Selim Awaz, Corkill’s pupil, had given me brief but intelligible instructions. “First they will ask you to protect the Leader from the forces of vengeance – the International Criminal Court to us – then they will ask you how to free his money from the rapacious clutches of the foreign capitalists – international sanctions in other words – and, lastly, how to get the civil service of their country paid, without which the country cannot really function.You understand?”
“Yes,” I said. “I advise them on each matter in order, remembering that the priority is to save the Leader.”
“No,” said Awaz. “You have not understood. You must address the issues in precisely the reverse order. They are very interested in getting their wages; somewhat interested in getting the Leader some of his ill-gotten gains to use to pay their wages; and not at all interested in his fate since they regard him as an insane dead duck.”
Social matters proved no less complicated. Again, Selim’s advice was indispensable. “They will not drink alcohol.” I looked depressed. He smiled. “You may drink alcohol. Indeed, you should. They have heard that you are something of a wine buff. Also, you are one of Her Majesty’s Counsel and Head of Chambers. They may come from what you think is a poor and backward country with neo-Marxist and fanatical politicians, but they respect your being a QC and a Head of Chambers – unlike some in Whitehall we could mention.” Selim’s own position was different. “I will be offered drink, but must sadly refuse it. They would not like it. Corkhill will also be offered alcohol but you must decline it for him.” “Because they would not like it?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “because we would not like it.”
All went rather well. The men were introduced as the Deputy Justice Minister, a Security Liaison official and a junior diplomat from the London Embassy. I asked about three other men in suits who were keeping a discreet presence several tables away. “Your security people?” “No,” said the Deputy Justice Minister, “yours.”
After a few pleasantries we got to the nitty-gritty. “Our chief priority is to save our leader and his family; his possessions and his wealth. What would you advise?” I returned the volley. “It seems to me you can do nothing for your leadership if money is not found to fund the people who work for the government.” There was a deathly silence. The Deputy Justice Minister spoke for the trio. “We do not wish to hear you talk like this.” A long pause ensued. “On the other hand – and it pains me to say it – there is a certain logic in what you say. So much so that you may take it you are instructed.” He then paused and smiled: “We enjoyed hearing of your defence of King Charles I at the Middle Temple Balloon Debate. We have much sympathy for him. Nevertheless, he did lose his head. Better to be like his son: hide up a tree and become King Charles II.”
“You are remarkably well informed,” I told him. “The advantage of reading Modern History at Christ Church,” he replied.
At this point the one-legged beggar appeared and sang, to mandolin accompaniment, a passable version of that Italian operatic aria I can only remember as Just One Cornetto. I wondered if he might also be a British security agent but my attention turned to Paddy Corkhill who had used the diversion to get his hands on our carafe.
And so, back to England, where my brief dreams of a role on the international legal stage were rudely shattered. A giant television screen now adorns our reception area through which I entered on our return. It displays rolling news. It has no sound but displays subtitles rather out of sync with the pictures. Although “TOUPEES INVOLVED IN VIOLIN COP” may have meant nothing to the disinterested observer, the film above it of the Deputy Justice Minister being marched none too gently to a waiting truck translated it to me as “TROOPS INVOLVED IN VIOLENT COUP”.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.