Authors: Bill Vidal
About the Book
About the Author
About the Book
Thomas Clayton is a City trader working the markets in London’s Square Mile and living the high life. But when he returns home to New York for his father’s funeral to discover he has been left nearly $50 million in a numbered Swiss bank account, he’s at a complete loss to explain how his Professor father could have come by such a sum. Whatever the explanation, the mysterious windfall has come at exactly the right time.
So he travels to Zurich, secures the funds, and tells his wife to make an offer on her dream country mansion. What Tom doesn’t know yet is that his father was being used as a ‘ghost’ to clean up dirty money by a New York laundry operation: really the money belongs to Carlos Morales, Medellin’s biggest cocaine baron.
Tom’s actions in Europe spark a murderous turf war in the Americas between the cartels of Medellin and Cali, involving a cast of bent lawyers, cops, undercover DEA – and transatlantic assassins who’ll stop at nothing or no-one to make Tom pay his debt …
About the Author
Bill Vidal was born in Argentina and educated in England. He lived and worked in the USA, South America, the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe before settling with his wife and twin children in Kent.
The Clayton Account
is his first novel.
‘FIVE HUNDRED AND
sixty-seven thousand, three hundred and eighty-four dollars and twenty-two cents.’
He read the figure out loud, staring at the piece of paper, his voice muffled by the confines of the loft. Outside, the noise of the breakers was indistinguishable from the drone of the wind, not an unduly strong wind, just the grey sound of winter on the Long Island shore.
His father was gone, and even at the age of forty, Tom Clayton felt the vacuum. He wished he might have seen more of him lately but put away the thought. It had all happened suddenly; one minute he was fit and looking forward to the contentment of retirement after a life of achievement, the next he was dead in his rooms at Columbia University, last Tuesday at seven in the evening.
Cerebral embolism, they had said.
It had been two in the morning when the Dean had called Tom in London with the sad news. Now, less than a week later, it was all over. Caroline and the children had returned home but he remained behind, willingly alone, ostensibly to ‘sort things out’ but truly for a few days with his thoughts.
The funeral, upstate, had been well attended: some relations, distant cousins from Boston, mother’s relatives from Ohio, lots of friends, students and faculty from Columbia, former colleagues from Cambridge, and some strangers: men in fancy limousines and Armani suits. Tom’s younger sister Teresa was there, the only close family left in America, over from Manhattan with her husband and children, tearful and depressed; she had been very close to their father. Tom acknowledged that her pain would be more enduring than his own.
Tessa had been to the house three times that week, twice having to fend off uninvited realtors, pushy go-getters whose condolences could not hide the gleam in their eyes: Southampton sea-front houses did not hit the market every day. And for the moment at least, Tom hoped, neither would this one. So he stayed there alone for the weekend. He walked along the beach in the early morning and tasted memories of a distant childhood. He threw pebbles into the ocean and lay on his back by the sand dunes just staring at the overcast sky. And prayed for a miracle.
Then he set about appraising the contents of the house, trying not to think of monetary values, concentrating on preserving the heirlooms. Many had belonged to his grandfather. His own father had added mostly paintings and books – books everywhere, many ancient and valuable manuscripts, philosophical treatises in ancient Greek and mementos of his annual tours around the globe, especially from the years since Tom’s mother had died.
So long as Tess did not object – and she was not short of money, neither in her own right nor as a consequence of marrying into Wall Street blue-blood – Tom had always been adamant that the house on the island should be kept, if for no other reason than to keep his very anglicized children in touch with America. Today, with both his parents
, he wanted the house even more. Since his marriage to Caroline, Tom felt increasingly rooted in England; the loss of the house on the island would be like losing a part of his national identity. And now he had to contemplate the possibility that it might be taken from him.
Tom turned his attention again to the piece of paper in front of him. It was not the figure itself that was significant, though $567,384.22 was not to be dismissed in anyone’s book, but the date:
June 30th, 1944
The month before his grandfather had died. Half a million dollars, half a century ago, had to be equivalent to five million dollars today – so much Tom’s financial mind could tell him without recourse to a calculator.
But it was the paper on which the sum was entered that interested him the most. It was a single page of a bank statement from United Credit Bank, Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich, Switzerland, clearly showing the account holder as Patrick S. Clayton, 650W 10th St, New York, NY, USA.
He had found it earlier, in the attic, in a trunk containing what looked like the contents of the old boy’s desk, including a diary for 1944 – last entry July 15th. Tom would read it later. Card holder, full of calling cards, some of the titles (if not the names) easily recognizable: the Mayor of New York City, a Vice President of Chase Bank, the President of Union Pacific and Mr Clark Gable of Hollywood, California. There were old chequebook stubs and theatre programmes, quotations for a central heating system and tickets to a Giants’ game. And a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, no rounds in the chamber, the barrel still shiny once Tom rubbed its surface gently with his sleeve. Incongruously, the man’s tail coat, his dressing gown and a pair of black-toed white shoes made up the bulk in the trunk and, sitting on top, a beautiful hand-crafted leather
blotter, the type with folding covers and gold-leaf blocking, an understated embossment on the bottom right-hand corner clearly legible as Tiffany & Co.
Tom set it to one side – he would take that back to England with him – and continued rummaging through the trunk. He decided to take the diary as well, and considered taking the gun, but then thought of British Customs and dismissed the idea. Still in the loft, he settled in an old rocking chair to read the entries in the diary. And that was when he had seen the little corner of the bank statement protruding from under the blotting-paper, and pulled it out.
Tom Clayton was no fool, especially when it came to money, the commodity he understood best. He was very aware that his grandfather had been wealthy, rich enough for his father to live well off his inheritance while devoting his energy to academic pursuits – ironically a devotion of such excellence that the support of a good publisher and a voracious lecture circuit would make him well off in his own right in the latter years of his life. But half a million dollars stashed away in Switzerland during the war had to be illegal, or at least dubious enough to keep pretty quiet. If that was the case, and if the money had been there when the old boy died, what had become of it?
Tom cast his eyes beyond the trunk, to the dusty painting leaning dejectedly against the attic wall. He remembered that it had once held pride of place in his parents’ home – and then vanished. Patrick Clayton was depicted in the formal style of old: three-quarter view, conservatively dressed, remote, expressionless. A tall, broad-shouldered man, with a Celtic square jaw and high cheekbones. But the artist had been unable to subdue the wild, auburn hair that proclaimed a spirited nature, and the deep brown eyes that concealed a thousand secrets.
Now, looking at the portrait for the first time with adult eyes, Tom realized that – allowing for sixty years’ change in style and fashions – he might have been looking at himself. Perhaps this was the miracle? Patrick Clayton reaching out across half a century to save his only grandson from his own folly. Though Tom’s shock and grief were genuine, he could not avoid pondering, however hard he tried to suppress it, whether his father’s will might save the day, but even then he recognized his wishful thinking. Tom needed five million dollars, right now, before the system inevitably exposed him or, worse still, before that wimp Langland cracked and spilt the beans to save his own skin.
Tom’s best hope – however far-fetched – lay in Switzerland. He would need to ask questions about rules and procedures and then, in the not too distant future, once he had decided on a course of action, he would most definitely pay a visit to the Gnomes in Zurich. Meanwhile, like any banker worth his salt, he would keep his discovery to himself.
That night he lit a large fire in the living room. He found an open bottle of Rémy Martin and sat in his father’s rocking chair, reading the diary, pondering. Just before the grandfather clock struck five and with sunrise still two hours away, he sipped the last of the cognac and fell asleep.
Tony Salazar loved cars. As he sat in his father’s waiting room, flicking through a copy of
, his gaze fixed on the car advertisement. A fashion enthusiast, he chose his clothes carefully. Always the top Italian labels that so suited his compact Latin frame. His jet-black hair was trimmed and slicked back professionally every morning. Image meant a lot to Tony. Ordinarily, Rolls Royces were not his type of car. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches – the mere mention of the names would make the adrenalin
. But this one in the advertisement was different: the new Bentley Continental Coupé had class and style. Two hundred and fifty grand, serious money by any standards, he admitted; the irony was that he could easily afford it. But Tony was well aware that, if seen driving around so ostentatiously, he would be thrown out of the family firm. His father would see to that in person.
‘One day,’ Tony mused. ‘One day.’
Meanwhile he would have to settle for his Stingray. Making money had become easy in recent years; spending it was something else. Though not yet thirty, he could remember a time when a man could take a fancy to an East Side apartment and pay for it with a briefcase full of notes. Now, having money was no longer good enough. Everyone wanted to know where it had come from. Since the government had gone commercial – the FBI, SEC, Treasury Department – and started offering rewards, you couldn’t trust anybody. Banks, lawyers, accountants, they’d rat on you faster than you could open your wallet.
Which was precisely why Salazar & Co was in business. Big business. And he, Antonio Salazar, third-generation private banker, was going to steer it into the twenty-first century. But for the moment his father ran the show: the tough old boy whose friends addressed him as the Banker, and those who dared called the Laundry Man, behind his back. The
had called him that once and it had cost them two-fifty out of court – the price of the Bentley, thought Tony with a smirk.
Hector Perez, the boss’s chauffeur-bodyguard, opened the door and beckoned Tony in. His squat, broad figure – short, thick arms swinging from wide shoulders – silently followed the young Salazar into the office and then, as usual, sat quietly in one corner. Like a man with no eyes or ears, but nevertheless always there, ready, if required,
cross the room in three big strides and tear the head off the shoulders of an imprudent visitor with his massive bare hands. Tony sat himself on one of the plush chairs across from his father and lit a cigarette. He pretended to admire the view over the East River and waited to be spoken to.
‘Did you go to the funeral?’ Salazar Senior asked without looking up from the papers on his desk.
‘Yeah. He’s well dead and buried.’
‘So, what you gonna do?’ There was now impatience in the voice.
Tony did not mind his father lecturing him or even telling him off from time to time. He had grown accustomed to the gruff manner. But he hated it when this was done in front of Perez. He had no time for the Cuban brute. Perez’s mere presence lowered the tone of the office’s atmosphere, in Tony’s view. Tony Salazar had sworn that the day his father retired and handed over the business, Perez would find himself on the first flight back to Havana.
‘I wasn’t thinking of doing anything in a hurry. Why?’
, Tony! The man is dead! Get rid of the whole thing before the world knows about it.’ He threw a copy of the
New York Times
across his desk, folded at the obituaries page. ‘They read newspapers in Switzerland, you know?’
‘Sure they do. So you set this up fifty years ago and it’s worked fine. It’s the best system ever, Dad! He has a son. I can do it again.’
‘What do you know about the son?’
‘He’s some kind of financier, lives in London, England. Hell, he knows shit and he fits the bill even better than the Prof.’
‘Forget it. Kill the whole thing, right away,’ ordered Joe
with finality. ‘Use another ghost. We got plenty now.’
‘Sure, as you say. But,’ asked Tony, leaning forward in his chair and placing his right arm on the desk, ‘you’re always telling me I gotta lot to learn, so here is one I want to learn. Why drop a winner?’
Tony tried to hide the contempt he sometimes felt for his father, whom he saw as a short, overweight, balding bully, who still had his suits made by a cheap kike in the Bronx. Sure, Tony respected his achievements, but the old man needed to modernize.
‘Because, you dumb ass, you just said it! The son’s a banker. And he lives in Europe. So, one day – let’s see if this don’t push your limited brain too much – one day, this American banker in Europe goes to some fancy cocktail party full of other bankers from Europe, and some ass-kissing Swiss banker sidles up to him in a little corner of the room and whispers a word of thanks for his business. Get it?’
‘Hell, but that’s a pretty thin scenario, Jesus –’
‘Thin it may be. But our business is about taking no chances. Let me tell you for the hundredth time, you idiot, one mistake is all we are allowed to make. Get it?’
‘No sweat. Consider it done. A week, maybe ten days. Got to dump it in several directions.’
‘That’s better. Now, your mother’s been complaining she ain’t seen you for a month.’
‘I been busy.’
‘Chasing pussy in Atlantic City. You live your life, sonny, but family comes first. Come to lunch Sunday, and bring your mom a present.’
Perez stood up and escorted Tony Salazar out of the office.
* * *
‘My apartment in Washington Square, together with all its contents, I leave to my only daughter Teresa to do with as she wishes, and my house in Long Island to my only son Thomas, with the wish, but not the requirement, that he preserve it for future generations of our family.’
Dick Sweeney paused to take a sip of water from the glass on his desk. Now in his sixties, the tall, burly lawyer exuded the confidence of wealth and the manners of good schooling. Sweeney would have passed for the embodiment of probity and conservatism in any environment, and if the hint of a roguish smile occasionally betrayed his projected image, the casual observer might attribute it to Irish blood.
He peered at the small assembly over the top of his spectacles, then returned to the will. Though wrapped in the mandatory legal terminology, as wills go it was not complicated. Michael Clayton had provided quite equitably for his two children and four grandchildren. His library – except for his work in progress, which he bequeathed to his disciple, Dr Eric Haas at Columbia University – he donated to Harvard University, his alma mater. His collection of Greek, Etruscan and Aramaic artefacts he gave to Columbia’s archaeological museum, and his prized grandfather clock went to the University Club in New York City.
All future royalties from his many books – some now standard college textbooks – were to be placed in trust for Patrick and Michael Clayton, Tom’s children, jointly with Tessa’s own, Edward and Emily Brimestone. His portfolio of stocks and shares he left to Tessa, ‘so that she may continue to enjoy a private income’, with the caveat that she should leave its management to Wilberforce Prendergast, the brokers who had served him so well over the years.
‘The remainder of my estate,’ Sweeney continued reading, ‘including all bank balances and any life assurance proceeds, I leave to my only son Thomas Declan Clayton.’
Altogether, an estate valued at just under $6 million. Much of it based on his own inheritance, but to which he had added by living without excesses and dedicating his life to academic work.
‘As executor of your father’s will, Tom, Tess,’ Dick said, looking at them in turn while his secretary and junior associate made notes, ‘I shall do everything to expedite the transfer of titles. There will be some federal and state taxes to pay, of which I have made a preliminary estimate,’ he added, handing over typed sheets to each of them, ‘but in all it should be a simple matter and I foresee no undue delays.’
‘Thanks, Dick,’ replied Tessa in her usual, self-assured, Bryn Mawr tonality. ‘I’m very happy to leave matters in your capable hands.’
‘Same here,’ said Tom.
‘In that case,’ said Sweeney, his official voice now replaced by a more avuncular tone, ‘may I suggest lunch?’
‘If I could take a raincheck on that one,’ replied Tessa. ‘I’m meeting Byron for lunch and I have a full afternoon booked up.’
‘I shall hold you to it, Tess,’ said Sweeney, smiling, then turned enquiringly to Tom.
‘Sure, Dick, I’d love to,’ replied Tom eagerly, then adding, as if to play down his keenness: ‘I need to get back to England by the weekend, and there are a couple of things I want to talk over with you.’
The relationship between the Sweeneys and the Claytons went back most of the century. Eamon Sweeney and Patrick Clayton had arrived in America together in 1915, having worked their passage on the same steamer from Ireland.
days of reaching New York they had both found jobs, Sweeney as a clerk with a downtown law firm, Clayton as a construction worker in Brooklyn. Despite their diverging paths thereafter, their friendship had remained intact. In later life, as they each achieved their very distinct versions of success, the bond was to grow closer.
So while Patrick carved his way in the corrupt world of public-works contracts, Eamon went to night school and became a lawyer. Both men married, had children and bought houses in Westchester County. Their respective eldest sons, Michael and Richard, attended Harvard together. Then Dick joined his father’s law offices and eventually succeeded him as senior partner, but Michael had no penchant for business and Patrick had never encouraged him to join the family firm, indeed he had been rather pleased to see his son opt for an academic career.
They stood outside the offices of Sweeney Tulley McAndrews on Fifth Avenue until Tessa had got in a taxi to Wall Street. Then the two men walked along 48th Street towards the Waldorf. The maître d’hôtel made a fuss over Mr Sweeney and escorted him and his guest to the usual table in Peacock Alley. A soft melody drifted in from the Cocktail Terrace where someone played Cole Porter’s old piano.
‘Dick,’ said Tom tentatively, stirring his scotch to melt some of the ice, ‘did you know my grandfather?’
‘Sure. He and my old man were bosom buddies. The best.’
‘Of course. But what I’m really asking is: how much do you know about his business dealings?’
‘Hey, Tom, that’s a strange thing to ask! What exactly do you want to know?’
‘My father never really talked about it. As though it embarrassed him a bit. I know Patrick was never short of a buck, even during the Depression. But what happened to his construction company?’
‘I guess it died with him. It was pretty much his own thing.’
‘But you were his lawyers, right?’
‘Well, kind of. It was strictly my dad’s account. As I said, good pals and all that. From the Old Country.’
‘So you’d have records?’
‘If we do, I never saw them. But I imagine there must be files down in the archives. I guess … if you really wanted to see them, there may be grounds for letting you. But it’s all Thirties and Forties stuff. I doubt you’d learn much of interest. What are you after?’
‘Oh, I suppose it’s just roots, Dick,’ Tom lied. Then, to justify his interest, he elaborated:
‘Since Dad had a pretty good start in life, and so did we, I’ve often wondered where it all came from.’
Dick Sweeney nodded understandingly, his face that of an elder about to pass on his wisdom to the younger man.
‘Look, Tom,’ he said benevolently, ‘it was pretty tough for immigrants in those days.’
Tom nodded encouragingly, and Sweeney continued:
‘The Far West may well have been in Oklahoma, but’ – he waved his left thumb in the direction of the Hudson River – ‘it started right there in New Jersey. Know what I mean?’
‘Sure,’ Tom smiled. ‘Probably hasn’t moved that much further either.’
They laughed. Dick leaned in closer to Tom and continued in a low voice:
‘So you lived by your wits. And if you could make a few bucks out of it, a little bootlegging didn’t hurt anybody
much. Nothing like the Chicago lot, mind you. Over here it was all more contained.’
‘Thanks. I appreciate your candour. And no, it does not worry me one bit.’ He smiled, then asked, ‘Were they successful?’
‘Very,’ replied Sweeney returning the smile.
‘And they were never … caught?’
‘Didn’t work that way, Tom.’ Dick shook his head as if amused. ‘No one got caught. Not if they paid the right people, kept low, made no noise.’
Tom paused as if in thought, then nodded, hoping his next question would sound casual enough.
‘Thanks again, Dick. Changing the subject, there is one thing I wouldn’t mind having a copy of …’
‘Name it,’ said Sweeney, suddenly the lawyer again, producing his pocket notebook and a pen.
‘My grandfather’s will. If you could fish it out, I’d very much like to take it back with me.’
‘Sure thing. When are you leaving?’
‘I’ll have it for you by tomorrow.’
And then they ate. Turtle soup and the finest New York Cut for Clayton. Oysters and Lamb Cutlets Villeroi for Sweeney. Washed down with Napa Valley Zinfandel, then coffee and cigars. Neither man subscribed to eating fashions. And not another word was said on the matter of Patrick Clayton.
Morales reclined in the silk-cushioned bench swing and rocked it gently back and forth, allowing the soles of his Gucci loafers to slide on the polished marble floor. He dressed casually, yet unmistakably expensively. The top buttons of his pale silk shirt were undone, to reveal a thick chain from which a
-studded crucifix swayed with the motion of the swing. His deep tan emphasized the green pallor of his eyes and the sun-bleached ends of his thinning auburn hair. Though he was in his forties, his age was belied by taut muscles which the clothes could not completely conceal.
The view from the veranda was breathtaking, the flawless lawn stretching majestically to the south-west, an equatorial setting sun casting a gentle warmth over beds of white and pink carnations before it slowly sank behind the cordillera. But he knew that appearances were deceptive, that in the woods beyond his garden men would be patrolling the perimeter, armed with AK-47s and pouches full of hand grenades.
And this was starting to bother him: that he, Carlos Alberto Morales, in the peace of his own home, could not relax without the protection of a private army. Out of sight, behind the neatly trimmed hedge, he could hear the splashing and laughter of his children enjoying the early evening in the swimming pool, the very sounds accentuating his yearning for living space.
The goddamn gringos were, as always, at the root of the problem.
people consumed his produce with relentless passion and their government blamed
. At first it had just meant Morales could no longer set foot in America, but he could live with that. But in recent years they had started bringing the fight over to Colombia, and that was really bad news. They threw money at the government in Bogotá: loans, aid, planes, guns and ‘advisors’, tough Drug Enforcement Agents, seconded to the Colombian Army, with a gun in one hand and a chequebook in the other. Even Medellín was becoming unsafe; people could be tempted to betray you. Fifty thousand bought almost anything in Colombia. So far Morales had fought greed with fear: treason meant death, for the traitor
his entire family, if need be. But even that no longer guaranteed protection, so he had thought long and hard for a better tactic – and now he had a new idea.
Morales heard the car before he could see it. He knew it would have been stopped at the main gate and then observed from the woods as the walkie-talkies relayed its progress. Nevertheless, he was pleased to see two of his bodyguards come out of the house and walk up to meet the vehicle. It pulled up in front of the veranda and its sole occupant emerged.
‘Good afternoon, Don Carlos,’ said the new arrival. Tall and fair and, as always, immaculately dressed in a linen summer suit, he walked with the deadly assured stalk of a mountain wild-cat. ‘I came over as quickly as I could.’
‘Come up, Enrique. Have a cool drink.’ Morales pointed for the visitor to sit next to him.
They sat side by side in silence, Morales still gently swinging them to and fro. The drinks arrived, fruit juices in crystal goblets on a silver tray.
Morales dismissed the servant.
‘This land,’ he said, waving his right arm at the hills and forests beyond the estate, ‘has been very good to me, you know, Enrique?’
‘I expect it has, Don Carlos,’ the visitor replied non-committally. ‘More as a result of your own efforts than its own generosity, I would say.’
Morales nodded appreciatively. ‘Perhaps. But it troubles me that it seems to do very little for the rest of the people around here.’
Enrique Speer remained silent. He recognized the tone. Morales was leading up to something.
‘I was in Medellín the other day. You know what I saw? I saw dirty streets and hovels they call homes. It made me think. Why do people have to live like that, eh, Enrique?
in this noble and prosperous land of ours?’ His brows rose inquisitively.
‘It seems to be the way of things in Colombia, Don Carlos.’
‘Sadly, I cannot do much for Colombia. But I could do something close to home. Did you know that half the children in this province do not even go to school?’
Speer shook his head.
‘What is it like to be sick and poor? I walked into a charity hospital, just to have a look, and … ugh! I would not wish to send my dog there!’
‘There are of course plans to regenerate the area. US Aid is particularly channelled in this direction –’
‘Plans, plans,’ Morales interrupted. ‘The gringos are so stupid. By the time the politicians and their friends in Bogotá have taken their cut, there will be barely ten cents in the dollar left over.’
‘When you have a problem, Enrique, you
the problem.’ He slammed his left fist into his open right palm. ‘That’s how
deal with things.’
‘How can I be of help, Don Carlos?’
‘I am going to share my good fortune with the people of Medellín. I am going to build a hospital. A modern hospital with good, well-paid Colombian doctors. And two schools. Large schools, well equipped, to educate the children of the poor.’ He spoke emphatically now. ‘And housing. Lots of housing. Low-cost, but decent.’
‘That is amazingly generous!’ Speer was truly impressed.
‘Of course. But how generous? I mean, how much will it cost me?’
‘Well, there is the cost of building, inevitably, but also the continuing expense of running things.’
‘Don’t worry about running costs. The business
will contribute,’ he smiled. ‘The Church can give us teachers. They always talk of social justice. So, let them send their priests and nuns as teachers. No, I mean: how much to
‘I’ll work on it.’
‘How much roughly?’
‘Fifty million, give or take … should go a long way.’
‘What am I worth, Enrique?’
‘One twenty, one twenty-five.’
‘We do it, then!’
‘I am speechless. You will give away almost half your fortune to the people of Medellín?’
‘Such a gesture will make you the most loved man in the region.’ Speer began to understand.
‘Yes. In such circumstances, anyone with a bad word to say about you, here …’ – he waved at the forests and hills – ‘would be digging his own grave.’
Morales snorted. The image appealed to him. ‘Just so, my friend. Now tell me: how do we do it?’
‘Well, you have a construction company in Spain –’
‘Constructora de Malaga. Small fry.’
‘Yes, but we could capitalize it. I’ll need to move some money around. Then it could go into joint venture with you –’
‘With the Morales Foundation.’
It was Speer’s turn to look curious.
‘My new charity. I will speak to De la Cruz and set it up. Meanwhile, you organize the money.’
‘I’ll have to go to New York, of course.’
‘You do that. And give my best regards to the Laundry Man.’
* * *
On Thursday morning Tom Clayton awoke early and went for a run on the beach. The wind had abated completely and a wintry sun was rising over the Atlantic. As he ran, breathing in the salty tang of the ocean, he went over his plans once more. Over the past two days he had made telephone enquiries. One day should be enough to accomplish what he wanted.
An hour later, having showered and dressed in appropriate travelling clothes, he locked the house and looked at it contemplatively for an instant, then walked down the path carrying his luggage to the car. The early-morning traffic between Long Island and Kennedy Airport was light. He returned the hire car, dropped his bags in the United terminal and took a taxi into Manhattan.
He first called briefly at the offices of Sweeney Tulley McAndrews, where he collected certified copies of his father’s and his grandfather’s wills. He looked at them carefully: just as expected, Pat Clayton’s will made no mention of Swiss accounts. Satisfied, Tom put both wills in his briefcase alongside the other documents he had brought from the house. By mid-morning he had taken the papers to the New York Bar Association’s headquarters, where Richard E. Sweeney’s signature was certified with apostils. He then walked to Federal Plaza and had the Bar Association’s signatures legalized by the State Department.
At one o’clock he met his sister for lunch at Gino’s on Lexington. Tom was already seated at their table when she came, elegant as always, in a new Chanel suit, attracting glances from men and women alike. More than ever, she struck Tom as the perfect likeness of their mother, exactly as he remembered her, for at thirty-seven, Tessa was almost the same age Eileen Clayton had been when she died.
They talked about the funeral, their respective partners
their children. Inevitably, most the conversation was about their father, and Tom noticed that Tessa kept averting her eyes.
‘Something on your mind, I think.’ His tone made it not a question.
Tessa looked up at him, then nodded. ‘Did Dad ever talk to you about the Irish thing?’
‘You mean the family in Ireland?’
‘That too, yes,’ she replied hesitatingly. Then, as Tom remained silent, she continued:
‘I mean about the Cause, the Struggle, whatever they call it.’
‘Not in years.’ Tom had vague memories of his parents’ conversations and the whispered references to Uncle Sean.
‘He hated them, you know?’
‘Dad? Hate?’ Tom could not hide his surprise.
‘With passion,’ she said sadly. ‘He blamed them – I think he meant Uncle Sean – for our losing touch with the old country.’
‘When did he tell you that?’ Even as he asked the question, Tom felt guilt flood through him: realizing how selfishly he had always pursued his own ambitions, and how little thought he had devoted to his widowed father.
‘When he came back from his trip to Ireland,’ Tessa’s eyes clouded for an instant, ‘he even cried.’
Tom took a sip of his wine and looked around the busy room as his sister regained her composure. It seemed bizarre, in this fashionable mid-town restaurant, to get upset about crazy, ancient conflicts thousands of miles away.
‘Did he mention it again?’ he enquired.
‘Not exactly,’ she recalled. ‘But last summer in the Hamptons, apropos of nothing, he was telling me about family duty – duty to the ones that stayed behind.’
‘I think he was asking me to renew the severed links. With the family. Dad’s profound sense of history, I suppose,’ she speculated.
‘Any idea where we start?’ Tom forced himself to smile.
‘Well … five or ten thousand apiece, for the family, wouldn’t hurt us. They are not at all well off, and I do believe it would have pleased Dad.’
‘Okay,’ Tom agreed, reaching across the table to squeeze his sister’s hand. ‘For the family, and for Dad.’ He did not mention his problem and, anyhow, a few thousand more or less would hardly make a difference.
They left the restaurant together and turned into a sun-drenched 47th Street, a torrent of New Yorkers dashing past purposefully. Yet none bumped into them. Perhaps it was the commanding aura they projected. Though Tom was six inches taller than his sister, at five feet eight Tessa was taller than most women. Tom’s unruly mop of curly brown hair somehow added to his poise and though Tessa’s hair was fair and frizzy like her mother’s, and Tom’s a reddish brown, their shared facial expressions and laughter left no doubt as to the blood relationship.
Tessa opened her handbag and took out a cashier’s cheque for $10,000.
‘My half,’ she said, smiling.
‘Ah! You expect me to deliver it as well?’ Tom jested.
‘You live closer to them.’ She looked at him with their mother’s aquamarine eyes. ‘You could hand it over in person.’
‘Across the Irish Sea.’ Tom parodied childhood ballads.
‘Across the Irish Sea,’ she echoed, threading her arm through his. Speeding up their step, they merged with the crowd.
* * *
In the afternoon Tom took his documents to the Swiss Consulate General, where an official certified the signatures of the US State Department and sealed his own signature with the Swiss crest.
Clayton checked the documents once more and replaced them in his briefcase. At five-thirty he stopped for a drink at the Pierre, called his wife in London to confirm his flight details, then took a taxi back to Kennedy for the overnight trip home.
As the plane flew towards the Arctic Circle and the Polar route to Europe, a five-course dinner was washed down with vintage champagne. Later Tom reclined his first-class seat to its full length, put on a pair of eye-shades and went to sleep. He was woken for breakfast five hours later as they descended towards Heathrow.
After a slight delay, queuing for Immigration, he picked up his bags and walked out of the terminal to find Caroline waiting in the car. Tom put his bags in the back, then deposited himself on the passenger seat and reached over to kiss his wife. Her lips were soft and she smelt of recent bath salts. Her shoulder-length, rich chestnut hair felt fresh and slightly damp as it brushed Tom’s cheek.
‘Was everything all right?’ she asked, dextrously swinging the Mercedes estate on to the London-bound carriageway.
‘Yes, thanks. I saw Tess a few more times and sorted out the paperwork with Dick Sweeney,’ he replied, but decided to keep his discovery for later.
‘I’m glad. Poor Tess. She’ll miss him terribly.’
‘Yes,’ he said softly, then added: ‘Oddly enough, so will I, though I hardly ever saw him.’
‘I know,’ she said, glancing at him and placing her left hand on his knee. ‘I know, darling.’
* * *
They had been married six years but sometimes it seemed like six months. Their life together had been like a whirlwind from the first day. Scarcely a pause, never a dull moment, and though Tom’s work demanded long hours, they always had time for each other. For impromptu shopping trips to Paris, weekends on the French Riviera, short breaks on the slopes at Verbier.
When people asked how he had met Caroline – which they always did, as an oblique reference to their different nationalities – Tom delighted in saying he had picked her up in a bar. Which was true, though he did not mention that the bar had been Annabel’s and that they had both arrived with different but overlapping groups of friends. But he vividly remembered first noticing her and how, towards the end of the evening, they had both deserted their respective escorts and decamped together to Tom’s flat.
They had been together ever since, and if Tom remained deeply American, for all his Irish roots and established expatriate status, then Caroline was the embodiment of the well-bred Englishwoman: from a six-generation line of soldiers, confident, daring and totally independent. When she had eventually taken Tom to Gloucestershire, to meet her parents, he had at first been received suspiciously. But the ice had soon melted, and today the old Colonel welcomed him with affection.
As they drove home from the airport that morning, Tom once again thanked his lucky stars and reflected with a smile that, even if he still had an eye for a pretty lady, he had been faithful to Caroline for seven years, which, considering his previous track record with girlfriends, surprised all who had known him as a bachelor. Dressed casually, without make-up, her slight, almost boyish frame looked vulnerable to Tom. He felt a strong urge to embrace her and protect her, reluctant to acknowledge that his emotions
from guilt: from the mess he was about to bring into their lives, and which he still could not admit to openly.
‘What are you thinking about?’ she asked, catching a glimpse of his smile.
‘Good,’ she said with a mischievous grin. ‘Keep it that way!’
When they reached the house it was deserted, the children and their nanny ordered earlier to the park. Before Tom had a chance to hang his coat, Caroline had started up the stairs, barely pausing to kick off her shoes and throw her jeans down at her husband. Her mood could not have been more evident.
Later, lying on the tangled duvet, he told her about the bank account, but even then he could not be entirely truthful. He could not make himself tell Caroline – lest her dream be shattered – that all they owned could soon be taken. That his job, his career, his prospects of ever working in finance again, would go up in smoke. He could not admit that he had gambled, illegally, traded futures to his own account in breach of rules, and lost. He dared not say that, unless he plugged the holes before he was discovered, prison could be a real prospect.
Instead, for the moment, he continued to live the dream.
‘How much is half a million dollars?’ she asked. Though Caroline was neither illiterate nor innumerate, such was her Englishness that all foreign money – even the Almighty Dollar – had no value in her mind until expressed in sterling.
‘About three hundred and fifty thousand,’ he replied, then added as if reading her thoughts: ‘Plus interest, of course.’
‘How much in total, then?’ she exclaimed, sitting up suddenly and fixing her gaze on Tom’s.
‘Dunno,’ he teased, running the back of his hand over her left breast. ‘Half a million. One million. It depends how straight the Swiss want to play it.’
‘That’s it, then,’ she said happily and with finality. ‘You get that money, and we’ll have that house!’
was an eighteenth-century manor, sitting on twenty-six of Wiltshire’s finest acres. Caroline had set her heart on it, for after eleven years of the London bright lights, she, like all of her class, longed for
. Caroline had little interest in money, having never been without, and though her father had offered the use of a cottage on the family estate, Tom had turned it down. We’ll have our own in time, he’d promised her.