Blood Money (chapters twenty one and twenty two.)
De Vries stepped aside, allowed the drinks trolley to pass and ignored the come on smile from the pretty, redheaded stewardess. The Dutchman was married to his job and pleasure had no place in life while he was working. He grimaced; his aching legs suffering from the confined restrictions of his economy class seat.
He resented the fact that his employers refused to allocate him the comfort of business class on his arduous flight to the States. He had received confirmation only this morning that a youth had been apprehended in Florida, attempting a spending spree on a stolen credit card. The card belonged to Dean Schofield.
De Vries was a creature of habit ,and denied the assistance of a colleague, even though his Superintendent had demanded so. De Vries always worked alone.
Schofield had disappointed the Dutchman. To clumsily lose his credit card had diminished what respect De Vries had for the Englishman. Even though Schofield no doubt would not have exposed himself by using the credit card, De Vries now categorised him as an unworthy adversary.
Although Khalid had divulged to him that Mukhtar had betrayed the SSP, De Vries could not take the chance that the money could find its way into the coffers of the terrorist organisation; a hefty sum for procuring arms.
De Vries once more settled into his seat and for the umpteenth time, he browsed through the in-flight magazine. In just over one hour’s time, he would touch down in Miami and be met by colleagues from Interpol. His stay, he expected would be a short one.
The sombre-looking woman responded to the knock at her door and faced a tall, bearded stranger, who wore a white kameez. Her body involuntarily shuddered at the sight of the man; his presence oozing vibes of evil. He mustered a smile, his crooked teeth and onion breath enhancing his portrayal of wickedness.
Fatma did not return the smile. Dressed in a pale green sari, she concealed the lower portion of her face. She was still trapped in the primitive time warp of Islam and refused to adapt to western culture, like so many of her friends had.
“Can I help you?”
The narrow, dark eyes were unblinking and the voice deep. “Are you Fatma, the mother of Rasheed Ali?”
Fatma resented the man who questioned her. She acknowledged that he no doubt was responsible for her son’s wayward development into the ranks of the SSP. The discovery of Rasheed’s secret had presented itself by accident. Fatma had inadvertently overheard her son speaking to his so-called friends. Afterwards, her pleas to abandon the sectarian outfit were ignored and a heated argument followed.
“Who are you?” she asked.
Fazal Malik brushed the woman aside and stepped inside her humble home. “I am a friend of Rasheed’s and am worried about him.”
Fatma gently closed the door. “I haven’t seen my son for weeks.”
Malik rudely slumped onto the floral couch and proceeded to peel an onion. “Do you know where he is?”
The expression on the woman’s face changed. “Why don’t you leave him alone? He’s merely a boy and you’ve recruited him into your evil ranks.”
Malik bit into the raw onion. “Woman, you misunderstand me. Recruited him? I am but his friend and am seeking him because I owe him some money.”
“I don’t know where Rasheed is, as I’ve already told you. Now please, will you leave, as I’m expecting guests?”
The big man rose from the couch and with his spade-like hands, he picked up a framed photograph from the modest cabinet. “This is your husband?”
Fatma snatched the treasured photograph from his grasp. “It was. My husband is dead.”
“I doubt it,” responded the spiteful woman... “Please, leave my home.”
Malik again bit into the onion, an action that repulsed the hostess. His black eyes settled on a postcard, and without asking permission, he removed it from the letter rack. He smiled satisfactorily, warding off Fatma’s feeble attempt to retrieve the postcard.
“Rasheed is in Florida? I have a confession to make. I do not owe your son money; on the contrary. Rasheed has been a very foolish boy and it is imperative that I reach him before my friends do... Did he mention to you where he was staying?”
“No. This is the only communication I have had from Rasheed... Please do not harm him. His friend influences him greatly.”
Malik again bit into his onion. “His friend is Mukhtar?”
The woman nodded.
“Does your son own a cell phone?” asked Malik.
“Yes, but I do not know the number.”
The intruder pointed a menacing finger at Fatma. “I don’t believe you... You leave me no choice but to give you an ultimatum... If I leave here without a contact number, you will never set eyes on your son again. I will cut your throat and then your son’s... If on the other hand you do cooperate with me, then I will spare both your lives... Listen, it’s Mukhtar we want... You were correct, Mukhtar is a bad influence on your son, and once I locate him, I’ll release your son.”
Malik handed the woman a piece of paper and a pen. With shaking hands, she reluctantly began to write. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?”
“You don’t, but at least this way you’ll know he has a chance... My quarrel is not with Rasheed... Now write down the number.”
Fatma scribbled away before folding the paper in two. She handed it over to Malik. He unfolded the note and his eyes bulged wildly.
“Fucking whore,” he screamed, and advanced on the defiant woman, a dagger clenched in his hand. He pulled her forward by her hair and brought the jagged blade swiftly across her throat. Her eyes displayed no terror, something that unsettled the killer. She gurgled and Malik pushed the body to the ground.
Before Malik left, he searched the house, but was unsuccessful in his quest for the telephone number. He screwed up the piece of paper and tossed it towards the body of Fatma, watching as the note was stained red.
The note had read, Go to hell SSP scum!
Concealed in the shrubbery, Schofield watched the villa attentively. The first evening of April was humid and sticky; the temperature unusually higher than expected. The Londoner realised the significance of the date, but this fool, even though he initially had no intention of returning to the abode of Peebles, had little choice, owing to unforeseen circumstances.
There was no way that he was going to report his missing wallet, and his need for finances was great. The loss of his credit card and cash he could accept, but his missing passport was his initial worry. He rued bringing his credit card, for he had no intention of using it in the States. To do so would reveal his location to his growing list of adversaries. His chief concern was that he may have been robbed, and if that is the case, then he prayed that the thief disposed of his credit card and passport, satisfied with the huge influx of cash he had come across.
Schofield gazed up at the full moon, acknowledging that he would be perceptible to Mukhtar and Rasheed, if indeed they had set an ambush. He suspected that Mukhtar’s offer was tinged with deception, but his needs were great. Schofield, at this moment in time could not pay his hotel bill, never mind the extortionate sum he would need to acquire a bogus passport.
Gripping the pistol of Peebles, he decided to make his move, advancing slowly across the expanse of lawn. The insect repellent had served its purpose, but the scent of the exotic plants irritated him. The night was silent, except for the incessant chirping of the crickets. The private investigator skirted the swimming pool and increased his stride.
Reaching the villa, he melted against the red brick wall and breathed uneasily. He stepped back and looked up, searching for the alarm system. Entry into the villa would not prove difficult, but had Mukhtar kept his word and disabled the alarm?
Schofield reached a side door and rummaged through the bunch of keys that he had taken from the corpse of Peebles. Inserting each one into the keyhole, he eventually found one that fitted. He turned the key and heard the gratifying click. Pushing open the door, he felt relief that the alarm was not armed.
Before his search for the safe began, he put on his gloves and carefully examined each room, his pistol at the ready. Satisfied that no trap was imminent, he concentrated his efforts on locating the safe. His lack of money ordained that he could not even afford a torch, and so his search was made in semi darkness.
Reaching the main bedroom, he chanced switching on the bedside lamp. Lying on the bed were an assortment of sex toys and a pair of handcuffs. Schofield smiled, realising that the relief worker was not such a choirboy as once thought.
His eyes settled on a landscape painting and he advanced towards it. After carefully removing it from the wall, he stared at the safe, not a complicated contraption, but a modest cabinet complete with a keyhole. Schofield again searched through the keys, until he found what he was looking for. Cautiously, he opened the safe and stared satisfactorily at several stacks of dollar banknotes.
Slumping on the bed, he counted out the treasure and calculated that there was two hundred and thirty thousand dollars. To give up such a sum, Mukhtar and Rasheed must have desperately wanted Schofield out of their lives. They probably had far greater worries, notably the SSP, who they had so foolishly betrayed.
His eyes were drawn to a brochure on the dressing table. On closer inspection, he found it to be a Greyhound bus timetable. Underlined in red was the destination Brooklyn, New York. He tossed the brochure to one side, rummaged through a bedside cupboard and came across a holdall that suited his purpose. He left the villa a content man; not fully satisfied, but content. The money would help fund his ambition, to relieve the Asian pair of their ill-gotten gains.
De Vries was met at Miami Airport by two fellow Interpol officers and was now being driven towards Fort Lauderdale. The two Americans said very little and De Vries settled back and enjoyed the cool surroundings, courtesy of the air condition unit.
Arriving at Interpol headquarters, he was met by an obese man, wearing an ill-fitting suit that was at least one size too small. They exchanged handshakes and the American introduced himself as Captain Roley Griffiths. They made their way to an office, where an attractive, dark woman, attired in a smart white trouser suit awaited them.
“Inspector De Vries,” began Griffiths. “This vision is, Sergeant Holly Mendez.”
The two shook hands and De Vries was invited to sit. The Captain opened a window and loosened his tie, his face reddened and perspiring. He settled down opposite his two colleagues and opened up.
“I trust your journey was satisfactory?”
“As a matter of fact, it was not,” countered the Dutchman, trying to not make his attraction to Holly Mendez not too obvious. “I hate flying.”
“Would you like a drink?” Captain Griffiths continued. “Coffee, tea, soda?”
“I’m fine... I understand that someone was picked up with Schofield’s credit card?”
“That’s correct... We’re also now in possession of his bogus passport. The thief carelessly dumped it in his trash...There have been other developments in the last forty-eight hours that will interest you.”
Again, De Vries’s eyes were attracted to the pretty detective. With her finely chiselled cheekbones, deep blue eyes and bronzed features, this woman would not look out of place on the catwalks of Rome. Her lingering perfume camouflaged the body odour of Captain Griffiths.
“Developments?” quizzed De Vries, focusing on the senior officer.
The captain produced a series of photographs and handed them over to the European. “The human colander was Lance Peebles. His body was found aboard a rented boat that ran aground on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, two days ago. My superiors informed me that Peebles would interest you.”
De Vries studied the photographs. “Any clues as to who done this?”
“We thought you might be able to tell us, Inspector... What we know is that you’re here to trace Dean Schofield. What we haven’t been told is why this Lance Peebles interests you.”
“Have you found out where Peebles was staying?”
The captain dabbed his perspiring brow. “He rented a villa in Tuscany, an upmarket area of Fort Lauderdale. He was using the name, David Jennings, but the local cops did a check on him and matched his profile with that of Peebles, who was on our VIP list... Incidentally, the villa was unlocked when we arrived there. Seem strange to you?”
“I gather you checked for prints.”
“Of course we did, Inspector... There was a safe, but it was empty; nevertheless, who leaves a luxury villa unlocked?”
“I gather you know why I’m after Schofield?”
The captain shook his head. “We were told to cooperate with you, and what is disclosed to us is entirely up to you... Listen, De Vries; we’re on the same payroll, so why don’t you just fill us in and save us time?”
“Okay. I assume you’ve heard about the Morris O’Hara robbery in London?”
Griffiths nodded his head.
“Peebles planned it, and Mukhtar Ahmed, Rasheed Ali, and according to our intelligence, a man called Tariq carried out the robbery. Tariq, we believe was shot dead by O’Hara.... Mukhtar and Rasheed, we know were involved with the terrorist group SSP, and that is why we’re showing a growing interest in developments... They agreed to pay an undisclosed fee to SSP, but they got greedy and decided to keep it for themselves. Big mistake.”
“How much did they make from the robbery?” asked Holly.
“Three million pounds... You can understand why we don’t want the money to fall into the hands of the SSP.”
“And this Schofield?”
De Vries turned to the captain. “He was the brother in law of Sam Chaplin, who we believe was murdered by one of O’Hara’s henchmen.”
“And so why is Schofield in Fort Lauderdale?” asked Holly.
De Vries arched his eyebrow and smiled. “Either, he’s out to avenge the death of his brother in law, and he’s traced Peebles and his motley crew here, or more likely, he was in on the robbery.”
“Schofield murdered Peebles,” added Captain Griffiths. It was more a statement than a question.
De Vries waved a finger. ”I don’t think so... O‘Hara had Chaplin killed... Schofield’s either joined up with his buddies, or he wants the money for himself.”
“And so who topped Peebles?” asked Holly.
The Dutchman shrugged his shoulders. “It’s complicated... Not only are the SSP after them, but also O’Hara... I know for a fact that an ex IRA gunman has been employed by O’Hara to find Peebles and co, but I doubt they would have traced him here so quickly. The same applies to the SSP, although they have vast resources at their disposal... We were lucky, given that Schofield had his pocket picked.”
“We’re gonna need reinforcements,” sighed the captain.
De Vries walked to the window and looked out. “I smell a double cross. What if Mukhtar and Rasheed murdered Peebles to protect their identity?”
“That’s what you reckon?” chipped in Holly.
De Vries turned to her. “No, that’s what I’m hoping... If O’Hara and the SSP are here in Florida, then your streets will be awash with blood.”
Captain Griffiths again slumped in his seat. “What exactly is your objective, Inspector? I mean, what would be the perfect scenario for you?”
“I hate to say it, but I would sleep a lot easier if O’Hara got his money back.”
Holly joined in. “I don’t like what I think I’m hearing... Let me get this right. I think you’re here to ensure that the money is returned to O’Hara, who is suspected of being an IRA financier?”
“You’ve done your homework.”
“I’ve worked on cases involving well established citizens of New York who have secretly been funding the IRA, and O’Hara’s name had cropped up more than a few times.”
De Vries was impressed. “I’m to play it by ear, but under no circumstances must this money reach SSP. If I can arrest Mukhtar, Rasheed and Schofield, then so be it, but I wouldn’t shed a tear if Keenan caught up with them first... Stringent security must be administered at the airports. Anyone with an Irish or a Pakistani passport must be vetted.”
“Strict security checks are already in place, due to the recent terrorist threats,” stressed Captain Griffiths.
De Vries gritted his teeth. “Then how come Schofield, Peebles, Mukhtar and Rasheed passed undetected through your airports, Captain?”
“Obviously they had false passports... Listen, Inspector; we’re in this together, so a little respect wouldn’t go amiss... Truce?”
The Captain held out his hand and Schofield lightened up. The two men shook hands.
“Holly here will assist you in your enquiries here in Florida, and if you need anything just...”
“I prefer to work alone,” insisted De Vries.
Holly intervened. “I won’t distract you, Inspector. I’m being assigned to you merely as a guide if you like... I’m more experienced than you think.”
De Vries conceded. “You’re more a distraction than you can imagine, Sergeant... I need a shower and a couple of hours sleep. Drive me to my hotel and I’ll consider your position, Sergeant.”
The pretty detective pouted. “Welcome to the team, Inspector.”
Her hand was warm and soft. De Vries new alliance with Holly would be accepted .
Schofield felt so helpless. To find the two Asian men in the vast holiday playground of Fort Lauderdale was like looking for a needle in a haystack. He had absolutely nothing to help his search except the sighting of the red MG sports car, and that formed the basis of his enquiries.
He trawled umpteen car rental firms with no success, before coming across a possible lead. The tall, gangly salesman marched swiftly across the forecourt, interested in the potential punter, who was walking amongst his fleet of hire cars.
“A good day to you, Sir. Do you see anything that interests you?”
Schofield was impatient and got straight to the point. “The red MG. Have you hired it out recently?”
“Ah yes, the MG. A splendid choice if I...”
“Listen,” interrupted Schofield, displaying a huge wad of banknotes. “I’ll pay you two hundred dollars for information.”
The salesman’s eyes lit up. “Information?”
“Can you tell me who hired this car on Wednesday?” Schofield knew that there was every possibility that this was not the car that he saw Mukhtar and Rasheed drive away in, and he had paid out several hundred dollars to loosen tongues already, but he was desperate.
“Wednesday,” mouthed the salesman, rubbing his chin, his eyes displaying his greed.
“Three hundred dollars and that’s my final offer,” insisted Schofield counting out the money.
The salesman looked around, before tucking the money in his inside pocket. “I can tell you who rented the car without looking in my ledger.”
“A couple of Asian guys rented it on Monday. They brought it back only yesterday.”
Schofield felt an adrenalin rush. “You have their details?”
The greedy salesman looked to the sky and whistled.
“Listen, you prick,” threatened Schofield. “We have a deal and you’ve been paid well. Now either you give me the details or I’ll break both your legs.”
“Temper, temper... There is such a thing as client confidentiality you know.” The salesman put up his hands. “Okay, relax. The ledger’s in my office.”
Schofield followed the salesman, excited, and yet angry at this weasel, who was trying to fleece him. Once in the office, the details were pointed out.
“A Mr Singh hired the car.”
“How did he pay?” asked Schofield.
“Cash... Actually, it was his friend who paid me.”
“Of course you checked their passport?”
The salesman reddened. “My business is very competitive and sometimes, well, you know. Sometimes we overlook such formalities.”
“They left a deposit?”
“Of course. And I took down where they were staying.”
“The Yankee Sheraton Trader.”
“You have the address?” asked Schofield impatiently.
The salesman wrote down the details.
Schofield bounded across the car park towards his rented Chevrolet, leaving the content salesman alone to count out his windfall.