Read The Heretic's Treasure Online

Authors: Scott Mariani

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary

The Heretic's Treasure (6 page)

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
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Ben had no trouble believing it-but he kept quiet.

Paxton went on. His voice was calm and controlled, his jaw set. ‘As far as they’re concerned, Morgan was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. These things happen every day, and they appear not to be pursuing it. Just one of those things.’ Paxton paused and looked hard at Ben. ‘And that’s why I need your help. Justice hasn’t been done.’

Ben waited. He was scared of what was coming.

Then Paxton came out with the thing he’d been dreading.

‘I want you to go to Cairo,’ he said. ‘I want you to find whoever did this to my son. And I want you to kill them.’

Chapter Eight

‘You were really unlucky,’ Marla Austin was saying to Kerry. They were in the
stateroom, far away from the library in which Ben and Paxton were talking. ‘San Remo’s normally a safe place. You don’t hear of women getting attacked, as a rule.’

Kerry was reclining on a huge bed as Paxton’s PA bustled around her. ‘I still can’t believe the way he handled those men,’ she murmured, eyes half shut. ‘He was so…’ her voice trailed off.

Marla smiled at her from the foot of the bed. ‘He certainly sounds like quite a guy,’ she said. ‘Now, you need to get some rest. You’ve had a nasty shock. I think your new friend and Mr Paxton will be talking for a while. I’ll come back in an hour or so to check on you.’

‘Thanks,’ Kerry slurred in a sleepy voice.

And I do think you should maybe see a doctor when you get back to port. Just to be sure. All right?’

‘I will.’

‘See you later, then. Rest yourself, OK?’ Marla unfolded a blanket that was lying on an armchair. She laid it over Kerry. ‘And if you get cold, there’s a sweater there for you.’

‘Thanks,’ Kerry murmured again. ‘See you.’

Marla tiptoed across the vast Oriental rug and slipped out of the stateroom. She shut the door quietly behind her and went about her business.

Inside the huge opulent room, Kerry lay on the bed with her eyes shut. She listened to the sound of Marla’s footsteps disappearing up the passageway.

Once she knew she was alone, she opened her eyes and sat up straight, sweeping the blanket off her.

She scanned the room, alert and focused. The sleepy look was gone. She swung her legs off the bed and stood up. Strode across the room to where Marla had carefully laid her shoes and handbag. She picked up the bag, opened it and took out her asthma puffer.

She gazed at the little blue plastic pump for a second. Her eyes ran up its length to where the aluminium tube poked out of the top. Gripping the end of the tube between finger and thumb, she gave it a tug and it separated from the plastic body. She laid the plastic part on the chair next to her and turned the aluminium part over in her fingers.

It was the exact same size and weight as the medical product it was disguised to look like. The only difference was that, instead of containing a compressed solution of Salbutamol, the tube was hollow and housed a tiny electronic device. She shook it out. Coiled up with it was a miniature earpiece on the end of a thin wire. She fitted the mike into her ear and activated the device.

Somewhere miles above the earth, the
signal was instantly rerouted.

She knew her accomplices would already be listening on the other end, keenly waiting for her to report. It was all going smoothly so far.

‘I’m on board,’ she whispered.

‘Copy,’ said a man’s voice.

‘I’m going to take a look around.’

‘Go easy,’ said the voice. ‘Don’t get caught.’

‘I won’t,’ she said softly. ‘Out.’

She switched off the device, plucked the earpiece out of her ear and wound the wire around two fingers. She stuffed everything back inside the hollow Salbutamol bottle, and replaced it in the plastic body of the asthma pump. Slipping the pump in her pocket, she walked towards the door and opened it a crack. She peeked out into the corridor, glanced left and right. Nobody around. She slipped out into the passage. Her heart was thudding.

She knew she had to move fast. But she knew exactly where to go.

Chapter Nine

Ben and Paxton stared at each other in silence for a long moment.

Ben’s glass was empty. He rotated it thoughtfully on his knee for a moment. Searched for the right words.

‘I’m not a hitman, Harry,’ was all he could answer.

Paxton reached for the decanter and refilled their drinks. ‘It’s a small community, our little world of ex-officers. Especially when it comes to men with your background. I’ve heard things on the grapevine. I know what you’ve been doing since you left the regiment. You didn’t go into business, like me. Not conventional business, anyway. You tracked people down.’

Ben shook his head. ‘You’re making me sound like a bounty hunter. I found missing people. Kidnap victims, children mostly. That’s what I did. And I certainly didn’t do contracts.’

‘But people died,’ Paxton said, gazing at him steadily. ‘At least, that’s what I heard. Perhaps I was misinformed.’

Ben winced inwardly. ‘No, you heard right. People died. But not like this.’

‘Will you hear me out?’

Ben sighed. ‘Of course. Go ahead.’

Paxton stood up and went over to one of the paintings on the wall. The gilt-framed oil depicted a naval battle, two sailing warships ripping into each other broadside on a stormy sea, jets of flame bursting through billows of white smoke, sails hanging in tatters. He gazed at it pensively as he went on.

‘Let me tell you about my son. He was very unlike me. He was a man of intellect and philosophy, not a man of action. And I think he had problems coming to terms with that. He tried to follow in my footsteps, but it just wasn’t him. He was a timid sort of man. That’s not to say he didn’t have talent. Somewhere inside him, I believe there was even the potential to be brilliant. But he wasn’t ambitious. He had no drive, never really shone. Sometimes that frustrated me, and he knew it. Perhaps I was guilty of being too hard on him. I bitterly regret that now.’

Paxton turned away from the painting. ‘Because the fact is,’ he went on, ‘that Morgan had one overriding passion in his life, which I never understood. It all started when he stumbled on something in the course of his research.’

‘Stumbled on what?’ Ben said, wondering where this was leading. He was still reeling from Paxton’s request.

‘You have to understand the academic mind,’ Paxton replied. ‘These aren’t men who seek glory. It’s hard for you and I to relate to that. They’re men whose joy in life lies in things that we might consider trivial.’ He paused. ‘Morgan’s great passion was a discovery he’d made to do with ancient Egypt. Some sort of papyrus relating to a minor political or religious upset that happened three thousand years ago. He told me a little about it, though to be honest I don’t remember the details. It’s not the kind of thing that would interest me, personally. But it meant a great deal to him.’

‘And this was what he was researching in Cairo?’

Paxton nodded. ‘He’d been working on it for a long time. When the opportunity arose to take a sabbatical year, his plan was to stay in Egypt for a few months. And so he’d taken all his research material with him. But when his body was found, all his belongings had been taken. They took his watch, his phone, his wallet and his camera. Even some of his clothes. And his briefcase, his laptop, everything. Which means that all his research is gone. It was all for nothing. All the effort he poured into it, the passion he had for it. All gone, because of some murdering little lowlife who thought he could make a bob or two passing on stolen goods.’

Ben didn’t know what to say.

‘I can’t bear that my son is dead,’ Paxton said stiffly. ‘But what I can bear even less is that his legacy could be wiped out like that, like swatting a fly. I want him to have counted for something. Whatever it was that he was discovering, I want his academic peers to know about it and give him the due credit for it.’ Paxton picked up the photo frame again and gazed at it, his face tight with emotion. ‘If one of our soldiers died in action, we’d want him to be remembered. His name on the clock tower.’

Paxton was talking about the sacred
tradition of inscribing the names of the regiment’s fallen heroes on the clock tower at the headquarters in Hereford. ‘A tribute,’ Ben said.

‘That’s all I want for my son,’ Paxton replied.

Ben thought for a long moment. ‘I can understand that, Harry. I really can. And if all you wanted me to do was try to bring back his research material, that would be one thing. But you’re asking for much more. You’re asking me for a revenge killing.’

‘Killing isn’t anything new to you.’

Ben had to agree with that. ‘But this is different, Harry. It’s ugly.’

Paxton’s eyes blazed for an instant. ‘Who are they, Benedict? The worst kind of shit. You’d be doing the world a favour. And me.’

The word hit Ben hard. There was a lot of history behind it.

He looked down at his feet, his mind racing back in time. Half-repressed memories drifted in his imagination.

He looked up. ‘May 14th, 1997.I haven’t forgotten.’

‘That isn’t why I contacted you,’ Paxton said. ‘I don’t want you to think I’m calling in old favours. I don’t feel that you owe me anything, Benedict. Understood? I need you to believe that.’

Ben said nothing.

‘I called you because I know you’re the only person in the world I can trust,’ Paxton said. ‘And someone I know can see this through. I can’t do it myself. I’m too close to it. It would kill me.’

Ben was silent.

‘I would pay you, of course,’ Paxton said. ‘I’m a wealthy man. You can name your price.’

Ben hesitated a long moment before he replied. ‘I need some time to think it over.’

‘I can appreciate that, and I’m sorry for having sprung this on you.’

‘One thing I can tell you right now. I don’t want your money.’

‘I appreciate that too,’ Paxton said. ‘But remember, the offer is there. You’d want expenses, at least.’

Ben looked at his watch. It was almost two in the afternoon. ‘I know you want a quick answer. Give me until this evening. I’ll call you and let you know my decision.’

Paxton smiled. ‘Thank you. And whatever you decide, I’d like you to be my guest here on board tonight, for dinner. If your answer is no, then no hard feelings. If it’s a yes, I’d like you to check out of your hotel and bring your luggage here. I already have a luxury cabin prepared for you. Stay here the night, and I’ll brief you more fully before you leave for Cairo.’

Ben didn’t reply. He was already working it over in his mind.

‘Thank you again for coming all this way,’ Paxton said. ‘It was good to see you again, whatever happens.’ He stood up.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door.

‘Excuse me.’ Paxton strode over and opened it. Marla was standing there. She was holding a phone in her hand. In the other was a neatly folded navy blue cotton jacket. Ben recognised it as his.

‘I’m sorry to interrupt,’ she said. ‘It’s Kazamoto,’ she added quietly.

Paxton tutted under his breath. He took the phone from her. ‘This might take a minute,’ he said to Ben.

‘I’ll see you on deck,’ Ben replied.

He left the study with Marla. ‘How’s Kerry?’ he asked her out in the passage.

‘Resting,’ Marla replied. ‘She had quite a shock, didn’t she?’ She handed him his jacket. ‘She won’t be needing this any more. I gave her something to wear.’

‘That was kind of you.’

‘Kind nothing. You’re the one who saved her. A lot of people would have looked the other way.’ She smiled. ‘Anyway, I’ll go and check on her again, now that your meeting’s over.’

He thanked her, and headed towards the deck, jacket in hand. His legs felt heavy as he made his way back up the companionway. He stepped outside into the sunshine. The sea was shimmering blue, a gentle swell rocking the deck under his feet. He walked to the rail and looked out to the horizon. Reached into his jacket pocket for his Gauloises and Zippo. He slipped out one of the untipped cigarettes and lit up.

‘Hello again,’ a voice said.

He turned.

Zara Paxton was standing there. She’d let her hair down to her shoulders. It was waving in the breeze, catching the sunlight. She reached up with a slender hand to flick a curl of it away from her face and smiled, showing perfect white teeth. A twinkle of fun in her blue eyes.

He caught himself staring and glanced down at his feet, suddenly self-conscious.

‘We weren’t introduced,’ she said with a soft laugh. He could just about detect the Australian accent in her warm voice.

‘Mrs Paxton.’ He held out his hand, and she shook it. Her hand was warm and tender, but strong.

‘Please, call me Zara.’

‘Ben Hope,’ he said.

‘Harry calls you Benedict.’

‘Just Ben is fine.’

‘Well, it’s good to meet you, Just Ben.’ Her gaze flicked down to the cigarette in his hand. ‘Can I have a puff?’

Her familiarity took him aback. ‘You can have a whole one, if you like.’

She grinned. ‘No, just a quick puff. Harry can’t stand me smoking on board. Or anyone.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind.’ He offered her the cigarette, and their fingers brushed as she took it from his hand. She put it to her lips and took a drag on it, then passed it back to him. ‘Thanks.’

For a few moments he couldn’t think of anything more to say to her. There was a light in her eyes that he just wanted to stare at. Seconds went by, silence between them.

He finally broke it. ‘I watched you shoot earlier. Hope you don’t mind. You’re very good.’

She smiled. ‘I try.’

‘Australian Open champion.’

‘Missed out on the Olympics,’ she said. ‘Need to do better.’

Another awkward moment of silence passed. ‘So you were in the
with Harry?’ she asked. ‘You’re the first of his regimental comrades I’ve met.’

He shrugged. Didn’t say anything.

‘You don’t like to talk about the army, do you?’

Her insight, her sudden serious look, took him aback. ‘Not really.’

BOOK: The Heretic's Treasure
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