The Bridge of Silver Wings

an excerpt



Prologue

Seven men and women gathered around the conference table in the office within the high glass tower. It was the most expensive tower ever to have been built in London, and that the owner of this foundation could afford a headquarters within it awed those gathered, even though they themselves enjoyed all the privileges of working for some of the best-known charities in Britain. They'd variously travelled to the meeting by first-class train and chauffeured car, or flown first class and been whisked through the London traffic in their privately-owned charity vehicles. One or two had even walked in the brisk autumn air from their own deluxe offices in the heart of London's business district. They'd all come to this meeting to ask for money, although that's not the way they actually thought about it. They saw themselves as saviours of the poor, the needy, the sick, the old-anyone whose helplessness enabled them to live lives of conspicuous luxury. That the head and owner of Agency for Non-Governmental Emergency Logistics-ANGEL, as this new foundation was known-had offices in this soaring edifice of glass and ostentation encouraged them in the belief they were with people who understood the true nature of charitable work.

They recognised, of course, one of the two men who came in and sat at the head of the conference table behind the logo of the falling angel. There was hardly anyone in Britain now who didn't recognise Ex-Special-Forces-Expert Ben Rider. His picture, after all, was on the cover of the current edition of Time Magazine. It was the second man they hadn't seen before. He matched his choice of office: expensive and out to impress. They sensed the delicious taste of donation coming their way.

Before the meeting could start, however, a young man pushed open the glass conference room doors and apologised, flustered and embarrassed, for being late. He'd got on the wrong tube, apparently, never having been in London before, and had then had to walk, asking people as he went for directions. This strategy hadn't been all that successful, as his accent was almost indecipherable. He sat down with the immaculately suited others, brushing down his sweat-stained shirt, as if that would help. Next to their professionally presented portfolios, he placed his A4 envelope, on which it appeared he'd been doodling.

The meeting began. Each of the project directors outlined the work they did and where and why they needed logistical support from ANGEL. No one mentioned money of course; it was revenue enhancement, empowerment, moving the needle. One woman even referred to the impending crisis in her area as a burning platform for which moving the needle could see significant results. All their projects were, apparently, scalable. No one mentioned money, until the turn came of the young man who'd been late. He'd frowned all the way through the other presentations, watching the pictures of the needy people, fiddling with his envelope. He hadn't brought any pictures, because he'd only that morning flown in from Afghanistan. He told them simply the Taliban had burnt down his school, and that unless he could find some money to rebuild it, not one of his twenty young girls would be able to continue her education. When he was asked why he'd come to this meeting with this request, he claimed a British soldier had given him Ben Rider's card and promised he'd help. There were polite smiles from the others around the table. Five minutes later, the meeting was over. Chauffeured cars were called, and seven men and women left empty handed. The young man was invited to dinner to discuss his project, an invitation he declined as he admitted he wanted to fly back, if he could, that night. He left with enough money to rebuild the school, stock it with laptops, one for each girl, and a promise of a team of builders to be on site by the end of the week.

Owning your own charitable organisation and funding it entirely yourself gave great scope to eccentric and eclectic decision-making, Nikolas had discovered.PAGEBREAK


Part One


Chapter One

"You're such a bugger, Nik." Ben came up behind Nikolas and slid his hands in under Nikolas's jacket.

Nikolas continued to stare out at his very expensive view. "I assume you're not referring to what I'm thinking of doing to you in the next few minutes."

"In a glass office?"

"In my glass office. I'm allowed. Besides, we're the only ones here."

Ben kissed the back of Nikolas's neck. "You invite them here, build up their expectations and then send them home like naughty schoolboys."

"No, I send them home like greedy politicians, scum of the most corrupt aspects of your western democracy."

"Oh, God, we're onto your Stalinist manifesto again. I think I'll start asking you for a change, who won the war?"

Nikolas gave his most irritating dismissive wave. "You only won because we knew you'd defeat yourselves with your own inherent decadence sooner or later. We Russians have learnt patience. Our time will come."

Ben sighed. Nikolas was restless again. It wasn't a good sign. The last time Nikolas had been bored, he'd decided their lives needed to be radically changed. To be fair to him, they'd just survived a natural disaster that had claimed the lives of over a hundred thousand people. Such gifts of God tended to change a man, and Nikolas Mikkelsen had been transformed. He'd seen the direct effect money could have in simple ways, something, as a very wealthy man, he'd never before considered. He'd also felt the power that came from being different, from being someone who was willing to break the rules, someone who, in fact, didn't recognise rules and had never been constrained by the things that constantly restrained other people. These traits in the normal world had confined him, forced him to hide and be small and had led to unfortunate avenues for escape and expression of his bigger nature, addiction and sin. Now, he'd seen where people such as he could thrive, could make a difference, and he'd found a new, better addiction. He'd converted the apartment he owned in the glass tower to office space and had set up ANGEL. He had no board of directors, no shareholders, no controls at all over what he wanted to do. He'd funded some very unusual projects in Ben's opinion.

Ben, surfing on the fame and popularity of a wave that had killed so many and ruined so many lives, was less comfortable with his own newfound status. But he couldn't deny he had a natural talent for it. Even he was impressed with himself when he appeared in yet another ANGEL project documentary, gave another interview, attended another media event. He was the new face of the creed of giving.

They stood together watching the sunset over London, content in their own company and their own thoughts. Eventually, Nikolas roused. "Go to Afghanistan next week. Film the project and see it through. If they need more money, I'll send it to you."

Ben nodded, reluctant-but also hesitant to admit this to Nikolas. He came over to the table, perching on it, watching Nikolas as he sorted some of the information the young Afghan teacher had brought with him. "Can you really afford all this, Nik? You never talk about finances with me."

Nikolas didn't look up but quirked a smile. "Benjamin, we hardly make a dent in the interest. Do you know what the most profitable sector to be in is in any decade, any era?" He apparently knew Ben didn't, so he told him, "Armaments. My grandfather invested in war, and we profit every day and in every way."

"We make money from armaments and war, but spend money putting right the wrongs wars cause?"

Nikolas grinned. "Yes."

"But that's sick!"

"Not at all, it's almost holy. Didn't God create man with free will and then spend the rest of his time pretending to mitigate that first great mistake, just to justify his existence?"

Ben shook his head despairingly. "I think I preferred it when you just drank vodka and watched very dubious porn."

Nikolas seized him around the waist and kissed him. "I could do that and run this company? No, I thought not. So, are you hungry?" They laughed at the old joke. Ben was always hungry, and now they had a tunnel leading from their office to a restaurant at which Nikolas had a permanent reservation.