She swept in as if she owned the
place; it was as natural to her as breathing. Ives was sure that she’d look
precisely the same if she’d just made an entrance at Buckingham Palace: head
up, back ramrod-straight, those startlingly ice-blue eyes seeming to follow the
line of her nose as she glanced with apparent disinterest at her
With a touch of inner amusement he saw
the slight wrinkling at the bridge of that nose as she took in the décor: the
only outward sign that she’d seen and recognised the subtle wrong notes that
made the difference between effortless tastefulness and the garish
misinterpretation of a bingo manager’s office. It had cost him a fortune, that
look: that, and the everlasting contempt of the interior designer who’d
practically begged him to reconsider with tears in his eyes. The same tears,
very nearly, that had been shed by the master craftsman who had covered the
supreme elegance of his Louis XV desk with gold-tooled, deep purple leather. It
might have worked, just; but like the colours of the walls and carpet, it was
just slightly wrong. Overall, the impression created was that the person who
occupied this office was crass, stupid and overwhelmingly indifferent to the
subtleties of good taste.
He’d have read all that in those
infinitesimal wrinkles even if he hadn’t been expecting them, because Geoffrey
Ives was anything but the person he took pains to present to the world; in
particular to the sort of people who frequented that part of it that he chose
to inhabit. His clients weren’t the people who made money, because they have
seen straight through his subterfuge. The ones who didn’t were those who’d been
born into money, the children of wealth, whether that wealth was ancient or
not. They were the sybarites, living lives of monumental superficiality,
thinking nothing and caring less about anything outside their own tight circle.
For people such as these, Ives was on the same level as a waiter or taxi
driver, someone to be given just sufficient regard to be of service, nothing
She stopped, her eyes sweeping over
him without pausing. She’d noticed that there was no chair. Something else that
was deliberate. Her lips parted for just the barest second then clamped shut,
while spots of red appeared on her cheekbones and her head tilted back just a
fraction. Those eyes came back to him, this time stopping. They were cold,
blue, and icy. Furious. It delighted him; an anticipatory thrill tingled at his
Ives held the gaze, letting the
contempt wash over him, almost revelling in it. Behind the woman, Herbert
closed the double doors then stepped back against the wall, massive hands
clasped loosely in front of his groin. Not for the first time, Ives reflected
that Herbert would have looked better dressed in a gorilla outfit than crammed
into the confinement of a dinner jacket and bow tie.
The sound startled her; she turned her
head and Ives saw the shoulders, crossed by the straps of the simple black
dress, stiffen. He allowed a slight smile to caress his lips: Herbert tended to
have that effect on people. It had gone by the time her head came back to him,
her look as glacially contemptuous as it had been.
“They said,” she said, the tone of her
voice matching her eyes almost exactly, “that there’s some sort of problem with
She was startlingly lovely, Ives
thought. She’d have been lovely even without the attentions of beauty
consultants. The hair was a rich golden brown, a thick mane that cascaded to
her bare shoulders. The black dress, simple and unadorned, did a magnificent
job of concealing and revealing a firm and curvaceous twenty-three year old
figure, such a good job that it had cost thousands. He knew that, just as he
knew a great deal more about the young lady who stood before him.
He knew too, what she was seeing: a
squat, ugly, balding, bespectacled man in his fifties. He had a shrewd idea
what she was thinking, too: that he was a squat, ugly balding, bespectacled,
insignificant little runt with excruciatingly bad taste and very little brain
who was there, like most of the rest of humanity, to serve her needs and
desires. And, if they were recognised at all, be treated with casual
indifference for good service and a deluge of abuse for the slight perceived
failure. His staff had suffered the sharp edge of her tongue on more than one
He made a show of consulting the open
ledger in front of him. It was a ploy, because he’d studied the figures on his
computer only minutes before; they were engraved on his brain. They should have
been: he’d planned and calculated for this moment for months, ever since he’d
first seen her.
“I’m afraid there is,” he replied,
deliberately assuming a West London accent. “You have …”
“Absolute nonsense!” she snapped,
cutting straight through him. “My credit is as good here as it is everywhere.
Don’t you know who I am, man?” That magnificent, unsupported bosom heaved
slightly in her animation; the couturier’s craft was tested to its limits.
“Indeed I do,” he replied. “The
Honourable Lady Rosalind Beauchamp.” The mispronunciation of the surname was
Her nostrils flared. “That’s
‘Beecham’!” she snapped. “Don’t you oinks know anything?”
“I do beg your pardon,” he grovelled,
enjoying every second of this charade. “But we do seem to have a problem.” He contrived
to look surprised. “Herbert! Lady Rosalind has no chair! Fetch one
immediately!” He smiled obsequiously. “I do beg your pardon,” he repeated.
A stiff nod and yet another icy glare
were the only acknowledgement; her head turned away from him as she broke the
eye contact that seemed suddenly to have made her uncomfortable. He cursed
himself; the last thing he wanted at this stage was to make her suspicious.
“Can I offer you a coffee?” he asked. “It’s only instant, I’m afraid, but …”
“Thank you, no. Let us clear up this
nonsense without delay, if you don’t mind.”
He breathed an inward sigh of relief:
no suspicion there, just that dripping, almost corrosive, contempt once more.
At that moment Herbert returned, the ornately carved and gilded chair looking
like something from a doll’s house in his huge hands. He held it for her
solicitously, but received no sign of acknowledgement as she sat. Behind her
back, he glared, but then gave a quick, sheepish glance at Ives before retiring
to his position against the wall.
Ives stood. He’d chosen his moment for
that, too. At five feet seven, she over-topped him by a couple of inches;
seated, she didn’t have that advantage. He walked to the front of the desk,
just a foot or two away from her and leaned against it, crossing his arms over
his chest as he looked down at her.
“The fact is,” he said gently, using
his normal, cultured tone. “You owe this casino fifty-seven thousand pounds.”
Her eyes flickered, the first, tiny
crack in the façade. The thin end, thought Ives, of what was going to be a very
wide wedge. He let his eyes drift to the cleavage that held so much promise,
but only for a fleeting instant.
“That’s nonsense,” she replied, her
voice incisive. “A few thousand at most. Nothing like the sum you mention. That
is utterly absurd!”
“There is no doubt,” he responded.
“You are welcome to check the figures for yourself.”
She blinked; her lower lip dimpled as
her teeth, unseen, nibbled at it. More signs of cracks, but she recovered
quickly. “What of it?” she said, her voice firm. “I have access to plenty of
money. My father …”
“Is a senior adviser to the Prime
Minister,” he put in.
Once again she blinked and this time a
furrow appeared on that elegant brow: she’d heard the difference in his voice
and clearly sensed that something wasn’t quite right here. Once again she broke
eye contact with him to glance over her shoulder at Herbert. “Does he have to
be here?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so,” he retorted. “On
these occasions, a witness is desirable for both parties.”
Another frown. “Witness? What …?” She
stopped, thought for a second then made to rise. “I don’t think I want to hear
any more of this,” she said. “If you wish to pursue this ludicrous affair I
suggest you contact my father.”
Ives allowed himself a smile. “Who has
forbidden you from applying to him for further funds to cover your debts,” he
said quietly. “Your many debts,” he added.
She froze in the act of rising, paused
in that slightly stooped position for an instant, her head and eyes coming up
to him. There was no ice there now, just a lot of puzzlement and the beginnings
of fear. That latter thrilled him; fear in others always did, especially when
he had caused it. And there was a lot more to come from this one: a very great
deal more. He waited until she sank back into the chair.
“He has also,” he went on, “warned you
what will happen if there is any hint of scandal. A message, I believe, that
was passed on from the Prime Minister, no less, after a certain party in
A pink tongue came out to lick the
lips. Lips covered in a shade of lipstick that exactly complemented her
complexion, he noted. She frowned again, the perplexity and fear in her eyes
deepening. “How …?” she stared.
“I know a very great many things,” he
said. “Especially about you.”
“About …. About me? What …? Who …?”
For a moment she was a frightened child, but then anger flashed and with it
came the return of arrogance. “How dare you! Just what do you think you’re
doing, summoning me here to listen to this rubbish? I’ll have this place closed
down!” Once again she made to rise.
“Sit down,” he said. It wasn’t loud,
but the tone of command in his voice stopped her. Her mouth dropped open in
astonishment as her legs obeyed him in defiance of a lagging brain. He lifted a
hand towards Herbert who, prepared in advance, moved quickly to a shelf and
brought the large envelope to Ives before moving, soft-footed, back to his
Her eyes moved from his face to the
envelope, almost mesmerised. He tossed in into her lap; she caught it, almost
dropping the tiny handbag she carried in the process.
“Open it,” he said.
She seemed stunned by the turn of
events, bewildered by the sudden change in roles. The envelope opened; the
glossy colour photographs slid out easily. She glanced down. The shoulders went
rigid, her breath sucked in with a gasp; he saw her colour change. Her head
came up, her expression uncomprehending. That beautiful mouth worked. “H … how
…?” She swallowed, her voice trailing off as her head bent to the photographs
again. Her hands were shaking.
Ives looked over at Herbert and
winked. A wolfish smile of anticipation spread over the ugly face of his
principal bodyguard. “Those are stills from a video,” he said. “One of the
videos, I should say. I think we got you every time you did it. I rather think
that the daughter of a senior adviser to the Prime Minister dealing in cocaine
would constitute a scandal, don’t you? Especially when you haven’t got the
excuse of being hooked yourself.”
The head stayed down; she was shocked,
but she was thinking, fast. There was nothing wrong with her brain, or her
courage. She looked up, the strain quite clear, but she came back fighting. She
waved the photographs at him. “You realise that if I tell him,” she pointed at
the man in the photograph, “that you’ve been taking photographs of him then
your life isn’t worth a damn?”
He laughed, leaving her staring up at
him, mouth open. “Nice try!” he said. “Be even better if he didn’t work for me,
The expression on her face transformed
from stunned puzzlement through outrage, apprehension to stark fear. “He …?”
“He does. And that cocaine you got
from him was of very poor quality, by the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if you
didn’t have some complaints from dissatisfied customers. I understand that they
can be somewhat … unforgiving, too.”
The photographs slipped from her
fingers and fell to the floor. She stared up at him, eyes wide and desperate.
Once again, she glanced over her shoulder at Herbert before looking back at
Ives. Her mouth worked once, twice and again before she managed to speak. “C …
can’t we discuss t … this in p … private?” she asked, her eyes trying to convey
added meaning to the obvious message.
Ives laughed again, partly at the
transparency of the offer, partly because of the knowledge of the three
carefully-placed video cameras that had been running since she’d entered the
office. “I think not,” he said, his voice suddenly becoming as icily cool as
hers had been. “You see, there’s still the question of the fifty-seven thousand
pounds you owe me.”
She was still thinking, despite the
shock. “Owe … you?” she stammered.
“Yes, me. I own this casino, my dear.
I own quite a few other things as well. And I didn’t get to own those things by
letting people owe me money, especially not when it’s as much as you do. The
question is: what are we going to do about it?”
She kept trying. “There’s nothing you
can do about it!” she cried, clearly summoning her courage and defiance.
“Gambling debts aren’t legally recoverable!”
He smiled, meeting the defiance with
indulgence. “True,” he said, speaking as if to a child. “But if you welch on
your debts, there’s nothing to stop me from releasing these photographs to the
press. Imagine the fun they could have, especially the ones who’d have to take
advice about spelling ‘cocaine’. Daddy wouldn’t like it. I fancy you’d spend
the rest of your life on a sheep farm in New Zealand. When you’ve served your
sentence, that is.”
The beautiful face seemed to crumple
as the words sank home. “S … sentence?” she stammered.
“Oh, I don’t think they’ll make an
exception just for you. Most of the pols have their hands in other people’s
pockets, but they’re prime hypocrites. They’d just love the chance to take down
someone like you.”
The head dropped; this time the shoulders slumped.
Ives exchanged a look with Herbert, a knowing look. Herbert beamed.
“What … what do you want?” she
whispered, her voice dull and defeated. She didn’t raise her head.
“Look at me,” he snapped, using the
same commanding tone that he had earlier.
The head came up. Tears glistened in
her eyes; the mouth was twisted, the expression tragic. She knew. Or she’d had
a very good guess.
“Well,” said Ives, weightily, as if he
was considering his words. Actually, he’d rehearsed this moment in his mind a
hundred times and was savouring every precious instant. “You see that gentleman
over there?” He nodded at Herbert.
She turned to look again, briefly,
before her eyes came back to Ives. There was something else in them now. Dread.
“Well, his looks are against him, but
Herbert – that’s his name, you know – is an extremely cultured chap. Loves
Wagner, does Herbert. Plays it really loudly, especially when we’re
entertaining someone who owes me money. Funny thing is that it seems to put the
clients off Wagner completely; they never seem to want to hear him again.” He
smiled into her eyes, drinking in the fear, feeling the delectation of what it
did to him. “But that’s for the awkward ones. You’re not going to be an awkward
one, are you?”
For a moment he thought he had her.
She seemed to crumple under the several threats that faced her, but then
something remarkable happened, probably something long dormant in her genes;
perhaps the thing that had originally put her family where it was; an act of
senseless bravado, long ago, in the face of huge odds. Her back straightened,
her head tilted back and she met Ives’ gaze with a new, steely glare of
defiance, her jaw set, her fists clenching at her sides, the muscles of her
“Go to hell, the pair of you!” she
hissed, leaning forward slightly as if to emphasise the words. “Take your
sordid threats and your damned photos and put them somewhere where it’ll really
hurt! Just try it, you Jew bastard, and I’ll hit you with so many lawyers that
your head will spin! You threaten ME with prison? You’ll be lucky if you see
the outside for twenty years!”
With that, she spun on her heel and
headed for the door, watched by the admiring eyes of both Ives and Herbert, who
had exchanged amused glances as soon as her back was turned. The door was
locked, as she found when she tried the handle. Back she spun, eyes blazing.
“Open this door at once!” she spat.
“No,” said Ives. “And I say that for
your own good, Rosie.”
Her fury mounted to incandescence.
“How dare you speak to me like that! I’ll have you closed down, broken! You’ll
do hard time, you Jew bastard!”
Ives was enormously amused, though he
didn’t show it. He glanced at Herbert and nodded. The giant moved from his
position and padded across the floor to a door in the wall behind the desk,
passing through it and closing it behind him.
He saw her eyes follow the hulking
figure, a mixture of relief and sudden puzzlement mixed with the overwhelming
anger. He knew that a lot of that anger stemmed from the fact that she’d very
nearly broken without a fight: it was pride, as much as anything. Good: that
made it all so much more fun. He stood and made his way round the desk towards
her. He didn’t intimidate her: he was five feet seven, she two inches taller,
added to the fact that he was fat, balding and bespectacled.
“Open this door immediately,” she
snapped as he got close. “Or I’ll scream the place down.”
He shrugged. “Go ahead, Rosie. Test
“Don’t you dare call me that!” she
“I’ll dare precisely what I want, you stuck-up
The colour drained from her face
except for two bright spots of red on her cheekbones; she went absolutely rigid
with shock for a moment. Then she swung a slap that, had it landed, would have
knocked his head off.
It didn’t land, basically because his
head wasn’t there by the time the hand arrived. Moving with a speed deceptive
in a man of his years and build, he dodged the swinging arm and moved behind
it, taking the wrist as the blow’s impetus tailed off. A quick twist and her
arm was up behind her back before she knew what was happening, his fingers
exerting just enough pressure on the bent hand to keep it in that position. She
struggled, trying to pull free, so he increased the pressure of his fingers,
bending the hand forward and down.
“Ow! Stop that! You’re hurting me!”
He moved close to her, so close that
he could feel her heat and smell her perfume. “I know,” he breathed close to
her ear. “It’ll hurt a damned sight more if you fight.”
She did fight, kicking at him backwards
with her heels. He avoided then easily enough and gave another squeeze. This
time she screamed and went still.
“See?” he said, still close.
“You filthy animal!” she spat. “Is
this how you low-lives get your thrills? Hurting defenceless women?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” he
said. “By the way, Rosie, I’m not Jewish.”
“You look like a kike, you filthy
“My, my! I’ll bet you’re full of
things like that, in private. Spics and niggers, too, eh? Learn that from
Daddy, did you, Rosie?”
“Leave my family out of this,” she
cried. “Let go of me! And stop calling me that name, damn you!”
“No. Because I like it, Rosie. I’ll
make a bet with you, Rosie: before you leave here tonight, you’ll ask me to
call you Rosie. Among other things.”
He felt her tense, ready for another
struggle. But she’d learned that that hurt. “In your dreams, you fat, sad old
He laughed. “I’m going to love taming
you, Lady Rosalind,” he said. This time she did struggle, but he had her
yelping and still in seconds. “You could
have taken the easy way out, but this way is so very much more fun for me. And
just think: I’ll still have all that in reserve! Shall we join Herbert?” he
“No!” she cried, an edge of panic in
her voice. She paused. “Look,” she tried. “Just let me go and I’ll forget this,
all right?” She was beginning to sound frightened again. Which, in the
circumstances, was rather sensible of her. “Let me go! I don’t want to go
anywhere with you!”
“That’ll hurt his feelings, Rosie.
Especially since he’s been making things ready for you down there. Music and
everything: Tannhauser, I think. He does love his Wagner.”