(West Country England)
The rain is hammering down, I am soaking wet, and vaguely aware of the drips running down my neck and seeping in to my shirt collar. As I lie on the grass verge my eyes become accustomed to a darkness that is only slightly relieved by the young moon, and slowly, I regain a sense of my surroundings and what has happened. Looking down I see that my right jacket sleeve is torn, and wiping my forehead I see the smear of blood on the back of my hand. It's not only rain that is giving me that trickling sensation on the forehead.
I need to get up bu t feel stiff, and looking down see that I am covered in mud and that my left trouser leg is torn, almost shredded. On my feet I am unsteady but I turn around; below, down the slope, away from the road I can make out the remains of two cars. Mine, a silver Range Rover upside down with the engine still running, the exhaust fumes puffing out of the tail pipe, and to the left a blue Volvo estate car on its side with it's badly crushed nose half way up the base of a large tree.
There is an overwhelming smell of petrol mixed with the pooling rain and, as I look, the driver’s door of the Volvo moves upwards. The driver is alive and trying to get out. I automatically move forward to help but there is a lick of flame which instantly engulfs the car and driver, then with an almighty bang the car explodes and a blast of hot air knocks me to the ground again, seconds later a second explosion as the Range Rover goes up as well.
As I come round and open my eyes, there is the flash of blue and red lights, a blazing arc light from up by the road and people in fluorescent yellow jackets scurrying around and talking in loud voices. Two figures are leaning over me and I feel a jab in my right arm, then I am hoisted up, and the image blurring, I am moved towards the open doors of an ambulance.
Three thousand miles away across the Atlantic Pete r Asimov waited for his guest. H e lay back in an armchair near the window sipping a Scotch that he had just poured out of a crystal decanter. He was tired and jet lagged, it had been a long flight from Kiev.
Looking around the room he mused; this is a nice place, shame that there isn’t the time to stay here more oft en. The Penthouse is quite extensive: a large living room, big enough to be furni shed with five lounges, a sixteen — seater dining table, and three large screen TVs, a bar, and three en-s uite bedrooms, each of which have balconies overlooking the city. The only fly in the ointment was the city, Washington! It all happened here so he had to be here sometimes to look after his various interests but he did not like the city.
There was a knock at the door and before he could respond it opened.
“Good morning Jack, thought you might not be coming,” said Asimov.
“I got held up and I only have ten minutes even now.”
“Where's your detail?”
“Outside the door, we need to talk in private.”
“Well, what can I do for you?”
“Don't piss me around Asimov, you know what we are here for. How are you going with that problem of mine?”
“Relax Jack, have a Scotch,” he said pouring him a large measure from the decanter and passing it to him. “In reality you should let Dalrymple go to the wall, someone would pick up the pieces. Unfortunately you and all the other shareholders would lose their money in the process, but that's life, you win some, you lose some.”
“It's all right for you Russian billionaires who robbed the state blind in the nineties, you can afford to lo se a few million here and there; for us poor politicians this kind of investment represents our pension!”
“Now I am feeling sorry for you,” Asimov goaded, but seeing that his guest was about to erupt with rage hurriedly continued. “I have a plan for one of my finance arms to acquire one of your competitors that happens to be a British company called Control Networks based in Bristol, England. We have already approached them and if we are successful and acquire them we can lose your cash issues in the funding for the acquisition and the future development requirements of the merged entity. The secondary benefit is that this other company has the technology to potentially solve your technical issues as well.”
He looked at Asimov in stunned silence, then, “what made you select them?”
“Why, is there a problem? Our research shows t hey happen to be a company that is doing very well, have a lot of upside potential, need money, and could provide the product solutions you need.”
“I agree they could, it ’ s just such a coincidence.”
“What is the coincidence? I don't get you.”
“Never mind,” he said quickly ignoring the question and hastily gathering his thoughts changed the subject. “H ow quickly can this be made to happen? Things are becoming critical. The CEO briefed me a few days ago and he was very down beat on the prospects.”
“Well, suggest to him that we could solve his cash flow problems at the same time as providing the funds for this acquisition; that should cheer him up. You will of course need his help and enthusiasm to make the acquisition work.”
“OK, I will do that, in the meantime you need to make sure this happens. You owe me, so don't let me down.”
I won't,” said Asimov.
There was a tap at the door, “ I need to get going,” he said looking at his watch as he moved towards the door.
“Nice seeing you again,” said Asimov, but the door was already closed and he was alone again. The truth was that there were still a few hurdles in the way of the acquisition, more than he had admitted. Getting over those hurdles would require a robust approach, to put it mildly! What could the ‘coincidence’ have been that his guest was reluctant to talk about?
Asimov resented the need to be involved in this. Over the past 15 years he had built up a large and vastly profitable business based on his acquisitions in Russia in the nineties. Those had been tough times and had frequently required extreme measures to ensure survival, but over the last 5 years he had been progressively cleaning up the corporation until it was now squeaky clean. The last thing he needed was an involvement in other peoples problems, although he acknowledged that there were favours to be repaid and more importantly favours that might still be needed in the future.
Somebody is trying to poke my eye out, I jerk my head, open my eyes and see a startled figure in a white coat leaning over. I slowly look around, I am in bed, and a nurse is standing next to the doctor who has tried to look at my pupil and in the process woken me up. I have a bandage on my head and right arm, a drip in my left arm, and I feel really sore as I try to move. The nurse moves to restrain me. “Please lie still”. It all becomes a blur as I lose consciousness again.
Some time later I wake and the room is empty. I lie there with my eyes closed, feeling sore and fragile, and not too concerned about where I am, just pleased to drift in and out of sleep. Hours later I wake again and start to think again and remember what has happene d, the memories are vivid. The repeated crash and bumping of the Volvo hitting the rear of the Range Rover as it tried to get me to stop or run me off the road, and then a particularly violent smash and the Volvo seeming to hook on under the rear tow bar, the loss of control, and the crash through the low dry stone wall at the side of the road. Finally, turning over, and the crashing and scraping sound as we careered down the embankment, a sudden jolt as the car slammed to a stop and the air bags exploding around me. The increasingly pungent smell of petrol as I come round hanging upside down with the seat belt biting in to my shoulder. Then mounting panic as the absolute fear of fire sharpens my senses, got to get out! The fight with the airbags, the struggle to open the door and undo the seat belt and then falling out on to the grass to crawl away up the slope. The explosion, I was lucky to be alive!
Am I seriously injured? I carry out an inventory. I seem to have both legs and arms, I am heavily bandaged around the chest, I can see OK, and I remember hearing the nurse so my hearing is OK. Everything seems to be there, so presumably not too bad although it is really sore to move much.
What a mess! It is a lie that you wake up in hospital having forgotten everything. I can remember everything only too clearly! I have to get out of here!
Gingerly, I swing my legs, one at a time, over the edge of the bed. Then I sit up. A flash of pain stops me in my tracks! Half sitting with one elbow on the pillow, I think, broken rib, it feels like it, maybe more than one. I gather the courage to move again and stand up, holding my upper body rigid so as to avoid the shooting pain.
Standing by the side of the bed I look down at the drip. Why do I have a drip? I can't believe that I have lost enough blood to justify that; it must be so as to administer a drug, a painkiller perhaps. Now what happens when you remove a drip? From watching those soaps on TV I think they just pull it out and put a plaster on. So I pull it out and with no plaster my right index finger applying pressure has to do.
Now what? Where are my clothes? In the wardrobe cupboard in the corner seems a reasonable guess although they were possibly too badly damaged in the crash to warrant keeping. I move over and open the door. No luck, except there is a dressing gown. Slowly I manage to slip this on and it fits! There's also a pair of towel slippers. I move across to the bedside where I find my wallet, watch, and some keys in the drawer. For some reason the ‘‘‘phone is not there. The watch tells me it is nine pm.
I carefully open the room door. I have to get out of here before they arrive! Outside there is a corridor with doors off to each side and the nurses’ reception desk is about 40 feet away to the right. In the gloom of the dimmed night lighting I can see what looks like a guy in uniform, a cop, slouching in a chair to the left of the reception, probably asleep. To the left the corridor ends in an emergency exit with a crash type door. Slowly I move out in to the corridor, there is nobody else around; presumably, only a skeleton staff at this time of night. Suddenly I hear movement and voices behind me round the bend further up the corridor so I open the first door and step in closing it behind me. Inside I sense there is someone in the bed, apparently asleep. As the movement outside comes closer I step in to the wardrobe and wait.
There is a rattle of a door across the corridor, the sound of a few words of conversation, then the door closing and the steps moving away. Miraculous if they do not notice my room is now empty! My luck is in, with miracles coming in twos. In the wardrobe is a man's suit! The trousers vaguely fit, with the legs rolled up, and the jacket also fits, 'though a bit loose. The hospital nightdress, under the jacket and trousers, looks like a polo necked shirt. All really quite presentable apart from the white towel slippers, but unfortunately there are no shoes. That cannot be helped and I move out in to the dimly lit corridor again. I look at my watch and see it is 9.30pm. Which day? Presumably the crash was a day ago and I have been here 24 hours. As I move over eagerly to the emergency door a flash of pain right through the left side of my chest brings me to a sudden halt and I scream silently through gritted teeth.
At the door I stand and look to see if it is alarmed. It appears to be wedged open. As I open the door and move on to the balcony steps outside I can see why. This is smoko's corner, where everyone comes for an illicit cigarette; there are butts everywhere. I am on the third floor and below me through the gloomy wet night I can see that I am overlooking the car park, the main entrance to the building appears to be on the other side. It takes me 20 minutes of stop-start effort to get down 6 flights of stairs to the ground. The exercise is gradually loosening the muscles and by the time I reach the bottom I can walk nearly normally providing I hold my chest rigid to avoid the shooting pains. There is no one around and as I pass the other floors I can see that all lights have been dimmed for the night. I wish it would stop raining! At the base of the steps I look around and wonder what to do. I am not exactly mobile so I need transport. I have no skills related to breaking in to and starting a car in the car park and it would be pushing my luck too far to hope someone has left their keys in the car.
I move around towards the front of the building. Here the entrance is a blaze of light making the concrete of the driveway and entrance porch to the Accident and Emergency unit glisten in the incessant rain. I slump down just out of sight behind a hedge, glad of the rest, and contemplate what to do. Above all I have to get out of here quickly, but plainly I cannot walk out and I am getting soaked! While I am sitting there an ambulance enters the driveway, lights flashing and pulls up outside the doors. The driver gets out and together with a colleague from inside the vehicle they quickly push a stretcher inside. Could I steal the ambulance? Did the driver leave the keys? Before I could answer the question the crew return. Opportunity gone. The ambulance moves off and it is quiet again.
Suddenly a car screams in through the gate, gets the bend wrong on the drive and takes a whole strip of carefully nurtured roses with it. It navigates back on to the drive and screeches to a halt outside the entrance. A man jumps out of the drivers’ door and runs round to the rear passenger door shouting as he goes. The door opens and a woman can be seen sitting there nursing someone or something on her lap. The man runs in to the doorway yelling as he goes and seconds later reappears with two staff and a stretcher trolley. What looks like a young girl is loaded on to the stretcher and all disappear inside with the man gesticulating and talking at the top of his voice.
In the meantime, there is a car, engine running. Miracle three?
I feel guilty but I am in the drivers seat quickly and off down the drive at a rate of knots. I quickly get on to the by-pass and then on to the motorway. I now need to find somewhere to rest up. A hotel and some shoes!
Gerry Dawson, a balding middle-aged, anonymous looking and apparently innocuous civil servant has had a bad day. Beneath his calm exterior he is absolutely bristling with rage. The target had nearly been killed and then he had disappeared and there was no clue as to his whereabouts. An icy call a few minutes ago had made it clear that they did not approve of failures like that and he felt worried!
Earlier he had learnt that Martin Lever had been in a car smash the previous night; the vehicles had caught fire and the police and ambulance called. One man was dead, (possibly his contractor), and Lever in hospital. The police involvement would make things difficult. Now he had just heard that before they could get to him, Lever had disappeared from the hospital. It seemed he might have stolen a visitor’s car.
His PA knocked on the door and entered with a sheaf of papers and photos. Included are Images of a shadowy figure, (presumably Lever), outside the hospital. Pity that security staff were not looking at the monitors! He told Anne to find out where Naismith was and tell him to get in as soon as possible. In the meantime leave him and close the door. His demeanour made it clear that despite the hour she should stay until he said she could go.
He took a ‘‘‘phone out of his pocket and sent off a text message. Five minutes later and his ‘‘‘phone buzzed with the reply. He closed the Lever file he was reviewing, grabbed his jacket, and left.
Down stairs in the car park he got in to his car and drove out in to the evening gloom. It was raining, and the reflection of the street lights gleamed from the wet road surface. In 10 minutes he was down at the city wharf and in to an open space used as a car park. At this time of the day it was nearly empty with one car at the far end and another standing isolated in the centre.
He drove over to o ne end that overlooked where a lock linked the canal to the harbour, and got out. It had stopped raining and it felt fresh. He took a deep breath and looked at his watch, 10.30pm. As he looked up a set of headlights entered the other end of the car park and moved towards him, pulling up next to his car. He got in to the passenger seat. The car was full of cigarette smoke and he coughed violently before getting the window open and cursing the driver
The driver looked like your typical 1950's East End villain stereotype. Late forties early fifties, thin faced and balding with his remaining hair left long and plastered across to conceal it, oversize jacket hanging on a spare frame, and a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. Could have been one of the Krays! “For gods sake put that out!” and, “what the hell went wrong Reg,” said Dawson in a raised voice. “This was a simple straight forward job. You were to hurt him a little as a warning, not try and kill him!”
Reg wound down his window and threw his cigarette out. “Don't know what happened Guv. Haven't got to the bottom of it yet.”
“Well you need to get a grip on this. First you need to find him and keep track of him and it needs to happen quickly! If we find him first I will let you know but keep me updated. Don't touch him unless I say so.”
With that, Dawson got out of the car slamming the door, and drove off in his own car, tyres screeching.
Back at the office, Naismith had returned as ordered and sat talking to Anne while waiting for Dawson to return. “Watch out, he is in one hell of a mood” said Anne. “Something seems to have gone wrong. After he had a call this evening I thought he was going to implode! I have never seen him so angry. He thinks he hides it, but after 5 years I know all the signs, and he was looking as mean as I have ever seen him.”
“He's always mean and nasty,” said Naismith. I don't know how you could have stayed with him so long, and working these hours!”
“Money's good!” she replied.
At that point Dawson walked in and called Naismith to follow him in to his office and shut the door. He threw a set of photo's and background notes on to the desk in front of Naismith and said. “Drop everything else. Whatever it takes we have to find this man and quickly, so tell your team no more lazing around and get to work. When you've found him, don't go near him, just set up a tail and let me know immediately.” Dawson filled in the details of the last known location of Martin Lever and without another glance started working on his computer. Naismith picked up the papers and left, shrugging his shoulders as he passed Anne.
In the meantime I was in a hotel out at the airport. There had been a pair of walking boots in the car boot, and while they were a little small and were not smart they looked a lot better and less noticeable than the white hospital slippers. They would do for now. I had dumped the car in the long-term car park, caught the courtesy bus in to the terminal and then a hotel courtesy bus to the Hilton. Checking in had seemed to take forever and I had paid cash which all hotels hate, as they like the flexibility of getting and logging the plastic details. To explain the lack of luggage I had told the reception that the airline had lost it and to let me know if the airline rang with any news of it.
In the shop in the foyer I had purchased a range of painkillers and then gone to my room. I was seriously hurting. There did not seem to be any part of my body that did not ache, even my feet were protesting at being crippled by the undersized boots! I hung the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the outside of the door, locked it and then closed the room curtains. In the bathroom I opened my pills, got some water and taking what I guessed would not be a fatal overdose, stripped off my clothes as I walked back in to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. I hoped I had bought some time as I needed to sleep, and I did.
In down town Bristol Alec Bell paced his office. It was late, everyone else had gone for the day and he also needed to get home and get some sleep. It had been a long day, not unusual at the moment, but a day that had started early with the news of the car crash and that Martin was in hospital. Martin was his technical director and a good friend. He was a key part of the company's future and a vital part of the team, particularly at the present time.
Visiting the hospital he had found Martin unconscious or asleep but a doctor had told him that he was not seriously injured, concussion, severely bruised ribs and some severe skin abrasions was the likely verdict. They would know for sure later when he'd had some rest and came round from the sedative. Alec had been surprised to see that the police were still at the hospital, and while they would not say anything specific it appeared that the car smash might not have been a straightforward accident.
Bell was CEO of Control Networks Ltd., and as he paced his executive office on the 25th floor of the Control Networks building he wondered if this was just an accident or whether something much more sinister was going on. This niggling thought just added to the tension in his gut. For once he was oblivious to the magnificent view from his office looking down over the sprawling city lights of Bristol, with the harbour and the SS Great Britain a marvellous spectacle below him, and in the distance the Clifton Gorge and the illuminated Brunel's Suspension Bridge clearly visible despite the rain.
As I opened my eyes I could not, for a moment, remember where I was. Then it came flooding back. The sun light was doing its best to get round and through the clos ed curtains, a nice day perhaps? I rolled over and a pain shot up my side. After a few moments I tried again and slowly put my legs over the side of the bed, grabbed some pills and staggered to the bathroom. In the bathroom I splashed water over my face and washed the pills down with water. I felt groggy, so I stuck my head under the shower and let it run. After a while I lathered those areas not covered by my chest bandage and washed my hair. It never failed, a hair wash always wakes me up and gets me thinking at normal speed, and I almost felt human again. Drying myself as I stepped back in to the room I took a further dose of pills; providing I was careful the ribs seemed to be under control. Sitting on the bed I started to draw up a list of things to do.
In the short term I needed a pair of shoes. Then I needed to get out of the hotel. I had been careful not to use a credit card but the airport and surrounds were bristling with CCTV cameras so presumably I would be traced before long. Which led me to another thought. If they, whoever they were, were able to trace my card use then I had to use cash that meant I needed more than I was currently carrying and could get from an ATM. I had better get to the bank.
I dressed, went down stairs, settled the bill, and caught the courtesy bus back out to the airport where in a shoe shop I bought a pair of trainers. Further along the airport mall I bought some underwear and socks, shirts, a pair of Jeans and a corduroy jacket. Next door I bought a cheap travel bag and in the gents bathroom dressed in fresh clothes. I had to get a move on. There had been no alternative but to use a credit card so if and when they did get on to that I did not want to be around.
I caught the bus in to Bristol and walked to the bank just round the corner from the office. I filled in a withdrawal form for 5,000 cash and after extensive identity checks the cashier disappeared, possibly to check with higher authority; a nerve racking few minutes in the semi paranoid state I was in. After what seemed an age the cashier returned with additional cash from the safe, logged it in to her till and then counted out my? 5,000. At my request it was mostly tens and twentys, although they did top it up with fifties. Apparently the short notice made that necessary. The cashier looked on as I stuffed a thousand in tens and twenties in to my jacket pocket and put the rest in to the travel bag.
Outside the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. The bank was at one end of a shopping mall and I wandered down the pedestrian precinct until I found a coffee shop. Inside I queued up and ordered a large latte, but in a mug; I hated latte in a glass. It was not on the menu but I established that they could do me a bacon sandwich and picking up a sachet of HP sauce on the way went and found a table in the gloom at the back of the shop.
Time to think and plan what to do now. As I sat there I thought back over recent events…
The Company I worked for, Control Networks, a software systems company, was a young company at a particularly delicate stage of development. Control Networks was already a half billion pound corporation, expanding rapidly, and likely to continue to do so if it could continue to survive the growing pains. Alec Bell the CEO, and I had founded the Company some 8 years ago and had managed to build a strong team in Bristol, the same area where both of us had been brought up. With Alec running the company as CEO, I was the Technical Director or CTO and among other things led the team working on the ForceNet project development that was close to stage one completion.
With the help of a cash injection from a venture capitalist a few years ago growth had been meteoric and exciting if somewhat bumpy and stressful at times. The ForceNet product had been developed as a result of an extensive research and development programme and it was the stage one completion of this development that was currently under test. ForceNet would significantly add to our product offering and this first stage development would provide the product for our next growth phase, although it only represented a part of the long-term plan.
A successful launch of ForceNet would accelerate sales growth, so as we waited for the outcome of testing and trials the mounting tension in the whole senior team was palpable. All of the senior team had a stake in the future success of the Company, and while at the moment we had to conserve cash and therefore did not pay dividends, that would eventually change.
An alpha release of software had been on test for some time and those tests were close to completion; I was receiving progress reports daily. Once the tests were completed and all of the fixes and changes had been incorporated in to the core software and satisfactorily retested then we would compile a beta release for a controlled and progressive release at up to 5 sites. These had been carefully selected, and were with some suitable long term committed customers that we could rely on and where the initial application of the product was not critical to their operation. The alpha phase was close to completion and we expected to move to beta in the next week or so.
Adding to the tension at senior management levels was the fact that Control Networks was about to go for an IPO on the London Market. The prospectus was almost finished, due diligence had been completed and was waiting for a sign off, and the brokers envisaged giving the go ahead to the board in the next 2 weeks. Once finally approved by the board then the brokers would be watching the market and arranging a float date with the market authorities.
The Company needed a substantial injection of funds to take ForceNet to market while at the same time getting on with developing stages 2 and 3. Although we were now earning substantial trading income, the heavy research programme meant that we were still consuming significantly more cash than we were earning. It was deemed that the best route to raise more cash was through an IPO rather than another round of Venture Capital or possibly bank finance; the latter would have been difficult to achieve at our development stage. We were looking to raise? 250 million and it was planned that an IPO would provide those funds while at the same time allowing the venture capitalists to sell some or all of their shares in to the float, thereby realising on their investment. Other shareholders would not be able to sell their shareholdings for at least a year but potentially I was going to become a rich man, even if only on paper at first. That did not seem so important at the moment, I just felt glad to be alive and wanted to stay that way!
In some ways it was unfortunate that we were at such a critical stage of new product development at the same time as raising money on the market. Preparing for the float was a major distraction from the business for the whole team, and in particular for Alec, and Bill Williams our Financial Director, but one had to go to the market when the opportunity was right and the ForceNet product gave the Company the kind of “blue-sky” appeal that gave stockbrokers and bankers wet dreams.
To further complicate matters, a few weeks ago Alec had received a call from a boutique investment bank, Allied Grampian, who wanted to come and see him. It transpired that an unnamed group was interested to know if the Company was for sale. The price hinted at looked good but not good enough to urgently take back to the board when we were so far down the IPO route, so after an informal ring around the directors we decided not to take it further.
Despite intense in-house security there were already rumours in the market that the Company was about to introduce a major new product and this was stimulating interest in the Company. The brokers were able to project a high float price to encourage us to take the IPO route. They and the lawyers and accountants would make a killing in fees if the float were successful.
ForceNet was a powerful piece of software and it had become clear over the past year that its military applications were even more potent than the large-scale commercial applications for which it had originally been developed. Eighteen months ago, Tom Gale, one of the senior developers had asked for a meeting with Alec and I. Tom was a games freak, particularly computer war games, and had a passionate interest in military hardware. He ’d claimed that with some adaptation, ForceNet had the potential capacity to control and manage multiple squadrons or large numbers of unmanned aircraft or drones. If ForceNet could, as Tom believed it could, facilitate a major step forward in the effective a nd instant control of units and /or fleets of unmanned aircraft to allow rapid decision making and action in attack or defence situations the military implications were amazing. The secret was in the user interface of ForceNet that provided a constant detailed overview that allowed rapid decision-making at varying levels. It had the potential, to put whoever had access to it, years ahead in this technology. Drone technology is advancing rapidly not only for military applications but also for commercial use so if our product was applicable then it was a huge potential market for the company.
At first Alec and I had been a bit shaken by this and somewhat sceptical, but asked Tom to let us have a short confidential report on his ideas, while we considered what to do next. Tom had said he would do so and also told us that he had an old student friend at the Ministry of Defence whom he thought it might be worth talking to.
It turned out that the “old student friend”, Dean Jones, was more than just any one at the MoD, he was a recognised expert on military drones or unmanned aircraft! He ’s co me to see us and I immediately smelled a rat. Although he did not refer to it directly he seemed to have a “feeling”, for ForceNet.
Afterwards Alec and I had grilled Tom but he denied that he had leaked any ForceNet information, although under pressure it became clear that he and Dean Jones had on several occasions had free wheeling speculative discussions on the issues involved in controlling and developing squadrons of unmanned aircraft.
Two days later Alec had received a call from a Nick Ridley, a 'mandarin' at the Ministry of Defence. He wa nted some of his team to come a long for an informal chat, and a few days later a deputation of five people from the MoD had arrived. They understood that we had a new product called ForceNet, could they have some detailed information? Did we design the product for military application? Who were we planning to sell it too? Were there any prospective customers; if so who were they and had they seen the product in detail? They were also interested in our security set up. What were our procedures? How was the software protected?
The Company has what all of the staff believe are draconian security procedures controlling premises, staff vetting, and software control and compilation. We were targeting our new software at very large corporations, and they were limited in number, and there were some key competitors in the market, particularly in the US, so we did not want our concepts and designs leaking. Alec in particular, was anal at ensuring security procedures were followed.
Present at the meeting with the MoD had been a somewhat dour looking Scotsman called Gordon Stewart, who seemed to have a 'watching' brief and contributed little to the meeting. At the end of the meeting however, as everyone was leaving, he took Alec to one side and suggested that the MoD interest should not be taken lightly and could be an interesting opportunity for the company.
“In what was the MoD interested?” Alec had asked.
“Not for me to say on that.”
He ’d then offered to send people in to overview our security arrangements. Alec had accepted the offer but his jaw dropped when Stewart asked if we had recognised that it was possible that the ForceNet development could be restricted and classified in the national interest. He had refused to clarify what he meant and left.
Life for me had become further complicated with the arrival of my brother at my house one evening. Now, as I sat there at the back of the coffee shop drinking a second coffee I recalled that evening.
Adrian is 10 years my junior and is at Cambridge where he is studying Mathematics. As brothers go we are very different. We both share the interest in Mathematics but whereas I am competent and managed a good degree, he is much cleverer and is probably going to be recognised as a brilliant mathematician one day. Whereas I am reasonably conventional and joined the commercial world when I graduated, he has stayed on to do a PhD at Cambridge and is something of a nerd with limited social skills and a passion for playing with computers. We are not particularly close but as my younger brother I had always looked after him following the de ath of our parents when I was seventeen. These days he didn't really need much looking after except for the occasional 'loan' to supplement his student finances. When I ’d opened the door to him that evening that was what I expected he had come for.
“Hi Adrian, this is a surprise, good to see you. Come on in.”
“Thanks, sorry I didn't call first.”
“No matter, good to see you; get your coat off and come on through to the lounge. Do want a beer?”
I ’d retrieved beers for us both from the kitchen and we ’d both sat down in front of the log fire that was glowing in the old fireplace. It was a cold night and as I had not brought any work home I had planned to sit in front of the fire and watch a movie. “Well, how are you?” I ’d asked, “how is the thesis going, are you nearly there? I don't expect I will fully understand it but I would love to read it when you are finished.”
“It's going well,” he ’d responded. “I am working with a team in the area of quantum physics and I am focused on probability problems. We have been making some good progress and hopefully I will have enough for my thesis in about six months time. It's a really fascinating subject and I have been offered a job working with this team when I have finished the PhD.”
“That sounds like good news. Have you eaten, I was just going to knock together a pasta, easy for me to increase the quantity for you?”
“That would be great,” he said as he ’d followed me through to the kitchen, where I ’d put water on the stove to cook the pasta and began grating the Parmesan, and chopping the tomatoes and smoked bacon. “You have a really nice place here.”
“Well it is nice to have it all finished and not be coming home to a builders mess every night.”
“I can imagine.”
Fifteen minutes later we ’d sat down again in front of the fire with a bowl of pasta and a glass of Brolio, my favourite Chianti.
“This is good, I see you have not lost your culinary skills,” said Adrian, “worth the journey just for the food!”
I ’d smiled, “talking of journeys, I assume you will stay tonight? The spare bedroom is ready and waiting.”
“Yes, OK thanks.”
We had cleared the empty food bowls in to the kitchen and the dishwasher and sat down again with a second glass of wine.
“Well,” I ’d said after a few minutes of silence, “what's new?”
“Nothing much apart from the job. My girlfriend has moved over to Pill.”
“Ah! Is that why I am seeing you, you are on the way to Pill? Is there still a ferry running across the river at Pill? I can remember using it with Mum and Dad when we were kids.”
“Yes, I remember, not sure if it's still there.”
The silence had been loud and as I ’d looked at him he hesitated.
“Look Martin, I am not sure I should really have come here. I have a problem and need some help but hesitate to get you in to trouble as well.”
“Pleased to help. How can you get me in to trouble? Not b roken the law have you? A criminal on the run,” I‘d said jokingly.
“Not exactly,” he ’d responded; at which I ’d stopped joking and sat still and upright looking at him. Now I looked more closely he looked tired and tense.
“You haven't been hacking again, have you? You promised after the last time that you would stay away from that in future.”
“About six months ago I got involved with a group of people on line and a few of us locals met at the pub, the Bull if you remember it?”
“Yes I do.”
“Well, we all got on well, and some of them knew some of the other guys on line in the group personally and all seemed to have similar outlooks on life. We all despise the current hypocrisy of politicians and to cut a long story short we formed a small group calling ourselves The Truth Brigade. The informal aim of the group was to highlight evidence of political lies and hypocrisy, usually in the form of documents and then release it to press or news bl ogs. Relatively harmless really, we had no real agenda and it was all rather ad hoc. We conferenced on line and those of us who were locals began to meet regularly at the pub. We outed some items to the press but nothing too serious.”
“I assume you hacked private computer systems to get these documents? Strictly illegal and if caught you could get a prison sentence.” I ’d said somewhat pretentiously as big brothers tend to do.
“I know, but as I said none of it was too serious,…. But it became so.”
“One of the group found a strange site whose origin was unclear. Several of the group had worked on it periodically over a few weeks. Don't ask me why, but for some reason it was intriguing. It was innocent looking on the surface but there was just something about it that got us to keep going back to it. Then finally I got past a password barrier and the site had opened up in to a mass of data files. After a while a clear warning that I was in a secure US government site had come up on screen but I'm afraid I ignored it and proceeded to explore the site. The site had not seemed of much interest, lists of military personnel and histories etc. with pages of meaningless numbers and dates and eventually, when I was about to pack up, I stumbled on a file of videos.”
“The file was called Raven and there were what looked like transcripts accompanied by video records of prisoner interrogations. Some were quite innocuous but a few were showing the most extreme physical torture techniques. There had been little or no extra security on these files despite the nature of the contents, almost as if the files had been located there in error. I was downloading one of the files, for reasons I will explain in a minute, when up came a warning that I had been detected and a message flashed across the screen that what I had done was a breach of the law and of national security and that it would be in my best interests to surrender to police now before they arrest me. It was obviously an automated response but it unnerved me and I disconnected immediately. In the meantime the file down load had completed.
“I have the file here with me on disc. It is a record of several sessions, of one prisoner, presumably over a number of days. Can I play it to you?”
“Do I really want or need to see this?” I ’d said looking straight at him.
“Well, that is why I hesitated to talk to you, but I had no one else to discuss it with outside the group. They are great guys but I am not sure I would trust them with involvement in this; I can only discuss it with someone I trust. I admit that it might not be a good idea for you to see it but unless you do you will not know what I am talking about.”
“It is not the torture that is the cause of the problem. That is abhorrent and repulsive. The problem is that I think I recognise one of the officers conducting the interrogations, and if I am right it could be political dynamite. Are you going to look at it?”
I ’d hesitated, “OK,” I ’d nodded, and he slotted the disc in to my DVD player and pressed play.
The video showed a room with dirty white plaster walls in the centre of which sat a man apparently strapped in to a chair and illuminated by bright lights. Two men were brandishing what looked like flexible baseball bats, and in between blows they yelled unintelligible questions at him. Periodically they referred to someone off camera, for directions. When the prisoner seemed to go unconscious he was doused in a bucket of water and the beatings paused. Then it started again and amidst the screams and shouted questions, the camera suddenly zoomed out revealing a panel of three men sitting in a row at a table on one side; they were obviously the ones directing events. The camera quickly zoomed back in on the prisoner but not before one had a reasonably clear shot of the three men
“I don't want to look at much more of this,” I ’d said, “what am I looking for?”
Adrian rewound to the shot of the three men and froze the image. “Look at the three men sitting to one side, in particular the one on the right, is he not familiar?”
I ’d looked at the frozen image and tried within the limitations of my player to move it on frame by frame until I had a good image of the man in question. I stopped and stared.
I ’d looked at Adrian. “You're not really suggesting that is…it's impossible it couldn't be,” I ’d said.
“This video was shot some time ago, maybe as much as 8 years ago, possibly in the Middle East or Central Europe perhaps. The man has changed and the photography is also not good, which together with the shadows makes recognition more difficult. “
I ’d stared again at the image.
“I have enhanced a still like that and can show you.” With that he ’d taken out a laptop from his bag that was on the floor beside him and fired it up. “We are not used to seeing him in uniform and he has aged but I don't think there is much doubt.”
There was no doubt; he was looking at a picture of the Vice President of the United States. “What on earth would he be doing there?” I ’d said.
“Well he was a career CIA man and eventually deputy director of the CIA before he became the presidential running mate and subsequently Vice President. He was in one of the hot seats after 9/11, so he would have been close to it anyway. This seems to show that he directed it.”
“Who else has seen this?” I ’d said. “This would be dynamite politically if this became public knowledge.”
“No one, but they, whoever they are, will be tracing me. It will not be simple for them to do so, but if this is the CIA they have some of the best people possible so it will only be a matter of time.”
“God, Adrian, do you never learn? The shit could really hit the fan with this! They will make the hacking a major offence to which a long prison sentence is attached. When did you do this?”
“Last night, I haven't slept since. I keep going over and over it in my mind, trying to think what to do next.”
“How long do you think it will take for them to trace you?”
“If they are lucky, 2 or 3 days, but I have been totally off air since so it will take them some time.”
“I need a drink, do you want a Scotch?” I ’d said getting up and retrieving a bottle from the cupboard in the kitchen.
“I am not sure what you should do. It seems to me that if you admit it and hand yourself in you will inevitably be extradited to the US, and from what I have seen in the news they are getting incredibly tough on crimes like this.”
“It's not just my crime,” Adrian had said. “Don't get me wrong, I know what this means and what a fix I could be in, but also people need to know that this is happening!”
“I agree in ideal circumstances people should know but this could be the rest of your life you are talking about ruining.”
“You don't need to remind me.”
“You idiot! What gets in to you?” I ’d said pacing the lounge floor and my voice getting louder as I spoke. “You have a perfectly good career developing and then you go and do something like this!”
“No need to shout. I think I had better leave you to it,” he ’d said getting up and grabbing his jacket.
“No”, I ’d said grabbing him by the arm. “I think we should sleep on it, and discuss it again in the morning, you know where the spare bed is.” With that I patted him on the shoulder and went off to bed.
The fool, how on earth do we get him out of this? I ’d also had this nagging thought that perhaps prosecution was not the onl y thing that Adrian had to fear; people in that position would not want the video to become public and maybe were in a position to take extreme measures to stop it happening!
The next morning, after some discussion over breakfast, we ’d agreed Adrian would go back to his digs and get his main computer and any other evidence of the transgression that he might have and bring it back with him. He would then come and stay with me for a few days while we thought it through. I ’d gone off to work.
He was met at the door by a colonel in full uniform who greeted him with a salute and, “can't you stay away?”
“Take my word for it Bob, I would not be here if I didn't have to be, where's the meeting?”
“The colonel turned and said, we hold the Raven meetings in a secure room, follow me please.”
“I don't want my attendance at this meeting officially recorded, is that understood?”
“No problem. There will only be two others present.”
After following a number of winding corridors they turned in to a brightly lit but windowless room where two uniformed men awaited.
'Let's get started, why don't you bring us up to speed Tom,” said the Colonel turning to one of the two men.
“Well, as you know we have identified the source of the site intrusion and the nature of the download so the question is what we do about it. It is clearly a breech of the law and we are confident it would carry a conviction for the individual concerned, the difficulty being that the individual is a UK citizen. Do we go ahead and seek extradition?”
“We can't risk going through the normal procedures,” he said. “What about rendition and then trial here?”
“Rendition!” exclaimed the colonel. “Are you sure we want to do that. We have never done that before against a UK citizen in the UK, if it got out it would be risky.”
“Yes, I know, but I think it is the only route. Remember none of this would be necessary if your people hadn’t allowed that Raven file to be on a low security site to be hacked by any Tom, Dick, or Harry!”
“I can’t explain how that happened sir, but are you sure we should take such extreme action?”
“There is no viable alternative.”
“OK, but I am going to have to ask for that order in writing.”
His displeasure showed and he frowned heavily, “Alright, I will get that to you.”
As they walked back out to his car the Colonel said, “this would not have such high priority and we would not be doing it this way if it were not for your personal considerations.”
“ Bob, a re you refusing to do it?”
“No, but I do want that written order.”
“You'll get your written order,” he rasped and stalked off to his waiting car.
(West Country England)
I ordered yet another coffee and continued to go through, in my mind the sequence of events that had got me in to this…
Having gone in to the office the day following Adrian’s arrival I ’d learnt that Allied Grampian had called again and persuaded Alec that their client really was serious and that we should at least meet and see what t he y were offering. The client was apparently in Bristol that day and when they had suggested lunch Alec had reluctantly agreed.
Lunch had been at a restaurant on the wharf and when Alec and I arrived we ’d been shown to a booth where three other men were already seated. They all rose as we arrived, one was Stewart Logan from Allied Grampian, a tall, greying Scots banker, probably in his fifties. I had done some brief research on him and he seemed to have a reputation as a reliable middle of the road investment banker.
Logan had introduced the other two as a Mr Octavian Plavsic and his colleague Mr Joseph Narai from an obscure sounding company called Mendip Finance. Plavsic, obviously the boss, was in his early to mid forties; dressed expensively in a dark suit, grey silk shirt and tie, and shiny black moccasin shoes. If he had not had a soft east European accent he might almost have come out of a Mafia movie! His colleague had the same accent but was in a more conventional grey city suit, late twenties, and carried the briefcase and papers. We all shook hands and sat down.
Over lunch the conversation had been routine including the usual England World Cup recriminations. Plavsic commented that England seemed to have lost the will to win in soccer as well as many other areas. I am not a fan of heavy Italian food at lunchtime and after strugglin g through pasta with salad I’d been glad to see Logan start to get down to business.
He ’d briefly described the services offered by his bank and said that Mendip Finance were long standing clients of the bank. Narai, prompted by Plavsic, and frequently interrupted by him, had then gone on to talk about Mendip Finance. In short it turned out that they were an investment and trading company based in London and Zurich. He claimed Mendip was involved in commodity trading in Africa and Asia and had equity investments in a number of corporations in the UK, Germany and USA.
I have little time for all of this type of padding and had interrupted. “OK, so why are you interested in us, I do n't sense much synergy?' I sense d Alec sighing quietly at my impatience and lack of finesse.
“Well,” Plavsic had said, “you might be surprised at the range of businesses we have invested in. We are interested in making money and we believe that when you launch ForceNet this company will make real money.'' Alec had glanced at me. ForceNet was not a published name and no public announcements had been made about the product.
Logan saw my glance and said, “It's widely rumoured in the market that you have a major new product, that is why your brokers are able to wind up the prospective IPO price.”
“Let's stop beating the bush” said Plavsic, “is that the right expression?”
“Beating about the bush,” I ’d corrected with a tired smile.
“Thank you,” he ’d said returning the smile, and then turning to Alec, “We would like to buy your company and are prepared to pay a very good price. It would be a full cash purchase. Nearly as good as you might get from a successful IPO but with much greater certainty, none of the risks of an IPO, and far fewer restrictions on the current shareholders.”
“We all know the complicatio ns of a public offering,” Stewart Logan had added, “there is a lot to be said for not going down that road.” He ’d then looked at Plavsic, who ’d continued.
“Of course we would still want you two involved in the Company and there could be an opportunity for you to retain equity so as to participate in the future benefits of the new products if you wished.”
Alec had looked at me sideways, and then said to Plavsic. “We can look at any offer although you need to understand that we are a long way down the road to preparing for a float so I am not sure how interested we would be at changing course at this late stage. To get the attention of our board you would need to move quickly”.
Plavsic nodded at Logan who ’d said, “We could get a draft term sheet to you by tomorrow afternoon”.
We ’d been stunned that they were ready to move so rapidly but Alec recovered quickly and said, “to make any offer meaningful Allied Grampian would also need to give us some form of Letter of Comfort that Mendip Finance have the resources to be able to do a deal like this. No disrespect Mr Plavsic, but we don't know you or your company, and we would need to be able to convince my board that the proposal merited them spending time reviewing it, by providing some evidence that you would be able to complete should a deal be done”.
“Perfectly understandable” said Logan, “I would think the Bank should be able to give you something acceptable”. Logan then went on to say that they had better get back to the office and start work on preparing the paperwork. With that we all rose and shook hands and he, Plavsic, and Narai left. Alec and I sat down and ordered coffee.
“I think we need t o discuss this with Frank”, Alec had said. Frank Whittle is our non-executive Chairman and a wily old bird with many years experience in the world of banking and finance. “I’ll call him”. With that he was on his mobile. A few minutes later he ’d said “Frank will be in Bristol in the morning, we could have a breakfast meeting, are you around?”
“Yes” He went back on to the mobile,
“We can make breakfast Frank, where will you be in an hours time? I want to give you some background but I don't want to do it on a mobile? OK, an hour and a half at your place”. With that he hung up and looked at me with a sigh. “What do you think about all that”?
We ’d then talked for a while. Logan seemed a straightforward banker, and Narai your typical bright MBA lackey, but neither of us could really make much of Plavsic. Alec had also noticed the slight East European accent, but other than thinking that he was not your typical city businessman there was little to add. Personally I had not taken to Plavsic. One of my failings, I tend to make early people judgements and Plavsic was someone I would not trust. No clear reason, just a feeling.
Next morning we ’d me t with Frank at the deli coffee shop just round the corner from the office. The coffee was good and sitting in the corner one could have a quiet discussion without being easily over heard. I ’d arrived early, got a coffee and bagged a secluded corner table. As I ’d sat down a voice said “ good morning Mr Lever, early start today”? I ’d turned to see Gordon Stewart a few tables away sitting on his own with a coffee in front of him. He ’d waved and I, somewhat surprised, waved back. What was he doing here?
Just then Alec and Frank arrived, Alec had apparently picked Frank up from Temple Meads station.
Alec organised coffees for himself and Frank and breakfast for himself. I had eaten at home and Frank had breakfast on the train. Having told Alec of Stewarts presence we ’d then gone on to discuss Mendip Finance and the meeting yesterday. It was obvious that Alec had filled Frank i n with all of the detail by phone the previous evening. Frank did not know Mendip Finance but he was of course aware of Allied Grampian whom he described as a solid “middle of the road” investment bank.
As far as the potential offer for the Company was concerned Frank had been surprised, but said that if it were genuine then it would have to be considered and presented to the board. “Of course he said, in many ways the decision is down to you two. Between you, you hold 60 % of the company”. He was right though I doubted Armstrong Ventures would totally agree. Armstrong was the venture capitalist that held a further 30 % of the company, the remaining 10 % being held by Frank and key staff. Armstrong would definitely have a view!
Alec had got up and went to pay the bill and, a s we were about to follow Stewart had came ac ross with his coffee and sat himself down in front of us.
“Good morning gentlemen”, he ’d said.
I ’d introduced him somewhat sarcastically to Frank, “this is the spook we told you about, Frank” at which Stewart protested and restated his MoD credentials.
“Don’t mind him, he means well!”
Stewart had laughed, “We would like to meet with you and take our earlier conversations with Mr Bell and Mr Lever further?”
“I am only in town for the day and I am pretty tied up. ”
“We would prefer to do it in London, any way” said Stewart, “preferably at our place, as some of my colleagues would like to join in”.
“Give me a call tomorrow and we can set up a time, the meeting will need to include Alec so I will check his availability.” With that we ’d got up and left Stewart sitting at the table with his coffee.
As we joined Alec at the door Frank explained the situation to Alec. “ I think we need to follow this up and find out what is going on, but I will need you with me. Probably not necessary for you to come up Martin, but feel free to do so if you wish.”
“I won't bother” I ’d said, “you don't need me and London is not my favourite destination.”
Two days later Fr ank and Alec had met ‘the spook’ and friends in Whitehall. The news from the meeting was that the MoD had classified Control Networks as potentially being strategically important to the national interest and a very strong hint given that Plavsic and Mendip Finance would not be allowed to acquire Control Networks, even if we wanted to sell. Apparently they had brought up the subject of Mendip Finance without prompting from us. Interesting, how had they known?
In the meantime a courier had delivered the promised draft Term Sheet from Mendip Finance together with a Letter of Comfort from Allied Grampian advising that in their opinion Mendip Finance had access to the resources necessary to do a deal. The Term Sheet was only a draft and therefore did not constitute a firm offer, but it was interesting all the same. It did not value the company quite as highly as the brokers claimed a successful IPO would, but it came close. They must really want it! Alec and I would have more money on signing the deal than either of us had seen before and after the successful completion of 3 year employment contracts we could both be billionaires. There was also a commitment to a substantial injection of working capital, which had been my motivation for agreeing to the IPO and of course like the IPO it was a method by which Armstrong could successfully exit their investment.
I had never really been interested in lots of money; it was not my major motivation. However the idea of hundreds of millions is mind boggling, and represented a scale of wealth and opportunity that I had not really focussed on until now.
That night I had got in about seven. As I ’d stepped through the door I realised that the TV was on, Adrian must be back, but no, he didn't have a key so it couldn't be him. I had not used the TV for several days but it was blaring away and I walked in to the lounge to turn it off and bent over to get the remote on the coffee table to switch it off. In doing so I ’d realised there was someone sitting in the armchair by the window. It really made me jump.
“Who the hell are you and how did you get in here!”
He was wearing a beige trench coat, raised a gloved hand as if to calm me down, and told me that he had dro pped by for a little chat. I’d been angry, and frankly a little scared, and threatened to call the police; he sat there unmoving, staring at me. Once I had calmed down a bit more he started to speak.
“I am here to give you a message. Do not float your company.”
“What, what are you talking about?”
“I have given you the message, do not ignore it or else.”
“This is ridiculous!”
“Not ridiculous Mr Lever, really serious. I also want to know if you h ave you seen your brother recently?” he ’d asked.
“What has that got to do with you I said? Get out of my house,” I ’d demanded.
He ’d ignored me and told that his friends were most unhappy with my brother and wanted to talk to him. My brother had something that belonged to them and they wanted it back. Somewhat indignantly I ’d asked him who his friends were and what gave him the right to break in to my house. I suppose I had calmed down and the fear had subsided so I was feeling braver and even wondered if I could tackle him. He must have sensed that and he ’d stood up and drew a knife from his coat pocket. It was a long bladed switch knife and the sight of it made me step back. He ’d told me not to worry, that he was not here to hurt me, this time, just to deliver a message, which he had done. I would do well to get my brother to heed it. He then gave me a slip of paper with a tele phone number on it and told me to get Adrian to call him immediately and ask for Groucho.
“Groucho!” I ’d said, “What sort of name is that, and who is Groucho.”
“Just a friend interested in your brothers welfare.” He ’d then walked to the door and quietly left.
I ’d poured myself a large Scotch and slumped down in a chair, the sweat pouring off me.
An hour later Adrian arrived and I told him what had happened.
“I think I had better call Groucho,” he said.
“You could go to the police instead.”
“I am not sure that would be a good idea. From what I can see these people have to be security services of some kind, so the police are on their side. The best I could expect would be a prosecution for the hacking and at the worst they might deliver me in to the hands of these guys. No, the only card I have is a copy of that video, so how do I use that?”
“They could be watching the house,” I ’d said. “They probably know you are here.”
“Yes, you're right, I need to get out of here while I think about what to do,” he said getting up and moving toward the door.
“Where will you go?”
“I have the girl friend at Pill on the other side of town, nobody knows of her, so I will stay there for a while.”
“If these guys are heavy as you suggest,” I ’d said, “then they will have the facility to track your mobile phone. I have one of those pay as you go phone s somewhere, I will find it and you can use that, leave your phone here.” A few minutes later I came down the stairs with the phone and hande d it to him.
“As they are probably watching the house leave your car here in the drive and use the MG in the garage, go out the back lane.”
Adrian looked at me in surprise. “You don't ever let anyone else drive that,” he ’d exclaimed. He was right; it was my pride and joy, a 1935 MG sports soft top in British racing green in immaculate condition.
“I don't think we have any choice at the moment, it's running well, I gave it a run last week. Don't crash it!”
With that Adrian had left through the back door to the garage at the foot of the garden. I heard the faint rumble of the MG engine, and then quiet. Hopefully he got away undetected.
The next morning I had got up half expecting to be confronted with something new, but all was quiet, so after an orange juice and cereal I jumped in the car and headed off to work. My imagination had me being followed but as far as I could see I wasn't. At one point I imagined that a white van had been behind me a suspiciously long time but even that turned off, and everything else looked innocuous.
At work I ’d soon became embroiled in the issues of the day and time passed quickly. I gone out to a call box at lunchtime and phone d Adrian and he ’d confirmed that he was OK and was staying at the girlfriend’s house as planned.
That night, arriving home I had walked in to the house to see that I had been burgled. In the study my papers were strewn everywhere, the contents of the fridge and drawers in the kitchen turfed on to the floor with the same in the bedroom, and the back door had been forced. I ’d returned to the lounge and was about to call the police when I was hit on the back of the head.
I came to slowly and as I ’d opened my eyes I could see spots of blood congealing in front of me on the pine floor, my blood I presumed. There was a noise, someone was still there and searching through the bookshelves by the simple expedient of pulling them over with books flying out and crashing to the floor. What were they looking for? Adrian’s disc I assume.
The next minute I was grabbed and flung in to a chair by two men. They were yelling something at me but in my dazed state I could not make it out so I pretended to lapse in to unconsciousness again. One of them slapped me hard trying to bring me round. He gave up, pulled the ‘‘‘phone cord out of its socket and disappeared, presumably to join his friend in wrecking the house.
After a few minutes I ’d managed to get to my feet. I could hear them making a noise upstairs as I quietly moved towards the door. It opened with just a slight creak and I ’d stumbled out in to the rain and down the steps and along the path towards the car. There was a yell, my departure had been spotted and the chase was on. I reached the car; fortunately I still had the keys in my pocket, and started it as a figure had burst out through the front door and down the path followed seconds later by a second. I ’d slammed the car in to reverse and shot back up the drive and out on to the road, nearly going in to the beech hedge opposite the gateway in the process. As I pulled away one of the men, an unshaven individual in a black leather jacket and black shirt, had grabbed the door handle but I picked up speed and he was forced to let go and fell to the road. I ’d swerve d violently to avoid hitting a Volvo Estate parked in close to the hedge. Looking in the mirror as I ’d careered off down the lane I could see the two men running to the Volvo.
The solution was to get to the police, and the nearest police would be the station in the village. As I ’d roared down the hill in to the village, the wipers were not coping well with the rain, which was torrential; I could see headlights behind me, the Volvo. I ’d screeched to a halt outside the police station. It was dark; it was closed and nobody answered as I thundered on the door. I ’d cursed, only manned for a limited number of hours each day. Looking around I could see that the whole village was deserted and silent. It seemed no one want to brave the weather. I ’d looked up and could see the Volvo hurtling down the street straight towards me and jumping back in to the car I’d s lammed it in to reverse gear. The Volvo swerved and crashed diagonally in to the passenger side bouncing off and knocking me sideways across the cobbled street. The Volvo window opened and a hand waved what looked like a pistol. I did not wait to find out and gunned the car on down the high street and out in to the country again. Looking in my mirror I could see that the Volvo was in hot pursuit.
Back out in to the country again, the lanes were narrow with hedgerows or dry-stone walls pressing in on both sides; I ’d prayed we would not meet anything coming the other way. I was steering with one hand as I tried to use my mobile with the other, and call the police. The Volvo was catching me and soon the headlights were right on my tail. The car jumped and there was a loud crash noise; my mobile fell to the floor. I realised that the Volvo had rammed me and I ’d put my foot down further on the throttle only just getting round the next corner without losing it and leaving the road. The Volvo dropped back and then gained again; the jump and the crash as I was rammed, and then a screeching noise, the Volvo did not drop back, he was hooked on to my tow bar, the steering was light and I was losing control. I ’d braked and we sk idded locked together, and left the road, crashing through an old dry stone wall. We were at the top of an embankment and the car toppled over on to the roof and skied upside down at top speed down the slope towards trees at the bottom!
Coming back to the present with a start, I looked up from the empty Latte cup and then down at my watch. After having spun out three coffees for nearly two hours I was receiving some sideways looks from the staff. I suppose I had been here a long time. The trouble was that I was comfortable and did not relish moving again. I gingerly rose to my feet, paid the bill, and walked out to the shopping mall. I needed a phone. I quickly bou ght one with a pay as you go SIM card and walked down the mall to the garden area where I was able find a bench and sit down. Time to call Alec. Alec was in the office and I was put through quickly.
“Alec, this is Martin, can you meet with me? I don't want to come to the office at the moment.”
“What is going on, Martin,” said an understandably perplexed Alec, “Are you alright? I understand you sneaked out of the hospital and stole a car!”
“I will explain when we get together, if you can get away how about the coffee stand near the SS Great Britain in half an hour?”
Alec sighed, “OK, see you then.”
The day had brightened up and sitting in the warm sun was very pleasant. I started to relax while I drank yet another coffee and waited for Alec. It was very pleasant here with the SS Great Britain’s masts towering to the left and the recently rejuvenated harbour developments in front of me. I could see a ferry making its way across the water and in the bow was the tall figure of Alec, he waved and I waved back. The ferry reached the wharf and Alec was quickly with me. Having ordered himself a coffee he slumped down in to a chair beside me.
“Sounds like you are having a rough time, ” I said.
“Not really, it’s just that a few minutes before you ca lled I had a somewhat unpleasant phone conversation with that git Plavsic.”
“So you don't like him either,” I said.
“He just won't take no for an answer. He had been told by Allied Grampian of our board decision not to take his proposals any further and he wanted to discuss it further. When I politely said no, that our decision was final he became unpleasant, almost threatening.”
“Now that is interesting”, I said. I then went on to tell him the story of my 'accident'.
“You don't think it was Plavsic who knocked you off the road, do you?”
“Well, not personally because that driver is dead, but maybe he is involved. Perhaps the accident was meant to be a warning that went wrong?”
“But why?” said Alec. “It sounds a bit far fetched that someone would try strong arm tactics like that just because we turned him down”.
“I agree, but maybe there is more to Plavsic than we know. I have felt that someone has been following me for the past week or so and then just before I set out for home the other night I had a threatening call. An obviously very heavily disguised voice threatened me that I would be 'dead meat' if I allowed the company to float. That's all he said, and hung up.”
“Well. There is something I didn't tell you. Three days ago I got an anonymous letter threatening something similar. Well not a letter really, it was a message made up of letters cut out of magazines.”
“Have you still got it?” I said.
“No, thought it was a crank and threw it away. Why did you run away from hospital? I couldn't believe it when I heard.”
“Frankly, I was scared. The accident seemed like an attempt to kill me and I was lucky to get out alive. On top of that there was this business of being followed, and lying there in hospital I felt like I was a sitting duck if someone wanted to try again. I have even stopped using my credit cards so they can't locate me.” I did not feel like telling Alec about Adrian's problem.
“You're being crazy Martin. We may have a problem here but tracing you through credit card use is something that only police and security services could do. Don't you think you are going over the top?”
“Maybe,” I said, “You're call from Plavsic puts a different light on it. However there is something else I need to tell you.” I then described the home visit and threat I had from the man in the trench coat.
“Why did you not tell me before, and why have you not told the police?” said Alec.
“I'm not really sure why I kept it to myself,” I said. “The more I thought about it; there was really very little to tell the police that they could act on or use to identify the bloke, and I suppose I was a bit shocked. Frankly I am not a great fan of the police, probably stemming from the days of getting beaten up during student demonstrations, so I decided to leave it. The only action I took was to change the locks on the front door, he obviously had a key.”
“I think we now need to involve the police, straight away. Tell them everything that has happened and see what they make of it. If you put the whole thing on a formal basis with the authorities that might restrain these people or at least make them think twice. ”
“I suppose you are right.” I said. “Technically I might be considered to be on the run. There was a uniformed police officer stationed at the reception desk in the hospital. I am not sure if the crash was someone trying to kill me or just warn me off.”
“Well I think that you need to talk to the police. If you are by any remote chance right that security services are involved in this then bringing in the civil police is probably a good idea. I met someone the other night that might be able to help us. She had just been promoted to head up the Bristol CID. I will have her card back at the office.”
“Ok, you could be right, let’s go” We jumped on the next ferry across the harbour and were soon back in Alec's office.
“Here it is,” said Alec “Chief Superintendent Alice Fleet. I will call her now.”
While I stood looking out of the window at the superb view Alec made the call.
“Can I speak to Chief Superintendent Fleet please? Yes, I met her a week or so ago and would like to talk to her.”
“Chief Superintendent Fleet, Alec Bell, I don't know if you remember me, we met at that Scouts fund raising night a week ago.”
“Yes it was a successful night. Look to get to the point, my colleague and I are being threatened and believe we should talk to the police, perhaps you can help us.”
“OK, you are at College Green, is that right? We could be over there in say 30 minutes would that be convenient? That's good of you, see you then.” He hung up and said, “let's go”.
Half an hour later, after waiting for a few minutes at the police desk, we were shown up to a meeting room on the second floor. A slim striking woman in her mid to late forties with greying hair met us as we came out of the lift. She introduced herself as Chief Superintendent Fleet and showed us in to a room just down the corridor where there was a man waiting whom she introduced as Inspector David Lloyd. We all sat down round the table.
“Now Mr Bell how can we help you?”
Alec went through the details of our story with me adding in bits as necessary.
“I think I saw something about you on our crime sheets this morning” said Lloyd looking at me. “You're the guy who stole a car from outside Frenchay hospital?” I nodded.
“We understand that the car was recovered undamaged, but it was still a serious offence,” he said. “You could be charged but no doubt the local police will be in touch with you. I assume the theft was all part of this story you have been telling us about?”
“Yes, I felt I had to get away from the hospital in any way I could. Since then I have calmed down a bit and Alec here has talked some sense in to me and persuaded me that we needed to talk to you.”
“We'll come to the car later,” said Fleet. “In the meantime we had better see if we can find out a bit more about your threats. With your permission we will h ave a look at the company's phone records to see if we can identify the caller who made the phone threat and also pay a visit to Mr Plavsic. We will follow up with the local police and see what they have on the ownership of the Volvo you describe as in your crash. In the meantime Mr Bell, can you see if that threatening letter can be found, perhaps the rubbish has not been thrown out. Over and above that there is not a lot we can do unless more evidence surfaces or something else happens. In the meantime I would suggest you are both careful and report anything to us that seems suspicious. Inspector Lloyd here will be in charge of this, so talk directly to him.”
We exchanged cards with Lloyd and after thanking Fleet for her time and seeing them so promptly we left.
Out in the street I said, “We didn't get much out of that, did we?”
“What did you expect? The whole story does sound a bit unreal.”
“Don't over react.”
“It’s not you who they keep beating up!”
“We both know that there is a problem Martin, but we didn't really have much for them to act upon, lets see if they turn up anything new. In the meantime I have a mountain of stuff on my desk and I suspect you do as well, so lets get back to the office.”
I had a meeting of the technical department heads that afternoon which went on all afternoon. Afterwards I was sitting in my office making a few meeting notes when Alec popped his head around the door.
“Just been talking to Lisa, she asked if you would be free to come over to dinner this evening?”
“Would love too, although I won't stay late. I think a reasonably early night is called for.”
We left about half an hour later. I followed Alec's 7 series BMW in my little hire car that I had arranged to be delivered earlier in the afternoon. A small sporty hatch back that was probably a lot more sensible than a Range Rover in the dense evening traffic. Alec lived in a penthouse apartment in Clifton village, an affluent suburb of Bristol, and only a short walk to the gorge and downs. After guiding me in to a vacant visitors spot in the secure car park beneath the block we went up to the flat.
“Look, no need to tell Lisa the gory bits yet, no need to alarm her, OK?”
Lisa met us at the door and greeted me by grabbing me and giving me a big hug.
“Haven't seen you for ages Martin, how are you?” I winced and it was all I could do to contain a scream as the hug generated a shooting pain up my right side.
“Oh, sorry Martin, I forgot, is it bad?”
“No not really, I have always been a coward when it comes to pain.”
“Come and sit down,” she said. “Alec get him a Scotch, I think he needs one.”
“That sounds a great idea but only if you two are having something as well.”
Alec went across to his drinks cabinet to do the necessary and handed me a glass of his best malt, no water no ice, neat, just as he knew I take it. “Lisa what would you like, a white wine?”
“Yes please darling,” she said as she gave him a peck on the cheek, “there is a bottle open in the fridge” and went out to the kitchen followed by Alec.
He returned a few minutes later and we went and sat out on the balcony. It was a pleasant evening now, not exactly balmy but tolerable and with the fresh air and the view I started to relax for the first time in several days. The lights of the sprawling city spread out to the left and open country to the centre and right.
“You have a great flat,”
“Yes, we like it, although with the float coming up I haven't seen much of it in the last few weeks, it has been just a place to eat and sleep recently. On a clear day y ou can see as far as the Mendip Hills.”
“Do you remember hiking and camping down there?”
“Yes, they were great days, when it didn't pour with rain and water got in to absolutely everything! ”
“Don't seem to have time to do that kind of thing these days,” I sighed.
After a few moments silence we moved on to talk around some of the recent events, trying to make sense of them, until Lisa came out and joined us.
“Let's have no more business tonight, dinner will be about half an hour, so lets have another drink,” she said looking at Alec, who obediently got up and went off to refresh all of our glasses. “So Martin how is the social life at the moment? I know you have all been very busy, but you must have some time off. Whatever happened to that girl who came with you to dinner last time, she was very nice, Jackie wasn't it?”
“Jasmine,” I said. “ She’ s OK, I think. I had an email from Egypt a few weeks ago. You will remember she is an archaeologist, and is out there on a dig at the moment. No idea when she will be back. Apparently they have used US spy satellite technology to identify vast areas of hidden ruins that have been swallowed up by the desert. A combination of high-resolution satellite photography and infrared scanning can detect the ancient mud bricks under the sand. She could be out there for the duration as far as I know.”
“Don't be so blase,” said Lisa, “don't you get lonely?”
“Too busy,” I replied, anxious to change the subject. Fortunately Alec returned to say that there seemed to be things going on in the kitchen and with an exclamation she was gone.
It was a pleasant evening, but feeling very tired and still sore I made my excuses and left early. Alec came down with me to the parking garage to let me out of the secure gate. “Thanks for dinner, see you in the morning,” I said out of the window before driving the car up the ramp.
Turning right as I came out of the garage I saw a set of headlights come on to my left. The streets were quiet and driving along I thought back over the evening. ‘ I wo nder what Jasmine is doing now? P robably sitting round a camp fire exchanging n otes on the days dig I expect,’ then, remembering the t ime difference revised that to ‘ sleeping out in a tent under the desert sky.’
A set of traffic lights brought me to a halt, and a car pulled up behind me. I pulled away and the car followed. I turned on to the motorway and looking behind could see no further sign of the car. I scolded myself; my imagination was running away with me. In a few miles I turned off and was quickly in to the West Country lanes that lead to my house, an old converted barn that I had spent some time lovingly converting to my specifications. It would be good to get home.
As I turned in to the narrow lane a mile from the house there was suddenly a set of car headlights behind me. “Stop being paranoid,” I said to my self, bu t my heartbeat was faster never the less; it was unusual to get traffic on this road this late. I turned a bend in the road and another set of headlights was coming towards me. It was a single-track road and I slowed, but the nearest passing place behind me was a good half-mile back so it would have to be the car in front that would have to reverse. But he did not stop, he came right up to the front with his headlights on full, so I could see nothing. I opened the door and got partially out of the car so I could gesture to the driver to back up. As I did so a car door slammed behind me. A chill went up my spine and I jumped back in to the car and locked the door. There was a few seconds of silence and then a smash as the rear window behind me was broken. The doors were u nlocked and a big burly gorilla- like figure opened the driver’s door, grabbed my coat, and dragged me out of the car on to the grass verge. I stumbled to my feet and by this time I was indignantly yelling in protest but the sheer size of this guy made me pause. I am not a small guy but I knew I had no chance against him. Suddenly there was movement behind me, and blinding pain as my feet were swept away with a blow to my right calf. The big gorilla picked me up and literally threw me down the verge in to the hedge running along side the road. Another, standing there with a baseball bat stared down at me menacingly.
“Is a broken rib and a car smash not enough warning to?” he said. “This is the last warning. Next time it will be serious, a lost hand or foot, we are not messing around. No float or else, and our friends want to talk to that brother of yours, tell him, and tell him what the penalty will be for not doing what we say. Tell him to ring Groucho soon or you will all regret it. You can tell that partner of yours, Bell, that we will come for him next time, and he has a family. Remember, no float!” With that he turned and smashed the rear window of the car with the bat.
Lying sprawled and dazed in the midst of the hedge I slowly realised that the two cars had gone. My leg was screaming at me as I tried to get out of the hedge and crawl up the slope to the grass verge; my leg would not take any weight.
I heard a car pull up and a voice shouted, “Are you alright?” The voice turned out to belong to Jerry, the proprietor of the delicatessen in the village.
“Give me a hand please, it is difficult to walk.”
“Shall I call the police, or an ambulance,” said Jerry.
I looked in both directions along the road and thought, no point. “No, don't let's bother them Jerry, if you can help me clear the glass off the drivers seat I will move the car out of the way so you can get through, I only live just up the road.”
“Well if you are sure,” he said somewhat doubtfully, as I stood there on one leg gingerly feeling my right calf. Nothing felt broken I thought but I wondered if I could drive.
Jerry got some gloves and a heavy rag out of his car and brushed the glass off the driver seat on to the road. I then sat down on the seat and carefully, using both hands, lifted my damaged leg in to the car. The car engine was still running and I gently tried to see if I could control the throttle with the foot of my injured leg. The car revved a bit jerkily but good enough to get me home.
“Thanks Jerry, you've been very helpful. I will move on and get out of your way.”
Jerry was still looking doubtful, “Are you sure you are OK?”
“Yes, I will be fine, thanks Jerry, see you later,” I said with a confidence that I did not feel, “I will get on home now.” With that I pressed the clutch, put the car in gear, and jerked off up the road.
Luckily, I met no more traffic and found myself entering the drive to my house. The drive is on a downward slope, my right leg simply refused to cope with the foot break, so using a combination of left foot and handbrake I came to a stalled halt before I reached the Rhododendrons!
Getting slowly out of the car, I limped to the door. Feeling was definitely coming back in to my leg but with it came the pain. Inside I dragged myself t o the bathroom, swallowed some P aracetamol, and then limped in to the bedroom where I fell on to the bed. This was getting to be a habit!
As his cell phone rang, he closed the door and answered it. A voice said, “ We found him and the next round of warnings administered,” and hung up. Dawson smiled to himself, perhaps that would get the result they were looking for.
Next morning my leg felt a bit better, less painful, but was almost totally black with the bruising, right down to the ankle and instep. Today was a day to stay at home.
First I rang Inspector Lloyd and told him what had happened the night before. He listened, asked a few questions and then said that he would like to come out and see me to bring me up to date on his enquiries so far. I said OK and he said he would be out about eleven.
Next I rang Alec, thanked him for the dinner, and then told him what had happened. When I told him about the threat against him and his family I could sense his anxiety on the phone. He then said he would also come out and join the meeting with Inspector Lloyd, although he had some stuff to do before he left the office so he might be a little late. “By the way have a look at the business section of the Times when you get a minute.”
I rang the hire company and told them there had been an accident with the car; vandals had smashed the windows, I lied. They took some details and promised to deliver a replacement by early afternoon.
I limped through to the kitchen and thought, time for some breakfast. A glass of fresh orange juice and the works, a full English Breakfast. Bacon, eggs, black pudding, tomatoes and fried bread! I staggered around the kitchen cooking this lot for myself and then sat down at the table. Newspaper! I got to my feet, limped to the front door, and retrieved the paper. The breakfast was good, but frankly not as good as when someone else prepares it for you. The process of doing the cooking takes the edge off the taste buds, I suppose.
The news section of the paper had little that was new. The scandal over FIFA rumbled on and the Middle East demonstrations and associated atrocities continued. Jasmine had told him that where she was in Egypt, was nowhere near where the disturbances were taking place.
I turned to the business section and there was little new there either. I was just about to put it to one side and get myself another cup of coffee, wondering what Alec was talking about, when I spotted a small article with the heading:
Will They, Won't They
Control Networks has doubts
The article went on to say that there were rumours that Control Networks, a company who it said had been planning to go to market with an IPO in the near future were having second thoughts, and that a mystery buyer was thought to be on the prowl with an outright cash offer. The article then went on to give background information on the Company but had nothing more that was new.
Interesting, I thought, where did that leak come from? Alec would probably have some more information when he arrived.
Inspector Lloyd arrived promptly at eleven. I brought him through to the kitchen and offered him a coffee.
“Nice house you have here”, he said.
“Yes, I like it. Far enough away from the city to give me some peace and quiet, yet close enough not to make travelling to work a chore.”
“Can you tell me again what happened last night?”
I went through the details of the night before. When I mentioned Jerry, he asked who he was and said he might check him out.
“He is not part of this,” I said. “He just happened to come along after it was all over and helped me out. He has the deli/coffee shop in the village that I use occasionally and we have got to know each other a little. Sometimes I see him in the pub and we have the occasional game of darts.”
“I would like you to come in to the station and go through some of our identification photos to see if you can identify either of the people from last night. Also the guy who broke in to your house.”
“As I told you I didn't really see the second guy last night but I certainly think I would recognise the gorilla who pulled me out of the car if I saw him again. I could come in on the way in to the office tomorrow, would that be OK?”
The sooner the better,” said Lloyd. “ We have been checking out your Mr Plavsic. Quite an interesting character.” At that the doorbell rang.
“Probably Alec, he said he would come over and join us, ” I said as I got to my feet and went to the door. It wasn't him but a DHL courier with an envelope. I wasn't expecting anything so I opened it as I walked back in to the kitchen.
“My god!” I exclaimed, “Have a look at this”
“What is it?” said Lloyd. I handed him the photograph that was the only item in the envelope. It was a photograph of Lisa, apparently out shopping, with a large cross scored across the image with a red marker pen. On the reverse, again in red marker it said, “Give this to Bell.”
“Who is this,” asked Lloyd.
“It's Alec Bell ’s wife,” I replied.
“Give me the bag,” he said, and dropped it and the photograph in to a plastic evidence bag that he pulled out of his pocket. “I will get this checked by forensics to see if we can get fingerprints etc.”
“Well whe re do we go from here? I forgot you were about to tell me what you had found out about Plavsic.”
At that the doorbell went again. This time it was Alec, I let him in and he joined us round the kitchen table drinking coffee. I told him about the courier delivery and asked Lloyd to show it to him.
“ Don't take it out of the bag,” said Lloyd reaching in to his pocket and retrieving the bag.
Alec stared at the photo and then turned it over, he blanched. “Who the hell is doing this? This looks very scary, what do we do now?” he said turning to Lloyd. “Can the police organise some protection for my wife?”
“I think that is justified but I will need to get authority, is there somewhere I can make a private ‘phone call?” he said looking at me.
“There is a phone in the lounge through there,” I said pointing. “We are in a bit of a hollow here so mobile reception can be bad so feel free to use the land line in there if you wish.”
He went off through to the lounge closing the door behind him.
“Martin, what have we got in to,” said Alec? “ It feels like we are in the middle of some crime thriller script, unreal, yet really scary. Are you OK after last night?”
“I'll live, although I don't think I have felt so many pains and aches in my body since I stopped playing Rugby. This is getting serious and these guys, whoever they are, obviously mean business.”
Lloyd returned to the room and said, “I have spoken to Chief Superintendent Fleet, and she has approved a round the clock guard on your wife Mr Bell, is she at home?”
“Yes, she is at home today, but I need to explain to her what is happening.”
“I think you had better go home and do that but first perhaps you might like to hear what I have to report on Plavsic etc. A woman police constable will arrive at your house by 2pm this afternoon.”
He then went on to give us an update on his enquiries. “Plavsic is Serbian and a director of Mendip Finance. However he is not the direct owner. The shares in Mendip Finance are held by a series of shell companies, which so far we have traced to the Caymans without producing any names of interest. We met with Plavsic and asked him about his interest in Control Networks. He refused to discuss it on the grounds of confidentiality and vigorously protested his innocence when questioned on the strong-arm tactics. A blank end with him so far, but we have asked the Economic Crime Squad in the Met to take a look for us. They don't have anything on Plavsic or Mendip, and as with everyone else their time and resources are stretched but they have promised to make a few enquiries.”
“I also tal ked to a few of my contacts in Special B ranch and similarly came up with a blank. Plavsic doesn't seem to be known at all.”
“You don't seem to be getting anywhere,” I said somewhat scathingly.
“Well there is one thing. Do you know anything about Allied Grampian?”
“Not much,” said Alec, “apart from the fact that they are an investment bank with a respectable reputation.”
“Well, they do look legit. But in the past five years they have made a lot of money in dealings with one client and his interests. A Russian called Peter Asimov, he is what is commonly called a Russian Oligarch. Super rich, with vast interests in Russian Oil and extremely close links to the Russian Government. My contacts tell us that they believe, although they have no direct evidence that he is behind some really shady operations in the UK. His links to the Russian government are strong enough for him to have a diplomatic consular appointment in London which of course carries with it diplomatic immunity.”
He carried on, “I had Plavsic tailed. He seems to live at the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane, London, and last night he attended a formal dinner at the Savoy. It was a dinner hosted by the Board of Trade for what they call business leaders and innovators. The minister was there and so was Asimov, but as far as we could tell Plavsic and Asimov did not meet.
“So what does all this mean, apart from the fact that the Grosvenor Hotel seems an odd and expensive place for a legitimate business man to reside long term?” I said.
“Not a huge amount at the moment, but there are also indications that Mendip Finance may not be not all it seems. London is really outside of our jurisdiction so I need to discuss all of this with Chief Superintendent Fleet. When you come in to the station in the morning Mr Lever, perhaps I will ha ve some more questions for you. “ I need to get back,” he said finishing his coffee.”
“What about the Volvo?”
“Dead end there I am afraid, it was stolen in London four days ago and the wreck was totally burnt out so there was no evidence left. We have a DNA check to see if we have a match for the driver, but no results yet. The other occupant of the car seems to have disappeared. We have checked out with hospitals and there have been no reports of suspicious injuries, perhaps he was just thrown clear and with little or no injury.”
“I had forgotten about the second car occupant,” I mused.
“ Mr Bell if you have any thoughts please feel free to call me or discuss them with the WPC with your wife. I will let myself out, thanks for the coffee.” With that Lloyd got up and le ft.
“Well,” said Alec, “where do we go from here?”
“I think you should call Frank,” I said. “You need to bring him up to date with what has happened in the past few days. Also you need to get him to get some of his contacts working on this. What do they know about Mendip Finance, Plavsic, Asimov, etc.?”
“I will, but I need to go home and see Lisa now so I will call him from there. I think I should also tell th e brokers that we want to go more slowly on the Float, that could give us a few more weeks until this gets sorted out.”
“I agree,” I said, “but you will need Franks help to handle the board, particularly Armstrong. They could be tricky.”
Alec left and I sat down in front of the computer in the study. I thought I would do a little research myself on these guys.
Next morning I arrived at College Green police station at 9am where I was met by Inspector Lloyd and shown in to a windowless interview room.
“Sorry about the room,” said Lloyd, but we have a screen in here which I can use to show you some pictures. After this session Chief Superintendent Fleet will join us.”
“Did you get that internet research I sent you last night,” I said. “Not really a lot there but according to chat room gossip Asimov was 'around' when both of those big Amsterdam and Paris drug busts were going on.”
Yes, but as far as we can tell he was not implicated in any way.”
“Did you see those photos of him in Washington? He seems to move in elevated circles!”
“He sure does. Perhaps the economic boys in the Met will come up with something. Any way let's have a look at these pictures.”
With that Lloyd turned off one of the room lights and switched on the roof projector using the remote. The images appeared with four characters on each page with a front and profile view of each.
“If any one of these catches your attention shout and I can blow the image up to full screen to give you a better look.”
In the next thirty minutes I must have looked at hundreds of photos, no luck.
“Well that is disappointing,” said Lloyd, “T hat exhausts all of the locals I wanted to show you. I have just a few that have been suggested to me by the Yard. Look at these.”
The third sheet in and I saw a face that looked familiar. “Can you enlarge that one?” I said. It was definitely the heavy who pulled me out of the car. A huge ugly guy, big shoulders and all muscle, “that's him,” I said, the one who pulled me out of the car. Lloyd clicked a button on the remote, and up came his name and details.
“Jackie Peterson,” said Lloyd, “not someone I know, a London boy and by the look of his sheet a lot of form including aggravated assault. Probably a soldier for hire; I will ask the Met what they know of him. Look through the rest and see if by any chance the guy who broke in to your house is also there.”
A few minutes later up came another face. Lloyd enlarged the imag e for me. It was definitely him, an unattractive individual with a thin face and dark lank hair combed over a balding head.
“That was the guy who entered my house earlier, the one with the trench coat and a knife.”
“Well that is another London villain, Reginald Archer, a record as long as your arm for petty crimes, although no record of violence.”
We then went up to see Chief Superintendent Fleet and updated her.
“Look Chief Superintendent, I am worried. I have been injured twice and both Alec and I have been threatened. Now Alec's wife is being threatened, what can you do for us, th e next time might be much worse? ”
“We will follow up the leads including this man you have identified but I am not sure there is much more I can do,” she replied. “For the time being we will continue to post a WPC to guard Mrs Bell on a 24 hour basis, but beyond that there is little we can do; I am afraid I don't have an unlimited budget; I recommend that you and Mr Bell take great care not to expose yourselves to any more attacks.”
“And how do we do that, lock ourselves in a cell!” I asked sarcastically.
“I am sorry, but we now have a team working on this, and Inspector Lloyd will keep you informed as to progress.”
I got up, noisily pushing back my chair and walked out without saying another word. I decided to walk across town to the office. The walk would give me some time to think and calm down.
Back at the office I walked in to a string of meetings that went on through a sandwich lunch. At about 2.30 Alec buzzed through from his office and said “Martin, I have something here that I need you to be part of, can you get away and join us please?”
“Sure, these guys can manage here without me for a while,” and went out to the hall to get the lift to Alec's floor.
Upon entering Alec's office there was one other person in the room besides Alec, Ron Armstrong. Ron was normally quite a pleasant individual although one could sense that beneath the general bonhomie he was probably hard as nails. Ron was the principal in a large venture capital fund, Armstrong Ventures that had invested forty million pounds in Control Networks nearly four years ago. Today, Ron did not look happy, Alec was sitting behind his desk and Ron had obviously been pacing the room.
“Ah, Martin, I think it is best you join us and hear what I have to say. I was saying to Alec that I have heard from Frank and the brokers that you have asked them to slow up on the float preparations, maybe the projected date is going to slip. You need to understand that the brokers are not at all happy and neither are we.”
“Alec here confirmed that you have put the brakes on and has just been explaining to me why, and what is going on. Frankly, it all seems a bit far-fetched to me, but nevertheless we cannot acce pt it as a cause for delay. Any thing can happen and if you miss this market window it may be a long time before you get another chance and even if that comes I doubt whether you will get as good a price as you will today.”
“We understand all that,” said Alec, “but we also have the safety of families and possibly staff to consider.”
“Well, as I said, it does seem a bit far fetched but if it's real get some security staff on board,” he replied. “The Company can employ a firm to provide you both with personal security and that combined with the police presence at your home Alec, should be adequate.”
“We will discuss it, and consult Frank, and let you know,” said Alec.
“We will not tolerate any delays. Look, we don't want to play hardball with you boys, you have been a pleasure to work with, but we will if we have to. We backed you and invested forty million nearly four years ago. We never said we were long term investors, we told you we wanted to be out in 5 years, earlier if possible, and if you blow this flo at you will probably blow that five year time scale. From what the brokers are saying we cou ld realise 500 million plus from this float and we want it to go ahead now. I would remind you that in accordance with the terms of the shareholder agreemen t you signed with us, if after five years there is, in our opinion, insufficient progress being made towards an exit strategy, we can step in and take over management and possibly sale of the business. You have almost completed the first fo ur years of those five years. My partners are likely to be pretty unforgiving if we miss this current window.”
I was about to explode at this, but Alec seeing that I was about to speak quickly interjected and said, “Look Ron, we don't want to fall out with you, and we are all interested in getting some money out of this, so leave us to discuss it, and we will get back to you tomorrow. Is that OK?”
“Yes, but you hear what I am saying. I am going back up to London tonight so you can call me in the office. I will leave you guys to it, can someone call me a taxi for the station.” Alec followed him out of the office door to ask Penny, his PA, to organise the taxi.
A few minutes later he came back in and slumped down in his chair. “I thought you were going to explode when he threatened us.”
“I nearly did,” I said. “We can call his bluff if we want, he would be mad to step in and take over.”
“I agree he would, but I don't think calling his bluff is right. He might not take over but in a year’s time that contract puts him in a strong position and he could make life difficult. His idea about the security staff was a good one, why don't we call Frank and discuss it.”
After a conference call lasting about 15 minutes it was agreed that we would go back to the original float plan, and the Company would employ security personnel. Frank said he would call the broker; they were unhappy with the earlier move and needed to hear some warm comforting words.
“Frank,” I said, “while we are talking, could you do some really in depth research on Allied Grampian and Plavsic, and does the name of Peter Asimov come up in connection with Plavsic.”
“I will see what we can do, Martin, it is common knowledge that Allied Grampian does a lot of business with Asimov, but I would imagine that it is all oil related. I will let you know,” and with that he hung up.
“Are you happy with that decision?” I asked Alec.
“I'm OK with it if you are. Lisa is off to Manchester tomorrow for at least two weeks, apparently a particularly gruesome murder case. Normally she would come home for the weekends but I will get her to stay up there, maybe even go up myself for a weekend in the Peak District, we have always wanted to do some walking there and I could do with a break from this place.”
Lisa was a barrister and her having a case away from Bristol was good fortune and took some pressure off. “I thought you were telling me that it was non-stop preparing everything for this float, how can you get away?”
He made a rude gesture and said, “it is, and I may not be able to get away, we'll see.”
“So how do we set up this security arrangement? How about calling Fleet, she can probably give you a recommendation. I don't think it best if I call her, I was somewhat irritable this morning and it showed. In the meantime I had better do some serious work on reviewing where we are with this product release.”
Alec buzzed through to my office half an hour later to say that he had a security firm coming in the next morning at 10am to talk about arr angements, could I be available?
Next morning I was in bright and early to prepare for my weekly 8.30 meeting with the sales team. This was really a meeting where my product engineering team and sales staff jointly reviewed progress on various projects that were currently under way. The meeting also included a review of prospective sales, with particular reference to what can be promised in terms of development deliveries and specifications.
The day started well with some good news. Ken Giles, our Sales and Marketing Director reported that CJP, one of the worlds biggest mineral resources companies was seriously nibbling at giving us a big contract. This deal had been bubbling along for more than a year now and we like others had been vying for consideration. The contract could be wor th upwards of?500 million over five years, so every company in the industry was after it, like bees round a honey pot! They had indicated we were the favourite because they believed we might have technology coming through which would be of great interest to them. An important question for them was what were we prepared to disclose to them about the new developments.
“Ken, have you discussed this with Alec? He needs to be involved in this.”
“I have mentioned it,” said Ken, “but he has been so tied up with float stuff that I have not really kept him up to date.”
“Well I think you need to go and break his door down, and go through this with him! My thoughts are that we would need to secure a very substantial commitment in the form of a down payment, and then under strictly controlled circumstances give them some ideas as to where we are going and how that fits in with their applications. Let me know if I can help.” We then moved on through the agenda.
I then left to meet with Alec and the security people, running about 45 minutes late. When I got there it had all been decided. There would be external security staff at reception and on each floor of the building, and they would supply two security staff to supplement our own overnight security personnel. In addition Alec and I would each have a security guard assigned 24/7.
When they had gone, I stood chatting with Alec for a few minutes and I mentioned the possible CJP contract that I had suggested Ken talk to him about.
“I will get to him,” Alec said
“Well make it soon,” I said, “it looks hot so don't allow these mundane float issues to get in the way of the important business!” I ducked out of the room before he threw something at me.
“Don't forget we are in London with the brokers tomorrow”, he yelled to my back as I made my way to the lift. My heart sank. Not my kind of thing. A meeting with brokers and major potential investors, the first of a number of presentations Alec and I had to do as part of a pre-float road show in London and Birmingham with a teleconference version to Paris and New York following later. We would be away together for a large part of the next week.
An hour later my security guard turned up. Not what I had expected. Tall, athletic looking, brown haired, mid to late thirties with a slight tan. He had a small scar to the left side of his chin and was wearing a smart grey suit and tie. He would have blended in to the background of most office environments, but not ours. The general wardrobe in our office was jeans and t ee shirt or other casual shirt, particularly amongst the men.
“ Mr Lever, I am from Security Services and my name is Jason Walgrave,” he said as he stepped forward in to my office and we shook hands. He had a strong grip, but not over firm.
“Well Jason, we are informal here and my name is Martin, I don't know how this works but welcome.”
“You tell me how you want it to work.” he said. “Normally I would k eep close to you, in the office, that is outside with your PA, travel with you wherever you go, stay at your place, keeping myself on hand but as inconspicuous as possible so as to keep out of your way.”
“Don't you get any time off?”
“Well the role is meant to be 24 hours until the end of the assignment,” he answered, “but sometimes I will take a few days off and someone else will take over. I want to blend in here so I need to follow your Company dress code.”
“As you can see it is casual, except if we are dealing with clients or the public. As you have probably been told we are off to London tomorrow.”
“Alright, I will get organised,” he said and left the room to sit and read the paper outside the office.
I spent the afternoon with a fellow who had been seconded to us fol lowing our meeting with the MoD, an interesting session. It was clear that he was an extremely competent engineer with a strong back ground in aeronautics. He was a pleasant guy and interesting to talk to, but we danced around each other a little, rather like sparring partners in a boxing ring, neither wanting to give too much away. At the end of the afternoon he got up and said he had to be away. As he did so he commented, “I am going to recommend that we really take what you have seriously, if that is accepted then we will need to get the paper work done so we can talk more openly,” he smiled and left.
I called Bill Williams our finance director and company secretary. “Hi Bill, Martin here. Look we possibly have a high level discussion about to take place with the MoD on the subject of ForceNet. We need to review the legal issues, everything ranging from confidentiality to the situation regarding government rights to restrict sales in the national interest. Can I leave you to get one of your people to look at that and keep Alec in the loop? OK, one more thing. CJP are beginning to get really warm on that contract. I know that you and Alec are snowed under with the float issues but if you or one of your people could catch up with Ken Giles it would be appreciated. I think the team knows what pressure you two are under, and are tending therefore to leave you both alone, but I think it needs your input. Thanks Bill.”
In my in- tray was a draft of the float prospectus for comment, largely a task for Alec and Bill Williams to review in detail, but an opportunity for me to comment in general and approve my own bio description. After scanning it and making a few observations I picked up my laptop and jacket and set out to go home picking up my shadow Jason on the way. In the corridor there were two burly uniformed security guards near the lift. First we went up to the top floor so that I could check out with Alec on the arrangements for the following day. We entered his outer office and sitting opposite his PA Penny and reading a newspaper was an extremely attractive girl in your typical grey office suit.
Hi Penny, has he got anyone with him?”
“No,” she replied, “go on in.” I put my head in through Alec’s door and checked on the arrangements for the morning.
As I was leaving I whispered. “Who's the gorgeous blonde out there waiting for you?”
“That, is my security guard,” he laughed. “I am not sure Lisa will be too happy, but at least she doesn't have to come home with me tonight as the WPC is still there.”
I left with Jason in tow. He grabbed a small bag from his car in the garage and we climbed in to my hire car. The insurance company had apparently called during the day to confirm that my Range Rover was a write-off and that I could choose a new replacement! I couldn't help but smile when I heard. It was a burnt out shell, hardly something that could be repaired.
On the drive home I learnt a little about Jason. He was ex-army SAS and had been with Security Services for three years. He liked the work, which he said paid well, and went up in my estimation when he said he was a keen rugby player! He was not married which presumably accounted for his willingness to cope with the unsociable hours. We stopped and had a beer in the village local where we bumped in to Jerry who had helped me the night I was attacked. I introduced Jason as a friend.
“Are you Ok after the other night?” he asked.
“A bit sore, but otherwise OK. I reported it all to the police so they may be in contact.”
The three of us ended up playing a few rounds of darts before Jason and I l eft. We then dropped in to the C hippy and picked up two cod and chips to take home.
When we got home and in to the house he said, “Martin, I don't want to alarm you but I think we have been followed home this evening. They followed us first in a red Ford and then a green van.”
“I didn't notice anything,” going to the window and gently pulling aside the curtain. “There doesn't appear to be anyone outside,” I said.
“Nevertheless, I am going to call it in” and proceeded to use his mobi le. When he finished he said, ‘the boss thinks we need to increase the cover here, y ou are a bit isolated, one of our security cars will sit outside the house all night.”
With that we got down to eating our fish supper at the kitchen table, and then adjourned to the lounge where I wanted to wa tch a recording of the Scotland — England match that I had recorded from the previous Saturday.
“Please don 't feel obliged to entertain me, ” said Jason.
“That's OK, the guest bedroom is at the top of the stairs on the left so you can make your way to bed whenever you're ready. My brother is using the bedroom on the right but he does not seem to be here at the moment. Alternatively feel free to watch the game with me if you like.” We settled down to the match as I wondered if Adrian was OK.
In the meantime in an exclusive restaurant in the West End of London, Dawson was dining. His companion was a balding grey haired man in his mid fifties with a pau nch that butted up to the table and a quietly spoken American accent. So quiet that menace seemed to exude from him every time he spoke; it made Dawson's spine tingle.
“The trouble is, it looked at first as if our threats had worked and we had persuaded them to stop the float,' said Dawson. “Now I hear that somehow that decision got reversed and t hey are full speed ahead. I hear that there could possibly be a date for the IPO fixed sometime this week; it depends on the markets apparently. In addition they have employed a security firm to provide personal protection for Bell and Lever.
“What about the brother? That is the really important project, we have to get to him.”
“We thought Martin Lever would lead us to him, but from what we are overhearing I don't think he knows where he is at the moment. What do we do now?”
“You have to get hold of the brother!”
“To complicate things my boss has detected that I have a project going on that he knows nothing about. I have denied it of course but we both know I am lying. Depends on how concerned he is whether he follows it up.”
“Ridley, you mean? He's just a pen pusher. You should be able to handle him. In the meantime we may have to go to the next stage. I will consult with my colleagues across the pond, as you Brits say, and let you know.”
The next morning I was up bright and early and together with my shadow Jason, we set out to catch the 8am train to London. We met Alec and his shadow, Sue, at the station and boarded the train. Penny had organised restaurant car seat reservations and we sat down to a good English breakfast, Alec and I separately so we could talk privately as we prepared for the trip. Amazing how breakfast on the train is still a good meal when everything else on rail has deteriorated. We both went through our presentations and how they meshed together for the best impact with Alec reminding me of the key selling points and the subjects to avoid. Tiresome, but I sat and listened as his antennae are much better than mine on these things, and after all it was his role to lead on this project.
The journey was just over an hour long so by the time we had finished breakfast we were slowing down for the run in to Paddington Station as we drank a second cup of coffee.
In College Green police station Inspector Lloyd was meeting with Chief Superintendent Fleet to review the Lever case.
“We need help from the Met on this one Boss. It's all originating off our turf, the main players are all London based.”
“I agree we need some help,” said Fleet. “Let me make a few calls and get back to you.”
In London, we checked in to the Intercontinental Hotel at the back of Mayfair. We then caught a taxi over to Frank Whittles offices in the City where we were making the presentation. Our minders went off to have a coffee in the cafe in the basement while we went up to the top floor.
On the way up Frank revealed that his research in to Mendip Finance etc. had revealed a connection to one of our competitors, Dalrymple Technology. The connection was tortuous because of the maze of shell companies involved all leading to the Caymans where company records were not very transparent.
“So Mendips ’ approach is really a guise for a takeover by Dalrymple?” I said.
“Maybe, the information is too tenuous to be certain, but it is a distinct possibility. Come on, we can discuss this later, we can't be distracted from what we are doing now.”
The presentation was to a group of just over a dozen key market players and seemed to go well. According to Frank we only had one no show which he said indicated the high level of interest in the forthcoming float. Alec made the main presentation on the Company and it's future direction while I stepped in and did a short piece on product development and the associated technology. After some questions we all adjourned to a separate private dining room where Frank had laid on lunch. We sat at two tables, Alec hosting one, and me, with Frank to chaperone me, on the other. Lunch was pleasant, the wine flowed and with it the volume increased. Some of them turned out to be very knowledgeable on trends in the technology and some quite interesting questions came up.
Afterwards, Alec had to go off with Frank for a meeting with the brokers and underwriters and I was at a loose end. We were scheduled to do two more of these presentations tomorrow before going up to Birmingham, but for the rest of the day I was free. I decided I might go and visit Plavsic. I don't know why I decided to go, curiosity I suppose, but a call established that he was in and would see me, so off I went collecting Jason on the way.
Mendip Finance was based off City Road in Moorgate. Not far from Frank ’ s office so I decided that we would walk; it was a bright sunny afternoon and it would be good to get some fresh air although I soon found out that vehicle exhaust pollution made that impossible.
The building was an impressive tall city tower of about 40 floors, all glass and gleaming in the sun. In the foyer I scanned the list of tenants and found that in amongst the second stream banks, lawyers, accountants etc. Mendip Finance was on the 32nd floor. We stepped out of the lift in to a large reception area with a huge reception desk to one side occupied by an attractive girl who looked as though she did not have much to do. She greeted us pleasantly and asked us to take a seat. The walls were decorated with pictures of large oil installations; some were aerial shots of deep-sea oilrigs, others of large-scale refineries and pipelines. A few minutes later I was ushered through to a large meeting room in the corner of the building with a spectacular view looking out over the City and down the Thames. Plavsic was already there and waiting to greet me.
“Yes,” Plavsic responded, “particularly on a clear day like today. Can we get you some coffee or tea. ”
“No thanks,” and we sat down at the table.
“Well Mr Lever, what can I do for you? Have you decided to accept our offer after all?” He smiled.
I returned the smile and hesitated. Now I was here I wasn't sure how to begin, although I would really like to find out if they were behind the personal assaults of the last few days.
“No, the decision to say no to your offer was a board decision and frankly, was made partly on the basis that we did not know you and that we were well down the road to an IPO which it was thought will ultimately give shareholders a better return. However I am in London for a couple of days and thought I might look you up. Tell me a bit more about Mendip Finance.”
“I am sure you must have done your own research before considering our offer,” he said.
“Yes, but it is much better to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak.”
He looked puzzled at that phrase and paused. “OK,” he said eventually, and went on to describe Mendip Finances activities. He pointed to a map on the wall where various coloured pins denoted Mendip activities. Most of them were in Africa and Central Europe and Russia.
“Do you have dealings with governments?” I asked. “I understand that in Russia for instance, the oil industry has a heavy government involvement and shareholding.”
“Yes they do, remember we are not just interested in oil, we have many other interests.”
“Does that include arms and the defence industries?” I asked.
“No, we don't have interests in those areas but some of our associates do.”
“Shareholders, investors, sister companies.”
“Does that include Dalrymple Technology?”
He ignored the question and said, ' Mr Lever, why are you here? I have already had the police here making suggestions that we have been threatening you. I assure you that our intentions are totally honourable, we are an investment organisation looking for good investments.” he smiled, but his smile had a smarminess about it that made my skin crawl.
“You were right, we did do some research on your organisation, but as you will know it's ownership structure is extremely complicated, as if the real owners did not want to be revealed. Why would a legitimate investment company want to conceal its true ownership in this way?”
A flash of irritation briefly wiped the smile from his f ace revealing an altogether harder individual but it was gone within seconds and the surface smile returned. “International trading across several continents frequently requires complex structures,” he parried. Pausing, “ Mr Lever, it is very pleasant to meet with you again but I have an appointment so if there is nothing else I really must conclude this meeting.” he stood as he said this, offering a hand in farewell, effectively ushering me towards the door.
Outside the office I joined up with Jason and we left the building and caught a taxi back to the hotel.
That evening in the hotel, Frank, Alec, and I met up for a drink before attending a dinner with clients. “What do you make of the Dalrymple link to Mendip Finance?” asked Frank looking at Alec.
“I'm not sure what to make of it. Dalrymple are rumoured to have very close links to the US Government procurement operations particularly the Pentagon, but that is hardly surprising really as they have had some very major contracts with them. What do you think Michael?”
“Well, the story on the 'technical grapevine' is that they have some significant product development problems. It is said they are just not keeping pace with the technology. There appears to have been an exodus of senior technical staff, in fact I am interviewing one of them next week. I have heard that there is a lot of dissatisfaction internally with the technical strategy of the company. However that is all rumour, I daresay you could find people who would not have a good thing to say about us if you tried.” I hesitated, and then went on. “I went and paid Mendip Finance a visit this afternoon.”
“Well, I had nothing to do and I wanted to find out if they are the people who are hassling us. Plavsic was all charm and politeness but it was a futile visit, I couldn't even get him to respond to the Dalrymple link.”
The rest of the stay in London and the following visit to Birmingham proved to be just the routine presentations and dining a nd we ended up back in Bristol two days later.
A good bit of news was that the insurance company had paid out on my Range Rover and a new vehicle was waiting for me in the Company car park.
The first evening back home, Jason and I had just finished a steak and salad meal and I was about to settle down in front of the laptop to catch up with some work when the doorbell rang. I opened it to find two men who claimed to be police officers; one flashed a warrant card identifying him as Inspector Naismith. They had come to discuss my car stealing offence. I showed them in to the lounge, Jason stood up and his presence seemed to catch them off guard.
“ Is this your brother Mr Lever?”
“No this is my security guard, Jason Walgrave.” I hesitated. “How do you know I have a brother?”
Naismith ignored the question and said, “ Mr Lever, you are liable to be charged with car theft. Can you please explain the circumstances to us?”
“Inspector Naismith, do you know a Chief Superintendent Fleet in Bristol? We have already discussed this with her and Inspector Lloyd, and while they warned me there were likely to be repercussions I am surprised it is not her dealing with this.”
This seemed to take Naismith by surprise but he recovered quickly and went on, “ Mr Lever, this case is ours, and I don't know Fleet or Lloyd but I will check out with them. In the meantime the owner of the car is upset and is pressing to know why we have not pursued the matter. I require you to come to my office in Bath in the morning when you will be formally charged.” He handed me a card and said, “11 am please,” and with a curt, 'goodnight', he turned towards the door and he and his colleague showed themselves out.
I turned to Jason. “That was strange, it was almost as if they backed off when I mentioned Fleet; and how did they know I had a brother? He did not answer that question. I am going to call Lloyd and ask what is going on.”
Lloyd was working late and he promised to check it out and get back to him but he added that the car theft incident was not his case.
“I can understand that it is not your case but why police in Bath, the 'theft' was in Bristol”?”
“I don't know,” he responded, “It does seem a bit unusual. However I recommend that you keep the appointment in Bath.”
Over breakfast the next day, Jason said that he had also thought the visit was strange and had reported it to his boss who had said that he believed he knew Naismith and that he might have links to Special Branch or some other part of the security services.
“Special Branch! Why are they involved in a car accident, for Christ’s sake! ”
“I have no more idea than you.”
Fleet and Lloyd met later that morning. “I am having trouble getting the Met interested in the Lever case,” said Fleet. “They were distinctly cool and not interested, and if I did not know better I would think they were deliberately playing it down. So I rang an assistant commissioner that I know from Hendon days and he was able to make some interesting observations, although he was cautious, so be careful with this.”
“He observed that he would not be surprised if Asimov was part of a much larger investigation and the last thing they would want is for us to rock the boat or ruin that. He would not however tell me anything more.”
“I asked him if he knew Naismith who called me yesterday. He was reticent to talk but it seems that he knows Naismith and that Special Branch is a bit of a screen for him, and that Naismith is really MI5 nominally reporting to a Nicolas Ridley at MoD, but in reality operating with quite a free hand on anti-terrorist stuff and closely tied in to his opposite numbers in the US. All very woolly and with distinctly dirty ops overtones.”
“So where do we go from here?” said Lloyd. It sounds as though Lever could be in trouble but that our hands are tied.”
“Yes, it is not an easy one, but I am reluctant to allow it to drop quite yet. Lever seems to be a reasonably upright citizen, and it looks like he and his colleagues are building significant business for the community here in Bristol. I am not convinced that he has come completely clean with us however; I suspect he has more of an idea why the Branch are interested in him than he is admitting to us.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Lloyd, “I am not convinced that his brother is not part of this in some way, I have a check running on him. I think we should get them both in for a more formal interview.”
The morning was bright and sunny and the City of Bath looked wonderful sprawled on the bottom and sides of the valleys as we drove down into it. It has many Roman remains including the Roman Baths that have been renovated and are a major tourist attraction. Like Rome it is built on several hills although I am not sure if it is seven! The Georgian buildings and avenues are attractive but the one-way systems and customary traffic problems soon brought me back to earth. We eventually managed to park round the corner from the police station in the Bath Rugby Club car park.
The events of the previous evening had unsettled me and in particular the mention of Adrian and the rev elation that Naismith might be Special B ranch, so I had called our company solicitor, Ron Cheadle, and asked him if he would accompany me. We met on the steps outside the police station and chatted for a few minutes.
“Just tell it as it happened,” said Cheadle. It was dead on 11am as we walked in and I asked for Inspector Naismith.
After a wait of a few minutes while I stood reading the wall posters addressing such issues as how to deal with domestic violence, car theft, and burglary and home security, a young uniformed police woman appeared to guide us upstairs. Jason stayed below to wait for us.
Upstairs we were shown in to a bare windowless room that had a wooden table and four chairs in the middle and virtually no other furniture. There was a large mirror along one wall and long neon strip lights in the ceiling. The woman PC offered us both a cup of tea or coffee and left the room to get them.
She returned a few minutes later with two paper cups of coffee and was followed in to the room by Naismith and his colleague from last night each carrying their own coffee.
“Good morning Mr Lever,” said Naismith in an overly cheerful voice, “this is sergeant Baker, you met him last night but I don't think you were introduced.”
He looked pointedly at Cheadle and I introduced Ron as the Company solicitor, “I believe I am entitled to have legal representation at this meeting, am I not?”
“You are indeed Mr Lever. Mr Cheadle, depending on the outcome of these discussions a decision will be made as to whether to charge your client. The charges being considered are theft of a motor vehicle and absconding from police arrest by escaping from the hospital. I should warn you that if we do decide to proceed with charges we might deny bail, your client having already demonstrated his willingness to run.”
I thought Cheadle was going to explode. “This is preposterous! The fact that my client is here this morning is clear evidence of his willingness to cooperate with the police.” I shivered; these guys were serious and really intent upon applying pressure right from the start.
Naismith smiled obsequiously, “Well why don't we ask Mr Lever to explain his actions and go from there,” he said calmly.
I then went through the story of the men waiting for me at the house and the subsequent escape ending up in the car smash and being in hospital.
“Sounds a bit far fetched if you ask me,” said Baker, “what did these men say they wanted?”
“They were threatening injury if the company I worked for went ahead with its planned stock market flotation.”
“Sounds even less credible,” said Baker aggressively, “why were they searching the house if their main purpose was as you say, to scare you, what could they have been looking for?” Baker was obviously designated the ‘black hat’ in this interrogation.
“Does any one else live at the house, your brother for example?” interrupted Naismith, “He could have had something valuable that these men were looking for Sam,” he said turning to Baker with a 'be reasonable' look.
Definitely a game going on here, I thought. “Why are you so interested in my brother,” I said looking directly at Naismith. “You brought his name up last night and here it is again, nothing to do with a car theft.”
“Does he live with you?” Baker said sharply, ignoring my question.
“No he does not,” I said heatedly.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“He stayed with me a few nights ago and that was the first time I had seen him for some time.”
“Where is he now,” said Baker.
“I don't know, I assume he went home,” I responded.
“That’s a lie!” snapped Baker.
“Gentlemen,” said Cheadle, “I must ask you to explain your line of questioning which appears to have little relevance to the reason why we are here this morning.”
Naismith turned to me, “Your brother has a record Mr Lever, a record which indicates that he might be involved in things which are a threat to national security. Are you involved with him Mr Lever?”
“I don't know what you are talking about,” I responded with feigned surprise. “I am the victim here, it is me who has been attacked and threatened, and now you want to turn the whole thing around to blame me, what is your real agenda Inspector?”
Baker snorted and turned to Naismith. “Let's charge him with the car theft and move on.”
“I would advise you to think carefully about this,” said Cheadle. “My client is an important local businessman whose current public interests could be severely damaged if he were wrongfully arrested. Should he be wrongfully arrested we would hold you and this force liable for damages, damages that could be substantial.”
Naismith sat expressionless looking at us for what seemed and age and then with a grim smile “I don't think it helps getting in to threats,” he said looking at Cheadle. “Your client is free to leave now. That does not mean however, that he will not be charged at some future date.” With that he stood up and left the room.
I sat looking at Baker in silence for a few moments and then rose to my feet. The WPC opened the door and gesturing Ron to go first we left the room. As we did so I noticed a door to the left and on an impulse I opened it and walked in. It was an observation room with a one-way window, presumably through the mirror overlooking the interview room we had just left. Standing there talking to a balding middle-aged stranger, was Naismith.
“Sorry Inspector,” I said, “took the wrong turning,” at which I turned and left the room.
Downstairs we picked up Jason and left the station. There was a coffee shop across the road and I asked Ron if he had time for a cup and a chat before leaving.
Having ordered coffees the three of us sat down. “Well Ron, thanks for that. I think you stopped them in their tracks there. Not only was I about to be arrested but I think I was going to see the inside of a cell.”
“Maybe,” said Ron. “What was all that about your brother?”
“I don't know,” I lied. I had told no one of Adrian’s current predicament and I thought it best that it stayed that way for the time being.
“By the way” interrupted Jason, “my boss came back to me again and confirmed that Naismith is definitely Special Branch.”
There was a look of surprise on Ron’s face. “Well they certainly seemed to have something on their mind besides a car theft. Look Martin, reading between the lines I think if this were to go any further you need more specialised help than I can give you. I am basically a commercial lawyer and you need a criminal lawyer, possibly one with experience of anti-terrorism scenarios. I have a partner, Dave Withers, who has a lot of knowledge in this area, I recommend we bring him in if this goes further.”
“Anti Terrorism!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, I thought that at one stage they were going to invoke those regulations there and then to detain you.”
“A sobering thought,” I said, and sat there quietly drinking my coffee and wondering where Adrian was. Who had Naismith been talking to? Whoever it was he had obviously been observing the interview.
Back in the observation room Naismith was talking to Dawson. “Sorry we didn't get too far boss, he didn't scare easily and I judged it too risky to try and invoke special powers.”
“In the circumstances I agree,” said Dawson grudgingly. “However we need some more evidence.” I will stop that jumped up budding millionaire in his tracks and we need to find out where his brother is. Put a full team on him. I assume you have his ‘phone s monitored and house bugged? Hopefully his brother will make contact.”
“What do we do if we do find his brother, just follow and let you know?”
“Yes, unless you have a dead certain opportunity to take him without any one knowing, in which case do so, but make sure there are no mistakes. There is a rendition team on standby should that happen.”
“What about this Chief Super Fleet?” Said Dawson. “Do you know him?”
“It's a she,” said Naismith, “Fleet is a woman.”
“Oh! You can't talk to women, they always have too many scruples.”
“Yes and no better luck with the DI either, Lloyd is as unbendable as they come and follows the book to the letter. I know him of old.”
“Well,” sighed Dawson, “that makes it imperative that there are no cock ups and a snatch of the young Lever is done cleanly. Don't mess this one up Naismith.” he then turned and left.
Down in the squad room Naismith yelled across the room at a WPC in the corner. “Hailey, police constable Hailey, what the hell happened down there? How did Lever end up entering the observation room. He was in your charge.”
“Sorry sir,” said Hailey, “he just turned and opened the door without warning.”
“Well, keep a better eye on your charges in future, in the meantime get me another tea, two sugars mind you,” and he strode off to his office.
Back at the office I went straight in to a development meeting, for which I was very late. I was not surprised to receive some irritable looks from around the room as I entered; I was normally a stickler for time keeping and tended to be sarcastic when other people were late. My presence was particularly important at this meeting as I was expected to guide the discussions in a meeting that was intended to put the final touches to a revised product strategy briefing for the board
That afternoon there was a board meeting at 3pm and I still had not had time to brief Alec on my morning adventures with Bath police. I tried to do so just before the meeting by going to his office only to find him ensconced with Frank. I interrupted; I thought it was urgent that I speak to them before the meeting.
“Good afternoon Frank, sorry to butt in Alec but I have something urgent.” I then went on to explain to them the events of the morning. “So you see Gentlemen it is possible that I could be charged with car theft, not a very good scenario for the director of a company about to list publicly!”
“Incredible, but I see what you mean, ” said Alec. Frank sat there quietly.
“The immediate issue is, do I declare this to the board this afternoon?”
“On balance, my view would be no,” said Frank. “We need more time to think about this and see what happens.”
“You mean to wait and see if I get bumped off!” I laughed grimly. We adjourned to the boardroom.
The board meeting was focussed on the product strategy presentation although Alec and Bill also reported on trading results and the on-going myriad of arrangements for the float.
Afterwards, those who didn't have to rush off went to dinner at a superb Italian restaurant just around the corner from the office. It was an opportunity for informal discussions and the exchange of ideas with the non-executive directors. At the end of the meal after some people had left Ron Armstrong and his fellow director, a woman called Lucy Pageant cornered Alec and me. Ron was the senior of the two representative directors that Armstrong Investments had on the Control Networks board, but Lucy was extremely bright and as sharp as a tack so one had to be careful what one said to her.
“Alec, Martin, is there any development on the security front? I note that the board papers referred to an increased level of expenditure on security leading up to the float. Is everything else OK? No further threats?” Alec glanced at me and then went on to explain the security that had been taken on board.
“But no more threats etc.” said Lucy.
“No,” I said lying through my teeth, to which Lucy looked questioningly.
“On another matter, Alec you need to talk to Frank tomorrow. I have just been talking to him about a US company called Dalrymple. You probably know them as a major competitor, a Control Networks equivalent in the States. I think that they could be available and might make a really good acquisition for you. The float gives you the weaponry to make the acquisition and the combination would make you a very powerful force.”
“I need an opportunity like that like I need a hole in the head at the moment,” said Alec. “Why are you so keen?”
“Well, I just have a feeling that they might need us and a good deal could be done. They have been going a lot longer than you, and as you would expect they have great penetration in the US market, which would complement Control Networks strong UK and European base. I am also sensing that perhaps their technology is not so advanced and might be aging. They have grown with the aid of quite a few acquisitions and it is possible that the mix of technologies they have acquired is a legacy that is starting to catch up with them. They are the larger Company and their interest is in acquiring you, but I suspect that you are really the stronger.”
“Maybe, once we have the float through we could start looking at it, but not until then.”
“I appreciate that it is not an easy time but you cannot always choose your timing Alec. I don't suggest you do anything about it immediately, but the CEO is over here next week, will you at least have a 'get to know you' lunch so that we can keep it warm as an idea?”
“What was Franks reaction when you mentioned Dalrymple?”
“What do you mean, he just said he would talk to you about it, although…” he paused staring at Alec, “he did seem a little startled, is there anything I should know?”
“No, lets do the lunch,” said Alec reluctantly, “you set it up, but let's make it here in Bristol.”
“Lucy knows the CEO, so I will leave her to set it up and liaise with you. I don't think I will be able to make it down.”
The next morning we were just about to leave the house for the office when Adrian called me on my mobile. Startled, I said, “get off this line immediately and meet me where we used to go fishing I said. Can you do that in 30 minutes?”
“Yes,” said Adrian hesitantly, and I hung up.
Once outside I turned to Jason and said. “Since that session with Naismith yesterday I have become convinced that there is something serious going on so I want to take all precautions including assuming that the house is bugged and that my ‘‘‘phone s are bugged. I am sure we will be followed this morning from the house here to the office. How can I lose the tail, got any ideas?”
“Its not my role to let you go off on your own but I am sure we will be followed. I could take your Range Rover and let them follow me, while you sneak off over the back fence.” Where did you used to go fishing by the way?”
“Over the back fence, at a small stream about a mile away,” I said laughing. With that we parted company.
Twenty minutes later I was looking down in to Combe Dell at the stream where Adrian and I had fished when he was a young kid and I was a teenager. I stood behind the trees staring down. There didn't seem to be any one around and then my old MG sports appeare d in the lane below by the stream and pulling to a stop, Adrian got out.
“Glad to see you have not wrecked it,” I said emerging from the woods.
“What was that about?” said Adrian.
“I think our ‘ phone s etc. might be bugged.” I then went on to tell him about the events of the last few days. “So you see, I am guessing, but I am pretty confident that the real agenda of Naismith and his pals is you.”
“I really have landed you with my problems, haven't I, what do we do now?”
“I'm not really sure. Are you sti ll staying with the girl friend? ”
“Yes, but maybe I shouldn't, I may be putting her at risk.”
“Well I think we need to get away from here. They could be tracking your mobile. Take it apart now and get it offline.”
We then got in to my car and drove off with Adrian at the wheel.
A few miles away Jason had just joined the slip road to the motorway when a red Ford roared past him and screeched to a halt across his bows. The driver’s door and front passenger doors opened and out got two serious looking guys. The one from the passenger side was a huge barrel chested individual with arms like a gorillas hanging to his sides.
“Get out of the car,” yelled the driver, a thin faced balding guy. “Where is Lever?”
“He's not here, ” said Jason as he got out of the car.
“I can see that, smartass,” said the driver. “I said where is he?”
“I don't know. It's true, I don't,” said Jason as the Gorilla advanced towards him. “Keep away from me,” yelled Jason.
The driver laughed and the Gorilla continued to advance. Suddenly the Gorilla lunged out with a right arm punch. Jason dodged it and the Gorilla lost a bit of balance with Jason moving away. The Gorilla advanced again and lunged, but instead of dodging, Jason ducked, got under the arm and grabbing it pulled down hard against the joint. There was a crack and a scream of pain from the Gorilla who collapsed sideways against the car.
Jason then advanced on the driver who was reaching inside his jacket, but Jason got there first and a chop across the side of the neck laid him out. Taking the gun that the driver had been reaching for he turned to the Gorilla, “when he wakes up you had better take your mate home. Keep out of my way!” and with that he pushed the Gorilla away from the car, got in and drove on up the motorway ramp.
Dawson looked up as Naismith walked in to his office. “What have you got for me?”
“Not too good,” said Naismith. “Lever might have met up with his younger brother, and he seems to have disappeared.”
“How can that be?”
Naismith related the events of an hour earlier.
“So who was the guy driving Levers car?”
“It appears that Lever and his mate Bell at Control Networks have engaged a security company to provide protection and this guy was one of them. Fro m what we have learned he is ex- SAS and knows how to handle himself.”
“Well that's pretty obvious from what he did to your men.”
“Lever seems to have switched off his ‘‘‘phone as does his brother, so finding them is proving difficult; however they have to surface at some stage.”
Now what do we do, I thought? Get so me new SIM cards for a start. “Adrian, there is a mobile ‘phone kiosk just down the road from the office, let’s stop there on the way to the office and pick up some new SIM s.”
When we got to the office I made for Alec’s office but could not find him. He was apparently out at a meeting and would not be back until lunchtime. Sitting in my office with Adrian we discussed 'what next'.
“I think we had better update our 'friendly' policemen, and see if they have any ideas.”
I rang Lloyd who said that he was currently in the area and would be able to drop in and see us some time after twelve. I told Adrian that there were a few items of work I had to attend to, but he was welcome to wait around and meet the police with me although I had told no one of his hacking escapade and the consequences, which I was increasingly sure were at least partially responsible for what was happening. There did however seem to be an element of the problem linked to the forthcoming stock market flotation, but I could not understand why, and even less could I understand how there could be a link between that and Adrian.
“Do you have a computer I can use while I wait?” asked Adrian.
“Use mine on the desk there, I will be gone for the next hour or so.”
Later I returned to the office to find that Lloyd and Jason had turned up and were both sitting chatting to Adrian. They had both managed to scrounge some coffee.
“I see you have met my brother Adrian, and Jason my personal security man. Has any one updated you with events?” I asked.
“No, they haven't but have you heard about Jason’s happenings this morning?” Lloyd nodded at Jason who went on to describe the attack on him that morning.
“Wow, I said, this is really getting serious. I bet that the big guy whose arm you broke is the same guy who attacked me in the lane that night. The London based hard man that I identified from your photos,” I said turning towards Lloyd.
“Why are you here?” said Lloyd turning to Adrian. “Are you somehow involved or are you just visiting?”
Adrian hesitated, and I interrupted to say that Adrian was just visiting me. Lloyd looked quizzically at me over the top of his spectacles as if not totally convinced.
“I want to call my boss and br ing her up to date can I use a ‘phone?”
“You can use the office next door, it's empty at the moment.” Lloyd left the room.
“I turned to Jason, are you OK?”
Before he could reply Alec walked in to the room. 'Are you guys OK? I hear that it has been an eventful morning. I introduced him to Adrian whom he had not seen since he was a child, and quickly explained what had been going on, but again no mention of Adrian’s involvement. I was going to have to come clean with Alec sooner or later; he and or his family could be in danger so I owed him the truth. Alec had to leave for another meeting but he invited Adrian and I to dinner at his place. Lisa was still away, so he would be cooking some steaks on the barbecue, if the rain held off. By definition the invitation had to be open to our respective security personnel. “As he left Alec looked at me and said “I have had a call from Lucy Pageant, that meeting with Dalrymple has firmed up for Monday lunch time, don't forget.”
Jason also left leaving Adrian and I to mull over the current situation. Lloyd walked back in to the room fresh from a conversation with his boss, Chief Superintendent Fleet, and looked at Adrian and me. “Look I don't think you are telling us the whole story,” he said. “Inspector Naismith is Special Branch and there has to be a reason for them to be interested in you. His boss, Dawson has talked to my boss and while he has not provided details he has confirmed their interest. Dawson is pretty high up in the Branch, so his interests are not normally trivial. What are you not telling me? Are you really involved and not just a bystander?” he said looking at Adrian.
Adrian denied it but Lloyd did not look convinced. “Well, I would not mess around with the Branch if I were you. Dawson has some real pull and could make life very unpleasant for you both. My boss would like you both to come in to the station and see her, I will call you and set up a time when I know when she is free.” I also want to talk to your Mr Jason Walgrave. The traffic cameras on the motorway picked up his altercation this morning. It appears your Mr Walgrave can handle himself.” With that he left.
After a brief silence Adrian said, “I have some thing else.”
“Not another confession I hope!”
“No. I was doing some research earlier using your computer and I think I might have come up with something interesting. I did not realise it until Alec mentioned the name Dalrymple. I was doing some research in to Mendip Finance, you said you had done some, but I think I got quite a bit further than you.”
I squirmed, “legally I hope?”
“As you know, the ownership structure of Mendip Finance is extremely complex and convoluted, hiding behind various shells and off shore barriers. Ultimately a substantial proportion, if not all of the beneficial ownership, is connected to a guy called Asimov.”
“That's the name the police came up with when following Plavsic but could prove no actual connection.”
“Maybe,” said Adrian, “but what is more interesting perhaps, is that when I delved in to Asimov’s interests, and the tentacles are also long and tenuous, I came up with the name Dalrymple.”
“Yes, our chairman has been doing some research on Mendip and has come up with the same information.”
We both sat there in silence for a few moments.
“This is crazy I said. Are we saying that Dalrymple and Mendip are part of a plot to stop us floating the business? Why? And what has this to do with you. The link of your video hacking seems a great coincidence.”
“My involvement could just be a coincidence,” said Adrian. “Coincidences do happen. Maybe they, whoever 'they' are, think that it gives them more leverage with you.”
“Maybe, but I am not convinced. By the way what have you done with the copy of that video footage? Is it safe, I hope you are not carrying it around?”
“No, of course not. Not only is it safe, if anything happens to me I have arranged for it to go viral on the Internet. I thought that would give me some bargaining power if it is needed.”
“Yes, OK,” I said uncertainly, “but whatever happens make sure it is not published inadvertently. If it did get out you would lose that bargaining power and you never know what might happen then. Perhaps you should also let me know where a copy is in case I need to be able to use it?”
“OK,” said Adrian. “If you think so, I was just trying to avoid getting you in even deeper.”
“Bit late for that,” I said.
Alec stuck his head around the door. “Come on Lisa has the food ready and is chasing to know when we will get there.”
“I thought she was in Manchester?”
“She was, but she had to come back for a day to get a briefing connected to the case she is on.”
“Ok, we are coming.”
We spent the evening with Alec and Lisa. Before dinner I apologised to Lisa and said that I needed to spend a few minutes with Alec on some business so we disappeared in to his study. I had decided to tell him about Adrian’s situation. I did not show him the material that Adrian had downloaded or whom it had identified, I merely described it to him. Telling him the detailed identity of the people in the video would serve no purpose and could only endanger him further.
“So as you see it is very difficult and I am not sure what is the best way forward. Jason disabled their thugs but they will come again until the issue is resolved and there is also a possible link with Dalrymple.”
Alec sat quietly and listened, obviously shocked by what I was telling him, but quiet all the same. Eventually he said. “Look, I need some time to absorb this, but what strikes me straight away is that we are out of our league here, and we need to get some heavyweights on side to help. The only ones I can think of are the Bristol police, Fleet and Lloyd, although I am not sure how much they will really be able to help if it comes to the crunch. I think it is obvious that Adrian needs to be protected, they are obviously searching for him.”
“Let's talk again in the office in the morning, but my gut feeling is that you are right and the three of us should go and see Fleet tomorrow and confess. Ron Cheadle gave me the name of his partner who is a criminal lawyer and also has experience of these issues. I could call him and find out if he would be available to accompany us?”
“Good idea, do that.” Let's go back in and join the rest, I have some steaks to cook!”
Lisa looked daggers at me as we walked back in to the main living room, but Alec bounced over, gave her a peck on the cheek and demanded to know where the steaks were. He was planning to cook them on the barbecue out on the deck.
The tensions soon dissipated, and the rest of the evening was relaxed with no further discussion of business. Alec was cooking marinated filet steak. Two types of marinade, a spicy Indonesian style peanut marinade, and a plain garlic and mustard marinade. Served with salads and a baked potato with a mayonnaise garnish, the steaks were spectacula r, and a glorious Italian red wine to accompany them finished it all off well.
The woman PC was present and Alec made sure to include her and our two security personnel, Jason and Sue, in the evening. I had already discovered that Jason could be pleasant company and Sue proved equally engaging once she relaxed.
At about 11pm I made a move to go and Jason got up as well.
“See you in the office in the morning Alec?”
“Yes, OK,” said Alec.
Giving Lisa a hug and a thank you for the meal, we left for the lift down to the car park to pick up the Range Rover.
Arriving home it was good to see that we had no welcoming party and the house looked undisturbed. I went straight to bed.
During breakfast the next morning, Lloyd called and asked us to come in at 10am to see him and Fleet. “Can we make it a bit later?” I said, “Alec Bell would like to join us and I would also like to bring a lawyer if I can.”
“You think you need a lawyer do you?” said Lloyd, sounding surprised.
“We have a few things to tell you and I think it only best to be prepared, can I call you back?”
“Fine” he said, “but make it quick please.”
I called Ron Cheadle in his office and asked him if he could make the introductions to his partner Dave Withers. We were due to have another session with police today.
“I took the liberty of talking to Dave after we last met so he is partly up to speed. Let me check if he is in.” there was a click on the line as he put me on hold.
Shortly there was a broad Yorkshire voice on the ‘‘‘phone. “ Mr Lever, my name is Dave Withers, Ron has been telling me something about you. What is happening?” I then went on to explain that we were planning to attend a police interview today with Fleet and Lloyd and asked if he could be available to attend. “Well I am in court this morning but the afternoon is free. You are based near the harbour I believe. Why don't I come in to your office so you can brief me before going down to College Green? If you agree, I will call Chief Superintendent Fleet and check that is convenient. I know her quite well.”
“OK,” I said. See you about lunchtime at our office.
Out of courtesy I called Lloyd and explained what was happening. “Dave Withers,” he said, “pulling out the big guns aren't you? I will find out from the Chief Super what she agrees.”
Adrian said he had to go to his girlfriend ’ s and get some clean clothes and that he would come down to my office later in the morning.
In the office, I talked to Alec and explained what I had set up.
“I will have to shuffle a few things round from this afternoon but I will make it. Why don't you organise some sandwiches in for lunch so we can discuss what we do while we eat. I assume Adrian will be there?”
“Yes, he is coming in later this morning, the problem is how much he should admit to, thereby incriminating himself. These days there is a danger he could be extradited to the US!”
“Withers should be able to advise on that. Let's play it by ear.”
I then sat down in front of my computer to start dealing with my email. With everything that was going on I had got seriously behind with my mail, more than 150+ unread. However there would not be anything too urgent, as my PA June wou ld have drawn my attention to it if she couldn't deal with it.
She however did remind me that I was committed to giving a lecture next week to some software students at Bristol Uni. Had I prepared anything? It was customary to provide a hard copy of such talks so I couldn't just wing it. The subject was 'The Planning of Software Development.” With the office door closed, I got down to roughing something out with indications of schematics needed and by the time lunchtime had come I was able to email something to June that she could convert in to PowerPoint with suitable suggested graphics. June was a wiz on PowerPoint so I was confident that the draft that would come back would be good and only my content would require tweaking.
Lunchtime came and June said that she had organised sandwiches in the boardroom and that Mr Withers was on his way up there.
“Please tell Alec, have you heard anything from my brother Adrian?”
“No, I did not know you were expecting him.”
“Well, show him up to the boardroom when he arrives please?”
The boardroom was fortunate to have a large picture window at one end, and the view out of the window was a stunning view up the Clifton Go rge, a marvellous view of the Suspension Bridge spanning the gorge. Alec always reckoned that it was this view that sold the building to me when we first moved here a few years ago. I must admit I am a fan of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the designer of the bridge and many other engineering feats of Victorian England, and I find this view inspirational.
When I arrived, Dave Withers was standing admiring the view. “Magnificent isn't it,” I said.
“It sure is, good to meet you Mr Lever,” he responded holding out his hand.
We shook hands, “call me Martin, we are informal here.”
“In which case please call me Dave.”
“OK Dave. I hope you don't mind, but rather than going out to lunch I have taken the liberty of organising some sandwiches here so that we have more time to talk.”
“That's fine. Did you get my message that Fleet is able to see us at 3.30pm?”
Yes, I did th anks. I am expecting Alec Bell to join us shortly, and also my brother Adrian. In fact I don't know where he is,” I said irritably, looking at my watch.
“Well while we are waiting why don't you start telling me what all of this is about.” At that point we were interrupted by the arrival of sandwiches, and coffee etc.
“Would you like me to serve some coffee?” said June.
“No thanks June, we will help ourselves. Any message from Adrian?”
“No, I'm sorry.”
“OK, let me know if you hear anything.”
As June left, Alec joined us and after introducing him to Dave Withers I started from the beginning to relate events to Dave.
Adrian had left the house shortly after Martin and set out for his girlfriend’s house. She lived in a village called Pill that is a charming village on the Avon River not too far from the point where the Avon joins the River Severn. It used to be a passenger ferry point across the Avon.
Driving the old open top MG down through Bristol and then finally through the narrow country lanes to Pill was thoroughly enjoyable and for a short time allowed Adrian to forget his current problems. The fresh air on the face and through the hair was invigorating, but as he dropped down towards the village he became conscious of a red car following closely behind him. Had it been there long? As he pulled over the next rise, he pulled up at a junction where there seemed to be some kind of road works hold up. All of a sudden as he sat waiting he was aware of someone approaching behind him, and then he was thumped in the neck and within seconds he lost consciousness as the drug from the syringe stabbed in to his neck knocked him out. The attacker caught him and with the help of his mate dragged him out of the car and into the red Ford behind. The mate got in to the MG and set off up the road with the red Ford following closely behind.
An hour later Dawson got a call from Naismith. We have the prize and he is on the way to our friends. Dawson smiled to himself; maybe things are looking up at last.
I finished reciting events to Dave Withers. Periodically Alec interrupted to add his own comments and observations.
“Well gentlemen, that is quite a story and I am not sure quite what we should make of it. My recommendation is that you come completely clean with Chief Superintendent Fleet. In my experience she is a straight shooting cop and while she is not immune to pressures she will do the right thing. Frankly I think you need any help she can give.”
“I think we need to get going if we are going to be at Colleg e Green on time, I will get Penny to call us a taxi.” Alec picked up the ‘phone in the corn er of the room and spoke to Penny.
“I am beginning to get a bit worried about Adrian, he is not normally the most punctual or organised of people but I would not think he would be late for this meeting, he knows how important it is.”
“Have you tried calling him?” said Alec
“Yes, but I will try again,… The phone has gone to voicemail again”
“Well let' s get going, he can catch us up, ” said Alec. “The taxi is here.”
Arriving at College Green police station a young constable showed them up to a meeting room on the first floor in which there was a large conference table and a dozen chairs. There were no windows and the room was quite bare.
Before entering the room, Lloyd stopped Fleet and said. “We have had a response on that gun that Jason Walgrave handed in. It appears to have been used before in what the Met believe was a professional killing up there.”
“This gets murkier and murkier,” said Fleet.
Inspector Lloyd entered the meeting room followed by Chief Superintendent Fleet, the young constable left. “Thank you for coming in gentlemen,” she said, “hopefully you can help us get to the bottom of what is going on.”
Dave Withers responded. “First of all Chief Superintendent let me apologise for delaying this meeting from this morning. I trust you will appreciate that it was in all of our interests for my clients to be able to provide me with detailed instructions before we met. I have advised my clients to be totally open and forthright about what has happened to them and I think it best if we allow Mr Lever to start off.
“Before we do,” said Lloyd, “where is Adrian Lever, I was given to understand that he would also be attending today?”
“I don't know where he is,” I said. “He said he would be here and I am becoming increasingly worried about the fact that he has not turned up.”
“There is probably a perfectly simple explanation,” said Fleet, “so why don't we get on with it.”
“One more thing,” said Withers. “I think it would make for a more frank exchange if this meeting, at least initially, were to be an informal meeting, that is no recording. Do you agree?”
Lloyd looked at Fleet, “I will go along with that for now,” she said.
I then proceeded to tell Fleet the whole story, as I knew it:
The threats to myself and Alec purportedly about floating the company, the two attacks I had experienced and the car crash which ended up with me in hospital, followed by my 'escape' as I feared I was too vulnerable lying there in bed.
The approach by Mendip Finance to acquire the Company and the suspicion that somehow they were involved in some of the violence.
Then the hapless exploits of my brother hacking in to a US government system and unearthing material that would be very embarrassing for certain US officials if published.
The visits of other police, led by Naismith, who we now understood was Special Branch, and their greater interest in Adrian rather than my alleged car theft that they were supposedly investigating, and even the suspicion that they may have had a direct hand in the attacks.
“So as you can see Chief Superintendent, I think it is clear that we have clear reason to be concerned about our safety and that of our families. As we speak it is possible that Adrian is in great danger!”
“ What is this material that your brother hacked in to? Do you h ave a copy here that we can see, ” said Lloyd.
“We don't have a copy here and I myself have not seen it,” interrupted Withers. “Suffice it to say that it is said to be extremely incriminating evidence of the involvement of a senior US Official in war crimes. I am not sure if at this stage it would serve any purpose for it to be seen by a larger audience than has already seen it.”
“In the circumstances I don't think you can be the judge of that,” said Lloyd in a prickly response.
“I think we can reserve judgement on that for a while,” said Fleet. “What matters now is what is to be done from here. Firstly Mr Lever, I think I need to make it clear that we have not absolved you of the crime of stealing a vehicle from the hospital. However until there is some greater clarity on the other matters we can suspend that discussion and deal with it later.”
“Secondly, the crime by your brother of hacking in to US government files is much more serious and subject to severe penalties if they should choose to prosecute and try to extradite him to the US for trial. That is a security issue and will involve the appropriate security services in its prosecution. I have already talked briefly to Inspector Naismith, now I have your version of events I will talk to him again and see where he wants to take this. In the meantime Mr Withers is very experienced in issues of this nature and can advise you as to how to proceed”
“ Mr Lever, I think you should be aware that you are possibly exposed to prosecution for conspiracy to help your brother conceal his crime and of evading arrest.”
“I have done no such thing!” I said. “I really am worried about Adrian’s whereabouts. Much as you might not agree, I am sure he has not avoided this meeting intentionally, something must be wrong. Is there anything you can do to help?”
“We can put an alert out for him, do you have a photograph?”
“I can send you one from home easily enough.”
“Do you know where he was going when you last spoke to him?” said Lloyd.
“Yes, it was just after eight this morning, I left him at home, and he was due to leave almost immediately, he was planning to go to his girlfriends where he has been staying and pick up some clean clothes, before coming on to meet with us at the office before we were scheduled to come here.”
“Where does she live?”
“I don't exactly know. It is somewhere in Pill, but I don't have an address, or for that matter a name. He was however driving a very distinctive car. A 1935 soft top MG sports in British racing green. I can give you the registration num ber. It is my car. I lent it to him when he stayed with me a few days ago.”
“I think that is all for now, said Fleet. “Do you have anything else David?” she said looking at Lloyd.
“No, not for the moment except to remind you Mr Lever to let us know immediately if you hear from your brother.”
“I am sure he will do that,” responded Withers, “similarly I hope that we can rely on you to keep us informed on progress in your investigations.”
With that Lloyd escorted us downstairs to the reception desk and bade us farewell. Back up stairs he caught up with Fleet.
“Well, what do you make of that Boss. Do you believe it, and do you believe we have been told all of it?”
“I am not sure on either account, but I think something is going on. Make sure you get the alert out on Adrian Lever and on that car, I suspect his brother might be right that something has happened to him.”
Adrian came round lying on a bed in a semi dark room. He was handcuffed and the handcuffs were linked by another set of handcuffs to the bedpost. He felt really groggy, and soon dropped unconscious again.
When he came round, the room was in almost total darkness, and it seemed that outside the window blinds it was dark, so he had obviously been out for a few hours. He yelled out, but nobody responded. As he l ay there listening he could hear no noise, no traffic, no people noises. Nobody around.
They had taken h is watch, shoes, belt, and coat. A fter what seemed like several hours he heard the crunch of tyres on gravel accompanied by the glare of headlights flashing across the window. The sound of a door opening, some subdued conversation, and then the sound of footsteps on bare floorboards coming closer. The door opened and a flood of light splashed across the room temporarily blinding him as the overhead light was switched on.
“Well Mr Lever, are you comfortable, ” said a gaunt lo oking guy with a southern drawl?
“I could do with the toilet.”
The guy who had spoken turned and said “Reg, undo him, and take him to the bathroom, but manacle his ankles before you do.”
Five minutes later he was back in the room and handcuffed to the bed again.
“Who are you?” he asked. “What do you want?”
“Oh come on L ever, don't lets play that game. You know why you are here and why we want you.”
“Are you Groucho?”
There was a slight hesitation before he answered, “Groucho? Who do you mean?”
“The person you told my brother that I should call.”
“Never heard of a man called Groucho.”
Adrian shrugged; they were not going to admit anything. “So what happens now?”
“It's not my decision as to what happens to you now but I suspect you will be going on a little air trip; that decision will be made by others and until we are told, you will stay here with us. Reg will get you some food, but don't try anything funny or you will regret it.” With that they both left the room.
There was a whispered conversation in the room next door. “Look here Mac, I’m not going to stay here and babysit this guy; it’s not my job.”
Mac slowly turned and looked at him. “Reg, I don't think you are in a position to argue. This job has not exactly gone smoothly and some people are looking to you for that. If I were you I would keep my mouth shut and do what is needed until the job is finished.”
“The stuff ups were not my fault,” whined Reg. “Dawson gave us no real heads up on what this case was all about. Anyway where do I get food from?”
“There's a MacDonald’s a mile down the road, try that, and bring back a burger and fries for me with some drinks.”
Dave Withers, Alec, and I had adjourned across the road for a coffee and a quick parley.
“Well I think that went as well as can be expected,” said Dave.
“Thanks for joining us,” I said. “Do you think they can help?”
“Well they can help trying to find your brother if he really has gone missing. Don't forget that photo they asked for. Look I have to get going, keep in touch with me and I will let you know if I hear anything.”
That left Alec and I sitting musing over our coffees. “You have been very quiet Alec. What do you think we should do now?”
“Well apart from your brother, I don't think much has changed, and hopefully he has just been delayed somewhere.”
“I hope you are right but I don't think you are. Oh! It is so frustrating, is there nothing I can do?”
“Well let’s walk back to the office and see if anything is waiting for us there.”
Back at the office everything was frustratingly normal and I retired to my office with the door shut to think. I just couldn't sit and do nothing! Who could help us? What about that guy at the MoD who came and visited us, Gordon Stewart was his name. I could call him.
I found his card and called the number on it. It went to an operator or secretary who said Gordon Stewart was not available at the moment but she would take a message.
I then called Naismith. He was not available.
May as well go home, I was not doing any good here.
As I opened the house door the ‘‘‘phone was ringing. It was inspector Lloyd.
“We have found your car,” he said. “You’re not going to like this, it had been dumped in to the Feeder canal so it is probably severely damaged. There is no sign of your brother.”
“This means that he has been kidnapped, doesn't it?”
“It looks as though that might be the case,' said Lloyd. “I have spoken to the Boss and she has agreed to our making a TV appeal and that will go out on the 7 o'clock news tonight. I need that photo!”
“I will get it now, do you have an email address I can send it to?”
“If you have my card use the address on there.”
“OK,” I said and hung up.
I quickly sorted out a couple of recent shots of Adrian from the album on my computer and emailed them to Lloyd.
Then Naismith called back. “ Mr Lever you called me?”
“Inspector Naismith, you have been showing a lot of interest in my brother. Do you know he is now missing?”
“No, I had not heard that,” said Naismith.
“Well he is and there is a public appeal for information on his whereabouts about to go out on TV.”
“Indeed,” said Naismith, “what makes you think anything is wrong, maybe he just does not want to be found? That has been my experience with him over the past week or two.”
“Look Inspector, don't lets beat about the bush. My frustration is that I don't have any contact with the people that have done this so I can't talk to them. They need to know that if any harm comes to Adrian then the information they don't want revealed will be published around the world and they cannot stop that regardless of what happens to Adrian, or me, for that matter. That is not an idle threat, both Adrian and I have pretty strong computer expertise so you can take it that the set up to reveal the information is watertight.”
“Look, I don't see how this involves me, you have obviously talked to the police, what more can I do.”
“I think you might know who has done this so I want you to get the message back to them.”
“ Mr Lever, I am a straight forward policeman and we do not engage in kidnapping, I assure you that I know nothing of this so I don't see how I can help you.”
My mobile bleeped. I had a text message from Gordon Stewart to call him on a different number. “I have to go now, please pass on my message,” I said and hung up. I walked out in to the garden and called Stewart.
“ Mr Lever how pleasant to hear from you, what can I do for you?”
“I'm looking for some help, and thought you might be able to give me some guidance, can we meet, I could be in London in a couple of hours.”
“Yes, we could meet, is there a company security issue you need help with?”
“Kind of,” I replied.
“Well I am in Oxford, do you know the Randolph hotel in the middle of Oxford?
“You mean the one which formed the location for a lot of the scenes in the Morse TV drama?”
“Yes that one, meet me in the bar at 7pm.”
I looked at my watch, “I can just about make that,” I said and hung up.
The house is only 4 miles from the M4 to London so I was quickly well on the way. The traffic on the final leg in to Oxford would determine whether I got there for 7pm. I parked in a local mu lti-storey car park, after having gone round the one-way system twice in error and walked in to the bar of the Randolph a few minutes before 7 o’clock. Stewart was standing at the bar and after shaking hands and refusing his offer of a drink but ordering coffee, I looked across and saw the news starting on the TV in the corner.
“Let's watch this,” I said. “It will explain my problem.” I got the barman to turn up the volume and we wondered over to sit down near the set. After a few minutes a photo of Adrian appeared on the screen with the news that police were seeking the help of the public to find a young man, Adrian Lever, whom they have reason to believe may have been kidnapped, etc.
“That is your brother?” Said Stewart. “I'm sorry to learn what is happening, but how can I help?”
“I think you have connections in to the security services and I believe that it is the security services either directly or in conjunction with the CIA or other American Services who have organised his kidnap.”
“That is an incredible accusation Mr Lever. I am also afraid that you are mistaken, I do not have any connections of that nature, why would I?”
“Look I am desperate, they have kidnapped him to stop him revealing some images he ha cked from a US government website. I am worried he may now just disappear.”
“You have been reading too many fiction novels, Mr Lever. Things like that don't happen in real life in this country.”
“I think there is enough evidence circulating, even if much of it is from unofficial sources, to make such suspicions potentially credible. The frustrating thing is that I don't know who they are so I can't talk to them. They need to know that if any harm comes to Adrian then the information they don't want revealed will be published around the world and they won't be able to stop that regardless of what happens to us. I thought you might be able to give that message to the right people in the system.”
“ Mr Lever, you have a good imagination, I don't have connections with such people even if they exist.”
“Do you know of a Peter Asimov, a company called Mendip Finance, and a company called Dalrymple. ”
“I have heard of Peter Asimov, as have most people who read the business news, and you know that I am aware that Mendip Finance have made overtures to buy your company. Dalrymple is an American competitor of yours who would dearly love to get MoD business. Are you saying they are in anyway connected with the disappearance of your brother?”
“It appears that they may be connected to some violent attacks on me and threats to my colleagues in recent weeks.”
“That sounds incredible, do you have evidence?”
“The evidence is tenuous but my gut-feel is that it is true.”
“Gut-feel Mr Lever! Surely you should have something more than 'gut-feel' to make such an accusation?”
“Do you know an Inspector Naismith? I believe he is in Special Branch.”
“ Mr Lever, as I keep telling you I have no connection with the security services or police so I don't know him.”
I sighed. “ Well it appears I may have wasted your time.”
“Look Mr Lever, it is not surprising that the stress of your brother disappearing might lead you to jump to some wild conclusions, but that I would suggest, is what they are. I am sorry I cannot help more. I have a friend in Special Branch and will talk to him, but I don't hold out much hope that I can help. I have to go, I am sorry if you feel your journey up here was wasted.” With that he got up, we shook hands and I left.
Perhaps he is right I thought as I walked back to my car. Maybe I am letting my imagination run away with me! But no! I did not imagine the beatings, the car 'accident', the disappearance of Adrian, etc. No, this has to be followed through aggressively. I drove more sedately back to Bristol and home. It then occurred to me. Where was Jason, I had 'lost' him this morning and he was probably feeling put out that I had not been in touch. I called him, he was back at the house, and I told him I would be home shortly.
C HAPTER 30
After Martin Lever had left the Randolph Hotel, Stewart put in a call. “Sir, I think there may be a bit of a situation developing which while not directly involving me I feel obliged to let you know about.”
“Can it wait until the morning?” said Ridley. “Or do we need to discuss it now? Good so it can wait? M y office at 9 am, see you then.”
The next morning Stewart met with Ridley and told him about his conversation with Lever. “Sir, I don't know the background to this, and Naismith is a good officer, if somewhat aggressive and opinionated. I think he is acting on orders from above and I was not sure that you were aware of what is going on.”
“Dawson, you mean?”
“Yes, you know how close he is to the Yanks and this smells of US clandestine activity.”
“OK, I will follow it up, thanks. Dawson is actually in the US at the moment so it will have to wait until Monday.”
Back in Bristol, I went in to the office, Jason tagging along. It was Saturday but there was no news about Adrian and there was loads of work waiting to be done so I thought I might as well get on with it. Alec was also in so we had a chat over coffee and then I went and buried myself in the outstanding paperwork that June had left out on my desk. I reviewed and tweaked the PowerPoint she had prepared for my student lecture; quite an impressive presentation, she had done well. I must remember to compliment her on Monday.
A full in tray, and the results of the stress testing on ForceNet were coming in and the results so far looked good, in fact better than I had expected.
I called Lloyd and found that he also was at work. No news on Adrian, but there had been a sizeable response to the TV appeal. There was one witness report of an incident in Pill where a driver of a car matching the description of my MG had apparently been taken ill and another driver had moved him to his car presumably to take him to a doctor or hospital. There were no corresponding hospital admissions so this could be evidence that Adrian had been abducted not assisted as assumed by the witness. However there were no indications of where Adrian could be now and the only thing the witness could remember was that the car behind the MG had been red, possibly a Ford.
“That sounds like the car that intercepted Jason,” I said.
“Yes it does,” said Lloyd. “Unfortunately the traffic cameras leading on to the motorway where your Jason had his altercation were at the wrong angle to pick up the registration of that car; however digital enhancement of the image has come through and enabled us to identify the driver as Reginald Archer, the other London based heavy that you previously identified when you came in and went through mug shots. We will pick him up if we can find him. The other heavy that Jason so adequately disabled was the big guy, Jackie Peterso n, that you also identified from mug shots.”
“Yes it sounded like him, have you picked him up.”
“No, we have not found him yet, which is surprising as that arm would need treatment and we have an alert out at all local hospitals.”
“Thanks for the update any way,” I said, and hung up.
I worke d for the rest of the afternoon then went out and found Jason and told him that I was going home and that I would be having an early night.
On Sunday I rose early. It was a bright and sunny day and having checked and found that there was no new info on email or voicemail decided I needed to get some fresh air and that a game of golf would probably take my mind off things.
I loaded clubs in to the car and set off to the club. Sunday is usually a very busy day but the Pro said he was sure he could squeeze me in with another group if I gave him some time. He was as good as his word and half an hour later I was on the first tee facing in to a stiff breeze coming up the fairway towards me. This would get rid of the cobwebs!
The Pro had matched me up with a single, a visitor to the area, who therefore did not know the course. That advantage did not help me however. I play off a respectable handicap of 8 but I was really rusty, I had not hit a golf ball for weeks. My playing partner visitor claimed a handicap of 10 and proceeded to thrash me. I bought him a drink in the bar afterwards and then set off home.
At home I decided to do some work in the garden. I am not a keen gardener with green fingers, but I enjoy organising gardens as part of the process of refurbishing a house, and this house I had refurbished, or had paid someone else to refurbish, right from scratch.
The house was an old 17th century barn which when I bought it a few years ago had been partly converted. It had an old well in the small front courtyard and the remains of cow byres to one side. However the house was on cesspit drainage when I bought it and those who have experience of cesspit drainage will know how unsatisfactory it can be, particularly after heavy rain. The whole upstairs of the barn had previously been converted to domestic accommodation, but the downstairs remained little more than garage space. So I had put in mains drainage, stairs down to the lower level of bedrooms, two modern bathrooms, and a modern kitchen. The resulting house was an upside down house in that to enter you climbed a set of outside steps to a porch over the front door and the living rooms were on the first floor. One then went down the internal stairs to the bedrooms. The old stone walls were more than two feet thick and helped maintain a steady temperature summer and winter. The lounge had a high vaulted roof, but spaced down the room there were two of the original horizontal 15 inch square wooden cross beams at a height of five foot ten inches which meant that someone like me at 6 foot plus, had to duck in the appropriate places when crossing the room. Quirky, but I loved it, it was quiet out in the countryside and the log fire in the lounge in winter was really welcoming.
Jason came out in to the garden. “You went off without me this morning?” he said.
“Yes, I felt like a game of golf and didn't think it was necessary to get you up.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“You don't have to but if you have nothing better to do you can give me a hand. I plan to spend the afternoon working on the old cow byres. I use them as storage sheds for the lawn mower and other tools, but the old stone walls are starting to crumble and need repair.
Coming back in to the house, as it got dark, I was exhausted and had a shower.
Returning to the lounge I shouted to Jason who was in the shower, “Jason do you want a beer?”
“I am going to be boring and do my standard pasta for dinner. Will that be Ok for you?”
“Sure, although you don't have to cater for me.”
“That’s OK, but I am pretty wacked so I will disappear to bed for an early night afterwards.”
“OK, let me contribute by washing up.”
Before I could get to bed however there was a phone call. The caller refused to identify himself but in an American drawl said. “I have been asked to give you a message. Watch the news on TV, this changes eve rything for you and your brother.” He then hung up.
I immediately grabbed the remote and switched on the TV to get the news and had to impatiently sit there waiting for it to come back on as it went through its countdown process to the hour.
The breaking news was a report that last night the Vice President of the United States, while attending a function at the White House had been struck down by a heart attack. He had been rushed to a specialist heart unit in Washington but was reported dead on arrival.
Wow! I thought. Where does that leave us all? The caller said it changes everything. What will happen now? The call in effect confirms that they have Adrian.
I called Lloyd and told him of the call and the news.
“Well, that tends to confirm the kidnap theory and even the possible security service involvement, doesn't it?”
“Yes, but what do we do now?”
“Be patient and wait, would be my advice,” said Lloyd.
“Difficult,” I said, “but in reality I cannot think of anything I can do anyway.”
Before going to bed I went on-line to get the news in more detail and was surprised to learn that there was a lot of speculation in the underground press that the vice president had killed himself. Suicide? Surely not; there was no official comment on this speculation. If it was true, why?
C HAPTER 32
The next morning, Ridley walked in to Dawson’s office and closed the door. “Good trip to the States Gerry?” he enquired.
“Not bad, got back in yesterday afternoon.”
“You've heard about the V ice P resident I assume?”
“Yes, poor bugger.”
“Well I think he might just have saved you,” his voice markedly hardening in tone.
Dawson looked up, “what do you mean?”
“I understand that you have been running an op. here with our American friends without telling me? Don't deny it, I know the details.”
“Nothing major,” Dawson responded.
“Nothing major! You don't call kidnap and a possible rendition major! Are you kidding?”
Dawson was silent.
“I told you the last time you went off the rails like this that there would be trouble if it happened again. You will be lucky if you don't find yourself in a cell, it depends how well disposed towards you I am feeling when you have had a chance of cleaning this up.”
“You will do exactly as I say or I will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Get Lever released unharmed. Make sure neither he nor his brother release that video footage. And disappear all of your operatives on this job so they cannot be the subject of embarrassing interviews or confessions. Do this now and report back to me personally every day until it is completed.” With that Ridley turned and walked out of the office.
In the meantime I had been in the office Monday morning and was called by Lucy Pageant to say that she had been unable to get hold of Alec but that she had set up lunch with the Dalrymple CEO at the Blue Parrot for 12.30, would Alec and I mind making our own way.
“No problem,” I had said, “but Alec would like our Financial Director Bill Williams to come as well, I assume that is OK?”
“Fine,” she responded, “see you at 12.30.”
I asked June to find Alec and give him the message and to organise a taxi to get us to the Blue Parrot.
The Blue Parrott is one of the oldest pubs in Bristol, with a history going back as far as the 17th century. It has a pleasant restaurant, and the advantage that the seating is arranged in booths that permit private conversations.
When we got there, Lucy was waiting for us in the bar with two gentlemen. The first was tall with dark hair and I recognised him from the company publicity blurb as the CEO of Dalrymple, Mark Winter; the other was a much shorter pugnacious looking individual whom I did not recognise but turned out to be Dalrymple’s CFO. After the introductions were complete and drinks ordered, we were led through to our table.
Once settled and a few pleasantries exchanged Lucy started the ball rolling.
“I am glad you gentlemen have an opportunity to meet, I think you could have a lot in common. It is appreciated that this is just an exploratory meeting but it is my belief, and that of my colleague Ron Armstrong, that there are a lot of potential synergies between your two companies. Control Networks are strong in the UK, Europe, and parts of Asia and Africa while Dalrymple has a very strong presence in North and South America, but particularly with the Pentagon in the US. S o you have complementary market strengths and with similar product and technology assets, working together in some way could be beneficial for all shareholders.”
Bill Williams interrupted at this point. “Alec I think we need to remind everyone here that our stock goes public on Thursday of this week so we are not in a position to have any meaningful discussions which should be declared to the market. This session can only be a get to know you session and should I suggest be limited to that and an exchange of general information on where each company stands and is heading.”
“I regret that Bill is right Lucy, we need to be very careful. It is of course good to have the opportunity to meet but we need to keep it general. Mark, how about giving us a rundown on the history of Dalrymple, and maybe I could then do the same for Control Networks.”
“OK,” said Mark, “I fully understand the delicacy of your position.”
The lunch conversation then proceeded on that basis and it turned out to be pleasant enough. When it finally broke up, we had all got to some extent to know our opposite numbers and we invited them to come and see us at the office when they were next in town.
Alec had a quiet word with Lucy on the way out. “Sorry if that did not quite go the way you wanted Lucy, but I did warn Ron that meaningful discussions would not be possible.”
“That’s OK Alec, thanks for finding the time at what I know is a very busy period for you. I still think that having this meeting was worthwhile.”
“One final thing,” Alec said taking Lucy to one side, “are you aware that Dalrymple and Mendip Finance may, in the murky entrails of their ownership structure, have common ownership?”
“No, I wasn't, that is interesting. Why would they want to invest in you if they already have links to one of your big competitors?
“It can't be that they need us to fund them, I suspect the rumours may be right and they have a product development/technology problem going forward.”
“Well, that gives us something to think about, in the meantime we have at least broken the ice, and next time, if there is a next time, we can get in to more substantive issues.”
“Good luck for Thursday.” She said as she joined the Dalrymple guys in a taxi.
Back at the office I filled Alec in on the events of the last 24 hours. “Now I just hope they will release Adrian and we will hear from him soon.”
There was however no news and Thursday arrived. The brokers advised that the issue had been substantially over subscribed and they were accepting subscriptions for up to another 10 % of our shares as agreed.
A successful day and champagne was broken out in abundance. All staff joined the party that went on until the early evening.
No news however on Adrian and I tried to call Naismith, but no luck. Lloyd called to ask if I had news and when I said no he was quiet on the other end of the phone.
“This is proving difficult, ” he eventually said. “We have no real evidence as to who was involved in his abduction or where he is. Other than the initial response reporting the incident of him being taken from the car, and the recovery of your car from the Feeder, there has been no further public information. I am not sure what we can do at this stage, but let's stay in contact daily.”
The following day at the office I received a call from Nicolas Ridley at the MoD. I was surprised because while he had spoken to Alec prior to our first meeting with his people, I had never spoken to him.
“ Mr Lever, I wanted to talk privately with you, I wonder if we could meet? I am currently in Bristol for a couple of days staying at the Marriott; perhaps we could meet there?
“Do you have news of my brother?”
“I think we need to talk face to face, perhaps even this evening? About 6pm in the foyer?”
“Alright, I will see you then.”
At the same time Naismith dropped in to Dawson ’s office, to see his PA, Anne, whom he secretly fancied.
“Martin Lever has been calling you.”
“Well I don't want to talk to him at the moment, where's the boss?”
“He's gone,” she said.
“Gone! Gone where?”
“Just g one, and rumoured never to be coming back. The grapevine says he has been posted to East Timor! Seems to have really blotted his copy book this time.”
“Well it couldn't have happened to a more deserving bloke! Fancy a drink after work to celebrate. I have been posted to London to join the big boys with immediate effect so two things to celebrate.
“Yes OK,” she smiled.
I walked in to the Marriott at dead on 6pm. As I did so a tall guy in a leather jacket approached, “ Mr Lever?”
“Can you follow me please, Mr Ridley is waiting for you.”
We took the lift to the third floor and knocked on one of the bedroom doors. He then unlocked the door and we both entered.
He then turned, “before we go any further Mr Lever I have to scan you for recording devices. A routine precaution, I hope you don't mind,” at which point he took a small box from his coat pocket and scanned me front and rear.
He then led the way through a connecting door in to a large suite. As we entered a man in a blue pin stripe suit walked up to us, “ Mr Lever,” he said proffering a hand. “Please excuse those little theatrics, but I am afraid one has to take precautions these days. My name is Ridley. Thank you for coming, why don't we take a seat over here in the corner.” We sat down in armchairs arranged in a small group in the corner.
“Can I offer you some tea or coffee, we have both here, or something a little stronger perhaps? Scotch?”
“A mineral water would be fine if you have it.”
He got up and poured himself a cup of tea, and retrieved a mineral water from the fridge beneath the bar for me.
“I think we will be alright now Jack,” he said to the guy who had escorted me upstairs and who then left the room.
“I am pleased we could get the chance to talk.”
“Have you got news of my brother?”
“Maybe, that's what I wanted to talk to you about?
“ Mr Ridley, who exactly are you?” I said somewhat exasperated, “Alec was under the impression that you are with the Ministry of Defence, is that the case?”
“Oh yes I am,” he said, “but I also have some other involvements or responsibilities of a confidential nature.”
“You mean you are with the security services?”
“In a way,” he said, “suffice it to say that while I was not responsible for what happened to you both, I know what happened and who was involved. A very regrettable series of events for which I apologise?”
“Apologise! I was beaten up and threatened and my brother has been kidnapped, how can security services do that in this country?”
“I have said I am sorry and apologised. The people in this country that did this have been dealt with, and are n ot in a position to do it again, and t he subject of your brothers snooping has paid the ultimate price.
“You mean the suicide rumours are true?”
“I am sure you have kept up with all of the speculation. I cannot confirm it one way or the other and it is now all history; t he question is where do we go from here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you feel aggrieved at what has been done to you, but on the other hand your brother is under threat of arrest and prosecution for breaking the law. You yourself may be prosecuted for car theft etc.”
“My car theft was a direct result of the threats from your people, I would enjoy explaining the story in court!”
“Look Mr Lever, I don't think any of us want to be getting involved with courts. It would not be in any of our interests.”
“What about my brother, where is he?”
“Well that is where the problem lies. To some extent his whereabouts are not under my control.”
“Where is he?”
“Lets just say he is with 'others'. And the 'others' need to be persuaded to release him.”
“This is preposterous, you mean the Americans or CIA; you cannot get away with this!”
“ Mr Lever, if asked I shall deny that this conversation ever took place. Let's look at this rationally. You want your brother back unharmed, and I want you to get him back unharmed. As a quid pro quo 'others' do not want the material that your brother stole released.”
“Surely, that is not important now following the Vice Presidents death.”
“Yes, his untimely demise has reduced the seriousness of the issue, although the circumstances means that emotions are high and 'others' do not want the embarrassment of having to deal with the repercussions if your brothers stolen material did beco me public knowledge. As I see it t hey not only have your brother at this time, if they were per suaded to release him they would still have the legal right to demand his extradition to the USA in the future for his crime of hacking in to their systems.”
I sat there quietly waiting for him to follow through.
“If they could be assured that the stolen material would not be released then I am sure they would be prepared to forego any prosecution. I think at a push they could also be persuaded to reimburse you both for any out of pocket expenses.”
“And what if we do not accept?”
“That would not be in my control but I would expect that your brother could be prosecuted in the USA, and it is my belief that they would probably obtain a conviction.”
“We don't have much choice, do we? Has this proposal been put to Adrian?”
“I expect so, but if not then I am sure that if I convey your acceptance it will be.”
“So when will Adrian be freed?”
“There will be some paperwork to prepare before they are prepared to do that. I understand you have retained the services of Bill Withers, an excellent choice if I might say so.”
“They will need to get an agreement in writing. I suggest that they get their lawyers to talk to Bill Withers and get something drafted, would that be OK?”
“Alright, I think we can agree. While we are talking what do you know of Mendip Finance and Dalrymple Technology? Are they connected to all of this?”
“Not directly, I am aware of your allegations about Mendip, but I think their interest is merely on behalf of Dalrymple in making a deal with you and the connection was coincidental. The two matters then merged together when this whole other matter arose.”
He went on, “I am sure you have done your research on Dalrymple and don't need me to tell you that they probably need you more than you need them. They are highly respected, particularly in the USA, but have some technical issues that if they don't get resolved will mean they lose some large on-going contracts. Frankly, I would avoid dealing with Mendip, they have connections with too many people that you would not want to be connected to, but as far as I can see Dalrymple and its management are straight if somewhat aggressive.”
“You have dealt with them?”
He nodded and stood up. “I think we are done here Mr Lever, I trust this will all work out well.”
He walked me to the door, “can you see yourself out?”
Minutes later I was out on the street, half wondering if I had just imagined the events of the last half hour. I called Bill Withers and arranged to see him the next morning.
At Dave Wither ’ s office the next morning I explained what had happened. After I had finished he leant back with a sigh and said, “quite a story.”
“Have you dealt with things like this before?”
“Not exactly, but I have dealt with other cases where deals have been done on extradition. We will now have to wait for them to contact me. I suspect that in exchange for his release Adrian will have to sign an admission of guilt.”
“That sounds risky.”
“Well these deals can never be watertight, and of course from their point of view, regardless of what you give to them, they can never be sure that you have not kept a copy of the material. So risks on both sides.”
“OK, can you let me know when you hear from them?”
“It might take a few days. In the meantime what about your car theft situation, do you want me to have a word with Chief Superintendent Fleet?”
“Yes please, if you would.”
With that I said goodbye and made for the office where I found Alec and explained what had happened.
“Well it looks as if it is getting sorted out satisfactorily. I can cancel all the security guards, do you agree?”
“Yes. So where are we up to on everything else?”
“Well the float has occurred and the price has climbed about 15 % above the issue price despite the extra volume we issued, so all is good. I think we need to settle the whole team down to getting on with the real business while at the same time we will need to come to terms with being a public company.”
“Oh and Martin, Armstrong went in and bought shares on the market on the day of the float so they are still a shareholder, about 3 % I believe.”
“Why on earth would they do that?” I exclaimed.
“Hedging their bets, I suspect. They obviously believe that the shares have substantial upside potential.”
“But why not just hang on to some of what they already had?”
“I am not a venture capitalist, but something to do with maximising the profit realised today in the fund while still having a bit of any upside.”
“Ah well, what about Dalrymple,” I asked, “have you had any thoughts about them?”
“Well the comments Ridley made to you are interesting, but I think we should let them chase us, and from what he said I think they will. The real question is are we interested?”
“Will we get an opportunity to do due diligence on their technology and development plans? If what we are hearing is true, that they need us to help them with the technology, then it will be the marketing advantages not a technology benefit that will drive whether we are interested.”
“We will have to do due diligence on their books as no doubt they would want to do on ours, but I am not sure whether we will get the opportunity to do in depth due diligence on their technology, they would probably view that as the family jewels that they would not want to reveal in the absence of a formal agreement. I agree however that the strength of their established customer base could get us in to places where it might otherwise take us years to gain acceptance, and therefore justify a deal in its own right. If they follow up then I will talk to Frank, to see if he also wants to pursue it, then we will need to do some real research work on all aspects. Maybe we need to commission an outside party to do it for us. You agree with that?”
“Seems good to me,” and with that set off to find out what was on my desk.
Later that afternoon Dave Withers called. “I have heard from a law firm in New York and now that I have confirmed I am representing you they expect to send me a draft document tomorrow. So things are moving forward. I have also spoken to Fleet and she believes that in the circumstances the car theft charge can be dropped. The difficulty is the owner who is still annoyed. I have said we can agree some reasonable compensation for the owner. I think that can be covered by the out of pocket expenses in this agreement. Is that OK?”
“Sounds good, let me know when you have something from New York.”
“It will be a day or two before I get back to you. There will no doubt be some amendments I will want agreed before I show you anything.”
Two days later there was still no news on Adrian, so I called Dave Withers.
'I was just about to call you; there has been a little bit of a hitch. They want a list of the people who have seen the material that your brother down loaded, do you know who that would be, and would you be prepared to warrant that the list is complete?”
“We have shown nobody the material, although I did describe it to Alec Bell, but even then I did not mention the identity of anyone on the video.”
“That should do, I will get back to you but I am beginning to think this could take some time, more than just another few days.”
“Poor Adrian, do you know where he is?”
“No, I don't and there is no discussion of his abduction at all. This is all about agreeing not to prosecute him. The silent assumption is that he will appear once this agreement is finalised, in fact I am assuming that he will be required to sign it before he is released. I will email you a copy of the draft agreement to read. Is your work email address OK for that?”
“Yes, please do, I will let you know if there are any issues, speak to you later,” and with that I hung up.
Over the next few days I was fully absorbed in over seeing the beta release of ForceNet. It all seemed to be going well. Already we had received a number of useful inputs from the first beta site and the decision was now made to release it to another two sites. This was an extremely tense time for the team, particularly the development boys. Normally they would not be involved in 'holding cust omer hands' during this process; it would be handled by the product people, but this release was so large that it needed quite a few of the senior software engineers to also be involved. This generated a number of arguments over priorities, arguments that were in essence healthy, but they were arguments that did n ot need to involve the customer; a fact that the software people would sometimes tend to forget. Times were interesting and very demanding and I spent a lot of time out on site with the clients making sure that our issues did not disrupt their businesses.
In the midst of this I was summoned urgently to Alec’s office one afternoon to find him having a meeting with Frank Whittle, Bill Williams and Ron Armstrong. Alec turned to me as I walked in, “Sorry to drag you away Martin, I know you are under the gun, but I thought you might want to be involved in this.”
“No problem, what is going on?”
“The subject of Dalrymple has come up again, Ron perhaps you would explain.”
“It appears that Dalrymple may be short of cash. I hear that their banks are refusing to extend them any further credit and that they are out looking for funds on the secondary market, possibly even VC's like us?”
“How come, they have a huge share of the US market?”
“That's what I said,” said Alec.
Frank butted in, “I have heard rumours of this in the city as well, and in fact more than that, I have had an informal approach. The story is that they have a number of very large partially completed contracts that have technical problems.”
“What technical problems?”
“It appears that they have oversold their current control package and it is not performing to spec. The end result is that they are not getting paid; this has been going on for some time and is beginning to cause them serious cash flow problems. They have been unable to convince their banks that they can fix the problem so their banks are hesitating to support them.”
“The rumour is that they might seek chapter 11, in the next week or so.”
“Chapter 11? What on earth is that?”
'It’s a form of protected administration, quite common in the US.” responded Alec.
“Wow! So much for them buying us out.”
“Yes,” said Alec, “it is a bit of a turn around. The question is, is this the end of our interest in them or is it an opportunity for us?”
“You mean buy them out of administration?”
“Possibly,” said Frank, “but administration is never good for the reputation and it might not go well so their banks could face losing quite a bit of money. Ron believes that gives us leverage. This company probably has the technology to fix their technical issues and if we were interested their banks might look more favourably on supporting them.”
“In which case we have to do Due Diligence on those contracts,” I said, “we don’t want to take over a never ending contractual wrangle on specs.”
“I agree,’ Alec said.
“If the banks face the possibility of a haircut then presumably the shareholders are dead in the water,” added Frank.
“Yes probably, but I think this may answer any queries we had about Mendip Finance's aggressive interest in us. The shareholders were desperate to retain some value to their investment in the business and thought they could conceal their cash flow issues by raising funds to acquire us and at the same time have a technical solution to their contractual completion problems. I think they identified us as the only solution for them and they were therefore desperate to buy us.”
“Neat,” I said, “Is this why I got beaten up and both Alec and I got threatened?”
Alec nodded, “It seems it could be.”
“Who are the shareholders? The ownership structure disappears in to the murky depths of the Cayman Islands, probably impossible to deal with.”
“That would probably not be necessary,” mused Bill Williams. “If their bank was taking control then they would be able to sell the business, not the company, to us although there would inevitably be lots of issues to c onsider including tax.”
“I don't think we want to get bogged down in the mechanics at the moment,” said Frank. “A s company chairman I think this opportunity has significant potential and should probably be explored, however I am conscious that it can only be done if you think the team can cope with it Alec.”
“With my marketing hat on I think it seems too good an opportunity to miss. I would need time and more information to assess whether we could handle it operationally.”
“Sounds like we all agree that we should take this further,” said Ron. “I think we could be glad that we held on to 3 % and if you need a bit more cash to consummate a deal we could help. At a price of course!” We all laughed.
“Well, if you agree Alec, I will informally brief each member of the board. If decisions have to be taken quickly we need to get them on board as soon as possible. If possible I will set up a date for a board meeting in the next couple of days. Alec, I think you need to set up a meeting with the Dalrymple CEO, Mark Winter. After that I will try and set up a meeting with the Dalrymple bankers. I think you could help me with that presumably through your 'informal approach'.
“Yes, who was the 'informal approach'?”
“I would rather not say at the moment, but they can help us set up a meeting with the bank.”
“Well it seems that the only one who has nothing to do out of this is me, that's a nice change!”
“Don't gloat yet Martin, if this does go ahead, solving the technology problems on their contracts will become your headache!”
I returned to my office to find that the draft agreement had come through from Dave Withers. I called him.
“Dave, I have read the agreement and there is nothing in there that I can't accept. I expected a much bigger document.”
“Its written under US law, and typically their contracts are much shorter than ours. As an English lawyer some of the shortcuts in terminology grate but in reality they do te nd to get rid of the verbiage of some of our contractual law.”
He continued, “I will tell them to go ahead, can you print off two copies, and sign them, and get them witnessed and courier ed back to me this afternoon? I will then get a copy off to them before the end of the day.”
The following afternoon that familiar voice with the American accent called again. “Be at this address in an hours time and you will meet someone you know,” he said and proceeded to qu ote a six figure postal code. “M ake sure you come alone.”
I put the postal code in to Google Map on the computer and came up with a location out in the sticks just north of Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Immediately I was out to the car and with the postal code set up in the Sat Nav set out on the road to Tetbury which is approx. 25 miles from the office, to find what I assumed would be Adrian’s location.
North of Tetbury the Sat Nav took me down a narrow country lane and eventually told me I was there when I stopped outside a small cottage at the side of the road. It was quiet, nobody around. I got out of the car and shouted, “Adrian! Adrian, can you hear me?” Nothing moved except for the rustle of the breeze through the trees. Total silence. Then suddenly from around a corner 50 yards further down the lane appeared a figure, “Adrian, is that you? Are you OK?” I shouted and ran towards him.
We embraced, “never have I been so glad to see my little brother,” I gushed.
“After all of this you won’t want to see me again soon I expect.” he grinned. He looked tired, dirty, and dishevelled, but otherwise well.
“Come on let’s get you home for a shower,” so we piled in to the car and headed for home about 15 miles down the road.
“You have heard the rumours going round that it was suicide have you?”
“Y es they tol d me.”
“I think that means we can forget the need to publicise that material in the public interest. The person concerned has paid the ultimate price for his actions.”
“I suppose that is true.”
“Can I use your ‘‘‘phone,” he asked. “ I need to call Rowana. ”
“Oh. So that's her name is it? I couldn't even tell the police her name and address when we were looking for you.”
At home while Adrian was showering I called Lloyd to tell him the news. He said he would like to come out and see Adrian immediately.
I then rang Alec to tell him the good news and said I would not be in for the rest of the day.
A few days later I had decided it was time to take a holiday. I dropped in to Alec and told him that if he could manage without me I planned to take a couple of weeks leave. I would be back before any Dalrymple deal could be finalised. I was going to have a look at the ruins of ancient Egypt out in the desert.