“We’re going to have some fun,” said Michael Osborne.
Turning from the walnut desk he wheeled himself across the thick, blood-red carpet. Brilliant sunlight filled the huge drawing room and shone in the faces of the lawyer and the typist. Jez Markham was grinning. Emily Graham had that familiar, bewildered look on her face.
Osborne had worked all his life to be sitting on a fortune. Then the disease struck. He hadn’t got long left. So who’d get his money – HM Treasury? He’d written too many cheques to those bastards over the years; he was ready for one last adventure. Sitting in front of him were the two people that would help make it happen.
“Five people. Five strangers. Picked at random. I’ll put an ad in the Standard. Get a website cooked up. They follow a series of clues. I’ll bounce them all over the place! They’re going to have to work for this. If they make it, whoever ends up on top...gets one million of my pounds.”
The words tumbled out as rising excitement replaced the anger he’d felt for so long. His body might be useless, but there was nothing wrong with his mind. Screw the doctors; he had no intention of going quietly.
“Jez, I want you to draw up the contracts. I want them watertight. No bloody disputes. And then you and I will sort out the locations and clues.”
Jez Markham grinned even wider. In eight years acting for Michael Osborne he’d rarely had a dull moment. Life had been pretty tedious since the illness hit. Now things were set to get lively again.
“Miss Graham. You’ll order the stationary. I want top quality. And then you can type out the contracts and instructions. Yes, on your old typewriter if you must.”
“Is that all you’ll require me to do?”
That’s all I’m going to give you to do. This requires wit, imagination and a bit of backbone if things get tricky.
“Yes Miss Graham. And I’m sure you’ll do it brilliantly.”
Emily Graham nodded once. Osborne didn’t see the sour narrowing of her eyes as she did so.
The next two weeks were frenetic. The old Cornish manor house sprang to life again as phone calls were made and deals done. Bemused foreign officials laid down conditions for their services, but agreed as soon as the right fee was offered. Writing paper, cards and envelopes were commissioned and delivered on time for a premium.
Finally, everything was in place. Once again all three were assembled in the drawing room. Jez inspected and approved the final set of documents, assuring Michael Osborne everything was legally watertight. Miss Graham confirmed the advert had been faxed to the Evening Standard.
Osborne thanked them both and dismissed them. With an energy he had not felt for a very long time, he wheeled himself out onto the terrace overlooking the rear gardens.
All over the winter he’d wrapped up and spent hours staring at these gardens. The highlight of his wretched days. Years before he’d kept the bankers and company directors waiting as he romped in those gardens with his dogs.
Now the only bitch by his side was the oxygen canister. He’d told the housekeeper to remove all mirrors from the house. No well-wishers were invited in. He wanted everyone, including himself to remember him as he was.
But tonight, he was the man at the centre of it all again. He felt an echo of the thrills from years ago. This would be his final masterstroke.
“And now we wait for the cast to assemble,” said Michael Osborne.