BEC

By Christian Dane

Action & adventure, Thriller

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668
11 mins

Chapter One Tuesday 16:00 BST

Charles always called on time, the fact he hadn’t was unnerving Ed. Distracted, he stared aimlessly at the swans gracefully swimming in the nearby lake, even watched the dust motes drifting lazily across the shafts of late summer sunlight, glinting through his office window. He looked across at his PA, and sighed.

“My God, Martha, do you ever wonder what the rest of the nation’s doing whilst we sit here, twiddling our thumbs waiting for an infernal phone call?”

“Honestly, Ed, haven’t you become the maudlin and philosophical one? What ails the almighty Mr. Vandera on a beautiful day like today?”

“Miss Ellis, more respect, if you don’t mind. May I remind you, I’m the one sitting in the boss’s chair and you’re the one working for me, not the other way round? I could always find a replacement for you, you know!”

Martha rose from her seat, walked across the room and sat primly on the corner of his desk, bent down and kissed him gently on the cheek. She pulled back slightly, and left her arm draped across his shoulders and smiled, as she looked into his dark blue eyes. “Ed, darling, stop being so damn tetchy and lighten up a little will you? Ever since your father left for China, you’ve been like the proverbial bear with a sore head. He hasn’t even been gone two days, and you’re already acting as if you were abandoned at birth and left to fend for yourself.”

“Okay, you’re right. It’s just…well, you know… You know what he’s like. His parting words were ‘Vandera Shipping has been in the family for three generations and I don’t want the fourth to be the one that sinks it without a trace’. Does that sound like a man who has every faith in me being able to take over the reins when he retires?”

“Ed, that’s a few years off for goodness sake, he’s only fifty-seven. I’m sure you’ll be well versed in all things Vandera by the time he hands over the helm.”

“I think he still resents the fact I went into the forces straight from college, rather than joining the family business. I thought he’d have been pleased when I got invalided out, after that incident with that bloody blind-drunk sniper. The only thing that cheered him up, was when he found out I still had the bullet lodged in my arse and couldn’t sit down for weeks. The man’s a frigging sadist, at the best of times.”

“Come now, Charlie’s not that bad. After all, if he hadn’t hired me, we would never have met and then…”

The sound of the telephone interrupted her, and she purposely brushed herself against Ed as she reached for the phone. “Vandera Shipping, Mr. Vandera’s office. Uh-huh, yes, Charles, Ed’s in his office, one moment, please.”

“Now play nice, Ed,” she whispered, as she handed the phone over.
He poked his tongue out, and grinned as he took the call.
“Hi, Pops, how’s tricks?”

“Why are you sounding so damned chipper? It maybe four pm with you, but it’s bloody midnight here. I’ve been travelling for over twenty-four hours. I smell bad, the hotel sucks, and I haven’t found a bar that sells a decent brandy since I left the U.K.!”
“Why so long? I thought you were meant to arrive there early this morning, my time. I was getting worried, since we hadn’t heard a word from you.”

“First off, don’t give me that ‘I was worried’ rubbish; I doubt you even noticed I wasn’t there. The reason it took so long, was the flight was diverted, due to bad weather, and I had to do a stop-over. Anyway, enough of that nonsense, down to business. Is the shipment for Saudi on its way?”

“Yeah, everything’s on schedule. The cargo was collected this morning. It’s being loaded at Ras Al-Khair, as we speak. The aluminium parts are already on board, and the rest should be finished loading within the hour. I’m good for some things, you know.” Ed struggled to keep upbeat, as his father grunted down the phone, muttering something barely audible that was clearly derogatory.

“Look, I have a busy schedule tomorrow. Meeting in the morning with the president of Quanzhou Ling Computers at eight, here in Beijing. Ming says I’ll probably have to grease a few palms to get all the contracts they handle.” Charles paused, as he took a sip from his glass of water.

“I have Wi-Fi access set up, and will communicate with you via e-mail, if I need anything. I can do that during the meeting a bloody damn sight easier than trying to make a phone call. You never know who’s listening.”

“Okay, Dad, I’ll try not to bankrupt us before the end of the day…” Ed slammed the phone down, irritated by the lack of trust his father exuded every time they spoke.
“God, that man frustrates the hell out of me. It was my idea he set up the Wi-Fi link for the meeting. You know how much of a Neanderthal he can be when it comes to anything newer than an abacus. The thing that really grates is, he always manages to make me feel like I’m the one who has no grasp of modern technology. How the hell does he do that?”

Martha slid off the desk, and wrapped her arms around him. “How about we take off early tonight and go somewhere for a nice romantic meal, maybe The Firkin. They do a marvellous margarita, and you can treat yourself to a pint or two of Adnams. I heard they have a brilliant new chef. We can try him out and then, maybe, I could persuade you to indulge in a little…dessert afterwards,” her eyes flashed mischievously, as she stroked his cheek.

Ed smiled back, knowing he was a sucker for her charms. “Okay, give me twenty minutes to check everything’s still on schedule with the Saudis and clear my desk. I’ll meet you there in three-quarters of an hour. Find us a nice quiet table by the window. I think I may well be in the mood for some dessert, now you come to mention it.”
Martha gave him a peck on the cheek, and left him to make his call.

She hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes when he heard his laptop beep, just as he was finishing his phone call, feeling relaxed now he was assured the last of the cargo was loaded and secured. He walked over to his desk and opened the e-mail. It was from his father.


charlesjvandera@vanderashipping.co 16th August 2016
To: eduardcvandera
Transfer of funds

Ed

I’ll need those funds ready for the meeting in the morning. I suggest you send £750K, you never know how many palms I may have to grease. Take them from the Coutts account and transfer them to the account I set up here in the Bank of Beijing:

Account Name: Vandera Shipping
Account #: 65707654
Swift Code: BKCH CN BJ 110
Branch: 2 CHAOYANGMENNEIDAJIE, DONGCHENG DISTRICT, BEIJING

And do it now, as I need the funds available to me first thing in the morning.

Regards
Charles J Vandera

“Shit!” Ed shouted, as he thumped his hand on the desk.

Much as he’d love to leave the office and head off to The Firkin, this was going to have to be a priority. And he had no doubt, it was going to be more problematic than his father envisaged. And just how many people’s minds did he need to bend with his filthy lucre? £750K would grease an awful lot of palms.

Thirty minutes later, having leant on several officials at the bank, who were reluctant to part with what they seemed to consider his father’s money, and the deed was done. He had to convince the senior manager they weren’t investing in illegal drugs, or arms shipments, before he finally relented, saying it was highly unorthodox and all the necessary paperwork should have been filed beforehand. Blah, blah, blah. Ed praised himself for not only completing the deal, but doing so without losing his temper, as was his wont.

He pulled his Porsche into the car park fifteen minutes later, having knocked a minute off his previous best, and ran into the bar, slightly out of breath, as he scanned for Martha.

He spotted her, silhouetted against the window, looking less than pleased with his late arrival.

“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Dad sent an e-mail as I was about ready to leave. That money he spoke to me about earlier, he insisted I sent it straight away. God knows why he couldn’t tell me when he called. It was only about twenty minutes later he sent the request. Bloody fool!”

Ed slumped down in the seat next to Martha, looking dejected. “Why can’t he just be straight with me, instead of playing these damned games? He must have known he was going to ask for the money when he spoke to me.”

“Maybe he’s gotten wind we’re seeing each other and was trying to see whether you were still in the office, or if you’d slipped off early for a quickie,” she giggled. “Mind you, he’d have been on the money with that one.”

Ed laughed, and turned to look at her. ‘You know, Miss Ellis, you’re going to get me into a lot of trouble one of these days.”

Chapter Two Wednesday 07:00 BST

Ed rolled over, wide awake, feeling refreshed, with a smile already on his face. Last night they had indeed indulged in something sweet, and all was well with the world. What was not to be happy about? He was thirty-three, in good physical shape, comfortably well off, with his own house and a beautiful girlfriend. With Martha being eight years younger than him, he wondered at first if she was just having an office fling with the boss. After six months, he realised there was far more to it than that. Last night… Oh yes, last night… Where had she learnt to do that? Probably best not to go there.

Having showered and thrown on a bathrobe, he descended the stairs to the kitchen, where the smell of fresh bagels and coffee filled his nostrils. “Tell me this isn’t a dream. Breakfast is ready and the most beautiful girl in the world is standing half-naked in my kitchen, looking radiant at… seven o’clock in the morning.”

“Okay, Mr. Smoothie, the girl’s only half-dressed, or half-naked, depending on how you look at these things, because I had to throw my clothes in the washing machine, so I have something to wear to work. And this T-shirt is demonstrably short, as you have clearly noticed, judging by the smile on your face. No…stop it…we have to go to work soon…well…okay, but we’ll have to make it quick. Mind you, looking from here it doesn’t seem as if that will be a problem.”

Ed pulled her close to him, and in one fluid movement, removed her T-shirt and admired her pert body, “Now where did we leave off last night, Miss Ellis?”

****

Martha pulled into the car park at Vandera Shipping at eight forty-five, still glowing from their impromptu lovemaking, and ran quickly up to her office, turning on her computer before entering Ed’s office and booting up his laptop, ready for his arrival in a few minutes. They’d been careful to keep their relationship quiet, and always arrived and left separately, to avoid raising any suspicions.

As she turned to leave Ed’s office, his laptop beeped, signalling he had incoming e-mails. Ever the dutiful PA, she opened the e-mail app and looked at the inbox. There were five or six new e-mails for that morning. She quickly scanned through them. One was from Charles, titled Transfer of funds, no doubt thanking Ed for his quick service the night before. She opened it and sat there aghast.

Surely, this couldn’t be right. Clearly, Charles was finally losing it. Maybe Ed was going to be taking charge sooner than he expected. As she sat there wondering what to do, she heard Ed’s Porsche pull into the car park.

A few minutes later, he appeared in the doorway. He had a twinkle in his eye, and was about to speak, when he saw the look of consternation on her face. “What’s the matter, babe? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Ed, last night, when you received that e-mail request from your father, what exactly did it say?”

“Martha, what is it? Why are you asking? Has something happened?”
“Just show me the e-mail, Ed.”

The worry lines and pitch of her voice had Ed on edge. “It’s in the sub-folder marked ‘China Trip’ under the folder ‘The Old Guy’, yeah, I know, childish, huh?”
She didn’t look faintly amused, and turned the computer to face him.
She spoke in a low quavering voice, “Ed, read this first, then we need to look at the e-mail you received last night.”

Ed scanned the new e-mail, and his face turned ashen as he read it.

charlesjvandera@vanderashipping.com 17th August 2016
To: eduardcvandera
Transfer of funds

Ed

I am in the meeting with the president of Quanzhou Ling Computers and his team. I need you to arrange the transfer of funds in the sum of £250K. I think that will be more than adequate for my needs. Do this first thing when you get in. Contact Coutts and tell them to arrange the transfer. Best speak to old man Bryant, as he knows me well enough. The account details are:

Account Name: Vandera Shipping
Account No: 65787654
Swift Code: BKCH CN BJ 110
Branch: 2 CHAOYANGMENNEIDAJIE, DONGCHENG DISTRICT, BEIJING

Send me an e-mail when you have confirmation of the transfer.

Thanks
Charles J Vandera

“Fuck!” gasped Ed as he reached the bottom of the e-mail. Either his father had finally lost the plot, or he was going to be in the deepest shit of his life.

Chapter Three Wednesday 09:00 BST

“Ed, we need to approach this thing rationally. Let me open the first e-mail, then we can compare the two. Either one of these is a fake, or Charlie boy’s showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Either way, we need to know.”

Martha quickly opened the folder and printed out both e-mails. Ed collected them from the printer, walked back to his desk and placed them so they could both review them.
“Okay, Martha, what the hell are we looking for? They look the same to me.”

“Ed, no they’re not. Look here, at the top line. The sender’s address is not the same on the first one it’s charlesjvandera@vanderashipping.co but on the second one, it says dot com. There’s a letter missing. And here, where it says account number, the first one uses the # and on the second it’s No. The other thing I just noticed is the account numbers. The fourth digit is zero on the first one and eight on the second.”

Ed looked quizzically at her, as he pondered what this all meant. “I get what you’re saying, so which one’s the real one?”

“Ed, it’s simple. The first one’s false. Your dad’s e-mail address is dot com, not dot co. And he would never use the # symbol as he rails against anything that isn’t old school. You just sent three quarters of a million pounds to a bogus account.”
Ed sat heavily in his chair, his head in his hands, as the enormity of what had happened hit him like an avalanche.

“Christ, the old man’s going to kill me! And, of course, it would have to be the larger of the two amounts. What the hell am I going to tell him? It’s not like when I lost my dinner money at school. And I hid from him for a week when that happened. How am I going to tell him?”

Martha walked over to him, and held him to her as she tried to comfort him. “Listen, as you know, the company has pretty comprehensive insurance that covers all sorts of eventualities. Charles is pretty shrewd when it comes to anything business-wise and may well have some kind of indemnity in place to protect him against any sort of cybercrime, even if he didn’t have a clue what he was signing up to. That’s what he has advisers for.”

Ed stood, and paced back and forth for a few moments, still trying to get to grips with the implications. “So, do you think this is an inside job? Obviously, they knew enough to set up an account in the self-same bank in Beijing and at the same branch. For God’s sake, even the account number’s only one digit different.”

“Ed, I don’t honestly think anyone from here was involved, but we clearly have to look at the possibility. The thing is, the scams of the past where Nigerians were involved, sending false lottery wins, or inheritance from unknown relatives. They asked people to send their bank details so they could deposit a payment. Or worse still, they had to pay a sum of money to cover legal costs and the like, in order for the payment to be made. Those days are long gone. Now the scams are far more sophisticated, and this one’s aimed at the company rather than an individual. In the past, they were aiming at the greedy and the terminally stupid, as the spelling was invariably poor, the grammar atrocious and the claims ludicrous. This has been researched carefully and well executed. Without the second e-mail, we mightn’t have spotted it for days.”

Martha sighed, as she lowered herself into the chair opposite, crossed her legs and smoothed her navy blue skirt over her shapely thighs. An unconscious movement that, under any other circumstances, would have made Ed raise an eyebrow as he admired her beauty. Today he never even noticed, his eyes looking into the distance past her, not focussing on her pear-shaped face and strawberry-blonde hair.

After a long silence, he gathered his thoughts and looked at her with a determined glint in his eye. “I need to start thinking more like the old man. I don’t want to alert anyone to this for now, so the police and the insurance company are on the back burner…” He raised his hand to stop Martha as she went to interrupt him, “First, we need to go for damage control. Then we need to find out how this was done and by whom. The thing is, we need to keep this between the two of us for the time being. If dad finds out before I can put things right, it’ll all come tumbling down on top of me, and the likelihood is, he’ll disown me on the spot.”

“Come on, darling, do you really think he’d do that? You’re his son after all, and he has nobody else to step into his shoes…”

Ed cut her off as she aired her thoughts. “I’m not sure I really want to take over the business, if I’m totally honest.”

Martha looked at him, with curiosity etched across her face, as she took in what he was saying. “So, why the concern about him disowning you? I hardly think it’ll come to that.”

“Maybe, maybe not… You see, he has a far worse temper than you ever experienced. When I mentioned I hid from him for a week, I wasn’t kidding. I’d experienced his wrath before and don’t want a repeat performance.”

Ed looked into her eyes, and started relating his tale, “When I was about ten, I had a bicycle, nothing fancy, and it was pretty beaten up as I’d secretly sneak off with my friends and we’d do crazy stuff racing around the forest nearby. Anyway, one day I tried what I thought was a clever stunt. I must have been mad. There was a rope swing attached to an overhanging tree branch sticking out over an old World War II bomb crater. We used to swing out as far as possible as a sign of our bravery, and to impress the girls who hung around watching us. On this fateful day, I decided to up the ante and, emulating my hero, Evel Knievel, I sat astride my bike with the intent of gripping it between my knees and then dropping at the appropriate moment and careening down the steep slope of the crater. Thus winning the awe and admiration of my friends. Things started well. I swung out and the bike stayed in place between my knees. Then came the moment to let go and, incredibly, I did. However, the laws of physics and gravity escaped me and I hit the ground front wheel first. I was catapulted through the air, and landed in an ungainly heap in a pile of brambles. The bike was totalled. Long story short, I ended up in hospital with concussion and a broken arm…”

Martha looked shocked as she spoke, “My God that sounds dreadful, Ed. So what happened?”

Ed shook his head, and continued, “My mother was still alive then, and arrived at the scene as an ambulance and a police car pulled in. She was full of sympathy for her darling only son and accompanied me to the hospital. I was unconscious at the time, and came to about an hour or so later, somewhat groggy, with a drip in the back of my hand and my arm in plaster. My head was bandaged where I’d split the skin open as I hit the ground, and there were numerous sticking plasters covering the worst cuts on my arms and legs, mostly caused by the bramble bush that cushioned my fall. Then dad arrived. Well, arrived doesn’t do it justice, he stormed in, bellowing he wanted to see his son. He crashed into the room and looked daggers at me. I thought he’d have been concerned for my well-being. Instead, he stood, red-faced, looming over me whilst berating me for my utter stupidity and asking if I had any idea how much money I was costing him by my foolhardy pranks. Which had apparently dragged him away from an important meeting. I thought he was going to kill me there and then. He had no idea I was even conscious when he entered the hospital and was still ready to ream me out, concussion or not.”

He looked at the floor, and carried on, “He grounded me for two months, stopped my allowance and made me do odd jobs for my pocket money, which he tallied until I eventually earned enough to pay for a new bike. His idea of teaching me the value of money.”

Ed looked forlornly across at Martha, and sighed heavily, “Now do you see, telling him isn’t an option. Two years later, my mother had had enough of him, and that’s why she committed suicide. He’s a bloody tyrant!”

Martha walked across to him, and held him tight as tears rolled down her cheeks. “So exactly what do you think we should do, Ed?”


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