Authors: Graham Adams
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Europe, #France
‘For my meeting could you please print out this report?’ Victor placed the laptop on the desk.
The woman looked at him horrified, so he took the hint and headed for Mikhail’s office. He knew there was no chance that he should knock on the office door, so he just parked himself on the chair at the side of the door with the laptop on his knees.
The half hour that passed was not helping Victor’s nerves, as he imagined that maybe Mikhail had knowledge of him sending his email out from the Embassy, without permission. Or maybe Lydiya had been more graphic about his ‘last lesson’ with her, and retribution for either misdemeanour would be forthcoming. He visualised a firing squad, or being down a salt mine in Siberia.
The door finally swung open and he was ushered into the vast office carrying his precious information. The diplomat sat behind his huge desk as Victor approached and passed over the laptop. The Russian clicked the screen open and surveyed his report.
‘I thought you might like to have the catalogue printed, would that help you?’ Victor asked meekly.
‘Do you have totals of each category values Victor?’ he asked bluntly ignoring the young man’s suggestion. ‘No matter, I can at least do that.’ He continued to scan the report, occasionally raising his eyebrows, but mostly, giving nothing away.
The tension continued to build up in Victor’s brain as he waited quietly. It was so tense that he was just about to say about Leah-May, when Mikhail suddenly looked up.
‘Congratulations Victor, I really did not think that you would complete this task in the time that I set you. This is what I wanted, and more than I expected.’
He pulled open a draw from the desk and pulled out a bottle of vodka and two small cut glass tumblers. He then filled the tumblers with the clear liquid, picked up them up, and handed one to Victor, nodding in approval. Mikhail knocked his straight back in true Russian tradition and waited for his visitor to do the same. Victor held the glass for a second and copied. Suddenly a fire hit the back of his throat like hot coals and he coughed. Watched by the Russian he stifled the next cough which made his eyes water profusely. Mikhail rushed around his desk and gave Victor a slap on the back.
‘Now tell me, the values you have put on the items, are they realistic?’
‘I would say that they are probably on the low side just to be safe Mikhail.’ Victor answered.
Quickly the diplomat subtotalled each category and then ran a full report total. ‘That’s nine hundred and sixty million of your British Pounds, not counting the ones that you did not complete.’
‘Sorry about that Mikhail I just couldn’t finish them all, but I have placed them in a separate area for you in the room.’
‘So then we could be looking at a billion pounds, am I right?’ Victor nodded. ‘And now, as I promised we come to your reward for this work. In fact there are two options for you my dear boy. The first one is simple; you and I part company and I will pay you, right now ten thousand pounds directly in any bank account you nominate, or we can discuss a further venture together, which I shall outline to you tomorrow. I would like to come to your flat to tell you the details, OK?’ He poured another glass of the firewater for them both and they drank a toast, ‘Till tomorrow at ten in the morning.’
When Victor got into his flat it was already nine in the evening and his head was swimming. The Russian national drink was not his usual one when he was out with his friends. Drinking it straight back causes quite a shock to the senses, so he had to shake himself in order to think clearly. Knowing that Mikhail was to visit him at the flat, he had to start to make it at least presentable for his guest. To think that a Russian diplomat was to be visiting him was unbelievable. He pulled the sheet over his head at midnight; his room was now in a fit state for the visit.
As soon as he closed his eyes, a question came into his mind, why should he come here to tell me about the other offer? Obviously, he didn’t want to be overheard by anyone. He sat stock up in his bed and a cold shiver of fear sent his mind into overdrive, it seemed to him that he was going to be drawn into something that certainly was risky. What if Mikhail was followed as he came to his little flat? He thought of his father. What would he say, with all his Foreign Office experience? He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, deciding to push the thoughts out of his head and see what the morning would bring. Sleep finally came.
More mundane items flooded his mind when he woke up, ‘Do I lay on something to eat or drink, what do Russians eat or drink? He asked himself out loud. He decided to do nothing, it was his pad and Mikhail would have to put up with what he had. Victor told himself that the Russian was there to ask him, not the other way round.
By ten thirty, the formalities over, Mikhail explained what the other offer was. Firstly Mikhail told Victor that at the start of the next month he was to leave the embassy in London, and then to be appointed as the Russian Ambassador for France in Paris. No one at the embassy in London yet knew, and that was why they met at Victor’s flat. Then he outlined the second offer. All the items in the catalogue were to be shipped the following week to Paris, to a storage company on the outskirts. The first part of his job would be to supervise the storage of the treasures and when completed, the major task would be an orderly disposal of them. He stipulated that neither the Paris nor the London auction houses were to be used. Apart from that, Victor was free to utilise any other major venue in the world. The auction houses would be given a separate Swiss Bank account number for each individual sale transfer that only he and Victor would know of.
After the task, he outlined the benefits. He said that Victor would have free use of a two bedroom flat in the centre of Paris near Montmartre with full travel expenses and a bigger salary. On top of that he offered a commission of one percentage of the proceeds of each sale that exceeded his original estimate for them, paid into a Swiss account if he wished. He also indicated that this time there would be no written agreement and that he was to give him his decision there and then.
‘Can I ask one question of you before I choose?’ Victor asked. Mikhail nodded in assent. ‘I understand that this job offer is more or less between the two of us, and no mention of it can be made to anyone, am I right?’
‘You are right dear boy, not even your father and mother.’ He answered without a smile.
It was not amazing that having done something blatantly wrong, which had resulted in the deceit and betraying his employer and his so called girlfriend. The whole of the week following his incident with Annie, Louis had built up a huge guilt complex. Every time he spoke to them or just looked their way, he was certain that they both knew. Unconsciously he avoided contact where possible, which was extremely difficult to do with Bill as they worked so closely together.
Bill innocently put the change in Louis down to his growing up, and he discounted any other reason in his own mind. He did concede though that Louis’s enthusiasm had waned, and he wasn’t chasing that sale like he used to.
On the Sunday morning over breakfast he came up with an idea, they were all around the table for once so he suggested that Susan and Louis drive to Mablethorpe and stay in their static caravan for a week. Susan’s response was enthusiastic; she looked at Louis, who gave her a sort of smile. She looked to her mother for approval.
‘I think it’s a great idea Louis. You certainly ought to have a holiday; you know what they say, all work and no play?’ Annie asked.
Those were the first words she had spoken to Louis for the whole week. Even when she came up close to serve his meal at the table, she felt him instantly freeze, so she got the message and kept her distance.
‘Well if that’s OK then Bill, I haven’t been to the seaside in years suppose it’ll be all right.’ He kept his head down as he spoke and Bill gripped his downcast shoulder.
‘It’ll do you good lad, you need it.’ Bill said softly to him.
Saturday morning found Susan and Louis driving down to the Lincolnshire seaside. Heading towards Newark, Susan asked if he would find a roadside café so that they could stop to have a coffee and change drivers. Louis, who took the first spell of driving, had nodded in agreement, and for the first time smiled at her. At last, she thought he has finally started to relax. With a frothy coffee each, she plucked up the courage to speak.
‘Are you looking forward to the sea Louis?’ carefully choosing her words.
The previous night, Annie had spent some time talking to her daughter, trying to explain the change in Louis. Initially she told her to handle him with kid gloves. She looked at her daughter as Susan agreed with her mother. Annie of course knew the full reason for the change in him, and maybe the real reason might come out in the days they were about to spend in the confines of the small caravan. It could be a potentially explosive situation with catastrophic consequences for the four of them, all due to her stupid action. She resigned herself to the fact that sometimes there is no avoidance of paying for what you once thought was free.
The caravan was perched at the edge of the sandy beach, literally fifty yards from the water’s edge, so the moment that they were unpacked, Susan put on her tiny spotted bikini and ran to the sea and jumped in. Although it was very calm and inviting, it was the North Sea and notoriously very cold. She tried to swim a few strokes but the shock of the cold water was too much, even for her.
Meanwhile Louis had changed into his torn jeans and white t-shirt, he didn’t have a swimsuit and anyway, he didn’t want to expose his white pasty flesh against her brown healthy looking body. He was lying prostrate on the warm sand with his eyes closed as she ran back and lay beside him. Of course he knew she was there but he just lay still and kept his eyes firmly shut.
She succumbed to her impulse and leaned over to kiss his cheek, when he jumped up suddenly, looked at her coldly and ran back to the caravan. She lay there confused. ‘Is there something wrong with me? She asked herself, but then the patience of her father Bill came to the fore and she picked up the beach towel and trudged in the sand to the van. As she opened the door, he was sitting on as stool looking out the window towards the sea. She dropped the towel and gently walked up to him, and quietly asked, ‘penny for them Louis?’ She was standing and he, still sitting turned his head and looked up at her. She could see straight away that he had been crying so she pulled his head to her soft bare belly, and she felt him quietly sobbing. He put his free arm around her hips as she felt the wet tears that were burning. Suddenly she had to say something, the first thing that came into her head. ‘Louis, do you know that I love you?’
She now knew that something was affecting him very deeply, but she remembered her mother’s words, ‘handle with care’, so she gently pulled him up to standing and guided him to the bedroom.
‘Don’t worry Louis we’ll get through this, just lie down there and I’ll make us a cuppa.’ She said reassuringly. He closed his eyes in a sort of relaxed state as she tiptoed into the kitchen area.
Instinctively, she knew that he now needed her help, so she put no demands on him and just went with the flow. Having known him for two years as part of her family she felt there was no animosity towards her personally. Her patience did pay off as, by the third day, they had bought him some swimming trunks, played in the arcades and been to the local cinema. He decided that he would try to explain his bad behaviour but had to think of something that she would believe.
Susan had taught him to swim, in a fashion. The sea helped as he was able to float easily, and at last, he felt in control again. For the first time they lay together on the bed, side by side. He looked at her asleep, her soft body was rising and falling slowly, the sun bleached short hair, her open face emanating honesty. He kissed her on the shoulder and she opened her eyes and smilingly showed her beautiful white teeth.
‘Suzy, you know that I had a letter recently from my dad?’ She nodded. ‘Well, I think that I suddenly felt that I am missing him. Especially when I see how close you are to your dad. I know that Bill thinks a lot of me but you know it’s not like your own dad is it? I haven’t seen him now in two years, and I even can’t visualise what he looks like anymore.’ Louis looked at her as she watched him talk so openly, only hoping that she would accept fully what he had said. She pulled him close and kissed him fully on the lips.
Firstly he hesitated, held back until he gradually gave in to her. He undid her little dress and at the same time she struggled with his clothes. They both giggled as they had to help each other to peel off their underclothes, until they finally lay naked together
They were both virgins so after a little fumbling and a lot of self conscious laughing they finally made love, and for once it was not for the reason of lust, just pure love, at least on her part. What she had done for him was to break down the door of his fear and depression and he at last was able to let go.
Six months had passed since the holiday at Mablethorpe. Susan and he didn’t have much quality time together, often it was in the back of his car, or even a little struggle in the back of her mini, but the healing process was changing him back to his old self.
Bill had taken Annie to Ibiza, where he had been on the freebee from the manufacturers, this time for two weeks in the Spanish sun. Although he knew that Bill was aware what was going on between his daughter and himself, Louis did his best to be as discreet as possible. Also the hurt inflicted on him by Annie went very deep, and he knew that he could never divulge the awful facts to Susan, as he felt it might do irreparable damage.
On Bill’s return from Spain, Louis decided to make an effort to show some warmth to Annie, letting her know that he had forgiven her, but secretly he had not forgotten. By the summer of ’63 Louis was running the showroom virtually single handed as there appeared a grey cloud on the horizon for the family. Bill’s health was deteriorating fast. The spectre of heart disease was pulling dear Bill down. Maybe it was the smoking, or his love for several pints of the local ale with his friends in town. Whatever it was, he was not the man he used to be.
Annie of course spent most of her time making her Bill as comfortable as possible, but with little or no exercise he was adding to his waistline, which hastened his demise. At only forty five he suddenly lost his battle with the disease and the two women in his life were left devastated, no husband and no father, one who had provided well for them in his life and did the same after his death. Annie had been left quite a wealthy widow and Susan was to receive a sizable income from a trust, the capital to be available on her twenty first birthday.
It was Bill’s wish for them to keep the garage and workshop as a going concern and his instruction to promote Louis as the full manager, even stipulating his salary and the use of a company car.
It seemed on the surface Louis’s future was assured, however now that Bill’s reassuring presence was missing, and without his mentor, the task of running the business at the tender age of eighteen and a half filled him with trepidation. A week into his new responsibility, the mental strain began to show and Annie considered that Bill’s confidence in Louis’s abilities might have been just a little misplaced. It was time to take a fresh look at the whole set up. One day an unexpected event seemed to change the whole outlook.
About three weeks after Bill died, Louis had had a slow day, it was the middle of the week and very wet. Only two people had called into the showroom and all Louis got from them was ‘I’ll think about it.’ He started to think that this was not going to work and at the end of the day, he trudged, a little dejectedly into the house next door, for his usual tea. Unusually both the women were already sitting at the table, and he forced a smile at them, as they both looked towards the mantelpiece. A letter was propped against the clock and he recognised the handwriting and the red ‘Republique Francaise’ stamp.
He held the letter and looked at the writing for what seemed an age, as if he was trying to see what it contained without opening it. There was a palpable tension between the three of them. He slit the envelope with his thumb and pulled out the letter. He asked them if they would like to hear what his father had written. They both nodded their agreement, but said nothing. He read to them that his father announced that he and his French fiancée Collette were to marry on the second Saturday of the following month. He stopped a moment and caught his breath, as the women’s eyes widened with anticipation.
‘I have a stepbrother called André, who is three months old!’ He shouted out loud. Henry had also asked Louis and all the Gilberts to his wedding in Provence. ‘RSVP?’ What’s that, Annie?’ he asked.
‘That’s French for please reply as soon as possible.’ She answered.
He looked at them both excitedly, as Susan ran to him. ‘Well that would be great, what do you think, mum?’ she asked hopefully.
‘I really don’t feel up to it, Suzy, not with all that’s happened, why don’t you go with Louis? It’s not really my sort of thing.’ Looking at Louis she said, ‘I think you know why, don’t you?’ Louis looked hard at Annie with no warmth or compassion.
Susan left his side as she felt something between them. Instead, she moved around the table and put her arms around her mother in a protective way.
‘If you’re not going mum, I think I’ll stay here with you. It’s probably best if you go on your own Louis, after all he’s your dad and we’d only be in the way.’
They ate their meal. Not even small talk had broken the strained silence, and in response to the tension between them, he didn’t wait for a sweet, rose from his chair and went to his room to compose his reply, and think about his future.
He felt the distinct chill wind of change in the whole environment, and it was time to act. After writing his letter, mentioning the sad loss of Bill to his father, he could hear the faint tinkle of the washing up in the kitchen. Usually that was the cue to go in the parlour and switch on the TV, and Susan would curl up with him on the sofa for an hour or so. That evening however, it didn’t seem appropriate, so he stayed in his room for an early night. It was a warm night, so he changed into his night clothes and just lay on top of the bed, read the letter a few more times, listened to the both of them, each in turn go to the bathroom, and then eventually close their bedroom doors.
About two in the morning he awoke as his bedroom door had opened quietly, and Annie’s head came into view. She saw that he was awake so she came into his room and sat on the side of the bed.
‘I hope that you understand the reasons for what I said tonight Louis?’ She asked softly, tenderly brushing back his wavy fringe.
Surprised that he offered no resistance, she pecked him on his cheek, and he felt the heavy breasts pressing on his side. He pulled her towards him, and in a couple of seconds she was in his bed, kissing him frantically.