by Clive Hindle
Author: Clive Hindle
Publisher: Janus Publishing Company Ltd
REVENGE IS THE ULTIMATE STALKER
Successful lawyer Jack Lauder is rather puzzled when he is commissioned to tie up the UK assets of his former friend Sir Vincent Haringer's estate. Jack and the entrepreneur adventurer were once close friends, however of late Jack, although always loyal, had felt the need to distance himself from Vince's often dubious affairs especially when a key witness in a libel case Vince was involved in dies suspiciously.
It all seems simple enough and Jack makes his way to the cliff edge priory on St Cuthbert's Isles to begin cataloguing Vince's collection of rare books and manuscripts. A couple honeymooning on St Cuthbert's Isles immediately attract Jack's attention. Something doesn't fit? Their behaviour is odd and what is the purpose of their early morning rendezvous with a fishing boat and low flying small plane.
People from Jack's past life as Vince's lawyer begin to crop up inexplicably and a strange series of coincidences indicate that this is not a simple assignment but a game of chess where the faceless players are always one move ahead.Jack, once a man of simple pleasures, who enjoyed nothing more than climbing in the mountains and a good old game of chess is dragged into a deadly world of deception, where truth and fiction become inseparable, and the life he knew will be changed forever.
And why does Rachel, Jack's former wife who died in a climbing accident begin to haunt him in dreams and visions. Did he really see her in Nijmegan? Her body was never recovered after all. . His sense of reality is on the verge of collapse, but that is the least of his worries; caught up in a web of drug-smuggling and murder, Jack will have to think several moves ahead to survive this hostile game against an opponent who will stop at nothing until Jack is annihilated.
It seems Vince never forgave Jack, for what he imagined as disloyalty. Did Vince set set up a series of intricate traps to lure Jack into, to discredit, humiliate and ultimately destroy him. Is Harry, Vince's brother orchestrating this game now Vince is dead?
Jack finds himself pursued by corrupt cops and the NorthEats England version of the Mob as he picks through the interlaced strands of the two cases he has been lured into by this implacable opponent.
‘Not like you, Sarah, to be two paces behind.’
‘You really know how to show a girl a good time,’ she grumbled.
‘I told you, I didn’t guarantee fun,’ he laughed and it seemed like the first time in ages that he had really laughed.
While she laboured to catch up, he stood a moment,surveying the island. It had many attractions. Some were man-made like the ancient, ruined priory. Others were natural. The tiny archipelago of which the island formed part was the first landfall of many migrant birds and a dearth of vegetation meant they were easily observed. New species landed every year.
Back on the mainland, one of the local fishermen had mentioned seeing shrike, particularly during strong easterlies. ‘It’s party central, then, isn’t it?’ Sarah had chirped up. The old guy didn’t quite catch her drift, but Jack cracked up at his PA’s deadpan humour. She did make him laugh.
The excuse for bringing her on this trip was he’d need the skills, which made her over qualified for the role on offer at his firm. A history doctorate with a specialisation in the analysis of antique manuscripts, of which there were reputed to be plenty at the house they were about to visit, was over the top even for a personal assistant to the senior partner of a busy provincial law firm. She wasn’t bothered; she was new to the area and needed a job. After that he’d soon begun to enjoy their working relationship because they shared a wicked sense of humour. He couldn’t take the credit for her appointment. His partner, Dominic Drake, had seen to that during his stay in hospital after the accident in which he’d lost his wife, but Dominic had rubbed her up the wrong way and when Jack mentioned his name, she responded with ‘That tosser!’ Wow, he thought, wondering what had brought that on. He decided not to go there. You don’t have to love everyone you work with.
For her the trip was a little ill timed – she was starting a week’s holiday on Monday and would return to the city the
following evening. The idea was Jack would drive down on Monday morning. In the meantime they would do their best to make an inventory of the English estate of the late Sir Vincent Hardinger, an old friend of Jack’s and unconventional entrepreneur, once knighted for his services to British exports. Vince (as Jack had always known him) had since been largely disgraced as a result of a number of scandals which had rocked his business empire.
As with all larger than life, extravagantly rich, self-made men, he had enjoyed, even after his demise, something like cult status in the business world, particularly abroad. Much of his wealth had emanated from Africa. He was rumoured to have stage-managed a coup d’état in a small country in the Dark Continent. He and Jack had enjoyed common interests: stargazing, sailing, and chess. But their relationship hadn’t lasted. It was years since they’d seen each other and when the news of his old friend’s death broke, a lot of things had been left unsaid.
The request to wind up his estate had come out of the blue when, one morning at work, his junior partner, the same Dominic Drake who had incurred Sarah’s hostility, handed him a telephone message from a Major Hicks. The note read:
Please call him back. He says he has something important to tell you and will be available until noon.
The number was a Central London hotel. The major sounded like one of those gentlemen of Victorian times who had bought his commission.
‘My dear fellow,’ he said, ‘Hicks here, Major, retired of course. I’ll come straight to the point. I have the honour of
being one of the late Sir Vincent Hardinger’s executors. You know, I suppose, the great man is dead?’
He had the habit of posing a question and then talking on without awaiting the response.
‘We were holiday neighbours on Montserrat. Do you know it?’ Before Jack could answer, he boomed on, ‘We had houses there before the volcano. Ironic that, don’t you think? Bit of a one for natural disasters, Vincent, eh? You’d think the things were following him around!’
He roared with slightly incongruous laughter, whilst Jack had the image of a malevolent tempest, a sort of whirlwind in the shape of a huge Dracula figure, hunting down a fleeing Vincent Hardinger.
‘You’ll know he was lost with his yacht in the Asian tsunami, eh?’ Still not waiting for Jack to respond he rattled on. ‘Survivors said he went down trying to save the boat. Vincent’s brother, Harry, splendid fellow, organised the funeral.’
Delivering this with scarcely a pause, as if every titbit of information had to be compressed into a minimum amount of time, Hicks wouldn’t let Jack get a word in edgeways.
‘I think Vincent would have chosen to go like that. He was always larger than life and I bet you and I could exchange a couple of stories …’
Jack tried to interrupt there. ‘You can say that again,’ he said, but his caller was a man in a hurry.
‘To practical issues, then! Although he didn’t have much of his estate in Britain – inheritance taxes are so punitive here, don’t you think?’ The tone of the question suggested that Jack should be doing something about it.
‘There are some quite important items to deal with and I will dispatch to you my power of attorney. If, of course, you accept this commission.’
At those words Jack had the queasy feeling of a piss-take.
‘I give you carte blanche in the knowledge that you will deal scrupulously and fairly.’
Despite the if, there was no argument about it. Hicks just assumed Jack would accept.
‘Vincent specifically asked me, in the event of anything happening to him, to persuade you to handle this as a mark of his respect. He felt that he didn’t always show his appreciation of your efforts during his lifetime. I’m sure he very much regretted that he didn’t get to see you before he died.’
That redeemed everything, the sentiment overcoming Jack’s immediate reaction to Hicks’ vicarious expression of regret. Vince never apologised. He had always seen it as a sign of weakness so Jack had to be special for him to break a golden rule.
‘Well, that’s very thoughtful …’ he tried, but the military voice boomed on.
‘You can of course charge exactly as you think fit, but it’s probably worth my saying that the principal asset in this
jurisdiction is Jomsborg on the St Cuthbert Isles.’
Jack permitted himself a smile at the name of the house, as he was probably the only person alive who knew its provenance.
‘And there’s a bequest of £50,000. He left it to you, but on condition that you take on the rest of the commission.
You have to catalogue the contents and sell the house, deduct the £50k and your charges and then pay the balance to me. In particular, the library is very important; some very old, very valuable books and manuscripts. The house could be difficult. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and, what with global warming, etc., it’s probably slowly crumbling into the sea! Ha! See what you can do, eh? That’s the assignment!
Mission impossible, eh? Ha ha! The will also instructs me to enclose a cheque for £10,000 in the hope that this will take care of any immediate expenses. This is in addition to the bequest, which he also wants you to have free of any taxes.’
Taken aback by his old friend’s largesse, Jack couldn’t speak. Not that it mattered.
‘The only thing is I need you to act strictly in accordance with my timetable. I will soon be in the Middle East, then Japan, China and Australia. Therefore, I need you to get up to Jomsborg and get an inventory done before everything disappears! I’ve heard the burglars don’t hang about in those parts, so please don’t delay! I need you to do the inventory this weekend. I need it out of my hair.’
Hence the inconvenient timing as far as Sarah was concerned.
‘Good! That’s settled, then. I hope to have the opportunity of meeting you soon and, like our mutual friend, being able to call you my friend.’ The major had no time for reciprocated sentiment and, after giving Jack a Zurich contact number, he rang off.
Almost as soon as he put the phone down, Jack’s new assistant came through the door. She might be up for an unusual commission up the coast.
‘You can put that qualification of yours to the test,’ he jested.
Surprisingly, despite the short notice and her planned holiday, she jumped at the chance.
‘It won’t be that interesting!’ Jack exclaimed. ‘I don’t guarantee fun!’
The papers the major promised arrived in the Friday post, but with nothing to explain them, not even a letter.
Hicks had simply assumed he’d know what they were!
So, here they were on the causeway, the ruined but still majestic priory shimmering in the near-distance. It appeared to shift as he looked at it and he hoped there was nothing wrong with his vision now, although the doctors had said it might have been permanently damaged by the Cordillera snows. From each side waves yelped at his feet.
Sarah looked aghast as a strong surge slithered over the brown stone, the suds resembling a knot of shining eels. Retreating over the precipice they left nothing more than a meniscus round their boots. The weather was typical of the island: swirling rain battling for control with vast pillars of sunlight. One of these pillars illuminated Gardas Castle on the mainland promontory, the site of strongholds since prehistoric times. Now, as quickly as its huge battlements fought their way out of the mist, they disappeared again.
The weather was closing in and the causeway would soon be impassable.
Arriving at the village, they booked into the hotel – separate rooms, of course. Jack intended staying at the house the next night if it proved habitable. That way he could work late. The hotel proprietor seemed surprised to see them.
‘I thought the weather had put everyone off,’ he said,
‘so you’ve got a choice: sea view or priory?’
Not much fancying even a monastery graveyard, Jack was shown to his sea-view room, where he deposited his backpack. Sarah joined him as he emptied the minimal belongings he had brought for the weekend, just enough not to stick to the furniture. She confessed to having brought a few glad rags.
‘Don’t want to look a mess at dinner,’ she said. Then she gasped in surprise and when he turned to follow her gaze the sight which met his eyes was of a Viking longship, its square sail set, sailing out of the storm on its way to the beach beneath the castle.
‘Wow!’ he exclaimed. ‘This coast is renowned for its theatrical reproductions of ancient battles, but that’s spectacular! The construction cost of a replica like that must have been phenomenal.’
‘I read about this,’ Sarah replied. ‘It’s that film director guy, isn’t it, the one who’s got the castle? He’s making an epic about the Viking raids on this coast.’ She snapped her fingers as if trying to remember.
‘Darius Lockyer!’ he said for her. ‘Would you believe I know Darius? He was a great pal of Vince’s.’
His face wore a smile and Sarah, having begun to read him, smiled herself.
‘What?’ he asked, crumbling beneath that silent interrogation.
‘You’re thinking something wicked,’ she laughed.
‘No,’ he replied, laughing with her, ‘I was just thinking about how the media portrays celebrities and great men.
Almost as if they’re mythical heroes, demigods, totally invulnerable to the same sort of problems as ordinary mortals.’
‘And aren’t they?’
‘Well, these two kind of bought into each other’s hype.
Vince was your typical captain of industry, a throwback to the robber baron age, born in the wrong time ...’ He paused.
‘Well, Darius is a charlatan. They were both charlatans, larger-than-life con men. They just outdid each other.
Despite all the propaganda about his family tree, Vince was a working-class lad who made it good because of energy, determination, a restless intelligence and a bloody ruthless streak. But he absolutely loved arty things. He craved celebrity. Finding a tart like Darius was just perfect for him.’
He couldn’t help but wonder what Darius had made of Vince’s death. They were once inseparable. But he suspected that the film director, with his disturbed imagination, which created proportionately disturbing theatrical images, could never really be devastated over the loss of another person.
Conscious of Sarah waiting for him to say more he shrugged. ‘Let’s get to work,’ he said.