Thursday, March 24, 2011

Electing To Have An Election

It was good to be back at the Manor, and have a chance to recuperate after my Libyan adventure. I limp a bit -- a bullet in the thigh will do that -- and I am sore all over. The latter condition is due to a savage workout with Irving in the gym. He is still angry that I sailed off without his protection, and let me know it, both verbally and physically. Irving was also upset at a gift I had been given by the Compte de Rienville, who had presented me with a gold pendant, at the bottom of which was the very bullet extracted from my thigh, encrusted with six sparkling diamonds. Bless him; the thought of his generosity did much to alleviate the pain I was feeling.

However, a needle-hot shower, a fluffy robe, Schubert, and a serious Grey Goose over ice did much to make things right again, and I can now attend to writing this account.

Elections I gather are much in the news. Egypt, for instance, where they were voting on a referendum with respect to a new constitution. I understand the Egyptians are delighted, the election being the first one in living memory where the outcome was not known in advance. This event, of course, is sending all manner of ripples throughout the Arab world -- if there, why not here? But not all countries are Egypt, and many of the autocratic rulers will fight to the death to keep themselves and their cronies in power. Throw in Islam, currently in its medieval phase, and the situation is murky. Very murky.

Then I learn that Canada is about to be thrust into electoral mode, and one wonders why. The Tories are running the economy well, if somewhat too liberal for my taste, and have committed no egregious sins other than some dubious political ethics, ethics that pale into nothingness when one looks back at the horrific antics of one Jean Chretien and the sponsorship debacle. So why an election now?

Taking a healthy slug of Grey Goose, I gave this matter some thought. Then I had it.

First, I had to answer a question. Why would the Liberals force an election they would almost certainly lose? (In order to upset the Tories, they would have to take all kinds of seats in Quebec, and that's not going to happen. Giles Duceppe will make sure of that.) Therefore, there is another agenda. Put simply, the Liberal insiders WANT TO GET RID OF IGNATIEFF. An election loss makes this possible, and avoids the sturm und drang of the internecine warfare that would occur in a leadership convention.

I'm sure Stephen Harper has figured this out too, but his recently presented budget, while not perfect, nevertheless is basically sound. Could it be saved.?


I reached for my secure cell phone, and called Laureen Harper. (I have a few select women on speed dial, but do not abuse the privilege.) Laureen was furious; an election would put the kibosh on her and Stephen's planned attendance at THE ROYAL WEDDING, something she had really been looking forward to.

"There is one last thing that might be tried," I said. "It's a long shot, but you never know."

"What are you about, Simone?"

"Just this. The cost of an election is roughly $300.000.00. What Stephen could do is funnel that money to the NDP to meet some of their priorities. Jack Layton might, might I say, go for this. It will allow him to save face, and his base would be grateful. So, in a weird way, would the country."

Laureen replied, "It's a bit of a Hail Mary, but I'll have a talk with Stephen. Damn it, I had the dress all picked out. Talk to you soon."

So, as Sherlock would say, "The game's afoot." And this time, let's make sure the dog actually barks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dalliance in the Desert, Conclusion

I am happy to report that, although resting flat on my back, things can be said to be looking up. Well they would, wouldn't they?

Nothing like a few days of comfort at the Compte de Rienville's chateau to raise ones spirits. (Plenty of LaTour, the 1996 vintage, didn't hurt either). But now back to my narrative.

When Matilda Hatt, the Professor and myself reached the coastal Libyan town of Ajdabiya, we discovered that it was under attack, and that mass confusion reigned. The Professor was losing it, and kept babbling on about event horizons, black holes, anti-matter and a slew of other esoteric terms. We sandwiched the professor between us, told him to shut up, and made our way as best we could to the docks. This involved a running gun fight with some of Gadhafi's mercenaries, who quickly learned that Tilly and I were no slouches when it came to marksmanship, and after suffering a number of casualties, went off to pursue less dangerous prey.

The dhow was where it was supposed to be. We clambered in, and Tilly, after some effort, got the ancient Perkins engine to work. Looking at that engine reminded me of Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen, and I could only hope that the engine would work here as it did there.

The Professor had shut up. Either that, or he had gone catatonic.

Slowly, very slowly, we made our way out of the harbour. Tilly knew where we were headed, but had not shared that information with me. This was standard practice in The Trade -- you couldn't be tortured and confess that which you did not know.

A number of things then occurred.

"Shit!" said Tilly. "Look!"

I peered over her shoulder, and saw a Libyan gunboat bearing down on us. Not that big, but a lot bigger than our craft. Tilly yanked the tiller, over-compensated, and fell in.

I reached for her, missed, then grabbed her ankle as she began to drift away on what must have been a severe current. I hauled her aboard, ass over teakettle as it were. She looked up, and calmly said, "I owe you one."

"Two, to be precise."

"Done. Now get down or --"

I yelled as a searing hot flame coursed through my thigh, and realized I had been shot. We were not, I realized, the only ones abroad that day that could shoot effectively.

"Hang on, Simone!" shouted Tilly. "Just hang on. It won't be long. Here, use this." Tilly tore off her blouse. "Use it to stop the bleeding."

The sight of Tilly Hatt in a brassiere seemed to snap the Professor out of whatever mental oasis he had fled to. He grabbed the blouse, and efficiently began to fashion a tourniquet and twist it above the wound. I screamed, partly because of the intense pain, but also because I saw that the gunboat was now levelling a large cannon at us, and I cursed that all this would end by the actions of a thuggish clown like Gadhafi.

Then the gunboat blew up.

"About bloody time!" screamed Tilly. "That's the Navy, always arriving at the last possible moment."

I wondered what she was talking about, when to my right, some 200 meters away, a submarine broached the surface. Nuclear, Los Angeles Class. At which point I passed out.

I learned later that the dhow had been towed to Naples, and my wound attended to by medical personnel on the submarine. I asked to be sent to the Annunziata hospital, and also managed to get in touch with certain people I knew who would assist me. Naples, after all, was my home town, and I have an odd relationship with certain folk best known as 'gentlemen of the South'. Tilly and the Professor had to stay with the submarine, but before she left she gave me her two debts, as promised. Two memory sticks, to be exact. One for Sir Harry, already picked up by his minion Cyril, and the other for me. What those memory sticks contained -- well, that's for another day.

So now back to the real world, and the stunning news about Japan. As I absorbed the magnitude of all that had occurred, I remembered that the most frightening words one can hear from Government are simply, "Stay calm. No need to panic."


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dalliance In The Desert, Part II

Still in the hospital in Naples, the Ospedale della Santissima Annunziata, since you ask. I am now up and about, although the ache in my thigh still bothers. Having a bullet removed will do that. The schematic, now on a memory stick, was duly transferred to 'Cyril of the Naples Consulate' as per Sir Harry's instructions, as well as the bill for my hospital stay (Considerable. This is Italy, after all). But I'm getting out tomorrow, and immediately heading for Paris and the Compte de Rienville. I need comfort, and who better -- but enough of this. And not enough of what actually happened, which is as follows.

Tilly had made arrangements to meet in Tobruk, and had also managed to scrounge up a Land Rover at an outrageous price, courtesy the long-suffering American taxpayers. I had previously got in touch with Sheik Khalil al-Mukhtar (not his real name) and secured his clan's blessing for a safe conduct through his territory. Anything for 'Precious Daughter' he said, although five gold ingots from Tilly didn't hurt the negotiation. What had she done? Broken into Fort Knox?

From there, we went south, accompanied by two of the Sheik's men. Tilly and I wore army fatigues, but had condescended to wear hijabs. The Sheik, after all, was meeting us half-way; we could do the same. This didn't stop Tilly from remarking that "Once, just once, I'd like to walk across Arabia in boots, tight sweater and a mini-skirt." I told her she'd get about ten feet before being stoned to death.

At this point the astute reader may wonder about the whereabouts of my minder, Irving. Well, he had to remain out of this particular excursion. Sheik al-Mukhtar would tolerate some things, but not providing protection for an Israeli, and ex-Mossad to boot. This upset Irving no end, and at present he is not speaking to me.

He'll get over it.

The trip to the south was uneventful. Not surprising, there's nothing there except hardscrabble desert. Libya's population is really strung out along the coastal road and, towards the west, the oil fields around Zuara. The current revolt is all happening along that coastal road, so we were at present far from the action. The Sheik's men, however, were very worried. The clans saw any upheavals as bad for business, and Gadhafi was pitting them against each other. In their opinion, a disastrous civil war was all too likely.

This was also, according to Tilly, the opinion of the American State Department (no flies on Hillary) and hence this operation.

When we had gone some 200 kilometers, we reached a small camp sporting two tents housing three Libyans and a tall, rather decrepit-looking person whom Tilly addressed as 'Professor Smith'. The three Libyans were not of the Sheik's clan, but all was well, particularly when one of the gold ingots exchanged hands. The Professor was reluctant to leave his work, but Tilly can be persuasive. "As Al Capone once noted," she said, "a kind word can sometimes get things done. A kind word and a gun always gets things done."

After the Professor had gathered his things, along with some pieces of very strange equipment, we set off, making for the coastal town of Ajdabiya, where we were to leave Libya in a rented dhow. Then the wheels came off.

We had just entered the town when --"

Sorry to report that at this point the Compte de Rienville entered the hospital room, swept Simone up in his arms, and carried her off, much to her delight. She will finish the narrative when she has been, in her words, 'comforted'.

-- Matilda Hatt

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dalliance in the Desert, Part I

Bit late with this entry, but a trip to and from Libya, and a bit of bobbing around in the Mediterranean Sea, does result in some delay. I am also writing this on a laptop in a Naples hospital, having had a bullet removed from my thigh.

Then the phone at my bedside rang. It was Sir Harry.

He was furious.

"What on earth did you think you were doing?" he shouted over the secure line. "I told you to stay well away from Gadhafi. We have things in hand."

I replied, "This had nothing to do with old Moammar. It involved a rescue operation for the physicist working on the X algorithm. The country is in all likelihood heading for civil war among the clans, and the project was at risk."

"It's not one of our projects. It's an American thing. You had no business risking --"

"I got the schematic."

Sir Harry paused, then said, "Well, as the Americans would say, 'No shit.' Perhaps I could send our attache Cyril around --"

"Only if all is well between us."

"All is fine. I'll get on to the consulate right away."

So that was that. Now for some background.

The whole thing began with a plea from Matilda Hatt, my close CIA friend and confidante. She was requesting my help in retrieving a scientist from deep in the Libyan desert. Tilly knew that I had connections in this area, stemming from my late husband's grandfather, Lord Strunsky II.

He had done some great favour in the past to a major Libyan clan, something involving healthy payment for railway concessions. T.E. Lawrence was also a player here, but I never learned exactly what it was all about. Suffice it to say, the clan chiefs were grateful, and had made Lord Strunsky and his progeny honorary clan members.

This meant that yours truly was known to that particular clan as 'Precious Daughter', and was received with great courtesy whenever I visited, something I had done twice previously. I was also off-limits to any of the young men, a situation that eased my mind considerably, albeit not completely. Some of the sheiks were rather attractive in an Araby sort of way....

Tilly knew all this, and also knew that I had access to the area where the scientist was working on perfecting the algorithm.* Events, however, were moving fast. Gadhafi was in trouble, all the clans were on edge, and civil war was becoming a real possibility. In Tilly's words, "We have to get the bugger out. Fast."

But now at the hospital, it's lights out. In my next entry, I will narrate just what happened. And I certainly won't take so long.

* Readers will understand that what is being described as 'the algorithm' has nothing to do with what the physicist was actually working on. I am not Julian Assange, nor was meant to be.