CHAPTER ONE: A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH
For Sir Richard Third, the well-known and fabulously wealthy business magnate - the owner and creator of the ’Integrity International’ Corporation - it was a typical day at his luxurious residence of Rose Manor on Bone Island, that nestled a few miles from the south coast of England. In the morning he had a furious row with his wife, Lady Anne, when he accused her of flirting with a business associate at a dinner party at their mews house in Chelsea, the previous week.
‘You were behaving like some brainless, besotted, impressionable schoolgirl, Anne,’ he berated her, with that all too familiar, manic look in his eyes. ‘Smiling and ogling at him across the dinner table, all night. Laughing at his puerile jokes. Complimenting him on his banal badinage. Telling him how witty and erudite he was. He must have thought he was being propositioned.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Richard. I was just enjoying the party.’
‘You were the one who was being ridiculous, Anne. Pouting and making eyes at a dinner guest like that. Why it was downright embarrassing.’ He shook his head, emphatically. ‘No, I won’t have guests under my own roof laughing and sniggering at me, behind my back, because my wife can’t behave herself. And it isn’t the first time I’ve caught you at it. My word no. Making a fool of me in public, like that. As if I haven’t enough on my plate with all my business concerns. It’s high time you grew up and acted your age, Anne.’
As always he was utterly unwilling to listen to any arguments that contradicted his own fixed, immutable opinions. And he dismissed Lady Anne’s attempts to explain her behavior with coruscating contempt. At length, rather than listen to any more of the tirade she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
It wasn’t the first time that his chronic suspicion of his wife, and his almost paranoid delusions that she was constantly arranging affairs and trysts behind his back, had bubbled to the surface, resulting in sudden temper tantrums and heated words reverberating about the manor, to the head shakes and eyebrow raising of servants and guests.
Such was his chronic distrustfulness that he had even hired private detectives to spy upon his wife, while he was away on business trips. While she, for her part, sought an uncertain solace in Prozac, alcohol and periodic consultations with psychiatrists. These in turn only added to his anger and contempt; and he frequently denounced her as a tiresome, self-indulgent weakling.
In the early afternoon he was on the phone to one of his harried executives, in the company headquarters in London.
’Now listen; you’d better get your finger out, Crawford,’ he snarled into the phone. ’I want that deal signed, and done and dusted, today, or I’ll be down on you like a ton of bricks.’ The wretched company tyro tried to get a word in but was brusquely dismissed by his boss. ’Don’t try and fob me off with a load of guff, Crawford. I’m not paying you to make excuses. I don’t carry passengers in this company. Everybody has to pull their weight; or there’s going to be trouble. No one’s indispensable here, in this firm. Except for me of course.’
The woebegone Crawford, on the other end of the line, tried to explain some of the difficulties and complications that might arise in trying to seek his supremo’s demands, but was abruptly cut off as Third all but slammed the arm of the phone down on its rest.
’What a tosser!’ he growled to himself as he drew a claw-like hand through his hair.
There was a knock on the door.
’Come in,’ he shouted.
The door creaked open and the housekeeper, Mrs. Field, entered the room, bearing a tray with a cup of tea and assorted biscuits on it. She was an astringent, flinty featured Irishwoman in her forties. But even she felt distinctly nervous, and even apprehensive at times, in the presence of that prickly plutocrat.
’Your tea and refreshments, sir.’
’Put them on the table will you.’
’Very good sir.’
As she walked over he looked at his waistcoat watch, before turning to glower at Mrs. Field.
’You’re ten minutes late, Mrs. Field.’
’I’m terrible sorry, sir.’
’I should think so as well. Don’t let it happen again.’
’I can’t do with slipshod standards or tardiness. And I just won’t have it.’
She placed the tray on the desk.
’Don’t hang about in leaving the room, Mrs. Field. I’m expecting a phone call any time now. I don’t want any distractions.’
’I’ll leave straightaway, sir.’
She hurried across to the leave a room which she never felt comfortable in while Sir Richard was occupying it. Before managing to leave she heard some choice words from her employer. Though he couldn’t give a damn whether she heard them or not. ’I honestly don’t know why I pay these people. It’s money for old rope.’
She shut the door behind her, and pressed an ear to the door. ’I’m surrounded by fools and idiots,’ she heard him say. Then she straightened herself up as a look of acute annoyance settled over her face, and gave an animated V-sign to the door, and the hated figure beyond it. A silent Gaelic curse fell from her mouth, and she went on her way.
’What’s up, Bridget?’ said the butler, Bosworth, when he saw her a few minutes later on another stretch of corridor. ’You don’t look too happy.’
’Ask that bastard, Third. He just had another go at me again. I was ten minutes late in bringing him his tea and biscuits, and he talks to me as if I’m an international war criminal. It’s enough to drive you to drink, it is.’
’You’re not the only one he picks on, Bridget. If it’s any comfort for you.’
’Sometimes I think I’d prefer to work for Satan himself, than that swine.’
Back in his study; Third got up from his chair and walked over to the French windows, which he generally left slightly ajar, especially on warm or temperate days. He opened them wider and walked onto the adjacent terrace that looked out across a spectacular island panorama. The Sun had emerged from behind a patch of clouds; though there had been a torrential rain storm only an hour ago and the ground was soggy underfoot. He breathed in the fresh, salt air, and sought, at least for the time being to settle and calm the tormented maelstrom of his mind.
To those who worked for him, and others that knew him, Third always seemed to be in a permanent bad mood; constantly suspicious, always at odds with the world - a scowl or sneer almost always evident on his face; rarely smiling, except in a mordant, cynical way. He was a vessel of dark, hostile, negative emotions, which he projected onto the world, and the people around him. He saw distrust, inadequacy and treachery everywhere. And because of his endlessly suspicious nature he always thought the worst of his fellow man. The fabulous wealth and influence he had acquired, which would have fulfilled the dreams of other mortals, had failed to make him happy, or satisfied, or content with things. It had merely given his natural venom and misanthropy even more scope and power to work their evil will.
Sir Richard Third bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain, inimitable Shakespearean character, and King of England. Namely, King Richard the Third. He was tall and lank, with a slight hump that deformed his upper back. He had a club foot, which caused him to walk with a distinct limp. He had a long, unnaturally pale face - a lengthy, pinched nose – straight, jet black hair, and a pair of narrow, restless, distrustful eyes. He had a cold, sneering, metallic, upper class voice, that in itself could set the nerves on edge. Not only did he bear a striking physical resemblance to King Richard the Third, especially as Olivier had interpreted him, but in his psychological make-up there were remarkable similarities as well. His life was governed by a calculating, callous, ruthless ambition that allowed no doubts or moral scruples, to stand in its way. He was prepared, indeed willing, to stoop to any low, underhanded means in achieving his goals. Success, which he viewed in terms of wealth and power, were the only things he valued and believed in. And whether he succeeded by fair means of foul was of no concern to him.
At three o’clock five shots were fired inside the manor.
On the BBC news that evening, a glamorous female newscaster read out some words that surprised and shocked the entire nation.
’The wealthy, controversial businessman, Sir Richard Third, was shot dead in the study of his luxury mansion, on Bone Island, earlier this afternoon. The police are investigating the incident, and Chief Inspector Bill Moose of New Scotland Yard, together with Detective Sergeant Eddie Clayton, are about to join the team already on the island, in order to take command of the investigation. Lady Anne, the wife of the deceased, along with a number of guests and servants, were already on the island, when Sir Richard was shot. They will all be questioned by Inspector Moose, concerning the circumstances of Sir Richard’s death.’
The reputation of the deceased businessman had gone way beyond mere business circles. He had mixed in the highest levels of society, had rubbed shoulders with royalty and had even involved himself in political matters. Indeed, when the need required it, he could put on a cunning, surface show of charm and humor, that made him almost, at times, resemble a bona fide human being; though he was in truth only acting for ulterior and generally mercenary motives. He had lavishly donated money to political parties, not out of any sense of idealism or partisan loyalty - he was much too cynical and pragmatic for that - but in order to see what he could get out of the political system.
He regarded them as long term investments. When he thought the Tories were the going concern, he had put his money on them; as a punter might place a large bet on a fancied horse in a race. Conversely, when Labour were in the ascendant, and seemed to be the coming party in Westminster, he forwarded cheques to them in an equally generous measure. Had the liberal Democrats, by some fluke of circumstance, emerged as the likely winner of a General Election, his largesse would have been directed to them, in preference to the other two mainstream parties. Consequently he was treated with much respect and wariness, if not outright apprehension, by the leaderships of both main parties; especially since he had acquired, along with his other commercial interests, a large circulation newspaper, that he wasn’t at all averse to using it as a blatant vehicle for his own political views; particularly at election time.
It was no surprise then that he had been invited to many a back slapping soiree and junket at Number Ten, with a beaming Prime Minister ready to shake his hand, to the click of a camera shutter. Juicy government contracts had regularly flowed to his consortium, and sympathetic politicians had been, from time to time, co-opted onto the boards of his various companies. And there had been some speculation about him getting a peerage, prior to his premature death. One might almost say that, whoever won the elections, Sir Richard Third, and his powerful business interests, had also emerged, in various sinuous and serpentine ways, as winners as well.
Indeed during an emergency debate on the floor of the House dealing with the latest crisis to flare up in the Middle East, the Prime Minister, Tommy Blurb, saw fit to depart from his carefully prepared text to give a heartfelt eulogy in praise of the departed businessman.
His lips quivered and voice trembled with emotion, or at least the cunning simulation of such, as he delivered his words: ’He was, above all, a straight, honest, upstanding British businessman, about whom few had anything negative to say. He was loved and respected, not only by his family, but by his friends, his business associates, and his employers. Yes; even by his business rivals. I had the great privilege of meeting him at a number of social events and was always stuck by the great charm and candour of his personality. I held him in the very highest regard. I was shocked and appalled at the news of his death. Yet, though he is no longer with us, no one can take anything away from the great and positive legacy he has left.’
At that point cries of ’hear hear’ were heard from a few sycophantic backbenchers.
Blurb, as many astute political commentators had pointed out, had the instinctive psychological tendency to admire, praise and identify with anyone who had great wealth, or power, or fame - almost regardless of their character or beliefs - whether it was an important foreign leader, an adulated pop star, or a high powered businessman like Third.
Though perhaps the Premier’s fulsome and laudatory sentiments weren’t as entirely genuine and wholehearted as they appeared. Whatever he actually thought of Third, he well knew that his powerful company still existed, despite the exit of its creator; though it would soon be under new management. And that it was in his personal interests to try and curry favour with such a powerful and influential commercial concern - whoever was at the helm.
Not to be outdone the leader of the opposition, Bill Haze, when he got up to reply to the Prime Minister, added his own words in praise of the slain plutocrat.
’Sir Richard Third was, in many ways, a natural Conservative. Indeed you could almost regard him as the embodiment of all those values that we, as a party, stand for. Drive, initiative, thrift, and entrepreneurial skills. All these admirable capabilities that allowed him to thrive in the market place and to build up a dynamic corporation that became the envy of the commercial world. Indeed ’Integrity International’ will be his outstanding legacy to the people of this nation, and indeed to many who live beyond our shores.’
There were nodded heads and murmurs of approval for those sentiments, from all sides of the House.
Elsewhere financial journalists waxed lyrical about him and dismissed rumors of chicanery and underhandedness - as well as allegations about a flawed and damaged personality - as the carping of minions; and the poisonous outpourings of lesser men, indulging in that age old British trait of dragging down to their own mediocre level all men of distinction and ability who had made something of their lives and made an impact on the world.
One person in particular was relieved by that sudden, unexpected event. That was Crawford; in the gleaming London headquarters of Integrity International. Despite all his frenetic efforts - his desperate phone calls, faxes and e-mails - he had failed entirely to clinch the deal and was living in trepidation of another verbal lashing from his boss, and possible demotion down the company hierarchy. If not dismissal altogether. But then it was a stock in trait of Third’s draconian management style to set hard or near impossible tasks for his underlings, with arbitrary deadlines, and then to berate and upbraid them for failing to reach them. Though if by chance they happened to succeed, he would often ignore the achievement, or merely give it some grudging, faint praise by way of recognition.
Fate, in its inscrutable way, had fixed a harder, more sinister deal for Third, leaving Crawford to celebrate his deliverance at his favourite wine bar.
Sir Richard Third was dead. And it was soon to be established that he had been murdered. But such, outside the corridors of power and the purlieus of sympathetic, financial journalists, was his unsavoury reputation that there was a comprehensive cast of characters who thought ill of him, bore him grudges, indeed hated him outright, and may well have wished to end his life, should they have had the opportunity to do so, and felt that they could get away with it undetected. Including of course all the eight people who happened to be on the island the day he was killed.
But one thing was clear, if nothing else was; that the murder of such a high profile personality demanded a high profile detective team to investigate it.
That was why no less a person that the renowned crime investigator, Detective Inspector Bill Moose of New Scotland Yard, was seconded onto the case.