Cover Image
Tony Billinghurst
Inheritance

Eric Miller looked troubled as he studied the bank statement yet again. He didn't notice Sue hurtle past him, dusting everything for the second time. She was reaching boiling point and snapped at him.

     "Eric! For heaven's sake – he'll be here in a minute."

     He sighed and put the statement in a drawer. "You're obsessed with this meeting – calm down - chill out, it'll be fine."

     "It's all right for you, you're not meeting a brother you didn't know you had. And I'll tell you this - I've got a bad feeling about him; I can smell a crook a mile off."

     Eric placed a large envelope on the coffee table.

     "Give the poor guy a chance, he might be very nice."

     At the stroke of 10 am, the doorbell rang. Sue greeted a well-fed man in his 60s. He had impeccable short brown hair, a tailored blue suit, immaculate shirt and tie, high gloss shoes, and a switched-on smile showing perfect teeth, American style. In his left hand, he carried an extravagant bunch of flowers, and in his right, a rectangular parcel. He carefully put the parcel down and presented the flowers to Sue.

     "Hi Susan, I'm Vernon – how you doing?"

     Sue was rarely flustered; she was now. "Hello … Vernon." She hesitated, blushed, and pulled Eric forward. "This is my husband, Eric. Vernon crushed Eric's hand.

     "Good to meet you, Eric." They settled their visitor in the lounge, and as Sue put the flowers in water, Eric poured three coffees. Vernon smiled at Sue. "Well, this is kinda awkward for all of us." He adjusted his tie; it didn't need it. "I'm sorry if what I have to say comes as a shock; it did when I first heard it. Susan, I'm your half-brother - did you know about me?" Sue shook her head.

     "No, the news came out of the blue."

     "Have you received the papers from our lawyers?"

     "Grainger & Cook? Yes." She emptied the envelope onto the coffee table.

     "Okey dokey." Vernon took a photo from his pocket. "Well, my name is Vernon T. Carlson. My dad, that is, our dad, was Bernard – Bernie to his friends. Here's his photo." He handed it to Sue. "That's him with my mom on their 40th wedding anniversary. It's a copy; had it made for you. Dad was a Tech Sergeant in World War II" He stopped again and looked straight at Sue. "You know Susan, you have Dad's eyes."

<  2  >

     She gave him a weak smile. "It's Sue – call me Sue."

     "Ok, Sue. Well, Dad was a motor engineer." He looked at Eric. "I don't think you have Tech Sergeants in the British Army." Eric didn't reply. "He was stationed here in England for a while; guess that's where he met your mom."

     There was a strained silence. Sue got up and gave Vernon a photo. "That's my Mum and Dad in …" She stopped and swallowed hard. Vernon came to the rescue.

     "I know, I didn't know anything about this until shortly before Dad died either; he was 94. He started to remember things way back as if they were yesterday. He knew he was dying and told me a lot of things; must have been some kind of confession; shook me up too. Guess we shouldn't make judgments; strange things happen in war. I'm his only child, well, besides you, that is." He smiled nervously. "Anyway, towards the end of the war, he was transferred to the US 10th Armoured Division in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria." He glanced at Eric. "It's near Austria, and he was there until he was demobbed in 1947."

     "Isn't that where they hold the Passion Play?"

     Vernon shook his head. "No Sue, that's Oberammergau. Dad liked Bavaria, said it wasn't all bombed to hell like industrial Germany. As the Allies pushed across Germany, the Nazis moved their stolen artwork ahead of them towards the Austrian border and stored it in disused salt and copper mines. They put their stolen gold anywhere secure; a lot ended in Garmisch post office. Strangely, Garmisch became a major US R&R location, full of military personnel letting off steam before being shipped Stateside. Anyhow, Dad said when the war ended, military discipline and law 'n order went out the window. The area was awash with gangs of deserters and starving locals. There were drug dealers everywhere."

     "Drugs in the 1940s?" Eric sounded sceptical.

     "Apparently so, I was surprised too; also, the only place locals could get anything was on the black market. Dad had a pal in the US stores, and like a lot of guys, he made a heap of dough. The whole lot of 'em were working one fiddle or other, Top Brass included. Dad said every third man was a Third Man." Vernon was the only one to smile at the joke.

<  3  >

     Eric tried to ease the situation. "What was your dad like then?"

     "A great guy Eric, lifelong Republican, go-getter, golf club president, member of the Moose Lodge; one very sharp cookie. I learned everything from him. He taught me no one owes you a living, you gotta do what it takes, cut corners if have to, take care of number one, 'cause at the end of the day, all that matters is what ya got stashed; know what I mean? You'd have liked him; everyone did."

     Eric's expression showed he wouldn't.

     Sue got up. "Would you like some more coffee, Vernon?" She pushed the plate of biscuits towards him.

     "Well, that would be nice," he hesitated – "Sue. Thank you. As I was saying, Dad was an ace card sharp; could deal off the bottom with the best of them." Vernon's face lit up in admiration. It was becoming clear his father was a role model. "Dad met an officer who'd been in Altaussee recovering stolen artwork and won the painting from him in a poker game."

     "Is that the one bequeathed to me in his will?"

     Vernon patted the brown paper parcel. "Correct."

     Sue looked troubled. "Your Dad won a stolen painting in a poker game?"

     Vernon lost some of his bravado and gave a nervous giggle. "I guess there's nothing to worry about, Sue, the Statute of Limitations ran out in Illinois years ago, and who's to know anyway?" He straightened his tie again and pressed on. "When Dad was demobbed, he brought it back to Springfield…"

     "Where's that?"

     Vernon turned to face Eric. "Illinois, where he and Mom grew up; it's where they were engaged when he was conscripted …"

     Sue interrupted. "He was engaged when he met my mother?"

     Vernon nodded and looked embarrassed. "Guess so, like I say, strange things happen in war." He quickly regained his composure. "They got married when he returned and started the car lot. He and Mom ran it together. She could flip a car as fast as any of us. When Dad took sick, she ran the whole show; she overdid it and died a few years back. Now my wife Donna and I run it; we got an eighty car inventory, Chevy specialists."

     Sue moved to the edge of her seat. "How did your dad know about me and where I live?"

<  4  >

     "I guess he knew where your mom lived during the war. She must have made contact to tell him about you. He told me he kept track of your mom for a good while. I've been looking for you since he died; wasn't easy, you've moved about a bit." He reached into his pocket and took out one of Sue's CDs. "Bought this in Chicago – told Donna; Anita Tregowan's my sister's stage name – some voice; kinda cute too, huh?"

     Eric looked surprised. "You know Sue's stage name is Anita Tregowan?"

     "Amazing what you can find out if you ask the right guys." Vernon gave Eric a canny smile. Sue didn't comment; it felt creepy having a half-brother you'd never met think you were kinda cute. "Dad told me he couldn't tell anyone he had an English daughter; Mom was the jealous type; – it would have wrecked their marriage, but he always made it clear I wasn't going to inherit the painting, it was for someone special."

     Sue seemed agitated. "So, when your dad won the painting, didn't he ask where it came from?"

     Vernon laughed. "Heavens no. Garmisch wasn't the place you asked questions. Sounds as if nobody saw anything, heard anything, or asked anything, if you did, one day, you could wake up dead. They were forever dragging bodies out of the river. Oh, you haven't seen the painting yet, have you?"

     He unwrapped the parcel to reveal an old, dark river landscape in an ornate gilt frame.

     "It's a Jan van Goyan, oil on board, painted around 1645. A few years back, I took it to Sotheby's in Chicago for an appraisal. They said in the right auction, it could fetch $40,000 to $60,000 - that was then. You've gotta remember after the war, money in Germany was worthless, so everyone was bartering with whatever they could get hold of. Dad said you wouldn't believe what you could get for a few packs of Lucky Strike - it was dog eat dog, besides, our boys put their careers on hold to do their bit and were well out of pocket on army pay; they reckoned a bit of loot was kinda compensation."

     Sue held up one of the lawyer's papers in front of Vernon. "Is this the receipt I've got to sign?" She sounded rattled.

<  5  >

     Vernon lent forward. "That's the one, but don't give it to me, send it to Grainger & Cook."

     "So, Vernon, your dad's definitely my biological father, there's no doubt?"

     "Can't see why he'd say so if it wasn't true. Maybe pick your moment and ask your mom."

     "I can't, she died last year, and Dad died years ago."

     Vernon's look of sympathy seemed genuine. "Maybe it's best to let the past rest in peace. Look you guys, I've got a meeting tomorrow, a collector's got some vintage Chevy's for sale; then I have to get back to the States on the double. Sales at the car lot have been slow lately; we've had to let a lot of staff go, and Donna's pretty stretched. Could I take us all to dinner, can you make tonight?"

     There was a silence as Sue looked at Eric. "We'd love to, but I'm on tour soon, and I'm pretty tied up with packing and things." She hoped the excuse didn't sound too tame.

     "Oh, that's a shame. Ok, maybe another time; we'll keep in touch, Zoom maybe, and when things pick up, Donna and I would love to come visit for a vacation. Maybe we could all get together, and you could show us around."

     They said their thanks and goodbyes. As Eric was about to stand the painting on the sideboard, Sue snatched it from him.

     "Get that thing out of here, now!" She shouted.

     Eric looked amazed. "It's worth forty to sixty thousand dollars...thank you, Vernon!"

     Sue was furious. "All you can see in this is money. I've just had my roots torn up and traded for a stolen painting, a card sharp, and that creep, Vernon."

     Although Sue was near to tears, Eric didn't seem to notice. "What do roots matter; we're desperate for this sort of cash?"

     "Roots matter when you haven't any."

     "Sue - Vernon brought you the painting; he could have sold it in the States and trousered the money and, don't forget, for all his faults, you've now got a brother."

     "Eric – the painting's stolen – it's hot. Whatever happened to it since the Nazis stole it doesn't change a thing; when it's hot, it's hot. I don't want it - it's going back to the family it was stolen from."

<  6  >

     Eric raised his hands in exasperation. "Oh, sure – just like that. Don't forget, you don't know where they lived, you inherited it legally, and the owners will be long gone."

     "I'd need to donate my brains to science before I believe that. Vernon's father just wanted to save his son being charged with receiving a painting stolen from a holocaust victim; I'm simply a convenient solution."

     "Oh, c'mon Sue; you were engaged to one crook and married to another – why the twitchy conscience now?"

     "I'm aware of how I lived in the past, thank you, Eric. My values are different now. Crime was exciting, we made money – lots of it, but it was never enough; wealth's addictive, worse than ice; it warps your values and comes in a package with distrust and loneliness - you can't trust anyone, not even your own people; they'd all shop you to save their own necks. I'm through with trying to justify to myself what we were doing and waiting for police raids - that part of my life is closed; it's over – I don't want to know anymore. She thrust the ball of paper into his hands. "And another thing; every time I try to bury my old life, it comes back up like some kind of knotweed, but I'll tell you this: I'm sure as hell not going to inherit someone else's iffy past as well, and that's an end of it." She picked up the sugar bowl and dumped it on the tray. "You and I may not have much, but what we have got is peace of mind, and I'm not trading that for an old painting - 0k?"

     "But $40,000 would set us up nicely…"

     Sue stepped closer to him and put the tray down. "Look, love, will you please stop worrying about money? I've got it covered -it's all in hand. Everything will be ok after the tour, just sit tight for a few days. But first, we do the right thing with the painting and get it out of here. Do what you can to return it to its rightful owners, and I don't mean sell it either – ok? Promise me – pinkie promise?"

     Sue could be very determined. She was now. Eric reluctantly nodded. "Pinkie promise." Sue dumped the flower vase on the table, spilling some water, then thrust a blue folder into Eric's hands.

<  7  >

     "The tour schedule's in there." The title page was a flyer for the 'European Solid Gold 70's Show' featuring some of the 70's acts who were still playing and hadn't fried their brains to oblivion with whacky baccy and the like. Anita Tregowan was backed by the Rex Hall big band.

     "What's the best time to call you?"

     Sue looked a bit edgy. "Don't call after lunch; mornings would be better. Thinking about it, it's probably better if I call you." She tied a label to a suitcase. "Don't panic if you don't hear from me for the odd day or two." That sounded strange; previously, Sue found tours boring and longed for someone to talk to. Eric made his living hearing what people didn't say; he filed Sue's comment in the back of his mind, said nothing, then glanced through the schedule.

     "There's still that two-day gap; I thought they were going to fill it."

     Sue tied a luggage strap around the case with the damaged lock. "The only bookings they could get for those days meant too much travelling, so we're taking a break in Marseille."

     As Sue was packing and repacking, Eric looked online for an art repatriation agency and, to his surprise, found the International Art & Antique Loss Register in Hatton Garden. He measured the painting, took photos front and back, and loaded them onto a memory stick.

     Early on Monday morning, Sue's tour bus arrived. As the driver loaded her luggage on board, Eric put his arms around her, held her tight, and kissed her goodbye. Even though her singing provided most of their income now, he hated her tours, his worst dream was of Sue leaving him, but the irony was she was a free spirit, to keep her, he had to let her fly free now and then.

     "Wished I was coming with you."

     "You will on the cruise." She tapped him on the chest with her fingers. She wore vermillion nail polish, a new shade. "Now, don't forget, no taking on any dodgy work. I don't want to come back to a house full of hacked-off heavies trying to tear you apart or smart-ass cops fitting you with a ball and chain. No poker games either. Eat properly, and trust me. It's all going to be all right."

<  8  >

     With a heavy heart, Eric watched and waived as the bus drove down the road and away, then he had a coffee and headed for Hatton Garden. As he walked past the Red House on Clerkenwell Road, an ancient Range Rover screeched to a halt beside him. The driver's window opened, and a cigarette butt flicked out in front of him.

     "Eric – get in," Eric spun around. The driver indicated the back seat with his thumb. Eric slowly got in, and before he'd closed the door, the driver took off with the wheels spinning.

     "You running a taxi service now, Alan?"

     "No, been following you, trying to catch you when you were alone - we got a problem; we need to talk." They hurtled down several side streets, then shot into a multi-storey car park and squealed around to an upper floor, and parked with a jolt in a corner.

     "Come up front." When Eric sat beside him and closed the door, Alan faced him. "It's better we're not seen together. Eric, my brother Frank's dying; he's going to be released from Albany prison on compassionate grounds any day soon, he's got an aortic embolism, could rupture at any time. He found out it was you and me who got him convicted, an' he's vindictive as hell. Word is, he's trying to get contracts out on both of us."

     "How the blazes did you find that out?"

     "Don't forget, Frank and I ran one of London's biggest mobs; I learnt to watch my back years ago. I got someone doing time with him feeding me info." Alan glanced in the mirror. "Frank lost touch with our old enforcers, but he'll find more when he gets out - his name still carries weight in the underworld."

     "We got him nicked?"

     "Yes – 'we.' You know very well you wanted him out of your way 'cause he was sweet on Sue and would have wasted you to get her, just as I wanted to take him down a peg or two."

     "You mean, get even because he threw you out of the firm."

     "He done me out of my half. Besides, you guaranteed there'd be no comebacks when we set him up, it's your problem really."

     "Well, we're in it together now - can't we buy the contracts off?"

<  9  >

     "Dunno who they'll be with, Frank always handled that side of things."

     "But if he's dying, what's the problem?"

     "He'll get contracts in place that'll kick in whether he's dead or alive. If we don't stop him, Eric, we're dead meat."

     Eric looked floored. "What shall we do?"

     Alan ran his hand across his throat.

     "What, you mean we take him out? Are you serious?"

     "You'd better believe it. Look at it this way, in a few weeks, he's gonna die anyway; we're just bringing it forward a little an' for Pete's sake, we're acting in self-defence." He gave Eric a few moments to absorb the information, then pressed on. "An' that's not all, my contact says he's been having a visitor lately - your Sue."

     Eric grabbed the front of Alan's jacket. "You…!

     Alan gently pushed his hand away. "Eric, on the level - I'm not winding you up."

     "Your contact's talking garbage. Besides - what makes him think it's Sue?"

     "He's a Trusty, he has access to visitor's names. Eric, you do know Frank an' Sue were an item once, don't you?"

     "Of course."

     "Maybe she's been saying goodbye; who knows? Whatever, he still carries a torch for her an' he never got over her dumping him."

     Eric closed his eyes and clamped his hands on his head. His world had just collapsed. Despair quickly turned to anger. He turned and pointed an accusing finger at Alan.

     "Alan," he said through clenched teeth, "Frank might be your brother, but Sue's my wife, and if he thinks I'm going to stand by and do nothing, he's making a mistake."

     Alan understood. "Absolutely - I'm right there with you, Eric - this is all shades of nightmare for me an' all – Frank's my elder brother, but I'll tell you this, he's unpredictable an' he's got a vicious side. We got a love an' hate relationship; it's a twin thing." Eric's response was a dismissive shake of the head. Alan pressed on. "You know, I was given a hamster when I was six; loved it; spent all my pocket money on a cage. He drowned it to see if I'd cry. He boasted about it at school to show how tough he was. His tough guy reputation's all that matters to him - he'll kill us both without a second thought to save face."

<  10  >

     Eric groaned and went pale. Alan picked up a cigarette pack from the console; it was empty; he opened the door and flicked it out. "I've been thinking about nothing else since I heard; can't get it out of my head. I grilled my source an' there's no mistake, your Sue visited him about the time he was told he was dying, probably coincidence, anyway, how's this for a plan to kick off with?"

     Eric cooled down a bit. He thought for a while, then turned the radio down. "Ok, let's hear it then."

     "Frank loves flashy motors. Apparently, despite being a physical wreck, as soon as he gets out, he wants to go for a real drive. Did you know before we fitted him up, he bought a Porsche 911? It's in his garage." Eric raised his eyebrows. Alan understood what he was thinking. "It's alarmed to the hilt. He's been getting paperwork ready. The second he's out, he's arranged to have it collected, serviced, new battery; that sort of thing an' he's going to pick it up from the garage forecourt. It's near where he lives."

     "The garage is leaving a 911 on the forecourt?"

     "Yea, he wants the work done in a day, an' he'll collect it after they're closed. Suits us nicely." He tapped the side of his nose. "I happen to know a man who knows a man who can do the biz on the steering, you know, just enough so he can drive for a while - then bosh."

     "But he might survive a minor shunt."

     "Eric, Frank only knows two speeds: stop an' flat out, it'll work, trust me. The other thing is, my contact says your Sue told Frank she's going on a tour, but he doesn't know where or when; but he'll find out. With luck, he'll stuff the car up an' his embolism thing will burst an' finish him off. What you reckon?" As Eric thought the plan over, Alan searched for another cigarette. "You haven't got a snout, have you?"

     Eric glanced around, then spoke quietly. "We'll have to get a mechanic from out of town; hire him through an intermediary, someone reliable. It must look like an accident; better not talk to each other on landlines – don't meet either …"

<  11  >

     "Eric … Eric! Grandmothers an' sucking eggs! I'm a Dexter twin. I know what I'm doing; I thought of all that." He handed Eric an old phone and a piece of paper. He held up an equally battered phone. "The number on that paper is for this phone – memorize it. I know yours. We'll only switch them on an' speak to each other at 6 pm, then switch them off after. Don't use them near our homes an' not for anything else. Wipe your fingerprints off an' destroy it when we're done, an' when we speak, I'm Mr. Smith, Frank's Mr. Jones, you're Mr. White. If we need to meet, meet here an' call it: the usual place."

     Eric looked concerned. "What'll all of this cost?"

     Alan thought for a few seconds. "Let's ante up with four grand each; all costs split down the middle, ok?"

     Eric looked uncomfortable. "Four grand's a problem at the moment."

     Alan thought for a while. "Ok. Living with Frank's taught me to be prepared for anything. I got a war chest tucked away; I'll fund it to start with; gimme your word, you'll square up asap?"

     Eric held out his hand. "You've got it. Now, for the last time, are you absolutely sure about him and Sue?"

     Alan looked Eric in the eye. "' Fraid so."

     "Are you certain you can get reliable people to do the job?"

     "It'll be tight, but I think so."

     "Ok, let's get on with it." Eric got out, and Alan sped off. That Wednesday, Eric went to the mall car park. At 5.59, he switched the phone on and heard Alan's voice.

     "Mr. Jones has left the hotel an' gone home. His horse is already at the vet's an' the specialists are ready to attend to it." Eric just said: "Ok" and switched the phone off. He wandered around the car park, feeling terrified. He went to the nearest pub.

     Two days later, at 6 pm, Eric got another phone call.

     "The operation was sweet; Mr. Jones an' his horse have gone."

     Eric kept busy for the next few days, all the time counting the minutes till Sue could phone. He'd decided not to tell her he knew about her visits to Frank, but he couldn't get it out of his mind. He cut their hedges, lawns and pruned everything in sight whether it needed it or not. Although he was tired at night, he couldn't sleep without several stiff Scotches. Sue phoned a few days later but didn't say much other than the tour was going well and the concerts were well attended. She sounded tired. Every day, Eric left home and switched the phone on at 5.59 pm. On Monday, it rang.

<  12  >

     "Meet me at the usual place tomorrow at 11 am." Eric had an appointment at the Loss Register in Hatton Garden at 11.30; they were interested in the painting and thought they might have a lead.

     "Not 11, 10 am."

     "Ok,"

     At 10 the following day, Eric went to the car park. Alan didn't greet him.

     "We got trouble. Our boys did the biz an' I thought Frank had collected his Porsche, but he didn't, a couple of toe rags stole the bloody thing. Frank's disappeared."

     "What?"

     "Yea, they drove the 911 like lunatics an' were chased by a RPU."

     "A what?"

     "Police Rapid Response Unit; bunch of racers. There was a high-speed chase. The Porsche was pulling away, then veered across the road doing 108 an' ploughed into a low loader hauling Ash trees. Completely wrote the Porsche off. The toe rags are badly smashed up an' all; had to be cut out. The driver of the low loader's ok, bit of whiplash an' shock."

     "Will they live?"

     "Touch an' go. My sources say the Porsche driver works for a tasty firm of car thieves. It was a total nause-up. The road was closed the whole day. We gotta hope the Porsche is too badly wrecked for anyone to tell the steering was fiddled. Shame about the car; that model fetches 60 grand or more."

     "So, where the hell is Frank?"

     "I dunno – vanished an' why he didn't collect the Porsche, goodness knows. Let's drop out. I'll let you know if I find out more."

     Four days later, just after lunch, Eric's office doorbell rang. He opened the door and drew a breath in shock.

     "Hello, Eric, can I come in?"

     Eric was caught off guard. "Garry! It's been a long time – how are you?"

     "Detective Inspector Morgan, if you please?"

     Garry showed Eric his Police warrant card. "Why the card, Garry?"

     Garry looked uncomfortable. "It's not a social call, Eric, I have some bad news for you."

     Eric indicated the sofa, then sat at his desk. Garry looked ill at ease.

     "Eric, prepare yourself for a shock. I was in the office earlier and overheard some colleagues talking." He seemed uncertain how to continue. "Eric, Frank Dexter's dead."

     Eric was half expecting something like this and had rehearsed his response. "I knew his health was awful; my wife Sue said she didn't think he'd come out of nick alive."

<  13  >

     "He was released on compassionate grounds; he didn't die in prison."

     "So where did he die?"

     "He was driving a hired Ferrari in the Combe Laval Canyon in France – it's in the Vercors mountains." Garry Morgan scrutinised Eric's reaction with professional care; Eric looked as if he didn't understand. "It's a balcony road, a ledge cut into the side of the mountain, apparently spectacular views and ok at low speed, lethal at the speed he was going. An eyewitness said a van cut in front of him, slammed on its brakes, then drove off. Dexter swerved and went over the edge, dropped best part of a 1000 feet. Of course, it could have been road rage, but the French Police have to consider every possibility, you understand?"

     Eric didn't seem to.

     Garry hesitated. "Eric – he wasn't alone. Your wife Sue was with him… I'm afraid they were both killed outright." Eric gasped. "As I know you, I offered to tell you rather than leave it to some wooden top." Eric sat in a daze. Garry wasn't sure he'd heard. "Eric, did you hear?" Eric looked as if he'd frozen. He didn't move; when he spoke, his voice seemed detached from his body.

     "But it couldn't be Sue, she's on tour with a 70's revival show."

     "This isn't my case, Eric, so I don't know all the details, but it seems Dexter found out about Sue's tour, flew to Lyon, hired the car and went to the tour hotel. He was heard telling Sue that driving in the Alps was top of his bucket list and asked her to go with him. They were seen leaving together."

     Eric leapt to his feet. "But, my Sue? Garry! I want to see her – where is she?"

     Garry also stood and softened his voice. "Eric, the car fell 1000 feet and burst into flames. It's in a difficult place to access, and the bodies were … well … it'll be a while before they can be properly identified, you understand?" It didn't seem as if Eric did, so Garry changed the subject. "Eric, the French police have … well … I don't suppose I could see your passport, could I?"

     Eric didn't seem to grasp what was behind the question. "Don't know where it is, I was looking for it, we're going on a cruise soon; Sue's singing in the cabaret."

<  14  >

     Garry pressed the point as gently as he could. "Could you dig it out for me?"

     Eric didn't reply. He sat heavily with his head in his hands and sobbed and just said "Sue … Sue … Sue," over and over.

     Garry waited a while, then slowly edged to the door. "I must go, Eric. Are you going to be alright? Anyone who can be with you; family, friends?" Eric didn't reply. "I'll drop in again later and see how you're doing. So sorry, Eric; my deepest condolences. Give me a bell if I can be of any help." He opened the door and then turned back. "Oh, I nearly forgot. When our lads were searching Dexter's place, they found his will. You'll never believe it; he left his Porsche to Sue; suppose it'll be yours now." He left and gently closed the door.

     Looking like a zombie, Eric closed the office and went into the house, and finished the bottle of whisky and a good deal of another. He spent that and the following nights shuffling from one pub to another on a marathon bender, sleeping in his clothes during the day. He was a dishevelled, pitiful mess. He didn't eat properly, didn't answer the phone or the door until one morning there was such a ferocious banging on it that he dragged himself to open it. He could barely focus on the figure standing there.

     "Shove off whoever you are, there's no one in," but the figure didn't, it pushed into the hall, closed the door, and propelled Eric to the nearest chair, then left and found the kitchen returning a few minutes later with a mug of black coffee.

     "Get that down your neck and sober up – I've got some good news; well, good news for you." Eric forced his hungover eyes to focus on the person in front of him. It was Garry, smiling from ear to ear.

     "What news?" He slurred.

     "Drink that first, and I'll tell you." Eric did as he was told. Garry took the mug and made another.

     "What news?"

     "Good news, drink that as well."

     Eric screwed his face up. "You make lousy coffee Garry – it's too sweet. What news?" Garry watched him drink. Eric belched and drank more coffee. "You know, Garry, all day and all night I've been calling to every power there is for good news, and all I hear is my own voice, then you turn up," he took another gulp, "then you turn up grinning like a what's it and you won't tell me the bloody news - what news?"

<  15  >

     Garry pulled a chair close to Eric and sat. "Because I know you, my colleagues have now kept me in the loop. Dexter went to the tour hotel, and he and your Sue drove to the Old Port in Marseille and had a drink at a café. He wanted Sue to go with him to the Alps, but his driving was so awful she refused. He lost his rag left her there, and picked up one of the girls from the tour who went gaga at the thought of pulling the infamous Frank Dexter, and they went to the Alps. It was her with him when they went over the edge. The day before, several members of the tour had things stolen, money, tablets, credit cards. It took a while for Sue to get replacements. She's been trying to call you, but you haven't answered your phone; she's worried sick. As the tour was stuck in Marseille for two days, Rex Hall hired a car and took Sue and a couple of mates sightseeing." Garry handed Eric a slip of paper. "This is her new number – call her."

     Eric snatched the paper and rather unsteadily, phoned the number. "Sue – is that you? Are you all right? I was told you'd been killed … Sue, say something." Garry went to the window and pretended to look out. Sue spoke for some time, then Eric interrupted her. "Sue – who the hell's Rex Hall?" Garry could hear Sue laugh from where he was. "He's the bandleader; we call him Pops. Eric, he's over 70, 16 stone, and gay." Eric became agitated. "Sue – I'm coming over. Can you wire me some money? Rome? Ok, I'll phone later, I've got someone with me." Sue asked him something. "He's… an old friend." He ended the call and sat in a daze with tears trickling down his face.

     Garry watched for a few minutes until Eric handed him the mug. "Any chance of more of your revolting coffee?"

     "You'd better get cleaned up and eat something. Eric, there's a slight glitch. Dexter's 911 was stolen and wrecked, it's a write-off. Sue or you'd better contact the Motor Insurance Database to see who insured it. Only thing is the car's being held as evidence by the Vehicle Recovery Unit, and a forensic vehicle examiner is checking it out. Last thing we heard was he was faffing about something odd with the steering, but I can't see it being a problem. If all goes well, I should think there's a good chance of a decent payout, don't you?"

<  16  >

     . . . . . .

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