The Club from Hell
Chapter EIGHTEEN by The Squashist
“Excuse me, but what the **** is going on?”
James Matthew was the type of man who liked to remain in charge, but he quickly realized that what seemed at first to be a relatively simple abduction case had more appendages than a centipede. He didn’t like centipedes, and he didn’t like to be confused. But nonetheless he was, so he decided to investigate the situation by conferencing in the investigators.
Steve Dwyer had hired him to cover his back in Dubai in case there was an opportunity to wiggle out of the need to fork over a couple million bucks to the bastards who took Jessica. But James also knew that Steve had hired Angus Murray to follow the abduction case in New England, and Angus in turn had hired this Bianca Phipps chick. His Dubai security detail surprised him when they reported that John Smith and Bianca were in Dubai at the same time as Steve and Jill had gone there to pay the dough to the abductors, and that coincidence smelled funny. One of the security men, Boris Obolensky by name, was instructed to follow John and Bianca, and when those two split up, Boris stuck with Bianca. Reporting in to James that he had her eyeballed on the train platform, he got his instructions: Take her in.
Boris stuck a Glock between Bianca’s fourth and fifth rib and politely asked her to follow him. Bianca readily obliged, and Boris quickly added that she wasn’t being abducted but rather being given a command request to go over what she knows about the Jessica case. “We have the same employer, Steve Dwyer. He hired you and Angus, and he also hired me,” – here Boris smiled winningly – “through James Matthew, a New York security guy. So all we want to do is talk.” At that, Boris put the gun away.
“Ah, that’s a relief,” Bianca said. “If you want to know what’s going on, I can help, but you also have to talk to John Smith, father of the girl, who just called me with some new info. And get Angus on the line.”
Which was how John, Bianca, and Boris ended up at John’s place on a conference call with Angus on the line from Northern Massachusetts and James on the line from the Big Apple. Plus the MI6 guy, though he came later.
“So then,” James asked again, “what the fuck is going on? What Steve told me was that Jessica had been abducted by the Russian mob and they wanted $2 million to get her back, and to go to Dubai for the transfer. You all agree with that statement?”
“Yes and no,” John said. “When we met him in Dubai he told us that the amount was 20.” This caused a flurry of commentary, with no obvious solution, although John’s theory was probably best. “I think he was asked to fork over 2 million but he told Jill it was 20, just to get a little extra loving from my ex-wife.” The line was delivered morosely.
Bianca then explained what she knew, and it was a lot. “I talked to Tatiana Grigorieva, an old friend, who I just happened to meet in Dubai.” A little neuron in James Matthew’s brain fired away at that: another funny coincidence… “Her brother Anatole is a big-time shit, who she confessed is into drug dealing on a major scale, although she would never admit that in any court,” Bianca added. “Tatiana said that Anatole’s older sister Maria is married to a Viktor Ivanov, another big-time supplier, who was allied with Anatole but with whom they have now had a falling out. It turns out that Anatole had called us pretending to be some Indian capitalist big-shot who had information on Jessica’s disappearance, sending us to Chennai by way of Dubai, but that was all bull.”
“Why would he do that?” James asked.
“I told you, he’s a shit,” Bianca said. “But the interesting thing is that Tatiana had heard that there was a girl on the Ekaterina, the Ivanov yacht, which is mostly used for picking up opium shipments at various ports and moving them around in international waters. Tatiana said the yacht has a squash court and a squash pro, and without doubt that is where Jessica has been kept these last months.”
“That goes with the social media info you discovered, Bianca,” Angus said. “That yacht has been floating in New York harbor for awhile. Perhaps we could get a search warrant?”
“No need,” James said. “I think I know where she might be. There’s a women’s pro squash tournament going on in Philly, starting tomorrow. My security firm has been tracking cell phone chatter about anything to do with squash, and it seems the tournament has had a very odd last-minute addition. The chatter says the new player is named J. W. Vale, and she has a coach, a guy named,” – James looked down at his notes — “Aman Hussein. Do you think this J.W. is our girl?”
John could barely contain his excitement. “I bet you everything it’s her! ‘J’ is for Jessica, obviously, and Vale is the name of our club! And W …”
“… Is for Weetabix!” Angus said. “She’s sending us a message. She may not yet feel free to escape, but somehow she has managed to get to this tournament. We have to get there and extract her from whatever situation she is in.”
“This is good, then, very good, we are making real progress here,” James said. “I will let Steve know what’s going on right away.”
John looked meaningfully at Bianca, and then said, “No, hold on, not quite yet. Listen, everyone, I have only today received new information, but before I tell you what it is I need everyone to promise that they will look beyond who employs them and continue on in search of justice. The information I have is damaging to Steve Dwyer, that prick. This will be a matter for the police.”
“John,” James said, “rest assured, my business requires me to never shield anyone from the law, even if they employ me. This case already involves international drug smuggling and abduction, so we already have plenty of reasons to bring in the police. But, you know, I have an excellent contact in this area. If you are about to get into a discussion about international drug smuggling, then hold on a moment, I might be able to get him in on this conference call, he just might be able to help. Stand by everyone….”
They were put on hold while James called up his most important international contact, an expert at MI6 whose beat is the drug trade. James had made it a habit to feed any relevant information he came across to Weston Faulks, who in turn helps him out a bit when needed. James has a few such contacts across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, but Weston was by far the most fruitful contact of them all.
James briefly explained that he was working on a case that apparently involved two groups of drug smugglers, the Ivanovs and Anatole Grigoriev, and that he could use his insights. At the mention of the two drug cartels, Weston was happy to oblige. “Patch me in!” he said.
James got back on the conference line. “Hello everyone, I have on the line an expert on the international drug trade. I can’t tell you who he works for, and I can’t tell you his real name, but his information is as good as anyone’s. He will go by the name of Jim for the purposes of this call. Jim, by the way, happens to be in Dubai as we speak. John, you were about to tell us what you had discovered.”
“Okay, it’s a long story, but I’ll keep it short. The first thing to know is that we bought the club because of some supposed winnings from a lottery, but the actual lottery was all very vague. One day we pretty much were given a bunch of money and Jill came up with the idea of buying the club. Just like that, out of the blue. At the time it seemed impossibly lucky, now it seems like something else entirely. It was all arranged through my solicitor, an old friend named Nick Gaultier. More about him later…
“I recently heard from a woman named Kristin Selby, and it was her father, Walter, who was the fellow who died at the Vale when the big heating unit fell on top of him. Kristin told me that her father had found something out about the club right before he died. She didn’t know what, but he had texted her saying that the Vale was part of a, quote, big international operation, unquote. Then he was dead. I just had a talk with Nick, who was the one who took care of the insurance policies and dealt with the aftermath following Walter’s death. I found out that Nick deliberately misled me about the policy we had for accidents at the club. He said it didn’t exist, and as a result we had to sell. To Steve Dwyer. I checked the chains supporting the heater and they were clean-cut. It was no accident.
“So this accident was set up to do away with Walter, who had discovered something, and force me to sell the club. I contacted two old buddies I know in the Caymans who owe me a few favors, and they confirmed my suspicions. Steve has accounts set up that take money in and out of his clubs in the US, as well as the Vale club, and launder bad money into respectable profits. It turns out that old Avery Wilburforce, a patron of our club, owns one of the accounts with Steve. This must be why Avery insisted his brother-in-law Frank stick around after the sale; he was really Avery’s eyes and ears at the club. And, furthermore, someone has apparently figured that out, because Frank, that idiot, just turned up dead, strangled at the club.”
“That’s interesting,” Jim said. “I can confirm that Nick Gaultier has been used in laundering operations in the past; we have been aware of him for a while, though we are just watching at this point. We thought it was small-time stuff, but maybe not. I can also confirm that Avery Wilburforce has had some shady dealings in the past, and he served some time for check kiting about three decades ago. Steve Dwyer, as far as I know, has had a clean record.”
“So, Jim, how do you think the Ivanovs and Grigoriev are connected to this?” asked James.
“I have a theory, and I bet it’s on the money. I think the lottery win was to set you up as sucker-owners who could be manipulated by Avery Wilburforce and Anatole Grigoriev. I hate to say it, John, but it seems like Jill may have been in on the deal, at least partially. Wilburforce, who had been at the club for a long time, probably proposed using the Vale as the first non-USA club to join in on their line of launderers, but Walter somehow got wind of their plan and they had to go with a more forceful one. Kill Walter, and then buy the club. All well and good. On the other hand, Viktor Ivanov and his family I believe somehow enticed Jessica to come away with them, probably willingly. They wanted to exert some control over the club, perhaps by blackmailing John if needed. I think they did this without Grigoriev’s knowledge, and it is evidence of the rift that now exists between the two groups. Viktor Ivanov is ruthless and has done this type of thing before. The only thing worth noting is that Grigoriev is even more ruthless. And Frank’s death strikes me as interesting. I think Frank’s death was a message to Grigoriev, Wilburforce and Dwyer that Ivanov is out there and not happy. He’s played second fiddle to Grigoriev for years; now he’s saying screw you to the lot of them. And that means we may have a war on our hands.”
The phone went quiet as this news sunk in. A war between drug smugglers seemed removed from their daily lives except for one excruciating detail: Jessica was involved.
“What now?” John asked. “We’ve got to go to Philly to get Jessica, that’s all I care about.”
“Philly?” said Jim. “That’s interesting. We know that Grigoriev is now in Philly, and the entire Ivanov family is even as we speak in the air in transit to Philly. Why there?”
Bianca explained the hunch that Jessica was playing the tournament as J.W. Vale and was accompanied by her coach, Aman Hussein.
“Aman Hussein!” said Jim. “That’s my friend Gamal Hussein’s nephew, whose been missing for months, supposedly lolling about on a yacht acting as a squash pro. That’s it then; you’re hunch is hereby confirmed.”
“Well, I’m going to Philly to check out this tournament,” Angus said.
“Me too,” said Bianca.
“Me three, that’s for damn sure,” said John.
“Well, with the Ivanovs there and Grigoriev there, I better get there too,” Jim said. Or rather Weston Faulks said.
“I’ll see you all there,” James said. “Boris, you and your security detail meet me there. Well, gentlemen, lady, off to the city of brotherly love. See you in Philly.”
Sam Smith and his squash buddy Nestor Geiberger spent all day wandering around the city and even visited several squash clubs, thinking they might possibly find Jessica. But New York is a big city, and they saw neither hide nor hair of her. Frustrated, they went back to Nestor’s apartment. The next day, they got up and didn’t know what they should do next.
“Sam,” Nestor said, “let’s admit defeat on this for the time being. I need some fun. All this going to squash clubs has got me anxious to get my squash in. I read on the Daily Squash Report website that the WISPA Philadelphia Open starts tomorrow. It’s just 2 hours by train, and won’t cost all that much. What do you say we go check it out? We can stay at Ben’s place, his family lives right in town and I have a standing invite. Plus his brother goes to Drexel University and we can play squash there.”
Sam was as much of a squash nut as Nestor, and he knew he would never find Jessica. He’d have to leave that for the authorities. Plus, he’d never been to Philly, and the squash would be damn good.
“Sure, let’s do it. Let’s go to Philly.”
About the Author
He spends his days as the editorial director of a medical publishing company in New York City and his nights dreaming of being born anew with uncomplaining knees. He is a published short fiction writer who is far too scatter-brained to ever complete a novel.
Ever since George W. Bush was infamously elected to a second term he has adopted an emergency exit strategy that requires him to learn Swedish, from the land of his mother’s birth, which is why he is currently engaged in obtaining a Certificate in Scandinavian Languages at NYU.