The Club from Hell
Chapter TWELVE, by Mick Joint
She had suddenly become a liability. His indignation towards this girl grew by the day. And for a number of reasons. Firstly, because she was a lot better squash player than Nikki. Not that Alexi cared very much for the sport, but family is family and even he could see that Jess was miles ahead in not just talent, but in attitude and determination as well. She tried. Hard. Even now, while Jess was spitting up a lung working on her footwork and fitness, Nikki was lounging on the lower deck sipping a cocktail and working on her fingernails instead.
Secondly, for being blindsided and cracked in the skull by a forehand smash which knocked him out cold for several minutes and left him with a concussion that still lingered with the occasional headache. The scar was still there, albeit hidden underneath his thick black hair. His father, Viktor Ivanov, was relentless about poking fun at him that he was beaten up by a teenage girl half his size. That, of course, enraged him even more.
Thirdly, and this one bothered him the most, was how she managed to find the phone number to call her brother in that school dorm room in Massachusetts. Alexi despised not being able to understand his surroundings and not being in control, and he simply couldn’t figure this one out. When he regained consciousness from the blow to the head, it wasn’t long until he found her hiding behind a lifeboat, on a cell phone and blurting out, “Sammy, it’s me. I’m in New York, you’ve GOT to help me!” before he managed to yank her roughly out of her recess, snatch the phone away, and backhand her violently across the mouth, cutting her lip. After locking her up in her cabin, he redialled the number on the phone to hear a young voice answer “Aullt Academy, Webster Hall Dormitory” before immediately hanging up. Simple research had revealed she had notified a member of her family that she was alive and in trouble. And that meant people will be looking for her. He had demanded to know how she came by the number as he was sure someone on the boat was helping her get information. Accusing anyone on the yacht of being a traitor without any proof was not a smart move and Alexi was forced to look at everyone with suspicious eyes which did not make him any happier. Jess was nothing if not stubborn and even the vilest of threats yielded zero progress.
It was a major problem. Especially in the business the Ivanov family was involved in. They lived the highly luxurious lifestyle they had become accustomed to through the dealings of special ‘merchandise’ to a very demanding society in the Americas. It was the reason they were still currently anchored in the New York harbour. Deliveries were being made, the majority of them to arrogant wealthy Wall Street pricks. Repulsive characters that played with other peoples fortunes affecting the livelihood of millions of people all over the world. Alexi adored selling his product to such assholes. They paid exorbitant amounts of money to get high, considered themselves rulers of the free world although they were utterly clueless about the real one, and couldn’t help themselves from spiralling out of control. When things went bad, the first phone call they would make would be to his family. The Ivanovs owned them. And over the past couple years, business has been spectacular. Jessica now threatened that existence. If she was discovered on the boat, they would be finished. He couldn’t just let her go either as she would certainly blab her story to the world. His father had given him a simple instruction: “deal with her… before she overpowers you again”. Viktor was a ruthless business man. Alexi knew what he meant, and even though he was in a cutthroat occupation, he had never dealt with anybody before.
Alexi pondered his options. Way too much time had passed. He had been procrastinating with a decision and the longer they waited, the riskier things became. He knew the cell phone Jessica used to call Sam was untraceable and it would be a while before the authorities would be able to get a lead, if they could find one at all. Pressure from his father was forcing him to act. Either he did something or Viktor would.
Initially, he kept his now new prisoner under lock and key 24 hours a day. He did not want her outside her room. But it was like keeping a lion in a cage. Without being able to expend energy and from pure boredom, Jess would continually destroy her surroundings, throwing, breaking and smashing everything that wasn’t nailed down. She was a human tornado. A tenuous agreement was then made and to keep Jess at a relatively obedient level, he still allowed her to play squash and take lessons with Aman and also get match practice in with Nikki. Since it was the only time Jess was permitted outside of her cabin, she trained like a demon, for hours a day, using it as a release and her squash benefited from it enormously. There was nothing else for her to do. Otherwise she was confined to quarters where one of his “henchman” as Jessica referred to him, would stand guard outside her door. She also demanded Weet-a-bix for breakfast every morning, a product not so easy to find in New York and, Alexi thought, tasted horrible as well. But in order to stop the destruction of the yacht, he relented.
Alexi started thinking about money. He knew Jessica’s family had won the lottery and thoughts of ransom crept back into his mind. He recalled – before being clobbered – that he had been planning on phoning her father with demands for her safe return. Maybe he could receive a decent payout for all this trouble after all. He had no intentions of handing her over when (if) the ransom was paid. He suddenly made up his mind. He would take the money and do her in anyway. He took his cell phone and decided to call her mother instead. She would be bound to be more emotionally involved and more likely to pay up. He dialled the Vale Squash Club.
“What the Hell is this!?” demanded Jill as she slammed the invoice down on the front counter knocking over a pile of Vale Squash Club event flyers all over the floor.
Frank started to make his way to pick them up.
“Leave it!” scolded Jill. “80 bloody pounds for an electrician! 80 pounds! And what did he do? Changed a light bulb. One damn light bulb. You called an electrician to come in to change out one fucking light bulb?” Jill was losing it. Big time.
“Just what the Hell do I hire you for? Your looks? Charm? Sense of fucking humour? Am I laughing? Explain to me, you complete and total moron, why you called this guy and why I shouldn’t take it off your pay?”
Luckily, the club was empty. This was not a scene that any member would be wanting to witness. Jill was breathing fire trying her utmost not to rip Frank’s head off. Her patience with him had clearly worn out. Even though Steve had purchased the club, negotiations with Avery Wilburforce still proved difficult. She didn’t understand one iota why Steve had agreed to keep Frank on. Avery insisted that the club wouldn’t even exist if it hadn’t been for him and the least Steve could do to thank him was to retain his brother-in-law’s services. Steve didn’t want to waste time on the issue so they came to a quick compromise of keeping Frank on a trial basis for 6 months, after which if any party was still unhappy they could part ways. Jill almost convulsed in fury when she heard of the deal. Steve reasoned that at most, they would be rid of Frank in 6 months without any fuss. She’d certainly be bringing this up with Steve later today.
“Didn’t want to take no chances”, mumbled Frank. “You know, electrical stuff and all, can get kind of dangerous”. He was a little scared of his boss right now, but he enjoyed it tremendously when she blew a gasket and lately he had been going out of his way to cause her distress. This latest effort was one of his best yet.
“You’re a God damn handyman! That’s your job! A retarded baboon can change a light bulb. I’m taking this off your next check. The way you’re going, you are going to owe me money at the end of the month. And in case you have forgotten, because I only remind you five times a day, you still haven’t taken care of those bloody hedges in my parking spot. Any chance of taking care of that before the sun burns out?”
“As soon as I’m done with me coffee break. It’s 11 am and I need a little rest”, said Frank with an upbeat tone he knew would push Jill closer to the cliff edge.
“A rest? A rest?” Jill repeated herself half screaming the words. “You arrived less than an hour ago. Un-fucken-believable!” She searched for more insults to throw at him but she was at the end of her rope. Her brain switched off with the rabid rage she was feeling and she couldn’t think of anything else to say. To avoid committing a homicide, Jill marched out of the front door to get some fresh air and try to calm her nerves. She would call Steve immediately.
Frank smiled. “Take that, you bitch”, he muttered to himself. He had no plans to go anywhere near the hedge today or any other day. He thought about hiring a gardener to do the job, but it gave him immense pleasure watching Jill Smith get her knickers in a wad on a daily basis. He knew his tenure at the Vale Club was on its final stretch. When his brother-in-law announced to him that he had succeeded in saving his job – at least for the time being – when Mr. Steve-I’m-So-Perfect-Dwyer took over ownership, he wanted to throw up. “I got you a 6 month probation”, Avery declared as if he had negotiated world peace. “I expect you to do your job and not to let me down”. The bastard. Frank wanted nothing more than to never have anything to do with this establishment ever again. Knowing that peace with Jill would be impossible, he had decided from day one of his probation that his goal in life was to make her life as miserable as possible. He simply did not care anymore. The front desk phone started to ring.
He knew that if Jill caught him answering the phone, she may very well shove it down his throat, but the opportunity was too juicy to pass up. If it was a member, he was very capable of screwing up the court reservation, and succeeding in getting them pissed off at Jill too. He picked up the receiver. “Vale Squash Club”.
“Yes. Hello. I was looking for Mrs. Jill Smith… please.”
“The bitch ain’t here”, spat out Frank before he could catch himself. Just the mention of her name made him react aggressively.
“Excuse me?” said Alexi, surprised at the retort.
“Um, err, sorry. I mean Mrs. Smith isn’t here. Did you want a court? I’d be happy to do that for you”, said Frank, now flustered and suddenly a little nervous.
“No, I’m not calling to play squash. Look, I have an extremely important business proposal for her. One that I guarantee will peak her utmost interest. It is most urgent I speak to her.”
Frank couldn’t believe his ears. Was this another rich ex-boyfriend of hers wanting to ride in on a white stallion, sweep the bitch of her feet, buy the club and save the day? How many fellas did she sleep with, anyway? “Sorry, buddy, you’re too late. Club was recently purchased by some other rich bozo, who by the way is now also stuffing her bun oven if you know what I mean.” Frank couldn’t help himself. He could not, for the life of him, say a friendly word about Jill – even to a complete stranger on the phone.
Frank continued. “Yeah. A Mr. Steve Dwyer rocks up in his fancy red Ferrari – maybe you know him – flashes his wallet and perfectly quaffed hair, and she just opens right up, let’s him in her life, the club, and her pants. God, the guy is something out of a Hollywood spy movie. Rich, good-looking, successful, intelligent… type of guy you can’t help but want to punch in the mouth.”
“Fascinating,” whispered Alexi taking all this in. His mind was ticking a hundred miles an hour. “Just as a matter of interest, what does Mr. Smith think about all this?”
“That jerk? Complete loser. Wife chucked him out after their daughter disappeared. Turned to drugs, alcohol, hookers, and God knows what else. Went nuts. Spent time in the loony bin. In fact, he recently turns up here out of the blue and starts beating up some old guy. I kicked his ass. Saved the guy’s life. Police called me a hero.” Frank was practically pounding on his own chest.
Alexi formed an idea. “And who might you be?”
“Name’s Frank. I’m the handyman. Do all the odd jobs. If it weren’t for me, this place would be a pile of rubble. Constantly fixing up all the screw-ups around here.” Frank actually said like he believed it.
“Well, Frank. Nice to make your acquaintance. Sounds like you have some personal issues with your superiors. I could help you out with that if you like. In fact, we could help each other. I need a little information, and if you get me that information, I can give you money. You need money, Frank? It could be your lucky day. Think of me as your lucky leprechaun.” It was a risky statement. Alexi was going for the throat, but the way Frank was going he was likely to cough up anything he requested.
“You don’t sound Irish to me. More American like.” Frank had no idea. He was guessing.
“Sure. American. All I need from you, Frank, is Steve Dwyer’s phone number. Think you could pass that on? You do that for me, and I’ll give you two thousand bucks. Easiest money you’ll ever make, deal?”
“Sure. Deal. Happy to do it. Hold the line, I’ll get the number for you.” Frank placed the receiver on the front desk and raced into the office. He had to be quick, he obviously did not want Jill to re-enter the club before he was done. He saw Jill’s purse hanging off the back of the chair, opened it up and rummaged around for her wallet. She would surely have Steve’s number written down somewhere.
“Damn women’s purse,” he grumbled. Jill’s purse was choc-o-bloc full of crap. Frank couldn’t believe what was in there. He pulled out earrings, lipsticks, a half eaten candy bar, a handful of loose tampons, a spoon, used tissues, a spare pair of knickers (hopefully clean), and a copy of ‘50 Shades of Grey’. “Why am not surprised,” he snarled. He found the wallet underneath the novel and sure enough Steve’s business card was right there amongst the cash. He took the item along with a 20 pound note for good measure, re-stocked the purse and rushed back to the phone.
“Okay. Got it. You ready?” Frank passed on the information.
“You’re a champ. You have no idea how much I appreciate it”, said Alexi.
“No problem. Now about the two grand?” asked Frank.
“Oh yeah, your money. Well, there’s a slight issue there.”
“What do you mean, slight issue?”
“I’m not giving it to you”, replied Alexi and he hung up.
“Steve Dwyer speaking”, said Steve irritably as he answered his cell phone driving towards the squash club in his Ferrari. He had just gotten off the phone with an irate Jill, who was swearing up a storm about Frank. He had never heard the f-word so often in one conversation, nor had he any idea there were so many uses for it. He knew not firing Frank would cause problems, but not like this. Steve was about to do something he rarely did in business: break a promise. The deal with Avery Wilburforce was off. Frank was currently working his final hour.
“Hello Mr. Dwyer, listen very carefully. I am only going to say this once.” Alexi felt like he was in a movie. Very cliché. “The safe return of Jessica Smith will cost you 2 million dollars. You have 48 hours to get the money together by which time I will contact you with information of where to wire the money. If you ask any questions, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you don’t get the money together, she dies. If you don’t answer my call, she dies. If you answer my next question with anything but ‘yes’, she dies. Is that clear Mr. Dwyer?”
“Yes”, said Steve, completely stunned at what he was listening to.
The line went dead.
About the Author
MICK JOINT was born in Melbourne, Australia, 41 years ago and began playing squash at age five. He trained at the Australian Institute of Sport with greats Geoff Hunt and Heather McKay.
Mick coached in Argentina, Germany, Australia and Canada before settling into his current position in 2004 as Head Pro at the Detroit Athletic Club in Michigan.
Mick is married with one daughter and authors the entertaining blog, The Squash Joint.
Next Up: Chapter THIRTEEN by Will Gens