The red-eyed woman tossed the handful of earth onto her husband’s grave, before breaking down in tears. The aggrieved widow was consoled and escorted to the waiting hearse. James Holland had taken his own life; a cruel scam the reason for his abrupt act. The fifty two-year-old ex-shipyard worker was not a wealthy man. Twenty-five years, toiling all hours had gone unrewarded, his services no longer in demand.
James Holland, being a proud man, had walked the streets in a vain effort to find employment. Alas, the wheels of industry no longer acknowledged loyalty and good old-fashioned endeavour, instead opting for youth, who were more endowed with computer skills. Desperation was his sole companion in his days of woe, and the depression planted itself deep within him. A telephone call one rainy morning would change his life forever; the message of optimism, another nail in his coffin.
The scam was simple. Anton Comasky, posing as a stock analyst, called some five hundred people, claiming to half of them that the share price in a certain company would rise before the end of the week. The other half were told the stocks would fall. The satisfied victims were then whittled down again, using the same method, until Comasky was left with some sixty eager prospective investors. Being born with the gift of converse, the Londoner soon had the money-hungry investors under his spell, and they were only too eager to invest huge sums of money with him.
One of the sixty gullible victims who had been taken in by the scam was James Holland. He unwisely gambled £20,000 of his redundancy money on Comasky’s advice. Of course, once he had parted with the cash, the wily conman had found pastures anew. The latest setback had proved too much for the ex-shipyard worker. According to witnesses, James had stepped in front of the double decker bus purposely, ending his life beneath the wheels of the number thirty-seven.
That Comasky had been arrested and convicted of fraud was no compensation for the mournful widow. Further salt was rubbed into her wounds with the outcome of the farcical trial. In all, Comasky had duped sixty victims, his vast sum of stolen funds conveniently missing. His sentence for operating this cruel scam? Two years suspended sentence and a five thousand pounds fine.
Rachel believed that the deceitful man was responsible for the death of her husband, as much as if he had actually pushed him beneath the wheels of the double decker bus. Rachel Holland was by nature a meek and dignified woman, but inwardly, the injustice gnawed away at her heartstrings.
Anton Comasky sipped his Jack Daniels, his rodent-like eyes scouring the bar of the Regency Hotel, his mind delving for a new scam. The money he had fraudulently acquired from his latest enterprise would keep him living in the luxury of the elegant hotel for quite a time yet, but being a refined conman, he was always on the lookout for further opportunities.
He watched with curious interest the approach of the two middle-aged women. Judging by their attire, they were opulent by nature, an attribute that always attracted the weasel-faced man. The two women did not acknowledge Comasky and settled down at the neighbouring table. They ordered Martinis, before they drifted into a conversation that held the attention of the man with the slicked back, black hair.
The redhead held her head in her hands and sighed, as her small, dark friend placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. The sobbing woman looked elegant in her turquoise, satin dress, the lack of jewellery not concerning the watching conman.
“Whatever will I do, Celia? I need the money desperately, but I simply cannot sell the painting.” The voice was quiet, but held enough decibels to be heard by the listening man.
“You could sell the house, Pearl.”
“Out of the question, dear,” she said, wiping away the tears. “The house was a gift from my father.”
Comasky shifted in his seat, his sparkling eyes now giving the women his full attention.
“How much is the painting worth?” asked Celia.
Pearl shrugged. “I’m not certain. At least £300,000, if I’m not mistaken... Oh, Celia, I’m in such a fix.”
Comasky approached the women and cleared his throat. “I hope you don’t mind the intrusion, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation... Do you mind if I join you?”
“I don’t think so,” complained Pearl. “A gentleman would not have listened in to our conversation.”
Comasky sat down regardless. “I didn’t say I was a gentleman... Listen, I may be the answer to all of your problems.”
“If you don’t leave us alone, I’ll call the manager.”
“Wait, Pearl,” suggested Celia. “At least listen to what he has to say.”
“Your friend is right. I only wish to help you.”
Pearl sipped her Martini and regarded the stranger with her large, saucer shape eyes. “So, how can you help me, Mr..?”
“Frazer... Anthony Frazer... By the gist of your conversation, it appears you have needs of a cash flow?”
“Forgive me for eavesdropping, but you said the painting is worth £300,000?”
Comasky shuffled closer to the women, checking over his shoulder to ensure they were alone. “Can I be so bold as to ask if you have the painting insured?”
“Of course it’s insured,” responded Pearl.
“Then, madam, your troubles may be over,” gloated Comasky.
“I don’t understand,” said Pearl, looking towards her friend.
“I think what Mr Frazer is suggesting, is that he can arrange for the painting to be stolen."
The short man smiled and pointed to Celia. “I do like an intelligent woman."
Pearl removed a cigarette from her handbag. The obnoxious man leant over and lit it for her with a match from a book. She blew out the smoke towards the ceiling and faced the irritant. “Let me get this clear. You arrange for my painting to be stolen and then...”
“Then you claim the insurance money... When things calm down, I of course will return the painting.”
“Of course. And how do I know you’ll return the painting?”
“You have my word.”
“The word of a thief?” stressed Pearl.
“Harsh words, madam. I like to think of myself as an opportunist.”
“And how much would this fake burglary cost me?”
“Let’s say £100,000, shall we?”
Pearl waved a finger. “Do I look stupid? £50,000 or nothing, and only when I receive the insurance money.”
“You drive a hard bargain, lady.”
“And I want to take out my own insurance,” murmured Pearl.
“Come again.” He stared into her green feline-like eyes as she ground out her cigarette.
Pearl turned to her friend. “Celia, do you have that infernal camera with you?”
“You know I do.”
Pearl held out her hand. “She carries the darn thing with her everywhere she goes, just in case she happens to run into a celebrity.” The redhead lined up the camera and took Comasky’s photograph.
“Hold on there. What’re you playing at, lady?”
“My insurance. I’ll keep this photograph in a safety deposit box, along with a letter detailing our arrangement. If you do decide not to return my painting, then I have my insurance.”
Comasky frowned and regarded the woman suspiciously. “But, what good would it do you? Even if I did keep the painting, then you’d have to incriminate yourself to finger me.”
“And believe me, darling, I will... You have to ask yourself, is she bluffing? No, this way I think I’ll stand a far better chance of seeing my painting again.”
“You’re a shrewd one, aren’t’you?”
“So, do we have a deal?”
“I guess we do.” He offered his hand, but Pearl refused to accept it.
“Tomorrow morning at should we say two?”
“Bloody hell, lady, not one for foreplay are you?”
Pearl ignored the smutty remark. “Tomorrow will be ideal. I have guests staying after that for the next fortnight. Oh, and by the way, you yourself must carry out the burglary. I want nobody else involved. ”
“Of course. Tomorrow it is... How will I get in?”
Celia giggled and finished her Martini. “Are you two really going through with this?”
Pearl ignored her and jotted down her address, before passing it to Comasky. “I’ll leave the burglar alarm switched off, and after you've left I’ll activate it… Smash a window and make the burglary look authentic for Christ’s sake. I’ve written down my telephone number, but you must not contact me for at least one month.”
“How are you going to explain the sudden reappearance of the painting?” asked Celia.
“I’ll hang it in the cellar, silly. That way, nobody will know.”
Comasky left the women, content with the arrangement. He had no intention of returning the painting, and the chances of the woman incriminating herself were next to nil.
Pearl heard the breaking of the glass and swallowed the remainder of her brandy. Her eyes turned towards the wall clock to see that the burglar was right on time. She held the photograph in her trembling hands and wept softly, awaiting the appearance of the intruder. The squeaking door opened and Comasky, dressed in black from head to foot, faced her.
“I like punctuality, Mr Frazer. How about a drink?” asked Pearl.
“Shit, are you kidding? Anyway, it appears you’ve had enough for the both of us... What‘s that smell?”
Pearl rose from the leather armchair and was now stood opposite Comasky, a look of disgust covering her face.
“Have you a problem, lady? Where’s the painting?”
“Oh yes, the painting,” she giggled childishly.
Comasky looked more like a weasel than usual. His narrow nose twitched, and the perspiration streamed down his gaunt face. “You’re pissed. Now are you...”
“You heard me, Comasky.”
“You know my name?”
The intoxicated woman staggered out of the lounge and into the candlelit kitchen. Comasky followed her, and watched in amazement when she reached out for the power switch. The loud din of the burglar alarm broke the silence and Comasky stared at the photograph in her hand.
“Yes, this is my husband, James. Remember him?”
“You stupid cow!”
“Stay there, you bastard,” she yelled, picking up the candle.
Comasky sniffed the fumes and now realised what the reek was. He panicked. “You’re crazy, lady,” he stuttered, walking swiftly towards the door. He felt the cool air on his face, bounded across the illuminated lawn, and realised that several of the neighbours had gathered and witnessed his escape.
Rachel tossed the Regency Hotel book of matches away from her, along with the photograph of Comasky. If the fingerprints on the book of matches did not convict the conman, then the photograph would help. She kissed the photograph of her husband and walked towards the other side of the room, before she turned the candle on herself.
Her preparation had been meticulous, and even Celia had been unaware of her final plan of action. The unsuspecting accomplice had gone along with her friend’s plot, believing that Comasky would be arrested for burglary, and not murder.
The neighbours saw the flames silhouetted against the window, before they entered the house, to be confronted by the shocking spectacle of the burning woman. The expected screams did not escape from her mouth; instead, the sound of laughter echoed around.