Edward Bartholemew took a moment. A long moment.
He allowed himself a moment to sit back and take in the scene before him. It was certainly familiar enough. The panelled dining room had been familiar to him as far back as he could remember.
Lined up either side in front of him were his guests for the night. His comrades in arms. His partners in crime. His fellow travellers.
Two hours earlier, they had all been gleaming in their white tie and tails. Suited and booted. Dressed to kill. Now? Well, not so much. Ties were hanging loose and tailored jackets were carelessly tossed. The six white faces were brick red and shining. The four black faces were black and shining. The table was strewn with empty bottles.
They were men in their prime and gone to seed at the same time. Their adbsurd collective wealth shouted itself from the rooftops in the form of ridiculously expensive formal wear and stretched waistbands.
He had travelled the longest road with three of them. All the way back to fourteen years old and the public school which had prepared them to lord it over an Empire which no longer existed. They had started out as the bullied and the buggered before completing a centuries old rite of passage to become bullies and buggerers themselves. Two more of the faces had joined his life at Oxford. Days of blind drunk vandalism in evening wear and the joys of designer dumb girls from the backwoods served up by the secretarial colleges.
Five true blue Englishmen cut from the finest of cloth.
And four coal black men of the Dark Continent.
Christ. So many moons ago there were too many to count. And now they were all right here, right now. Red faced and loud in the midst of the ancient bricks and timbers of Bartholemew Hall.
Outside the window, the last gasp of the June sun was turning the rolling hills of Gloucestershire all kinds of crimsons and purples. Darkness was quietly swallowing his 1200 acres of fields and hedgerows.
Just like it had every night for nearly five hundred years.
And slowly his gaze came to rest on the portrait straight in front of him. Just like always. Just like when he was four and ten and twenty five and forty eight.
The founder of everything. The man who had first forged the silver spoon which had been passed from mouth to mouth over the rolling centuries.
He wasn't distracted by the frilly collar or the flowing wig. He was past that. Instead he stared deep into the long dead eyes of Issac Bartholemew.
For after all, here was the men who had changed everything. Issac had been a farmer of modest acreage and modest wealth. Comfortable enough, but a country mile from any kind of fast lane. Just about worthy of being called a squire.
And then the time had come when Issac had no otion but to choose a horse. Where should he hang his modest flag? With the King? Or with the upstart?
He chose Cromwell and the rest was history. His side won and he was duly rewarded with a tripling of his estate and bag of cash. And then he made his big move. The move which sent the Bartholemews of Gloucestershire all the way to the fast lane. He took his bag of cash and bet the whole lot on a quarter share in a slave ship headed out from Bristol to the Gold Coast.
His ship didn't succumb to either tropical storms or pirates. Instead it made it all the way to Barbados and back, and Issac duly doubled his pot of gold and he went on doubling it and doubling it again for the rest of his life. And so the train was set in motion.
Issac's son built Bartholemew Hall and aquired another 400 acres whilst at the same time riding the money making wave of the slave trade for all it was worth.
Issac's great grandson took a hundred years worth of accumulated wealth and used it to start up a bank under the family name. And for 250 years Bartholemews had plied a discreet trade from modest accommodation in the heart of the gilded square mile of the City of London.
Edward had taken up the seat of power at the age of 45 having learned the tricks of the family trade with all due diligence. 2003. Boom time. The New Labour love in with the City was running on full.
It was two years later when he had the chance to make like Issac and take his very own great leap forward.
One February morning. Grey outside. A thin rain. And a ten o'clock appointment vouched for by Digger Hyde-Barnes.
Nicky. Nicky short for Nicolai. Nicky, all dandied up by big bucks spent on Saville Row and exuding bucketloads of easy Russian charm. Nicky who had been a rising star of the KGB before the rotton roof of the Soviet Union had come crashing down. Nicky who had become the acceptable face of those who were pillaging Russia all the way down to the light sockets. Nicky who took a 1% commission to move the dark money into places of safety. Nicky who offered Bartholemews the key of the riches of the Wild East. Nicky who had done his homework on Edward Bartholemew who went by 'Fast Eddie' in the corridors and the boardrooms of the City.
It had been love at first sight. And the millions had rolled through Bartholemews to Jersey and the Isle of Man and all the way to the old slave islands of the Caribbean where Issac had built his fortune all the way back in the day.
Russian money enabled Bartholemews to glide easily through the Great Crash of 2007. And Nicky moved his gaze south to the dirty money of Africa.
By 2016, Fast Eddie Bartholemew was 56 and rich enough as to have no idea what he would ever spend his money on. And yet there was still an itch inside him. An itch for one last big move. One last big play.
And like a one, two from Mohammad Ali, it came to him. One. A conspiratorial Alex bursting with news hot off the Moscow presses. A tale so bizarre it was hard to believe. Contacts in the Kremlin. Polls from under the radar which made a 'Leave' vote look more than likely. The heft and weight of the St Petersberg cyber kings thrown behind Farage and Johnson and their motley crew.
"For fuck's sake, Eddie. You ask me why? How can you ask me why? Your silly little country has 72 Trident missiles pointed at our cities. You think we like that? You think we're happy about that? Come on. Brexit will break Britain in half. Of course it will. What's there not to like? So why wouldn't we mobilise our army of unwashed, acne ridden geeks to nudge the Brexiters across the finish line"
Alex laid out the Kremlin's view of the long game. The UK was a fast aging country which had come to rely on cheap, free moving labour to keep the wheels turning. Could London even function without all those minimum wage cleaners and bin men and teachers and nurses living three to a room and sleeping in shifts? Could it fuck. And the Kremlin always played the long game better than anyone else.
So Fast Eddie bet 20% of the bank's net worth on shorting the pound in June 2016 and once again he won big. He won huge.
But that wasn't the thing. The thing came a few weeks later as the early Autumn sum made the ripening fields of Gloucestershire wheat a rolling sea of gold.
He was cracking a boiled egg when his eyes were caught by the stare of Issac Bartholemew from his place on the wall. And all of a sudden the pieces had fallen into place for his big play.
His huge play.
His very own long game.
The biggest play any Bartholemew had made since Issac had hitched his wagon onto Cromwell's runnaway train.
Fast Eddie started making his plans to re-enter the old family business. A few days later, he punted his plans to Alex and all but popped the Muscovite's eyes out. And the Muscovite liked the plans. The Muscovite loved the plans.
In early 2017, a new company was quietly registered in the Brietish Virgin Isles and the ball was duly set rolling. A network of off shore connections umbically hooked the BVI mother to it's respectable offspring.
Dexter and Barnes London Plc.
Middle of the road. Unassuming. Reliable. Trustworthy. Laden with Directors of unimpeachable credentials. A balance sheet to make any accountant drool. MBE's and knighthoods littering the letterhead.
The best lobbying money could buy was duly engaged and ten years worth of patient drip, drip was delivered into the ears of Ministers of the Crown. And as the 2020's rolled by, Fast Eddie and Alex were proved right as almost every British institution started to fall apart due to lack of enough young people to make anything happen.
Not enough of anyone. Teachers and nurses and prison officers and bin men and fruit pickers and cleaners and coffee servers. The pound crashed, the economy fell into a permanant recession and Dexter and Barnes London Plc bided its time.
In 2031 the moment arrived. The House of Coomons voted by a majority of 234 to allow the importation of agency workers from all corners of the earth to clean the streets and pick the fruit for £2 per hour so long as they were housed in appropriate compounds and stayed for no longer than three years.
For years, Dexter and Barnes London Plc had been quietly buying up large, seemingly worthless post industrial properties at the rock bottom of the market. And now all the patient investment paid off as they exploded into life. They were first through the gates and then some.
Within two years, they had over a million Nigerians on tens of thousands of payrolls. Ten hours a day for £20 to send back home plus a dormitory bed and three meals per.
50p per hour commission for Dexter and Barnes London Plc. Half a million an hour. Five million a day. Clean and clear.
Within eighteen months the United States, Canada and Australia had followed London into the new, era and Dexter and Barnes London Plc was the market leader in every one. The EU fought to stay aloof until German pressure forced them into the club, and soon Dexter and Barnes London Plc ruled the roost all the way from the Med to the Baltic.
20 million Nigerians earning Dexter and Barnes London Plc £10 million an hour gross. Over £100 million a day.
More and more every day. And still they had a pool of 350 million Nigerians with an average age of 16 to fish in. 40 million souls? Piece of cake. 60 million? My dear chap, there's a queue at our door and the queue is a thousand miles long.
Fast Eddie and his guests had become the richest men in the world. They were the new masters of a new universe which had reverted back to old school rules.
Fast Eddie Bartholemew slowly rose to his feet wearing a trademark smile. He brought the old room to silence with a tapped spoon on a crystal glass.
"Gentlemen. Friends. It has been twenty years. The ride of our lives, don't you think? And here we all are. Older. Wiser. And a fucking site richer. So I would like you raise your glasses. A toast to my inspiration and my mentor. A toast to the man on the wall who set the ball rolling. Gentlemen, I give you our trailblazer. Issac Bartholemew. Gentlemen, I give you 'what goes around, comes around'."