At a barracks in Wiltshire, two squaddies stood, side by side, leaning against the red brick wall of their luxury accommodation, chewing wateracco. or ''waccy'', as it was known. As they were of age, they were ''legal'' as far as real tobacco was concerned, but the price was prohibitive, even despite their six-figure salaries. Only the very wealthy could afford to smoke these days – and as it was now illegal everywhere except on open water, only rich playboy, yacht-owning types and frequent cruisers had kept up the habit.
Thankfully, the new Health Minister had recently approved, and was even encouraging, the use of this new watercress ''tobacco''. It tasted good, had no, as yet, discernible ill effect on health, and was not as physically addictive as the real thing. Sure, it turned the teeth a little green, but this was easily counteracted by frequent use of any decent brand of whitening toothpaste. The substance had hit the market a year ago, following extensive clinical trials. The story behind its invention, or rather, discovery, was that a young man from the Home Counties had found a bunch of aging, dried up watercress in his airing cupboard one night after a party, and had chewed it ''just to see what it tasted like''. Just why it was in an airing cupboard at all was a mystery, but he suspected that his rather absent-minded mother had put it there. He had discovered a couple of freshly washed towels in the fridge a few weeks previously. Wateracco was now freely available, in diverse flavour combinations, and there were even variants with added nicotine, to help tobacco addicts with the transition.
The taller of the two enlisted men, a lean, dark-haired Scot, pulled a leaf from the hedge and discreetly spat his wad of used wateracco into it, then rolled it up and tossed it into the bushes. Jeremy, his friend and colleague, continued to masticate, as he watched Darius stride towards the front door.
''Hey, Jemmo, you coming in? We need to get packed, matey. We'll be leaving for Eyetie-land in a couple of hours.''
Jeremy shrugged. ''Done it, Dari. While you was in the shower. I travel light. I'm not like you, you big poser – with yer hair straighteners and yer eyelash curlers and yer moisturiser. What a girl!''
Darius turned back and laughed, showing his perfect white teeth. Somehow, he had developed the knack of stainless waccy-chewing.
''Aye, but you're only jealous, Jemmo. Wonder how long we'll be over there. If it's as short as our tour in Copenhagen, we'll be laughing.''
''Yeah – that was great, though, wasn't it? My mum's still working through the bacon I brought back – she's hardly made a dent in it. Just keeping it for special occasions though, like Christmas and birthdays. Yeah - that was more like a holiday, mate.'' Jeremy took a leaf and disposed of his waccy-wad.
''This one serious, then, you reckon?'' asked Darius.
''Well I dunno so much – looks like it, though, dunnit? That Musso bloke is a bit of a nutter, you ask me. And apparently there are a few Sicilians on his side. Paddy's gonna have to make him an offer he can't refuse.''
''Well, that's what we're doing, man, isn't it?''
''Nah! I don't mean that. We're just a distraction, a decoy.'' He leaned forward, and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. ''I reckon what Paddy's planning is going on behind the scenes. Ol' Giovanni is gonna quietly disappear, along with several of his Mafioso pals. Probably within the week. You mark my words...''
''Fine. Early bath for us then. And a nice supply of Chianti to go with the bacon butties when we get back.''
''Yeah - and a few packs of garlic and basil waccy an' all, mate!''
The two men walked, laughing, to the front door of the accommodation block, and placed their index fingers on the fingerprint reader.