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Andrew Christie




Copyright Andrew Christie The right of Andrew Christie to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978 1 84963 131 0 First Published (2012) Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed & Bound in Great Britain


David sat back and yawned, arms stretching above his head. At last it was all done. He glanced at the clock on the wall of his office. 7.24pm. Christ! he breathed, today of all days he knew hed catch it from Cheryl when he finally got home. He could imagine it already: What time do you call this? You said youd be home early to do the last of the shopping with the boys; couldnt you leave on time just once, for Gods sake? His response would be the inevitable darling, Im so sorry, you know that when what he really wanted to say was no, its my damn job that pays for this house, our exotic holidays, your car and all the other things that keep you and the kids in relative luxury. But what would be the point, all that would do was provoke a row and inevitably send Cheryl into one of her interminable sulks. He put the thick folder into his top drawer and locked it, pocketing the key, then powered down his terminal before pushing his chair back and standing up, stretching once again. For the first time the faint sounds of revelry broke through his concentration and he realised with little more than a tinge of regret that he wouldnt even have time to grab a quick drink at the office party and wish any of his colleagues who werent already three parts pissed, a merry Christmas. Taking his coat from the rack, he slipped it on and picked up his laptop, before opening his office door and switching off the light. Out in the deeply piled corridor the noise coming from the party was louder, but he shrugged resignedly and took the opposite direction, heading for the lift. As he pushed open the door to the lift hall, he stopped in mid stride, suddenly aware of a womans sobbing voice. Dont; please dont. Another voice came to him, hard and demanding. Dont be a stupid bitch; dont start playing hard to get with me or youll get more than you bargained for. But I didnt want this, I The tearful protest was cut off by the explosive sound of a heavy slap. As the woman screamed, he turned towards the door from which the voices came, hesitating, aware of whose office it was then he heard the woman scream again. That decided him. He turned the handle and thrust the door open. Despite what hed heard he wasnt prepared for the sight that met him. On the floor lay a girl he vaguely recognized. Her nose and mouth were bleeding and her black dress was ripped open to the waist. Knelt over her tugging at her clothing was Arnold Moreland; Sir Arnold Moreland, the Chief Executive of the firm. He glanced angrily up. What the hell do you want? he demanded, his voice thick.

David rapidly overcame his momentary shock. This isnt a good idea, Sir Arnold, I think you should let her get up and get dressed. Fuck off and mind your own business! came the swift reply. David wasnt listening; all he saw was the girls pleading look. I dont think she wants to be here, he answered. I think youve had too much to drink and this has all gone a bit too far. Perhaps I should take Moreland struggled to his feet and advanced towards David. I told you to fuck off. This doesnt concern you. Now piss off home like the good little bean counter you are and keep your fuckin nose out of things that dont concern you, and with that he shoved him hard in the chest, trying to push him out of his office. Davids response wasnt what anyone in the room, least of all himself, expected. His fist caught Moreland square on the point of his jaw, knocking him backwards against his own desk, a shocked expression momentarily on his face before he slid unconscious on to the richly carpeted floor. Without giving him a second glance David stepped across to the young woman and offered her his hand. Are you alright? he asked gently. She nodded, her eyes reminding him of a frightened doe. She took his hand to help regain her feet, clutching embarrassingly at her torn dress as it threatened to slip to the floor. I didnt mean this to happen, she almost cried. He seemed so nice downstairs and he kept getting me drinks and when he suggested coming up here, I He cut her off. You dont have to explain to me, he said. Lets just get your things and get you cleaned up and out of here before anyone sees you in this state. Her hand slid to her face, coming away with blood. Y-yes, she stammered. Thank you. Thats alright. He took her coat and bag from the hat stand. Theres an executive toilet just down the way; nobody will disturb you in there. He took her by the elbow as she still seemed in a daze, and steered her towards the door. As he expected, David walked into a row once he shut the front door. Where the hell have you been? Enjoying yourself at the office party, Ill bet? You were supposed to be home hours ago. I know and Im sorry but something came up. It always does, Cheryl said, her eyes angry. Why didnt you phone? The boys have been sat waiting for you and now theyre both upset. For all we know something bad could have happened to you. Ive never known those two sit around for anything, David observed, his face wearing a sheepish grin. His quip only served to harden her expression; big mistake. Look, Cheryl, I really am sorry. I had to work later than Id planned but when you know what happened afterwards youll understand why Im

so late. Her eyes didnt soften. It had better be good, David, she said before abruptly turning on her heel and heading into the kitchen. David leaned back heavily against the front door, a resigned look on his face. After a few moments he parked his laptop under the hall table and walked into the sitting room. Despite the television being on there was no one in there. He turned and wandered into the kitchen. Boys not around? Its gone nine, David, for Gods sake. Tims finally in bed, after some tears I might add, and Adam was asleep when I last looked in. Its a big day for them tomorrow - it is Christmas Day remember? I should go up and say sorry and wish them goodnight. Dont you dare; it took me an age to get them to go to sleep. You wake them up now and you can spend the night in with them. Her look brooked no argument. After theyd eaten the warmed up moussaka in silence, for which Cheryl didnt apologise, the meal only made bearable by a decent bottle of Morgon, they set to wrapping the last of the boys presents. Well, Cheryl said, her voice sceptical, lets hear this amazing reason why you were so late getting home. David looked up hesitantly, suddenly unsure of where to start. I worked late, as I said. I wanted to get the third quarters figures wrapped up ready for the quarterly board meeting at the beginning of January so I could take an extra day off over Christmas to spend with you and the boys. Her expression remained unyielding. It was past seven when I finished and I was on my way out of the building when I heard what sounded like a woman crying, well, sobbing really. Then I heard her say something like please dont; it was coming from the office I was passing. Then there was the sound of a loud slap and the noise of a struggle so I opened the door to find out what was going on. And? There was a girl on the floor with her dress ripped open down to the waist with a man knelt over her trying to pull the rest of her dress up. My God! Who was it? David hesitated momentarily. Sir Arnold Moreland. Cheryls eyebrows shot up in disbelief. Youre kidding! He shook his head. No Im not. What did you do? I suggested to him that what he was doing wasnt a good idea and that maybe I should get the girl cleaned up and take her home. But I guess hed been drinking the office party had been in full swing since about four and he basically told me to mind my own business and leave. But you didnt or else youd have been home ages ago. No. Unfortunately he got abusive and aggressive and tried to shove me out of his office and I had to hit him to get the girl out of there.

At his words Cheryls hands flew to her mouth and for a moment the silence between them was almost deafening. You you hit him? Sir Arnold? she said at last, her tone disbelieving. He nodded again. Why? I dont know why, all I know was that he wasnt going to let this woman go and I wasnt going to walk away and let her get raped. You dont know that for certain. You werent there, Cheryl. Her nose and mouth were bleeding and he was trying to get what was left of her dress up around her waist, what else was he going to do? But she must have gone up there willingly. I guess she did, but that doesnt give him the right to force himself on her. But perhaps she knew what she was letting herself in for. You didnt see the look on her face, Cheryl. Alright, I wasnt there, but did you have to hit him, for Gods sake? I dont think I had much alternative. But he could ruin your career, David. Wall you up in that damned accounts job for ever and all because of some girl who was stupid enough to go up there and get what shed asked for. At her outburst, his face hardened. Nobody asks for that sort of thing, Cheryl. I expected a bit more understanding from you of all people, but it seems I was wrong. How would you feel if that had been you and Id left you to it? I wouldnt have allowed him to get me up there in the first place. Well, good for you. Unfortunately, some people arent quite as smart as you; or so self-righteous. What do you mean by that? she almost shouted. Isnt it obvious? Youre more concerned about my prospects and how that might affect your cosy little life than a woman being forced to have sex against her will. I never said anything like that, she protested. David stood up. You didnt have to, he said as he left the room.

It wasnt the happiest Christmas hed known. On Christmas morning theyd been woken by the boys at seven, their faces aglow. Can we open our presents, please? they chorused. After that things had seemed fine for a while although Adam seemed a little distant, moody even and David knew his eldest was still upset with him over not taking them shopping on Christmas Eve. Tim on the other hand, seemed to have forgotten about it in all the excitement; however Cheryl made it plain she was still angry with him. When her mother and father arrived, quickly followed by Sadie, Cheryls younger sister, and her husband Chris, her mood lightened amid the general hubbub as David poured drinks and the boys opened yet more presents and she was able to show off their new suite and all the other things shed bought since shed last seen her sister. David finally sank into a chair, his duties in the kitchen completed and watched the goings on around him. Derek, his long-suffering father-in-law, seemed bemused as usual; his wife and daughters ignoring him as they chattered unceasingly about anything and everyone. The two mens eyes met momentarily and went heavenwards as if to say nothing ever changes. Chris, however, seemed blissfully unaware of it all, occupied as he was with the two boys and their electric racing cars and mechanical robots. Despite the noise and activity around him, Davids mind went back to the events of last night. After leaving the building with the secretary, whose name hed discovered was Jane, hed driven her to somewhere in Bermondsey where she had a small flat. After taking her in and pouring her a stiff drink hed made sure she was okay before leaving. He knew what hed done was right; his only worry was how Sir Arnold would react. Most likely on sobering up hed realise hed been a fool and pray that his intended victim took the whole thing no further. His limited dealings with him previously had always been amicable and he had no reason to believe that apart from some resentment over being punched, Sir Arnold would harbour any real ill-feeling; he might even thank him for preventing the whole episode from degenerating into a real quagmire. Just then Derek caught his eye and he realised the women had moved into the kitchen and that Chris and the boys had also disappeared. A bit of peace and quiet, eh? Derek smiled. He nodded. For a few minutes. You seem pre-occupied, David. Work; you know. It was Dereks turn to nod. I know what you mean. Glad of the rest, I suppose. Yes; although rest seems in short supply at Christmas.

Cheryl got your break all mapped out? Derek suggested with a wry smile. He sighed. I expect so. How did you put up with the three of them, Derek? I suppose over the years I learnt to take a back seat, he replied, a resigned look on his face; then he leaned forward conspiratorially. Marjories used to getting her own way and I guess it was easier to let her carry on doing so rather than put up with all the wrangling and the sulks. He leaned back in the armchair. Cheryl takes after her mother in that way. David sighed again. I know. The trouble is I tend to argue the toss. Good for you. I wish Id stood up to Marjorie a bit more, he said, regretfully. His candid comment surprised David. At least Sadies a bit more easy-going; Chris doesnt realise how lucky he is, Derek added, although hed probably relish someone running his life for him. He smiled. Perhaps I should suggest a swop. Maybe you should, Derek said, with a degree of seriousness that left him more than a little nonplussed. Christmas dinner came and went and after the dishes were consigned to the dishwasher Cheryl decided they should go out for a walk. It was a cold grey day, but at least it wasnt raining and they strolled the mile or so to the lake, glad of the fresh air and a chance to walk off the goose and Christmas pudding. By the time they got back it was almost dark and, after David had restocked the fire, a pot of tea was brewed and they settled around the blaze with their drinks and a newly opened tin of chocolate biscuits. Just as his eyes began to drop the phone rang. Cheryls brow knitted. Who can that be? He hauled himself out of the comfy armchair. Ill get it, you finish your tea. Out in the hall, he plucked the phone from its holder and gave their number. At the other end there was a momentary silence, then a womans voice, Is that Mister Gardner? David Gardner? Speaking. There was another slight pause. It its Jane Swatowski. For a second the name didnt register with him. Oh! Hello. Sorry about that; you threw me for a moment. How are you? Im alright, thank you. Im sorry to ring you at home, especially today; I just rang to thank you for helping me last night. I only did what anyone else would have done in the circumstances. I dont think thats true, I think a lot of people would have just walked away and left me there. Possibly, but I hope not. There was another silence.

Id better go; I dont want to disturb you or your family any longer. Are you having a good Christmas? Okay. And you? Not bad. Im at Mum and Dads. Theyre both asleep in front of the telly; thats why I thought Id ring now lucky youre in the phone book. My wife wants to go ex-directory; she thinks itll be safer. There was a further pause. David. Yes. You dont think therell be any trouble over all this, do you? Why should there be? You were the one that was attacked so its down to you whether therell be any repercussions. I suppose so although I dont want to cause any trouble, I just want to forget the whole thing. Well thats up to you. But if you decide otherwise you know Ill be a witness to what happened. Her voice came back down the line sounding close to tears. Thank you, David. I appreciate that. And Im sorry you got dragged into this and sorry if I made you late last night, I didnt want to get you into your wifes bad books. I was in there anyway, he smiled. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas. You too; bye. David heard the click and put the phone back in its base. He turned to find Cheryl stood with her back against the closed door to the living room. Was that her? she asked. He nodded. What did she want? Just to thank me. Didnt she do that last night? Yes, several times, but she was in a state of shock and I guess she didnt register much of what happened afterwards. You said youd be a witness if she decided otherwise. Does that mean she wont be causing any trouble? She just wants to forget about the whole thing, apparently. A look of relief passed across Cheryls face. Thank God shes got some sense. Im not so sure, he said quietly. Why? Its the best thing for all of us. At least now you wont get dragged into something thats almost certain to affect us. He shrugged, still unsure as to whether Jane had made the right decision. As long as youre happy about it now, he said to his wife with more than a hint of sarcasm, as he opened the door to the sitting room and brushed past her. David pushed the whole episode to the back of his mind over the next

few days and did his best to enjoy the rest of the Christmas break, which he found, as his father-in-law had suspected, was all mapped out for him. However, on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year he put his foot down. He found Cheryl in the kitchen, packing the last of the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. Ive decided Im going to give the boys a treat today seeing as I let them down on Christmas Eve. Cheryl looked surprised. Oh! Thats a good idea. Are you going to buy them something when we go shopping this afternoon? No. I think theyve had more than enough presents, he replied, remembering how difficult it had been to find any space on the sitting room floor. So were not going shopping, Im taking them to a rugby match instead. But we planned to go to the sales today, she protested. I need a new dress for the New Years Eve party. No. We didnt plan to go to the sales today, you did. And why do you need a new dress, youve got a whole wardrobe full of dresses. But I havent got anything our friends havent seen before, she complained. If theyre real friends they wont care, he answered. She glared at him. This isnt fair, David. Fair; what do you know about fair? Ive done everything you wanted over the last five days, Cheryl, and now Im going to do something that I want and that I think the boys will enjoy. So Im taking them out to lunch and then on to the rugby. If you want to join us thatll be great, if not you can come to lunch with us and then go shopping; on your own. Cheryl could see from his face that he wasnt going to be moved. She muttered something under her breath and pushed past him out of the room. David and the boys had a good time at the rugby and Cheryl went shopping in a mood, which didnt abate even after shed bought two new dresses. New Year came and went and it was almost a relief to him when he went back to work. When he got out of the lift and walked to his office he found a maintenance man unscrewing the name plate on his office door. Excuse me, but what are you doing? Exactly as I was told, mate, the man replied. Im taking this one off and putting that one up in its place. David glanced down at the name plate on the floor which bore the legend: B. H. Armitage. Temporary Senior Business Accounts Manager. Who told you to do that? My boss, and he got his orders from the Head of HR. Thats all I know, mate. David hung his coat on a peg in his office, parked his laptop under the

desk and headed for the Human Resources department. Once there he went into Kevin Holdsworths office after briefly knocking. Whats going on, Kevin? he asked. Where am I being moved? It would have been nice if someone had told me before they started changing the name plates. Holdsworth looked embarrassed, his eyes sliding on and off Davids face. This is difficult, David, why dont you take a seat? He pointed at a chair adjacent to his desk. I dont want to sit down I just want to know whats going on? Holdsworth coughed nervously. I was hoping someone had already told you. He stared at him. Told me what? Uh. I had a phone call from Phillip Joyce to say youd been placed on unpaid leave pending an enquiry, he said, his face reddening. An enquiry into what? He didnt tell me. Perhaps you should take it up with him. I will. Leaving Human Resources he re-climbed the stairs to the executive floor. At the end of the corridor he found the office he wanted and knocked, after a brief pause he went inside. Phillip Joyce, the Company Secretary, sat behind a large mahogany desk. Id like to know why Im being placed on unpaid leave and why Im the subject of an enquiry. What the hells going on? Take a seat, Mister Gardner. Id prefer to stand, thank you. Very well, Joyce said and leant back in his chair, his eyes on David. Ive been led to understand that there are several anomalies in the accounts for the past year and as far as can be ascertained certain amounts of money have been transferred out of our holding account. And whats that got to do with me? As the man responsible for maintaining our business accounts wed like to know why you didnt find those missing amounts when you compiled the last three financial quarters statements? Because there werent any; everything balanced. The audit Sir Arnold ordered last Tuesday and which was completed on Friday tells us a different story. It also tells us that someone has hidden those losses quite expertly. Joyce folded his arms. Until we know where the moneys gone and who covered it up, youre suspended without pay. And I have to say that the prime suspect at this moment is you. David stared hard at Joyce, incredulous at what hed just heard. Sir Arnold had ordered the audit something hed never done before. Suddenly it all fell into place. This is nothing to do with missing money; this is all to do with what happened on Christmas Eve. What are you talking about? What happened on Christmas Eve? Never mind; I want to speak to Sir Arnold.

Impossible. Hes in a meeting with Jonathan Murtagne. They cant be disturbed. Cant they? Well, well see about that. He opened the door and strode along the corridor, aware that Joyce was shouting something and following him. It didnt matter; he might well need another witness. At the far end of the corridor he turned abruptly left, pausing only to knock once before he thrust the door wide. What the hell do you mean by coming in here when were Sir Arnold almost shouted, looking up. Then he recognized David. What do you want? Youre supposed to be suspended, he snarled. I want some answers, David said calmly. Answers! Youll get no answers from me. Youre the one we want answers from. David became aware of Joyce standing awkwardly behind him. Id like to know how come you called an accounting audit almost immediately after I caught you trying to rape one of the companys secretaries? Im sorry about this, Sir Arnold. Shall I call security? Joyce interrupted. No. Im interested to hear what this man has to say, a voice with a soft southern American drawl said quietly. They all turned to look at Jonathan Murtagne, who had sat silently watching until this moment. He looked up at David, his eyes seeming to spear him to the spot. Carry on. He hesitated only briefly. I was passing this office late on Christmas Eve and I heard sobbing and the sounds of a struggle. I found him, he nodded towards Moreland, assaulting a secretary and about to rape her. When I tried to stop him, he turned on me and I punched him in selfdefence; this is what this audit and missing money is all about. Sir Arnold laughed dismissively. This is preposterous. Youre making this up to try and save your own skin. You have no evidence to back up this pack of lies. He was reluctant to drag Jane into this, but now he had little choice. Fortunately, I do. I took the girl home afterwards and she will back up what Im saying. Then youd better get her so she can corroborate your story, Murtagne said. Or better still, Joyce here can fetch her. Whats her name and where will he find her? David gave him Janes name and department and Joyce hurried out. Well, young man, youd better sit down until they return. Can I offer you a drink while were waiting? Murtagne said, his manner calm and urbane. No, thanks. Very well. He turned to Sir Arnold. It looks as though our meeting is going to have to wait until this is sorted out. That wont be long, Sir Arnold answered confidently, and David became abruptly aware that he appeared strangely unconcerned. They waited in an uncomfortable silence for what seemed an eternity

before a knock at the door preceded the arrival of a red-faced Joyce with Jane Swatowski in tow. Jonathan Murtagne stood up and nodded at her. Do take a seat, Ms? Swatowski, sir. Well, Miss Swatowski, Im Jonathan Murtagne and for my sins, Im the owner of this company. Now Mister? Gardner. Thank you. Mister Gardner has made a serious allegation against Sir Arnold here. As I understand it, he claims to have entered this office late on Christmas Eve and found Sir Arnold assaulting you and about to rape you. Are you able to corroborate his accusation? Jane had her eyes on the floor, but she momentarily looked up at Murtagne before hastily dropping them again. No, sir, her reply was barely audible. Can you repeat that, please, Murtagne asked. No, sir. Ive never been in this office. David couldnt believe what he was hearing. But thats not true. You know its not true. How can you? Murtagne cut him off. I think Miss Swatowski has made herself clear, Mister Gardner, I suggest we let her get back to her job. David suddenly reached out and turned Janes face to him. Then explain how you got that bruise on your cheek and that cut to your lip. It it was an accident; I walked into a door at my Mums on Christmas Day, she said, steadfastly avoiding his gaze. He held on to her chin for a second longer before he let it go. Thanks, he said quietly as she turned to leave. Satisfied now? Sir Arnold said smugly. He turned to Jonathan Murtagne. Perhaps now we can have this person thrown out and get on with the business in hand. I dont know how youve managed this but you know damn well what you did to that girl, David said. I dont know how you got her to lie for you, but there must be people who know you were here that night and saw you bring that girl up to this office. But how could I have? I was having a drink that evening with a very dear friend whose word would stand up in any court in the land. Someone else you could threaten or buy off. I dont think he would bow to either of those things, would you Jonathan? David swung to face Jonathan Murtagne, his face suddenly incredulous. Murtagne smiled. No. He looked up at David. I wanted to give you the chance to see that your accusations are baseless, Mister Gardner, before I confirmed that Sir Arnold was a guest at my house on the evening of Christmas Eve. David looked from the wealthy tycoon to Sir Arnold and he knew in

that instant his fate was sealed. His voice was barely above a whisper as he rounded on Sir Arnold. Okay. Youve won this round so you can sit there looking like a selfsatisfied pig, but believe me this isnt the end of it. For a moment the smugness vanished from Sir Arnolds face then he recovered himself. Get him out of here, Joyce, he snarled. Make sure hes escorted off the premises. Hes finished. We dont want his type in here. Joyce put his hand on Davids shoulder. Youd better He withdrew it abruptly when he saw the look on his face. David turned back to Sir Arnold. Remember what I said it doesnt end here. Then he abruptly left the office with Joyce struggling to keep up. When the door was shut Jonathan Murtagne turned to Sir Arnold, his eyes cold and hard. You ever do anything to land me in a situation like that again where I have to lie for you and incriminate a man we were grooming for better things all because you cant keep your pecker in your pants, then I will bury you literally.

When David got home around lunchtime he found Cheryl in the kitchen. When she saw him she frowned. What are you doing home? He pulled a stool out from under the end of the island unit and sat down heavily. Im being stitched up. What do you mean? Exactly what I said, he then recounted all that had happened at the office. But you didnt take any money, did you? Cheryl said when hed finished. Of course not. Then youve got nothing to worry about, surely? If they cant trace the missing money to you, how can they prove youve taken it? Theyll have to reinstate you. He looked thoughtful. I went to see our solicitor on the way home and thats exactly what he said. Then I went to the bank and checked all our accounts and there are no deposits in them I cant account for. But I dont trust that bastard Moreland one inch after this. Hes had a week to put a noose around my neck and there must be something Im missing because he looked too damn confident. There was silence for a few seconds before Cheryl spoke again. I cant believe that girl wouldnt tell the truth. I said you shouldnt have got mixed up in this. Look Cheryl, I dont regret what I did then and I still dont. They must have got to her in some way; she didnt strike me as someone whod back down unless shed been threatened or something. David, you knew her for what an hour? How the hell do you form an opinion of someone in that short space of time? Maybe they just paid her off. Maybe they did, I dont know. So what do we do now? Maybe I should talk to the police, in case they find a way to prove I took that money. But how can they? I dont know, Cheryl, because I know that moneys not missing, but I also know that Murtagne lied for Moreland, which means hes mixed up in this and hes a billionaire businessman with probably hundreds of contacts in that line of work, so who knows what they might have concocted between them. Cheryls demeanour suddenly changed as the full implication of her husbands words struck home. It doesnt look too good, does it?

It took him almost an hour at the local police station to get to see someone in authority. The desk sergeant had been polite but dismissive. Civil case, sir; nothing for us to get involved in unless they want to press charges, had been his answer. Get yourself a decent lawyer is my advice. David was not put off this easily and reluctantly the sergeant had gone to see his superior and had returned to inform him that Inspector Evans was busy but would see him when he had an opportunity. Eventually a tall, balding man opened a door at the side of the foyer and led him to an interview room. Its Mister Gardner, isnt it? he started, ushering him towards a chair behind a melamine topped table. I understand youre in a spot of bother at work, but Im not sure how we can help you. Its hardly a spot of bother, Inspector, I think Im about to lose my job. Okay, but what do you expect us to do about it? At this moment I know theres nothing you can do. I just need to tell you whats happened so that if youre brought into this you will already be aware of all the circumstances. After all, Im hardly likely to come to you if Im guilty of what theyre accusing me of. Not unless youre very clever. I only wish I was then I might have seen this mess coming. The Inspector leant back. Perhaps youd better tell me exactly whats occurred. It took David only a few minutes to tell his story. At the end he felt relieved to have shared it with someone other than Cheryl. The Inspector said nothing for a few seconds, seemingly appraising what David had said. Theres no one beside the girl who can verify what happened? he finally asked. David shook his head. Apart from Sir Arnold, and hes not likely to incriminate himself, is he? No; and you think the girl may have been got at in some way for her to say what she did? I cant think what else would make her lie like that. Maybe she was threatened or paid off or something. You believe a well-known public figure like Sir Arnold is capable of that? Im not sure, but until last week I didnt think he was capable of rape either. He wouldnt be the first man to try to take advantage of a drunken girl. I think theres a difference in trying to take advantage and slapping someone around and trying to rip their dress off. Okay, point taken, Mister Gardner, the policeman admitted. But to

get back to what you may be accused of, and I say may, because it hasnt actually happened yet, there are a couple of points to be made. Firstly, at this moment its your word against theirs. Secondly, if they do accuse you of embezzlement, they have to prove it and as youve checked your bank accounts and can account for all the payments into them, it seems to me as though youve little to worry about. Apart from losing my job, he shrugged. If its done without good reason you always have recourse to an Industrial Tribunal and I would have thought there were plenty of jobs around for someone in your line of work. There was a moments silence before Evans spoke again. As I see it, you have to await the outcome of this internal enquiry. I would think it likely that theres been a mistake somewhere along the line and itll all get sorted out. That may be no consolation to you at the moment, but I dont see where else you can go from here until you know more. David nodded reluctantly. I guess youre right. Ill make a note of what weve spoken about and stick it in on file and should anything untoward happen, at least well have some background information to go on. He stood up, indicating the interview was at an end and offered his hand. David took it. I suppose you think Im wasting your time? No, I dont, Mister Gardner, he replied, giving him a comforting smile. Youre understandably upset and worried and I can see theres a lot at stake for you and I would probably feel little different if I was in your shoes. Your story is hard to swallow, I admit, but Ive heard a lot more improbable tales over the years, many of which have turned out to be true, so Im certainly not dismissing yours. I think your best bet now is to go home and get stuck into some of those jobs we all put off doing while were at work, itll help take your mind off everything. David smiled in return. Thats probably a good idea. Thank you for listening to me, Inspector. Part of my job, sir. Good luck. Surprisingly, David felt he meant it and he left the station feeling a little more optimistic than when hed arrived. Despite the Inspectors words, he decided not to sit around and wait. He drove into central London, parked in a multi-storey car park and rang his solicitor. He was lucky to get an appointment immediately after lunch. With some time to kill, he wandered along the road until he found a newsagents and bought a daily paper and then walked until he came to a caf where he sat in a corner booth and ordered a black coffee. It arrived while he was skimming the sports section, looking to find anything that might hold his attention and take his mind off everything else. Cheer up, sir, it might never appen.

He looked up to see the waitress, a young black girl, beaming down at him. Im sorry; do I look that miserable? She nodded. Like you got the weight of the world on your shoulders. In spite of himself, he smiled back at her. Maybe I have. She shook her head. Nobody got that much worry. You should smile more, it suits you. My gran always says as long as you got your ealth and a roof over your ead and a few bob in your pocket, youre okay. He shrugged. Seems your grans quite a philosopher. The girl laughed. No ones ever called her that before. She bin around a long time and I guess she just knows about those sort of things. I guess she does. And shes probably right Ill try to smile a bit more. Good for you. Smiling always makes you feel better; I read its something to do with your hormones or such. Youre a bit of the philosopher yourself, he said, smiling. I suppose I am; I always took after my gran, she grinned before turning away and returning to the counter. Shes right, he thought, nothings been decided yet and Im worrying about it like its the end of the world. He glanced at the other customers in the caf. Compared to some of these people he knew he had so much to be grateful for but he was already assuming the worst. He made a sudden decision; from now on he would stop worrying. When hed drunk his coffee he took his cup and saucer back to the counter and paid. As the girl gave him his change he gave her a broad smile. Thank you and thanks for what you said. Have a good life. He turned away before she had chance to say anything and as she was about to she saw the fiver wedged between his cup and saucer and was suddenly lost for words. The brief meeting with his solicitor resulted in David obtaining the name of a barrister. He pocketed the card as his solicitor phoned to get him an appointment. When the phone was put down he had an appointment for 4pm. He thanked him and left, aware that if hed tried to get an appointment himself it would probably have taken him weeks. After a brisk walk into the City he presented himself at the barristers chambers where a secretary showed him into a wood-panelled office. The man who rose to greet him was of equal height, elderly and had a dignified look about him. Mister Gardner, he said, offering his hand, David took it and felt the firm grip. My names Roderick Huyton. Take a pew, he gestured towards a well-padded chair across the desk from where he stood. From what your Mister Ames told me youre in a spot of bother at work and would like some advice. Tell me about it. He repeated his story and included his visit to see the police. Throughout his discourse Huyton sat with his fingers steepled and merely

nodded at appropriate points. When hed finished the barrister sat silently for a few seconds. Is what youre telling me the truth? he said finally. David was momentarily surprised. Yes, of course. Good. Im sorry I had to ask you that but I needed to be sure. Ive got to the age where if I represent somebody my conscience needs to be satisfied theyre innocent. But I could be a good liar. You could be, but I dont think so. Ive encountered a lot of people who dont always tell me all the truth or in some cases any of it, and sadly Ive represented a few of them, but over the years Ive learnt to weed them out, so to speak, and I no longer take them on; I leave them to some of my younger, more ambitious and possibly less scrupulous colleagues. He put his hands together. You strike me as a man who did the right thing to the wrong person. David said nothing. Huyton smiled grimly. As Ive gotten older, Mister Gardner, I may have got wiser and thats for others to decide, but Ive certainly got a lot more forthright my wife often tells me so. Im going to speak very bluntly to you now; can you take that? David slowly nodded. Alright then. If they can prove that you embezzled their money, they have you by the balls because whether I believe you or not, matters not a jot unless you can prove that theres malicious intent behind it resulting from your actions on Christmas Eve; and frankly, without the young ladys corroboration, you cant. Even with it, its unlikely to stand up in a Court of Law because Sir Arnold Moreland has what appears to be, at least to any jury, a cast-iron alibi provided by one of the richest men in the world. David stared at the desk top between them. So Im sunk. Without trace, I fear. Theres nothing I can do? Check your bank accounts again, make absolutely certain there is nothing that you cant account for. Go and see the young lady concerned. Make certain you do it well away from work, preferably at her home and try to find out why she lied. If her injuries are still apparent, get a photograph of them, even if you have to do it surreptitiously. If you can get her to tell the truth, you have a chance, albeit a very small one. David fought hard to hide his shock. He had not expected to hear such a damning assessment of his position. So you expect them to prove Im guilty of embezzling their money? Roderick Huyton turned to gaze out of the window. Unfortunately, I do. Not because I believe you did so, but because I think they will find a way to incriminate you. And you think theyre unscrupulous enough to do that? Yes. Huyton turned back to him, his face bleak. In my line of work you get to hear lots of things about lots of people, most of it smoke. Sadly,

the old adage that theres no smoke without fire is often true and a lot of rumours about people become reality. There have been rumours about Sir Arnold and his philandering for a long time now, but little has ever come to light and I suspect he pays well and covers his back. As for Jonathan Murtagne, there are also rumours, but these are to do with his business transactions and can probably be put down to envy. But I suspect, like a lot of very rich men, hes got to where he is by whatever means he can and has almost certainly stepped outside of the law on occasion to do so. Now all that is to stay in this room but it might help to show you what youre up against and why I believe your story. At the end of the day though, I still have to wait until Im summoned back to my office before Ill know what they intend. Yes, although I think theyre unlikely to prosecute you. Companies like that tend to shun publicity, they wont want this brought out into the open; it would do them more harm than good. If they do, would you represent me? At least then Id have someone with me who believes me. Roderick Huyton gave him a wry smile. I will, but only because Ive always had a soft spot for lost causes. David took his advice. After leaving his chambers he walked back towards the car park then decided he had time for a coffee before he collected his car and drove to Bermondsey where he parked diagonally across from Jane Swatowskis flat. It was dark and half an hour later when he saw her get off the bus and start the short walk to her flat. He locked his car and crossed the road to wait for her. She was less than ten yards away when she saw him. The surprise was enough to bring her to an abrupt halt. What what do you want? Id have thought it was obvious, he replied, his voice deliberately calm and unthreatening. I cant speak to you. Why not; dont you think you owe me an explanation? Yes, I suppose I do, but But what? She glanced nervously behind her. I cant be seen talking to you. Why not? Because they she paused, as if undecided what she should do, her eyes darting around. Please go away. Please. I promise Ill meet you somewhere else, some place where we wont be seen together. He could see she was obviously worried. Okay, where do you suggest? She thought for a second then nodded beyond him. Theres a small park down that way about a quarter of a mile. Ill meet you there in half an hour. Now please go.

He caught the pleading tone in her voice and for a second he was undecided. Okay. Half an hour, he confirmed. He walked back to his car, got in and started the engine, then drove off in the opposite direction to the park, seeing the lights go on in her flat as he accelerated past. He drove a good mile west, watching his rear-view mirror and mulling over what had just happened. Incredulous as it seemed she appeared afraid of something or someone. She gave the impression of being under some kind of threat or surveillance, otherwise she would have invited him in or spoken to him more fully on the street which was why hed agreed to leave and meet her later. But why arrange a clandestine meeting in a park at night? Was she so frightened that even now she was phoning someone and informing them of her rendezvous? Was he being deliberately set up? He realised then he was being paranoid; her evident nervousness infecting him but he still checked his mirror again and satisfied there was no one behind him, took the next left, heading down a road of terraced three-storey houses that had seen better days. At the bottom he had to go right into a one way street taking him away from the direction he wanted to go. At the next junction he stopped and pulled into the kerb beside a run-down public house. Taking his London street map from the door pocket and utilizing the light from the pub window he flipped through until he found the page he wanted. After a few moments he located the park and reading the street name above the pubs window worked out where he was. It was only a short drive to the rendezvous. He checked his watch and took out his mobile phone, then dialled his home number. Seconds later Cheryl picked up. Im going to be late. Why, where are you? Waiting to see Jane Swatowski. There was a pause. Will she want to speak to you? No. But shes agreed to meet me in a few minutes. Do you think you can change her mind? From what I saw just now, I somehow doubt it. So youve already seen her. Briefly; she seemed scared. Im not surprised after not backing you up. What did you expect? Im not talking about me. She was scared of being seen with me. Why should she be? I dont know. Maybe Ill find out when I see her. Okay. Ill delay dinner until you get back. Any idea when? No, but you go ahead and eat with the boys. Ill have mine when I get back. Alright; see you later. He pressed the end button and pocketed the phone then stepped out of the car and locked it before heading for the pub. He needed a quick drink.

Arriving at the park just before the agreed time, he parked his Audi a block away and walked back to the park entrance. After a cautious look around he strode inside and quickly found a bench set deep in the shadows from where he could see the entrance without being seen himself. Jane Swatowski arrived moments later, looking nervously around her as she entered the park. He watched as she walked along the path towards where he waited. He let her pass as he kept his eyes on the street beyond. Satisfied no one was following her he stepped into the light and called to her. She jumped, then when she saw him came quickly across to where he stood. Are you alright? he asked softly. I Im okay, she answered. He led her to the bench and sat down. She sat down at the opposite end and began fiddling nervously with a button on her coat, her head down. Im sorry, she said abruptly and then the tears came. David let her cry for a few seconds then dug into his pocket for a handkerchief. Here, he said. When shed wiped her eyes and stopped crying, he spoke. Why didnt you tell the truth? I had no choice. I I wanted to speak out after what hed done to me but they gave me no choice. What do you mean? Who gave you no choice? I had a phone call on Boxing Day morning only minutes after I arrived home from my parents. It was almost as though he was watching the flat and knew when I got in. Who? I dont know. He just said that if I ever spoke about what happened on Christmas Eve Id never see my parents alive again. What? he exclaimed. I know. I couldnt believe what he was saying either. But then he told me their address, told me where my dad worked, told me that my mother walked to work every day, told me lots of things about them. Then he said accidents happen every day. Youre not just making this up because youre worried about your job, are you? No, no; I swear to God. He said nothing for a moment, struggling to comprehend what he was hearing. And you believed him? Yes. It was his voice; it was cold and menacing and I could tell he was enjoying it. It sent shivers up my spine, it was so frightening. And youve no idea who it was? No. He sounded foreign. Id never heard his voice before but Ill

never forget it. Foreign? Yes; Eastern European, that sort of accent, I think. They were both silent for a while. Its all my fault. If I hadnt had those drinks and been stupid enough to go upstairs none of this wouldve happened. Im so sorry I got you into this mess. Despite himself he smiled. I got myself into this mess. My mistake was punching Moreland but now I wish Id punched him a damn sight harder. Whats going to happen, David? It was the first time shed used his name. He shook his head. I dont know, but from what youve just said, someone, Sir Arnold I guess, is taking this very personally. I think hes out to get his pound of flesh and I think its me he wants to get it from. He said nothing for a moment then he turned to her. You think theres someone watching you? Is that why you were so nervous earlier? Im not sure, that call made me feel so scared Im almost jumping at my own shadow but I feel like Im being watched, even at work. I thought about going to the police but how can I prove any of this to them, Im sure theyd just think I was being paranoid. Why did you take the risk of coming here if you feel like that? Theres a back entrance into the flats, so l left the lights and the TV on and slipped out the back way. I only came back on to the main road a block from here, she paused. I needed to explain to you, to try and make you understand why I let you down. After what you did for me I feel so ashamed that I cant help you in return. Thats alright, but if you are worried I think its time you got back just in case someone checks up on you, he said. So you believe me? He nodded. Strangely enough I do. Im beginning to realise Sir Arnold, and maybe even Jonathan Murtagne, are capable of this. I think the best thing for you and your family is to stay well out of it. I wouldnt want any of you on my conscience. But what about you? Youve got a family as well. Yes, I have which is why I have to take whats coming to me and make the best of it; thats all I can do now. He stood up. She stood up alongside him. I dont know what to say. Just say goodbye. Itll be best for all of us. He bent and impulsively kissed her cheek, then turned and strode toward the entrance. Jane watched him go, tears in her eyes. Goodbye, she whispered.