Damian had to disappear completely. Any day now - perhaps within a matter of hours - they would finally close in on him and, if they did, that would mean prison for a very, very long time. There were but two options left open to him; to commit suicide or to vanish from the world.
When he first realised he was finished, Damian had contemplated the former - but only fleetingly. He had not built up his empire of sleaze and much, much worse over the last 30 years without being hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ruthless and determined. That powerhouse of resolve, albeit so misplaced, was not going to desert him now, when his back was against the wall. He would call on all his resourcefulness and sagacity to outwit his pursuers, even though it would mean abandoning everything and disappearing to somewhere he could never be found.
He wondered how it had come to this and remembered vividly when, where and how it had all started - in 1984, six and a half thousand miles away in Bedfordshire. Its inception was when Damian heard for the very first time - over the radio - a pop song then climbing the charts called “One night in Bangkok” with words spoken over the music by British singer Murray Head.
Damian didn’t know back then that the song had been written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from the mega-group Abba and by award winning lyricist Tim Rice. He was only vaguely conscious that some of the lyrics related to the game of chess and that the record was from a concept album called “Chess” (within two years to become a stage musical). What fascinated Damian then as a full-blooded young man in his mid-twenties were the references in the song to Bangkok’s vibrant and exciting atmosphere, nightlife and sexually charged, seemingly perpetually available girls! It sounded so unlike anything he had experienced in his own country; not even in the capital city of London where, by then, much of the (by comparison, harmless) fun of Soho had been regulated almost out of existence. The song lyrics seemed to reach out to Damian and beckon him to visit Bangkok and to explore.
Taking three week’s break from his job in the City of London, Damian did just that and it was this initial and satisfyingly exhausting exploration which ultimately lead to exploitation - by him and his cohorts. Back then, Damian had immediately identified that some of Bangkok’s more risqué and outlandish practices could be exported to his home country where there was clearly an appetite for such. Within a year he had given up his job, called in numerous favours from his less than salubrious associates and, armed with a number of false passports courtesy of a lifelong and very bent schoolfriend, he was regularly flying to and from the Far East bringing girls illegally into the United Kingdom for all manner of sexual exploitation.
In short, Damian had become what we now refer to as a “human trafficker” and as the seemingly endless opportunities opened up before him and the money continued rolling in, the edge he had already secured remained one step ahead of his increasing number of rivals as the business started to diversify and expand into other aspects of human misery: extortion, drugs, money-laundering, forced labour, forced marriages and even, eventually, the horrendous practice of human organ extraction.
It was Damian’s rivals who were by far the biggest problem in keeping his burgeoning and completely illegal business empire from the clutches of the law. Of course all kinds of transactions had taken place over the year with the lawkeepers and right up to the highest levels in various Governments, to curry favours and to ensure the turning of numerous blind eyes or to report or investigate matters in a particular way, benefitting both the individuals themselves and Damian. What, however, was always difficult to control was infiltration into his organisation by members of rival firms or defection of his own employees to competitors or, Damian’s worst fear, infiltration by the police or trafficking squad or drugs squad members. Over time a number of individuals within his organisation who discovered too much or who had threatened to spill the beans had disappeared in mysterious circumstances and, a few years earlier when things were looking more than a little shaky, Damian had found it less dangerous (and somewhat more lucrative) to base the centre of his operations in Malaysia.
However, he was now at the end of the road. The last two years had seen excessive pressure mounting from every side, vast sums of money leeching out of the organisation to help it stay propped up and more police raids on some of his many premises, leading to more convictions of the smaller fry across his empire, resulting in unprecedented levels of risk of exposure. Damian had already seen, through a duplicitous lawyer in his pay, some of the enormous weight of evidence being accumulated against him personally and he knew from multiple sources that the net was closing in tightly and rapidly. If he did not act immediately, there would soon be no escape.
This was why he had to vanish - and pronto. He had ascertained from his own informers that his luxury penthouse apartment in Kuala Lumpur was being watched. He was equally sure that his main downtown centre of operations - accessed through a false office building by way of an underground tunnel to a cleverly disguised basement in another unextraordinary office building a block away - was similarly under surveillance.
Accordingly, Damian put into effect the first phase of his pre-prepared escape plan. Still commanding influence and having access to substantial remaining funds, Damian was able to engineer a major diversionary incident adjacent to his apartment block in the late evening, staging a vehicle accident involving a collision into a shop front which immediately set alarms sounding up and down the street and the electricity fluctuating. At that exact second, when Damian knew the watchers would be distracted, the occupant of the flat immediately below his penthouse slipped out of the street door and into the shadows. He was in Damian’s employ and was to be a pawn in the game which had now been set underway.
Damian, having already slipped down the stairs to the flat below and changed into identical shorts, tee shirt and baseball cap as the occupant who had just slipped away, now took that person’s place. He emerged from this lower flat on to its balcony, peering down at the commotion going on in the street below. If the watchers had returned their temporarily diverted gaze back to the building, they would have seen this man emerge and, after a while, go back inside again. They would also have seen, just a minute or so later, Damian himself appear on the balcony of his own penthouse above. What they had not seen was Damian frantically rushing upstairs and covering his clothes with a second outfit, the one he had made sure he had been seen in earlier on in the day. Thus, to any observer, both apartments appeared to be occupied as normal.
In due course lights were switched on and off in the two apartments at various times, Damian controlling all this unseen by scurrying internally down and up the internal staircase. His plan depended on the watchers focussing primarily on his own apartment rather than being particularly interested in the one below and late the following morning he appeared on his own balcony to take in the already bright day and to perform a couple of ostentatious stretches. When he was sure the observers would have seen him and noted what he was wearing, he went back inside, dashed down the stairs, opened the curtains of the flat below to indicate continued occupancy there and shortly afterwards emerged at the street door ready to hail a taxi. Whether he was followed he cared not but in due course he arrived at his operations centre and spent the afternoon gathering and destroying various incriminating papers and issuing final instructions to his operatives.
Shortly before seven o’clock, anybody undertaking surveillance on the downtown door where Damian entered earlier would have seen him emerge and hail one of Kuala Lumpur’s distinctive red and blue cabs back to his apartment, where soon he stepped on to the balcony to sit and sip at a beer. As the Malaysian darkness fell on that evening of 7 March 2014, he went back inside and turned on some of the apartment lighting. Lights also started appearing on the streets and in buildings all over the city and the watchers may also have casually noticed lights appearing in the flat below Damian’s own dwelling. This was again down to one person playing two roles, moving quickly between the two apartments to retain the impression of dual occupancy. However, that person was not Damian, who - having emerged from his operations centre by a secret exit known only to him - was now speeding towards Kuala Lumpur International Airport!
Just as Damian had earlier played the part of the occupant of the flat below, so now it was the occupant of that lower apartment - disguised as Damian and wearing the same outfit as had been seen in the morning - who was now playing the part of Damian. It was this person who had been seen to return home and drink beer on the penthouse balcony but to the watchers, entirely unaware of the switch, nothing untoward had taken place. Their scrutiny continued with them unaware that the real Damian, now heavily disguised with a false beard and wearing a completely different outfit of clothes, had checked in at the airport.
Damian’s escape was about to take place right under the very noses of anybody who might be trying to keep tabs on him. He felt confidently relaxed at the airport and there was about him an air of settled completeness, knowing that he had done everything he could to eradicate his tracks and that his life was about to take on a new adventure. His aeroplane ticket was in order and his passport - completely false of course - had been checked and had passed muster without a second glance. All he had to do now was to wait for the flight to be called and then, once landed, he would be in a new country with a new identity, ready to gain access to funds already in place there and with all his worries over. He knew, from the final instructions he had issued, that his organisation would soon be dispersing and covering its own tracks. He knew too that, inevitably, some of his operatives would be caught in the tightening net but was confident that he, Damian, the head of the whole sordid show, the man who, thanks to the lyrics of a pop song 30 years earlier, had become a wealthy man on which so many lives had depended, was about to outwit the police of many countries. Damian was on the point of disappearing for ever.
Eventually, after a long wait keeping an eye on the departure screens, listening to the announcements and watching the passenger numbers gradually diminish as the evening wore on to midnight, he heard the announcement he was waiting for: “Passengers for Beijing, China please now board at Gate C1. I repeat, now boarding at Gate C1 - Malaysia Airlines flight MH370”.
As all the world knows, flight MH370 never made it to China. 40 minutes after take-off it disappeared completely from Air Traffic Control radar screens. To date, only a few small items of marine debris - which may or may not be connected to the aircraft - have been found.
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire July 2016