The Last Newspaper in the World
1 August 2014
8 BERNIE READS THE MARKET
Bernie was sitting at a square dining table hunched over a laptop. He called out for us to come in when I knocked on the open back door. The wind had swirled some sand on the doorway but Bernie didn’t seem to mind the weather. He waved us to come through the kitchen and into a small lounge. Propped against one wall was a large-screen TV. Rather than showing a sports event, the screen was tuned to a channel providing business news and stock indices.
Bernie was dressed for business, even down to the tie and jacket. A visitor might think he had just popped in, or was on his way out, but I knew this was his daily ritual. Up and dressed for business, early into foreign markets and late out of local ones. He had a lean, tanned face and a head of hair that, while slightly greying, was sufficiently abundant to allow him to chuck some gunk into it to smooth it back. He took off his reading glasses and leapt up when he saw us come in. Well, that is, when he saw Diana, as he wouldn’t normally worry about formalities with me, the son of his oldest and sometimes closest friend. Bernie normally would just grunt and point me to the kitchen with the instructions to put the kettle on for a cuppa. Unlike many men of his age, he’d be 60-plus, he didn’t seem to have a ‘thing’ for much younger women. Of course, there was Angelique but their relationship was one loose end I had always had trouble tying up. ‘The Colonel’, as dad sometimes called him, did rise when he saw Diana.
‘Well, my dear, what are you doing in the company of this rough sort,’ he said, holding out his hand to her.
‘So you’re the famous Bernie,’ Diana said and beamed, ‘pleased to meet you.’
Through the wide lounge window I could partially see a perfect set forming over Bernie’s shoulder as waves lined along the beach like soldiers coming to slowly to attention as they awaited their fate. The sandhills blocked my view as they broke but sea spray hung in the suddenly clear winter light.
‘How are the markets?’ I somewhat reluctantly asked. Reluctantly, because Bernie could sometimes get bogged down in detail, but it was his favourite thing at the moment.
‘Very good. My gold stocks are really riding high right now. You should tell your dad to get into them, Bill. I’ve always said he could make more money in gold than his newspaper.’
‘Probably, he’s just got other things on his mind at the moment.’
‘Of course,’ Bernie said, frowning. ‘Mayor Brand. I see you’re stirring things along there.’
I thought about that for a moment. Was I ‘stirring’ as Bernie put it? It might have looked like that but I still didn’t feel really engaged in the process. I shrugged, and told him how Angelique had suggested he might have some ideas for us.
‘I don’t know about ideas, just thoughts,’ he said.
‘Anything will help.’
‘I could say I know only what I read in The Last Newspaper in the World, but that wouldn’t be true, would it?’ I looked over at Diana. She was staring intently at Bernie, probably wondering ‘what’s this dude on?’, although she probably didn’t quite use those words. I nodded and asked him to go on. It was his turn to pause and look out the window across the road to the sea. He took a deep breath and turned back to us. ‘This is off the record, of course. You can use as much as you like but only as leads. Okay.’ We agreed.
‘You know Angelique. Why do you think she lives with me?’
‘Because……,’ my voice trailed off.
‘Because, many years ago, on one of my trips to Vietnam, I met her mother. She was little more than a child herself. One of the chaps in our embassy there introduced me to her in a bar. Turns out she was controlled by a rather nasty fellow who specialised in peddling the very young to an ever-growing group of rather nasty foreigners. Her mum was almost passed her use by date with this fellow, particularly since she now had a young daughter. Angelique’s father was a French embassy official who had previously been in Cambodia, where he’d grown a taste for attractions of the young. By the time he got to Ho Chi Minh City, he’d lost all hope. Of course, he moved on quickly when Angelique arrived on the scene. Took his family to a posting in Mozambique, I think.’
Bernie paused for a moment.
‘More coffee? Something to eat?’
We shook our heads.
‘Please, go on,’ Diana said quietly.
‘While Angelique was a baby, it wasn’t a problem. But there are some not very nice people about and it became a daily chore to prevent the little girl from going down the same road she had. It was almost expected that she would sell her daughter, as she herself had been sold. She resisted and eventually her man, growing tired of being the cat chasing the mouse decided: he would shift the mother on and keep the daughter. Place her in a bogus orphanage where she could be schooled and pulled out when required for special clients. All funded by aid money. He was a clever guy, I hate to say it. So we came up with a plan with my friend from the embassy. I would quietly, and quickly, adopt Angelique and he would clear the way for the necessary clearances to bring her here. What would happen to her mum was more problematic. The idea was to establish the daughter here and then bring the mother out under the repatriation scheme. Really, though, her mother just wanted Angelique out of there. A brave woman. Ultimately, it may have cost her, her life but really, I don’t know. There was no contact. So that’s how Angelique came here.’
Waiting for him to continue, I could hear the wind running through the fir trees at the back of his land, sounding like a giant combs sweeping back some troublesome hair. When Bernie didn’t say any more, I asked: ‘That’s not all is it? What was the cost of this arrangement?’
Bernie looked up at me and laughed with raised eyebrows.
‘Good question. Harry’d be proud. You’re right, of course. There is always a price. In this case, I was banned from returning to Vietnam as the guy had connections in the government. That wasn’t too painful, however, and as part of the deal with the embassy, our government asked me to quietly monitor paedophilia. So I received some small compensation for lost business opportunities by way of an early pension. Like I said, this is for your background only.’
‘So as well as following the gold market…’ Diana said.
‘In the early days, I used to use my contacts during business trips into Asia. Produce a dossier once a year and that’d be it. Keep an eye out for our nationals indulging themselves. I once sat next to a former Qantas pilot on a flight to Bangkok. He was off to Vietnam and was happily extolling the virtues of villagers who would happily present them with a child bride. Now, of course, with the internet, all that changed.’
‘I bet,’ I said, a little too sharply. ‘Does Harry know about any of this?’
‘But you swore him to the old boys’ secret?’
It was Bernie’s turn to shrug. ‘Good man your dad.’
Diana looked at me quizzically, and then shook her head.
‘Sorry to ask, but what has all this got to do with Mayor Brand’s killing? Was he mixed up in all this sort of thing?’
‘I haven’t quite been able to make that connection but we were close to it when he died.’
‘We?’ I asked. ‘You mean you and Brand?’
‘I suppose I do. When I read about plans to expand wash and wank alley, I thought I should have a quiet word with him.’
‘Hang on, can you take that back a bit please Bernie?’ I said, holding up my hand.
‘Oh, sure, I thought I should have a quiet word with him and…’
‘No just before that. You mentioned ‘wash and wank alley’. Where’d that come from?’
‘I don’t know. It’d just come up in chatter I’d been getting and some of the links were suspicious, so I thought I’d see him on the quiet.’
‘You haven’t been talking to George Joseph, have you?’
‘No, no,’ Bernie rumbled, a line of his slick hair falling slightly ajar. ‘Look, I’ve said too much already, and this is for your information only. For your background.’
I swore and said ‘Bernie, this is infuriating, are we on the right track or not?’
‘Steady old chap, now you’re starting to sound like Harry. Put it like this: why would George Joseph be worried about the expansion of wash and wank alley?’
Diana and I looked at each other. ‘Do you mean he’s into prostitution as well as drugs?’ Diana asked.
Bernie looked over at his screen. ‘Oh, ah, the numbers are changing. One thing I’ve learnt from the financial markets is that you have to look at commodities from all angles. Push, pull; supply and demand; new entrants. That sort of thing.’
He started tapping and scrolling. I knew we had lost him then.
‘Well, thanks a lot Bernie, we’ll be going,’ Diana said.
He waved at us without looking and said: ‘Sure, sure, come back to me if you have any queries.’
Diana started to leave but I stood there with my eyes slightly shut and a bit of a grimace on my face.
‘Bill,’ Bernie said. He had turned to look up at me. ‘I know this business isn’t really your thing. You’d probably sooner be out there,’ he said, gesturing with his head to the sea, ‘but what we are talking about is important to this place and these people. Say hi to Harry.’
‘Bill,’ Diana called quietly, ‘come on. Let’s go back to the office.’
After a moment, I said: ‘Thanks Bernie. I might need to come back to you, alright?’
Bernie nodded, looked at Diana and said, ‘It’s been a pleasure,’ and focused on the screen.
The Last Newspaper in the World
By Mick Stone
Published by BMS Books
An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd
The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
All rights reserved.
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