Authors: Ethan Spier
Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers
Copyright © 2012 Ethan Spier
All characters in this publication are fictitious and resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the author.
Thank you to my wife and parents for working their way through the mistake-ridden early drafts of this novel and providing enough feedback to make it readable. Thank you as well to Amy Diamond at Creative Wording for editing.
Lewis Foster peered out of the tent and exhaled, pouting his lips and releasing a cloud of vapour into the chilly, February night. He could feel a light breeze gently caress his face, and watched as it carried his breath away. The sky was clear and the stars bright, although partially overwhelmed by the lights from the houses and buildings that surrounded the small back garden in which the tent had been erected. Lewis glanced to his own house, over the fence, and saw the light flick on in the kitchen. He craned his neck and saw his mother pour two cups of tea from the pot and then carry them back into the front room. His attention was suddenly drawn to the sound of his two friends scuffling with something behind him.
"Maybe we should have put the tent in my back garden," he said, pulling his head back inside and zipping the entrance up behind him. He saw Hannah defending the last sweet in her bag from her younger brother, Ben.
"No Ben, you've eaten all yours, this one's mine."
ve had more than me," Ben protested, scowling at his sister.
"I'm older than you."
This seemed to antagonise Ben rather than calm the situation and he got to his feet, reaching for the bag while Hannah attempted to hold him at bay.
"Wait," Lewis shouted. "Wait a minute. Here have one of mine Ben. They're not my favourite anyway." He moved over to his own bag and handed the younger boy a single yellow sweet. Ben took the gift as he continued to scowl at his sister and placed it into his mouth.
Hannah ignored her brother and grabbed the large book entitled 'Exploring the Universe', which was sitting in the centre of the tent. She flicked through the pages until finally settling on one. Lewis watched her eyes dart across the page as they absorbed the text. She was the best reader in her class by a long way and it amazed him how she could understand the words in that book.
"It says here that after Halley's Comet passes by this time, it won't be back until the year 2061," Hannah said, looking up with huge eyes. She counted on her fingers for a moment. "We'll be eighty-three years old by then Lewis!"
"How old will I be Hannah?" Ben asked, slurping on the rapidly dissolving sweet.
"Eighty-one," Hannah said after another pause to work it out.
"That's very old," Ben whispered, contemplating the thought for a moment and staring vacantly ahead. "I bet they'll have flying cars that can go up and see it really close by then."
"Is it dark enough to see it yet Lewis?" Hannah asked, closing the book.
"I think so; I could see all the stars when I looked out just now."
s go then."
The three children put on their coats, gloves and shoes, then stepped out of the tent, and into the cold air, which washed over them like a cool sheet of silk. They turned on the spot as they gazed up towards the jet black sky, which was sparkling with occasional pin pricks of starlight.
"I can't see it," Ben said, his eyes moving rapidly around the vast area of sky.
"I can't either," Lewis replied, glancing over to Hannah, who remained silent as her eyes slowly and meticulously scanned the blackness.
They stood for a few more moments, trying to locate the elusive visitor before Ben became restless. He began to race around the garden, jumping over the small wall that separated the patio and grassed areas of the garden. Lewis and Hannah continued to stare at the sky, searching for the comet. They had planned the camp-out in Hannah and Ben's back garden especially to see it and they were determined to catch at least a fleeting glimpse.
As they stood side-by-side, their breath visible as it left their mouths, Lewis suddenly felt Hannah grab his hand. She squeezed hard, her eyes moving over the dark blanket above.
to find it Lewis," she said, then blew out a long flume of breath. "It won't be back for ages. What if we miss it?"
Lewis glanced at her - his best friend - and wondered why she wanted to see the comet so badly; they would be old next time, very old, but not so old that they wouldn't be able to see it, surely.
"I can't miss it, I
She paused and squinted for a moment, tilting her head to the side before her face became consumed by a huge smile, forcing her cold, red cheeks to swell. "There it is!" She pointed up and Lewis followed her finger towards the sky.
Ben stopped running and panted as he too, squinted and gazed in the direction of Hannah's extended finger. "I still can't see it," he said after barely a second.
Lewis tracked the invisible line from Hannah's finger towards the depths of space, but he still couldn't make anything out at first. "Me either, it's not there is it? I can't..." Suddenly his eyes focused on a tiny smudge of white, like a wisp of white oil paint on a black canvas. "Wait, it's there, is that it?" Lewis pointed.
"Yes, do you see it?" Hannah replied, beaming.
"Yes, I think so."
"I can't see anything," Ben said, frustrated. "You're making it up." He turned and began to race around the garden once again, holding his arms out and making a loud roaring sound
he was an aeroplane now.
Still hand in hand, Hannah and Lewis gazed on as Halley's Comet slipped effortlessly across the night sky. They both heard Ben eventually tire and go back into the tent, but they remained in silence for a few moments more until Lewis finally spoke.
"We'll be eighty-three when it comes back?" he asked and saw Hannah nod slowly but she said nothing. "I wonder who you'll see it with next time."
Hannah shot her head sideways and Lewis saw a confused frown furrow her brow.
"What do you mean?" she said, as if the answer was obvious and Lewis suddenly noticed the sparkling reflection of stars in her eyes as she spoke. "We'll see it together."
The chain that bound Travis to the steel bed frame was secured by a large padlock. He was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed in his flat, his movement limited by the interlocking steel rings around his neck that held him in place. Sweat gathered on his forehead before falling down the bridge of his nose, mixing with the blood from his nostrils and dripping onto his shirt.
"It was stolen, for Christ sake, I'm
stole it," Travis sobbed, wiping blood from his nose with the back of his hand. He raised his eyes and stared at the man dressed in a dark black suit before him. "I swear to God Mr Hellam, I don't have the money."
Hellam was sitting in a chair on the far side of the darkened room, his legs crossed as he scrutinised Travis carefully. A half-torn blackout blind that covered the window was lowered, but daylight still penetrated the holes in the fabric. Fragments of floating dust could be seen dancing through the sparse shards of light. He glanced down at his fingernails and removed a small piece of dirt from beneath one of them before turning his attention back to Travis.
"Why did he steal it? Did you argue over something?" asked Hellam, his voice soft.
"I don't know why he stole it... he just did and now the fucker has left me in this mess! I'm not the one you want." Travis glanced up at the other man, the one standing by the door and his eyes lingered on the thick scar which ran the length of his left cheek.
"So, Callum Deacon has taken all the money and left you for dead," Hellam said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward. "Of course, so we should let you go, correct?" The mock sincerity of Hellam's voice concealed a threat that lay just beneath the surface and Travis shuffled uncomfortably.
"I'm not the one you want..." he said hopelessly and stared at the wooden floor before him. The chain dug into the skin around his neck and he winced as he adjusted his position again.
"So where is Deacon? Where did he go with all that money?" Hellam asked. Travis shook his head but said nothing.
go Travis? What would you spend a hundred thousand on?"
"I don't know."
Hellam rubbed his fingers into the palm of his hand, as if massaging oil into the skin and appeared to be thinking to himself for a moment. When he continued to speak, his voice was soft, almost tender. "When you received the goods that I provided, you made it perfectly clear that you had the money available and would make payment promptly. I trusted you Travis. Can't you see how it makes me feel when you betray that trust?" Hellam glanced down to his nails again, but seemed satisfied with their appearance this time. "You see, now I'm left with no money, no goods and no idea of where Deacon could be. My only link to this whole mess is you, Travis. It puts me in a very difficult position - it puts
in an incredibly difficult position." Hellam gestured around his neck, creating an illusionary chain and smiled. He glanced over to the man by the door but the scarred man's expression remained motionless and stoic. Hellam sighed and turned back to Travis. "I'm afraid he doesn't have much of a sense of humour. I'm lucky, I can find the amusing side to most situations, although this one is testing that ability I fear."
Hellam stood and slowly approached. Travis strained his neck and attempted to look up as Hellam's shiny, black shoes knocked on the wooden floor towards him. They came to rest a few feet away from where he was sitting and Hellam leaned his weight back on his heels. He suddenly looked towards the ceiling in mock surprise, as if a light bulb had illuminated above his head.
"A thought has just occurred to me Travis," he said, his voice high with excitement. "I suppose it wouldn't stretch the imagination too far to propose that Deacon and yourself had this whole thing planned from the beginning."
Travis looked up to meet Hellam's eyes and felt a piece of ice slide along his spine.
"Yes, of course," Hellam continued. "You could have agreed with Deacon that he take the money. Sure, you get a little bit knocked around for your trouble, but that's worth fifty grand isn't it? Then, you meet up with him when the dust has settled, split the cash
the goods... what a perfect plan!" Hellam was almost joyous as he went through the scenario, his eyes flashing and a huge smile stretching his tanned skin.
Travis shook his head and began to sob. "That's not what happened, I swear. That bastard took all the money and ran."
Hellam's face suddenly turned dark. The smile evaporated as he crouched down and spoke to Travis in a whisper, ignoring the words of the bound man.
"But the plan could have one big flaw..."
"Why won't you listen to me? That wasn't the plan!" Travis screamed.
What if I were to kill you Travis? Did your plan factor in that little gem?"
"Please, no," Travis sobbed, blood and tears dripping from his nose.
Hellam stood up and turned his back. His shoes knocked on the wood again as he made his way back to the chair. Before he sat down, he glanced and nodded at the man with the scar, who returned the gesture.
"No, no, please no," Travis screamed as the man walked towards him, pulling a gun from a shoulder holster beneath his jacket. He lifted a silencer from a pocket and slowly screwed it onto the barrel as he gazed vacantly at the man by his feet. Without flinching, or a moment
s hesitation, he pointed the gun and pulled the trigger.
Travis screamed as the delicate bones in his foot exploded and blood sprayed his jeans and shirt. The man with the scar unscrewed the silencer with an ambivalence that came only from experience then replaced the gun in his holster before walking back to the door.
"You see what I mean?" Hellam said softly as Travis continued to scream. "No sense of humour whatsoever."
The screams slowly descended back into sobs as Travis, terrified, stared at his useless foot, holding it tight as blood ran through his clenched fingers. The room was in silence apart from Travis's sniffs and whimpers and Hellam allowed the silence to linger for a few moments as he gazed at the broken man before him.
After a while, Hellam rose to his feet again. "You've been lucky this time. You have until next week to either get me that money, or tell me where Deacon is." He walked over to the door and the gunman stood aside as he went through. He paused in the doorway and turned back to Travis. "Oh by the way, if you try to run, Kelser here will find you," Hellam said, placing a hand on the shoulder of the man with the scar. "Believe me; you do not want this man looking for you."
Hellam walked from the room and down the corridor. Kelser pulled a key from his pocket and walked over to Travis. He unlocked the padlock and threw it to the floor before leaving the room, slamming the door behind him.
As Hellam stepped out of the building in which Travis lived, he felt the cold air bite his cheek and he paused, gazing up at the clear blue sky. He retrieved a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and carefully placed them on.
Carl Richards was waiting on the street outside and Kelser stood beside him as they both waited for Hellam's instructions.
"I want you both to go and see what you can find out about Deacon's location. Try his usual haunts. Make enquiries. Try to dig something up. Does he have a girlfriend?"
"I'm not sure," Richards replied, "I'll ask around."
The two men walked away and Hellam looked over to see his dark grey limousine parked across the street. As he walked towards it, he saw George Langton step out of the rear door then hold it open for him, before circling the car and stepping in on the other side. Langton leaned forward and said something to the driver who started the car and pulled away.
"What did Travis have to say?" Langton asked, turning to Hellam.
"Exactly what we thought he'd say," Hellam shrugged and stared out of the window. "He claims Deacon stole the money and made a run for it."
"Do you believe him?"
"Actually, I think I do. Not that it particularly helps either of us at the moment. I need to find Deacon. Kelser and Richards are looking into it at the moment so we'll see what they can unearth."
The car turned left and made its way down a busy street in the south-west
. The journey would take around twenty minutes and Hellam was grateful for the time to relax himself into the role that awaited him. He turned and glanced at the man sitting beside him, who had taken a file out of his briefcase and had begun to make notes on a piece of paper with typed writing.
George Langton was tall and wore thick, wire framed glasses over sagging cheeks. A wisp of receding grey hair was neatly combed above his ears and his shirt was stretched tight over a round stomach. He had been Hellam's assistant for over twelve years, ever since Hellam started the first of his businesses in his late twenties. Langton was nearing his sixty-second birthday, but still held a sharp and professional mind and was a shrewd observer of people. Hellam suspected that Langton had already known about the more unorthodox areas of his business before he had become progressively involved in them. Now, George Langton was in the
s inner circles and had made himself indispensable.
Hellam's first business venture had been in mobile telecommunications and was still his primary legitimate source of income. Over the years, side businesses had developed from H.K. Communications, eventually providing high speed internet solutions for multi-national corporations around the world. But this business covered other, more diverse ventures which demanded far more of his personal interest.
Slowly, over the years, Hellam had involved his assistant in the shadier areas of his world and he had been surprised by how well Langton had taken to it; treating this other side of his work with as much scrutiny and professionalism as he had with the more customary tasks. But then, as Hellam had discovered long ago, money could be an incentive that was able to distort the most moral of minds, altering them to justify their questionable decisions.
Langton was involved in various duties and was one of the few people in Hellam's organisation who knew almost as much as Hellam himself regarding the businesses. Langton had, however, long since stated that he refused to be present when Kelser and Richards were fulfilling their primary duties - he couldn't bare violence - so Hellam had always kept the man at a safe distance from what he considered the more unpleasant aspects of the work.
"I think the speech will go down well with the crowd," Langton said, still scribbling on the piece of paper.
"Good, thank you George." Hellam said, returning his gaze to the passing buildings after a brief glance at his reflection in the tinted glass. He had noticed the appearance of several grey hairs in the mirror that morning and wondered if anyone else had. But it wasn't something he wanted to dwell on and brushed the thought away, which nevertheless, continued to linger.
Langton suddenly stopped writing and looked up, pushing his glasses higher on his nose. "How's Richards coming along?"
Richards had only joined the company three months prior and was still something of an unknown quantity. He had been working closely with Kelser who reported that he had been performing to a reasonable standard. But Hellam knew only too well that he had to tread very carefully when bringing someone new into his world; especially someone he worked so closely with on delicate matters, so he had purposely kept Richards at a distance.
"Fine, but keep your ear to the ground. He came from a reputable source, but those sources can sometimes be the ones after your blood. I know you understand."
Langton nodded and continued to make notes.
The car slowed as it pulled up outside a large building and Langton stepped out then walked around and held the door open for Hellam. They walked inside as Hellam removed his glasses, folding them carefully and handing them to his assistant while a middle aged woman, brandishing a huge smile, greeted them.
"Mr Hellam, welcome to
. My name is Elizabeth Chalker. I
m the headmistress. Thank you for joining us today." She held out her hand and Hellam shook it, smiling his most humble smile in return.
"It is my pleasure Ms Chalker, I didn't want a fuss, but it will be most interesting to see the kind of services you offer."
"Of course," Elizabeth Chalker replied. "I'll take you on a brief tour before the presentation, which is being held in our main hall in thirty minutes. Please, follow me."
The three of them walked around the school, sitting in on various classes and meeting pupils. Hellam spoke softly as he asked all the usual questions - the questions that he knew were expected of him. He played the role with rehearsed perfection which was something he was accustomed to doing.
When they entered the main hall half an hour later, most of the teachers and students were in attendance and Hellam received a warm round of applause as he took to the stage. He sat on a chair while the headmistress stood and introduced him.