The Albion Pub
The rotund figure peered into the dimness of the saloon bar then moved toward the brass rail. For forty years, Don Stackley, the Graphic’s City Editor, had eaten and drunk with every stockbroker in the City’s square mile. His stomach was its legacy along with a head full of takeovers and Market crashes.
He wore a striped, red and white shirt, cut to order to accommodate his bulk. His voluminous trousers were stabilised by wide, elastic braces. The red shirt complimented the veins in his cheeks and matched his nose. He came to the point immediately.
“You in some sort of bother, Miss Fox? Picture Editor said you needed my help. What’ve you been up to? Lost a packet, have you?”
Henrietta Fox shuffled her feet. “No, Don, nothing like that. It’s a story.”
The City man nodded. “That’s all right then, dear girl. The reporters usually come to me for share tips. They all want to get rich quick. Glad it’s a tale. What is it?”
Henrietta showed her picture. “Do you know this man, Don?”
He jammed silver half-moon glasses on the thickness of his nose. “Nasty business for the PM, Henrietta. Footsie dropped five points. God knows why. Don’t go to the theatre myself.” He waved an encompassing hand. “Give me a good boozer any night. There’s more of life in here than a thousand soap operas.”
“You don’t know the man with Marie, then?” Henrietta asked.
Stackley puffed out the veins of his cheeks, his face an air of quiet triumph. “Oh, yes. I know him.” Stackley announced. “What you’ve got here, m´girl, is Mister Ibrahim Tolman. Major financial player. Runs a massive Macro Hedge Fund.”
She fiddled with the zip at the throat of her leathers, trying not to glance down at the mountain of flesh inches from her waist. She could feel the heat from him. “I have to find this man. Does he live in London?”
Stackley nodded. “Yes and no. His registered offices are in Israel. He won’t see you, Miss Fox.”
“Why would he know Marie Montague? Could he have met her through the Prime Minister?”
“He’s not that kind of man. Reclusive. Makes money from the Middle East.”
“Where would I find him, Don?”
“He’s got an apartment overlooking Regent’s Park. Not a man to cross. One word from Tolman and world markets shiver.”
“I need more pictures. He’s up to something and I can cash in.” Henrietta looked at him slyly, a hand on his sleeve. He took off his glasses, pointing them at her.
“You are aptly named, Miss Fox.”
The Nash Terraces
Questions were piling up in Guy’s head like tsunami debris, each one blocking the flow. Each investigation started like this and he didn’t like it. Too much information, mostly irrelevant to the case, but what was dross and what were clues? Outsiders thought police work was like solving a jigsaw puzzle but it wasn’t. Not to him. It was more like a blockage in a waterfall. His instinct was to drag out this flotsam and lay it out neatly. He couldn’t do that yet.
He’d have liked the baby’s father to be Barclay. It’s what he deserved, but he knew he wasn’t. As for who killed her? Coniff had motive. Under California law Marie could get half his billions in a paternity squabble. His private eye, Sappiano, was turning over the mire to blacken her name.
Would he hire a hitman to stab her through the eyes for that?
It didn’t seem likely but Guy had known worse. An opportunist robber would have to be a crazy lunatic to do it and surely would leave forensic? Which left his old companions, Person or Persons Unknown. That was the result he dreaded. Not good for the CV when the Commissioner was on the hook with the PM and looking for candidates for the chop. And so his hope was the Israeli, Ibrahim Tolman. But why would an international financier kill a super star?
He had to see the man.
He parked up in a side street off the resplendent Nash Terraces. He couldn’t sleep since crossing the Atlantic but it had to be a night interview. He was still dodging the Commissioner’s calls. Sitting in the car Guy was lit up by splashes of harsh, white light, dazzling him. When the beam turned Henrietta Fox cruised by on the Yamaha. He cursed out loud.
Here she was again!
Below the rim of the black skid-lid helmet her carrot-red hair twisted and flapped in the wind. She re-directed the bike’s chromed headlight, sidling it up to a lamp post. She hailed him as though they had just met at the Christmas party.
“Hey, Guy. Where the hell is it?”
He slid out of the Police BMW pool car, stretching his legs with cramp. He pointed a thumb at the sweep of columned, white stone terraces, built as Wellington defeated Napoleon. They grandly overlooked the royal park.
“You following me, Henri? That’s an offence if you are.”
She grinned at him. “Why would I do that, Officer Royce? Perhaps you should be following me.”
“I don’t suppose you would leave if I told you to?”
“Not a chance, Guy. Public property. You’re chasing this man Tolman so he’s a suspect. I get a picture of him. I sell it to the tabloids. Simple.”
Guy couldn’t argue with her logic. “Then make yourself useful. You pictured this man with Marie. That makes you a witness when I confront him. It might shake something out of him.”
The paparazzo beamed, hunting for a camera.
“No pictures inside! I said you’re a witness.”
He pressed the brass bell push. A dog growled behind the door. A chain rattled and a voice commanded. “Dole! Good dog. Now go! Hvala!”
A CCTV camera on the wall inched round. The door cracked open. A heavy-set man in a lightweight suit watched in silence. There was no sign of the dog.
“I’m Detective Inspector Royce from New Scotland Yard. This is Miss Fox. I’m here to see Mr Tolman.”
Guy flashed the warrant card. He wondered. Why did Tolman need a minder? He’s only a number cruncher. The man left the lobby and a lock clicked behind him.
“Careful man, this Fund Manager, Henri.”
She said. “There’s another camera in this ceiling. He’s still watching us.”
The bolt clicked on the inner door. A second, heavier man stood there, shorter than the first but Guy recognized the type. The Yard mug shots were full of them. He wondered, was he the dog handler?
“Mr Tolman will grant you five minutes. Please follow into the dealing room.”
They crossed the marble floor over a tiger-skin rug. The room was gold and ivory, inlaid on rosewood. At a door hung with a hammered brass shield they heard a call.
“Carlos, Marko, bring them here. Come to me here.”
Ibrahim Tolman rose from an expansive rosewood desk. It had five flat-screens of charts and statistics. One ticker carried in real time the London Stock Exchange; another closing prices in New York. The third a Reuters news feed. Two screens were in Arabic.
Tolman stood smiling. His thick lips were pink in an olive complexion, but his hooked nose reminded Guy of the descendants of the White Russians he had once seen in Vienna with the PM. He expected brown eyes but they were blue-green like the Mediterranean. He was now barbered immaculately. Guy guessed he was a lean forty but not the sort of man with whom Marie Montague, or any woman he knew, would have an affair. His eyes had a directness he didn’t like, devoid of any hint of sensuality. Guy was not surprised this man ruled a company described as ‘the Lion of Jerusalem.’ He opened the interview.
“I believe you are the manager of the Three Sisters Fund, Mr Tolman?”
Tolman sat, directing them to chairs. “I am its Chairman, its Chief Executive and Founder. I also run it.”
Guy opened his notebook. “How would you describe the Fund?”
“You’re familiar with finance?”
Guy straightened his tie. “Not altogether, no.”
“Then I must make it simple. This Hedge Fund is categorised as a Macro. A less conventional approach to buying and selling stocks or bonds. Investors like me anticipate change and profit by it.”
“You predict bad events. A sort of Nostradamus?”
Tolman soured. “I wouldn’t put it like that. The stupidity of governments cannot be over-emphasised. I watch and I wait. As do dozens of other funds.”
“You’re the biggest in the Middle East?”
“It is said so. Our dealing office is in Jerusalem. This is where I keep an eye when I’m in London.”
Guy produced Henrietta’s picture. “Mr Tolman, we wondered how you knew Miss Montague?”
Ibrahim Tolman stiffened, stared for a second at himself with the dead star then slid the photograph back. “It’s no concern of yours.”
“You were with Miss Montague on the football terraces, arguing. This lady saw you.”
“She must be mistaken.”
The paparazzo said. “No. I took this picture. You were telling her off. I watched it.”
Tolman affected a shrug that bagged the silk suit at the lapels. “I can only repeat. This is not your business. You have other pictures, Miss Fox?”
“Yes, a few.”
Guy added. “The lady was murdered a day later. That makes it Police business, Mr Tolman. My Commissioner wants to know.”
“I cannot help you. I must caution you not to connect me with her in any way that gets into print. My lawyers have sharp teeth.”
Guy continued. “Sir, there’s no point in denying it. Perhaps it was unconnected with her death? She was a public figure. We have to pursue it further.”
A tic appeared at his temple, his eyes iron cold. “This interview is finished. You are harassing me.” Tolman snapped his fingers at the man at the door. “Any further mention of this picture and I assure you of repercussions, Detective Inspector. You must not do so. I hope you understand me?”
“That’s not in my hands,” Guy pointed out. “My Commissioner won’t be swayed by threats. This woman was a famous star and she was murdered. You were the last person we know who met her.”
Tolman´s eyes tightened. “Carlos! These people are leaving. This interview is over.”
The minder gripped Henrietta by the arm, trying to raise her from her seat. She snarled, spitting out at him and her jade eyes narrowed to slits, boring into his.
“Take your hand off, buster, or you might go home without it.”
He grinned in her face. “I should like to dance with you, Miss Fox.”
“Get the paws off, pal.”
She squared up to him and bunched a fist, ready to smash it into his face but Guy grabbed her. “Enough, Henrietta. Come on. Cut it out!” He pulled her towards the door and out into the street. The door slammed behind them. She shook herself loose. “All right, let go! That bastard has it coming.”
Guy shrugged, studying his suit for creases. “Maybe, but not from you, Henri. He has every right to ask us to leave. You don’t fight them, especially the enforcement. He might have killed you.”
She pawed the pavement. “No chance. I’d have cracked his nuts with a right footer. Have you seen these boots?”
In the darkness a violent hurricane of boiling air rocked them both on their feet. In that moment an explosion filled the street with the force of a thunderclap. A searing ball of flame erupted from a side turning. A scalding, invisible wave that both slapped them and stole the air from their lungs.
She fell into his arms and, for a moment, unable to comprehend, stared into the white heat of the fireball. A crackle of sparks filled the roadway off the main street, illuminating the high, blackened walls with dancing pillars of acrid smoke. A car alarm shrilled intermittently. Guy blanched in the red glow suffusing them.
Henrietta gripped his arm tightly. “Oh, my God. That’s your car! The police car!”
Guy shook himself loose and sprinted. She jogged behind. The police pool car blazed fiercely, the roof already gone. The remaining leather upholstery was blackening as flames licked along the seats, the steering wheel reduced to a spidery, steel outline.
Only the dashboard remained. The glass of the clocks popped out like firecrackers, one by one, as the searing heat reached them. Guy stood, staring into the blaze, shielding his face from scorching. He was lost for words.
Henrietta pulled at his arm, dragging at him. She shouted out above the roar of the greedy flames that swallowed everything in their way. The narrow walls of the buildings echoed with crackles and hisses.
“Guy! Come back! Come away. There’s nothing you can do. Nothing!”
She covered her nose. The black, poisoned toxic fumes from the burning rubber curled out towards them, making her gag.
A stranger in the street ran up to help her. He gripped Guy under the armpits, leaning on him to move. “Get back, buddy. If that tank goes up, you’re a dead man. And me with you. Move!”
Guy looked at the man, then allowed himself to be shepherded across the street. He stood in shock, staring into the flames. Henrietta and the newcomer watched him, as if he would throw himself onto the pyre. There was no danger of that. Guy was thinking, how on earth could he tell his boss about this! The car was the Commissioner’s pool car, a brand new BMW.
He said. “It’s serviced regularly. Fuel leak? Electrics? What?”
The stranger inched closer. “Doesn’t have to be the car, big guy. You considered some other cause? Closer to home?” He glanced across the street to the Nash Terraces.
Guy followed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
The stranger shrugged. “I seen where you were. And who you visited.”
Henrietta said. “How do you know we’ve been in there?”
He spread his hands. “Been watching you, haven’t I. Both of you went in at nine fifteen and came out at nine thirty-one. I followed you.”
The slight, balding man polished his steel-framed glasses with a neat, clean handkerchief. “You crossed him up in some way? This to warn you off something? Ibrahim Tolman´s not one of the world’s good guys, Inspector Royce.”
Guy was now fully focused on the stranger from nowhere.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?”
“I have an interest in Ibrahim Tolman. That’s who you saw, yes?”
Henrietta guessed his accent. “This Yank is right, Guy. He said he would get you. Maybe he has.”
Guy looked at her. “He said he would get US, Henri. I had better get you away from here.”
She indicated the glowing wreck at the roadside. “Now, how are you going to do that, Officer Royce? Can you ride pillion?”
He faced the slight American, whose glasses still danced with the glow from the flames. “She says you’re a Yank. What’s your name?”
He slipped a business card into Guy’s breast pocket. “My name’s Raymond Sappiano. I’m a private detective from California.”
Guy poked at him with a finger. “You’re the bastard who sent me that bollocks about Marie Montague! You knew it was a pack of lies. I should do you for wasting Police time.”
A fire siren wailed in the next street, closing on them.
“Not my fault, Officer Royce. Blame the London dicks I hired. I wanted good intelligence. Instead, they just followed her everywhere. They listed everyone she met. So I came to London myself – to do it right.”
The private eye handed him an envelope. “You’ll find these much more interesting. Print them up.”
Guy pulled the package open, spilling shiny, cut strips of colour negatives onto the pavement. By the time he gathered them up, Sappiano was gone, disappeared back into the darkness.