Authors Note: A chapter a week and here we are at chapter 53. Have I really been doing this for a year? Not quite, but nearly. I posted the first chapter late November last year and I doubled up on some of the shorter chapters. Enjoy!
The interior of the Chrysler Imperial was spacious and silent, the high-backed seats upholstered in oxblood leather, the air faintly scented with hide wax. Polished walnut panels trimmed the doors, side pillars and arm rests, the bright work was silver rather than chrome. The steady murmur of the powerful engine came from the front of the car, a faint whisper of rushing air from the windows.
‘I come from Finland, Mr Wassiter,’ Koponen said. ‘I enjoy summers but the world is warming too much and too fast. I have reengineered this car to run on Canola oil, my fuel supply is carbon-neutral and allows me to run a big-engined car with a clear conscience.’
‘Oil-seed rape,’ Tim said as he remembered the brochure from the boot of this very car. ‘You’ve developed a high-yield variety.’
Koponen placed his Stetson on the seat between them. ‘You’ve made a connection but that’s not the full story. The high yield is the carrot to attract the farmers, and believe me they are being attracted in high numbers. My first commercial scale seed crop has been harvested and is ready to ship to the U.S.A. It will be sold to thousands of farms and planted across hundreds of thousands of hectares.’
‘Is that where we’re going?’
‘To the United States? Only part of the way. As Mr Jarglebaum said, we have a ship to catch. That ship is the Sea Cucumber. She is waiting for us at Southampton water. From there we’ll rendezvous with my research vessel in the mid-Atlantic.’ Koponen looked out the window at the scenery speeding past. ‘I plan to save the world, Mr Wassiter. Plans of that scale cost a huge amount of money. I’ve an immense fortune but I’m spending it fast. I don’t begrudge a single penny but I’m going to need a lot more.’
Koponen’s eyes glittered with excitement. ‘I call my white-flowered variety of Brassica napus var. doloresvogler. Not only will it slow global warming, it will make me a lot of money too.’
They reached the roundabout underneath the coast road flyover. Jarglebaum followed the Mercedes as it powered around the curve and up the west-bound ramp.
A few miles later brake lights began to flare. Jarglebaum slowed the Imperial. ‘Road works ahead, Mr Koponen.’
‘Ah, this country. It’s wonderful, but sometimes it is frustrating.’ Koponen impatiently tapped his fingers on the armrest, picked his hat up by the brim and turned it in his hands like a wheel. ‘Climate change, Mr Wassiter. Wave height in the North Atlantic is increasing as winds strengthen, the tropics have more frequent and more powerful hurricanes. Ice caps and glaciers are melting, sea level will rise ten, maybe twenty metres. A slow disaster of our own making. Governments are not doing enough, I decided to step in.’
He’s mad, Tim though. A self-deluded megalomaniac justifying any means to an admittedly worthy end.
Koponen watched him with wry amusement. ‘Whatever you may think of me I am one of the good guys. We’ve designed air conditioning that uses passive heat exchangers and solar fans that generate all of their own electrical power. Use them and we could shut down entire power stations.’
Tim sat uncomfortably in the corner. ‘This isn’t about air conditioning.’
Koponen flourished his Stetson. ‘And this hat isn’t just vanity. It’s a symbol, a constant reminder of what my priorities need to be. Wherever I go I’m reflecting a little bit of the sun’s heat away from the earth back into space.’
‘What about the roof of the car?’
Koponen laughed. ‘A fair point. There is also something called style, Mr Wassiter. Unfortunately high albedo black paint appears to be an impossible contradiction, don’t think I haven’t tried. Just imagine if one tenth of the world’s population wore white hats outdoors. That’s over 750 million people. With a conservative estimate of 9 hats to the square metre, that’s almost 8,500 hectares of reflective surface, an area greater than Bermuda.’
‘That doesn’t sound like much,’ Tim said.
‘No, it isn’t.’ Koponen slapped his hat down on his knee and scowled. ‘No, it isn’t at all.’
They were through the road works. Jarglebaum sent the car surging through the traffic.
A surreal calm came over Tim. In his mind he compiled a list of items that defined his own life:
He had been kidnapped at gunpoint by an insane foreign businessman.
His neighbour was a witch who hypnotised cats and thought his friend was a mermaid.
Almost everyone he knew, including his former police partner, worked for the crazy billionaire.
He himself apparently had the ability to travel through time and space in his dreams.
‘Are you all right, Mr Wassiter?’ Koponen said. ‘You were talking to yourself.’
‘I was wondering if I was mad and the last few days had been a psychotic delusion.’
‘As far as I am concerned this is all very real. This is my life.’
The interior of the Imperial was cool to the point of chilly, Tim turned up his collar. Koponen had spoken freely but he hadn’t explained why Foxy was with him. Tim knew there was little he could do unless he could get the gun away from Koponen. He had to keep Koponen talking. With the Finn in a verbose mood it was a good opportunity to get some more answers.
‘This is all to do with the flowers, isn’t it?’ Tim hazarded.
‘Well done. Farmers will plant my crop because the plants are engineered to be nitrogen fixing, give higher yields and a better oil/protein balance. More profit, less cost, less fertiliser and less nitrate pollution. There is every reason to grow my Canola and none not to. Cost and yield is why farmers will buy my seeds, the environmental benefits will cut the ground out from under the feet of the GM protestors.’
Tim was grudgingly impressed. It all made good sense. He said so.
‘A means to an end, Mr Wassiter. The real reason I want my new crop planted is because the flowers are white and they bloom for an additional three weeks. White flowers, Mr Wassiter, my plants have white flowers. This is the first crop designed for a high albedo. Three years from now it will be growing in vast acreages, half a million hectares in Great Britain alone. Farmers grow wealthy, higher yield means less deforestation, I earn enough money to finance the next phase of my project. Most importantly, the white flowers will reflect sunlight and cool the world.’
Flecks of spittle grew in the corners of Koponen’s mouth. He wiped them away. ‘Change through positive incentive. Forcing change by punishing people with taxation is self-defeating. Governments don’t understand, they want to control people. I want to set them free!
Tim had limited experience with ranting megalomania. He tried flattery. ‘That’s brilliant. I’m convinced. Mr Koponen, you’re a genius.’ It actually was very clever.
Koponen basked in Tim’s praise. ‘Enlightened self-interest – the new model for the free market.’
‘So what has Foxy to do with this?’
Koponen blinked. ‘Nothing at all. She’s part of my Atlantic scheme, another thing entirely.’
Tim thought about her alone in the Mercedes with Dolores, Electra and Imelda. ‘She’d better be all right at the end of the journey.’
Koponen stiffened. ‘She will be absolutely fine.’
This is why Jarglebaum wanted to drive the Mercedes, Tim realised. He’s as worried as me, he actually tried to warn me earlier. He saw Jarglebaum watching from the corner of his eye in the rear-view mirror and felt reassured. At least in this they were on the same side.
‘What I don’t understand is why you hired me to find your car. You already knew where it was.’
‘An excuse to keep an eye on you. Mrs Woosencraft worked for me but she was having problems and I was becoming concerned about her personal agenda. When I discovered she had hired you to find her cat, doing exactly what I needed someone to do, I decided to keep tabs on you.’
‘The desk bug and the embroidered handkerchief,’ Tim said.
‘Exactly. Ms Bolivia’s jacket was a helpful bonus.’
Of course. Tim could have kicked himself, they had bugged that too.
And to get all this done Koponen had used the oldest trick in the book – exotic women tantalising his baser male instincts, keeping him further off-balance with touches of violence. It was galling to realise how easily he had fallen for it.
‘My initial assessment of you has been vindicated – you’re a focus. No great talent yourself but things happen around you. If not, how else would you have become involved at all?’
Now was not the time to mention Asklepios and his dreams, Tim decided. He would let Koponen underestimate him for as long as possible.
‘It is the strength of your desires,’ Koponen continued. ‘Your dreams for how the world should be as opposed to what you fear it actually is, something the two of us share.’ Koponen pressed his palms together as if in prayer. ‘In that we are not really so different.’
A muffled snort came from the front of the car. Troy Jarglebaum’s shoulders shook as he tried to suppress his laughter.
‘Ignore him, he doesn’t see the world like us,’ Koponen said. ‘You managed to find something without even looking for it. That in itself is a rare gift and one I would like to use again. The car was simply an excuse to introduce some surveillance. You weren’t supposed to find the car, you were meant to find the cat.’
To be continued…