Otter had nowadays moved into acting and backstage production and was today doing the costumes for the stage adaptation of the acclaimed Ealing comedy The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre.
Jeremy got off the taxi at Piccadilly Circus and picked up the ticket he had booked on the phone. The show was due to start at 7:45 p.m. He presented his ticket at the entrance. Then he jotted his name down on the back of a Barrett Stavers business card, handed it to one of the ushers, and asked for Otter. A few minutes later he was led backstage where he was greeted with screams of delight by the man in person.
‘O. M. G., Jeremy! Welcome, welcome to my parlour baby boy. How is Harry? I was gonna give him a call soon anyways because . . .’ He lowered his voice into a whisper, bringing his mouth next to Jeremy’s ear and covering it with his hand: ‘. . . I have an offer from a Broadway producer to join a gig in New York for a spell.’ Otter withdrew from his ear. ‘Yeah? So how exciting is that? My black grandma would have been thrilled if only she were here, bless her soul.’ He winked and clapped his hands.
‘Come, come this way.’ Otter took Jeremy’s hand in his and led him to an empty dressing room lit with dim yellowish-white lights that looked like a dungeon full of colourful costumes, makeup, props and chests of showbiz treasures, the door of which he carefully closed and locked behind them.
‘I need to get Harry to look at this contract of mine and see how soon I can get out of this one without badly riling somebody’s feathers.’ Otter pulled out an old brown wooden suitcase from under a desk, its exterior covered with badges of West End shows stuck onto it. He dug into it through a pile of costumes, masks and other props and pulled out a cardboard folder.
‘Take a look at this. What do you think?’ He pushed Jeremy onto the sofa covered with costumes, tossed the file onto his lap, and stood expectantly with one hand on his hip jutted out sideways.
Jeremy turned the pages, pretending to read through and understand it all. ‘I’m going to have to get our expert, Harry, to take a look at this also, Otter. Why don’t I take a photocopy with me tonight?’
‘A photocopy, yes. Well, there’s no copier in here, Gem. I don’t want any of these bitches to see me doing this because you know they are fucking gossips.’
‘There are several newsagents outside. Why don’t I find a copier and make a copy? I can bring this back to you in ten minutes,’ Jeremy suggested.
Otter sat up next to him and put a hand on his knee. ‘You are a lifesaver, darling. But guard that with your life. Now what can I do for you?’
Jeremy slid the contract under his Jacket.
‘Well, I need someone who has seen photographs of me not to recognize me, Otter. Darker hair, maybe a moustache, slightly more aged and greying? A few extra pounds of weight perhaps? We can keep it light because these men have only seen my pictures on the newspapers and possibly on TV. I need it on me for Saturday.’
‘Of course, leave it to Otter. When I’m done with you your mama won’t recognize you, Gem. Your mama will say, whozaaatt?’
Otter got back up and gave him a hand up. Otter often shortened his name to Gem. Jeremy liked it. If he ever got into a stage career he would call himself Gem, he thought.
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
At six foot four in height Douglas McAllen was an immense, imposing, and regal presence that owned every room he walked into. Like Caitlin he lightly packed his tall and broad frame with lean flesh and muscles, somewhat slackened with time, without being either over or under weight. His face was crinkled with fine lines like cracked drying mud, and the equally wrinkled hand he extended to them betrayed a slight tremor from his sixty odd years of life on earth and from the strain of his daughter’s plight.
‘Harry Stavers?’ His deep voice resounded through the room. He slouched down and extended a hand to Harry whose five-foot eight-inch slim frame was dwarfed by the presence of the older man.
‘Pleased to meet you in person, Mr. Stavers, and thank you for stepping in to help my daughter and son-in-law so effectively. This is Magnus Laird from McKinley & Laird Solicitors.’
Magnus Laird walked in a step behind Douglas McAllen and was also a presence of massive proportions in his own right. The two or three inches in height and the half-a-dozen or so years in age he lacked relative to his client, he made up for with three or four stones of extra weight packed liberally around his torso. His face was dominated by a thick walrus moustache, which he was in the habit of combing down with his right forefinger every now and then.
‘How do you do, Mr. McAllen, Mr. Laird? Please call me Harry.’ Harry stood upright, greeting them with a steady voice of strength and confidence, like David facing Goliath.
‘Och aye, Mr. Stavers. It is a pleasure indeed my dear fellaw. I have heard much abit yer courtroom antics in the High Court from me fellow members of the bar in London.’
Laird bent forward to shake Harry’s hand heartily, taking care not to topple over, then straightened back up with great effort, momentarily holding onto his own back with his left hand the way pregnant women did.
‘And this must be Jeremy Stone.’ McAllen’s blue eyes crinkled further into a smile as he lithely took the half-length of the room with a few long strides. He put his left hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and shook his right hand. The old man liked him.
‘I have heard much about you, good things, from Caitlin and Jack. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, son. You must come and visit my factories in Aberdeen some time. I am always in need of a fine engineer of your calibre.’
‘I am honoured to meet you, sir.’ Jeremy bowed his head and smiled.
‘Och, aye, Mr. Stone, the Engineer. The one who made the laboratory in the barn for our dear Jack, I hear. Very clever, very clever indeed.’ Magnus Laird waddled, carrying his bulk across the room, and shook Jeremy’s hand heartily for a long minute or two with both of his.
‘I only gave Jack a hand, Mr. Laird,’ Jeremy protested, but he couldn’t help being cheered by his hearty appraisal.
‘It has already been a long morning for us and we don’t have much time before we have to face this bloody police interview. I need a word in private with Magnus and Caitlin first, and then we can discuss matters over a spot of lunch. How does that sound, Mr. Stavers, er, Harry?’
Monday, 25 November 2013
Sunday, October 17 – Two Days Later
‘I should inform you, Mrs. Connor, Mr. McAllen, that my men are doing a search of the McAllen BlackGold offices as we speak,’ Edwards announced as he stood near the same seat as he had the day before, and paused to observe the effects of the news.
Ah, you’re going to find the place as clean as a whistle, Inspector, Jeremy thought, chuckling to himself.
Magnus had got up from his seat with great difficulty by leaning to the left on the armrest and was now heartily shaking startled Edwards’ hand with both of his.
‘Welcome, welcome, Inspector Eddie. I’m Magnus Laird. This seat is for ye, ole boy. Please sit here.’
He pushed Edwards into his armchair, who fell backward with some alarm and landed in the middle of his seat to everybody’s relief. Magnus bent forward enthusiastically and handed him half a dozen McKinley & Laird business cards, dropping the rest on the floor between the seats. He tried to pick these up by bending forward, taking great care not to topple over by holding onto Inspector Edwards’ knee, but then gave up and sat himself down. Edwards, having recovered from Magnus’ welcome, picked up the cards and politely handed them back to him.
Everybody sat down.
‘Thank you, Mr. Laird. Er, now where was I? Oh yes, the keys to the offices were among Mr. Connor’s personal effects. I have instructed my men to take the PC base units and any laptops from the office rooms of Jack Connor and yourself, Mrs. Connor.’
‘Police at the gate, sénora,’ Félipé interrupted them and hurriedly cleared the trays, replacing them with a fresh silver tray of bottled water and glasses. ‘I put Max and Molly in the stables.’
Jeremy got up and hurried out to the front door. A marked police car was being slowly and deliberately driven down the driveway from which DCI Edwards and WPC Hansen emerged, intermittent radio messages scratching the air over the tetra radio communications units attached to their belts. DCI Edwards was in a grey suit with a strained buttoned jacket he was clearly growing too paunchy for. WPC Hansen joined him by his side in her uniform of black trousers and white short-sleeved shirt under the black Kevlar vest with the blue “police” sign on it, accessorized to impressive effect by a baton, radio units, handcuffs, and a gun.
Jeremy greeted them at the door and led them to the living room where he had left Caitlin with Harry for some last minute advice.
‘Is this okay, Inspector?’ Caitlin asked after the introductions, gesturing to the two arm chairs they had set to the left of the couch she was seated on and at a right angle to it. ‘If not, we could use the board room.’
‘This is fine, Mrs. Connor.’ Edwards seated himself on the chair closer to Caitlin’s couch.
Hansen took the other chair and set her files on the side table that Félipé brought over. She poured two glasses of water for her boss and herself.
Jeremy walked unobtrusively to the wide bay window with a cushioned bench built into the wall below the ledge. Perched on the ledge with one foot on the bench he could see Caitlin over the shoulders of the officers seated with their backs to him.
‘Mrs. Connor, we need to ask you some questions in relation to the murder investigation of Michelle Williams. As you know your husband is also being questioned in connection with her death. I’m sure your solicitors have advised you of your rights.’ He paused briefly.
‘Yes.’ Caitlin nodded and shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
‘To be clear, you do not have to answer any of the questions. What you do say may be given in evidence. . .’
Saturday, October 16 – One Day Later
Despite the comfort and luxury all around him Jeremy was woken from a night of disturbed sleep by the sound of the dogs barking. It was 8:20 Saturday morning. There were voices downstairs in anxious chatter. His room (huh, he thought of this as his room now, did he?) was a first-floor en-suite with a bath. Actually it had a shared bathroom separating two twin rooms, but the second one had never been occupied whenever he had been here.
Jeremy washed his face quickly and hurried to the cupboard. Caitlin had laid out some clean clothes. He set his oversized laptop case, in which he carried a sleek laptop he had enhanced to pack in massive processing and memory power, so compact it hardly took any space, on the bed. Into the remaining space he generally packed various gadgets and electronics equipment he needed at client sites, including some “emergency” underwear and socks.
He pulled on a pair of black slacks and a blue Polo T-shirt from the cupboard. They must be Ronnie’s. Being slightly over 6 feet tall and having a wider frame, he did not fit so well into Jack’s clothes. He stepped out of his room and followed the voices downstairs.
One of the boys who worked in the stables and on the land, a brown lad in muddy Wellington boots, was talking animatedly to Caitlin, who was still in her dressing gown, in the kitchen.
‘There is police again at the front gate, sénora,’ he said with a heavy Spanish accent. ‘I put Molly and Max in the stables, ha?’
Caitlin and Jeremy hurried to the front reception with little Bubbles the puppy Lab running circles around them. There were two police cars at the gates.
‘If you could open the gates, Caitlin, I shall handle this,’ he said, thinking how lovely and vulnerable she looked with no makeup on and with tousled dark brown hair some length between short and medium. Something about a damsel-in-distress in silks stirred a man’s loins.
Jeremy went back to his room, splashed his face with icy cold water, and put on his shoes. He stepped out as the police cars pulled up outside the front door.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013
The Reckless Engineer is the first in author Jac Wright's series of literary suspense, mystery, and legal drama.
Jack Connor's lives an idyllic life by the Portsmouth seaside married to Caitlin McAllen, a stunning billionaire heiress, and working at his two jobs as the Head of Radar Engineering at Marine Electronics and as the Director of Engineering of McAllen BlackGold, his powerful father-in-law Douglas McAllen's company in extreme engineering in Oil & Gas. He loves his two sons from his first marriage and is amicably divorced from his beautiful first wife Marianne Connor. Their idyllic lives are shattered when the sexy and alluring Michelle Williams, with whom Jack is having a secret affair and who is pregnant with his child, is found dead and Jack is arrested on suspicion for the murder.
Jeremy Stone brings in a top London defence attorney, John Stavers, to handle his best friend's defence.
Who is the bald man with the tattoo of a skull seen entering the victim's house? Who is "KC" who Caitlin makes secret calls to from a disposable mobile? Has the powerful Douglas McAllen already killed his daughter's first partner, and is he capable of killing again? Is Caitlin's brother Ronnie McAllen's power struggle with Jack for the control of McAllen Industries so intense that he is prepared to kill and frame him? Is the divorce from his first wife as amicable on her part as they believe it to be? Are his sons prepared to kill for their inheritance? Who are the ghosts from Caitlin's past in Aberdeen, Scotland haunting the marriage? What is the involvement of Jack's manager at Marine Electronics?
While Jack is charged and his trial proceeds in the Crown Court under John Stavers’ care, Jeremy runs a race against time to find the real killer and save his friend, if he is in fact innocent, in a lurid saga of love, friendship, power, and ambition.
Friday, October 15 – The Day of Arrest
Harry and Jeremy were just about to call it a day and head over to the pub for a drink when the call came through. Harry had gathered the files and papers spread over the round table that stood diagonally opposite the large polished oak desk that dominated his office. There they liked to sit in the afternoon, take stock, and mull over matters at hand once every few days. The London sky, turning a misty orange-red through the window behind Harry, was being served to them lukewarm and sliced finely into stripes by the blind. Jeremy didn’t envy Harry his large west-facing office. He liked his sun served whole, with a black Americano and two sugars, early in the morning.
Harry had pricked up his ears on the phone. ‘Jeremy, it’s for you,’ he said, locking grave eyes onto his friend’s, ‘from the Guildford police station. Do you want to take it in here?’
A call to Jeremy from a police station was an odd occurrence. It must be something serious, he thought. He had learned by then that such a look from Harry portended serious events to follow without fail.
‘Thanks, Harry.’ He took the phone. ‘Hello?’
He was wholly unprepared for the voice that came through to him.
‘Jeremy, it’s Jack, from Marine Electronics. You remember Michelle? She’s dead, man. I’ve been arrested. I need a solicitor.’
. . .
The Summer Of The Year Before
The Monday that Michelle Williams started work at Marine Electronics was a scorching hot midsummer day. From the fourth floor wall of glass on the west wing of the seven-storey building owned by Marine, Jeremy and his fellow engineers were treated to a panoramic view of the landscape stretching all the way to Portsmouth Bay where the waters lay out in the sun and made light ripples, too lazy and too content to get up and make even the occasional wave. The bay was thus greeting the day cheerfully shimmering in the mid-morning sun when Steve, the QA team leader, brought Michelle over for a quick introduction to Jeremy’s team. Quality Assurance essentially meant “testing”; a QA team sat next to each engineering team and ran many series of rigorous tests after Engineering was done with the research, design, and development of various stages of a product.
Engineering was a male dominated field. There was only one female, Sally Trotter, in Jeremy’s team of one physicist, one mechanical engineer, and ten electronic engineers. He could see that Michelle’s long bleached hair, sleeveless low-cut blouse, endless legs tanned from a bottle, three inch stilettos, and hot-pink claws—so long they were surely retracted in for typing—did not go unnoticed by the boys.
. . .
Caitlin McAllen-Connor was a stunning woman at 38 with dark hair, porcelain skin, and a face made regal by prominent cheekbones and deep-sea blue eyes. She packed her 5’ 7” medium frame with toned muscles of a woman who had firm control over the world’s most exquisite foods she had readily available to her and was kept very active and busy by her normal life without being expressly athletic. Caitlin kept house, garden, horses, dogs, and rare exotic Silkie birds with the same flair and precision with which she kept the McAllen Industries’ books.
If anything challenged Caitlin’s self-control it was cigarettes, which she liked to roll herself from fine imported tobacco. She was always quitting for Jack’s and Gillian’s sake, but was always eventually failing particularly in the event of anything that disturbed her world. No more than three or four times a week, she would retreat with her vintage black-satin embroidered tobacco box to one of her selection of outdoor “smoking-seats” she had had specially built in her landscaped garden, at least one to suit any particular kind of weather. There I saw her extinguishing her cigarette at her favourite sheltered autumn seat in the falling early evening darkness, under-lit by the subtle lights of the subterranean fish tank beneath the glass on which she stood. She hurried towards me, flanked by the obedient Alsatians, as I got out of the car.
‘Jeremy, thank god you are here,’ she cried, giving me a nervous, anxious hug. ‘Is Jack okay?’
‘He’s in good hands with John, Caitlin,’ I reassured her and followed her indoors. I had briefly explained on the phone that Barrett Stavers had been brought in as Jack’s solicitors.
Someone who did not know Caitlin might have been surprised to see a used crystal Champaign glass and a half-empty bottle of Champaign by the living room seats where she sat us only a few hours after her husband had been taken into custody. Champaign, however, was what Caitlin drank; when others drank beer, cocktail, fine wine, scotch, brandy, port, or sherry… Caitlin drank Champaign for no reason other than she liked the taste of it...
Otter had debuted his West End career performing with a modern dance company and had aptly acquired his stage name in the early days from his graceful dance moves on the stage. That, however, was not the only reason for his name. Otter was clearly gay and proudly and loudly carried his gracefulness on stage into real life. There wasn’t a movement that he made where his hands and other parts of his body did not make an elaborately graceful bend, wave, zigzag, or twirl. He had a black grandmother of whom he spoke of often with great affection and the combination of genes gave him golden skin, freckles on his nose and cheekbones, and a pile of long golden-brown ringlets at the top of his head that spread in every direction and bounced and danced as fluidly as his body and limbs with every movement. He always wore a trademark tank-top showcasing his toned, muscular, and lithe body whenever he was working, accessorized with a glittery black cardigan on colder days.
Otter had nowadays moved into acting and backstage production and was today doing the costumes for the stage adaptation of the acclaimed Ealing comedy The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre...