Blood Money (chapters nineteen and twenty.)
Sucking on a lollypop, Keenan double-checked the address that was written down on a piece of paper. The shabby-looking, whitewashed apartment was certainly not the abode of a wealthy man and was in contrast to the more modern architect of uptown Islamabad.
Keenan knocked at the door and was immediately confronted by an unsmiling, tall Asian man. An unsightly scar ran from his right eye to the corner of his mouth. This feature added to the hostility of the character.
“I’m looking for Mukhtar Ahmed,” said Keenan, more a demand than a query.
The Asian man’s eyes settled on the bare-armed stranger’s tattoo of a snake coiled around a bloody dagger. “Never heard of him,” spit the young Asian.
Keenan’s eyes narrowed behind his designer sunglasses. He removed the lollypop from his mouth and tossed it into the gutter, watching as an emaciated dog pounced on it. “Listen, handsome, I’m fucking melting. I’ve got jet lag and this place reeks like a whore’s crutch. I know Mukhtar lives or lived here with friends, and an educated guess tells me that you’re probably one of his pals, so let’s stop fucking about... When was the last time you saw him?”
The Asian purposely allowed his unbuttoned shirt slip aside, to reveal a pistol tucked into his waistband. He bravely prodded Keenan in the chest. “Go home, Englishman. You do not come to Islamabad issuing your fucking threats. I have never heard of Mukhtar and even if I had, I wouldn’t tell you where he was.”
Keenan was repulsed by the strong stench of pungent spices wafting out from the apartment. He reacted rapidly, reaching out and seizing the unfriendly Pakistani by the throat. He pushed against the weaker man, forcing him inside before relieving him of his weapon.
“You little cunt! One, nobody touches me, especially an underfed curry muncher. Two, don’t ever call me an Englishman... Do you see this tattoo? Go on, Ghunga, take a look... I gather you’ve heard of the IRA?”
The choking man nodded.
“Good. Then you know that you ought to take me seriously... Now, I’ll ask again. Where is Mukhtar?”
The Asian smiled at his tormentor, an action that provoked Keenan into slapping him savagely across the face. The Irishman pushed the startled host to the ground.
“Drop your weapon,” came the order from behind.
Keenan hesitated and felt the cold muzzle against the nape of his neck.
“I said drop your weapon.”
The Irishman obeyed, before facing the older man, who was wearing a white kameez. His face was heavily pocked, his beard unable to hide his disfigurement.
“Who are you?”
Keenan remained silent.
The gunman nodded towards his groaning companion, who was picking himself up from the ground. “Get his passport, Ayub.”
The younger man aimed a powerful kick between the legs of Keenan, who fell to his knees.
“Say your prayers, English,” he taunted.
“Not English, but Irish Ayub,” corrected the older man. “Weren’t you listening to the gentleman?”
Ayub searched the Irishman for his passport, but was unsuccessful. He removed the wallet from the back pocket of Keenan’s denims and passed it to his obvious superior.
The gunman invited Keenan to sit on the threadbare couch before rummaging through the wallet. He came across two credit cards and a driving license. “Terence Keenan...Now why would an IRA gunman be interested in Mukhtar Ahmed?”
Keenan displayed no fear and scowled at his interrogator. “That’s between Mukhtar and me... Now if you value your pathetic life, you’ll cooperate with me, unless of course you’re in this with Mukhtar.”
The gunman looked genuinely bemused. “Excuse my manners, Mr Keenan. Let me introduce myself. My name is Khalid, and in case it’s escaped your attention, I’m the one holding the gun... Again, I’ll ask you why are you looking for Mukhtar?”
Keenan pointed his finger menacingly at Khalid. “You’d better use that gun because I’m going...”
“Silence!” ordered Khalid. “Do not threaten me, Irish. You’re in Islamabad, not fucking Belfast.” He nodded once more to Ayub and the younger man left the room.
Khalid continued. “Let me put you in the picture, Mr Keenan. There are worldwide, more powerful groups than the IRA, who incidentally have given up their arms have they not? I’m an educated man and to give up your arms can be categorised as surrender if I’m not mistaken... I belong to such a group, who unlike the IRA, would fight to the death rather than to submit to the government.”
Ayub returned and proceeded to tie Keenan‘s hands behind his back.
“I was educated in England, Mr Keenan and so I know a little about the IRA and their methods. Kneecapping, now there’s a punishment that’s never really appealed to me. Being primitive as you infidels deem us, we have more barbaric methods of deterrence.”
Again, Khalid nodded towards Ayub, who proceeded to unscrew the top from a petrol can. Keenan looked away, as the scar-faced Asian dowsed him liberally with petrol.
Khalid lit up a cigarette and smiled at the Irishman. “I’ll let you into a secret should I, Mr Keenan? We too seek Mukhtar and two of his friends. His absence is a great concern to us; as it appears that he has foolishly betrayed us... What we do know is that he travelled to London to collect the one million pounds on offer from Morris O’Hara, who I take it you work for... Yes, Keenan, I’ve been teasing you. I assume that Mukhtar is suspected of robbing Mr O’Hara and you’re here to retrieve the money.”
Keenan smiled at his two oppressors. “Shit, you two really are a couple of ugly twats.”
Khalid clapped his hands together slowly, his cigarette clamped between his yellowing teeth. “The last heroic words of a dying man... I respect your loyalty to your master, but why? You do realise that I have no choice but to kill you don’t you? Mukhtar surprised us all. We never ever thought he had the guts to pull this robbery off... Of course, once we suspected him of robbing O’Hara, we expected to hear from him... He would have been held in high esteem by the SSP if only he had donated the money to us, but alas. It appears that Mukthar and his friends were corrupted by so much money and decided to keep it for themselves.”
Keenan’s eyes examined the shabby room, hopelessly searching for the remotest possibility of escape. Ayub, teasingly clicked his lighter inches from the body of the Irishman.
Khalid went on. “We would be humiliated if we let a bunch of ex Irish terrorists come into our country and take away the money now wouldn’t we? I anticipate that after you, there will be others, but they will die, just as you will... Ayub, escort our friend to the car. It would be a great shame to burn down the home of Mukhtar, after all, he may return here some day.”
Ayub pointed his pistol at the head of Keenan and ushered him outside, oblivious of the bystanders who were witnessing the incident. The people of Islamabad had learnt to turn a blind eye to such occurrences.
The sudden sensation of the hot sun was in contrast to the cool interior of the apartment. Keenan was bundled into the back of a white Toyota and Ayub sat beside him, his weapon directed at his captive.
Khalid spoke outside on his cell phone before clambering in to the driver’s seat. He slipped a CD into the player and loud Asian music accompanied them on their short drive to the suburbs of the capital.
Twenty minutes later and they arrived at their destination. Dozens of mud huts populated the dusty shantytown, and the obviously deprived inhabitants ignored the vehicle as it came to a halt.
Keenan was ushered from the car and led towards an unimpressive hut. He looked towards an old man, who was watching the proceedings. “Call the police!” yelled the Irishman. “I’ve been abducted and am here against my will.”
Khalid conversed with the old man, who laughed, displaying a set of rotten teeth. Ayub pushed Keenan into the hut and even the odour of petrol could not disguise the stale stench. Multitudes of flies occupied the small room and two wooden chairs and a table were the only evident furnishings.
Khalid joined them and watched as Keenan was ordered to sit on one of the chairs. “Not exactly the Ritz I know, but it’s as good a place as any to die I suppose... Incidentally, Mr Keenan, what do you know of Lance Peebles?”
Keenan spit in the face of his interrogator.
Khalid wiped away the spittle and lit up another foul-smelling cigarette. “I suppose you know as much as us... Foolish though to think that Mukhtar would return here, but you Irish do have a reputation of being not very clever do you not?”
Khalid checked his wristwatch. “Your time has come I’m afraid, Mr Keenan... Burning is such a painful death, or so I’ve been told, and I really am not a barbarian, but with the discovery of your body and your documents intact, I’m sure your countrymen will think twice before travelling to Pakistan.”
Keenan spit out a fly, scowled and looked past Khalid, who was igniting his lighter. He did not recognise the blonde man who brandished the pistol. The Irishman laughed loudly, hearing the loud gunshots that riddled the bodies of his abductors. Khalid and Ayub fell to the filthy ground, the former still clutching his lighter.
The handsome stranger proceeded to untie Keenan.
“Who are you?”
No answer was forthcoming.
Keenan massaged his sore wrists before kicking the corpse of Ayub. “Did O’Hara send you?”
“Come, we must go quickly. I have a car outside.”
Keenan followed the mystery man towards his car, curious to whom the foreign sounding man was. A crowd was now gathering, and the driver manoeuvred through them until he was clear, before accelerating.
“I owe you, stranger... Who are you?”
Inspector De Vries checked his mirror and steered his vehicle onto a narrow, dusty road riddled with potholes. He opened up his glove compartment and handed over a bottle of water to his curious passenger.
Keenan gratefully accepted the water and drunk greedily, pouring some of the cool liquid over his head. He removed his shirt and tossed it through the open window. “Sorry about the stink of petrol, but those two back there were planning a barbecue and I was the main course... So are you going to tell me who you are?”
“That is not important... All I can tell you is that it is in my best interest that the SSP do not get hold of O’Hara’s money.”
“You know who I am?”
De Vries looked across at the Irishman. “Of course... I followed you from the airport.”
“You’re a pig?”
The Inspector grinned. “Listen, Keenan, who I work for is unimportant. Personally, I wouldn’t have given a shit if they toasted you back there, but I’m following orders, just as you are... You sure are a dumb arse, confronting a member of the SSP and asking questions.”
“I knew nothing of the SSP... Of course, I’ve heard of them, but I was unaware they were involved with Mukhtar.”
De Vries slowed down. “I gather Mukhtar has passed on the money to them?”
Keenan swallowed another mouthful of water. “Shit, no. They’re looking for Mukhtar and his fucking cronies. It seems he’s done the dirty on them.”
De Vries looked elated, his perfect white teeth visible when he smiled. “Are you sure? Are you saying that Mukhtar has done a runner?”
Keenan ignored the question. “So why exactly did you save my butt back there?”
“Let’s just say that it’s in our best interests also that O’Hara gets his money back... If the money falls into the hands of the SSP it will no doubt be used for funding arms... Listen carefully. I’m going to drive you to the airport. It would be foolish to return to your hotel.”
“But my passport?”
“I’ll have someone fetch it to you, along with some clothes... Leave Pakistan immediately. Mukhtar is not here or I would know about it.”
The two went their separate ways at the airport. No handshake was exchanged and none expected by De Vries, who accepted that the ex IRA gunman was proud and ungrateful, even though he had saved his life.
De Vries turned his mind to more immediate matters; locating Dean Schofield. The private detective, he now acknowledged may have a contributing influence on what happens to O’Hara’s money. Again, the man from Interpol would act out the role of nursemaid, ensuring the money did not reach SSP.
He watched the aeroplane take off from the viewing gallery, and unconsciously mouthed the words, “where are you Schofield; where are you?”
Schofield felt so conspicuous as he lingered on the dock, awaiting his arranged rendezvous with Peebles. Although the relief worker could have had him killed, it made no sense, with him believing that O’Hara knew his whereabouts.
It was just after seven in the morning and the orange sky reflected off the still, perfect, blue water. Schofield removed his sunglasses, heard the low drone of a motor and watched the approach of a thirty-foot boat.
Nearing the dock the motor fell silent. Peebles, who was looking elegant, donning a captain’s naval cap and wearing a white shirt and shorts was standing proudly on the deck. He looked around before producing a pistol.
“Mr Bell, would you please remove your tee shirt slowly?”
“Now drop your shorts.”
The Londoner hesitated.
“I have to be sure you‘re not armed,” insisted Peebles.
Schofield again did as he was asked.
“Thank you...Welcome aboard, Mr Bell,” beamed Peebles.
Schofield put on his tee shirt and boarded the impressive vessel. In his finest Irish accent, he asked, “this is yours?”
“Heavens, no. I rented , Mr Bell... I presume you won’t protest if I left this dock? You never can be too careful can you?” said Peebles nervously, stepping behind the wheelhouse to conceal himself from the possible sights of a high-powered rifle.
Schofield, after searching the cabin was satisfied that they were alone, and gave his consent for Peebles to sail. The luxury craft scythed through the crystal clear water, until they were about three hundred metres from the shore. Peebles, content that they had not been followed switched off the engine.
The two men relaxed in a couple of canvas chairs and Peebles opened up. “I have consented with my colleagues and we have agreed to your demands... Once you have the money, then you report to O’Hara that you have failed to locate us, right?”
“Of course... You’ll never hear from me again.”
Peebles ambled towards the cabin and returned with a tray, laden with a bottle of rum and two glasses. He proceeded to pour out two measures. “I know it’s a little early, but I need a drink and I’m sure you do too.”
Schofield nodded his approval.
Peebles raised his cap. “Mr Bell, I’m curious... How will you deceive O’Hara? I mean, what are your immediate plans? You see, it entered my mind that after you receive the money, what’s to stop you from just disappearing? If that was the case, then O’Hara would, I’m certain send more men to Florida.”
Schofield savoured the rum and shook his head. “I’ll keep my word. I’ll continue to work for O’Hara until I feel the time is right for me to leave.”
Peebles displayed a cheesy grin. “That I’m afraid is not good enough... True, I have no intention of remaining in Florida, but I need something more... I mean, you found me easily enough and I assume O‘Hara could do so again?”
“You’ve lost me, Peebles. What exactly are you getting at?”
“I need some sort of guarantee that you’ll report to O’Hara.”
The sound of the radio transmission coming from the wheelhouse interrupted their conversation.
“Excuse me will you, Mr Bell?”
Peebles paced towards the wheelhouse. He checked to make sure that his guest was still seated before speaking into the receiver. “Can you please repeat the last message, over?”
“The man onboard is Schofield. I repeat, the man onboard is Schofield.”
Peebles gripped his pistol tightly. “How? I mean, are you sure?” Peebles looked towards the coast where Mukhtar and Rasheed had been concealed, equipped with binoculars.
Rasheed spoke. “The man you are with is the man we saw speaking to Chaplin in Trafalgar Square. There is no mistake.”
Schofield watched Peebles and sensed all was not well. He now felt vulnerable.
Peebles stepped out from the wheelhouse and walked steadily towards the private investigator. His unstable smile disguised his discomfort.
“Is anything wrong?” asked Schofield.
“Wrong? Of course not. What could be wrong, Mr Schofield!” The expression on Peeble’s face changed and he nervously pointed his weapon at Schofield’s midriff. “Do you take me for a fool?”
Schofield retained his Irish accent. “Just what the fuck’s going on, Peebles?”
The relief worker pointed towards the coast. “As a precaution, I had you watched... Now I feel such relief that you are Dean Schofield, and not some IRA gunman.”
“Dean Schofield? He’s dead... I shot him myself.”
“Silence! Enough of your lies. Rasheed saw you speaking to your brother in law in Trafalgar Square... Now what am I going to do with you?”
Schofield realised his bartering was futile. His eyes craftily searched the deck for a means of escape.
Peebles was now growing confident. “So why are you here?… Mmm, let me speculate. I know from Rasheed that Chaplin and yourself were trying to scam O’Hara, and so I assume that you came here in a vain attempt to get your money back.”
Schofield dropped the Irish accent. “Close, Peebles. You failed to mention that you are partly responsible for Sam’s death.”
“Bullshit! Sam was my friend.”
“Your friend? You fed Sam with Mukhtar didn’t you? You had this planned from the beginning... Sam did mention to you about O’Hara’s proposal didn’t he? He swore to me that he didn’t. That’s how much he regarded you Peebles, and you betrayed him.”
“Betrayed him? I knew nothing of his proposed scam at first. Christ, this was Sam. Who would have thought? After he told me about O’Hara’s proposition, I then came up with the idea of robbing the Irishman... Yes, I fed him Mukhtar, as you so crudely put it, but even that may have been a mistake. You see, Mukhtar and Rasheed possessed such outrageous fantasies that they could buy favour with Sipah-e-Sahaba. They at first intended to hand them the entire proceeds of the robbery, but I persuaded them otherwise.”
The sound of a speeding motorboat was unmistakable and Schofield realised that he had to act swiftly. Peebles looked past his captor, towards his approaching companions, and the split second distraction was all that Schofield needed. He rapidly picked up his rum-filled glass and threw the contents into the face of Peebles. Like a hungry leopard, Schofield pounced and easily wrestled the weapon from the hand of his aggressor. A killer, Peebles was definitely not.
Schofield held the muzzle against the head of the startled relief worker and used his body as a shield, facing the speedboat that was now coasting slowly towards the boat. He recognised one of the men from Trafalgar Square, but his first impression of Mukthar Ahmed was one of surprise. The fresh-faced man looked as though he should still be sitting behind a school desk. The two Asian men were armed with automatic machine guns and Schofield was grateful for his human shield.
“At last we meet, Mukhtar,” shouted Schofield, his pistol still resting against the head of Peebles.
Mukhtar smiled, displaying a radiant set of teeth. “I’m a gracious man, Mr Schofield and I’m truly sorry for what happened to your brother in law, but you must see that his death was nothing to do with us... You have come such a long way for nothing... As I’ve already said, I’m a gracious man and have no quarrel with you. Release Peebles, throw your weapon into the ocean and we’ll escort you to the shore. You have my word that you will not be harmed, and you’ll be allowed to leave without fear.”
Schofield took a deep breath. “I have a better idea... I’m also a gracious man, Mukhtar and a honest one... I admit my intention was to procure the entire three million from you, but I’m also reasonable, and therefore, you and your friend make for the shore and when you return, I’ll expect to see a suitcase filled with one million pounds, or the equivalent in dollars. That will leave you with more than enough to live comfortably, and we all live happily ever after.”
The two Asian men laughed loudly. It was Mukhtar again who spoke. “I’m so disappointed in you, Schofield. You marred my delusion that you were a honourable man who came here not merely to fill his own pockets, but to avenge his brother in law’s death. And no, you are not a honest man as you claimed. Didn’t you and Chaplin plot to dupe O’Hara?”
“My offer still stands, Mukhtar. One million pounds and I’ll release Peebles.”
Again, Mukhtar and Rasheed laughed. “You pathetic fool,” yelled Mukhtar... “Peebles means nothing to us. In fact, you’d be doing us a favour if you killed him, you see, several influential people are hunting us and without Peebles we would be more difficult to trace.”
This was not what Schofield wanted to hear. He focused on the automatic weapons and realised he was the underdog. He watched as the machine guns were raised, and fired three shots at his intended assailants. He clung onto the dancing body of Peebles, as round after round pounded his bloody chest; deadly grunts escaping from his open mouth. Thankfully, the rounds did not penetrate through the dead body of Peebles. Schofield manhandled the corpse to the wheelhouse.
The salvo had ceased and the two Asians scrambled up the steps of the boat. Schofield fired off another four rounds in their direction and prayed that his weapon was fully loaded. His body was now saturated in perspiration and the blood of Peebles. His alarm was apparent, when he failed to locate where Mukhtar and Rasheed had hidden themselves.
“Schofield,” came the cry from Mukhtar. “This is all so pointless... Our offer still stands. Throw your weapon overboard and you are free to go.”
“Please, don’t insult me, Mukhtar. I would have to be crazy to accept your offer.”
“Then prepare to die.”
Schofield peered around the wheelhouse and heard the pair whispering. He looked towards the shore and doubted that he could swim so far, besides, his fear of sharks disallowed that option.
“Schofield... Peebles, we know had much money stored in his safe in the villa. We are prepared to leave and you can help yourself to his money... I’m certain the key to the safe will be either on him or hidden in the villa... What do you say to that? We’ll leave the boat and you help yourself to his money, and we never lay eyes on you again. Sounds good, eh?”
Schofield at that moment favoured the offer; after all, he could continue the hunt for the pair later. ”And what if the key isn’t in his possession or in the villa?”
“Giving your skills as a private detective, I’m sure you can find a means of opening a safe.”
“Would Peebles be as stupid as to store a large sum of money in the villa?” asked Schofield, watching the bow of the boat attentively.
“I assure you, I saw Peebles myself place two hundred thousand dollars in the safe... The option is yours, Schofield. The odds are against you, and this way, you escape with your life and a nice little sum in your pocket... We will even disable the alarm to the villa.”
Schofield pondered. He felt certain that Mukhtar was lying, and assumed that the pair would set a trap inside the villa. He needed time and Mukhtar was offering him a lifeline. “Okay, Mukhtar, leave the boat.”
“And we never hear from you again?”
“You have my word... I’m roasting my nuts off here anyway.”
He watched as the two gunmen rose from behind the nets and walked backwards. They were as good as their word and clambered down the ladder to their speedboat.
“A honourable man you are not, Schofield. No doubt our paths will cross again. Enjoy your blood money, English.”
Schofield watched painfully as Mukhtar lifted up a suitcase and mockingly pointed at it. The Londoner realised that Peebles would have been prepared to release the half a million pounds.
The speedboat sped off and Schofield acknowledged that he was a very lucky man indeed. He fathomed that the two Asians could have overpowered him, but the risk that one of them could have been killed prompted their decision. He removed the magazine from the pistol and stared at the empty chamber. The gods certainly had dealt him a full house that morning.
Finding a set of binoculars in the wheelhouse, Schofield jogged towards the stern of the boat. He focused the binoculars on the two fleeing men, who had now reached the dock. He followed their progress, as they walked briskly towards a red sports car. Schofield squinted, his eyes struggling to read the number plate. The car sped off and he cursed loudly.
Schofield, after working out how to sail the boat, steered it along the coast before turning towards the shore. Some one hundred metres out, he cut the engine and stared at the bloody corpse of Peebles. He searched the corpse and it gave up a bunch of keys and a full magazine that he inserted into the weapon. He removed his own tee shirt and flung it overboard, before tucking the pistol into his waistband. With an old rag, he went about the task of erasing any signs of his fingerprints.
Schofield skirted the ocean for any presence of man-eaters, before jumping into the cooling, blue water. He swam swiftly towards the shore, following the orange shaft of light projected on the ocean from the rousing sun. He gratefully reached the beach and looked for any witnesses who may be present. Satisfied that his shorts were not stained with blood, he jogged along the sand. To prying eyes, he was just another fitness fanatic, taking early morning exercise.