On hearing the news her adopted father has suffered a second heart attack, Shani Bălcescu dashes from St Aquinas College in Oxford to be at his bedside in Prague. Her father asks her forgiveness, but Shani takes his words to be little more than the ramblings of a dying man. Until the following day, when she discovers the name Tuma Dangbo, a former Séroulése president gunned down in a devastating coup in the West African state thirty-eight years ago.
French journalist, Nicolas Dubois, helps Shani make sense of her ancestry, before introducing her to the leader of the Séroulése rebels at a safe house in London. Just as Shani starts to trust and have feelings for the journalist, he sends her a bizarre text and breaks contact. Nicolas’s disappearance threatens to derail her already fragile state of mind, and with an attempted coup in Séroulé virtually underway, ‘friend or foe’ takes on a new meaning for Shani as she questions whether she is being manipulated by the rebels, and that the present despotic regime is about to be replaced by another, only with much greater and far-reaching repercussions.
Shani took a deep breath, and asked herself whether this was propaganda. The rhetoric of revolution. She chewed her lip, thinking hard. She liked what he’d said, obviously. But… ‘Khamadi, I still don’t see the guarantee. I want this coup, God’s sake I do. But I must not allow myself to be governed by sentiment. Correct?’
‘Absolutely.’ Khamadi massaged his brow with his fingertips. ‘I’m trying to think of the best way to do this.’ His hands began to glide over the tablet on the desk. ‘Have you come across the name Jacques Baudin?’
‘I can’t say I have,’ said Shani. ‘I’m beginning to feel I should have, though.’
Khamadi pushed a hand towards Nicolas. ‘Would you like to explain while I search for something?’
Nicolas turned to Shani, leaning an arm on the back of his chair. ‘Jacques Baudin was the minister for education in your grandfather’s government. He was a much-respected influence, despite his young age. He is now in his seventies. At the time of the coup, your grandfather was about to make him his deputy.’
‘I have the article now,’ said Khamadi. He turned the tablet towards Shani. ‘The page on the screen forms part of an interview from last October.’
Shani reached for the tablet and began to read.
What I am saying to you is this: with the Industrial Revolution behind us, and the Technological Revolution being the icing on the cake – as they say in this part of the world, we should in fact be in the midst of a spiritual and creative revolution, and in so doing preserving Earth’s resources. But, of course, because of the global debt and the methodology and clear-cut motive behind its fabrication we are being kept far from that, far from our natural spiritual habitat. Consequently, we find ourselves confronted more than ever by what Tuma Dangbo called “obsolete barbarism”. A distraction, if you like, while a conquest unchallenged through the back door of civilization – for want of a better description, proceeds to build a totalitarian state, enslaving the people of the world in the process.
Shani tried not to betray her surprise, because she liked the passage. It came across as logical, and she loved politics and reasoning at its most ‘logical’. Cut the crap and get to the core, was her motto. She handed back the tablet, and noticed Khamadi watching her intensely, without blinking. He could probably read her like a book, but she didn’t intend to make it easy for him.
You’re a giver, Shani, already I sense this in you.
She looked out of the window and watched as a couple of people got on the coach. The door hissed shut and they started to leave Hillingdon.
Nicolas was sitting on a chair, holding her prosthesis – the image crystal clear.
And now Khamadi Soglo’s words to her:
…Like the majority of people in this world, you have humanitarian virtues. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Academia. The fact that she had gained a scholarship at St Thomas Aquinas gave her virtual carte blanche, even without a thesis to her name. But now, a crucial dilemma. All her life she had envied those who had an instinctive feel for practicality. To make a table, or a chair. Or to position seeds in the earth to grow and harvest food.
Again, Khamadi Soglo:
Séroulé will be a peaceful nation, protective of its people, seeking to heal what is damaged – the orphans who are vulnerable to hard labour, prostitution, and voodoo practices, to give one example.
What was she? An orphan. And what was this? An Epiphany moment?
Nicolas, still sitting and holding her prosthesis:
You can help others, you can give hope to people because of your unique experience.
She didn’t know the first thing about kids. But she knew what it was like to be an orphan. Of course she did. The heartache that went with it, that sense that you were on the outside looking in, and there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to change it. The birthday parties, when parents delivered and collected. The isolation that cut so deep. A constant open wound. But what was she saying to herself? Make the switch from academia to engaging herself with Séroulé’s orphans? Could this be her true vocation?
1944, and a Lend-Lease B-25 with its Soviet aircrew falls from the sky above Timişoara, Romania. Andrei Bălcescu, while camping out that night on his father’s smallholding, finds a battered folder amidst the plane’s wreckage.
Fifty years later, Andrei’s adopted son, Lucian, rediscovers the folder and its eight pages of encrypted material in a garden shed. He visits a childhood friend, who makes a start on cracking the code. Barely a week later, Lucian suspects he is being followed by persons unknown.
Present day, and Lucian’s daughter, Shani Bălcescu, a promising Oxford academic, continues to search for information on her family. When she receives a text from an individual claiming to have known her parents, curiosity takes her to Timişoara, where she soon regrets her impulsive nature. Witness to the aftermath of a vicious murder, and hearing that both Oxford and her home city of Prague have been ‘visited’, Shani knows that to leave Romania would prove fatal without first piecing together her father’s movements days before she was born.
‘This is major,’ insisted Mario. ‘And I’m only on the second set of letters.’
Lucian went over to the mattress. ‘What do you mean by “major”?’
'I’m going to have to keep hold of this.’ Mario finally turned his head. 'How long can you let me have it for?'
‘Not that long,’ said Lucian cautiously. He’d noticed that Serghei was now taking an interest, having put down the gun and drifted over.
‘What have you deciphered so far?’ Serghei asked.
Mario left the mattress and got himself a beer. ‘It mentions a unit, simply called 17 – in numerals. Hitmen, I think.’
‘What?’ Lucian stared at Mario. ‘No, that can’t be right. You’ve got to be doing it wrong – deciphering it incorrectly. Surely?’
In the blink of an eye, Mario deftly struck the cap from the bottle on the edge of the filthy stove – evidently a frequent habit since much of the enamel had chipped off on that particular corner. ‘I don’t think so, Lucian.’ He swigged back some beer. ‘Could be a global thing. Seventeen hitmen to sort stuff out. Political stuff, you know?’
Unable to come to terms with the shocking murder of his lover, Rafael Maqui abandons his work as a filmmaker and leaves London for his homeland, El Salvador. Despite his unstable state of mind, he accepts an initiative, via the provisional government, to negotiate with the notorious MS-13 criminal gang a de-escalation in the violence that is crippling the country. When events turn sour, Rafael chances upon Senica, a peasant whose courage over adversity inspires him to put his life in order.
With an unfinished screenplay sitting in London, and an impatient producer on his back, Rafael returns to the city that took his lover’s life. Here, he redrafts the script, which in essence threatens to expose an insidious global nightmare. In the midst of the tight schedule which he is having to work to, and just as he re-establishes contact with Senica, Rafael finds himself terrorised by a crazed gunman. Betrayal and an audacious act of defiance from an unlikely source ensue, before a deadly strategy no one could have predicted surfaces, driven by unadulterated revenge.
...The wall to Rafael's left displayed graffiti that had defied an attempt to erase the words:
Revolution or Death
It is the daily cry
It is the slogan of the people
It is the destiny of all
He’d seen the slogan countless times, in documentaries and articles describing the Civil War over forty years ago. Alongside Guatemala, its neighbour and steadfast ally, this potentially paradisiac land – a land he was perfectly prepared to shed blood for – caused him to literally weep on occasion, its poverty and organised crime foisted upon the nation by external forces. It was here, though, in his beloved El Salvador, with its immeasurable courage, dramatic landscapes and fine poets, where he categorically wanted to settle, as opposed to Europe – a continent that, to some extent because of what happened to Lena, had started to feel increasingly alien to him.
Senica looked across him. ‘The blood these terrible people have on their hands!’
'An understatement. They’re up to their necks in it, Senica. Who knows, perhaps that’s how this miserable business will end – that in some way they suffocate in the toxic deception they’ve created. The deception being that they filter onto the world’s stage as our saviours, whilst in truth they remain one thing only…our tormentors. If there is to be an Armageddon, then that’s what it will be: the people versus the world government.’
As they left the lane and crossed the salted road that ran through Cartigny, Rafael felt confident he had all the components in place to complete the screenplay. ‘Once their Agenda is exposed, Senica,’ he said, ‘along with their methods of achieving it, the healing process can begin immediately – both for the human race and the environment. And, for sure, nothing like this would ever have a hope of being repeated. The citizens of this world simply would never permit it to happen again.’