Blood Money (chapters seven and eight.)
Standing in the shade of the tall minaret in the miniature park, Schofield sipped his cold coca-cola and awaited his rendezvous with Manaf. The park that had been compared to Disneyland was not overcrowded due to the rainy season.
Schofield gazed at the signpost, giving directions in English and various other languages. The orchid gardens, fauna museum, bird park, swimming pool and several other attractions were clearly displayed. In total, twenty-seven provinces were represented in the miniature park, each occupying a large pavilion.
Manaf, now clad in an emerald green robe approached the Englishman and bowed his head. His brown eyes appeared as big as coasters. “Mr Scott, I am sorry I am late.”
“No you’re not Manaf; I’m early... Listen, I would feel more comfortable if you called me Dean.”
“Dean,” smiled Manaf. “I see today you have brought your camera... Shall we walk?”
The pair strolled along the cracked concrete path, watching the cable car as it passed overhead. A blend of spices and local floral delights was evident in the air.
Schofield urged his host to stop and marvelled at the puppet shadow show. He proceeded to snap away with his camera. The private investigator’s delight at the puppets stemmed from his childhood love of Punch and Judy shows.
“Wayang kuilt,” murmured Manaf.
“Excuse me,” said Schofield.
“The puppets. Wayang kuilt.”
Schofield reluctantly turned away from the show and followed Manaf. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular. I thought perhaps you would like to sample some of our traditional dancing.”
Schofield tugged at Manaf’s elbow. “Listen, I haven’t been exactly truthful with you.”
Manaf continued to smile. “With regards to what, Dean?”
“With regards to me being an editor with a magazine.”
Manaf now looked perplexed; his expression that of a little, lost boy.
“How far would you go, Manaf to be able to rebuild your village?”
“I don’t understand, Dean.” They walked on.
“Do you have close friends you could trust?”
Schofield waited until a group of Japanese tourists had passed. “Close friends who share your dream of rebuilding your village?”
“Okay, Manaf, here it is... For one hundred thousand pounds I want you to pose as a hero.”
The Indonesian looked even more bewildered by the statement.
“When the tsunami struck, after doing everything you could to save your family, you then turned to other friends and families in your village. You saved the lives of some of them by helping them to safety, ignoring the obvious danger to yourself.”
Manaf shook his head. “Although I would have helped them, I did not. Everything happened so fast and my family were my immediate concern.”
“Yes, I understand that,” said Schofield, his attention now interrupted by the sight of three nearly naked men, squatted on the cold marble floor of a pavilion they were approaching. Their bronzed faces were daubed with red and yellow ochre and small bones hung from their noses. Dancing in front of the men was a beautiful Balinese dancer, fluttering her fingers daintily, her eyes moving from right to left. The girl who was attired in a scarlet red, sequined gown was dancing in time to the beat of the gamelan music.
Schofield was entranced by the vision of the girl, his gaze unrelenting as he continued his dialogue. “A little white lie, Manaf, a little white lie would go a long way to reconstructing Lambada Lhok.”
“But why?” probed Manaf. “I mean what do you get out of this?”
Schofield’s eyes were now locked with those of the smiling girl. “I won’t lie to you, Manaf. I’m no saint... I’ll make a great deal of money out of this... All you have to do is to convince someone you trust to verify that you helped them survive during the tsunami... You’ll be expected to meet the man who is kindly offering you this money, but you must not reveal to him my identity.”
“I am most confused.”
“When you meet this man, he will hand you a cheque for one million pounds.”
“The money will be placed into your bank account, and after a prearranged period of time you will pay me nine hundred thousand pounds, leaving you enough funds to provide for your village.”
“I have no bank account, Dean.”
“One will be opened for you... Listen, I can see that you’re troubled by my offer, but think how much this money could help your people.”
Manaf walked on and Schofield reluctantly followed, his eyes still digesting the beautiful, dancing girl. They came across a group of young girls dressed in traditional, coloured Balinese costumes. They danced gracefully, each of them holding a silver bowl containing fragrant flowers.
“Dean,“ began Manaf. “Are you a thief?”
“Hell, no... I prefer to be called an opportunist... Listen, Manaf, if it’s any comfort to you, the man who is donating the money is not the kind, charitable person you think he is. He has a dubious, dark past and it is believed that he has funded terrorist groups. Also, he killed a young girl whilst driving his car in a drunken state. This sham benevolent gesture is merely a way to present himself as a saint in the eyes of the public.”
“You said that I must not reveal your identity. Why?”
“Because, Manaf, I was approached by somebody who devised this scheme and he asked me to approach you with his proposal. You see, I am not a greedy man and the money we swindle from this monster is to be divided by many.”
“So why me?” asked Manaf, sucking on a piece of watermelon he had purchased.
“Why not you? Our mystery benefactor wanted three such heroes so you won’t be alone. I needed someone who was poor and had actually survived the tsunami... The fact is that I discovered you on the Internet.”
“I will need time to think this over.”
Schofield stared into the brown eyes of the youth. “And if you refuse my offer, can I rely on your discretion?”
“And your Australian friend? It is vital that you don’t tell him.”
“Mr Adams will not learn of this.”
The pair shook hands. “I think I trust you, Manaf. You can contact me on this number.”
Schofield departed and headed for the exit; his fantasy about courting the dancing girl now dismissed. On reaching the gate, he heard a familiar voice from behind.
“Dean, Dean wait.”
Schofield turned to face Manaf.
“I have made up my mind... I have decided.”
The three men had decided to meet once more in the flat of Jack Pepper. The eager host poured out the drinks before Sam Chaplin opened up. As the original deviser of their scheme, the solicitor felt obliged to take the lead.
“Jack, prepare yourself for a shock. My client is none other than Mr popular himself, the great Morris O’Hara.”
“Oh, shit. Stealing money from O’Hara is not good for your health. I presume you’ve heard the rumours about him?”
It was Schofield who spoke. “Rumours, Jack, only rumours. Now are you in or not?”
“I’m sweet man, I’m sweet. Count me in.”
Chaplin nodded his approval. “Even though we have managed to recruit two of our heroes, we still need to move on swiftly. I met with O’Hara yesterday and he’s growing impatient by the day. I of course informed him that to find three potential beneficiaries so quickly was not easy. I even asked if I could employ the services of someone to help me in my search, but as expected, he declined the offer stating that security was paramount.”
“Do you trust this Mukhtar, Sam?” asked Schofield.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t, but he’s in now like it or not... If we decided to ditch him, he would no doubt betray us... What about this Manaf? Can he be trusted?”
Schofield poured himself another glass of Jack Daniels. “I think so. His people are not greedy and I propose we throw in another fifty thousand, seeing as his witnesses do not need to be paid. His only interest is his village, but one thing that worries me is how he’ll react when facing O’Hara, not to mention the press.”
“Okay,” said Chaplin. “So we need one more. I have a list of...”
“I have someone,” butted in Pepper.
Schofield and Chaplin glared at the redheaded reporter.
“What?” mumbled Schofield.
“I said, I have someone.”
The usually mild-tempered Chaplin spoke. “I was under the assumption that you were here merely to provide us with bogus news headlines, Jack. Even you yourself said...”
“Hear me out please... I recalled from a past edition of the Mirror, reading about a pilot who on a flight from Athens to Rome in 2003, somehow managed to land his Boeing 737 safely after running into difficulties.”
“And?” prompted Schofield.
“During the flight there was a decompression explosion that tore off a large section of the roof. The entire top half of the aircraft skin, extending from just behind the cockpit to the forewing area was missing. Three of the passengers were killed by flying debris, but through the skill of the pilot, one-hundred and eighty four passengers and crew survived.”
Chaplin intervened. “An airline pilot could hardly be deemed as underprivileged now could he?”
“Let me finish,” urged the journalist. “Darius Kannellakis, the pilot in question never flew again. Investigations claimed that pilot error may have contributed towards the fated flight, but Darius was later cleared of all blame. It was too late for him and he had a nervous breakdown and then turned to alcohol. His employers, Apollo Airlines tried to help him, but he declined their offer. He now lives above a taverna in Athens, and although he no longer drinks, Darius is penniless after refusing to accept payment from his employers.”
“So why the sudden change of heart?” asked Schofield.
“Because, for my part, I will be paid an extra one hundred thousand pounds.”
Schofield seized the startled reporter by the throat and pinned him against the wall. “You greedy bastard.”
“No, Dean,” demanded Chaplin. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”
Schofield released Pepper and reached for his drink.
Pepper massaged his sore throat before explaining. “The fifty thousand you were going to pay for a bogus witness, you no longer have to pay. In fact, you have no witnesses to pay. Also, I did all the leg work and feel it’s only fair that I receive a bonus.”
“And you assume that this Greek fellow will accept our offer?” quizzed Chaplin.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because, I’ve already asked him.”
“Fuck!” screamed Schofield. “I told you it was a mistake letting this parasite in on the scheme.”
“So do we have a deal?” grinned Pepper. “I receive four hundred grand. Still not as much as you two, but I can live with that. Well?”
Chaplin lit up a cigarette and opened the window. “So our three heroes receive one hundred thousand each, four hundred thousand to you and fifty thousand bonus to Manif’s group. That leaves...”
“Two million, two hundred and fifty thousand pounds,” interrupted Pepper. “And don’t give me all that bullshit about expenses, because I’m certain that O’Hara will pick up the tab. So I’ll be picking up about a third of what you two are getting, but life’s a bitch. Again, do we have a deal?”
“And you can still supply the false newspaper cuttings?” quizzed Chaplin.
“I don’t believe I’m hearing this,” moaned Schofield.
Pepper ignored the protests. “I need only to manufacture a story in the archives concerning Manif. Mukhtar and Darius are genuine heroes and their stories were well documented at the time. I foresee no problem. I gather you have data for me on Manaf?”
Schofield reluctantly handed over the folder.
Chaplin cleared his throat. “There are a couple of points that I must go over before I approach O’Hara with our candidates. Firstly, there is no guarantee that O’Hara will accept our selections, though I think he will agree with a little persuasion from me. Secondly, it is vitally important that once the money is deposited into the bank accounts, our cut must stay there for a prolonged period. To transfer funds into our accounts would be too risky just yet.”
“How long?” probed Pepper.
“As long as it takes for our three heroes to vanish into obscurity. Once the media grow tired of them, then we’ll consider the transfer of funds. It may take three months or three years.”
“Three years?” moaned Pepper.
Schofield filled his third glass of the whiskey. “You heard him, Jack.”
Chaplin stubbed out his cigarette. “I’ll need this newspaper article on Manif as soon as possible.”
The three men were each left to ponder over a new future. They went about their daily routine, dreaming of the rewards on offer; the perils of dealing with Morris O’Hara the last things on their minds.
Jack Pepper waited until the majority of his colleagues had left the Daily Mirror offices before making his move. He entered the archives room and as expected, Helen Trewin was sitting at her desk. Pepper was familiar with the girl’s stringent routine and knew she would have to leave to catch her tube to Baker Street at any moment.
The dark-haired, bespectacled girl turned to face Pepper and offered a half smile. She regarded the bearded man as a bit eccentric, if not downright weird. Although they had been working together for four years, Helen had never socialised with Pepper. She realised that he lived alone, and the fact that he had never been seen in the company of a female augmented the rumours that he was homosexual.
“Got no home to go to, Helen?”
“I could say the same about you... I’m almost finished here. So what brings you to the archives department?”
Pepper sat behind a PC and his fingers ran speedily across the keyboard. “Oh, I’m just checking out a story from a few years back.”
“Not really... Actually, I need to add a page to one of our earlier editions.”
“And why would you want to do that?”
Pepper smiled and his eyes lit up. “For a practical joke... I had a wager with a friend of mine were I told him that an old school friend of ours appeared in the Mirror after he mooned at the Queen. Of course, I won’t take his money, but I want to see his face when I produce the article.”
Helen checked her wristwatch and swivelled her eyes. “How childish. Anyway, you won’t be able to amend the archives without a password.”
Pepper ceased typing. “Damn. Couldn’t you...”
Helen put on her coat and hat before heading for the door. “You’ll get me shot, Jack Pepper.”
Pepper sunk to his knees and put his hands together in prayer. “Please, Helen. I’ll take you out to dinner.”
“Do I look like the type of girl who can be easily bribed?” Helen closed the door behind her and Pepper cursed. The door opened once more and the petite girl appeared. “Winter. Anagram of Trewin. Clever, eh?”
“Cheers, Hells bells, you beauty.”
The eager reporter was left alone and turned back to the PC. He typed in WINTER and he grinned as the password was accepted. Removing the documents from the folder, he browsed through the information and noted the date of the Asian Tsunami. He removed his jacket and prepared to rewrite a piece of history.