The wizard scheme (part two of “Lock up your daughters”)

“No, Beano, this all might happen a whole lot faster than you think, because, you see, I have a wizard scheme. Now I don’t want to celebrate victory before we’ve even raised the flag, but we have a campaign to plan and there’s someone very useful I’d like you to meet. By the way, if my memory serves me correctly, our pudgy broker is morbidly terrified of flying. Am I right? Wasn’t it Podger whose family would fly off to Biarritz or Gstaad, leaving little Roger to be driven after them, with the Podger family steamer trunk in the copious loading bay of a mint-green Morris Isis shooting brake driven by an adventurous aunt from Camberwell? Is that still the case, or has his phobia succumbed to therapy?”

Saint Edwin and Saint Elmo

“I’m not certain about the aunt or the Isis, but you’re right about the phobia,” says the last of the Arnolfinis. “Despite being a bona fide member of the Concorde Lounge, the Spooner does not fly. He did once as a boy, had a nasty experience that he doesn’t talk about and will never set foot in a plane again. Told me so himself in one of those typically confiding moments his kind use when canvassing your vote. You know, when they try to appear mortal by having at least one fault. His is fear of flying; charmingly human. His other fault is … ”

“Enough, Beano, in this single nugget of information we have the throne of your redemption and the makings of glory. I feel it like Saint Elmo’s Fire on my fingertips!”

“Droodie, that’s my heart you’re plotting with, don’t forget! I really hope you know what you’re doing, because I suspect you’re planning something stupid or reckless. Podger’s the next Conservative MP for Weybridge and Esher. You can’t just barge in on someone of his standing and threaten to drop him from a helicopter if he doesn’t give up his fiancé. You don’t have the nerve, you don’t have the muscle and you don’t have a helicopter … oh, please tell me you don’t have a helicopter, and do stop grinning like a bloody Cheshire cat!”

They Sikh him here, they Sikh him there

A week later I’m sitting in the kitchen enjoying a cup of coffee with Mrs Harker while she tells me how Islamists are taking over her village. I’ve already pointed out to her on another occasion that the family I think she’s referring to (there are no others) are actually Sikhs and have nothing whatever to do with Islam. But La Harker (unlike me, she pronounces her own name “Arquair”) will not be deflected. They have far too many children, she insists, they’re taking over by force of numbers, living off the social services and radicalizing the local youth. If by “the local youth” she’s referring to that jug-eared, pimply pudding whose only occupation seems to be sitting all alone on the wall by the war memorial playing teeny-weensy video games on his cell phone, then he’d take a lot of radicalizing and I wish them luck.

In vain do I try to explain to Mrs Harker the very different political agendas and belief systems of Sikhs and Muslims. I also mention that Mr Chaudari is actually the manager at the main Post Office in Huy, which institution can no longer, since it has been semi-privatized, be considered one of the Social Services. People do actual work there. And his wife, I believe, was formerly a nursing assistant with the Cancer Prevention Bus before her maternity leave. As for the “far too many children”, they are two little girls and a baby boy … hardly a stunning demographic victory. Are we talking about the same people? Well, no, it seems that Mrs H is really referring to a conversation she had with her half-sister in Brussels over the weekend, and has merely projected it onto the Chaudaris and their burgeoning clan as being indicative of the “kind of thing” she thinks there’s too much of.

It is at this moment that J-M steps in from the garden where he has been training Beano in hand-to-hand combat (felling Podger with a jab to the larynx?), camouflage techniques (stealing Miss Williams away by subterfuge while disguised as a sheaf of turnip greens?), and foraging (yes, you read that correctly, “foraging” as in “for food”, in January and in my garden, what’s more). Upon hearing Mrs Harker’s anti-anything-that’s-not-Belgian ranting (“ou Anglais, pardon Monsieur”) J-M cheerily remarks: “Can’t possibly have too many kids anywhere in Europe, Mme H, not at least for a few decades anyway, regardless of their religious convictions we need them to pay our pensions.” Whereat he swipes a handful of chocolate digestives and exits quickly the way he came in, having successfully “foraged”, no doubt. I strongly feel this is NOT a skill Beano needs to acquire! Anyway, I thought they taught them how to live off grass and bark and drink their own urine in the para-commandos. Uncle Haviland’s training manual certainly said nothing about other folks’ McVities.

Nothing like a black belt in ikebana

Training Beano in deadly combat etc. is part of the “wizard scheme” I’m hatching. In truth, it’s more the occupational therapy part, and of precious little use in the actual strategy. Although it’s no bad thing to show up with a ku-dan in origami or bonsai or something to help break the ice at parties and while it certainly impresses the inebriated (“Mind your lip, you drunken idiot! One more word out of you and I’ll trim your roots”), the real purpose of J-Ms involvement is twofold: Firstly to create a firm rapport with Beano, who will have to place a lot of trust in J-M once my wizard scheme gets underway, and two, to act as a lure and a decoy and a dastardly saboteur to the wealthy Podger on D-day.

The scheme, such as it is without detailed refinements, looks roughly like this: J-M, carrying false ID (he really has some, I’ve seen it) is going to inveigle Podger into travelling out of the country to Switzerland only days before the wedding, ostensibly to audit some documents prepared in all urgency by a Swiss bank and pertaining to the immediate dissolution of a UK-based asset management company, a large part of whose portfolio is sure to be heavily taxed unless it can be shown by the auditor that the stocks in question are grossly overvalued. This will appeal to Podger’s vanity. He can play white knight to one side, saving them a fortune (he does this kind of stuff all the time, has even done it in a modest way for Beano) score points against the UK tax office on the other and reap a very nice premium on the difference with some clever number juggling.

A Spooner-full of vanity helps the subterfuge go down

The weakest part of the plot is the level of secrecy surrounding the fictitious company. Obviously we can’t mention a real one; Podger knows them all too well. Neither, and for the same reason, can we invent a false one. So we have to rely on Roger Spooner/Podger being sufficiently in love with his own importance to buy Jean-Michel’s story of a well-known firm that “dares not speak its name” for fear of creating panic and devaluing itself before the directors and key shareholders can pull out their billets. To this devious end it specifically requires the famed Podger subtlety and the legendary Spooner discretion. That such shameless insider-trading of the type J-M will propose is still permitted under Swiss, though not under UK or US, law is a nuance that will not be lost on Podger, hence the Geneva bank and the trip abroad, by car …

… And not just any car, because the rest of the plan relies on Podger’s abject fear of flying, Jean-Michel’s skill at general derring-do and the scuppering of other people’s hardware, the risks involved when calculating your agenda without the usual wiggle room, the standard Rolls Royce repatriation policy in the most unusual event of a breakdown, the seductive powers of Beano and the angry pride of a little Welsh girl jilted at the church door.

(to be continued, yet again)

Edwin Drood

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