Blood Money (chapters three and four.)
The Range rover accelerated along the mud-rutted road, scattering the flock of sheep and angering the old shepherd, who waved his fist at the driver. Terry Keenan ignored the protests and expertly manoeuvred his vehicle over the cattle grid. He sang along to the haunting lyrics of Madame Butterfly, his love of classical music seemingly inappropriate for the big man.
Keenan was back in his beloved homeland and he smiled at the rolling hills and the green meadows, his admiration for the countryside unwavering. Wearing his sleeveless jacket, the numerous tattoos on his arms proudly displayed his loyalty. On his bulging forearm, a snake was coiled around a bloody dagger, the words, OUR DAY WILL COME etched clearly in red.
Keenan had such a friendly face, his gap-toothed smile, turned up nose and his floppy brown hair contradicting his violent past. After shooting down in cold blood two RUC officers in 1995, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Suspected of being involved in major bombing campaigns in Britain, Keenan was deemed a high security risk.
Along with hundreds of other Irish terrorists, Keenan was later released from prison, courtesy of the Good Friday agreement. The thirty-five year old former IRA assassin had sampled freedom now for almost six years, the infamous Maze prison no longer his home. He was thought to be behind the £26 million pounds Belfast bank robbery and was constantly under surveillance. Rumours were rife that the hard man had joined the Real IRA.
Braking suddenly, Keenan stared ahead at the emaciated, pitiful creature that blocked the road. The red Irish setter whimpered at the approach of the driver, too exhausted to bark at the stranger.
Kennan stooped down and stroked the unfortunate hound, grimacing at its protruding ribs and filthy coat. “Who did this to you boy?” He straightened up and looked around him. Picking up the dog, he carried it along the uneven muddy path towards the farmhouse, the pouring rain cooling his hot body.
Reaching the farmhouse, Keenan put down the dog, who now cowered behind him. He rapped loudly on the door and was greeted by a toothless, bald man.
“What do you want, stranger? Don’t you know you’re on private property?”
Keenan pointed to the dog. “Does this creature belong to you?”
The man ran the sleeve of his grubby cardigan across his runny nose. “The fucker’s no good to me. He’s yours if you want him.”
Keenan removed his 9mm Browning from his waistband and pressed it against the man’s forehead. “You’re a fucking animal! Get on your knees, cunt!”
The farmer eyed up the tattoos on the stranger’s arms and wet himself. “T...T...The dog went missing, he did. I looked everywhere for him.”
Keenan prized the barrel of his weapon between the man’s yellow teeth. “Be Jesus, I must be getting fucking soft in my old age. Maybe it’s because we now live in peaceful times, so this is what I’m going to do. You are going to take...what’s his name?”
“Beano,” gasped the man, after the barrel was released.
“Beano, eh? Well you’re going to take old Beano in, feed him and nurse him back to health. If I see any more wounds or signs of cruelty on him when I return, then I’m going to skin you then bury you alive, do you hear?”
The farmer nodded rapidly.
“I’ll return a week from today and check on him... Oh, and don’t try to run away, because I’ll find you.”
Keenan patted the dog before departing. On his way to his Range Rover, he looked to the heavens and spoke. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. Why are people so cruel, God?” The music of Madame Butterfly serenaded him back to his vehicle.
Facing the mob of angry protestors outside Regents Park mosque, the isolated reporter had broken ranks and was snapping away with his camera. Thousands of Muslims had gathered, outraged at the recent Danish cartoons that depicted the prophet Mohammed as a figure of fun.
Jack Pepper risked the wrath of the protesters and ignored the pleas of the police by continuing to take his photographs. The red bearded journalist was eventually shepherded back amongst his colleagues.
“You’re crazy, Jack,” said a plump, red-faced man. “They want blood and they don’t care whose it is.”
“Did you get an eyeful of those placards, Pete?” asked Pepper. “The bastards are glorifying the July 7th bombings in London... Take a look at that one. Behead those who insult Islam.”
Police reinforcements added to the contingent of officers struggling to contain the mob. The protestors marched intently, their destination the Danish embassy in Sloane Street. Huge rallies in India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bangladesh coincided with the one in London. In Beirut, news had reached the media that the Danish Embassy had been torched and Europeans were evacuating the country.
Pepper and his colleague walked behind the flag-burning mob, the protest gathering numbers as they advanced. Above the din, Pepper heard the chimes of his cell phone. He patted Pete on the back before stepping aside. “Hello.”
“Jack, this is Deano. I need to speak to you.”
The redheaded man frowned. “Oh, so now you want to speak to me. It’s been almost two years Deano.”
“You shit on me, Jack, you fuck. If I wasn’t desperate, I wouldn’t be talking to you, now believe me.”
“Goodbye. I have nothing to say to you.”
“Wait! Here me out you ginger fuck.”
“You might think it funny tarring and feathering my car, but I don’t.”
“You deserved it, Jack. Did you get the King’s shilling for betraying me?”
“Do you have to screw anything in a skirt? Shit, you even shagged Debbie.”
“What? I never touched Debbie.”
“Well that’s not what she told me... Anyway, me and Debbie are history now, and so are we, Schofield.”
“Hold on. Is this what all this is about? You display my hairy arse in your newspaper because you thought I was fucking your girlfriend? I swear, I never touched her.”
“Call me later. I’m on an important assignment.”
“Two hundred grand, Jack. How does that sound?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Still betting on the gee gees? How much do you owe the bookies now? I have a proposition to put to you worth two hundred grand. Interested?”
“I’ll meet you tonight. Shall we say eight 'o'clock at the usual watering hole?”
“It‘s better, I come to your flat. What I have to tell you must remain between us.”
“My flat it is then. Bye bye.”
The curious reporter checked his wristwatch and ran across the busy road towards the bookmakers. Today, he felt lucky.
Pepper was standing at the window of his flat in Shepherds Bush and was surprised that Schofield was accompanied by his brother in law. He let the couple in and opened a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels, a luxury that he and Schofield shared.
Chaplin squatted on the leather sofa that had seen better days and took in the news headlines on the television. “Were you there, Jack?” he asked, watching the protest outside the Danish Embassy and declining the offer of a drink.
“Yes, I was there... Listen, I’ve got to meet someone at the White Horse at nine, so can we get on with this?”
Schofield removed his overcoat and warmed his hands by the electric fire. He accepted his liberal measure of Jack Daniels and savoured the taste. “To be quite honest, Jack, there’s no way I would have chosen you as a possible associate if we weren’t desperate; you see, we need somebody who works for a newspaper.”
“Before we go any further,” butted in Chaplin, “I must make it clear that this conversation does not go beyond these four walls.”
“You have my word,” muttered the reporter.
“Ah!” laughed Schofield. “Your word means Jack shit, if you’ll forgive the pun.”
“I didn’t invite you here to be insulted. You said you had a proposition, so fire away.”
Chaplin opened up. “Suppose we needed an adjustment made in an earlier edition of your newspaper. Could it be done?”
“I suppose so,” said Pepper, “but not by me.”
“I told you we were wasting our time,” moaned Schofield, refilling his empty glass.
The reporter continued. “You mentioned two hundred thousand pounds. For that I may be able to pull some strings.”
“But that would involve someone else right?”
asked Chaplin. “I don’t feel comfortable with that. We’re taking a great risk by telling you, Jack.”
“You’ve told me nothing... Listen, I’m definitely interested in the money you quoted, and I expect it to be risky for that amount, but you have to be straight with me. What’s this all about?”
Chaplin picked up the empty glass and poured himself a generous measure of the whiskey. He did not usually touch spirits, but he needed a drink at that moment. “A nameless wealthy client has asked me to find three penniless people anywhere in the world, who are worthy of being rewarded with one million pounds for their heroic deeds.”
“Jesus,” gasped Pepper. “And why would he do that?”
“Let’s just say that he wants to atone himself after sinning, and it’s important to him that he’s revered by the public.”
Pepper proceeded to fill his pipe. “I still don’t follow.”
Schofield was impatient and intervened. “Ok, Jack, I’ll be frank. We think we know a way of relieving Sam’s client of his money, but we have to involve at least another nine people apart from you.”
“Are you going to fill me in with the details?” probed the reporter.
Again, it was the private investigator who spoke. “We manufacture these heroic deeds, Jack. We’ve put our heads together over this and decided that recent natural disasters such as the Asian Tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake were an option. Our heroes would be paid well, and I don’t think it will be a problem finding witnesses.”
Pepper slammed down his glass onto his coffee table. “That’s fucking sick. If we were ever found out, we’d be lynched for capitalising on the tragedy of others. I’m not happy with this.”
“If we were found out, upsetting the public would be the last thing to worry about,” added Schofield.
“I’ve said enough, Jack.”
“And you won’t tell me the name of this mystery benefactor?”
Schofield wafted away the irritating pipe smoke. “You’ll find out soon enough... Listen, if you’re with us then we’ll tell you when the time’s right. If you decline our offer and we tell you the name of the mystery man, then we’ve blown three million.”
Pepper puffed on his pipe and pondered over his decision. “So let me get this straight. You want me to somehow make an addition in one of our copies, describing our hero's exploits?”
“Three additions,” interrupted Chaplin. “And possibly more to add credence to the stories.”
“And for that, I’ll receive two hundred grand?”
Schofield nodded. “That’s right... Oh, one more thing. We need someone to leak to the press that our client is about to donate the money to three poor souls.”
“That’s no problem... You say he’s going to part with three million? For the risk I’m prepared to take, I think a bigger slice of the pie is in order.”
Schofield poured himself yet another refill. “You’re getting greedy, Jack. Like I said, at least another nine people have to be paid.”
“And how have you arrived at this figure?”
“The three heroes, we reckon we can buy for one hundred grand each. Let’s say for instance that we use six witnesses, paying them fifty thousand each...”
“And after my cut that leaves you two with two million, two hundred thousand.”
Chaplin spoke up. “Of course there’s expense money, Jack. Airline tickets don’t come cheap, and then there’s the accommodation to pay for.”
Pepper walked towards his window and gazed out into the street. “This is fucking risky. Why not use genuine heroes and that way you wouldn’t have to pay for the witnesses?”
“We thought of that,” said Schofield. “What’s to stop them betraying us once they find out that the benefactor’s offering a million? Why settle for two hundred thousand? No, it’s better that our hero is a fraud and has no bargaining power.”
The reporter turned to his guests. “There’s something you two seem to have overlooked... If we have heroes, then we need the people who have been saved.”
Schofield raised his voice. “Don’t you think we haven’t thought of that? We toyed with the idea of using one witness and one person who had been rescued; a mother and daughter for instance. Using too many people is dangerous.”
The redheaded man pointed the stem of his pipe at Schofield. “And I won’t be expected to be involved with the witnesses?”
“No way. Your job is to create the heroic deeds in your past newspapers, and of course to leak to the media about Sam’s client, nothing more... If we’re caught, then so be it. We won’t betray you, and you don’t even have to meet the benefactor.”
“But, I’ve only your word that you won’t snitch on me... Half a million. Half a million and we’ve got a deal.”
Schofield rose from the sofa and prodded Pepper in the chest. “Fucking forget it. In case it’s escaped your attention, me and Sam here are the ones who are taking all the risks.”
“Four hundred grand and that’s my final word,” grinned Pepper.
“No way. Come on, Sam, let’s go. I knew this was a mistake coming here.”
Chaplin tugged on his brother in law’s arm. “We can live with that, Dean. He knows too much now.”
Schofield calmed down and faced the smirking reporter. “As thick as fucking thieves, Jack, eh? Three hundred grand and that’s final.”
Pepper thrust out his hand. “Gentlemen, you have yourself a deal.”
Schofield, looking splendid in his white suit, strolled through the meticulous, vibrant gardens that surrounded the Jakarta Hilton International Hotel. He was conscious of the visible sweat stains below his armpits, a result of the infernal heat. Although it was the rainy season in Indonesia, there was no immediate relief from the soaring temperature.
The impatient taxi driver sounded his horn once more and the Englishman increased his pace. He climbed into the rear of the blue vehicle and muttered, “Ragunan Zoo please.”
The smiling Indonesian driver checked his mirror. “You like the animals, eh mister?”
Schofield ignored the question and dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief. They joined the chaotic chain of traffic, the deafening noise of the impatient drivers hooting their horns irritating the Londoner. He smiled at the comical cycle rickshaw drivers, meandering rapidly between the queue of traffic, and the absurd-looking three wheeled motorised cars, the bajajas.
Schofield checked his wristwatch, now worrying that he would be late for his appointment. Several hours trawling the Internet for potential would be heroes, had he hoped paid off.
Manaf, a seventeen-year-old youth had reported on a tsunami survivors website about how he had fled the tidal waves and lost his family in Banda Aceh, on the island of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. A kindly Australian relief worker had taken pity on him and had offered Manaf a home in Jakarta.
Schofield and Chaplin acknowledged the potential opportunity Manaf offered and devised a scheme to lure him. Posing as an editor in a topical magazine, Schofield contacted the young man from Banda Aceh by e-mail, offering to interview him for a negotiable sum of money.
It was decided that the private investigator would travel to Jakarta, leaving Chaplin to search for other prospective bait. Schofield had agreed to pay the expenses from the money he had coerced from the wife of George Kyrimis; after all, he would have no need for a rented office if their scheme proved successful. To ask Morris O’Hara for the expense money would surely have alerted the Irishman to the fact that Chaplin had hired uncalled for assistance.
Ragunan was situated in the southern sector of the city, about twenty kilometres from the city centre. On route, Schofield marvelled at the many colourful mosques and the exotic buildings, decorated with carved archways and red-tiled roofs. The taxi crawled along in the traffic and Schofield was growing impatient. He pointed to his wristwatch and waved a wad of notes in the face of his driver. “Ten, I must make my appointment for ten 'o'clock, understand?”
The ever-smiling driver accepted the reward and viciously swerved left into a side street, provoking angry curses and more hoots from angry drivers. “Harunabdullah get you there very quickly, mister.”
Schofield arrived outside Ragunan Zoo ten minutes early and abandoned the taxi. Hr purchased a bottle of iced water from a vendor before squatting on the green bench, as requested. He examined the many faces of the visitors, unsure what Manaf looked like.
Feeling the first drops of rain on his hot face, he rose from the bench and looked for cover. The sudden downpour was torrential, and Schofield headed for the cover of the palm trees. A small boy, aged no more than ten scampered after him, holding his umbrella aloft to shelter the tall foreigner.
“Thank you,” said Schofield, smiling at the skinny boy, who stared incessantly at him.
“Mister, mister,” enthused the boy, thrusting out his hand.
Schofield reluctantly withdrew his wallet from his inside pocket and was immediately surrounded by a pack of shouting youths. The foreigner was confused, watching the greedy eyes of the beggars as the downpour quickened, the huge raindrops bouncing off the baked, concrete road.
A tall, thin boy, wearing an orange traditional robe screamed at the young beggars and scattered them. The dark-eyed boy turned to Schofield and offered him his umbrella. “Mr Scott?”
Schofield nodded. To use his real name could prove foolish if Manaf refused his offer.
The boy bowed. “I am Manaf. Welcome to Indonesia.”
The rain stopped suddenly, just as quickly as it had started. He handed the umbrella back to the boy, who declined. “Those boys are trouble, Mr Scott. They bring shame on my people.”
Manaf headed towards the entrance to the zoo and Schofield followed. They walked in silence for a minute or two, the chirping of the exotic birds now audible. Manaf motioned towards the natural hippopotamus pool. Aren’t they wonderful creatures, Mr Scott?”
Schofield agreed. They leant against the barrier, inhaling the strong stench of the gigantic creatures.
“You have your camera, Mr Scott?” quizzed Manaf.
“Damn! I’m afraid I’ve left it in the hotel,” lied Schofield. How could he have been so foolish? A magazine editor without a camera was like a fisherman without a rod.
Schofield checked to see that nobody was within earshot. “You speak such good English, Manaf. Where did you learn?”
The boy bowed his head and Schofield noticed how young the boy looked. “My uncle taught me, Mr Scott. He was the teacher in our village.”
“Lambada, Lhok,” whispered Schofield.
“Yes, Lambada Lhok... Why, Mr Scott? Why did the tsunami have to take so many lives?”
“A question I cannot answer, I’m afraid... It must have been difficult for you, Manaf. I mean, losing your entire family.”
Manaf avoided the question and walked on towards the ape compound. The vibrant, green grass beneath their feet was now surprisingly dry. Schofield removed his jacket and loosened his tie, the relentless sun seemingly hotter than ever. They purchased some mango and devoured it, standing in the shade of a pine tree.
A thin man with a snake draped over his shoulders stepped into the path of Schofield. The Indonesian held out his hand and smiled. “You take picture?”
Manaf shouted at the man, who went on his way. “How much money are you offering for my story, Mr Scott? I am not greedy and will donate the money to my village.”
This is not what Schofield wanted to hear. “Why not keep the money for yourself, Manaf and start a new life?”
“And what would I do with it? I have everything I want here now, after Mr Adams kindly took me in. I will repay him of course, but one day, I will return to my village and help to rebuild it.”
Schofield was in a state of meditation. Had he wasted so much time on this journey?
“Do you want to hear my story, Mr Scott?”
Although Schofield had already read about Manaf’s terrible ordeal on the Internet, he nodded obligingly.
“My father was a fisherman and I worked on the beach, hiring out beds and umbrellas, and selling fruit and water. My mother and my two younger sisters liked to help me. My baby brother, Mustafa played in the sand as we prepared the fruit that morning. We were standing at the water’s edge, waving at my father, who was setting sail. It happened so suddenly.”
Schofield looked across at the tearful boy and removed his sunglasses.
The boy continued. “The air at first was so still. Then we heard what sounded like thunder. The sea receded as much as half a mile out, and boats along with my father’s were beached. Hundreds of fish were stranded, fighting for breath as they flapped. Then there was this strange buzzing sound and the air was electric. There was another immense clap of thunder.”
Schofield felt remorseful that he was here in an attempt to corrupt the sad boy. He listened to what Manaf had to say with a heavy heart.
“My father joined us and people were confused. Behind us, people were screaming for us to get off the beach. Again, we heard a roar and saw an immense wave about sixty foot high coming towards us. My father gathered Mustafa in his arms and screamed for us to run for the higher ground. Around us, people were screaming and panicking. We ran for the high ground, but the sandy slope inhibited us. I climbed a palm tree and watched as my family were engulfed by the wave. I clung on for my life, witnessing the demise of my family. Baby Mustafa was prized from my father’s grasp and my mother and sisters were swept away.”
“Here, Manaf,” said Schofield, offering the distraught boy his water bottle.
Manaf swallowed a mouthful of the refreshing liquid before resuming with his story. “I leapt from the tree and swam, but the wave was too powerful and I was helpless. Several times, I went under and thought I would drown, but it was not to be. I eventually reached the higher ground, before another three waves struck. These brought debris, glass and refuge with them. Buildings toppled and cars were thrown about like matchsticks. The bodies; there were so many bodies, mainly women and children who were too weak to climb the trees or to swim... Out of four thousand people who inhabited my village, only four hundred survived.”
“And you found one of your sisters?” quizzed Schofield.
“Yes, I buried Kamariah. The rest of my family, I never found; probably buried beneath the mud mangroves or in a mass grave... Today, my people are rebuilding, and I must return there soon.”
Schofield swigged from his water bottle and contemplated his next statement. “Manaf, what if I was to offer you a great deal of money? Money that could change your life forever?”
“You mean change the life of my people? With the money, I would erect memorials; not just for my family, but for every person who perished in Lambada Lhok on December 26th, 2004.”
The sorrowful private investigator decided against corrupting Manaf for the time being. Between them, he and Chaplin would make the decision whether to offer the Indonesian part of O’Hara’s money.
They left the zoo and Schofield arranged a further meeting the next day. He beckoned a taxi and looked back as they moved off, at the tall, thin boy who had moved him so. What the Englishman needed most was a cold shower, and to scrub the undignified repentance from his pores.