Chapter Sixty-Four

‘Then it’s over,’ said Murdoch. ‘You honoured your end of the deal.’

Ben was sitting on the edge of his bed in the Jerusalem hotel, feeling for a part of his body that didn’t hurt. ‘And now you’ll honour yours,’ he said. He didn’t want to mention Callaghan and Slater to Murdoch. He had his own plans for them.

‘I always keep my word,’ Murdoch said. ‘We’ll take care of everything. As for you, you’re a free man. You were never here. I never even heard your name.’

The next call to make was to Alex. Ben used the number she’d called him from at Callaghan’s house. He prayed she’d answer. That she was all right.

After a dozen rings, he started at the sound of her voice.

When she heard his, she burst out crying.

‘I’m coming back,’ he told her. ‘Meet me at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC tomorrow afternoon, one o’clock.’

***

He stood for a long time under a hot shower, washing away the blood and the dirt and the memories of the day. Then he grabbed his things and checked out. He made the airport in forty minutes, and within a couple of hours he was boarding a flight for Washington.

It wasn’t over yet.

Washington DC

The nineteenth day

He was back on US soil at midday. He made his way to the heart of DC and sat on the warm stone steps at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Sunlight danced on the clear surface of the ornamental lake that stretched out in front of him. Beyond that stood the obelisk of the Washington Memorial, and beyond that, all in a straight line, the Capitol dome and seat of the US Senate.

There was no sign of Alex yet. He took out his phone, thinking about the two calls he had to make. The first was to Augusta Vale.

She sounded happy to hear from him.

‘Sorry I had to disappear like that,’ he said. ‘Something came up.’

‘I still have reporters calling me, wanting to know about the mystery shooter who stole the prize and vanished.’

‘I just wanted to thank you for your hospitality.’

‘Think nothing of it, Benedict. Any time you’re passing through Savannah, you must give me a call. You will always be a most welcome guest in my home. And if there’s anything I can do for you…’

‘There is one thing. Do you have Reverend Cleaver’s number? I’d like to order a few copies of his book.’

‘Why, I’m sure he would be overjoyed to hear from you again,’ she said.

Ben dialled the number she’d given him. Cleaver sounded nervous when his secretary passed him the phone.

‘How are you, Clayton?’

‘Fine,’ Cleaver replied warily.

‘And a hundred million dollars richer?’

‘The money came through two days ago,’ Cleaver said, sounding puzzled. ‘How did you know that?’

‘Intuition,’ Ben said. ‘And I’m calling you to make a deal.’

Cleaver gulped audibly. ‘A deal? What kind of deal?’

‘Don’t panic, Clayton. I’m not going to take your money. Not all of it, anyway.’

‘That’s very generous of you.’

‘Yes, it is. So here are my terms. They aren’t negotiable. Ready?’

‘I’m listening.’

‘First, you’re going to donate a quarter of that money straight back to the Vale Trust, for the new children’s wing.’

‘Of course, I’d already thought -’ Cleaver blustered. ‘But twenty-five per cent?’

‘That’s the deal,’ Ben said. ‘Here’s the next part. I imagine once you’ve paid off the loan sharks you’re going to want to refurnish your place. Your walls still bare?’

‘Y-y-yes,’ Cleaver stammered. ‘But what -’

‘There’s a talented young modern artist in Oxford, England. Her name’s Lucy Wilde. I want you to check out her website.’

‘What the hell has that to do with me?’

‘You’re about to become a patron of the arts, Clayton. You’re going to buy up every piece of art she has for sale, and you’re going to offer her a handsome commission for more. And I’ll be checking, in case your definition of handsome is too different from mine.’

‘This is nuts,’ Cleaver protested. ‘I don’t even like modern art.’

‘Get a taste for it,’ Ben said. ‘Now here’s part three. A farmer in Montana needs some spare cash to renovate his property. Someone shot the place up a little bit. He also needs a new truck or two. I’ll be sending you his address and a bank account number to wire the money to.’

‘How much spare cash?’ Cleaver asked suspiciously.

‘Nice round figure,’ Ben said. ‘Call it a million dollars.’

There was a wheezing gasp on the other end. ‘You’re killing me, Ben.’

‘I thought about that option. But I prefer this way. Are you ready to hear the next part of the terms?’

‘Go on,’ Cleaver said wearily.

‘Good. There’s a certain Georgia lawyer who needs an operation to fix his legs.’

Cleaver exploded. ‘McClusky? You want me to pay off McClusky?’

‘That’s right,’ Ben said. ‘Some setting-up money wouldn’t be a bad idea either, to help him open up a new practice and get started again. How about three hundred grand? Wait, let’s make it five hundred.’

Silence on the other end.

‘One more thing I want from you,’ Ben said. He paused. This was the part that mattered most to him. ‘I want a trust fund set up. One million pounds sterling.’

‘For who?’ Cleaver snorted. ‘You?’

‘For a child,’ Ben said. ‘One that isn’t born yet, but who means a lot to me. The money’s to be held in trust until the kid reaches eighteen, and then paid over in full. You’ll be hearing from a solicitor in London, who’ll set it up. You just need to sign on the line.’

He’d given it a lot of thought. He knew there was no way Rhonda would ever forgive him for what had happened, no way he could ever explain things to her. What could he do? Go making excuses, write her a note? But at least he could do this for Charlie’s kid.

‘I hope I’m making myself very clear,’ he said.

‘Oh, I understand,’ Cleaver muttered. ‘But what if I don’t feel like going along with this generous business deal of yours?’

‘I’ll be watching you, Clayton. You’ll find I’m not as forgiving as the loan sharks. I really don’t want to have to shatter Miss Vale’s illusions about you – but if I see you’re not doing what I want, rest assured I’ll be letting her know what a big huckster you are. Not only that, I’ll be on the first flight over there and by the time I’m finished you’ll be hard to tell from roadkill. And I always keep my promises.’

‘Now I suppose you’re going to tell me I have to fork out another ten million to that goddamn Zo? Bradbury,’ Cleaver groaned.

‘No, you can keep that money. I don’t think Zo? Bradbury deserves another cent from you or anyone else.’

There was a long silence on the line as Cleaver mulled over the terms. ‘I don’t have much leeway here, do I?’

‘Not a hair’s breadth.’

Cleaver let out a deep groan of defeat. ‘All right. You win. It’s a deal.’

As Ben was putting the phone away, Alex appeared. She was wearing black trousers and a burgundy leather jacket that brought out the colour of her hair. She couldn’t stop smiling when she saw him. She ran across the steps and hugged him tightly. ‘I never thought I’d see you again.’

They embraced for a moment, then parted.

‘Frank got you out?’ Ben said.

She nodded. ‘Zo? and I have been staying at his place. Lying low like you said. She’s still there.’

‘Good. She shouldn’t leave there until this is finally over. Until Slater and Callaghan are dealt with, it isn’t safe for her. Or for you, when Callaghan realises you’re still alive and a witness to everything.’

‘So what now?’

‘Now I’m going to pay a visit to Senator Bud Richmond.’

‘Not without me,’ Alex said.

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