Jackson Dunbar is an ambitious, talented and impetuous television correspondent who gets a much-desired posting to the Middle East. But he is not to know that he will run into friends from an almost-forgotten past. Each one presents him with unexpected and powerful challengers, and the cost is high. Here's the start to the gripping story...
Jackson Dunbar – Jacko to his colleagues and friends –
surveys the scene before him with some disappointment. He has been in Armibar, capital
of Central Arabia, for a month now and he still hasn’t been able to get a report
on the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.
It is a frustrating time for an
ambitious TV correspondent. Twice he has been to demonstrations in this shabby street,
pock-marked by bullets from a long-past battle, and in a part of the city well
away from the eyes of most citizens. On both occasions, a promised dramatic
event failed to make the grade, except for a few short clips on the World News
Jackson’s young Australian
cameraman, Pete Fox, is busy filming about 100 Arab men chanting and waving placards
calling for the destruction of Britain, America and Israel. Jackson stands to
one side making a few pencilled notes.
Jackson is 35, of medium height
and weight. His hair is dark but showing signs of thinning. His preferred work
wear is casual shoes, neat jeans and plain open-necked shirts. In summary, his
appearance is very ordinary. He is a person who would rarely attract attention
in the street, but he is gifted with an intuitive talent to project an image of
knowledge and authority when in front of a TV camera.
The demonstrators are mostly in grubby
traditional outfits, the ankle-length thawb or dishdash, and headwear, the keffiyeh. Women wearing black hijabs stand in the doorways ululating
It is very routine stuff,
unlikely to have any impact, and Jackson wonders why the demonstration is being
held in such an out-of-the-way run-down street with its dusty pot-holed roads,
broken pavements and heaps of stinking uncollected rubbish. Police and soldiers
in their cheap crumpled uniforms are there in substantial numbers as they
always are for demonstrations, but even they are looking upon the protest in a
way that suggests they wish they were back in their barracks playing cards or kicking
a football around the parade square.
Pete, in his late twenties and with
an accent and choice of clothes that make clear his Down Under origins, comes
over to Jackson: “Do you want to do a piece-to-camera, mate?”
Jackson takes another look
around him and shakes his head. “It’s another no-no. Let’s pack it in and get
back to the bureau.”
Pete is unsure. “I think I’ll stick
around a bit while they’re still here,” nodding towards the CNN and Al-Jazeera
crews and newsagency reporters.
“Please yourself, but my expenses
need urgent attention,” Jackson says with a grin.
He goes to the BBC’s silver Range
Rover 4x4 parked nearby and gets in beside the staff driver, Yassin Azizi, an
easy-going young Arab with a bushy dark moustache, wearing smart western
clothes and smoking a cigarette.
Five minutes later the car is
moving down an avenue alongside the Armibar Central Plaza, a busy and
prosperous air conditioned shopping mall with life going on as though the city is
at total peace with itself.It is a
world and a culture away from where they have just been. Many of the women are confidently wearing fashionable Western clothes
and proudly flaunting expensive designer handbags. Were it not for the many men
bustling about in their neat white thawbs and patterned keffiyehs, it could be any flourishing business centre in the developed
Jackson spots a modern
glass-fronted bank and tells Yassin to pull over at the ATM. He inserts his card
and taps in the PIN. The card is rejected. Jackson angrily bangs the machine
with his fist and walks back to the car, watched with resignation by Yassin.
“Bloody banks!” mutters Jackson.
Yassin anticipates what will
happen next and already has his wallet out by the time Jackson gets back into
the passenger seat. He hands over a $50 note.
“Thanks,” says Jackson,
embarrassed that this is not the first time. “I’ll give it back when I get my
exes.” Yassin sighs but says nothing.
The car resumes the journey back
to the bureau. Jackson’s mobile phone rings. He sees on the screen that Pete is
calling. “Hi Pete!” There is no answer and the line goes dead. “Bloody phones,”
The car continues on its way,
both men remaining silent. Then, as they turn into the street lined with modern
brick office blocks where the bureau is situated, they spot the thirties-something
Anglo-Arab office manager, Samira Lang, at the front door. She simultaneously
sees the car and runs out onto the roadway, waving her hands furiously. Jackson
winds down his window. “Go back, go back,” Samira shouts. Jackson’s mobile
rings. It is Pete again.
“What’s the problem, Pete?” Jackson
listens briefly, then, “Okay. We’re on our way back now.” There is a Hollywood-style
squealing of tyres as Yassin does a fierce U-turn and speeds away.
Ten minutes later, Jackson is
back at the scene of the demonstration. It could not be more shockingly
different than when they left it such a short time ago. It is a blood bath.
Wounded and dead Arabs, both military and civilian, both male and female, are
lying in pools of blood on the road and in doorways. Soldiers are tensely lined
up, rifles raised and firing shots into the air, to keep back a gathering
crowd. There are sirens as police and military cars and ambulances arrive. Some
of the injured demonstrators are already in the back of private utility trucks
that charge away with headlights and horns blazing.
Jackson sees Pete filming from a
doorway and runs to him. Pete has blood running down his face. “What the fuck
Pete replies while continuing
filming. “The demo was infiltrated by militants just before you left.”
“Did you see them?” Jackson
“I guess I did.”
“Well, why the fuck didn’t you
“How the hell was I to know they
were carrying hidden guns and grenades?! They just looked like regular
demonstrators who’d turned up late. Anyway, mate, don’t blame me for your own
You shouldn’t have pissed off before you knew the story was really
over. You should know how sensitive everything is in this city.”
Jackson accepts that Pete is
right and that is how the acerbic bureau chief, Mack Galbraith, will also see
it. He knows he has to do something fast and drastic to salvage the situation. “C’mon.
Let’s not get into an argument, Pete, I need to know what you filmed?”
“Most of it, mate.”
“Thank Christ!” Jackson mutters.
Pete pauses to wipe the blood
from his face before adding caustically: “And thanks for asking how I am!”
“Sorry, Pete. What happened?”
“A ricochet off the wall just above
me when the troops opened fire on a guy who had appeared at a window with his
gun. It’s only a graze. I’ll be okay. But the guy at the window copped it.”
“Glad you weren’t badly hurt.”
Having expressed his concern,
even belatedly, Jackson is anxious to get back to the story. He nods towards
the CNN and Al Jazeera crews as they speed away. “How much did they get?”
“All of it, mate, and both Jane
and Omar were in the middle of doing their pieces-to-camera when it all blew
“Oh shit, shit, shit! Mack is
going to tear my balls off over this.”
Desperation is taking hold of Jackson.
“Look mate, I’ve really got to do a piece-to-camera.”
“That’s going to look a bit lame
at this stage, Jacko.”
“No it won’t. Run into that
derelict building over there, filming as you go, then turn the camera on me as
I run in after you.”
Pete hesitates. Jackson panics
as he sees his promising career coming apart before his eyes. “Do it, will you!
Just do as I say!”
The row begins to attract
bystanders, now that most of the wounded and bodies have been taken away. Pete
is embarrassed and runs without enthusiasm into the derelict building as
Jackson pauses then races after Pete as though competing in a
100-metre sprint. Once inside, he crouches down, catches his breath and begins
pouring out words to the camera:
started out today as a peaceful protest has turned violent. It…”
Jackson suddenly flinches and anxiously looks around before
resuming his report.
It isn’t quite clear why the protest turned into such a savage confrontation,
but there are many dead and wounded. This bloody event is sure to place additional
pressure on the Central Arabian Government, which has been facing serious
allegations of corruption and a weakness towards what is seen as the imperial
ambitions of Israel and Western governments.”
Jackson flinches again, looks around anxiously, pauses a few
seconds, then casually stands up and dusts himself down. “That should do the
trick, Pete. Let’s get this back to the office.”
As they return to the 4x4, Jackson fails to notice a small
heap of human excrement just inside the entrance to the building. He steps
right into it. He screws up his face and wipes his shoe clean on a tuft of
grass. “You could be in the shit in more than one way,” laughs Pete.
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