Sarah sipped her coffee after a strenuous
meeting with her banker. She hoped it had gone well and that she had
secured funding for her next project. She allowed herself to relax
and wondered where her ex-husband was. Wherever he was, she hoped he
was miserable and suffered as much as she had.
How she wished she had never agreed on the
insurance fraud. They had run into money troubles soon after they
were married and looked liked they could lose everything. To top it
all she had become pregnant.
In desperation they created a scheme whereby Tom would be killed in a boating accident. He would disappear and Sarah would collect the insurance money. Tom didn't tell Sarah any details about where he would be hiding. That way, he said, she couldn't inadvertently betray herself. They would wait till the baby is born before carrying out their scheme.
When their son was three months old Tom took his boat out to sea and when he didn't return home Sarah alerted the authorities. Forty-eight hours later they found the burnt out wreck of Tom's boat. It had burnt to the waterline and nothing could have survived on it. Eventually they found his tattered and torn life raft. It looked like it had been ripped apart as though a shark had attacked it.
Sarah would wait till he was officially declared dead then claimed the insurance money. She just had to patiently wait out the insurance investigators and when the insurance company paid out the money, Sarah was to transfer it to a Bermuda account. Using a website Tom would then give Sarah instructions on how to meet him.
She transferred all the money keeping none back and to this day she could kick herself for that stupidity. The message that was left said 'I am so sorry but I am in love with another. Goodbye'. She never heard from him again and of course she couldn't go to the police. That was why he waited till Billy was born. He knew she wouldn't turn him in since it would mean losing Billy but as it turned out she lost him anyway. He died in an influenza epidemic when he was two.
It was this loss and her hatred of Tom that drove her to build her little business from nothing. She was able to direct all the energy from the grief and hatred into her work so that now she was financially independent.
Returning from her thoughts of the past she had just finished her coffee when Grace her secretary entered. "There is a Detective Mackenzie who wants a moment of your time, Sarah."
"Show him in and bring two coffees" replied Sarah.
"How can I help you detective?" asked Sarah.
"We have had a request from the Spanish police."
"About four months ago a man was washed up on a Spanish Beach. Pretty badly injured, burnt and had brain injuries. The injuries and the burns healed but he remained in a coma."
"The Spanish police tried to identify him. He had no ID and just about all his clothes had been blown off. There is no record of his fingerprints or DNA. We ran his photograph through our databases but it turned up nothing. The police were stumped then he came out of his coma. Unfortunately he lost his memory, about fifteen years of it."
"This is all very well detective but what has this got to do with me."
"Well, he says he is Tom Stevens and lives at an address you both lived at fifteen years ago. The only things he remembers is his three month old son and being blown out of a boat by an explosion"
"Impossible. He's dead, everyone said so. He can't be alive"
"Well that's why we are here. We would like you to come to Spain and identify him. We will foot the bill and give you an escort. Just for the record he is not in any trouble, yet "
A shaken and distraught Sarah arranged her affairs and flew off to Spain. She was taken direct to the hospital and straight to Tom. "Oh my god. Sarah its you. Where is Billy?" Tom asked.
She was stunned and frightened. What has he told them, she thought. "Billy's not here. Tom, where have you been?"
"I can't remember, can't remember. Every thing's blank since the explosion"
"Do you confirm that this is Tom Stevens, your missing husband?" the policeman asked.
"Yes I do. Can I have some time alone with him please?"
"Of course. Our work is done here anyway. We shall be in contact if we need to speak to you again. We would appreciate it if you can find out where he has been for the last fifteen years"
The policeman left the couple and Sarah closed the door. "Tom" she whispered "do you remember the plans we made"
"Plans?" he echoed, "Oh yes. We were all going to go out on the boat together, weren't we?"
With a sigh of relief she replied, "Yes".
"But we can't now, the boats burnt". Then he said, "Billy, where is Billy?"
"Billy s dead Tom. He died when he was two from the influenza epidemic"
Tom broke down sobbing, "Poor Jonathon, poor Jonathon"
Puzzled Sarah asked, "Who is Jonathon, Tom".
Tom didn't answer, instead he looked at Sarah as if a fog had cleared from his eyes. "Your old, Sarah. Why do you look so old?"
"I'm thirty six, Tom. It's been fifteen years since we saw each other"
Tom groaned and laid back on his pillow. "I'm so tired," he said and fell asleep. Sarah stared at him then made up her mind. She would have to stay with him till he regains his memory. Should he blurt out their secret inadvertently they both would be in trouble.
Sarah left the room and found the doctor. "When can he be discharged?"
"Well any time really. We didn't do it before because there was nobody to care for him."
"I'll look after him." Sarah stated.
"He can't travel" replied the doctor.
"That's OK. I have no intention of taking him back to England." The last place she wanted to take him, she thought.
The next day, Sarah collected his few possessions and booked into a bigger hotel. At first she was going to get separate rooms but this would draw attention to them since they were obviously man and wife. Instead, she got one room with twin beds. When they retired for the night Tom asked with a hurt tone in his voice, " Aren't we sleeping together?"
"It's been fifteen years Tom, I need time to adjust"
He looked at her in those eyes she used to be in love with and said, "Don't you love me any more?"
Love him, she thought, she hated every bone in his body, the very air he breathed. But she forced herself to say, " Yes Tom, just give me time". This seemed to satisfy him and he went to sleep.
She waited patiently as his strength increased, constantly prodding him with any question that might provoke a memory. One night she woke up to the sound of a voice in the room speaking what she thought was Italian. It was Tom talking in his sleep. The next morning she asked Tom if he knew how to speak Italian but he strenuously claimed he didn't.
Nothing seemed to work. She began taking him for walks in the Plaza sometimes for lunch, sometimes just for coffee and sometimes just to look at the market place. It was on such a trip that the two got temporarily separated and when Sarah went back for him she spotted a young woman gesturing and talking animatedly in Italian to him. Tom was just looking dumbfounded and when the young woman spotted Sarah she ran off. Once more Sarah asked Tom if he could understand Italian and again he denied it.
She decided to set a little trap with Tom as the bait. They went out for coffee the next day and Sarah suddenly exclaimed she needed to urgently send a telegram back to her office. She told Tom to stay at the Cafes till she returned. Tom agreed. Sarah hurried off then doubled back and positioned herself so that she could watch Tom unobserved.
Eventually the young woman appeared on the edge of the Plaza. She surveyed the scene checking it out then she quietly walked over to Tom and sat down. This time she talked and gestured more calmly but Tom still looked dumbly at her. After a short time she seemed to give up and walk off. Sarah carefully followed her till she entered a small hotel nearby. Waiting a short time Sarah entered the hotel and approached the desk clerk. "Who was that young woman that just entered here?"
The man answered with a blank stare. "Look, I'm not the police or a private investigator. Just a person with an interest in her"
"Information, Madam, is not cheap" he replied staring at her. Sarah pulled several large notes from her purse. The clerk looked up the register. "Her name is Angela Lorenzo and her address is listed as The Village on a little island not far from here"
"Thank you, here is another note if you don't tell anyone I asked"
"Double it and you can kill her for all I will care"
Smiling she pulled another out and left.
When she got back to Tom she sat down opposite him and said, " We are going to Rome." Tom did not react but asked, "Sarah, was I a good husband?"
Sarah sighed, " You've been missing for fifteen years Tom"
"No. I mean when we were together" Staring at him Sarah replied honestly, "Yes, you were. Come on we have to pack"
Before they left for Rome Sarah called Grace. "Grace, I will text you some details about a woman and I want you to find out as much as you can about her. Email me the results."
"What, I'm a private detective now, am I"
"Oh don't worry, I will make it worth your while" and hung up.
They had been in Rome for more than a week but nothing happened. Sarah had hoped Rome would jog some memory that Tom had as she was convinced he knew Italian. She was about to give up when Grace emailed her details about the young woman. The woman was a peasant girl from a village in a small island of the Italian coast and she had just decided to go there when Tom collapsed and had to be taken to hospital.
It was a small stroke the doctor said. Nothing serious but they would like to keep him in for observation for a couple of days. She convinced them to keep him for a week while she went to find the village.
She arrived on the island the next day. The island was very pretty and picturesque with a tiny village on the only bay on the island. She rented a room in its only hotel. The entire village seem to come to that hotel for the evening meal. The food and wine was endless and the village people happy, noisy and very friendly but none of them could speak English excepting the innkeeper.
"I spent ten years as a young man behind the bars of London until Papa died leaving me the inn." said the innkeeper. The innkeeper had sat down beside her with a big jug of red wine, a bowl of olives and a huge chunk of cheese, all of which Sarah adored. They talked and laughed about many things and Sarah felt herself becoming more and more relaxed. In more of a way in conversation than anything else she asked if there was any other English people here.
"Oh yes, " replied the interpreter, "There is our Mrs Simpson. Her husband has just gone missing at sea. His boat exploded and he has not been seen since"
"Have they been here long?" asked Sarah.
"About fifteen years" replied the innkeeper, "he left behind a son Jonathon, about eight years old."
Just then Sarah was caught up in a burst of singing and dancing. Under the influence of more music, wine and food her purpose was forgotten till she collapsed in bed a little drunk. In the morning she woke up with a hangover then got dressed and went downstairs in search of some coffee. She had an exhausting time convincing the innkeepers' wife that all she wanted for breakfast was a cup of coffee making the woman storm off in a huff. As she sat there drinking her coffee she felt sure the innkeeper told her something significant but she just couldn't recall it. She decided a walk around the village might clear her head.
There were about thirteen stone cottages and a couple of timber ones, arranged around an oval green. The inn was at one end and a large sandstone building at the other.
That must be the village Hall just as the innkeeper described it, she thought, as she walked towards it. The only other people visible were a few children and a couple of dogs playing on the green. She concluded that she wasn't the only one to have a good time last night and as soon as she reached the steps of the Hall she noticed the door was open. It was always open she later found out. Upon entering the Hall she was impressed by the workmanship. The floor was timber, varnished and polished. The walls looked like oak panels and the roof high and cool.
Opposite the door stood a stage and on the stage was a podium and a row of tables and chairs behind it. In front of the stage there was about a dozen rows of twenty chairs. What caught Sarah's eye though was all the portraits on the right hand side wall. They were of the village mayors and some were very old over a hundred years.
Sarah began to look at them, the oldest first. Gradually the paintings gave way to photographs and she kept looking till suddenly she was face to face with a photograph of Tom. Startled she took a step back and nearly tripped over a chair behind her. There was five other photographs of Tom, each progressively older. She read the inscription on the photographs 'Bill Simpson, Advisor to the mayor'. Simpson, that's what the innkeeper told her. Mrs Simpson with her son Jonathon and her missing husband. It all came back to her.
She sat down and buried her face in her hands. It took all her willpower to stop herself from breaking down. So this is where the miserable bastard hid himself. She wondered if Mrs Simpson was in on it but her instincts told her she wasn't.
Sarah wondered what to do next. The only two people that spoke English were the innkeeper and Mrs Simpson. She decided to talk to the innkeeper tomorrow when she had rested and Mrs Simpson a bit later.
The following day when she was refreshed and alert she managed to get the innkeeper to have lunch with her. It wasn't hard. The innkeeper loved his wine, food and sound of his own voice. She started the conversation by telling him how much she was enjoying her stay in the village then brought up the subject of Mr Simpson.
"Ahh, Mr Simpson", said the innkeeper, "he is much liked in the village by everyone."
"Except you, perhaps."
"I have lived in the world Mrs Stevens. I have seen men like Mr. Simpson. Little bells went off in my head"
Wish they went off in my head, thought Sarah. "Mr Simpson arrived here with his new bride fifteen years ago" continued the innkeeper," he was quite wealthy. We asked him why he wanted to live here. 'My wife and I wish to live a simple life and bring up our children here'. He built a house up on the hillside over there." The innkeeper pointed to a house on the hill, "with all modern conveniences. He was not mean with his wealth and would often give or loan money to any villager that asked.
Needless to say this made him very popular. He also had a pleasant personality and could easily have become mayor if he was Italian instead they created a position for him 'Advisor to the mayor'. Mr. Simpson became very influential in the village."
The innkeeper paused long enough to take a large swig of wine, several olives and a huge hunk of cheese. "Then about seven years ago he started an investment. He was going to turn the island into a gigantic tourist resort. At first the villagers opposed this but one by one he converted each villager"
"Except you" said Sarah.
"I am but a humble innkeeper who perhaps likes his wine too much. Who was going to listen to me? So the surveyors and engineers came and took their measurements and the project progressed till the only thing left was the final approval of the bureaucrat that Mr Simpson had spent a lot of money cultivating. Alas the Mafia shot him. Nobody knows why and the man that replaced him either had ethics or was too expensive. Final approval was never given."
"Mr Simpson had an investment company where most of his money was. The investment company would have had sixty percent of the resort. Mr Simpson went to wind up the company to get his money back but it was all gone. The company was run by crooks, not Mafia just common or garden white collar criminals. Mr Simpson was now poor but he didn't change his lifestyle. He began borrowing from the villagers. They didn't mind, they loved him and if the villagers love you they would die for you however their patience does have limits and they were beginning to make noises about getting their money back. Now the rest of it is merely rumor and I haven't been able to verify it but the rumour goes he borrowed a lot of money from questionable people for an opportunity in the north. It fell through. Let's just say that Mr Simpson's disappearance shows exquisite timing. Enough of Mr Simpson. Tell me what you think of this wine. I keep it for special guests"
Thankfully Sarah was spared another groggy night by the innkeepers 'wife who came out swearing in Italian and ushering the innkeeper out to do some work.
To work out the excess wine Sarah took a walk to the pier and as she walked round the church on the way to the pier she collided with a woman in black. After apologies both women introduced themselves and Sarah found herself talking to Mrs Simpson. She invited Mrs Simpson to coffee but she declined as she had just bought some fish and was going home to cook it. Instead, she invited Sarah to join her for dinner which Sarah accepted.
Sarah enjoyed the dinner very much and the two women chatted away. Sarah brought her up to scratch with things that was happening in England and Mrs Simpson told her many humorous stories about the people in the village. Both woman avoided the topic of Mr Simpson.
As the evening came to an end, Sarah decided she liked Mrs Simpson. She may be involved with the current insurance swindle but she was positive she had no knowledge of the first one. She decided to take a risk.
"Mary, I need to tell you something confidential. You must promise me to keep it to yourself. I could get into a lot of trouble if you tell people"
"Sure" said Mrs Simpson.
"When my husband and I were young we ran into money problems. My husband concocted a scheme to defraud the insurance company. I took out a large insurance policy on him then he went out on his boat and burnt out to the waterline making it look like he perished. He vanished. After a time I claimed the insurance and transferred it all to an overseas account set up by my husband. I was supposed to go to meet him later but he betrayed me, kept the money and vanished. I never saw him again."
Looking Mrs Simpson directly in the eyes she continued, "If there is one thing I should not have done it is to have transferred that money". Mrs Simpson sat there silent and pale, listening.
"I would have kept the money no matter what happened" she stressed. Mrs Simpson still sat there, silent and pale.
"It has been a pleasant evening, Mrs Simpson but I really must leave as I am catching the early ferry back to the mainland tomorrow morning. Goodbye."
She rose and left. Mrs Simpson still sat at the table, silent and pale.
When Sarah got back to Rome, she went straight to Tom's bedside. As she walked in the room Tom said, " Well, by the smug look on your face I would say you have uncovered my past."
"And I can see by the look on your face you have recovered your memory. What happened on the boat?" she replied.
"The bloody petrol tank blew up before I could get off. You know, we can always continue where we left off. You could come with me to South America. I will be quite rich."
"What about your little Italian girlfriend?"
"And your wife and son?"
"I couldn't take them with me. They would be like a flag over my head. 'Look hear I am' it would scream"
"Just like Billy and I"
"I am sorry about Billy" he said sounding genuine.
"So am I," she replied, "what now?"
"What we do now is that you will take Angela and I to a little fishing village in Spain where we will catch a trawler to start our journey to South America."
"What if I don't"
"Then I will be exposed and when I am I will make sure your participation in the first fraud is well known. You have just as much interest in getting me out of the country as I have"
"Ok. I will speak to the doctors and make sure it's safe for you to travel."
The doctors however were sceptical. They believed he had an aneurysm in his brain that was about to burst. Sarah explained her husband had to travel urgently and would go to hospital immediately he arrived. Was there any drug that would make it safe for him to travel. They gave her some capsules to take each half hour and warned her not to let him drive.
She took him back to the Hotel room and when they were in the room she said "Right. We are going to do it my way or I will take my chances with the law"
"Oh? And what would that be"
"I'm not going to drive you and your little girlfriend to the fishing village. I must have half a dozen private detectives watching me." she said. Sarah was pretty sure she didn't but wasn't going to let Tom know that.
"As soon as they spot me with you two and watch you sail off into the sunset they will nab me and if they do I will make it known that Tom Stevens alias Bill Simpson is alive and well living in South America. They will have an Interpol warrant out for you so fast it will make your head spin. At the very least it will screw up your insurance payout."
"All right what do you suggest?"
"Your little friend will meet us at the village. If necessary I will arrange for a hire car for her. I will drive you to a little town which is about fifty kilometres from there then you will take the car on your own for the rest of the distance."
"I thought it wasn't safe for me to drive?"
"You will be ok if you take your pills."
Tom eventually agreed and they both arranged for Angela to drive to the port. To keep the risk of discovery to a minimum they would arrive one hour before departure.
Sarah and Tom arrived at the little town and booked into a motel. Very early in the morning, before daylight, Sarah got Tom up and dressed. She handed him his pills in a paper bag.
"Sorry" she said, "I dropped the bottle and broke it. There is just enough here to get you safely there. Whatever you do don't forget to take them"
Tom nodded then drove off.
Sarah watched carefully from the window. I'm about to murder a person, she thought, but how do you murder someone who has died twice already. She shrugged her shoulders, emptied the bottle of pills down the toilet and went to bed. Just before she fell asleep she wondered if that little Internet fact about slowly deflating a tyre works.
Tom drove off finally feeling as if things were going his way when, after half an hour, he heard the flap flapping of a deflated tyre. Swearing and cursing he got out and started to change the tyre and discovered the absence of the wheel wrench.
It took him fifteen minutes to flag a car down and he only did that by jumping out in front of it. As soon as he retrieved the wrench, the frightened driver drove off in a hurry. He was now late, but before he drove off he took one of his pills.
By pushing himself he was starting to make up time when he came to a winding road and got trapped behind a timber truck. He forced his way passed the truck nearly going over the edge and he passed several cars at high speed forcing one off the road. Anxously he checked his watch. Good, he thought, he will just make it.
As he approached an easy bend in the road, his vision suddenly went blurry. He experienced a violent headache then everything went black. The car continued straight on and over the edge of the cliff and burst into flames when it hit the bottom.
When Sarah woke up, she phoned the police straight away. Why did he leave, they asked. We had a fight, she said, he wanted to keep going to the fishing village for some reason but she said he was exhausted and needed sleep. He must have ignored me and went on his own. He shouldn't be driving, that's what the doctors said then she broke down. They found his car that afternoon.
"The body is badly burnt and everything destroyed." The police man said, "I know it's not pleasant but could you come to identify the body then you are free to go"
Several days later Sarah sat in her office for the first time in many weeks. "Welcome back boss, " said Grace putting down two cups of coffee.
"Who's the second cup for? "
"Detective McKenzie would like a chat"
"Ahh right. Show him in. "
The detective sat down. "Good morning detective I hope I am not in trouble?"
'No, no. Just tidying up some loose ends before we close the case"
"Here is the official Spanish death certificate. The coroner found he died of natural causes. There was some question about his medication but the Italian doctor stated it only reduced the risk of a stroke not eliminate it."
The detective sipped on his coffee. "You didn't happen to find out where he has been in the last fifteen years?"
"I thought it might have been somewhere in Italy so I took him to Rome to see if I could jog his memory but the stroke beat me to it. He never recovered it"
"I see. Well I will be of then"
"What about the insurance company?"
"Well, technically they could take action to retrieve their money for the first false death but then they would probably end up paying you a lot more for his real one. I don't think you will hear from them."
The detective headed for the door then paused. "You wouldn't be interested in having dinner with me one night?"
Sarah was a bit taken aback but the detective was actually quite handsome and it had been a harrowing time. Smiling she said, " I think I could quite like that. Why don't you give me a call this evening" she gave him her number.
When the detective left she turned her attention to her mail and the one on top was from her banker. They rejected her application for credit, a sort of 'bad luck, try again later' letter. The next one was post marked Italy and was from Mrs Simpson.
She wondered how she got her address then remembered that was the one she registered at the inn. She opened it and read:
Dear Mrs Stevens, I don't really know who you are but I think you deserve a slice of the insurance money. I have paid all Bills debts. I am going to stay on at the village and use the remaining money to help the villagers develop their tourist potential without losing their character. If ever you come back to the village you will find yourself very, very welcome. Yours faithfully Mrs Mary Simpson.
With the letter was a check for quite a large sum of Euro dollars. She breathed a sigh of relief. Now she can start that new project.