I started this book a while back and even attempted to give the idea to Malcolm Gladwell. No dice as Malcolm was busy but his secretary did reply.
The premise is simple. There is a casino in Qatar where unlimited stakes are available. Nations can gamble their entire economies if they wish.
There are five table table games (roulette, blackjack, poker, craps and baccarat). Five nations, among others pony up. There are also five individualized back-stories. Whatever happens in the casino that night changes the lives of those people forever. A metaphor for real life?
And here is what I've done so far. I hand it over for anyone who has the time and the desire to write this properly! An idea is worth 5% so that's what I'd like if ever published!
Approximately three miles north of Doha city centre, Qatar, there lies a palace of exceptional pulchritude. Those fortunate enough to view it from a mile away have their breath taken away. Welcome to the Diwan Emiri Palace. But you are not welcome. Visitors are strictly prohibited even though the various artefacts and golden sculptures are enough to feed the eyes and mouths of the world.
Protected like an old fort, a moat is present in the form of an oasis. There is no portcullis but since no one makes it to the gates without permission – no need. If you had a strong pair of binoculars or a personal NASA satellite, you may be able to make out the separate rooms. Sometimes, his highness, Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani resides there. Hamad arrives by helicopter; rides from room to room on his Segway; and will often take his private yacht out for trips. Hamad remembers that one must conquer by air, land and sea.
The Segway must be docked at the top of a forty feet flight of stairs. These steps lead to a place which many within the palace have never laid eyes on. A place so secret neither Hamad’s wives nor twenty three of his twenty four children have even peeked inside. Only two other Qataris have entered besides the cleaning staff and those who built it - Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Muhammad Al Thani – the serving Prime Minister of Qatar; and the Emir’s son Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Crown Prince of Qatar. Their names appear alike as the ruling family in Qatar are all descended from the ‘Al Thani’ family which itself was born out of the Banu Tamim.
The Emir (Sheik Hamad) has a good relationship with both his heir (Tamim) and country’s Prime Minister (Hamad bin Jassim); not least strengthened by the goings-on in this very room.
Sheik Hamad walks over to the retina scanner located within a panel which can only be activated using his palm. He enters a room so preposterously adorned, he is almost ashamed. He knows that its contents could go some way to solving poverty in sub-Saharan Africa but also understands that it is needed. Money is power; and the exudation of the latter leads to more power. Then why, he asks himself, does no one else see this room. سيفعلون – ‘They will’.
His Eminence is granted access and takes in his surroundings. Straight ahead, $250 million dollars’ worth of painting hangs on the wall. A Cezzane – The Card Players. An oil canvas paid for by a country which owes its fortune to the original source. The irony is lost on Sheik Hamad who stares intently at the masterpiece. He didn’t bid for it himself but was instrumental in its coming to Qatar. No budget was assigned for the Cezzane previously owned by the shipping magnate George Embiricos. G.P.S. a high-class intermediary bidding service were instructed to bring the painting to Qatar by all means necessary. They managed this after a brief battle with two art collectors, William Acquavella and Larry Gagosian.
Sheik Hamad studies the painting as usual, marvelling at both its simplicity and complexity. His second wife, Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned once commented “what is all the fuss about?”, but she could never understand without seeing it up close. It was in fact their eldest daughter Sheikha Mayassa who had championed the idea of bringing history’s greatest paintings to Qatar. This particular painting was the embodiment of Qatar’s history and future progress. Two ensconced gentlemen are playing cards but interestingly only look at their own hand. Qatar is not concerned with other nations’ wealth. Qatar is destined to be the richest country and to do this must simply worry about its own accumulation. Sheik Hamad can even see a slight resemblance between himself and the left player, though he is French.
Sheika Mayassa did not care to look at the artwork. Sheik Hamad however had plans for his hideaway. On the north wall, Cezanne’s rival, Edvard Munch was competing for the attention of the room. The Scream in pastel was purchased for a mere $137 million, including dealer fees, but is actually the better creation in its owner’s eyes. Ah – if only Munch had made just one. Then it would be on par with the Mona Lisa.
The western wall is not nearly as holy as its namesake since it holds a modern creation - Mark Rothko’s White Center. Sheik Hamad believes this to be the worst of the four buys since $72.8 million was paid, but it has a place on the wall. Whilst Qatar should only care about its own progress, the Western World will be present for the foreseeable future. This painting, he was told by Mayassa, is sensual and spiritual. There is unity and discord. Sheik Hamad is an intelligent man and thinks these descriptions are nonsense. Nevertheless, this pipped Bacon’s Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X as the latter image might scare those who view it.
You will not believe the painting framed on the eastern wall - the holiest of the four. Sheik Hamad can hardly believe it himself. The fact that the world does not know the painting was ever sold is a testament to his unwillingness to show his wares. He is satisfied with having brought the pinnacle of the art world to Qatar. When Sheik Hamad met with François Hollande, an offer was made which couldn’t be refused. $7 billion. Enough for 60 hospitals, a meal of some sorts for every person in the world or, more extravagantly, 1750 Bugati Veyron 16.4 Super Sports (the world’s most expensive car). Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece which took three years to paint, Mona Lisa was in the building.
The room has five tables, each made entirely of gold. The purity of the gold cannot be questioned. Not only are they 999.96 Tola-stamped gold bars, they are imprinted with the seal of Sheik Hamdan himself. The gold was approved by the Central Bank of Qatar’s governor – Abdallah bin Saud Al Thani.
These tables are where the action takes place. Speaking of which, there are private bedrooms yet to be slept in, accessed only through secret passages.
For this is the world’s most exquisite, underground casino ever built. Only these three men have ever used it but not for long. Soon its doors would open to a group of selected heavy-hitters who would make Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods look like two school-kids playing ‘penny up the wall’.
Of course she wanted to be a figure skater for as long as she could remember. Svetty’s mother had planted the seed along with a diamante-encrusted pair of skates for her fourth birthday. Svetty, as she was referred to by all, no longer knew if skating was her passion – she had been brainwashed. There were some aspects she enjoyed but Svetty danced to her mother’s tune. And yet, Harriet Rukasenkova could never afford the luxury she wanted, nay, needed her daughter to enjoy. Her daughter had shown some promise on the local lakes in Omsk during the winter, the ice on which was so thick, even a cautious mother needn’t have worried – and nurture had taken its course.
Svetty, at the age of thirteen had grown to five feet nothing. With a short-haired bob and unfortunate, slightly man-ish features, she did not attract too much attention from the local anything. But as a skater, Svetty was something. No, Svetlana Rukazenkova was a prodigy – a blind Beethoven; Red Rum found in a field; or Kim Peek – the original rainman. Without a single paid hour of coaching, Svetty could figure skate for Russia. Her triple-axel was so graceful, the particles of ice, shaved off by the blades, spoke to each other and softly collapsed on the ice, laying the groundwork for a soft landing.
Svetty, with her mother controlling even her thought process, dreamed of skating for her country. But no matter how many hours her father clocked in the local steel mill, there would never be enough roubles. Competitions cost money. They were free of charge, open to all but one needed the gear. A streamlined lycra body-suit cost two days’ wages; a coach twenty days; and international travel cost two hundred. Svetty and her mother knew she had what it took because on the one occasion people had flocked to their village in Omsk for a local rally, the crowd had been mesmerised. The literal meaning. People were walking into each other and even slipping over. But Svetty didn’t. However, the local fame never spread, particularly because Harriet never asked for help. She would never beg for anything even if it was a means to an end. People would watch the girl be flipped in the air by an imaginary partner unsure if they were watching skating, dance or gymnastics. In fact, they were watching all three. With no television and therefore moves to mimic, Svetty invented her own bag of tricks – difficulty rating infinity. In fact, one particular movement had never even been attempted in international competition. Skating at full-pace, Svetty leaned forward with her left arm outstretched, right behind her back and front-flipped, landing on her left leg, bring the right down fast as if about to attempt a back-somersault. The force generated would ordinarily lead to a loss of balance but Svetty would ride it out every time. She had to. It was pretty dangerous – and Harriet was watching.
Svetty existed but she could hardly say she’d lived, not that she was prone to talking about her feelings. Home schooled by Harriet, who only had basic Russian grammar and mathematics herself, Svetty felt herself questioning her mum’s interpretation of the cold war. Whilst her mother was patriotic, she lacked any real knowledge and Svetty’s imaginary grades began to drop. But her skating ability improved at a similar rate.
The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was the goal. She would be in her prime age-wise though experience-wise, some foetuses had more exposure to competitive skating. Talent aside, it would take a series of improbable events for Harriet’s goal (for her daughter) to be realised. Meanwhile, the first component was already in transit.
On a typically frozen summer morning in 2013, a slender, well groomed man got off the train at Omsk station. He had seven bosses ahead of him and was therefore nobody special in the sports agency world. Ruslan Timoshenko - part Russian, part Uzbek from the new era was a young man who knew almost nothing about ice-skating. However, a gambler by pastime, Ruslan was always willing to take a risk. A man from Svetty’s home town, Magomed Adiev, had travelled to Vladikavkaz, where Ruslan lived and they quickly became friends. The man spoke for hours about his ‘billion rouble ideas’ but as of yet nothing had come to fruition.
‘I’ve been keeping this one back Rusty this whole time’, Magomed said with an almost flirtatious smile.
‘Go on Mag. What is it this time? A bullet-proof vest that is a duvet and a portable tent? Maybe you’ve improved on your pen-umbrella combination? Time Travel? Oooo I hope it’s time travel!
‘You sarcastic son of a whore. I’m helping you out here.’
‘Ok! I’m listening. Hit me.’
‘Svetlana Rukasenkova. I know for a fact you’ve never heard of her. No one has. She’s a figure skater from my own town. I know I am prone to exaggeration but I think she could be, or already is the greatest skater the world has ever seen.’
‘Tell me more.’ Rusty was genuinely intrigued.
‘You can see for yourself. I know where she’ll be and at what time.’
‘Are you stalking her?!’
‘Don’t be so stupid. Svetty and her mother Harriet are on the lakes every single day without fail, honing her craft. There is what you might call a local buzz but this my friend is an untapped resource. Go over there and see for yourself.’
‘I actually work with one figure skater. More trouble than she’s worth. That bitch is sleeping with her coach and wants to earn for the both of them. Only problem is, she’s useless. Got a bronze three years ago but there’s more chance of me getting one this year!’
There was a silence as both men began to day-dream.
‘And what would you like for this tip my friend?’
‘A five percent finder’s fee on all future earnings. Nothing up front. A modest request wouldn’t you say.
‘I’m not going to haggle with you. But if she turns out to be a three-legged swine, I’m billing you for half my expenses. There is no way my bosses will sanction this trip on their dime.’
‘Best to leave your company out of this altogether. She doesn’t need a management team – just you. You won’t be wanting to share any of her future profits when she becomes a global superstar.’
‘What does she look like?’
‘She’s no oil painting.’
‘This sounds like a disaster.’
‘Take a punt.’
‘You know I will’
‘Which is why I came to you. Good luck and remember. Go easy with the mother. She’s a little bit prickly. She needs help but doesn’t like charity.’
Ruslan, from the (relatively) warm comfort of his two bedroom apartment in Kirovsk, St Petersburg, had done some extra research on ice-skating. He had compiled a list of extremely difficult manoeuvres to test this apparent prodigy.
‘I’ve never heard of it’, Harriet replied when asked if her daughter could perform a Toeless Lutz. After brief introductions which included a glass of hot water and a tasteless biscuit, the three of them had walked from their barn to the ‘rink’.
‘Well it’s a well-recognised move in competitions.’
‘Explain it to me and Svetlana will do it. 100%.’
Ruslan proceeded to explain the steps involved. Before he could finish, Svetty backed away like any professional skater would do and performed Ruslan’s instruction to absolute perfection followed by her signature front-flip into a triple axel.
Ruslan, not one for messing about simply stated ‘I’ve seen enough’ and motioned for Harriet to move inside for grown-up discussions. Harriet had braced herself for this day but knew she wasn’t in a position to make outrageous demands. This man could walk away and it might be another ten years before someone else arrived with the power to make things happen. She would let him talk.
‘Here is my offer…’ Ruslan was a good man and this was going to be a cheap buy. There was no need to play hardball.
‘I will take Svetlana to St Petersburg and she will stay in a hotel for a month. During this time, she will participate in a series of minor trials. If she’s good enough, which appears to be the case, she will go for the national trials to secure a place on the Olympic team. For this part, you should be there also. I will pay Svetlana 5000 roubles per week, until she begins to earn herself, and take care of expenses. What she chooses to do with the money is her choice. The contract is valid for a minimum of five years and I receive 20% of all earnings. After I stop paying Svetlana a salary, it is clearly in my interest for her to earn money from competitions. What do you say?’
‘I say that we should ask Svetty. Svetty!! Come here!’
Harriet outlined the terms with clear pressure for Svetlana to accept the terms. Within an hour, Ruslan and Svetlana were on their way to Kirovsk.
‘I feel free’, Svetlana beamed.
‘It’s a bit of a prison there I must say.’
‘You wouldn’t even believe it. I haven’t had a good meal since father died. He used to make the most beautiful Solyanka!’
‘I’m sorry about that but we’ll soon fix that. I know a very nice steak place!’
Each playing card in the deck cost $20,000. With 52 cards, the set was worth over a million dollars. A painter XXXXX specialising in fine materials, used lapis lazuli extract to cover each gold plated card. The set took four months to complete and would be carried over in person from XXXX to the palace.
Thombi Gemima lived in a place which many more privileged people would deem a shithole. In fact, the garden contained the only toilet and it was far from pleasant. Thombi knew no better life but he didn’t enjoy a good shit like he used to. Now there were at least 17 different diseases filling the ether waiting to pounce. Thombi knew enough biology to know what food produced faeces more regularly. XXXX, a known constipation-enforcer, became his favourite food.
Mafeteng, Lesotho is one of the poorest places on earth within civilisation. Ok, so Thombi’s family grew their own food, had one rabbit and just enough shelter for normal night’s sleep; but what he didn’t have was hope. Life was a prison sentence as money had no way of entering Thombi’s household bar a miracle. Thombi’s father, Chista, was a drunk, a proper drunk. He brewed his own moonshine called ‘Joala’ in Gerry cans and washed away his troubles every day. Chista wasn’t wasting the family money as none existed. Thombi used to watch his dad stumble back their house and actually feel a little jealousy. Whilst Thombi went to school, university was an impossibility. Therefore, he was learning enough to know there was a better world out there but he had neither the resources nor the know-how to exit the wilderness. Chista was wasting his life but Thombi would be him in 25 years, just less inebriated.
But hopes and dreams are different. A hope necessitates a realistic chance of a particular event in the future happening. If it happens, great, if not, so be it. A dream is far more unrealistic. It will inevitably never be achieved but for some reason it hurts all the more. Thombi used to dream of a force dragging him away from this waste of life.
Thombi’s mother had to suffer many woes, not least her aforementioned drunkard of a husband. She loves her five children equally but there was something different about Thombi. There was at least a possibility of him making it out the ghetto. Lole prayed every night to the being she believed to be god that Thombi would save her family from total despair. Eating the same food over and over again (millet and plantain) had naturally taken its toll on her health and her willingness to go on. People often say that you don’t need money to be happy. But the people saying are either rich or are infinitely rich when compared to the Gemima family. The tables in life and fucking tilted. The Gimamas happened to be born on the wrong side of the world. If one of Lole’s ancestors had got on the right boat or one of Chista’s bloodline had walked one extra mile and joined the army, life may have been different.
Thombi jogged home from school as was his wont. Best to keep fit just in case that dream of going for an Olympic run came true. In his way were three large guys around his age in his path. Thombi had to slow down as he was going to collide with at least one them; they were holding firm like a good rugby defence or a police car-chase trip wire. But stopping was his mistake. This gave the three hoodlums the time to surround Thombi who hadn’t the slightest idea of why they would want to attack him. The first shot he blocked with forearms but he held the motion for two long. The largest lad swung full force and landed flush in Thombi’s ribs. Standing at 6”1 and weighing in a shade under 200 (though he’d never weighed himself), the force was not enough to bring him down. It was his own weight that cost him though. The smallest boy leg-swept him and connected shin to heel.