Vincent Mortego’s urgent appointment was waiting for him in the basement of the Papua and New Guinean embassy near London Bridge. Robert Angelis was wearing the same suit that he had on fourteen hours earlier when little Clyde had initiated this meeting. He looked tired and stressed but his eyes were alert with fear.
Vincent’s arrival was inauspicious. After leaving Simon Clarke he had driven to his Hackney home and quickly changed into a tracksuit. It had taken him under an hour to leisurely jog the three-and a-half miles to his office. Vincent liked to run whenever he could. He recognised the importance of a fit body and a fit mind.
‘Mr. Angelis,’ he said, casually strolling into the room holding a bunch of keys and what looked like a small plastic sandwich box. ‘A Greek name, yes?’
Robert Angelis was sitting in the only chair of the basement of Vincent’s offices. Some years earlier it had been converted into a gym so that Vincent could work out whenever he felt like it. ‘Yes… that’s right,’ said Robert quietly, almost embarrassed.
The gym was sparse: there were a few weights lying around on the floor; there was a running machine in one corner where a locked metal storage cupboard stood beside it. In the middle of the chamber was a large massage table which was unremarkable except for the leather straps that hung loosely from each corner. There were no windows in the room, which had also been soundproofed.
‘Catch!’ said Vincent, throwing the plastic sandwich box towards Robert. ‘Excellent! Very good reflexes!’
Standing behind Robert was Clyde Grainger. Clyde was a former bantamweight boxer with the build and stature of a jockey. He had close cropped blonde hair and brown eyes like a squirrel. He often accompanied Vincent and always wore a neatly-pressed suit. Most people who met him assumed that he was Vincent’s second-in-command, although the title had never been made official. He let out a high-pitched cackle which made Robert Angelis flinch slightly.
‘Calm down Mr. Angelis,’ said Vincent. ‘You mustn’t let Clyde spook you so easily. I can assure you his bite’s far worse than his bark.’
‘Look…’ Robert began to speak but his voice trailed off.
‘Do you know who I am?’ asked Vincent.
There was a pause. Robert Angelis shook his head.
‘I can’t say I’m surprised. Although I’m sure we have a mutual acquaintance.’
Robert fidgeted in his chair and felt pain in his ribs. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had been leaving the Embassy Club in Mayfair when Clyde had emerged from the shadows holding his favourite weapon of choice. Most people used a pestle for grinding herbs and spices but Clyde found that it fit perfectly into his jacket pocket and could quickly disable even the largest person if employed correctly.
‘I guess I’m what you might call an advisor,’ continued Vincent. ‘I help people… I guide people… And I sort out problems from time to time.’
‘What’s this got to do with me?’ Robert finally found his voice. He sounded a little like a school prefect.
Vincent smiled. His pure white teeth were immaculate. He could easily have passed for a movie star. ‘I have quite a range of clients… Although the majority are athletes. One of my clients, for example, is at West Ham – young but an excellent prospect… Another is rather a big name at Chelsea Football Club, scores a lot of goals… I also have another client who is a very famous central defender who plies his trade with Arsenal. He has more than fifty England caps actually.’
Vincent watched as Robert’s face suddenly reddened.
‘Oh… I see that you might have an idea who I’m talking about,’ said Vincent.
‘Look…’ Robert’s voice trailed off a second time.
‘Look at what?’ asked Vincent sharply.
Robert shuffled about in his chair and groaned a little. He clutched his ribs. ‘Look… I was having a quiet night out with some friends and this man… This man bloody attacked me…’ Robert turned his head in the direction of Clyde. ‘It’s a damned outrage!’
Vincent raised a single eyebrow. ‘Oxbridge?’ he said.
‘Oxbridge? Your accent is public school. Are you Oxbridge educated?’
‘Er… No. Exeter actually. What’s that got…’
‘Interesting… Not quite top of the heap. Second division…’
Robert was still holding the plastic container. He felt its weight in his hands. It seemed to be empty. Although when he looked at it he could just about make out something inside wrapped in tissue paper.
‘My client has a problem. Do you think you might know what it is Mr. Angelis?’
Robert did not reply.
‘Nothing to say? Let me see if I can help you remember.’
‘Look… It’s all a big mistake…’
‘There’s that word again. Look at what?’
‘It’s all an error. It’s silly… We can sort it out. There’s no need for…’
Vincent moved closer to Robert. He leaned over towards him so that the other man was able to smell his breath. ‘I know that we can sort it out. I’m completely sure of that,’ he said. ‘Now take your clothes off.’
The room fell silent. Robert’s mouth gaped open. ‘I’m sorry?’ he said.
‘You heard me correctly. I said take your clothes off.’
Robert set the plastic box on to his lap and gripped the sides of the chair with both hands, unwilling to let go. Vincent shook his head reproachfully. ‘Not playing ball, eh?’ he said. ‘Clyde, would you mind popping out and fetching Tina? I assume that you have the address?’
Robert let out a gasp and now attempted to climb to his feet but was roughly pushed back into position by Clyde standing behind him.
‘No problem, Mister Mortego,’ said Clyde in his market trader accent.
‘Let’s see if Tina minds taking her clothes off,’ said Vincent.
‘Leave her out of this!’ said Robert, his bottom lip quivering.
‘Then please take your clothes off.’
Robert Angelis slowly got to his feet and reluctantly removed his jacket, looking wide-eyed at Vincent as he did so. It dropped to the cold wooden floor. He took off his tie and then his shirt. He undid the laces of his shoes and stepped out of them. Finally he removed his trousers, also letting them fall to the floor.
‘The underwear if you don’t mind,’ said Vincent.
Robert turned to look at Clyde for a moment and then did as instructed. He stood naked before the two men, his body tanned and slim, except for a slight roll of blubber around his stomach. Under his right arm was an angry bruise the size of a grapefruit. Clyde’s smile mocked him.
‘You see, the thing is,’ said Vincent, ‘as an educated man I’m sure you will understand that there is no better way of establishing superiority over another person than the enforced removal of clothing…’
Vincent slowly circled Robert, inspecting every part of his body. ‘…You literally feel naked, don’t you?’
Robert trembled and nodded his head submissively.
‘It also looks like you’ve shit yourself,’ added Vincent, sorting through the bunch of keys and strolling over to the metal cupboard.
‘Some time ago my client came to me with a problem.’ continued Vincent. ‘Namely £175,000 missing from his bank account. He asked if I could help and naturally I told him I could. It cost me a little money I can tell you but I was able to employ the services of a forensic accountant. You do know what a forensic accountant is don’t you Mr. Angelis?’
‘Good. Being an accountant yourself I assumed that you would. Anyway, it didn’t take long for him to discover a breadcrumb trail and guess where it led?’
‘There’s that fucking word again…. Clyde?’
‘Yes Mr. Montego.’
‘I’m getting irritated. Strike Mr. Angelis if he says it again. Hard.’
‘Will do, Mr. Montego.’
‘If I can continue: The point is, Mr. Angelis, is that my client wants his money back. Are you in a position to return it. Yes or no?’
‘I… I… Didn’t…’
‘Yes or fucking no?’
There was a pause then: ‘Yes.’
‘Excellent. Very pleased to hear it.’
‘Can you do this by the end of tomorrow?’
‘It’s not going to be…’
‘Yes or no?’
‘Yes… I think… Yes.’
‘Excellent. There’s also the matter of my commission. I’m going to be charging you my usual 15%. In addition to this my client is entitled to the interest that he has lost as a result of your activities. I’ve taken the liberty of rounding off the figure to 200K. Do you have a problem with this?’
Robert Angelis’s face grew pale. A vein throbbed in his forehead. ‘That’s not fucking fair,’ he finally managed to say.
Once again Vincent Mortego grinned. ‘It’s not is it? But what can you do?’
Robert was silent once more.
‘Because I don’t need to say that if you do not comply with my request Clyde here will be very unhappy. And he’s know for his temper. There’s no telling what he might do to you… Or Tina.’
‘You fucking bastard.’
‘Not so Mr. Angelis. Both my parents are alive and flourishing thank you very much. The question remains, however, is what is to be done with you?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘What I mean is that it’s obviously not going to be enough for you just to return the money that you stole from my client. You must also be taught a lesson.’
‘I don’t understand…’
‘I think you do, Mr. Angelis. As a matter of fact only recently I was having a similar sort of conversation with another acquaintance of mine. He wasn’t quite so educated as your good self. Take a look inside the box I gave to you earlier.’
Robert looked confused. The box was now at his feet. He picked it up and felt its weight once more.
Robert Angelis gasped and dropped the box. Its contents rolled on to the floor. ‘My God!’ he exclaimed.
‘I recall we having a philosophical debate,’ said Vincent. ‘We were talking about what made our species so successful, so efficient. We thought about the wheel… We thought about fire…
‘In the end we decided that it was opposing thumbs that achieved this. Wouldn’t you agree?’
Robert said nothing and nodded his head sadly.
‘Needless to say, the acquaintance in question is fifty per cent as efficient as he once was. Or fifty per cent less efficient, depending on how you look at it…’
‘Look… I don’t…’
There was a flash of movement from behind him. Robert collapsed to the floor in agony clutching his ribs. Vincent waited a few moments before speaking again.
‘I told you to stop saying that fucking word,’ he said, his voice for the first time betraying anger. ‘Now fucking get up and lie face down on that thing.’ Vincent was pointing at the massage table.
‘Do it fucking now!
Robert slowly got to his feet. He was trembling as he climbed on to the massage table. He whimpered a little as he discovered what the leather straps were for. ‘You look ludicrous with your hairy white arse sticking up the air,’ laughed Vincent. ‘Shame I don’t have a camera.’
Robert was now bound firmly to the massage table. The leather straps tight around his wrists and ankles, cutting off the blood supply.
‘You mentioned earlier that you were of Greek origin.’
Robert did not respond.
‘Speak man! Jesus Christ! Fucking speak!’
‘Not… Not really – I’m pretty sure my grandfather was half Greek!’ Robert spoke urgently, his voice muffled.
‘Nevertheless an educated man such as yourself may have heard of falanga.’
‘Falanga. Surely you must be familiar with the word? Let me elaborate: It’s a form of punishment that was used by the Greek Junta during the sixties.’
Vincent fished around in the cupboard and pulled out a stiff wooden walking stick. He walked around to the front of the massage table so that Richard was able to see it clearly.
‘They were a brutal bunch the Greeks. Apparently the technique involved striking the soles of the feet with a stick or a whip… Or a cane.’
Richard made a sound like he was in pain and yelled out something unintelligible.
Vincent continued: ‘From what I’ve read falanga is particularly painful in view of the fact that the feet contain hundreds, perhaps thousands of nerve endings. If that isn’t bad enough the healing process can be very protracted.’
‘Please… I didn’t know…’
‘…Who you were dealing with. Well now you do. I hope you’re a good liar Mr. Angelsis. Because your going to have to explain to Tina – and your business colleagues – why you’ve suddenly developed a limp.’
Vincent moved behind Robert Angelis. He swished the cane through the air. Robert began to shake violently, as if the temperature in the building had suddenly dropped below zero.
‘Left or right, Mr. Angelis?’
‘Left or right? Make your choice or I’ll do both.’
Robert began to sob.
‘Left or right? Last chance.’
‘Left,’ said Robert, his voice weak with terror.
There was a loud swish in the room. This was immediately followed by a scream of agony that would have been heard in the next street were it not for the soundproofing.
Vincent moved around to Richard’s front once more. He lowered himself on to his haunches so that his head was at the same height as the crying man’s.
‘Don’t fuck with me, Mr. Angelis,’ he said calmly. ‘Don’t fuck with me. Because next time I won’t be whipping your feet – I’ll be cutting them off. Do I make myself clear?’
In between his sobs, Robert managed to nod his head. ‘Yes! Yes!’ he cried.
‘I want that money back in my client’s bank account by close of play tomorrow. To repeat: that’s 200K in total. Understand?’
Robert seemed not to hear him.
‘And if it’s not there Clyde here will come looking for you and your lovely wife. And then things will get really messy. I can promise you that.’
Vincent scooped up the severed thumb and put it back in its container. Then he moved back over to the cupboard to return the cane. He locked it up and put the bundle of keys in his pocket.
‘One more thing, Mr. Angelis. There’s always one more thing, isn’t there? Clyde over there has had a very busy time because of you. He needs some form of compensation for his trouble. Isn’t that right Clyde?’
‘Yes Mr. Montego.’
‘As I said earlier, I really do hope that you’re a good liar Mr. Angelis. Because as well as that limp of yours, you’re going to have to explain to Tina why your arse is bleeding to fuck. I have every confidence that you can do it. Tell her it’s your haemorrhoids. ‘
Vincent moved to the exit of the gym. From the corner of his eye he could see that the diminutive figure of Clyde had already moved behind Robert Angelis and was unzipping his flies. In a few moments the walls of the gym would reverberate with the sound of more screams.