The Gulf Arab war is raging. The simple question is, can the hard headed British entrepreneur complete the Geneveh Project in time? The head of the Iranian Rev Guard has put his life on it. The CIA have put a billion dollar submarine on it.
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It’s 1987. Location; Arabian Gulf. A war is raging between Iran and Iraq, two of the largest oil producers in the Middle East. British entrepreneur Declan Doyle is confronted by the much feared head of the IRG, Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian blood-letting battle with the Iraqis has been going on for too many years. It is at a stalemate and choking the cash struck Iranians to the point of humiliating surrender. Doyle agrees to embark on a last ditch operation coded 112/406 but more widely known as ‘The Geneveh Project’. The plan is to get oil out of Iran in a way that has never been attempted before. Will he succeed? ..... Can he succeed?
Not if the American CIA have their way. Doyle is committed to the Geneveh Project but the covert activities of Colonel Oliver Gresham leave a trail of pain and suffering that provide him with fewer and fewer choices. He has to complete the work on time or else the leader of the fanatical IRG will want to know why - with life threatening consequences.
The powerful black 6-Series BMW sped through the tight Oxfordshire country lanes toward Aynho Wharf. The two men inside were dressed immaculately: pin-striped black and grey three-piece suits, crisp white shirts, polished black shoes matching the expensive hide of their attaché cases. They ignored the welcoming Great Western pub known for its real ale and headed directly for a beautiful, solitary, extended red brick and thatch building where they halted.
‘Great spot,’ said the driver, checking out the half an acre of well manicured lawns next to the Oxford Grand Union canal, complemented by a seventy foot long narrow boat mooring.
The other unlocked his door.
He looked up at the house and said:
They stepped out onto the gravel drive. The taller one, lean, fit-looking with a straight-backed military bearing, knocked on the door. It opened almost immediately. An attractive, thirty-something woman, the image of what they had expected of the wife of an apparently successful businessman, smiled enquiringly, barely covering her irritation at being disturbed at home on a warm peaceful July Sunday.
‘And you are?’
‘It’s a business matter, Mrs Swinton.’
‘Apologies. It’s urgent.’
She studied them, their immaculate appearance dismissing suspicions, sighed.
‘Well, if you must! I’ll show you to his office. He’s working,’ she added, coolly, showing them into a room at the rear of the house. It was empty.
John Swinton entered, frowning, quickly taking in the physical size and style of the two men standing before him.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Business,’ stated the taller man.
‘Important business, Mr Swinton.’
‘I don’t know you. What’s so important you arrive here on a Sunday, no call, no nothing?’
‘We represent certain commercial parties in the Middle East, Mr Swinton,’ stated the taller one, then glanced pointedly at Charlotte Swinton, gave a small yet barely perceptible smile.
‘There are matters we need to discuss’
Colour had drained from Swinton’s face.
‘Are you all right, John?’ she asked.
‘Of course! It’s the heat. Sorry Charlotte, I know it’s Sunday but ….’
Her irritation showed as she turned away, then was gone.
Swinton breathed: ‘Sorry. You better sit down.’
The tall man smiled: ‘No need. This won’t take long.’
Swinton felt sick. He knew this was coming. His electrical engineering business was in severe financial trouble, and, unable to raise funds in a cautious UK market, he had turned to one of his Middle East contacts for help. He had sold many thousands of pounds worth of electrical control panels to the Englishman who seemed to have most things tied up in the tiny Gulf State that in centuries past had once headed the Royal Navy’s hit list for piracy and was now literally swimming in crude oil. The one hundred thousand pounds borrowed from Contec Financial Services had an interest tag of twenty thousand pounds. The final payment was due on the first of the month. It was now the tenth.
‘Look, I ― ’
‘Sit down at your nice desk, Mr Swinton,’ ordered the shorter one, speaking for the first time.
Swinton obeyed, fear clear on his face.
The tall one placed his black hide attaché case on the beautifully finished, leather-topped oak desk, flicked the catches open, spun it around, lifted the lid. Swinton saw the contents, recoiled, turning ashen. The case contained a shining steel wood-cutters axe with a polished wooden handle and a piece of A4 size paper, folded in two. The tall stranger took out the paper, placed it carefully on the desk in front of the transfixed businessman, let him see the axe for a further few seconds, shut the case firmly, locked it, then swung it back by his side in one fluid movement. Panic was welling up inside as John Swinton cautiously opened and quickly scanned the unfolded document in front of him.
‘This is impossible!’ Swinton blurted.
The shorter one leaned over him, murmured.
‘Make it possible.’
They left him without another word, let themselves out and drove unhurriedly away in the waiting BMW, the peace of the ‘idyllic’ Oxfordshire village undisturbed. Were it not for John Swinton sitting rooted to his executive chair with the cold sweat of fear dripping onto the opened paper in front of him, they might never have existed. He stared at the figures and dates neatly typed on the otherwise plain sheet of paper, the murmured threat still warm at his ear: Make it possible.
How! He exhaled, heard his breath, uneven and shallow as he read the printed figure of £20,000 at the top of the sheet and the dates running down the left hand side until the fifteenth of the month with £1,000 written against each date. After the fifteenth, there was just a large handwritten question mark. A question mark that now – if he could find no answer to his dilemma - hung over his fate like the gleaming silver steel axe.
As the executive class BMW headed south down the M1 towards London, a call was made from the car phone, the connection immediate at local time one thirty in the afternoon in the Gulf State of Abu Nar.
The shorter one laughed gruffly at something the man in Abu Nar had said, then, without further word, replaced the handset in the cradle between the front seats and glanced at the driver. A smile passed between them. All done.
The two men had met their contact in Abu Nar some ten years previously when they were both serving as part of a Mobility Troop in ‘D’ Squadron 22 Regiment, better known to a wider public as the SAS. They were there, with many others of the regiment, supposedly ensuring the stability of a shaky Arab State called ‘The Oman’. To date, as far as the politicians were concerned, it had worked. From a body count point of view, it hadn’t. The three men, with similar values and some similar experiences became three adventurers who had spent most of their early time together getting rat faced in bars, legal and illegal, spread throughout the Arabian Peninsular, but their ‘man in Abu Nar’ was now heading up an International business empire. He had done well. In fact, he had done very well and they worked for him on a regular basis. This particular job was now done, a welcome donation would shortly be made to two Isle of Man bank accounts and they could now get back to the more familiar skyline of London. This was the place they called home and where they were now well paid and regularly employed as ‘collection agents’ for a major worldwide credit card company.
Declan Doyle stepped out of his silver grey Mercedes with the words from his favourite Queen track ringing in his ears. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? He pushed the door shut, made his way toward the rear door of his office building. He was smiling. Sometimes for Doyle it seemed his life in the tiny Gulf state of Abu Nar in 1987 really was fantasy.
The history of the region was one of piracy, tribal feuds, nepotism and rough justice. In the sixties, a European without good reason to be there would require an armed escort to travel from Abu Nar to Sharjah where the British maintained a prominent military presence. Such a presence was less about the need for a so called ‘bombing range’ in the middle of a featureless patch of desert but more about making sure Britain’s oil interests were well protected throughout the Gulf. With a strong British military presence in Bahrain, Sharjah and the Oman, the Brits had it covered. The Russians of course called it ‘Colonialism’. The Brits saw it as simply good business sense and the Americans saw it as a major diplomatic cock up by Harry S Truman in 1945. The tiny Sheikdom of Abu Nar was part of a collection of small tribal states located on the South side of what the Brits called the Arabian Gulf and the Americans still preferred to call the Persian Gulf. All the Gulf States, along with Oman and Saudi Arabia that made up the major part of the Arab Peninsular, were up to their knees in oil and since the dramatic increase in crude prices in the early seventies, were now up to their navels in money. This was hard cash money.
The whole place was ‘Brit’ run with ‘Brit Managers’ at the head of all utilities and important services such as police and army. In business, being a ‘Brit’ was a definite advantage. The very first real and therefore public drinking hole in Abu Nar was the Red Lion Pub opened at the Metro Hotel. The clever sales team that put the deal together simply copied a real Pub in England, beam for beam, - in fibreglass and shipped it out to the thirsty desert. The very first manager of that Pub was Andy Peters. He came with the shipment and during his very popular reign at a property that was packed day and night, Andy got to know an awful lot of people. That’s why Andy now worked for Declan as his Mr Fix-it and in effect, if Declan didn’t know someone, or a way to get something done in Abu Nar, Andy certainly did. It was a perfect fit and Declan knew that wherever he was in the world, his back was covered. Andy was his man.
Declan was in fact living the day to day dream that Abu Nar had freely provided. He was 40 years old, physically fit and a multi millionaire in dollar terms. His oilfield engineering and supply company, Associated Oilfield, more commonly known as AOS Inc, was an International operation and his Gulf business group, Contec, based in Abu Nar was turning over five million US dollars a month and climbing. In less than thirteen years, from this frontier Bedu settlement in the arid and featureless desert of the Arab Peninsular, he had built up a business empire using tactics that would be frowned upon in some countries. He paid little or no tax to anyone and his companies produced profits that many others of similar size in the west could only dream of. He paid himself a sensible amount of money and did not live an extravagant lifestyle. His work ethic was ‘head down, arse up’ and was one he preached regularly to his hundred or so regular ands full time staff. It was six thirty in the morning and on this summer July day the temperature was already twenty eight degrees. It was going to be hot, in more ways than one.
Declan entered his office past a Telex machine with rolls and rolls of printed messages that had arrived during the night strewn over the floor as they had spilled out of the holding tray. Declan loved it. Every day was the same; more opportunities, more hurdles, more money to make, more power to wield. His business had shown spectacular growth since its inception in nineteen seventy eight. The process started with one hundred thousand dollars of his own money, carefully ‘harvested’ from many of the companies he represented as a freelance commercial agent and a three hundred and sixty day, one million dollar letter of credit provided by a major construction and oilfield equipment manufacturer. The telex machine was his lifeline. Declan worked hard and expected all others around him to do the same. He was hungry for a dollar and some translated this publicly expressed ambition in to a less commendable quality called greed. He cared less. It was dog eat dog in his world. He was a tough man in his business life and equally rigid in his private life. He regarded himself, by his standards, as fair in all his business dealings, but if anyone left the smallest contractual gap and one he could squeeze through, he would and whoever the other party may be, they would normally end up paying for it. With a name like ‘Declan Doyle’ many people who met him for the first time expected any verbal response from the man to be coated in a rhythmic southern Irish accent. If the lack of one was ever commented on, it would piss Declan off. As far as he knew, his mother was English, his father was English and he assumed that their parentage was the same. He wasn’t necessarily proud of being English, far from it, but he hated to be stereotyped as an Irishman, just because of his name.
Declan had a pretty busy day planned and to start he gathered up the first copy telexes and began to cut them up in to messages. There were about sixty communications on the roll from all over the world. One was from his villa construction business in Spain advising him that a local client had missed a monthly stage payment. Declan made a mental note to seek him out at the Country Club that very evening. He carefully sorted the messages in date and time order ready for action in his secretary’s ‘In’ tray. Just as he finished slicing off the last one, the phone rang. He instinctively glanced up at the wall clock. It was a little past a quarter to seven. He allowed the phone to ring for a second or two. For some strange reason the right brain was telling him not to answer although his hand hovered over the handset. Declan always felt he had a sixth sense in business and this time the ‘sense’ told him not to answer. Perhaps he should have listened. It stopped ringing. Declan’s eyes refocused on the handset for a further second or two. He began to turn away.
It rang again and this time he answered immediately.
It had begun.
The voice on the other end of the phone was acknowledged with a curt
‘Yes Paddy, what can I do for you?’
Paddy Doherty, or to use his correct title, Colonel Brian Patrick Doherty - Retired, who actually was an Irishman, through and through, was the last person he expected to be receiving a call from at that hour.
‘Well now young Declan’ the Irishman replied ‘How are things with you this bright and shiny ……’
Declan cut him short.
‘Paddy, whatever it is you want, just spit it out. I don’t have the energy for blarney and bullshit at this time in the morning’
Paddy was a shady, confusing and some considered sinister figure who at one time was a military training advisor to Sheik Omar, the ruler of Abu Nar in the sixties and seventies. No one really knew what he did now, but he was under the sponsorship of the Defence Minister and Crown Prince of this bustling oil rich state. It was rumoured that he was a signatory to the Minister’s International Arms Licence and was an eerie and sometimes disconcerting background presence at just about every British High Commission function. He was overweight and over age for most things now but Declan had always been a bit wary of him. Paddy was not prepared to ignore the undisguised rude manner of Declan’s reply and now his tone stiffened.
‘We need to meet Mr Doyle and we need to meet today’ Paddy continued purposely in a lower, firmer tone, nearly spitting the words Mr Doyle in to the mouthpiece.
‘I am a very busy man Mr Doherty, so tell me what it’s about’.
‘The subject of our meeting cannot be discussed over the phone and you are to tell no one about it’ Paddy replied quickly.
‘I do not attend meetings that don’t have a subject and unless you can find one that is interesting enough, I will be putting this phone down in approximately ten seconds’ was the curt reply.
‘I would advise you to attend this one Declan as someone, such as your lucky self, could, with my assistance and good offices, come out of it … several million dollars better off”
It was a simple statement.
It was a great hook for a man like Declan Doyle.
There was a pause.
‘You will have to do better than that Paddy’
Declan was now very interested indeed, but felt that playing the conversation a little cautiously with the overblown Irishman, wouldn’t go amiss. It didn’t work.
‘I will meet you in the lay-by at the ten mile point on the road to Hattami Fort at eleven o’clock … and be alone!’
The hushed tones of the Ex-Colonel could now better be described as a whisper. Declan pondered for a second or two. Was this a Paddy cloak and dagger fantasy job, or was there really a potential pot of gold waiting for him half way down the road to Hattami Fort? He would no doubt find out at eleven o’clock that day.
He put the phone down without another word of comfort or agreement. He knew he would be there, but Paddy may not be so sure; so let him stew a little.
Declan sat back in his comfortable cream hide leather office chair, a semi-satisfied look enveloping his face as he began to dissect the short conversation that had just ended and savour the question of what he could possibly do with several ‘million’ dollars more’.