Saturday, November 2, 2013

Excerpt: The Orange Moon Affair by AFN Clarke

Julie squeezed my arm, snapping me back to the present and my duty as host as some of our guests were leaving.

With most of the people gone, I cornered Adrian again and told him that I would be down at Head Office some time during the week to make a start on learning the business.

“I want to know everything about this micro-electronics factory in Belfast before any more decisions are made,” I told him firmly.

“But there are still some negotiations to be completed, and other formalities. I really think they ought to be dealt with now, not later,” he said in a tone that implied I should let those who know about these things get on with it.

“No. Under the circumstances I'm not rushing us into any decisions.” I took vicarious pleasure watching him squirm.

“If you insist,” he said stiffly and walked out to his waiting car.

“You seem to have ruffled his feathers a bit,” said Julie, standing beside me. “Something tells me you are not going to have an easy time with him.”

“I don't trust him.”

“Is that why you're goading him? Or do I detect a spark of interest in the Group?” She was laughing at me again.

“I want to know why my father was murdered, and my gut tells me it has something to do with this new project in Northern Ireland.”

I knew that the Gunn Group was complicated. It controlled many companies in the fields of electronics, engineering and chemicals. The assets were enormous and profits almost equal to the largest of multi-nationals. No mean feat for a privately owned business. Obviously with the amounts of money involved, there must be very tight controls on security, especially as the areas of micro-electronics and chemicals were high risk and the competition cut throat. I could understand Adrian's reluctance to talk business at the wake, but still there was this nagging doubt in my mind.

“I think I'll have a talk with Mary. Perhaps she can shed some light on the matter.”

Julie shook her head. “Don't disturb her just yet. It is the first real rest she's had. How about taking me for a walk around the grounds instead?”

“You're right and they're quite beautiful at this time of year.”

We passed the rest of the afternoon wandering the grounds talking. It was the first time since we arrived that we had been alone for any length of time and now that the funeral was over we could look forward to happier times ahead.

I led Julie around to the nondescript barn set aside from the main Hall. The only thing that could give away the fact that the barn was an aircraft hangar was the small round concrete helipad thirty metres from the hangar building.

Julie looked at me askance. “A helicopter?”

“Wealth does have its perks.”

“A private jet and a helicopter?”

“Well actually the Gunn Group has two helicopters and two more private jets.”

“Of course it does,” she said sarcastically.

The electric hangar doors slid open at the touch of the ‘app’ on my iPhone and revealed the interior of the barn, aside from the helicopter, there was a small yet comprehensively equipped workshop and maintenance area, and outside a five hundred gallon tank of Jet fuel. Julie watched as I wheeled the aircraft out of the hangar onto the pad, disconnected the ground handling wheels, stowed them back in the hangar and checked the fuel. My father always kept the helicopter fully fuelled and ready to go at any time. It made trips to London easy and quick.

It had been a while since I flew the Eurocopter, demanding a different set of skills to the fixed wing Cessna Mustang. This one was equipped with a full EFIS (Electronic Flight Information System) digital 'glass' cockpit, so I could fly 'blind' from Norwich to the London Heliport in Battersea on the river Thames only eight miles from the Gunn Group offices. This particular aircraft had been configured for right seat flying. I liked it better than flying from the left seat, as I could lock off the collective and use my left hand for changing radio frequencies and other instruments.

“When was the last time you flew this?”

“About two years ago. We'll take it tomorrow, I need to make an appearance at the office.”

“You'll take it, I have my own business to run and that means mollifying my agent and getting some work.”

“Where's your sense of adventure?”

“You get some practice in then we'll talk about my sense of adventure.”

Mary reappeared for dinner. The rest had done her good.

Some of the old bounce was back in her walk and conversation. I didn't want to spoil the atmosphere so suppressed my desire to bombard her with questions. There would be plenty of time after the meal.

She had been through a lot in the last eighteen months, having just recovered from a serious car crash the previous year in which two of her closest friends had been killed. After a long period in hospital and private nursing home she had pulled through.

“Mary, there are some things that have been worrying me about Dad,” I said, as tactfully as possible. She sipped the brandy delicately. “I keep wondering about this Northern Ireland deal. This afternoon I tried to talk to Adrian about it, but he brushed me off, virtually saying it was none of my business.” I paused, waiting for a reply. There was none. “Well, don't you think it is more than just a coincidence?”

She placed her brandy glass carefully on the side table and shook her head. “The police came to the conclusion that it was probably a case of mistaken identity. If there is anything they will find it Thomas.” She smiled. “You concentrate on learning the business. Leave the investigating to the experts.”

“I need to know what the Northern Ireland deal is all about. Adrian just said it was one of Dad's personal projects. If I’m going to learn about the company then it seems to me to be a good place to start. Did he say anything to you about it?”

“No, of course not. You know what your father was like about business. No work at home. All business was to stay where it belonged, at the office. Perhaps Adrian was just honouring your father’s memory by not discussing it here. I'm sure he will tell you all about it when you go in to work.” She drew a weary hand across her face. “I must go to bed, Thomas. I'm not really as together as I look.”

“Of course.” I helped her up and watched as she walked slowly across the room. “Are there any papers that Dad would have left in the house? Presumably, if he was handling the deal on his own he would have something here.” I felt I needed to press her on the subject. It was so strange that nobody seemed to know much about it at all. I know that the old man liked to keep business away from his private life as much as possible, but I also know that there were times when he brought very important documents home. Particularly those pertaining to projects in which he was personally involved.

“Please, Thomas. Enough. I never pried into his business affairs at all. Perhaps if I had I could have been a better wife to him. Now please, we can talk again tomorrow, but there is nothing much I can tell you.” She stopped at the door, turned and looked at me carefully as if trying to tell me something by telepathy. “I want you to do a good job now that you're in charge,” she said, tipped her head on one side as if asking a silent question, then turned and left the room.

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Genre – Thriller

Rating – PG13

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