The Tuna Hunter Ch.11 “Stage One “

Posted on December 28, 2008

 

Ch.11 STAGE ONE

 

Carefully replacing the receiver, the man with the broken nose sank back in his chair.
He placed his fingers together in a thoughtful, meditative gesture, and his brow showed a deep concentration. For five minutes he remained in this pose, before suddenly he leaped to his feet, and started pacing the room. He stopped, lit a cigarette, and picked up the telephone, drumming his fingers impatiently until the line connected.
“It’s me, Carl. Listen. We’ve got one. Some dozy clown has just drifted into Wewak, Papua New Guinea, in a luxury yacht, with GPS and fax on board. Two guys and two pretty girls. On a four month tour around the Pacific, with no fixed schedule. Perfect. I’ve got a man there now, and another on the way. We stand by for an update, but get your bags packed and be ready to roll on five minutes notice. We’ve got a safe house arranged already. It’s perfect. Six weeks to go. Nobody is going to miss them by then. Got it? ”
The reply, although muffled, was an unmistakable dry laugh.
Carl rubbed his nose, and put the phone down. After a moment’s thought, he dialed again. This time, when he got through, his manner was brisk.
“It’s me, Carl. Listen, you little rabbit. You can tell your client that Stage One looks like it’s going into operation over the next day or two. It’s a luxury yacht with GPS and Satellite phone/fax. Perfect. ”
The subsequent query obviously annoyed him. His reply was cold and hard.
“Listen, you weasel. There is no need for you to know where.
All that matters is that we confirm to you when we are on board and ready for Stage Two. Got it? Tell your client to expect word within forty eight hours. ”
He hung up without waiting for an acknowledgment.
Pleased with himself, he reached into a drawer, and drew out a gleaming black Glock 21 semi automatic. He examined it carefully, and then aimed it slowly at a picture on a calendar. The picture showed a clipper riding the waves, doubtless running a trade wind to foreign ports. He concentrated, his hand unwavering, and then, slowly, he squeezed the trigger. There was a dry click and he smiled, lost in his own harsh world, his mind far away…

* * *

The nervous little man slammed the phone down angrily. His hands shaking, he produced a white silk handkerchief, and mopped his glistening forehead. The effort to control himself failed, and his hands refused to cease shaking. He held them out in front of him, fingers outstretched, willing them to stop trembling. It was no use, and instead he got up and walked to a liquor cabinet. There he poured himself a treble whiskey, adding a microscopic quantity of water. He downed it in two gulps, and stood there in a trance, studying the empty glass with unseeing eyes. Coming back to life, he refilled his glass, spilling amber fluid in the process. He noticed it, and cursed quietly, despairingly. He was suddenly aware just how much his hands were actually shaking. Try as he might, he could not stop them. Fluid slopped over the edge of the cut crystal glass, and ran down the back of his hand. He emptied the glass with another two monstrous gulps, and then unsteadily replaced the tumbler on the liquor shelf. However he managed it, as he withdrew his hand, he did so clumsily. The glass rocked, rolled, and fell, past his clutching fingers, and shattered on the floor in a million slivers of light, with a dry, terminal crunch.
Seated in his desk chair once again, he dialed a number slowly and with difficulty. He waited for the recorded announcement to introduce a fictitious company, and then spoke his message slowly and as clearly as he could.
“Tambourine Man called… he says to inform you that Stage One is about to take place… he expects to confirm within forty eight hours… location was not revealed… ”
He paused, remembered to add date and time, and signed off. He replaced the receiver with a feeling of dread. He got up, and slowly walked over to a large ornate mirror with a gold and silver edging. He stared in at his own reflection, straightened his tie, and combed his hair. Then, softly, he spoke to himself. They were encouraging words, comforting, directing his mind to his healthy bank balance, and the promise of more, much more, to come. They were words of praise, of reassurance, of satisfaction at how much he had come up in the world.
But try as he might, nothing could shake off the dread in his heart. Emotions of fear and guilt, greed and pride, conscience and ruthlessness warred with one another. If somebody had suggested to him that he was really just a small time crook and swindler playing way above his league, then his pride would have reared up. His jealous ego, crushed down for too long during a poverty stricken childhood, would have galloped off in fury…
Life had been… tough. School had been hell. He had hated his teachers, and hated his father. During his early twenties, he had hated his foreman at the brewery…
Now, part of him ached to prove to the world how well he had done. But another part, crushed down, nearly -but not quite- buried, yearned to convince himself…

The work he had been doing, the contacts he had made, the money he had earned… but above all, what he now knew was going to happen… sometimes it felt… not so good. He thought of his recurrent nightmare. It was always the same. He would be galloping along insanely, in the middle of the night, on a demented black mare. Across hedges and fences they would go, through streams and ditches, along roads and footpaths. And always, always, he would start out thinking he was in control. And then… the doubts would set in…
He would start wondering if he could control the beast. He would try and rein in, just a little, slow down, just a fraction, or steer around some crazy obstacle. The crazed black mare would take no notice, and the horrid realization would come flooding over him that he was in fact out of control. That what had started as an excursion of his choosing and under his captaincy, had degenerated into an insane frenzy. Then he would see the cliff coming up. The dark edge that stretched out over the abyss… He would open his mouth to scream…

He swallowed hard, swayed unsteadily to his feet, and almost ran over to the liquor cabinet, fumbling desperately for his only comfort.

* * *

The well dressed gentleman alighted from the Yellow Cab, tipped the driver, forced a smile at the drawn out ‘Have a good day now, y’hear?’, and stepped lightly but speedily along the busy New York street. The throng of bodies around him severely irritated him, as always. He wished fervently that he could jump straight back on his private Citation Jet, and speed back to his comfortable villa on Lake Geneva. An insane urge to turn around and go home in disgust filled his mind for a fleeting instant. It was not to be.
This was an important day…
A rather obese lady got in his way, and he contemplated how satisfying it would be to simply ram the bitch out of his way. He held back, charm and smiles on the outside, simmering furiously internally. He despised common folk, and knew himself to be far superior in terms of intelligence, wealth, power, and breeding. He knew he could buy and sell all of them, and outwit and out maneuver the best that New York could throw at him. In fact, he was here to prove it. It was contract negotiation time, the renewal of a huge bulk oil carrying contract that one of his companies had held for twelve years. It came up for renewal every twenty four months, and his personal presence was mandatory. It would not do to send an underling. Much as he hated and loathed New York and America, this was one appointment he dare not miss.
Not that it was usually hard work. The doddering board of directors of the oil company usually struggled to stay awake after lunch. Their bleary eyes would betray their urgency to complete formalities. They would raise a few petty complaints, carp on about insignificant details, indulge in a little flatulence, and generally go through the motions of giving the renewal contract the benefit of their years of experience. Then everybody would relax, there would be some jokes, the expensive Parker pens would be produced, and signatures would appear on the wad of documents. He would smile, pour on the charm, eventually beat his retreat, and quietly scoff at the bunch of fat toads…

He arrived at the appropriate building, composed his features into a beaming smile, cranked up the charm machine, and strode cheerfully inside.

Five hours later, it was a very different expression that dominated his face when at last he slumped in his hotel room. Cold fury mingled with relief. Bewilderment alternated with suspicion.
The meeting had not gone well. Yes, they had signed, but only after a severe grilling. He had sensed the mood the moment he had walked in. Grim-faced, determined, wary.
They had asked a great many questions about safety training on board his company’s tankers, fire detection equipment, and crew experience. Then, what had really astonished him, they had proceeded to minutely grill him about his non-shipping business interests, with special emphasis on his claims history. With detailed knowledge, they had questioned him about the most intimate offshore share transactions, both before and after the dates of two major industrial fires and one massive robbery. The coup de grace that had really knocked him right back on his heels had been their knowledge of the large ‘key person’ insurance policies he had taken out on some of his employees, not all of whom were still in the world of the living…
He had charmed and cajoled and wheedled and smiled his way through, but the experience had deeply shaken him. The implied message, subtle and not so subtle, was unmistakable:

Just one claim with one of your bulk tankers, even though it’s the first, and you will never carry oil again.
Ours, or anybody else’s…

Cold sweat stood on his forehead, and the hand that reached for the telephone was not as rock steady as usual. He had to call it off. Quickly. Stage One was about to go into fruition. The risks were too great. They were on to him.

But… how? How, in heaven’s name. To have collected all that information, in such depth, was more than the work of careful monitoring of one’s suppliers. Much more. Only a professional, an investigator, with access to insurance files internationally, could possibly have put together that portfolio. An investigator, and a hard working, resourceful, shrewd one at that. Some of the connections had been unearthed from places as far apart as the Cayman Islands and Liechtenstein… It had taken somebody some super sleuthing…
An investigator…
The hand clutching the receiver steadied suddenly, and there was a dull click as the device was dropped back onto its cradle.
An investigator…
Of course…
He smacked his forehead in frustrated realization. That was it! Berckhardt! Franz Berckhardt! That ugly little rat… that snotty little insurance detective, who had been borderline rude at the inquiry into the construction disaster. Who had been sarcastic at the amount of coverage taken out on the bulk tankers. Who had then been silenced into a simmering, furious silhouette by his superior. Who had glared furiously from under knotted eyebrows, his grotesque bottle-bottom spectacles giving him a laughable, inane look…
Who else had that kind of access, those kind of suspicions, and showed that kind of smoldering anger? So this was the little man’s revenge? So…
Berckhardt had put the file together, doing a vast amount of work in the process, and posted it, anonymously perhaps, to New York!
And where else? So…

His brain clicked off the options quickly, comfortable now that the problem at least was identified, and therefore a target could be discerned at which to aim the arrows…
Or better still, some bloody big bazookas…
Maybe… he could take out a law suit against the insurance company…
Maybe…
No. Franz Berckhardt would have assessed that possibility. He would not have risked his job and his career by leaving tracks that were too obvious. Besides, little Franz would have known that the publicity of a trial was exactly NOT what his opponent desired…

Clever. Very clever. And now what? He was beaten… He dare not risk it any further. Beaten. By a second rate little detective with a grudge. It was too infuriating. His best scam to date, perfectly planned, nipped in the bud. Now what? Give up, quit while he was ahead. It wasn’t worth the risk. Quit. Give up.
He had lost…

The words rang through his head, infuriatingly…

F.M.
(c)


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