This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“Okay,” Dan said, wrapping up the business meeting, “I think we can all call it a night.”
The other six men at the table looked relieved, especially Sam Wainwright. He and Dan had been heatedly discussing ideas that Sam had for upgrading some of their surveillance equipment. Dan had told him that his ideas would cost too much to design and decrease their profit margin by half. Sam disagreed, and told Dan so. Dan had an open communication policy with most of his executives, but for some reason Sam’s insistence that he was right and Dan wrong felt like insubordination to him. He had grown tired of the argument, and thought the best way to end it was to call it a night. Most of the men at the table had families they were anxious to get home to. Dan Lloyd did not, and it wasn’t like him to let them go that early in the evening. They packed up their laptops and tablets, picked up their briefcases and left quickly, before their boss changed his mind.
The only one left at the table was Kevin. Kevin Ackroyd was Dan’s business partner and best friend. He was currently wearing a smirk on his face.
“What,” Dan asked him, “do you find so amusing?”
“I just enjoy watching you go head to head with Sam. His ideas are good, why do you give him such a hard time? Could it possibly be because you’re sleeping with his wife?”
“Sam’s ideas are not that good actually, and the word is slept…I slept with his wife, past tense. He doesn’t know about that anyways, so our sparring has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the fact that I should demote him back to a simple technician and get him out of my executive meetings.”
Kevin grinned, “If you say so…”
“I say so.” Dan told him with a definite period at the end of that conversation. Changing the subject quickly he said,
“How about us snatching those contracts with the NSA away from Stanton? That was fun eh and should put a little cash in the old coffers.”
Kevin got up and went to the minibar, pouring them both a Whiskey. Coming back over with two glasses he said,
“It’s an amazing deal. We’ll make millions this year alone. But, no one was surprised you got it, you always get what you go after. Isn’t that why they call you the Golden Goose?”
Dan waved him off with a flip of his hand and took the drink Kevin was offering, “I’ve always hated that silly name.”
Kevin laughed, “Yes, but it’s true. Businesses, mergers, contracts, hell, even women…you always get what you want.”
“Maybe that’s what the hate mail has been about, huh?” Dan said.
Kevin raised an eyebrow. The “hate mail” that Dan was referring to was threatening letters and emails that Dan had been receiving as of late. Kevin and other executives that worked with Dan at Ambratat Ltd. have been trying to get him to go to the police about them. Dan was refusing to take them seriously though. So far, the letters have made vague references to him “losing everything” and “getting what was coming to him at last”. To him, it sounded like a jealous husband or lover. Dan was thirty-six years old, rich and very good-looking. He had slept his way across most of the beautiful the UK and Europe has to offer including some from across the pond as well. Giving no heed to whether or not the young lady he was with may already have a partner, he always put that back on her; after all, he was single. She was the one that was cheating. He figured the letters were coming from some man whose woman had confessed to being with Dan and was royally pissed. He wasn’t about to get the police involved in something so silly. It would be bad press for both him and the company.
“I hope that’s all it is,” Kevin told him, much more worried about it than Dan was.
Holly Blundell ran across the street to the restaurant. She was late. She had been talking a client down off a virtual ledge and couldn’t leave in the middle of it. She had tried to keep a discreet eye on the time, and at some point she had to accept that she either had to walk away or be late for her date.
She was a financial consultant. She had taken over the company two years prior from a close friend. She had worked for the lady since graduating from University. The woman was elderly and had no heirs. She had been looking for someone she could train to take over her business, and Holly had turned out to be just the one she’d been looking for.
Mrs. Nichols had trained Holly in every aspect of financial consulting, and she was a natural at it. By the time her boss retired, Holly had built a huge clientele of her own, and had the financial resources to buy Mrs. Nichols out of the business. One of the reasons why she was so good at what she did, however, was that she took on each and every one of her client’s financial issues as if they were her own. Her love life had often suffered for it, and tonight wouldn’t be any different she was sure.
Her client had been a middle aged man who was in the process of selling his failing business. It wasn’t something that he wanted to do, but the poor economy had forced him to re-evaluate his finances and make some tough decisions. One of the toughest was selling a business he had built from nothing from the ground up. He had sat in Holly’s office tonight, as she gave him the sound advice to sell the business and use the money to invest in something that was more stable, and he had cried. She couldn’t leave. She couldn’t tell him she had a date and make that seem like it was more important than what he had spent the last forty years of his life building.
He had at last stopped crying and pulled himself together, but by that time it was almost seven o’clock and Seth was supposed to pick her up at seven-thirty. There was no way she would make it home in time. She had called him, and asked if they could just meet at the restaurant and he agreed. She hadn’t wanted to go in the trouser suit she had worn to work however, so she had stopped at the boutique downstairs from her office and bought a new dress and shoes.
It was now seven-fifty, and she was running across the street, dodging traffic, and hoping that he was still waiting. She was also hoping that if he were, all of the trouble would have been worth it.
“Hi,” she said with what she hoped was her sweetest smile. “I’m so sorry I’m late. Traffic was just awful,” she lied. She knew from personal experience that for some reason, men didn’t mind being kept waiting due to traffic as much as they minded it being because of her work.
Seth stood up and smile back, “Holly, its fine. I’m just glad you made it after all. You look stunning.”
She smiled sweetly again and thanked him. Taking a seat she said, “You look very nice yourself. I think I’ve ever only seen you in your coaching gear.”
“Yes, I’m afraid that I do spend a lot of time in It.” he said.
Holly had met Seth at a party she had gone to with her best friend, Tamara Smith. Tamara was the head teacher at a posh co-ed private school. The party had been a going away party for one of the teachers whom Holly also had known. Seth had come in late, after a rugby match. He was the head coach for the team at the school, and Tamara had introduced him and Holly. She had been trying to get them together for some time, thinking that they would make a great match for each other.
Holly had strict instructions to call Tamara as soon as the date ended, no matter what the time, and let her know how it had gone.
Kevin and Dan shared the one drink, and Dan listened to Kevin speculate about who could be behind the threats Dan had received. Dan really wasn’t worried about it, but Kevin was trying hard to get him to accept the fact that being the head of a multi-million pound corporation at the age of thirty-six had to have made him a few enemies along the way.
“What about the Sicilians?” Kevin asked.
“The deal in Sicily was a little sketchy,” Dan agreed, “but it’s just a little farfetched to me that the mafia would be sending out letters and emails to warn a guy they have a hit on. Wouldn’t they just be feeding me to the fishes by now?” he said with a grin.
“Keep joking about it, funny boy,” Kevin told him, “I’m going to take a dive down to the bottom of that river to say I told you so when it happens though.”
“You worry too much, partner,” Dan told him, laughing. “Go home, get some rest. We have that breakfast meeting with the Chinese in the morning.”
Kevin gathered his things and said good night to his friend, cautioning him again to be careful. Dan, humouring him said that he would. He too, gathered his things and left for the night. He thought he might call Lola. She was one of the ladies that lived in his apartment building who had become a “friend with benefits.” He would run across the street to the off license on his way out of the office and pick up a bottle of red wine and some truffles. If his devilish good looks and charm weren’t enough to entice her, he thought, maybe the wine and chocolate would do it.
Dan took the lift from the office to the garage where his car was parked. He exited the garage and drove about a couple of streets, before parking the car across the street from the liquor store. As he was crossing the street, he noticed a dark, four-door car approaching him. It was going way too fast, and he quickened his step towards the pavement. The car suddenly slowed down. Dan wasn’t sure why, and couldn’t even explain it later, but he had a bad feeling about the car. Maybe it was Kevin’s nagging, maybe he’d been worried himself all along and just hadn’t wanted to admit it. Whatever it was, Dan didn’t like the looks of it. He began to jog, and just as the car reached him, he dove behind a large delivery truck that was parked at the curb. He heard the gunshots as he hit the pavement face down. The driver of the car unloaded a hail of bullets in his direction, most of them hitting the delivery truck, but a few of them bouncing off the pavement near his head. It only lasted a few seconds, he was sure, but it felt like he lay there for hours, waiting for the gunman to either run out of ammunition, or just hit him already.
At last the spray of bullets stopped, and Dan heard the car speeding away. He kept his head down for a moment longer, and when he sat up, there was a crowd gathering from the store and surrounding businesses. The driver of the delivery truck stood looking at his truck, in disbelief of what had just happened. Dan sat there on the sidewalk, in a bit of a shock; waiting for the sirens he heard approaching in the distance to reach him.
By the time dinner was over Holly had to admit that Tamara had been right; Seth was a smart, funny, interesting guy. She also had to admit that for reasons she couldn’t explain, not even to herself, she wasn’t a bit attracted to him. She wasn’t looking forward to making that phone call to Tamara. Her friend was bound to tell her what she had told her hundreds of times before, that she needed to start letting someone into the walls she had built around herself to protect her heart.
Holly, though successful in business, and most of life in general, had not been overly successful in the love department. She had been on lots of dates, sometimes twice, but she had yet to meet “the one”. She had a definite idea of who she was looking for, and Tamara often told her that was the problem. She refused to settle for anyone who didn’t fit her specific idea of what she was looking for. Yes, a handsome man was always nice, and yes, employed was good. She enjoyed a man with a sense of humour, and one who was intelligent as well. What had been lacking so far, however, was that she also wanted to meet someone who was as interested in mystery and intrigue as she was. She had read all kinds of mystery books. She watched every spy and suspense movie she could get her hands on, and she absolutely loved her weekly lunches with her cousin, Jack Ramos, the Superintendent of Police. Jack would never share names or details with her about cases, but he knew she loved mysteries, so he would often bounce ideas and scenarios off of her. When she met the man that was as interested in those things as she, then hopefully all of the other things would fall into place. Until then, she’d probably have to keep disappointing her friend, Tamara. And tonight, she’ll have to do her best not to give Seth too many ideas about a future date.
“Superintendent Jack Ramos,” the man said as he approached Dan with an outstretched hand.
Dan was sitting on the back of an ambulance van, wrapped in a blanket. He had told them numerous times that he was fine, but they kept insisting that he may be in shock and should sit for a while.
Dan took the man’s hand and shook it, “Dan Lloyd, pleased to meet you.”
Jack nodded, “It would have been nicer for you under better circumstances I’m sure,” he said.
Dan agreed, “Yes, at a fundraising function or something would have been preferable than my head nearly getting shot off.”
“What can you tell me about what happened here?” Superintendent Ramos asked him.
“Not much,” Dan said, “I was walking across the street when I saw this car speeding towards me. It slowed down, and I could see a gun aiming at me; that was when I dove behind the truck. Then I heard the shots loud and persistent.”
“Can you describe the car?” Jack asked, taking notes as they talked.
“It was a dark colour, blue, I think. The streetlamps are not very bright, so it was hard to tell. I think it was four-door.”
“You didn’t see the license plates at all?”
“No, I’m sorry. I was in a hurry to get out of the way.”
“Did you get any glimpse of the shooter, or shooters?” he asked.
“There was only one in the car, I think, the driver. I got a glimpse of him. I don’t know how well I could describe him.”
“That’s okay; just do the best you can.”
“He was dark haired and young. He looked almost adolescent. The arm hanging out of the window had a tattoo on it, I’m sure. I just didn’t exactly see what it was of.”
Jack nodded again and said, “Do you have any idea why someone would be shooting at you?”
Dan started to shake his head, and then he said, “No, but I have been getting some worrisome letters and emails at work lately.”
“Where do you work?” the Policeman asked.
“I own Ambratat Ltd. It’s a computer software company. We specialise in making software for security and surveillance organisations.”
“Did you report these letters or emails?”
“No,” Dan said, now wishing he had taken Kevin’s “paranoia” more seriously, “I didn’t really think they were serious threats, until now.”
“Is it possible you have enemies in the business world that might want you out of the way?”
“I suppose when there are millions of pounds at stake in every business deal, that there are always enemies to be made. I can’t think of one off hand that might be angry enough to kill me, however.”
“And your personal life?” the policeman asked, “Any problems there with a wife, girlfriend, jealous man?”
“I’m not married, and I don’t have a girlfriend,” Dan said, hoping to leave it at that. The officer wasn’t going for it though, he said,
“Surely a successful, good-looking guy like you has plenty of dates. Any of them with women who might have other men waiting in the wings?”
“Maybe one or two,” Dan told him, “But I doubt any of them had men that would find murder and life in prison a fair trade for being cheated on.”
“You’d be surprised,” Jack told him. “I’m going to let you get home for tonight. We’ll be collecting what evidence we can here, and I will call you tomorrow. I’d like you to meet with my sketch artist, Ayo. Like I said, anything you can remember will be a big help. And also, if you could possibly make a list for me of anyone that might be a suspect, even in the slightest way. And any of the letters or emails that you saved, I’d like to see those as well.”
“Okay,” Dan said. He thanked the Superintendent and jogged across the street to his car. His evening of romance was forgotten. All he wanted now was a hot shower and a beer.
Dan was late for the breakfast meeting, it was unlike him. Kevin looked at his watch. He was worried. The letters were creepy, and Kevin had tried to convince Dan that they needed to take them seriously. Now, every time Dan was a few minutes late, Kevin was worried that something had happened to him. Dan thought it was funny. He called Kevin a “mother hen”. Kevin had lost his Dad when he was twelve. They had lived on a farm in Texas, and his Dad had caught some men rustling cattle one night. His father was a stand-up guy, and despite his mother’s worries that something bad would happen, his dad agreed to testify against them. Before the trial happened, his father was gunned down in the street. He was killed on his way to pick up his son from football practice. Kevin was a worrier, but with good reason.
He was about to excuse himself from their Chinese business associates to go call his friend when he saw Dan walk through the door. He was dressed sharply and as well groomed as ever. Kevin silently chastised himself for worrying.
Dan apologized to the men for making them wait, saying that he had been caught up in stalled traffic due to an accident on the highway. He hadn’t called, because his phone hadn’t had service where he’d been stranded.
The men accepted his apology. They were anxious to get down to business. They had come all the way from China because Dan and Kevin’s company had been the most appealing to them out of hundreds they had researched around the world. They were looking for a security system to help protect a very powerful man in their country. They didn’t elaborate on who this man was, or what he did for a living. Dan and Kevin didn’t ask they never did. It was their business to build a system that was worth what the men were willing to pay for it, not to know the private business of those their systems were protecting. They had learned that the hard way, in Sicily. They had known too much then, and there were men that wanted to know what they did. It had been a little “touch and go” there for a while, as they had tried to make it safely out of the country and back home.
They finally had, and that was when they had made a pact to not ask too many questions, or obtain too much information about the people they were designing security systems for.
Dan had designs of their newest and best security systems with him. He used his tablet to show them the graphic images that his team had come up with, and Kevin quoted them the prices.
The Chinese men were impressed, and very eager to make the purchase. Dan and Kevin were able to close the deal over breakfast, and would be getting a team together later this afternoon to begin building the system.
After the businessmen had left, Dan ordered another cup of coffee.
“That went great, you had me worried there for a minute when you were late,” Kevin told him.
“Ya,” Dan said with a sigh, “I actually almost called and told you to handle it without me,” he said.
“Why?” Kevin asked, “What’s going on?”
“I got shot at last night,” Dan said.
“Shot at? Are you kidding, because that’s not funny?” Kevin asked.
“No, it wasn’t funny at all. I’m not kidding. I was going into the store across from the office and some punk opened fire on me.”
“Oh my God,” Kevin said, having a flashback to his father, “Are you okay?”
“I didn’t get hit. Lucky for me there was a big truck parked there for me to dive behind. My palms and knees are a little sore from the pavement dive, but other than that, I’m okay.”
“Jeez, Man! Now will you take these threats you’ve been getting seriously? Were the police called last night?”
“Yes, they were there. I have an appointment with Superintendent Ramos at eleven this morning. He called and woke me up this morning. He wants me to meet with his sketch artist while things are still fresh. I’m afraid I didn’t see enough to be of a whole lot of help though.”
“Damn! I can’t even imagine what the hell that was like for you. I’m really sorry that happened to you, man.” Kevin told him.
“I’m okay,” Dan told him. “More pissed than anything. It takes a lot of damn nerve to shoot at someone in the street. Whoever wants me dead is ballsy, I’ll give them that.”
“Whoever wants you dead probably won’t give up, either. We need to hire you some security or something.”
“No,” Dan told him. “I won’t have people following me around twenty-four seven. I’m not giving up my privacy because some punks have a grudge against me. I want to find out who wants me dead and I want the cowardly bastards to have to look me in the eye and tell me why.”
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