Chapter 1

Once again I have to thank another author and my friend (I think, he hasn't read this bloody story yet) for solving a problem for me. I've had this scenario going around in my head for some months now and it was reading JPB's "Sally Goes To The Theatre" that switched the light on, so to speak. If you read that story by JPB you might pick out where I've done some stealing. I hope it will not damage your enjoyment of this story, or my friendship with JPB.

I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement. I'd also like to add that we donÕt always see eye to eye, we do have some disagreements sometimes - well quite often really, I can be an obstinate old bugger. Anyway I take full responsibility for the content and any cock-ups in this story.

The buzzing noise of the intercom bedside my bed roused me from my siesta. I reached over and hit the button.

"There's a lady here who wishes to see you, sir." My secretary's dismembered voice came from the machine.

"I'm a little busy at the moment, Colette. Ask Val if she can see her for me, will you please?"

Valerie is my PA and usually handles most of my visitors nowadays. To be honest, I wasn't busy at all; I'd turned into a bit of a recluse and I was having my afternoon nap. Colette was aware of that, so it was unusual for her to have disturbed me.

"The lady says it's personal and very important, sir. What she has to discuss, she says she can only discuss with you, sir."

"Damn it! Tell her she'll have to make an appointment for... Oh, I don't know, next week sometime."

"The lady says it's urgent, and she is adamant, sir."

"Oh, bugger, all right. I suppose I'd better see her then, show her up to my office in about five minutes."

I got off my bed, gave my face a quick rinse in the bathroom, to wake myself up, then made my way through the penthouse to my private office. I looked out of the window at the view over the city below. Damn, I hate this bloody place; I hate every-bleeding-thing about it. Christ, I think I hate everyone on the seventeen floors below me as well, even though they all work for me.

Colette entered the office without knocking. She never did knock nowadays because I was rarely in there. I'm just the figurehead of this organisation now; the only reason I was here in my penthouse suite was because I had nowhere else I wanted to go; and nothing that I really wanted to do.

The very nice looking young lady, who Colette was supposed to be showing in, strode past her into the office in an officious looking manner. But I think the sudden grandeur that she found herself in took her by surprise and knocked the wind out of her sails. I could see she was unused to, and uncomfortable with, the environment she suddenly found herself in.

"Mr John Crawford?" she asked before Colette had time to make her official introductions.

"That's me."

"My name's June Parsons and I'm with Slough Social Services." I'm not sure, but I think I was supposed to be cowered by her statement.

"And what can I do for you, Miss or is it Mrs June Parsons from Slough Social Services?"

"Please call me June. We try not to be too formal."

I could see confusion in her face now. I think I was not what she had been expecting, nor were the surroundings she found herself in. This woman was used to dealing with folks on the other end of the financial spectrum and she appeared to be totally out of her depth here with me.

"Very well, June, you may call me John. Now what can I do for you? Oh, excuse me. Okay, Colette, you can leave Ms Parsons with me, thank you."

Colette, with a curious look on her face and a wink of her eye, turned and left the office, closing the door behind her. Well, my visitor was quite beautiful and the gold diggers had used some very interesting ways to get too me in the past.

"Mr Crawford..."


"I'm sorry, John. I'm with Social Services in Slough."

"You have said that more than once already; now please tell me how can I help you?"

"There is, um, where do I start?" she said looking around the room. The splendour of the place was obviously not what she had expected at all. "Look, I've got a case on my hands. There are two children involved and a mother who attempted suicide. Maybe it would be better if you read this note, it was found beside the mother."

She handed me an envelope containing the note, only in was more of a letter than a note. I sat back into my big swivel chair and opened it.

My dearest John. The first line said, and damn, I immediately knew whom it was from. My memory jumped back eleven years to when my once happy life came to a sudden end.

Shit, as I remember it I was having one hell of a bloody morning. A water main had burst in Chiswick High Road and the whole damned area had gridlocked as folks tried to find their way around the closed road.

I was almost an hour and a half late when I tried to sneak into my office unnoticed. It was the second time that week that my journey to work had been a bloody nightmare.

As I entered my office, June, my secretary - well she wasn't really mine, she looked after three or four of us - waylaid me.

"John, where the hell have you been, and why haven't you got your mobile switched on?"

"Oh, shit, I must have forgotten to charge the bloody thing last night," I thought that was becoming a habit of mine lately; too damned tired to think straight when I got home in the evenings.

"Tony Jordon's been looking for you since nine o'clock. He's got a real bee in his bonnet over something. You'd better get your arse up there pretty smartly."

Shit, buggering arseholes. That's all I needed; that pompous little arse on his fucking high horse. Since his father retired, that little shit and his brother thought they were God's gift to the bloody industry. The truth is he had no idea how to negotiate a contract or keep the customers happy. I was wondering whom the little bugger had upset now.

"Oh, John, thank goodness you've turned up. I've been trying to track you down all morning. You've really got to do something about your time keeping, you know," Tony Jordon said as I entered his office.

"Well, if you hadn't moved the bleeding office from Slough into fucking Chiswick I wouldn't have to sit in bleeding traffic jams every bloody morning and evening, you fucking little trumped up arsehole," my mind was thinking. I wondered why the hell didn't I have the nerve to say that to the little shit. But we all think these things, don't we?

"Sorry, Tony, there was a burst water main in the High Road."

"Well, I got here on time!"

Of course you did, you little shit. You've got an expensive town flat, paid for by the company and just a couple of blocks away that you stay in during the bleeding week. With that little tart that your Mrs doesn't know about to keep you warm at night.

"Anyway something's gone wrong with the Johnson job. They're late on delivery again. I need you to fly out there and talk some sense into Johnson's board. You know, pour some oil on the water. They're threatening to take their contract elsewhere again. You know if that happens, heads will roll. Not only here but at the plant as well. You've sweet talked Johnson around before; I'm sure you can do it again."

"And just why arenÕt you going yourself," I thought. "While you're at it, take the other pile of shit, your brother Robert with you. Between the pair of you, you're killing this bloody company. If your old man knew how you two were fucking things up here, he'd be turning in his bloody grave." Once again we think these things, don't we; I really wished I could think of a good reason why I wasn't saying them. But then if I did, I'd be out on my ear, wouldn't I?

"I'll give Simon Johnson a call. I'm sure he'll come round. We've been doing business with him for years."

"No! You're flying out there on the twelve o'clock flight. Old man Johnson has retired and his nephew Paul Johnson has taken over as chairman of the company. Neither Robert nor I can go. We've both got a very full calendar this week."

"A twelve o'clock flight? Shit, there's no way I can make it. I've got to get home and pack first. And besides, I'm supposed to be taking Sally to the theatre this evening; she's been on at me to take her for months. "

"Well, you'll have to take her some other time. Don't worry; the company will reimburse you for the tickets."

"The play finishes its run on Saturday night, Sally's been driving me nuts to take her for weeks. But I've been so tied up getting the Carter contract sorted out; I haven't been getting home until far too late in the evenings to go. I figured that now that Carter contract's signed and out the way, my evenings would be free for a few weeks at least. I know that the last night is sold out. Tonight was the only day we could get seats for. If I go to New York, I won't get back before Friday at the earliest. Sally's going to go ballistic."

"Then she'll have to go with a friend or something then, won't she? Sally knows as well as anyone, that the company needs the Johnson work, it's nearly half our turnover. You'd better call her at the factory and get her to go home and pack your bag for you. You'll never get home and then back to the airport in time from here. Run along now; we can't afford to have you miss that flight."

"Cheeky little shit." I thought as I left his office. I'd started working for Henry Jordon straight from college. It'd been a pretty small concern when I joined the staff. Jordon & Sons Machine Tools. Henry Jordon had got in on the ground floor some years back. Maggie Thatcher declared that industry had to stand on its own feet. And the banks started calling in company overdrafts. Starved of working capital, British engineering firms went to the wall in droves.

Henry Jordon was one of the vultures who bought up all the redundant plant and machinery. He reconditioned it in his own little factory, sold it on at ridiculous profits to companies all over the developing world. Henry Jordon was a typical died-in-the-wool Conservative. Mind, I think there was a lot of the profits that somehow disappeared into offshore accounts. It wouldn't do for a good Tory to pay too many taxes, now would it?

Once the bankruptcies started to become a little thin on the ground, Henry Jordon changed the modus operandi of the company. He became agent for companies who wanted to sell machine tools into Europe. Simple, really. The machinery was imported into the country in pieces then assembled and delivered to anywhere in the EEC.

Things went well for the company until the two brothers were old enough to join the firm. Unfortunately Henry's two sons, who had both been to university, were trying to run things on the Just In Time principle. Great on a production line, but it left no time for sorting out the problems that often showed up in our business.

Parts coming in from all over the world could be delayed for a thousand and one reasons. Luckily most of our clients were quite aware of those problems. But if the brothers would just leave a few days grace when they quoted delivery dates we wouldn't have half the problem with them that we were having.

It always seemed obvious to me. Tell the customer they can have it in three weeks, then later tell them you can deliver five days earlier; they are happy. Tell them they can have it in two weeks and deliver a week late. Shit flies! And never promise what you can't deliver.

I couldn't really understand why Tony was insisting I fly out to New York. The brothers had negotiated the latest contract with Johnson's; they should be the ones to put things right. Yeah, but I knew how it was going to look to the board if it all went pear shaped. I was the mug who was going to take the can on this one.

When I got back to my office, I called Sally's office at the Slough Factory. Yeah, Sally worked for Jordon & Son's as well. ThatÕs what Tony had been alluding to. It wouldn't only be my head that was going to roll; I could see Sally's going as well.

Sally and I met when she joined the typing pool years ago. Typing pool, there that will give you some idea of how long ago I'm talking about. We seemed to hit it off quite well from the beginning. But it wasn't until we went to the company Christmas party that year that we got together. You know what its like; everybody was kissing under the mistletoe and when I kissed Sally... Well, I'm not sure what happened, but in the end someone asked us if we would move, as they wanted their turn.

Sally and I didnÕt discus it or anything. From that kiss we were an item. I think we both ran around like lunatics buying each other Christmas presents and I joined her and her family for Christmas dinner. I think that caused some confusion, as I'm pretty sure they were expecting some other guy. But no one actually said anything.

We went out together on New Year's Eve and woke up together in my bed on New Year's Day. That was our first time together. I'm sorry to have to admit I don't remember much about it. I do remember the night of January the first though. Sally never actually went home to live again and we were married four months later.

The next ten years had been the happiest of my life, when I was at home. My life at work was fine until Henry's twin boys finished university and came to work at the firm. Until they joined the company, I had been Henry's number two, his assistant in all things both above and below board.

The boy's arrival spelt a change. Henry was not a bad old stick; he didn't put his boys over me in the company hierarchy at first, but they both seemed to resent that. Oh, they were pleasant enough to me, but I knew they didn't like the sway I held with their farther.

Henry Jordon floated the company on the stock market and made a bloody killing out of it. That was the only time he actually upset me. I thought he would have sent at least a few shares in my direction, but he didn't. The other thing that didn't happen was I was not made a director. Both the brothers went on the board, but I didn't.

Then Henry had his bloody heart attack. At the hospital he asked me to keep an eye on the boys. "Some hopes, Henry," I thought. "If you'd given me some shares and put me on the board as well, I might have had some influence over them." Of course I never said that to him. It was plain to my eyes that he was on his way out.

Henry retired immediately and passed away three months later. The moment the lid of his coffin was closed; the boys started making changes. None of which, I thought were good ideas, but there was little I could do about it. They rented flash new offices in Chiswick and most of the admin and sales staff moved down there. Tony ran that department, whilst Robert took over the running of the factory completely. In doing so he inherited Sally as his secretary. She'd been the factory manager's PA for some time, but the factory manager didn't stay for long, because Robert was on his case all the time.

I can't say I was very happy about Sally working for Robert Jordon. It wasn't something I could put my finger on, but I never did like the way either of the brothers looked at her. Come on, I suppose it could have been jealousy, or maybe it was just that I didn't like either of the brothers really. But I sensed something. Sally was five years older than the two boys were, but she was one fine looking woman, even if I do say so myself.

Sally appeared to get on very well with Robert. Too well, if you ask me. No, I didn't think anything untoward was going on. But as I really didn't like the boys, I would sometimes make comments about them. Sally would spring to their defence and there we had the recipe for trouble.

The truth is, as the company got busier and I was rushing about all over the bloody place keeping customers happy and sorting out new contracts, I think Robert saw more of Sally that I did. So she saw his side of any problem well before they got dumped on me.

Okay, back to the Johnson contract and my short notice flight to the US. I called Sally to give her the good(?) news. I think they probably heard her reaction at Chelsea football ground. I know it deafened me.

"But youÕre taking me to the play tonight! You promised! What the hell did you volunteer to go the New York for?"

Now this was another problem of mine. Whenever I was asked to go away somewhere, Sally somehow got it into her head, that it was something that I chose to do. I never could understand why she thought I would volunteer to go on these bloody trips. But from our discussions on the subject, it was obvious that she was convinced that I did.

"I didn't volunteer, Sally. Tony has just ordered me to go. Surely you know what the problem is with the deliveries on the Johnson contract. Hasn't Robert told you?"

"There's always problems nowadays. But why do you always have to keep volunteering to sort them out? Especially when we are supposed to be going to see the play tonight. I'm getting fed up with the way you treat me lately. What about my play?"

See what I mean? I'd just told her that I was being sent to New York and she was still insisting that I'd volunteered to go. I'm afraid I got angry that she wasn't really listening to what I said.

"To be honest, Sally, I don't give a bleeding damn about that goddamn play! Our - that's yours as well as mine - job's are on the line here and if I can't calm Johnson's bloody board down, the companies going to be up the bloody creek without a bleeding paddle, with no orders. Now don't blame me because your lot in the factory can't turn the stuff out on time!"

See, now that's the problem with separating the two parts of the company. It had become a them-vs-us culture. Unfortunately, I was with the us and Sally was with the them. An even bigger recipe for disaster.

"Now please go home, pack that fucking bag for me and then meet me at the check-in desk at Heathrow at eleven. Please."

There was silence on the other end of the phone for several moments and then in a very controlled voice Sally said, "You'll get your fucking bag and maybe a few other things you didn't bargain for as well. I'm not your bloody skivvy you know!" The line went dead.

Why did I do that? Why did I shout at Sally and why did she shout at me? Damn, I knew I needed to apologise to her when she met me at the airport.

But that didn't happen. I was waiting at check in at eleven o'clock but there was no sign of Sally. Ten-past came and went with still no sign of her. The girl was just about to close the desk when Sally arrived. She strolled through the departure lounge as if I had all the time in the world.

"Damn, Sally, what took you so long?" obviously with a sharp tone to my voice as I was very worried about missing the flight by then. But then I realised that it wasn't Sally's or my fault that we were having this argument. It wasn't either of our faults that she was disappointed about the play that evening and it wasn't good for us to part feeling angry with each other.

"I'm sorry, Sally. I'm just so worked up about this damned trip." I went to kiss her, but she stepped back from me.

"We don't have time for things like that. You have to rush off and save your precious contract."

Then I heard the girl on the check-in desk say. "You must check your bag in now, Mr Parsons, or it won't get on your flight."

I turned back to the girl and went through the formalities of checking the bag in. When I turned back to Sally again, she was gone.

"How long before the flight's called?" I asked the girl.

"Probably about half an hour or so. But I would suggest you don't leave the departure area."

I ran in the direction that Sally had appeared from. But Sally must have been moving much faster when she left than she had been when she arrived. At the end on the concourse was the entrance to an enclosed bridge that led to the short-term car park.

I was halfway across the bridge, when out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the bright yellow Lamborghini exiting the car park on the ground level below. I could just make out Sally's coat through the passenger side of the windscreen. I knew the little shit that was in the driving seat, although I couldn't see him. Robert Jordon let no one drive his bloody status symbol other than himself.

Boy, was I pissed. Robert Jordon was so busy that he couldn't go to New York but he had time to drive my wife about in that bloody pussy puller of his. Christ, I was bloody hopping mad as I made my way back into the terminal building. Unusually for me I went into the bar and ordered a drink. After sitting there fuming for twenty minutes or so, my flight was called and I moved into the departure lounge.

For most of the flight, I studied the contracts as closely as I could looking for the loopholes Henry always put in there that gave us a little leeway on delivery dates and the like. But the boys had been at these latest contracts; most of those subtle little doors had been closed.

I was met on my arrival at JFK, by of all people Paul Johnson himself, along with Petra his PA, whom he had obviously inherited from his uncle and a little entourage of yes-men. I'd met the kid a few times in the past - a bit of a misnomer really - but Paul always seemed a bit like the Jordon brothers, very young next to me. I really only had five or so years on them.

In the past Simon Johnson had normally done most of the talking, whilst Paul had just been one of the other minions who enthusiastically nodded in agreement at everything Simon said, and of course laughed at his jokes.

I was put on my guard by Paul's over enthusiastic welcome. Even more so by the collection of flunkies he had with him, who carried my bags and laptop out to the Limo that was waiting.

"We've put you in the company suite at the WA," Paul said. "SJ was hoping to see you on this trip, but the timing is unfortunate; he's still on his world cruise. He told me to let you know he'd look you up when the ship docks in Southampton."

I can remember thinking this was a very strange thing for Simon Johnson to want to do. Yeah, I'd always got on with the old boy. Henry Jordon and I had met him many times over the years we'd been dealing with his company. But I never took it that our friendship was anything other than purely business. Now that he'd retired why the hell would he wish to see me?

The Waldorf Astoria was always where Henry Jordon had stayed over the years. But when I had visited New York on my own, I'd tended to stay in places a little less, um, extravagant. But Paul was telling me the suite was the company suite so I figured it just happened to be vacant. I couldn't see the Jordon brothers forking out on a suite there for me.

Paul, having dropped me off at the WA, told me he'd send Petra to pick me up for dinner at around seven o'clock; then he and his little entourage took their leave. Jesus, this trip was getting more confusing by the bloody minute. In theory I should be taking or at least asking Paul Johnson to have dinner with me.

It was by then about four in the afternoon local time. I wondered whether Sally had gone to the play on her own or not. After all she had the tickets. I called our home number; as I half expected there was no answer. Thinking that it would be about nine PM in London, I sent a text message to her mobile, asking if she was enjoying the play and who she had found to go with.

When Petra arrived to collect me, she found me on the phone again. I'd received no reply to my text to Sally, and I thought she should have been home by then. But there was no answer from the home phone again. This time I left a message on the answer phone telling her I was going out to dinner and I'd call her the next day.

As I went to leave the room, Petra wrestled my briefcase from my hand and returned it to the chair I'd picked it up from.

"This is purely a social evening tonight, John. Paul would like you to meet his family. He said it was a pity you didn't bring your wife over with you."

"Petra, what's this all about?" I asked her once we were in the car.

I could see Petra was thinking how to reply to my question, and it was some moments before she answered.

"Paul just thinks as you two do so much business with each other, the two of you should really get to know each other better. And he wants you to get to know everyone on the board of Johnson's as well."

None of this was making any sense to me, until I came up with the idea that, just maybe, I was going to be headhunted from Jordon and Son's by Johnson and Partners. There was no other explanation I could think of for everyone's strange behaviour.

The meal was outstanding, with a high percentage of Johnson's board present, complete with their spouses. Then we all moved on to a nightspot where some of the party danced. I didn't venture onto the dance floor, as I was feeling the jet lag; I'd been up five or so hours longer than the rest of them.

However, as the evening went on, I was more and more convinced that my headhunting idea must be correct. All the board members went out of their way to talk to me and make me feel at home. Petra stuck to me like glue, if anything acting as if she was my PA. You know what I mean, whenever anybody approached me, she would whisper who he or she was, and fill me in on anything I needed to know about them.

It was around two AM New York time when I got back to my room, seven AM-ish back home. There were no messages on my mobile and according to the reception; Sally hadn't left any messages there for me either. I debated calling her but thought it was a little early to do so, as she'd been out late the evening before.

I was roused from the sleep of the dead, at 11 AM, by my breakfast noisily arriving, followed by the now ubiquitous Petra. Once again she appeared to be acting as my PA.

"You have a meeting with the full board at 12 o'clock. That shouldn't take very long and then after that, Paul would like you to join him for a round of golf. Oh, you do play, don't you? Of course you do. I remember you and Henry playing with SJ. Anyway, you'll fly up to SJ's estate from the helipad on the building's roof right after the meeting. Oh, and Paul wanted to know how much of a hurry you're in to return to London."

"Well, that really depends on what Paul and the board have to say about our late deliveries."

"Oh, I think they'll be happy with whatever you say. After all, you're the... Um, well, anyway they know and trust you. Now you'd better get a move on or you'll be late for the meeting."

Petra had suddenly lost her usual self-confidence. For a moment, she sounded uncommonly flustered and just as suddenly she was in a hurry to leave the room. Or, to get out of my presence for a while, at least!

I'll be honest; I hadn't been concentrating too closely on what Petra had been saying, as I was impatient to call Sally. I called her office at the factory, but the switchboard intercepted my telephone call. The girl explained that Sally wasn't in the office that day. Luckily, as it turned out, the receptionist was a temp and she didn't recognise my voice. The silly bitch didn't even ask who I was. When I asked if she knew why Sally wasn't in, she said she didn't know.

I don't know why, maybe it was a sixth sense. But something made me ask her to put me through to Robert Jordon; she told me that he wasn't in the office that day either.

Totally pissed off, I called my home number, but again it was not answered. Then I called Sally's mobile and found that it was switched off. Robert's mobile proved to be switched off as well.

Totally out of my pram by then, I called Tony Jordon at the Chiswick office. When he came on the line, I demanded to know where the hell Robert was. I told Tony that there was something about the contract that I needed Robert to clarify for me. It struck me that Tony thought for a little longer than was really necessary before he replied.

"Oh, I believe Robert's gone down to Brighton, he's meeting with the directors of Carter's Industries today. I think he said he was going to take Sally along with him to take notes. You know what Tony's memory's like."

Bad choice, you lying little arsehole. That was the bloody contract that I closed last week. It's all signed, sealed and delivered. What kind of crap are you trying to feed me here? Once again, it was a thought, not a statement.

After Tony asked me how things were going, I told him I would probably have to stay a couple days yet to calm them down. Then the moment I got off the phone to Tony, I called Monty Carter's secretary in Brighton. As I expected, she confirmed that there were no meetings planned that day between Robert and her boss. As a matter of fact, she could never recall them ever having met.

Petra reappeared and urged me to hurry getting showered and dressed for the conference. So I stuffed the remainder of my breakfast down my throat and dashed into the shower.

We were a little late arriving, but no one appeared to notice. An unbelievable round of introductions started, followed by a tour of the offices. We didn't get into the conference room until almost one o'clock.

I've got to say that, my negotiations were really a complete farce. Everyone agreed to everything I said and they appeared to be more worried about whether I was upset about anything.

I gathered that everyone agreed with me that the Jordon brothers were a couple of arseholes, and a complete waste of space. But that wasn't actually said in words. Convinced by then that they were planning on making me an offer that I couldn't refuse, I was somewhat surprised when the offer didn't materialise.

When the meeting broke up, Paul and I, followed by a couple of other directors, made our way up to the roof to get on the helicopter. Petra, as usual, joined us. She asked me when I wanted to return to England and organised a flight for later in the day.

On the golf course, I called my secretary in Chiswick on my mobile and told her I would be staying on for a few days. Whatever was going on back there, I wanted everyone to believe I was going to be out of the country for a few days yet. Petra must have over-heard my conversation.

"Sorry to be inquisitive, John, but is something wrong? I've got to ask because, I couldn't help but notice every-time you call England, you're on edge about something," she asked in a concerned tone.

"I'm not sure, but I think something isn't right over there, although I'm afraid itÕs personal."

"We've known each other a long time, John? Can I be of any assistance? You know that I know how to be discrete."

"Well, you could help me. It would be useful if nobody finds out that I'm flying home this evening. No one in England, that is! If what I fear is happening, I'd like to try and catch them in the act."

"Oh, god, you don't think your wife is..."

"I don't know, Petra. But we had an argument before I left and she hasn't been where I thought she should be when I've tried to call her. I can't seem to get hold of her on the phone either. It might be that she's still annoyed with me, but there's a man I can't get in touch with either, and someone else over there is telling me lies. There must be a reason for that."

"Oh, I see now why you're in a hurry to get back. Look, if anyone from England tries to call you, I'll have them transferred to me. I'm the only one besides Paul who knows you're on the plane this evening anyway. All Paul's calls go through me, so I'll stall anyone who tries to get in touch with you. You can call them back on your cell phone and they'll have no idea where you are."

"Thanks, Petra, now I think I'd better get back to the game."

Whilst I'd been in conversation with Petra, I'd noticed Paul start to walk towards us. I'd moved out of earshot to make my phone calls. What I found confusing was the fact that out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Petra make a little gesture with her hand, when she saw Paul begin to move in our direction. Paul immediately changed direction and had fallen into conversation with the other two players.

The game over, we went into SJ's mansion for a meal, where I met again SJ's daughter, Beatrice. Once again I thought something was not quite right. I'd known Bea for years, but she seemed awkward around me that day. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I got the feeling that these folks knew something I didn't. I began to wonder if I'd made a mistake in telling Petra of my suspicions.

We flew back to the company HQ later in the day in the helicopter; then Petra accompanied me to the airport. She'd arranged for someone to collect my gear from the WA. The flight back to Heathrow was uneventful until I'd landed. A steward met me in the arrival's lounge, and told me there was an urgent phone call for me, leading me to a service phone.

"John, its Petra. We had everyone on the phone for you last night, after you left. Your wife called and I told her you were in conference with Paul. Then later both the Johnsons called, but separately and I gave them the same message. Your wife then called again and asked me if I knew when you would be returning home. I told her I'd booked you on the Saturday evening flight. Was that all right?"

"Thanks, Petra, that should be fine. I'll call them from my mobile later and give them the same story. Thanks for your help."

"Keep in touch, John. I'll let you know if any of them call here again."

So my loving wife had reappeared and was showing signs of being concerned about where I was. I wondered why she was suddenly so worried about me.

I booked myself into the Novatel by the airport and found that Hertz had already delivered the car I ordered from New York. I, or rather the company, had an account with Hertz, so it was my simplest choice, but the car was booked to me privately.

Not being tired, I took a drive past my house. Sally's car was in the drive and the house was in darkness. To be expected, since it was just after four in the morning. From the call box on the corner of our road, I called the house phone; there was no answer and the answer-phone picked up. I called four times in a row and, when she never answered on any of them, I figured it was safe to assume that Sally was not in the house.

Leaving the car where it was, I walked down to the house and entered quietly. A quick search of the place proved to me that it was deserted. What to do now, I asked myself. Well, the best idea I could come up with was to sit down and wait for Sally to return. I made myself a pot of coffee and settled myself in the lounge. I'd planned on the coffee keeping me awake, but it didn't!

It was the burble of the Lamborghini's noisy exhausts that woke me, just before eight o'clock. Through the window I watched Sally and Robert get out of the yellow peril and walk up to the house.

"Come in, Bobby. It won't take me long to shower and change. Go in the kitchen and make some coffee, will you. I need something to clear my head."

It was amazing; neither of them noticed me sitting in the lounge, even though the door was wide open. I guess some folks don't see what they don't expect to see.

Sally ran up the stairs and Robert went into the kitchen. I heard him going through all the cupboards. Then he came out and called up the stairs to Sally.

"Where do you keep your coffee percolator, Sal?"

"On the side," she called back down to him.

"Well, I can't find it," he called back up to her.

I heard Sally come back down the stairs. "Oh, you men are useless without a good woman around to look after you," she said as she entered the kitchen.

"That's funny, it should be on the side there. I donÕt think I left it in the lou... OH, MY GOD! What are you doing here?"

Sally, having not found the coffee percolator in the kitchen, had come into the lounge looking for it, and finally spotted me. She stood there in a skimpy bra and a thong. Neither of which I might add, I had ever seen before.

"Oh, I was just sitting here waiting for my faithful wife to return. And now I think I'm gonna kick a slimy little arsehole's teeth down his fucking throat for him," I said as I got out of my chair.

Both Robert and Sally seemed to be glued to the spot in shock for a moment; after all, they were both sure I was still in the US. Then Robert came to his senses and began to try to make his getaway. Unfortunately for him we had a rather unusual and complicated night latch on our front door. The damn lever on the thing turns the wrong way. The more he tugged and pulled at it, the more panic-stricken he became.

I slammed him against the door and literally punched the shit out of him. I don't think the little wanker even knew how to defend himself. Sally was screaming at me that "it wasn't what it looked like" and was trying to pull me off of Robert.

I don't think I knocked him about half as much as I would have liked to have done. To be honest, I'm not a naturally violent person. So when he tried to roll into a ball on the floor, I stopped hitting him. I think some folks would have taken the opportunity to kick the shit out of him, but it wasn't something I could bring myself to do.

Turning the catch in the correct direction, I opened the door and shoved him outside. Then without really thinking about it, I grabbed hold of Sally and pushed her outside as well.

Slamming the door closed, I returned to the lounge, only this time I headed for the liqueur cabinet.

Sally banged on the door and rang the doorbell for a little while. Through the lounge window I watched Robert, who had retreated to his car, get out again carrying a travel blanket, I assume to cover Sally's almost naked body with.

Sally called through the post box, once again saying that it wasn't what it looked like, and begging me to let her back in. I was adamant that I wasn't going to get into a shouting match with her, so I ignored her.

Some of the neighbours had taken an interest in our little cabaret by then; I could see them watching from their front doors and gardens. Sally, I assume figured I was back in the lounge as she changed her target and began banging on one of the lounge windows, still screaming at me to let her in.

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