Blood Money (Chapters one and two.)
To each of the commuters riding the tube, the smartly attired man browsing through his newspaper reeked of success. In this instance, appearances were deceptive. True, Sam Chaplin was a highly esteemed solicitor who commanded an extortionate fee, but his weakness for risky investment schemes placed him in a less than opulent social position.
His wife, Pauline was unaware of her husband’s unsuccessful get rich projects, and Chaplin struggled to disguise his failings, fuelling her lavish lifestyle with an abundance of credit cards. Paying his sizeable mortgage was exhausting what income he had available, but what hurt him most, was the fact that he was gambling with his six-year old son’s future.
The thirty-six year old bespectacled Londoner gazed at the familiar face of the man in the newspaper; the man he was on his way to meet. Morris O’Hara was listed as one of the top one hundred richest men in the country; his chain of supermarkets mainly contributing to his vast wealth. His appearances on television, advertising his stores had portrayed the Irishman as a humorous, generous man; his donations to various charities endorsing his portfolio. Only now, he had encountered misfortune head on. Driving from his mansion, he had failed to brake in time and eleven-year-old Melissa Palmer was killed instantly.
A witness swore that he had reeked of alcohol, but the police who had attended the tragic accident had refuted the claim. Appointing a top team of solicitors, he triumphed in the courtroom.
Rumours were rife among the public that the multi-millionaire had bribed the authorities to procure his freedom. His growing unpopularity wavered after he offered the parents of Melissa compensation, the exact figure not revealed. The grieving parents proudly refused the monetary offer and made their feeling known to the media.
Chaplin conceded that he was undoubtedly inferior to O’Hara’s defence team and wondered why he had been summoned by the great man himself. The troubled solicitor noticed the devout attention he was getting from a shapely, blonde girl. His eyes were attracted to her generous cleavage. Making eye contact with his admirer, he turned back to his newspaper sheepishly; after all, the girl was probably barely out of her teens.
After seven years of marriage, Chaplin conceded that his marriage was becoming stale. He had married at the age of twenty-nine, after courting Pauline for six months. Inwardly, he realised that if Pauline had not fallen pregnant, he would no doubt be still living the life of a playboy.
The fair-haired solicitor glanced up once more from his newspaper to see the girl was still scrutinising him. He felt a sensation of euphoria as he milked the attention. Granted, he worked out most days, and his boyish looks often charmed the women, but this girl was so darned young.
He vainly removed his spectacles and smiled at the girl. She turned to the burly Rastafarian, who was seated beside her and whispered into his ear. The couple stared at Chaplin and laughed loudly, before holding hands and rising from their seats. After making their way towards the doors, the embarrassed solicitor replaced his spectacles.
Leaving the tube at Hyde Park, Chaplin braced himself against the bitter February wind. He noticed a strong police presence, owing to last years bombings of the London transport system. Arriving at his destination, he double-checked the address, before stepping back and admiring the luxurious four-bedroom mansion, which overlooked Hyde Park.
He pressed the buzzer and spoke. “Samuel Chaplin here. I’ve an appointment with Mr O’Hara.”
He heard the click of the locks and the door was opened. O’Hara towered over the solicitor. He was an imposing, bulky man with wavy grey hair, a red bulbous nose and deep blue eyes. His face was rugged, due to his difficult upbringing on the streets of Belfast. Several times, the multi-millionaire had been under surveillance by Special Branch, who believed him to be linked to the IRA. He fastened up his cashmere coat, before shaking the hand of Chaplin.
“It’s a wonderful morning. Should we walk?”
Chaplin decided not to voice his disapproval. How he wished that he had worn an overcoat. They crossed the busy road and entered Hyde Park. The solicitor shivered, looking towards the freezing, dormant Serpentine Lake.
“Where did you park your car, Mr Chaplin?”
“I came by tube, Sir. I find the London transport most convenient for my purpose.”
“Indeed, but today we live in dangerous times. What is the world coming to when we cannot pass some foreigner without wondering what he’s carrying in his knapsack?”
“We Londoners are made of stern stuff, Mr O’Hara.”
“Ah yes, stiff upper lip and all of that bullshit… Son, growing up in the streets of Belfast, you’d have shit your pants. What happened here recently was an everyday occurrence back home.”
“But the troubles are over now aren’t they?” asked Chaplin.
O’Hara showed off his handgun. “Are they ,Chaplin? Are they?”
They approached the lake and the Irishman removed a brown paper bag from his coat pocket. He proceeded to feed the geese and ducks. “Aren’t they magnificent creatures?”
Chaplin ignored the question and glanced at his wristwatch, an action that O’Hara noticed.
“Ah, you must be wondering why I’ve summoned you here. No doubt you’ll have read about my woes in the newspapers?”
His woes? thought Chaplin. What about the poor girl he ran down?
O’Hara continued. “Even though justice was done, the public are now divided. God help me, son; if I could bring that poor girl back then I would. Be Jesus, I even offered to compensate the family, but they refused my offer.”
“I don’t understand Mr O’Hara. Why do you require my services?”
“Well, if you’ll let me finish, I’ll tell you, young man... Those bastards from the press are making out that I’m fucking Satan. They even dared to propose that I might have been drunk.”
“There was a witness who backed up that claim, Sir?”
“Witness? The fucker lied didn’t he? The police breathalysed me, man... Anyway, although I mourn for the little one, I have to now safeguard my future.”
“I don’t follow,” said Chaplin, his feet now numbed.
O’Hara emptied the last of the crumbs onto the ground. “Sales are down. People are boycotting my stores. Financial concerns are not my only worry. I have always thrived on my popularity as a businessman and celebrity... Maybe I’m going soft in my old age, but I wish to redeem myself. Pay a penance for my sins if you like.”
“Perhaps a public apology could influence your deserting shoppers, Sir,” offered Chaplin.
“No, I need to do more... Listen boy, I’ve thought of a way to win over the community. What if I found it in my heart to reward a certain group of people with one million pounds each?”
Chaplin looked bemused. “I don’t understand.”
“Let us for simplicity say that three people will be rewarded for heroic services. People who have nothing. Their lives will be transformed overnight.”
“And this information is leaked to the newspapers?” added Chaplin.
“You catch on fast, boy.”
“Why me?” asked the solicitor.
“I mean, why not hire the team that successfully defended you recently?”
“Because, they’re a bunch of wankers... That lot couldn’t defend Fort Knox.”
The Irishman raised a hand. “Yes, they defended me, but the reason I got off was not down to them if you know what I mean?” O’Hara tapped his nose and winked.
“You bribed those policemen didn’t you?”
“Don’t push it, Chaplin. Let’s just say that justice was done, and I certainly was not drunk... I didn’t just choose you from the fucking Yellow pages you know. You defended a friend of mine once and I was impressed with your style.”
“A friend of yours?” Chaplin recalled defending Jimmy Cochrane; an Irishman who had been arrested for the shooting of a prominent anti IRA lobbyist and politician.
O’Hara ignored the question. “I want you to choose these heroes. I don’t care if they live in Timbuktu, just as long as they are worthy of the reward. I trust you have contacts in the media who can guarantee me the publicity?”
Chaplin looked up at the grey, morose sky to see the sun making a welcome appearance. He mulled over the invitation. Although O’Hara had as good as confessed that he bribed the policemen, the solicitor’s hatred for his prospective client could be compensated by the financial reward.
“Well, will you represent me?” asked O’Hara.
“My fee is...”
“You will be amply rewarded. Your employers will assume that you’re to be paid your usual fee, but I’m willing to pay you an extra one hundred thousand pounds tax-free. Of course, if you choose to declare the bonus to your employers, then that is up to you. Well?”
“You assume that my employers will let me represent you?”
“Oh, I think they will; you see, I have some sordid information about your Mr Hector and his habit of using rent boys. Of course, I’ll only use this if he refuses to represent me.”
Chaplin smiled, his suspicions about Simon Hector’s sexuality now confirmed.
The man from Belfast shook the hand of Chaplin and departed, the bulge of his firearm evident in his pocket. The one hundred thousand pounds would be welcome, even though it would only mark time before Chaplin would have to declare himself bankrupt.
Sitting on the upper deck of the cruise boat, Dean Schofield directed his camera towards HMS Belfast. It was an unusually mild day and scores of tourists had opted for a sight-seeing tour. Feigning to be a tourist could not have been easier for the private investigator. Now focusing his camera on Tower Bridge, he cunningly snapped the unsuspecting young couple, who snuggled up to each other.
Schofield took no pleasure in his job, particularly this task. George Kyrimis the elderly, Greek oil magnate had hired Schofield to follow his wife, Amanda, suspecting that she was unfaithful. The private investigator supposed that the forty years age difference contributed towards her infidelity.
Dean Schofield at thirty-two was still a bachelor. With his thick, brown hair and piercing, grey eyes, the self-proclaimed Adonis did not require a wife to fulfil his sexual needs. Even his close friends eyed him with suspicion when he conversed with their girlfriends or wives. Preferring to wear sixties style suits and Italian shoes, Schofield always appeared immaculate.
He promised himself one day that he would replace his fake Rolex wristwatch with the genuine article. His early fascination with his career had not reaped the rewards that he had set his sights on. His crooked accountant helped him to survive adequately; ensuring the taxman did not claim the full allowance.
Being a private eye, as he discovered, was not all car chases and tailing murderers. Dodgy insurance work and following unfaithful spouses was the norm for Schofield. After leaving the army at the age of twenty-four, he aspired to sustain his energetic and stimulating lifestyle, even though he had no prior skills of detection. Ray Pollock, a veteran private eye had taken the young prospect under his wing, and passed on the business to him when he retired to Honolulu.
Schofield watched the young couple, who were pointing towards the Tower of London. Bracing himself against the cold wind, he walked towards the bow of the boat and sat beside the couple. The beautiful, dark-haired Amanda smiled openly at the stranger.
“You don’t mind if I sit here do you?” he asked.
The young blonde man eyed him suspiciously and gripped the hand of his lover tightly. “No, feel free, friend.”
Schofield offered the couple a mint, which they refused. “Traitor’s Gate. So much history on this river,” he sighed. “Dean Schofield,” he said, offering his hand.
The couple apprehensively returned the greeting. “Amanda Smith,” lied the girl.
“Couldn’t you think of something more original than Smith, Mrs Kyrimis?” teased Schofield.
Amanda blushed. “I’m sorry, but it appears you have me mixed up with somebody else.”
The investigator grinned. “I don’t think so.”
Amanda’s flustered companion squared up to Schofield, his fists clenched. “I think you should leave. You’ve insulted my girlfriend and I cannot be held responsible for my actions if you don’t leave.”
“Sit down, son... I have several photographs here, which I’m sure Mr Kyrimis would love to see.”
“You’re a reporter?” asked Amanda.
Schofield shook his head and removed his sunglasses. “Private investigator... It appears that your husband doesn’t trust you, Amanda, and he hired me to follow you.”
“You bastard,” cursed the blonde man.
“I am many things, but a bastard I most definitely am not... Listen, I’m an old softie at heart and am willing to erase the photographs from my memory card.”
“And why would you do that?” quizzed Amanda.
“Your husband appeared to me a vindictive and selfish man, who no doubt views you as just another of his trophies... Never before have I failed to oblige my client by deceit, but for you, I’m willing to make an exception.”
It was Amanda’s companion who spoke. “And you’ll tell the old man what?”
“I’ll simply tell him that he has nothing to worry about.”
Schofield awaited a response as they passed beneath Tower Bridge. The tour guide’s words were ignored.
“You really will delete those photographs, Mr...?”
“Schofield... You have my word on it.”
The beautiful girl smiled. “My faith in mankind has been rejuvenated. You really are a kind and wonderful man, Mr Schofield.”
The private investigator pondered. “I gather you have your chequebook with you?”
“I knew it,” said the blonde man. “What’s your game, chum? Blackmail is it?”
“Steady on, son. That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? I thought that perhaps a monetary offering would be in order; after all, I’m risking my career here.”
“How much?” sighed Amanda.
“Don’t pay him,” insisted her lover. “We only have his word that he’s working for your husband.”
Schofield passed over his license. “I spoke to your husband early this morning at his apartment in Kensington.”
“How much?” asked Amanda, removing her chequebook from her handbag.
“Don’t pay him,” stressed her companion.
“Shut up, Howard... How much for your silence, Mr Schofield?”
“Shall we say five thousand pounds? I’m sure you can afford it.”
Amanda wrote out the cheque and handed it to the blackmailer. “How can you sleep at night, Schofield?”
“The Jack Daniels helps... Listen, Amanda, some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths; others such as yourself, marry a rich man. The common man, and I place myself in that category, has to barter and con their way through life. Five grand to you, I’m sure is merely loose change, but to me, it’s a year’s rent on my business premises. I’ll leave you now and you have my word that you’ll never hear from me again.”
The startled couple watched as Schofield prepared to disembark from the boat. He ambled along the jetty, content in his day’s work. The street wise man prided himself on the fact that he only ever stole from the rich. Yes, today had been a most profitable day indeed.
Sam Chaplin, that morning, had indeed been summoned to the office of the senior partner, Simon Hector. As expected, he was to represent Morris O’Hara. The Irishman's threats to divulge information about Hector’s sleazy sexual habits had no doubt prompted his decision.
Chaplin steered his maroon Jaguar into the car park of the sports centre in Camden Town. The unsavoury establishment certainly was not a venue he would usually frequent, but seeking out his brother in law was his priority.
The anxious solicitor paid the entrance fee and headed for the squash courts, grimacing at the garish decor of the sports hall. After reaching the viewing galleries, he eventually located his brother in law, who was engaged in a game of squash with another man.
“Dean, can I speak to you?” shouted Chaplin.
Schofield looked up and scowled. Even though the upmarket solicitor was married to his sister, Pauline, they rarely conversed, and moved in different social circles. Chaplin always appeared embarrassed to be seen in the company of the down to earth private investigator, and his profession, he frowned on as tacky.
“Blimey, Sam, what brings you to Camden Town? Hope you haven’t parked your motor outside have you? I suppose you can afford a taxi.”
“Can we speak somewhere more privately?” asked Chaplin.
The sweat-drenched Schofield wiped his face with a towel. “I’ll shower and meet you in the bar.”
Chaplin strolled towards the bar, pondering whether he could go through with his intended proposal. His brother in law often ridiculed him, and he wondered if he would be taken seriously.
Only a handful of people occupied the bar, and that pleased Chaplin. His conversation with Schofield must remain confidential. After ordering a gin and tonic, the solicitor opted for a table in the corner. He looked down through the window, grateful to see that his beloved Jaguar was still there.
Schofield appeared ten minutes later, accompanied by his playing partner. He had abandoned his smart suits and instead sported a silver tracksuit and training shoes. The pair ordered lagers and joined the unsettled solicitor at his table.
“How did you find me, Sam?” asked Schofield.
“Pauline told me that you always played squash at six.”
“Sam, this is Harry Foster. Harry, my snobby brother in law, the scourge of the Old Bailey, Sam Chaplin... So what brings you here, Sam?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but do you mind if we speak alone.”
Harry rose up from his seat. “No problem. I’ll give the fruit machine a tinkle.”
Schofield inspected the worried face of his brother in law. “Everything’s all right isn’t it, Sam? I mean, Pauline and little David are...”
“They’re fine... Listen, I shouldn’t have come here.”
“What’s your problem?” quizzed Schofield. “Spit it out man.”
Chaplin sipped his gin and tonic and hesitated, his eyes searching the bar. “How’s the business, Dean?”
“How’s the business? Fair to middling, I suppose. I’m not making enough to consider being your neighbour in Primrose Hill of course, but I get by… Incidentally, you’re not into swinging are you? I mean, its been reported in the newspapers about your celebrity neighbours who...”
“No! It took much soul searching for me to approach you, as I don’t know how you’ll react with what I’m about to tell you. First of all, I must stress that this conversation must remain strictly confidential. Pauline must not know of this meeting.”
“You haven’t been cheating on her have you?”
“No, I have not. Can’t you be bloody serious for once in your life?”
They turned their heads towards Harry, who whooped in delight when he won the jackpot. The big man collected together his winnings and approached the table. “You two want a drink?”
They both declined.
“Well, I’ll be off then. I’m taking the trouble and strife into the West End tonight to see Phantom of the Opera for her birthday would you believe?”
Chaplin waited for Harry to leave before resuming the conversation. “Morris O’Hara has asked me to represent him.”
“Blimey, I thought he’d been cleared?”
“He has. No, this is something else. O’Hara cares more about his image than he does money. He’s asked me to find three people, anywhere in the world, who have carried out courageous deeds. It’s important that these people are underprivileged, as he’s going to reward them with one million pounds each.”
“No kidding? But why?”
“He apparently wants to redeem himself in the public eye, and he wants me to leak news of the transactions to the press. In other words, he wants to restore his popularity.”
“Bloody expensive way of doing it,” moaned Schofield. “Hara would never win a popularity contest with the British public. His alleged IRA connections put paid to that.”
Chaplin drained his glass. “You’d be surprised. He even makes public appearances at his supermarkets, and God knows how many chat shows he’s appeared on.”
“Okay, Sam, I’m as curious as a hedgehog in a brush factory. What’s this got to do with me?”
The bespectacled solicitor waited until the barmaid had collected their empty glasses before continuing. “Dean, I’m having money troubles.”
Schofield took out his wallet. “How much?”
“No, you don’t understand. Big money troubles.”
“You? A four bedroom house in Primrose Hill, three holidays abroad every year and a Jag. Oh my heart bleeds for you, Sam.”
Chaplin held his head in his hands. “I‘ve made some mistakes, Dean, big mistakes. So-called friends advised me to invest money on the stock market, insisting that they were sure-fire certs. Of course, they crashed and are almost worthless.”
“How much did you invest?” probed Schofield.
“Half a million.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“They were so convincing, Dean. They lost out too.”
“Half a million fucking quid. I didn’t know you had the balls, Sam.”
“There’s more… I invested two hundred grand in a restaurant. A prime location, or so I was told. What the seller failed to mention was that the neighbouring housing estate was due to be demolished… I’ve lost out big time.”
Schofield ambled towards the bar and ordered more drinks. He returned to his desperate looking brother in law, who was puffing nervously on a cigarette. “Here, Sam, you need this.”
Chaplin swallowed a mouthful of the gin and tonic. “I tried to recover my losses by investing more on the stock market. Oh, shit, Dean. I’ve gambled with Pauline and David’s futures. I can barely afford to pay the mortgage.”
“And I assume you haven’t told Pauline?”
“No, of course not.”
Schofield sipped his lager and mused over the situation. “So why have you come to me? I’ve five grand spare, but that’s all I can afford. My bank manager is...”
“No, no,” moaned Chaplin, shaking his head. “I don’t want to borrow money from you.”
“Then what?.. Oh, no, I think I know where this is leading.”
The eyes of the solicitor lit up and he leaned forward. “There must be a way we can get our hands on O’Hara’s three million pounds. Don’t you see?”
Schofield laughed. “And how do you propose we do that?”
“I was hoping you could think of something.”
Staring at his fake Rolex wristwatch, Schofield considered the proposition. “Do you think it would be wise stealing from Morris O‘Hara? If the rumours are right, then he has some very influential friends in the IRA.”
“The IRA have disbanded, Dean.”
“Stone the fucking crows,” murmured Schofield. “Get real man. How would Pauline and David survive with you in a concrete overcoat?”
“With life insurance... Seriously though, it doesn’t have to come to that. There must be a way that we can trick him out of the money.”
Schofield wafted away the smoke. “You’ve already thought this out haven’t you?”
“To make this work, we need three accomplices to pose as the beneficiaries.”
“Shit, you are serious.”
Chaplin continued. “We offer the three, say one hundred grand each. That leaves two million seven hundred thousand between us. That’s one...”
“Enough of the maths, Einstein,” insisted Schofield. “O’Hara isn’t stupid. He’s going to check out the beneficiaries, so how do you convince him to agree to this? I mean, who do we know that could pose as paupers? Another thing you’re overlooking is the history. The three would have to appear genuine, so how do you propose that we manufacture their heroic deeds? Surely the acts would have been recorded in newspapers.”
Chapin’s expression changed and he was now beaming. “We use real deprived people from countries that have recently experienced natural disasters. I’m sure they could be convinced, given the financial reward. We also employ a few witnesses, for a negotiable fee of course.”
“Jesus, you have thought this out haven’t you?” asked Schofield.
“I stayed awake all night, Dean. Well, what do you say?”
“Slow down, Sam. This is serious shit. It’s not some hooray Henry smart arse that you’re planning to fleece, but Morris fucking O’Hara ... Another thing. How do we get these heroic deeds into the newspapers?”
“Your friend works for The Daily Mirror, doesn’t he? Jack what’s his name?”
“Pepper? Jack Pepper,” spluttered Schofield. “If I shared a prison cell with Jack Pepper and Bin Laden and was offered a gun with one round to use it in anyway, I’d shoot Pepper.”
“But I thought he was your friend?”
“Was, being the focal word… When working on a case, where I was employed to guard Charles Harland’s twenty-year old daughter, Tina, that bastard, Pepper saw me, escorting her to the ladies toilet in Stringfellows. He caught us in a compromising position, and my bare arse was all over the front page of The Mirror the next morning.”
“Yes, I recall that incident,” smiled Chaplin, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray.
Schofield ignored the interruption. “It wasn’t so much the humiliation of being photographed, but the money I lost because of it. My business suffered for a year or two.”
The pair left the bar and headed towards the car park. Dark clouds overhead heralded a downpour and Schofield jogged towards his battered red Ford Capri. Chaplin walked briskly after him.
“Bloody hell, Dean. Still driving this old banger?”
“Insult my car and you hurt my pride. She’s been with me for so many years, and she’s more faithful than some women are.”
Schofield started the engine and wound down his window.
“Well, Dean. Are you in?”
“I don’t think so, but I promise I’ll give it some consideration. I’ll call you.”
The Capri sped away, the loud music of U2 soothing the driver on his way.