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connectionsbooks by Paul Stuart

Your entry to the Connections series

FOREWORD

     A philosophy professor stood in front of his students, having already placed some items on the desk in front of him. He waited for the stragglers to sneak in sheepishly, looked around the room to make sure he had the attention of all, and proceeded to pick up a large jar and fill it with stones, each measuring about six centimetres in diameter. He then asked the last student to arrive, just for the sake of embarrassment, whether the jar was full. The red faced student whispered that it was.

The professor smiled, picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the stones. He asked another student, who appeared to be distracted by texting on her mobile phone, whether the jar was now full. The student, without paying much attention, said that it was.

     The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. By this time, he had the attention of the entire audience. The sand, naturally, filled up everything else.

     “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognise this is your life. The stones are the important things, your family, your partner, your health, your children, things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there would be no room for the pebbles or the stones.

     The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, such as your mobile phone, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take care of your health, take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and deal with the rubbish. Take care of the stones first: the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

     I think that professor was on to something. We all make excuses for not doing things. We erect barriers. We all have everyday things to deal with and we allow them to become too important. It is far too easy for the trivial to overtake the crucial. How many mothers have you seen with a child in a pushchair totally engrossed in her mobile phone instead of interacting with her infant?

     It is also important that we actually do the things we really want to do. There isn’t really an acceptable reason for putting off doing something you’ve always wanted to do. There are only excuses. If the desire is strong enough, if the burning is there, you make time; you find the space.

I found the time and space to write my first book, but I had to remove the clutter, the excuses. I had to assess and change priorities and most crucially of all, I have had to rely on the people who matter to me most. They are the stones in my jar and I hope they know who they are.

     Just to make you smile, one of the professor’s students strolled to the front of the room, picked up the jar full of stones, pebbles and sand and proceeded to pour a can of beer into it. Of course, the beer soaked the sand and filled any remaining spaces within the jar, making it truly full. He turned to his fellow students and said, “no matter how full your life is, there is always room for beer.”

     I wonder whether life’s experiences have changed his priorities?

PROLOGUE

OUT WITH THE OLD: IN WITH THE NEW.

     Ray Quinn was a patient man, but even he had been sorely tested. He was looking for whatever Sandy Lane had left secretly hidden at The Exford White Horse Inn and he was convinced that Quentin Legard was involved in some way. The highest authority in the land had interrupted his quest by seeking his assistance on another issue. He had been given the highest possible clearance and complete freedom as to how he pursued the matter and he had delivered, in the face of enormous odds.

     But it had stalled his quest and he knew he needed to complete his search for the file which had been secreted by his old foe, Sandy Lane. He had promised himself that he would pursue it as soon as he had completed his current task. He hadn’t realised at the outset, of course, that it was all inextricably linked. Finally, Quentin Legard, before his unfortunate rendezvous with the Atlantic Ocean, had inadvertently led him to the file.

And so it was that Ray Quinn was able to hand all the material to the Prime Minister. He was relieved to be rid of the burden.

     “Do you know what is in this?” asked the politician.

     Before Quinn could frame a reply, the Prime Minister continued.

     “Please don’t answer that, Mr. Quinn. It would put you in an invidious position and you don’t deserve that. If anybody wants to know, I’ll tell them that I didn’t ask you. Put it down to my oversight.”

     “I understand,” Quinn affirmed.

    He decided it was best not to say anything more at that moment, so he restricted himself to a knowing smile as he handed over the document. It contained a transcript from the listening device delivered by Books and the second section, the necessary adjunct to the document, which had been hidden by Sandy Lane in a secret place at The White Horse Inn at Exford, in the heart of Exmoor. The final pieces of the jigsaw. Lane had come into possession of the first section of the explosive document as a result of arresting a terrorist in an apparently unrelated operation. The arrested terrorist had stolen it from a well-known philanthropist, who was trusted by both sides and was acting as an intermediary between them. The document had been offered up to enable the terrorist and the members of his group to be given softer treatment by the British. It listed plans to co-ordinate attacks by various terrorist groups as a concerted effort. The heart of Exmoor had become the heart of existence of the country itself.

     By itself, the first section was bad enough but the second section, together with the transcript, now also being held so carefully by the Prime Minister, confirmed details, descriptions, e-mail addresses, Facebook and Twitter information, other more secret information, even simple details such as phone numbers, and, most crucially, locations of the nation’s most wanted terrorists and their sponsors. It also gave a list of future targets, both human and otherwise. Now complete, the document was, quite literally, dynamite on a world-wide scale. It possessed the power to unseat governments, send establishment figures to jail or their deaths, send nations and movements to war, cause massive and intractable political problems and much, much more. Quinn thought it could be so potent and could pose such a threat to stability that nobody would have the fortitude to use it for the common good.

     The Prime Minister held the file with a surprising gentleness of touch, as if it would explode.

     “Don’t worry, Ray,” the Prime Minister said, “I will use it appropriately. We cannot go on as we have.”

     Ray Quinn smiled again at the Prime Minister. Here, possibly, just possibly, at long last, was a leader who demanded respect, and Quinn recognized a kindred spirit. Once in a generation, maybe even less often than that, such a person came along. He shook hands with a firmness that both understood. There had grown a mutual respect between them. They held each other’s eyes for a lingering moment, before Quinn turned and left the room, and the service of his country.

     Her Majesty watched the exchange and smiled inwardly, still holding the ceremonial sword with which she had conferred Ray Quinn’s knighthood in complete secrecy in a small room hidden from public view. She sighed with gratitude and pleasure at the poignancy of the moment. If only there were more like him, she mused to herself.

     The only witnesses had been an extremely proud wife and an equally impressed Prime Minister.

     Quinn realised he had, almost by osmosis, become more of a case manager than the man of action he preferred to be. It was time to walk away. He took comfort from, and indeed was proud of, the fact that he was leaving a legacy. He had established a team that was built in his image.

Sir Raymond Quinn took his new title and his long-suffering wife to what she hoped would be a quiet retirement. Her hopes and reality would be different, she knew. Quinn, bless him, could never fully withdraw. Men like him never do. All she could realistically expect was that the interruptions to her Utopia would be few and far between.

     For his part, Frank, tried and tested friend, comrade in too many scrapes to recount, now took the reins of the ultra-secret unit and would only seek assistance from his old friend and mentor in extremis. He took responsibility for all Ray Quinn’s legacies, which included John Lomax, his wife Leanne, and her son Billy, who was now living in Australia. They had been involved in an earlier case, but there were still connections to the present. Tenuous links, maybe; they were there, nevertheless. He didn’t yet realise it, but they would now be needed. He would have to call in their debt and it would not be an easy assignment.

     Frank’s daughter, Emily, had already proved herself within the unit, and was now central to its success or failure. Complicated young woman though she undoubtedly was, she had a gift that training couldn’t instill. She was a person who didn’t think in straight lines. She had an uncanny ability to find the small things, the important minutiae that turned things around. Books, a recent addition to the team after their previous case, brought his own particular brand of street cunning and knowledge. He had graduated from being a young street pick pocket to a fast maturing, clever operator, with a toughness that Frank admired and needed in the team. His disposal of Quentin Legard over the Atlantic Ocean proved that.

     All in all, a small and very effective elite team had been put together. It was about to be tested to its limits as body parts start springing up all over the place and the illegal arms trade exercised its insidious, far-reaching, secretive and deadly influence. Ray Quinn and Frank supervise from a distance as Emily’s special gift is stretched to its limit and her fragility is exposed. Books must step up, but is he up to the task? And all the time the relationship between them develops. Love is in the air, just to complicate matters.