Authors: Scott Mariani
Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary
‘Why?’ he said falteringly
‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘It’s the truth. I can’t help it.’
‘Harry loves you,’ he said. ‘I can see it.’
‘It’s over between me and Harry. It has been for months.’ She let out a sigh. ‘Sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s nobody’s fault.’
‘If he knew…’
‘I know. It would destroy him. But you feel the same way, don’t you?’
He couldn’t answer.
‘Don’t you?’ she repeated, a little more urgently. Her hand slipped into his, and she moved closer. The warmth of her body made his heart beat fast.
He didn’t speak.
‘You do, don’t you? I know you do.’
Then she kissed him, and he could feel the quickening of her breathing.
‘Harry’s gone for a few hours,’ she whispered, breaking the embrace. Her arms encircled his neck and she moved forwards to kiss him again.
He gently took her wrist and pushed her back. She sat there gazing at him in hurt bewilderment.
‘I already told you this can’t happen,’ he said softly.
‘I’m going to leave him. When this is over, when you do this job for him and he’s not suffering so much. I’ll wait a while, a month or two. Then I’m out of here. So it makes no difference what happens here between us tonight.’
‘I can’t do this to the man who saved my life.’
‘I want you,’ she said. ‘I want to be with you.’
‘I want you too,’ he replied. ‘But you have to understand. I’m not free to make that decision.’
‘But you love me.’ Tears glistened on her face. He wanted to kiss them away.
He hesitated. ‘Yes,’ he whispered.
‘Is it so wrong, if it’s love? If we didn’t plan it this way, if it just happened to us? Why is that wrong? People do fall in love.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s just the way it is. Can’t we be friends?’ But it sounded empty and hollow to him even as he said it. He knew it could never be.
She pulled away, standing up and moving back into the shadows. ‘I won’t be here when you leave tomorrow.’
He watched her slip back to the door. The chink of light appeared and disappeared as she left the room.
He leaned back and closed his eyes. His thoughts swirled. He lost all track of time.
It had been a long time since he’d felt this lonely.
The feeling of loneliness was still with him when he woke up early the next morning. He sat up in bed and watched the sun break away from the flat blue horizon and begin its climb up across the lightening sky. The sea was a little choppier today, and there was just the slightest perceptible sense of motion as the superyacht rode up and down on the swell.
After a few minutes he rolled out of bed and forced three fast sets of twenty press-ups out of himself on the soft carpet. It helped to shift his focus and settle his restless mind, but not enough. He paced up and down for a while in the luxurious stateroom, finding the opulence of it almost oppressive. Then he went for a shower in the massive ensuite bathroom. Afterwards, he found a dark blue bathrobe on a rail and put it on, noticing in the mirror that it had the yacht’s name embroidered in gold across the right breast. He wandered back out of the bathroom and flopped on the bed.
What a situation. He closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind, but it wasn’t working. He grabbed his Omega from the bedside table and looped it over his wrist, noting that it was after eight. He reached for the phone and punched in the number of the office in Normandy. He was expecting Jeff to answer, but the voice that greeted him on the other end was Brooke’s.
‘You’re still there,’ he said.
‘You’re losing it, Hope. I’m here for a few days. We talked about it, remember?’
He did. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered.
‘I was kind of hoping you’d be back today.’
‘No chance of that.’
‘Where are you?’
‘I’m still in Italy. But I won’t be here much longer.’
‘You’ll be back tomorrow?’
‘No. That’s what I was phoning about. I’m going somewhere else.’
‘So mysterious. Am I allowed to know where?’
She paused. ‘Why?’
‘How long for?’
‘I don’t know,’ he answered truthfully.
‘You’re being a bit weird, Hope.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about it.’
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, sounding anxious.
‘Nothing’s wrong. Tell Jeff I’ll be back there as soon as I can.’
‘I’m worried about you,’ she said. ‘Talk to me, Ben.’
‘Nothing to be worried about. I’ll see you again soon.’
After the call was over, he dressed and wandered up on deck. Part of him was hoping Zara would be around, but another part dreaded it.
Out on the lower aft deck, the long table was set for breakfast. The scent of freshly percolated coffee drifted on the sea breeze. A basket was filled with warm croissants and pain au chocolat, and a jug of orange pressé sparkled in the sun. Zara was nowhere to be seen.
‘My wife sends her apologies,’ said Paxton’s voice behind Ben. ‘She had an early dental appointment and won’t be joining us. Said to say goodbye to you.’
Ben turned. ‘Morning, Harry.’
Paxton was smiling. ‘Did you sleep well? I hope the noise of the helicopter didn’t wake you.’
‘I slept fine, thanks,’ Ben said. ‘How was your business meeting?’
‘It went very well.’ Paxton motioned at the table. ‘Please, take a seat. Have some breakfast. I can have the chef prepare you bacon, eggs, anything you want.’
‘This is fine, thanks, Harry.’ Ben reached for a croissant, poured coffee into his cup.
They chatted over breakfast for a few minutes. ‘I still don’t know how to thank you for what you’re doing for me,’ Paxton smiled, the sadness in his voice tinged with warmth. ‘You’re booked on a Swiss International Airlines flight from Nice at eleven. There are a few particulars I wanted to run through with you. When you’re finished, perhaps we could go down to the library?’
Ben put down his empty cup. ‘I’m finished. Let’s go.’
The first thing he noticed when he walked into the library was the attaché case on the table. Paxton went over to it, took out a slim card folder and handed it to Ben. ‘These are all the details,’ he said as Ben leafed through the contents. ‘The address of Morgan’s rented flat in Cairo. A copy of the coroner’s report, and of my correspondence with the homicide department, for what it’s worth. Your tickets will be waiting for you at the airport.’ Paxton reached back inside the case and took out a thick envelope. He handed it to Ben.
‘Your expenses,’ Paxton said.
Ben looked inside at the fat wad of banknotes.
‘Egyptian currency,’ Paxton said. ‘Three hundred thousand Egyptian pounds. That’s about forty thousand Euros, give or take.’
‘That’s too much, Harry. Take some back.’
Paxton shook his head vehemently. ‘Keep it, please. Spend as much as you want and, whatever’s left over, change it back to whatever currency you need for yourself.’
Ben shrugged. ‘If you insist.’
‘I absolutely do.’
Ben ran his eye along the row of pictures on the sideboard. He skipped over a photo of Zara in a swim-suit sitting by a pool in some exotic place. Next to it was a picture of Morgan. ‘It might be useful for me to have a picture of him,’ he said. ‘Something recent, so I can ask around. It might jog a memory.’
Paxton picked one up and handed it to him. ‘This was taken the last time I saw him, just before he left for Cairo. One of the rare times he ever came to stay with us on board.’
Ben looked at the photo. It showed Morgan sitting in the
dining room, looking a little flushed and uncomfortable, holding a champagne glass. He was wearing a lightweight blazer, white with thin blue pinstripes. Ben could see the edge of a chunky gold watch protruding extravagantly from his cuff. It seemed somehow incongruous on him.
‘Expensive-looking item,’ he said. ‘Was that the one he was wearing on his trip? You mentioned it was stolen.’
Paxton nodded sadly. ‘A Rolex Oyster. He always wore it. It was a present from his mother. She had it engraved. He treasured it.’
‘Tempting chunk of gold for a thief.’
‘I know. Morgan wasn’t especially streetwise. Academics live in their own little cocoon. I warned him about the watch, advised him to leave it here so that I could put it in the safe. But he didn’t want to know.’ Paxton let out a long, trembling breath. ‘I should have been more insistent. I let him go out there and make himself a target. It was my fault.’
Ben was wishing he hadn’t mentioned the watch. ‘Don’t beat yourself up, Harry. They might just have been going after his wallet, his computer, his phone, even his shoes. He was a wealthy Western tourist. It happens. People get murdered for a lot less.’ He waved the photo. ‘Can I take this with me?’
‘Take it,’ Paxton said. ‘I have a copy.’
Ben removed the picture from the frame and slipped it into the folder with the other papers. There wasn’t much, but he was already forming his plans. He put the folder in his bag and buckled the straps. ‘I’m ready.’
Paxton looked pleased. ‘Good. There’ll be a taxi waiting for you at Porto Vecchio to take you to the airport.’
As Ben was about to leave, Paxton suddenly and unexpectedly embraced him. Ben could feel the tension in the man’s body.
‘I love my wife, Ben,’ Paxton said in a low voice.
Ben recoiled at the words but tried to hide it. ‘I know that, Harry.’
‘I’m too old for her. I don’t even know what she sees in me. But I love her more than anything. She’s all I have left in the world.’
Ben just nodded.
Paxton patted him on the back, drew away and wiped away a tear. He collected himself quickly. ‘I’ll wait for your call, then.’
‘I’ll be in touch, Harry.’
Ben stepped off the launch at Porto Vecchio and got into the waiting taxi. Forty-five minutes later he was back at the Côte d’Azur International Airport across the border in Nice, grabbing his bag out of the boot and heading across the car park towards the airport terminals.
He wished he were getting on a plane back to Normandy, not boarding a flight bound for Amsterdam and then on to Cairo. He felt trapped. He thought of Brooke and Jeff, wondered what they were doing at that moment. They felt a long way away. He suddenly realised how much he missed having them around.
He was halfway across the tarmac when the sound of a car approaching fast made him turn. Zara’s
Roadster had pulled in off the street and was speeding towards him. The car screeched to a halt five yards away from where he was standing and the door flew open. Zara jumped out and came running up to him. Her face was tense.
‘What are you doing here?’ he asked, bewildered.
‘I couldn’t let you go without seeing you again.’
‘You followed me all the way from San Remo?’
‘I had to say goodbye. I’m sorry I walked out on you last night. It was stupid of me to run away like that.’
‘It was better that you didn’t stay.’
‘I meant what I said. That I love you. I do. I want us to be together. I’ll find a way, some way that won’t hurt Harry.’
‘Don’t talk like that. I can’t listen to this. It’s not right.’
‘You know it’s right,’ she said. ‘We both do.’ She held him tight. He stroked her hair as she moved her face up to his. The struggle was killing him. He gave in to the kiss. They embraced for a few seconds, and then he pushed her away reluctantly, his throat tight. ‘I’ve got to go. I’m going to miss this flight. I’ve got business to take care of
‘Stay with me. Take the next flight.’
‘You know I can’t do that.’
She reached up and gently caressed his cheek. ‘Take care.’
‘You too,’ he said.
‘When will I see you again?’
‘I don’t know.’ He turned to go, tearing himself away.
‘Call me,’ she said as he walked off. ‘Promise you’ll call me.’
He wanted to turn back and hold her again, be with her, take her somewhere where they could be alone. But he kept walking. Just before he pushed through the doors into the terminal building, he glanced back. She was standing there by her car, a small, forlorn figure in the distance. She waved. He sighed and entered the building.
Across the car park, two men had been sitting in a car watching the whole thing. The driver had been about to get out to follow their target inside the airport to find out what flight he was getting on.
had screeched up and the Paxton woman had jumped out. The man had ducked back inside the car, not wanting to be spotted.
He turned to his companion in the passenger seat, who was wearing a white foam neck brace. ‘What’s going on here? What the hell is she doing?’
The passenger looked grim as he watched Zara Paxton with her arms around the target. ‘Christ,’ he groaned. ‘She wasn’t supposed to get emotionally involved with him.’ He glanced at his colleague, wincing at the pain that the movement cost him. ‘You think she’s told him anything?’
The other one sighed. ‘I don’t know. We’d just better pray she isn’t going to fuck this whole thing up for us.’
Pierre Claudel was a master at what he did. In the shadowy circles in which he moved, his name was a whispered legend. The truth about his life was a closed book, and he preferred to keep it that way.
At the age of forty-two, he was a confirmed member of the Cairo rich list. He was tall and suave, always well-dressed, impeccably mannered and extremely eligible. He played tennis and polo, enjoyed fine art and fine wine, had a private box at the opera, could recommend the best restaurants and hotels in any city in the world, and was seldom seen in public without the latest addition to the procession of expensive, but always eminently replaceable, women who passed through his life and bed. He drove a bright red Ferrari and lived in a mock Tuscan villa set in 1.6 acres of clipped and manicured country parkland in Hyde Park, one of Cairo’s most exclusive gated communities.
As to where all this had come from, Claudel was highly secretive about the nature of his business. When asked what he did, he would just smile his charming smile, give a modest little wave of his hand and reply that he specialised in cultural exports. That answer was good enough for the small-talking country-club elite and the women he seduced at the city’s fashionable high-society parties. They didn’t need to know the truth. Nobody did.