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Son of perdition, p.21
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       Son of Perdition, p.21

           Wendy Alec
 
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  Jason . . . Jotapa . . .

  Sweat broke out on his forehead. Seeing Jotapa’s cross dangling from the rear-view mirror, he grasped it with trembling fingers, then let go of the steering wheel, clutching his head as an agonizing pain struck his eyes. He was blinded by the intense searing light that all at once filled the Aston Martin.

  He could still hear Lawrence’s voice dimly in the background, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

  Nick closed his eyes. He knew he was dying. Yet he felt strangely calm.

  ‘Thy kingdom come . . . ’

  Just one more glimpse of that glorious face . . .

  He smiled as the Aston Martin crashed through a steel barrier.

  ‘Thy will be done . . . ’

  Just one more glimpse.

  He smiled as the sports car plunged down the sheer embankment. Down.

  ‘Forgive us our trespasses . . . ’ He and Lawrence were speaking in unison.

  Down . . . down . . . towards a raging black torrent.

  ‘Deliver us from evil . . . ’

  Down . . . towards the jagged rocks.

  Just one more.

  Down towards utter darkness.

  Nick reached out his right hand towards Christos.

  ‘For thine is the kingdom . . . ’

  And then there was no more light.

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Shock Wave

  23 December 2021, New York

  Jason was splayed out across the bed, his face crushed against the pillow. The phone rang incessantly. He stirred, opening one eye, then scowled, feeling for the phone with his right hand. He slammed on the mute button and put the pillow over his head.

  The phone rang again, this time from the hall. Then a message.

  He opened one eye. His fat, spoilt Rhodesian Ridgeback dog bounded in next to him and licked his unshaven face.

  Jason scowled.

  ‘Off, Lulu!’ He raised himself up groggily, then looked at his watch. It was barely 6 a.m.

  He stumbled out of the bedroom into the hallway, followed by the doting Lulu, and rewound his messages. Then he hit the ‘play’ button.

  ‘Sunday, 7.04 p.m,’ the electronic voice informed him.

  ‘I’m in trouble . . . ’ Nick’s voice echoed through the hall. ‘ . . . real trouble, Jas . . . ’ There was a hesitation. ‘We’re in trouble, Uncle Lawrence was right. They killed Dad.’

  Jason sighed and opened the fridge, listening as Nick’s voice rose in intensity.

  ‘We’re involved in it, Jason – our whole family – you and me – it’ll blow your mind . . . ’

  Jason reached for the orange juice. He shook his head and poured a glass.

  ‘Jason, you’ve got to listen to me – I got it all on camera. I’ve emailed it to Weaver. They’ve got the Ark of the Covenant. He’s masterminded some insane barter deal with the Israelis.’

  Jason set down the glass.

  ‘The needle was planted. They wanted me dead. They gave me AIDS. Adrian’s involved in – ’

  There was a strange static noise and the message cut off.

  ‘For God’s sake, Nick, get a life.’ Jason took a big slug of orange juice, then put a frying pan on the stove. Lulu cocked her head at him.

  Jason frowned at her, then cut half a slice of bread and buttered it.

  ‘Sit,’ he commanded. She stared up at him, her dewy brown eyes riveted to the bread, her tail wagging vigorously, then took it gently from his outstretched palm. Jason fondled her ears distractedly, then threw two eggs in the pan and hit the message-play button again. He sat down heavily on a kitchen chair.

  ‘Monday 6 a.m. Jason, it’s me. Please phone immediately.’

  Jason frowned. It was his mother. She sounded on edge.

  ‘Monday 6.03 am.’ It was Lilian again. ‘Jason,’ her voice was shaking, ‘I need you to call me right away.’

  ‘Monday 6.10 am.’

  Jason went to the stove and flipped the frying eggs.

  ‘The whole world’s going nuts,’ he muttered.

  ‘Jason, it’s me again.’ Lilian sounded strange, as though she’d been crying. Her voice was so soft that Jason had difficulty making out her words.

  ‘There’s been a terrible accident.’

  There was a long silence.

  ‘It’s Nick . . . his car plunged over a bridge in Normandy. There was a fire.’

  Jason stood frozen.

  ‘Nick’s dead . . . ’

  Jason’s chest constricted so violently he struggled to breathe.

  The spatula slipped from his hand and clattered onto the floor.

  He closed his eyes but all he could see was Nick. Nick as a six-year-old gazing up at him from the dock in New York Harbour. Nick in High School. Nick at sixteen with him and Julia at the house in Cape Cod. Nick’s first day at Oxford. Nick and himself fighting violently after Lily’s accident.

  And then there was no more Nick. Jason had cut him out of his existence.

  He slid in slow motion on to the kitchen floor, tears streaming down his face, oblivious to the new maid who stood staring down at him in alarm. And to Lulu who was whining in concern.

  Then – for the first time in his entire adult life – Jason De Vere lost all self-control. Closing his eyes, he clutched his head in his hands.

  And sobbed like a baby.

  Cairo, Egypt

  Lawrence St Cartier sat at the immaculately laid breakfast table, his eggs untouched on the plate before him, staring out into the dawn haze. Waseem, his assistant, laid out the Middle East Times carefully beside his plate.

  ‘Today’s paper – Egypt.’ Waseem said.

  He spread out the Daily Telegraph on top of the first newspaper.

  ‘Yesterday’s paper – London.’

  Finally he placed a copy of the News of the World on top of the Telegraph. ‘Yesterday’s sensationalist – London.’

  St Cartier adjusted his monocle.

  The headline read – ‘Youngest De Vere magnate in fatal accident.’

  He picked it up.

  Waseem watched Lawrence St Cartier with concern.

  ‘You must eat, malik. You insult Waseem.’

  St Cartier smiled weakly.

  ‘Your stomach is weak today, malik. Is it Nick? You insult him by your great tragic. Today he is with the angels.’

  St Cartier looked out into the haze, a strange exhilaration in his gaze.

  ‘Yes, Waseem. Today he is with the angels.’

  * * *

  Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan, Italy

  Julia walked out of the luxurious white marbled bathroom, freshly showered after her early-morning flight from London. She was wrapped in a soft, pink lambswool robe. She surveyed the rich blue damask silks of the luxuriously appointed suite in approval. She loved Milan. And she loved the Hotel Principe di Savoia with its imposing neoclassical façade.

  One of the many perks of having landed the England Football Team’s PR account was that, on days like this, she stayed in a suite in the Principe tower at their expense, just a stone’s throw from Milan’s elegant shopping district.

  It was great for her last-minute Christmas shopping.

  She sat down at the ornately carved dressing table and towel-dried her wet hair, then plugged in her hair-straighteners, her most indispensable possession next to her state-of-the-art BlackBerry 2022. She walked over to the writing desk and checked the little machine. Still charging.

  She picked at a croissant from her breakfast tray, then distractedly picked up the remote and switched the television on.

  Julia watched as Nick’s face appeared on the flat screen. She frowned.What had Nick done to make the news this time?

  The announcer spoke in fast, fluid Italian. Julia couldn’t make head or tail of it.

  Then she put her hand to her mouth in horror. A red sports car was being dredged up by police boats in Normandy. She grasped the remote and flipped channels until she reached VOX UK 24.

  She stared, frozen, at
the brunette presenter speaking in well-modulated British tones. This time there was no misunderstanding.

  ‘The charred remains of an Aston Martin were discovered in Normandy in the early hours of this morning after a search through the night by French police. The rented car was identified as belonging to the youngest of the De Vere magnates – Nicholas De Vere.’ The remote fell from Julia’s hand.

  Tears rolled down her face as she sank slowly onto the sofa.

  Nick was dead.

  She had to tell Lily.

  Royal Palace, Dammam, Saudi Arabia

  Jotapa lay face down on the pale gold silk covers, fresh purple welts covering her arms and upper legs. The Koran lay unopened next to her bed.

  ‘Our Father,’ she murmured. ‘Who art in heaven – ’

  Jibril leaned over her, stroking her dishevelled hair.

  ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ he whispered.

  Slowly, Jotapa opened her eyes and turned her head. She looked at Jibril in amazement.

  He smiled gently at her.

  ‘Thy Kingdom come . . . ’

  ‘You know it?’ Jotapa whispered.

  Jibril nodded. He clasped her hand. Tears streamed down Jotapa’s cheeks.

  ‘Thy will be done,’ she murmured.

  The door was flung open. Mansoor stood in the doorway, an evil smile on his face.

  Jotapa sat bolt upright, staring at him with fear and hatred.

  He looked at the phone on the floor. ‘Waiting for your playboy Prince Charming to rescue you, princess?’

  ‘You’re barring my calls,’ Jotapa said.

  ‘It will no longer be necessary.’

  He held out an Arabic newspaper and threw it onto the bed. He walked out, slamming the door behind him.

  Trembling, Jotapa picked up the paper. She stared at the headline, then at the picture of Nick.

  The paper slipped out of her hands on to the floor.

  She sat screamingly noiselessly, rocking herself from side to side.

  Nick De Vere was dead.

  Now she knew it for certain. She had landed in hell.

  Chapter Twenty-four

  The Cold Light of Day

  La Guardia Airport, New York City

  Jason De Vere got out of the helicopter and strode across the tarmac towards his newly acquired Bombardier Global Express business jet, firing instructions into a silver headset. Jontil Purvis marched at his side, calmly fielding three simultaneous conversations.

  A few paces behind strode Liam Keynes, VOX’s senior general counsel, and Levine and Mitchell, his aides.

  ‘I want our bid raised to 1.6 billion,’ Jason shouted over the roaring engines of the jet concourse. ‘You tell Simons from me, we can’t afford to lose. I’ll do the Beijing meeting, but I won’t move it again.’ He glared at Jontil who was still talking on the phone. He signed to her impatiently to hurry, still talking into his headset.

  ‘No,’ he declared. ‘Not even for the Chinese Premier.’ He was in full stride again, straining against the freezing New York winter wind. ‘I don’t give a damn about the protocol – I’m in the middle of a family crisis.’

  Jason beckoned to Keynes.

  ‘Tell Geffen to get his lawyers out to Beijing today. Get the Beijing platform-deal account at any cost. Do you understand me?’

  ‘Yes, sir.’ Keynes backed away.

  Jontil held out her mobile. ‘Call from London. I’m transferring to you.’

  ‘Who is it?’

  ‘Aunt Rosemary.’

  Jason scowled. Rosemary was James De Vere’s half sister, now Lilian’s companion. She had lived with Lilian since James’s death and known Jason since he was three – and she still treated him as such.

  ‘Aunt Rosemary . . . yes, it’s all a nightmare . . . No press activity on arrival in London. Is that crystal clear?’ Jason continued his striding. ‘Yes, tell mother I’m on my way. I’m giving you to Purvis.’

  The small party arrived at the steps of the jet.

  Jontil clicked off her phones.

  ‘Aunt Rosemary will meet us with a car at London City Airport.’

  ‘Well, that’s something to look forward to,’ Jason said drily as they walked up the jet’s stairway.

  Jontil’s efficient tones continued. ‘You go directly to the house in Knightsbridge. The funeral’s on Tuesday at 11 a.m. All Souls, Langham Place. Christmas lunch is arranged for tomorrow. With your mother and Lily.’

  A distinguished-looking man in pilot’s uniform stood at the entrance to the Global Express. He nodded in deference to Jason.

  ‘The headwind’s on our side, Mr De Vere,’ he said, his voice tinged with a soft Scottish burr. ‘All things considered, we should be in London by 8 p.m.’

  ‘Good man, Mac,’ Jason said, softly.

  The pilot nodded. ‘I’m sorry about your brother, sir.’

  Jason took off his dark glasses. His eyes were bloodshot and ringed by dark circles.

  * * *

  Jason walked past the conference area towards the centre of the aircraft. He glanced up wearily at the eight customized television monitors broadcasting VOXDIGITAL, then passed his briefcase to a young man with a gaudy tie. ‘Levine, make sure Phillips follows up with Jenkins in Tokyo.’

  Levine headed towards the conference area with the briefcase.

  ‘Where’d you get the tie?’ Jason called after him.

  Levine grinned. Jason swayed slightly. He waved him away, then rubbed his eyes. He’d been drinking all day on an empty stomach.

  An air attendant put out two bottles of mineral water and a glass then scuttled off.

  ‘Oh, and Levine, pour me a whisky from Macdonald’s stash at the back, get me Mitchell, then join me.’

  Jason sank into the chair, picked up the Wall Street Journal, then flung it down again. Restless.

  A slightly-built young man wearing glasses appeared.

  ‘Mitchell, I want a damn good explanation what the Legal Channel’s still doing on our platform.’ Jason gestured to one of the VOX channels broadcasting above him. ‘Get hold of Keynes now.’

  Mitchell scuttled back towards the conference centre. Jason stared at the television.

  ‘Adrian De Vere, President of the emerging European superpower – ’

  Jason turned up the volume.

  ‘ – cut short talks with Russian President Oleinik and Syrian President Assad in Babylon this evening after his brother’s tragic death in the North of France late last night. Police are investigat – ’

  Jason snapped the remote off, his eyes moist. He heaved a heavy sigh and ran a hand through his greying hair.

  Levine returned with a thick file and Jason’s whisky. He slugged it down immediately.

  Jontil Purvis settled herself opposite Jason. She looked at the empty glass and frowned as he held it out to Levine.

  ‘The same.’ He glared deliberately at Purvis. The engines began to warm up.

  ‘Mr De Vere, ’ A flight attendant was holding out a menu.

  Jason waved it away. ‘Give it to Purvis,’ he slurred.

  ‘Jason,’ Jontil said softly, ‘you must eat.’

  ‘Not hungry, Purvis,’ he slurred. ‘Stop mothering me.’

  She sighed, stowed her handbag, then took off her elegant peach lambswool cardigan and fastened her seat belt. Jason studied her.

  Jontil Purvis had been flying with him for fifteen years and on each flight she did the same thing. He watched as she put on her reading glasses, patted her immaculate blonde beehive, opened the pages of a weathered brown pocket Bible and immersed herself in its pages.

  ‘I should have taken his calls,’ he grunted, shuffling through the sheaf of papers.

  Jontil removed her reading glasses. She studied the haggard face intently. She knew Jason so well. Nick’s death had hit him like a sledgehammer. In the entire twenty-two years she had known him, she had never seen him so rattled. Or so drunk.

  Clutching the pocket Bible, she closed her eyes and bowed her head as t
he jet took off into the brilliant blue New York skies.

  ‘Purvis . . . ’ She followed Jason’s gaze to the slim book in her hand ‘ . . . you believe in redemption.’ His bloodshot eyes searched her face. His voice was so soft, she almost missed the words. ‘ . . . Say one for me.’

  Communications Network, London

  Dylan Weaver’s stubby fingers flew effortlessly across his laptop. He looked down at the photo of the mangled sports car and the story of Nick’s death on page five of the The Sun, then zoomed down his inbox for what must have been the tenth time that hour to Nick De Vere’s email from 9.19 p.m. GMT yesterday evening. He hit ‘Detach’ and ‘Launch’.

  ‘C’mon, baby,’ he murmured.

  The encrypted icon flashed on his laptop screen. Weaver slammed the laptop shut in frustration, scrolled down his phone and dialled.

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Lilian

  24 December 2021

  New London City Airport, London

  Jason stood at the top of the Global Express’s steps, staring bleakly at the sleet lashing down from the grey, overcast London skies. It was Christmas Eve and his head felt as though it was exploding from his hangover.

  ‘Damn British weather,’ he muttered, grudgingly descending the steps. He strode across the tarmac, followed by a grimacing Levine, shielding his head from the sleet with Jason’s briefcase, with Jontil Purvis following closely behind.

  A tall, bony woman in her late sixties, wearing a plastic rain hat and a tweed coat, rushed up to them holding out two umbrellas.

  ‘Jason, Jontil,’ she called impatiently in a refined British accent. ‘Follow me, the Bentley’s waiting.’ She embraced Jontil, then held out an umbrella to Jason.

  ‘Hurry!’ she snapped.

  ‘Nice to see you, too, Aunt Rosemary,’ Jason muttered as a horde of press photographers stampeded towards them.

  ‘I said no press.’ Jason scowled.

  Rosemary turned to give him a dark stare.

  ‘It’s Nicholas, Jason,’ she said, crisply. ‘He was celebrity fodder in London when he was alive – he’s celebrity fodder now he’s dead. He’s the ex-prime minister’s brother, for goodness’ sake.’ Jason was still looking at the umbrella. ‘Well, don’t just stand there,’ she snapped. ‘What do you need – three assistants?’ She looked around at Levine, Mitchell and Purvis. ‘I should have known.’

 
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