by michel BESSY
(PORTES LES VALENCE,france)
Not far from the scottish border,nestled in a narrow valley,was one of the most modern factories in the world.
It was at the cutting edge of technological progess and few people actually knew what was manufactured there. Access was systematically checked and the place was regularly patrolled by armed guards with Alsatian dogs. Inside there were no more than 40 people on the staff and their job was to operate and maintain state of the art machines and robots.
That morning Mr JONES,the manager of the firm was feeling nervous and churlish. David CAMERON,the UK prime minister, in person, was to visit the premises.
At 9 am sharp he arrived flanked by two stern looking bodyguards.They shook hands and without any further delay started on a close inspection of the factory. David CAMERON was impressed by what he saw and kept asking questions that Mr JONES readily answered.
At 11 am, the prime minister,satisfied,congratulated Mr JONES and decided it was time to go. As he was heading to the door,he suddenly turned back and asked: "by the way, before leaving I'd like to speak to Paul SCHMITT.
"The boss,nonplussed,scratched his head and said "I'm sorry SIR,but there is no Paul SCHMITT here! "Yes,yes,there is. Tell him I'm here.
The boss went to his office, consulted the register and, indeed, discovered that a certain Paul SCHMITT was well and truly on the staff.Then it all came back to him: SCHMITT was the new warehouse man. He had been employed the week before.
JONES gave a ring and a few minutes later a seedy looking man in dirty overalls entered the factory.He saw David CAMERON,ran up to him and they fell in each others arms. "Good old David!"
"My dear Paul,I haven t seen you for ages." And they started chatting about the bygone days of their youth. JONES, flabbergasted, heard them reminiscing about their school pranks, their girl friends, their drinking binges, slapping each other on the back, exchanging high fives, laughing out loud while the boss was stunned by such a great show of friendship.........Half an hour later,they finally parted,promising to meet again very soon.
Six months later,Vladimir POUTINE arrived in the UK for a 3 days official visit. After the press conference, CAMERON and his guest went to 10 Downing St. for an informal chat. Actually, both men knew each other well. They had both graduated from CAMBRIDGE the same year and since that time they had always been friends,kept in touch and met more or less secretly in the UK or in RUSSIA for generally boozy parties with beautiful escorts............
Vladimir,comfortably ensconced in his armchair,raised his glass of fine vodka....."Down the hatch!"..........They both emptied their glasses in one swallow, had a refill and joyfully clinked glasses.
"David,could you do me a favour?" "Go ahead,Vladimir." "You know that RUSSIA is still lagging behind economically. Most of our old state companies are dilapidated obsolete plants that would go belly up if they were not subsidized.
We can t keep all these lame ducks afloat!......I know for a fact that near the Scottish border,you've built the most profitable plant in the world thanks to revolutionary robots. I'd like to visit it".
"No problem,answered David CAMERON.I was about to suggest it, besides you'll never guess who works there" "Who ?" "Paul SCHMITT!" "Are you kidding?" "I m not!" And David picked up the phone to give instructions.
Two days later,Vladimir POUTINE and David CAMERON were on their way to the Scottish border. They were greeted by Mr. JONES who was at once tense and flattered to see such prestigious political figures and he gladly showed them around the factory.
POUTINE marvelled at the efficiency of the machines.......One hour later,they were ready to leave.......Suddenly POUTINE turned to JONES and said: "Thank you for your kind cooperation but before going I'd like to see Paul SCHMITT."
JONES couldn't believe his ears but managed to keep a straight face. He sent for Paul SCHMITT immediately. When Paul saw David CAMERON and Vladimir POUTINE his face beamed with pleasure.He walked up to POUTINE who greeted him with hugs and kisses.
David joined them and they all embraced one another. Then they started evoking a memorable weekend in Vladimir's datcha, Paul's unforgettable pranks, a marvellous goulash washed down with innumerable snifters of vodka.....JONES was transfixed, staring into the nothingness.
When, at last, CAMERON and POUTINE decided to leave,he had made up his mind to clear up the matter.
"Listen,Paul,he said. Being intimate with David CAMERON is quite extraordinary,you,a quiet unassuming warehouse man. If I hadn't witnessed it,I'd never have believed it. But being also intimate with Vladimir POUTINE,RUSSIA s strongman,ex KGB chief,is beyond my comprehension!...Some explanation is in order"...............
"Listen, boss, Paul SCHMITT replied. I know you're going to hit the roof but what you ve seen so far is only an appetizer! You know that next month, Pope BENOIT 15 will give the URBI et ORBI benediction from the balcony in ROME SAINT PETER SQUARE...wELL,I'll be standing on the balcony beside BENOIT 15".........".
"Tell that to the marines," JONES retorted, "you don't expect me to believe that,do you?.....OK,I've got to admit that what I've seen up to now is mind boggling,but what you re saying beats everything and nobody in his right mind can swallow it. Anyway,i don t intend to go to ROME.."
"Listen,what have you got to lose? I' ll book you on the flight to ROME...."
"OK,then, we'll eat in one of the finest trattoria in town and you ll pick up the bill!....."
One month later, both of them were in ROME...... It was overcast and the rain came down in a steady drizzle on the glistening pavestones of SAINT PETER SQUARE........A huge crowd was slowly massing despite the foul weather. There was an expectant look on each face.
At 10:30,all eyes turned to the balcony.....the french Windows swung open and BENOIT 15,all in white, appeared on the balcony. Next to him, a little man was whispering in his ear......PAUL SCHMITT!!!....
The 100,000 people broke into frantic applause..... At the same moment there was a blood curdling howl....Mr JONES had just had a heart attack and collapsed to the ground.
At once,somebody felt his pulse and administered artificial respiration.....JONES was alive but the heartbeats were slow and irregular. Soon an ambulance arrived and JONES was taken to the nearest intensive care unit....
In the meantime Paul SCHMITT was in the trattoria. To keep his spirits up, he had a good meal with a bottle of CHIANTI. Then he took a taxi to the hospital...... A nurse told him that only short visits were allowed......
He opened the door and tiptoed to the bed. JONES was on a drip. He was half asleep. Paul noticed he had a sallow complexion and deep circles Under his bleary eyes. He looked pretty dejected and shot him a glassy stare...
"How are you feeling,boss asked Paul SCHMITT?"
"I'm very sorry boss,you'll soon be OK. The doctors are optimistic and confident you'll soon recover. You just need rest...... Now,well,I did make it clear that i would be beside the pope..."
"I know,and actually,it didn't surprise me. But what was too much was when I heard an American just behind me,say in a loud voice.....BUT WHO IS THE GUY IN WHITE NEXT TO PAUL SCHMITT?"