|For The Death Of Me|
|Oz Blackstone |
|2005 : Scotland|
It’s summertime in Monaco and Oz Blackstone is sitting on the verandah
of his opulent mansion – one of three homes – idly gazing at Roman
Abramovich’s luxury yacht as it gently cruises into the harbour. Life
doesn’t get much better than this.The demons of the past begin to creep
up on Oz’s sunny life: blackmail and murder are lurking in the shadows.
Oz travels all the way to Singapore to track down the owner of some
incriminating photographs but he’s in grave danger of over-exposure.
And when organised crime muscles in on the picture, Oz is getting
perilously close to losing a lot more than his wealth and reputation...
FOR THE DEATH OF ME
Copyright Â© 2005 Portador Ltd
The right of Quintin Jardine to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2008
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 0 7553 5101 5
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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Table of Contents
Praise for previous Quintin Jardine novels:
âA triumph. I am first in line for the next one' Scotland on Sunday
âWell constructed, fast-paced, Jardine's narrative has many an ingenious twist and turn' Observer
âMeticulously plotted with every event contributing to a shocking triple-whammy finale' Scotsman
âA comlex story combined with robust characterisation; a murder/mystery novel of our time that will keep you hooked to the very last page' The Scots Magazine
âPerfect plotting and convincing characterisation . . . Jardine manages to combine the picturesque with the thrilling and the dream-like with the coldly rational' The Times
âDeplorably readable' Guardian
âThe perfect mix for a highly charged, fast-moving crime thriller' Glasgow Herald
âRemarkably assured . . . a tour de force' New York Times
âEngrossing, believable characters . . . captures Edinburgh beautifully . . . It all adds up to a very good read' Edinburgh Evening News
Most people who know me well believe that I was an only child, but that's not true. There was another, who was born at 2.45 a.m. on 12 January 1949, and who died in the same moment. His passing was certified by the same autocrat who had brushed off our mother's plea for a Caesarean several hours earlier. Our parents were so traumatised by the episode that they never spoke of it to me, and rarely to anyone else. I didn't even know the year of the occurrence, let alone the date, until recently the good people at GRO Scotland helped me find out.
The child wasn't baptised, and his death certificate doesn't even grant him the dignity of a name. To me that's a monstrous wrong, and I propose to exercise my power to put it right, here and now. Since I was named after one of my grandfathers, I'll assume that he would have been named after the other, and I christen him this very day.
Therefore this book is dedicated to the memory of Duncan Jardine, who died because he was too weak to breathe when eventually he struggled from the womb, but who had a soul nonetheless, who was my brother nonetheless, and who has a place of honour on my family tree. Rock on, bro', and I hope that somehow you know how proud I feel as I do this for you, at last.
To Sharon Hutson, of GRO Scotland, an instrument for good.
To the staff of the SwissÃ´tel Stamford, Fort Siloso, and various other places, in Singapore.
To Aline Lenaz, the Cloak and Dagger bookstore, Princeton NJ, for her help to Oz in his hour of need.
To Martin Fletcher, for believing that I'd deliver this in time, and sticking with the schedule. (It was a goal, Martin.)
To the voices in my head.
And with a nod to the fictionally late Kinky Friedman, Benny Luker's near neighbour. May the good people of Texas possess the courage and wisdom to elect him as their governor. Why the hell not?
Just what is it about you?
What the hell gives you the right to intrude on my life, to demand that I should share my innermost secrets with you?
After we were done the last time, I swore to myself that it would be just that: finis. âNo more,' I told me. âFrom now on your secrets are going to be just that. They'll be shared with nobody. I'll yield to no coercion, no blackmail. Appeals to my good nature will be as fruitful as seed cast upon a black-top highway.'
And now here you are again. What is it, nine times now that you've played on my vanity and lured me into confessing my deeds, and my misdeeds? You've got better at it too. In the early days, maybe the things I told you were as I'd like them to have happened, rather than as they really did, but I can't fool you any more. Now you make sure that what I tell you is the unvarnished truth, and that the man you see is the real me, not the caricature I drew of myself in the early days.
I warn you . . . and, by God, you'd better take me seriously . . . one day you'll push me too far. One day I'll blow the whistle and everyone will know what a sneaky, devious bastard you are, and who you are too.
But for now, okay; I'll go along with your game, I'll indulge you one more time. But I warn you . . . you may not sleep too well afterwards.
It was summer, and so it had to be Monaco, because Scotland is too cold and Los Angeles is just too damn hot.
I sat on our hill-top terrace, beneath a sun-blind, gazing out at Roman Abramovich's yacht as it eased towards the harbour. A few feet away, Susie, Janet and Tom were swimming in the pool, all three of them topless. Wee Jonathan was curled up in my lap, having chased himself into a sound sleep.
There was a time when I used to stop and pinch myself, to check that I was solid flesh and blood, that everything was real, and that I wasn't playing the unknowing lead in a sequel to The Truman Show, with millions of viewers tuning in every night to update themselves on the soap opera that was my life. Not any more, though. Now I accept the craziness of my existence without question. No longer do I contemplate how it came about or lie awake wondering how long it will last.
I'm Oz Blackstone, A-list movie actor, and I have at least ten years, more if I look after myself, before they start offering me âold guy' parts. I have a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids and three . . . yes, three . . . homes.
Until around this time last year, Susie and I thought we'd never leave our estate overlooking Loch Lomond. We're both loyal Scots and we'd always insisted that it would always be home base for us, no matter how exotic our lives became. But finally we were worn down by the arguments of agents, of accountants and, crucially, of my dad, who told me that if he'd had the chance at my age he'd have hightailed it out of Scotland as fast as his sturdy legs could have carried him. If there had been any lingering doubt, it was all topped off by the proposal of the Government of the day that people should be locked up without trial on the say-so of a politician rather than a judge. Who'd want to live under a regime that could even contemplate that? They had one in Iraq, and look what happened there.
So, decision finally made, the next step was to decide where we would live. My career makes a place in Los Angeles more or less essential, but our tax people advised us against settling there. They offered us a choice between Ireland and Monaco.
Did I say âchoice'? Hah! 'Nuff respect Dublin, but it took about two seconds to make that one. We went shopping on the CÃ´te d'Azur and found a newly built villa with three public rooms, a study, six bedrooms, a self-contained apartment for Ethel Reid, the kids' nanny, and a small bungalow guarding the entrance to the property, to be occupied by Audrey Kent, our secretary, and her husband Conrad, whose euphemistic job title is âsecurity manager'.
We didn't sell Loch Lomond, of course. I'll never do that, for all sorts of reasons, some sentimental, others very practical indeed. But we decided that Monaco would be home base, and that Janet, Tom and wee Jonathan would be enrolled in its international school.
Tom is the newest addition to our family. He's my son by my brief second marriage, to Primavera Phillips; he was conceived in its final unhappy moments, but Prim chose not to tell me about him. Indeed, she kept him secret from me until he was three years old, finally leading me to him by way of a merry dance of the kind only she could orchestrate. Not that she meant to: he'd still be unknown to me if she'd had her way. I like to think, though, that whatever had happened I'd have found him eventually. And if I had, whenever it was, wherever it was, I'd have known him straight away. I'll never forget the first time I set eyes on him, in a roadhouse hotel in California, or how it turned my life upside-down.
Funny, my three kids each look completely different. Janet's her mother to the life. Wee Jonathan, the older he grows the more he's looking like my dad. Tom? Well, he's me, no doubt about that, and if you look closely you'll see Primavera's boldness in his eyes. But there's more, there's more, only I'm not ready to deal with that, not yet.
My second marriage, I said. My first, of course, was to the lovely Jan, my soul-mate; but you know about Jan, how we grew up together, then drifted apart, only to be reunited when we realised that we didn't really exist without each other, not properly at any rate. You know how happy we were, living an idyllic, uncomplicated life together in Glasgow, until it became all too complicated, and she and our unborn child were killed, by the intervention of some very bad people. What happened to them? You know that too: they've all gone to hell, and I had the sublime pleasure of sending the biggest and baddest of them there with my own two hands.
âOz!' the girlies yell at premiÃ¨res, award bashes and other movie events. âOver here, Oz! Give us a wave, Oz! God, isn't he nice, isn't he gorgeous? Did you see that smile? ' The girlies, even one or two of the boysies too, but I don't mind them: I'm a liberal-minded guy. After all, I'm a member of a minority group myself . . . I'm a Fifer. Besides, they're right. I am nice, I am gorgeous and, courtesy of Mac the Dentist, my dad, I do have a pretty dazzling smile. That's what they see and if it makes them happy, well, it makes me happy too. Very few people have seen the other Oz; in fact, I can't think of any who have and are still around to describe him. No, that's not quite true: there's one who's doing thirty years in the USA. He'd be well advised to serve all of them: by that time I might just have forgotten about him.