wanted to close his eyes, to deny what he was witnessing but this was his destiny, his purpose. Somehow he knew this to be true. Dreadlock’s! A voice called out to him. Wails of agony grew louder as he kneeled paralysed in the middle of this slaughterhouse unmoved except for one voice. Dreadlocks! Only one voice could move him from his panic, one voice calling to him, pleading with him. Dreadlocks! It became the only voice he could hear. Stumbling over human remains, swaying, fighting against the fumes, the nausea, the Dread was compelled to find the voice amidst the chaos. But with every step the call of his name became fainter. Every step, fainter. Until it was barely a whisper and he was standing in front of a shattered podium.

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A man lay crumpled there, bleeding. The Dread tended to him without a thought. He sat and placed the wounded man’s head on his lap, rocking him like an infant. He stared into those pitiful eyes and his blood chilled. The man's face was a horrific quilt work of cuts and lacerations but it was the lines of his forehead, his nose, and his cheekbones, which were significant. Familiar. The old man kept staring, unable to tear his eyes away. Then suddenly he knew. The prophet, Marcus Mosiah Garvey spoke to him. " She mustn’t dead mi breddah, yuh hear.” He pleaded. “Dem want her dead but yuh must look out feh her. Yuh daughter is deh future. We need her. We need her Joshua............ ” “Why dem want her dead,” He asked. “But she is all mi have?” That anguished question was to go unanswered because the figure in his arms was no longer the prophet. “ Mi baby!” He screamed. The once beautiful face of his only child had morphed from the jaunty features of Marcus Mosiah. Her face was blistered and torn. A weak whisper of breath wheezed through her swollen lips as she convulsed like an epileptic. No! He wouldn’t let her die. She was the reason he never lost faith, the reason for everything. He cradled her, gently rocking to and fro, frantic prayers spitting from his mouth. My life fi her life but that anguished prayer would not be enough She stiffened, bucked wildly then went limp. The last breath whispered from her lips. Looking down in horror, he held her lifeless head in trembling hands, throwing his head back and wailing The evil wanted no part of his grieving taking the corpse back to earth. The waxen flesh of the body began to slough away in putrefied chunks, riddled with vermin. Her skin curled and blackened, peeling away to tendon and sinew. The old man screamed. Only skull and rib-cage were left in his arms but soon that too was beginning to crumble and dissolve until there was dust. Dust that was twirling now out of control, clouding his eyes, streaming into his nose, filling his mouth and gagging him. Evil wailing winds. Choking .

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Choking. The Dreadlocks woke gripping his bedcovers, screaming ................

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CHAPTER 1 Harlesden, West London ALTHOUGH SHE FOUND IT FUNNY, a part of Yasmeen Beyene couldn’t help thinking about what her star charts had predicted for her. Your soul mate will finally walk into your life with no fanfare, no ceremony, just a helping hand to put all your pressing worries into perspective. She’d be lucky. Her fingers kept busy over the blackboard. “Miss!” The voice was squeaky and urgent. “Mith Beyene.” The young man’s lisp made his teacher’s name sound odd. With her back to the class, Yasmeen continued what she was doing without a pause, unaware she had been spoken to. Most of her class were deep in concentration, content with what they had come to know as home for four hours on a Saturday morning. Nestled away in a North West London neighbourhood, the community centre acted as a focal point for the children living around it. It was an austere cube with tables, chairs and a blackboard. Staffed by underfunded and under-paid teachers -volunteers for all intents and purposes – who were committed to a cause. Still, Haile Selassie Saturday Class housed a group of kids with the highest aptitude test results in the borough, a proud fact she reminded them of at every opportunity. Her brows knitted with concentration. A mess of other thoughts disturbed her otherwise vacant mind but not her ability to write words on the chalkboard. Most of the children noticed nothing. They were all focused on taking down the important notes. Kofi wasn’t to be ignored. The young man cleared his throat awkwardly, his brows rising into high arches. That having no effect, he started waving his arms for attention. Deciding to dispense with the niceties, he stood up and projected his nine-year-old voice on tiptoes. “They didn’t sign the African Economic Accord on that date, Miss?” he said. The question provoked a reaction. Yasmeen hesitated for a moment, then completed the sentence she was working on and stopped. Turning slowly, she looked at Kofi and smiled remotely as she sat down behind her desk. Whatever thoughts that had began to force their way into her mind started to fade. Her eye’s regained their intensity and her smile grew. “That’s it!” She shuffled in her seat, her distant gaze departing. “Well spotted, Kofi. I thought no one would pick up on the inconsistencies in the dates.” She shielded her eyes like a sailor and glared at them. “So some of you are actually awake then.”

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The class laughed out and like a practised comic routine they all leaned forward, widening their eyes and pouting their lips in exaggerated concentration. Yasmeen leaned back in playful shock at the young faces and they all giggled again. Slowly she stood and perched on the edge of her desk, and an eager silence descended quickly. “The Accord was signed three days earlier than thought by conventional history books because of an attempt on President Mbeki’s life. Being the Chairperson of the Commonwealth of Democratic African States and the first person to put their signature to the African Concorde Agreement, she was always in the spotlight. At home in New South Africa she had her own problems. Although the war raged on in many regions of the continent, New South Africa didn’t have to deal with any direct conflicts in its borders but there was adequate internal strife. President Mbeki became the target of many terrorist groups for her views.” Yasmeen lowered her voice and, grasping the table’s edges, she leaned forward. Unconsciously the class reacted by mimicking the action. She stifled a smile, scanning their eager faces quickly and looked at the only entrance into the class with mock suspicion. “It was said that the Dread warned President Mbeki through a dream. She had known of him and his travels around the continent speaking of unity and peace, she knew of how he had led the Nation of Ras Tafari from what it was in the past to the force it was today but, more importantly, she knew of his gift of the third sight, knew he could discern possible futures. His vision saved her from an extremist bomb and ended any possibility of a white homeland being established in New South Africa.” Sitting back up, she left the children staring open mouthed. She arched her eyebrows mysteriously. “I’ll leave it to your judgement whether you believe that story or not. What you should know is that, even in today’s world, details are hard things to come by, especially for us historians. Nevertheless, as I’ve always told you never stop questioning the facts if they seem inconsistent, use your initiative and keep searching. Remember the truth is out there, somewhere.” The class burst into fits of laughter. “Does that make any sense?” Yasmeen asked. Kofi’s brows wrinkled, the question marks she knew were emerging in his adolescent mind amusing her. “I think so, Miss.” He grinned and so did she. Her enthusiasm was short-lived. Those thoughts she was unsuccessfully trying to ignore became more insistent. Why did you stay in a Saturday school programme that wasn’t sufficiently funded, or work in a building that was desperate for renovation and which the profit-driven corporate councils decided against allocating funds to? No heat, no running water, health and safety rulings conveniently flaunted. Why did you keep enlightening these kids when most of the parents either didn’t care for education

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or were too busy keeping a roof over their families’ heads to be aware of their progress? Perhaps she was a sadist. With a dispassionate shake of her head, Yasmeen filled the chalkboard with the remainder of her notes. A half-hour later, she wrapped up the lesson, made sure the class had their notes stored in memory pads and dismissed them before they started to get boisterous. She watched them as they left. The usual certainty of being back with them next week had disappeared, leaving a dirty pool of doubt. Yasmeen felt like a traitor. The choice was the children or her career? Only Jah-Jah could help her resolve this.

Downtown Johannesburg, New South Africa There was a blinding flash from the gun’s muzzle, followed by a deep roar as the relic from a less sophisticated era bucked in his hand, violently shattering the silence. “Yuh ramping, boss!” Asim Marshal growled at himself, his tone as hollow as his surroundings. “If that had been flesh an’ blood, turf bwoy, he would be down but not out.” He squinted, playing in his mind the gruesome effects his bullet would have on the human body. “Yuh hurt him, when the fucker should be dead.” An involuntary shudder ran the length of his spine because he knew in his line of business mistakes are paid for with your life. A slip like that in the field, rude bwoy, and you’d never see your daughter again. Stiffly, he stood up and inadvertently caught a reflection of himself in a dirty mirror to his left. It made him stop and pay attention. Asim didn’t deserve to look fit after all he’d been through. He was supplely built and deceptively agile for six-foot-one. Bald-headed with hair only on his eyebrows - he could never grow facial hair and was always considered to be younger than he really was - with his almost oriental-shaped eyes, a legacy from a great-great-grandmother who was half Chinese and half African-Jamaican. And then crowning those thin lids was the part of him he hated the most and women found most attractive - his long and effeminate eyelashes. A smile crept up to the corners of his lips. Just the thought that he would be leaving this endless war, going back to his family and a pleasantly mundane life was making him loosen up. He just needed to stay alive to prove himself right. Four years of active duty in the terrorist hotspots of the continent had created his controlled paranoia. Britain, in its role of aiding the nations of the African Concorde Agreement, established foreign internal defence programmes to keep the Commonwealth of Democratic African States intact from the inside. It had also provided Asim with a

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reason to abandon his family in the name of duty. Slowly he revolved his neck, the bones of his vertebrae snapping into place. “Forget everything else,” he told himself. “My only concern is keeping my edge an’ staying alive. Going back to London in a body bag is no way to raise a yout.” He chuckled humourlessly. Unusual spates of terrorist violence had risen in Johannesburg again. Unfortunately Asim and his people were in the forefront handling any situations. His cold and clinical evaluation of threats to his life did not fill him with a sense of satisfaction. He wasn’overjoyed by thanytime soon he could be dead, or worse, or that he had a duty duty to fulfil. What was most important to him was recapturing his life and he he neededto be fit and well to dothat. He crouched forward again and squeezed the trigger twice. The rounds punched through the target’s abdomen. His two-handed grip on the weapon was unwavering, his concentration intense. He waited. Deep thought and target practice somehow did not go hand in hand. He stood upright and slowly holstered the weapon then turned away from the target, his bald head gleaming under the artificial lights and eclipsing in the shadows. He slumped into the seats that ran along the far wall, rubbing his hand along his solid angled jaw and then steeped his fingers under his nose, sinking deeper in thought. They should have condemned this prehistoric shooting gallery long ago but he had begged the owner not to. Usually he was never able to take root in any country because his kind of work could take him anywhere in Africa at a moment’s notice. New South Africa became the exception. The gallery had become like a project away from the barracks and was situated below a newer complex with only one entrance that he or the management could access. Much more than a place for brooding, he was then able to hone his shooting skills away from Johannesburg’s office types situated above him. They wouldn’t like his set up any way. Technology had the tendency to sweep everything which did not meet up to its strict rules of efficiency into obscurity. Result: a world full of lazy minds and lazier bodies that had no appreciation for the solid practicalities of the past. Just like the gallery, like his old guns and his attitude, he was old-fashioned and somewhat predictable. He didn’t like surprises and felt always more at home with the past. He knew what to expect, what had been done. The present was less clear and the future… He peered through the small telescope mounted in front of him, his finger dislodging a flake of paint from the base and confirmed his aim had been slightly off target - a centimetre away from the bulls-eye. Like his life, maybe. Suddenly he stood up and stepped forward. Whipping his gun from his shoulder holster, he aimed and pulled the trigger rapidly in one fluid motion.

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The gun’s report was awesome but he continued unaffected. His fingers were tired, the magazine was nearly empty and his unprotected ears were ringing. Again he checked the shattered target but this time he was pleased to see the interior circles peppered with evenly spaced punctures. The muscles at one side of his fleshy lips twitched upwards irritably. Or was it a pleased smile? Maybe it was the fact that, finally, from all the pain in his life a clear picture was forming of what he needed to do. His only daughter. Suddenly it dawned on him with such force that he had to hold himself upright. He had no one. No love in his life and no family of his own. He had nothing. And Asim wanted it all, his life back and nothing else mattered but surviving two more weeks in hostile territory. The zeal for his duty evaporated from then on, and a soldier with no cause was a liability. His career was over. The authorities just didn’t realise it yet. A familiar coded vibration in his earlobe made him take note. He stood still and focused. Central command and another crisis that required his unique skills. Dem just won’t let me rest to rass. He smiled thinly, his new found appreciation for his mortality amusing. In a moment he was gone.

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CHAPTER 2 THE SUN HAD DISAPPEARED behind the cityscape when Yasmeen came out of the secure parking facility and made her way tentatively along Mandela Street. She would have preferred arriving here earlier but had been overtaken by other things. Now as the oppressive architecture bore down on her and the sole level lights embedded in the pavement flickered weakly, a growing sense of threat accompanied the darkening shadows. You’ll be okay, she told herself, just keep walking. Just the anticipation of stepping into her place of worship had started to put her problems into sharper perspective. The Tabernacle had been her spiritual home ever since she came to England from East Africa with her mother. For the family she claimed to love, Yasmeen had neglected them. Attaining her Masters in Ancient History and now taking the helm of a flagship museum had taken its toll. Regret didn’t fit into that complicated equation, though. After all, wasn’t high achievement what she strived for? Sweeping away as best she could any feelings of guilt, Yasmeen looked forward to the silence, the Itations - meditations and prayer - with the sisters and the love of a community she had not shared her time with for over a year. The Nation of Ras Tafari was much more than a way of life. It had taught her pride in herself and her heritage. And on the world stage it was not the novelty it used to be but a powerful force for change. Some day she could probably give much more of herself to it. Right now she had more work to do. Yasmeen allowed the thrill of her recent job appointment to take hold in the warm evening. She couldn’t enter the house of Jah and not seem grateful. Her delight was hard to recognise from the impassive expression on her face but inside raged a small storm of mixed emotions. Ambition or commitment? She frowned, her focus straight ahead of her again. The concrete slabs of the sidewalk echoed under her steps. She glanced absently at her mirror image in the reinforced glass of an empty Italian restaurant. The elusive feeling of excitement returned fleetingly. Assistant Curator. Her appointment from Resident Historian to being Assistant Curator of the Hall of Ethiopia was a dream she kept alive and relevant. She made sacrifices and it left its scars but she would have it no other way. Long-standing traditions had been broken by her appointment and that in itself required recognition if not celebration. The first woman ever to step into that position, the first of African descent and the first Rasta. Miriam would have been so proud. She had been a mother and sister to her.

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Now she could only draw strength from the memories. I wish you were here now. Her eyes adjusted to the artificial streetlights as they flickered to life replacing the dimness of the disappearing sun. The junkies came into their habitat and this part of North West London suddenly became unpredictable. London was a city of paradox. To the world, London was the Millennium city. Environmentally it stood head and shoulders above its peers in the European Economic Community. Working solutions for the problems of pollution, housing and urbanization were tackled swiftly. The government’s determination to see these changes take place almost bordered on manic compulsion. In forty years London was like a new city. The historical and the contemporary mingled seamlessly. Biotechnology rejuvenated the Thames, atmospheric pollution was stemmed by technology used on Mars to alter its atmosphere for human habitation - and spread across the city. Pockets of artificially maintained ‘natural areas’ broke up miles of steel and glass. Whatever did not fit into its shiny new image was border lined and actively forgotten. Many inner city neighbourhoods were simply allowed to disintegrate, and its people with it. The local authority’s unconcern about the crime levels within these areas only started worrying when the disease began to spread beyond its confines. For all its modern landscape and its technological advancements, violent crime was at an all time high and these pockets of neglect called Zones were the major breeding grounds. Scotland Yard’s Met-1 surveillance cameras didn’t help boost confidence amongst the residents either. A police presence would have been more appreciated but that was reserved for the new developments and the neighbourhoods that were deemed to have a future. Yasmeen shrugged at the unfairness of it all and watched as an electronic eye kept a keen interest in her steady progress, moving along its network of lines like an industrious spider, its task of providing a deterrent on these London streets an impossible one. She may have seemed casual but she was acutely aware of the dangers and far more concerned with being prepared. Normally she would have to walk through checkpoint manned by armed Met-1 officers, have her ID checked and confirmed. You were then read the statutory health warning so if you were violently assaulted the local council was not liable. But Zones across the city were being automated as a massive manpower and cost efficiency drive took place. This area was one of the first to benefit from it. High above street level PLIs - Perpetrator Level Indicators - were flashing amber as she penetrated deeper into Zone C154 - an area of high felony activity covering the notorious Kings Cross and a thin strip of Camden Town. She was safe for as long as the colour remained neutral and the Klaxons didn’t begin to scream. Heartbeat thudding dully in her chest, her mouth parched she struggled to keep

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her apprehension locked away. As always it was best not to draw attention to yourself. She was just a lone Rasta woman, going about her business and engrossed in her own world. Nervously she shifted her focus from the stark terrain in front of her. Leering eyes peered out from open-all-hour shops, ogling her, the sensualness of her easy sway, long supple legs and small sandaled feet, drawing unwelcome stares. Some things never change. She remembered how she used to pray to be ordinary looking, wanting to be less attractive, to be accepted. Maturity and time healed those self-destructive wishes, developing into a confident woman able to give thanks for the gifts she inherited from her Jamaican father and Ethiopian mother. Being a Rasta daughta and with the respect the Nation of Ras Tafari carried, that alone put most people at ease in her company. The rest she did not care about. Yasmeen would not apologise to anyone for who she was. Wolf whistles came from an open window above her. She didn’t break her stride; her hand remained in her shoulder bag, caressing her only protection. The Close Quarter Stunner customer’s satisfaction guarantee promised the ultimate in personal protection. Somehow it didn’t make her feel any better. Large transporters sped up the road, their engines a whisper, while Yasmeen stood waiting to cross the double-lane roadway. The white rectangles of the zebra crossing illuminated weakly indicating it was safe to walk and she stepped out passing a group of youths idling on the other side. They looked up casually, not one of them more than fourteen. They had their backs to her, too engrossed in counting credits or stolen goods to be interested in the young woman passing by. She pushed the large wrought iron gates and, walking briskly through; she hurried onto the forecourt of the Tabernacle and breathed uneasily. An hour or so later the meeting was at an end and Yasmeen sat talking to her mother’s oldest and dearest friend. Although she had not seen her in person for more than a year, she was the closest thing to a mother that remained in her life. “I’m glad you could come, daughter,” Sister Ijah beamed, wiping sweat from her brow. “Please, don’t let it take so long before I see you again, yuh hear.” Yasmeen hugged her warmly. “It won’t, sister, I promise.” She remembered fondly when Miriam was alive how they would sit and swap stories about their homelands. Miriam would talk of Shashemane while Sister Ijah joked about her village in Jamaica. The little woman’s vibrancy and humour as she recounted her life had brightened many a depressing evening. What she hadn’t realised was how she had painted a picture of the Island so vividly in Yasmeen’s head, with descriptions like detailed brush strokes. She had welcomed them into England after they fled Ethiopia, making sure their acceptance into the Rasta community was as painless as could be

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expected and, when she became an adolescent, hers was always a shoulder that would support her. “You would make your mother proud yuh si, child.” Sister Ijah stroked the insides of Yasmeen’s palm, her eyes bright. “The whole community, talking about how yuh moving forward in life. Is yuh mother an her blessings following yuh.” Yasmeen nodded respectfully. “There was nobody like her,” she said. “Jah bless her memory and dat’s why I’m worried sometimes.” “Don’t be, Mom.” Yasmeen smiled. “I’m fine, honest.” “Yuh make it difficult feh me to keep my promise to her.” Sister Ijah sighed. “We need to see each other more often, child, not just talk over some mobile phone.” “I’m sorry for that, sister. I’ve been burying myself in work trying to prove I can fight with the best. I suppose I gave a bit too much but I’ll do better, we won’t be such strangers this time around.” “Good.” Her plump cheeks puffed up as she smiled. Then she looked Yasmeen up and down with an appraising eye. “By the way, when was deh last time you go out an socialise?” Yasmeen shrugged. Sister Ijah shook her head as her finger wagged. “Don’t turn out like me, with not a chick nor child. I want you to introduce me to yuh King man.” Yasmeen laughed at the outdated term for a man in her life. “I haven’t got a King man, sister. No one will have me,” she joked. Sister Ijah kissed her teeth long and hard, then said, “What you telling me!” She shook her head in disbelief. “All dem fool, fool bwoy that come to worship here don’t realise what a beautiful and intelligent girl yuh are. My God, them don’t know dem bed head from dem bed foot. But don’t you worry, mi daughta,” she threatened. “I will have to do some enquiries myself on dat matter.” Yasmeen could only laugh, throw her arms around Sister Ijah’s neck and plant a kiss on her plump cheeks. The prayer meeting had been inspirational and Yasmeen was glad the Tabernacle of Abuna Paulos, the Ethiopian in Camden Town had continued to be the focal point on weekends for a dedicated group of Rasta women. It had ended on a high note as everyone chatted about spending United Africa Day contributing something to the community and not just celebrating. Yasmeen would be doing neither and would be working but she would say a prayer like most who held the continent close to their heart and hope for the end to the conflicts. The children had been restlessly occupying themselves in the background, excited that they were not in bed but fought against tiredness with their last reserves of

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energy. Sister Ijah had seen the exhaustion reflected in their eyes and ended the Itations promptly. Soon after discussing their celebration plans they went on to gather their belongings. Yasmeen had felt a sense that anything was possible after quiet meditation. She had prayed for guidance and, although she still did not have the answers, she now believed somehow the options would be much clearer. Heels and soft shoes echoed through the aisles of the vast building as the group headed for the main door. Their voices remained whispers as if they did not want to disturb the calmness and peace their place of worship required. The children seemed less concerned about the respect the adults showed but were convinced quickly with a few stern words. The large motor-assisted doors groaned open. It had suddenly become chilly and quiet outside. There was an absence of traffic droning past and even pedestrian chatter as people went about their business. The atmosphere outside seemed to absorb all sound. Yasmeen peered out. The bright lights on the top of the stairs obscured the view of the road for about a hundred metres beyond the Tabernacle’s boundaries. Yasmeen shivered. Suddenly she had a strange feeling that someone was watching them. Her scalp rose into a mound of gooseflesh. She hesitated. Instead of walking away, Yasmeen lingered for a while, waiting for the other sisters, so they could go to their respective cars together. “Yasmeen!” Silence. Her name had exploded out from the darkness beyond the gate, or could it have been someone from the prayer group? She turned expectantly but no one tried to gain her attention. Yasmeen peered out at the oppressive, oily black shadows and shivered. She was not imagining this; someone had called out her name. Someone out there. The cold hand of fear would have touched her if she had realised the streets were darker than usual. Realised street lamps had been broken and their fragments strewn across the pavement or felt a sense of gathering chaos like an upcoming storm. But she knew nothing of this. At this point she was just puzzled. The sisters continued to say their good nights on the steps before they parted but Ezekiel the temperamental son of one of the youngest in the group was already impatiently sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He was still huffing from a slap he had received earlier and peered into the darkness beyond the wall. Even he found it peculiar. And even more so as a man appeared from the shadows. A mass of locks fell untidily around his shoulders, his piercing eyes searching and a flaming spliff jutting out of his mouth. The Rasta man winked at him. Casually he took the big head from his lips and used the red-hot end to ignite what to Ezekiel’s eyes was a flaming fire ball. The man smiled at him again. Drawing his arm back as far as it could go, he released the fireball skyward. The

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small boy just sat there, watching in detached awe as the missile arced over his head, spinning and blazing in slow motion and then violently exploding on the steps above him. Ezekiel turned frantically in every direction as more of the fireballs rained down from the darkness beyond. His desperate gaze held only by the assailant’s as they came into view. The abnormality of Rasta and skinhead together raced through an immature mind that was unable to evaluate the un-likeliness of what he had seen. In the distance the Rasta man stood impassively observing the damage for a moment and then he was gone, disappearing into the midst of a savage-looking group of tattooed and white baalheads who began spewing racist abuse. To the little boy they were the bogeymen who had just stepped out of his nightmares. Explosions and the stink of fuel shocked him into alertness. His voice returned as a terrified shriek and with it his presence of mind. In mere seconds he was clamouring dangerously through the heat and smoke, desperate to find his mother. Flames were everywhere. Yasmeen’s scream locked in her throat. What came next was instinctive. She began herding everyone back up the stairs. The situation unravelling before her eyes was unreal, nightmarish. Coughing, the propellant fumes stinging her eyes and the heat overwhelming, the reality of it became all too evident. Their only escape lay behind them, back into the Tabernacle. Sister Ijah had the keys. At that instant Yasmeen’s eyes met the elder’s. She could hear the large bunch fall to the stone stairs as the older woman’s fingers sprang open. The clink, clink strangely isolated from the bedlam. As Yasmeen’s eyes darted from the key back to the elder woman, her confused senses met with a tortuous scream of her name. Sister Ijah erupted into a howling furnace of flames. The human torch she had become rolled down the stairs, thrashing and screaming. Her blackened and blistering hands reached out, nails clawing, scraping on cold concrete. Clawing. Clawing. Yasmeen screamed out, stupidly trying to rush to her aid but the steaming blackened body lay still, the heat from it unbearable. She stood back shrieking at the horror in front of her, tears streamed down her cheeks, her mind wiped clean. Another explosion below her jolted her back into action. Using her sandals she kicked the keys away from the charred fingers, grabbed them, the heat scorching her hand, and dashed back to the families huddled, wailing beside the large doors. In moments the nightmare was barricaded from them. But what of the scenes they had witnessed, what could protect their thoughts from those nightmares? Safety in the Tabernacle made no difference. She lay on the cold floor listening to the sounds of boisterous chants outside rising in triumph. The anguished sobs she heard were distant and painful and soon could not be distinguished from her own. A wave of guilt welled up in her as she

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realised that she had seen this horror re-enacted before. It had been in her dreams. And like many times before it would lurk in the shadows of her consciousness and allow destiny’s hand to be played before it revealed itself. The memories flickered across her mind’s eye. She remembered the fire and the heat surrounding her on a perpetual staircase that stretched into the clouds. She remembered reaching for someone amid the flames; someone she did not recognise but knew instinctively was family. The screams echoed in her head and the burning flesh pinched at her nostrils. Yasmeen could do nothing. At the dream’s conclusion, she always stood looking down at a smouldering carcass, twisted grotesquely as if its dance macabre was unfinished. What use was a gift that was unable to protect you before the fact? Deep in shock Yasmeen consoled herself, her knees drawn to her chest like a defenceless foetus as she rocked to and fro. The screen of her mind continued to replay the horror and Yasmeen was forced to watch it again and again, helpless to stop it.

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CHAPTER 3 Hackney Town Hall, London One week later, United Africa Day “BEING DEALT WITH?” YASMEEN REPEATED the man’s words with shock, her eyes blazing while she shook her head trying to extract some sense from what he had just said. “What does that mean exactly, elder?” Elder Jeremiah took in a deep breath. The proceedings had taken on a decidedly chilly atmosphere. One he had expected but could do nothing to prepare for. Now the situation was beyond calming. He looked around at the members of the Rasta Forum, confidently expecting some support. They met the elder with silent stares. His eye’s focused on Yasmeen again and recognised the cold glint of determination. He had been warned about her in his briefing before his trip to London. In his many years of diplomatic service for the Nation, only a few people have ever required him to be overly cautious in his dealings. Somehow the Rasta hierarchy respected or feared this sistah. Jeremiah felt none of those emotions; he just did not care much for her tone. “The elders know about the escalating situation here, sister,” he said calmly. “We are not blind and deaf. It is at the top of the Council’s agenda.” Yasmeen’s brows twitched. Her eyes were glistening reservoirs of tears, as fragmented images danced behind them. Sister Ijah’s screams, the stench, the heat…“I think I speak for everyone here, elder,” She spoke softly, leaning forward on the chair in front of her. “This violence has plagued us for nearly three years and of this time the elders have literally ignored the problem. Sending a few observers, who saw nothing and did nothing, is not enough. They are attacking our tabernacles, our people are being harmed by white extremist who rationalise their actions by saying they are retaliating against our violence to them. We want to know from the Council exactly what is being done. You are the Council’s representative here. Don’t insult our intelligence by dancing around the real issue, elder. We want to know what is being done.” The elder’s head tilted backwards from the onslaught, his fingers touching his cheek as if he was checking for blood. The diplomat in him resisted confrontation while the old traditional Rasta man wanted to discipline her on the spot. His fist clenched and his eyes narrowed as he took control. “You’re new to the running of this Forum aren’t you, sista …” He paused and bought up her name on a VDU screen in front of him. He let his finger trail across her personal file. “… Sista Beyene. “Here, things follow a particular process. Being in a

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position of prominence yourself, you must understand.” He grinned slyly. “We deal in due process here. There’s no place for individual opinions guiding our decisions.” Yasmeen shook her head solemnly. “Blacks and whites are literally at war on the streets of London. People are dying and with all due respect you still want to play games of protocol with us.” Their eyes locked and for interminable seconds Yasmeen matched him, glare for glare. The only messages communicated were hostile ones. “You can try and sidestep the reality as much as you want, elder, it won’t go away. The facts are simple. Some of our flock are involved in this bloodshed. We are demanding to know what the Nation has planned to do about it.” “You’re demanding?” Elder Jeremiah’s voice was edged with annoyance. Yasmeen was ready with an acidic reply but a young man behind her stood up, pushing his glasses up the ridge of his nose. “The sister is right, man. It’s about time we had some hard facts, not speculation.” “Yes, Iyah, it due,” another voice in the meeting agreed. “If the Nation has some solutions to this craziness,” an older woman in colourful head gear added, “why can’t we hear it, the people most affected?” Voices rose in derision as feelings mounted. The elder stepped back from the podium with a look of frustration and defeat. His fingers massaged his chin while his eyes focused into the distance. The muscles of his jaw tensed as he made a decision that was obviously an unsavoury one. With renewed vigour he cleared his throat and returned to the podium. Staring at the forum members with quiet intensity, he used the time they took to calm down, to decide on how he would approach their ultimatum. His aide, a man with a ramrod posture, thin faced and humourless, was standing vigilantly at the end of the raised platform. The elder summoned him and they exchanged words briefly. The man then briskly walked away and approached the secretary recording the proceedings. With no care for the secretary’s protests, he reached over and switched off the recording equipment. Silence. That seemed to indicate the elder’s cue. “First, I would like to say Sister Ijah’s vicious murder has horrified us. Our prayers are with her family and friends.” “Dat nuh good enough.” Someone kissed their teeth. He ignored the outburst and adjusted the sleeves of his gown. “The Council of Rasta Patriarchs is going to announce to the Rasta flock around the world the date for the celebration of the Ascension.” Gasps of surprise rose from the audience. They had talked about the occasion for some years now. Strong opposition in some quarters had delayed the final decision but

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obviously they had passed it as law. The Nation of Ras Tafari would have an ordained leader. Negusa Negas. “Rasta has been a faith of resistance against all the odds,” he sermonised. “And this blight on our name in London is just another string of tests we’ve had to endure and conquer from time.” Calmly the elder placed both palms flat on the podium and leaned forward. “In seven months time, we will have made history and we want it to be made with this blight resolved. The Council has already taken the initiative to actively find solutions to this disgrace happening in your midst and without it being resolved our way of life cannot turn a new chapter. I can say positively that, as I’m standing here, secret plans are under way to deal with these false lions killing in the name of the most high.” “Secret?” someone cried out. “If we don’t have specifics, how are we supposed to help?” Jeremiah calmed the man’s apprehensions with a reassuring to and fro motion of his hands. “This is a delicate situation, brethren, understand. The Spear of the Nation is fighting a religious and racial war, which the Nation has no part of. When the public sees their lions’ mane and what they are doing. They think they are Rasta. They are heathen!” he shouted. “Innocents are suffering in the process. Murder is a government issue, a police matter. We will only reveal the plans we have made with the authorities to particular members of our community who can contribute within the law. It has to be that way.” “And the Pure Blood?” someone asked. “The Pure Blood will be dealt with within the framework of the law, of course.” “Dat nuh bomboclaat good enough, elder.” Brazenly, a young man stood up so all could see him. “If you want to be at the mercy of them murdering baalheads that’s your choice,” he spat. “The Rasta yout will not be at anyone’s mercy.” The group and its spokesman stormed out. Yasmeen shook her head regretfully and turned back to the elder who had just experienced yet another taste of the people’s depth of feeling. “I suppose you expect us to take your word for all this, seeing as we have no formal record of what you’ve just said?” Jeremiah nodded his head to her as a sign of distaste or respect, she was not sure which and did not care. “My word as an elder is exactly what I’m giving you, sista. My word is what I’m giving all of you. We will resolve this situation at all cost.”

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The Tabernacle of Ras, Kingston, Jamaica Later that same day “Praises to the most high, from whom all good tings come. Amen and Amen!” Figures dressed in traditional African robes sat around the huge slab of polished wood silently absorbed by the blessing. Shrouded in smoke from all sides, the remains of the burning ganja formed wispy shelves like ethereal staircases to the cracked ceiling of the meeting chamber. The ‘Healing of the Nation’ had blessed the ceremony and, while the essence rose from the Kutchie symbolizing their supplication to the Father on high, they reflected. Today was the anniversary of the fulfilment of a life-long dream that had been lamented in song and literature by Rasta for decades. A prophecy the Nation of Ras Tafari held close to its heart. From an area in the centre of the lacquered slab an iris portal noiselessly opened. The shiny chrome head of a holographic projector came into view, the metallic frame locking into position with a sharp snap and Light Globes floating above their heads dimmed, throwing the chamber into darkness. With a piercing whine beams of light burst from the projector head to fuse into a sharp three-dimensional image. The elders relived the hour-long ceremony, which culminated with the elegant figure of Denise Mbeki, the president of New South Africa, graciously nodding to ten seated African leaders. Smiling and with an air of relief some might say, she leaned forward and placed the first signature on the African Concorde Agreement. The World Service anchorman Richard Hall began his commentary as the events of the past unfolded in the background. “Today millions of viewers witnessed history in the making. It was the dawning of a new era. “The pragmatists amongst us say it’s just an anomaly that would end in more turmoil and bloodletting, while others shed tears of relief as the president of New South Africa Denise Mbeki, great-great-granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, put her signature at the head of the list of eight nations participating in this annul-making chapter in African history. “The African Concorde Agreement had become a reality and with it a semblance of hope burns. “While the world doubted and debated, from the ashes of the ongoing conflicts came the Commonwealth of Democratic African States. And with it the possibility of a common market, the development of a single currency and an established and centralised parliament working only for the member states. The West had never witnessed such a concerted political force emerging from the continent…” And so he went on… Light. The darkness skittered away just so far and then slowly it formed a figure that seemed to dislodge itself from the diminishing shadow.

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Both silhouette and man stood as one. The light had caught Patriarch Yamu just as he had eased back his chair and stood up gently shaking the hood away from his head. He was an impressive figure. Grey locks hung long, shrouding his face as he bowed. Someone cleared their throat as if to speak, the sound hollow in the great hall. His reaction was as immediate as it was surprising. The patriarch’s head snapped upright, much like a man preparing to defend himself. His ears cocked, he listened for the expected remark, and the derogatory comment that would indirectly question his worthiness for the honorary position he held. None came. Reigning in his defences, he relaxed the taut muscles of his face. Honorary position, my rass! Instead of it being a sign of respect for his achievements and his unceasing efforts in developing the Nation, it became a constant homage to his dead brother’s memory. Reminders of the man who joined the way of life of Ras Tafari with the ancient faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the man who had literally swayed African states into accepting unity, a man whose compassion for the wretchedness of the human condition was a well-documented fact, a man whose very presence assured millions of avid viewers to his speeches. A self-righteous dead brother, whose visions every Rasta man, woman and child swore had guided them into the future. A brother who the Nation chose stubbornly to remember at every conceivable moment for his supposed contributions. The ‘Dread’ as the flock called him with misplaced affection had taken enough of what was his. Only his untimely death had given him an opportunity to show his true worth. Jah damn every one of dem! The flock was besotted with his brothers ‘Isims an’ schisms’. Yamu just had to look around at the men and women seated with their insipid looks of devotion to remind him why he hated these festivals and why he held them all in contempt for giving these events so much significance. And in doing so, giving his brother and his life’s works so much significance. Everywhere he looked, everywhere he went, constant reminders of the Dread and the legacy he had left behind. His were oldfashioned and weak ideas, which in today’s world would put the black man under the whip for another two hundred years. Unity between the races, instead of African supremacy, consorting with the Christian slave masters instead of Rasta world order. And they had listened to him. That was why the Nation was lost in the wilderness and only he could guide them back to the Promised Land. Just as they were patiently sitting now, waiting for him to speak, they were waiting for him to give them a new focus, to guide them. He had the task to make them see that the formation of the Commonwealth of Democratic African States was much more than a spiritual event but a solid platform for hostilities against the European down-pressors and their offspring. War! Under his spiritual

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guidance he would make them pay for the injustices meted out against the African people. Like the Jews, we must never forget. His dream was to make sure they never would and as Negusa Negas he could attain that. It was reassuring that not all leaders on the continent had shared his brother’s weak world vision but the ones who did would be swayed by him soon enough. Whoever seh, ‘Without war there cannot be peace and one cannot exist without the other’ is trying to lead us astray! Yamu shook his head, trying to block by force of will his brother’s sickening words of non-violence from stealing into his head, but couldn’t. At first it had him worried. The frequency of these occurrences - not just memories of his brother but waking glimpses of places he’d never been or people he’d never known - was becoming more and more regular and startlingly vivid. He had chosen to explain away these experiences with everything other than the truth. Until he realised it would do him no good. That special intuitive connection he shared with his twin from birth, which he thought had died along with his brother twenty years ago, was revitalizing itself. He was having those feelings again. Fragmented images seen through the eyes of someone else. Alien emotions of caring and concern, which he knew did not stem from him. He was looking through the eyes of his brother. The Dread was alive. It was that simple. He didn’t know how, he only knew it was the truth. And knew it with as much certainty, as he knew he was alive himself. He could feel him. The urgency of what he had to do next would be lost in words. His brother - and his niece were the only ones who could destroy his dream, the only living people who could object to his ordination and reverse his fortunes. Rasta law was clear. That’s why he couldn’t sleep. Yamu would not rest until every principle that the Dread preached was wiped clean from Rasta dogma and replaced with his own. Then he would destroy not just his words but his flesh and the flesh of his flesh. He would destroy him and everything related to him and this time nothing would remain. They could not hide from him and when the time was right he would show them no quarter. His brother was not the one spoke of in the Prophecy. Negusa Negas was his destiny and no one else’s. But for now his concern lay with the outspoken patriarchs who thought they knew he was contemplating change, feeling they could sense the dangerous undercurrents to his plans but not knowing for sure if they were right. He was watching them while his plan hatched. Soon the many - who knew him not just as the brother of the Dread but an equal whose deeds proved he was the rightful successor - would drown out the few voices of dissent that remained. Knowing he was blood, a skilled diplomat and the only logical choice to be the First the symbolical Lion of Judah would be an unavoidable fact. His last mission of mercy before the Ascension was underway in England, spearheaded by one of his more

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capable envoys. Breddah Jeremiah by this had put London’s concerns over the strife they were facing at ease. The zealots in England would be watching and waiting. They won’t be disappointed. The peace they craved would be theirs but not before he played a few games of his own. He smiled. A smile from the face like some ancient African ritual mask used to evoke evil spirits and armed with a small protruding mouth that you feared hid needle sharp teeth. It struck you more as a weapon of destruction than a means to deliver words. Some would say his words were deliverers of destruction. The patriarch walked farther away from the table, his hands clasped tightly behind his back then gracefully he turned, masking a hunger behind features that seemed to glow with passion. “Jah!” he chanted, his voice powerful. The word reverberated around the chamber digging into the very material of the old building and dislodging sprays of dust. They echoed his praise uncertainly at first, as he took the ceremony away from its usual format. Only Yamu had the power to do that and he abused it at his pleasure. “We have lived to see the final struggle for peace in Africa in our lifetime, my brothers and sisters. Now as the father has promised, one of our number will lead our people and become the first in the line of Negusa Negas, Shepherd of the flock of JahJah.” “Raaastafari! Ever living, ever sure,” they chanted. “Yuh must open your hearts an pray dat when the time comes for you to choose yuh will have read the signs an’ have no doubts who should lead the flock.” “Yes I,” a majority chorused. A self-assured snicker came from the other end of the table. “Of course we will know, brother.” The calm tone from the Trinidadian patriarch carried a severe intensity. “As you know the final decision is ours.” He motioned to the seated leaders with a savage sweep of his hands. “If I didn’t know better, man, I would think you were trying to tell us where our vote should be placed.” Yamu smiled grimly, his eyes narrowing. They were smouldering light brown, piercing and alert. Eyes that weren’t just ready not just to see you with but to absorb you completely and spit out the bones. He nodded, the smile remaining. He liked testing the limits of their tolerance. Damn fool dem! “No need for dat, Breddah Samuel.” Yamu raised both palms to the ceiling with insincere submission. “Jah will guide our hands an’ heart. I’m confident we will make the right choice and Rasta will finally have its Shepherd.” “Just so that you don’t believe your will is the will of Jah, almighty.” “Father forbid, mi breddah.” Yamu bowed humbly, concealing a hatred he did well to keep concealed. Brother

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Samuel returned the gesture and took his seat. Yamu did so too, his eyes skewering the elder across the table from him. A savage, cruel gaze. Ras Tafari History will praise only one name as deh First, he swore. And believe I and I it will be mine alone.

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CHAPTER 4 Cockpit Country, Jamaica HIS SCREAM WAS SHORT-LIVED. The Dread filled his lungs with short sharp breathes, his austere gown soaked in sweat and his head pounding to the beat of his panicked heart. In desperation his gnarled fingers searched for the cool bed linen. He buried his face into the folds of the material in relief. The intensity of this vision could not be ignored any longer. He stared into the darkness, trying to forget for a moment. After twenty-five years hidden here, never once had his slumber been disturbed by his visions. He reasoned his gift was dormant or dead. But the Babylonians were at the city gates baying for his blood again and it had reawakened. If fooling the world into believing he was dead wasn’t punishment enough they wanted to break him, destroy his seed - his true legacy on earth - and then end his life. Scattering his ashes to the four winds so no trace that he ever existed remained. He smiled grimly. Man a plan but Jah a wipe-out. They won’t tek my only family from me! A pea dove chirped in the distance making his threat sound hollow. Gingerly he rubbed his palms over the protruding veins at the back of his hands and wherever he felt beads of perspiration he massaged them into his dark skin. He continued to shiver in the warmth. Closing his eyes, he breathed in, his body odour blending with the smell of decaying wood. His vision blurred and a vista that belonged in his nightmares opened. Shattered fragments of his vision started coming alive before his eyes again, reliving everything in a terror-filled instant. The screams of pain, the blood. Her mutilated body. His baby. As his waking nightmare subsided, he found himself huddled into the wall like a cornered animal, tears streaming down his cheeks. He took a moment to gain control and swung his legs off his bed in what he could only call haste. He supported himself on trembling hands. The white ropes of his thick hair fell into his face, obscuring his already dimmed vision. He could still hear her calling. Shaking his head, his eyes clenched shut; he tried to will the real or imaginary sensations away. With care he brought a dried cashew nut slung around his neck to his lips and kissed it. His confidence building, he let it fall to his chest and grabbed his walking stick. Now with more purpose, he shuffled over to a roughcast lamp hewn out of a smooth stone, its centre hollowed out with a cotton wick imbedded in a reservoir of hardened coconut oil. He brought a match to it. It flared and crackled to a constant flame. The darkness was sucked away suddenly, revealing the rough-cut thatch walls and Spartan decor. He made his way to his study hurriedly.

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Old volumes that had gone out of print circulation with advancing technology decades ago lined the walls of the space he used when he was engrossed in his more academic work. Dusty scrolls from far-fetched institutions lay untidily about. Official accolades from governments and organizations were thinly layered with dust and sat alongside faded photographs of a proud past. His eyes focussed on the pristine computer terminal outshining everything around it in the room. He switched the solar energy generator on and waited for it to reach its maximum output, powering the very few electronic commodities he possessed. Unable to stand around waiting, he turned his attention elsewhere by hobbling into the adjoining den, making himself busy. “Yuh will not harm my family,” he mumbled, stopping uncertainly at the threshold of what he called his meditation room. It was dark and was perfumed with the faint whiff of prime ganja and moist soil. When he needed guidance, this was the place he’d be. A gold chalice lay in the corner - the only real extravagance he had in his life - with a bundle of his own-grown cannabis beside it. His Maccabees Bible took centre stage on a metal podium, and the skylight above directed shafts of sunbeams onto the Word at midday. It was like the Almighty was touching it and that image buoyed up his spirits. He stared absently through his Plexiglas window at the far end of the room. His thatched kitchen outside was surrounded by the greenest, most lush vegetables you would ever hope to see, blending inconspicuously with its covering of bush and making his home invisible to only the closest scrutiny. He absorbed the world outside. A hummingbird hovered near by. Its long beak and probing tongue tasting the dewy nectar from a Hibiscus flower. The Dread watched its frantic movement and was transported for a moment. He recaptured his thoughts as the mild throbbing from the generator, rose up from the floorboards. The fluorescent light in his study flickered on and the old man seated himself and recited his message to the awaiting terminal. Minutes later a bird burst from the foliage. A grey and white messenger pigeon left its masters home banking sharply on the upward currents of heat breaking from the valley below and headed for the village in Trelawny. Thank Jah he was not totally alone in the world. Solemnly he followed the bird’s path, contemplating. He knew his family’s life hinged on the steps he had devised over these last three days. And whether those same plans were at all possible would depend on the answer to the message strapped to the bird’s leg. If the answer was yes, he trusted the lives of his baby with a yout. A yout he himself had entrusted his life with. If the answer was no, it did not bear thinking about. He couldn’t be sure how long his daughter had left. But killing her would not come

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immediately. Where would the pleasure be gained from that? He cursed his frailness but he could do no more, unlike his glory days when he had youth and power. Today his influence stretched only to the confines of Thro-Weh district and that was virtually nowhere at all. The Dread’s sense of hopelessness was countered by patience, cunning and trust in his visions. And if his gift had taught him anything it was never to question its motives. Nothing-in life, he had come to realise, was coincidence. Every gesture, every action was part of a larger pattern in creation. And if you strip every occurrence to its basic essence you would come to realise that everything was related. He knew he could change nothing, only follow the path fate had set. What will be will be. He wiped tears from his eyes and watched the image of the pigeon blur as it stroked its way to the horizon. “Guide an’ protect,” he murmured. “Guide an’ protect.”

Trelawney, Jamaica Three days later The ganja fields stretched as far as the eye could see. A green bed of chlorophyll shimmering under the midday sun, flowing in graceful waves from the gentle breezes like the currents in the sea. The lone Rasta man imagined that the Father himself had dropped it from heaven - all rambling hills and rivers. My Zion dis. Trevor’s roped locks flashed from left to right as he swung his machete to the roots of the Sensi plants, grunting with the effort. His string vest clung to his chest, dust and humus changing his complexion to earth black. Cannabis leaves settled to the ground on both sides of where he worked in flurries of green and dark brown. His powerful right arm swinging from left to right like a human combine harvester. He didn’t have to be doing this. His team of ten men and women tended to all twenty-five acres of Rebel Vineyards with a wide array of agricultural machinery. In this day and age there was no need for this kind of backbreaking work but it helped him to think and kept him in shape. And he did have a lot to think about. The beams of sunlight able to penetrate the canopy of tall ganja trees above his head reflected off his glistening back like obsidian. Engrossed with his efforts he swung the cutlass effortlessly through five or six plants at a time and then threw them behind him. Trevor had been cutting away steadily at the weed plants on this plot for at least a half hour. The old man had told mi that they would come. His muscles ached and his stomach complained but he had to be patient. He glanced around quickly. A wicker chair sat behind him in a clearing he had made.

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Beside that was a small side table made from the same material and shaded by a magnificent mango tree. Its leaves stroked the soil as it was weighed down with green fruit. A wood-fire burned away below it, a charcoal black breadfruit perched on top and steam issuing from its stem. Two big-eyed red snappers lay beside the staple food, stuffed with seasonings and herbs and roasting evenly for a lunch he was looking forward to. Just till the messengers arrived, he thought. Just till he could give his performance an’ done. Trevor’s eyes burned red as the invisible fumes from the herb plants permeated the air. Midday especially he had to wear breathing apparatus. It was necessary if he wanted to work at his peak and not be slowed down by the intoxicating gases thrown off from the extended leaves. He was prepared but the birds fluttering on the ground, drunk from the smells, were not. Insects hummed giddily as the heat rose in shimmering curtains. Trevor stopped for a moment and wiped his face with a dirty rag limply hanging from his back pocket. In the same motion as returning the rag he quickly took a file and began to keen the edge of his blade to a silver finish. Dem deh yah. Trevor gave a satisfied flash of his mane and commenced chopping again as if he had heard nothing, his senses acutely aware of movement. The bushes to his right parted suddenly and sandaled feet stepped through. He kept chopping away. The men edged closer to him, their steps absorbed by the moist fertilizer. Silent. Trevor spun unexpectedly on the balls of his feet. He drew the razor-sharp machete low and with lightening speed lunged forward. He hesitated just in time, freezing in a stance resembling some savage Samurai warrior in feudal Japan. “Dreadlocks!” The words exploded from his mouth. His hands tensed for a moment as he twisted the blade upwards, relaxing as a smile brightened his face. “Be careful how yuh creep up behind me natty, dem last day yah, you can’t be too careful. What a guh dung?” Ruben was straight faced, an intense man in his late twenties, a small goatee beard stuck oddly on his chin with spectacles covering intelligent eyes. His hair was only shoulder length and he preferred to wear the Yabesha Lebesse traditional garment popular in Ethiopia. The younger dreads respected him for his fairness and his vast knowledge of the crops but were uncomfortable with Trevor’s laid-back leadership style. The bwoy needed to mellow. Beside him was the Nation of Ras Crop Supervisor, standing with his hands behind his back and sour faced as usual. The older man they called Papa - a baalhead who traveled to plantations around the island making sure the Nation received its fair quota of Sensi - stood there with a worried frown on his face.

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Ruben wet his lips self-consciously. “We just got a message from town.” Trevor nodded at Ruben’s words urging him on. “The elders need to see you urgently. They expect you to come and meet with them in Kingston in two days’ time.” “Why?” Ruben shrugged. “Yuh must be bloodclaat crazy,” Trevor snapped. “Dem think they can just snap dem fingers an’ mi just come running. Dem nuh know me, boss.” Trevor’s eyes blazed. “I have responsibilities yah suh, people depend on my judgment from day to day. In one week my crop must get reap an’ sell. Nuthin else is my priority.” “They are insisting,” Reuben added somewhat cagily. Trevor kissed his teeth. “Mek dem insist.” He turned away to look at his roasting fishes. Ruben looked down uncertainly and used his sandals to dislodge some loose dirt in front of him, still unable to understand Trevor’s outright hostility to the elders but knowing also that he had a track record of deviously getting his own way. Ruben tried to make him see sense, not that it mattered. “Being our next Village Chief and the responsibilities that may involve, still makes you answerable to the Elder Fathers.” “The only bloodclaat man mi answerable to is Jah-Jah himself.” “Well, today that is about to change.” Trevor grunted. “Change?” “Unfortunately, they have made sure your passion for creating your own choices has been curtailed.” Trevor swore and his hand snapped upwards releasing the machete with a defiant flick of his wrist. It flew into a twirling arc, its spin a blur of motion as the flying guillotine ended with the blade buried deep in the bark of the lone mango tree in the distance. “ Fuck dem.” Trevor’s voice was low and menacing. Papa spoke. “ Calm down, young lion.” His voice rose gruffly above the breeze, like granite stones falling down a hillside. Still his uneasiness was obvious, as his eyes shied away from Trevor’s intense stare. “Ruben is right, Trevor. Look at this.” Papa handed Trevor a sheet of paper. The official Rasta seal was at the far right-hand corner. He read the communiqué and chuckled at the audacity of their request. The powers that thought they governed his life were threatening to cancel all orders made for his 3,000 metric tonnes of reaped Sensimilla, unless he met with them in Kingston. They knew as well as he did that if inadvertently his crop were to stay in an unrefrigerated warehouse and not get processed, packed and shipped soon, he might as well burn the crop himself. Rot would decimate it in one stroke. The old men in the

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hills were forgetting they had influence everywhere else but here. Forgetting that they were dealing with a resourceful man who didn’t always use the official channels to get a result. Of course, the bastions of Rasta had a proviso built into their threat and that promised they would reap and pack his crops, for the usual sum, in his absence. He would let them believe that they had him over a barrel and that he would need to venture out from the fortified confines of Thro-Weh district. Trevor was literally a prisoner in his own town. He was born here, grew up here, knew everyone living here, knew who came and who went. His life depended on his paranoia. The wolves on the Rasta Council considered him a threat big enough to break the First Commandment, if they were ever given the chance. The only reason why right now he wasn’t a memory to his queen and youts wasn’t because the devil Yamu hadn’t tried. Three attempts by assassins that seemed at first to have no connection within the Nation of Ras Tafari but on closer scrutiny you knew. That was his way. Finding conclusive proof of his involvement in any wrongdoings was virtually impossible but Trevor didn’t need the facts because he just knew. Have any dealings with Patriarch Yamu for long enough and you can sense the trail of corruption that he leaves behind him, like a spore from a poisonous plant. They had summoned him before, just as they did today, three years ago. The transgression he had to answer for - even after the court of the land had found him not guilty - involved seriously wounding a six-man raiding party who had tried to relieve him of a truckload of his finest genetically bred Sensi. The old men at the Tabernacle in Warricka Hills had understood his actions, except for one. That one man tirelessly discredited him until he swung the Council’s opinion, labeling him unstable, dangerous and even threatening to cut off his locks. In anger Trevor had told Yamu that he had proof he had murdered his own brother - the Dread. From then on his life wasn’t worth spit. Dem want mi, badly. Trevor crumpled the paper with disdain and flung it aside, glaring for a silent moment at Papa. The paper rapidly decomposed. “Dem choose to fuck wid deh wrong man.” Trevor’s angst wasn’t directed to any of the men in particular but that distant, manic look coupled with the chilling uncertainty of his voice was obviously making the messengers nervous. “Maybe so.” Ruben said. “Just don’t try an’ play them at their own game. Not with so much at stake.” Papa looked skyward, losing his balance slightly, the white rum still coursing through his veins. Then he said in his alcohol-assisted voice. “Don’t worry about a ting, Trevor.” He gestured expansively. “Yu thirty acres is safe in my hands, master.” The slightest smile smeared his face. “Providing you meet

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up to your obligations.” Bare face rass, Trevor thought. But I will play deh game. “It’s all been arranged,” added Ruben. “You leave in two days’ time. You’ll receive your itinerary when you get to Town.” He pushed his glasses back up the ridge of his nose and his lips pouted apologetically. “I’m sorry, my friend, but it’s out of my hands.” A brief gesture by Ruben, a few words spoken to Papa and the two men disappeared, leaving Trevor standing in silence, unable to shake the ominous feeling gripping his vitals. His elaborate charade of surprise at their presence was convincing enough but his disbelief at the lengths the elders were willing to go to summon him was no amateur dramatics. A mosquito bit his arm. He slapped it and rubbed the remains between his fingers. Four of his best men would accompany him to Town just in case the elders had any bright ideas to kill him on the way. Whatever else lay ahead for him in Kingston wasn’t clear but the sham the old men in the hills would present to him was somehow linked to the more important mission he was dedicated to carrying out. The old man had seen it. And who was he to argue with the higher powers. Trevor sat where he had stood. He took the small cylindrical-shaped paper that had earlier been attached to a carrier pigeon from his pocket and unfurled it. He read the Dread’s request again. Now Thro-Weh district had the first opportunity to repay the old man for everything he had done for Rasta worldwide and for them. A debt of gratitude he would willingly risk his own safety for. His mood darkened as he thought of meeting Yamu’s henchmen. So instead of dwelling on that unsavory confrontation, he prepared to build himself a spliff before he ate. He had a lot of planning to do.

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CHAPTER 5 THE BRITISH AIRWAYS CRUISER BUCKED as it descended. High winds from all sides buffeted the huge Boeing as it flew through the harsh weather for landing. Asim peered out of his window, moodily watching the slow progress of the black clouds and their rumbling thunder. Forked lightning in the distance brashly illuminated their rolling underbelly. He fixedly watched the bubbling cauldron outside and imagined the pelting London was receiving down below. The rains had obviously followed him from Africa and, like an omen, the dark skies opened up and welcomed a long lost friend. Glad to be back, Asim said, the BA Cruiser zoning for its last circuit before landing at Terminal 5. A wonder what yuh have in store for me? His question was directed at the Hounslow suburbs looming through his monitors. He sighed heavily, the seat straightening from its reclining position and seat belts snaked out of concealed compartments to secure him. His sudden movements aggravated the wounds in his back. Not even the luxuries of a first class private cabin could help that. Another addition to his catalogue of scars. If they could be read, they would give accounts of his survival from sniper fire in Pretoria to a broken bottle gash to his chest in a bar brawl while undercover in Angola. A book of blood, whose words were fading but never totally forgotten. Today could have been suh easily my memorial ceremony. The doctors had still been taking minute pieces of shrapnel from his back and legs after his final operation in J’burg. Providence or luck? What deh fuck. He smiled. He was alive and that meant a second chance. He was seeing things much more clearly today. Taking the opportunity to look forward to the future and bury the memories. An hour later he was standing in the Arrival’s Hall, his heart sunk as he listened to the message over the PA. His family would not be meeting him after all and the information desk didn't seem to know why. The first thing he did was call them but the address simply did not respond. How could he ever have imagined that coming back home would be trouble free? An hour in the country and already he felt something wasn’t right. Welcome back, boss. Asim made his way home without any further hold ups. London hadn’t changed much, as the black cab took the quickest - and the most expensive - route from the airport to Harlesden. Only some people could afford to pay the astronomical amount of credits needed to drive their cars through the most direct roadways in the capital. If that wasn’t to your liking - and it wasn’t for most people -

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you had to make do with the least financially demanding and most congested routes. Asim looked through the window and reacquainted himself with the familiar sights. The traffic ran smoothly until they were out of Central into the heart of North West London. The Compu-Cab was crawling along but it was flashing lights ahead that made him realize something was up. As they passed the crime scene, three skinheads - Bloods they called themselves - lay spread eagled, wrists being bound behind them and guns pointing to their heads by Met-1 officers. A black van emblazoned with an eagle on its paneling had smashed into a utility pole in the background. Already forensic officers in pristine white jump suits infested the wreckage. London never stood still and neither did its problems. The Arial lanes were busy tonight, too. The stars in the sky were already obscured by light radiation from the streets and with hundreds of hover vehicles scooting along the predetermined grids of space hundreds of feet above his head, the likelihood of ever seeing a twinkling star was remote. Give him solid ground any day. His anxiety mounted as he drew closer to home. Undeveloped mental pictures of Akilla formed in his head. Agitated, Asim looked through the Plexiglas again. This time he watched the light rain droplets roll off the cab’s plastic chassis. The night-workers were hustling amid the flurry, well covered from the rain, hurrying back to their desks. I just hope everyting criss. He had a funny feeling. Maybe that was because in ten minutes time he would be facing a challenge he had not trained for and one that should come naturally but didn’t. He shook his head at the irony of it. Because he knew the test of his life would be in the form of his five-year-old daughter. Everyting safe, he kept repeating. Life couldn’t be such a ‘bitch’ to finally bring him home and then… He shook his head as if to clear it of those thoughts and switched on the digital TV. Just relax, boss. The Compu-Cab pulled up smoothly to the curb of 112 Fontaine Street. The magnetic suspension eased down gently while Asim peered out across the road to see the darkened house. The doors hissed open. And in those brief seconds, he relieved the many nights he’d legged it from cabs without paying. This generation of fair dodgers wasn’t so lucky. He smiled at the thought that maybe he and his mates were the reason behind these drastic measures. Stepping out, he casually looked around. The wet pavement shone from the reflected light, like a river of black ice on an alien world with him the explorer. He turned and palmed the driver his money. The cab pulled off leaving Asim standing with his hands in his pockets absorbing the sights of his old turf. A quiet residential street. Nothing out of the ordinary. Dads, moms, two point three youts, a dog, a cat, goldfish and a fifty-year mortgage. Everything in its proper place,

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dull and boring and that’s how he liked it. This part of Harlesden hadn’t always been like that. It had a proud legacy of being the second only area in England to have its Zone designation revoked by Met-1. The residents had fought against gang violence, drugs and one of the highest crime ratings across the capital. And with unprecedented solidarity, and not to forget the combined clout of the Nations of Islam and Ras Tafari, they had battled the beast and won. The result was a peaceful neighborhood, where you could grow your kids and not worry for their safety. It was good to be home. His parent’s house stood as he had left it. Memories crowded in on him. The large terraced house stood as refined as it always did, its sharp lines and inspiring paintwork were like a Pavlovian trigger making him relive in a split second his childhood. He peered across from where he stood, to the small front yard bordered with short hedges and enclosing a rectangle of manicured grass. No fancy embellishments, just plain and simple. His fathers’ philosophy in a nutshell. He smiled, knowing exactly where he gained his fondness for things from the past. All the mod cons the average families couldn’t do without were absent from the Marshal household. And you could expect the simplest of tasks to turn into a hilarious exercise in patience and lateral thinking. There was always that buzz. Tonight it lacked the vibrancy he remembered. The muscles of his jaw tensed. Stepping off the pavement, the nerves in his injured back tingling, he dragged his bulky duffel bag behind him. He strode across the road confidently, opening his allweather coat and rubbing his fingertips lightly across his holster. Asim strode up to the familiar gate and peered down both sides of the street just as a cyclist spluttered by. Strange, no cars! He pushed it open and walked up to the front door, dropping his duffel bag in the garden. He snorted in amusement. The brass numbers on the lo-tech front door - a slab of wood attached to hinges shone under the streetlights, as Asim lifted the ancient doorknocker - the one his mother wouldn’t change for the world - and slammed it down twice. He tried the doorknob and watched it give way as he twisted it. Asim eased open the door and stepped in, his ears straining and his eyes trying to focus in the darkness. Something was not right. He was not alone and his instincts needed no prompting of that. The Equalizer slid away from where it was attached to his ribs and fell effortlessly into his hand as his fingers neared it. A special gift from his superiors as he ended his tour of duty, it never left his side. Let’s say we’re giving you a fighting chance on Civvie Street, they had told him. Guns were still illegal - carried officially by law enforcement agents and the military - but accessible to every scum with contacts and who needed their use. A solution to curb that problem had not been found but the methods of lethal weapon

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detection had improved considerably. His weapon was gene specific, a fancy way of saying it could only be fired by him and only at a target it considered a threat. It was made from a smart plastic that formed around the user’s arm while firing or snugly molded to his body when inactive. Yours to use until you become a bona fide civilian in three years. London is a dangerous place. He wasn’t one to argue with that. Conditioned reflexes took over and adrenalin began to pump for possible action. He kept the weapon concealed under his coat and listened carefully. Nothing. The house was comfortably warm the way he remembered his father loved it, and all the furniture he could see was neatly in place. His mother’s touch. No signs of a struggle. What puzzled him were the many conflicting aromas. Delicious food smells and perfumes. An explanation formed in his head. Relaxing, he smiled. But sudden movement to his right made him tense again. The smile disappeared. He had to make certain. Asim turned on the flat of his boots to the sitting room door as it swayed eerily. He gripped the gun tightly in his hand, still not taking it from under his coat. Slowly his eyes followed the seam of the wall and floor, his finger a hair’s breadth away from the… …Trigger? “Ole off.” He blinked rapidly some sanity returning to him. This is Harlesden, he reminded himself. Get a motherfucking grip, turf bwoy .Asim breathed uneasily and let his hands fall to his side. The thought that he may just have committed suicide rested uneasily on his mind.

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CHAPTER 6 SURPRISE! THE LIGHTS IN THE ENTIRE HOUSE came on all at once, reggae music blasted from speakers followed by a wave of familiar faces appearing from up the stairs, through the kitchen and in the dinning room. A sigh of relief burst from his lips. And luckily for him his weapon remained concealed. And a fuck up of huge proportions averted. What began as apprehension evaporated with every hug and kiss. There were faces he remembered, their names forgotten in his past, and then there were ‘faces’ he knew intimately. All friends and all making him welcome again. His mother was crying as she ran to hug him. “I’ve missed you, son!” Asim held her tightly, lifting her off the floor as he spun her around and whispered, “I love you” in her ear. His stubbornness he learned from her. One of the best teachers he ever had and still as attractive as ever. The Field Marshal wasn’t one to complain. His father loved the idea of keeping his ‘spars’ looking enviously on with no possibility of ever touching. Asim smiled inwardly. Mister Marshal saw him from a distance and walked over with outstretched arms. They hugged long and hard. “It’s good to have you back, bwoy.” He grinned, the dome of his head showing sparse grey in his low-cut hairstyle and reflected nearly exactly the shape of his son’s own. And the keen mind in it. His blue silk suit was just a bit too forceful a statement for a man of his age, Asim thought, but Mister Marshal had been rewriting the rules all his life, he was not about to stop now. “She may be your mother,” he continued, laughing after their embrace lasted too long for his liking. “But she still is my wife.” He broke up the tearful reunion and kissed his wife on the lips. And it wasn’t a familiar peck you would expect with a wife of thirty years, but the kind of embrace and kiss he would give to a girlfriend. The Field Marshal had not changed. “Won’t you learn to behave yourself ‘round people, Rupert?” Anne playfully rebuked him. Obviously thirty years had not dampened their love. “Listen, you have deh boy to yourself for God knows how long, let him mingle a bit, man.” The Field Marshal winked at him. “Come.” Anne weakly resisted as her husband gently put his arms around her waist and led her into the kitchen. Asim stood there still being showered with kisses, pats on the back and handshakes from friends, whose faces had dimmed but never faded from his memory. He was glad to see them all but throughout the excitement his eyes were searching. Where was his daughter and, come to think of it, Fatima? Passively, Asim absorbed the atmosphere, trying his best to trap all the sense

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impressions of this evening to memory. He was actually back. It was funny how he dreamed of coming home to a quiet family gathering. His parents still not forgiving him for leaving them with the responsibility of a baby he was never certain he had fathered. They would sit for a family meal, the tension palpable, and then in an explosion of anger and resentment their true feelings for each other would emerge. The mental scenario he had constructed in his head was far removed from the reality of the moment. His thoughts were fueled by paranoia and in his haste he had forgotten to add love to his equation of disaster. Shame decided to show itself in all its uncomfortable glory. “Still looking as beautiful as when a left you, Mama.” Asim tried to dismiss his discomfort as he stepped into the kitchen. “The old man is still doing a good job after all these years.” Anne laughed out, her voice light and vibrant. Tears of joy streamed down her face as she rested her head on her son’s shoulders, savoring a long overdue feeling of relief. Fatima was so like her. But where was she? Anne was never the one to keep her problems locked away. The longing in her eyes, her lips parting in hesitation as if she wanted to speak but deciding against it, and the way she subtly redirected any conversation relating to the family. He knew it wasn’t Akilla. It had to be his sister. Growing up together, Fatima had been the highly-strung one. There were a few run-ins with school officials and the Field Marshal himself but as time went on she found an outlet and some direction - much to everybody’s relief. He loved his sister dearly but she had a wild streak that surfaced from time to time. Her absence could mean this was one of those times. He would soon know. Shrugging, Asim stood talking with the guests as they shoveled coconut rice in their mouths and tore into fried chicken. He caught up with the word on the street and the fascinating ghetto stories that were never made available to the average man. It was good to immerse himself into the London ‘runnings’ again, he was just uncomfortable with the respect he was afforded. They were calling him a hero, but they didn’t know the half of the rass story. A hero didn’t run out on his family and then feel ashamed to ask about a daughter he had abandoned in the process. A hero. To whom? Everyone thought that his return from the ‘Peace Corps’ in Africa was something to celebrate. The world knew about the selfless work being done by the Corps in the continent. Being there to help tribal farmers with new technology, medicine and weather control. For one of their own to be a part of the process of change made them proud. The facts of what he did would not be accepted that readily. They were congratulating a man who had killed time and time again to maintain the

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status quo in a dangerously uncertain Africa. Democracy had a high price and so did a family. Asim had a belly full of other people’s patriotism and idealism. Being with his family now meant much more to him than any cause could. His eye’s continued to search. Anne’s smile seemed permanent, more pleased than any mother could be and, like her son, she was determined to enjoy the celebrations despite what had happened between herself and Fatima. She couldn’t seem to contain herself as every few minutes she looked adoringly at her baby, drew his cheek to hers and kissed him. Nothing else mattered. Her son was back with her and those many tearful prayers had not gone unanswered. Throughout her show of affection, Anne could see him looking around eagerly at the small children playing in the hallway. Trying to see an image of himself in any of the bundles of energy threatening to wreck her prized possessions. She saw the disappointed in his eyes and watched him look away confused and anxious. Anne kept analyzing her son’s reactions, something that ever since he was a little boy she had enjoyed doing. Asim had developed new gestures obviously being in an unfamiliar culture. When he was growing up, he had an uncanny skill of adapting to new surroundings quickly but his reactions to socially uncomfortable situations had not changed since childhood. And if she stared at him long enough that hard-ears child with that serious look on his face and those twitching, pouted lips would appear. The little boy had become a man but the twitching, pouted lips remained. “We have to talk, Asim.” Her eyes glistened with tears, making them seem mischievous and maudlin all at once. “There’s so much we have to catch up on, son, but come, first tings first. Let me introduce you to someone before you start tearing your hair out.” She looked at his baldhead and laughed. Anne took his hand and smiled, steadily leading him into the familiar sitting room. A multicolored banner was stretched from wall to wall with the words ‘Welcome Home Son’ printed in large letters. Helium-filled balloons bobbed up and down in dancing hands and he was buffeted by passing bodies, tipsy from the excitement and booze. None other than his ‘spar’ Pato was handling the small micro-sound. He was grinning from ear to ear, the single blue streak in his neat hair glistened as he held up his fist to his passing ‘breddrin’. “Respect, rude bwoy.” His voice boomed through the surrounding speakers. “We’ll talk later, man.” Asim nodded, showing his clenched fist and chuckling to himself as the selector moved to the music. He hadn’t changed one bit. The mad professor was in his element and Asim new his guests were in for some serious reggae revival. It was so hard to believe he had left all this behind.

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They kept squeezing through the gyrating bodies and side-stepping stomping feet just as they came across an opening with no dancers, just a few chairs and a sofa. Some young women occupied the seats, laughing and talking with drinks and food in their hands. Anne came to a standstill. Her youthful face glowed while she gently rubbed her son’s back. He followed and her eyes settled on a spot where a single sofa sat in the exact corner of the room. A woman and a child sat there playing. The young woman was a Rasta, that much he could see, but she was obscured by passing women and screaming children. She sat back contentedly in the chair, crossing her legs. Her hair hung down to her shoulders like dark vines. The silk African gown was long but still left her sandaled feet exposed. Then through the shifting aspects of playing children and parents running after them, her face came into view. He stood transfixed for a moment but felt that it was much longer. An overpowering sense of déjà vu struck him and left him reeling. Time folded, his past and present, places he had been to and people he had seen and suddenly he became uncertain whether he had dreamed this. She made a clipping gesture with her fingers while they ran through her hair. He knew she was about to do that, or had he seen her do it before? Awash with peculiar emotions, he felt strangely confident they knew each other. Not a passing fancy either, he knew her. But it seemed it was so deeply buried it would not or could not emerge completely. Jesas…! He stepped back and his heel nicked a stand with a decorative pot on it. He spun nimbly and steadied it before looking back. He guessed she was of East African extraction, and she was stunning. Asim found it difficult to tear his gaze away from those smoldering brown eyes. Her face was cloaked with skin that was a rich earth black that seemed to throw off a brilliance of its own. Her beauty obscured everything and the electricity she extended made him hold his breath. His focus narrowed. She was playfully tickling the little girl on her lap, her smile showing teeth that glistened white. The little girl laughed out. Asim was slow to spot the signals but it became clear to him as the child’s eyes lit up on seeing Anne beside him. She jumped from the Rasta woman’s lap, laughing loudly with her arms outstretched. “Grandma, where’s my juice?” Anne lifted her up, a more serious look on her face. “Shush about that. I’ve got somebody I want you to meet and he's more important than that stomach of yours.” The little girl had already locked her eyes on his, tilting her head to one side, her childish mind evaluating this stranger. “Say hi. This is your daddy,” Anne said. “He’s here especially to see you.”

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Asim was speechless. His mouth was open and, although his reasoning mind told him it was for only seconds after he did close it, his tongue felt like a strip of desert. Trying to swallow proved difficult too and so did stringing two or three words together to make a comprehendible sentence. Asim stood there nonplussed. What the fuck had he done? A sorry-assed victim of too many rash decisions made in the past and now haunted by painful emotions he was struggling to put under control. A proper father, a good father could draw on happy memories of his daughter growing up. He had nothing, sweet FA. Instead of the healthy emotions a father should feel for his daughter, an uncomfortable sense of guilt pricked him. The knot remained in his throat. Akilla stared back as if she were reading the turmoil on his face. Another set of hard facts outside of the world he was used to was just being forcefully rammed down his throat. As hard to swallow as it was, he would handle it. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Akilla had grown beyond anything he had expected. She was so mature for five years, so beautiful. Jesas, he couldn’t even remember her birthday. In his mind’s eye he still pictured a tiny baby, gurgling and giving that toothless smile like a little cherub. Now he was staring at a mini reproduction of his deceased wife. Long frizzy red hair, plaited with ribbons and crystal bubbles. Her small lips pinched at the sides - another trait of her Irish mother - with those determined slit eyes and her straight nose, flared at the tip. An unmistakable Marshal trait. His daughter. Man, he didn’t deserve her. “You wouldn’t remember me, would you?” Asim asked the question awkwardly and then wished he had phrased it better. The little girl shook her head, a pout forming on her lips. “You know, I’ve come a long way to see you, because I want us to be friends.” Asim stretched out his hand unable to avoid making his first physical contact seem as if he were about to close a business deal. The little girl recoiled, hugging her grandmother desperately around her neck. “It’s your daddy, darling, don’t you want to shake his hand?” A stern shake of her head in the negative made Asim’s heart sink. Anne squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. “Give it time, son,” she said softly. “She needs to adjust to the idea of actually having a father again. It’s not the easiest thing to accept, especially for someone her age.” Asim nodded. “I know that Mama, she needs time.” Even in agreement, his disappointment was impossible to hide. But what the Hell did he expect? He was the one who had run out on her and not the other way around. “In the meantime,” Anne went on quickly, not wanting him to dwell on Akilla’s behaviour, “I want you to meet Fatima’s friend and the young lady who your daughter

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has taken a liking to. Yasmeen, my son Asim.” The Rastafarian beauty stood up, bowed slightly and offered her hand. He took it and felt how soft it was. Her fingers seemed to be subtly stroking the grooves of his palm as they shook hands. Asim found himself tilting his head back slightly. The perfume she was wearing reminded him of the Jamaican countryside. For a second he was there, giggling rivers, the smell of grass, the hum of gal-a-wasp. He drank in her poise and elegant movement some more without being blatantly obvious. She shifted position and the directional lights hit her full on. He saw the outline of her stout breasts as her nipples nudged the silken material. The gown was translucent and the shadow of her enclosed figure made him swallow hard. Moments later he was still holding her hand. Shit! She gently pulled it away. “I’m sure Anne told you it’s bad manners to stare.” She laughed. “I could be some jealous Rasta man’s queen.” Asim snapped to attention, blushing slightly as his less than subtle ogling was discovered and exposed. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you or anyting but beautiful women have that effect on me.” It was Yasmeen’s time to blush. Asim switched the subject quickly. “Akilla really loves your company. Smart girl.” “She’s my little sister,” Yasmeen said. “We weren’t so close at first though. The more we talked I realized we had so much in common.” Her voice lowered. “She loves ancient history, which is my specialty, Pizza and computer games. Akilla is a very perceptive little girl, you should be proud.” Asim’s eyebrows twitched upwards. She continued. “Don’t be too worried about her reaction, though. Even with an aboveaverage IQ, she’s still a little girl. You’ve been away from her for so long and it’s only natural there’ll be some trepidation on her part. But just go slow, give her time and she’ll begin wondering how she survived without her dad.” Yasmeen made it sound so easy. Anne broke into the conversation discreetly. “I’ll leave you two to talk, okay, while I put this young lady to her bed. Now say good night.” Akilla shuffled out of her grandmother’s arms and ran over to Yasmeen. “Good night, Auntie Yasmeen,” she said kissing her on the cheek, and turned to face her father. She stared intently at him, her chubby features expressionless. “Good night…” Akilla didn’t finish the sentence and ran to hold on to Anne’s hand. Asim grimaced.

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“Bed time,” Anne announced and they were away. Funny how Yasmeen had not only sparked these strange and totally unexplainable flashes of recognition but also had brought to the surface a buried memory he had thought forgotten. He was nine years old, an asthmatic; his grandmother was at her wit’s end and had rushed him to Compound - A Ras Tafari community at Nine Miles in Bull Bay, Jamaica. His cousin Jah Thomas, the herbalist, was his grandmother’s final option after a severe attack. If it hadn’t been for the bushes he had picked, crushed and boiled to make an infusion, he would have surely died. He never was able to properly thank him but he developed a deep respect for the faith. In his eyes it was a sign of strength to wear the crown or locks as they referred to their long hair. She was obviously a woman with plenty to spare. “So you and Fatima went to school together?” Asim asked after sipping his vodka and orange juice. Grinning, he shook his head like he was confused and then swallowed the liquid in his mouth. “It’s just hard to imagine what yuh an’ my sista Fatima could have in common.” Yasmeen smiled showing sparkling white teeth. “Adversity can bring people together, you know. We met in college. She was going for a diploma in Drama and Fashion Design and at the time I was majoring in Ancient History. I had a project that needed me to reproduce the garments worn by the people of Benin in the twelfth century. I had lost my mother at the time and she was going through some personal problems herself and we gave each other strength. Opposites attract they say.” “Suh dem seh,” Asim said. “I would guess you left with a degree and I know when she graduated it was with a better-luck-next-time pat on the shoulder.” “Fatima was having problems adjusting.” Yasmeen picked up her glass of sparkling water. “She just needed time to grow up and find her way.” Asim smoothed down non-existent hairs on his slick baldhead and nodded. “I suppose you’re right, I’m being a bit too tough on her. I just sometimes feel she’s not giving her all.” He paused and then looked around. “Where is she anyway? I was expecting her to be here.” The flow of their conversation had been quite spontaneous and relaxed up to that point. Asim’s innocent question made Yasmeen hesitate. “I expected her here too, especially after being as excited as she was about your arrival. Under the circumstances…” She changed emphasis quickly. “I’m sure she’ll call to explain why she’s couldn’t make it.” “What do you mean?” Asim’s brows were knitting, prying open his half-closed eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ve said too much already.”

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“What’s going on, Yasmeen?” But she refused to say anything more. The curse that had formed in his head surprised him by breaking out of the confines of his thoughts. “Fuck!” Something was up. And his happy homecoming was about to be dealt its second blow for the night. He could feel it. Asim came to his senses quickly and saw Yasmeen calmly sipping her last drop of water, fine tendrils of her locks obscuring one eye. “I’m sorry I swore, it wasn’t directed at you,” he said. She laughed. “Don’t apologize; I’m a woman of the world.” Her soft voice trailed away with the music. “It must have been a hard four years for you to just be suddenly thrown into normal life again.” “It was.” He nodded. For a man who had been trained to adapt to the most adverse of terrains, learned to make life and death decisions quickly, judging characters and personalities and leading from the front, Asim had a lot to learn about living with his family. He felt like an inexperienced teenager given the task to chat up a girl for the first time. Next time, keep your expectations within reason. Instinctively he held on to Yasmeen’s hand again his eyes were fixed on hers. He wondered if she could hear his heart pounding. “I think I owe you an apology for being so coarse and bad mannered,” he said. “I should show a bit more respect. Sorry.” “There’s no need.” Asim excused himself with difficulty after a few more minutes of conversation. He had hoped to talk with her later but Yasmeen had mentioned an urgent appointment. Appointments in the early hours of the morning? Very cloak and dagger. He looked forward to unraveling the secrets she held. That pleasant thought brought him back to the situation at hand. What was going on with his sister this time? Already battle-weary on all fronts, his calmness was transforming into frustration. Family feuding was not what he came home to see. Scanning the room, he saw the smiles on familiar faces and resisted the urge to mingle. Asim eagerly wanted to sink himself into the good company and the revival music but he hated loose ends. Anne glided over to a group of guests, a tray of white wine balanced on the tips of her fingers. The guests flocked to her like thirsty wildebeest, leaving her tray picked bare in moments. Asim watched her move toward the kitchen and followed on behind. The questions brimming in his head just couldn’t wait. The welcome home party had wound itself down. Most of Asim’s guests sat either drinking or in conversation. A large wafer screen in the lounge drew a small

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crowd of eager men as they relived the historical match of the legendary fighters Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. He was glad the focus had shifted from him. He had to get used to being around people. The pleasant feel of anonymity made him more comfortable. Being able to move amongst the crowd as Mister Average and performing his duties with impunity had given him his edge in hostile terrains. What he needed driven into his head was that this was no conflict situation, it was home, family. This was no two-week operation in the field, this was for life. The processes of rerouting the conditioned responses hammered into his nervous system by the army had already started. But right now more immediate concerns were on his mind. Anne scurried by him, making the pretense of being busy nearly convincing. She smiled weakly, both her hands gripping the tray, and tried to edge past. Asim gently held onto her slender arms and pulled her over. “This can’t go on all night, Anne. We have to talk.” His mother’s eyes clouded, lips trembling slightly. She tried to mask the weary sigh as she put the tray down. “What is it now?” She tried to make light of the situation but her body language spoke volumes. “I know something’s up, Anne, so don’t even try to spare me the details,” said Asim. “Yasmeen didn’t want to tell me anything either because maybe she didn’t think it was her place to. You’ve been trying to avoid talking to me about Fatima all night. Why?” She frowned, her defenses slotting into place. “Just forget about her for tonight,” Anne said shortly. “You did it before for years, one night more won’t hurt.” Asim stepped back absorbing the painful truth. He deserved it and more. Five years away and he was acting like the glue that held this family together. Anne put her fingertips to her lips and tried to hold back a sob. “I’m sorry, darling, I didn’t mean…” She sniffed. “I just couldn’t burden you with this.” She looked away. “You’ve had enough on your mind as it is. I just thought tomorrow after a good rest would be a better time.” Asim shook his head and took both of her hands in his while they sat together. “That’s why I love you, Anne, always trying to shield me from the harsh realities, even now. For what I did, you deserve to be vexed with me for life. I’d disappeared for two years with no word, leaving a young baby for you to grow up then coming home like nothing ever happened. And still you take me in. All is forgiven.” He kissed the back of her hand, softly. “I suppose you’re doing what any good parent would do for their family, softening the blows that life can sometime dish out. You an’ deh Marshal have let me off lightly but I won’t make dat mistake with myself. I’m going to make up for lost time, no matter how painful it’s going to be. When it comes to my family, I don’t need

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protection, I need the truth.” Anne dried her eyes and sat upright preparing herself. “BrainTech™!” she said softly. “We found this strange looking piece of equipment in her room. They’d featured it many times on TView Crime Broadcast so I recognized it. Maybe I jumped to the wrong conclusions. I don’t know.” She shook her head helplessly. “Just the idea of that thing and what it can do to you sent me in a panic.” Asim listened silently. “I was so shocked and confused, I just couldn’t confront her there and then. So I told your father and we both tried to talk to her later that evening. We were trying not to accuse her of what could have been a misunderstanding on our part. We argued. Your sister stormed out with your father threatening to box her.” “An she would deserve it too!” Mister Marshal joined them with his comment, seating himself on the sofa’s arm rest. He sighed wearily and hugged his wife. “Can yuh believe that we were worried out of our heads for this gal and she have the gall to stand up in front of us and cuss her parents in the most disgraceful of fashion.” Mister Marshal’s gaze rose to the ceiling as he remembered the incident, the anger in his voice returning. “After I cooled down, I found out Fatima pack her tings an’ gaan.” What the fuck were you thinking, sis? Asim’s mind could not accept that his sister would do something as stupid or as suicidal as this. Shit! “What does this equipment look like?” “God Almighty knows!” The field Marshal answered throwing up his hands in frustration. “I for one didn’t scrutinize it but in her haste she leave it up deh.” He paused, thinking. “Look at it for yuself.” The Field Marshal led the way. Mounting the steps two at a time, Asim didn’t need to be a telepath to sense his parents’ helplessness. What a fucking homecoming. In moments Asim had entered the room with his father right behind him. The smell of his sister’s perfume permeated the air as if she had just stepped out. Her peculiar passion for stuffed dragons and lizards remained and her impeccable neatness too. A half-smile crossed his lips. The Field Marshal stopped in front of a designer chest of drawers with its ‘S’shaped central spine. One opened as his fingers reached for it. Carefully he took the machine out and laid it on the bed. Wiping his hands briskly on his trousers, he stepped away. In the meantime Asim was looking through the portfolio of his sister’s modeling work. Why? She was blessed with beauty and talent. There was no need for this. Shaking his head, Asim walked over to the bed and lifted up the palm size unit and peered at the company inscriptions: BrainTechTM!

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The electrode ring that was placed over the head nearly fell out of Asim’s astonished hands. He pulled his facial muscles taut, giving that passive impression that he was not overly concerned about what he had seen but internally he was scared. Rass scared. His father was speaking to him, his mouth moving but Asim heard nothing. BrainTech™! he kept repeating in his head. The new trend on the streets of the world was in obtaining a pure high. It had become unfashionable injecting or sniffing narcotics, when you could wire any rush directly to the brain with potency unmatched by any natural or synthetic drug. The technology behind its development had been outlawed the world over. The crippling side effects and its addictiveness was unacceptable to any medical council. But as was expected, BrainTechTM hardware was available on any front line. Time decay programs, peddled from street corners, produced any simulated feeling or emotion you could afford for the maximum duration of an hour. It was designed so that the punters kept coming back for more - total addiction of the mind - if the machine didn’t fry your brains first. The more hardcore users with credits to spare could interface directly with the brain. Channels surgically placed at the back of the neck made the wet wire technology possible, feeding straight to the central nervous system. Living neurons communicating directly with computer hardware was becoming commonplace. The product: phased-out vegetables or ultra-violent sociopath. From crack heads to progheads. This shit belongs on the streets, not in my yard. Even here, in so-called respectable society, it was clear to him that the basic instincts of human nature couldn’t be held at arm’s length. When he was safely housed behind the electric fences of his barracks he could just forget. What was your protection when the problem was on your fucking doorstep? How do you mentally disassociate yourself from the craziness forcing itself into your home? There was no escaping it, no distancing yourself from it. Mister Marshal cleared his throat to gain his son’s attention. He had been silent for a long time. “Should we be worried or what, son?” he asked uncertainly. Asim seemed to snap to attention at the sound of his voice. It was his turn now to be protective of his family. He smiled disarmingly. “It seemed she just had the machine and no programs, I don’t think she’s used it.” Considering maybe. “It could be some mistake, so let’s withhold judgment until we can all sit and talk.” The Field Marshal nodded. “I just can’t understand why she was suh uptight. It’s not like we tried to accuse her, we only tried to find out what was happening, what she was doing wid the damn ting in the first place. If she had nothin to hide, a simple explanation would have cleared everyting up. So why all a dis?”

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Asim’s eyelids shuttered and he made a whistling sound as he breathed in. “I wish I knew, Marshal,” he murmured distantly. “I honestly wish I knew.”

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CHAPTER 7 IT WAS LIKE THE RAINY SEASON ‘BACK-A-YARD’. Undulating sheets of rain water were being whipped by high winds and relentlessly battered everything unlucky enough to be exposed. Unlucky, that’s how he felt. Trevor was huddled under the canopied bus stop in the driving rain, a thick leather jacket draped over his shoulders and his face a mask of frustration. Suh dis was the part of London yuh wouldn’t find in the brochures. He was stunned. He’d read and listened to reports about the crime and the economic difficulties certain parts of the UK and the EEC were facing but seeing the effect of it with his own two eyes was a chilling reminder that nothing remained the same. His rudimentary history lessons had taught him about the colonial superpower, one of the bastions of capitalism and the land of opportunity. The stark landscape before him contradicted all that. He had seen policemen patrolling the streets suited up for war, beggars intimidating passers-by into crediting their accounts, garbage mountains so huge he guessed refuse hadn’t been collected in months while vermin were breeding out of control. Negatives aside, the visitor’s London held no appeal for him either. It was much too densely populated, unnaturally clean like some sterile operating room and claustrophobic. He could understand why people were so uptight and angry. The city, the steel, the concrete, seemed to create a formula for frustration. And these natural areas were a joke. They were as much good, as pissing on an out-of-control bush fire. What had persistently bothered him was why generations of Rasta had made this their homes. The Nation-owned Black Star Liner was still busily repatriating many families to the motherland from all parts of the world. But for some; nowhere nuh bettah than yard. Even if your yard was as inhospitable as what lay around him. His only consolation was that at the end of his assignment - if all went well - he’d be back on the Rock. All of this forgotten and done with. It started when he had arrived at the Tabernacle of Ras on a rainy Friday, two days after the ultimatum was issued to him. The Air Jamaica Floater had taken thirty minutes to get to Kingston from Mandeville and even more time to the Ras compound itself. He had Tappa, Ras Badu, Piper and Son-son shadowing his every movement since he left Thro-Weh. Escorts led the group into the vast grounds and then through the complex of buildings that made up the religious headquarters. After entering what could have been a drab-looking storage facility, they were led through a maze of interconnecting corridors. They stopped at an imposing mahogany door manned by a pair of stone figures kneeling. The escorts walked forward and knocked curtly on the doors and without any hesitation ushered only Trevor through.

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Ras Tobias sat in front of a wraparound plasma screen. Trevor knew the elder from newsreels. He was one of Patriarch Yamu’s aides who before growing his locks, was a technical advisor to the prime minister of Jamaica. He was smiling, obviously enjoying his work in cyberspace. “Ah! Trevor. Glad you could make it.” The voice of Ras Tobias sounded excited. “Was your trip a good one, I hope suh?” Trevor frowned and wondered why the elder dread’s lisp annoyed him so much and then became concerned about how he knew he was waiting there. The elder closed down his system, his fingers touching unseen controls clear to him in his cyberspace environment but in the real world making him seem like a mad pianist overcome by the brilliance of his own composition. Bowing his head, he kept his eyes closed for a moment as his senses adjusted to Real World. “You’re the man for the job whether you know it or not.” Ras Tobias came away from the equipment and sat at his multi-level workstation, a grin appearing on lips that resembled a snout. “I can tell these things.” His eyes widened. “You may have needed some convincing but that is just because you don’t know how important a job this is.” Ras Tobias had a haughty air about him, a man who understood his importance and could have had years of formal training that told him so. But his lisp, the protruding lips and how his eyes darted everywhere impatiently made him an open target for humorous comparisons. There was no denying. He had the look, the manner and the speech of a mongoose - if a mongoose could talk. And Trevor didn’t trust mongooses. “Why did you drag mi all the way up here, Iyah, an’ yuh know we can’t see eye to eye. It is no secret the elders don’t trust me and I, man, don’t trust dem. You say I’m deh best man for the job but me know there must be thousands a man more capable than I.” He paused for effect. “What is deh real reason yuh want me involved in dis?” The elder shook his head. “You too paranoid just want to be confrontational as always. For once, use this…” Ras Tobias touched his forehead with a slender finger. “Why we chose you is because the elders have a history with you. They know what you are capable of, Trevor; therefore you are a more predictable factor. The old men tend to like certainty and to guarantee that they have promised to reap your prized crop by some of our best harvesters, or maybe you would prefer they rot on the stalk…?” He let his threat trail away and with a cunning smile began to explain to Trevor what he wanted him to do and why he would do it. Trevor shivered from the wind and reached into his shoulder bag, fumbling through the contents. A small Maccabees Bible, a scratched electronic organizer, a spliff he had built from his hotel room and a few other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

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He reached in and took out the spliff, firing up his cheap lighter to ignite the end. The lighter spluttered and seemed to die. He shook it. Turning his back to the direction of the wind, shielding his roll-up, he successfully lit up. He sucked hard and shivered, again. His inspired choice of location was the product of spontaneity. The hotel Ras Tobias had arranged from Jamaica in downtown London he had no intention of staying in. So tonight he had slipped out of the Cumberland unseen and left a message for his contact to meet him at a spot he had randomly chosen. He wasn’t to know he had ended up in one of the few defunct Zones in the city. Once a thriving neighborhood, its fortunes turned sour as the manufacturing facility that provided the most jobs became ninety per cent automated. Months later it had been assigned a Zone status and began to slowly deteriorate until it basically selfdestructed. Graffiti bigging up both Blood’s and Spears was splashed everywhere. Remnants of a hotly contested turf war. What was left behind was an empty husk, a ghost town abandoned by its original inhabitants and unable to be redeveloped by the councils because of its history. An ideal place to meet if you trusted no one and required privacy. Trevor watched his surroundings warily. The message he left his contact was to come alone. If he so much as saw another living soul with them he would disappear. Whoever turned up tonight would be the recipient of intense pain because even if he had to beat the information he needed out of them he would. Only when he was satisfied would he disappear and not be heard of by the old men in the hills until he had completed his task and was back home. An attempt on his life wouldn’t be a good idea both because he was prepared and willing to do whatever it took. The Nation may have misguidedly thought it would be easier to murder him here than yard but they would be wrong. A streamlined Eco-Bus came to a standstill beside the requested stop, it blasted air from both sides, lowering itself to the sidewalk. Its traditional luminescent red winked under the street light from the changing direction of the rain. Trevor observed it disdainfully; his stilettos spring-mounted under his sleeves, and dragged his leather hood further over his head. The driver pulled away, quickly. The sound trailed into the distance and left Parchment Street quiet again. “Tribal War inna Babylon,” Ras Tobias had quoted melodramatically. The memory of his voice was as irritating as the real thing. “For three years Rasta in London has had to hold their heads in shame because of this conflict between man and woman with the locks but not the heart of Rasta. Spilling blood of another human because of the colour of his skin. Racism and religious intolerance have been the reasons for the death of both black and white and it must stop. All our best efforts in trying to end it have been wasted and we intend to

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approach the problem from a different angle. We want peace, breddah. You have the required skills we need to find the information that is so important to ending this bloodshed. You are a survivor with a vicious streak that will match the wantonness of these people. The time for diplomacy has ended and we have to match them, fire fi fire. We need to know who these vigilantes are but most importantly who is leading them. You must go as special envoy for the Nation, find out as much as you can about these men killing in Jah-Jah’s name and report back to me with your findings. Only you and your contact in London will know your true purpose. Use whatever means at your disposal and find out who they are. Leave no stone unturned, yuh hear mi? No stone.” No stone? “Bullshit!” Trevor cursed silently to himself. The wind howled through the disused buildings. He lowered his head and brought up his collar around his cold ears. The only good point about this location? Nothing or no one could approach him without him seeing them. Total isolation. No houses or estates, no casual strollers, just traffic and gloom. Why take unnecessary chances so early in the game? A window slammed shut from a gust of wind. The dilapidated bingo hall on the other side of the road a grotesque reminder of better days. The gusts wailed their anger, rattling through loose fittings and hammering everything in sight with hurtling pellets of water. This is madness. He squeezed the damp material of his jacket, the time flashed on his coat sleeve. Twenty rassclaat minutes late. Suddenly the wind changed direction again, splattering his face with icy rain. He was on the verge of engaging his Vcomm, calling a taxi an teking his rass back to the hotel but he resisted. Throwing down the remainder of his spliff and grinding it with his heavy-duty Caterpillars, he hunched his shoulders and turned to go. He looked up the road, concentrating his eyes against the swirling flurry of water and then down the other way. A new sound appeared over the hill, steadily drowning out the steady hammering of falling water. A luminous haze approached from the distance, rounding the bend it brightened the way ahead. He stood watching with interest. Twin beams of light rose over the slight incline ahead. Thankfully the car slowed to a stop beside him, purring like a contented cat. Trevor’s mind immediately conjured up images of his knives against the contact’s throat and the answers to his questions forthcoming with no hitch. “Yow!” he said knocking his knuckles on the darkened window. “Wha’ time yuh call this, boss? You know how long mi deh inna this rain an wind waiting for you to turn up?” The gull wing doors pivoted upwards, the interior expelling warmth and the

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smell of perfume. “It was either being late or not coming at all, brother,” the silky voice said with just a hint of sarcasm. “You should be glad I wasn’t held up further. And by the way, boss sounds too formal. My name’s Yasmeen, Yasmeen Beyene. And I’m your contact.” “Tu-Tu-Trevor,” he said taking her hand and bowing his head, all signs of violent intent evaporating. Standing there dripping wet, with a sports bag slung around his shoulder, she would be forgiven to think his stammering was due to the wind and rain. But Trevor was more than cold, he was in shock. So this was Yasmeen Beyene, the old man’s daughter. The woman he was sent here to protect.

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CHAPTER 8 PEACE AT LAST. ASIM SAT IN THE KITCHEN with all the lights out, slouched over the wooden counter, beside him a glass of coke and a near empty bottle of J. Wray and Nephew rum. He looked deep into the depths of his glass, nursing the remainder of his drink contemplatively and wincing as the strong rum scorched his insides on its way down. When you can’t remember what you’re fighting for, it’s time to pack it in. It seemed like sound advice, a week ago. But tonight he was not sure. He felt as if he was more comfortable with the threat of death in the field than to face the battles rising on the home front. There was no pretense in counter-terrorism, there were rules, procedures. You could depend on the danger and risk to always be there. You could prepare. Here, he was a fumbling novice who wanted a rule book to guide him and realized to his horror there was none. This was what it was all about, turf bwoy, reality outside of a barracks. Asim stretched on the stool and froze suddenly. A blanket of pain shot through his back. For an instant he found breathing difficult. Swallowing uneasily he tried to ignore the discomfort but mind over matter did no good. He gritted his teeth, feeling every fragment lodged in his back and with slow rotation of his shoulder blades felt the pain subside. Many rass rivers to cross. He swore again and flung the remainder of his drink down his throat. The lights shining through the louvered windows draped him in stripy shadows. Asim looked like some hybrid creature incapable of camouflaging itself. Stuck out in the open and trying to mimic its environment to survive but failing. “Yuh all right, bwoy?” Asim turned to see his father dressed in a paisley night gown watching him, his eyes droopy with sleep. Soft lights came on. On passing, Mister Marshal ordered a cup of tea from the old-style kettle. Asim smiled calmly at him as he sat in the chair opposite. “It looks like you’ve got a lot on your mind, son, yuh want to talk?” Asim reached over the table and patted his hand. “I think I’ve just had my hopes up a bit too high. Clouded judgment pops.” Mister Marshal nodded. “Five years away from home makes a man start thinking and hoping tings will be right.” “Hoping.” Asim repeated the word as if he was analyzing the resonance of its sound. “The truth is different though.” Mister Marshal folded his arms and leaned on the

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counter. “We all can wish an’ hope as much as we please but family, like anything in life, takes effort. Five years ago, your mother and I wished too, but the fact still remained that you had disappeared and left us with your daughter. We had to face that, just as we have to face this. Now imagine that same feeling of fear you feel for Fatima. We felt that for you.” He laughed, punctuating the steady drone of his voice. “For Anne and me, this is nuthin new. This is what parenting and family is all ’bout.” Asim took a deep, frustrated breath. “A lesson I’ve yet to learn.” Mister Marshal smiled. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, bwoy. Just promise me Akilla will get the same sorta patience and selfless dedication from her father that we gave to him.” “That is a promise.” The kettle boiled with a whistle. Mister Marshal stood up and poured himself a cup of chamomile tea. “Yuh want one, son?” Asim declined but watched his old man find his secret additives in the dim light. The Field Marshal had always been a brilliant cook, even in his days as a printer. He was slow to discover his real calling but once that was clear in his mind he retired early, dedicating his life to his family and his passion for cooking. He established the Pepper Pot Restaurant and his hobby became his livelihood. His father’s Saturday soups and Sunday dinners, his mom’s punctilious attention to the upkeep of her home, Fatima’s nagging. Unforgettable parts of his childhood. Memories he drew on at the most challenging points in his life, memories that helped to mould him. He wanted them back again. “Am I really cut out for this, Pops?” Mister Marshal smiled, a stray light beam making his eyes twinkle. “I know yuh are, son. But don’t try to convince me. You need to convince yourself and then your daughter. And that, believe you me,” he chuckled, “will be a challenge in itself.” This time Asim had no illusions about the truth of that statement.

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CHAPTER 9 ASIM SAT ON HIS BED WATCHING THE MORNING unfold through his window and waited patiently for the sun to peep over the obstructing buildings. Ask him and he would say jet lag and too much alcohol had thrown his normal sleep cycle out of sync. But that wouldn’t be quite correct. He didn’t want to go back to sleep even if he could. Not with the nightmares. There was never a night he was free of them. Sometimes brief snatches, at others a lengthy opera of anguish he was forced to experience over and over. And it was always the same, always horrific. He was held captive and forced to watch in painful detail his wife being raped by men with no faces. While a child - whom he could not recognize because her features were always blurred but he knew intuitively to be Akilla - kept accusing him of being a coward, over and over again. Keep on! Asim goaded it. Scars can heal, and then you will have nuthin to haunt me with. Nuthin! In time he would have paid his debt to his family and himself, exhausting the subconscious fuel it needed to punish him. In time! Jumping up, his thoughts fading, he headed for the bathroom. A half-hour later, his morning ritual done, he was staring at a face that was refreshed and controlled a rising tingle of excitement. His first day back pan deh street was going to be a good one. He could feel it. When Asim stepped out of his room, he was fully clothed in a comfortable Irish linen suit and matching light loafers. He clenched his fist, the luminescent figures showing boldly through his skin, and silently edged his way to his daughter’s room. The floorboards creaked under his weight. A smile came to his lips. The Field Marshal’s elaborate early warning system had caught him out many times in his more rebellious days. Being caught by something as stupid and lo-tech as that was embarrassing and then trying to explain to his spars why he hadn’t turned up for a clandestine night on the town was even worst. The days. Passing his parent’s room, he stopped and listened to their rumbling snores. Playfully as a child he used to imagine they were elephants in some strange mating ritual. Free from his adolescent stunts for many years now, they had let their guard down and wouldn’t have known if he blew the hinges off the door with a claymore. The unlikely image made him grin again. It was becoming a habit. Akilla’s room was beside theirs and conspicuous by the colorful threedimensional sticker of a Gummy Bear adorning it. He pushed the door open. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, the smells of childhood sparked off guilt, or maybe

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it was his buried paternal instincts. He frowned. For someone so young the room was disturbingly ordered and clean. The cupboard on his left was packed full of cuddly toys as well as educational software. Her little desk-cum-dressing table held a real computer, a well-worn drawing pad and crayons. And to his right another closed-off wardrobe where her clothes hung. Completed magnetic puzzles sat like prizes on a glass shelf directly over her bed. Complicated molecules, architectural models and even planets with surface detail lovingly assembled in 3-D by her hands. Shaking his head, he moved over to her bedside and saw her contented face as she clung onto a fluffy space Yogi Bear. Her mother’s face turned up at him - the resemblance was uncanny - breathing lightly and flinching sometimes as she relived the day’s playing. Beautiful and intelligent. And he had deserted her. For a brief moment he lifted his eyes to the ceiling. If God listened to men like him, he wanted to say a ‘thank you’ and ask for a special blessing for his ‘old people’. They had made the sacrifices, bared his responsibility, and instead of resentment they showed him even more love. If the shoe was on the other foot… His duty from now on was to be their strength, make them feel he appreciated them and bind his family together again. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and closed the door behind him. That was all that mattered. It was nearing noon as Asim walked out of the Angel tube station. He had visited his wife’s grave and asked for her forgiveness. He somehow felt she had understood. A dirty green duffel bag was slung obliquely across his muscular shoulders as he strolled out with confident ease, his mirrored Ray Ban shades flipped up. He squinted at the sun encroaching over the billowy white clouds and turned right down the high street. His mood had improved with the weather. A shroud of despondency clung to him, remaining just beyond conscious reach but gratefully only coming to the fore when his mind settled on Eva, but that was often. Focusing on the rest of his day would help. He didn’t have that mental static he experienced in Africa from his work that had successfully masked all his thoughts of home and his family. That had disappeared on landing. All his shortcomings were up front and in his face. And unless, he wanted to keep living in the past, slowly eroding his self-worth with blame, he had to look forward. Asim sighed wearily and approached the Daily Voice Info Point ahead of him. A bit crumpled from being in his back pocket, he unfolded his electronic sheet, locked the pliable material into the interface and downloaded the day’s news. He was away in minutes just glimpsing the advertising image change from a bikini-clad babe to a muscled male, as a female customer placed her smart card into the slot. Stopping briefly - not wanting to walk into anyone - he scanned the headlines and watched a

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snippet of news footage before folding it into his back pocket. That reminded him. Mentally he ticked off an item second from the bottom on his ‘things-to-do’ list. Time management was one of the few things the military got right about people living in the real world and not in the contrived environment of the barracks. Organization was the foundation on which the army was built. Among other things your whole lifestyle revolved around this idea of time, form and preparation and Asim was better at it than most. He made a note of his progress. The list had been whittled down to a remainder of about two items, one of which - the most important - he was about to take care of. All in all it had been a good day. As well as getting the mundane necessities out of the way, dropping in on a few people, he was gaining a feel for L-Town again. Striding down the main street with a taken-for-granted confidence of a man who had never left London, he suddenly patted the inside pocket of his light jacket. The Vcomm Five G multimode mobile he had just bought and linked, still sat snugly in its box. It was an invaluable hybrid of many technologies. Fast-paced living required instant communication and instant access. It had now become an intelligent extension of the modern man. Progress, they called it. Asim likened it to an addictive crutch but he was in the minority and preferring to keep his more subversive opinions to himself. It was a manic Saturday in Islington, reminiscent of the manic Saturdays in any of the towns he had visited in Africa. The differences being the furnace-like heat and the constant reminder that you were in the Dark Continent as you waded through a sea of glistening black faces. All else remained the same. Today filled the nine-to-one workers with an illusion of freedom that they exploited to the maximum. Crumbling only on late Sunday evenings as the specter of the weekly grind drew ever closer. This was definitely the London he remembered and loved. It couldn’t have been a better season to come home even if he had chosen it himself. He had just missed the frigid edges of winter and welcomed the sun, the sense of ease of action and the feeling of well being that accompanied it. The summers had become somewhat longer than they used to be, something to do with the slower revolutions of the earth around the sun. And it was warmer too, which was more of a legacy from the didn’t-give-afuck-about-the-environment period of the twentieth century. A plus for the weather conscious English. Strolling down the street, he could hear the accents from all over the world soaking in the atmosphere and purchasing mementos at Chapel Market to bring home. Londoners complained a lot but Asim was willing to put up with the incessant questions from lost tourists, especially the cute ones. Yeah man. Definitely his favorite time of the year. The food, the fashions and the women. He turned into Liverpool Road. A car horn hooted in protest behind him. As he turned he saw a couple walking a few paces ahead. They would have not been out of place if they had stepped out of the screens of Gentleman’s Quarterly and Elle. It’s

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good to be back. A cool breeze coursed through the street, whipping up a minor storm of grit. He stepped off the curb, slipping his Ray Ban flip-tops back over his eyes, and gently jogged over to the other side. Three casual steps further and he was standing with arms folded looking at a chain fiber security gate, pleasantly surprised. Beyond the barrier was a spatial configuration parking area that spiraled into the ground, a pristine looking driveway snaking up to the once shabby building now reconverted and obviously expanded into a gleaming corporate headquarters. The new home of Zulu Security Systems Inc. shone under the sunlight. Fuck me, Ricardo! You’ve been busy, boss. His partner had managed to keep all his expansion plans secret. So this was the slick bastard’s surprise. If anything could make you believe in destiny, his involvement with Ricardo would do just that. They had been friends in the Paratroop Regiment but had lost contact for a while as he had gained stripes and moved on. Ricardo’s army career was short-lived and he had ventured into Civvie Street with a great idea and some family money. The enterprise technological security solutions - had been a success and when their paths crossed again the Ghanaian was looking to take his business to the next level. Asim remembered how contagious his enthusiasm was and how they drank and chatted into the early hours exchanging ideas. Ricardo had intended to keep importing the same range of security products the original owners had imported before his takeover and build on that. For Asim, being the outsider looking in, the solution was quite clear but he waited for an invitation before he made his recommendations. He was invited and Ricardo wasted no time working his plan into the overall operation of Zulu Security Systems Inc. and giving Asim the opportunity to spearhead some of his own initiatives. It grew from strength to strength with the aid of brilliant young technologists recruited into Zulu’s fold who were responsible for fifty new patents in five years. Ricardo was able to float the company on the stock market and hold controlling interest in a very short space of time. In the beginning it had been an interesting exercise in commerce, juggling his military career and business. Family disaster and his eventual move to Africa transformed it into the only diversion from his day-to-day existence. Now it had become his financial security. Asim shook his head at the irony of it all. He walked up to a console that was positioned where the traditional guard room would have been and waited for the robot eyes to detect him. His features mapped and his voice print confirmed, the barrier swung open. “Easy nuh!”

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Kehinde jumped into his arms as soon as her surprised eyes recognized him. Hanging onto his neck as he twirled her around, she kissed him on the lips. His partner’s personal secretary just couldn’t believe he was standing there. She stepped away from him momentarily, looking him up and down. Asim grinned and shook his head. What was the‘bwoy’ waiting for? He should have replaced Kehinde with a Near Optically Perfect Personal Assistant, jumped the broom and made an honest woman of the poor girl, if he had any sense. He looked at her and smiled broadly. She was the same slender and elegant young woman with the most calming eyes he knew of, standing unchanged in front of him. They hugged again. “Why didn’t you tell us that you were coming back to England?” Her voice held just the right balance between love and reproach. “God knows we could have at least prepared for you.” Asim laughed. “An miss that look on your face? No way.” He paused and squinted in her direction using his hands like some imaginary calipers from a distance. “And it looks like your putting on some weight as well, girl, and all in the right places, I might add.” The secretary’s dark cheeks flushed as she pouted her lips and acted as if Asim’s statement had cut deeply. “The boss has been treating me to too many three course lunches,” she complained unconvincingly. “Wha!” Asim shouted. “Preferential treatment to particular staff members, I’ll have to put a stop to that. It’s disgraceful.” His smile was even broader still and he was having difficulty not bursting out into further laughter. “Don’t you dare,” Kehinde chided, wagging a stern finger while her other hand perched on her waist. “He may think they are business meetings but I have other plans for him.” She winked. Asim could only shake his head and admire her tenacity. Kehinde had entrusted her secret love for her boss with him accidentally many years ago. From time to time informing him of the developments taking place between them. He was sworn to secrecy, even though he dropped a few hints to his partner occasionally. What always amazed him was how she had transformed from a wide-eyed love struck thirtysomething to a super-efficient PA in the blink of an eye. Asim held her hand and turned full circle, peering through the office’s see-through walls to an area down below. “Jesas! How much staff have you got working here now?” Kehinde beamed proudly. “All of thirty-five. Technical staff, management, sales and transport.. Four years of hard work and invaluable inside information from you, sir.”

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“Me?” He jerked his thumb to his chest. “Obtaining data for you guys was the easy part. This is where all the hard work took place. Believe mi.” “We try,” she said. Asim walked back over to Kehinde’s desk and stood by it with his arms folded. “So how is deh old dog baring up, anyway?” The sides of Kehinde’s mouth twitched up sharply and then collapsed, unable to maintain the pretence of a smile. “Working too hard. And because he believes no one can do his job, except for you that is, he’s functioning under a lot of pressure. I’m doing my best but…” The PA slowly sat down and leaned back into her chair, her eyes taking on a dull hue. “You are back for good, aren’t you?” she asked. Asim leaned over to her, not liking how uncomfortable she had suddenly become. “Try getting rid ah me.” Kehinde smiled uneasily. Asim returned it with more intensity and stretched over to rub the back of her hands. “No worries, he’ll be fine.” Ricardo Ogun stood looking intensely at the picture of himself with a few of his compatriots from the 47th Paratroop Regiment that always sat on his bookcase. The regiments motto All For One made him reflect on those days. They had been the reason for his success. Even after a year in military prison and a dishonorable dismissal. Some of his family in Ghana had never recovered from the shame. Even now many would not speak to him. His present position as CEO of Zulu Security Systems Inc. made no difference to them and their petty malice’s meant nothing to him. Today was the tenth anniversary of his father’s death and that held more significance to him than anything they could ever say or do. One of the few men he could sit with and who understood what he stood for. “Yuh know something!” A voice behind him made his guts tighten. “In my limited experience only two tings fall from the sky. Bird shit and paratroopers.” Ricardo stiffened and then relaxed. The thought that he was hearing things seemed probable because he knew the possessor of that voice should be thousands of miles away in New South Africa. But he knew only one man who could enter a room and stand behind you, his movements devoid of sound. It was an irritating talent. Ricardo turned and an expectant smile formed on his lips as his head made an awkward arc that ended with their eyes locking. “We’d have had your cojones for that in the airborne, brother,” Ricardo’s bass voice boomed. “You could have tried,” Asim threatened. Ricardo’s chuckle was deep and amiable belying his immense size. “What in hell have you been up to?”

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“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Asim grinned. Ricardo laughed as they hugged and backslapped. “Gently does it, big man!” said Asim, wincing at Ricardo’s vigorous greeting. “Active duty hasn’t left me totally free from damage, yuh know.” Ricardo chuckled. “So you’re not invulnerable after all?” “Guess not, boss.”

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CHAPTER 10 “CHEERS, MI BREDDAH.” THE CRYSTALS TINKLED. Asim filled his glass again with the highly aromatic brandy and swirled the contents. For a while they dispensed with their laughter and sat in companionable silence. “To future success,” Ricardo toasted, finishing the last mouthful of his Martini dry. “We did it, brother,” he continued, licking his lips. “The competition was immense but Zulu Securities has developed a name for getting the job done.” “You did it,” Asim corrected. His partner disagreed with a shake of his head. “Modesty will get you everywhere.” “Let’s jus’ say I helped Zulu along its way.” Ricardo nodded. “When you started recommending security systems to the Arabs and Africans, that’s where it all began. A simple shift in method moved us away from sales, into the lucrative high-profile security and technology consultation. Not to put too fine a point on it, we struck gold.” He straightened the seams of his tailored trousers. “My only regret was you were never here to see it develop.” “Well, let’s see if I can make up for that. This time around I intend to play a more active role in tings.” Asim gestured to the company logo on the wall. “Something I should have done years ago.” Ricardo leaned back in his seat, his size making the sofa seem too small for him. He then leaned forward again, Asim’s words taking time to produce a relieved smile. “I didn’t realize your tour of duty in New South Africa was over,” he said. “Over an’ done wid. And they didn’t kick me out, either.” Asim grinned. “I decided to leave.” “That was a long time coming, my friend, and I know your family must be relieved but get settled before you start thinking of business. And anyway, I need at least a week to produce a report of our activities for you to study.” “ Cool!” Asim agreed. “Now for money matters,” Ricardo announced. “And before we go any further, check this out.” Asim’s eyes fell on the A4-size sheet of info-wafer. The scrolling figures just seemed to jump off the page at him. He swallowed hard as he saw the size of his bank balance and recalled his initial investment of zero credits. Okay, the dossiers he had provided his partner on the influential men and women in Africa and the East had not been obtained entirely above board. But if he had known the risks he had taken to give the company the vital edge were that valuable, maybe he would have given the army the elbow much sooner. Who knows? An ID Logic Card and two old-style metal keys

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dangling from Ricardo’s fingers were next things to grab his attention. “Warehouse 401 and my Porsche?” Asim blurted out. Ricardo gave him the thumbs up. Asim whistled and laughed. “Bwoy, if I had any doubts about the nastiness of human nature, don. You would prove me wrong every time.” “We’re not just business partners, remember, we’re brothers.” “So were Cain and Abel,” Asim deadpanned. It was Ricardo’s time to laugh as they locked hands again. Both men left Zulu Security Systems together near midnight, immediately after Asim had been given a guided tour of the complex. They were now on their way home. The otherwise tranquil night was bruised with the sounds of sirens and flashing lights. Armored vans loaded with armed police on call to another gang-related incident sped by them. He remembered Africa but not for long. Their first stop was Ochie’s Restaurant on Acton Lane, where they filled up on fried dumplings, plantain, Ackee and salt fish and then headed into Bush. Five years ago when he had decided a suicide tour of duty in Africa was the only way to drop out on society, Asim acted as if nothing he had earned while living here meant anything to him. If Ricardo had not surmised his actions had been irrational and became the executor of his holdings, he would have returned to nothing. That was something else he had to thank Ricardo for. Warehouse 401 was his favorite real estate acquisition and he’d never sold it. In his mind’s eye he imagined the hellhole state it must be in after years of neglect but it would give him something to concentrate on. And it fit perfectly into his plans. Akilla needed somewhere to stay, her own bedroom and playing space. Just the idea of converting his place for her was an exciting idea. He had a good feeling about it. Ricardo taxied into the lighted driveway, the whisper-mode Mercedes crunching gravel under its tires. The first thing Asim realized was the warehouse’s exterior had been cleaned, polished and painted to what almost looked like newness. He said nothing, knowing Ricardo would take offence if he felt he was expected to leave it in disrepair. It looked great. Originally he was told it was supposed to be the permanent storage facility for the workmen’s construction equipment when the luxury apartments were being built. But for some reason that was never made clear the multimillionaire developer converted what was a rudimentary structure into a stunning domicile, which was to become Asim’s home. At first sight as you drove up to it, the lower levels where nearly obscured with shrubbery and above it and around it large sycamore trees loomed, making the structure nestled between them seemed quite plain. Composed of wood, steel, concrete

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and glass, what it seemed to lack from a distance it subtly revealed to you up close. “Call me when you’ve settled in,” Ricardo said. “I’ve got a busy schedule in the morning so I can’t stop. Just relax and familiarize yourself with the old place.” They touched fists. Asim held him with his eyes. “Thanks, man!” he said. “For everything!” Ricardo shrugged as if he was being overly sentimental and drove off. Asim flipped the ID card in his hand and mounted the stairs, disabling the perimeter alarm system from a junction box halfway up the flight. He fed his card into the slot and downloaded essential information into the house’s mainframe. He continued upwards, his soft loafers crushing leaves and small stones underfoot as the warehouse came into view. The place lit up like a beacon on his approach. In a mixture of surprise and pleasure Asim stepped back and shook his head. He wiped away some weird liquid shit pooling at the corner of his eyes and entered. The old place had been refurbished inside and out and kept in superb condition. You could see right through the house and it looked as if it had no boundaries, just multiple dimensions of open space. There was some Japanese influence in the sparseness with artistically set Scandinavian furniture of more glass, wood, steel and leather. The Ghanaian pimpernel had struck again. Ricardo had made sure all of Asim’s tastes were catered for including his love for African pots. Man! Surrounded by so many good people he did not deserve. His lifestyle had to change. Asim entered through one of the sliding glass doors and inhaled the smell of newness. He sat in his single sofa chair facing the urban lightshow over Shepherds Bush. A silken female voice startled him. “There is a message left for you on your TV view, sir, should I replay it for you?” “Rass!” “Excuse me, sir.” The voice his home’s core intelligence unit had used in the past had been dramatically overhauled from an over powering male vocal to a very sultry and sexy female tone. On its own accord his mind immediately tried to match the voice to an equally alluring body. Laughing, he said, “It’s nothing, just replay it for me baby.” “Baby, sir?” “Oh!” He grinned. “It’s just another term I’ll use to address yuh with.” “Baby. Entered.” “And House.” “Yes, sir?” “Drop the sir ting. Call me Asim.” “Asim. Entered.” There was a short sizzling sound and then a recording with

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simultaneous visuals that floated in front of the glass panel. Shit! Fatima’s face smiled back. “I guessed you’d be here eventually. Ricardo said you would,” the recording said. “I hope he’s right, I don’t think I can call home, not just yet. I’m sorry I missed your homecoming party, bro’, but I had to get out of there and do some thinking. Anyway, whenever you get in, ring me. I want to hear about everything you’ve been up to. Don’t forget. Call me, okay. Talk to you later. Bye.” Asim found himself staring at the fading image. “House,” he said distantly. “Trace the number for me, babe, and connect me up, nuh.” “My pleasure, Asim,” House answered. The electronic murmur of lines connecting over the vast network of London was subdued in comparison to Asim’s internal mind machinery. He was eager to speak with Fatima but he would leave it to her to provide an explanation to what happened. A confrontation he knew would be counterproductive but he didn’t want to skirt around the issue either. Now he was beginning to understand why Drill Sergeant ‘Maggot’ Malone got the ‘hump’ when you mentioned family. To him they were a pain in the ass, especially when your focus should be on more important things, like a forced march with full thirty kilo kit through the Brecon Beacons at minus ten degrees. “Happiness!” he would holla, “is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another fucking part of the world!” Come to think of it, the sergeant did have a way with words. “Sim, look at you,” Fatima grinned broadly, bouncing forward on her seat so she would be closer to the monitor. “Five years away and God! What have they done to your hair?” She was laughing boisterously not knowing Asim’s smile had appeared from the unlikely emotion of severe uneasiness. There was no way he could have faced her without preparing himself for the worst? Steeling himself against the possible horror he could have witnessed but thankfully was spared from. There could be no cool detachment here. Family pain hurt like nothing he could ever hope to understand and couldn’t be confronted in a cavalier manner. Your feelings wouldn’t allow it. Asim stretched in his sofa and tried to create an illusion of calm. As the image of his sister sprang sharply into focus, Asim had made a rapid appraisal of her. A wave of relief made his taut muscles sag. Fatima looked healthy and vibrant. Her eye’s fixed with his easily, she maintained her sense of order - the room she was transmitting from was agonizingly neat - and her dress sense was sharp. These were not the signs of a developing prog junky. He relaxed and met her laughter with a relieved smile.

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“ Well?” Fatima demanded an answer to her question. And as if to annoy him she ran her fingers playfully through her hair and opened her palms to the ceiling in comical confusion. “Lack a sex,” he said. “My hair just decided to fall out.” She laughed some more. It felt good seeing her happy. Fatima was somewhere in London, looking composed and obviously not a victim of street trash software. Asim leaned forward and peered behind her. “Nice place,” he said. “Must have cost yuh a bomb.” “It’s a friend’s pad, actually.” As abrupt as a scene cut. He could literally hear the barriers rising around her privacy. Then just as suddenly her features softened. “Did you like that little touch at the airport?” she asked. “The announcement, I mean.” Asim grinned, treading carefully. “It had your signature stamped all over it, gal.” “It did?” she said with fake disbelief. “Don’t even start thinking you’re slicker than me. You fooled me simply because I thought you’d grown up since the last time we reasoned face to face. I was wrong.” “You never did like to think a girl could outsmart you, did you. A woman beating you at your own game is unheard of in your circles.” “Damn right!” “Still,” She ignored him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t at your little party to see you…” Her eye sparkled amusingly. “…let your hair down.” Her laugh was a silly chuckle and Asim was forced to join her, shaking his head as they both laughed together. He felt an uncomfortable twinge in his stomach as she simply reminded him of how much he loved his family and how much of himself he was willing to give to make things right. His laughter dissolved into silence. “You’re looking tired, Asim.” Fatima’s expression became more serious too, her eye’s still bright. “Overdoing your first taste of freedom and being shocked to see how Akilla has grown, all in one night. A bit too much for even you.” She paused. “Did you meet my friend, Yasmeen?” “It was difficult not to.” “Beautiful isn’t she?” “Very.” She laughed. “She’ll be pleased to hear that.” “You could be right, but guess wha’?” “What?”

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“You’re not going to tell her … are you, sis?” “Still as boring as ever then.” “Mister Unadventurous, dat’s me.” “And still single, I bet.” “I wouldn’t have it nuh other way.” “You liar!” They both laughed, again. “It’s funny, because I tried to get her into a modeling career when we were in college but she was really into her faith to even consider that idea. But you, she likes you, I’m sure of that.” An expression of bewilderment that said, ‘Don’t ask me why’ formed on her face. “And how come you’re suh sure she likes me? We only met for the first time last night.” “Ah!” She touched her nose twice with her finger. “Don’t you know when women get together they talk, and you have been an interesting topic of conversation.” “Really now.” “Really.” Her hand was now on her heart as she tried to express her honesty. Asim snorted amusingly. “I’ve just arrived and I can’t believe you’re trying to fit me up with a woman already.” “Somebody has to.” Fatima’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’re okay, Sim? You look distant?” “I’m fine,” Asim answered quietly. “I’m adapting to the changes. Being able to see you, Akilla and the rest of the family. It’s just great to be back.” And relieved to know you’re cool. I’ll just sit here and wait for an explanation of your actions in your own time. Shit! Okay, so outflanking the enemy was not his style and, yes, he did prefer the fullfrontal assaults but this situation required diplomacy. In the past they had fought over that same issue of his lack of tact. The army had not helped in that department. He was trying it on for size again and it was very uncomfortable. Hiding his concern well, Asim shuffled irritably in his seat. The urge to tell her exactly what he was thinking and using some choice expletives to hammer home his point - crossed his mind. Common sense said it would not work. He knew Fatima well and he knew himself impulsive and stubborn. Asim could imagine them clashing in a heated exchange which he had no chance of winning. Imagining Fatima with hands akimbo, delivering rapid fire insults with the cool poise of a Jamaican market woman. It would be suicidal. He wasn’t so glib at the best of times. He preferred to use his fists to settle a dispute. It was strange how his feelings of helplessness were becoming more frequent. Their discussion continued. “The man, who can master any situation is having problems adapting?” she said

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smugly. “I wouldn’t say it’s a problem, sweetie, just a few concerns.” Asim’s eyes became cold. “Sweetie!” His sister giggled. “I can’t remember the last time anyone called me that.” She paused and stared deeply into the screen, her voice lowering. “I’ve missed you, Asim, not having you around to sound off on has been difficult.” “Well, I’m here now,” Asim said. “Sound off.” The verbal onslaught Fatima had geared herself up for had not materialized. Africa had either changed him or he was more in control of himself. In the past Asim would have expressed what he felt, not caring who felt hurt just as long as his point was made and understood. The old skinhead had mellowed. Somehow she preferred his old brash self. It was easier to judge his actions. “I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in the Motherland over a gin and tonic.” “We have plenty a time for that.” said Asim. “Right now I’ve got something on my mind and no answers.” Fatima’s eyebrows rose innocently. So much for an old dog learning new tricks. Asim dispensed with the subtlety. “I’ve seen the BrainTech module in your bedroom. Talk tu me.” Fatima’s face twisted as if she was recovering from a short sharp slap. She stood up from her seat, the communication equipment only being able to keep her midriff in view as she paced. “That’s out of order!” She snapped. “What is?” Asim spluttered. He just wouldn’t understand. Pops and Anne had actually gone into her room to search for evidence to prove their point. Her room. Her space. Her privacy. Fatima forgot herself. How could Asim just come into a situation he knew nothing about and take the position of his parents on a misunderstanding? Who the fuck died and made him judge and jury. She could make her own decisions, choose what she wanted to feed her body, sleep with whom she wanted and not be intimidated by any of her family. Asim included. What did that say about their belief in her? She was an irresponsible dimwit capable of frying her brains for kicks. Fatima still had to live up to standards he’d set. And she was sick and tired of it. She flopped down in her seat and flashed her braids out of her face, glancing wickedly across the electronic distance. “You know, Asim.” Her voice had raised a notch. “I was looking forward to you being back. I was even dreaming of the two of us picking up from where we left off. Now I find out you just happened to have been digging up my room for evidence to back up your stupid ideas. I can’t believe you’d do that.”

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“Field Marshal and Mama were worried. We all were concerned, sweetie.” Fatima laughed humorlessly. “Just admit it! The whole family has made up their minds already, haven’t they? I can bet your waiting for me to defend my position?” “What would yuh do in my place?” Asim asked with frustration. “I’ve come home to find my sister has stormed out of her parents’ house, vexed. And surprise, surprise, she’s left a brain-fuck machine behind in her room. How can you sit there and blame us for being worried?” His words hung there ineffectively, beside her anger. “You ask me first, Asim!” she shouted. “You trust me first!” She stormed away from viewer and disappeared for a moment. “Fatima, man, just calm down nuh. Let’s reason.” “You want to talk now.” Her voice, directed to the open window, trailed away. She suddenly turned back to face him and her elbow clipped a football trophy that stood alone on a stand. It rocked but did not fall. Strangely, some remote part of Asim’s consciousness was wondering what local league had awarded it. He said, “You’re overreacting, sweetie.” Then he paused to change strategy. “Okay! Okay! So I apologize for coming on too strong but what do you want me to do? Sing you a lullaby and say it’s okay when it’s not? Wake up!” “None of you really know who I am, do you?” Fatima raved, her aggression carrying over the airwaves like the report from a shotgun. “I’m fucking pissed off with this. Believe what you want to. I don’t give a shit.” She disconnected the line and walked away. The TV View projection suddenly blurred and shrank to a central vertical line. The disappearing point of light caught Asim with his mouth open. The fucking gal hung up on me. He jumped out of his sofa and screamed a command at House to regain the line but an automatic block had already been placed on the line. This isn’t happening, man, tell me this isn’t happening. His fist slammed into the headrest of his comfort chair fiercely. Nice an easy, remember. He couldn’t have done a better job, if he had planned it. He held his head in his hands. Man!

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CHAPTER 11 The Museum of Ancient African History, Central London MIND YOUR HEADS LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.” The words seemed to trickle through the safety officer’s nose with a note of excitement. For thirty minutes he was an explorer leading his small party from the bowels of the building, up the rungs of a fixed metal ladder and through a hatch that led back into the immense display area of the Ethiopia Hall. His safety awareness talk out of the way and ahead of schedule, Mister. Hawkins had jumped at the opportunity for some hands on ‘instructing’ while he indulged his fantasies of adventure. Yasmeen’s irises painfully adapted to the sudden change in light. It had been her second time down to the World War II bombshelter. The faces were different but, like some crazy style deja vu, she listened to Mister. Hawkins assemble his charges and complete his ‘presentation’ in the exact fashion he did three months ago, gesticulations and all. “For you recent additions to our staff, who I understand have a lot to absorb, let me repeat myself for emphasis.” He turned up his nose, the voice of pompous authority. “The bomb-shelter houses the auxiliary power and safety systems. In case of main system failure, which I might add is highly unlikely, but in the event, activation of secondary systems takes place there. The Ethiopia Hall is the oldest portion of the building with the most antiquated emergency network. It’s tested alongside all the other systems but we still need to be extra vigilant.” He pointed to where they had come from and fixedly kept his charges in frame, preparing to gauge their reaction. “I take it we have all been trained on this straightforward procedure, hmmm?” There were over-eager nods. The older members were sensing Hawkins six-monthly ‘reign of terror’ drawing to a close. They found it difficult to contain themselves. He snorted indignantly, ignoring them. “In this portion of the museum, there are only two ways into that level. Here and here.” He pointed to where they had exited from sometime earlier and then to another manhole hidden by a display in the far corner. “The other entrances will be outlined on your ‘Info-Tablets’ after Ms Beyene updates them. Any further questions?” He took their rapid departure to mean, no. The lift swiftly made its way to level one, moving horizontally along each floor. The insides of most offices were transparent but only a few were offered the executive perk of a computer-generated vista of your choosing. Yasmeen loved the scenery of an

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African savannah with the sun perpetually setting in the horizon. It was one of the privileges of the executive package, unlike the other employees who were seated at their desks like hundreds of hover vehicles in ariel lanes patiently waiting for some invisible traffic light to turn green. Yasmeen turned to the other side of the cylindrical carriage, sticking her nose against the glass and looked down on Sector 42. The lift started to descend again before shuttling across another level. She smiled to herself, her breath fogging the glass. After all this time it was still a joy to work here. That tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach still remained and her sense of wonder had not diminished. The museum was her passion, as saccharine as that sounded. And contrary to what her friends believed it wasn’t a replacement for a man in her life, either. It was just a very important part of it. The Museum of Compromises, the Tories had dubbed it and quite unfairly so. It was simply a case of sour grapes because it was their Labour counterparts who had successfully achieved something they had only given years of lip service to. Africa had become more forceful in its reacquisition of its treasures scattered around the world, plundered by the imperialistic powers of the time. The West was unable to dispute the continent’s rights to its own treasures so the British Government in collaboration with its European allies held talks to resolve the problem. Having had these treasures in their possession for many centuries, the authorities were understandably reluctant to part with them. The powers that be felt they should remain in the United Kingdom, as they were acquired by patriotic Englishmen of the past who risked life and limb for a sovereignty that had been abolished. Now Africa could look to its heart’s content but not touch. The historical pieces were never able to leave British shores but effectively the Commonwealth of Democratic African States controlled them. The arrangement hadn’t pleased the nations completely but knowing their artifacts were well cared for was some consolation. The other African nations - especially the pariah’s who were still at war so they could remain separate from the Commonwealth – they were not so understanding. Security was tight for the building and for the high-end employee’s because of threats made. The expansive complex was built over the foundations of an old World War II Art gallery and now housed a department of ancient African history, archaeology and linguistics as well as the most prized and largest repository of African historical artifacts outside of Zimbabwe. It had more than a hundred million electronic book files, videos, digitized photographs’, and manuscripts both modern and ancient. It was a historian’s dream. Her dream. The dreadlocks man reached out to the exhibit as if the signs saying Do not touch

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did not refer to him. Tour groups and roving sightseers milled around the Ethiopia Hall, sampling the computer-generated worlds of Ancient Abyssinia or viewing the many interactive exhibits. Acting as if he had a consuming obsession beyond him to control, the man inched closer. Nothing else existed outside of what he saw in front of him. Yasmeen’s eyes locked onto him from a distance. She had just stepped out of the lift, her attention captured by his exaggerated steps and his catlike approach to the electronic cordons protecting the exhibit. From where she stood he was ordinary looking, no menace visible in his eyes, no maniacal grin on his lips. It was just the way he tensed the muscles of his face, his eyebrows raising up and down, in a constant state of mild surprise. He was a man struggling with something inside, something directing his movements. The locks man had leaped over the roped area and was making his way to the sealed display, his steps precise as he came closer. Yasmeen hesitated for a second. Her hand wavered beside her panic button and then fell back to her side. Alerting the security guards was not the best thing to do. She preferred to talk the ‘brethren’ out of it. She frowned, switching from Acting Curator to a concerned sister and approached him with considered wariness. Casually she walked over the ropes and into the Rasta man’s field of vision hoping he would see her before inadvertently triggering the security systems. “Don’t do that, brother!” she said. “You’re not supposed to touch the exhibits or even be here…” Yasmeen pointed to the sign above his head. The man turned to look at her, withdrawing his hand slowly. A lopsided grin was stitched to his face. It froze her to the spot. “Do you know why yuh stepmother died, Yasmeen? Why she was screaming out your name to save her an yuh nevah?” The man’s voice was a whisper. Yasmeen stared fixedly at him. The strange man’s words had her captivated in a snare of fear. “She died for you. Died in your place. How dat make you feel?” Shaking her head was all Yasmeen could muster. Inadvertently her fingers stroked the personal alert system disguised as a lion brooch. It felt rough under her fingertips, its usefulness blatantly apparent for the first time. “The longer yuh breath Jah-Jah air the more people will die in your place. But is you we really want, sista, just you.” Yasmeen refused to engage him, not wanting to be drawn into a debate she could not win and one which she didn’t know the consequences of if she did. His face shone hatred. “Is not your fault, your father eateth the sour grape and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Yasmeen stepped back as the man approached, her fingers hovering over the fake

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diamond in the brooch. “The longer yuh draw breath,” the man snarled, “the longer will be the suffering of everyone dear to yuh.” There was a sudden surge of blood to her tensed muscles. His grin was crazy, his eyes wild. Yasmeen kept on squeezing the brooch. Asim sat comfortably in his parents’ lounge, his grey Nike tracksuit patched with sweat and his magnetically cushioned running shoes still laced to his feet. He wrinkled his nose and frowned. An offensive smell oozed from deep inside his trainers. For a misguided minute life felt uncomplicated. The throbbing pain in his back was subsiding, aggravated by his five-mile jog to the gym. The discomfort he was feeling while working out was a normal part of his recuperation. The muscles of his legs ached, his chest and stomach felt sore, but it was that all-over glow of pain his body used to tell him his fitness level was improving. Asim stretched like a cat, bones cracking into place and muscles pulling tautly as he massaged himself into Anne’s old World of Leather sofa, his head partially propped up by matching cushions. He had been trying to concentrate on his exercise regime but snatches of his conversation with his sister two weeks ago kept popping in his head, worrying him. Fatima had remained underground for two weeks and as a consequence the atmosphere a yard was tense. Everyone was handling her absence differently. The Field Marshal was a pragmatist. He waited and watched wondering whether he had done enough as a father. Anne was handling her uneasiness in other more cerebral ways. She was in a state of creative visualization. Deep in her heart Fatima would come back and this time they would talk, clear the air with no need for arguments. That was all she prayed for. Anne was not alone in her hopes. Asim sat upright. His movement releasing the exquisite squeaking sounds of real leather. He deep-breathed, making himself comfortable, and began reading the reams of reports Ricardo had dumped to his mom’s rudimentary Internet outlet - one of the few modern conveniences not even the Field Marshal could do without. As he had come to expect from Ricardo, it was meticulously presented and detailed with colorful diagrams and graphs, outlining the new Zulu Security Systems Inc. and indicating to him that the business was thriving. An hour later two piles of the documents lay beside him. The smallest pile which he had finished reading was on the floor dwarfed by a yet to be completed pile. His concentration was failing as he kept looking up from a paper on a new home security system from Israel. His eyes rose from the page again. The source of his distraction was in the distance constantly moving from room to room, avoiding him but still

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curious. He was curious too. In a moment of madness years ago he had said this little treasure was someone else’s child. A starker illustration of how fucked up he was in those days, he couldn’t think of. Akilla was his blood, make no mistake. How quickly she had grown. From his first glimpse of her in the maternity ward, screaming her lungs out, and now look. She was certainly no baby in arms. Akilla was a highly intelligent child who was developed enough to be wary of him for her own reasons. A few weeks ago that would have been a problem but home had obviously mellowed him. Asim had to admit to himself that he had relaxed a great deal and he knew without a doubt the part she played in that. Just being around her and the rest of the family was working wonders for him. Observing her multitude of ways to avoid him had become a funny pastime of his. Asim smiled behind his A4 sheet of paper. Akilla was across the other side of the room glaring at him through the doorway like a frightened puss. Her eyes never left his and she took on a dignified walk heading toward the kitchen. The little woman would not be easily taken in by a man who had invaded her territory and who had suddenly announced he was her father. Whether she understood the implications of him being here wasn’t clear but her developing feelings were taking no chances. Anne had eased his concerns by explaining Akilla’s fear of guns and people who carried them. She had loved to watch the world newscasts when she was younger but in time the sight of guns, bullets and death began to have an adverse effect. It was compounded having seen a picture of him posing with ceremonial arms when he was in the Paratroop Regiment. His daughter had never forgotten. That’s the past, baby. He reassured her in his mind. Asim swung his long legs off the sofa, wanting to hear in more detail the discussion which was taking place between his mother and his daughter.. Activating the intercom unit in the kitchen from the sitting room was his first thought, but he knew the ON light would easily alert them to his eavesdropping so he settled for the snatches of dialogue which were trickling through the partially open door. Akilla was asking her grandmother about her aunt - and in the same breath asking about Yasmeen too - having seen neither of them since Asim had arrived. Everyone was concerned. Shuffling back into a comfortable position he tried to regain his momentum as he scanned the first page of a schematic diagram for the sixth time. The smooth lines, circles and curves depicting some new equipment that would have made sense a minute ago, were now a meaningless jumble of indistinct symbols. He grunted, determined to finish his reading, but inquisitiveness defeated self-discipline.

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Akilla came strolling out of the kitchen, engrossed in her own world, her guard down. Swinging her hands from side to side, she stamped out into the hall, her frizzy long brown hair springing uncontrolled from her scalp and her lips pouting in confrontation. An imaginary tiff with an imaginary friend, Asim guessed, and from the way his daughter was wagging her fingers to no one in particular she was not the one on the receiving end of the scolding. She was a fiery little sumting. “I hope that’s not me you’re cussing.” Asim controlled the timbre of his voice making it as unthreatening as possible. Akilla stopped in her tracks and turned to look at him as if he was an irritating glob of chewing gum she was about to scrape off the sole of her shoe. Asim imagined the feisty but amusing monologue running through her head, the peculiar picture she made standing there in amazement, and a grin formed on his face. “Well, are you going to talk to me or just stand there with yuh mouth wide open?” Akilla’s determined pout transformed into a cherubic smile. Immediately he felt a rush of hope. He was making progress. “Yuh know you can’t keep running from me, baby. I’m going to be here every day until you’re tired of seeing me and then some more.” The light-hearted threat made her wrinkle her nose and think about the implications of what he said. She took two uncertain steps toward him, her big toes pointed upwards from the carpeted floor like antennae while she bit on her lower lip. Asim was silently wishing her on, wanting her to make the decisive step away from hostility to friendship. She slowly walked under the doorframe adjoining the hall and the rec. room and, as she bashfully placed her hands behind her back, the doorbell rang. Jesus! Yasmeen’s voice came across the house’s speakers and her image swam into focus on the wafer-screen, and that was all it took. Akilla had spun on the balls of her toes and shot away. He was barely in time to see his daughter’s heels as she bent the corner for the main door squealing like a disturbed piglet. Yasmeen two, Asim nil. His frustration was short-lived. It had to be. He hadn’t stopped thinking about her for the last two weeks. Playing smart he had pried Yasmeen’s number from Anne almost as soon as they had met but was unable to talk to her. His messages were never returned. The sexual attraction between them was powerful but it seemed the difference of her being a Rasta and him being a baalhead was an issue. Still, it was too much of an effort resolving that question, now. He was just eager to see her step through the door. And ‘eager’ felt very good.

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CHAPTER 12 YASMEEN’S PERFUME PRECEDED HER. And Asim found himself with his eyes closed and the subtle blends of her eau de toilette making his heart race. Damn, he was acting like a love-struck pickney. She stood at the entrance to the lounge, smartly dressed; her head wrapped Islamic-style with a see-through scarf and those beautiful hazel eyes flashing in the light. Akilla was already comfortably lodged in her arms, her hands around her neck and her head on her breasts. As stupid as it seemed, he felt that he needed to stand up as she came in. A subconscious sign of respect was all he could think. Maaan! She swayed into the recreation room and stopped in the middle of the floor, her bare feet sinking into the carpet. Yasmeen nodded unable to complete the traditional Rasta greeting with her hands occupied. “Highest regards,” she said. “Highest,” Asim answered, his words sounding awkward to his ears. “I missed you … both,” she said honestly. “So I tore myself away from work this afternoon and decided to drop by. I’m not interrupting anything important, am I?” Her eyes fell on the pile of papers beside the couch. “Nothin that can’t wait.” He used his heel to move them out of eyeshot. “Actually, I’m glad you came,” admitted Asim, smoothing an eyelash with his fingertip. “I was wondering if you were okay. I called a few times and left messages. I hadn’t heard anything from you…” He let it trail off. “Another reason why I had to come in person,” Yasmeen filled in quickly. “To apologise. I’ve been under some personal and work-related pressures. Still, neglecting my friends isn’t a good idea.” Asim grinned and said the word friend slowly through his mind. “Hey, I know what work pressures can do to you, trust mi.” “No excuses Asim, instead something to make up for my behavior.” As if she was waiting for the first verbal exchanges to end, Akilla began her dramatic squirming in Yasmeen’s arms. The little woman didn’t like being left out of any discussion that involved her Rasta sister. So she made sure the conversation was interspersed with her low chatter directed in Yasmeen’s ears and designed to upset if capable and confuse if possible. She whispered something in Yasmeen’s ear again and giggled. “I like that,” Yasmeen said turning to Asim. “Your daughter has just come up with a brilliant idea.” Yasmeen leaned back and gave Akilla a long appraising look. “I’m not sure what her motives are.” Akilla looked on with that innocent stare of hers unmoved by the comment. “But I must admit going to the park in this weather should

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be great fun and therapeutic for the stressed out amongst us.” Asim stood back and looked at her with a wicked grin on his face. Both hands in his pockets, he stretched the material absently. “Does it look dat obvious?” he joked. “Or is this a scheme you girls have planned to root me out of the house?” Yasmeen smiled weakly. The decision to come here today had been a good one. Although her life wasn’t her own since Trevor’s arrival. His paranoia about her security made socializing difficult but this she was able to swing. She needed to get away and try to take her mind off the weirdness that was borne from her stepmother’s murder. The threat by this crazy Rasta man a week ago in the museum had stuck with her ever since. Normally she would have discounted it as the ravings of a madman if not for what he had said. What he had heard Sister Ijah say before she burned to death. Now, his words of intimidation carried more potency and significance. Who was he and how did he know so much about her? Why would her own people want her dead? It made no sense, nothing was making any sense. But just for a while. Just for as long as she was amongst them her problem didn’t need to make sense. She shared in Asim’s jibe. “It just proves how little you know about woman, doesn’t it.” She nudged Akilla who nodded, shyly. “Educate mi nuh!” “I think we may need to.” The Eco-bus silently pulled up to the curb as Asim, Yasmeen and Akilla disembarked, weighed down with some quickly prepared food and the Geo-dome of Hyde Park in the background. The Dome had been built in the early twenty-first century as one of the symbols of the new Millennium. And with it, had come the changes. Tight security into the facility, all protest marches through its leafy walk ways had been banned along with the ancient tradition of Speakers’ Corner. Now the park was a monument to the environment and held the fourth largest artificially controlled climate facility in the world. It was actually a working research laboratory open to the public. It allowed them to experience every weather condition and climate on earth past and present. Set like a shiny multifaceted diamond with the glistening bio-engineered waters of the Serpentine and its attached sports facility twenty minutes away, this expanse of land not only drew stares but tourists. The trio passed through the electronic turnstile and the consensus was they should find a shady alcove and do what everyone else seemed to be doing. Flake out. It was another hot day and endless lines of bodies lay in various states of discomfort like slowly roasting frankfurters over a medium fire. All the Chief Medical Officer’s warnings about ultraviolet light contamination had been forgotten. Football, cricket

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and lesser-known sports - that involved being randomly tackled by a legion of screaming kids who had just included you in their game of Screw Ball without your consent - were going on. So finding that just right spot was important to your health as well as peace of mind. A hedge plant caught their attention. It seemed to be sprouting wildly near one of the many paths that veered to the northern region of the park. It was hard to tell whether an enthusiastic landscape gardener expressing some artistic flair had placed it there or it had been missed several times when weekly pruning was taking place. The wide spread of its leaves was its only attraction but for this time of year it needed nothing more. Prime spot. Already a few families had discovered its coolness and were seated on the still springy carpet of grass surrounding it. Yasmeen started to set up camp while Asim began to realise what he was missing being cooped up inside the house. A spectacular-looking dark-skinned woman loped across the grass in front of him and then lay down on a towel. Her eyes closed, her face and body toward the sun, knees drawn up and slightly apart. Wispy tendrils of pubic hair escaped the sparse confines of her G-string and her nipples poked the material of her bra to its limit. Asim’s lips curled. Nice. Eventually they sat comfortably under the shadow of the leaves, the food they had prepared spread beside them. Children’s laughter rang out unrestrained, no one caring about anything but the moment. All the problems of the city were left outside the fenced boundaries, where they belonged. Mild breezes whipped across the grassy turf and Asim felt the urge to just layback and chill. Yasmeen curled her feet under her like a cat, self-consciously pulling her skirt over her knees. He admired the gesture, which to him was very sensual, but made no reference to it. Instead they both watched Akilla dig into her knapsack for her voice-activated doodle-ball for some high impact ramping. The Rasta woman had been silent for a long time, turning away from her antics only to see Asim relaxed with his head hung back and his eyes closed. She had an uncomfortable feeling of fear. Yasmeen couldn’t say whether it was everything that had been happening to her over the last few weeks or Asim and how attracted to her she was. These dangerous urges were twisting their way to the surface, cracking through the mantle of her jaded morals like roots breaking ground. Urges she had almost forgotten she had. Asim’s eyes snapped open. “Call me cynical,” he said suddenly. “But from my experience people usually look out for themselves first, second and even third. They give with an ulterior motive to get. But I can’t figure you out. How come, a beautiful woman like yourself isn’t caught up in herself or where she wants to go?”

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“Don’t be fooled by what you see.” Yasmeen’s high cheeks rose. “I’m just as self-motivated, result-orientated as the next professional woman.” “You had me fooled.” He grinned lazily. “For a cold-hearted career woman, you don't fit the mold.” Yasmeen didn't answer. “Akilla thinks the world of you.” He gestured to his daughter rolling around in the grass. “And even I know children are better judges of character than adults.” He screwed his finger into his forehead. “Then there’s Fatima. You’ve called Anne every two days wanting to know the situation and here you are today with us, sunning your buns.” She looked away from him to where Akilla was playing with a newfound girlfriend. Yasmeen’s face was impassive. It was so obvious how she felt about his family. She said, “Let’s just say you’re looking at a woman who has learned what the true priorities of life are.” Yasmeen confessed, “Six years of study and another three striving for a position in my profession and then suddenly when it all falls into place I’m asking myself, is this it? There must be something more, something I missed. I had no family, very few friends, my only cause was my own self-improvement.” And no love in my life. “Unfortunately it took a tragedy to open my eyes fully.” Asim’s eyebrows formed a ‘V’.. If her honesty was designed to impress him, it was doing a damn good job. “Your family,” Asim asked. “Where are they?” Yasmeen’s body language subtly said ‘uncomfortable’. He suddenly regretted having asked. Her eyes brightened. “My mother, Miriam, died four years ago and my father died while I was still a child in Ethiopia.” Yasmeen paused. “The rest of my family is back home. We lost contact with them as a precaution.” “Family ‘ruptions?” “From what I was told it seemed to have nothing to do with family. We had to run from Ethiopia because of political problems. All family contacts had to be severed for our safety and theirs. I was never told the exact circumstances behind it all. Miriam felt it was best I never knew.” “You’ve had some rough times, then.” Pragmatically she said, “They can only get better.” Yasmeen stared sightlessly over the landscape, battling silently with the emerging memories. Life had seemed so straightforward before Fatima had shown her the photograph. An image of Asim in military dress had re-jigged a few of those beliefs that made her world an orderly place. Every time she looked at the pictures that certainty she would meet him and they would become friends was prevalent. Jah jah, so many things make

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no sense. But feelings didn’t have to make sense. How many relationships had she been in that died a death before they had a chance to begin? All substance less distractions leading up to this moment. Her entire being was screaming out that he was the one. Without thinking she began to pluck blades of grass stuck to his arm from sweat. Her fingers slowly trailed up to his shoulder and he covered them with his palm, gently allowing his index finger to stroke the grooves of her hand. Asim kissed her fingertips. A whisper of pleasure escaped her parted lips. “No!” Yasmeen breathed, the word lacking any real resolve, she just knew it could go no further or the responsibility for her actions would not be hers. Reluctantly she withdrew her hand. “Do you know what your name means?” Her question could have been considered a blatant ploy to slow down but gave the impression she genuinely needed to know. “Guardian or protector in Arabic, I think,” he replied, puzzled. “More to the point it means the protector of the faith. In Africa we believe a name can direct a person’s destiny. Your name must have a meaning for your life to have meaning. Who named you?” “Funny yuh ask that.” He nodded, the memory amusing him. “My grandmother, Miss Mac, was given the name in a dream, by some breddah she figured out to be a Muslim spirit guide.” Yasmeen smiled as if what he said meant something to her. “Are you a believer in destiny?” He twisted slightly on the grass, turning to face her. “I must admit, that is something I’ve never really thought deeply about. Never had the need to.” “Maybe it’s time,” she said. “Did you feel it when we first met?” “I felt … someting. Yeah.” “Even before that moment, your image made me feel I knew you.” “How come? An’ we never met…” She put a finger to his lips, relieved. “Don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. I just know we knew each other intimately in some past life and the snatches of those memories came to me when I saw you for the first time in a photograph.” His expression was impassive. What in hell was his reaction supposed to be? Surprise, shock, what? He knew exactly what she was saying and couldn’t deny experiencing that powerful sense of deja vu when he saw her for the first time. Goose flesh had crept along the back of his neck and his mind constantly struggled to make a connection as to where and when they had met. But what Yasmeen was implying and what he was being forced to believe was crazy? Lust at first sight, maybe. Reincarnation? Nah man! A year and a half without

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sex and then suddenly being around an attractive woman could fuck up your reasoning. Right? Asim shrugged, nothing was making sense. “Somehow I never figured you’d believe in that spiritualist ting.” “When the proof is sitting beside me, what choices do I have?” Yasmeen’s eyes left his and followed Akilla’s movements in the distance. She was spinning about in the grass, her cries ringing out, the silvery doodle-ball suspended inches from the ground, awaiting her verbal commands before it skimmed along the grass. The Rasta woman drew her knees up to her chest while Asim absently took up an apple, rubbing it on his sleeve and then biting into it. “That’s why I’m afraid,” she said. “Of what?” Asim asked curiously. “Of you.” “Me?” He laughed. Instead of surprise he felt flattered. “Questions,” Yasmeen said slowly. “Questions?” he repeated. “You’ve made me begin to rethink many things that I had taken for granted for so long.” “I did all that?” She nodded. “I never considered the possibility of being attracted to someone outside the flock. I couldn’t imagine that my feelings had been mapped out for me already by higher forces.” Asim could say nothing to that. Her confessions should have felt strange but didn’t. If not for that fleeting inner tension that clouded her eyes sometimes he would go as far as to say he even expected it. She had never changed, an inner voice seemed to say. The bewilderment didn’t show in Asim’s eyes. “Makes you wonder whose in control, right?” Yasmeen nodded. Abruptly, she felt an overpowering need to tell him everything. Tell him she was frightened for him, not of him. Let him into the secret of how dangerous it could be being around her. Sister Ijah paid the price. Who else would be next? Not him, they wouldn’t take him. Asim slicked his palm over his smooth head. “Questions like those demand answers. Do you have any?” he asked. “I have my own answers but my congregation has its expectations. And I must live up to them.” “Even if that means sacrificing your own happiness … or your destiny?” She shook her head. “ Maybe!” Asim grunted. The spider-shaped scar on his right cheek twitched. Why did he get the impression she was building walls? Or was she testing him? Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure of her intentions. “Are you saying a baalhead is not good enough for a Rasta

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woman?” “You know that’s not what I mean,” she said calmly. “The Rasta Nation has been through a lot to maintain its value systems and it’s important we protect them.” “Fair enough.” Asim nodded. “The locks are the most obvious symbols of who we are,” Yasmeen explained. “But not the most important. Deep in our hearts we must believe in Jah, the blessedness of our homeland Africa, the sanctity of human life everywhere and the family. That is the core of our future and they want nothing interfering with that.” “They don’t want baalheads corrupting their beliefs. Are we that much of a threat?” She didn’t answer. Instead she stared into his eyes. He interpreted the silence as a cue to continue. “It’s good to have high ideals but Rasta is flesh and blood, with the best and worst of ideals, like every other way a life.” Asim gestured out to the streets. “People are killing one another, Rasta and baalhead alike. Because of the color of their skin and what they believe in.” Yasmeen solemnly agreed. . “Man is man,” he went on “and you’ll find we are the same. We may speak differently, have different customs, but when it comes down to the meat and grizzle. One.” He lapped his two fingers tightly together. “I wish it was so simple.” “Well, answer me this,” he said, his head falling back on his shoulders. “Why are there so many Caucasians around the world embracing Rasta? A long time ago they were considered the enslavers. Today they are a part of the Nation of Ras Tafari. How come?” Her pause and intake of breath eloquently showed her frustration. How ironic. She was denying him the opportunity she had always dreamed he would take. “Mankind originated in the savannahs of Africa,” she recited. “It should have spiritual significance for all people. Rasta embraces all people.” “All people,” Asim repeated. “So if you can give deh Babylon a chance for redemption, why not me?” “I want to.” She stood up and began walking to join Akilla in the grass. “I’m just not sure I can.” Yasmeen left him with a vague uneasiness. A sense that something sinister was lurking underneath the barriers she had erected. An elusive something, that scampered from view at the slightest hint of discovery. He wanted to call after her but decided wait.

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CHAPTER 13 Cockpit Country, Jamaica SUNDOWN FLUNG A BLOOD RED CANOPY over the valleys of Trelawney. The Dread hobbled out of the bush as if it was his cue. He patiently twisted the handle on his Ginep walking stick and pulled out a sharp blade, marking inscriptions in the dirt. Replacing cold steel carefully into its sheath he sat on a large stone in a clearing, placing his walking stick on his lap. A fire crackled in front of him. Mosquitoes hummed about disorientated by the smoke, fireflies or Peenie-Wallies as the locals knew them, periodically lit up the dark recesses beyond the clearing. The cacophony of insect song fell into the background but only to familiar ears, of which his were. Head held down, his gnarled fingers reached back undoing a bind holding his hair in place. Milk white dreadlocks fell to his shoulders and eyes that moments ago were soft and unfocused became intense as he looked over to the eager-faced children seated in shadow. How he wanted his thoughts to be free from any fear or bitterness. The children deserved no distractions. But he couldn’t give of himself wholly, not yet. Solving the meaning of his premonitions demanded his full attention. He came to know that the inner certainty he sensed when discerning visions involving others did not apply when he was the focus of his own gifts. The symbolism, that used to be so clear in meaning, had become obscure and less reliable. They had a significance he needed to fathom, completely. And their urgency was making him frantic. Was he being shown his death or was it the destruction of the Nation and what remained of his family? What was it trying to tell him? Yamu, his twin, held the answer and the evil he was brewing was against him. His fingers touched the cashew nut slung around his neck. They wouldn’t let him rest. Distantly he looked into the fire blazing and warming the soles of his feet. The air was filled with glowing embers swirling and spiraling into the night sky, buoyed up by the thermal currents. Yamu’s penchant of overwhelming whoever he came in contact with had begun from the womb. Still, they had been close. So close they could sense each other’s feelings, no matter how far apart they were. Never as physically strong as his fraternal twin, Yamu wanted to lead and protect him, until he realized in other respects that he was stronger than Yamu was. The seed of resentment was sown from then on. On his twenty-fifth birthday, the visions began and their closeness ended. They drifted, further apart as time passed.

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Joshua didn’t want any of this. Fame and international recognition would have been best served if it was heaped on another man’s shoulders. And soon what he feared the most began to happen. His popularity began to eclipse the reputations of leaders within the flock. Amongst Twelve tribes, Nyabinghi Theocracy, House of David and Orthodox, he sensed strife. Jealousy became aggravation and aggravation turned into threats to his life and the lives of his family. Intuitively he knew Yamu was instrumental in his downfall but, at the time, he was too engrossed with arranging his own death and trying to keep his family alive to be concerned about that. The elders in Thro-Weh district promised him safe haven for as long as he lived and to the rest of the world he became history. Soon for no reason their connection disappeared. Now, twenty years later a remnant of that special link between them re-established itself. Why? The Ascension, it could be nothing more. Wolf an’ leopard are trying to kill the sheep and deh shepherd. What happened then would never happen again. The time for hiding, done! He would start with what he knew. His brother had put himself forward to become Negusa Negas - the first spiritual leader of Ras Tafari way of life - and that meant he was certain of victory. And total victory to his brother would mean his demise and the demise of his family because Rasta law demands his choice be acceptable not just by the flock but also by his blood family. Yamu’s victory would mean chaos not just to the Rasta world order but between the races too. The Nation of Ras Tafari would not be torn apart while he closed his eyes to its destruction. How could he stand back and let the faithful be led by a man whose agenda was division? Even his life was unimportant. What mattered was the future. Peace, the Rasta children. And his girl child. He had set his plans in motion and could only pray his assumptions were correct. “Yuh a guh tell wi story, elder.” The shrill voice of impatience abruptly snapped off his remaining thoughts. The old man smiled warmly. “Of course, mi young lion, this is your time. What do yuh want to hear?” His only contribution to the settlement that had kept him sane was his contribution to the education of their children. They had to know of the traditions of the islands, the stories of Africa and it’s legends. It was important, not just to them but to him too. If he failed in whatever the Father had ordained him to do, the memory of his contact with them would have made a difference. They would come to realize the truth firsthand and not accept the lies they would invariable read and hear. Excited shouts rang out as every small voice demanded to be heard. He calmed them with his walking stick outstretched. “Calm dung, I will decide for yuh.” He thought for a moment, licking his lips.

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“Tonight yuh will hear of Breddah Anansi, the spider man.” They huddled closer. Shanna, the youngest of the group of twenty, brazenly left their ranks and with her thumb plugged firmly into her mouth, she sat comfortably on the Dread’s lap. He stroked her fine hair. “Once upon a time,” he began. “Breddah Anansi knocked on Breddah Tiger door an��� wake him …” Central London, Museum of African History Yasmeen’s movements were as if gravity was acting upon her more this evening than normal. Her usual briskness had diminished and her steps, though still graceful, were more measured. She left the rectangular block of light from the escalator behind her and hugged the Louis Vitton handbag under her arm. Warily the Rasta woman looked into the gloom when there was no need for concern. Habit. Still, she couldn’t help wondering why architects always felt the lighting should be low and threatening in an underground car park; as if you didn’t really need to see clearly to get into your car and to enhance an already boring experience, they needed to add a touch of menace. Not that she was scared. They left nothing to chance. The museum authorities were well aware of how vulnerable the staff and themselves could be to attacks from disgruntled action groups or even state-sponsored terrorists. It was just that sometimes she needed to remind herself. It took under a minute for the central locking to disengage as the car recognised her palm print and she was seated comfortably. Yasmeen switched to manual, isolating the cars onboard computer and sped towards solid barriers that lowered on her approach. A sigh slipped from her lips, more of relief than anything for an uneventful day, as she joined the bright lights of Central London. Environmental controls made her comfortable. From the speakers, Ijah Man Mystic was preaching peace and redemption in his mesmeric tones while Yasmeen was picturing herself in a warm bath with a chilled glass of carrot juice. She swung left down a small one-way street that cut out a large chunk of traffic on her way home. Strangely the streetlights weren’t working and the company car compensated with a bright beam of light that cut through the darkness like a laser beam. Driving these roads was second nature and her speed was borne of confidence and familiarity. Hesitation wasn’t her usual reaction but she responded by slowing down. That’s when the car started its alarm and she saw why. Her eyes must have spotted the obstruction before the Mercedes scanners did. Two cars were parked across the bend that led out of the one-way, blocking even a cyclist from exiting. The luxury cars emergency systems beat her to the brakes. Her vehicle skidded to a stop

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from fifty to zero in under a minute and she could feel her seat strain forward. Damn! Yasmeen shook her head at the stupidity of what some drunken louts had done, released her seat belt and pushed her door open. Her shoes clapped on the road surface as she prepared to lift herself up and out, when it happened again. Hesitation. Hesitation and soul chilling fear. She slammed the door shut and locked it. All of sudden the interior felt as if it was closing in on her, dulling her senses. Revving engines roared. Motorbikes started up with growling ferocity, near by. Yasmeen jumped and spun. From the periphery, in the darkness, there was movement. Suddenly through the back glass, single Cyclops eyes lit up and, as one voice, engines seemed to scream. Before her mind understood what was happening they charged towards her. Approaching orange flashes that lit the darkness like strobes lights came first then the ear-splitting explosions next. Bullets started pinging off the Merc’s framework and Yasmeen became frantic. The back glass spider webbed, buckled but didn’t shatter. With each volley of gunfire, the metal of her reinforced cage dimpled as if some invisible giant was relentlessly pounding at it. Yasmeen lay across the front seat, the car rocking as it took the hits. Only the piercing scream of the car’s alarm triggered by the mayhem outside seemed to be able to shake her out of her momentary paralysis. Fear still held her in its grip but it wouldn’t beat her completely. Engine still idling, super-heated pellets ricocheting around her, Yasmeen took the risk of looking up and confirming what she already knew. She couldn’t go forward and going backwards was feasible but difficult. Move now before they completely disable the car and you die, her reasoning screamed back at her. The longer yuh draw breath; the longer will be the suffering of everyone dear to yuh.The crazy Rasta man’s words bared down on her but she was not ready to die just yet. What felt like many minutes was actually fifty seconds after the car braked and she freaked. Now her survival instincts were taking over. Quickly she overrode the manual driving function, waited for the car’s panel to display automatic and punched in reverse. The windows had succumbed to the battering, and the smell of hot air and incinerated garbage invaded the interior. For the first time she saw the riders, all dark visors and black leathers with cruellooking guns, showing surprise by their body language as Yasmeen reversed at speed towards them. They scattered but not quickly enough. Metal ground over metal and there was a short sharp scream but the battered Mercedes didn’t stop. It kept going - its emergency system shot - until Yasmeen joined the main road backwards, clipping the fender of a motorist and crashing into the central reservation. Traffic was disrupted for miles around and for the first time in her life Yasmeen made the headline news.

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CHAPTER 14 Harlesden, London ASIM STOOD IN THE CLUTTERED KITCHEN with his hands in his pockets. What should he do now? Maybe bringing out the sandwiches was a good idea or start on pouring the drinks into the cluster of paper cups. Then again keeping them occupied should be his main priority so definitely start handing out streamers and whistles. Better yet rude bwoy, just stay out of their way and hope for the best. Anne smiled. His indecision was amusing and dangerous at the same time as his frantic preparations were reducing her usually neat work area to a bombsite. After calming him down she said, “Are you sure you want to go ahead with this, son? It’s not too late for me to take over.” The offer was a tempting one. The fiasco at the zoo two weeks ago was still vivid in Asim’s mind and he considered his mother’s offer very carefully indeed. Again he had masterminded the festivities but, learning from the experience of recent past, he made sure Akilla’s friends were situated in the small confines of home and constantly monitored. So disaster was less likely. Today would be free of search and rescue operations in abandoned nature reserves. “Take it easy,” Anne warned, but he was just a father with a lot of catching up to do, and an overwhelming need to cram into her life as many of the things he had not been able to give her, in the shortest period of time. He wished she would communicate with him but beggars can’t be choosers. He was content to arrange the entertainment, the food, music and send out the thirty or so invitations. As saccharin as it sounded, it gave him a sense of purpose and made him feel he was contributing to her development. And it was a contribution that was long overdue. High ideals aside, what he never counted on were the children and how he’d control them. They started drifting in early and he started to panic - the showbiz dictum, never work with children or animals came to mind for some strange reason. Flashbacks from the results of his last brainstorm and all that had gone wrong made him freeze up. Awful premonitions of disaster lanced through his mind burning away any confidence he felt in pulling this gig off. Damn, he was going to be host, for thirty screaming pickney. Anne could see the shuttering of his eyes while the scenario played on the screen of his mind. “Just help me serve the food, Mama,” he managed. “I’ll handle the rest.” His voice sounded hollow in his head. And the words ‘famous’ and ‘last’ just seemed to hold odd significance to him at that point. Earlier a group of kids had noisily arrived at

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the door. A decision was made on the spot that it would be better for all concerned if he stayed away from handing out pointy hats and cheesy grins of welcome. They both agreed to confine him to the kitchen for the time being. Good idea, he thought. Damn good idea. Three quarters of the way through the party he was getting into the swing of things. Asim watched the ambulance leave before he returned to the merriment. The casualties were actually lower than he had imagined. One dislocated arm, what seemed like either food poisoning or appendicitis and a few shouting matches was a real result. Akilla was enjoying herself, her friends, infant party crashers and all, seemed to think he was tops - for an adult, anyway. Even the Techno Wizard who had been booed at first gained their respect by threatening to make someone’s robot bear disappear. This he promptly did in anger and couldn’t - or wouldn’t - conjure it back again. Besides the tears and the apologies, it had been a success. It had actually worked out. The only thing left to do was to inform the parents of the fallen heroes being sped off to the hospital. That was done on his way back to the music and mayhem. His thoughts were occupied with how the mob would react when he told them party time was swiftly drawing to a close. He just didn’t care. He was too tired and relieved to care. Where was she? Asim stepped out of the kitchen into the back yard and looked around. Akilla was still avoiding him but it had become habit to keep her in his sights, receiving few smiles when their eyes met. Being the great hostess that she was, Akilla was never in one spot for too long. She mingled as you do and engaged in small talk. Five years old, to backside. He shook his head and walked through the kitchen, passing the Field Marshal wiping the mouth of one terrorist dressed in full camouflage gear. The garden was an erratic mess of pubescent color and sound. Asim rounded the corner, just catching sight of Akilla’s blue and white tracksuit. He hesitated. Something told him to step back and he did. Peeping through the crack in the door, he saw his daughter holding hands with another boy about her age. They swung hands. Boyfriend? He blinked and shook his head. Nuh way! Fatherly concern was telling him he should go and break that ‘shit’ up but shameless inquisitiveness won instead. Acting as if he was taking a breather by leaning on the doorframe, he cocked his ear to the panel and listened. “You’ve got a great dad, Keel. Where woz he all this time?” “Away.” “Away, where?” “Africa.” “Wow! Did he see any dinosaurs?” “Dinosaurs are extinct, Moran.”

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“Monster Watch says there not.” “He carried a gun.” “Your dad did?” “Yep!” “Cool!” “That’s not cool.” “Was it one a them EM cannons that burns you up and there’s nothing left and-” “I don’t know, Moran.” “So he didn’t shoot things then.” “I don’t know.” “Come on, Keela, tell me what he said.” “Nothing.” Pause. “You don’t like your dad because he does a lot of boys stuff, right?” “I dooo like my dad! It’s just …” Laughter. “My dad never did nothing like this for me.” Pause. “He must love you a lot, to come back here, when he could be shooting stuff in Africa.” “Guess so.” “You’re lucky. When my dad left, he never bothered coming back.” Silence. Asim had heard enough. Silently with his head lowered, he turned and walked out of the kitchen.

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CHAPTER 15 FATIMA COULD SCARCELY BELIEVE SHE WAS IN HERE. The reality was even wilder than the stories she had heard. Every vice was catered for and every outlandish request possible for a price. The Pleasure Arena was draped in wispy layers of mist. Pulsing spears of red and green laser light from the ceiling-mounted rigging punctured the CO2 clouds. Shadowy dancers on the crystal floor swayed to the digital sounds of reggae fusion. Some were flesh and blood, others VR images invisible to the naked eyes but seen only through filters that rose from the floor to cover them in a transparent dome. The insincere smiles were broad, the laughter unnecessarily boisterous. Liberated women paraded topless, nipples taut and glistening in the light. While the men who were equally expressive paraded their manhood’s like coiled snakes in see-through briefs. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men. This was hedonism at its extreme and with no consequences. That’s what made the Arena world famous. Even before you fell victim to its reputation you were struck by its architecture. The design was a scaled down reproduction of the Coliseum of Rome. The designers demanded authenticity to such a degree that portions of the interior included the famous wedge seating from the original. Their obsessive attention to detail created a feeling that prehistory had been flung forward in time and imbued with the sophistication of the twenty-first century. It was in this atmosphere that movie stars, pop stars and some of the younger members of traditional moneyed households mingled with the connected commoners. They were downing traditional alcohol or the more exotic drinks spiked with stimulants. Fatima had been swept away with the hype, harboring no hopes of even walking up the red-carpeted entrance. The requirements were high-powered business contacts, privileged family connections and money. Her luck was obviously changing. The man who sat beside Fatima was known in the hustler circles as Baldwin with his trademark cigarette hitched to the corner of his small mouth, seemingly unable to fall out even when he spoke. He was so in his element. And knew without a shadow of a doubt he was the king of cool and the epitome of fashion as he struck a pose of rugged sophistication for all to see. His dreadlocks were tied back and exploded in all directions from a platinum clasp that held them in place. A few strands of his hair were adorned with platinum tubes encrusted with diamonds and his right eyebrow was pierced with a ring made from some other precious metal. He wore a pair of selfadjusting Gucci sunshades on his brow and strutted with his elegant Lion’s-head walking stick. His back-to-the-past Armani Zoot suit hung loosely but elegantly - as it

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should - on him. Baldwin leaned against his cane, his eyes pinpricks of nervous tension. Just for a moment he was caught in a freeze-frame of contemplation as the music buffeted the interiors of the nightclub. Just at that instant you could evaluate succinctly the type of man he was. A hustler, an opportunist, a womanizer and a welldressed cocks man with a physical presence that made him unhealthily desirable. How could a woman resist that combination? After all Fatima was only human. Baldwin turned away from the dance floor and smiled at her, a nervous twitch of a smile that held no real warmth. Sparking confidence in no one except for the love struck. Fatima was a good girl and he was fond of her. She was beautiful, determined but much too trusting for her own good. The look of longing in her eyes as she glanced at him across the room said it all and he was very rarely wrong about women. She would believe what he told her. And that was what they wanted. The only thing was he couldn’t understand why? What did the Big Boy want with her? Fatima was no disobedient whore they wanted to discipline or some witness to there dirty dealings that needed silencing. They didn’t even want new dancers recruited for their particular brand of exploitation - a skill he considered by the way to be his forte. Why? He was given no reason, just a name and where the subject hung out. They had paid him well for a job he had thoroughly enjoyed. Fatima was good to be with. So good, actually, that the time he should have delivered her to them had passed by nearly three weeks. And they were becoming dangerously impatient. He straightened the suit around his shoulders and absorbed his surrounding with fear-heightened senses. The pace of the music had slowed, signaling a break from the frenzied activities on the dance floor. An old-fashioned smoocher slid through the flat speakers. Lovers came closer, their warm breath caressing necks and earlobes, raising pulse rates and expectations. Baldwin was unaffected by the change in tempo; his thoughts remained troubled. He sat beside her again. Fatima picked up her glass and took a grateful sip of her vodka and passion juice. She let her hand roam along Baldwin’s crotch, her nails lightly running along the length of his bulging organ. He held it there for a moment under the crystal table allowing her the pleasure of his rapid erection but he kept his eyes glued to the dance floor, deep in thought. The deejay changed the program mid-song, announcing the number one chart topper as Fatima squealed with delight as her favorite track boomed from the walls. “Come on, Bally, I want to dance to this one. Just me and you.” She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him up but he simply stood up kissed her neck and patted her backside.

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“You go, suga. I’ll watch that sexy body whining from here.” He pointed his cane to the gathering dancers. Fatima shrugged and spun onto the floor. Baldwin had other things on his mind. He let his shoulders droop and let out a stream of nervous breath. They had wanted this over and done with a week ago but he had only been able to deliver her with no suspicion on her part, tonight. Reginald Thorndike’s displeasure was evident because he had sent his main enforcer to complete the transaction. Baldwin’s bowels were just holding up under the pressure of his nervousness and unfortunately swallowing large doses of Hennessey did not calm that queasy sensation in his gut. But what deh rass did you expect if you sold your very self-respect to a gangster, a die-hard racist and political agitator - just for credits? No wonder his mind was focused perfectly with the prospect of injury and even death. He flicked cigarette ash into the receptacle, watching it incinerate in a flash, and shuffled back into his seat. Baldwin leaned on his cane and gazed over the expanse of the dance floor, returning Fatima’s wave. As his eyes darted right he was just in time to see the broad-shouldered white man in a shiny suit lope around the periphery of the dance area. Patrons were spilling their drinks and being bumped to one side as he strode past. Bobby Beeton scowled. As he approached, Baldwin restrained a grin at the palefaced orangutan. Disproportionately long arms swaying as he walked and tufts of neck hair sneaked a peek over his stiff collar. His head was cemented to his body with no intervening neck and his jaw line was broad and powerful. The ring through his nose glinted. It was obvious he was not pleased to see the funky dread. And Bally’s show of self-control was not a convincing one, either. Mister. Beeton - as he preferred to be called - stood glaring at him, his broken nose twitching as he spoke. He was now an albino bull in Baldwin’s mind’s eye, the mental association not helping to make the man’s physical presence more bearable. “Where’s the girl?” His voice was all cockney and as gruff as grade one sandpaper. “She’s over there somewhere,” Baldwin snapped, pointing without looking away from him. “Tone it down, ya black cunt, or do you want us to take a walk outside then? Teach you how to talk to your superiors?” The big man grabbed at Bally’s collar but he recoiled slapping away his hairy paw with his cane. “Don’t soil deh shirt, man, what deh fuck’s wrong with you!” Baldwin eyed him up and down and kissed his teeth. His manufactured fighting spirit was short-lived. The orangutan growled from deep down in the pit of his stomach and clenched his fist as he approached him. Baldwin retreated.

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“What the fuck’s wrong with you, man? She’s here,” he spat out, glaring at Beeton, who unclenched his fist, slowly. “Don’t get cocky with me, sunshine, the slag should be with you not prancing around the fucking dance floor.” “Just lay, man an take a cool capsule! You’ve been playing the five finger shuffle for too long. Find a girl an tense!” Mister. Beeton stepped back in a show of shock. His irritation had suddenly turned into laughter. His busted nose twitched as he guffawed. Then just as suddenly he was serious again. “I like that,” he growled. “Have the girl ready anytime before the club closes or you’ll be scraping fish shit at the bottom of the Thames.” The thought of just disappearing and leaving these fanatics to get on with it throbbed in Baldwin’s head like a neon sign but as he frantically looked around every exit seemed to be guarded by nondescript men in suits they had no right being able to afford. And what about Fatima? Mister. Beeton grinned grotesquely, leering at the nubile dancers on the floor, Fatima in particular. His eyes widened. “Come ’ere, jungle boy,” he beckoned, sounding as if Baldwin had no choice but to listen. “I bet you’re itching to know why this tosser’s so important to Mister. Thorndike, right?” He moved closer to Baldwin, his breath smelling of fish and chips, and verbally sketched an obscene picture of Fatima’s fate. Baldwin recoiled at the man’s whispered suggestion, stumbling away from him, his hand knocking over a drink. “He can’t fucking do that, man,” Bally shouted, his lips trembling. “And who’s going to stop him? You, jungle boy?” His laugh contained no humor. “Your job was a piece a piss, mate. Get the girl here so’s the guvnor can talk to her in his own time. But noooo! You had to start romancing the bitch, thinking with your dick as you niggers do.” He shook his head and snorted. “Bollocks to this!” he spat, losing patience. “Which do you prefer, your life or hers? Decide.” Mr. Beeton lifted his sleeve and consulted his watch, the bunched muscles lining his jaw flexed disturbingly. Her life or mine. Baldwin’s chest rattled above even the music, his heart laboring and his breath coming as shallow gasps. The seconds hurtled toward minutes. “Her life,” Baldwin burst out. “Just take her, man. Take her.” He closed his eyes and turned away. A burden of shame clung to him, weighing him down like a ball and chain. The orangutan savored the defeat in his voice for a moment and gave Baldwin a predatory smile that came directly from the prairies of East Ham. “You’ve come to ya senses, sunshine. You’re not as stupid as you look. Now don’t talk, just listen.” He

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reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a hermetically sealed, glass ampoule. He handed it to Baldwin. “Pour this in ’er drink an’ when she gets tipsy, take her out back to the Rover. We’ll take it from there. Awright?” Baldwin nodded, feeling nauseous. “Now get a fucking move on!” Mister. Beeton walked away, adjusting his collar. Baldwin stared thoughtlessly across the nightclub, stunned. For a moment the idea of Fatima’s death scurried away from his grasp, freezing him inside. He called out to Bobby Beeton over the music. “She’ll be all right, won’t she, man? I mean, she’ll be alive? Yeah?” Mr. Beeton liked the helpless poetry in that. A look of sadistic triumph brightened his gross features. He rammed one hand in his pocket and grinned all the way out to the car. The upbeat track faded. And even with the air-conditioning the light material of Fatima’s clothes clung to her hips and breasts. Wolf eyes followed her back to her table. The pleasant sensation died away as soon as she plopped herself down beside Baldwin and started sucking on his earlobe. “Who was that you were talking to?” She stretched over to encircle him with her arms. “Just a business associate.” He flinched, rubbing his palms together and wiping the perspiration on a handkerchief he had just whipped out of his breast pocket. Baldwin changed the subject quickly. “What do you think?” He opened his arms in a grand gesture, his eyes on an opened bottle of Champagne and two filled glasses. Her response was to kiss him full on the lips, her tongue flickering in his mouth. “Thanks, darling, for everything.” He swallowed hard. “A toast then,” Baldwin’s voice broke as he slid the goblet into her hands. “To us.” He raised his glass uncertainly. “To us,” she echoed.

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CHAPTER 16 REGINALD THORNDIKE NEVER THOUGHT HE WOULD see the day. Never. Yet throughout his fifty odd years of ducking and diving, he had seen changes. Changes even he had to accept with stoic resignation, making him adjust his opinions and slow to discuss the politics of this great nation. That was the world he lived in. Adapt but never accept. He looked absently at his empty glass. The waiter was clearing the table with more caution than was usual because his boss hated to wait for anything especially from his kind. Quickly the soon-to-be-out-of-work employee replenished his supply of liquor and made his escape. “Take your time,” Reggie chided, observing his haste. The waiter nodded crisply, trying not to meet his employer’s gaze. He had firsthand experience of his bosses unnerving almost psychic ability to sniff out dissent and rebellion no matter how minor. Freddy Tubbs chuckled from a seat beside him, showing his artificial choppers, never once taking his eyes off the show taking place in the foreground. “You’ve got these lazy asylum-seeking wankers on their toes, I see Guv.” Reggie Thorndike smiled to himself as his friend and security chief made the passing comment with his characteristic brand of enthusiasm. Freddy was not as reserved as his other associates, not as refined. So fucking what? They wouldn’t take a bullet for him if the need arose, Freddy wouldn’t hesitate. Through narrowed eyes Reggie regarded his old schoolmate for a moment. While his thoughts were troubled, Freddy was enjoying the show on stage like an eager child would their favorite cartoon program. He was slightly slumped in his seat with a thin smile on his lips, his grey pinstripe suit shimmering under the roof lights with his understated mauve shirt nearly hidden by a broad metallic grey tie. His cubic shaped head was twisting this way and that unable to decide what he should focus on. While his neck seemed almost swivel-hinged like a puppet’s he was responding to the performances with a sort of childish glee. But what revealed the most about him was his facial expressions. It was like viewing a screen occupied by a multitude of personalities all of whom were blatantly brutal. His calling in life was to break people both physically and mentally through what he would describe as expert application of pain and in Mister. Thorndike’s business, he was the ideal man to be beside him in unusual situations. After all, large portions of his business where established on pain. He stitched an insincere grin on his face that didn’t last long. Reggie shifted in his seat as a matter of habit and thought about his new establishment and his growing feeling of discontent. He was one of the lucky few that

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could say - hand to heart - that he was happy how everything had turned out for him. He had fallen into the habit of expecting his life to continue with its ups because he had dealt with so many downs in the past. Reggie had the power to let someone else deal with the minor inconveniences because he didn’t want to know. You could do that when you controlled your own destiny, when you were your own man, but how many people could truly say that they were? Truly. Looking around the hall as his back sunk into his seat high up in the boxes, he felt a sense of satisfaction as all eyes were fixed on stage while the performance continued. It was almost like mass hypnosis as the colorful and glitzy affair reminiscent of the Mega Cabaret shows of Las Vegas unfolded to a captivated audience. And no wonder it was the premiere Erotic Entertainment Center of the European Economic Community. The Blue Note had cost Reggie Thorndike the remainder of his cash reserves after voluntary bankruptcy was forced on him from a hostile takeover. The building was situated on Broadbent Street in the heart of Soho. A masterpiece of high tensile crysi-steel - an architect’s wet dream - and the crowning glory to the Soho Empire that he had once single-handedly ruled. Trusted business associates joined forces to shaft him. The irony was he had no one to come to his rescue when he was floundering a hop-an’-a-skip away from the knacker’s yard. Reggie sipped his Moet ruefully, keeping his eyes fixed on the stage. His politics had saved him, saved all of this and allowed him to live the life to which he had grown accustomed. Look at it. The women were the most beautiful in Europe and the accompanying stallions muscular and well hung. Their sexual antics on stage were drawing excited reviews and pulling the punters from all over England. Entertaining them in plush elegance, where nothing was left unexplored and no one left unsatisfied. The Brotherhood had cleared his debts and made some of his more persistent enemies disappear. They now had a substantial stake in the business and he owed them a favor that they could call upon at anytime. This he had to promise in blood. Looking around should be enough of a reminder to him that what he had to do was all worth it, but he was still nervous. The gang warfare that was gripping London had become a point of contention to the Brotherhood’s membership - namely the politicians - who were becoming most affected by its continuation. They never imagined the niggers, Jews and Paki’s would start to fight back with such fury and single-mindedness. Fear was no longer a weapon in their arsenal against the immigrants. “So what do you think, Reggie? Doesn’t this show just get better and better every week?” Freddy Tubbs grinned amicably, his eyes flicking up and down in time with a well-endowed woman who was bobbing her gigantic breasts in beat with the

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music. The audience applauded and laughed. “You should know by now that whatever I put my head to produces results, Freddy. It’s a gift I’ve got.” He adjusted his thick diamond-encrusted chaps mindfully, leaning back further into his chair, and folded his arms. “You’ve stuck with me through all the aggro, helped get me out of this crap up to the club’s opening. It’s been a rough ride in places but now it’s done and I’m grateful.” He shrugged. “Being grateful isn’t enough, though. Later we’ll talk about you and your misses taking a break in the sun.” “Majorca?” Freddy asked eagerly. Reggie shook his head. “Think big. Stratocruiser, five star hotel, limos all the way. Take your pick, mate.” Reggie took another sip from his glass of Champagne, allowing the cool sparkling liquid to trickle down his throat, and handed his friend a travel brochure. A red light flashed on the chair’s armrest. He ignored it and eyed his right-hand man carefully watching the waves on the beaches of Miami and smelling the sea spray. Before Reggie could respond, the red flashing light transformed into a piercing hum. Freddie swore and reverently perched the brochure on his lap. From inside the chunky arm of his seat a small screen folded out of it’s housing and sparked to life with a view of the main foyer. He peered at the screen and barked down the miniature microphone. “Oy! Mick, what’s going on?” The voice and a face came back to him on his screen amidst the confusion in the background. “We have it under control, Mister. Tubbs, it’s just some skinhead wankers who think they can gatecrash. Don’t worry, Mister. Thorndike, they’re going nowhere.” Reggie’s ears seemed to prick up at the comment, making him stare into the small screen just as the remote camera focused on the men causing the commotion. The Pure Blood. Tattooed faces and baldheads with ponytails made them seem like throwbacks to a time when barbarians roamed Britain and pagan gods reigned, before the first Christian missionaries had waded on English shores. Mister. Thorndike leaned back in his chair, tilting his head to the balcony, and closed his eyes. Things had changed on many fronts. The politics of Fascism, which in his day was a powerful rallying point, had been replaced by doomsday cults and pseudo-religions. Ironically the message of racial purity was even stronger now through these believers than it ever was with the defunct politics of the British National Party or the National Front. In the more genteel times these zealots would have made repatriation of the foreign cattle a sight to behold. Now the more than generous contributions by the Brotherhood - whose agenda wasn’t too far removed

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from their own - had served its purpose. Weeks ago, the Brotherhood’s hierarchy had actually concluded a pivotal meeting with one of the leaders of the Rasta scum. At its conclusion they carved up parts of the city along unofficial racial lines and agreed on some other important demands along the way to cement the arrangement. Never thought I’d see the day. Grimacing, he peered down at the screen and spoke softly, his voice carrying impatient force. “Can you hear me, Mick?” The younger man had been screaming something to his men who were out of visual contact but when he recognized his guvnor’s voice he turned back to the remote camera. “Mister-Mister. Thorndike?” Reggie didn’t acknowledge him. “Those geezers you’re trying to eject …” He pinched his nostrils. “Take their money, search them for concealed weapons and let them in with a personal apology. And Mick …” “Yeah, guv.” “I don’t want a repeat of this incident in the future. Is that clear?” Mick’s eyes widened disbelievingly at the order. His lip trembling with rage, he knew he was going to lose face and he also knew he could do nothing about it. Freddie Tubbs scratched his head apishly at what he had just seen, his mouth forming an incredulous ‘O’. Reggie leaned back, adjusted the sleeves of his jacket and ignored Freddie’s expectant glances. There were some things about him not even his best mate should know.

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CHAPTER 17 MAKE-UP READY. HAIR-STYLED. GARMENTS FITTED. Yasmeen let out a long shaky breath and reached into an old vanity jewelry case. The final flourish to her attire was the gold drop earrings she slipped on. The ones Akilla loved so much. The ones that made her pretty face light up when she wore them. How womanly she would have looked with those on tonight at her party. She pictured Asim frowning at seeing his daughter wearing them, worried she was growing up much too fast. It would have been great to have been there with her little sister but she could not take the risk. It worried her enough that she had made a compromise to meet Asim even if it was at one of the safest places she could think of. Yasmeen was scared. More scared than she had ever been before. She felt as if the control over her life was not hers to direct. Instead she was in thrall to dangerous men, who would twist her inside out and when they were done mount her like some animal pelt for exhibition. And for what? That question she had no answers for but one thing was known Yasmeen posed a considerable threat to someone. They just didn’t know what kind of person they were dealing with. Maybe these shadows that wanted her dead thought they would leave her a traumatized heap waiting for a bullet to her head. They didn’t know Yasmeen Beyene well enough. She was in an unusual tug-o’-war of emotions, tonight. On one hand she was excited about her speaking engagement but she was also struggling with a pervading sense of disaster. You would have thought the situation the Rasta woman found herself in would justify her feelings but it was something deeper than that. After the shooting incident downtown the museum management came to the conclusion that she should take time off, as they were sure - and so were Met-1 - that it was a terrorist related attack related to the African artifacts. Yasmeen didn’t enlighten their ignorance because in a way it would give her more time to figure out what was happening to her. Trevor agreed. What the dreadlocks didn’t like was Yasmeen’s campaigning and how it put her in the line of fire. He was a hands on kinda yout and made sure if she had to risk her life, he’d be there to stop it. Not what he was sent here to do but Brother Trevor was passionate about her safety. Tonight would be a headache for him. A few hours from now she would be standing in front of a huge audience in a sold out concert with I Jah Man Mystic and his band. Talking to the patrons about the significance of Racial Harmony Year and the need to keep the fires of peace burning in the city. Nervous tension disguised as paranoia, or was it because she was going to meet Asim and explain her hesitancy in meeting him? The feeling stuck to her like a

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repulsive veil. She looked at herself dressed in Kente cloth and projected onto a full-length prism monitor, her image captured and slowly rotating in three-dimensional space. Humbly she admitted how elegant she looked and managed a short-lived smile. Focusing on her preparations had not helped. A distant part of her consciousness felt uneasy. Bloody fragmented mental images of Fatima smeared the screen of her mind’s eye and she did not know why. Presque vu, the French said - a sense of experiencing something yet to happen. Was that it? No! Fatima would contact her if anything was wrong. If she could. The idea made her shudder. Maybe clearing up her apartment before she left would help to dispel these ‌ feelings. A tidy flat usually helped her to relax and concentrate. Not tonight. Asim stepped through the turnstiles and immediately felt the tension in the air. Security around the vast perimeter of Finsbury Park was tight and areas that were not manned by intense-looking guards were being cybernetically monitored. He understood their concern perfectly. From what he understood of the savageness of both the factions involved in the turf wars they could take nothing for granted. This concert would be an ideal stage to further either of their causes through violence or intimidation, he guessed. He shook his head, feeling disappointment at the state the capital was in. But whether he liked it or not London had become a very dangerous place to live. Shrugging helplessly he walked further into the park, the morose feelings dissipating at what he saw next. Shiiiiit! Thousands of people were congregated around a stage set in a natural depression across the landscape. For a second, he saw a huge multi-cellular creature stretched all the way back to the outer perimeter flowing together as one but made up of thousands of smaller human parts. Meeting early as Yasmeen had suggested would have been the best plan of action. He imagined the smug smile on her face as he turned up at this hour. Maybe she should try getting away from thirty kamikaze kids with full stomachs and time on their hands. His eyebrows arched. Throwing his shoulders back, he tipped on his toes and swung both ways to see well. Audio static grated from amplifiers that used the organics of a tree or the inconspicuousness of tarmac on the roadway as instruments to transmit sound. The park itself became one huge sound stage. A sudden guitar chop then a drum roll. Sounds from the band warming up in the distance floated into the dark blue mantle of sky, joined by the fumes from thousands of assorted fires in mouths or in hands. The park seemed to be alight. As well as not being here on time, he wasn’t able to observe the two minutes silence - a commemoration of the seventy million descendants who had perished in the slave trade - as he was driving. It was one of the few things that held such significance for

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him that he felt obliged each year to pay his respects. The horrors of the middle passage would have been beyond even what he could have endured. He looked back at the crowd again. People patterned the grass in every direction like a cheap maze. Kissing his teeth, he focused on the highly visible mast flying the royal seal of Ethiopia and moved towards it. Stepping diagonally through the bulk of bodies, Asim carefully picked his way forward, drifting through pockets of earthy ganja smells and food aromas. His apprehension of being around crowds wasn’t evident as he trod on toes and stumbled through groups of people. The mostly warm apologies he was receiving for his own clumsiness were putting him at ease. The only threat here is in your fucking head, rude bwoy. Chill out! Many of the gathered had come to hear the official announcement of the ordination of the symbolical Negusa Negas in two months time - Yasmeen had explained about the Prophecy of Redemption to him, told him about one of the founding fathers of Ras Tafari. One who had seen the coming of a man who would lead them, the Peacemaker. But most he felt had come to show their concerns mainly and their fears - for a city buckling under the burden of racial intolerance and crime. Racist Gang War as the electronic papers chose to call them had served one good purpose tonight at least. It had brought all the different peoples of London together in peace. And what could be more fitting for the cause than for the Ambassador from the Commonwealth of Democratic African States to make a keynote speech? Proof that no matter what your perceived differences and whatever means you have at your disposal for dealing with them - even war - there was always hope for peace. Legendary cultural artist Ijah Man Mystic had shared that view and with his Consciousness band had given their services to the cause, swelling the numbers even further. Represented was the racial diversity, which gave London its strength and weakness and amidst that was the Rasta flock, proudly adorned in their African finery. Asim let out a sigh of relief and stepped into the first area where he could take two even strides without stopping, squeezing or changing direction. He passed a group of young men beating drums and it dawned on him how difficult it had been to arrange a date with Yasmeen. It felt as if she was trying to avoid him and this was some sort of peace offering after Asim had asked the question. Something was going on in her life that she didn’t want him knowing about but he didn’t pressure her, not yet. He accepted the invitation and let Yasmeen prepare him. If matters religious were brought up he could hold his own. Her knowledge of the faith was astonishingly detailed and a she had a way with words. History, fact and what he considered could only be fiction were distilled into an evening’s talk. The Dread, Joshua, was what had interested him the most in her historical accounts. A man, who if he was alive today would be the Negusa Negas no question. A giant whose very involvement in an event

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blurred the boundaries of fact and myth. The Great Riots of Kingston were a typical example. Early Millennium and Kingston erupted into riots starting from Rema and Jones Town. The people’s angst was directed at a political system that had just raised the taxes on communities struggling to survive. Soon downtown’s commercial center was burning and the affluent became the focus of ghetto people’s anger. The violence had been going on for two days and the security services were fighting a battle they could not win. The religious leaders called for calm from a safe distance but there pious ‘chit-chat’ had no effect. Not until the Dread was airlifted into the heart of the inferno, unconcerned about gunshots and fire, finding the community leaders responsible amidst the chaos and pleading for peace, did the madness stop. Eyewitness accounts say he literally walked through fire. All of what Ras Tafari was today stemmed from his exploits around the world. The Peacemaker. In some ways because of his example the election of Negusa Negas in Shashamane was such a major world event. The flock was hoping the glory days could return. Asim approached the huge canvass tent ahead and thought how the Prophet’s skills could help him here. What he had told Yasmeen about facing up to her own feelings, possibly against popular opinion, must have struck a chord. He had wrongly assumed she would be sensible about it. You know, taking it one step at a time so the shock would be less to her congregation. Instead she had decided to subtly ram it down their goddamn throats. She had the heart of a fighter. A baalhead parading beside her, maximum respect for ‘balls’. And if things got dicey? He thought about that briefly and smiled. If anybody could handle that situation, she could. Yasmeen saw him enter the VIP tent and walked through the milling dignitaries as though not touching the ground and as graceful as a candle flame. “Over here,” she called to him and he smiled as he turned and recognized her. They hugged Asims arms awkwardly unsure at first and then finding a comfortable hold. A mild tremor ran through her before they unlocked and the sadness in her eyes confirmed his fears but he played along. Yasmeen immediately introduced him to a redheaded Rasta man who had followed her over. “This is Trevor, a colleague from Jamaica,” she said. The men shook hands, both assessing each other. “Guidance!” The Rasta man rumbled. “Respect, boss,” Asim said, scrutinizing him subtly. Asim saw a man fluid in his movements with a powerful handshake. His eyes never seemed to leave Yasmeen’s presence for too long. Not an infatuated stare but more like a man concerned about her well-being. Trevor was not the cheeriest of individuals but Asim sensed an honorable man and a fighter. Who he was, exactly, became a point of interest. He filed away his

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enquiries for later. Yasmeen did not stop there. From music executives to lawyers made Asim’s acquaintance in such a short time his head was spinning. She winked at him. He began to realize how his own prejudice had influenced his perception of Ras Tafari. “What do you think?” Yasmeen asked as she diplomatically extracted him from another deep and meaningful conversation. “I’m impressed but where do you know all these people from?” She laughed. “All well-wishers and associates.” “Now I can see why you were concerned about a baalhead in your life.” He patted his chest. “You’re risking a lot being seen with me?” “A week ago maybe I’d agree with you.” “What’s changed?” Asim’s question was like a trigger that unleashed a terrible mental montage of the last two months of pain. “I’ve learned life is too short,” Yasmeen said. “Experience it all, leave your mark and wonder about the morrow when it comes …” “Yours is not to wonder?” A Rasta with blonde coarse locks and blue eyes interrupted. The headphones parted from his ears with a weak whine and his voice lowered to normal volume. “Because in two minutes the show starts and your opening speech starts with it.” Yasmeen looked at him distastefully. He shrugged. “Sorry!” He tapped his watch. “Opening speech?” Asim asked surprised. “Remember, leave your mark.” She placed her hand on her heart and bowed slightly. “Come!” She took Asim’s hands. “Give me some moral support backstage.” She paused thoughtfully and said, “Fatima would have loved this.” He nodded in agreement and for the life of him he couldn’t understand why her innocent words chilled him to the core.

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CHAPTER 18 WICKED JOB BOYS,” ASIM SHOUTED over to the men. “We’ll wrap this up later.” The demonstration had gone well. Asim turned to face a group of Japanese business heads and tried to gauge the level of interest. A mild hum of subdued discussion - which he interpreted as being excitement - rose from amongst them. What more could he ask for as an introduction into his position of Projects Chief for Zulu Security Systems Inc. His first project, and his first victory. Impressing the Asian market was no easy task. “Zulu Security Systems Inc. would like to apologize for not being able to allow you to use recording equipment,” Asim said to them sincerely. “This evening’s presentation and all the information contained within the Personal Digital Assistants we gave to you is copyrighted and patented material and is regarded as classified by Zulu Security Systems Inc.” Polite nods and smiles of acknowledgment followed. Asim proceeded. “I know there must be many more questions you want to ask but first I’d like to direct you to our reception area for some light refreshments and our company’s CEO, Mister. Ricardo Ogun, will answer any further queries you may have. This way, gentlemen.” Asim led them from the courtyard into the main building and up the lift to the third floor. They followed in an orderly fashion still speaking in their native tongue as the door to the reception automatically opened and Asim ushered them inside. He glimpsed Ricardo smiling at him from the distance, impressed not just with the results but by with how the Japanese catering firm had converted their functional reception into an elegant sushi bar. Everything was falling perfectly into place. “Asim!” A hand forcefully grabbed him by the shoulders. Surprised he turned to see Kehinde out of breath and obviously distressed. “Your mobile was off.” The words came out like a busted spigot. “God, I’ve been looking all over for you.” She stopped suddenly unable to say anything more. “What is it?” Asim demanded. Kehinde led him out into the corridor and stood him up near a utility room, her eyes pools of tears. “Tell me it’s not Akilla.” Asim held her desperately about the arms, his voice rising alarmingly. “Tell me.” Kehinde shook her head. “ Fatima.” She began biting on her lips, choosing her words with care. There was a sharp indrawn breath. “She’s in the IC unit at King’s College Hospital, she was found washed up on the banks of the Thames, near Battersea

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Bridge, alive but in deep shock.” Asim’s fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily, the muscles of his jaw taut like steel wires. Kehinde reached out and touched him gently. “She’s alive.” A hybrid silence that was both morbid and murderous seemed to mix with them. She swallowed hard as Asim’s cold expressionless eyes studied her, searching for more. She couldn’t keep it from him. “Fatima’s been raped.” Asim’s eyes locked shut. Yasmeen and Asim left the nurse at the reception desk and headed for the recovery area. She offered no words of encouragement, just held onto his hand, which fit into his, and made sure he took the right route through this badly marked maze of doors and passageways. Yasmeen could not speak and the walk to the ward was as traumatic as if she was taking her final walk to the electric chair. The longer yuh breath Jah-Jah air the more people will die in your place. She shuddered at the memory and faltered in her steps. Jah almighty forgive me, this is my doing. Yasmeen had tried to fight against the inevitable. Tried to keep Asim at a distance, keep everyone she cared for at a safe distance. But no one was safe and there was no use struggling to change the course of fate. The die was cast. Fatima had told her so much about her brother but still Yasmeen had wanted to know more about this man who had affected her so deeply. As out of character as all of this was, a hologram of him, old voice messages and Fatima’s exciting stories had sparked something she couldn’t quite explain. They met and it felt right. It was after a year of knowing Fatima that she had discovered Asim had once been married, and the circumstances surrounding him leaving his daughter to work in Africa. It also cast some light on his anger tonight, his overwhelming feeling of being too late again to the same vileness that nearly destroyed him five years ago. Yasmeen felt his pain and surpassed it with her intensity. If Fatima died it was because of her, she was to be made accountable and would not make Asim blame himself. She had sworn to Trevor to involve no one else. But Asim had to know. Yasmeen had to tell him. Jesas! He didn’t know what to feel. Asim was frightened. Frightened of what he would see, of how he would react. His sister was lying in a hospital bed, close to death. His sister. This was what it felt like. A knife cut that didn’t bleed. The pain was the pain of family, of blood. History was repeating itself, boss. Life was either fucking with him or giving him another chance, a chance to make the type of scum’s who preyed on others, and who seemed to have a preference for him and his family, pay dearly. An ice-cold fury welled up in him and it was a mindless, uncontrolled and almost uncivilised need to draw blood. Separating him from his family again was not possible. They had nearly broken him once. Never again. He wouldn’t allow it, he

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wouldn’t stand for it. The reassuring softness of Yasmeen’s hand squeezed his own. He held it tightly. Coming down the main corridor, he recognized the huddle of people standing just ahead of him. In front of a set of battered swinging doors was his distraught family. Low wails and sniffling caught his ear as he approached. The news had most of them stunned into silence. He came among them, almost unnoticed, their voices respectfully low except for the Field Marshal. Aunt Mazy and Glenda stood sobbing, his uncle John-John was sucking on a nicotine free cigarette with such force it was like he wanted to pull the artificial tobacco through the filter. Anne on the other hand was seated quietly being consoled by Asim’s twin cousins. Sensing her son’s approach, she looked up. An almost unrecognizable mask stared back at him. Her eyes were swollen from tears, her face sagging and her hair clumped together on her head, lifelessly. He kneeled in front of her holding her close for a while and then stood back up, looking around somewhat frantically. Yasmeen read his mind. “Akilla’s still at school,” she responded to his unspoken question. “Today she’s with her class for their weekly bonding sessions. She’ll be fine until we can pick her up.” Asim nodded and turned to face his mother again. She was imbedded in a shock so deep and overwhelming, it concerned him. He asked, “Where is she, Mama? Where’s Fatima?” Anne stood up weakly and uttered a strength less whisper. “Come, son.” She took his arm, her hands trembling and her step unsure, and led him into the room. The bruised and battered form of Fatima Marshal seemed buoyant on the white sheets while monitors flashed in time with her steady heartbeat. The young doctor in a long white coat, old-fashioned paisley shirt - the collar a size too big - and Levi jeans consulted his clipboard, its throbbing readout irritating his tired eyes. He checked all the monitoring equipment hooked up to his patient. Programming in all the required dosages of drugs, she would be administered remotely for the next three hours. He then ran a hand-held sensor from her head to her toes, analyzing the readout from the bioelectric field cloaking her body. He nodded. Then slowly the junior doctor turned, shaking his head. “When I said you both had to leave, I meant you too, Mister. Marshal.” The only other occupant in the room grunted. Asim stepped out of the shadows in the dimly lit room to where he was openly visible to the junior doctor. His eyes were red and still moist. “I know,” he said flatly. “But you’ve conveniently forgotten to tell us how my sister’s going to be. Yuh see I need to know. I’m inquisitive like that.” Asim rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. “So before you start spewing that medical bullshit to try and confuse the issue think again. Make it plain to me what her

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condition is so I won’t leave here with the wrong impression.” The doctor sighed, his head hanging on his chest. “The prognosis hasn’t changed since I last spoke to Misters. Marshal five minutes ago. Your sister was either lucky or she’s a bloody good fighter,” he said. “Even in a state of shock she was able to reach the Thames shoreline. She must have been lying there for three to four hours before the Met-1 River Patrol picked her up. Hypothermia had set in but was arrested by the paramedics in time. Other than concussion, ingestion of the river water, scarring that occurred from six or seven bite marks on her body, bruising to the opening of her vagina and shock … her physical condition is still stable but she’s not out of the woods yet. What condition her mind is in, I just can’t say. There could be a possible trauma reaction to her ordeal but we won’t know until she regains consciousness. The rest is out of our hands.” Asim stood as stiff as a ram-rod listening to him. His arms folded across his chest, the turmoil raging inside not surfacing for anyone to see. Active duty especially in covert operations had taught him never to make premature judgments until all available intelligence was in front of you and evaluated. Rape needed none of that. Fatima had become either another crime statistic due to her own stupidity or it was a malicious unprovoked attack? He shuddered involuntarily, his imagination dredging up sickening images of what she went through. Closing his eyes he forced himself to clear the pictures but they were replaced by questions, more uncertainty and more questions. Already he was assessing, linking obscure facts, searching for some connection, where there was none. Met-1 intranet would be a good starting point. But until New Scotland Yard compiled the report and posted it on their internal network, he had to wait. Wait? The word generated so much fury in him, he had to grit his teeth and clench his fist for control. He had done enough waiting. If he had not sat back expecting Fatima to call, she would not be here. But he waited. His wife died because of it, his daughter suffered for it. The past was unchangeable. The future’s outcome he could dictate. Fuck waiting. If someone were responsible for this shit, they would pay, dearly. Yasmeen’s hands shook as she finished her herbal tea and looked over to Asim who was leaning against the bay windows, looking outside into the hospital’s parking area. He had scarcely said a word, only nodding absently at her when his gaze shifted wearily back inside the reception. The evening had darkened quickly, rain-laden clouds taking up their positions for a concerto of rumbling thunder and eventually the pit-pat of rain. Yasmeen felt helpless, wishing to breach the wall Asim had erected and not sure if it was her place to do so. She was hurting as much as he was but what made her

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condition almost unbearable was her belief that somehow she was responsible. Jah, she needed strength to do this. She stood up wiping her eyes and came behind him, hesitantly placing her arms around his waist, her head resting on his back. Asim’s body tensed for a moment and he turned around to embrace her. “Tell me what your thinking,” Yasmeen whispered. “The past,” he said. “I was married before, yuh know that.” She held him closer. “I never told you.” “I know,” she said. Asim kept on as if he had not heard her. “Her name was Eva Flannigan.” Yasmeen said the name in her head. They had been a part of each other’s life just a short time before they married, she found out later. Fatima recounted the story of how they had met on one of his leave periods from the army. She had been the nurse who bandaged a badly gashed hand that had inadvertently smashed through a pane of glass while he held onto someone’s head. Their courtship was brief and they married in Ireland and, from Fatima’s recollection of the reception in the village, the Jamaican and Irish portions of the family blended seamlessly. Eva had decided to leave her job and raise a family, an old-fashioned girl at heart. They were very much in love. Yasmeen had seen Holo press reels Fatima had kept about the incident. There was footage of his wife with her long flowing red hair, her delicate face and homely freckles. She smiled a lot too and Yasmeen could understand why they had fallen in love. “It’s happening again, princess.” He moved his head so he could look at her. “Just like before.” She did not stop him. This he had to tell her, himself. He was silent for sometime before he continued. “My unit had just returned from military exercises in Germany. I can never forget how eager I was to get back to Warwick barracks after not seeing my wife for three long weeks. We crossed lines at about twenty-one hundred hours and instead of going straight to my quarters, I made a detour with the boys and had a drink. I should have gone straight to her.” He shook his head, his voice fading. “But I didn’t. No more than a half hour later, I left the pub and rushed home. It was a moonlit night that I’ll never forget. Clear and cold. I walked up the driveway and saw the door kicked off its hinges. My mind went blank and I lost it. I found her in the kitchen, battered and bruised. The motherfuckers had escaped through the back door only moments after I turned up. And guess what, Yasmeen, I froze. I did nothing but make idle threats that frightened no one and then sat back and let the army’s Special Investigation Branch take control. No one was ever charged. As far as I knew no one was even questioned. Can you believe that I didn’t even try to figure out the reasons? Was it prejudice,

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envy, a simple robbery gone wrong or what? I just let the situation run its course. Trust in the system and what it stood for. Now I realize how much of a pussy I was.” He frowned, shaking his head. “Later on Eva fell pregnant and I couldn’t stop thinking that was the final insult, my wife having the baby of a man who brutalized her. A simple genetic test could have proven me wrong but I was too much into myself. Wondering how I would deal with it and not how we would deal with it. Instead I went through six years of hell and dragged everyone I loved with me. That night Eva had been waiting to tell me the good news. She was pregnant, can you believe that shit. If I’d only gone home.” A world-weary sigh left his lips. “Our life was fucked from that night. Destroyed, as it was about to begin. Eva had a mental breakdown and like a caring husband I hid myself behind the army and relocated to Africa. Without a bloodclaat care in the world. Eva died in a sanitarium this year and Akilla grew up with Anne.” He shook his head against her shoulder. “I’m still paying the price, princess. And so is my family.” Yasmeen didn’t know what to say or do. It was even more chilling coming from him, a tragic story that kept unraveling even now. Much like hers. Suddenly she felt his weight, as if his words had drained him. Asim remained silent. Outside the skies darkened and the rain lashed violently against the windows. Words weren’t necessary. They shared an unspoken conviction that seemed to say that, for all that was happening, being together was for nothing but the best. Walking arm in arm to the door, Asim stopped and gently pulled her to him. As he looked into her eyes and saw the depth of her emotion he couldn’t help but kiss her. And then kiss her again.

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CHAPTER 19 JUST ADMIT IT, RUDE BWOY,” ASIM MUTTERED under his breath. “You’re scared.” He stood rooted to the spot, looking up at the twin steeples, unable to move forward or backwards. I feel like a hypocrite. What the rass were you doing here, anyway. In his time he had torn many lives violently from existence without a misplaced thought most had deserved it in his opinion - and he made no apologies for it. A job had to be done and he did it. Fear wasn’t the right word to describe how he felt, a deep-seated respect was more to the point. He just couldn’t bring himself to taint any place of worship with his blood-splattered past. Yuh hands an’ heart mus’ clean, his grandmother would say. He looked on with his hands buried in his pockets. The church rose up like an immense spike of grey stone. Pigeons circled overhead, fluffy white clouds slowly proceeding in a backdrop of brilliant azure sky. What a location for a place of worship. Right in the middle of a Zone. Swallowing, he looked around as if he was seeking reassurance. Even the architecture had a raw power that was dizzying. Yasmeen was a few steps behind him. Her eyes had been plotting his hesitant steps. Peculiarly, he reminded her of a little boy intimidated by the awesomeness of their first trip to worship. The structure, the ceremony, the atmosphere, all alien. Yasmeen recalled how she had thought of convincing him to come to the daily Itations with some emotional blackmail. A savage look had taken permanent residence on Asim’s face. Anger burned behind his eyes that frightened her and this was the only thing she could think of to distract him, even maybe inspire him. So unfairly maybe, she backed him into a corner and made him promise. Meanwhile Asim was elsewhere. Unsteadily, he walked through the huge resting Lions of Judah at the top of the stairs, looked up at the belfry from a odd angle and entered. As different as it was from any church - tabernacle, Yasmeen would correct him - he was used to, the sights and smells vividly reminded him of his adolescence. Memories viciously ambushed him. Every Sunday morning, tired or running a fever of a hundred plus, Miss Mac his grandmother - frog marched him to the temple to share in the community spirit and hear the word of God until it was forged into habit. He was still a youth then. Innocent, compared with what he had become. And like some unholy thing’s aversion to all that was good, he knew, this was not a place for him. Not with murder on his mind. Just a hint of spirituality was too much. Preaching love thy neighbor and turning the other cheek would interfere with his mindset, sway his judgment. And that was exactly what Yasmeen was depending on.

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“Come on, then.” The voice beside him was Yasmeen’s, her arms snaking around his waist. “If your expecting an invitation from above, we could be here all day.” “Yeah!” he grunted absently, keeping pace with her, his eyes roaming over the cavernous interior of the old Anglican building. Inside was dimly lit and that allpervasive feeling of reverence lingered in the air with the smell of cannabis. They walked down the aisle together. Mats and stools had replaced the old-fashioned pews that would have greeted you a few years ago. The walls were adorned with paintings of African saints and clay figurines. The altar took center stage, an exquisite piece of Rasta sculptor work, obviously hewn from a single tree, stained and polished to a brilliant finish. The Niyabinghi drums seemed to be beating from all corners, lightly resonating in his head as his lungs filled with the aroma of Sensi and he relaxed. “Jah! Excellent is thy name.” The voice of praise had come suddenly from behind them just as they were about to sit and was responded to by other voices spread all around. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” a distant voice announced. They sat without making a sound. Asim squirmed uncomfortably, wanting to get up and leave but slowly succumbing to the tranquility the tabernacle emanated. He felt his anger standing more pronounced in the silence like a beacon and he was unable to conceal it. The image of his sister lying helplessly in a hospital bed would not go away. And as always, like an old slide projector a new frame would appear showing Fatima getting worse and never recovering. The family he had hoped to make stronger instead was being destroyed. What if he had buried himself deeper into his work in Africa? Forgetting everything and everyone, holding no expectations from life other than what it threw at him from one moment to the next? Would it have made a difference? Maybe not. What guh round bound tu come back round. And what he had been given here was an opportunity for a second chance. A chance to make amends for his lack of resolve in a situation so much like this one. Asim chose not to call it revenge. He lost his wife and nearly his family to this same sort of warped humanity. Faceless bastards, all driven by the same inexplicable motive, of wanting to see him suffer. Scum whose reasons to this day he did not know or understand but who deemed it fitting that his loved ones should be targets for their hostilities. They were threatening his way of life again, trying to break up what he held dear, just as they had done in the past. Common sense told him there was no shadowy conspiracy, no personal vendetta against him or his family, but the evidence in front of him told him otherwise. Now was not the time for him to step back like a good little soldier bwoy so the authorities

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could tell him they had no suspects. He was going to take responsibility. Even the Itations being whispered in prayer or voiced so all could hear were challenging him, preaching a truth he did not want to hear. There is no sense in hate; it comes back to you. Therefore make your history so laudable, magnificent and untarnished that another generation will not seek to repay your seed for the sins inflicted upon their fathers. The bones of injustice have a peculiar way of rising from the tombs to plague and mock the iniquitous. It makes no difference, Asim thought, struggling with himself. He would not be waiting for God or time to pass judgment on these fuckers. The sentence was made when they raped his sister and the choice of an executioner with it. They would communicate in the only language they knew. Violence. Unfortunately for them it was a lingo he was more than fluent in. Asim refocused on his surroundings. A few eyes turned to stare. His thoughts felt like loudhailers, announcing to the world that he should not be here. Yasmeen was on her knees praying as a middle-aged dread came forward from an area near the altar, a smoldering chalice in his hand. He raised it in the air before the sparsely populated seats, chanting a blessing in Ethiopian and lowering it again. “Deh healing of deh Nation,” he pronounced, sitting cross-legged on a mat at the foot of the altar, his presence drawing the few men and women within the temple forward. Yasmeen sat back up and turned to Asim. “How do you feel?” Her voice was a whisper. “I’m not sure,” Asim said. “An’ I’m not concerned either way. My feelings don’t come into this, Fatima’s do.” His face was a dark and complicated study. Yasmeen saw regret, determination and fear all at work there. “I know, I know,” she consoled him. “Still, she needs us strong more than anything else.” Yasmeen sighed keeping her eyes on the deacon while he handed the Kutche - the communal pipe - to the circle of people around him, the dense cannabis fumes leaving ethereal impressions in the dark backdrop, like white paint strokes on a black canvas. “Thinking about what happened to Fatima can be the worst thing. It’s best to try and place our energies somewhere else. For me it’s here. This is where I gain my strength. That’s why I brought you here, I thought …” She moistened her lips. “… Maybe, you would feel better, less angry.” “Shows that much?” She nodded. Asim smiled insincerely. Yuh have me sussed, baby. “You’re worried I’m going to do something stupid, yeah?” He chuckled halfheartedly. “I can’t blame you for thinking that. Under the circumstances that would be the natural reaction but I’m over that. I just want my sister to pull through.” She didn’t respond just kept looking at him, searching behind his eyes.

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“Listen, I’ve seen enough and done enough to take the knocks life dishes out in my stride,” he continued.” I’m okay, trust mi.” “Then why do I feel otherwise?” Fuck it! He thought. “You tell me, Yasmeen.” His voice edged with frustration had risen a notch and then modulated when he realized half the temple could hear him. “Sorry.” He put his hand on her lap, his expression earnest. “You’re looking for something that just isn’t there. I’m fine, man. It’s just that I’m struggling to get these pictures of my sister out of my head. Images of those cock … those bastards abusing her just won’t go away, and so many questions.” Asim kept his eyes at the foot of the altar watching the wispy curtains of ganja smoke rising. He said finally, “I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt, I’m not even saying dat it’s not tearing me up inside, but I’ve got a handle on it.” Yasmeen nodded as if she had accepted his words and stood up. He reached out to hold her hands. They were soft and slender. “My sister’s lucky to have a friend like you.” And I am too. A slight smile crossed her naturally red lips and her eyes glistened with captured tears. Asim shook his head, agreeing with himself. “I appreciate everything you’ve done to help me and the family but if anybody needs yuh prayers and concerns, it’s going to be Fatima.” Yasmeen looked at him long and hard, her mouth opening slightly as if she wanted to say something, then she smiled and approached the altar. I’m too far gone for prayers baby, they’re wasted on me, Asim thought. Yasmeen looked back moments later, hoping he would still be there, but in the dimness of the temple he had gone. Another night with too much shit on my mind. Asim was prowling the kitchen for food later that same day, content that he was alone and everyone had finally been able to get some sleep. They needed it. A day like this had sapped him of all his energy, leaving him numb. And guilty. Guilty for locking Yasmeen out when she wanted to help. But what other choice did he have? He rummaged through the cooler and made a sandwich, biting into his final creation with the detached precision of someone who had no real need for food. He chewed at it, rolled it around in his mouth and still it was tasteless. Flinging it into the incinerator, he decided to drown his sorrows with ginger beer. What a mood like this called for was some shooting practice. Asim missed the marriage of sudden violence, precision and adrenaline. Somehow the combination cleared his mind but nothing as effective was available here. Unfortunately for him, it had to be dealt with the way ordinary folk did it. After all he was just ordinary peoples now. Shrugging he padded back to the lounge.

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A faint murmur, floated down to his ear. Phantom sounds. He stopped to listen. At first what sounded like sharp breaths seemed to be coming from the heating pipes embedded in the wall but he discounted that quickly as not being the source. Asim leaned on the spiral stairs and followed the sound with his ear. He made his way to the landing. A door was ajar. The sobs were coming from Akilla’s room. He was in two minds whether he should go in. It couldn’t have been more than two hours since Anne had put her to bed but she was still awake and obviously upset. Imagine, he thought, I’ve never put my own daughter to bed. No knock, even though he thought about it as he walked in. His role as a father was very confused. He stopped beside her bed with his hands behind him. The lights had risen to a weak glow, responding to his presence. Asim looked over to her. She was still tangled into her sheets, her small shoulders vibrating with despair. Asim moved closer and sat on the bed. Akilla didn’t react at first then slowly she looked up at him and all signs of defiance drained away. It just didn’t matter anymore. She clung to a photograph of Fatima. Between sniffles she said to him, “Auntie wouldn’t talk to me.” Her tone was so forlorn. Devastated. I wish she could, sweetheart. Suddenly her arms were around his neck, taking him by surprise. He didn’t hesitate to hold her to his chest, being careful not to hurt her through his eagerness. She smelt of baby lotion and was so warm and delicate in his arms. Asim lay down beside her whispering softly that everything would be all right. And within moments, like it was the most natural thing to do, they both fell asleep.

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CHAPTER 20 TREVOR ATE WHILE YASMEEN STARED IN AMAZEMENT. The most tolerant of diners would have been irritated by the Rasta man’s enthusiasm for his meal. He slurped and snorted wading through a mountain of food in an unbelievably short period of time. Yasmeen could only shake her head and be thankful their table was set snugly away from the main body of the restaurant. It was for the best, she told herself. “Are you enjoying that?” The Rasta woman asked sarcastically. “Not three bad, yuh know.” He hesitated then flashed a grin. “Not three bad at all.” A rumbling belch seemed to take him by surprise as he looked down at his stomach. “Manners!” He pronounced his copper-colored hair bouncing as he wiped sweat from his forehead. Yasmeen had never seen him so happy. “You know, it’s nearly as good as deh Gungo peas soup my queen Marsha makes for me.” He stopped abruptly and peered at her unsmiling face. “Everyting criss?” “Just a few problems with a friend of mine.” She played down the significance of Fatima’s assault. “Don’t worry, sister, I man news should put a smile back on your face, feh real.” He chuckled, whipped out a terry cloth, blew his nose and waxed philosophical. “Is one ting with soup, yuh know.” He wagged his finger as if he was making a major culinary point. “Wid deh right touch a Scotch Bonnet it can clear up wind an’ cut fresh cold or flu clean.” “Hmm!” she said to that gem of information and watched while he downed two steaming bowls of soup, assorted banana fritters, dumplings and fried fish. In his own way he had paid her little hideaway the greatest of compliments. Nyam was her favorite vegetarian eatery. Nestled in between the Maglev station and a news emporium, the Spartan exterior hid a cozy setting of wicker furniture, hanging plants and a glass roof that could be retracted on those humid summer nights. Roots music formed such a inconspicuous background that it sat cozily on the edge of your awareness, mixing with the elaborate murals of the African savannahs on every wall.. Sometimes when she sat by herself, the chants of some musical prophet would gently transfer her into the paintings. It was like she could feel the dry dirt between her toes, the sun on her back. It had that magic aura of relaxation about it and, as Trevor found out, its cuisine was unrivaled. Cooking was done the old-fashioned way over coal-controlled fires. There were no microwave units to be seen anywhere and all the ingredients were organic. She had decided to share her secret place with him if he would update her on his findings, so far.

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Trevor scooped out the last cluster of peas and liquid on his spoon and chewed on it thoughtfully. “Sista!” he called out, crooking his finger in the direction of the waitress who hurried over to him wondering if all was well. He smiled at her. “A want to try dis fruit salad with mango liqueur. It nice?” The young lady had a penchant for colorful description and as Yasmeen impatiently watched she expertly convinced him that life wouldn’t be worth living without tasting the delights of the dessert. She imagined Trevor’s saliva glands pumping juices as the waitress spoke. He ordered two bowls. Yasmeen sighed and wondered how he kept so trim. At least he had come to accept the reason why he was here. The first few days of their collaboration had been difficult ones. Trevor had not said much about the circumstances behind him being chosen to investigate the Spear in London. Initially it even seemed he was far from pleased to be here. Yasmeen thought that was rather odd and felt maybe their conflicts were based on his ancient views of a woman’s role in society. After all in some of those bush communities in Jamaica some Rasta women still only bared children and raised the family, living by the tenets of the Old Testament. Except, there was something more she could not quite put her finger on at first. It wasn’t just his compulsive concern for her well-being and safety that suddenly proved not to be misplaced. He played down his uncanny judgment with the words, we live in dangerous times, sista or a Jah-Jah sen mi come. Because they shared a common goal of peace and he was sent to London highly recommended - but most importantly in her heart - she knew she could trust him. Trevor knew everything. He never volunteered any explanations to the intimidation and threats on her life. Yasmeen just became his charge whose safety was of utmost importance to him. Movement outside of her secure flat and work, no matter how trivial, was not done without his say-so and his direction. Trevor showed all the signs of man torn between duty and something as equally important to him. Her. “Have you forgotten why we’re here?” Yasmeen asked calmly. “Shame on you, Sista Yasmeen. I man can’t forget that but a hard-working man like me have to eat. You know I can’t reason on a hungry belly.” He leaned back into the chair and stretched as if he were making room for the dessert. Yasmeen cleared her throat testily. “Still …” he said, watching her eyes rise to the ceiling. “… Watching I man feed my face is not helping a busy woman like yuh, right?” She slowly nodded in agreement. “So mek we reason, nuh.” He sat up straighter and leaned forward on the table, his business stance quite unusual. He detached the red, green and gold band from his

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hair and let it fall to his shoulders. “Is like this,” he began. “I man start asking questions smartly as soon as mi get into the Rasta community confidence around town. Nearly two an a half weeks’ worth a walking, an’ talking an’ nuthin.” As an afterthought, he paused. “Oh! By the way, give thanks for the introductions to certain man an’ man.” He flicked back a loose tendril of hair. “Anyway, people were either too frightened or just never care in the beginning. All I get was rumors.” “What kind of rumors?” Yasmeen asked, her intense brown eyes flashing. “Just the type that is no good to the people who send mi in the first place. They want the raw facts.” “Facts are good,” Yasmeen pondered. “Especially when they’ve been corroborated but Sister Ijah used to tell me an interesting thing about rumors. If it nuh guh suh, it guh someting like suh.” “True word!” Trevor laughed heartily amused by her attempt at patois. “You could be right because these rumors came from a market man I come across in Dalston by accident.” “A convenient accident?” she asked. “Well, not exactly. Him details were e-tagged to me by somebody who choose to remain a shadow.” He shrugged. “I talk to man from all over, so it’s not clear who sent it. Still, the breddah sell bush tonic an incense. We chat for a while an him show I the London runnings. And by an by, him explain to me his business was in desperate financial problems. I made him taste some a my crop from last reaping. Deh natty never sample any herb like dat before, an two-twos him want to do business. So we strike a deal. I man will supply him with the raw material, that him need to make him business work, in exchange him can give me information. That’s when our talk started to get interesting. Him tell mi ’bout the man dem who were responsible for the war with the baalheads.” “He knows them?” Trevor smiled at her obvious surprise, throwing back his head, his locks falling back into place. “Him may not say it directly. But what him really mean is, him know a man, who knows another a man, who know a breddah, who knows dem. But when certain man a chirps, it seems like they know it first hand. You have to look beyond dat. This breddah here is not the type to mix with them Black Heart Man. I can tell dat. He is no murderer.” “Doesn’t all this seem a little too convenient though?” “Sista, a nearly four weeks, mi a walk street, seen. And this is the first light mi experience. Rememba, is nearly two weeks before him even tell mi anyting worthwhile. To I, this is straight up.”

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Without making her presence too obvious, the waitress who had been hovering near their seats had skillfully deposited the desserts on the table and, without making it necessary for them to break their discussion, scurried away. Trevor looked down at his mound of glistening fresh fruit, smothered in whipped coconut cream and floating on a sea of mango liqueur and picked up his spoon tentatively. He thought very carefully about his next move and decided to enlighten his impatient sistren some more before he started to tuck into his dessert. His lapse of concentration dealt with, he uncertainly put his spoon down and evaded Yasmeen’s penetrating stare. “Umkhonto we Sizwe - the Spear of the Nation. My man in Dalston seems to think this man he will recommend mi to will have the answers to my questions.” “How?” Yasmeen whispered. “I will come to that part later. What a get me tense is his belief that the Spear have dem own agenda, which in some way will affect the future of Ras Tafari.” Yasmeen flinched. “What makes him such an authority? The Spear could be some outraged splinter group of Rasta who had decided to take black man’s justice in their own hands, with no political agenda whatsoever.” “Half of the story has never been told, remember dat.” As Yasmeen pondered the thought, Trevor quickly spooned out a portion of dessert, finally succumbing to the tantalizing food that had been tempting him all this time. He chewed steadily his eyes ablaze, swallowed and then continued the briefing. “Earlier you ask mi, how him know so much. Well the market dread knows indirectly a man who walked out of the Spear an’ live to tell the tale.” Yasmeen shifted uneasily in her seat. Trevor continued apace. “I want to hear from this man’s own mouth what is what.” “But to do that you’d have to …” Trevor nodded, the question forming on her lips unnecessarily. “A meeting set up already, sista, an’ all the information we need will come straight from the horse’s mouth.” He smiled inwardly. “The way me see it, after that I should know enough to please Bacrah Massa at the Tabernacle a yard and my job will be done. Then wi will see.” “Do you really think your going to meet up with this man?” By now Trevor was regularly shoveling chunks of cream-covered fruit into his mouth, in between his conversation with Yasmeen. He licked his lips and held his spoon vertically in his fist, as if he were about to protest for more. “I know what you trying to say. How come Trevor just turn up in London, and in a month him closer to finding out about the war than any bwoy ever manage to. I’m a bushman, I man have a nose for this. Jah blessing.” He looked at her again, leaning his head to one side. She folded her arms. “Why do you believe the market trader is telling the truth?

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All this could be some conspiracy theory he tells anyone with time on their hands and who is willing to listen.” “Possibly, but then again, him could be telling the truth.” Trevor leaned forward and laughed. “Remember he is a desperate man, I could see it in him eyes. How can he even tink of swindling me, sista? I man a offer him the chance to sell my platinum seal Sensi. Award winning, genetically enhanced, no tar, and low fiber. The legend!” He pronounced with pride. “Him can’t pass up an opportunity like dis. What him tell me is safe.” “What about the man you’re going to talk to, how safe is he?” “Mi not worried bout that. From him tell I what him know, it done. What could go wrong?” “Okay.” Yasmeen continued her role of devil’s advocate. “Let’s say for arguments sake nothing does go wrong. This man isn’t going to offer up information for free and if he does everything he says will be suspect, in my opinion.” “True word,” Trevor agreed. “And it will only be on dat basis, I man will take his word as gospel. Anyway yuh check it we win.” “There’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, the old English used to say,” she countered. “Man a plan and Jah a wipeout.” She nodded. Trevor looked away to the entrance of the restaurant and pulled his second helping of dessert closer. “Well sista,” he said. “We will find out in due course.”

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CHAPTER 21 ASIM’S CAR WAS SNUGLY PARKED IN ITS GARAGE. The cooling engine made its weird contented sounds like a wild animal purring as metal contracted. He took the elevator from the basement to the first level and was welcomed by House’s sultry tones. “Welcome home Asim, your biorthymic readings are erratic so I have taken the liberty of preparing a cup of your favorite herbal tea and I’m in the process of running a bath at your optimal temperature of 55 degrees Celsius.” “Thanks, babe.” “My pleasure, will there be anything else?” “A massage maybe?” Asim teased. “I can’t comply with that request without a robotic extension of myself.” “Yuh disappoint me!” Asim laughed. He shook his head and spoke to the ceiling still chuckling. “ Just relax and do something else for mi while your brewing dat tea. Search for a conversation I had with a caller approximately one month ago. The ID tag is Fatima Marshal and her voice pattern is stored in personal file #45639T. Bring it up in the lounge and put it on a continuous loop.” “Searching.” As Asim mounted the spiral stairs to his low-ceiling bedroom, he saw that House had already brought up the visuals of his last conversation with his sister in the lounge. He quickly undressed and replaced his Armani suit with standard issue army PT wear. Comfortable and functional. Soon he was downstairs in the kitchen with a steaming mug in one hand and the recording of his discussion and argument with his sister being re-enacted in front of him in the lounge. The frame of light that acted as a screen floated inches from the wall. Asim wasn’t sure what he was looking for but he just felt that there must be some clue to where his sister was living from the recorded footage of their argument. This was the only real lead he had available before he faced the very unnerving prospect of a dead end. He had to lick the trail while it was still hot. Asim had already come to some solid conclusions from the police reports and his own observations. The more he thought about it the more he knew this was no random act of violence. At least the flimsy evidence the police had found was pointing in that direction. He figured it was time he reacquainted himself with the finer details of the report that the tech-heads at Zulu security had hacked into. Asim asked House to merge the Met-1 file with the recording already taking place. He took a slurp from his tea. An icon of a closed document came vividly into view in the screen’s far right-

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hand corner. He took up a laser pointer beside him with his herbal tea, took a sip first and then sent a pulse of light on the closed icon. It instantly expanded to fill the entire floating screen, flashing the number of pages it contained, security level and help option. Asim read the report’s synopsis page. Apparently, a Peugeot van had pulled up at Tower Bridge, two unknowns had disembarked and had proceeded to throw Fatima’s lifeless body into the river. The vehicle had no company logos or any distinguishing marks as it passed by the CCTV post. Asim guessed the half-asleep operator couldn’t recall the van’s color without a playback of the tape. What they had discovered much too late was the license plate had an illegal visual scrambler attached to it, so it was untraceable when the tape was played back anyway. In Asim’s experience he knew that hardware of that sort was very difficult to come by without the right contacts and plenty of credits. A trace was run on the van from its description. Met-1’s Police National Computer Network sent out requests to a hundred thousand citizens who owned a van of that make and color for details of their whereabouts on the night. They were wasting their time on that score. The suspect van had been atomized long time. The forensic robot they deployed on the scene had discovered nothing worthwhile noting, either. Scanning the data it produced, the men must have been wearing clean suits to have left no foot marks, no hair strands, not even flecks of dandruff. The most promising development - if you could call anything in this sick situation promising - had been the bite mark on Fatima’s body. From the file, the Met1’s pathologists had created a 3-D impression of her attacker’s dentition and proceeded to cross reference the London databanks but, not surprisingly, they came up empty. Everyone’s dental stats were known by the state, unless you had extensive underworld connections to have them extracted and then pay a price that could compare to some small country’s gross national product to have them disappear. It got better. Visuals on the assailants also came up inconclusive. The roving surveillance cameras on the bridge could only record the blurred image of two hooded figures in Hi-Reflek clean suits coming out from the back of a van with Fatima’s drugged body. Their facial features were obscured by the most low-tech of devices possible - sheer silk stockings. He moved his pointer into a subcategory, under the heading of ‘Theft Intent’. Zero percent rating meant that was one motive that could be struck from his list and the police’s MO. The necklace she had been given on her nineteenth birthday. A gold bust of an African queen with jewels for eyes had still been around her neck when she was hauled out of the Thames. This was not the act of petty criminals or even the warped mind of a psychotic killer. Her abduction was too cleanly done and that meant premeditation. In fact if they wanted to harm her, Fatima’s body would have washed up onshore dead. Today men were too exacting in

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the art of destruction and chaos. Asim was left with the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach that this had been far from just an unexplainable abduction. Someone was sending a rass message. Time would tell him who and why. As the report closed and the icon disappeared with a bleep, it left Asim sightlessly peering at the recording as it played over and over again. He watched his sister’s animated chitchat. How alive she seemed, so beautiful and content. Stubbornly she had intended to face her personal challenges her way. Now she didn’t remotely resemble the half-dead person who was lying in that hospital bed. He couldn’t help wondering if that energy for life would ever be hers again. He shook his head. The football trophy that had convinced him she was sharing the apartment with a man tottered for the sixth time as she accidentally glanced it with her elbow. “You liar!” the image of Fatima said again, then she shifted her position excitedly and he caught a glimpse of her open window. Fast forward. “You liar!” The recording looped once more. Asim peered under his sister’s arm through the window and a blurred image. He squinted leaning forward. The vague structure in the background suddenly started to make sense to him. It was a clock tower. “You liar!” Fatima’s image repeated. Shit, that was it! “House!” Asim shouted. “Reverse that segment for twenty seconds.” House obliged with silent efficiency as the images moved backwards in madcap motion. He sat forward on his seat and keenly watched. “Now stop it frommm … here!” The frames froze and then resumed normal play but kept repeating the first twenty seconds of the segment. As his sister accused him of being a liar once again he asked House to freeze the frame. He took up the laser pointer from beside a cushion, pointed and lit up the vague image of the tower. Enhance by a factor of ten.” The image of the tower enclosed in a graphic box sprang from its position in ever increasing stages of magnification until it occupied the entire canvas of shimmering air. There was no mistaking now that it was a clock tower of the type used in the center of some of London’s many districts. It was plain black and white with shiny brass fittings adorning the four clock faces embedded in a cubic structure. The inscriptions running around the neck were still blurry. “Enhance clarity by factor of five,” he said and his first solid lead boldly came into focus. A gift to commemorate the kinship between our two great towns from Kingston, Jamaica to Brixton. Out of many one people.

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So Fatima had been living in Brixton. He leaned back in the sofa, his head hanging over the rest, and let out an air of relief. One piece of the jigsaw puzzle was firmly in his hand and the rest he knew would come. Frown lines marked the sides of his mouth. Regret for what he was about to do would not deter him, even if he had promised his days of fighting were over. Among other things coming home was supposed to be a beginning, where the only challenge he faced was being the father he never was. Destiny had made other plans for him. Fatima was like Fate’s twisted reminder that the ghosts of his past had not been put to rest. And this was his chance to rid himself of them, for good. You may want to let it go but it won’t let you go. General Zachariah Brooks had summed up the situation perfectly. Fate had planned it and he was being drawn crazily towards its conclusion. And it was not just for the sake of his sister or his family as he tried to tell himself. His peace of mind was at stake too. More information, that’s what he needed, now. Then the hunt would begin.

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CHAPTER 22 The Tabernacle of Ras, Kingston YAMU WALKED THROUGH THE GARDEN IN BUOYANT MOOD. He had rested and eaten after his meeting and an all-over glow of satisfaction continued to warm him. He sighed. The flowers in the garden struck him with a force of vivid color that was almost overpowering. Yamu closed his eyes preferring to take as much of the sweet smelling air into his lungs as he could, and let his thoughts drift. The Spear of the Nation and Pure Blood had agreed on territorial exclusion zones. Another major triumph for the true Prophet and one that should be the decisive last step of proving Negusa Negas was his. Of course, when he talked to the people it would be with a convincing show of surprise, and that he reserved for later. And of course, the congregation would not know that he and the white separatists in the UK orchestrated this whole episode of conflict. On orders in London both the Pure Blood and a small cadre of Spear faithful negotiated these racial no-go areas. To seal the deal Yamu wanted the gal pickney Yasmeen dead at the hands of the separatists and in exchange they could have the whereabouts of his brother. They would use that information to kill him. Joshua’s past finally catching up with him at last and Yamu’s involvement in all this never suspected. How would they know he was securing his position as one of the most powerful black leaders in the Diaspora? On one hand he had the confidence of the leaders of the Commonwealth of Democratic African States and on the other hand the Outcasts were ready to give their support to him as soon as he could fulfill his part of the bargain. When the war in Africa ended - and it would -Negusa Negas would be the spiritual conscience of the continent. The injustices of slavery would be atoned for in blood. That was a dream he would bring into reality. But no man was an island. And nothing could be done, without the help of his Rasta breddrins who held him in awe. He smiled at how gullible some of them were. After his main opponent Brother Samuel from Trinidad died tragically in a hover car accident in Kingston, a few believed his outburst at the ceremony on United Africa Day were the cause. Jah-Jah vex, they reasoned - confirming further their belief in his worthiness. But the patriarch’s death had a more worldly explanation. Such a pity. A humble leader, who had a listening ear for the concerns of all. He would inscribe that personal accolade given to him on Patriarch Samuel’s tombstone in Port-a-Spain. Snickering he remembered the article written by a CNN correspondent a year or so ago, describing ‘Yamu the Peacemaker’ in glowing terms. Even he captivated them. It

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wasn’t all fabricated either. A part of him was humble and patient, but a very small and insignificant part. The more desirable part of him had to be a manipulator because like a child the Nation of Ras did not know what was good for it and he was the stern father who did. They needed him. The Rasta people needed him. It was almost dusk and the sun, with only two hours of brilliance left, stained the Ras landscape blood red. Yamu had started his walk from his private quarters on the east sector of the compound and was leisurely making his way through the gardens of which he had stopped for a moment - and across the artificial streams. In the distance the antagonistic hum of irate mosquitoes gave ample warning of their arrival before nightfall. He shuddered at the thought. His aversion for the blood sucka dem made him pick up his pace to the auditorium. From there the Ras World Network would be told the news from the only man whose very involvement in a situation seemed to assure positive results. And in a speech lasting thirty minutes and accessed by millions of Rasta faithful, he would explain in grandiloquent terms what he had achieved with the help of a special few. The Prophet will come as a peacemaker. He contemplated the words. The report had been filed to the terminal in his private chambers from London, midday. All the players involved had served their purpose and in time would disappear. There was only one loose end to deal with and that was an unexpected development. One of the warrior faithful in London who had suddenly developed a conscience for his ordained role in life, had decided to cleanse his soul by speaking to Trevor Farruka - the dead man walking. He would find out where their rendezvous was taking place and put an end to it. Put an end to Trevor too. Yamu should have been performing his practiced look of surprise and joy much earlier that morning. Experience told him tired eyes and hungry bellies provided a more receptive audience. Unfortunately his attention had to be diverted to this matter. But don’t fret. The result was what mattered. Throughout all the time zones across the globe, it would be talked about for years to come. And no one would know how much easier it had been to solve the London conflicts than his other peace missions elsewhere in the world. His accomplishments as a traveling peace envoy had given him credibility many diplomats would envy. Making the miracle he worked in London just that more believable. Tough assignments he had taken with a vision for the future. The creation of talks between the Muslims and the flock in Trinidad, disputes between Rasta sects in America, agricultural land disagreements between non-aligned Botswana and the Rasta congregation there. England had remained an obstinate last conquest or so he led the world to believe. Now after this coup, which would leave social analysts guessing, peace seemed to come only under Yamu’s direction. Jah will be done. And his will was the will of Jah. Mek nuh mistake.

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As he strode over the Japanese-influenced Bridge, he set off up a cobbled path towards the auditorium, head bowed slightly forward and hands folded behind his back. A head wrap of white linen covered his locks and a beige gown ended above his knees. A troop of ants scurried away from his sandaled feet. He stopped and crushed them underfoot. Weak hearts. The other patriarchs who had their sights on the title of Negusa Negas would be trampled too. How did they expect to trouble him if they championed half-dead causes affecting nobody but themselves? Some cheap gesture that did not put their delicate credibility’s on the line. Jah send mi come. And by the end of the night, the world would share the truth he already knew.

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CHAPTER 23 AH!” THE FIELDERS SHOUTED IN CHORUS. The umpire wagged his finger distastefully and pointed to the crease. You could see the discernable sag in the barmy armies’ collective shoulder as the West Indian fans exploded into celebration with steel pans and conch shells. The dejected look on the English batsman’s face as he strode angrily to the pavilion spoke eloquently of the teams fortunes on this tour of the islands. “You tink we play cricket?” Trevor slurred. “We war wid cricket.” His eyelids were drooping and it seemed no effort on his part could keep them open. Rallying his nervous system into action was pointless; he could barely manage a grin and a weak cheer. “Have to see them bowl out England dis morning.” Trevor’s words staggered out of his mouth but that threat carried weak resolve as he phased in and out of sleep. No more than a second of rest. A brain-numbing bleep sounded in the remote distance, drawing him back from wherever he was. A deep-throated snore startled him, especially when he knew it was coming from his throat. Trevor blinked, wondering when he had fallen asleep without giving himself consent and glared at the wafer screen with contempt. The annoying sound of an incoming message continued to put his nerves on edge. He squinted. A telephone icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen flashed, obscuring a fielder in the gully. Local call. “Open line,” he snorted, sitting up from the sofa and clearing tendrils of hair from his face. “And dis better be bloodclaat good.” The wafer filled with Yasmeen’s weak smile. “Sister Yasmeen?” “I’m sorry I woke you,” she apologized. “But this is important.” Trevor’s uncommitted slouch transformed into what could just pass as an attentive posture. “Yuh all right?” he asked. “No, I’m not and I don’t think your going to be either after I show you this.” Trevor tensed, all traces of sleepiness gone and his adrenaline levels building. “Just hold on a minute while I link this morning’s broadcast to your line.” Her image shrank back to a small tile at the exact position where the original icon rested. “Watch it carefully and we’ll talk later.” She was gone. Cricket continued in the glorious sunshine for a moment longer. The screen then turned a solid blue, flickered and the recording began.

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A half-hour later, Trevor leaned back on the sofa, more furious than surprised at what he had just seen. He stared sightlessly at some point in the distance, his mouth dry and his pulse pounding in his head. The enthusiasm he had exhibited earlier for the cricket match had evaporated and he just sat there, letting the illumination of the blue screen bathe his face. Talks have commenced for possible peace. Yamu’s words. What a lying, wicked fucker. For twenty entire minutes, the self-proclaimed leader of all Rasta in Jamaica spewed the most tangled web of lies and deceit with such sincerity that even Trevor would have been taken in, if he didn’t know better. Trevor’s face - but a different name - was blatantly paraded on the patriarch’s propaganda broadcast as the man brought in from Jamaica, responsible for organizing talks between the Spear and Pure Blood. The dawg was making his move just as the old man had told him. The realization struck him like a Guango stick beating from his grandmother. Sharp and swift. Everyone now knew Trevor - or, as Yamu referred to him on the broadcast, Shaka - was sent here by the Nation Directorate and knew what his mission had been. So much for secrecy. Now the question of why the conflicts between the Pure Blood and the Spear had ebbed as soon as he arrived in the country begged to be answered. Coincidence? No, man! It was planned thoroughly, an excuse to have him firstly leave the island and then secondly, a plausible reason why he could turn up dead. Trevor snorted with false amusement. Him want the title of Negusa Negas so badly, an’ Yamu was taking no chances of even having mi on the island when him mek him move. That’s why he was a part of the patriarch’s plans. Or more to the point an annoyance he would have ample opportunity in silencing. Trevor would have expected nothing less. But what his adversary didn’t know was he had just thrown a very hungry mongoose into the chicken coup. You think I man have played right into yuh hand nuh true but the Draught game jus star rude bwoy. You play already, boss, now is my move. “Asim!” Jennifer squealed, flying out of her apartment, as the front doors sensor alerted her to his presence again. She leaped into his arms, hugging him tightly and smothering his neck and lips with kisses. Her bathrobe hung loosely about her and as she pressed against him the signals below Asim’s belt raged. The surge of blood to an extremity that had been dormant for a year seemed to be constantly reassuring him he was fully alive. Still, as sexy as he had remembered her. He tried to concentrate on his main objective but that would be difficult. Damn, she smelled good. Fresh water an’

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soap. “You like the idea of keeping a woman on her toes, don’t you,” she whispered, kissing his earlobe. Asim grinned sheepishly, trying not to make his lack of self-control too obvious as they hugged. He was relieved that he had caught her home - and not for the obvious reasons. This social call was to be just that, a social call. She needn’t know Asim had been to see most of Fatima’s close friends for information that could help him solve the attack on her. She didn’t have to know he had found out nothing that was of use to him and that she was next in line for a subtle bout of questioning. “Apologies, Jenny,” he started. “I wanted to call you before just turning up, believe me. But I was in the area and I thought, why not check if she’s home? Bad timing?” She cocked her head to the side and then looked Asim up and down, a wicked smile spreading slowly across her face, unraveling like a flower into a full-blown laugh. “Don’t be stupid. We haven’t seen each other or talked face to face in years. For you, it’s never a bad time. Come in.” Jenny held onto Asim’s hand and led him inside. The door slid shut behind them. “You’re looking even more tasty than the last time I saw you, Mister. Marshal,” Jenny teased. “The old country has obviously cast its spell on you.” Three years had not dimmed her smile, sparkling hazel eyes and sense of humor. Jennifer was a very good friend of Fatima, schoolmates actually and in the past Asim had a hard time trying to convince her and himself he was happily married. She was that type of woman who believed in the words, ‘If you see something you want, go get it’. Jen was a free-spirited type of girl who, although living life to the full, had her priorities right. It would take more than knowing what she wanted from life to tame this girl. She was just as direct, charming and very appealing as always. Asim guessed she had chosen the path of remaining single just as her mother before her had. Her mother was part of a generation of single parents who after struggling to raise children on their own questioned the need for a permanent man in their lives. Those lessons of self-reliance were well learned. Jenny led him through a maze of freestanding geometrical designs and over to the transparent sofa. They sat - Jenny with practiced ease and Asim more awkwardly the Art Futura material molded around him to take his shape. Asim adjusted his backside a few times for comfort and leaned back, and for once in days he felt some of the burden of his thoughts ease. He could feel the strain around his neck and shoulders disappearing and his burning eyes - from two sleepless nights - subsiding. His body seemed to be telling him he was in good company and he didn’t resist. He drifted for a

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moment and then felt the weight of slender legs on his lap as Jenny made herself comfortable. “How are you holding up? After what happened, I mean.” Asim’s eye’s remained closed. “I’m all right. It’s just hard to figure out. I try not to think about it most times. Just be there to help sis if she needs me.” “I can understand how you’re feeling but things are getting better,” Jenny said. “I went to see her today. She’s stable and in a way I’m glad she’s not awake yet to remember anything. God, I’m not sure I could live with myself!” She shuddered. “Yeah!” he said. “Be thankful for small mercies.” Jenny’s solemn look turned to a smile again, dispelling the morose vibes. “Look at it this way, with all our help; I’m positive Fatima can pull through this. We’ve got to be strong for her. That’s the very least we can do, right?” Asim nodded, his eyes locked onto something else. Jenny’s gown had fallen open revealing her legs. He could see her panties - a thin skin-tone lace. “Ye-ye-yeah, you’re right,” he stammered. “It’s just that I’ve been losing sleep over some things that don’t quite add up and trying to figure a way to speed up her recovery.” “What did you have in mind?” Jenny asked, gently rubbing her feet over Asim’s crotch. “How come over the week she’s been in hospital all her friends have come to see her to show their support, except …” “Except ?” She asked eagerly. “Her boyfriend.” Asim rolled his neck from left to right until it cracked, breathed deeply and stretched some more, his point made. Jenny continued the rhythmic rubbing of her feet and felt a mound of his hardness rise. Asim tried to ignore the distraction. “You have a point there. That is weird,” she said. “And Baldwin seemed so keen on her.” “Baldwin?” Asim snapped to attention internally, repeating the name with a vicious undercurrent she did not detect. “That’s her boyfriend’s name, right?” She nodded, that cheeky smile crossing her lips again. “Fatima didn’t tell you, did she?” Asim pouted and shook his head. “But I’ve got this feeling that you’re going to.” Jenny shrugged. “There’s not much to it unfortunately. The dirty details I couldn’t pry out of her, for love nor money. You know how secretive your sister can be but I did drag a name out of her and this memento.” She pointed her long fingers behind her, bounced off the seat and dashed off into her bedroom. Asim sighed, still willing the embarrassment in his pants to go dead but

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Jenny was intent on keeping it alive. He glimpsed the edges of a large old-fashioned bed, draped in black silk sheets and his mind drifted into a tangent. He sighed. The rustling of paper and automatic drawers opening and closing made it quite clear she didn’t know exactly where it was. Then minutes later she reappeared with a small transparency, which she popped into Asim’s outstretched hands. Holding it up to the light, he squinted. “Cute isn’t he,” Jennifer said. “Yeah, cute.” His attempt at sounding interested failing dismally. “He was actually going to get her a position as a dancer in one of those up market men’s bars,” Jenny said shaking her head. “Personally it wouldn’t be my next career move if I were her. But Fatima believed it was one step closer to her dream of being in the movies.” “Can I borrow this from you for a few days?” “Of course you can. But honestly, why are you so interested in the boyfriends Fatima keeps, anyway?” Asim’s eyebrows arched slightly as she sat back down beside him and uncurled her long legs on his lap again. Jennifer was as perceptive as she was inquisitive and Asim didn’t want to spark her interest in what he was doing, not in the least. Tongues would start wagging, and then what? His discreet investigation would be blown. He couldn’t take the risk of that happening. An insincere look of concern materialized on his face. “You see, my theory is, because Fatima wants to keep her private life private, she would have told her boyfriend little or nothing about her family. In other words he couldn’t contact her even if he wanted to. He must be going crazy after not seeing or hearing anything from his woman in weeks.” He stroked his smooth chin contemplatively and his eyes twinkled from the ceiling lights. “Seeing him would cheer her up more than anything we could do. Between me and you, if I can find him and let him know what has happened, even bring him there myself, it would do her a world of good.” “And she wouldn’t be able to thank you enough,” Jennifer completed. “That’s an excellent touch, Asim.” “I thought so too.” Inwardly he relaxed. “She needs as much strength as she can get.” Asim changed the subject as quickly as he could and directed the conversation around to what Jennifer had being doing in her life over the years since he had last seen her. The producer for her own youth show on TV View, no steady man, fitness freak, weekend wild child. She asked him, “Something to take the sand outta your throat?”

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“You have ginger beer?” “I knew it, Asim, man!” she cried out. “Don’t tell me you’re still drinking that Ole Jamaique stuff.” Her voice went gruff as she mimicked some seafaring mariner. “You’ve traveled the world, experienced different cultures …” “… An’ there’s nothing like a good shot of ginger beer.” Asim completed. Jennifer failed to keep a straight face. “ Nothing?” she asked. “Well, nearly nothing.” His brow arched suspiciously. “Relax,” she chirped. “I’m only teasing.” That scheming smile appeared on her lips again. “Go check the Chiller. You’ll probably have to wipe the dust off but I’m sure there’s a couple at the back.” “ Cho!” Asim grinned, idling over to the kitchen. “So what can I get you, Jen?” She answered from the distance but he didn’t quite make out what she had said. “Jenny, what’s your poison, girl?” He pulled the top off the drink and took a swig. “ Jenny!” He swallowed some more. “I’m here.” Asim still had a mouth full ginger beer when she appeared behind him and was so surprised he almost sprayed it over the floor. His surprise became astonishment as she dropped to her knees, undid his zip and reached inside his trousers. The movement was so fluid her fingers were already around his manhood before he could even begin to protest. The minuscule element of male control disappeared with his back against the draining board and the exquisite sensations of Jenny’s expert finger strokes. Mentally he was way ahead of her. She was stretched over the sink, one leg on the draining board the other barely touching the floor. Her hands held onto the taps as he entered her from behind. With his hands gripping her waist, every stroke making her rise off the tiles on her toes. Inadvertently the cold tap is turned on, shooting water everywhere, soaking them. The cold water added to the excitement and his thrusts became more urgent. He reached for her breasts as he rammed into her and …with a ‘pop’, the fanciful image disappeared and instead of Jenny exciting him it was … Yasmeen. Yasmeen? Shit. His eyes flew open. Jenny was still kneeling in front of him about to encircle his rigid member with her mouth. That did not last long as his arousal drained away instantly. Swearing under his breath he reached down and lifted her from her knees. “I’m sorry,” he sighed heavily. “I want to, believe me, baby, I really do. But I can’t.” She kissed him and smiled. “You’re just out of practice. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle with you.” She used her fingernail to flip open a stud on his shirt on her way

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down again. Asim held her by the elbows bringing her back up. “It’s more than that.” He held her hand as she continued to strip him while he redid what she had undone. “And don’t get me wrong but I need to sort out a few things in my head first or I’ll be no use to anybody.” He looked down at himself and grimaced. “Another time.” Jenny sighed seductively running her finger between her lips. “I’ll take that as a promise, Asim Marshal. Don’t think you’ll get off that easily, you know I always collect on my promises.” He nodded lamely at the threat, his throat dry and a nervous tick that tried to be a smile tugged at the sides of his mouth. This called for a quick exit.

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CHAPTER 24 AS TREVOR LOOKED DOWN, HIS REFLECTION shimmered in a puddle at his feet. The night was warm and the coolness caused from earlier rainfall had gone. Moths that had come out in the wake of the rain, swooped close to the street lamps some distance from him, their enormous distorted shadows playing over the car. Spittle Road in North London was as quiet as it should be at twelve forty-five at night and reeked with the smell of damp asphalt, cement and sand. Trevor leaned against the warm car bonnet, looking up at the stars and remembered his family. Yasmeen sat in the car behind him. A glimmering ion trail of a hypersonic aircraft cut a gash across the moon’s face. Other points of light shot across the sky like rocketpropelled fireflies, the usual drone of their engines lost to the ear. A few lights shone in windows of the recently occupied homes but they soon blinked out. The only remaining sound Trevor heard was a car pulling into the driveway of an adjoining street. Nice an’ quiet. In front of him, mechanical diggers sat frozen in motion. Huge cranes overlooked it all. Buildings were being built and torn down, standing like the testament to some apocalyptic conflict, surrounded by neat mounds of brick and rock like gutted bunkers from a prolonged skirmish. He took in the entire scene as a whole and, just for a fleeting moment, the new buildings being erected in the foreground and the old crime-ridden estate being torn down gave the impression that some revolutionary cure had been injected into the neighborhood, spreading across the landscape and destroying the cancerous tumor that had infected the community for decades. Trevor ran his fingers through his locks and threw his head back in a practiced movement, his ropey hair falling back around his shoulders. Just keep focused, boss. He cleared his mind for a moment and listened keenly for the approach of anything. “Take yuh time, boss,” he said to himself. “I can wait up to the allotted time.” Trevor was used to waiting. He had been waiting all his life in the bushes of Trelawny. That’s what a farmer and Bushman did. His calling in life was preparation and then watching as time passed and he reaped the results. A waiting game. Waiting for his crop to mature, waiting for that elusive fish on a hook. Skill, preparation and patience. The arrangements had been made for the meeting at 1.00 a.m. and Trevor would be here until such time. Even though he was confident it would all go smoothly, he was not one to go into any situation blindly. He had turned up an hour early and gave Yasmeen the responsibility of paying attention to the proximity scanners in her car.

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He was not one for technology, but cars used the scanners to pick up potential intruders while parked and police traps while driving. Similarly he used the equipment to protect his crops from thieves and large pests. They were able to pick up movement at a radius of about three hundred metres and that would give them enough warning to take action. On their arrival they were pleased to discover there were no hidden surprises lurking in the shadows for them. He was tempted to wait as long as it took for his man to turn up. Then he considered that would not be wise. Two more hours and he would be away from here. Sister Yasmeen would be relieved. Trevor spun on the bonnet and peered through the windscreen. Yasmeen’s eyelids were drooping as she leaned back into the driver’s seat on the brink of sleep. Trevor shook his head and smiled. And this is the gal who says she wanted to help. He had reluctantly agreed that Yasmeen could tag along but with the proviso she stayed hidden but alert. He watched as her chest rose and fell lightly. Trevor could have easily done without her but she knew the road network better than he did, making his journey less stressful. It wasn’t as if he was totally green about city life but why choose a bucket with a hole in it if you have a whola bucket? Over the short period he had been here, he was beginning to familiarize himself with the metropolis of London. With an A to Z of England on a memory card and a travel pass he made sure he visited and talked to as many of the Rasta flock as he could. His informant at the Dalston market was the culmination of weeks of legwork and gaining trust. These were not the bushes of Trelawny where he reveled in watching wild animals, knowing their sounds, smells and the tracks they left. He was now digging for information from real people who lived amongst steel, glass and concrete. That was an entirely different proposition. He thanked Jah-Jah that Yamu’s announcement had not destroyed his chances of this meeting totally. The Nation’s Ole heads may have thought the game was over for him but he was far from out of this competition. Far. Trevor was torn from his thoughts, his attention suddenly held by a pair of neon arc lights negotiating the corner and stopping some distance away. He leaned off the car and consulted his watch. One a.m. on the pulse. He put his hands back in his pockets. The lights dimmed and the car crawled a few more metres ahead and then stopped again. “At least he’s punctual.” Yasmeen’s voice took Trevor by surprise. Fucking, hard ears pickney. Trevor kissed his teeth and glared at her. “Yuh promised me you would stay in the car. That was deh deal.” “So I lied,” Yasmeen said nonchalantly. “We’re supposed to be partners in this. I’m involved as much as you are, so don’t expect me to be some shrinking violet

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because I’m a sister. I’m here to back you up. Or is it that you’re not sure a woman is capable?” “You call sleeping backing I man up?” “So I dozed off, sue me. I may be only human and not a superman like you but I’m still going to be here to watch your back whether you like it or not. And next time I won’t be asleep.” “Next time?” Trevor said slowly, his eyes never leaving the car in the distance. “I can’t force yuh to hear good advice, but if you want to be helpful jus keep yuh eyes on deh scanner and stay out of harm’s way.” It was Yasmeen’s turn to glare at him but instead of confrontation she disappeared into the car. Trevor relaxed and stood away from the unit. Everything was bathed in the glare of focused bright lights. The Rasta man shielded his eyes and waited for the next move. Seconds ticked away. Then the sound of compressed air and the door slid open. A shadow stepped out of the car and leaned on the open door observing him. Tentatively he looked around, just his head disappearing back into his car for a moment, then he came back out in full view. The temporary ID tag grafted to the skin of Trevor’s wrist tingled and glowed green. He had done it as a precaution even though Yamu’s infamous broadcast helped make him even more recognizable but superficial looks could be easily faked in this day and age. His contact was remotely accessing genetic information about him and cross referencing the data with records held at the World Genome Center in Geneva, making sure he was who he said he was. Soon the tingle in his wrist subsided and the tag fell off like a satiated cow tick. He rubbed the bruised skin absently and watched the man exit his car and wait for the door to suck shut. Trevor followed his movement with interest as he came forward, making sure he remained at all times in the beam of his headlamps. The silhouette - for that’s all he was to Trevor - stopped some thirty metres away. He kept looking around, his hands unable to find a comfortable position until it seemed as if he gave up and folded them in front of him. What he could make out from his body language said he was on the verge of fleeing at the drop of a hat. A desperate man. And from his outline he had shaven his crown. A frightened man. For a Rasta - even one linked with a fanatical group such as the Spear of the Nation - to cut his mane was tantamount to an act of sacrilege. Trevor’s lessons in the faith made what he had done unforgivable. Like the Nazarene Samson in the Bible, Rasta mystics believed that your hair was an extension of your spirit. The source of your strength. This man disgraced himself before God and man. Then again it could be a form of penance, he wasn’t sure. Maybe his motives were more basic than that.

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Survival. Trevor shifted his weight more to one leg and felt the encouraging prod of his throwing knives under both arms. He parted his jacket and kept his hands on his waist. Always come prepared, Iyah. Trevor was completely still. He didn’t want to do or say anything until his contact felt more comfortable with the surroundings. He tried to breathe easy but he could feel the man’s fear from a distance and it was disturbing. Trevor looked behind him as if for reassurance. Yasmeen stared back and then down to the monitor in front of her. Good sister .His main concern now was to ask the right questions and listen very carefully to what this man had to say. He was in no hurry and neither was his contact it seemed. Still, he was not certain if he should break the ice. No! Trevor thought, tek your own sweet time, boss. The man spoke. “Deh agreement was I talk to you, alone.” The voice that had broken the silence sounded sharp against Trevor’s ears but there was no disguising his nervousness. Echoes from the hollow buildings gave it an unearthly sibilance. Trevor cursed under his breath. “Is my partner dat, man, she is as safe as they come.” The man inclined his head, not agreeing or disagreeing. “Right now I don’t give a shit how safe she is. As long as she stays out of sight and makes no sudden moves.” “A nuh problem dat,” Trevor replied eagerly and then started to forage in his pockets for a half-finished spliff. “Careful, natty!” The silhouette’s shout was like the report from a shotgun. And with frightening speed a needle-thin laser beam had formed a scarlet spot on his chest. He looked down at the hovering point of light. His eyes widened and he could feel the rush of blood through his veins. Trevor’s hand froze at his breast pocket. “Slowly.” The silhouette teased while Trevor took the lighter out first then the spliff, which he bought to his lips with exaggerated caution. He lit the end. “No sudden moves, natty. As you can see, I get nervous when people mek sudden moves.” “An I get bloodclaat nervous when a bwoy point a gun at my chest,” Trevor snapped. “Remember you set deh ground rules. The time, the place. After all that, you still don’t trust I?” The man laughed at Trevor’s presumption. “I trust no one, natty. It’s my life on deh line and what’s left of it, is precious to me.” “So how come yuh here, talking to me?” “Because you a provide a safe way for me to get some satisfaction.” “Satisfaction?” Trevor repeated. “Let mi explain to yuh.” The red umbilical cord of laser light that had joined

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both men from the gun to Trevor’s chest blinked out. He then lowered the weapon and left it dangling at his side. Trevor’s relief showed in the slump of his shoulders. “Where else could I get the opportunity to talk directly with a Nation representative and know what I say will go back to the right people?” “Dat’s why I and I come, king man, to hear what you hafe seh and relay it to the relevant people dem,” Trevor said. “Fair enough but have patience. First mek me give you what I need to feel at ease. An natty, I’m on borrowed time, remember dat.” Trevor sucked on his spliff, captured the fumes between his puffed out cheeks and let them trickle out through his nose. The calming effects of his prize-winning strain of cannabis already began to flood his blood stream and relax him. “Can you imagine the feeling of being able to strike a blow for yuh people?” the silhouette started. “Against all the Babylonians who believe it shouldn’t be done or we should turn deh other cheek? The Spear of the Nation was that to me. A group a Rasta man who nuh give a fuck ’bout the law or the elders. They had Combat 18 and Pure Blood and we have the Spear, simple. An eye for an eye an’ a tooth for a tooth. All deh wrongs against our people we could make right. “That was what I man dreamed of, from a mixed up yout to a frustrated man. And I did that, live my dream. Take back what was ours and make plenty man pay for dem wicked past.” “So you bruk the first commandment, jus like dat.” Trevor shook his mane. “An’ den you get it into yuh head that you doing the works of the Almighty.” The man in the shadow chuckled humorlessly. “You think me is a monster, don’t it?” Trevor said nothing. “This was Jah-Jah mission. I man remember what London was like when deh Babylon used to detain us, philistine used to bomb us. Nuff breddah died in custody, died at the hands of extremists. I never too young to remember how my father died. Him dead believing the law was right. Those days must never come back and I was making sure of dat. By any means necessary.” “Suh what happened?” Trevor asked. “What happen …” His tone deepened and his eyes shone feral from the light of a low flying hover vehicle. “… was we lost our direction.” “And what direction was dat?” Trevor asked scornfully. “The Ras were becoming too much like the people you hated, nuh true?” “Don’t you understand? We were being used, boss,” the man burst out. “Someone who needed man like me to do dem works, fulfill them own agenda. It was

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no longer a holy war but polytrix’s.” “Yuh can prove it?” In his minds eye, Trevor imagined a sardonic grin forming on the silhouette’s face. “I have enough files, stored documents and even video footage stored in my breast pocket PDA to prove my point, if yuh look carefully that is. But don’t fret ’bout that, rude bwoy,” he said bitterly. “The point is, can you get it to the right people?” It was Trevor’s turn to be smug. “If yuh never believe I could be trusted or even have deh slightest possibility to help yuh, I man wouldn’t be here. You’ve done your homework I’m the only man who can deliver results.” “I believe you, natty, that’s why it came with me. Just realize that I have killed for reasons I feel was right. I will answer to Jah for that. Fulfilling another man’s agenda with blood is against everyting me hold dear. The Spear of the Nation are freedom fighters not murderers …” He paused for breath and his head exploded. For a fraction of a second Trevor stood rooted to the spot. In a grotesque and surreal snapshot he watched the spray of blood and brain tissue and as if the scene increased in speed, the man’s body crumpled to the ground like a felled ox. A single laser guided projectile had hit his contact at the side of the head, tunneling through the cranium and exploding on exit. His shock disappeared as quickly as it had come and Trevor found himself already on the ground scrambling on all fours. Single sniper fire was now turning into sizzling plasma bullets tearing up the asphalt in his direction. His eyes were wide with shock as the crimson tentacles of blood reached out to him from the man’s twitching body. “Yasmeen!” he screamed but there was no need to rouse her, the car was already reversing wildly. Jumping to his feet Trevor shielded his face from flying masonry and dashed towards the body. He changed direction in mid-flight, the plasma bullets following and making him skid to stop behind a low wall, ending in an untidy bungle of arms and legs. Escape should have been his priority but instead he still clambered towards the dead man’s body. The attacker or attackers were shrouded in the shadow somewhere to his right. The nozzle flashes from their weapons told him they were on about the second floor of one of the empty buildings and he was now their new target. Only luck was keeping him alive. In Yasmeen’s case that was uncertain. For the second time in a month she was fighting with the controls of her car, panic making her engage reverse drive and only applying the brakes inches before impacting into the wall. The car jerked to a violent stop. Leaning on the half moon steering wheel, her breathing erratic and her head pounding, she fought for composure. Willing herself into action she looked up from

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her trembling hands and she could see the desperate dash Trevor was making for cover. She thundered her engine back to life, steadying herself, and engaged forward drive. His shirt ripped and smeared with dirt, his locks loose and flying everywhere, Trevor was a sight to behold as he reached the headless body and started dragging it to the dead man’s car. He heaved with all his might, adrenaline pumping and his muscles aching with the exertion as explosions came so close to him that the hair on his head was being singed. He cried out as a projectile hit what at first he thought was him, but on panic-induced reflection he knew it had struck the dead body. His contact’s legs were severed on impact, mangled by the hit. The smell of burning flesh choked him. The dreadlocks dropped the carcass as he reached the relative safety of the car and slumped wearily behind it. He was unsuccessfully blocking out the horror smoldering beside him. Quickly the dread ripped of the jacket before the whole body was engulfed in flames and started going through the pockets. His fingers locked around his Personal Digital Assistant and ripped it out of the corpse’s pocket. Thank yuh Father. His time was up. The roof of the car disintegrated, bellowing a wave of heat and shrapnel through all the car’s windows. A shower of falling Plexiglas covered him. “Raas!” grunted Trevor. He had no choice now but to break cover. He half ran, half scrambled across the road with the hardware in his hands, knowing he couldn’t make it to the other side but trusting his instincts or Jah to keep him alive. He stumbled into a depression in the road and as he regained his footing a set of blinding car lights appeared to veer down on him at speed. Instinctively he fell forward, rolling desperately. He froze on his back, his chest heaving, as the car braked inches from his head. Yasmeen’s less than shiny bumper loomed above him. “Now’s not the best time to be lying down, Trevor,” she screamed at him. “Get in.” The car lurched forward and Trevor scrambled to its blind side, diving in through the window, the finer points in the uses of a backup becoming so much clearer to him. Relieved beyond words, he slumped back keeping his head low, bullets exploding all around, and trusted in Yasmeen to guide them out of the death trap.

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CHAPTER 25 FATIMA! THE LAUGHTER REMINDED HIM of his sister as he walked down the hospital’s corridors. His hopes lifted until he saw two teenage girls prance by him laughing at a shared joke. Why couldn’t it have been me? The question unanswered, Asim disappeared down a corridor and turned into a reception area that stopped him dead in his tracks. The room simply exploded with color, from paintings and decor to real-life flowers blooming. They had made the recovery area bright and cheerful to help the patients through their illnesses by lifting their mood. In his case, the positive vibrations bounced off the mantle of gloom surrounding him as he walked through to the ward. The door opened just as he reached for it and his mother, Yasmeen and Akilla came through. The women’s voices were lowered, but not his boisterous daughter’s. Three of the most important women in his life, he thought to himself, still incomplete without Fatima. “She’s sleeping,” Anne said as she came over to hug him. “The same, mama?” Asim asked as they embraced. She nodded solemnly. Asim made a funny face in his daughter’s direction and then became serious again. Inadvertently he had just given a signal for no holds barred ‘ramping’. The bored expression on Akilla’s face turned to a relieved grin immediately. She ran over from beside her grandmother and grabbed Asim’s leg. Experience told him to ignore her until she started to bite. So he turned to face Yasmeen, his bad mood dispersing like a dark cloud. They never failed to brighten him. He held out his hand and she took it. As beautifully radiant as ever, her hair was wrapped with a beige silk material. Her modest traditional gown did not show anything of her body but her overpowering sensuousness went where she went and that was enough. Yasmeen came closer. She seemed distant. Her almond-colored eyes met his for a moment and then drifted away nervously. She welcomed him with a kiss on the cheek. Akilla bit him on his knee and without a flinch Asim dislodged the ‘offending insect’ and placed it under his arm kicking and squealing. “I need to talk to you, Asim.” Yasmeen’s hand reached for his and her voice was unsteady. Asim paid attention. “Yuh all right, princess?” She nodded and gave a fleeting smile. “I’m fine.” She paused, stroking Akilla’s hair as she struggled under her father’s arm. “But we need to talk …” Yasmeen’s

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words trailed off. “Okay,” he said. Asim knew it was something serious. As their relationship had progressed, he became familiar with Yasmeen’s mannerisms - which at times felt more like recollections - and the unnerving sensations they shared. A sudden fog of frustration descended around his thoughts, obscuring them for a moment, then it was gone. He looked over to her. A note of uncertainty had scuffed her usual aura of confidence. They walked together into the reception area with Akilla still giggling under his arm. Handing the annoyance over to her grandmother, he promised to see them both sometime later that night. “Shine head!” Akilla shouted out as a parting shot, which hit Asim unawares, and then she defiantly stuck out her tongue. He couldn’t help himself from laughing but Anne’s stern no-nonsense look nipped in the bud an oncoming torrent of name-calling. Both of them left soon afterwards, Akilla with a dejected look on her face and Anne needing some rest. Yasmeen and Asim sat together for a while, saying nothing. Both deeply immersed in their own thoughts. They were comfortable with that and with one another. Asim took away his hand from her knee and wandered over to the food replicator standing in the corner. He knew her well enough not to ask if she wanted anything. Don’t treat your stomach like a cemetery, she liked to say. Yasmeen’s diet was strictly natural foodstuffs and a machine that could imitate the real thing in taste and sometimes consistency would definitely not be to her liking. He wondered if it was programmed to produce Jamaican ginger beer. He punched in the name and waited as it searched for the exotic drink from its encyclopedia of food and beverages. It vibrated slightly, emitted a strangled bleep, coughed as if it had something stuck in its throat and then shuddered. A thick, treacle-like sludge pumped out of the nozzle and plopped into the plastic cup. Asim cursed under his breath and sniffed at the steaming contents, flinching at the repulsive smell. “Shit!” He threw the cup in the waste paper receptacle and kicked the machine on his way back to his seat. Yasmeen’s face remained stern. He sat and put his arm around her. “What’s on your mind, princess?” Sitting there, her posture perfect, a worried frown on her face, Asim thought if she were rendered in marble and sent back in time to ancient Africa, she would not be out of place. Reluctantly he dismantled the image and listened. “From what you know of me, you’d be able to figure I’ve never gone for the easy options in life. But even in my most rebellious of periods, I wouldn’t have imagined

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feeling like this for anybody, especially a … baalhead.” Her cheeks rose into an incomplete smile, while she rubbed the palm of her hand gently over his head. “The feelings I’ve … I’m having for you are unusual. Maybe telling you all of this is not in my best interest, either. I don’t know. But there’s something about us which makes it so easy for me to confide in you.” She thought carefully about what she said next. “Am I doing the right thing? I keep asking myself.” She shrugged. “Right or wrong, I still have this need to tell you my secrets.” Yes! Asim celebrated internally, eager for more of her honesty until she dropped the bomb. “I’m responsible for what happened to Fatima.” Asim’s smile fell away. “That’s crazy, princess, an’ you know it. If I’ve got over blaming myself, so should you.” “You don’t understand,” she said calmly. “There’s nothing to understand.” “Listen to me!” Yasmeen’s voice rose with frustration. “Fatima is the result of a trail of destruction that is following me wherever I go. It’s like I’m carrying this misfortune and it’s affecting the ones I care for.” Asim’s eye’s shuttered as he concentrated. “Look, babe, experience has taught me that you make your own luck, good or bad,” he said. “ You may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time but nobody and let me repeat, babe, nobody carries bad luck with them, especially somebody like you.” Yasmeen was silent for a long time then said, “She’s not the first.” “She’s not the first to what?” A hint of the incredulous in his tone. “In two months I’ve seen one person close to me die violently, I’ve had one attempt on my life from gunmen, strange characters keep turning up at the museum intimidating me and cryptic threats are being sent to my e-mail address, threatening me and all who are close to me.” “In two months?” he repeated. “Yes!” Asim leaned back into the leather seat, slowly taking air through his flared nostrils. He recited the first law of survival to himself. Take nothing for granted because coincidences don’t exist. “Tell me more,” he demanded, his interest piqued. “It started I suppose when my stepmother was murdered …” Yasmeen related the circumstances of the murder and attacks and threats made against her in detail. Times, dates and places all from fear-heightened memory. What the rass was he listening to? The conclusions his trained mind had already

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brought to his attention made him uncomfortable. “… So Fatima simply confirmed what I’ve been worrying about all this time.” She shuddered noticeably. “Knowing me can be dangerous.” Yasmeen had kept these observations to herself and rightly so. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t jumping to any rash conclusions. Afraid and desperate to be told she wasn’t crazy. As unfeeling and inappropriate as it sounded, he wanted to take her away and make love to her more than ever. That image. Her leg’s crossed, kneading her fingers, her eyes pools of tears fixed in the middle distance. Yasmeen was shaken and it felt strange to see her so vulnerable. “Do you know who could be responsible?” She shook her head too readily. He tensed. Something about her reaction unnerved him. Maybe it was her sudden show of uneasiness. His fingers made small circles around his mouth as he sunk into deep thought. “Easy target!” Asim’s voice was muted and distant. Yasmeen leaned forward. “Easy what?” “Easy target,” he repeated, his brown eyes wider than she had ever seen them. Yasmeen’s face shone puzzlement. “It’s nothin, just forget it.” Asim submerged back into silence, thinking. “What is it, Asim?” He sighed. Her stare was steady again. “I want to know!” A groan gurgled up from Asim’s throat. “I learned things in Africa,” he said.” Even when you weren’t directly involved with some of the runnings, you heard thing, saw things.” He rubbed his palm over the stubble on his head. “We were briefed on contract killings and their MO as it referred to our zone of operation. Sometimes we were even called in to clean up the mess. Our orders were to help keep the peace and that’s what we did.” He snorted and continued. “As standard procedure we were trained to protect VIPs in potentially volatile situations. The preferred ways for terrorist groups in that part of the world wasn’t direct confrontation with their intended target but the termination of the easy targets. These were usually bodyguards, friends, family aides, those kinds of people. Creating fear at first, making you believe the attacks are coming from one source when it’s not and in the confusion, pam!” He brought the point home with a chopping action of his hands. “Some of the more accomplished killers preferred it. They enjoyed the gamesmanship that it involved. Interacting with the environment around them, getting to know their targets beyond what was required and then deleting them.” He seemed to shake the memories from his mind. “Anyway, what you said reminded me of that.” He tried to dismiss it with an unconvincing grin. “Too many years of army training, ignore me.”

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That did not satisfy Yasmeen somehow. She looked at him some of her authority returning. “You sense that there’s a pattern, don’t you?” she said. “You think there could be something to what I’ve been saying.” “I don’t know, princess.” He stood up from his seat. “Sometimes this shit comes into my head without warning.” And then sometimes it comes into my head and it’s telling me something’s wrong. He sat back down and leaned into his seat. What the fuck could happen next? If anyone should start believing in bad karma, maybe it should be him. “Tell me again what happened and make sure you miss nothing out.” It was too late to reverse his suspicions now. The cold hand of reality had already gripped his insides and was squeezing. Fatima and now Yasmeen. Coincidences don’t exist, was all he could tell himself. He hoped for Christ sake he was wrong.

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CHAPTER 26 THE TWO FRIENDS SAT TALKING, breaking from their disciplined work schedule. Asim held onto a cold ginger beer while Ricardo’s huge hands caressed a shot of whisky. His partner got to the point quickly. “You’re hiding something from me, my friend, I can tell.” Asim’s expression became serious. “Everyting is everyting, Ric, why would I want to hide anything from you, boss.” Ricardo shrugged. “Kehinde senses it too. She’s amazed at how calm you are, after all that has happened to Fatima. She respects your control but me …” He shook his head slowly. “I know better. Your family has been threatened, the authorities have found no leads and the army has trained you for years to be proactive. Now mix that with your natural impatience.” He clasped both hands together as if resting his case. “To put it simply, my friend, you are calm because you are focused on an objective and I think that objective is finding out who was responsible.” Asim was taken aback for a while but really should have known better. Ricardo knew him well. No need for further pretense, he tried to explain. “Listen, big man. What I’m doing here is personal. I don’t want you, especially, getting involved because when it starts getting hot, the only man who should be sweating will be me. You’ve got too much to lose, brethren.” “And you haven’t.” “Something like that. I want to find the men who did this to my sister, to my family, to my peace of mind - and I want them hurting, badly.” Ricardo shook his head. “Have you carefully considered the impact on your family, your freedom and the company if one of its directors is caught breaking the law.” “I’m way ahead of you, Ric. I was thinking of doing this next week but we’re both here. What better opportunity.” He leaned forward, pressing on both knees. “Tomorrow, I will e-mail my formal letter of resignation to your terminal.” He reached over and put his hand on his shoulder. “The course has been set, Ricardo, beyond even my control. History is repeating itself and this time the story ends on my terms.” Ricardo smiled. “In Ghana we have a saying: ‘a friend is life’s currency’.” He shook his head ruefully. “I know you presumed, and wrongly so, that I’m more concerned about the good standing of our company than the need for the right thing to be done but you misjudged me. I can’t accept your resignation and further more I’ll be a prime suspect when they conclude you had an accomplice.” Asim’s expression softened. “I know what you’re trying to do, Ric, but I need to

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do this alone.” Ricardo smiled coolly and shook his head. “Having a proper investigation will need operational support, reconnaissance and surveillance equipment. You’d need use of our extensive computer, networking facilities, communication systems and at times another body. “Who else do you know who can provide you with all that and with no questions asked?” Nobody, Asim thought. “You know it makes sense.” And he knew Ricardo was right. Logistically, it would be sheer hell to do this alone. He swirled his glass and gulped down the remainder of the ginger beer and stared intensely at him for a long time, then said, “We need to agree that all the hands on stuff is left to me - cool?” Ricardo nodded. “However you prefer it,” he said blandly. “We can talk shop later and iron out a few details when time permits.” He got up to go, his impassive look hiding how much he cared for him. Asim grasped his shoulder and planted a playful right hook on him. “I owe you nuff, boss.” “We’re brothers,” he simply said and left the office. *

*

*

It was like coming home again. Asim stepped out of Brixton underground station into the muggy night air with about a hundred other commuters snapping at his heels. The sign at the exit said, ‘Only the best for the best’. Asim kissed his teeth. He had boarded the crammed underground train and stood for his entire thirty-five minute journey from Harlesden, pressed against sweaty armpits on one hand and choking on pungent cheap cologne on the other. At each stop people were being spat out onto platforms heaving with commuters and then, as if the carriages were taking a breath, another stream of humanity was sucked in again. Airconditioning units were trying to cool the heat from crammed bodies and scrubbing the noxious cigarette fumes from illegal ‘lighters’. MP5 players which were supposed to be personal could be heard by the entire carriage, drunks deposited curries they had eaten previously into aisles while perverts used every opportunity available to fondle their fellow passengers, male, female or animal. No one seemed to care. Asim looked on with a degree of amusement and mixed into the subway culture for tonight. He set his face to dangerous, sending out the clear message, Turf

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bwoy, do not fuck with. Consequently, he was left alone with only the approving glances from a few sisters in the carriage. When next he looked around, the main bulk of the passengers had gone. With an easy gait – a baseball cap casting enough shadow over his eyes, extra large Quarterback T-shirt, Chromo slacks that subtly changed color with sound and ultra light Nikes – he was just another face in the anonymity of the Brixton bustle. For a while he stood on the curb in his new persona soaking in the atmosphere and was relieved that the cultural energy that had made Brixton special had not diminished with time; instead it had become more powerful. The traditional street preacher was there, as he had been for decades, his words of fire and brimstone even today falling on deaf ears. Ridiculed often and seldom listened to. Yet he continued to pace the pavement, damping sweat that was popping up on his forehead and quoting the Bible thus fulfilling his part of a bargain, made to a higher purpose. It was funny how Asim suddenly knew the part the eccentric preacher played in the whole fabric of the community. He served as a reminder to most what it was like to believe in something, no matter what the rest of the world thought. He pondered the idea. With his head down he headed for the traffic lights. “Incense!” A Rasta man walked up to him and thrust a stalk of his crudely constructed sticks in his direction. Asim glared at him. The dread smiled tilting his head. “Calm yuh dung yuh nuh … boss.” His hesitation made Asim suspicious. He was much fuller in body and with a considerably larger stall than he had remembered but it was Benjy and he was having trouble placing the face. “Later,” Asim snapped and moved off. The certainty in the dread’s face faded. Benjy shook his head and showed his yellowing teeth. “Peace, mi breddah,” he called after him and returned to his business with a shrug. “Incense!” Asim left the curbside quickly, unsure whether he was recognised and not wanting to hang around to jog his memory some more. These things had a tendency of coming back to haunt you. It was possible tonight could become a testing one and if Met-1 started asking questions, finding a stall owner who remembered a familiar face then who knows. As remote as that maybe he had to be more careful. Threading his way through the night crawlers cluttering Brixton High Road, he headed down Atlantic Road. The familiar smells instantly unearthed buried gems of memory. The market on his right had been rebuilt on its original site into a high tensile plastic enclosure. It remained open air with a covering roof. Machine-processed foods still played a minor role in the African-Caribbean diet and the market, instead of dying, thrived. It was

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rebelling against the so-called benefits advancements offered you and was looking back at its roots. The smell of agricultural produce, fish and meat gave that distinctive character no sanitation systems could wash away. It was holding on to the standards of the past. A bit like him. His brisk walk had taken him beyond the old railway bridge and helped to break up what felt like a fine mesh of warmth that was accompanying him since he left the stuffy confines of the station. He resisted the urge to take off his trench coat for the express reason that his tool was under his arm. It was subtly camouflaged, fitting the curvature of his body and being able to mimic the color of his skin or clothes, but why tempt fate? Suddenly affluent Brixton disappeared and he stepped into the twilight zone. Zone B141 to be exact. In response his stomach tightened and his eyes dilated. Less than a kilometer square, this no man’s land resisted development and reveled in its infamous image. Asim looked up at PLIs - Perpetrator Level Indicators - on the buildings as they flashed red. The demarcation line on the ground that was welcoming you into the badlands was pulsing the same color. The LED board with the disclaimer notice flashed its warning at you. Asim’s wellbeing was now solely his responsibility just how he liked it. The Home Office’s plans of closing up to eighty per cent of prisons in England and Wales depended on the procedure of biometric tagging of ex-cons. Only serious crimes were punished with jail sentences or Virtual imprisonment - A category offences as they were called - but once a crime was committed and the courts found you guilty, no matter how minor the offence was, you were tagged for life. Category B or C offenders could be prevented from online services, public transport or even shopping areas. Get caught in a Zone on red while the alarms were sounding and you would be immediately immobilized by your implant and Met-1 would be down on you like flies on a turd. Asim couldn’t afford to be caught up in the ensuing chaos if that situation developed. But what the hell could he do? He eyed the indicator warily and decided to take his chances. A small van hurtled past tooting its horn and the driver leaned out as he blew kisses at a group of women congregated at a corner ahead of him. They hurled abuse, wobbling on stilettos much too tall and showing cellulite on thighs with skirts much too short. Overhead lights threw shadows as he turned into Cracker Lane and then the environment got dramatically worst. The lights were dimmer, flickering sometimes. Burnt out car shells lay where they had been abandoned like the skeletons of some long-dead animals. One or two men leaned on walls, talking or negotiating. Their faces in shadow until they lit up cancer sticks and then their eyes ignited in reflection, hard and cold. The lane opened up into a square flanked on four sides by residential

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buildings. Shrubbery at the base tried to calm the grey austere look of the place but couldn’t. Eyes watched him as he veered left and saw the drab whitewashed walls of the Emporium looming in the distance. Asim began to understand why this epicenter of crime in South London had never been successfully brought down by the Met-1, and they had tried. It was too well protected and masterminded by a man who knew plenty about dirty wars and strategy. Even when the face of Brixton was changing beyond recognition, this solitary area resisted change, resisted progress. He squinted up at the PLIs as they continued to flash red. Every nerve was on edge as he made his way forward. He would have never found this place if it wasn’t for his uncle. Chips - the Field Marshal’s younger brother and black sheep of the family - was a font of knowledge in matters relating to the underworld. He prided himself on it, actually. Chips had gone out on a limb just so he could have words with an old colleague holed up in his personal fortress in South London. This man was the last word, in his own four blocks of badlands beyond local government and even the forces of law and order. And that was the man he wanted to see tonight. It had been seven years but Tyrone Fink owed him and Asim had just arrived on his doorstep to collect. Yasmeen waited. She stood in the hallway in front of number 34 Carnival House, knowing her presence had already been announced inside. Risto Benji had driven away moments earlier after making sure she entered the flat safely. The door in front of her hummed and then slid open. She walked in and made herself comfortable on the sofa. The apartment in Ladbroke Grove was silent except for Trevor’s harsh curses. And she couldn’t blame him; the last few days had been harrowing ones. Trevor deftly manipulated one of his throwing knives between his fingers. He didn’t acknowledge her entrance. She gave him space and marveled at how he had transformed the apartment, instead. All the windows were open and a mild breeze blew inside. One window overlooked a park down below, artificially assisted but still green and lush. Somehow the greenery wasn’t simply left down below but magically crossed the building’s walls and emerged into Trevor’s main room. The local Mega Store must have been lacking in the Flora department because he had them all here. In the middle of the room was an Ioniser pleasantly charging the air and making it feel fresh. The earthy aroma of Lambs bread ganja completed the illusion that they were in the Tropics. A Maccabees Bible was on the bed beside her opened up to the book of Ecclesiasticus. He missed home more than she had imagined. Her eyes caught his guitar leaning in a corner. It seemed well used.

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“Cho!” Trevor spat out, throwing his knife across the room and seeing it impact perfectly into a cork target. Sauntering over to the other end of the room, he gripped the dagger’s handle and yanked it out. He spoke with himself as if Yasmeen was not in the room. “I man could have got you killed the other night. It was out of order bringing you with me, subjecting yuh to dat type of risk.” He walked back over to the end of the hotel room, brushing by Yasmeen’s crossed legs. “One good ting though. If I had any doubts about who was sent to do that little job and possibly the contracts on you, I have no more doubts. What was I thinking?” He rolled his head from left to right and then from right to left. A touch of humor returned to his voice unexpectedly. “First dem blackmail me den them threaten I livelihood.” Yasmeen could not answer that, wasn’t even sure that was true, but she did know her faith in the Nation of Ras Tafari was being tested to the limit. Nothing seemed to make much sense. Including this development. The Nation had never seen or heard of a Trevor Farruka before. She cast her mind back. After the informant was murdered, Trevor had tried to contact the market vendor. The stall had been used for a week and abandoned after that. He then tried to call the Tabernacle of Ras on a private line they had supposedly established for his use. Trevor subsequently found out the link was dead. He had then contacted the offices of the Nation directly demanding to speak to Deacon Tobias only to discover that the deacon was in Shashemane and was unable to be contacted. The staff at the offices knew nothing about a mission to London except what had been revealed to them from Patriarch Yamu’s broadcast. Yasmeen was scurrying around the fringes of the matter while Trevor in his own terms had got to the meat an grizzle. Set-up! A throwing knife flipped through the air and impacted in the target, vibrating violently from the force. Yasmeen flinched, her thoughts interrupted. “Do you have to keep doing that?” she asked. “What, dis?” He pointed to the blade in the distance. She nodded. “It make yuh nervous?” He asked, “A bit.” “Sorry, Sista Yasmeen.” His eyebrows creased. “But it help me to tink.” He walked over, took the dagger out of the target and spun it in his hands. Trevor had taken the precaution of using here as a safe house just in case he could be tracked back to his other accommodation and, if push come to shove, Yasmeen would be safe here too. If things were red then, now they were redder than red. For Trevor this was no conspiracy theory. It was all too real. Yasmeen was confused. She didn’t have all the facts and was trying desperately

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to prove him wrong. But the time for revelation would soon come. For now she had to come around to his way of thinking on her own. “Why do you think the patriarch referred to you as Shaka in his broadcast? Could it have been a mistake?” Trevor laughed. “Yamu nuh mek mistakes, man, him just like playing games. An plus Ras Tobias said him requested me personally to do the job.” Yasmeen shook her head and moistened her lips. “This seems too bizarre for a mixup, but what else could it be? The broadcast then the shooting?” Trevor shook his head and made clucking sounds with his tongue. “Somebody a try make dis look like a coincidence. This is a set-up, pure an’ simple. You ever think why dem choose to link you and me together?” “Why should I?” Yasmeen answered. “Initially I thought you were sent here out of a commitment to peace, the man who could finally help the Nation to take some action. There was nothing strange about all this. They simply sent the documents from Deacon Tobias that strangely made no mention of you. The administrative office via e-mail gave the more concise details to me. And it was basically your name, when you were coming, a contact number, what your mission was and where to meet you. It didn’t dawn on me how unusual that was.” “Why dem send it to yuh?” “I suppose I’m known by the Nation directorate as being totally against how they were dragging their feet when it came to solving this Spear problem. They’ve had some scorching letters from me and the community saying we didn’t think they were doing enough to help stop the violence. With my profile at the museum and my outspoken views, I became their first choice and you ended up dealing with me.” Trevor shook his head. “Dem put two troublemakers together for a reason.” “I don’t believe that.” “People are trying to kill wi, do you believe dat?” Yasmeen nodded. Trevor’s brows hooded. His eyes shone with a cold intensity. “Not because the men who seemed to be trying to kill you are not Rasta, means that Rasta are not involved. Whoever a plan dis campaign against you does not want the Nation to be held responsible for your death.” “Peace not war.” Yasmeen murmured the old Rasta adage. But even to her own ears, those words of conviction just did not ring true. She paused uncertainly. Her eyes wandered for a moment and then met Trevor’s stare again. She was denying the truth, just as she was with her own problems. Whether Yasmeen liked it or not she was being dragged along a track that had only one outcome. There was something more Trevor needed to know. “You need to hear this.” Yasmeen sounded apologetic as she searched for the

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appropriate words. “I’m afraid it won’t surprise you.” He stared intensely at her. The words fell out of her mouth. “Your return tickets to Jamaica have been cancelled.” “See it deh!” Trevor hissed, throwing back his head, the muscles of his jaw tightening. “Yuh serious?” “Never more.” “Computa error?” “I checked. It was terminated from Kingston.” “Fire burn feh dem, bomboclaat!” he shouted. “They don’t want me back alive.” “It seems that way, doesn’t it?” “Mi can rebook.” “Not exactly.” “Why?” “I took the liberty of trying to do that before I talked to you. It seems your passport details have been contaminated with some sort of virus. It’s going to take at least three weeks before the Jamaican government can sort it out and you can travel.” Silence. Trevor shook his head as if Yasmeen had confirmed something he had known all along. “Can you see now?” He nodded. “They were responsible for everyting. If not deh Nation itself, somebody inside it.” “No, Trevor.” “Yes, sister. Wake up to the reality a deh world.” “The Nation is a way of life, my way of life, not an organized crime syndicate,” Yasmeen stated, her tone begging for that statement to be the truth. Trevor chuckled grimly. “Me is not a reader, but I know dat throughout history mankind a fight war over religion. Nuff man, woman an pickney get murdered in the name a Jah, Allah or God.” He pointed to the Bible. “A nuh mi seh suh, a deh Bible seh suh.” And they both knew that fact couldn’t be disputed. But the Nation of Ras Tafari was different, wasn’t it? It had been her life. It wasn’t capable of such atrocities. But the facts before her were almost impossible to dispute. “Why would they want to kill us, Trevor?” Yasmeen asked standing up from the sofa, her eyes peering through the open window. Trevor didn’t answer; that wasn’t his concern. Hidden in the recesses of his mind he knew why and was certain of whom. Yasmeen was the one in need of convincing. He walked over to the bedside drawer and took out the bloodstained PDA he had retrieved from the dead man and twisted it triumphantly in his hand. “Rememba this?” Yasmeen shuddered. “How can I forget? Have you opened the files yet?”

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“A few.” “And?” “Interestin’ viewing, sister,” he said. “Very interestin’.”

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CHAPTER 27 THE BULKY FIGURE LOUNGED AGGRESSIVELY in the oversized chair, surrounding himself with what he would refer to as an air of probable threat. Tyrone Fink loved that pose. Nine times out of ten he had wrestled the psychological advantage from the petty villains who felt they had the biggest balls this side of the river. He looked on with keen interest as the man with the self-assured walk was escorted to him from the other side of the floor by one of his Amazon protectors. He leaned on one of the huge arm rests and folded his arms, his eyes attracted to the shadow the man was casting on the floor as he approached. Another potential trader who thought he was topping London’s most wanted list. Fink grunted and stroked his face again, his gleaming little pig’s eyes watching the controlled chaos of the sellers spread over a thousand square metres of floor space. For all their strutting and parading the hustlers and illegal trades people depended on his protection. This was his little bazaar selling items the government deemed illegal to professionals who had need of them. What did they say about forbidden fruit being the most appealing? That fact sometimes clouded some people’s perspective so bones had to be broken on a regular basis to keep them in line. A few men and even fewer women - he believed in equal opportunity - had tried to rock the well-established boat and had the privilege of being a part of the concrete foundations in Brixton’s growing architecture. He ruled the economic machinery of the underworld in the South, of that no one doubted. It was just that some needed reminding of that fact while others accepted it. Fink looked a bit closer at the man converging on him and leaned forward. He blinked rapidly and shook his head. The image of someone from his past stood glaring at him, bold as life. Looking remarkably well for a man who had been fucked by the system too many times to mention. “Jesus H Christ! Captain Asim Marshal.” “Lieutenant to you, dickhead,” Asim corrected. “Retired.” Mister. Fink shook his head, flung it back and laughed out loud, his hand coming up to his face, foraging through the hairs as if he had fleas. Stroke. Stroke. Tyrone The Wolf man Fink had not changed much. Except for his hair being longer, greyer and tied back in a ponytail, his face marked a bit more with age. And his unhealthy disposition of growing hairs where none should be, remained. At least he had clipped his ear and nose hairs.

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“Will wonders never fucking cease?” Fink bellowed. His rhetorical question remained rhetorical. “You know, never in a million years would I have imagined the straight-up, clean-cut, by-the-book, wipe-my-ass-properly, Captain white as the driven snow would ever step into my little den of disrepute. Which one of these goodies do you want for your personal use then? Let’s see, Laser arms, military or commercial ordinance, a clone or maybe an old fashioned mind-altering drug? Then again, on your salary I don’t think you could afford nish.” “Cut the crap, Tyrone. I need some information.” Fink cackled sharply. This time he was rubbing the thick hairs on his forearms. “You always did have the bottle, I have to hand that to you, but what makes you think I would tell you of all people anything? If my memory serves me right you had me expelled from a glittering career in the army. It was Asim’s turn to laugh long and hard. “Don’t try an’ bullshit a bullshitter, turf bwoy. I saved your sorry rass from a court martial years ago, remember?” Asim tipped forward on his toes, one hand in his pocket, the other cutting the air as he made his point. “Peddling contraband in the barracks, if memory serves. And me nearly impeaching myself in a military court because I had some naïve fucked-up idea about doing whatever it took to maintain the integrity of my unit. I didn’t want to bring this up, Tyrone, but if it wasn’t for me your hairy bloodclaat would be languishing at the government’s pleasure right now.” “Bollocks!” Wolf man snapped. “I would have found a way out, I always did.” “Just admit it, man. As your commanding officer I had the power to help you and did, unlike my superiors who wanted your balls. I stuck out my neck for you, remember? Negotiating a dishonorable discharge instead of letting you do hard time. In a roundabout sort a way, I helped you to build this shit.” Asim made a sweeping gesture. “Like fuck you did,” Wolf man protested but with less venom. The British army had given him the edge in his criminal career. The buzz and financial security he always dreamed of came about due in no small part to his desperation after being flung back into civilian life. He knew Asim had a point. Wolf man’s tone softened. “I heard about your wife a few years ago,” he said “You two didn’t deserve that.” “Thanks! ”Asim grunted and then said, “I still need that information, Wolf man. Like yesterday.” Fink lowered his head, the bristling sound of his hands scraping against his coarse facial hair maintained an irritating rhythm for minutes. When he submerged from his thoughts, his frown had changed into a broad grin. “Okay, let’s talk. Right.”

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They had stationed themselves at a far corner of the trading room. Asim was standing, his back to the wall, feeling more comfortable that way while the Wolfman sat in a sparsely constructed Contour chair. Even over this side the sounds of the grey market bazaar drifted over to them but at least the milling human traffic which seemed to irritate Asim’s host was diminished. Asim asked the question: “I need to find dis man. I’ve got very little intelligence on him but what I do know is from the hard copy.” He handed Fink the crystal with the image embedded in it. “He’s a Rasta hustler, a smooth rass who goes by the name of Baldwin.” “Rasta?” The Wolf man interjected, his fingers twining the hairs of his beard. Asim’s eyebrow arched. Fink responded to Asim’s look of puzzlement before he asked. “I may be a North London white boy but I do know a true Rasta wouldn’t be involved in my line of business. And Baldwin, the cockroach that he is, is no Rasta.” “He has a flat in Brixton,” Asim continued. “That I know for a fact and my gut feeling tells mi he was either a pimp or con man, he had the look. I figured this type of thing was your territory.” “How did you find me anyway?” Asim chuckled humorlessly. “I still have the right connections.” “I bet. And being the proud fucker that you are, you must be gutted coming to moi for help. It must be a major cluster fuck. So why do you need him so badly?” He asked plainly, and was sorry he did. Asim’s impassive features suddenly darkened. His eyes became distant killing eyes. Eyes that had seen too many die - a few delivered by his own hands - and that held a promise of more to come. Wolf man knew the look well. “Lets jus’ say, he overstepped the mark with someone I dearly love.” A sound like a growl rumbled from the back of Asim’s throat like distant thunder. Fink remembered his commanding officer to be a passionate man with a degree of self-control that made many officers of higher rank envious. Time had taken its toll and he was getting very intense in his old age. Wolf man twiddled the fingers of his left hand and one of his female aides bounded over. He made another set of finger and hand movements and she disappeared. Asim was impressed by Fink’s repertoire of hand gestures. Moments later she returned with a computer readout, which she placed in his lap. The main man scanned the hard copy with his bushy eyebrows twitching, then held onto his courier’s hands and kissed it. “Excellent, darling.” She smiled and withdrew to a respectable distance. “Pheromones,” he said to Asim’s unasked question. He then shot a satisfied look

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in the direction of his former commanding officer and flicked the paper with his index finger. “My records say the wanker your looking for does actually live in Brixton and that the little cunt owes me money. He’s a dodgy customer and, even though I know he’s making some credits peddling emotion chips, he’s running around with some other geezers from the East, some hard-nosed bastards I’m told, and making more money than is right for a tosser like that.” The tips of Wolf man’s fingers scraped across his face rapidly. “Baldwin is a man who thinks with his small head, right.” He grabbed his crotch in illustration. “Not his brains. Whoever he’s working with will soon find out he’s a no-hope loser.” “Who is this crowd he’s running around with, anyway?” Asim asked. “That’s the funny part. I don’t know for sure. My guess is he’s become a snitch but their activities are even hidden from my beady little eyes. And that pisses me right off. I like to know what’s taking place on another man’s patch, the ‘who’s, ‘what’s and ‘why’s, right. But this cunt’s movements have left me guessing.” He handed Asim the data sheet. “Still he’s not top priority on my list, just one of those annoying loose ends need tidying up. His last known address and relevant bits and bobs are on that paper - memorize it. I don’t make it a habit to give out sensitive information like this to any Tom, Dick and Raja but for old times sake I’m making an exception. I just want to ask you one thing before you break him in half. Deliver a message for me.” “Break him in half? My days of violence are over, rude bwoy,” said Asim insincerely. The Wolf man shook his bedraggled head. “Yeah right.” He grinned, his two canines showing over his lower lip. “Just tell the little toe rag from me, if I don’t get my money very soon, I’m personally going to climb so high up his ass it’s going to take a search and rescue party to dig me out.” Asim grimaced at the thought and said, “He’ll get it.”

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CHAPTER 28 HE TRIED TO DUCK BUT COULDN’T. Even as the space Yogi Pillow smashed into the side of his head and he rolled with the blow, he knew it was pointless. Asim’s lesson in reality had just come to an abrupt end. The picture he had carried in his head up to this point - and this point being the first time he tucked his daughter in bed - was one of reading Akilla a bedtime story and watching her blissfully drift off to sleep. A kiss on her cheek and him sneaking away, satisfied. Wake up rude bwoy! And he did, just as pillow number two sliced his mid-section, quickly followed by a salvo of cuddly toys and smart blocks. That was when his fantasy bubble, burst. Pop! Her contagious giggling got louder while she continued to reduce her room to a bombsite. Asim caught himself laughing raucously with her and strangely it had surprised him. It felt out of place. Just the act of unrestrained laughter gave him a feeling of being someone else. Like some liberated soul looking in on himself. God Almighty, yout, he chastised himself, you are a sad bastard, psychoanalyzing a moment of happiness. Asim chuckled to himself and sat up from Akilla’s bed. He was expecting her grandmother to come in any minute now; annoyed from the noise they were making and only too happy to negotiate peace in the pillow wars that had extended way past her bedtime. She didn’t. By now it was a certainty that he was really on his own and it was his job to calm her down and tuck her in. He took up the stuffed toys off the floor and placed them on her dresser as she bounced in the centre of the bed like a trampolinist, with her tongue sticking out. Tidying up quickly and ignoring her name-calling, the temptation to send a flying pillow at her was strong. But he held back, sensing their ‘ramping’ would never end so he tried to look like he meant business and found that difficult to do. Wrestling the bundle of energy under the sheets, he had to threaten her with calling ‘Granny’ if she didn’t settle down. That seemed to have the desired effect as Asim bent over and kissed her. Sighing with relief, he headed quickly for the door. His little girl was not quite finished with him yet, though. “Daaad!” she drawled. Asim cringed uncomfortable with the title. “Yes, madam?” He turned slowly with a stern expression on his face that just didn’t have the conviction to deter her. “What was mummy like?” The innocent question rooted him to the spot. The wall that he had erected that shielded his eyes from believing how perceptive Akilla could be, finally crumbled.

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She may not have grasped the deeper notion of death but she knew her mother was gone. At that instant he had a brief understanding of the pain she would feel in later life of not knowing her mother and never being able to. He cleared his throat uneasily and kneeled down beside her. “She was wonderful. The best mommy yuh could ask for,” he whispered in her ear. “And just as beautiful as you.” Asim kissed her but Akilla held onto his hand as he rose to leave. “You have to help me say my praaayers. Didn’t Gran’ma tell you?” Asim’s head tilted slightly forward. He smiled. This he had not prepared for. “She must have forgotten, baby,” he said. “You’re a big girl now, do you really need me for dat?” “Don’t be silly, of course.” “So what do we do?” He sighed, not wanting to disappoint her. The little woman laughed heartily at that question as she sprang up from under her sheet, eyes alight. “Dad’s never prayed before,.” she teased in a singsong voice. “I have but … I’m just a bit rusty, dat’s all.” “Liar,” she laughed and with a knowing twinkle in her eyes, Akilla took her fibbing father’s hands, clasped them together and made him kneel beside the bed. She bounced off and kneeled beside him, closing her eyes tightly. A frown formed on her lips as she suspected a lack of effort on his part. Her left eye flicked open and rolled in the direction of Asim who was feeling like a prize prat as he looked into the middle distance. She nudged him with her shoulder. “Jah won’t hear you unless … you … close … your … eyes … Dad.” Surprised, Asim obliged. Somehow he had imagined Akilla using the traditional Christian term of God. The rebel in her had already made a decision - with a little help from Yasmeen - on what she should believe in. That was how he chose to think of it, anyway. And it simply made him even more proud of her. His first prayer in many years strangely made him realise that it would not be his last. Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray to Jah my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray to Jah my soul to take. Asim still smelled of his daughter’s baby lotion even as the dark sheen of the glass towers of Brixton loomed ahead. Slowly his Porsche eased its way through the traffic. The night was warm and the commercial centre of South London was awash with neon-lighted colour. It was early morning but the streets were filled with automated street cleaners, party goers, blaring noise and swirling colours. Asim was a stark contrast. He was dressed entirely in black except for a dark blue windbreaker

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and, perched on his forehead, a fashionable pair of dark specs. From his grim expression and his functional wear, Asim would not be partying tonight. He had work to do. The cars ahead slowed to a stop. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, humming to some tune he could not remember the words to, he proceeded cautiously. Soon he drove free along Africa Boulevard, with its banks and office buildings housing multinational companies mainly from the Commonwealth of Democratic African States. Some of the glass towers in the distance rose half-skeletal, halffleshed, so they looked like an architect’s cross-section diagrams. What made the difference was that these diagrams were partially animated. Sparks from laser welders danced off the metal superstructures and robotic workers crawled along the frames like a legion of spiders. Creating the dream while their masters slept. Asim tore his eyes away from the skyline and maneuvered his car into Brixton High Road. The onboard computer was already aligning the car in the right lane for the turnoff before he needed to. The twelve-storey NCP car park looked more like a virtual amusement arcade. All bright lights, glass and giant scrolling billboards. He turned into the park and stopped at the barrier. Time to declare war, he thought. Eyes looked up at Baldwin, gleaming and intense. She drew air through clenched teeth, grunting and groaning. Her fleeting smiles were like intermittent waves of pleasure radiating off a heightened sexual experience only she could experience. A BrainTechTM receiver was clipped around her head, its central light blinking. All past experiences of an orgasm had been momentarily wiped from her memory by the machine. Her come would feel like her very first but this time under the guidance of a master cocks man. Both bodies were soaked in sweat, writhing in controlled movements, exploring each other with nothing remotely like loving passion. Baldwin was not the type of man who would make feelings of caring interfere with good sex, especially when this fuck was touching a nine on the Baldwin scale of ten. Easy. As his mind lingered, he felt the mounting wave of pleasure wash down his spine on its way to his swollen member as he sank deeply into her again. He clenched his teeth, arched his back and breathed deeply until it subsided. A euphoric grin lingered on his lips as he slowly lowered himself so only his cock’s bulbous head teased its way into her and with a petulant flick of his locks he eyed the luminous timer on his night table. Two hours and thirty minutes. Champion, Baldwin thought, a new record. He was pleased. And he should be. With Tracy groaning and bucking underneath him it

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was no wonder he had to use all his will power not to climax. The games men play. He wouldn’t have backed away from this opportunity if you paid him. Tracy was special. He had never experienced a woman with such exquisite control over her vaginal muscles. Combined with her addiction to emotion chips which he conveniently sold - she was a beast in bed. One he took great pleasure in taming. So what was a sore cock? That was the price one paid for being a martyr to the cause. With that thought, he felt Tracy grip him inside her and, as he moved with the merest gyration of his waist, pubic hairs entwined and the clitoris being stimulated with every movement, she cried out. With a combination of his probing stabs inside her and the emotion recorder stimulating parts of her brain responsible for sexual gratification, he didn’t know how she hadn’t exploded already. Then again, he knew the answer to that. Tracy was a pro. She had already climaxed twice in the two hours and thirty-five minutes of sex and this would be her third time. It took a special woman to enjoy and take pride in her screwing prowess and his blessing was that these women sensed a kindred spirit in him. Borderline nymphomaniac. Baldwin smiled, raising himself slightly to increase the friction of his penis against her clitoris and propped her legs back with his arms. For a minute, he had forgotten his Guinness record attempt and wanted only for Tracy to scream out in his soundproofed room with the mirrored ceiling. And ‘bwoy’ she didn’t disappoint. Wolf man had given Asim a previous address, plus other miscellaneous facts he thought would be useful to source him with. He still hadn’t figured out how Baldwin’s star sign could help him but he managed to use it nonetheless. He smiled grimly, reminded of a very apt Jamaican saying that was more than relevant to the present situation. Fling rock stone inna pig pen, whoever bawl out first, get deh lick. And Baldwin was screaming. The rock stone he used in this case was his discreet enquires and the pig pen his local haunts. And all this attention, coming from a mysterious schoolmate, who wanted to contact him urgently. By now he should know he was never in school with an Egbert Walters and start worrying. And like a badly plotted comic, he did. Asim had learned that people reacted two ways to strangers asking about them and that separated them into definite categories of nothing to hide or something to hide. Baldwin fell firmly in the latter. He was not the modest type and definitely did not revel in the idea of a low profile. Driving a custom-built van fully tech-loaded drew attention and pussy. His change from a flamboyant turf boy to the more reserved and cautious type was a dramatic one. He obviously did not like friends enquiring of his whereabouts. The designer dread learned very quickly the benefits of walking and

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relieving the grid locked traffic in London by taking public transport. Environmentally conscious he wasn’t, just deeply suspicious. The things you could learn from watching. Human beings acted irrationally on one level but, if you looked carefully, they operated on simple rules that seem complex until you know what they are. In Baldwin’s case the human frailty of habit let Asim plot his comings and goings and judge with reasonable accuracy the patterns of his day-to-day activities. Four different girls in the space of five days slept at his apartment. For Fatima’s boyfriend, he wasn’t very concerned about the fact he hadn’t seen her in the last month. He left his home every day with a backpack bulging full of goodies and came home with it empty. His lunch? Or maybe he was making his rounds to Oxfam. Somehow he doubted that reasoning. Now peddling, that was more in line with character. All in all Baldwin was a fascinating animal to study in his habitat but there comes a time in every ghetto anthropologist’s life where you have to study your subject at close quarters. He couldn’t wait. You were meant to walk down the fire escape of Kuanda Flats in case of emergencies but Asim, always the one to say ‘fuck convention’ was climbing up it and there wasn’t a fire in sight. No alarms responded to his intrusion and that meant things were going to plan. Asim ran up the zigzag stairs, holding the rails and pulling himself forward, and steadily made his way to the eighth floor. His first recon of the building a week ago had left him concerned about the security arrangements but he needn’t have been. On closer inspection the technology was outdated and typical of local government engineers taking the cheap and cheerful route to the taxpayers’ detriment. Asim had attached a little package to the building’s main console, giving him uninterrupted access to the winding gantry up the side of the flats’ rear face. He had an hour before the system overrode his little toy and started to scream blue murder. Plenty a time. For the sake of stealth from his head - he wore a balaclava - to his feet he wore black, everything made from the same light-absorbing material. He was a shadow as he mounted the stairs two at a time, his steps lost to the sound of the wind whistling through the metal framework and the distant whooping of rotors. Nearing the eighth floor, he slowed his pace and silently swung himself up. The windows were spaced evenly along the buildings rear face. He stayed in the shadow away from the light shining out of an apartment near him. He had to get by undetected. Silently and with almost casual skill, he tumbled forward on the metal platform, avoiding the open window with fluttering curtains. Rolling once and then twice he came up with his back firmly against the wall. The wind whipped at his jacket while he peered across the expanse of Brixton. He was three windows away

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from the flat he had intentions breaking into and he allowed his nimble fingers to lead his entire body like a fencer across to the point. A distant sound he had ignored earlier had suddenly started to drown out the whistling of the wind. He froze and cursed under his breath for his lack of foresight. Shaking his head angrily he swore again. A low chopping sound swooped from above him, and within seconds it was hovering about hundred and fifty metres away. The Met-1’s metallic black Vampire ’copter began sweeping the terrain with what seemed like solid beams of light, maneuvering side ways like a land crab as if it was uncertain. The gatling guns shone ominous under its nose cone and Asim knew, if for whatever reason they decided to use them, the coroners would be soaking up what was left of his corpse with a sponge. Asim’s mind went blank and his muscles tensed. If they reverted to heat-seeking mode he was cool; the material of his suit gave off no heat signature but a full frontal slam by a high intensity light and that would be it. The beam split and started sweeping the face of the building. He held his breath. A thick tube of light came so close that the heat prickled his forehead. Asim tried to melt into the wall. They took a keen interest in his position, lights dancing around him like they were rehearsing for some cabaret performance. Another moved just below his shoes, stopping near his heel then shooting down to the foot of the building. A nervous breath exploded from his mouth. Nose down they swing away from him their attention focused on the tower blocks in the distance then with a moment’s hesitation they shot away. Asim stood there for a moment, breathing heavily, his back against the wall and his head rose to the sky. He could feel the sweat trickling down his back. Only four steps more, he thought. A ghostly reflection of himself from the opaque one-way windows followed his movements. Stopping, he crouched and came out of his pocket with a small device held between two fingers. He then carefully attached it to the window’s frame. He grinned, just before he depressed the device’s housing. What was this world coming to? Honest Ed the homeowner was fighting a losing battle against today’s hi-tech burglars. You were up against thieves who were updating their equipment and techniques every day, leaving the poor bemused model citizen goat-fucked. Better him dan me. The twin lights on the mechanism flashed red once and then pulsed yellow. There was a muffled phut sound and the window slid open. Asim detached the small instrument and popped it back in his pocket. Cautiously, he snaked his head through the opening, checking if the coast was clear. Darkness and silence. Crouching, he entered the apartment, closing the window from inside, and found his feet sink into the thick-pile carpet in what seemed to be the main lounge. He stood

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still while his senses adapted to the darkness and used the time to assess his surroundings. He was sure this was the apartment his sister had made the call from. The clock tower stood in the distance just as it had in the recording; the furnishings were identical and in the exact same positions from the TView. There was just one thing. The image he had of the apartment from the tapes had changed dramatically from what he was seeing now. The place was in complete state of disarray as if a freak weather condition had created a localized typhoon and wreaked havoc in his apartment. Fatima was an obsessive house mouse and loved where she lived to be orderly and spotless. Asim had been force-fed the lessons of cleanliness from the army but for his sister it came naturally. Her room always looked like something out of the Ideal Home Show. Her legacy had not been respected in the least. Clothes were strewn over the sofa and on the floor. The faint smell of his body odour tainted the air with the smell of cigarettes. He carefully stepped over glasses and plates left on the floor and entered the kitchen. It, too, was in a state of chaos. Greasy tendrils of bacon rind still stuck to plates in the sink and from their state of desiccation were days old. Asim shook his head. He could only imagine the dutty dread was waiting for the bacon remnants to evolve to a level of intelligence so that they could wash the dishes themselves. Nasty motherfucker! Asim moved stealthily into the hallway, opened up some nondescript doors revealing cupboards and storage closets. No surprises anywhere. Moving sideways, his back rubbing along the wall, he stopped at a matt black display case situated centrally along the hallway. He glanced at a few expensive-looking trinkets inside. Continuing, he headed for the room at the far end. Inching closer and keenly listening for any sounds coming from inside, he stretched out his hand to grab the door knob. It swung towards him. Force of will or, more sensibly, it was pushed open. Asim shuffled back using the shadow thrown on the wall by the opening door. Baldwin stepped out, yawned and stretched his still-erect penis a signpost pointing east which he followed. Standing perfectly still, Asim watched. The funky dread headed for the bathroom his locks bouncing with his steps. Moments later the toilet flushed. Baldwin drearily padded back to his room and Asim whispered his name. “Big pussy, Baldwin!” The dread spun, nearly losing his balance in the process, a look of horror and panic on his face lasting only fleeting seconds. Straining, he listened. No sounds. He relaxed and cursed himself for drinking too much. “You’re not going crazy, boss.” Asim’s voice was a harsh rasp. “I want you alert an’ aware.”

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Baldwin’s neck snapped around like he had been struck. He shook his head. Cautiously, he moved closer then jumped back. A ghostly outline emerged. “Heyyyy!” A furious blow to his Adam’s apple cut off all possible conversation and with overwhelming force he was slammed to the wall. Screaming was pointless, as he needed air to do that. He clutched at his throat, thrashing wildly as his need to breathe grew but just as he tottered on the brink of unconsciousness or death the pressure on his throat relaxed. He gasped for air like a man starved of it for longer than a few seconds “Lights!” Asim said and stepped away from him as the room brightened. Baldwin slid to a sitting position on the floor, panting. Asim looked him up and down, squinted at the sight of his erect cock and focused elsewhere. Immediately his attention was drawn to a discoloration on his left arm. At first it seemed like a large mole but as Baldwin fidgeted, trying to shadow Asim’s every movement, he caught the edges of a tattoo with a chilling but unique design. He had to be mistaken, that couldn’t be right. Asim tilted his head and glimpsed the edge of what could be a number seven, floating above his dark skin. He stepped back. This time it was Asim’s turn for the breath to be caught in his throat. He had hoped to God he never had to see that ever again. Asim squinted. Subconscious sirens were screaming in his head and his pulse raced. He stepped closer and the funky dread shrunk into himself, exposing the holographic tattoo some more . The image may have fooled the eye into believing it was floating above the skin of his forearm but it didn’t disguise the fact that it was the so-called sacred circle of seven. The venerated symbol of the Broderbund - the racist Brotherhood of New South Africa. Asim held Baldwin’s terrified gaze with his smoldering eyes and scowled. “What do yuh want in my flat, man?” Baldwin screamed. “We’re schoolmates, rememba?” “I don’t know you from fucking Adam,” he hollered, jumping up and down like a caged monkey.” “I’m Egbert.” “You’re a cock sucker, batty bwoy.” He pointed at him, making threatening steps in his direction. “Yuh supposed to say, ‘pleased to meet you’,” Asim said. Baldwin looked at the door that led into the passage outside with yearning eyes. Asim chuckled. “If you’re thinking of running, feget it! I don’t miss, turf bwoy.” Asim spun the dagger he had dragged from a scabbard strapped to his leg, flipping it skillfully and wondering if Baldwin’s eyesore of an erection would ever go down.

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“You’re one fucking man. You think I can’t take you?” Baldwin tested the water and then wished he hadn’t said that. “You’re welcome,” Asim growled, standing there with unblinking eyes and the shiny knife in his hand. The funky dread was weak in the knees, pressing against the wall, his mouth dry and his back moist and sticky. To die naked, helpless and with a cock stand, no way. “Fuck you,” he bellowed then bolted. Asim expected that move before even he decided to make it. Scurrying four quick steps to his right, Asim swung the handle of his knife in a wide arc. It caught Baldwin sharply in the hollow of his neck, the force making him stumble, the muscles of his legs going weak. The floor rose up to meet him even too quickly for him to counter. His head struck the hard edge of the doorframe, leaving him slumped awkwardly on the passageway wall. He didn’t move. “Fuck you too,” Asim said finally. Baldwin’s erection suddenly went limp. Eyes partially opened after what could have been minutes or even hours of sleep or nightmare. His mind filled with mental fog. He wished that the pain in his head and neck was nothing more sinister than the result of him slamming it against the wall during sex or, even better, his neck was at an odd angle while he was tantalizing her with his tongue. He wished he would open his eyes, turn over and Tracey would be beside him exhausted but satisfied. A vivid nightmare. Pure and simple. Not so, rude bwoy. He opened his eyes and saw the terrible reality unfold before him. He snapped shut his eyes tightly again. This fuckery is not happening to me, man. This can’t be happening. With more caution this time, his eyelids parted and the horror he was desperately trying to tell himself didn’t exist remained with crystal clarity. Baldwin howled, his wasted life flashing before his eyes. Dangling precariously from his ankles, he was attached to a metal rig used by the automated window cleaners to move around the face of the building. Baldwin knew he was dead. He was on the roof of the tower seventeen stories up and hanging over the edge, swaying mildly, as the luminous ant colony of cars shifted lazily below. He thrashed like a fish on a hook, his cries dying in the black expanse of the night, powerless. Baldwin cursed in one breath and then pleaded in the next, with a voice that shifted from a hoarse cry to a subdued whimper. He tried to reach up to his feet but his wrists had been bound and with gravity and his weak lower body strength it condemned him to keep swinging as long as his

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tormenter wanted. The man in black stared on at him from his safe position on the roof, waiting or simply lost in his own world. “What the fuck do you want with me, boss?” Baldwin spat out. “What the fuck, maaaaaan?” Asim could not get the image of the circle of seven tattoos out of his head. His mind was in overdrive. A multitude of possibilities steam-rollered their way through his mind while he tried desperately to extract some rational explanation from it all. What was a black man with the initiation mark of one of the most notorious extremist groups in New South Africa, a group whose more moderate founders established apartheid and who ultimately wanted nothing more than Afrikaner dominance? It took over a hundred years for the once ultra secret organization who harnessed political, social and economic forces in the old South Africa to transform into a slick, wellfinanced terrorist group who were presently waging bloody war in New South Africa itself. He considered the possibility that the tattoo was some fashion statement but it was so secretive a mark the general population wouldn’t know anything about it. The explanation was much more sinister and straightforward. The separatists had a presence in London and Baldwin was somehow involved with them. As bizarre as it was, the racist Broeders had a trusted network of black informants in Africa, to provide them with grassroots intelligence on their larger enemies and goals. But their concerns were a continent away, not here in London. Not as far as he knew. In his tour of duty he had personally, and with no regret at all, terminated some of their leaders and foot soldiers. As he felt the twinge of pain in his back, a reminder of the last close shave he had with them, it reaffirmed the score that had gone unsettled. If they were kind enough to be on his doorstep, linked somehow with Baldwin and more so linked with Fatima’s abduction… Hell an powder house feh dem. The funky dread was the key and Asim knew he had to keep him under constant surveillance. His job was to ‘rinse’ him for information and scare him ‘shitless’. If him slip, him slide. “They say you die before you hit the ground from a fall like this,” Asim wondered aloud. “They’d be scraping your sorry rass off the sidewalk for days to come.” There was another stream of abuse from Baldwin as he hung there. “Just answer the questions and I won’t have to test the theory.” The dread’s defiance was seeping away rapidly. “What do you want from me, man?” Baldwin sobbed. “Just some answers.” “I don’t know nuthin.”

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“But yuh do, Baldwin. Plenty.” “You got the wrong man, boss. I’m just trying to survive the system, man. Hustling, ducking an’ diving, you know how it is, broooother.” “Forget that ‘brother’ crap. I’ve been employed to get some answers from yuh and personally I don’t give a shit how I get it. It seems to me, turf bwoy, you’re having the worst day of your life and believe me it can get worst. Providing …” “Providing what?” Baldwin wailed. “Providing yuh tell me what I want to know.” “You’re making no sense, man.” Asim snorted, just managing to control the rage boiling inside. The question was asked calmly: “What sort of relationship did you have with Fatima Marshal?” “Fatima who?” Asim’s patience threshold was bordering on zero by now. He leaned over to the lever mechanism, squeezed on the clasp with the palm of his hand and saw the rope release. Baldwin plummeted. His shrieking continued even as his fall ended abruptly, the ropes biting into his ankles and spinning him. The mechanical winch brought him up from his brief drop until he was level with Asim again. “Don’t fuck with me, dread.” He stared into his eyes and could see the near hysterical panic there. “You’re not the only source of information on my list, just the easiest to get to. If you were to have a tragic accident, I’d personally sleep better tonight, knowing an asshole like you wouldn’t be on the street peddling yuh mind shit. So don’t tempt me. Now, back to the question. What sort of relationship did you have with Fatima Marshal?” “I met her at a club, man,” he blubbered. “Which club?” Asim snapped. “The Cue Club, my regular hangout.” “And …?” Asim invited. “We became good friends. I used to see her from time to time, you know, touch it a few times and that’s it. She was a nice enough girl.” “Bullshit!” growled Asim. “Ms Marshal was snatched a month ago, raped, and you know something ’bout it.” “Raped!” Baldwin croaked. “She was raped? I had nothing to do with that, man, straight up,” he wailed. “ Nothing.” “Like fuck, yuh didn’t!” Baldwin heard the keen blade of Asim’s bush knife as it was dragged from the scabbard strapped to his ankle for a second time. He wriggled comically, trying to twist his body around for a better view at what he was up to. He wished he hadn’t tried. The man in black was preparing to cut the ropes.

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The moisture in his mouth suddenly evaporated. Baldwin nearly lost control of his bowels and by sheer force of will flexed his vocal chords into a blood-curdling wail. “JESAS CHRIST, BOSS! I’m ready! I’m ready!” he screamed. “I’m ready to talk, man. Just don’t cut the rope, turf man. I’m begging yuh. I’ll tell you all I know. Everything, boss, EVERYTING!” Ignoring him, Asim continued hacking into the fibers then he lifted his head like he was sniffing the air. Baldwin’s screams dominated. Asim slowly sheathed his knife. “If I ever have to take this out again …” He kissed his teeth.”… They’ll be scrapping your rass off the sidewalk, so let’s get a few things straight.” He paused and folded his arms. “I know Ms Marshal was living here with you for some time. I know she felt the sun shone out of your ass. I know you were trying to get her hooked on these Brain Fuck machines but couldn’t. The idea of leaving home came from you and the gentle persuasion she needed to take up lap dancing or cage work in the West was your plan. Now for the icing on the cake. The night she disappeared she was with you, lover bwoy. I just want to know everything you know.” Baldwin’s eyes bulged and his face turned decidedly pale. Asim smiled under the balaclava. “Remember, it’s you, me and seventeen floors to ground zero, rude bwoy. Take your time, relax and tell me everything you know, in a clear and strong speaking voice.”

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CHAPTER 29 THE MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR WESTMINSTER tapped her expensively clad feet to the rhythmic beating of the Kente drums. Her male advisor whispered something in her ear and they both laughed heartily, sharing the joke with the other dignitaries in earshot. If the atmosphere was anything to go by, the opening of the exhibit, Black Pharaoh’s in Ancient Egypt, was a success. You could use the figures of attendance as an indicator, too. Five hundred invitations sent out and just about a thousand people turned up. Yasmeen, who was wearing a slinky, figure-hugging, black and gold sequined evening gown with matching head wrap - peered over to the assorted gaggle of politicians, academics, journalists, museum staff and the obligatory celebrities who had an interest in African culture and history. A battalion of waiters waded through the crowds with trays of fine wine, disturbing the grazing guests’ intent on making good use of the free food. Yasmeen had been chosen to provide the guided tour of the exhibit and was frankly glad it was all over. Jah, she was tired but glad she had agreed on doing this. Her life would go on as normally as was possible, for a target. Her work and these occasions were her only therapy. After completing her tour, Yasmeen, her mind uneasy, felt compelled to talk to someone. A dark oppressive patch of something that eluded her probing lay on the fringes of her consciousness. How she wished she could share these feelings with Asim but now it was his turn to be unreachable. Trevor was her solitary confidante in these matters. Voice of the Skin, the famous seven-piece Nyabinghi drumming troupe performed some stirring compositions. The Ethiopian chants especially had the audience mesmerized by their haunting rhythms. Trevor’s preoccupation, though, was with how so relatively few people could drink so much alcohol. He was still recovering from the shock, when Yasmeen turned up beside him with a waitress and her notepad. “Name your poison?” she asked him. “An Orange juice, cool.” Yasmeen looked at the waitress. “For me a passion fruit juice and we’ll both be sitting here.” The waitress nodded, smiled and then departed. “Is this taking your mind off things,” she asked. “Not all together, sista, but it a help, still. Respect.” They both sat at a nearby table, their discussion interspersed with well wishers congratulating her on a job well done. “I never got to ask you how your wife feels about all what’s happening over

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here.” Trevor laughed heartily; it was a deceptive laugh. “Mi couldn’t tell my queen about all this, man. She an deh youths would be worrying too much. I kept them out a deh real picture.” “The kids miss you, don’t they?” she asked. “Yeah, man, they want to see their daddy. I man just praying it won’t be in a board box.” The macabre thought filled her with even more hopelessness. She forced it aside. “So where do we go from here? What options do we have?” Her own conclusions came to the forefront of her mind but Trevor’s tangential way of looking at a problem would hopefully give some credibility to her own ideas. The natty stroked his beard. “Mi a work off deh theory that something a happen, which require that both a we is out a deh picture. Let’s give them what dem want. That will give me time to find out more and plan.” “I take it you’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re stuck here for a while longer?” Yasmeen asked. “I have no problem with that.” Trevor’s eyes widened. “It gone beyond a mission. It’s personal now.” “I still don’t understand what they want from you. Who were you in Jamaica?” “Jus’ a outspoken farmer,” he answered, “who wont stand feh dem fuckery.” “And so the Nation sent you out here to be killed?” He nodded slowly. “Thro-Weh district is one a deh few town under Rasta philosophy where the elders do not have total control. We provide for ourselves, we protect ourselves and we abide by the Bible and the law set for ourselves. In the past we have defied them on some big, big issues. I have lead deh way on all of them. Whatever it is they plan to do, they couldn’t get to do it while I rest at Thro-Weh.” “So they lure you here and involve you in this peace process and give you the credit for it. Leaving them open to kill you and use the racial conflict card as the reason. But if you suspected, why did you come?” “Because of you, sista.” “Me!” “Someone told me to come and I man did.” Yasmeen smiled and so did he. Trevor was serious. The Rasta man rose his hand before she could ask him anything else. “What is important is not why mi come but that mi deh yah to cover your back. And to warn you this is the just the beginning.” “And everything we have been doing here?” “Chickeeny business,” Trevor spat. “Just a small part of a bigger game. A game

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wi learning deh rules to.” “This is all so cryptic. Shadowy religious figures, hit squads, assassination attempts and you’re asking me to believe this was organized by our people.” “Believe dat.” “Why?” “For now …” He lit a spliff. “… Is better you just trust mi.” She shuffled in her seat. “That’s not the answer I want to hear, Trevor.” Her eyes never left his. “Do you have an open mind, sista, can yuh handle the truth?” “Try me.” It was said with a determined whisper. The dread leaned back. The hum of the milling patrons in background, tinkling glasses and muted laughter made what he had to say seem like a life and death statement. He looked over to those fiery brown eyes and placed one elbow on the table, meeting her stare. “What is deh biggest event taking place in a deh Rasta calendar?” “The Ascension of Negusa Negas,” she answered. “An which man, you would put sure money pan to hold the title?” “Patriarch Yamu.” Her answer was immediate. “What if him never as certain as you? What if him think me and others like me, can stop him from obtain the title becah. I know things. What steps yuh tink him would tek?” Her brows rose suspiciously. Only a desperate man could be capable of killing for power. The patriarch was a man of peace. No! It’s just not possible, he’s allowing his hatred for the man to cloud his judgment. Then Trevor’s warning came back to her. Can yuh handle what mi have to seh, sista? She fought to make sense of it. What could Trevor ever know that would make the patriarch, a man promoting peace, to want to kill him? Then again, why would he be lying? A more rational answer must be available somewhere. But what was it? “How can you be certain?” she said “Nuthin in life is certain but that doesn’t mean you live life in fear. Follow yuh heart.” She shook her head and shrugged confused. “You’re accusing the potential leader of the Nation of Ras Tafari, a man loved by millions of people, of trying to kill you and me and your basis of belief is following your heart?” Across from her he had his eyes closed and his head leaned back contemplating her words. If she knew what I knew she would believe. He licked his lips, wanting to tell her more, but knowing he had promised. Trevor heard the light footfalls approach his table and he opened his eyes. The

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waitress had arrived with the juices and the Rasta man reached for his juice off the tray then hesitated before he took Yasmeen’s. She was not the waitress who had taken their order earlier. “My sistren asked for a passion fruit juice from your colleague, yuh brought her something different.” The waitress looked at the glass more keenly. The slightly off-red contents were making the glass sweat. “This is pure passion fruit, sir, I poured it from the container myself.” Trevor leaned forward shaking his head, the poor girl oblivious to the fact that she was about to test a man who lived off the land and knew natural juices, a man who also knew the juices for this event had been brought from a Rasta trader who knew Yasmeen well. No concentrate, additives or preservatives, these were pasteurized fresh from the fruit. “Look,” Trevor said expecting an apology. “Yuh must know fruit juices, yuh in deh food business, you taste it.” The woman’s face went pale. She took up the glass and stared at the contents as if she expected it to magically spring from the glass into her mouth. Yasmeen looked on embarrassed. “Taste it,” the Rasta man growled. The young woman protested glancing nervously behind her, as if she was wondering who else was witnessing this embarrassing situation unfold. Then suddenly she was quiet as if she was struggling to keep something vile inside her trapped. In an instant her body language shifted from confidence to panic and Trevor saw the masquerade she had played out so well fall apart. There was no need for second thoughts when the Rasta man lunged, his fingers reaching for her hair but she had seen the signs too and spun out of his reach, leaving him a red wig as a trophy. The tray with the glasses and jug crashed to the tiles, making patrons look over quizzically at the commotion. Before anyone could understand what had just happened the faux waitress had left a path of patrons on the floor struggling back to their feet as she barreled her way through them in a bid to escape. Trevor shook his head and took out his video two-way, informing security to apprehend her. The gal was going nowhere. “What was that about?” Yasmeen asked her shocked only just subsiding. “She was a Blood,” Trevor said matter-of-factly “An’ if I’m right she was trying to poison you.” Yasmeen’s head lowered into her outstretched hands and it was there she asked her question. “How much longer can you keep on protecting me?”

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Trevor massaged her shoulders and said coolly. “Until yuh have no further need for my protection or when mi dead.�

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CHAPTER 30 THE DAY HAD STARTED WELL. It was his daughter’s tenth birthday and a little knees-up at home had been planned in celebration. Nan was there, his uncle Farlo and his sister Muriel in from Australia. A real family affair and he was forced to leave it early. Unforeseen circumstances, he had told them. So a sterling good mood - and they didn’t come often - was in tatters, while he sat on his tod waiting. “Where the fuck is that cunt? I want him here!” His finger jabbed down to his feet, at a spot where his shoes sunk into the plush carpet of his Rolls Royce. The demand and the question were directed to no one in particular but the men beside him felt an overpowering urge to shrug. Reggie Thorndike blew a wisp of impatient smoke through the window and watched as the tobacco vapor was snatched and devoured by the oppressive darkness outside. He leaned forward. His eyes darted from side to side straining to see anything beyond the glass but couldn’t. He leaned back. The men paid to protect him ignored his impatience and kept scanning the scarred terrain with night scopes. The disused industrial estate in his old Tower Hamlets neighborhood was ideal. He only wished he didn’t have to be here under these poxy circumstances. Tongues were wagging in the wrong mouths. His favor for the Brotherhood had become complicated. The small matter of the abducted colored girl and possibly the failed attempts at trying to kill her Rasta friend was obviously the reason. Somehow, someone had followed a trail back to him. Now, how was that possible? He asked himself rhetorically. B a l d w i n. He recited the name, carefully dissecting the letters from it, one at a time. The bastard had fancied the bitch, hadn’t he? It was a balls-up waiting to happen and he should have seen it coming. Reggie leaned back in the plush leather seat and frowned, extinguishing the cigarette in the ashtray. He lifted his jacket’s cuff and consulted his luminescent timepiece. At that moment a mobile crackled and one of the men spoke into it briefly and nodded. The guards stepped outside looking into the distance as headlamps cut tunnels of light through the darkness. Like choreographed stage lighting the headlamps from other cars parked in a crude semicircle lit up the center of the open area. The industrial ruins became instantly free from the depressing gloom. Reggie favored overkill tonight. The muffled sound of bass proceeded what turned out to be a black 4x4 van. It screeched to a stop as it came near the parked cars, stirring up a cloud of dust much to the disapproval of the heavily armed men.

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“Shut that racket off!” one man bellowed as he swung up on the van’s door and peered in. The dancehall\hip-hop track immediately went dead and Baldwin stepped out with his hands at the back of his head. He didn’t look his usual cocky and arrogant self. Frisked on the spot, then electronically scanned he was gruffly led over to the Roller. The door opened and a ringed finger beckoned him in. Baldwin started to hyperventilate long before he lowered himself into the luxury car. In fact, from the moment he received the high frequency data burst confirming he was required he had been in a state. Four days of intensive thinking on how best he could deliver this sensitive news to the Guvnor had kept him awake and worried. The man in black had found out everything he needed to know and if he was smart the trail led to Mister Thorndike. He couldn’t just sit back and leave him unprepared against this fanatic. And that left him in the unique position of being called a grass, for in their eyes he had broken their code. The words Death Sentence sprang to mind. In his haze of tiredness and confusion nothing made any sense to him including why he had really come here. Was it for his protection or some warped sense of loyalty? What was undoubtedly clear to him, even in his state, was the vicious reputation these men had. It was best to face them and show no fear. At least he was on time. He questioned the insignificance of that, seconds after as he sat and stared into the frigid blue eyes of Reggie Thorndike. The car door hissed closed behind him. Suddenly, he felt so alone and shit-scared. “Oh, man!” Asim spat out, remembering his dinner engagement at the worst possible moment. He was supposed to meet Yasmeen back at the Warehouse in about an hour. He pulled the matt black binoculars from his tired eyes, scratched his nose and replaced them. He turned up the electro-optical gain to maximum until he could clearly see the framed image of Baldwin shakily slip into the Rolls Royce. No need to worry, though, she could let herself in and wait. Things would be wrapped up here in no time. He revolved his neck until it cracked and sighed as the sharp pain dissipated. Yes, Baldwin, my bwoy, exactly what a want yuh to do! The sound of the prestige car’s door slamming shut echoed off the sparse architecture. What I’d give to be a fly on dat wall. He adjusted his prone position, near the shattered window, still breathing steadily from the frantic dash he made from his car. The building had been an ideal vantage point for his little surveillance operation. From his research of the area the warehouses around here had been originally built to store goods that would eventually be loaded into ships on the Thames back in the day when the East End of London was a thriving dock. The banks of the Thames housed various business enterprises whose net worth

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had skyrocketed in the early part of the century. While these sites thrived, the industrial estates’ fortunes waned as social opinion and economic bases shifted. This part of the East became very undesirable. Hence the dereliction around and the state of the building he was holed up in. The crumbling stairs and floorboards made it very precarious getting to the third floor and it would keep anybody from making a more detailed check of it. The odds weren’t brilliant but he’d been lucky so far. Even Baldwin had reacted just as he had anticipated. With Panic. He hadn’t interfered with him for days, allowing Kehinde to monitor his movements from Zulu Security Systems Inc. Most of the time Baldwin had spent at home, forfeiting his partying and his women so he could try to work out a plan of action. Then his trips outside of his apartment started to get more frequent. Asim followed the funky dread on four separate occasions and ended up with nothing. Then ah mind seh stick with him and he did for three consecutive nights. Then ba-dam! Result. Asim looked down at his PDA hanging from his neck and keenly watched the stationary red blip flashing between grid lines on its pliable face. He kept eyeing it as if he was waiting for it to tell him something he didn’t already know. “Location,” Asim whispered to it and its ultra-dense memory cells divulged just a hint of the knowledge it contained about the A-Z of London. All the names of the surrounding streets and buildings flashed on the fine lines of its display. Asim had placed a simple transmitter under Baldwin’s Toyota van on his first social call and it had done a great job. At first he had considered a pheromone tracker - a device that would latch on to Baldwin’s unique body chemistry courtesy of Zulu Securities - but decided against that because it would mean he had to work up close and personal. This simple piece of hardware was easily monitored from a discreet distance and that was fine. At this stage of the game, he would have appreciated a closer position so he could pick up some audio on the meeting; still, beggars can’t be choosers. At least the gorillas patrolling the ruins were thorough. They had taken the same precautions he would have in their position and isolated a wide area not even he could penetrate without drawing attention to himself. They had made one oversight and that was not occupying or checking the building he was in, believing no one could gain a vantage point inside without it collapsing on top of you. Asim wasn’t complaining. What the situation lacked in entertainment he would make up by taking license plates until the funky dread made an exit. That gave him more time to think. Think about his sister, Yasmeen, the South Africans and Baldwin. What the fuck was going on? He kept the Rolls Royce in his sights and got as comfortable as he could.

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“You did what?” The question exploded out of Reggie Thorndike’s mouth, shattering the cool demeanor he had exhibited throughout their five-minute talk. Baldwin fidgeted, chilled by Reggie’s sub-zero blue eyes as they impaled him to the seat. He felt like some inconsequential cockroach about to be squashed underfoot. “H-H-Heee was going to kill me,” Baldwin stammered, making space between them on the refined leather. “He’s going to kill you?” Reggie repeated, his voice more modulated. “He won’t. Not if I do it fucking first.” “I had to get him off me, off my back, off your back.” Baldwin was rattling off his words frantically. “So you told him about my night club. What else did you fucking talk about?” “Nuthin else, nuthin.” “So how did he find you?” He shrugged and said, “A just knew if I didn’t warn you-” “Covering your bollocks, then.” “He is a dangerous man, Mister. Thorndike. He’s not going to let up.” “And how do you know that?” “I just know, man. It’s how he looked at me. He knows.” Reggie Thorndike stared at Baldwin with sheer contempt. Thinking, evaluating. Why didn’t the man in black just extract the information he wanted from Baldwin and just kill the little cunt? Why had he kept him alive? The black mans words looped through his head. “He isn’t going to let it go.” Why? “He knows.” How? Reggie Thorndike asked himself again. You could almost see the mental machinery in his skull churning away at the problem, his fingers roughly intertwining in conjunction with the process. Abruptly his cogitations stopped. His hands went limp and his eyes brightened, shining some sort of profound knowledge and then in an instant Reggie’s face seemed to drain of blood. What replaced it was a gruesome mask of terrible malice and awful intent. “You grassed us up, didn’t you?” Reggie whispered. “Why?” He screamed the question, globules of spit exiting his mouth. “You stupid, lying bastard, you grassed us up!” Asim squinted when the Rolls Royce’s door flew open, making him grip the binoculars tightly. Suddenly, there was a bright yellow flash, a tearing sound, followed a second later by Baldwin’s limp body being violently catapulted from the

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car’s interior as if he had been yanked out by some invisible rope. The dread lay there unmoving, a tendril of smoke curling up from a wound in his chest, his back to Asim’s prying eyes. “Fuck!” He left the image of Baldwin and swung back to the Roller just in time to see an Italian-styled shoe and silk socks touch down on the ground and then hands gesticulating wildly behind photo-chromatic glass. He tried to will the phantom - with the good taste in footwear - out into the open where he could ID him but he was obviously the type of creature who preferred the background, executing his judgments undetected. His performance finished, the door slammed shut and the Rolls Royce sped off. The gun men scattered, kicking up dirt in their haste, and took up positions near Baldwin’s van. Two entered while one techno type - a man wearing a long black coat, glasses and carrying some sort of detector in his hand - slid underneath the chassis. Asim was getting edgy. Then the impossible happened. The man under the van rolled out holding up some small object pressed between his two fingers. The fucker had found the transmitter! A discovery he exhibited no excitement about. Instead, the man in the long leather coat plopped a pair of goggles over his eyes and watched the screen of the instrument he had in his hand. He punched at the keypad, stepped forward and made sweeping movements with his arms and then stood very still. The binoculars still at his eyes, Asim looked on confused and interested at the same time. He magnified the image and recoiled as an intense pulse of light left the handheld, the man in the long leather coat kept steady and hurtled skywards. No one moved including Asim then a whisper of a smile on the other man’s lips. He lifted the goggles triumphantly from his eyes his meaty brows rising up. Turning slowly he moved in a clockwise arc, hesitated, then looked down at his instrument. Asim couldn’t lip read but knew something was wrong as all eyes focused on the building he was holed in. When the cocky son of a bitch waved at him that confirmed Asim’s nightmare was real. “Shiiiiit!” Asim dropped the lenses, like they were on fire, and then looked down at the portable locator hanging from his neck. The image on the screen blurred from tired eyes. “Yuh fucking idiot!” The red blip on the screen kept flashing, the real betrayer of his position showing no remorse. Asim backed up, stumbling over the debris behind him, escape being more important now than stealth. The men below in the meantime were hustling towards the building, their weapons close to their hips and bloody murder in their eyes. Asim had no time at all. This was a fuck up waiting to happen. His attempt at escape was not a pretty sight. The building seemed to be made from biodegradable material, which was

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in its latter stages of decomposition. A charging rhino had more grace as Asim tore prefab doors off hinges, stumbled into crumbling walls and fell through rotting panels, scraping his shins on metal as he made a desperate bid for the stairs. Crawling, scrambling and sometimes running, he made his away along the corridor. The pungent smell of sodden carpets and pigeon shit was overpowering as he sucked in the stale ammonia-laced air but kept going until he was beside the wooden staircase that led to the next level. He looked down. Grabbing the once fancy balustrade and gently but quickly swinging around it, he took the first step and the staircase groaned then spat dust. Son of a …! Asim was fighting desperately to step back but the momentum had him going forward. Losing his balance, he swayed. On the tip of his toes, unable to redress it, he felt the tug of gravity taking him over. The staircase swayed madly, broke up and then collapsed. Asim fell with it. He thrashed at thin air, groping wildly as he plummeted. Raaaaaaaaas! His cry trailed with him as he disappeared downwards in a puff of dust but all the time his right hand kept grabbing for purchase and after what felt like an eternity, found it. Asim’s hand hooked a railing and jerked to a stop. His shoulder socket made a popping sound. He flung his left hand up as the pain shot up his arm. Ignoring it, he got a good grip and slowly pulled himself from the drop. Hustle, boss, his thoughts screamed as he crawled on all fours and then jumped to his feet. He had to find another way out. Come on Asim, improvise, man. Improvise. He dashed back along the landing and looked about frantically. Nothing. Checking over the railings, he saw a rusty chain attached from one end of the factory space to another, with a seized pulley sagging in the middle. Just below that on his far right side was a ledge leading to a shattered window. Some kind of loading bay, maybe. Possibility. He looked down again. Remote possibility. Only if he could maintain his grip on the chain after falling about forty feet to where it was, only if the chain could withstand his weight as he free fell to it and only if he could dangle on the chain, with a dislocated shoulder, and shuffle himself to the other end. Man! Looking over the railings again he grimaced. Every inch of the shop floor was littered with rusting machinery and old stock. He’d be impaled for certain, if he missed or fell. Fucked if I do, fucked if I don’t. No choice. Asim vaulted over the balcony’s edge into stale air. Reggie Thorndike’s men circled the derelict building, the less fit men coming up from behind out of breath. Guns at the ready, they positioned themselves so that every escape route was covered. Fingers flexed near hair triggers, eagerly. A few of the boys

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were about to barge in through the main entrance but a middle-aged man, his hair graying at the sides, stopped them. Freddy Tubbs showed his choppers. “Lads! Lads!” he said, crooking his finger in the direction of the two men closest to him. “The easy way,” he whispered, pointing to the Extremely Flammable signs plastered all over the front of the building. Two men came forward with a satchel full of ammunition amongst which three Molotov cocktails sat. He took them out and reverently lit them in turn, handing them out to eager hands. Their ends flared. He grinned lopsidedly. “Sautéed nigger anyone?”

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CHAPTER 31 IF YUH WANT MY OPINION, someting is just not right.” Chief Cudjoe flexed the muscles of his mouth like a goldfish. He said nothing more and peered at Trevor through the wafer screen. The younger Rasta man sat cross-legged on the course brown material of his kaya mat, his thoughts a dirty pool of confusing mind pictures. At his back was the open window of his apartment, with its curtains fluttering in the mild breeze. Trevor breathed evenly hoping to find some rhythm that would help him to relax as he tried to put some of the pieces together in this five-dimensional puzzle. “Are yuh keeping a watch on developments?” Trevor asked. “Watching an planning, son,” the old man answered, leaning forward like he was trapped in the confines of the monitor. It was always a weird sensation as the Jamaican countryside was digitally thrown into his lounge. Bush on one side and concrete on the other, all separated by thousands of miles. Throw-weh district was right on the fringes of Cockpit Country, five miles from Accompong. It was a one-public-phone type of town and consisted mainly of Maroons, forbearers of the original African freedom fighters who fought the tyranny of English colonialists. But over the years it became one of the many communities formed on the island that had welcomed the way of life that Ras Tafari offered. Trevor was born here, grew up, took on the Lion’s mane from his parents and became an independent man, right there. He knew the people intimately and could imagine not just their shock when the Nation decided to establish an office in their district, but their amusement. The Nation only showed its interest or presence in this backwater town when it came to purchase its crops, three times a year. Chief Cudjoe was not taken in by their well-sounding platitudes and told Trevor in no uncertain terms. The old goat was a man of his own heart. He trusted no one. Maybe that was why he wanted Trevor as his successor. Trevor asked him for a few details. The elder cleared his throat as if preparing his speech. “Them ah survey deep inside the hills. Say dem looking more land to plant and build on. And they are asking questions, nuff unnecessary questions.” His voice sounded like a cornhusk on a grater. “Deh Nation decide to set up office so them can have a man on the spot at all times, overseeing tings. More like having people to spy on we. You have people from deh Ministry of Agriculture, yuh have engineers from South Africa, yuh have man from Public Works. Yuh nuh ask the people what they want, them just say, is for the good of the district. Most of the community give thanks,

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them can’t read between the lines, but me …” He shook his bedraggled head. “Me uneasy. Dem a play fool feh catch wise, son. That’s why I have all Jah damn one a dem watched.” “Play fool feh catch wise.” Trevor grabbed on to his wondering mind. “Elder, just make sure the Dread knows about dem movements. Mek sure him understan’ what is happening and let him guide yuh. We will talk.” The old man nodded. He sprang up from his sitting position, the ole time saying sparking something in him as he glared at the files on the monitor. So many question marks. Now, conveniently in his absence, they were invading his district. The Nation, or more specifically Patriarch Yamu, was preparing for his uncontested ordination as Negusa Negas. Everything he did was directed to that end. Everything. They were in Thro-Weh District for a reason. The furrows in his forehead deepened. He just couldn’t say for certain what the reasons were. Again he had to work in the darkness, have faith and be guided by the Dread and his gift. Even the files in the dead man’s PDA posed more questions than answers. Lists of African artifacts - indexed against which museums held them and their estimated values - complex schematic diagrams untitled, weapon inventories and ciphered vault files he had no hope of ever opening. There was something he had missed, something amongst all this data that had eluded him. A subtly evasive connection that would link all these seemingly unrelated facts and would point a finger to Yamu. It was there, hidden, he just needed to pay more attention. The words from the dead Spear man haunted him. Dis conspiracy yah run through deh entire Nation an’ dis proves it. “Play Video file AX1,” Trevor ordered. The dead man’s legacy flickered on the screen. Images and sounds of men in militarystyle training filled his room. Shooting ranges, hand-to-hand combat training, obstacle courses, ordinance training and more. Yamu had made a big mistake by sending him here. His main task was to look after Yasmeen at all cost but in the meantime find out as much as he could to destroy or disrupt Yamu’s operations. He had incriminating evidence about the Spear members and the organization. Eventually the truth, whether it involved the patriarch directly or not, would be open for all to see - whether he survived this or not. An encrypted copy had already been sent to his queen in Throw-Weh district with strict instructions to pass it on to the elders if the worst came to pass. He made a decision on his course of action while he watched. The small fry could be left for later. What he wanted was the big fish. The veiled man addressing the congregation of anarchists and killers. The one with the distinctive gold ring shaped like the sacred ganja leaf. A man sly enough to scramble his voice signature so he couldn’t be matched, but who was so self-assured he allowed one of

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his men to record the meeting. Evidence of his identity was tangled in there, somewhere. Trevor smiled thinly. The sound of running water woke him. Asim rose from his prone position on the bed. An invisible shroud of pain clung to him like a suit of clothing. With every movement, he could feel the mounds of swellings all over him. He fell back onto the pillar, his muscles tense and his eyes unfocused as they roamed in the dimness. He tried to lift himself by placing his weight on his arm but collapsed back into the softness of his bed. His shoulder was on fire. He only relaxed when he realized she was in his bedroom. The pictures of his recent shave with death formed slowly in his head. How the rass did he get up here? He lifted the sheets. They were spotted with blood marks from his gashes. He was clean and naked but just couldn’t remember how. No way could he have really been in a fit state to take a fresh after the punishment he had just taken? Then again the sound of running water in his bathroom seemed to say something else. His last waking memory was reaching home about four hours after the bastards had blown up the building and collapsing into an exhausted heap. He was in a right state, clothes torn, covered in dust and pigeon shit, and soaking wet. Flying shrapnel had done a neat knife job on his already scarred back and legs. Asim looked like he had just been dropped into a blender. Fuck how he looked, he was alive. With only seconds to spare he managed to abseil down the side of the building as the gangsters had thrown the cocktails inside. The flammable material housed in the old structure had reacted violently and the following explosion had lit up the East End skyline. As the gunmen took cover, he had scampered undetected to the banks of a man-made tributary that led into the Thames. Before they could suspect anything, he had submerged in the cold water and swam for a quarter-mile upriver. His jogging suit was a right off. The recollections caused every scratch and bruise on his body to light up like beacons of pain, making him simply lay back groaning for a moment, not caring how or why. He lifted himself off the propped-up pillows again and was about to painfully pull himself out of the bed when he saw a breathtaking outline step out of the bathroom, fully clothed. “Princess!” he croaked. Shit! Now he remembered he was supposed to have met Yasmeen here and she was the one who had improved his sorry-assed state. She swayed over to him. Christ, this gal was beautiful, in that light or any other light for that matter. He breathed deeply as if her scent would help the pain he was feeling. She sat on the bed beside him and planted a kiss on his forehead. Her lips were unbelievably warm.

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“How are you feeling?” Her voice was a whisper. “After seeing you, babe, I’m getting better, much better.” He grinned, looking under the sheets at his nakedness. “I’m just vexed that you didn’t wake me up when you were sponging me down.” She shook her head. Even in his weakened state he was a charmer; or was that bullshitter? Yasmeen traced her finger along his jaw line then playfully slapped him. “This is not funny, Asim.” Her voice raised an octave. “You scared me half to death, seeing you lying there asleep in front of the door, bloodied and in those disgusting smelling clothes. I thought you were badly hurt, even …” She swallowed nervously and glared at him, shaking slightly. “Never do that again, you hear me? Never.” “It won’t happen again, princess. I promise.” “Good,” she said. “I called the hospital as a precaution anyway and there sending over an ambulance for you.” “Nuh need for that, babe, I’m fi-” Her fingers were covering his mouth before he could finish. “Don’t bother. It’s already done, you’re going to be checked out.” She pursed her lips. “What in Father’s name happened to you tonight?” she demanded, her lips curled in annoyance. Asim smiled weakly, his fingers stroking the strands of her hair. He maneuvered but she was having none of it. “You haven’t answered my question yet,” she said calmly. “Because it’s nothing, trust mi.” He grimaced as the twinges in his back also joined in with the symphony of pain he was already forced to experience. “Asim!” “Okay, okay, just relax, princess, I’ll explain.” But just enough to stop you asking any more questions. He circled her waist with his arms, pulling her closer to him on the bed, and explained how his scheduled war games with his mates had got a bit competitive. “How can ten grown men trying to shoot each other with paint balls in a broken down industrial estate and then nearly bleeding to death be considered as fun?” “Boys will be boys, baby. And I couldn’t let them win with my army rep. No way.” She nodded but, even with his gentle kisses to her neck, her instincts were saying he was lying. For a man who seemed to have a more regimental approach to his time, a spur of the moment romp with his mates did not fit in with his personality. He was hiding something and Fatima was the reason, she knew it. “You are telling me the truth, aren’t you?” She turned to face him, probing for his reaction, focusing her eyes into his. Asim knew would lose this confrontation of

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wills. He purposely interrupted her steady gaze by taking her hands and kissing her palms, his answer directed to the cotton covers. “Would I lie to you?” The tone of his voice noticeably lowered. To protect me from whatever you’re doing, of course you would, she thought. He moaned again and stretched out on her lap. “Princess.” “Yes.” “I know you’re worried about me but don’t be, mi safe.” He squeezed her waist, his voice drifted and Yasmeen felt his body go progressively limp. She looked down at him again and he was fast asleep. Asim had spent only two days in hospital for observation and his virtual in-tray was already overflowing with memos, reports and correspondences. He had done some work remotely from his bed but it hadn’t budged the data mountain he had to deal with. Not that it mattered. He had more pressing problems on his mind, anyway. Namely, finding out whether Baldwin was alive or dead. It was his first day back at the office and he was trying to complete an insignificant chunk of paperwork like a zombie, his mind reeling from the possible implications of his run-in three nights ago. Giving up after a few hours of fruitless effort, he finally decided concentration on work was impossible with these loose ends dangling. It was time to make certain he wasn’t at a dead end. For the two days he was occupying a hospital bed more deserving of someone who was really ill. He had contacted General Brooks, requesting some info on the possible links between militant Afrikaner nationalists in New South Africa and extremists here in the UK. The general had kindly forwarded files compiled by their unit and then referred him to an operative in the anti-racist group Searchlight. The information he had received was sketchy with specific names and places unavailable to him for risk of compromising the identities of agents in the field. The most disturbing point that emerged from all this was that the Broeders or the Brotherhood had chapters all over Europe and would collaborate with any group, black or white, anywhere in the world on its path to a separatist white state. Accounts had been documented where working relationships had even developed between the Broeders and certain renegade African nations actively known to be funding terror groups against the African Commonwealth as the civil war continued. What he had yet to figure out was why the UK, and how did his sister and possibly Yasmeen fit into the picture? One man held the answers. He gave up guessing by noon, by which time he had walked out of his office and instructed his personal secretary to hold all his calls. He was going to pay a visit to his old spar Zygote, hidden away in the basement like an old family secret. Rupert

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Cummings, affectionately known as Zygote because of his small demeanor, was the chief programmer for Zulu but his real talent lay in forging documents - a sideline business he had - and accessing safe systems. Combine those gifts with an almost psychotic love for Glenfiddich whisky. And you had the recipe for a classic banduloo. With a twinkle in his eye, Asim headed for the nearest off-license. Not bad! He thought the white overall fit him quite well for one he had sniped from a staff locker. Now his deception was complete. Asim had pushed a trolley down the hospital’s corridor, amidst the mad rush of nurses, orderlies and doctors in the Intensive Care Unit and he wasn’t given a second glance. Asim was just another porter going about his prescribed work. He even found the time to joke with a two-man detail of overworked and underpaid security men. He was one of the many new faces working without his validated security pass but having a temporary one until he was cleared. It wasn’t unusual at all to have three different porters in the space of a week with all of them leaving and being replaced soon after. Who could keep up with staff turnover? A seasoned pro would not make a mistake like that; his pride more than anything would not allow it. A cursory check of his pass would reveal he was on the staff roster - Zygote had seen to that - but if they had dug deeper for a copy of an application form, for instance, alarm bells would have started ringing. Not these geezers. They were thinking about more important things, like overtime, booking their yearly holidays and receiving their pay cheques at the end of the week, to be worried about a breach in security. The age-old adage applied here as usual: If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Asim kept his pace steady, controlling his eagerness as he walked down the observation wards. He started to count off the door numbers until he was at room 1224. Across the corridor was a utility room. A cleaner must have left it ajar. He placed his trolley beside an unattended laundry cart, checked up and down the corridor for any unsuspecting passers by and smiled at the comforting lack of surveillance cameras. In a few seconds he was inside. Zygote’s information had been spot on. The little man had hacked into the hospital admittance lists for the Met-1 area and had located Baldwin by the wounds Asim had described to him, and the place and time he was found by paramedics. Then he found out whether he was dead or alive. From there it was just a matter of pulling his details off the critical list and downloading it. The funky dread had immediately become his number one priority. Asim could not let him die without knowing everything he knew. He had to tell him. Locking the door behind him, Asim was met by the rhythmic bleeping of the life

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support monitors making human life seem frail and pointless. Patients and machines were like one organism. Linked so closely that when a machine said you were dead, you were. Eerie, shit. For a man who hated hospitals so much, he always seemed to be a visitor or patient here. And his compulsion to wax philosophical on the subject was also worrying him. He shrugged. His attention fell on Baldwin, or what was left of him. Immersed up to his neck in a glass vat of pale blue liquid, he seemed at peace. He wore only dark blue trunks with a waste tube leading from it. The rest of his body was punctured with a few smaller tubes leading off to machines outside of the tank. The NanoCare symbol was on all the equipment struggling to keep him alive. He figured the solution was saturated with surgical Nanobots - cellular-sized machines programmed to repair the internal damage. He peered closer into the blue-tinged liquid; the ragged edges of his chest wound were clouded by a glistening opacity as the microscopic units converged on the scarred tissue. But for all the advanced technology they couldn’t work miracles. If his internal injuries were great enough, he would die. End of story. Pensively Asim watched oxygen being fed to him, the small facemask frosting with warm moisture every time he breathed. Even he didn’t deserve this. Asim took up the digital chart that hung on the side of his bed. It outlined the major surgery he underwent after they discovered him, the various procedures they had used plus the prognosis the doctors had made. It was touch and go. Baldwin’s eyelids flickered in REM sleep as he dreamed. Maybe he was sedated but Asim would still try and talk to him. He leaned on the tank and put his mouth to Baldwin’s ears, trying not to dislodge any of the electrodes attached to his forehead. He smelled fresh but his cheeks were drawn and his eyes sunken. Compassion for scum like Baldwin was an unusual emotion for him but curiously he could not help himself. He whispered his name. “Baldwin, can you hear me?” Baldwin floated motionlessly. Asim’s eyes swept the monitors. Satisfied he had not suddenly died, he watched closely as his chest rose and fell in the liquid. Baldwin had been the best chance he had of finding out all he needed to know about the other players involved in his investigation. At first his plan was to secretly gather all the intelligence he could, using the people he had business dealings with. With that he would piece together a picture of what happened that night and deal personally with the people involved. The ‘why’s and ‘wherefores could wait As if that approach would bring results too easily, Papa circumstance decided to give him a swift kick in the nuts just for the hell of it. So now his only lead was dying and the man in the limousine was a veritable ghost. Even with the license plate of the Roller cross-referenced on the DVLC database, he couldn’t trace the owner. This

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duppy was highly connected and by now his identity locked and wrapped up from all prying eyes of the electronic kind. Without a name he would be back to square one and that frightened him. The dread had to tell him something, he just had to. “Baldwin!” Asim’s whisper was harsh. “Okay, just listen, boss. You remember me; remember the voice, the eyes? Well, how can you forget? Dangling seventeen stories up is a memory hard to shake. Well, I’m back, turf bwoy. But this time, deh roles have changed slightly.” He paused and swallowed, sounding unsure, uncomfortable. “Instead of me threatening you, I’m asking you.” Another long pause. “Okay, I’m begging you to tell me who did this to my sister.” He moved back slightly and watched his motionless lips. “Yeh, man, Fatima is my sister, that’s why I felt so strongly about squeezing what I could out of you and at all cost. Its funny how after this happened to her that I started to understand how important she was to me. How important family is to me. I fucked up. I lift my hand up to it but I’m open to change, willing to make amends. That’s why I’m here, talking to you, making sure it never happens again, to anybody.” Ripples bounced off the tanks walls. Asim wasn’t sure if it was Baldwin adjusting his floating position slightly or muscle spasms. His eyes remained closed and Asim continued. “You must have felt something for her, boss. She never talked about you because she was a very private kind of girl but I could see it in her eyes she was happy. If you felt anything at all for her, you will tell me who was responsible.” Baldwin floated, unresponsive. Asim was losing patience. “Protecting them wont help,” he snarled. “The man tried to kill you, boss. All this time you’ve been working for white supremacists, selling out your own, then out of a sense of responsibility you tried to save their assess from me. And what did the pussy do to thank you? He wanted to blow you away without a second fucking thought.” Asim looked over to the monitors. “You may not have much time left, turf bwoy, the doctors don’t know if you’re going to pull through.” Asim’s lips moved a hair’s breadth away from his ears. “You’ve got a chance to undo some of the damage caused and so do I. We both may never get another opportunity. Think bout it.” The room fell into a depressing silence. Doctor Graves’ monitoring board had started intermittent beeping under his arm. The advanced telemetry system that linked him with all the patients on his round could be a bugger. He swung it into his hands and stared at it wearily, knowing the first ten minutes’ break he was about to take in twelve gruelling hours had just gone up in smoke. Room number 1224 was flashing on the clipboard and he seemed to be the only physician in the immediate vicinity to deal with the emergency. Damn it! He made his way quickly to the patient’s area, grabbing a nurse loitering near the stores,

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just in case he needed her. As they neared the door they could hear voices, faint, but still voices in protest. He hesitated for a heartbeat and then pushed the door open. “Judgment!” Baldwin murmured. “Judgment! Judgment!” The previously sedated patient was ranting to himself. A nightmare he concluded. The curtains were gently ruffling in the wind from an open window and strangely the patient had taken the oxygen mask off. The doctor sighed with relief, making sure he was stable, and ordered the nurse to monitor his condition for a while longer. He walked over to the window and peered out. Seeing nothing suspicious he shrugged and secured them. His stomach growled in protest.

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CHAPTER 32 DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HAVE CHOSEN a more appropriate place for us both to die than this,” Ricardo stated matter-of-factly, allowing the Mercedes autopilot to maneuver them into the beer garden of The Duck and Deer. The thoughtful nod of Asim’s head in the seat beside him hid his sense of shared apprehension. If you didn’t know the history of this place it would seem to be a normal enough neighborhood. The streets were painfully clean, the houses obviously middle class and more hover vehicles were parked in driveways than was normal for an area like this. But there was nothing normal about Rushlands. He had never seen so many checkpoints, Neighborhood Watch pods and CCTV cameras in any one network of streets in his life. Luckily for them the pub was situated outside of the residential area and so the security presence was less intense. Asim looked around and shook his head. “Yuh think I want to be here when I could be chillin’ at home. Believe me, Ric, this is the last place I want to be. But for what I’ve got to say and how I want to say it, I’m duty bound to be here.” If Asim had his way, he would not be talking right now but he had made a promise to his sister. A promise that made him angry just thinking about it. Fatima had been discharged from the hospital on consultation with the doctors and the family. The specialist felt in her comatose state that the smells, the sounds and sights of home would aid her recovery. Obviously none of this could have been made possible without a substantial investment of which Asim had the means. A room was converted, a nurse on hand twenty-four/seven and Fatima made comfortable. Yasmeen was with her every moment she could spare, holding her hand, talking to her, divining her emotions and passing them on to Asim. Yasmeen expressed her fears and felt Fatima was feeling them too. Somehow she felt Asim had taken on the cause of finding out who did this to his sister. But Fatima needed to forget, she explained, and couldn’t move on if he hadn’t forgotten himself. Yasmeen believed Fatima was feeding off the mood around her and Asim’s vibe dominated. What did he believe? Was Yasmeen trying to calm him down with this spiritual shit or did she truly feel it was significant? He wouldn’t be held responsible for trapping his sister in this state. And after lying so many times about not wanting to seek revenge, he had to try at least to make amends. Damn, and he was so close. Baldwin had not held back anything. His delivery was slurred and punctuated with long pauses but Asim had absorbed it all and finally this crazy situation was making more sense. How could he let this motherfucker get away with just a warning? Even when he had made a promise, it did not feel right. Yet he

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knew he had to try for Fatima’s sake. This painful little exercise was called tidying up the loose ends. The Mercedes parked itself while Ricardo folded his arms over his chest defensively and watched it with newfound interest. “I hope for both of our sakes that the risk is worth it.” Asim nodded. “If I can’t tear them down, at least they can listen to how I feel.” Their stream of conversation ended sharply after that. Nothing of relevance seemed worth talking about all of a sudden. The danger involved in what they were planning to do came into sharp perspective and with it the infamous history of the locale. The whole framework of race relations in London changed right here. Ricardo remembered his outrage when the news was made public three years ago. The Apartheid Communities the electronic papers plastered all over their front pages. And so began a media frenzy the likes of which he had not seen since eco-extremists tried to contaminate the London water supply. The information leaked to Fleet Street from an unknown source implicated members of a far right group within the Conservative Party. Their actions had remained secret for some years until they felt the need to cease theorizing and implement plans that would improve the country’s flagging fortunes. Six experimental neighborhoods were created around the United Kingdom that as a policy barred ethnic minorities and people below a certain financial level. To add insult to injury the project had been partially financed by a billionaire South African separatist who was rumored to be a member of the Broeder ruling body when they held power. Riots broke out across the country and anti-government sentiment ran so high it had destroyed the Conservatives’ hopes of regaining political power for a long time to come. But what stood out in his mind, even more than the violent demonstrations, was seeing the disgraced MPs telling the country, with pompous airs as if they were some type of pioneers, the reasons for the social experiments and their high expectations that the taxpayers would judge their models on the results, not the methods. And the people did express their feelings. Raised to the ground or abandoned due to intimidation, only two of these prototype communities remained. One was a selfcontained fortress in the midlands, the other was the Rushland Manor, and they were parked in the heart of it. The urge to put a flame to the quaint white houses and the obscenely neat and manicured lawns was strong. Ricardo looked over to his partner and sighed. “If you don’t feel comfortable with this, …” His voice boomed hollowly. “… now’s your chance to say, because when you step through those door there’s no turning back.” Asim nodded, still looking outside. “I know.” he said.

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Ricardo twisted in his seat uncomfortably. “Well if you have made your decision, let’s make sure we stick to the plan. I’m here to support you, remember that. If there are any signs of a situation developing that you cannot handle, use your transmitter to alert me. And brother, deliver your message as quickly and clearly as you can and leave. No theatrics and, most importantly, no violence if that is at all possible.” “It’s covered, man,” Asim said, smiling grimly. And with that Ricardo repeated the code for his car radio, which he switched on and automatically tuned into BBC 1Xtra digital frequency. “Test!” Ricardo said. Asim responded by pressing a small transmitter attached to his belt and the corresponding high-pitched screech bled into the channel’s transmission. “Good,” Ricardo replied. They synchronized watches. “Fifteen minutes max,” Asim said, twisting his cap backwards. “Max,” Ricardo replied just as Asim disappeared out of the car. As he pushed his way through the old-fashioned saloon swing doors, the scene that met him was reminiscent of how the traditional English pub should be. The smell of stale beer, the tacky tunes from fruit machines, the boisterous laughter and the bartenders welcoming ‘What will it be mate?’ forming that cozy atmosphere of your local. His wake-up call to harsh reality was as shattering as a brick through a plate glass window. But not unexpected. A silent wave of shock and incredulity washed over the punters as Asim headed for the bar. It seemed as if the eyes of the entire pub followed him. While his situational awareness was sharp and any movement out of the ordinary would spark action his attention was focused on the layout of the interior. Closed-circuit television was set at all four corners sweeping the entire floor plan with the bar situated centrally. Well-worn seating skirted the perimeter in small intimate cubicles. This one in particular caught his attention. Plan B. Drinkers gagged on their brown ales. It was one of the most intense walks he’d ever had to take. Walking wilfully into an ambush and knowing you were firmly between the cross hairs of a sniper’s rifle came close. He somehow preferred the certainty of that threat than the uncertainty of this situation. The stakes mounted to a level he could appreciate when he reached the counter. He leaned on the bar and was met by a headshake and sardonic grin. The grizzly barman came over, the rest of the staff at a respectable scowling distance. Asim looked deep into his facial hair, screwed his eyes and ordered a ginger beer on the

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rocks. Moments later, as expected, he was told to fuck off. “Your car.” The pub manager stabbed at the glass with his fingers. “Move your fucking car!” The man’s hard knuckles rapped repeatedly on the driver’s side while he tried to look into the parked car for some activity. The man in his late forties, who was dressed like a twenty-year-old - with more gold around his neck than a prospector obviously hated being ignored. The Mercedes had responded to his approach with the photo chromatic glass darkening - the car’s way of concealing its occupant. He just couldn’t understand what else the words staff parking could mean and had stood watching the cunt reverse into his space without a care in the world. He swore some more. By this he was adamant he was going to make an example of the pillock parked comfortably in his space. He paused, his ranting sounding pointless to his ears. And with a stylish swing of his head, he looked over to where he had left his Jaguar, doors open, engine idling, and then thought of something very naughty. Ricardo could see him clearly while he was seeing a darkened reflection of himself. The man had put his face inches away from the windshield and with every word he screamed left condensation marks that quickly evaporated. At first Ricardo had thought it was funny and didn’t bother to turn on the external speakers to hear what he was saying. Instead, he tried to lip read. The trickles of verbal abuse he understood changed his opinions on the man’s intent. He now wanted to shut him up as he continued to rant but no subtle method came to mind. Frowning Ricardo tried to ignore him by turning up the music and closing his eyes but he continued to rave, drawing unnecessary attention to his dilemma. A few minutes’ silence later … The Ghanaian opened his eyes again to see what he was up to. Angry man had stormed off and Ricardo slumped back into his seat relieved. It was short-lived. The man returned and this time he was swinging a rusting crowbar in his hand. Damn! Ricardo swore. He thought of his paintwork, his health, and then something snapped. Ricardo reached inside his glove compartment and carefully placed his sunshades over his eyes. Closing the compartment slowly he stepped out of the unit. Suddenly his motor seemed too small for him as he stood up, a towering six feet five inches and two hundred stones of Ray-Banned malevolence. He made a three-hundred-and-sixty degree sweep with his eyes and was content he was not seen. The streams of abuse stopped abruptly and so did the wild posturing. The man stepped away from the shadow cast by the African’s height. His facial expressions shot through every variation of shock the human repertoire had at its disposal.

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Smiling falsely, Ricardo seemed to calm the man’s apprehensions for a fraction of a second. The distraction gave him enough time to walk over to him and clamp his five fingers over the hand still holding the crowbar. Overcoming his initial shock, Jack the Lad then crazily decided to put up a struggle. Ricardo growled his frustration, easily twisting the bar from his hand and allowing it to fall to the ground with a hollow clank. They eyed each other for seconds, the white man’s lower lip quivering with shock, the last morsel of machismo gone and the inevitable about to happen. Ricardo grabbed him by the collar brought him close as if he was going to whisper sweet nothings in his ear and slammed his huge fist flush to his jaw. There was a dull whack as his head flipped back from the force. He held him out looking into his dazed eyes and brought him close again. The Ghanaian struck him on the side of the head again and watched his eyes close and his head lull forward. Ricardo held up the limp body before it slid to the ground and bungled it like a jointed mannequin into the back of the car. He quickly looked around to see if the fracas had been witnessed by anybody else. Satisfied it was all clear, he got back behind the wheel, reverently took his Ray Bans off, closed the door and waited. “We don’t serve your kind around here, mate.” The barman leaned over his counter and said it without a hint of animosity. He was simply stating the facts. “Look around you sunshine, you’re the only nigger here.” He grinned amiably. “I know you must have taken a wrong turning. So listen carefully. This is Rushlands, mate, you want Brixton and it’s that way.” He pointed his fleshy pink fingers to the door. Asim ignored his good advice. “Fair enough,” he said and backed up. Nothing he didn’t expect. The stares remained intense and the murmurs would soon become vocal protests, then who could tell what course of action some hothead would try? Nodding to himself, he thought that was exactly what he wanted. Some well-placed threats and maybe physical injury to an excitable punter and Reggie Thorndike would be forced to sit up and listen. Asim reversed into the vacant seat just behind him. On the edge of his vision he could see some men standing up from their pints and heading over to where he had been, their eyes never leaving him. Asim could feel plan B becoming more of a certainty. He snuggled his back into the cracked leather and complimented himself on an excellent choice of position. He could see what was happening in front of him and on both sides clearly. His back was against the brick work, so that was covered. He waited, aggravating the drinkers even further as he reached for a hip flask and took a swig from it, smiling. The kind of smile a man gave when he was certain. Certain he knew something they didn’t. “Why are you doing this?” The question had come from a woman who had

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approached him. Asim had seen her coming, reckoned she was no threat but did not think she was going to talk to him amidst the tension. She was a very elegant-looking woman, tanned, blonde, middle-aged and definitely out of place in an establishment like this. Asim did not answer her as it felt somewhat rhetorical, and watched her swirling what could have been a gin and tonic in her hands, moving closer to his table, her grey eyes warm. “I’d leave before they hurt you.” Asim looked at her quizzically. “We’re not all alike, you know.” Her voice was refined, silky smooth. “Go, please,” she said softly. “Thanks for the thought,” Asim said. “But I’ll be cool.” She shook her head in defeat and walked away. That was the cue for the likely lads who had congregated around the bar to approach him. Now finally he had someone’s attention. The five men came up to what must have been three paces away from his table, the criss-cross pattern of their shadows failing to intimidate him. The spokesman, barrel-chested, bristle-haired and resembling an Action Man doll, started what sounded like a threat he had prepared earlier. “Are you deaf, dumb and fucking stupid, nigger? This is a European gaff and we’re proud of that. Arnold gave you a chance to leave peacefully. Me, I want to break your bleeding neck.” “When I’m ready, you can try,” Asim said evenly. “You’re having a laugh, right? I don’t give a fuck about when your ready, wanker,” he burst out. “I want you out now.” A few punters hearing the outburst quickly finished their pints and left. A mediumbuilt man wearing a Ben Sherman shirt arrogantly stepped out of the group’s comfort zone and then dearly wished he hadn’t. Asim sprang forward and viciously slapped Ben Sherman across the jaw twice in a blur of knuckles and fingers. So swift was the attack, the sluggish message from the victim’s brain to his legs hadn’t reached in time before Asim grabbed him by the neck, dragged him backwards and slammed his head down on the table. It bounced back up with a hollow thump and with it an idea, as Asim sighted the glinting crescent in his ear. He went with the flow. Threading the index finger of one hand into the man’s earring and with the other hand grabbing a fist full of coarse black hair, Asim pulled. The man screamed as the twin pains of the ring tearing into the flesh of his earlobe and the hairs of his head being ripped out of the roots made his senses explode. Calmly, Asim sat down with his newly acquired charge, once or twice yanking

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the ring for obedience, each tug cutting a bloody trail closer to tearing his lobe in half. He swore and whimpered but Asim ignored him, keeping his face squashed to the table. One of the likely lads slung out a shock baton from under his coat and made a move. But Asim had already released his grip on Ben Sherman’s hair and with his free hand took out the Equalizer from his jacket, slamming it down in front of him. The men stopped like a pile-up on the A40. “Yes, gentlemen, it is strange-looking but real, trust mi. It’s also licensed, loaded and equipped with state-of-the-art sound-suppressing technology, just so we don’t frighten off the punters.” They looked at the gun and then back at him. Their eyes seemed to be saying their worst nightmare had just materialized before them. Asim’s smirk widened then he laughed in their faces. “Don’t tell me, I know what yuh thinking?” he teased. “You’re saying, can this black bwoy be for real? And if he is, has he got the balls, the will or even the skill to take down a few of us before we bum rush him, right. Well …” The Equalizer hummed as Asim expertly charged the weapon, chambered a plasma round and pointed its dangerous end in the direction of the likely lads. “… That question has no simple answer boys. You’ll just have to try me, an si.” No one moved. “Phhuck yoooth.” Asim looked down at the only man who was showing some degree of fight and he was still under the heel of his hand, his face pressed to the table. Sighing, he pushed the gun’s barrel into his mouth, forcing it against his tongue and teeth. Ben Sherman’s defiance immediately became pleas for mercy. He now had their undivided attention. “Wicked,” Asim said. “We have an understanding at last. I’ll make this short ’n’ sweet and I won’t repeat myself. Tell Reggie Thorndike that I know he’s directly responsible for the rape of my sister …” He paused and let a cold fury wash over him and stared dispassionately into the lens of a CCTV camera tracking his movements. “I don’t know exactly what his reasons were but let him know his Brotherhood connection is no secret. Like him, I’ve got friends in high places too. So, if he so much as breathes his bad breath near any of my family or friends again, I wont think twice to take him down, wipe him out and scatter his fucking remains across London. He doesn’t want to ramp wid me an’ mine believe dat.” The passenger door of the Mercedes flew open and Asim’s grim features darkened the interior. He slid in and Ricardo looked him up and down as if checking

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for damage. “Mission accomplished?” Asim shook his head; the Ghanaian relaxed somewhat. “No casualties?” “None,” Asim grunted as if he was disappointed. “Who’s that?” He casually jerked his thumb to the figure lying on the back seat. “Oh, him,” Ricardo said with a tone of unconcern. “That gentleman wanted to get into his parking space.” Asim peered over at the man’s light breathing and bloody nose. “Was that all?” “He didn’t say please.” Ricardo started the engine. “Rass!” Asim said, laughing. The Mercedes pulled away in haste.

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CHAPTER 33 OBVIOUSLY SOMETHING HEAVY HAD JUST GONE DOWN. An evil-looking Rasta man in a darkened Isuzu 4x4 dropped off Yasmeen. Another younger dread walked her over the pavement and into the coffee shop. They sat parked near the curb. Asim had been waiting no more than ten minutes having traveled across town leaving some pressing communications at Zulu Securities to be dealt with. This was much more important. They sat in a busy cafe on Kensington High Street, only able to partially see through the plate glass window covered in foam. From one side to the next a Cleanbot was briskly slurping its way through the bubbles, leaving a trail of gleaming window behind it. Asim was ordering another black coffee while Yasmeen sat. Her attention had just left the window and was now concentrated into the depth of her herbal tea. The message had been one laced with panic, Asim recalled. Now Yasmeen seemed calm. She stirred the contents of her herbal tea once and nervously stirred it again. The slurping of coffee and the clink of cutlery made Yasmeen look up. Asim sat and turned in his seat to face her. She spoke before he could voice his concern. “Someone shot dead the building’s concierge last night and broke into my flat,” she said coolly. “I’m really scared, Asim.” He wondered why her cry for help sounded like being scared was some sort of weakness. Asim’s eyelids shuttered as he laid the palms of his hands flat on the table. “What!” His fingers closed like a spring trap, crunching the tablecloth together. “Yuh all right?” His hand reached out to touch hers. “I’m fine,” she said.” I came home to find the place overrun by Met-1, my place ransacked, my walls daubed in red paint. Threats or messages, I don’t know which. Quoted from the Bible, the book of Apocalypse, everywhere.” At that instant Asim’s mind started to backtrack rapidly. He was back in the hospital and Baldwin was whispering to him from his submersion tank. “ Your sister was just a message, boss. It wasn’t personal. Fatima just happened to know the wrong crowd. Bad company. What happened to her was a message being sent to someone else.” Wrong crowd, Asim thought. Yasmeen. Jesas Christ! She was the target. The target. He had tried his best to disprove everything Yasmeen had told him but she was right and Asim was angry he hadn’t believed her all along. Fatima was a warning, Reggie Thorndike a player, Yasmeen the principal and the bank - the mystery person who was paying for the contract. Join the dots and the

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picture that was taking shape made a depressing study. The connection was made with such force and sense of certainty, his chair rocked back nearly toppling him over. His mental processes went into warp drive. He stood up, paced outside, turned and walked back in again. A message being sent by whom and why? Yasmeen eyed him curiously as he stood looking at her. “I can’t believe yuh just decided to tell me this now nearly ten hours after this happened!” His anger barely disguised his shock. He was picturing her dead. Yasmeen’s eye’s flared like wind to a bush fire. “I was having such a good time,” she spat. “After all, finding the murdered body of Mister. Murphy in the reception, where he usually sat to greet me most evenings, was great fun! Seeing my place trashed. Books torn, disks smashed, paintings ripped, obscenities plastered across my walls. It was so hilarious, I just couldn’t tear myself away from it all.” Yasmeen turned away from him to watch the pedestrians walk by. Asim lowered his head and sat. “I’m sorry, babe.” He reached over to touch her hand, again. “But this is some serious shit.” “Don’t you think I know that?” she said softly. “What did Met-1 think?” She shrugged. “What they think doesn’t matter. Whoever these people are, they want me dead.” Asim couldn’t shake the feeling Yasmeen knew more than she was saying. That would make two of them. “Anyway, I’m staying by my friend’s for the time being just until I can secure the flat and the Met have finished their investigations.” “You’re staying with me,” Asim said flatly. She smiled. “I couldn’t, it just wouldn’t be … proper.” “Fuck propa. You are in serious danger. Tell your friend thanks but no thanks. We’ll collect your things tomorrow and your staying by mine.” “Asim, I can’t …” she protested. “No arguments, Yasmeen, man,” he growled. “I have the space, if you find it impossible to live too close to a baalhead. We won’t have to meet, the house is big enough.” “Stop it, Asim, you know it’s not like that but my community …” “Trevor seems to be doing a great job with security outside your yard. Protection at work must be covered and we know about your flat. They’re parts of my place that are as secure as a bunker and would be almost impossible to breach and not to mention Houses’ first line of defense security system.” He paused as if he wanted to grab onto his wondering train of thought. “Let them think what the fuck they want, princess, I don’t give a shit. If they haven’t sussed how I feel about you by now …

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this will open their eyes.” Yasmeen saw the tautness of his face muscles, a tick of nerves spread across an eyebrow. “What is it, Asim?” “Princess,” he said, his voice a whisper. “You may never have taken a leap of faith in circumstances like this before but that is exactly what I’m asking you to do now. No more reasons why you can’t. Just trust mi.” The pleasant aroma of her tea made her aware she was staring at him. Staring at another fearful man. A man who expected her not to question him and his instincts, just follow. A demand like that months ago she would have laughed at. Back in the days when everything made sense and turmoil for her was deciding whether to spend more time at work or continue as a volunteer teacher at Saturday classes. Now the demands being made of her were from the two men she had no doubts had her best interests at heart. If it had come from anybody else she would have her doubts but the steely resolve shining in his eyes meant this was not a point of discussion. It was a matter of life and death. And chances were the life she saved would be her own.

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CHAPTER 34 HE WASN’T SURE HOW HE’D FEEL WHEN Yasmeen finally moved in the last of her belongings. Okay, he had demanded she stay with him for her protection and his peace of mind. But try as he might, he couldn’t help having these feelings of excitement and expectation tugging at his insides. Excited that they were living in the same house together and afraid he would mess up this relationship, too. Then there were the conclusions he had drawn about Yasmeen and the fact that for some reason she had attracted the attention of some powerful scum who wanted her dead and had used Fatima as one of their intermediary stepping-stones. The question that begged to be asked was, who the hell was next? What could Yasmeen have done to attract such unwanted attention? Her personal files revealed nothing new. Most of Yasmeen’s life in England had been ordinary and uneventful up to this point. So the next question that begged to be asked was what had happened in Ethiopia? What had happened to make a country girl - Yasmeen’s mother - leave the land of her birth with a young baby, to a foreign land? What was so important that men half a world away and decades ago would still want even her offspring dead? Who was the cause of this and, if it wasn’t her mother, who else was there? A father? A cousin? Some unknown family member who had rocked the political boat in Ethiopia years ago? Whoever or whatever it was that caused this situation was big enough for the Brotherhood to remember and play their deadly games. Yasmeen would be kept in the dark until he knew more. In the meantime he had to keep her safe, without drawing too much attention to what he was doing. He remembered he was supposed to be letting things slide, but the stakes had risen and his promise to Fatima for peace was completely forgotten. Asim lay in his old-fashioned bath, his feet dangling over the end as he stared up at the ceiling. Idly he wondered to himself how many people still used a plain enamel bathtub, with no fancy hi-tech fandangle attached. And who would go to the lengths he had to acquire it in the first place? No Ion showers for him, coating you in foamy conductive gel and having your dead cells blasted off you by an oscillating electric field. Steam, hot water and aromatic oils. The simple pleasures that make life worth living. And not to forget good companionship. He let out a long steady sigh. Unsuccessfully it masqueraded as a release of tension but was, in actual fact, a sigh of relief. Two weeks of living with Yasmeen had been the most pleasurable time he’d had for years. A state he felt he’d never reach ever again. Corny comparisons aside she

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was everything he could hope for with the unusual contradictions to keep him guessing. It was a shame about the circumstances that brought them physically closer. In his mind, the warehouse was the safest place for her. For a moment he thought she was going to fight the idea more vigorously, maintaining her sense of independence even when her life was threatened. He had also decided not to take ‘no’ for an answer. But somehow he was confident she would eventually see sense. Especially with that weird understanding they shared. He could almost hear Anne’s laughter at that comment. Stop beating around the bush bwoy, and just call it what it is. Love. Anne was right. It was a daily revelation of how special a woman she was. And as time passed Ras Tafari philosophy began to take on a different perspective for him. Now he understood why the Rasta man saw their women as queens. Yasmeen was a fiercely independent woman yet still, over the few days she’d been there, a cooked meal had been ready for him when he arrived from work. Asim had protested that she didn’t have to do that but she went ahead anyway. “Why shouldn’t I?” Yasmeen had said. “If I’m going to eat, you’re going to eat.” The house was kept spotless and in order and Yasmeen managed to do all this in conjunction with House, of course - while she oversaw the smooth running of her department at the museum. And how could he forget? Akilla loved the very earth she walked on. When the little puppy from hell came over for the first time, her excitement hit boiling point when she found out Auntie Yasmeen was staying with her daddy. In her eyes, wedding bells would be chiming any day soon. All of this dawned on him as he lay in the aromatic hot water. Yasmeen was sleeping soundly upstairs in his bed and he was secretly yearning for her, wondering how long he could control the fire burning inside. The thought of how he would deal with being at such close quarters to her had not crossed his mind. He found to his detriment that it was an exercise in self-control that he despised. There was one consolation from the emotional punishment he was facing and that was patience. The following day Asim was thirty-four. Birthdays had never been a big deal for him, the passing of time, that was all, and if he were drunk enough he’d consider the merits of having thirty-four years’ of experience behind him. The less fuss was made about it the better in his mind. He realized too late that nobody else shared that opinion with him when he reached Zulu Security Systems Inc. at midday. Kehinde had thrown a surprise birthday lunch for him, inviting all the staff who wanted to come. The turnout was good considering it was a Thursday and the workload was heavy. Ricardo looked worried. Even Zygote had dragged himself away from the sterile environment of the basement, insulted him on his low IQ, gulped down some Cristal Champagne and stuffed his face with cake. He was not sure if it was the free food that

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attracted so many people or that they genuinely wanted to wish him well. His feelings of indifference quickly changed to thankfulness. Sometimes it took something as mundane as a birthday to make you appreciate your blessings. It seemed he had been counting so many of them lately. The day ended well and that made him even more eager to go home and relax. It was funny how the Warehouse had suddenly filled with some warmth and was more appealing - no disrespect to House. The reason was obvious. He knew when he arrived home Yasmeen would not be back from work, so that gave him some time to make a few calls. They would talk later and he looked forward to it. His Porsche pulled up into his garage and unsurprisingly Yasmeen’s Mercedes was parked there. He figured she was home from the tyre marks of her escort’s Isuzu 4x4. Home early. He ascended the spiral stairs up to the main porch. The glass partitions slid open letting him in. House did not greet him – and that was unusual; sometimes she took periods of inactivity to do system checks on herself so she could be indisposed for awhile. It was just that this silence felt strange. His apprehension remaining, his senses switched to warrior mode. “Yasmeen!” he called out uncertainly, his eyes checking out the place. Everything seemed in order. She called down to him. His shoulders slumped with the relief. “I’m in the bedroom, come up.” Was it fear he detected in her voice or excitement? Warily he mounted the steps to the landing and slowly walked through the open bedroom door. Asim stood there stunned into silence. His once familiar room had now been transformed into what could have easily been some Bedouin tent in the deserts of the Emirates. Silks were draped from the ceiling and walls, the bed was brimming full of pillows, and aromatic candles surrounded the base, providing the only light in the otherwise dark room. But the surreal picture was completed by something even more beautiful to behold. Maaan! He was certain his heart had stopped beating. Yasmeen was lying across the bed, her hair loose around her face, stretched out like some exotic wild animal. “Jesas!” Asim whispered. Except for being wrapped in a gossamer-thin fabric, she was naked. His manhood threatened to free itself from the constraints of his trousers. What he had imagined was nothing like this. “Happy birthday,” she said, her voice silky and her hand stretched towards him. Asim stepped closer and took it, hugging her close. They kissed deeply, her breasts taut against his chest and his tongue searching out hers desperately. Wanting to feel more, to explore her more, he hesitantly broke from the kiss and trailed his tongue

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down to her chest until his lips were on the silken material. The shadowy haze of her breasts was too inviting and his mouth took to her stiff nipples in turn, leaving glistening smears of saliva over the area. She shuddered and the loosely draped material fell around her ankles. His eyes drank in her beauty, hungrily. Sweet and sensual like warmed dark chocolate on an awaiting tongue. Smooth dark skin shone as the candlelight flickered from his movements. Wide-eyed he stared at her large breasts and nipples, like a fruit he had been forbidden to taste until now. Her hips curved seamlessly into beautifully toned thighs, which framed her dark pubic mound that was glistening from her excitement. He went to his knees, wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her stomach. His nails traced a path along her buttocks and as his fingers gently spread them apart the heat and her moistness surprised him. Asim’s tongue continued to explore. He reached her pierced navel, his tongue pulling on the gold ring, and then he probed lower. She shuddered, the moans leaving her lips without her control. “I’m yours if you want me …” He wanted to laugh out and shout out ‘of course I want yuh’, but instead he swept her up into his arms and gently placed her into the center of the bed. She unbuttoned his shirt, letting it fall to one side, undid his jeans and he took over sliding them down and off. Yasmeen spread her legs, throwing her head back and propping it comfortably with her own hands. Her swollen labia glistened with her juices, inviting him in. Asim reached into his G-string - his fingers not quite able to surround his swollen member - and started to tease it into her, the bulbous head of his gland purposely stimulating her clitoris and the lips of her vagina - nudging forward but never sinking in too deeply. She grabbed him, searching for his mouth, wanting him inside her, but he persisted to tease. She whispered something he did not understand, Ethiopian maybe, as she nibbled on his ear and continued to excite him with her hot breath and gasps. Then without warning Asim sank his cock deep into her. Yasmeen shrieked out his name, hugging him tightly. “Again,” she pleaded. “But deeper this time, deeeeeper.” He complied but not for long. Interrupting a woman’s climax as she reached her peak drove some women mad and others simply wild. Yasmeen was definitely in the latter group. Kneeling she waved Asim on the bed behind her. As he did so she moved onto all fours and, with Yasmeen’s delectable backside facing him, he stretched over her back. He started kissing from her backside to her neck, every feathery caress causing a response like hot brands along her spine. Yasmeen’s mind was a haze of sexual excitement. His weight on her back was reassuring as his hands cupped her breasts and he continued to nibble at the back of her neck. Asim’s nose flared with his harsh

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breathing as he sucked in the fresh aroma from her hair. “You excite me,” he whispered hoarsely in her ear. She twisted her neck around. The distant smile remained and their lips met again. This time he sucked tenderly on her lips and for long moments their tongues breathlessly battled for supremacy. Yasmeen took control. She reached behind her, fingers grasping his seed and massaging them. Asim let out a gasp. The pads of her fingers gently moved along the length of his member, squeezing in places and then softly prodding the swollen glans. He did not think it could become more erect but it did. Ignoring Asim’s groaning she started guiding his manhood into her. Moistening the tip with high strokes on her slick center, she then placed it in herself, its thickness spreading her wide open. It was her time to gasp. Yasmeen arched her back like a cat. Asim’s left hand was massaging her smooth, flat stomach, his right hand on her shoulder as he slowly eased into her. The sensuousness of her tight core was incredible. His strokes were becoming more urgent, his penis evoking sensations she had thought forgotten. The tempo of thrusting rose a notch as did the slurping sound of his brisk entry. His own control he knew was on the verge of collapse at any moment and he didn’t care. She collapsed on her stomach, keeping her bottom raised and Asim kept hammering into her pleasure core. Yasmeen was meeting his strokes with expert flicks of her hips. Gritting his teeth, the hand he used to brace himself with slid over her perspiring shoulder. She stretched forward, her fingers gripping the sheets, clawing at them. Rising up, he continued to slide in and out of her. Her spasm came from the tip of her toes and started to vibrate up her legs but she was not quite there. He held on. Her shuddering became more violent. “Faaaatther!” she screamed, her body tensing as if a surge of electricity had shot through her. Slowly relaxing, Yasmeen held him inside her, Asim’s movements continuing to make her tingle. He abandoned all control. Asim’s explosion came mere seconds after that, with a loud drawling grunt of satisfaction. Moments later they lay silently in the stillness, the tide of sensations ebbing pleasantly away. They were so close together as if they wanted to merge, sweat dripping off their bodies and both on a high no mind-stimulating machine could ever induce. This was much more than physical. And they both knew it.

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CHAPTER 35 The day of Ascension and the birthday Of the Prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey August 17 ASIM EYED THE DIGITAL NUMBERS FLASHING weakly on his timepiece. “One twenty-two. Plenty time,” he decided. Looking out from the parking space on Hume Street, he watched the smooth droning of the cars as the volume of the traffic slowly increased and with it the cloying smells of the cars’ low-emission fuels. Putting his hands in his pockets, he walked through the enclosure’s automated barricades and jogged over the zebra crossing into a blurry haze of cool shadow thrown by a lone oak tree. He turned right up Charles Street, flanked on both sides by office buildings that seemed like they had been sculpted from gigantic glaciers. He made his way against the flow of scatty-brained pedestrians and office types that were vying for the walkway and cannoning their way through slouches like him who were not as obsessed with time as they were. He reached for his shades. “Shit!” His fingers immediately searched for his Equalizer but was immediately reminded he had decided against carrying his constant companion with him. Old habits. Even when locking it away had been a conscious decision, it had become second nature to be with him at his side. The Baldwin affair had rekindled dangerous instincts that he had acted on but at the same time he needed to keep things in perspective. This was a day out with his woman, in the safe confines of the Museum of Ancient African History. That didn’t mean he would take the threat to Yasmeen’s life lightly. But he didn’t have to go overboard, either. Zygote had profiled her as best he could, from sources he had dug up from Ethiopia and at home. There were no secrets, nothing about her that would warrant intimidation or murder. Without that reason, why, even when he had identified some of the players involved, he had to be on constant guard. He hoped his threat to Reggie Thorndike would do the trick. But if that didn’t, it was all just a matter of time. They would get closer, covering their trail, readying themselves for the kill and he would be there, waiting. For now he had to maintain the pretense of normalcy, and what could be more normal than this? “It would be good if you could visit me at work,” she had suggested days earlier. “Join me and the kids.” It was a great excuse to be with her and keep her under close scrutiny at the same

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time. Or more to the point, he was watching over Yasmeen, Akilla and ten other kids from Haile Selassie Saturday School. Not exactly what Asim would have planned but, as much as he wanted her to himself, he was willing to share her for the day. A very special day in Ras Tafari history, he was told, and this was her treat to the children. On the eve of the ordination of their first world leader, the symbolic high priest, Negusa Negas. Yasmeen had arranged this for the children as her small offering to the worldwide celebration of Ascension - the election of Negusa Negas. He walked into the museum’s forecourt. The drab grey pre-Victorian building opened by Edward VII in the late nineteenth century was like a slap in the face to modern architecture. He liked that! In the shade Asim’s Polaroid’s emitted a barely audible whine and folded to form a neat package that was left perched on his nose. Taking it off, he slipped it in a mini-holster attached to his belt and entered through the gigantic wooden doors. With one foot on the ornate stairs that spiraled downwards, Asim collected his ticket from the electronic dispenser, passed through security scanners and absorbed the exotic surroundings as they were marveled over by throngs of tourists. He made a 360-degree whirl on his way to the middle of the lobby and saw Yasmeen on a balcony just to his right, in deep discussion with the redheaded Rasta man he’d been introduced to at the Finsbury Park concert. He smiled at the man’s dress sense. It reminded him of his old jungle warfare instructor in Malaysia. He let his attention drift elsewhere and allowed his security consultant mould to slide into place, just for the hell of it. Asim shook his head, dismally. Security arrangements for the exhibits were a total fuck-up. Shatterproof glass casing protected the more expensive pieces and the lesser valuables surrounded by sonic nets. That was passable. The larger displays, though, were rigged with ancient devices that seemed to have come with the building three hundred years ago. Then there was the human element. He hadn’t witnessed one security guard patrolling his immediate area since he entered. They could argue that scanners at every exit and entrance and a good security network would do what a human could not. And they would be right up to a point but such systems were expensive, especially for a building of this size, and usually a trained observer could tell if a complete system was in place. He was trained and he saw bits and pieces of a patched together and incomplete protection structure. Everywhere he looked they were cutting corners. This was not the action of a management with money at their disposal. Back to the guards. Where the fuck were they? Still, on lunch breaks, he guessed and shook his head. A Zulu Securities consultation officer would call them in the morning. They needed help. He made a mental note and then thought of something devious. “Dem bright like stadium bulb to rass!” Trevor slammed his fist on the railing and watched its vibration travel along the length and then die out. “Fire feh dem!” he

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snarled. “I don’t want to tink what they would have done to yuh, sistah. Suppose yuh were at dat apartment deh same night. I man would be at the morgue identifying yuh body.” The old man would nevah forgive me? His eyes misted over and he ran his fingers through his locks, shaking his head in frustration. Yasmeen had not seen him in days. They had only talked but meeting face to face he was obviously shaken up by the close call. “Don’t blame yourself, Trevor, you couldn’t have known. I thought my flat was safe, so did you, but they invaded my home and there’s nothing either of us could have done.” Trevor’s intake of breath said he was not sure of that. “What worries me,” Yasmeen continued, “is while we wait, what about my friends? How do I protect them?” “Pray,” he said flatly then asked, “How yuh getting on at your man’s place?” “Good.” Her eyes twinkled. “Praises,” Trevor said, his brow furrowed. “Well, today is the day.” Yasmeen nodded. Her smile was forced; almost painful. Trevor shook his locks and held her with his stare. “Up to deh last minute before deh bwoy Yamu is ordained we are in danger. It was a good idea to shelter here till tings pass.” Trevor frowned and closed his eyes, his tone suddenly becoming urgent. “I need to explain a few tings to you, sista,” he snapped, guiding Yasmeen back into her office. “Right now?” she asked, Trevor’s urgency alerting her. “Just listen,” he said in haste. “You wanted to know …” As Yasmeen nodded, the fourth generation mobile rang in her breast pocket. He wanted to continue but she excused herself from him for a minute. Trevor’s internal voices argued amongst themselves. Tell her about the Dread! Not yet. She needs to know about her father before it’s too late. Need to be sure. She will know when it’s the right time. Whether Yamu ascends or not, she will know. Yasmeen placed the cellular module over her ear, extending the telescopic mouthpiece close to her lips. “Hello, this is Yasmeen Beyene, how can I help?” “Bad news, princess,” Asim said over the line. Yasmeen closed her eyes slowly and controlled her feeling of disappointment. “Don’t tell me.” She looked up to the ceiling. “Something came up suddenly and you can’t make it today.” “Nah, man!” He smiled over the phone. “I was rushing so much I forgot to send Akilla to school.” “You did what?”

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His laughter seemed to transfer from her earpiece to a location just behind her. Then she felt a gentle kiss on her neck and strong arms wrap around her waist. She wondered how she hadn’t heard him approach. “You’re too tense,” Asim said, grinning broadly. “Relax.” After a moment, she spun out of his grip self-consciously. “That wasn’t funny, Mister Marshal,” her smile fleeting. “For a minute there, I believed you.” “I man could have saved yuh deh worry.” Trevor stood forward from his leaning position on the rails. He had obviously seen Asim sneaking up behind her and had caught on to the game. “Apologies.” Yasmeen hesitated, Asim finding her modesty sexy even in the light of day. “You remember Brother Ras Trevor Farikkah, from the concert?” She nodded in Trevor’s direction. “My … friend, Asim.” “Light and levity.” Asim parroted one of Yasmeen’s many greetings. “One blood, rude bwoy!” Trevor responded, his eyebrow raised and head bowed slightly as he clasped hands with the baalhead. Both men’s grips were strong and uncompromising and they both came to the same immediate conclusions about each other. Warriors! Strangely, Trevor felt a sense of relief. At that, Yasmeen paused from the greetings and tried to remember what Trevor was saying to her before she was interrupted. “You were about to tell me something, Trevor.” “Not important, sista.” he said quickly. I man won’t leave you an inch. “Are you sure? It seemed urgent.” She watched him trying to look relaxed. “It all right,” he said, showing a half-formed smile. “I will wander around the place, learn some new tricks.” I man will be in deh background a watch an’ a wait. “We can reason later.” He walked over and hugged her, then nodded to Asim. “Don’t leave because a me, boss.” Asim placed his hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “Just relax. You might learn the fine art of keeping a herd a pickney under control.” Yasmeen planted her elbow in his side and said, “Why not?” The Rasta man thought about it for only a moment. Better business. “All right then, Sista Yasmeen, so what you have planned?” Yasmeen locked arms with both men. “Ask no questions, gentlemen, and just follow me.”

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CHAPTER 36 TREVOR STOOD ENTHRALLED BY AN AUGMENTED reality image of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. Ras Tafari himself, dressed in his royal finery and seated on his throne breathing steadily, the slightest smile on his lips while looking out to an imaginary court. The illusion of life couldn’t be more compelling. “King of Kings,” Trevor murmured lowering his head. And as if he was confirming his words, the lights dimmed. The children in a boisterous mood paid little attention. The Rasta man wasn’t concerned either as he was delighted by the exhibits. Asim would have done the same if he hadn’t followed Trevor’s lead and broken from the group. Leaving Yasmeen, the class teacher and the kids to continue their adventure, unburdened by his adult questions. He was in the Ethiopian brush land watching the animatronic desert creatures when he heard the exclamation of ‘fuck me!’ and the stifled conversation of panic. A guard who had been stationed to his right for the last thirty minutes, near a flight of wrought iron stairs, was leaning threateningly over it, with a mobile in his hands and forcing his words into it as if it had caused him offence. That was a minute ago. Being aware that his voice was rising beyond normal conversation and being carried in the subdued silence, he nervously looked around. Asim’s eye’s met with his. The guard smiled weakly, struggling to wipe the expression of terror off his face. Failing, he dashed into the adjoining chamber. Asim leaned off the post. By then Yasmeen and the children had moved further away from where he had left them, their high-pitched voices raised in laughter as someone poked fun at one of the historical figures. Another guard from the other side of the hall disappeared, too. Asim’s gaze met Trevor’s. They regarded each other tensely from opposite sides of the hall. Asim looked around and tried to dispel his discomfort. But something was on the fringes of his awareness that was making him nervous. What though? His eyes slowly ran up the walls to the ceiling. That was it. The background hum had stopped. Overhead the roving surveillance cameras that scurried about on the ceiling, observing the patrons movements, had all frozen in place. Malfunction, maybe? That was possible because this place was a disaster waiting to happen. But that did not satisfy him somehow. No such thing as coincidences, he reminded himself. He drew his eyes away from the ceiling and quickly peered over to his daughter laughing amongst the other children. Yasmeen turned and waved. The serene picture jolted him into action. Alarm bells in his head were going crazy. Surveillance was dead; the electrics were shorting and rent-a-cops panicking. His

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intuition was a sixth sense not to be fucked with and he had learned the hard way to trust it with his life. Asim was walking over to the children before he even knew what his plan of action would be, only knowing he had to be closer to them as he viewed the exits and entrances expectantly. Questioning gazes from the form teacher made him wipe the look of apprehension from his face. Quickly he swayed her look of concern with a wink and a short-lived grin. She did not seem convinced. Trevor stayed put. This was much more than paranoia. The children listened to a story being told. Taking up position behind them, Asim mustered as much cheerfulness as he could and interrupted Yasmeen in mid-sentence. “Guess what?” he piped. “I’ve got something I want you kids to see. You’re not going to believe dis.” Yasmeen shot him a confused stare and shrugged in the children’s direction. The form teacher was puzzled too. Luckily Akilla and her over-excited friends swayed the decision, demanding to know what this surprise was that couldn’t wait. With no idea what he was going to do or say, he led the way. His only concern was positioning the children as close to an emergency exit as possible without frightening them. After all he had been wrong before. He hoped this was one of those few times. Herding the group into the far corner of the building, Yasmeen protesting, the form teacher playing along, he finally bungled everyone beside a set of emergency doors. Then he stood there. His mind … went … blank. Class One ‘A’ stared at him intensely, their looks demanding results. Beside him the scale model of the Ark of the Covenant gave him no inspiration. Yasmeen cleared her throat, impatiently. Bare seconds from that point, her Vcomm started to bleep. Asim’s disquiet amplified tenfold. Shaking her head and thinking, what next? Yasmeen walked away from the protests of the children. Unclipping the earpiece from her jacket, she slipped it onto her ear and pulled the telescopic mike to her lips. “Yes?” “We have a Priority Red situation, miss,” a frantic voice screamed at her. “Casualties on two levels.” His voice hissed from interference. “Priority Red …!” The line buzzed and died with a stream of sharp electrical crackles. The lights dimmed in slow pulses. Yasmeen looked up and made some quick adjustments to the frequency and tried again. The Curator’s office hissed with no response. She tried the researchers’ laboratories - nothing. The emergency lines were all dead. Frowning, she looked over to Asim huddled with the children protectively. He was desperately calling her over. What was going on? Her frown deepened. Then thirty pounds of plastic explosives detonated in the adjoining room,

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demolishing the separating wall in a flash and propelling with it an expanding cloud of bellowing dust. Moments later Asim raised his head and shook it. He was on all fours, breathing heavily, his head throbbing and his eyes straining to see through the dust and debris. It was deathly quite, no alarm bells, no voices in distress, just the intermittent showers of dust particles from the ceiling to the floor. He jumped up first, broken glass and masonry crunching under his feet as he scrambled over to the children. They were fine but still huddled together and covered with fragments of fire-resistant ceiling tiles. He started clearing the debris wildly until he saw his daughter whimpering in the arms of one of her classmates. Asim lowered his head, relieved. He swept her up in his arms and at the same time he helped their form teacher to her feet before running over to Yasmeen. She was unsteadily sitting up as he got there. That perplexed look hadn’t left her face. Gripping her waist, he stood her up, too. Akilla left his arms immediately and latched onto Yasmeen’s neck. The Rasta woman kissed her. “Vcomm!” Asim bellowed over the newly emerging sounds of shouts and screams. “I’m sorry,” Yasmeen whispered hoarsely, lifting the broken fragments of the mobile she’d fallen on. Asim cursed under his breath then took her hand. “Okay, okay, don’t worry ’bout that now. Getting everybody safely out is priority. Can we use the emergency exits near by?” Yasmeen shook her head, pointing to them in the settling dust, and lost her balance slightly. Asim held her close and asked, “Are you all right, princess?” She nodded again, coughed and tried to stand on her own accord. “They can’t … be opened manually,” she finally said, her voice husky. “The entire system is intuitive, reacting to differing environmental changes. It controls light levels …” She swallowed, trying to lubricate her throat. “Heating levels, power and air-circulation. It has to think there’s an emergency before it kicks in.” “This is an emergency,” Asim said flatly. She coughed. “The intelligence core, the brain that controls all of the museum’s systems, must have been corrupted. How, I have no idea.” She shook her head in bewilderment. “We’ve had simulated fire drills every month and the system has worked perfectly. The emergency exits should have opened by now and the isolation doors would be in the process of sealing the seven main sectors of the building.” “Obviously things are not going as planned.” Asim shook his head. “From what you’re saying, we should be able to walk out of here, whatever the cause of the explosion. But your systems aren’t reacting at all. This doesn’t feel right to me. I need

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to check this out first, satisfy myself.” “You don’t think it was an accident, do you?” “I don’t know yet, princess. That’s what I’ll find out. The explosion did a part of the explaining for me but not everything.” “And the other part?” He shrugged. “The only way I’ll know my feelings are wrong is if I check the place out before we move the kids. Just a quick recon.” Yasmeen’s scarf had left her head in the confusion. Her hair was spotted with grey patches of dust and her lips quivered as she held her fear in check. He turned to go and she stopped him. “Ralph, one of the guards, was screaming something.” She squeezed her eyes together, straining to remember. “They’re armed, Priority Red.” Asim said nothing. Instead he playfully pinched the back of Akilla’s neck - she had not removed her head from Yasmeen’s chest all this time - and turned to leave. Yasmeen remained alert but fear was tugging at the sides of her lips. Her big beautiful eyes were wide with shock. He kept that picture in his head as his usual aura of calmness vanished, transforming into something vicious and deadly. “Stay out a sight till I get back,” he said. “And keep the youts as quite as possible.” Then he was gone. Ducking low he ran forward using the various displays and large exhibits as cover. He skidded to the middle of the hall, using a smooth central pillar to stop himself, and listened keenly. He quickly snaked his head around the marble column. All clear. The adjoining room was belching dark smoke and the wails of people in distress were piercing through the bubble of incredulity he was in. A shout came from next door and then a scream. Three Japanese girls came dashing into the Ethiopian hall, their clothes stained in dark soot and blood, obviously disoriented and in shock. Asim was about to sprint forward to a better vantage point when he heard someone calling him. Disappointed he had been spotted so easily, he lifted his eyes to his left and saw Trevor appearing from behind an animatronics nomadic herdsman. And the locks man was dressed for war. His hair was loose around his face and he wore only a string vest and slacks torn at the knee. He gripped two ‘baby machetes’ in both fists and was cursing like a sailor. “They’re on deh roof, town man.” Trevor’s eyes rose to the ceiling, his grating patois intense. Asim looked up. The vast circular glass roof, which naturally lighted a portion of the constructed environment of the Ethiopia Hall, was dotted by vague figures,

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moving around its edges and then suddenly moving out of view. Like the shadow of a huge bird of prey an almost silent hover vehicle banked away from the building. Trevor with agitated hand movements, signaled him to back away. This Asim did. And as he shielded his eyes, he knew what was about to follow. The circular skylight flashed red, followed by a high-pitched whine as it shattered. A shower of glass hit the sand on the desert display and with it dangling ropes. Men soon followed, faces blackened, locks tied back. Their weapons gleaming and their intentions wicked. Asim needed to see nothing more. Yasmeen was their target. He just couldn’t understand, why such a massive operation to eliminate one target? There was more he didn’t know or even understand but now was neither the time nor place for speculation. He was working off one premise until he knew otherwise. His baby and her classmates were being threatened and they wanted his woman dead. The family he had finally seen coming together, others wanted to rip from him. It nah go happen, not again. He would dispatch them ‘rass’ with maximum disrespect if he had to. Preparation. That’s what he had to do now. Prepare. Slivering out of his jacket - his mobile phone falling out - Asim bundled his gold chain, earring and Polaroid’s into it and buried them all. Leaning back against the throne of some Abyssinian king, he tried to use his phone to make contact with Ricardo. But as he thought, the continuous hiss of ‘no connection’ was all that greeted him. An electromagnetic dampening field, he figured. That told him more eloquently than anything else ever could that this was no chicken-shit outfit. The organization was slick and obviously well financed. And if he were to stand a chance of survival, he would have to think smart. Scooping up a handful of black soil and sand, he started to smear his face, chest, arms and trousers. The dust and fumes had to provide adequate cover for him, for a while at least until he figured out a plan of action and where to acquire a weapon. Quickly he edged around a boulder and saw Trevor atop a prefabricated hill. The Rasta man was swearing at the top of his voice just before he let fly one of his knives. It was an impossible throw, fuelled with anger and desperation. But as it whistled through the air, defying the odds, it found its target, sinking itself deep into the thigh of the last locks man, swinging down to earth. The man bellowed. His first disastrous reaction was to let go of the rope and grab at his wound. He plummeted thirty feet, bouncing off a hard plastic rock and then lying there, his muscles twitching. Asim looked back up to congratulate him but Trevor had disappeared. Pam-Pam! Bad bwoy. It was a pity Asim was not as well equipped as his co Misterade-in-arms. His Equalizer was snugly tucked away at home where it could do the least damage. He looked to the main entrance leading into the Ethiopia Hall. Men with weapons were stationed there. No way out. The other men who had abseiled in from the roof were

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meticulously searching the hall. Jesas, Yasmeen and the kids. Weapons’ fire startled him. The sounds were coming from Trevor’s last location and the uncertain way the rounds were being ‘let off’ said they were trying to flush him out into the open. Something told him they would have their hands full. Asim on the other hand still had surprise as his only ally. He needed a tool. Improvise, boss, he told himself. Improvise! He marshaled his thoughts desperately and headed towards a display based on the ancient civilization of Kemite. Stalking the vast maze like a madman, he ran through a throne room occupied by a pharaoh and his subjects. He reached for a sword held by a burly guard in sandals. The image rippled as his fingers passed through it. Shit. A hologram. Hesitating for a moment, uncertain of what was virtual or reality, he dived to the floor and made his way on his stomach. Just to his left, his probing fingers happened on a cold, smooth solid. It was a ‘real’ glass display case with an array of ceremonial swords and spears. He crawled forward until he was right beside it then, checking he hadn’t been spotted, he propped his back against the glass column and applied pressure. It resisted him only partially and Asim tensed some more and heaved, grunting. It swayed and then toppled, crashing to the floor. His eager hands dove into the fragmented case, pulling out the ancient weapons, which his Ethiopian brothers had not used in centuries. He slung a throwing axe over his shoulder and decided against it. Too cumbersome. Pulling out the short spear, he discarded that too and took a sword with him instead. A bow and quiver full of arrows made his eyes light up. He grabbed them and sprinted for cover, knowing an investigating party could be on their way from the sound of crashing glass. He had to disappear. Asim tried to make the widest sweep of the hall as was possible without skirting too close to the wall. He stopped when he was near one of the exits to an adjoining room and made sure he hadn’t been seen. Before he tried to penetrate back into the hall from the other end, he checked his bearings. It was then he saw compact ALs Articulated Loaders - shuttling crates back and forth to what he guessed was an extraction point. Three academic-looking types were overseeing the operation, quickly giving orders as men took old books, artifacts and ancient writings on papyrus from exhibits and gently packed them away. He shook his head. Foremost on these bastards’ minds was to rob the place but, as a golden opportunity had arisen to eliminate Yasmeen, they would use it. Killing two birds with one Goddamn stone. So, while this was taking place, others were scouring every possible hiding place for Yasmeen. It was only a matter of time before they found the children, and then what? Asim refused to think of the consequences and started to weave his way closer to them

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and eventually back over to where Yasmeen was hiding. Slowly he advanced to the center of the exhibition hall, his every sense attuned, filtering out the shouting in the distance and the sporadic gunfire and only concentrating on the sounds and smells close by him. He was on his stomach crawling forward, just about to break through a clump of dense artificial foliage, when heard the voices approach his position. He froze. An army-issue boot planted itself inches away from his extended finger. His free hand touched the hilt of his sword and he prayed again that the synthetic bushes concealed him properly. One of the two men gave a situation report, sounding out of breath. “The British Library, Windsor Library, British Museum and the Museum of Mankind have all been successfully breeched. Teams Philistine, Sodom, Abel and Zion are ready.” “Tell dem feh gwane,” the older man ordered. The dread with a communication rig slung around his shoulder delivered a coded transmission on some obscure bandwidth. “What of deh girl?” the elder dread asked. “Every section covered. She is not there.” “Wha ’bout her office?” He sucked hard on a spliff. “Nuthin!” “Then she is here. Search every crevice of the Ethiopia Hall an’ when yuh find her, kill her.” He checked his timepiece. “We have twenty minutes.” The foot soldier grunted and sprinted off. The other man took one last pull on of his weed and threw it into the bush. He followed close behind. Asim had held himself back from cutting them both down without question but tactically that would be no good. Anyway, they had given him an idea. Whoever designed the building’s security was either giving management what they paid for or was just a cowboy oblivious to the glaring security cracks. Who would have the nerve to try and steal exhibits from a building that was built the old way from bricks and blood? A fuck-up waiting to happen. But fire prevention, now that was something else. Millions and millions of credits’ worth of artifacts must have state-of-the-art fire prevention equipment, especially if the building was a listed one. Insurance companies required that as standard, especially in a building that housed items of such a priceless nature. It was a must. Eagerly, Asim picked up the discarded spliff and puffed on it. The end flared red and crackled. Collyweed! He complained and then nodded. We inna business. Keeping the children calm and quite was difficult. The first explosion had them

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really frightened but its impact soon wore off and their enquiring minds began to fire endless questions. Yasmeen tried to allay their fears as best she could. “It’s going to be all right,” she whispered hoarsely. “When Uncle Asim gets back, we’ll all leave here together. I promise.” The form teacher agreed with a nod but her eyes were less than convincing. It was a feeling Yasmeen was beginning to share. Instantly that icy slick of terror was melting as she heard the footfalls heading in their direction from the other side of the display. Asim! She jumped up and quickly made her way around to the near side to greet him. But there was no one there. Yasmeen spun back to the children; her lips puckered in confusion, and saw what at first sight seemed like convection currents carrying a cloud of black soot towards them. They took human form. The first shadow stepped out into the light, unseen by the class. Yasmeen backed up, her mouth open and a stunned look in her eyes, but she didn’t get far. Shuffling away from the image before her, she slammed into someone else, behind. A warm, solid someone. She spun around horrified. The scream stuck in her throat as a massive hand clamped over her mouth and jaw. Yasmeen struggled but knew it was useless when her eyes met her assailants and all her fight evaporated. It was as if she was face to face with the boogeyman of her childhood, the black heart man. His locks were wild, eyes piercing red, a grin of pure malevolence and a mouth that could carry the scything canines of a vampire. The large energy weapon pointing at her chest just lost its significance. “Glad mi find yuh, Sister Yasmeen.” Black heart man growled. “Deh Spear was getting impatient.” The flames were spreading rapidly as Asim wormed his way back to Yasmeen and the children. He had found enough kindling material to wrap the tips of his ancient arrows. Using the long bow, he sent them streaking all over the vast hall, mainly on anything that would catch fire. The bow was sturdy - it was his archery skills that needed work - and the discarded spliff made it all possible. By now, flames were gnawing into the preserved wooden framework and spreading violently. Soon it would be out of control and the fire prevention systems would kick in. He breathed in heavily. They had to. A bit heady from the cannabis, Asim estimated that he was not too far from where he had left Yasmeen. He only needed to make sure the route he was about to take was clear. Dropping to his stomach again, he eased his way through artificial shrub land, the plants scraping his torso. Sensing no opposition, he scampered

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forward. Then he froze. Desperate cries from the children. Jesas! Smoke was swirling everywhere while Asim held himself back. As much as he wanted to storm the position, the soldier in him made him cautious. Dying would be the worst thing he could do. His daughter’s screams were maddening. Don’t hurt them, he repeated with every step he took. Please, God, don’t let them get hurt. As he inched closer to the exhibit, his sword drawn, he heard the threats and cursing. He could distinguish between three or four different voices. How they were positioned he couldn’t say but he knew any minute they would be calling in their find or even taking action themselves. The children were hysterical. Don’t give in to yuh fear, boss, think. Asim ran to the corner of the exhibit, his situational awareness focusing too soon but not so soon as to glimpse the blur of movement to his left. His momentum unchecked, he could do nothing to swerve out of harm’s way. A savage parting of the air to his right side then exploding warmth engulfing his back. As if he was caught in slow motion he felt his shoulder muscle split open then his senses suddenly kick back into high gear and a wave of pain engulf him. A delicate kiss by the keen edge of a blade. Blood spurted from the wound and Asim bit down hard to stifle a scream. His world tilted for a moment from the sudden nervous shock. He stumbled away giving himself distance, his left hand clamped to his bloody back as he whirled violently, his right hand pointing his sword at the green fatigued man standing some distance away. The locks man sized him up carefully. Smirking he lifted the gun strap from around his neck and dropped the automatic to the floor. Then he kicked it into the gloom. He did the same with his bloodied dagger. He bowed respectfully, his eyes never leaving Asim’s. Mano e Mano, Asim concluded. Fair enough. With deliberate exaggeration he pulled out a gleaming cutlass that was strapped to his back. Dispensing with any further pleasantries, he came at Asim like a furious lion, his blade flashing from left to right and his movements so quick they seemed to be caught in the beams of a strobe light. Asim bared his teeth and staggered back, feeling fear bordering on desperation as he barred his assailant’s slashes. Every swipe made the difference between his survival or death. Their blades whistled through the air, Asim blocking his advances and feeling the pain with every strike of metal. Still, his opponent was beginning to be aware he was not easy game. The dreadlocks tested him. He attacked low and to Asim’s right but the ex-soldier read it and fanned the assault away with a brush of his sword. The locks man tried again. Attacking down the center this time, a practiced move he performed with blistering speed, he swung his machete on both sides of him and then thrust it towards his opponent’s solar plexus. But Asim kept his composure well, only just sidestepping the blade.

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Frustrated, the dreadlocks struck and struck again, each stroke weakening the baalhead and bringing him closer to him. His smug smile disappeared when Asim used the fist gripping the sword as a battering ram, delivering two blistering blows - one to the jaw and another to his neck. Staggering back two steps, and daubing blood from a gash on his cheek, the natty let out a scream like a wild animal and furiously dashed at him again. He made a diagonal swipe, expecting to catch Asim unawares and part him from his shoulder to his waist. The baalhead brushed his advance away easily but lost his footing and stumbled backwards. The sword fell from his grip and spun into the distance. The locks man grinned, lunging at him with the point of his blade, sensing the inevitable kill. But still the baalhead rolled away from him. He kept slashing, kept chopping but the bwoy was quick his sense of survival acute. Anger took control of his concentration and Asim took advantage. Instead of doing what was expected of him and continue to scramble towards his sword, he shot across to his assailant on all fours and swept his feet from under him. While he was regaining his footing, Asim exploded backwards across the floor, using his feet like pistons and skidding for some distance before he rolled to his right. He was just a finger’s length from his weapon. Asim could hear the clamoring and curses behind him as his adversary regained his footing and charged again mindlessly. The urge was for him to look behind but there was no need to. Weakly he propped himself on his knees, swung his sword up and across and then brought it down in a wide arc. Metal sliced flesh and parted bone. The dreadlocks fell, gripping one knee cut to the cartilage and pressing his free hand to a deep gash in his chest. Unable to stop the arterial spurts of blood, he clamped his hand over the wound and bellowed out for help. The only aid he received was in the form of Asim’s dark features towering over him. “I ought to kill yuh, pussyclaat, now, but I won’t. That will be entertainment for me later, turf bwoy. In the meantime be my guest and scream as much as yuh like.” Asim struck him once with the back of his fist and staggered off. His chest heaving from the exertion, the wound to his back stymied by the adrenaline pumping through his system, he turned towards the exhibit. He took no more than two steps before a vibration of metal above startled him. No! Asim stepped back and looked up. Another figure dropped in front of him from the scaffolding above, as silently as a ninja. Slowly the man lifted himself from his crouched position and cautiously approached him. Noooo! Asim’s scream of frustration and anger could only be heard in the caverns of his own mind as he charged through the smoke, ignoring the pain, wanting only to get to the children. Weakly he slashed out at the new threat but his assailant

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was quicker and more agile. Jumping back from the attack, the man smiled without retaliating. Smiling? “Easy, town man.” Asim’s grimace melted in a wave of relief. Trevor looked at him smugly. The Rasta man had lost his clothes and was now decked out in the outfits of one of the invading locks men. They didn’t speak, there was no need to. Asim pointed to the exhibit, lifting his three fingers, and made a slashing motion to his throat with his hand. Trevor nodded. Asim jerked his thumb right and Trevor took his point without a question. The smoke was getting denser by the minute. Asim stifled a cough and took his position. The squeals drifting up on the updraft were edged with absolute childish terror. It was now or never, his cue to move. Yasmeen stared into the unfeeling eyes of the wicked pointing his gun at the children, and then lowered her head again, her long black natty falling around her face. They had ripped off her jacket looking for further communication equipment and so it hung loosely around her arms. Smoke drifted over from the partitions and the class was coughing and wailing. The men were losing patience with them. “Why don’t you just let the kids go?” Her voice was a harsh murmur. “Can’t you see they’re frightened?” An elbow slammed into the back of her head. “Who deh bomboclaat a ask yuh? It better them frighten than dem dead.” She blacked out for a moment, finding herself on her elbows. Slowly her vision swam back into focus and she managed to drag herself back into a kneeling position. Any thoughts she may have harbored of struggling had died when they had threatened to hurt the children. “Please let them go,” she slurred. “I’m begging you.” The men laughed Vaguely she felt the cold metal pressed hard at her temple and the disconcerting presence of the man behind her. The chill hands of panic and fear massaged her insides and she struggled for control, trying to garner some inner calm. Nauseous and weak she swayed forward, the pressure of grit and stones hurting her knees. She toppled, but was grabbed by the neck like a wayward chicken. The man behind roughly pulled her upright and steadied her. He spoke into Yasmeen’s ear with deliberation, his breath hot and rancid. “What yuh tink yuh doing gal? A want yuh conscious when mi pull this trigger.” “Why me?” she asked weakly, her voice unable to muster much more volume. “You’re special, yuh nevah know dat? Jus’ like your old man. An’ you come with a healthy price on yuh head, too. I need no other reason.”

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Like my father? More questions she would never have the answers to. The images of Miriam, her work, Akilla and Asim flitted across her mind’s eye. Her life had been good. She shuddered, tears streaming down her cheeks. For the children. She consoled herself. Her fingers reaching for the gold cashew nut slung around her neck, rubbing it gently, she recited the 23rd Psalm. Her executioner spoke into his mobile. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He smiled and nodded. I will fear no evil. He charged his weapon. For thou art with me thy rod and thy staff will comfort me. Opening her eyes to see the children for the last time, her vision fogged with tears. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. She looked away from them, unable to handle the tidal wave of terror. A terror that was so all embracing Yasmeen began seeing things. There was an outline of a shaggy head, briefly hidden by the smoke. Red locks and a cheeky grin. Then it was gone. Her prayers ended abruptly. “Natty Palmer!” The man with the gun to Yasmeen’s head froze when he heard his name screamed out loud. It was Ray-I and from his screams he was being tortured. His attention shifted for a mere moment and Yasmeen used the opportunity to shakily stand and face him. “What deh fuck yuh think yuh doing ?” He ground the muzzle of his weapon into her forehead instead of her temple. “Just making sure you don’t miss,” she said with obvious sarcasm. The other men were nervously looking around, confused by her actions and drawn by the commotion beyond the exhibit. Their brethren’s screams were getting louder. The dreadlocks with his gun pressed to her head was struggling with the decision to stay put or go investigate. Yasmeen’s stare was unnerving him as well. He looked away. “I want you to look into my Goddamn eyes when you pull the trigger, boy!” Yasmeen screamed. The man hesitated, confused under pressure. Their brethren was still howling outside. “Not so easy, face to face, is it?” she whispered. He shook his head as if he was clearing the cobwebs and snarled, lashing out with the gun, sending Yasmeen twisting to the floor. “Fuck dis,” he spat. Coolly kneeling beside her, he pointed the weapon to her head and wrapped his finger around the trigger. Many hours of close-quarter combat training made him capable but luck would make him effective. Asim flew around the exhibit and absorbed the whole picture in one lucid snapshot. A Dreadlocks had his back to him with a gun to Yasmeen’s head

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as she lay on the ground. All the children were on the floor at the other end with their form teacher hugging them. Another two men covered class One ‘A’ from that same side. He locked into autopilot. Three quick steps and he was directly behind the first ‘bwoy’ and had been already spotted by the shooters at the far end. They had forgotten their instructions to kill the children if anyone attempted to escape. He had expected that. Instead they aimed at Asim, who had already kneeled behind the first man shielding himself while he dragged him up by the scruff of his neck and tried to twist the gun from his grip but he held on desperately as the weapon discharged harmlessly into the ceiling. “You need to be quicker than that, pussy,” Asim whispered in his ear. A professional would have taken out both him and his shield but after due consideration these ‘rasses’ were no pros. The dread in the arm lock struggled. Asim kissed his teeth, heaved backwards and jerked. There was a discernable crack as the dread’s spinal chord fractured. The body went limp and started to collapse. Asim fell with it in the fashion of some dance macabre, his own finger replacing the dead man’s around the trigger. As the tiles rose up to meet him, he squeezed off two rounds in the direction of the other two Spear men. One sizzled wide, shattering a plastic panel above one man’s heads, while the luckier of the two saw his chest exploding and felt the momentum fling his body against the wall. Eyes wide with surprise or shock, he left a filthy crimson mark as he slid down on his backside. Trying to scurry from underneath the corpse, Asim swung his weapon a fraction to his right, already taking aim on the third man and bracing himself for some return fire. Shit, he’d gone! Then Trevor stepped coolly out from behind the exhibit, droplets of scarlet dripping from his big knife and splashing to the floor. He wiped the blade on his trousers and nodded casually. Asim heaved the body off him and stood up. “Let’s leave this place now,” he barked, rousing the children from their sitting positions on the floor. The flames were licking just beyond the display and the heat even at that distance was becoming unbearable. Asim lifted Yasmeen up from her knees, kissing her while he did so. The children huddled around them, shocked and confused. Akilla had broken from the group and attached herself to her father’s leg just as he came over. The horror she had seen reduced her to fits of sobbing. The smoke was becoming unbearable and the automatic fire doors had still not opened. Asim could not move the children in the dense fumes and heat. Trevor was cursing as he tried his best to step through the wall of fire to their left but it just was not possible. Time was running out for everyone with no escape in sight. Yasmeen had fallen back to her knees as the men fought the flames but it wasn’t borne of exhaustion. Focus, she was telling herself.

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A way out? Up? Her eyes shot to the ceiling. No way up. I’m blocked on my right and on my left. Father, help me. Down? She looked to the soil. Stupid! Down …? Fire escape. The bomb shelter. “That’s it!” The words of relief exploded from her mouth. Jah’s blessings! She jumped up and dashed off, dousing flames with an old rag that must have been discarded by a cleaner and followed a path that led up to a huge pot on the far side of the exhibit. Her eyes fixed to the ground like a sniffer dog. Another impenetrable wall of fire rose up to block her. Watching it as it roared a few feet away, the heat stifling, she used the toes of her shoes to brush away some dirt around the area. Her shallow breathing became excited. Yasmeen fell to her knees again and started digging into the hot, artificial soil. “It’s through here,” she screamed. “Help me!”

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CHAPTER 37 The City of Shashemane, Ethiopia SOON IT WILL BE TIME,” Yamu muttered. “Jah will be done.” He spoke to the masses as if they were before him. But the visuals he was staring at were being transmitted to his private meditation cubicle, deep in the Tabernacle of the Conquering Lion. He could feel the crowd’s intensity as it gathered outside in the square, the hum of excitement rising into the African skies. This was his spiritual home, the Golden City. Shashemane was set in the middle of a rift valley, the tail of the Ahmar Mountains stretching to the east, lake Awasa and Shala close by. Today it was the focus of a pilgrimage unheard of in Ethiopia’s history. They had traveled not just from Addis Ababa but from across the globe. They were here to witness his rising up. While the sun sank into the mountains, Shashemane lived up to its name for a few moments longer, the last rays transforming the rooftops into slabs of precious metal. Date palms stood even higher, swaying with the brisk breezes while the unofficial capital held its breath, like all its citizens. Thousands of the Ras Tafari and Ethiopian Orthodox family waited with Muslim and Christian as the Ceremony of Ascension continued behind closed doors. The final prophecy was to be fulfilled and the atmosphere surrounding the graceful spires of the tabernacle was charged with energy. Yamu had been given the privacy to meditate on the task he was to face. There was no need for that. He was born for this moment. He knew what he had to do; he had visualized this occasion a hundred times before and it held no mystery to him. His focus was elsewhere. He looked keenly at the message that was being decoded on a terminal in his chambers. He smiled hungrily. All four Babylonian repositories of African treasures had been successfully raided and a large collection of these invaluable pieces would be returned to their grateful owners. And grateful they would be. Some of these artifacts had much more than historic significance but were for some literally the symbols of nationhood. Imagine the moral boost it would give to a country and the bargaining power of the man who handed it over to them after centuries in the downpressors’ hands. Already he was making history and lasting partnerships. The raising of Negusa Negas was two hours away and would be the single most triumphant period in his life, but mixed in with his elation was a cold chill like a gust of icy wind. He held his eyes level as the text scrolled slowly across the screen. His

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niece was dead. Her body had been burned beyond recognition in her precious museum. He shook his head with feigned regret. There was no other way. Yasmeen should have been his child. He should have joined with Miriam and taken her for his own. But like most things he did that involved his brother, he was unjustly treated. The same brother he’d had to guide and shield from a cruel world had grown up and begun to believe he was Yamu’s better. Believing that his gift singled him out for greatness. Soon the elders in the village began to hear of his visions, or what he called premonitions of the possible future. The news of his sight spread far and wide. It took time but he began to convince the believers around the world the new direction Rasta would take. Where would Joshua have been without him? He had to physically support him through most of his life because he was born a cripple. He was the stronger and yet his brother turned around and ridiculed him. Joshua ridiculed him by become the focus of world attention while he was marginalized as the brother of the great man. They moved to Shashemane and he fell in love. Miriam had spurned him for his brother, a physical retard. Parading their love at every opportunity, taunting Yamu with their happiness. Joshua was a weak leader who wanted peace. While he wanted to take back what was the black man’s. Take back their traditions, their treasures, their lands, their rights. Making the West pay for the legacy of history. There would be no offering of the other cheek, but an eye for an eye. His brother became the figurehead to a new Rasta order and Yamu was just a nobody. Then the tables turned. He forced the tables to turn. Yamu knew he was the administrative force behind what they dubbed the Nation of Ras Tafari. Their message was sweeping the world, a force of massive proportions nobody had seen since the times of Prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the UNIA movement. Slowly he took Joshua out of the limelight. Threatening the family he loved so dearly, giving him no choice. He disappeared with them and the world mourned his death.. The pain of the loss had been intense for Yamu, too. After all they were twins, but the connection between them died and so did the memories. Nearly twenty years to the day Yamu felt him again. He had learned a few things, too, in that time. The South African premier’s life saved by a message. His brother’s love for the memory of her great-great grandfather Nelson Mandela made him sure, the Dread had intervened. It had to be him. Joshua had made some powerful enemies around the world. Enemies, who would do anything to make him suffer. Yamu’s righteous brother had been responsible for the failure of elaborate plans to establish a white homeland in New South Africa. The Broeders never forgot and never forgave. And where his soldiers - the Spear of The Nation - could not tread, the Brotherhood and their disciples could with impunity. A deal was struck and both their objectives realised at once. Perfect. He

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could not sit back and allow his brother and niece to destroy all he had worked so hard to create. That rass would not happen. Joshua would die again and die with the knowledge that the person he cared for most in the world had suffered. You should have stayed buried, brother. The true vision for Rasta around the world was dominance over the white man. Joshua’s outdated theories would die with him in Trelawny. Yamu’s eye’s flicked over the twenty-four hour clock. He smiled, again. Soon. Very soon. Cockpit Country, Trelawny, Jamaica The killing team had advanced through the thick undergrowth of the Trelawny bush in excellent time. They had traversed streams, hacked their way through mangrove swamps, following their guide who led them on an intersecting route to a roughly trodden footpath leading directly to the target. Their cover as engineers working in Thro-Weh District had allowed them to carry out initial reconnaissance by jet ’copters, making them comfortable with the lie of the land. This was not the standard insertion of a team in enemy territory. The target was non-military and, from their intelligence, unable to respond to an assault on the scale they were planning. Orders maintained they proceed with extreme caution and leave no trace the target ever existed. They dug into their positions, certain no surprises lay in wait near the operational area, but wary nonetheless. Exotic birds cawed and hooted up in the canopy of leaves above their heads. Fifteen minutes before the assault would commence, Sergeant Katz scanned the terrain with his binoculars, still not satisfied. It was clear. Except for small animals foraging for food, heat signatures of birds and reptiles. No tripwires, no hidden snares. Clear. He looked back at his men, so well blended into the surroundings. The eyes he could see showed relief that they had reached the killing ground undetected. They wanted just to finish the job and go. It was a harsh land but not too dissimilar from portions of New South Africa, a terrain they were very familiar with indeed. The Rasta community was something else entirely. They were peaceful but carried an underlying threat he couldn’t quite figure. He wanted to be sure. The shooters waited patiently, nibbling on wild okras and bamboo shoots. Their eyes and weapons never left the camouflaged building in the distance for a moment. In three minutes, the Dread was about to be reminded that the Brotherhood never forgot to repay old debts.

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Somewhere Below the Museum for Ancient African History Yasmeen threw the switch on the master control unit. The bomb shelter lit up, accompanied by the computer melody of systems in operation. Information streams were being sent out, bypassing the faulty main core upstairs and allowing the fire prevention protocols to come into play. Overhead they could hear the alarm bells and the groaning of emergency exits opening. Rass late, Asim thought. Yasmeen’s thoughts were ones of thanksgiving. The old World War II bomb shelter had been kept functionally intact by the civil engineers to keep the original features of the listed building. It had four lighted walkways from the main area of shelter, which connected to routes that led to the surface, through buildings or directly on the street via manholes. All executive staff had known of its existence but had not ventured down here for the last year. Fortunately for everyone Yasmeen’s tour of the underground bunkers had been recent. The entire group was now walking along one of the four arms shooting outwards from a central area in the distance. Old air vent fans were churning loudly, redirecting the smoke. No one spoke and the children who were sandwiched between the adults had nearly all stopped crying. Trevor kept watching the rear while Asim, his shoulder bloody and strapped by a discarded shirt, leaned on Yasmeen. She led the way, the emergency lights above them penetrating into the darkness ahead. Soon they had reached a cul-de-sac and a ladder leading up to the surface. Trevor mounted it, scampering to the top. He called down moments later. “It lock!” Yasmeen swore. Asim’s brows twitched upwards. “My nasty habits rubbing off I see?” “It would seem so, Mister Marshal, she said testily. But even worst than my moral decline, it seems we’re stuck down here until the fire upstairs is contained or the emergency services release us. I forgot this place hasn’t been used for an actual evacuation since the nineties. It’s possible all the exit points are sealed shut.” “Health and safety fuck up.” Asim whistled. “I hope they’ve got long pockets beach they gonna need it.” He looks over to the simmering shock and trauma in the huddled children and moves in their direction. “I’ll help keep the youts occupied,” he said, the slump of his shoulders showing how drained he was. Yasmeen’s eyes followed him over to the children. “Bettah business,” Trevor said, sitting down on a warm ceramic pipe beside her and waiting until Asim was out of earshot. “I need to talk to yuh in private, anyway.” Yasmeen’s eyebrows formed a puzzled ‘V’. “Nuff tings yuh need to know,” Trevor continued in a basso tone that was supposed to be a whisper. “An’ is near time me to tell yuh.”

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“Tell me what?” Trevor produced a reassuring smile and checked a timepiece he had hidden in his jacket. “Soon it will be all over, for the good or deh bad. Then you will overstand everyting.” Cockpit Country, Trelawny, Jamaica The men advanced cautiously. Fine spears of light stabbed into the soft soil, revealing a break in the canopy of trees above their heads. The thatch house was illuminated like a precious prize. A prize they were about to raze to the ground. Slowly they came closer. Firstly, they would secure the perimeter, then a three-man team would go in, eliminate the old man, set explosive charges, detonate them and disappear. A hundred metres from the objective. Their eyes peeled, their other senses reaching out to detect anything out of the ordinary. They kept moving. Sergeant Katz signaled the elimination team to move in with a slice of his finger. The men dashed forward. Open and shut, he thought. Fifty meters from the objective. The team leader stopped dead in his tracks. He cocked his head and listened to whatever jungle instincts men like him possessed. The hairs at the back of his neck rose as his ears strained to distinguish some present danger. A bird chirped and the wild flutter of some large insect, far, far away and then so, so … close. Excrutiating pain! It was sudden and explosive as his hand instinctively flew to his neck and blood burst from the severed artery as he capsizes into the brush. Sergeant Katz stiffened in front of a dead-an-wake bush, hearing and seeing nothing but his captain toppling in a spray of scarlet. Then the environment suddenly came alive. Men fell out of trees, shrubs near by suddenly became muscular forms covered in camouflage war paint, bodies partially buried in moist mud rose up with weapons at the ready like militant zombies, all with long matted hair and bushes seemingly growing out of what little clothing they were wearing. The mercenaries who resisted paid with their lives and the others wisely threw down their weapons and surrendered. The Rasta men caked in mud and foliage stood silently watching armed with catapults, bows, crossbows and machetes. The old maroon traditions had not been forgotten. A heavy jawed, grey-haired Rasta stepped forward and pointed his blood-splattered cutlass to a young mercenary with communication equipment on his back. “You, young bwoy!” he said. “Step forward.” Hesitantly he did. “A want you feh pass on dis message to yuh boss.” The old dread placed the sharp edge of the blade to the young man’s forehead. “Tell dem dat deh mission accomplish and there has been nuh casualties. The Dread is dead, seen.”

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Museum bomb shelter, London He’s alive? Yasmeen could barely think straight. Was that what Trevor said? Yuh father is still alive. The statement looped in her head like an old cassette recording and then came the emotions of disbelief, joy and apprehension all rolled into one. Trevor wouldn’t dare lie much less joke under these circumstances. His expressionless demeanor said he was serious. How in Jah’s name? Trevor checked his timepiece again like his revelation was nothing of major consequence. Asim had just walked into the end of their conversation, his face flushed from loss of blood. He looked at Trevor and then at Yasmeen. “Yuh father’s dead, right?” he said picking up the thread of conversation. She squeezed his hand, her lips pursed tightly, and looked at Trevor, still uncertain. “You could be wrong.” She was clutching at straws. “I know exactly what I know. You think him dead and that was what your mama had to tell yuh. It was all about protection. But your father is alive, sista. Alive an’ well. Ready to lead, as he did in the past.” Yasmeen’s vague look received an understanding hug from Trevor. She asked, “Why did he need to hide from me, from the world?” “It will all become clear, Sista Yasmeen.” He smiled. “By the way, the Dread seh if we pull through, he wants his Princess to have this.” The Dread? Yasmeen burst into a spate of questions to which Trevor shook his head, and gave her instead what was in his hands. Her eyes filled with tears as she clenched her fingers over what had been given to her. The knuckles of her fist whitened with the pressure she was exerting. Then, ever so slowly, she opened them like a flower caught in bloom. A dry seed lay unsubstantially in her trembling hands. It was nothing more fantastic than a shriveled cashew seed punctured by what seemed like an old shoelace but its significance to her was immeasurable. She gently touched the other half of the whole, slung around her neck on a gold chain. The two parts fit perfectly. The memories rushed back with such force she held onto Asim for support. Her mother had given it to her when she was three years old. Her father wore the other half before he supposedly died and it was the only tangible memento that her father ever lived. Miriam would always say, “Your father made me promise him, never to make you forget.” The cashew seed was to be that constant reminder of the love of a father who had died when she was a child and who had just been resurrected like a latter-day

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Lazarus.

The Tabernacle of the Conquering Lion, Shashemane The old man hobbled up to the guards who stood protecting the perimeter around a huge wrought iron gate that led into the tabernacle’s forecourt. One guard, a burly Ethiopian with long curly hair, looked down at the bent figure approaching him with a walking stick and then looked out to the sea of humanity he had appeared from, wondering how he had managed to make it through. The old man had passed through security personnel further up and had obviously produced a verification chip that needed Okaying at his terminal. The guard’s naturally inquisitive mind had wondered why he wore the robes of a Rasta patriarch but his choice of entry and his timing was all wrong - just another late arrival. The Ethiopian’s suspicions were forgotten as the old man offered his hand and they clasped. He had a strong handshake, a warm infectious smile and soul-searching eyes that seemed to look right inside your heart. It was difficult not to like him and anyway, his pass cleared. The elder from Jamaica hurriedly made his way into the tabernacle. “Weep not: Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” The patriarch paused for dramatic effect only. “Centuries after these words were set down in the Bible, Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. Taking the name of Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah. He became the 225th ruler of the 2000-year-old Solomonic Dynasty. Today in memory of the Prophet we begin another great period in our history.” The elders from both the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Nation of Ras Tafari sat in silence as the presiding patriarch completed his litany. Outside thousands of the faithful were becoming impatient and that excitement couldn’t be hidden even amongst the wizened eyes of the assembled inside. A momentous occasion was coming to a close and the only man who could lead the worldwide Rasta faith was on his knees and being sanctified by the incense smoke from the swinging urns of the two supporting altar boys. Flickering torches were set on poles surrounding the circular hall, the harsh looking seats, rising in levels like an amphitheatre, filled with orthodoxy and Rasta decision makers. The prophet Bob Marley provided the reverent atmosphere, that sometime later was replaced by words of Thanksgiving.

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“Glory and praise, and Majesty, and honor, and supplications be unto the Holy trinity for Iver and Iver.” It was now time for the presiding Father to face his brothers and sisters for the symbolic question of acceptance for the first ever Negusa Negas. The Rasta Father was a scrawny man, with small intense eyes like burning embers, shrouded by bushy brows. His stringy locks fell limply around his pencil-thin face and he was blessed with a voice that made him speak with a power that seemed to come from someone else. “You have been elected by Jah through we the leaders of the Nation and our Mother the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Redemption Prophecy told all the faithful of your arrival, not by name but simply by deed. You will become the defender of the faith and Jah-Jah has decided through we the Fathers.” He cleared his throat. “For the history books, let us hear your final words.” The I’s of agreement rang out all around as a unanimous vote was needed for Patriarch Yamu to ascend. He had his eyes closed and his hands clasped to his chest while still on his knees. He felt a warmth prickling the crown of his head. As the ‘I’s continued to boom from the mouths of the elders, Yamu’s grand plans of racial conflict blossomed undisturbed. A new order, Iyah! Seconds passed and then the unspeakable was said. “No sah!” blurted from the mouth of a patriarch from New South Africa. It took mere seconds for that response to sink in and outrage to flare up. Victory for Yamu seemed less certain because another Nay! Blurted out, then another and another. Yamu’s eyes sprang open as the murmurs of confusion rose to a deafening crescendo. The orderly ceremony immediately descended into chaos. The presiding Father had lost all control; his calls for calm went unheeded. Shouting and derision spread like a bush fire. Then just as quickly the pandemonium subsided. Yamu jumped to his feet screaming something at the top of his voice, trying to regain the focus that had since departed. In horror he realized the new focal point of the gathered was an old man hobbling down the aisle that split the amphitheatre in two. There was hushed silence. Then the whispers began. Next came the voices raised in incredulity and lastly the astonished recognition. The Dread was seething with anger. He stopped in his tracks and pointed his Ginep walking stick at his brother in the distance. Yamu’s face darkened. His sulphurous eyes slid across his brother’s face with a contempt that was destroying his judgment. “Joshua!” he bellowed. “Dis is my time.” The Dread stood his ground. “Surprised to see me alive, mi know.” He hung his head and shook it, feeling the disgrace his brother was incapable of. “You’re not fit to even walk past dis holy

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house, much less hold the mantle of Negas. Mi bredda, yuh have blood on yuh hands.” The chants of the Dread’s name resounded off the walls, struggling against the voices of popular opinion until they too relinquished and his name became the dominant cry. A dead man walking. The Prophet. Yamu’s eyes were darting around in his head like a cornered animal. His lips contorted, the aura of calm gone. Stripped of its mask, the face of Yamu radiated evil. Him still alive. Alive! Them all fail me, every Jah damn one a dem fail me! The patriarch’s shock quickly became one consuming thought blazing through his head. Him not taking what is mine. I will finish deh job myself. Scrambling to his feet, Yamu burst forward. Deacons and even ceremonial guards tried to hold him back but he flung them to one side. He headed towards a forest of candle stands, his fingers embracing the cold metal of one and then pulling it towards him. He paused as if some internal power supply had suddenly depleted, and fixed Joshua with a stare that said had just teetered over the edge of sanity. Reanimating, he frantically broke off the soft wax of his makeshift weapon, revealing the sharp protruding spokes. His eyes were filled with rage or madness, a bloodcurdling scream leaving his twisted lips. “Negusa Negas is mine!” Joshua shook his head and whispered, “Forgive mi, Father.” Slowly twisting the handle of his Ginep walking stick, he pulled a keen blade from it. Forgive mi, Father. He flung the scabbard to the floor in defiance. It must end.

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EPILOGUE London, Three weeks after the Museum fire THE NUMBERS FLASHED WEAKLY on the tissue-thin watch face. He had to imagine his old team completing their job and merging with the shadows thrown by the building because no one including him would see them disappearing into the Soho night. Satisfied he nodded his head, the illumination from the streets dancing over the dark skin of his scalp. The Porsche was parked on a double yellow line, facing the Blue Note. He had been there no more than a minute and a half. The laser lights were bright and hypnotic, announcing to the entire West End that they were open for business. The pleasures hidden inside would be attracting the wildlife very soon. But before that, he awaited his own grand performance. He glanced at the digits again and looked unconcerned at the hungry-eyed traffic wardens scouting vehicles for removal. He watched an unlucky motorist have his engine block surgically removed from his car for a parking violation. Secure, Asim winked at the female warden looking his way. He wouldn’t fall victim to their zealous execution of duty tonight because he had no intention of leaving his car unattended. “One minute and counting,” he murmured to himself and started the Porsche’s engines, just as a dark-coated warden flapped over. He kissed his teeth and engaged the car’s reverse program. The Porsche backed up; sensors sounding as it neared another car’s bumper, locked right automatically and pulled out. As Asim took control of the steering wheel, he heard the initial deep rumble and wound down the window, poking his head out. The Blue Note lit up like a star with an ear-splitting shriek. The building belched smoke, electrics sparked and the foundations shook. A precision implosion if he had ever seen one. The superstructure was left standing but the interior was completely gutted. Asim straightened his jacket and peered at the smoldering ruin. That was for putting the life of my family in danger, pussyhole. And Mister Thorndike, if you ever do bounce back from this little disaster and clock on I was the cause, I will give you two options - peace or war. Either way I’ll be waiting for yuh, bloodclaat. In the resulting panic he drove off. Yasmeen looked helpless as Asim approached her sitting on the bench overlooking the shimmering Thames. So much had happened. It was no wonder she was deep in thought. The image of sadness faded away as she looked up to see him

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coming towards her. Those hazel eyes brightened and she raised her head, the indomitable inner strength returning. Earlier that day they had put Trevor on an Air Jamaica flight home. Yasmeen had been through a lot with him so it was quite emotional. Even Asim had bonded with the coarse Rasta man in the few lifethreatening hours they had shared. He had cleared up the gaps in the puzzle as he had promised, but still it was an incredible story. Her father had remained hidden in Thro-weh District for many years protected by the maroons and presumed dead to the world. Maybe he would have remained dead if not for the threat on his daughter and the title of Negusa Negas. How he knew what had been developing in England with Yasmeen, the plot against his life by his brother and sending Trevor over to keep her safe was anybody’s guess. The old man was an enigma who now held the mantle, uncontested. But even with his influence, there was the constant threat of the Spear and others in the flock who believed in violence to elicit change. And with a den of influential friends who shared the bounty of stolen treasures, their reach would be extensive. The worst was yet to come. The South African connection was still murky. Trevor guessed the alliance between the Spear and the Broeders was simply a shared hatred for the Dread, going back many years. What Asim knew for certain was they had left his sister comatose, tried to kill him and his woman and he would not forget it. He had his own theories and in time he would channel that information to the right people. For now, he had to be in a state of constant preparedness and any hope for a normal existence was gone. He had craved to be just another Mister. Joe Public but destiny had other plans for him. His only consolation was that he had found a woman like no other and his family was intact, a little wiser and stronger. “I thought you weren’t coming” Yasmeen said, standing up. Asim feigned a look of hurt and then smiled. He held her and they kissed deeply, remaining in a warm embrace for a while. “Apologies, princess,” he said. “Some buddies of mine from South Africa dropped into the offices without an invitation. After a chat and a few drinks, I couldn’t leave without pointing them in the right direction for a party. I know they’ll be bombing up London town, tonight.” “I bet.” She smiled, her red lips turning ruby as the light from a hover vehicle caught it. They held hands and walked along the Waterloo promenade for a distance. “How’s Fatima?” she asked. “No better, no worst, but we have a specialist interested in looking at her case. Let’s hope.” “Let’s hope,” Yasmeen said. Then Asim asked, “How do you feel about meeting your father for the first time?”

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She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’m frightened and excited all at once. I owe him so much but wish I didn’t have to fly all the way to Ethiopia. The images of running for our lives still frighten me, even now. But if that’s what it takes …” “It can do nothing but good, princess. Relax and rediscover yuh roots.” They stopped and leaned on the railing, watching the speed boats skim across the water’s surface. Asim turned his head around to watch her. “How are you going to break our situation to the old bwoy?” “Gently,” she said with a smile. “I might need time to grow a descent looking ‘natty’ though.” He rubbed his hands over his bald dome and she laughed. His grin disappeared quickly. “I don’t have to remind you that it’s going to be rough on all fronts. People won’t forget about Yamu and what he stood for. Some maniacs are going to blame you and your father for his death. The threat on both your lives could never go away. Can you deal with dat?” Yasmeen turned to face him. “Will you be here with me?” Asim nodded. “Like yuh shadow.” She kissed him on the forehead. Ignoring his pounding heart, he leaned over and spoke directly in her ear, his voice soft. “Let’s go back to your place and …” He stopped himself in mid-sentence, a question forming. “I’ve never been home with you since everything that happened, have I?” “To my apartment,” she corrected. “And no, you haven’t. Is this your subtle way of getting an invitation?” “Maybe……..” “It’s no palace.” Asim shook his head. “Let me be deh judge of that. I want to see you on a different vibe tonight, really relaxed. You know what I’m saying?” He winked. “And …?” A smile parted her lips. “Sample some more Ital cuisine?” “And …?” she prompted, her voice nearly a whisper. “Okay!” He braced his chest with mock confidence. “Let’s test out the difference between my good old-fashioned bedspring and the magnetic suspension on your bed.” Yasmeen glared at him for long seconds and slowly shook her head. Unable to maintain that look of seriousness, she let loose a fit of laughter that danced across the sparkling waters of the Thames. She was still giggling as they walked off hand in hand. Asim stopped, looked at her and took a mental snapshot of the moment, making sure he captured Yasmeen’s laughter and his feeling of completeness, and stored it away for safekeeping. He had an uncomfortable sense of certainty that he would need

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it in the months to come.

The End

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In The Days of Dread