Illustration by Mister Paul
He should have remembered the kid, Wilson realised. Hell, he did remember him, even though it must have been thirty years back. Manchester, wasn't it? Some damn place, anyway. Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds. Outside of London, those Brit cities all blurred together, till nobody but the natives could tell them apart. Till nobody but the natives would want to.
But thirty years, yeah, that seemed about right. The days of Reagan and Thatcher, Solidarity and the pope, the great pope, and suddenly everything felt open again: open and ungoverned, the world turned back into the Wild West, for a while.
Wilson shrugged, working his shoulders against the bind of his suit coat. Getting too damn fat, he knew. When was the last time he'd even been on a horse? His birthday, probably, when Jill had brought the grandkids out to Oklahoma and made him ride some fence-line with her, just like old times. He knew he should exercise, his doctor and Jill always nagging at him. But after his time on the oil rigs — his time of hardscrabble ranching, for that matter, before his father died — exercising for the sake of exercising felt pointless. Round and round, peddling away on some stationary bicycle or elliptical machine, getting nowhere. You'd have to be bored senseless to put up with it.
Anyway, the deal he had come to England for, all those years ago: what was it? Plastics, maybe, or dye; some oil-tar-derivative thing, and it had gone south, he remembered, dying a sudden, last-minute death.
Funny how business with Brits usually did. Even this conference on the Falkland Islands — the "candid discussion" that had brought him back to England; a meeting forced on him by those idiots in Washington — wasn't going well. Twenty people around a table, pretending to listen while some Harvard wonk droned on about oil-shock prices if Argentina invaded again, and already Wilson could sense the angry currents under the dull surface.
The Americans, as near as he could figure, wanted the Brits to give up the Falklands without a fight if Argentina started pushing again. But even the full-bird colonel from the Pentagon, sitting down the table with a look on his face like he needed to piss and didn't know how — even he wasn't going to come right out and say it. Too much history in the room, too much hanging on, like the smell of burned-out cigars the morning after a card game.
As for the Brits, they wanted . . . well, God knows what they wanted. Oil, probably, although if any of that South Atlantic crude actually turned up, it would make a Falklands war more likely, and anyway, Wilson was convinced the reserves would never be worth their drilling costs in that rough-water part of the world.
That's what he was here to say, of course. Here to represent. Oil and the way it worked, the way it flowed. Washington had leaned on Ham and Crockett — probably every major oilman working the North Dakota shale — and after more back-and-forth than Saturday night at a Williston whorehouse, Wilson had agreed to be the one to fly to London: the rodeo clown in the American delegation.
He folded his hands across his belly and studied under lowered eyelids the American envoy up at the head of the table — some slick banker from Chicago who'd leveraged his political fundraising into a job as the administration's hatchet man. Jesus, what a life: What did you do in the government, Daddy? I delivered bad news for the president, honey. And I smiled while I did it.
Not that he gave a damn what those smug White House bloodsuckers thought; self-important little ticks, every one of them. But, in truth, Wilson didn't much care for any politics these days. Oh, he'd ponied up the necessary cash when the conservatives came calling, last election, although that was really just the price of doing his kind of business. And he'd hedged his bets with quiet donations to every oil-state Democrat who looked likely to win a House seat or a governorship when the Republicans went down. As he knew they would.
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