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«Juggernaut», Desmond Bagley

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It is longer than a football pitch, weighs 550 tons, and moves at an average of five miles per hour. Its job-and that of company troubleshooter Neil Mannix – is to move a giant transformer across Nyala, an oil-rich African state. Outwardly politically stable, Nyala erupts in civil war. And Mannix finds himself, and the juggernaut, at the centre of the conflict – with no way to run and nowhere to hide.

Desmond Bagley

Juggernaut (1985)


The telephone call came when I was down by the big circular pool chatting up the two frauleins I had cut out of the herd. I didn't rate my chances too highly. They were of an age which regards any man of over thirty-five as falling apart at the seams; but what the hell, it was improving my German.

I looked up at the brown face of the waiter and said incredulously, 'A phone call for me?'

'Yes, sir. From London.' He seemed impressed.

I sighed and grabbed my beach robe. 'I'll be back,' I promised, and followed the waiter up the steps towards the hotel. At the top I paused. 'I'll take it in my room,' I said, and cut across the front of the hotel towards the cabana I rented.

Inside it was cool, almost cold, and the air conditioning unit uttered a muted roar. I took a can of beer from the refrigerator, opened it, and picked up the telephone. As I suspected, it was Geddes. 'What are you doing in Kenya?' he asked. The line was good; he could have been in the next room.

I drank some beer. 'What do you care where, I take my vacations?'

'You're on the right continent. It's a pity you have to come back to London. What's the weather like there?'

'It's hot. What would you expect on the equator?'

'It's raining here,' he said, 'and a bit cold.'

I'd got used to the British by now. As with the Arabs there is always an exchange of small talk before the serious issues arise but the British always talk about the weather. I sometimes find it hard to take. 'You didn't ring me for a weather report. What's this about London?'

'Playtime is over, I'm afraid. We have a job for you. I'd like to see you in my office the day after tomorrow.'

I figured it out. Half an hour to check out, another hour to Mombasa to turn in the rented car. The afternoon flight to Nairobi and then the midnight flight to London. And the rest of that day to recover. 'I might just make it,' I conceded, 'But I'd like to know why.'

'Too complicated now. See you in London.'

'Okay,' I said grouchily. 'How did you know I was here, by the way?'

Geddes laughed lightly. 'We have our methods, Watson, we have our methods.' There was a click and the line went dead.

I replaced the handset in disgust. That was another thing about the British – they were always flinging quotations at you, especially from Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland. Or Winnie the Pooh, for God's sake!

I went outside the cabana and stood on the balcony while I finished the beer. The Indian Ocean was calm and palm fronds fluttered in a light breeze. The girls were splashing in the pool, having a mock fight, and their shrill laughter cut through the heated air. Two young men were watching them with interest. Goodbyes were unnecessary, I thought, so I finished the beer and went inside to pack.

A word about the company I work for. British Electric is about as British as Shell Oil is Dutch – it's gone multi-national, which is why I was one of the many Americans in its employ. You can't buy a two kilowatt electric heater from British Electric, nor yet a five cubic foot refrigerator, but if you want the giant-sized economy pack which produces current measured in megawatts then we're your boys. We're at the heavy end of the industry.

Nominally I'm an engineer but it must have been ten years since I actually built or designed anything. The higher a man rises in a corporation like ours the less he is concerned with purely technical problems. Of course, the jargon of modern management makes everything sound technical and the subcommittee rooms resound with phrases drawn from critical path analysis, operations research and industrial dynamics, but all that flim-flam is discarded at the big boardroom table, where the serious decisions are made by men who know there is a lot more to management than the mechanics of technique.

There are lots of names for people like me. In some companies I'm called an expeditor, in others a troubleshooter. I operate in the foggy area bounded on the north by technical problems, on the east by finance, on the west by politics, and on the south by the sheer quirkiness of humankind. If I had to put a name to my trade I'd call myself a political engineer.

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