It's a bit different to my usual style of writing, I am not sure if I should add it to my story library or not.
I'll sleep on it I think, make a decision on Monday.
So here it is:
What are we going to tell the President ?
I composed in my mind what I would say then tapped the screen to make the call. What happened next was not anything I could have remotely anticipated.
"You have reached the personal phone," the recorded voice said, "of the Vice President of The United States of America. To connect with the vice president enter your six digit pin number now."
What the .............. ? I ended the call and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. I threw it as if I had just touched a contaminated object. What ever was he doing with the phone ? I would go inside the service station, grab a sandwich then decide what to do next. How weird.
I had seen him at the top of the slip road of the motorway. With a rucksack by his side and holding a piece of cardboard on which he had written SOUTH WEST PLEASE I took him to be a student, stopped and offered him a lift. He was indeed a student.
"My name is Nigel," I said. "Throw your bag on to the back seat and jump in."
"Thanks," he replied speaking in an American accent. "I'm Martin."
As we drove off he explained he was part of a group taking part in a sponsored event. "There are twenty-five of us, we've been dropped off at random all over the country and have to hitch hike to both John o'Groats and Lands End. I've been up to Scotland and am now on my way to Cornwall."
"I can take you as far as Bristol. If I drop you where the M4 and M5 meet you should be able to get another lift from there."
"That is so kind of you."
"Which charity are you collecting for ?"
"A children's hospice in Oxford."
"Helen House ?" I said. "I've heard of it."
"I think it was once called that, it's Helen and Douglas House now. It's not far from my college."
"You are an Oxford man ?"
"Forgive me but that does not sound like an Oxford accent to me."
"Tennessee," he smiled. "I'm doing a PhD in International Law. My father thinks an Oxford Education will make me more of a gentleman."
"Well you can put me down for a donation." It was a good cause and he was a nice enough guy even if he was an American. "I'll give you some money when we stop."
"I'm not allowed to take cash. I mean that is very kind and generous of you, sorry I should have said that first. If you can give me your details I will enter you into the system and someone will contact you."
I liked the lad. Lad ? He could not have been more than a couple of years younger than myself. "What do you need to know ? Put me down for fifty pounds."
"Oh golly !" His voice suddenly sounded like an Oxford undergraduate and not American.
It was then he took out his phone to log in and register my donation. It must have been at that point he dropped it into the passenger well of the car. I did not notice it then and I did not notice it when I dropped him off. I only noticed it when I stopped at Magor Services. I had no idea who he was other than the fact he was an American called Martin doing a PhD at Balliol College in Oxford. How would I get the phone back to him ? Picking it up I went to his contacts and scrolled down. DAD, I'd call him and explain I had his son's phone. I did not stop to think that Dad would be in America. Between five and eight hours behind England so it was the very early hours of the morning.
But that response !
You have reached the personal phone of the Vice President of The United States of America. To connect with the vice president enter your six digit pin number now.
What was that all about ?
Inside the service station I went to the toilet, grabbed a coffee and a sandwich. I had plenty of time before my appointment. Back at the car I needed to decide what to do with the phone. I'd wait until I was in Cardiff then hand it over to the police as lost property and leave it to them to return it to its owner.
That was not what happened.
Back in the car I sipped at the coffee and began to unwrap the sandwich. Looking up I could see a policeman in front of the car. There was another by the side of my driver's door, There were more, lots more. I was surrounded. Both front doors of the car opened. A hand reached in and took the phone while a policeman on my side ordered me out. "Come with us."
I was marched to a portacabin at the side of the car park which appeared to be a police control office for the motorway. The door was closed behind me as we entered. "Sit down."
"What's going on ?" I asked.
Suddenly I was being cautioned, all that what ever you say may be use in evidence stuff. I do not mind admitting I was scared witless. What was going on ? What had I done ? I had done nothing ? Must have but what ?
"You are in possession of a phone belonging to Mr Martin Bouvier."
"Is that his name ? He just said he was Martin. He dropped the phone in my car."
"Martin Bouvier is the son of the Vice President of the United States of America. You used the phone to try to call the vice president. Why did you do that ?"
"I was simply calling one of his contacts to try and return his phone to him," I said feebly.
"And where is Mr Bouvier now ?"
"I don't know. He was hitch hiking, I dropped him off near Bristol."
"The son of the vice president hitch hiking, I don't think so."
"It was some sponsored charity event," I tried to explain.
"Where is Mr Bouvier now ?"
"I do not know. On his way to Cornwall."
I was frightened. Very frightened. This was so surreal, it could not be happening.
"We will wait for the embassy people to get here. You just sit there and wait."
"I have a meeting in Cardiff," I explained. "I need to call someone."
"You are not calling anyone until we know the vice president's son is safe."
"Of course he is safe," I tried to protest. "I have a right to call someone."
"Not until the embassy people arrive."
The police officer was still speaking when I could hear the sound, the loud sound of a helicopter. Through the window I could see it land in the field adjacent to us. This was crazy. All I had done was to give a guy a lift. He had dropped his phone in my car. I tried to return it. Now I was being held without any of my rights being observed. What did they think I had done ? Who did they think I was ? What did they think I was ? Oh god, they thought I was a terrorist !
The door of the portacabin police office opened and two men came in. "Is this him ?" One asked.
"Mr Dean ? Mr Nigel Dean ?"
"We need to apologise Sir. I am Special Agent Carter and this is Special Agent Johnson. We are part of the diplomatic protection unit at the American Embassy. One of our colleagues has located Mr Bouvier and spoken to him. He confirms you did give him a lift and he did leave his cell phone in your car. I can only apologise for this inconvenience Sir."
My heartbeat began to slow. It was not easy to believe all that had just happened and now it was hard to believe I was being told it was all a mistake.
"We must also apologise," one of the British police officers said, "but where the life of the son of the American vice president is concerned we would not be doing our duty had we acted differently."
The American vice president ? I had never heard who the American vice president was. So what if the hitch hiker was his son, what was all the fuss about ?
"Is there anything we can do for you Mr Dean ?" One of the special agents asked.
How did he know my name ? I had not even told it to the British police, they never gave me the chance.
"You can tell these fools to let me go."
"You are free to go," the police officer said.
"Then GOOD BYE," I snapped indignantly, left and returned to my car.
The car was cordoned off with cones and police incident tape. "You can clear this rubbish away," I yelled ripping the tape and throwing a cone in the direction of the officer standing guard on the car. "Talk about a totalitarian state, what the fuck do you think you were doing ?"
I was still seething with anger when I began my meeting, the others there witnesses a formidable character with whom they had better not argue. I left feeling happy, I had achieved far more that anticipated. "Don't tangle with me," I said to myself. Those police officers at Magor Services had better not sleep well that night for tomorrow I would register a complaint which would wreck their careers.
I did not make any complaint, I did not wreck any careers. The next morning I received a telephone call from The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent to personally apologise for what had happened. I accepted his apology and decided to forget all about the unfortunate incident. The next day a courier from DHL knocked on my door asking me to sign for a delivery. What ever could that be ?
Opening the cardboard DHL outer package there was a cream envelope inside on which someone had written my name. It was handwritten using ink from an old fashioned fountain pen. Inside as I opened the folded sheet of paper to reveal a crest and address:
The Office of the Vice President of The United States of America
United States Naval Observatory
That was nice. I would keep the letter and proudly show it off to anyone and everyone in years to come.
Most of my work is from home, save for when I have to travel to meetings such as the one in Cardiff, so it was fortunate I was at home when the courier came to deliver the letter. I was also at home when the door bell rang again on the third day, the third day after the Magor Services fiasco. Opening the door I was amazed to see Martin Bouvier standing in front of me.
"Hello," I said feebly.
"I know my father has written to you but I could not leave it there, I just had to come round and apologise myself. Here." He pushed a bottle of wine towards me. "It's Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Napa Valley California."
That really did not mean a lot to me. "Come in," I said half turning and indicating the way.
"I am so sorry," he continued walking into my lounge. "I really don't know what our people were up to."
"It wasn't your people," I explained, "they were Ok, it was the leek gobbling British, I mean Welsh, coppers who were the arrogant bastards."
"Well I am sorry, I really am. It can't have been a nice experience."
"You see," he lifted the leg of his trouser, "I have to wear this all the time, it tracks my position twenty-four seven. I got a lift very quickly after you dropped me and was miles away from my phone when you tried to use it. This showed up in the White House security office, I was not with the phone and somebody had tried to use it to call the vice president. Some secret service agent hit the panic button, they tracked my phone using GPS and you know what happened. I am SO sorry, I really, really am."
"You have to wear that thing twenty-for seven ?"
"Looks like a prison tag."
"Believe me it is at times."
"It just tracks you, nobody can hear what you are saying through it ?"
"God no !"
"Could be a bit embarrassing if you were chatting up a hot bit of stuff."
"Would be if it could hear me but chatting up a bit of hot stuff - not likely. Nigel I am SO sorry."
"You see in our system the vice president is a nobody, he is just a reserve in case something were to happen to the president, most people don't even know who he is but if the president were to die suddenly the vice president would become the most important man. He is protected to the same degree as the president but thank goodness his family members are allowed a bit of freedom. If I press this tag, I can do it with my other foot, it sends an alarm and the local police where ever I am respond within minutes."
"I didn't press it, honestly, it was just when the GPS showed my phone to be in a different place to where I was. Not a big thing there but when you tried to call my father everything went mad."
"It just said Dad in your contacts," I explained, "I was trying to call him to say I had your phone and could he tell you. I didn't know who he was and it's a bit stupid of me not to have realised he was in America where it was still night time."
"Look Nigel, please - can I take you out to lunch to apologise and say thank you ?"
"But you have given me this." I held up what I suspected was an expensive bottle of wine.
"Please, I would like to."
As Martin spoke our eyes met and something passed between us. Not even a full thought or an idea. How do you measure thoughts ? How do you distinguish their magnitude ? How do you measure their importance ? What ever the system the flash that occurred between our eyes was for less than a single second yet the power and the force of what it contained was big and I knew would have some form of lasting effect on both of our lives.
"Go on then. Do you want to go now ?"
"If that is convenient for you."
"Son of the vice president of the United States and you drive that ! Did you come all the way from Oxford in it ? I'm surprised the engine did not explode."
"There's a spare one in the boot," he smiled. "It's very easy to park a Smart Car in Oxford."
"It's hardly a presidential limousine is it ? Come on we'll take mine."
"Where do you suggest we go ?" Martin asked then added, "Somewhere fitting for the vice president's son and his new friend."
"Well it is American after all and way upmarket for a man who drives a Smart Car. Tell me when you go home do they allow you to park it at The White House ?"
"We don't live at The White House and I don't go there. A Smart Car is cool."
"If you say so but I think I would rather stuff wasps up my rear end than drive one myself."
We went to a traditional pub I know well, one which has a reputation for its food. After both enjoying soup of the day, I ordered my usual dish of gammon steak and pineapple while my friend chose the steak and ale pie.
"My father would like this place," Martin said raising his glass to me. "He approves of anything and everything English."
"The ale in your pie," I explained in Guinness and that comes from Ireland."
"I have Irish connections in my family."
"Bouvier, that does not sound particularly Irish to me. What is it French ?"
"Actually I think it is Austrian but that's not the Irish connection." He laughed slightly. "You don't really know who I am do you ?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"It was my great aunt's husband who was descended from Ireland."
He began to spell it out slowly. "My great aunt was Jacqueline Bouvier, her brother was my grandfather. She married John Fitzgerald....."
"Oh my god !" I exclaimed loudly, people in the dining area looked at me. "You are saying," I continued softly, "that you are related to the assassinated John F Kennedy ?"
"He would have been my great uncle had he lived, the Irish connection."
"No wonder the FBI almost declared World War Three when they thought I had kidnapped you."
"That wasn't the FBI, it was the secret service but never mind. They tell me I met my great aunt but Jackie Kennedy - Onnasis - Bouvier died when I was very young."
I was stunned and fumbled my words. "So if your father becomes president the Kennedy line would continue ?"
"My father will never become president, he couldn't stand the fame. He's happy and content so sit in the background just as a reserve in case anything should happen to the main man. Which of course it will not."
We finished our main course, ordered a third bottle of wine then looked at the desert menu.
"What's the Eton Mess ? Is it anything to do with Eton School ?"
"It's a rich mixture of fruit cream and meringue. I believe it is traditionally served when Eton and Harrow Schools play cricket."
"Let's have two of them. My father would approve - typical English."
"Perhaps you father should give up his present job and come here as British Prime Minister."
"Oh he would like that. Not sure Great Britain would want him though. He is obsessed with the ways and traditions of England." Martin moved closer to me and spoke quietly, "Ninety-one percent of all American males had the ends of their willies chopped off as babies, I am part of the other nine percent because my father thought I should have the British body."
"I've got one,"
How strange, two friends having a pub meal and discussing the merits of their male organs. We had drunk too much wine ! Too much wine meant I could not drive us home so after coffee we called a taxi. Martin was not in any state to drive back to Oxford so we sat in the garden trying to sober up.
"When my head clears I'll drive you to collect you car, if you can demean yourself to ride in a Smart Car then I can head back to Oxford."
My own head was far from clear. Was this guy sitting in my house with me really the great nephew or the assassinated President Kennedy ? Was his father really the current vice president of the USA ? Never mind if my head cleared or not it was going to take some time before my alcohol level fell below the legal limit. Oh god I could see the headlines - SON OF VICE PRESIDENT BOUVIER ARRESTED ON A DRUNK DRIVING CHARGE !
"So what do you do for a living ?" Martin asked.
"I buy and sell antique gold and silver," I explained. "Mainly men's stuff, things like cigarette cases, cuff links, snuff boxes and the like."
"You obviously do very well, you drive a Jaguar."
"It's OK but can be a bit lonely sitting at the laptop all day. I like it when I get out and about to look at things and buy them. That was where I was heading, to Cardiff, when I picked you up for a lift."
"Did you buy anything in Cardiff ?"
"No it was far too expensive."
"But not an entirely wasted journey, we did get to meet up and become friends. We are friends aren't we ?"
I nodded. "And you are going to be an international lawyer ?"
Martin shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really want to do that."
"But you are doing a PhD ?"
"I know and I expect that's where I'll end up but," he hesitated. "Oh I don't know."
It was getting a bit chilly so I suggested we go inside. "We could watch a DVD," I suggested.
"Do you have Dances With Wolves ?"
"I do as it happens."
"Oh fantastic, I love that movie. I have watched it hundreds of times since I was a child. That's the real America, the open space not the cities New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC."
"So which is your home state ?"
"Tennessee. You know The Tennessee Waltz. My father was a senator there. I'd like to take you there some time."
"No I really would but first let's watch Dances With Wolves."
I put the DVD into the player, we sat down together and prepared to watch the three hour classic. Just possibly we would be fit to drive when it was finished.
It was the wine, or it could have been the length of the film or it could have been the music but I fell asleep. Not a deep sleep but one of those gentle slumbers which leave you semi-conscious and aware of things about you. I could still hear the television although where in John Dunbar's story we were I could not say. I knew when Martin placed an arm round my shoulder.
"Neither of us should drive yet," I said as I began to wake. "What time is it ?"
"Coming up to six."
"I would like that,"
"Yes please, black with no sugar but first can I use your bathroom ?"
"Of course." I explained its location in the house.
"This is a big house," Martin said when he returned. "I almost got lost."
"Six bedrooms," I said. "I inherited it from my parents."
"Oh," Martin paused not quite knowing what he should say.
"It was a car accident," I explained. "Three years ago now. "I have thought about selling the house, it's far too big for me but I am reluctant to part with it."
"Do you have brothers and sisters ?"
"No, only me."
The truth is I was leading a lonely and solitary life. I did not mind. My business kept me occupied if not busy but it would be nice to have had friends. Dare I hope that Martin and I could become friends. Dare I look forward to a little more than a fleeting acquaintance.
"What about you ? Is yours a big family ?"
"You could say that. Dad you know about. he has no ambitions to become President but Mom would just love to be First Lady. I have an older sister and a younger brother. I'll never have children, of course, so continuing the Bouvier line is down to him."
Why wouldn't my new friend have children ? Perhaps he never actually said that, it was all rather hazy.
Our small talk continued as we slowly got to know more about one another's backgrounds. This was a friendship I wanted to develop. I do not have many friends so dared to hope that Martin felt the same. When it came to time for bed there really was not any question between us that we would sleep together. Not just in the same room but in the same bed. With a clear mind as I now write an account of the evening I can not tell you why that happened. As we lay side by side Martin took his phone and plugged in a set or ear pieces.
"Here you take one and I'll take the other. Close your eyes and listen."
"What is that ? It's lovely."
"The Tennessee Waltz. Nigel, I would like to take you to Tennessee. Will you come ? Soon ?"
"Of course. Play it again."
When I eventually fell asleep in my lover's arms the tune played softly in my mind. Lover. Lover, where did that word come from. I wanted Martin's friendship and we did sleep in the same bed but lover ? No we were not lovers. There had been nothing physical in sharing that bed.
The early sunshine was just starting to break through the curtains when I felt Martin stir. He touched my cheek and I was awake.
"Are you awake Nigel ?"
"We are talking to each other aren't we ?"
"I mean awake enough for me to explain an idea to you. I want you to come to Tennessee with me."
"I've got some speakers somewhere. you can plug them in and play that beautiful piece of music again."
"Let me tell you this first."
"Go on then."
"My doctorate thesis is finished, I have only now to submit it and jump a few hurdles to become Doctor Martin Bouvier. But I do not want to spend my life as a lawyer," he explained.
"Isn't it a bit late now to decide that ? After becoming a doctor of law ?"
"No, not at all. The PhD will just be the start. I am going to start a foundation: not a business, not a charity, not a political party but a movement putting an idea into the minds of people the world over."
I did not know what he was talking about but said, "Go one, explain."
"I had been planning to become a human rights lawyer but this is more than human rights."
I must have looked confused. I was confused.
"I want to develop understanding, love and respect among human beings. Among one another but also for animals, wildlife, nature and the planet itself. I want people to stop, think and then make this a better world to live in."
"Sounds great but not easy."
"But it is easy," he explained enthusiastically. "A project could be as small as children cleaning up the litter in the street where they live or a multi national fast food chain sending teams out to famine areas with its products to feed the poor."
I produced the set of speakers from a draw in my bedside chest.
"Play that music again,"
As the melody filled the room I changed the subject. "What is life in Tennessee like ?"
"For me it is home," Martin explained, "but it is not perfect. It's a former slave state and understanding is still way behind what it should be. It still has the death penalty and was reluctant to accept the national decree that there is nothing wrong with same sex marriage."
"What is the countryside like ?"
"Beautiful. Mountains, deserts."
"Not like Oxford then."
"Hardly. Dad would have me every inch an Oxford boy but I do love Tennessee. You will love it too."
"If you love it then I am sure I will love it too. Do the Bouviers originate from Tennessee ?"
"Oh no, the family is East Coast, Dad moved us there when I was a baby. He was a teacher and taught high school before he found a taste for politics."
"What did your mother do ?"
"She was a doctor but gave up practising to support Dad. Oh she would love to be First Lady and gives Dad a hard time trying to get him to run when President North's second term comes to an end. But it is not going to happen."
"How soon can you get away ? How soon before you can come to Tennessee ?"
"I don't have a lot on right now," I explained, "and even if I did I would rearrange my diary for you."
"My thesis is finished, I have to present it to my tutor tomorrow then there will be a meeting the day after so how about we fly out on Friday ?
"Are there direct flights," I asked. "Sorry about my ignorance."
"We'd have to change at Atlanta or Chicago but it's an easy journey."
"Friday it is then."
"We need to go and collect your car," Martin smiled, "if you can suffer riding in my little vehicle then we have the rest of the day to ourselves. What would you suggest we do ?"
"We'll think of something."
"Can I stay with you again tonight then I can drive to Oxford tomorrow morning ?"
"You need to ask ?".
Back at the pub se sat down for a late breakfast. As we began to eat Martin told me about The Bouvier Hoard. "It's a lot of garbage really," he began, "oops I mean rubbish, my British guard is slipping - not garbage - junk !"
"All kinds of gifts my great aunt received when she was First Lady. There are gifts dating from when she was Mrs Onassis. Expensive junk but junk none the less."
"Very expensive I am guessing."
"When she died her daughter did not want any of it so my father has it all. It's stored in boxes at home. If my father were to let me have it could you sell it for me ?"
"How much is there ?"
"Nobody has ever made an inventory but there must be two, perhaps three hundred items."
"The money could be used to make grants to people and organisations promoting the ideals of what ever I decide to call my foundation."
I tried to draw up some mental calculations but it was impossible, the collection had to be worth millions, tens of millions.
"You take your commission of course."
"The only commission I want is to be your friend."
"Friend ? I thought we were lovers."
That word again. We were NOT lovers.
We spent a wonderful day together and an even more wonderful night after which we were lovers. It was so sad to to wave good bye to Martin but he would soon be back. One day and one night apart then he would return and we could plan our visit to Tennessee. There could be problems placing the Bouvier Hoard up for international auction but given it had been boxed up and hidden from public view for decades such objections could be easily overcome.
My friend's idea for a project to raise mankind's respect was all very well but what he had shared with me was nebulous. It occurred to me that someone before him, Jesus Christ, had the same idea and failed. Twenty-first century Christianity has little to do with Christ, if ever such a person existed. But my friend, my lover if I dare to use the word, did exist and I would give him every support I could. Support starting with the auction of the Bouvier Hoard.
Surprisingly I slept well without Martin beside me, Just a few more hours and we would be together again. I reached for the remote and turned on BBC's rolling new station.
"If you are just joining us," the newsreader was saying, "the breaking news is President North suffered a fatal heart attack three hours ago. He was addressing a teachers' convention in Sacramento, California, when he collapsed on stage. The presidential doctor was in the audience and pronounced him dead at the scene."
"Oh my god ! Martin ! Oh Martin !"
"Vice President Bouvier," the newsreader continued, "is in his home state of Tennessee. the late president's body has been take on board Air Force One which is on its way to Memphis and Vice President Bouvier. He will be sworn in as the next President of the United States of America and flown back to Washington DC."
"Oh Martin," I screamed, "Martin."
I grabbed the phone and tried to call him.
"The cell phone you are calling is not currently accepting calls."
"Martin ! Martin ! I am coming, Hang on."
Martin was in Oxford but I had no idea where. I knew which college he attended. I would go and find him. I would go now. As I threw a few things together I tried to call him again, still the same robotic message. I began speaking to myself.
"Take some identification with me. Take that letter Martin's father wrote to me. Call a taxi, don't drive myself."
I called a taxi firm, one I had used before, and they said they could have someone with me in fifteen minutes. "I need to be taken to Oxford, I explained, "then for him to wait for me and bring me back home.!"
"Terrible news from America," my driver observed. "He was only fifty-nine, same age as me."
I tried calling Martin, this time it was an unobtainable number. It did not make sense.
"Over to our reporter in Memphis," the radio said. "Hello, I am Sam Jeffrey at Memphis Airport where Air Force One has now landed. The body of President North is on-board. It is believed that Vice President Bouvier is also on-board and right now taking the oath to become the new President of The United States of America. He will then fly to Washington DC to take up the work of his office."
"I wonder what this new guy is like," the driver said. "I mean the American President influences politicians all round the world."
"I understand he is very pro British," I said.
"That's good. How do you know ?"
"His son is a friend of mine."
"That's why we are going to Oxford, to see him. I am very worried about him."
"The new president's son is in Oxford, England ?"
"He has just finished a law degree."
"And he is a friend of yours ?"
"Yes a close friend and I am worried sick about him. His phone isn't working and I know he must be trying to contact me."
After standing my ground at Baliol College my persistence and letter from the former vice-president brought the college bursar out to see me.
"I am afraid I can not tell you where Mr Bouvier is," the Bursar explained. "He left several hours ago with two policemen. We were told to put together his belongings and somebody would come later to collect them."
"Oh Martin," I screamed inside my head, "are you alright ?"
"Policemen ? "Which policemen ?" I demanded. "Where were they from ?"
"I have no idea sir. They were uniform officers."
"I need you to take me to a police station," I said to my driver.
"Which police station ?"
"I don't know. The main police station for Oxford."
"Thames Valley Headquarters is in Kidlington."
"Take me there."
As we drove I tried three time to call Martin and each time the number was unobtainable.
At the reception desk I demanded to speak to the chief constable. My frantic demand was met with little more than a sympathetic smile. Producing my letter from Martin's father did have a result,
"I'm Chief Inspector Simon Arnott," the uniformed officer explained. "I am sure you can appreciate the difficult situation facing the United States right now. You have no need to worry, your friend has been taken to the safety of the American Embassy."
I was hysterical, my stomach was churning. Alarm bells were ringing in all directions of my mind. What was going on ? "
"Oh Martin," I cried silently for the one hundredth time.
"Can I pay you to drive me for the rest of the day ?"
"You can if you want to but before we go anywhere you need to sit down, take some deep breaths and try to calm yourself."
"Take me to the American Embassy in London."
"Of course. Certainly. But not until you have taken those deep breaths. Come on."
I did as I was told before asking as calmly as I could, "Can we go now ? To the embassy please ?"
My driver, whose name he told me was Jimmy, did his best to settle me. "I am sure your friend is fine, why wouldn't he be ?" We did not have the radio on in the car so Jimmy took our conversation through a range of subjects every now and then touching briefly on Martin.
"I have been to New York," he said. "That is probably the last place on earth I would want to be a taxi driver. I am a bit nervous about driving to the embassy in London. I hope the sat nav does not let us down."
"Don't taxi drivers have to pass the Knowledge examination any more ?"
"That's for London Black Cab drivers, I am simply a private hire driver from the sticks."
"Well I am grateful for your help, I am so worried about Martin."
"You are paying me," he smiled then said," He is a bit more than a friend to you isn't he ?"
I think I blushed. "You can drop me as near as you can get to the embassy - a couple of miles away will be fine, I can then go by underground."
"No way ! You are stuck with me. It isn't every day I get to drive the friend of the son of the President of The United States. Besides you need looking after."
At the embassy they knew I was coming, they knew who I was. The police back in Oxford must have told them. These were not the same people but I was shown into a room with two similarly dressed secret service agents, just like those who had accosted me before. They told me their names but I paid little attention. I wanted to see Martin. More than anything else I wanted to see Martin.
"Your friend is on his way to Washington," I was told. "You are not going to be able to see him ever again."
"Is he safe ?"
"Of course he is safe. The very tightest security is now surrounding the President and his family. In view of what has happened to President North the new First Family is in lockdown. You are not going to be able to have any contact with Martin Bouvier again."
"What do you mean lockdown ? Of course I can see my friend if I wan t to. What do you mean - what happened to President North, he died of a heart attack ? Why is Martin being taken back to America ? He would never have gone without first telling me !"
One secret service agent looked to the other who nodded.
"This is all matter of national security. President North may have died of a heart attack but that heart attack was brought on by a drug somehow administered to his system. It is being considered to be a terrorist attack."
"Oh god, how terrible. I did not know."
"Not many do, the news is only now being released. President Bouvier will then address the nation tonight."
I was cut short. "You may be friends but you have only known each other for the shortest space of time. You have had sex together."
"Now hold on !" My turn to interrupt. "We DID NOT. We slept in the same bed but NOTHING more. Anyway that is none of your business and how do you know ? I want to speak to Martin."
"Where the protection of our Commander in Chief is concerned everything is our business. It would be better for you and for the President's son if you forgot all about one another."
"Now wait a minute !" I stood up.
"Sit down please."
Instinctively I did as I was told.
"If anyone makes any contact with you regarding your former relationship with Martin Bouvier you are to contact the British Police, dial 9-9-9 if you have to. Is that clear ?"
"This is not making any sense."
"Your driver has been brought into the Embassy car park and is waiting for you. You understand the situation Mr Dean don't you ? Now go home and forget you ever met Martin Bouvier."
I would never forget.
The taxi and my driver were indeed waiting in the embassy car park. Another member of the US secret service was standing guard over them.
"Are you OK ?" Jimmy asked with a note of concern in his voice. "A police car pulled me over and escorted me here inside the embassy compound. I've had the radio on, they are saying President North was assassinated, he did not die of a heart attack."
"Can you take me home now, my friend is not in England any more. Can we have the radio on please ?"
"President North's heart attach was brought on by a drug cyclophosphamide which was detected during the post-mortem," the news announcer was explaining. "His death is being considered a terrorist attack. President Bouvier will address the nation at six o'clock this evening Eastern Standard Time, that is eleven o'clock London Time. We will cover his address live here on Radio Four and on the BBC television news channel."
Jimmy tried to engage me in conversation but I said little. I had known Martin Bouvier for such a brief time, Destiny had brought our loves together but now Destiny had moved us apart. It was probably true we would never see one another again and I accepted the fact. I would return to my on-line buying and selling, my bank balance would increase as my lonely existence became yet more sad.
I did not watch Martin's father on television that night and avoided all news coverage the next day. I did not try to telephone my former friend. I did not have a lot of work to do but made what there was last. I looked for some new buying opportunities and updated my website. I tried to call my friend but the number was unobtainable.
The next day I awoke and it was as if Martin Bouvier had never been a part of my life. I had forgotten all about him. I took myself out for lunch but never reached the restaurant. I burst into tears, uncontrollable tears. I had to park up and wait until I was safe to drive home again.
"You are not going to be able to have any contact with Martin Bouvier again," the secret service agent had said at the embassy. Sadly he was right.
The day after I woke and turned the television on. Martin's father was speaking. So that was what he looked like. "An hour ago agents of The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested six members of a cell who it is believed was responsible for the murder of President North. It is believed there are no others were involved, all have been apprehended. The nation can take relief that these terrorists can do no more harm."
He looked a nice enough man, in a different world perhaps I would have been able to meet President Bouvier, Martin's father. In another world but not this one. No not this one.
The next day after that, three days after I had been told I would never have any contact again with Martin Bouvier I received a strange e-mail. It sat there in my e-mail inbox, I did not recognise the sender - The Boy From Tennessee, but could it be ? Dare I hope ? I can not tell you for how long I hesitated before opening it. When I did I was met with some words:
Go to Heathrow Terminal Three tomorrow morning, be there for 4.30am - can you get up that early ? Go to the American Airlines ticket desk and quote the password Tennessee Waltz to pick up a ticket. You will have to change at Chicago but I will be at Memphis to meet you.
"Oh Martin," I screamed at the top of my voice.
"You will never see him again - UP YOURS Mr Secret Service Agent I will see him tomorrow !"
Be there for 4.30am, I was there for 2am. The night duty clerk knew all about the ticket even if he was not expecting me quite so soon. "The flight isn't leaving until quarter to eight and the check in desks do not open until five."
"That's alright," I smiled.
"Burger King is open all night but that's about all, I am afraid. You can, of course, use the American Airlines lounge your business class ticket entitles you to unlimited coffee and a breakfast but food will not be served until the check in desks open."
"That's fine, you know what I fancy a cheese burger." I was deliriously happy.
When the check in desks opened I was first in line. The girl was friendly, processed me quickly but appeared to have no idea who I was. I looked nervously all round me to see if there was anyone who could remotely be from the US Secret Service and who may try to stop me from taking the flight.
Burger King was only serving breakfasts so I had skipped eating. In the airline lounge I ate a croissant and drank some coffee as I waited for the time to board.
"I am coming Martin," I whispered. "I am coming."
The phone rang.
"Oh my Nigel, you will never know how much I have been missing you."
"I need you Nigel and can not wait to be with you. This has been a terrible, terrible time."
"I am coming."
"Nigel when you get here," Martin said, "when you get here I have a question to ask you ?"
"What question ?"
"I will ask you in person when you get here. Have a safe journey."
"I will Martin."
You know, of course, of The Bouvier Foundation. Martin is not the unknown person he was when he was at Oxford. This story, as I am trying to tell it, has not been shared before. Oh Martin ! I love you Martin, I hope these words tell a tiny bit of our story and help what you are trying so hard to achieve.
As soon as I was on board the aircraft, as soon as I was settled in my seat I plugged the earpieces into my phone and played our special tune. as the aircraft soared into the sky I played it over and over again. Martin I am coming to you.
I have been on many long-haul flights, even in the comfort of business class they go on for ever. This was not one long haul flight but two. London to Chicago and Chicago to Memphis. The hours just went on and on and on. I listened to our song and I wondered what the question was Martin had to ask me. A variety of different questions presented themselves as possibilities. There was one I hoped it was going to be. I do love you Martin.
Finally, finally we began our approach into Memphis International Airport. As the wheels of the giant aircraft bit into the tarmac of the runway my heart beat faster in the knowledge my lover and I were now at lease in the same country. That secret service agent back in London was wrong when he said Martin and I had a sexual relationship. We had never had sex. We had not even made love but I did love him.
I was nervous as I entered the terminal building, nervous that after such a long journey I would be denied seeing my lover. My heart beat so fast and my palms sweat as I passed through immigration. Everything was fine. I looked about me as I entered the baggage hall, no sign of anyone who could possible be from the secret service. My bag came down the carousel among the first, I grabbed it and made for the customs area. Again no sign of anyone who would stop me. I smiled at the customs officer and he smiled back. Above the exit there was a giant notice - WELCOME TO TENNESSEE THE VOLUNTEER STATE. What on earth was the volunteer state ? Volunteer for what ? I would ask Martin when I saw him. As I walked into the arrivals hall the speakers were playing our song. Coincidence or had the son of the President been able to use his influence.
"Nigel. Over here !"
There he was. My friend and my future lover. But oh no, he was flanked by two secret service agents, their stereotype suits giving their occupations away. We raced to each other while the secret service guys kept a discrete distance behind us. There in the terminal building with everyone looking on I embraced the First Son and he embraced me. I wonder how many knew who we were.
"Good flight ?"
I nodded then turned my eyes to the secret service agents.
"That's Kyle and Jason," Martin explained, "Don't worry about them, they are good guys."
"Are they going to follow us everywhere ?"
Martin laughed. "We can trust them. Come on let's get to the cars. You'll come with me while Kyle and Jason follow behind."
"You haven't brought your Smart Car with you have you ?"
Martin was driving a Buick, not that I would have know what it was had he not explained. Kyle and Jason were in a 4 x 4 vehicle. In the car park both spoke to me.
"We are so pleased to meet you," Jason said. "Martin has told us much about his special friend."
"Not too much I hope."
Kyle laughed. "We know how to keep secrets, it's in our job descriptions !"
Once alone in Martin's car I asked if Kyle and Jason following behind us could hear what we were saying. "No hidden microphones ?"
"No," Martin smiled.
"So what's the plan ?" I asked. "With the Bouvier Hard I mean."
"The plan." Martin said softly. "That rather depends on the answer you give to my question."
"You can look at the hoard if you like but it can wait until another time."
"I thought that was why I am here."
"You know there is more than that. At least I hope you do."
I dare not say what I was hoping.
"Day after tomorrow," Martin continued we will drive to Washington, to The White House, you can meet my parents and spend a day or two as their guests. Then we can leave for the honeymoon."
"Honeymoon ? Whose honeymoon ?"
"Ours silly. I thought we could drive from Washington on the Atlantic Coast to San Francisco on the Pacific."
I looked a little blank as my heart performed acrobats inside my chest. The question was the one I had dared to hope it would be but Martin had not asked it. Not yet.
"We have only known one another for two weeks but in that time I have come to love you more than I thought I could ever love anyone. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and you with me. I have a registrar on stand by for tomorrow, she will come to the house and certify a civil partnership for us. Kyle and Jason will be our witnesses. Then when we go to Washington it will not be for you to meet the President and First Lady but your new parents in law."
I began to cry.
"Is that a yes ?"
You know the rest of the story but I have only just learned in the car behind us another conversation was taking place.
"He's asked the question," Jason said excitedly.
"I am so pleased," Kyle smiled, "that Nigel appears a nice enough guy and clearly Martin is madly in love with him."
"And we are to be witnesses, sign on the certificate."
"I am proud he asked us."
"Do not get me wrong, so am I but it leaves us with the biggest question of our careers to answer."
"What is that ?" Kyle said.
"Just what are we going to tell the President," Jason smiled.