Blood Money (chapters five and six.)
Steering his Range Rover along the muddy country road, Terry Keenan sucked on his lemon lollipop. His sweet craze had aided him in his fight against nicotine, and seldom were his pockets free from the various flavoured treats.
Although Keenan had to catch a ferry to the mainland, he made it his business to check on his new friend, Beano. Pulling up outside the farmhouse, the Irishman waited, until the final chords of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons had faded away before leaving his vehicle.
Rapping on the farmhouse door, he waited patiently. Again, he knocked at the door, this time with more purpose. “Hello, is anyone at home?”
He strolled towards the grubby window and gazed in at the interior of the cottage. The old, bald farmer was sitting in a shabby, stained armchair in front of a roaring fire, drinking from a whiskey bottle. Across his knees rested a shotgun.
Keenan kicked in the door and focused on the old man, who seemed unaware of the stranger’s presence. A strong, musty stench of urine was present inside the cottage and Keenan grimaced. Yellowing wallpaper covered the walls and the bare wooden floorboards were soiled by dog filth.
Keenan was standing between the man and the fireplace, his eyes focusing on the shotgun. “You expecting trouble, old man?”
The farmer took another swig from his whiskey bottle. “What do yer fucking want? This is my home so why don’t you fuck off back to Belfast?”
“Where’s Beano?” asked Keenan, spitting out his lollipop.
“He’s just a fucking dog, don’t you understand, just a flea-riddled mut?”
Keenan looked towards the kitchen door, and keeping one eye on the farmer, he advanced towards it. He pushed open the squeaking door and was overcome by a feeling of nausea. “Fucking hell! Holy Mary, you evil bastard.”
Severed chicken heads covered the bloodstained kitchen table and the skeletons of several unidentifiable animals were scattered on the kitchen floor. Keenan covered his mouth, watching the maggots feeding on the carcasses.
Fighting back the vomit, he felt the tears streaming down his eyes when he spotted a familiar creature lying amongst the filth. Beano was barely conscious, his front legs twitching erratically and his sad eyes sallow. Keenan crouched down and stroked the whimpering dog, recoiling at its emaciated appearance. The IRA assassin wept openly as his eyes focused on the dog’s bloody rectum that had been mutilated.
Keenan withdrew his pistol from his pocket and held it against the poor creature’s head. “There’s a good boy. It’s best this way fella.”
The loud gunshot echoed around the cottage. Keenan rejoined the old man, who had not moved. “Why?” quizzed the gunman? “Why?”
The farmer’s eyes met Keenan’s. He dropped his shotgun to the ground. “Do what you have to. If you think a human life’s worth that of a mangy hound then God help you, son.”
Keenan seized the collar of the old man. “Outside now, you sick bastard.”
The drunken farmer staggered to the door and Keenan pushed him forward. He spotted a spade leaning against the rickety fence and pointed towards it. “The spade. Get it.”
The farmer obeyed and turned to face Keenan, who checked his wristwatch. “Because I’m in a hurry, old man, I’m unable to keep my promise. I said I’d skin you and then bury you alive, but shedding your leathery hide could turn out to be a long process. Start digging.”
The leering farmer shook his head and threw the spade to the ground. “Dig yer fucking hole yourself big man. IRA are we? Is that supposed to scare me, yer Catholic shit?”
Keenan pointed his weapon towards the knee of the old man. “You talk mighty brave with a belly full of whiskey down you. Stops you pissing your pants does it? Now for the last time, start fucking digging!”
Again, the farmer hesitated and Keenan pulled the trigger. The screaming man collapsed to the ground, clutching at his ravaged, bloody knee.
“On your feet and dig or the next one will blow your knackers off.”
The farmer proceeded to dig and Keenan waited patiently until the hole was deep enough. He wrestled the spade from the wounded man’s grasp.
“Now climb into the hole.”
“No, please don’t,” whimpered the trembling farmer. “It was only a fucking dog.”
Keenan kicked out and his victim tumbled into the hole. The executioner proceeded to fill in the hole with the damp earth, as the farmer attempted to climb from the grave. A powerful kick in the face flattened the man and he lay helpless, his pleading ignored by Keenan. The IRA man shovelled faster and faster, the perspiration stinging his eyes. A solitary hand protruding from the soil went limp and Keenan ceased his shovelling.
Returning indoors, Keenan carried the dead dog outside and commenced digging a shallower grave. He lowered the dog into its final resting-place and covered it with the soil before saying a prayer. Again, he returned indoors to wash, before returning to his vehicle.
He carried the petrol can from the boot of his Range Rover and advanced towards the farmhouse. Dowsing the interior with the petrol, he was satisfied. He struck a match and flicked it into the farmhouse.
Before driving away, Keenan selected a classical CD of his choice and unwrapped another of his beloved lollypops. He drove away, looking in the mirror at the inferno he had left behind.
Schofield relaxed in the jacuzzi and reached for the naked Indonesian girl. He stroked her tiny breasts as she nibbled his ear. Arranging for an available girl had not proved a difficult task. Dropping a hint with the hotel barman had produced the desired result.
She reached beneath the bubbling water for his penis and he seized her tiny hand. “Later, darling. Go and freshen our drinks will you? I’ve an important call to make.”
He grinned and watched the petite, shapely girl scampering across the bathroom floor. Not daring to risk calling on the hotel telephone, he tapped in the numbers on his cell phone. He smiled; acknowledging that Chaplin was at last returning calls.
“Sam, I’ve been trying to call you for hours. Why’ve you had your phone switched off?”
“I always turn it off when I’m in bed... Jakarta is seven hours ahead of us, Dean.”
“Listen, we may have a problem.”
“You did meet Manaf didn’t you?”
“Yes, I met him, but he’s only interested in donating the money to his village.”
“You made him the offer?”
Schofield waved away the returning girl and waited until she had left the room.
“Who are you with, Dean?”
“Nobody... No, I never made Manaf the offer. He still thinks he’s being paid for a magazine article... Sam, we couldn’t have chosen anyone more pure. I’m not sure we can corrupt the poor bastard.”
“What do you mean he wants to donate the money to his village?”
Schofield sipped his Jack Daniels. “His village was destroyed by the tsunami, Sam. He wants to rebuild it.”
There was a long pause before Chaplin responded. “That may work in our favour... How much does it take to rebuild a village? When he hears what we’re offering, he may accept.”
“The boy deserves a million pounds, Sam. We wouldn’t have to add much more to the deception. The poor mite lost his entire family.”
“You’re not getting all sentimental on me are you, Dean? This new image is not befitting to you.”
“You know, maybe Jack was right. Taking advantage of someone who’s suffered isn’t fun.”
“Put the proposal to him, Dean. Time is not on our side. I talked to 0’Hara last night and he’s an impatient man... Listen, you haven’t revealed your true identity to Manaf have you?”
“No, of course not.”
“There’s something else, Dean.”
“ O’Hara wants to meet the beneficiaries and to be photographed with them.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t expect it. Our accomplices are going to have to know about his original offer and that could complicate things.”
“You mean, they could get greedy?”
“Exactly... We need somebody who is loyal.”
“But aren’t you forgetting something, Sam? Our friends won’t be real heroes, so they’re sticking their necks out too. They wouldn’t even have been considered if it wasn’t for us.”
“I suppose you’re right. So how do you feel about Manaf?”
“Okay. I’ll make him the offer tomorrow morning.”
“That’s the spirit... One more thing. I’m flying to Islamabad in Pakistan tomorrow afternoon.”
“I may have found our second hero... A friend of mine works for the Red Cross and he mentioned somebody rather special that is currently living in the capital. We may not have to supply witnesses with this chappy.”
“Be careful, Sam. It would be dangerous to recruit a real hero.”
“Oh, this one’s as bent as a nine bob note. A hero he may be, but he stole my friend’s wallet and wristwatch. I know what I’m doing.”
“Goodbye, Sam.” Schofield smiled as the beautiful girl rejoined him. He felt her warm, soothing body intertwining with his own and welcomed it. He could get used to this.
The pleasant, warm afternoon prompted Sam Chaplin’s decision to abandon his jacket. Wearing a white shirt, he felt in conflict with the colourfully attired citizens of Islamabad. The broad, tree-lined avenues and exotic plants on view were kind to his eye, and the aroma of pungent spices added to the mystique of the city.
Never had he expected Islamabad to be so clean.
Chaplin hailed a yellow taxi and climbed in beside the bearded driver. “The Shah Faisal Mosque please.”
The driver regarded his fare curiously. “You English, Sir?”
“My son, Zeb, he is studying in Oxford. A beautiful city, eh?”
“Yes, a beautiful city.”
The driver manoeuvred his vehicle around an overloaded bus and accelerated. Chaplin looked back in amusement, eyeing the group of commuters, who clung onto the outside of the bus. Others were more fortunate and found a comfortable spot on the roof.
Arriving at his destination, the sight of the magnificent structure took the Englishman’s breath away. Surrounded by rose gardens, the mosque stood out from the backdrop of the Margalla Hills. The untraditional building was like no other mosque he had set eyes on before. With its large triangular prayer hall and four minarets, the holy shrine lacked a dome.
Chaplin paid the driver and parted with a generous tip. His eyes took in the hundreds of colourful worshippers, who were either making their way to the mosque or simply admiring the picturesque view. Others slept away the afternoon. He mingled with the crowd, who shuffled forward slowly, looking for a man he had never met before. Multitudes of hostile eyes were fixed on the foreigner, making Chaplin feel uncomfortable.
Standing below the Saudi-Pak tower was a man wearing sunglasses, a blue shirt and denims. In his hands, he held a copy of the Times magazine. Chaplin broke ranks and headed towards him, hoping that he was not mistaken.
The Asian man, who was in his late twenties smiled at the foreigner, his perfect white teeth and slick black hair in keeping with so many of his countrymen. “Mr Chaplin?”
Because the solicitor’s friend from the Red Cross had been the go-between, Chaplin felt obliged to present his true identity. After Lance Peebles, the relief worker had told Chaplin about the heroic deeds of Mukhtar Ahmed, he promised to look the hero up, on the pretence that he was visiting Pakistan on holiday.
“Mukhtar?” asked Chaplin, offering his hand.
“I expected you to be wearing a bowler hat and swinging an umbrella,” joked the younger man.
“Yes, I got Charlie Chaplin all of the time when I was at school... You speak very good English.”
“I was educated here in Islamabad.”
“And your family lived in Muzaffarabad?”
“They did. As you probably already know, they perished in the earthquake?”
Mukhtar discarded his magazine into a waste bin. “I know how a spy feels now.”
Chaplin passed over the letter from Lance Peebles. “Here you are... Lance must be really fond of you.”
“Oh, he is. He helped me to rescue my people in Muzaffarabad..”
Mukhtar walked away slowly and read the letter. He turned back to Chaplin, his face beaming. “Mr Chaplin, you came so far out of your way to deliver this letter?”
“No, I didn’t.”
A puzzled expression appeared on Mukhtar’s face... “I must pray, Mr Chaplin. Will you escort me into the mosque?”
Chaplin nodded. “Call me Sam, please.”
Outside the entrance, they removed their shoes and paced towards a staircase that led to an expansive forecourt. Advancing into the interior prayer hall, Chaplin marvelled at an enormous chandelier and the walls that were decorated with mosaics and calligraphy, courtesy of the Pakistan artist, Gul Jee.
Hundreds, if not thousands of the vibrant worshippers occupied the prayer hall, and Chaplin joined his companion on his knees, feeling hypocritical in such a holy building. Not being a devout churchgoer, the solicitor feigned his prayers.
Several minutes had passed before Chaplin followed Mukhtar outside. The sun was low in the orange flaming sky and the chill of the evening was setting in.
“Are you hungry, Sam?”
“As a matter of fact, I am rather peckish.”
“Good. I know a really good restaurant.”
“I’ll flag down a cab,” suggested Chaplin.
“No need, I have my car.”
Chaplin eyed the battered Honda Civic with disdain. Reluctantly, he climbed into the passenger seat.
“Well, Sam. You said that you didn’t come here to deliver the letter, so then why?”
The erratic-sounding engine turned over at the fifth attempt and Mukhtar joined the procession of traffic.
“I want to make you a wealthy man,, Mukhtar.”
The bewildered Asian looked across at his passenger. “I’m not sure I understand.”
Chaplin cleared his throat and sipped from his bottle of water. “I’m willing to offer you one hundred thousand pounds.”
“Goodness, that is a lot of rupees. For what?”
“I’ll get straight to the point shall I? First of all I must profess that I’m taking such a big risk in making you this offer.”
“You want me to rob a bank?”
“No, of course not... I need a hero, Mukhtar, and after what Dave told me, I think I’ve found one; only a bogus one would have been preferential.”
“Now you have confused me, Sam.”
“Watch that motorcycle!… As I was saying, I work as a solicitor, and a client wishes to give a large sum of money away to three deprived people, who have performed heroic deeds.”
“Why would he do that?”
“That’s another story.”
Mukhtar scratched his head. “You said you were taking a risk?”
“I am, believe me... My intention was to use bogus heroes and to split the money with my associates. Lance told me that you stole from him and that prompted my decision, you see, your dishonesty is an advantage to me.”
“I was desperate. I am not a criminal. Lance was so kind to me and I regret what I did.”
Mukhtar cursed in his mother tongue and honked his horn at two youths, who were racing on scooters. “So you found yourself a genuine hero, but how do you profit from that?”
“Because, Mukhtar, the sum offered by my client is far greater than the money I’m willing to pay you.”
The driver smiled. “So how much more?”
“One million pounds,” mumbled Chaplin.
Mukhtar whistled. “So why don’t I just collect the full million?”
Chaplin wound down the window, the temperature rapidly dropping.
“I’m so sorry but my air conditioning is not working... You haven’t answered my question, Sam.”
“My client left the choice of potential candidates up to me. I’m willing to choose you for the sum mentioned; otherwise we just go our separate ways.”
“And what if I approached your client and told him what you have proposed? I’m certain that I could eventually discover his identity.”
“Then we’d both be fucked, if you’ll pardon the expression. You see, my client I think you’ll find detests informers, and so there’s not a hope in hell that he’d offer you the million.”
The Honda Civic pulled up outside the restaurant. Mukhtar gripped his steering wheel. “You said that there are three such beneficiaries?”
“Three million pounds and you’re offering me one hundred thousand?”
“I have many associates, and have to pay off so many witnesses, not forgetting the expenses... You have nothing to lose, Mukhtar, and I have everything.”
“Come on, Sam. You’re about to sample the best chicken biryani in Pakistan.”