Authors: Bill Kitson
Wife, lover, best friend, critic, editor and so much more
Plot ideas come from the strangest places. We were dining with friends when ‘Patricia’, a former bank colleague, recounted a series of shocking and frightening incidents that led to her leaving the profession. Whilst everyone reacted with horror, I scribbled the details in my mental notebook.
So my grateful thanks go to ‘Patricia’ and her husband for allowing me to use those events, for their technical advice on certain aspects of current banking industry practice, and for checking the accuracy of the first draft.
I would also like to thank Andrew Tattersall, whose input regarding foreign currency transactions via credit card was most valuable.
Pete Mounsey of Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team gave an insight as to how the recovery on Stark Ghyll might have been performed, which was much appreciated.
And thanks to Mark Tankard for allowing me to take his name in vain.
Finally, to my wife Val, my sternest critic, for her advice and support.
‘I thought I was doing right.’ The old man was plainly distressed. ‘They were a good local company, so I thought. I even knew one of the directors, Linda Wilson; the one who has gone missing – known her family for years. It looked like a great chance to provide for the boy.’ His gaze shifted to the photographs on the battered dresser.
The reporter didn’t smile at the description of the farmer’s son, for although now over forty years old, to the farmer, his son would always remain a boy. Indeed, where his mental capacity was concerned, he would stay a child until he died.
‘My wife isn’t well, and both of us are getting older. Our son can be a handful to manage, even for someone younger and fitter than us. What concerns us is what will happen when we’re gone. So when they offered us this share deal it seemed too good to miss. If we could earn a tidy sum from the investments like they promised, we’d be able to set it aside to help with the cost of the upkeep when we’re not around. That, plus the value of the farm, would be plenty, we reckoned. Instead of which it looks as if we’ll have to sell up just to clear our debts; the money we’d invested in those shares has gone.’
reporter looked sympathetic. ‘Can you tell me what happened, Mr Shaw? With the shares, I mean?’
‘They did all right to begin with. I kept getting reports about the companies I’d invested in, and the share prices seemed to be moving the right way. The profit forecasts were good, so I was
happy with the advice I’d been given by Bishopton Investments. The only thing was they hadn’t sent us any share certificates. That should have made me suspicious, but it didn’t. Not until it was too late.’
‘How long was it before things started to go wrong?’
‘A few months – six or seven maybe. The bloke we’d been dealing with said he’d been conducting a review of our portfolio and thought he could make one or two improvements. He suggested three companies that would offer better prospects.’
‘And that didn’t make you suspicious?’
‘Why would it?’ Shaw’s tone was defensive. ‘It seemed like they were looking after our interests, so I was happy to go along with it. The only drawback was the minimum investment they needed for the new shares was higher than the original amount we’d put in. Even that didn’t make me suspect anything, so I borrowed money from the bank to top up our original outlay. It stretched me to the limit, but I was confident the risk would be worthwhile.’
He looked round at his familiar surroundings, and the reporter noticed a tear in the corner of Shaw’s eyes, heard the tremble of emotion in his voice. ‘Now, it looks as if we’re going to lose the lot unless this court case produces a miracle. Five generations my family’s farmed this land. I always knew I’d be the last. Our elder son and his wife were killed in a car smash, and my granddaughter’s not one for farming. Our youngest isn’t up to it, as you know, but despite that I hoped we’d end our days here. Looks like that isn’t going to happen, though.’
The reporter was to remember those words later, but for the time being merely made a sympathetic noise, halfway between clearing his throat and coughing. He’d heard similar stories several times already and his investigation was far from over. The others hadn’t been as poignant, but the dreadful losses were beginning to mount up to huge sums. ‘Do the police think they’ll be able to recover any of your money?’
The farmer shook his head. ‘They have to catch the bastards first. Even that won’t be easy, they reckon. Apparently, when
they went to the firm’s premises, the buggers had cleared off and taken all the records with them. There was the bloke selling the shares, but the ringleader was Linda Wilson. She’s the one behind it, and now she’s gone abroad, or so the police say.’
‘They don’t seem too optimistic about your money by the sound of it?’
Shaw frowned. ‘No, and the detective didn’t say as much, but he implied it was as much my fault as theirs.’
The scandal rocked the community. North Yorkshire had never experienced anything quite like it. Most of the residents within the dale heard the news first on Helm Radio or read it in the leader of the
. The editor had some difficulty getting his paper’s legal advisors to agree the headline, let alone the content of the article.
BIG FRAUD SUSPECTED AS B.I.G. GOES BUST
Bishopton Investment Group, whose advertising slogan ‘Thinking investments? Think B.I.G’ attracted many small investors to the local financial services company, was today placed in the hands of receivers. The
understands that the insolvency practitioners appointed to handle the receivership called in police immediately after examining the books, fuelling rumours of widespread malpractice already circulating.
Nobody was available to comment, either at the receivers’ offices, Bishopton Investments, or the local police station. However, a reliable source informed our reporters that the sums involved could run into millions. We understand that concerns about what was happening at the company were first raised by one of the senior financial executives at Wilson Macaulay Industries.
Bishopton Investments was formed in 1984 by local businessmen Stephen Wilson and Duncan Macaulay, co-founders of Wilson Macaulay Industries. The investment company remained independent of the rest of the group. Linda
Wilson, company secretary and granddaughter of Stephen Wilson, along with Peter Macaulay, grandson of Duncan Macaulay, were still involved with the company at the time of the collapse. Mr Macaulay refused to comment on the appointment of the administrators, or the rumours regarding financial irregularities. All our attempts to contact Ms Wilson have been unsuccessful, and we understand that the police and the receivers are anxious to locate and interview her.
In a statement, local police highlighted the extent of the fraud. ‘Our investigation has revealed that large sums of money have been systematically diverted from the company’s funds to offshore accounts. We believe this was made possible by a corruption in the company’s computer system which allowed one individual to make the necessary alterations. All the changes were authorized by the company secretary, Linda Wilson. However, efforts to locate Ms Wilson have proved unsuccessful. In addition to the theft from within the company, we are also attempting to locate another executive of Bishopton Investments, Mark Tankard, with regard to worthless shares that were sold to investors over the past few months.’
Despite the best efforts of the police, and international arrest warrants being issued for Linda Wilson and Mark Tankard, no trace of them was found, apart from a sighting of Linda Wilson boarding a cross-channel ferry in Hull, and confirmation from hotels in Amsterdam and Paris that the fleeing executive had stayed there. Later, after funds diverted from Bishopton Investment Group and those from the sale of worthless shares were traced to a bank in the Cayman Islands, police there confirmed that Linda Wilson had stayed in a hotel several months earlier. Enquiries confirmed that the bank account in question had been closed following the withdrawal of the money, but there the trail went cold.
By the time the hearing to wind up the affairs of Bishopton Investment Group took place, no arrests had been made. The
detective leading the inquiry admitted that all attempts to trace Linda Wilson and the missing share-pusher had failed.
On the day of the hearing, when it became apparent that no recompense would be forthcoming, the old farmer left Netherdale County Court and drove home. The foreclosure on the farm would be enforced within a week. Later that afternoon, he picked up the phone and dialled a local number.
‘North Yorkshire Police,’ the constable intoned.
‘My name is Arthur Shaw, of Manygates Farm. I have just suffocated my wife and son. Will you please send someone as soon as possible?’ He replaced the receiver, and as the young police officer was still wondering whether the call was a hoax, Shaw placed the twin barrels of his 12-bore under his chin and squeezed the trigger.
In the dim light of the club, Naomi’s feeling of unease deepened with every minute. She wished she hadn’t come, wished her friends would turn up. She’d tried to phone them, to send them a text, but indoors the poor signal defeated her. Added to that, every time she looked up she had the feeling of being watched. After the third time, her unease deepened into apprehension approaching fear.
There was nothing new in the sensation of someone watching her. She was used to it, and sometimes even flattered. This, however, was something different. From her position seated near the bar, Naomi identified the source of her disquiet. It was a trio of men sitting at a table alongside the entrance. Admiring glances she could cope with, but there was something sinister in the way they looked her up and down; something dirty, dirty and threatening.
She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes more, enough time to finish her drink then she would leave, whether her friends had arrived or not.
One of the men had left the table. Naomi scanned the room but couldn’t see him amongst the crowd of drinkers. She was still looking towards the far reaches of the room when the man brushed against her, seemingly on his way to the toilet. She didn’t notice his hand move swiftly over her glass, depositing a fine trail of powder on the surface of the liquid.
Enough was enough. Totally unnerved by this encounter, she
finished her drink in a couple of swift gulps, stood up, tucked her handbag securely under her arm and headed for the door. She felt strangely light-headed; not dizzy, more as if she was watching everything that was happening on TV.
She’d almost reached the entrance when the men began to move, standing up one by one, their decision to leave apparently unconnected with her departure. Had Naomi glanced back as the door closed behind her she would have seen this movement, appreciated the menace.
The followers slipped out of the club. They in turn failed to notice someone else on the point of leaving. From a table in the deepest shadow of the room, a man moved easily, gracefully, through the crowd of gyrating bodies on the dance floor, reaching the door before it swung to.
Outside, the cold night air made Naomi reel slightly. This was absurd. She had only had a half of lager, nowhere near enough to make her tipsy, let alone drunk. She looked for a taxi on the rank opposite. To her dismay, the space was empty. Normally, there would be a queue of vehicles waiting to transport revellers home, but not tonight. She would have to walk to the high street if she was to get a cab. And she would have to get one. Walking was not an option. She certainly couldn’t walk from Helmsdale to Bishop’s Cross. Not in the dark, and not in high heels. Even in daylight wearing trainers, she would have serious misgivings about attempting such a hike.
Getting to the high street involved walking down one of the narrow, badly lit alleyways or ginnels that criss-crossed the town centre. Naomi looked back. The street around the club was deserted. She decided to take the chance. The alternative route was much longer. Seconds after she entered the ginnel, the men emerged from the shadow of the doorway and headed towards the spot where she’d been standing.
The alley was dark, unlit, and smelt of urine and stale food, the latter from the wheelie bins along one wall. Naomi’s heels clattered loudly on the cobbles. More than once she felt her ankle almost go over. Ahead, the lights from the high street were
getting closer, but not fast enough for her liking.
She was halfway along the alley, at its darkest point, when she felt a hand grasp her arm below the shoulder. Naomi attempted to scream, but instantly something rough was forced into her mouth, making her gag and almost choke. As the fabric was pushed deeper, hands forced her backwards. She stumbled, her fall accelerated by more hands that pushed her knees forward.
Forced to the ground, Naomi writhed and squirmed, helpless as one of her assailants knelt on her shoulder, whilst another tore at her blouse and the button on her jeans. She felt the man’s hand on her skin before he began tugging at her jeans and panties in an attempt to get them down to her knees, then to her ankles.
As he forced his knee between her legs, Naomi felt something brush against her cheek. Something warm. Something soft. Skin. Nausea threatened to engulf her as she choked against the gag. Dimly, as if from far away, she heard a confused medley of sounds.
The attack ceased abruptly. The pressure on her shoulders and legs eased. She freed herself, reaching up to rid herself of the gag. She heard a thump, a loud groan then a scream accompanied by a sharp crack as of a twig being broken. The crack was repeated; the scream intensified before tailing off to a whimper.
Naomi struggled to sit up, but recoiled at the touch of an arm round her shoulders, then realized someone was helping her, not imprisoning her. ‘Pull your pants up and let’s get out of here before they recover.’
The voice was young, male, but not threatening. Naomi reached down to comply, but blackness overcame her. Shock, relief and the effects of the drugged drink combined, and she collapsed, unconscious.
Their departure from the club had been watched with more than casual interest by one of the bouncers. He recognized the last person to leave and was curious enough to follow him into the street. From there, he saw the final part of the encounter in the alleyway, although given the lack of light, not clearly. He might have gone closer, but was called back via his headset to
deal with a drunk. As he supervised the ejection of the troublemaker, his mind was still on what he had seen. He had no love for the girl’s rescuer; in fact, he detested him.
The bouncer was proud of his reputation as a hard man. It had always been so; even at school. That was at the root of his dislike of the man; that was where he had been humiliated by his adversary. Admittedly, the bouncer had been the one who instigated the playground fight, but he had been confident in his ability to take on anyone of his own age, which made the shame even deeper. He wondered if there was some way the incident he’d just witnessed might be used to give him belated revenge.
Bright light, that was the next thing Naomi recalled. Bright, almost blinding sunlight. She forced her heavy-lidded eyes open. Where was she? This wasn’t her room at home, or at the university. It was a bedroom, but not one she recognized, any more than the bed on which she had been placed or the duvet that covered her.
Memory came back with sickening clarity. She remembered the attack, remembered the release before…. She tried to concentrate. Someone had come to her aid, but what had happened after that? She sat up, feeling the discomfort from bruises on her shins, her shoulders, even her ribcage.
Naomi pushed the duvet back and realized she was wearing the clothes from the previous night: noticed a dark stain on the white fabric of her blouse. Blood? But whose blood? Not hers; of that she was sure. From the window, all she could see was the roofs of other buildings. She swung her legs off the bed, wincing slightly as the movement provoked more discomfort.
Her shoes had been placed neatly against the bedside cabinet. She struggled to put her feet in them, her brain registering with annoyance that her tights were torn. She gave herself a mental shake. If the laddered tights were the only casualty, she’d escaped lightly. But escaped to where? And who had aided that escape?
As if in answer the bedroom door swung open. A tall figure stood in the doorway. Was this her rescuer?
‘Oh, good, you’re awake.’ The man walked across to the bed and helped her up. His voice sounded familiar. ‘Come on, I’ll make you a drink. Coffee? Tea?’
‘Coffee,’ she answered automatically. Her tongue felt swollen, painful, her jaw felt bruised. Naomi remembered the gag. She began to tremble.
‘Steady on. No need to be frightened. You’re safe now.’
As he helped her towards the door, Naomi felt a pounding sensation in her head and moaned slightly.
‘Are you all right?’
‘I’ve got a lousy headache.’ Her voice sounded hoarse, little better than a croak.
‘That’ll be the after-effect of the drug.’
‘What drug?’ Naomi stopped dead, staring at him.
‘One of them emptied a sachet of powder into your drink as he walked past. You were looking the other way.’
The stranger ushered her into a pleasantly furnished living room with a dining alcove at one end.
‘Where am I? Whose place is this? What happened to those men? Who are you?’ The questions tumbled out, matching the chaos of her thoughts.
‘Hang on, one question at a time. First off, you’re in a flat in Helmsdale; my flat, to be precise. As to what happened, those three scrotes were about to rape you until I discouraged them.’
‘Discouraged them?’ she echoed. ‘How did you do that?’
He shrugged. ‘I have my methods. Sit down, and I’ll put the kettle on.’
Naomi chose an easy chair and sat pondering what he’d said; which was very little. What did he mean by ‘I have my methods’? And she still didn’t know his name. She wondered about him. The flat was well furnished. The curtains matched the suite, perhaps decorated with a woman’s touch. Was he married? Not that it mattered. Naomi knew she owed him, if not her life then certainly a huge debt of gratitude. She shivered as she recalled her narrow escape.
‘I put sugar in. It’s supposed to be good for shock.’
She hadn’t heard him enter the room. He seemed to have the ability to move swiftly and silently, despite being neither small, nor slim. She accepted the coffee and sipped it. ‘Tell me what you meant when you said you discouraged them.’
He looked slightly uncomfortable. After a moment, he said, ‘If you mention this to anyone, I’ll deny it happened, deny I ever met you. I’m not supposed to get into fights, or trouble of any kind.’
‘I won’t say a word. Why would I?’
‘Some people would disapprove of what I did.’
‘You think I’d object? After you saved me from goodness knows what? Look, Mr Whoever-you-are, I owe you so much. I’m certainly not going to cause trouble for you. Unless you slit their throats of course?’ Her eyes widened at the thought. ‘You didn’t, did you?’ He smiled slightly and shook his head. ‘Good,’ she added with relief. ‘If you want it to remain secret, I’m quite happy to go along with that.’ She leaned forward and rested her hand briefly on his knee. ‘But don’t ask me to forget meeting you. That I can’t do.’
He smiled again, and Naomi realized that he was quite good-looking.
‘The thing is, I’m a serving soldier. If my CO got to learn of what happened I might be on a disciplinary, even a court martial. Taking it to the extreme, I could even be booted out.’
‘Then I won’t tell anyone what you did.’ Naomi grinned. ‘That’s not difficult, because I don’t actually know what you did. You can tell me because I won’t be able to confirm or deny it.’
‘I knocked out the one who was standing guard. That was easy. We’re trained to do that sort of thing. The one who was about to force you to have oral sex – I stabbed with a biro.’
‘Stabbed him? Where?’
‘Where do you think? You’ve heard the expression “lead in his pencil”? He’s probably got ink in his. He staggered off down the ginnel howling like a timber wolf. As to the third one, I broke a couple of his fingers then roughed him up a bit. Once they’d scarpered I brought you here. Carried, actually, but it isn’t far.
Just as well, because you were unconscious. Luckily, you’re not a heavy girl.’
Reaction took over and Naomi began to weep. He was across the room instantly, placing a consoling arm about her shoulders. ‘Don’t cry, Naomi.’ Her distress caused his anger to resurface. ‘It’s OK, you’re safe now.’
She blinked away her tears and smiled slightly. ‘How do you know my name?’
He pointed towards the table, on which was her handbag. He’d even rescued that.
‘I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you and I don’t even know your name.’
‘Dean.’ He smiled and added, ‘And maybe one day you’ll think of something.’
An hour later, when she was well enough to manage the journey, he escorted her to the bus station. At the depot, she asked casually, ‘Will I see you again?’
‘Are you sure the sight of me won’t bring back bad memories?’
‘I don’t think so. Tell me, though, are you married?’
He stared at her, caught out by her question. ‘No, whatever made you think that?’
‘Then who was responsible for the decor of the flat? Not you, I guess.’
‘My … er … my sister.’ His answer was curt, rude almost; nevertheless, she noticed the hesitation.
‘You didn’t answer my other question,’ she reminded him.
‘About seeing you again? I’d like to, but I don’t want to make any promises. I’m going overseas in a few days. But I’ll call you when I get back, if you don’t mind.’
‘That’ll be nice. I’d better give you my number.’
‘No need, I already made a note of it. I had to go through your bag to see if there was anyone I could call. I phoned myself from your mobile so I could keep the number. In the army, we call that strategy.’
‘Well, Dean, just make sure you do phone me.’
The bus pulled up alongside them and Naomi reached
forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek. ‘Take care, Dean, and come back safe. I’ll be waiting for your call.’
He watched her board the bus and returned her wave as it drew away. It would be something to look forward to during his overseas tour of duty. He pulled his mobile out of his pocket and looked at the picture on screen; stared at Naomi’s red-haired beauty. She really was a lovely-looking girl. He’d taken the photo surreptitiously when she was sitting in his lounge. He would treasure it. And he would certainly call her.
Naomi stared out of the slightly grimy window of the small Dales single-decker bus. She felt a warm glow of satisfaction, relief and pleasure, mingled. Her one doubt was that momentary hesitation when he’d answered her question as to who had decorated the flat. Was he really single? Or had she escaped from the frying pan of attempted rapists into the fire of an adulterer?
She dismissed the idea. Apart from the furnishings, there was nothing to indicate a woman’s presence. The bathroom told her that. There were none of the usual ladies’ toiletries in there. No waxing or depilatory creams, no shampoo or conditioner, merely shower gel and wet shaving gear. And aftershave. Of course, he could be married to the bearded lady, but somehow Naomi didn’t think so.