The sun was making its first appearance of the day. I left my home; crossed the street and entered the park. Running frees the mind. And for the next hour that is exactly what I did. I ran, breathed and sweated. But I did not think.
The shower scalded my skin. Before getting out I turned the hot water off completely. For five minutes the ice cold water reminded me that I was alive. I dried off and mentally began to prepare for the day.
Black hand-tailored suit, Saville Row, of course. White cotton shirt with spread collar, no tie. Italian loafers. And a Patek Philippe wrist watch.
While walking to the cafe the cell played John’s ‘Imagine’.
“Good morning Eckhart.”
Eckhart is one of my associates. We were putting the final touches on our most recent acquisition.
“Guten morgen, mein Freund.”
“Where do we stand Eck?”
“A million-five after expenses. One hundred and fifty deposited in Lux.” Luxembourg is well known for its banking secrecy laws including a well earned reputation as a tax haven.
“And the balance?”
“Distributed equally among the usual projects including the village in Nepal.”
The Gemma Fund is a registered CIO in the United Kingdom. The charity’s mission is to fund a variety of situations in poor nations. To date these have included providing food, medical supplies, wells for fresh water, educational materials and micro-loans. My position is that of CEO.
Unlike many organisations, our firm has a strict policy of limiting the overhead to ten percent. The rest, and I do mean all of it, goes directly into funding our projects. No waste, fraud or graft.
“Brilliant. We’re between jobs at the moment. Perhaps your wife would enjoy a small vacation.”
“Ja. The south of France for a week. You know how to reach me when something comes up.”
Eckhart is our resident computer whiz. He and Annemarie have been married for ten years and have two little ones.
I opted for a detour before breakfast. I entered the double-front Edwardian home on Marylebone High Street. Although it was early I didn’t bother to knock.
“Good morning, Mother,” I shouted.
The precise location cannot be divulged for obvious reasons. I can, however, provide an entertaining hint. It’s a stone’s throw from 221B Baker Street.
Mother glided down the center staircase. “Good morning, sweetheart.” She kissed me on the cheek and gave me one of those half-hugs so common in Europe.
Elisabeth Jones is still a great beauty in her mid-fifties. Raven hair down the back; sapphire blue eyes glittering with mirth and intelligence and a smile that has broken men’s hearts.
“Care for some breakfast, darling?” She floated to the sitting room; buzzed for a servant and invited me to sit.
“No thanks, Mother.”
Charles Wiggins, aka Wig is always around; almost never seen and seldom heard. Relatively tall at 6’2″, brutishly strong without bulging muscles and completely bald. Always impeccably dressed. A former amateur boxer and petty criminal from Liverpool, he signed on approximately ten years ago. At that time he was embroiled in some serious difficulties. It so happens that I was instrumental in extricating him from said problems. Due to the nature of my work and his eternal gratitude he enlisted himself as my manservant/bodyguard. Haven’t been able to shake him since.
“I’m sure he’s around.” A decade ago my father was murdered by way of a car bomb. Mother worries because I have continued with his line of work. She worries slightly less knowing that Wig is about.
I pecked her cheek. “Have a good day. I’ll be about if needed.”
I was antsy. Time for breakfast.
The cafe is aptly named ’14′ for the address. Well situated in Marylebone, an affluent area of central London.
I sat at one of the outdoor tables and opened the morning paper. “Coffee please,” from one of the proprietors nine children.
The menu is an eclectic combination of British, French and Mediterranean cuisine. There is mix of popular Persian fare including baklava and meatballs and unfamiliar items such as Ashe Reshteh and Kookoo Sabzi.
One of the older daughters brought out a croissant and fresh juice along with the coffee. The result of being a regular practically every morning.
The headline that morning: Man Arrested after Armed Siege in Central London.
The story began:
LONDON (AP) — Police snipers and heavily armed officers put several blocks of central London’s shopping district into lockdown Friday after a man allegedly armed with gas canisters entered an office building and threatened to blow himself up.
Finished I lit up a Romeo y Julieta Cuban cigar. Churchill and maduro, of course.
I was drinking coffee.
“Mr. Jones, may I have a word with you?”
I’ve told him a hundred times, maybe better, call me Connor. Either his upbringing or cultural background won’t permit it.
“Habib, my dear friend, my time is yours.”
Habib Nasreddin and wife Adiba are the proud owners of this small bistro where I take my breakfast in the morning. Originally from Turkey, they have been here for close to a quarter of a century and raised nine children. Eight girls and the youngest Qadir, a boy.
“Mr. Jones, I don’t know where to begin. They stole all our money. Everything that I have saved. My poor wife, she is crying. I am lost, Mr. Jones. Adiba, she says that you deal in finance. She suggests, ‘Maybe Mr. Jones can help’. I say ‘No, it is not our place to bother him’. She insists. It is our life’s savings.”
I look up at the sky and blow gray-bluish smoke rings. These are nice people. Good people. Salt of the earth types. Hard working. Wouldn’t harm a soul.
“Tell me what happened.”
That is exactly what he does. Habib spends the next thirty minutes laying out in great detail everything that led to this moment. I take a couple more puffs; sit up and look Habib Nasreddin in the eye. I smile.
“Tell Mrs. Nasreddin not to worry. I’ll take care of it.”
End of Chapter 1
(By the by, how do you like the new cover?)