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An Accidental Billionaire

an-accidental-billionaire

This is an 83,000 word Romantic Thriller, told with humor and irreverence





An

Accidental

Billionaire

By

D K MITA

This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities or resemblances to actual people are purely coincidental. Any references to real people, real places, real institutions or real localities are used fictitiously. Any other similarities in names, places, characters, characterizations, locations, events or persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by D K Mita –

Email through: www.facebook.com/dkmitabooks

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.


To my son, Alex Mita:

Thank you for everything you have done for me, including saving my life and teaching me how to write. May your compassion and your infinite kindness be passed on to your son, Lorenzo.


Table of Contents

Scroll to Continue

PART ONE.. 1

Chapter 1. 1

Chapter 2. 17

Chapter 3. 23

Chapter 4. 32

Chapter 5. 36

Chapter 6. 39

PART TWO.. 42

Chapter 7. 42

Chapter 8. 49

Chapter 9. 53

Chapter 10. 56

Chapter 11. 60

Chapter 12. 66

Chapter 13. 73

PART THREE.. 80

Chapter 14. 80

Chapter 15. 86

Chapter 16. 92

Chapter 17. 95

Chapter 18. 101

PART FOUR.. 103

Chapter 19. 103

Chapter 20. 108

Chapter 21. 117

Chapter 22. 122

Chapter 23. 127

Chapter 24. 132

Chapter 25. 138

PART FIVE.. 145

Chapter 26. 145

Chapter 27. 153

PART SIX.. 162

Chapter 28. 162

Chapter 29. 174

Chapter 30. 185

Chapter 31. 193

PART SEVEN.. 198

Chapter 32. 198

Chapter 33. 212

Chapter 34. 222

PART EIGHT. 233

Chapter 35. 233

Chapter 36. 246

Chapter 37. 256

Chapter 38. 267

Chapter 39. 275


PART ONE

Chapter 1

The difference between an ignorant fool shoveling manure in a bullpen, and a fool with a PhD, is that the fool with the PhD can shovel more of it, faster.

Inside the ‘Smithsonian Specialist Tobacconists Club’ Gem F. Stone leaned on the long bar of the establishment, bathed the barmaid with a sweet, boyish smile and shoveled as fast as he could.

“There is only one way out of this, young Claire. Marry me. Polygamy is a much-misunderstood condition and I shall lay an almost unblemished heart at your feet. The ‘almost’ being the operative word here.” The twinkle in Gem’s usually inebriated, but expressive red eyes was almost irresistible.

The barmaid knew Gem well by now, and giggled along with his nonsense.

“But I don’t quite fancy being the ‘other woman.’”

“Ah, but think of the quiet evenings the three of us shall spend together. I, reverting to pipe smoking for purposes of effect, you, telling stories, while our other wife is preparing the coffee and biscuits. I tell you it’s the only way.”

Her generous breasts quivered with laughter. “Well, I do like cookies.”

“Ah…, alas, dear Claire - but I suppose now I must call you ‘darling’ – I have to confess. The Stones refuse to become accessories to the propagation of falsehood, so brace yourself, because I have told a lie. Our wife does not cook, or do windows. If it is cookies that will win your little heart, then they will have to be bought ready packed from the local Tesco. I shall sacrifice myself by hacking my way through the undergrowth in order to get to that hallowed establishment and bring back whatever your generous heart desires. Let it not be said that the Stones do not look after their women. Think of the pleasant evenings we shall share, exchanging brilliant thoughts in front of the fire.”

Deep male laughter behind him caused Gem to turn. Through a ghostly haze of smoke emanating from the huge Cuban cigar the apparition was smoking, he saw the one man he would have preferred to avoid at this particular time; John Cunningham, the owner of the club.

“That’s a good one, young Gem. You are the only bachelor I know who tries to pick up women by claiming to be married.” The man laughed again and gave Gem a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Ah, Mr. Cunningham, the very man I wanted to see. Excuse us, darling, while we move to the table over there”.

Achilles had his one vulnerable heel. Gem felt like a jackass with four susceptible heels. Gambling being one of them, John Cunningham was about to collect on that particular weakness.

The bookie club-owner was in his sixties, short with a round face, a round body, a round bowler hat to hide the round bald patch on top of his round head, and a round cigar in his mouth. He was dressed very expensively in a hand-made, three-piece, Prince of Wales suit, totally unsuitable for his shape and size. People called him Tubby, behind his back. However, his stature had been no serious obstacle to his career, apparently, as he was one of the most feared crime bosses in the county.

The two men took their glasses to one of the more isolated tables and eased themselves into the soft, plush, red cushions of the chairs.

“Let’s talk business young man. I like you, Gem, because drunk or sober, you are always pleasant company. But you have now passed your credit limit by far and the time has come to settle up.”

His audience began to fidget.

“No, don’t interrupt me; I’ve heard it all before.” He leaned forward with a fatherly expression on his face that did not quite fit in with what he was really saying. He breathed paternal cigar smoke into Gem’s face. “My daughter’s just been accepted at Oxford and, as you know, that doesn’t come cheap.” He beamed with pride for a minute, and then got back to the subject. “I can’t afford charity, Gem. No more bets from you and no more bar credit until your account is settled.”

He took a thoughtful mouthful of smoke before continuing.

“At the end of every month, for the next four months, you will remove five hundred pounds from your pay packet before you spend even a penny elsewhere. You will hand it over to me personally, at this very table. Is that clear?”

The gentle voice the man used, in no way detracted from the essence of his meaning. The erring Gem quailed visibly, pulled at his eyebrow with the fingers of his right hand and a vivid blush brightened his amiable face. He coughed in a strangled sort of way and nodded, since he could not think of anything helpful or clever to say. Nor could Gem bring himself to burden Tubby with such minor details as owing money to another bookie also, and falling well behind with his rent.

“I am keeping this personal young Gem. Don’t force me to hand over the case to one of my collectors.” John Cunningham’s voice continued to be gentle and sympathetic, like a priest’s at a confessional.

There were two very sound and practical reasons why the ‘Smithsonian Specialist Tobacconists Club’ at Oxford, England, was a private, members-only establishment.

One was to bypass the legislation prohibiting smoking in public places in England and Wales. In its wisdom the legislation excluded ‘specialist tobacconists in relation to sampling cigars and/or pipe tobacco’. Consequently, all club members were required to fill in the obligatory club application form, as specialist tobacconists.

The other was that the club was a den of iniquity as far as illegal gambling is concerned.

Gem squirmed into the soft cushion of the chair, trying and failing to find a softer spot. His face now became positively scarlet and shiny. The possibility of changing the proposed formula through eloquent appeal appeared to be an unlikely prospect, so he nodded again.

“Good. Let me buy you a drink and let’s talk about the weather.”

*****

Just before the larks announced the arrival of the new day, Gem, still in his shirtsleeves, puked painfully into his toilet bowl. He did it to the sound of La Traviata’s overture, which he had on continuous loop replay.

He was on his knees hugging the toilet bowl as if he was begging a beautiful woman not to leave him, or praying to a particularly fickle, unobliging God.

His understanding and appreciation of the incredible beauty of the classical music gave him the illusion of entitlement to some vague personal, superior deserts. Such theoretical entitlements, however, clashed with his undoubtedly plebeian reaction to the events of the previous Friday’s evening.

Pneumonia, the cat, stopped licking her backside for a couple of seconds to look at him, then went back to her business, her right hind leg raised in a Nazi salute.

The loveliness of the music created the fleeting thought in his mind that, like mumps, it is imperative that poetry, Shakespeare, and opera should be caught when young and that in the unhappy event that there is a postponement to mature years, the results might be devastatingly embarrassing. This thought pleased him and gave him a measure of comfort, until the next retching.

Von Karajan’s version of the overture, the only perfect recorded version in Gem’s mind, started again from the beginning. It begins as unexceptional, ordinary, pleasant music. Good, but nothing to get really excited about. Then ninety odd seconds into the score a subtle change occurs and forces one to pay real attention. A few more seconds later, the odd oump-pa-pa, oump-pa-pa and half way through the third oump-pa-pa the magic begins; the magic that brings tears to the eyes. Gem retched once more, feeling as if his testicles had just scraped by his teeth into the toilet bowl, and he also cried. Not because of the music, but at the loss of his progeny.

Eventually, having nothing more to give, he crawled on his hands and knees out of the bathroom to the ancient, brown leather sofa of his bedsit. He felt a sense of mild achievement, because he’d managed to push–slide himself onto the couch without dropping his head on the worn carpet in the process.

Posterity was unfortunate enough to receive the issue of one Henry Jeremiah Stone through no fault of its own and for thirty-odd years had patiently put up with it. Gem was an unintended joke and he knew it. Even his given name, Geminiano, was a bad joke. He simply had to shorten it to Gem, just to make it through junior school alive.

Having parents without a sense of humor and getting lumbered with a name like Gem F. Stone, just because they wanted to honor two different original founders of the clan, was cruel and unusual punishment on a child which had done nothing wrong to deserve it.

He had heard all the joke variations about his name and had the answers down pat:

“So you are a Gemstone, eh? What does the ‘F’ stand for?’

“Flynn”

“Ah, one of the Flint-Stones, then?”

“Yes, the Eton branch,” he would respond in an attempt at superiority.

Sending Gem to Eton had been an educational extravagance necessary to the family’s future social prospects.

*****

An immense fortune, obtained through the thankless and often dangerous trade of providing reasonably priced labor to the bloated capitalists of the Louisiana cotton fields and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, had established the Stone family as a pillar of English society. They were a family for whom the sun had decidedly risen in the West. Even after the abolition of their trade in the nineteenth century the family’s resulting investments continued to do well. It was a fortune sufficient to create envy in the Sultan of Brunei. Until, that is, the sportive sons of sons began to experiment with investments calculated to raise the approbation of enterprising purveyors of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and the esteem of charismatic bookies.

Gem’s father had struck the final blow to the family fortunes, though the real effort had begun well before his time. Physically rather handsome, no one was more adept at quoting Shakespeare than Mr. Stone Senior, provided he had his book of quotes handy.

He had been guarded by a domineering and anxiously jealous wife against every other female he came across; but an untimely violent dispute regarding right of way with a London taxi cab ended her guardianship and left Mr. Stone at a loss. Until, that is, he’d met Julia.

It is customary for wealthy men of all levels of intelligence to marry shapely, well-dressed Julia’s and to be subsequently relieved of a large portion of their riches. The fortunate ones acquire this problem at the beginning of their career and put it down to experience. The unfortunate ones undergo the calamity late in life and they become entertainment for the media. Mr. Stone Senior belonged to the latter class.

By the time he realized that believing in Julia’s ardor for him, he might have been somewhat over-optimistic, the damage had been done and his Julia had managed to syphon off what little had remained of the family fortune. His only compensation had been his triumphant observation of the shock and dismay his Julia exhibited, when she’d finally discovered how little gold her careful digging had eventually produced.

To celebrate the event of his divorce, Mr. Henry Jeremiah Stone went on an extended drinking binge and was discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor by Gem, who had passed by to investigate his father’s psychological condition. Gem called the ambulance and supposed that, blood being thicker than Pernod, his father would pull through. That was not the case. He died the next morning.

That was two years earlier and Gem had been forced to make use of his expensive education and to seek employment for the first time in his life. This was not easy for someone who, until then, had known about work only from hearsay. However, the ever powerful clique of the British establishment ensured that he obtained a job at Oxford, though a low paid one, as an assistant lecturer in English literature

Alcohol and magnetic bookies, with cigar stubs at the corner of their mouths, devoured his unimpressive salary every month, making the cheap, rundown, bedsit the unimposing seat of ‘The Last of the Stones’.

*****


The late afternoon chill invaded every nook and cranny of the bedsit, insistently nudging Gem as it spread itself over everything in the room. He shivered on the edge of awakening, but he did not feel strong enough to open his eyes. He heard the door unlock, squeak open and he almost screamed at the first flash of brightness as the light was turned on.

“It’s freezing in here! And what a mess!” The familiar female voice pierced his soul and he winced.

“Don’t shout pleeeease…” he croaked. “Where am I?”

“We are just passing Nottingham. Get up useless cherry blossom and be a man.” Shalini threw on an apron as she said this. Her usually gentle, soft voice became strong and firm whenever she spoke to Gem. This was not her first time cleaning up after him, following one of his drunken excursions.

She walked over to the window and closed it with a bang making Gem wince in pain, before she put some coins in the gas meter and turned on the heating.

“That cat will be the death of you. She is not called Pneumonia for nothing.” There was annoyed resignation in her voice.

Pneumonia was a stray cat which felt itself to be of independent means. She was able to call on what she considered to be unlimited resources in Gem, and he was not her only source of caloric income. She was a free spirit bound to no man and able to scrounge from one and all without prejudice or favor. She insisted on having the window open whenever she was visiting for breakfast, lunch or dinner, so she could leave immediately after she cleaned herself. As a result, Gem was always in danger of catching pneumonia. Hence the name.

Another shrill exclamation from Shalini raised an additional groan from Gem.

“What have you done to the bathroom, you animal?”

He made a pleading ‘time out’ signal with his hands over his head, still face down on the sofa. Shalini took pity on him, covered him with a blanket and switched off the overhead light. She replaced it with the gentle efforts of the green desk lamp, by which she started to clean the place up.

Shalini Vakil was an incredibly pretty, fifty six years old, Indian woman who looked like a forty year old well rounded fashion model. She was a lovely dark dream and her exquisite velvet Indian skin showed no sign of aging. Time appeared to have stilled for her since she’d given birth to her daughter, Ashvina, sixteen years and five months earlier. It was as if the beautiful round face of the child was an inspiration and a source of youth in itself for the mother. Her body turned many a healthy student head in her direction, as well as the heads of those few professors who did not subscribe to the love that dare not yodel its name.

It was six thirty in the evening when Gem’s stomach became aware of the cooking smells that forced the corpse to stir and rise.

“Go and shower, useless chrysanthemum, and come to eat,” she said when she saw him sitting up gingerly on the sofa.

“Stop shouting at me, I don’t pay you to shout.” He groaned as he rose like an old man.

“You don’t pay me at all, Einstein. You haven’t paid me for six weeks now,” she responded calmly with her back turned, stirring something that smelled delicious over the cooker.

He watched her shapely hips moved in rhythm with her stirring. He grunted and headed for the bathroom.

Shalini was a widow who lived across the corridor from him in the same decrepit old building. She was a secretary in the personnel department of his university, who supplemented her income by doing some cleaning work to support herself and Ashvina through school.

Besides cleaning for Gem, she also managed to create culinary miracles for him at the miniscule alcove which served as a kitchen.

Eventually, Gem came out of the bathroom, his black hair combed back and his pink skin glowing like a baby’s, a new and refreshed version of himself. His youth usually ensured a speedy recovery from his occasional debaucheries.

“I am starving. What are we experimenting with today?” He asked, as he deposited himself on one of the two stools at the fold-down kitchen table.

Shalini was a sad case in that she was allergic to curry and she continuously experimented with the cuisines of all nations except her own.

“Don’t sit here, sit on the sofa. Ash has downloaded those Humphrey Bogart films you wanted and we can watch them while we eat. I am trying my hand at Italian this weekend.” Her face had a determined, concentrating expression while she worked, as if she was diffusing a particularly sensitive explosive device.

Gem did as he was told. He was fortunate enough to stand out from the masses by inheriting physical and mental attributes from his parents, which had never been apparent in the late Mr. and Mrs. Stone. He was also fortunate in that he did not know how good-looking women found him and he was always surprised whenever he ‘struck lucky’, as he considered it, with some attractive female.

The complete lack of maternal affection had destroyed his self-confidence and his self-esteem to the extent that he could not believe that any woman would find him attractive. He was six feet tall, beefy but powerful beefy, not fat, with only vestiges of the family arrogance he originally commenced life with. When he was sober, his eyes were green and went well with his strong nose and wide forehead. He had a good mouth, which was always ready to smile, mainly at himself.

He had started out determined to pursue an existence of unbridled eccentricity by which to leave his mark on the world, something on the lines of Oscar Wilde. But without that gay blade’s more obnoxious pederast particulars, he hastened to assure himself. The loss of the family fortune was a decidedly serious blow to his plans and the necessity to earn his daily bread did not quite facilitate his policies.

His lazy indifference to work, combined with a resentment of everyone in authority, ensured that a career in teaching was a temperamental impossibility. An unjustifiably buoyant vanity, under the circumstances, completed the recipe for inevitable failure.

Shalini put the DVD in place and switched on the television set, then sat next to him on the sofa, both of them with plates of Italian food on their knees.

Gem felt at peace at last. He had heard her once say to someone over her cell phone, “He is such a good boy. Pity he is an imbecile.” But he did not hold this against her.

He felt that she loved him like a mother and he loved her too, only Gem’s love was quite an incestuous one. He lusted after her every sober waking moment. He did not know that though she was wiser and more self-controlled than he, she was still a woman and a passionate one at that, susceptible to the compliment of being desired by a handsome young man.

A debauched all night session of linguine, wine, zabaglione and Humphrey Bogart movies left them both reeling with un-satiated hormones.

*****

Sunday found an uncommonly sober Gem up early drinking bad coffee and reading the usually depressing news of the national press on the internet.

Contemplating disastrous local events in the news from one’s sofa is comforting, in the sense that one does not have to actively participate in them. Corrupt banks, corrupt politicians, corrupt police, corrupt press, corrupt judges, corrupt church, corrupt tradesmen, corrupt Jimmy Saviles – an endless list of pedophiles and thieves in suits. And the establishment doing its very best to minimize the events by pretending it is not an actual participant in the whole sorry mess.

He thought of the banks – all the banks – consciously and fraudulently using their position of power to trick their clients into buying completely unnecessary products. And the authorities, instead of putting those responsible in the dock as the fraudsters they are, call the fraud ‘miss-selling’ and allow the fraudsters to simply return the £12 billion of stolen loot without any further repercussions.

And so the ownership of the country protects and rewards its higher ranking obedient servants, he thought.

Gem was about to take a drink in disgust when the door opened and Shalini poked her head through it.

“Don’t get drunk today. You are taking Ash to the car-boot sale. She wants to find a sleeping bag for a sleep over with her friends. I am working today.”

Gem groaned inwardly and lied without a single change in his expression.

“I wasn’t about to take a drink. Anyway, it’s Sunday today and I have to lunch with the professor as usual, so I can’t take her.”

“Yes you can and you will, useless tulip. Your lunch is not until one and you have almost four hours until then. Get ready and she will be right over. Bye”.

Safe with the closing of the door Gem now allowed himself a proper groan as he got up to dress.

“I heard that!” Shalini shouted from the stairs on her way out and Gem cringed.

Ashvina walked in a few minutes later, as he put on his coat. She was a typical teenager, slim and doll-like at barely five feet. Like most kids of her age, she was permanently dressed in jeans. She had her mother’s lovely dark velvet skin, gorgeous large black eyes, a French nose and a permanently smiling shapely mouth in a pretty round face framed by black hair. The hair fashion changed almost on a daily basis.

“Hello sexy,” she said.

“Don’t call me that Squirt, or I’ll tell your mother.” He growled in an absent-minded manner, searching himself for keys and wallet.

“I was speaking to Pneumonia, genius,” she lied. “And if you tell my mother something like that, I’ll deny everything and she’ll kick your ass so bad you won’t be able to sit down for a year.” She laughed as she let the cat out and closed the window.

“If you lie like that, you’ll never get a lift from me to anywhere until you are seventy. And I’ll beat up that boy, Mark, I saw you flirting with the other day, so he’ll scream in horror every time he sees you.” He spoke absent-mindedly again because all this bantering had become routine and he went through the motions more out of habit than anything else.

“Now, now, my sweet Gem, you know that you wouldn’t do that to your best girl,” she said, taking his arm as they walked off together.

The car-boot sale was only ten minutes away and Gem walked patiently behind the girl while she looked in vain for a pink sleeping bag. It was one of those unusual English summers, where warmth and sunshine appear as welcome overseas visitors in transit. The perfection of the weather inspired him to look for a pretty woman close to his own age that might show an interest in picking him up. Gem’s custom was to step away from expired relationships firmly and with no lingering glance behind. The trusty rudder of his youthful spirit would always point him in the direction of new conquests, completely rejecting the idea of long term relationships. However, nothing promising in the way of a new one night stand had as yet appeared.

He felt responsible for the Squirt and kept her in his peripheral vision at all times. He saw her suddenly freeze still, and stopped to see what idiocy she was up to. Ashvina let out a quiet, pretend squeal of horror and laughed.

“Have you ever seen anything uglier than that?” She laughed in amazement, pointing and seriously offending the vendor.

This time Gem had to agree with her, but he held his tongue. The most atrociously ugly object of what he assumed was a poor imitation of a Clarice Cliff work, stood in the center of a table. It was surrounded by the pathetic remnants of cheap wine glass sets, and survivors of one complete tea set of painfully bad taste.

The item that offended Ashvina’s artistic taste was supposed to represent a rather strange-colored green and yellow chicken. It was more yellow than anything else. It had unnaturally long spindly legs and it was standing over what he supposed was intended to be a rather sickly-green egg. Gem had seen color like that only in his toilet bowl after one of his heavier drinking bouts.

The elephantine woman behind the portable table obviously took offense at Ashvina’s evident lack of appreciation of her green and yellow chicken.

She appeared to be a woman of few words, but when she did speak, what she said sounded very much to the point.

“Hoy, whachu mean goil, wos so funny?”

She was apparently ready and willing to go beyond a simple verbal Yorkshire response. Unusually for Gem, he could not think of a ready witty remark to defuse the situation with. Instead he felt a vapid comment about the weather trembling on his lips. He had no intention of starting a new War of the Roses, so he took her side.

“You simply have no taste Squirt and you just cannot appreciate the workmanship of a talented artist.” He swallowed hard. “How much is this, Madam?” He reluctantly asked the bulky Yorkshire lady behind the foldaway table.

“Poon, Dove,” came back the expectant nodding reply.

Gem, forced into the reckless extravagance, moodily handed over the one pound coin and picked up the monstrosity. It was heavier than it looked, made of good old unpretentious clay, slim at the top, but with a half-egg shaped bottom, obviously intended to make a point. Gem looked underneath and it was closed off as if the egg had been over-boiled to solidity and then cut across the center.

The woman did not have a bag to hide the thing in, so Gem had to carry it, exhibiting the masterpiece to a world which, in his imagination, appeared to recoil in horror at the sight of it.

He kept an eye open for a bin in which to dispose of the weight, but then the Squirt went and spoiled it.

“There’s a bin over there, Picasso. No doubt it’s been strategically placed for items like yours. It’s your chance to get rid of it. Or, if you are embarrassed that someone might see you disposing of a world heritage, you can give it to me and I’ll pretend to trip and drop it.”

It was the accompanying annoying laughter that did it. Gem couldn’t admit that he had actually shared her opinion of this atrocity to art now.

“Certainly not, Squirt, this shall take pride of place in my apartment and I shall enjoy its company for many years to come.” He said this with pompous dignity and Ashvina folded over with laughter.

“What a chump!” She screeched laughing and Gem accidentally cuffed this apostle of frivolity on the ear.


Chapter 2

Still full of wishful yearnings for a pink sleeping bag, Ashvina was eventually returned to storage accompanied by her newly purchased, olive green, military issue version.

Gem had more than an hour to spare until his lunch appointment with the professor. He decided to kill time with a liquid hors d'œuvre at his bedsit.

Alone he pondered his options as to the best way to “accidentally” break the terracotta horror without losing face with the Squirt, knowing Ash was waiting for him to do just that. As prolific of incident as life might appear, he knew it was highly unlikely that the thing could break without some actual, first hand assistance on his part.

With a devious self-satisfied smile he got up and opened the window slightly, leaving just enough space for the cat to squeeze through onto the window ledge. The windowsill had long since become one more depository for his countless books and space there, as everywhere else in his flat, was at a premium. He placed the eyesore where it would do the most good.

There was now a space just big enough for the cat to squeeze in between Thucydides’ ‘Peloponnesian Wars’ and the chicken.

Immediately after the objet d'art he placed a freshly opened can of tuna fish. He stepped back admiring his ingenuity, then drew the curtains closed, to conceal his plot, just in case the child decided to visit his bedsit during his absence

*****

Professor Robert Asquith, head of the mathematics department, opened the door and gestured Gem to enter.

“Come in, my boy”.

He was in his late sixties, of average height and like Cunningham, the bookie, an overweight man who appeared to be comfortable with his condition and had no aspirations of ever losing weight. A briar pipe, an almost permanent fixture in his mouth, defied modern conventions about smoking. The tobacco pipe complimented the ensemble of the man, along with his proud nose, his half-moon glasses, his partly thinning gray hair and blue eyes.

His wife Elaine shouted from the kitchen, a welcoming smile in her voice. “The food is ready Gem, have a drink with Robert and I shall be right over.”

Gem had been their son Harry’s best friend and drinking companion during the boys’ four years at Oxford and Gem had been a regular visitor to their home. In fact the two boys looked very much alike and strangers seeing them together would often mistake them for brothers.

Harry had subsequently graduated from officer training school at Sandhurst. When he was killed in his very first week in Afghanistan, Gem’s sharing of their grief and his constant, every day, support was one of the reasons they managed to retain their sanity at the loss of their only child.

The Sunday lunch ritual had been established ever since then, and Gem did not dare break it. In him they saw the image of their own son. He, in turn, had come to love the professor like the father he had never really had.

They moved to Professor Asquith’s office after lunch, while his wife disappeared into the kitchen with the dishes. Sunday was the maid’s day off.

Professor Asquith puffed on his pipe. “I hear that Naismith is after your scalp and that he has asked you to see him next Tuesday.”

Professor John Naismith was the head of Gem’s department.

“He does not take exception to the way I teach Oscar Wilde, Professor, but he objects to my interpretation of Wilde’s personal life, sir”.

“People’s personal lives are their own business, so why the conflict?”

“I say, sir, he is not being fair. I simply told my students that it was an offense to the idea of culture and logic to try to equate Wilde’s incredible artistic talent and the beauty of his literary eloquence with the vileness of his personal habits, trying to justify the latter. I told them that there is no defense for justifying the actions of a pedophile whether he is heterosexual or homosexual. That both types should be equally despised even if they are blessed with literary genius.”

Gem spoke with the passion, flamboyance and charisma of a TV televangelist preacher - before being caught in unseemly acts - his face a signboard of emotions.

“I said that evidence from his contemporaries, like Frank Harris, indicates that, in fact, Wilde was the most selfish, corrupt, self-serving ruthless pedophile. If the reality had been known, he should have been imprisoned for far longer than the two years he actually got.” He leaned forward in his armchair, the better to make his point, preaching his cause with engaging passion.

“The fact that Harris later fell on hard times and ended up writing that bit of pornography of his is used by some to discredit his biography of Wilde. But no one has denied Harris’ position of power and influence in the literary world of London at the time, when he was the publisher of one of the most influential journals.” He leaned back and crossed his legs as if to say, “So there”.

The professor smiled his indulgence as he tried to relight his pipe.

“I think you should bow to your superior’s position. Little pleasure or profit can be derived from any discussion with him on the subject of Oscar Wilde.”

“But surely he will accept a differing academic point of view, as a matter of principle?” Since his immediate superior was not present, Gem allowed himself to feel the exhilaration of revolt.

“But you know that Naismith is a raging homosexual?”

“Is he?” Gem’s jaw dropped, his rigid sense of proprieties had just received and unexpected nasty jar.

“You simply cannot be that simple minded, boy. And for the last time do please try to modify that infuriating Eton accent of yours.” The professor waved his match between puffs. “I am surprised he hasn’t made a pass at you,” he said exasperated.

“I say! You mean when he…? And when he asked me if I liked… Oh, my….”

“You poor, silly boy. Naismith simply wants to replace your father’s past fortune.”

“I am afraid I don’t understand, sir.”

Rays of golden sunlight peeped in through the window as if interested in their conversation. So did a sparrow standing on the window ledge outside, which looked at the two men with its head tilted to one side, as if waiting to hear what would come next. The professor stifled an after-lunch-yawn, looked at a sparrow and smiled.

“Of course you don’t. When you first came to Oxford you looked as if your father’s money was constantly giving you a blow job. Now that the money is gone, Naismith wants to take over the role.” He laughed out loud, scaring the sparrow, which flew off in search of a quieter spot.

“Oh, I say! Steady on sir. I may have joined the ranks of the sweaty bourgeoisie and henceforth I shall be accommodatingly conventional and all that, but there are limits. I am afraid that professor Naismith and I shall remain in permanent disagreement about Oscar Wilde.”

The professor laughed at Gem’s innocence and pomposity.

“For God’s sake, stop with the accent already,” he continued to laugh, trying to imitate a Yiddish accent.

A fresh coffee pot arrived and Elaine quickly escaped the clouds of pipe smoke that filled the room, steadily increasing in readiness for the professor’s coffee.

“You must be careful my boy,” the old man said as he filled their cups. “Naismith is a dangerous enemy for you to have and he is a Christian in everything but faith.” He waved a match at his pipe bowl and then looked with interest at a new hole he had managed to burn on his vest. He shrugged.

“He is vindictive and he will not hesitate to cause you as much harm as he can and derive pleasure in doing so. He happens to be the grandson of one of our ex-Prime Ministers on his mother’s side and we still live in a world where these things count.” He put another match to his pipe.

Gem felt that the professor was getting ready to speak on his favorite subjects of corruption and cronyism in the UK and he leaned back, expecting to enjoy the performance.

With his twenty year old three-piece suit and his bow tie the professor looked the archetype English gentleman as portrayed in literature and the movies, but he spoke Noam Chomsky. Along with his thick plume of pipe smoke the professor ejected pleasant, sweet-smelling words of wisdom and as always Gem inhaled those with pleasure.

It was very late in the afternoon when Gem managed to get home and the first thing he did was to draw back the curtains to see the result of his ingenious scheming - and ingenious it proved to be.

The green and yellow chicken - that brutality to art - lay on the floor, cracked in many different ways and in many different directions, but it had simply collapsed in on itself. Because of the thick crudeness of the workmanship, it still retained its approximate shape.

The romantic in him partly hoped that a great hidden jewel would materialize, somehow concealed by 20th century pirates, or a map with an X showing where the treasure had been hidden, so he looked inside.

Nothing. Oh well, back to reality, he thought. Carefully wrapping the cracked pottery in the palms of his large hands, he lifted the whole lot up and dropped it from a height in the bin by his desk. The green and yellow chicken turned into rubble of baked mud. Pneumonia’s now empty tuna fish tin joined it for company.

He stretched himself on the sofa then and started practicing his imitation of Harry’s accent, determined to do away with his own and to sound like a human being from then on.


Chapter 3

Gem’s appointment with Professor Naismith had been arranged for the Tuesday, because that was a day Gem did not have lectures. At the prescribed time of ten-thirty he was on the carpet, so to speak, of his superior’s office.

Professor Naismith was a tall, very thin man with haughty, tiny astigmatic eyes peaking over the battlement of a large nose, which guarded the moat of a mouth extending almost from ear to ear. Life experience had painfully drilled charity out of him and had laid unassailable, solid foundations for a life of arrogance and self-importance.

Malicious students had spread a dastardly rumor, however, that as unpleasant as he was as a person, Professor Naismith was a skilled performer in playing the spoons, proving once more that there is good in all of us

“I have asked to see you, Stone, on the matter of your persistently bigoted, intolerant and inaccurate presentation of a literary genius, to the young and impressionable minds of my students. I refer, of course, to your discussions with my undergraduates on Oscar Wilde.” His voice was not kind.

Gem had a habit of pulling at his right eyebrow when nervous, and he did that now, trying to be conciliatory.

“With respect, sir, I believe that my admiration of the literary genius of Oscar Wilde is second to none.” He stopped at the surprised look on the professor’s face at his new accent, by now an almost exact copy of Harry’s voice. Gem had an uncanny ability to imitate other people’s voices.

The old man looked at Gem as if he had just spoken in Swahili using bad grammar.

“Why are you speaking like that?” There was surprise in his voice. Apparently, the professor was unable to believe that a member of his own old school would deliberately try to distance his accent from that of the hallowed institution.

“I don’t follow, sir” Gem said in his most innocent voice.

“Never mind that now. Your professed admiration of a National Treasure does not conform to your ghastly, homophobic aspersions of the great man and I wish you to stop.” He leaned forward and tapped his pen on the pad in front of him. “And since we are on the subject of your innovative approach to teaching, I also wish you to rethink your position on Machiavelli.” There was no friendliness in his watery blue eyes.

The dictionary describes simple-mindedness as “lacking in subtlety or sophistication; artless or naïve.” So, without thinking the matter through properly, Gem immediately proceeded to prove it by getting on his favorite band wagon.

“Sir, Oscar Wilde and Machiavelli are the favorite subjects of the superficially knowledgeable, the illiterate parrots of philosophy and literature. These are people who reduce everything to their own unimaginative level and to their own experiences, in order to talk about the subjects as if they actually comprehend them.” He stopped in order to chuckle at something he remembered. “I saw a documentary about Machiavelli a few days ago and the presenter was comparing Machiavelli to well-known rock bands.” Here Gem gave a carefree, chummy laugh, inviting the professor to join him in ridiculing the illiterati. “It was the only way the poor creature could bring the subject down to his own level, beneath the flat rock at which he resides.”

The professor’s face became an interesting purple color.

“Are you calling me an illiterate and a worm?”

His pose was reminiscent of a Victorian father, in literature of the period, who was about to show the door to his strayed spinster daughter, now six months pregnant.

Eloquence had carried Gem away, but even simple-mindedness has its limitations. He immediately realized that his choice of words did not achieve the ideal. He tried to pour the ketchup of diplomacy over the obviously unpalatable burned concoction of his expressed opinion, in an attempt to soothe the savage beast the professor had turned into.

“I say, sir,” he said, unconsciously reverting to Eton and pulling at his right eyebrow, “I did not mean it like that. No one can question your unparalleled knowledge of literature and philosophy,” he crawled shamelessly, figuratively in his mind dropping on all fours in front of the great man asking for the expiation of his sins.

It was no use and it was certainly too late. Professor Asquith began to express himself in a manner that even the kindest critic could not have claimed was kind, tolerant or forgiving. The accused, feeling like a stag at bay, venturing to speak for the defense, simply gurgled and bleated at intervals, but to no effect. The justly indignant accuser showed no mercy.

The man spoke with a cold fury which was frightening to watch. “Stone, this university shall not avail itself of your questionable services next semester. We have the exams next month and you will support my students over the period, but you need not bother returning here in September. I wish you a good day, sir.”

Gem curled up like a burnt match. The sunshine appeared to be dimmed in his disposition, as if by a dark cloud. Possibly conscience, he supposed. Feeling the futility of mere language, he reluctantly dragged himself away from the professor’s office in a daze, with as much dignity as he could muster. He tripped over himself as he did so, his poise somewhat frayed in the process. His ears glowed red with bruised conceit and his cheeks flushed with injured pride. He headed out into the June day sun as if in a stupor. He felt as if he had just lived through a Homeric experience.

He lacked the impartiality to realize that even a well-paid attorney in the court of history, could not deny that Gem had fired the first shot of the campaign he had just lost.

Thoughts of friendly bookies lamenting on how sad it is to have to break the legs of a good friend of long standing raced through his mind. He thought of perpetual skirmishes with uncooperative tradesmen and he shuddered. The thought of John Cunningham’s five hundred pounds a month from a now nonexistent pay check was stupefying. His fortunes had now reached solid bed-rock and were looking for a jackhammer with which to continue the downward journey.

He walked in shock, fear and confusion, unconsciously heading for Professor Asquith’s lecture theatre, as was his wont when he was between lectures.

The auditorium was packed like a woman’s suitcase, with students crammed in the role of her afterthoughts. Followers of the professor from other departments and disciplines would drop in to hear the great man speak of matters other than mathematics at the end of his lectures, as was his custom.

“So you see ladies and gentlemen,” he said, stopping to take a swig of water from a small plastic bottle as Gem squeezed in next to one of the attendees, “The flute of the Pied Piper of Hamelin has never left us and it is essential that we train our ear to detect its false notes; because in our case the flute is now being played by the rats.”

The students laughed and thundered their approval by clapping in adoration.

“We are all singers in an opera carefully planned and the libretto has been written for us by the ancestors of the current owners of our country. The ones we do not hear much about.” He rested his left elbow on the podium, half turning to his right, in an effort to support his considerable weight. “Our roles in this opera and our very positions on the stage are all predetermined and prearranged. A few manage to write and sing their own arias, to become partially free, even if not totally free, but they are very few and far between. The rest of us face the infuriating, unwarranted, arrogant self-esteem of our literate, but ignorant politicians with bovine apathy.”

He looked at the young faces in front of him, his own serious.

“But their conceited self-esteem is built on the foundations of hypnotized acceptance by those they rule and that acceptance is an unshakable one. The reason being that the country’s ownership has not only imposed its own wishes on the masses, but has systematically brainwashed all of us into accepting the lies they feed us.”

He took the final sip of water from his plastic bottle and set it aside.

“For example,” he said slowly changing supporting elbows, “Just because a bumbling fool of a Mayor has been to Eton, he will manage to convince his voters that his blundering incompetence is only an act. As if any sane person wants to systematically and persistently make an ass of himself in public.”

At the mention of the famous clown Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, the students erupted in laughter and cheering.

For a while Gem forgot his own problems and joined the students in their reaction to the professor’s words.

*****

The necessity of finding a means to support himself was not lost upon Gem, but despite his fears and black depression, the idea of actually working for a living was less than palatable to him. He enjoyed literature immensely and so getting his PhD had been nothing like work to him. It was as if someone who loved golf had been paid to play his favorite game every time he felt like playing. The hard part was offering for hire his sketchy acquaintance with the teaching profession.

After Professor Asquith’s usual success with the students Gem did not have the heart to dampen the old man’s spirits with the news of his own dismissal.

He hurried to the safety of his bedsit, his cocoon and his mansion, the inner core of his very life. There, he ate, whenever Shalini remembered to cook for him. There, he drank to excess, made love whenever he was sober enough to become his boyish charming self - the version of Gem that women seemed incapable of resisting. There, he read and listened to his opera.

The geniuses who had designed the modification of the original large, ancient building, into tiny, money earning residential units, had not seen the need for a real kitchen and they made do with an imitation one.

Overall, the place gave the impression of having the dimensions of an oversize cupboard in which one just might be able to swing a cat. If one didn’t mind decorating the four walls with splattering’s of the cat’s brains.

The main door opened straight into the sitting room and visitors were treated to a view of an ancient brown leather sofa against the opposite wall. It occupied a recess into a wall-to-wall book shelf. In fact the bookshelf had been built around the sofa, as this was the only way for Gem to easily access his thousands of books.

Books lay everywhere, used in piles as door stoppers, as coffee tables and even as stools to sit on. It’s easy, if you don’t mind using salvaged pieces of plywood as table tops or stool seats.

Opposite the sofa there was a TV set and the only expensive item in the place: A home theater audio system on which Gem listened to his music. Next to this was a small desk that faced the wall as if in permanent detention punishment.

The bedroom was simply another alcove without a door, just long enough to accommodate a bed big enough for one and a half persons.

He had to close the main door if he wanted to open the bathroom door, but that was fine, because he was lucky enough to have an actual bathtub instead of just a shower.

Gem lay on the sofa staring at the high ceiling of the decrepit old building and at the landlord’s ancient wallpaper, which missed beauty by a mammoth margin. Murky black thoughts raced through his brain, of how John Cunningham would deal with him and what painful means Tubby would find to ensure that his daughter’s Oxford tuition fund was not lost to charity.

Here he sulked, in the company of another type of spirit and meditated on a future without employment and an income. He felt more dead than alive, like an unappreciated corpse at the morgue about to be taken to the autopsy room.

He tried to provide a measure of solace to his fevered, frightened brain with pleasing thoughts of the Spanish Inquisition and their undoubtedly admirable methods of dealing with low worms such as Professor Naismith. He allowed other similar diverting thoughts to flood his mind. He felt that what the world needed, to make it a place fit for heroes to live in, was fewer and less vile Professor Naismiths.

Just after six in the afternoon, Shalini found him on the sofa hugging a bottle of whisky, but still relatively sober. She looked as if she had just got word that her favorite dog and her mother had died on the same day.

“I am very sorry Gem. Everyone at the office was upset when the note from Professor Naismith came to personnel about your dismissal. What will you do now?”

Gem hiccupped in a dignified manner.

“I don’t know. Probably emigrate to the back of beyond where the foot of the white man has never set and missionaries have never managed to make it through the undergrowth. Somewhere like Worksop in Nottinghamshire springs to mind. I passed through there once and, if they spoke English, it would be my first choice. As it is I shall have to spend a year learning Worksopian and it is not an angelic sound, I assure you.”

Shalini looked at him in surprise.

“What happened to your accent? Why are you speaking like Harry?” She said with mouth slightly ajar.

Gem poured himself another drink and drank half of it before he replied.

“The Stones have been pretentious parasites on this planet for as long as they could find people to rob, so from now on I shall speak like a human being.

Shalini put her hand on his. She now regarded Gem as a martyr, earmarked for the lions’ dinner menu.

“Good for you, young prune,” she said in admiration. There was soothing tenderness in her gentle hands and a spell in her mild, soft voice, but Gem continued to wallow in his misery.

Ashvina barged in without knocking as usual and, unaware of Gem’s difficulties, she went straight to the point.

“So you couldn’t bear the sight of Leonardo da Vinci’s undiscovered masterpiece and you accidentally dropped it, eh?” She gloated and her laughter pierced Gem’s brain as if his skull was a mold for pouring molten metal at a steel foundry. He knew that the child meant no harm and he did not respond, but Shalini did and she spoke with annoyance and vigor.

“Go away useless vine. Gem’s been fired and he is in no mood for your nonsense.”

The child’s face immediately fell and her lovely eyes brimmed over.

“Oh my poor Gem, I am sorry I teased you about your chicken,” she said and sat next to him on the sofa hugging him. Without realizing it, she made his headache more bearable.

“Now that she mentioned it,” Shalini said, taking out of her bag a piece of the broken ceramic, “Pneumonia went into the waste basket to lick the tuna tin and when I came in yesterday there were pieces of your chicken all over the room. This was one of them.”

It was a two by three inch piece of clay, which had remained intact because on the inside was a metal plaque of the same size. It had been imbedded into the terracotta prior to baking it in the kiln. Because of its ‘accidental’ acquaintance on the window sill, and subsequently in the waste bin with Pneumonia, the plaque had now almost completely peeled off the hard baked mud.

Gem took the piece and looked at it indifferently. The rectangular thin metal plaque had words punched into it:

Berenbauer (Schweiz) AG

Utoquai 29, Zürich

Spitzengeheimnis

• Das Konto läuft unter der Nummer

Kontonummer 527 68 41 44 2 64 00 ‎ 98 98

• Der Agent läuft unter dem Decknamen Spinne

• ‘Das Wasser läuft ab’

“It looks to be in German and it’s probably the manufacturer’s name and address with the product reference number. Look, the first number 527 is thicker and bolder. So what?” Gem said.

“The plaque has almost peeled off and if you move it with your finger, you can see what it has on the back. If it is the manufacturer’s name and address, what is the swastika doing there?”

Mildly curious Gem had a look and there was, indeed, a Nazi swastika stamped on the back in black ink.

“OK, so it was made during the war. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I checked the word ‘Spitzengeheimnis’ on Goolge’s online translator and the translation came as ‘Top Secret’.”


Chapter 4

The metal strip spent the following day in Gem’s trouser pocket, cuddled up next to a rather thin, pathetic money pin which did not have any apparent prospects of increasing in size any time soon. Gem spent all his free time on the internet with a copy of the text constantly on hand.

Google Search informed him that ‘Berenbauer (Schweiz) AG’ was the Swiss branch of one of the oldest banks in history, of German ownership.

Google Maps showed him where the address ‘Utoquai 29, Zürich’ was - and a very nice street it looked to be.

Google Translator confirmed that “Spitzengeheimnis” in German means “Top Secret.”

The same translator also informed him that ‘Das Konto läuft unter der Nummer’ translated was “The number of the account is” and that the word before the number itself “Kontonummer” 527 68 41 44 2 64 00 ‎ 98 98 also meant “Account Number.”

Then the interesting bit:

“Der Agent läuft unter dem Decknamen Spinne” - Meaning “The agent goes by the cover name of Spider,” but why any agent would want to do such a silly thing was unclear.

And finally “Das Wasser läuft ab” informed Gem that “The tide is going out,” but why the tide would be going on a date was also unclear.

In the end Gem managed to have the text written down on paper in English and he could now view it more or less in his own language:

• Berenbauer (Switzerland) AG

• Utoquai 29, Zürich,

• Top Secret

• The number of the account is

Account-Number: 527 68 41 44 2 64 00 ‎ 98 98

• The agent goes by the cover name of Spider

• “The tide is going out”

Gem knew that he was not the brightest spark at the university and he was anxious to obtain Professor Asquith’s opinion on the matter, so he called for an appointment. At six thirty sharp, Gloria, the housemaid, led him in and he found the couple in the library poring over some accounts.

He smiled his usual sunny, boyish smile. “Good evening Mrs. Asquith, good evening sir, you are both well, I trust?”

They both froze in place and looked at him. Mrs. Asquith started to leave the room at a slow pace but ended up leaving it at a run, sobbing. Looking dazed and far away, the professor sat down behind his desk and took a large handkerchief out of his coat pocket, to cover his face so Gem could not see him wiping away his own tears.

“What’s wrong, sir, did something happen?” Gem was prepared to do anything to prevent his adopted family from suffering any grief. He did not, as yet, realize that he was the one causing the grief by reminding the two parents of their lost son. Their son’s appearance, their son’s smile and today their son’s speaking voice.

“It’s nothing, my boy, nothing for you to worry about. Let me ask Gloria to bring us some coffee and you can tell me how you are feeling.” He spoke in a throaty voice as he pressed the number for the kitchen into the phone on his desk.

“Have you made any approaches to Naismith to reconsider?” He asked when Gem sat down in his usual armchair, skillfully changing the subject after speaking with Gloria and hanging up the phone. “He is certainly giving me the cold shoulder since your dismissal.”

One of the inescapable certainties of life was that Gem was temperamentally unsuitable to be a spy. His face was not simply an open book. It was a 3-D movie projection screen where everything was there for all to see.

“I have nothing new to report in that department, sir,” he shrugged. “I now spend most of my free time dreaming of Professor Naismith being shipwrecked alone and forever on a deserted island with only the complete works of Schopenhauer for reading material.” Gem stopped to enjoy the smile he raised in the face of his old friend. He leaned back and made himself more comfortable.

“But then I rethink my position, because Schopenhauer might make the eternity of actual hell a pleasant alternative for our gallant professor.”

Despite his grief the professor found himself now laughing. He got up from his desk and took command of his own favorite armchair opposite his visitor.

“Yes, I see what you mean. As our friend Schopenhauer said, ‘the two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom’. Naismith will get plenty of those on a desert island with only the sad philosopher for company. Come in,” he added, in response to the knock on the door.

Gloria walked in with a tray and a coquettish smile at Gem. She dispensed the cups, the coffee pot and the biscuits. She made sure she touched Gem’s hand as she gave him his cup.

The professor searched for his pipe and, after some effort, found it and relit whatever remnants of pipe tobacco still remained inside. He waited for Gloria to close the door behind her before he spoke again.

“I'm getting an impression that you don't like Professor Asquith, and I can’t really blame you. He is a lost cause, my boy. It is over forty five years now since wit and humanity waved a final goodbye to Professor Naismith and left him at peace with his rock collection and his Victorian etchings of naked boys.” The old man waved his burning match at both the pipe and Gem, making a point and setting the tobacco alight at the same time. “At the beginning of his career, he made an effort to canter through life with grace and panache, but he unfortunately attempted to do it on a donkey.”

The image brought a childish, grin to Gem’s face and his eyes acquired a far-away look.

“Take advantage of the few weeks you have ahead of you to look for another job, but do try to get one close to us so you can continue to visit us,” the professor continued.

Gem rapidly returned to planet earth.

“Knowing Professor Naismith as I do now, it does not appear at this time that another position anywhere in Oxford is a likely possibility for me sir, but I shall certainly give it a go.”

Gem leaned forward and put the metal plaque on the professor’s desk.

“Actually, I came to see you about this, sir.”

The professor picked the object up, obviously patiently ready to see what new idiocy the boy had come up with this time.

“My German is a bit rusty, but,” he took a magnifying glass from a desk drawer, “What is supposed to be ‘Top Secret’?”

Gem placed the German and English transcripts he had prepared on the desk and explained how it all came about.


Chapter 5

“Well, now,” the professor contemplated out aloud, “a carefully hidden metal plaque, the Swiss branch of a German bank, possibly a numbered Swiss bank account, a swastika, odd phrases which look like codes… all rather obvious I should think…”

Gem nodded in agreement, but then he felt the need for clarification.

“Is it? Oh, that’s good sir…” Gem responded, confirming the professor’s opinion of his brain power once more. The old man took a sip from his cup, a couple of puffs on his pipe and waited for the question. “So what is it, sir?”

“Well, it’s only a guess of course, but I should think that it’s a bank account where some Nazis have deposited funds, or perhaps it refers to a safety deposit box at this specific bank.” Professor Asquith leaned back on his chair, making himself more comfortable. “How much money is involved or what might be in a safety vault, we have no way of knowing. Unless of course you go there personally and ask them,” he smiled. His guest did not appear to be thrilled at the idea.

Gem bit his lip, felt for his eyebrow, and leaned over to better make his point. “I’d end up in jail if I tried anything like that sir and I am not overly fond of jails on principle.”

The old man was a picture of patience as he puffed some more on his pipe. He got up from his desk and again took command of his own favorite armchair opposite his visitor.

“No, they won’t. When Harry died the government paid us £820,000 in compensation. We didn’t need the money so Elaine and I opened a numbered account with a Swiss bank in Zurich, which specializes in investments.” He shrugged. “As a result, you now see before you a contented man, comfortable in the knowledge that he bought Nobel Energy at $9 a share.” The professor paused so that Gem could digest all the information.

“I tell you this because I know something about numbered accounts. Depending on the agreement you make with the bank, all you might need is the actual number itself.” He tapped the pipe in an ashtray. “That acts like a confirmation that you may have access to the account to which the number belongs.” He had taken the pipe apart as he spoke and was now using a pipe cleaner on the parts, as if that was the most important part of his day. He spoke without looking at Gem. “However, some depositors may have a special agreement with the bank by which the bank will not give access to an account unless the person possessing the account number also knows specific passwords.” He smiled at his now clean pipe and began to refill it.

“So you say that I might be able to have access to this account and that there might be a few quid in it?” Gem’s brain began a laborious turning over which he found to be refreshing as well as exciting.

“There is no guarantee that this plaque is the only one in existence.” The professor now spoke through the pipe between his teeth. “The account may have been closed decades ago, or it may, indeed, have only a few pounds in it. There is only one way to find out. Go there and see. When you receive your pink slip at the end of July just treat yourself to a holiday in Zurich and find out what the true situation is.” The contended smile on Professor Asquith’s face indicated that the pipe was now going strong.

All through this Gem was listened with rapt attention, finding himself going through a series of changing emotions along the way. From curiosity, to partial excitement, to real excitement, to greed at the thought of possibly unbridled wealth, to the life of luxury this could mean to him and finally to the downturn of reality.

He thought of bank alarms going off as soon as he gave the number of the account to some clerk, asking for access to it. He imagined metal cages dropping from the ceiling, guards with guns drawn and finally the Swiss police, leading him away in handcuffs. But politely, he assumed, because they were, after all, Swiss.

He finally shook his head in a manner which left no doubt as to his opinion of this idea.

“Tempting, but this sounds too much of a risk for me, I am afraid.” He shifted his position in his chair, trying to think of the best way to avoid appearing like a wimp. “Bearing in mind that I have a firm prejudice against going to prison, and also bearing in mind my current financial constraints, this pot is just a bit too rich for my blood. The spirit shudders at the thought of jail and even more to the point, the wallet is too weak to take the strain. I’d have to pour my bank account into this. No, I think I shall stay at home with a good book and some grape juice.”

The professor smiled and looked at his pipe with affection, in preparation to speak like a Dutch uncle. He looked at the holes he had managed to create in his vest with burning tobacco and shook his head at his own carelessness. The sound of a dropped plate in the kitchen and Elaine’s annoyed little screech came through the closed door and he smiled with indulgence. Outside one of the neighbors had decided that this was the perfect time to cut the lawn.

Gem watched the gray ash weave about like seaweed on the bottom of a shallow sea and his chest contracted. A feeling of foreboding descended upon him. He caught his breath and looked at his mentor.


Chapter 6

“When you have been at this university for as long as I have, Gem, especially when you are the head of a department, you get to hear things about people whether you like it or not.”

The pipe had gone out again, so the professor put a match to the tobacco and then puffed to get it going, while pouring himself and Gem another coffee.

“Junior lecturers appear to think that by collecting negative information about their colleagues and to casually pass this information on over tea and biscuits at every opportunity, will somehow ingratiate them with their superiors.”

Gem pulled at his right eyebrow and began to wiggle in his leather chair.

“That is how I know that you play craps with some of your students during breaks. Not a brilliant career move I would have thought.” There was kindness in his eyes as he said this.

Gem tried to swallow, but he was unsuccessful. He made another effort to say something, but the old man held his palm up and silenced him.

“That is how I know that you and two other junior lecturers belong to a private club well known for its gambling activities and that you have a number of pressing gambling debts to meet.” He leaned back in his chair as he said this, trying to indicate that he was not one to cast the first stone, but Gem felt that a distance created between them.

The embarrassment began to overflow out of Gem’s burning cheeks and ears and he fidgeted, ready to get up and escape the torture.

“Don’t go just yet, Gem. Let me finish what I have to say. I know that you owe back rent and I know that you haven’t paid your cleaning woman for weeks. Yet through all that, you have never once asked me to help you financially, even knowing that I would.” The stem of his pipe was now pointing at Gem.

The old man’s dry blue eyes hypnotized Gem into immobility. Gem’s own eyes were pleading.

“That means character to me, my boy. And I know that in that, sometimes confused, head of yours, there is a man of character and goodness which the indifference of your parents has not managed to wrench out of you.” The pipe stem stabbed the air, making the point.

Gem collapsed in his chair, crushed in spirit and embarrassed as never before. He did not have the strength to get up and leave, though somehow he now did not want to do that. Despite his thirty years, he wanted to be counseled, to be guided, to feel the paternal care and the warm kinship of fatherly love for a change. He could not look at the old man, so he looked at the floor.

The professor raised himself off his armchair with some difficulty, and went to his desk to look for something.

The professor spoke with his back to Gem, lifting documents and files. “You are almost like a son to me boy and I am going to give you two options. For a start, how much do you owe altogether?”

Gem fidgeted, looked carefully at his shoes to make sure they were from the same pair. He tried to change the subject, but eventually had to whisper the amount.

“It’s not an insignificant amount, I am afraid, sir. It all comes to three thousand eight hundred pounds.”

Still looking at his shoes he heard the professor writing down something before returning to his favorite armchair, then he felt a nudge.

“Here is a check for five thousand pounds.”

Gem found himself holding a cheque and was about to return it when the professor held up the palm of his hand and spoke again.

“As I’ve said I am giving you two options. Option one. You can pay off your debts and gamble the rest of it away. You will not owe me a thing, but you will never be able to come and see me, ever again.” The old man put his pipe down in his ashtray.

Gem’s eyes became round disks of fear, the thought of not being able to see the professor again, inconceivable to him.

“Option two. You take this cheque, pay off your debts and use the balance to take that holiday to Switzerland we spoke about. If you find any money in that account, you first pay me my five thousand pounds and the rest is yours.

He leaned back in his armchair and intertwined his fingers across his ample stomach, looking like a benevolent Buddha. .

“So, what will it be?”


PART TWO

Chapter 7

Gem sank against the back of his seat as the plane raced down the runway.

On this sunny August morning, the romantic in him imagined the elastic strings connecting him to his past snapping one by one, leaving him attached to just the unbreakable two by time the machine lifted off the ground: the ones connecting him to Professor Asquith and Shalini, who would be waiting for him to return to his bedsit seven days down the calendar. Those, he felt were attached directly to his heart, and he couldn’t help remembering the tear Shalini had shed as she’d waved off the minicab taking him to the train station, where he’d caught his connection to Heathrow airport.

Gem sipped whisky and water provided by the stewardess and smiled to himself with pleasure as he followed that trail of memories back to the previous night. The emotions of a confirmed bachelor who has just proposed and been rejected are always simple and satisfying.

The Squirt stayed over with her friend as she often did on Sundays and Gem had taken Shalini to a Japanese restaurant for a bon voyage dinner.

“So you see Shal, as difficult as it is to suddenly pull away from everything one knows, the time comes when one simply must take a deep breath and go on; Taking the plunge into the abyss of the unknown, so to speak.” He’d taken a sip from the Japanese sake cup to wet his mouth for more eloquence.

“But fear not; I expect to find at least a couple of quid in the account, and naturally you shall be entitled unto half my kingdom. After all, fair is fair.”

Shalini’s pretty face had registered theatrical awe and admiration.

"You wish to buy me with your gold?"

“Naturally. I intend to become a true capitalist. Allow me to refill your cup with this refreshing sake.”

“A couple of pounds, eh? How is a girl to spend so much wealth, I wonder?” she’d said, her voice soft and feminine; its natural condition, free of Gem’s idiotic antics. “I suppose that I shall be able to stop cleaning after you for a start.”

“Steady on. Even bloated capitalists have to go to work on occasion.” Gem had drained his cup and refilled it, the smile on his face growing wider.

She’d batted her eyelids at him. “Yes, but dare one imagine that cleaning vomit from toilets is a pleasure they manage to do without?”

He’d been in top form conversationally and she’d risen to the occasion as his equal, so the outing had been a huge success. Full of Shushi and optimism, they’d walked home from the restaurant to clear their heads from the sake, but the alcohol had caused them to lean on each other along the way, creating an intimacy they hadn’t shared before.

When Gem had opened his bedsit door, Shalini had followed him in. They’d looked into each other’s eyes and all the suppressed desire they’d carried for each other over the previous two years burst its dam and they rushed at each other; kissing in madness with their hands grasping and searching each other’s bodies until Gem had come up for air.

“At last, Christmas Day,” he’d said with a smile.

“No, it’s Worker’s Day,” she’d growled in a strange animal sound as she’d pushed him onto the one-and-a-half size bed, climbing on top of him.

After a long session of insanity, Gem had looked at her naked body as they lay side by side, eyes drooping from sleepy weariness.

“How is it possible for anyone to be so pretty?” He’d asked.

Shalini had stretched her body luxuriously with her arms straining extended over her head, slowly rocking her arched frame right and left, her still youthful impressive breasts trembling with her movement.

“And at this mature age,” she’d responded, smiling with the supreme confidence of a woman who knows her own worth.

“What’s wrong with my age?” He asked casually, unable to resist. “I was, of course, speaking about myself,” then he’d jumped out of bed just in time to avoid the punch.

Naturally, she’d laughed good naturedly at him when, as the idiot he was, confusing lust for love, he’d proposed to her, ignoring their considerable age difference. They’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms as gentle lovers will, both safe in having eaten their cake and stowing the rest in the cooler for next time.

Now here he was, on his way to an adventure which may end up with him in jail, but he was committed to it and there was no turning back.


*****


The taxi ride, to the bed and breakfast establishment he had booked online, cost more than the budget flight from London to Zurich, but he had to bite the bullet. There was no other way he could get to it safely. He had chosen the place because it was cheap and had free WiFi.

It was a pretty wooden house in a quiet neighborhood. The huge smile of the gigantic fifty five year old lady who opened the door for him, made him feel as if he had come to the right place. The woman had long ago given up on any attempts at symmetry of figure and this somehow created a sense of security in him.

“Herr Stone? I am Frau Fankhauser. Welcome to my little house.” She had a no-nonsense voice and she shook his hand vigorously, as if pumping water from an old well with a tricky manual pump.

She looked as if she was capable of pulling nails out of lumber with her bare teeth, grinding them between her molars, and sprinkling the dust over her salad in place of salt, but he found her smile captivating.

“How do you do Frau Fankhauser? It’s good to be here,” Gem returned the smile, flexing his fingers trying to get the circulation going again.

It was noon by the time he felt ready to explore the city and he said goodbye to the landlady, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

“It is time for lunch and you must eat with us before you go,” she insisted in her powerful voice. And for the next hour Gem found himself giving English lessons to her three grandchildren.

It is a matter of record that a Spartan diet was wholesome, but no one has been found as yet to claim that it was good. This was the case of all the dishes which came out of Frau Fankhauser’s kitchen and Gem made several mental notes in red, never to repeat the experience while he still had his strength and could fight to the death.

*****

He wanted to scout the area before visiting the bank next morning and he had all the information he needed to do it within his notebook. Google maps had provided all the material, including street views of the place, bus services, costs and time schedules.

The bus stop was a short walk away from Frau Fankhauser’s establishment and he paid about thirty five pounds for a seventy two hour bus pass. He knew that forty minutes later he would be at the main Zurich bus station, which also happened to be next to the main train station. The street he wanted began about three hundred yards away and ran parallel to a scenic lake. There was a shortcut from the bus station through a park.

He first walked around both the bus and train stations, noting the seedy streets that seemed to branch off to the east, clashing in style with the expensive streets which headed west, the direction he was supposed to take. He looked around some of the backstreets, in hopes of spotting the local equivalent of the ‘Smithsonian Specialist Tobacconists Club’ for when the need arose, but no likely establishments appeared.

He took the shortcut through the park. Out of the periphery of his vision, he casually observed the presence of a handsome, old, tall and slim, African-looking man sitting on a bench. The man was leaning back and gazing in a thoughtful manner at the infinite, through the smoke of his cigarette. The closer to him Gem got, the more familiar he looked, until he realized with surprise that the man looked like the American film star Morgan Freeman.

Curiosity is a powerful instigator so, after tripping over himself, Gem stopped; his shock now reduced by the fact that the supposed actor was poorly dressed. A number of notable details in Mr. Freeman’s suit indicated to even the most absent-minded observer that it was unlikely to be a product of the House of Armani.

The man turned and looked at Gem’s confusion and a gentle, tolerant, almost secret, smile showed at the corner of his mouth, showing that he understood.

“I say, you are not…”

The man shook his head, the almost secret smile still on his lips.

“I am terribly sorry, do you mind if I sit down for a minute? The shock you know. Are you related to Mr. Freeman, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“No, no relation I am afraid. I am just a simple accident of nature.” The man spoke cigarette smoke through his secret smile.

“By Jove, thankfully the voice is not the same; otherwise I would be tempted to doubt your word. Obviously you are also an American. I think I need a drink. Any bars around here?”

The man looked at Gem’s expensive suit, a remnant of the good old days, before daddy’s money had run out.

“Do you see that classy looking building across the street from the park?” He pointed with his cigarette. “That’s the best hotel in Zurich, the five-star Bischoff Hotel. They are sure to treat you well there.”

Gem could not suppress an embarrassed laugh, which spoke volumes.

“I don’t think that the wallet will stretch to a five star hotel. Is there anything in the zero star price range nearby?” His sheepish smile made the other nod in sympathy and understanding.

“Lili’s Bar,” he said and the cigarette pointed to the new direction. “Walk back the way you came and you will find a water fountain in the square in front of the bus station. The second street on your right, after the fountain, is Hoffstrasse and the watering hole is about a hundred meters down the road.” He took a puff on his cigarette and added: “That’s where I usually end up and if I can afford it, so can you.” The secret smile was still there. It seemed to go well with the gentle, amiable August sunshine.

“Many thanks.” Gem pulled at his eyebrow and smiled. “It shall be the next tourist attraction I shall visit after I scout the Berenbauer Bank building. I am visiting the place tomorrow and I wanted to get to know the area, before I drop in.”

“You’ll find the bank about five blocks to the left of the Bischoff Hotel.” The cigarette pointed the new direction and then rose in salute. “Good luck.”

Gem waved a cheerful goodbye and headed off into the warm afternoon, in search of his bank. Following the stranger’s instructions, he turned left at the end of the park and walked along a lovely street full of wonderful buildings, many of them banks, but also emporiums of expensive brand names. He eventually found number twenty nine and it was an old, large, impressive six story building made of stone.

He crossed to the opposite side of the street. He found a bench lakeside, and sat there deep in thought and concerns about what would be awaiting him inside that building the next day. Would he find a fortune, or would he end up in prison?

The thought of prison turned his mind to drink.


Chapter 8

The unimpressive façade of Lili’s establishment offered him the confidence of familiarity, and he walked into its dark interior with a firm step. Not unlike his favorite Oxford watering trough, he thought, except for the endless black and white photographs of Marlene Dietrich on the walls. And the chairs did not have the soft cushions Mr. Cunningham used, to keep the punters in his establishment for as long as possible.

To get to the long bar, he had to navigate through a lot of tables and chairs, most of them empty this early in the afternoon. At the far end of the bar, at the corner, he saw his acquaintance of earlier that day. He smiled a greeting as he went up to him and got the secret smile in return.

“May I buy you a drink to thank you for your kind help earlier and to solidify our acquaintance?” He asked the man.

“The first one is on me. What will it be?” The other responded.

“How kind. Whisky and water for me please.”

The man spoke to the barman and Gem put his personal card on the bar in front of his new friend.

“A Gemstone, eh? What does the F stand for?”

Gem pulled at his eyebrow and told him, looking like a sheepdog that had managed to lose its flock. The other’s response was a raised eyebrow.

“A fellow sufferer, I see. I am M. A. C. Smith and please don’t ask what the initials stand for. You can call me Mac, or Smith, any way the mood strikes you.”

“Mac is fine, I think. Please call me Gem.”

They drank in harmony and spoke of neutral matters, neither wanting to pry into the other’s affairs.

A couple of hours later Gem looked at his watch.

“I must be sober and presentable for my appointment with the bank tomorrow, so allow me to buy the last one and I shall be off. I certainly hope that we shall see each other again, before I go back home on Sunday.” He smiled friendship at his new acquaintance.

“Well, I shall be killing time in this place until this coming Friday. The Embassy assures me that my new and unsoiled passport will be ready by then and on Saturday I shall be off home.” Mac returned the smile of friendship.

Just then the door opened and a large man on crutches walked in followed by two tough looking characters. The large man stood at the door until his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the place and looking around, he spotted Mac at the bar.

“Hoy Smith!” He shouted in triumph in an American accent. “Your hotel told me I’d find you here. I heard you were out and its payback time, boy.” His was a face proudly devoid of any sign of intelligence, sufficiently happy in the thought that it belonged to a world superpower, as if that in itself was the result of some personal athletic achievement

Mac did not return the greeting and did not appear to obtain any pleasure from the visit. Gem felt a domineering urge come upon him to be elsewhere and fast.

“Stay here, Gem. Don’t get involved, this is not your fight,” Mac said, as he put his drink down and stepped away from the bar, heading slowly for the trio.

Gem, despite his personal preference to be in a different, more peaceful place at that moment - like St Paul’s Cathedral at the Vatican for example - followed Mac’s lead, determined not to leave him alone in his difficulty.

The two toughs walked towards Mac to meet him half way. Mac raised his palms up in a sign partly of peace, and partly of surrender when they stopped three steps apart.

“Look out, it’s a trick!” The large man shouted and the two goons turned to look at him in surprise, to see what the trick was. But the damage had already been done.

Gem heard the crack of a broken knee and the screams of one of the toughs before he realized that Mac had actually moved.

The second tough though, being more experienced, recovered immediately and lunged at Mac, but Gem tripped him up and he fell flat on his face. When he sprung right back up, Mac kicked him in the head and he fell down motionless. The whole thing was over as quickly as the blink of an owl.

Mac began walking toward the leader, but the big man dropped his crutches and sat on the floor holding his knees.

“No, Smith. Please don’t do it.”

Mac looked at him with contempt, nodded to Gem and they hurried out of the place, getting into the first taxi they found.

“They know my hotel. I need to move out before he sends more goons after me,” was Mac’s calm comment. “And by the way, thanks for the help.”

“Don’t mention it. I say, Mac, I know the perfect place to disappear for a few days. Shall I call and see if they have a room for you?”

Upon receiving the affirmative, he called Frau Fankhauser on his cell phone. Yes, she did have a room available until next Saturday and would be happy to put up Herr Stone’s friend.

After collecting his stuff from the hotel, Mac insisted they change taxis at the train station to ensure that their tracks could not be followed.

On the way, Gem felt honor bound to do the decent, manly thing and come clean with Mac.

“The local female fauna appear to be seven feet tall and very capable, seeming able to lift busses off children with one hand tied behind their back. However, in the case of Frau Fankhauser, to say that when she is trying to put something together in the kitchen human life is not imperiled, that would be a base, shameless lie.”

The secret smile appeared on Mac’s lips again, only wider. Few things draw two men together more surely than a mutual aversion for bad cooking.

A few hours later they sat having dinner and a drink at a friendly pub in their new neighborhood and Mac was instructing Gem in the fine art of breaking the knees of much bigger and violent men. Apparently the skill lay in kicking the knee in a downward motion, putting one’s full weight behind the effort – after first distracting them with raised palms up, in a sign partly of peace and partly of surrender.

“Breaking a knee requires just thirty five pounds of pressure, so that’s the easy part. The real challenge of the exercise, is diverting their attention so they don’t know what’s coming. Let’s have another drink,” Mac said.

He then proceeded to explain pressure points in the human body which, if hit just right, would incapacitate and even kill.


Chapter 9

At ten o’clock the following Tuesday morning, Gem walked with trepidation along the pavement running in front of the bank. He felt was a distinct cooling of the feet as the bank came closer and closer, as St George must have felt before he’d gone out to have that spat with the dragon.

Twenty feet or so from the bank’s main entrance, he raised himself to his full height, rolled his shoulders back and walked with confidence – just like an old war horse which hears the bugle for the charge. And all because the loveliest woman he had ever seen had just stepped out of the bank and was headed his way.

She was almost as tall as he, in her fashionable dark blue high heels. She wore a matching dark blue, knee length designer dress, which captivatingly flared at the hem as she walked.

Only an Italian would splash out on such an obviously expensive dress,’ he thought.

Her shoulder length blond hair framed an unbelievably pretty face, almost translucent in its whiteness, with red pouting lips perfectly and carefully rouged. Her fashionable blue framed prescription glasses hid the color of her eyes, but his eye color preference was specious and he was sure that the color would be as perfect as the rest of her. Her slim waist accentuated two incredible breasts and shapely hips designed for child bearing. She walked as only a woman can walk, swaying in that charming, feminine way that is the exclusive prerogative of her sex.

Gem realized that he had no chance with her, and he was too proud to give her the satisfaction of looking at her, so he ignored her before she could ignore him, looking straight ahead as they passed each other.

But she was too pretty not to look at, so about six steps further down he turned to look at her.

To his amazement, at that very moment, the girl turned to look at him as well. They caught each other out and they both laughed, she bending slightly forward, and automatically bringing her hand to her face to cover her blushes, as women do. They then went on their separate ways never to meet again.

Having a beautiful woman turn to look at him was the tonic he needed to boost his self-esteem and so he walked into the place as if he owned it, though he regretted not being able to go after the girl. Enquiries led him to the right desk of the right assistant manager, who handled cases such as his. According to the sign on the man’s desk, in front of him, his name was Fischer.

“I have inherited a numbered account and I wish to see what money, if any, is in it, please. This is the number” he said, handing it over with his card to the young man behind the desk.

Herr Fischer looked at his personal card, looked at the paper and typed the number in his computer, which apparently told him what to do.

“Please sit down, Mr. Stone. I shall be with you in a short while.”

Half an hour later, Gem noticed two heavily built men, with guns at their waists, join the unarmed security officers who stood at the entrance directing traffic and he wondered if they had anything to do with him. His knees became liquefied a bit and he felt the urgent need of a drink, expecting the heavy goods vehicle of reality to collide painfully with the scooter of his unrealistic aspirations at any moment.

Herr Fischer finally returned another half an hour later.

“It will be necessary for you to complete the relevant form before we can go any further, Herr Stone,” he said, placing the form in front of Gem. He made no mention of his promise to return ‘in a short while’.

The form was a lengthy one and it included almost everything pertaining to Gem’s history. Main address, local address, contact telephone numbers, passport number, parents' names and so it went. As he completed the form, Gem felt more and more apprehensive about the whole thing, but at least the police had not been called in yet. He handed the completed work in, and Herr Fischer took a long time going over it, to ensure that every question had been answered.

“Excellent Herr Stone, everything seems to be in order. Kindly see Herr Niklas Schneider next Thursday, August 6th at ten forty five. I wish you a good day.”

That was it.

No police, no arrest – but, equally and very importantly, no money. Gem thanked the man and left the building with a sense of foreboding. It was going to be a very difficult forty eight hour period and he needed a drink.

He took the bus to Frau Fankhauser’s place, collected Mac and headed out to the countryside for a scenic pub, in which to drown his worries.

They spent the next forty eight hours in each other’s company, each keeping his own secrets and carefully skirting around questions which might embarrass the other. This respect each of them showed for the other’s privacy began to form a bond between them, even at such a short period of time.


Chapter 10

It was a grave and thoughtful Gem who presented himself at the Berenbauer Bank on Thursday, August 6th at ten forty five. At that moment, he would have preferred to face a pride of wounded lions with only a penknife to his name, than face this ordeal. But he had made up his mind to see the thing to the end, no matter how bitter that end might turn out to be.

He asked to see Herr Schneider. Two armed guards were already there apparently waiting for him, because as soon as he gave his name they led him to the back of the building, through a maze of corridors. One guard led and the other followed.

They eventually reached a huge elevator and the guard in front spoke to it instead of pressing buttons. The large doors silently slid open and the guard motioned Gem inside. It surprised him when they remained outside.

“Aren’t you coming?” He asked.

“No guns allowed in this elevator,” the guard’s lips moved in an ‘almost’ smile, and then said something to the machine.

The doors slid closed and Gem felt himself going down instead of up. There were lights indicating six floors up and five floors down, but there were no buttons anyone could push.

Feeling more and more concerned, he felt the elevator come to a stop at basement five. The doors slid open to a large metal walled room with a desk at the far end and an old man sitting behind it. Two very large athletic men stood on either side of him.

“Ah, Herr Stone, welcome, I am Schneider. I am obliged to ask you, sir, whether you have any type of weapon, camera or computer device on your person.”

“Does a mobile phone count?” Gem asked, feeling for his eyebrow.

“With respect, sir, it is a requirement that all visitors to this level are searched. Do you have any objection to that, Mr. Stone?”

Gem was too nervous to speak, so he shook his head. The two men came forward and searched him thoroughly, both with metal detectors and by hand. They removed his cell phone, his pen and his wallet, and asked him if he required anything from his wallet. He took his metal disk out of it and put it in his pocket, not feeling comfortable leaving it behind in strange hands. At his nod, they put everything in an envelope, sealed it and then placed the envelope in a tray.

“Your property will be here when you are finished Mr. Stone.”

“Finished with what?”

“Verifying your right to the account you are claiming,” Herr Schneider almost smiled. Everyone seems to ‘almost’ smile in this place. They never allow a real smile to show, he thought. “Everything has been computerized now and it will be quite easy for you. Are you ready?”

Receiving Gem’s confirmation, Herr Schneider spoke to the elevator. The doors opened and Herr Schneider spoke again. Doors opened on the other side of the elevator as well and one of the security men led the way with the other following. Gem walked like a man on death row, finally heading for the execution chamber. They walked through corridors and turnings with cameras at almost every step and eventually came to a door, which one of the guards opened by speaking to it.

It was a Spartan room, furnished only with an average size desk, which had a large, flat screen computer monitor on it, and a keyboard. There was a chair on which to sit in order to operate the keyboard. No other chairs for guests. No bookshelves. No decoration of any type.

“The computer is switched on Mr.Stone. Please take your time and follow the instructions on the screen,” the leading security man said, not unkindly. He and his companion went and stood on either side of the door.

His knees were liquefied again and his hands acquired a bad case of Parkinson’s disease, as he sat in front of the computer screen.

He was given a choice of language and he chose English. Immediately a flashing notice came on the screen informing him that all passwords must be entered in the original language they were registered.

Once he entered the account number, he was asked for “NAME”. He carefully copied from his paper “Spinne” and for “PASSWORD” he wrote, “Das Wasser läuft ab.”

It turned out to be an incredibly simple and easy process.

“ACCEPTED. Please choose from the menu below”

His heart felt as if it was being mercilessly squeezed in a vice.

Is this right? Could it be as easy as that? Surely something must go wrong?

The options were numerous and far too technical for Gem’s classic education. Unfamiliar with the jungle of accounting, he swallowed, trying to get his heart out of his throat and chose ‘Balance Sheet’. A number of new options came up and he gave a sigh of relief when he saw ‘Net Assets’. He pressed that and the computer informed him that his net assets were a total of $37,201.

Oh well, at least the professor will get his money back, he thought, with conflicting feelings of disappointment and relief.

He was about to close the computer when he saw the option ‘Edit’ and he clicked on that. One of the options here was to change the passwords and after a few seconds thought, he decided to do just that.

He switched off the computer and smiled at the security men that he was ready. One of them spoke to the door and a short while later he was back in the company of Herr Schneider.

“Mr. Stone, here is the envelope with your personal effects. Please open it in our presence and confirm that everything is there.” The man remained polite and non-committal as before. But when Gem confirmed that all his property had been returned to him, Herr Schneider shook him warmly by the hand.

“Mr. Stone, our Chairman, Herr Dr. Jan Schönbächler asks that you kindly visit his office for a conference.”

Astonished that the Chairman of the bank would want to meet a depositor with a measly $37,201, Gem agreed.

Herr Schneider personally led him to the elevator, shook him warmly by the hand once more and spoke to the elevator when Gem stepped inside. A few seconds later Gem found himself on the top floor.


Chapter 11

A very well dressed mature lady of about fifty was waiting for him when the doors of the elevator opened. She was short and wide, wearing a matching skirt and jacket, which must have cost an ordinary secretary a year’s salary.

“Mr. Stone, welcome. It is a real pleasure to meet you sir. Please follow me.” She smiled, showing him a wonderful set of teeth. They were the best money could buy. She was the epitome of courtesy, as she let him into the Chairman’s office.

Opulence would be a better word to describe it than luxury. The place was huge and must have cost as much as the building’s construction to decorate with such expensive furniture and paintings.

Bankers in Zurich do not appear to smile much, but they certainly do a lot of handshaking, Gem thought, as the Chairman rolled himself in a wheelchair from behind the huge desk to meet with Gem half way and offer him a seat in the lounge area of the office. The mature lady waited for the two men to go through the introductions and the hand shaking, to settle themselves down and she stood by for instructions.

“Mr. Stone I believe that you enjoy the occasional drink, so we shall celebrate your arrival with a bottle of champagne. Hilda, would you please help us out here?” He spoke to her in English out of courtesy to his guest. His voice was soft and genteel with only a trace of an accent.

Hilda went to the telephone.

“How would you know, Dr. Schönbächler, that I enjoy the occasional drink?’ Gem asked suspiciously, his hand going to his eyebrow.

He looked with surprise at the man in the white waiter’s jacket who just walked in behind a trolley. There was an ice bucket with a bottle of Dom Pérignon and champagne glasses on it.

They even have uniformed waiters here!

“Mr. Stone, I have been personally handling your account since I became a director of this bank 37 years ago. In that time we have had six attempts to get access to your account by people whose efforts ensured them long periods of hospitality as guests of the Swiss Government.” The memory seemed to give him some secret satisfaction. “I would be remiss in my duty were I not to check up on anyone who lays a claim to your account.” He said this in the manner of someone making polite, everyday conversation.

“That is the reason we have asked you to wait for a couple of days. We wanted to know who you are and how to reach you if … hm … the need arose.”

There’s the ‘almost’ smile again, Gem thought.

Gem sipped the free champagne and could not resist asking, “How can your bank afford to make costly checks like you describe, for clients with assets of only $37,201?”

The odd look in Dr. Schönbächler’s eyes forced Gem to stop, though he wanted to express himself on the subject of being spied on to some length. The man’s face was expressionless, but his eyes had the look someone wondering what he’d done to deserve this.

“Mr. Stone, you did not look at the top of the column. If you had, you would have seen that all figures are in millions.” He cleared his throat. “You have $37,201 million, not thousands.” Realizing at last that he was dealing with an ignoramus, he clarified it even further.

“That is over thirty seven billion, Mr. Stone.” He spoke slowly, articulating his words clearly, as if speaking to an imbecile child. “Your income from our efforts on your behalf,” Dr. Schönbächler could not resist advertising the home team, “after expenses and our …er... hm… fees is over one million US dollars per day.” He leaned slightly forward to better see if his visitor understood words of one syllable.

The world became a blur and the room swayed. His mind went blank, and for a split second, Gem thought the man made a thin line of his mouth that actually looked like a smile.

Am I passing out? Have I heard correctly? Am I going to make an idiot of myself - again?

“Ah, jolly good,” he croaked, as the room gradually came back into focus. He cleared his throat and tried again: “Jolly good.” That’s all he could come up with. He knew that his response was not the ideal, but that was all the idiot part of him could come up with.

The Chairman understood and his expressionless face became almost human in sympathy. He seemed to feel that more details would not be amiss.

“Mr. Stone, fifteen years ago we saw huge prospects for the offshore drilling business. We therefore thought it wise to keep only the companies you own outright and to convert all your other investments into cash.” He stopped to make sure Gem was following him. Gem felt for his eyebrow and pulled it down in a nod.

“We used these funds to pre-pay for three offshore drilling rigs which were delivered to us two years later. The pre-payment ensured us a discount of twenty percent.” Here, the Chairman could not keep the satisfaction out of his voice. He cleared his throat as if he considered any boasting to be inappropriate.

“You now own thirty one such rigs, working all around the world. It has turned out to be a wise move on our part.” There it is again; the smile without the teeth showing. It wasn’t my imagination. This person just might be human after all.

“The oil companies pay you, whether oil is found or not.” Dr. Schönbächler leaned back with a justifiably smug look.

“That is really splendid Dr. Schönbächler, and I must thank you for your efforts.” Gem managed to stammer. He tried to think of something intelligent to say. “What are the other companies that I... err… own outright?”

The good Dr. took a sip of champagne, obviously trying to make out what type of person he was dealing with here.

“Well, our thinking was based on the fact that all our clients are very wealthy and they all visit us at least a couple times a year. Since our clients must come to visit us, they require first-class accommodation. Therefore, we have invested in five star hotels on your behalf.”

Dr. Schönbächler put his glass down and shifted his body in the wheelchair with his hands on the armrests, trying to make himself more comfortable. A painful expression appeared on his face, but he immediately reverted to his expressionless mode.

“Once our clients are here, they require transportation, so we have invested in a limousine service for you.” He said this with a wave of his hand as if he was embarrassed to mention it. “And finally, our clients very often fly in on their own jets, but some of them charter executive jets for their requirements. As you can guess, we have invested in that for you too.”

He raised his left hand and he began counting fingers with his right. “Besides here, we have offices in Berlin, New York, London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Beijing.” He returned his hands on the armrests of his wheelchair. “You own five star hotels, limousines, and airplanes in all of these cities.”

He looked at Gem trying to discern his reaction to the report and Gem tried not to show his ignorance, but it was an impossible task.

Dr. Schönbächler understood and nodded to himself as if telling himself that he did his best, but there were limits.

“My assistant will spend the rest of the day with you, Mr. Stone, and he will give you all the details,” he looked at Hilda as he said this and she went to the phone and spoke into it. He began to rub the armrests of his wheelchair in a manner indicating action. “In the meantime, I would suggest that you move out of Frau Fankhauser’s Bed and Breakfast accommodation” – a less than subtle demonstration of the thoroughness of his knowledge - “to the Bischoff Hotel which is close by.”

“That’s a bit expensive, isn’t it?” Gem asked, succeeding in making a fool of himself once more.

Dr. Schönbächler was lost for words and composure for only a second. When he spoke, his tone was reproving.

“You own it,” he said, somewhat coldly.

A knock at the door broke the embarrassment and in walked Herr Schneider.

“Herr Schneider is my assistant, exclusively handling your account. He will offer you lunch – we have an excellent chef on the premises – and he will spend the rest of the day explaining all the details to you. Do you have any immediate requirement for cash?”

Gem thought of Shalini cleaning his toilet to make ends meet, Professor, and Mrs. Asquith, his own need to spend freely at last. He thought of his one million dollars a day income and felt strong and powerful. He spoke with new confidence and certainty in his voice; a change that resonated through the room and struck everyone present.

“I should like ten pre-paid debit cards, with one hundred thousand pounds sterling in each, delivered to my hotel this evening, please.”

Without batting an eyelid Dr. Schönbächler nodded at Herr Schneider and the latter simply took a note. That was it.

“I shall also require an accountant with banking experience to act as my Personal Assistant. Please note that I intend to travel a great deal, so I require someone who is unmarried, or divorced without children. He will not have much of a family life. Please make sure that this is clearly stipulated. I should like to interview at least three candidates tomorrow, please.”

Another exchange of looks, another scribble in the notebook, then Herr Schneider stood up.

“Please follow me, Mr. Stone and I shall do my best to show you everything you wish to know.”


Chapter 12

It was just before seven in the evening when Herr Schneider apologized and said: “My wife is an invalid, Mr. Stone and depends heavily on me. Though I have telephoned her that I will be late, she will be getting worried about me.” His tone was that of someone letting the team down.

Gem felt like a louse for keeping him at work so late. “By all means, let us continue this discussion tomorrow Herr Schneider.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stone. You will need to familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of working with us. You will find everything relevant in this file.” He handed over a fairly thin file and sighed with what appeared to be relief.

“May I say what a pleasure it has been, meeting you and discussing all these projects with you? Having the owner of the account physically present to discuss ideas and projects is a huge relief.” He seemed to mean it. “I have arranged for a limousine to take you to the Bischoff Hotel and then the driver will go to your other... er… hotel, to bring your luggage. I have already spoken to the Bischoff Hotel manager and he is anxious to meet the owner for the first time and to be of service to you.”

Gem needed fresh air and time alone to think. A limousine at that particular moment was the last thing he wanted.

“The hotel is not far, Herr Schneider, and I want to walk to clear my head. Please ask the driver to wait for me at the hotel. I have an errand for him, which I need to explain personally. He speaks English I hope?”

“They all do, sir.”

“Good. Well, Goodnight then. See you tomorrow.”

And with that, he floated to the pavement and headed for the Bischoff Hotel, the most expensive hotel in Zurich, his hotel.

Darkness had fallen, but his personal world was full of bright sunshine. He stood in the park opposite to his hotel with his hands in his pockets, admiring it. Like every father of a firstborn, he could not imagine anything being more gorgeous than his baby.

He thought of taking a picture of it on his cell phone. As he took his hands out of his pockets and eased back a step to arrange the shot, he was grabbed from behind by some very strong individuals. There were four very beefy men in all; two holding his arms, one materialized in front of him, and one behind him.

“Hay!” he shouted, and crumpled to the ground as someone punched him the stomach. Now groaning through the pain, he heard a woman’s voice calling “Aidez-moi! Police! Hilfe! Polizei!” And then the sound of what sounded like a police whistle screaming incessantly. The sound proved too much for the muggers. They let go of him and ran off.

The shrill sound of the whistle continued and he looked up to see an aristocratic looking, lady of a mature age, blowing it as fast as she could towards him. An anxious looking female helper of sorts held her arm.

The lady spoke to him in French but he smiled his ignorance from the ground as he was getting up. She tried in German and when he said ‘sorry’ she tried in English.

“Are you alright, my boy? Did those brutes hurt you?”

“No, no, I am fine, I think”

A very handsome young couple came running from the hotel and rushed anxiously to the old lady.

"Vous êtes très bien marmmy? Nous avons entendu votre coup de sifflet."

Out of courtesy for Gem, the dignified old lady responded in English.

“Some brutes attacked this young man just a moment ago.” Her left hand was on her breasts and it was trembling as if the large, white diamond on her ring was too heavy for her. “Take him to our hotel and take care of him. Gem tied to object. “No, I won’t hear of it, come on you two, get a move on.”

“Yes marmmy,” they both smiled and each took one arm on either side of Gem.

“Honestly, I am fine there is no need”

“Do you want to get us into trouble with mother?” The girl said. “Just be quiet will you, or we shall never hear the end of this.” She smiled up him and winked.

She had very dark red hair, which reached just below her sexy chin, with two enchanting dimples on the cheeks demanding to be noticed when she smiled. She seemed to smile all the time. Her shapely young figure was a joy to behold and Gem guessed her to be about twenty three years old. Her polka dot red dress must have cost someone the price of a small family car.

This family must be loaded, he thought.

The man was also smiling, as if to say “here we go again” and he patted Gem on the back in brotherly compassion as they led him along to the hotel.

They steered him to the bar and they introduced themselves as Amélie and Florian Géroux. The two siblings obviously enjoyed each other’s company and their laughter was infectious. They both had enough style and charm to sink a ship.

Gem’s aristocratic bearing, his cultured manner and voice and his expensive suit from the dead past, were sufficient passports to their world. They accepted him as one of their own. They did not ask him questions and they did not volunteer information about themselves. In their minds everything was at it should be.

They had just finished the introductions and their first drink at the bar when the old lady slowly walked in on the arm of her companion and her children introduced her.

“Thank you, Hanna,” she said to her maid. “Did you call a doctor?”

“He doesn’t need a doctor marmmy, he is fine.”

“How would you know?” She asked in an annoyed manner.

“Because I am a doctor marmmy,” he laughed and the girl joined him.

“Since when have psychiatrists become doctors?” She asked, then turned to Gem, “Are you also so rude as to laugh at your mother too, young man?”

The young woman got up and hugged and kissed the old lady. Her apparent inability to stop smiling was captivating and though she was slim and barely five feet two, her personality stood at least seven feet tall.

The young man raised his eyes to the ceiling at Gem and also got up and hugged her and kissed her, making much of her.

“Please forgive our odd behavior” the young woman said to Gem coming to sit next to him. “Ever since we lost our younger brother in an incident much like yours, our mother cannot see a young man in trouble without getting involved. She even went and bought a police whistle to use in emergencies.”

“And very useful it proved to be too,” the old lady said.

“Yes, if it was not for your mother, I would be in a very bad shape. I don’t think that I had the chance to thank you for saving me Madame. Thank you.”

“You are welcome my boy,” she looked at her children in triumph. “Did they steal your wallet?”

Gem began feeling his pockets, as men do when they have lost something. He now realized that his wallet was gone, the metal disk gone, and so was the paper in his coat’s breast pocket on which he had copied the original message and the translation. He went deathly pale for a minute and his new friends became worried.

“Have you lost something serious?” The older woman asked.

“No, no, it’s nothing,” he smiled sheepishly embarrassed at his stupidity at forgetting that he had changed the codes.

“You must join me for lunch tomorrow, my boy.” Her dignified regal face made the request a command.

Though she was small in stature, Madame Marion Géroux radiated an aura of aristocracy and culture. Her small, slim, body looked fragile but, in her eyes, there was strength and determination. Dressed in an off-white suit, her skirt barely covered her knees. Despite her sixty odd years and her silver hair, she clearly had not given up on fashion and was unlikely to do so in the future. The twelve carat white diamond on her ring finger showed that she was not ready to give up on life as yet. She was obviously the source of her children’s blue eyes.

He learned that they called their mother marmmy instead of mommy, because that’s how Florian had pronounced it when he was a baby and the name had stuck.

They were French, normally living in Paris, but they had properties in other countries as well, which they visited from time to time. They had only just checked into the Bischoff Hotel and it was fortunate that marmmy never went out without her whistle, as was the case when she’d gone out for her evening exercise that day.

“I am really sorry, Madame but I cannot. I have something very serious I must do. Please allow me to invite all of you for lunch on Saturday here, at this hotel.”

“Are you staying here as well, Gem?” Amélie asked, as she leaned forward with interest.

“Well, yes, actually, I am.” It took a great deal of self-control for him not to say ‘actually I own it’.

“Well then, Gem. My beast of a brother has got a date with some bimbo he met on the airplane coming here, and he has backed out of his promise to take me to Oberhofen Castle on Saturday. Instead of lunch, would you take me there, please? Is it OK if I go with Gem to the Castle marmmy?”

“Of course you may go darling. Florian, you are a monster. Why did you break your promise to your sister?” The look she leveled on Florian would have paralyzed Gem, but the son just fidgeted a little.

“Oh, marmmy, please have a heart. I can take her on Monday, if Gem is busy.”

Florian was about the same age and as tall as Gem, only more athletic and muscular, a psychiatrist by education, though he did not look the part. His rimless glasses simply accentuated his blue eyes and handsome face. Gem felt envious of the world they’d come from, where perfection appeared to be the norm.

“No, no, Saturday is fine for me,” said Gem more quickly than he would have liked. He hoped nothing would go wrong with Florin’s date and spoil his outing with the lovely Amélie. “I’ll arrange for a limousine to be here at nine.”

“Not a limousine Gem, dear, please. It’s only two hours away, so let’s drive ourselves and enjoy the day without people staring at us all the time. We can stop for a swim in the lake along the way.”

“Right ho, but no lakes for me, I fear. I can’t swim a stroke.” The girl and her brother exchanged surprised looks and Gem felt genuinely embarrassed.

“Sorry about that. If we remove swimming and heights from the equation, you are otherwise looking at a man of steel who with the jaw of an ass has slain a thousand men.”

While Amélie and Florin looked at each other with raised eyebrows and laughed, Madame took a more kind and complimentary view of the matter.

“Ah, you know your bible, my boy. Good. Not like some people who have become atheist just because they have a degree in psychiatry,” Madame Géroux said, pointedly looking at her son.

“Just by force feeding of it at school, Madame, nothing to seriously hinder a growing boy’s development” Gem replied with a smile and turned to face the laughing Amélie. “I’ll arrange the car with the hotel. But now I must be going. I have some very important business to attend to.”

He felt bathed in smiles and good fellowship as he left them. He reveled in the unique experience.

How is-it possible for people to be so attractive, yet so charming and friendly, he thought? He certainly had not come across people like this at the - Smithsonian Specialist Tobacconists Club-.


Chapter 13

Leon Kielholz was forty seven, slim, tall, elegant and immaculately dressed. He looked like a duke, but with ethics. He had been the hotel’s general manager for fourteen years and Gem was the first owner of the hotel he’d met. He refused to call Gem by his first name when Gem suggested it to him and fawned over his employer, as he presented the Presidential suite.

The place was spacious enough for a couple Triceratops in love to raise a large family. Eight large, floor-to-ceiling windows were arranged in alcoves along the wall facing the park. An equal number of alcove-windows covered the opposite wall, facing the lake. Each alcove-window had a coffee table and two soft, luxurious, peach-colored armchairs. Two smaller coffee tables were provided for each armchair. The hotel obviously wanted the suite’s occupant to have choice as to where place their drinks when they sat, but the alcoves had been designed to ensure the occupant’s business or political guests could discuss deals in private before they went back to the main group. The large conference table with the twelve leather executive chairs, at the end of the room, would welcome them and permit them to voice their decisions.

A staircase led to the upper section where the main bedroom and bathroom was located. An overhanging balcony allowed the occupant to look down on the lounge area below. There were enough designer sofas and armchairs to accommodate at least a dozen people.

Mr. Kielholz had made sure that the suite was generously decorated with flowers and supplied with fruit and champagne, for the owner of the hotel.

“As you can see it is on two levels sir, and everything is spacious in the extreme. Everything important is in twos. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two refrigerators…” his voice trailed off eloquently. “There is a kitchenette behind the bar and the hotel chef will be only too happy to accommodate you privately should you wish it. Otherwise, room service is available on a twenty four hour basis.” His English was flawless and he sounded as if he was addressing royalty.

“Is there another suite next to mine?”

“Yes, sir, there are four suites in all on the top floor. We usually keep them for heads of state or high ranking diplomats.”

“Good. Please book them all in my name.” Gem had some idea of bringing the professor’s and Shalini’s families over for a holiday. “And please have a rental car ready for me on Saturday at nine. Something spacious with a sunroof. In the meantime, would you please ask someone to send up the limousine driver who has been waiting for me?”

The duke withdrew, as if leaving the royal presence, and Gem then had time to himself to think.

The thieves had stolen his cell phone as well, so he had the hotel telephone operator, find Frau Fankhauser’s phone number and call for Mac.

“Where have you been, man? I began to think that something was wrong. Your cell phone doesn’t respond. What happened?” There was genuine anxiety in his voice.

“Mac, you will not believe this, but please trust me that what I shall tell you is solid fact. You will remember the five-star Bischoff Hotel you pointed out to me the first time we met?” His voice was rising as he spoke and he made a conscious effort to speak normally. “Well, it turns out that I own it. I am in the presidential suite and there is a suite here for you booked in my name. A limousine will be with you in an hour or so and reception will know how to point you in the right direction when you arrive. Speak to you later.” And he hung up.

When Mac finally arrived it took Gem until four in the morning to convince him that there was no danger of any jail time in the case.

*****

Through the open window of his bathroom, he saw that the sun was shining, the sky was blue and August was behaving as it should. From the sound of it, the trees outside his window, on the park side, were the nesting places of local birds in good voice. He wanted to join their choir, but he was otherwise occupied, retching into his toilet bowl some of the various drinks he had ingested the night before with Mac. He did this while listening to La Traviata’s overture, which he had on continuous loop replay in the suite’s sound system.

Life was wonderful.

After freshening, he joined Mac who sat across the breakfast table with a buttered toast in one hand and one of the debit cards in the other. It was just before nine, on the loveliest morning of Gem’s life.

“You say that there are one hundred thousand English pounds sterling in this thing? That’s over $150,000. Can this be right?” Mac kept switching his gaze from the debit card to the toast, as if unsure which of the two to bite.

“By all means check the balance at the first cash machine you come across, just to ease your mind. I have to interview people for the position of Accountant/Personal Assistant at the bank. Meet me there at one and we shall go for lunch.”

Gem plucked at his right eyebrow.

“However, before that, make sure you use the card to stock up with a dozen or so Armani suits with accessories. Hopefully one of those will be wrapped around you when you show up. I shall require a right hand man and that right hand must be dressed in a manner to reflect well on my new status as a bloated capitalist.”

The phone rang. It was Herr Schneider.

“Mr. Stone, a gentleman has shown up here as soon as we opened at nine and he claims access to your account. He insists that he has all the codes.”

“I was attacked and robbed last night Herr Schneider and this guy is the result. I have changed the codes. He cannot get in, but can you delay him until I get there?”

“Of course. Leave it to me. I shall have him fill up some forms.” Gem thought he may have heard a mild, soft chuckle at the other end, but could not swear to it.

Gem explained the situation to Mac, who considered it for a long minute with a worried look on his face.

“This is very serious, Gem. How did they know about your visit to the bank? How did they know about your account?” He seemed to make up his mind at last and took a bite out of the toast. “Obviously someone within the bank told them about you. Who and why? You and those close to you could be in very serious danger.”

“Do you want out?”

“Don’t be silly man. I wasn’t speaking of myself. I was speaking of people whom you love, not people you drink with.”

“I don’t have a family and if anyone kidnaps Pneumonia the cat, they are welcome to her but they shall rue the day. She will eat them out of house and home.” Gem did not want to speak to anyone about the special bond he had created with Shalini and the squirt, nor about his affection for the Professor.

Mac looked at him in a thoughtful manner, as if trying to make up his mind about something. He let out a long sigh, having decided.

“There is something you must know about me, kid. I am sixty seven years old. I am a disgraced ex New York cop and I have spent the last eight years of my life in a Swiss prison.” He waited for Gem to say something, but since the face of his new friend was impassive and indifferent, he went on. “I have managed to save seven thousand dollars during this time, by working very hard for the state and some inmates and my intention was to use that money to buy a ticket to the States and see if I can manage to survive there.”

Gem looked at him straight in the eye.

“I am convinced that I am not wrong about you, Mac. You hold in your hands the means to make a fool of me if you want. Today your passport will be ready. Cash the card and send the money to yourself in the States if you want. That is all I have to say on the matter.”

“You don’t want to know what I did?”

“No”

“I used to be a New York City homicide detective, yet I stupidly lost control of myself and killed someone here in Switzerland. We were on holiday at the time.” Mac spread his arms showing himself as an object worthy of temporary assessment. “I’ve lost my job, my pension, my reputation, my whole life.”

“You said ‘we’.

Mac’s nod was one of despair as he said: “I was here with my wife, trying to help her sort herself out. She was a drug addict. She came at me with a knife hallucinating on LSD. I lost control. I hit her in the throat.” The despair in his voice was almost palpable. “One of the moves I talked to you about. I should have known better.”

Gem felt the man’s pain, but knew he could not help. He touched him on the shoulder as he headed for the door.

“No doubt we shall be able to tell each other our personal problems in due course, over a couple of drinks.” He tried to think of something comforting to say, but he couldn’t. “Lunch at one? I’ll wait for you at the bank then.”

Mac shrugged as if to say ‘I tried to warn you, before stating:

“You’ll need bodyguards and I think I know a couple who will do. Can I negotiate wages?”

Gem smiled. “The sky is the limit.”

*****

Gem arrived at the bank just after eleven and this time he was shown to Herr Schneider’s real office on the fourth floor. The office was large and it had a view of the lake, signifying that Herr Schneider was held in high esteem at the bank.

Herr Schneider got up and shook hands with him in welcome. Why does everyone want to shake hands in this country, Gem thought, but his thoughts were diverted when his host pointed to a large TV screen.

“That’s the man.” On the screen, a typical banker type sat downstairs where Gem had sat, downstairs in the very chair Gem where Gem had waited. He looked to be in his mid-fifties, of average height, and he sat with the casual confidence of a man wearing a striped three piece suit and who knows why he is wearing it.

“You say you have changed the codes? Then we can proceed with informing the police.”

Herr Schneider spoke into the phone and a few moments later the screen showed the two guards who had guided Gem previously, approach the man and lead him away. Gem and his host watched their progress on the screen. They saw how the man travelled down alone on the elevator without buttons, how they searched him and how they led him into the computer room.

The man confidently removed a piece of paper from his coat’s breast pocket and began typing. The shock on the man’s face a few seconds later was almost palpable. He tried again without success and when he failed the third time the computer simply shut itself off.

One of the guards spoke to the door, the door opened and two uniformed policemen, who had been waiting outside, walked in. One of them had a pair of handcuffs at the ready. The man behind the computer had simply collapsed into his chair, unable to move.

“And so life goes on,” said Herr Schneider with a small smile. It was the first time Gem had seen him make an attempt at humor. “Shall we get to work? About your PA…”

“I’d rather leave work until Monday please. Something important has come up.” This did not please Herr Schneider and there was no second attempt at a smile, only a reluctant acceptance.

Gem called Mac to tell him of the change in plans and they arranged to meet for lunch at the bar of their hotel.

Mac was already at the bar when Gem arrived, but it was a new Mac who greeted him; a beautifully dressed Mac who was a decoration to the place. They smiled at each other.

“And there are five more like this one upstairs.” He indicted his suit, and broadened his smile. “Also, two Apple cell phones, one being for you. They are snuggled up to my brand new American passport.”


PART THREE

Chapter 14

On Saturday at nine sharp, Amélie Géroux swirled around in the lobby of the Bischoff Hotel, showing off her incredibly lovely, white, Dior summer dress to Gem, as one of the receptionist let them to their car.

“What do you think?” She asked, smiling.

“Looks very expensive”

“Barbarian!” She laughed. “Is that all you can say?”

“You look lovely.”

She curtsied like a mischievous child. “Thank you! That wasn’t so hard now was it?”

She squealed when she saw the Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet the manager had arranged for them.

“Florian has one just like this, but the horrible beast won’t let me drive it. May I drive, Gem dear, may I, may I, may I, please, please, pleeeease?”

He could not resist her childish ways and handed her the keys.

She was a good driver. The scenery along the way was magnificent and her girlish chatter kept him smiling all the way to Lake Thun and the castle. The road soon reached the lake shore and they drove along it enjoying the view. From a blue heaven a benign sun shone over the waters of the lake, making it shimmer like an unlikely mirage too beautiful to be real.

She told him that she was a sculptress, specializing in both human and animal heads and her work was beginning to get recognition, if the sales figures were to be believed she’d impishly implied. He, in turn, was obliged to provide information about his own occupation and he was forced to admit that he owned the hotel she was staying at. She squealed with delight at the news.

When they reached their destination, Gem stared in awe at the castle. Though not particularly large, as castles go, it was a poem of Swiss architecture for this type of building. It was built right on the lake, the original owner obviously anticipating an attack from the water side.

They rested at the wonderful Schloss Oberhofen restaurant with a snack and coffee, staring all the while through the establishment’s floor to ceiling glass wall at Lake Thun.

Amélie simply adored the view and wanted to return to the restaurant later.

“It’s almost twelve.” She said looking at her watch. “It will take us about an hour to see the place properly, so before we head back, can we have lunch here, Gem dear? Shall we? I simply adore the view from here.”

She had got into the habit of calling him “Gem dear” and he liked it.

“Certainly. How can anyone resist you anything at all?” He asked, raising another smile and surprising himself flirting.

Gem admired the beauty of what must have been an observation tower built directly in the lake itself. It was connected to the main castle by a covered bridge with only the lake water underneath it.

“Let’s go and see it,” Amélie said and led the way in a skipping, whirling, manner which he found charming.

Gem navigated the bridge over the untroubled waters of Lake Thun, which led to the tower. The lookout turret was about the size of a large lounge area. At the far end there was a wooden balcony hanging over the lake and Amélie was already there leaning far out over the rail.

“Please don’t lean so far out,” Gem timidly suggested, thinking of his inability to save her should she fall off.

“Oh, Gem dear, come and look at this magical view!”

“No thanks, I don’t much like heights,”

She laughed at him and left her observation post to put her arm through his and lead him to the balcony.

“Here is where I dig in my hind legs,” he insisted. “I don’t feel comfortable with heights.”

“Just trust me Gem, dear. I shall hold on to you and you will be perfectly safe.”

Feeling embarrassed he followed her with some trepidation and when they reached the railing, he kept about a foot back.

Amélie shook the railing with all her might.

“Look, solid as a rock. Come on, shake it yourself and see.”

Gem took hold of the railing. He shook it, gingerly at first and then with more and more force. It would take a tractor to budge the thing.

“You see? You will have to climb and stand on the railing to be in any danger. Don’t lean over if it makes you uncomfortable, just enjoy the view!”

He found himself actually leaning on the solid rail and enjoying the experience. He couldn’t fall unless he deliberately climbed over the railing, so he eventually found himself leaning his elbows on the rail and breathing in the fresh air and the incredible view.

“My hero! Let me take your photo on my cell phone and you can admire yourself every time you are chump enough to think that you are afraid of heights.”

She took her cell phone out of her bag as three men joined them in the tower.

“I won’t be a moment,” she told them with a smile, which froze on her lips when two of the men pushed past her. The third grabbed her cell phone and threw it into the lake.

Before she could scream, the two men had pinned Gem’s arms on either side of him, with his head over the edge of the railing and he stared at the water below him in horror. They then flipped him over – heels- over- head - and he ended up hanging outside the railing facing outward over the lake, his arms pinned by the two men to the balustrade, feet towards the lake. He looked like Christ nailed to the cross.

“I say, chaps, a joke’s a joke, but I can’t swim.” He tried to sound reasonable, as his heart chased itself around his chest in terror, trying to get out.

“Don’t worry, you won’t need to swim; you’ll be dead when you hit the water. Karl Wölfflin sends his regards,” one of the jokers said in a thick German accent.

He heard Amélie bellow a seemingly endless ‘Nooooooo’ as they released him and he fell feet first, with his arms frozen by fear in the position they had held him, and he looked as if Christ himself had been dropped while still on the cross.

His feet hit the water with hardly a ripple since his body was stiff with terror and he only felt pain when his sideways extended arms hit the water. He went down like a lead ingot and he hit bottom about thirty feet down, but very gently, because by then the water’s buoyancy had reduced his speed. His knees bent slightly when his feet touched bottom, making him appear as if he was in a sitting position without a chair.

He just floated there, bound to an invisible desk, with his eyes open, looking around him in curiosity, shock delaying the panic. The strong August sunlight penetrated the depths and he could see boulders and mud and what looked like grass on the lake floor. He was amazed to see a bubble detach itself from what looked to be a flower and he wondered how it was possible for a flower to live under water and to produce bubbles like that.

Incongruously, he thought of the woman who had turned to look at him outside the bank and he felt his chest tighten. It hit him suddenly that the tightening in his chest was simply nature’s signal that he needed to breathe. But to breathe what?

Panic did not have to knock for long at the door of his soul before he let it in, dislodging the remnants of his dignity within. His lungs were bursting and his arms began to flail about in desperation. He delayed the inevitable by releasing some air from his lungs, but he knew that the time had come. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the inevitable agony of breathing water into his lungs instead of air.

What a horrible way to die, was his last thought.

Just then he felt two hands grab him from behind, pushing him upwards with what seemed like the speed of a fighter jet. He made one last valiant effort to keep his mouth closed and to delay breathing – but he just could not. He took the inevitable deep breath – and it was of delicious fresh air as his head broke the surface.

He could not control his body’s reaction. It insisted on taking a deep breath after deep breath in rapid succession to compensate for the long deprivation of oxygen. Several moments passed before he realized that his head was being held above the waterline by gentle female hands.

“Gem dear, please listen to me. I am a very good swimmer and I can take you ashore, but you must stay perfectly still. Don’t flay about or we shall both drown.”

Gem had no strength and could not thrash about even if he’d wanted to. His body ensured that all his energy was expended in taking those deep breaths while his arms lay useless at his side. He could not understand why with every breath the word mettbrötchen flashed in his brain like a neon sign at a Las Vegas quick wedding establishment.

Mettbrötchen, mettbrötchen, mettbrötchen.

He realized that his savior was Amélie, but he could not respond, so he just lay there with eyes closed, helplessly letting her take him wherever she wanted. He did not know how much time passed, before he felt the boat arrive. He felt strong male hands lift him into it.

Mettbrötchen.

He thought of the girl still in the water.

“Amélie,” he croaked opening his eyes at last and trying to get up.

“I am here, Gem dear, please don’t try to get up.”

He could hear that she was crying and he was suddenly surprised to remember that mettbrötchen was one of the nauseating specialties of Frau Fankhauser, the one she was especially insistent that he tried.

He tried to pull himself together.

“I am fine now, please let me sit up.”

“Stay where you are!” A male voice spoke with a strong German accent and even stronger authority. “An ambulance will be here to take you to the hospital. We are insured for this,” he added incongruously, as if trying to reassure him that his master’s business would not suffer financially and he could therefore die with an easy conscience.

Gem looked at Amélie. Her beautiful Dior dress clung to her body and might as well have been sackcloth. Her wet hair stuck to her head in a manner which was anything but chic. Her mascara was running down her face and she was crying.

He’d never seen anything more beautiful.


Chapter 15

Sitting together in borrowed hospital bathrobes after hot rejuvenating showers, Gem and Amélie underwent police questioning for almost three hours before Mac and Amélie’s mother arrived with fresh clothing and support.

A regally dignified Madame Géroux immediately took charge, insisting that she be given another private room in which to assist her daughter in dressing. A stern and worried Florian tryied to get information out of Gem about how his sister had been placed in such a dangerous position. Gem was mystified and simply could not help.

“They just said that someone called Karl Wool or something sends me his regards.” His face plead to be understood. Please forgive me for endangering your sister, he wanted to say but couldn’t. “I just don’t know anyone by that name. More to the point, I don’t know anyone who might want to kill me, whatever his name might be.” He said this while Mac helped him put on his coat.

“I have two limousines outside, along with a couple of bodyguards. I think we had better go back to the hotel and consider the events from the safety of your suite,” Mac said.

“Right. We’ll wait for Amélie to get ready and then we’ll be off.”

Florian shook his head. “I think not, Gem. You appear to be a dangerous man to be around and I don’t want to risk my sister’s safety by letting her travel with you. We’ll use our own limousine to get back and we shall consider the situation at a family meeting tonight.” He sliced his hand through the air, as if he was cutting Gem off. “All this is quite disturbing, especially for our mother, as you can appreciate.”

Gem nodded in understanding and asked to say goodbye to Amélie and to thank her again for saving his life before he left. Florian went to see if she was ready.

Twenty minutes later a new and refreshed Amélie lit up the room with her entrance, beautifully dressed once more, with her makeup perfectly done and her usual winning smile in place. She ran over to Gem and hugged him.

“I want to go with you,” was the first thing she said in a childish voice. Those six simple words captivated Gem immediately.

“I think your brother is right to want you away from me for a while, until we find out what this is all about.”

He patted her on the back. She responded with a pout, apparently offended by his reserve.

“Good doggy…, here’s a pat on the back and go…”

“Oh, Amélie, please don’t be hurtful. I know that if it was not for you bravely and selflessly jumping in and saving me, I would now be only be fit for gourmet cat food. All the more reason I want you to be safe. And safe, for the time being appears to be away from me.” He spoke with feeling and meant every word.

“He is right, dear. Come along now and we shall meet up with Gem later” Florian said as he led his reluctant and sulking sister away.

Gem watched her leaving with a sense of loss.

He felt a compression in his chest and some fluttering butterflies in his stomach. For an illogical second he thought that he was about to make local news with a heart attack at age of thirty. But then logic prevailed and he realized that, illogically, the pain in his heart felt wonderful to him. He was in love for the first time in his life.

*****

Mac had brought all the small bottles from the hotel’s mini bar that would fit in his pockets and he and Gem went through them at a rate of knots.

“I supposed smoking is not allowed in a hospital, so the earlier we leave this place the better I’ll like it,” Mac was saying as he drained his last bottle. “But first there are a couple of guys I want you to meet. They are outside and they are the bodyguards I spoke to you about earlier,” Mac threw the empties in a bin and began to put the wet clothing in the bag in which he had brought Gem’s clean clothes.

“I’ve put your wet wallet along with the other baptismal and we’ll sort it out when we get to the hotel.”

He closed the suitcase and placed it by the door, then thoughtfully searched himself for a lighter.

“Now brace yourself.” He walked about as if trying to find the best way to put it. “The two guys waiting outside are not angels, but I’ve known them on the inside and there you can’t hide who you really are. These are reliable men - if they are being paid well and you are paying them well.”

He put a cigarette in his mouth without lighting it.

“$5,000 apiece per month, all expenses paid and if you are alive twelve months from now, you will pay them a bonus of $25,000 each. Under these terms, I guarantee you that your life will be the only mission in theirs.

Gem nodded and sat down. This was getting interesting. He looked at Mac waiting for the rest of it.

“One of them is a 28 year old Turkish Cypriot by the name Mehmet Gokcebag. He is as tough as they come. He used to be a professional boxer and I can tell you with certainty that I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with him. He is a handsome lad and quite popular with the ladies”

Mac decided to stop walking about and sat down on one of the armchairs.

“Now the other one is a bit more… how shall I put it? Exotic! Yes, I think that’s a good word for him. He is 46 years old and he is the Reverend John Pinoy Priestley.”

He stopped when Gem choked on the contents of his last tiny bottle of whisky.

“Did you say Reverend?”

“Yes. He was ordained by the Anglican Church. However, apparently there comes a time in the life of some men of God when doing God’s work becomes too much of a burden. At that time, their human side gets the upper hand.” Mac smiled his secret smile.

Gem beganto feel light headed questioning whether this was actually happening to him, or he was dreaming.

“The Anglican Church, at some point, considered it unsporting of Reverend Priestley to use his personal magnetism to the extent that he did.” Mac spread his hands when he said this, as if asking for justice in this unreasonable and unfair world. “His manner had charmed unlimited financial and other favors out of willing females, within a wide spectrum of ages, his most renowned being a 63 year old maiden from New York. He also charmed substantial monetary contributions to his unregistered charities, out of unsuspecting innocent female bystanders.” Here Mac raised his shoulders a little as if to say, What can you do? Boys will be boys.

“A true philanthropist, then” interjected Gem.

“Perhaps, but the Anglican Church was unsporting in his case and did not share this view. It also frowned on Pinoy’s personal inclination towards the ladies of the peroxided persuasion, though Pinoy himself always ensured that they did not cost more than $50 a pop to the collection box.”

Gem smiled enthralled. “Surely this must have counted for something?”

“It appears that the Church was unreasonably rigid in this instance.” Mac released the secret smile again.

“Pinoy modified his tastes, when he was posted to the Philippines, where the Church of England hoped to teach him a lesson. His is a flexible character and when he came face to face with the exotic beauty of the east, he realized his error in not previously expanding his experiences. Admiration spread over Mac’s face as he leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs.

“It was there that he learned the Filipino fine art of knife fighting and he claims that he should not have spent those five years in a Philippine prison, because it was self-defense against the four victims, especially since their wounds were not fatal.” Mac shrugged in sympathy. “He came out of prison with the nickname Pinoy, which is a name the Filipinos call themselves. He says that he is now a Filipino. Mac raised his shoulders again at this peculiarity.

“Now, all of us learned the three languages of Switzerland in prison; German, French and Italian. There was nothing much else for us to do, so that is an additional benefit there, since you only speak English. Your knowledge of Latin and Greek is not much help in the real world. He looked Gem directly in the eyes as he said this and there was a clear warning in his voice.

“And that is the brief introduction. Shall I bring them in?”

“Yes, but one by one please. My weak constitution may not be able to survive all of it at once.”

Mac went to the door and signaled to someone. The black haired young man who walked in was serious and unsmiling. About 5’ 10” he had a round handsome face and might have been thought babyish if it did not look to be made almost of solid granite. The broken nose made him look more approachable.

“This is Mehmet, Gem.”

“How do you do Mehmet.” Gem got up to shake the man by the hand and felt the pressure of a vice gripping his own for a few seconds, before Mehmet let go.

“I am fine, sir. Glad to be working for you.”

“Just call me Gem, please.” The young man nodded but there was doubt in his eyes.

Mac went to the door again and motioned the other one in. As the man walked in, Mac simply said:

“The Reverend John Pinoy Priestley.”

He looked tough, practically like the first mate of a pirate ship which had spread death and destruction on the high seas. There were knife cuts on his hands and face, but he was not unattractive.

“How do you do, Reverend?” Gem said, and once more experienced his hand in a vice.

“I am fine sir. Just call me Pinoy.”

Pinoy smiled a smile which contrasted his tough exterior and created a welcome diversion from his potential danger. Gem asked him to just call him Gem and the man’s smile widened in acknowledgement.

“Gem, Pinoy and Mehmet are not what you would call model citizens. But whatever their defects – and some would claim there are more than a few – they are men of their word. They will at least try hard to keep you safe.

The two men nodded their confirmation of Mac’s statement and Gem said: “I feel like Job with his three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, I cannot ask for more than that, so let’s go to the hotel.”


Chapter 16

It took until Monday for security arrangements to be completed. The top sixth floor, where the suites were located, was isolated, with the elevator programmed to go no further than the fifth floor. Only Gem and Mac had special keys which allowed the elevator to reach the sixth floor when required.

Mehmet and Pinoy shared a large room next to the staircase on the fifth floor, so they could act as one should the need arise. The hotel security staff had been strengthened and extra security cameras had been installed and were constantly monitored. Special monitors had been placed in the bodyguards’ room, as well as Gem’s and Mac’s rooms, with the security cameras providing a feed of the ongoing activities in public areas.

By Monday the place was a fortress.

“So you see, Herr Schneider, something very odd is going on and until we find out what it is, I’d better not circulate,” Gem said.

“Very wise Mr. Stone. What about your Personal Assistant?”

“Well, please send all the applicants to my hotel. Can you do that?”

“Of course, but I do have a suggestion”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Well, I have already made preliminary interviews of the three candidates you have requested. If you would allow me to guide you, the best appears to someone from an auditing firm we work extensively with. Although young, this person has the accounting knowledge you… erm… appear to lack for the time being. What do you think?”

“Fine, as long as he is willing to travel without giving me any hustle about it. Send him over for lunch at one with his suitcases. I&#x