THE GOURMET CLUB
Morgan had called Wilkes and asked if they could meet that day. Wilkes had declined, saying he was too busy with work commitments, but Morgan was pleasantly insistent.
‘Come on John, it’s likely to be the last time we’ll meet and I really do need your advice before I go.’
Wilkes had felt churlish. He knew Morgan was being treated for cancer and by all accounts didn’t have long to live.
‘Okay, sure, I’ll be finished about five.’
Detective Chief Superintendent John Wilkes had had a long and successful career with the Metropolitan Police. He was currently head of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, part of the Met’s Specialist Crime Directorate. He had a year to go before retirement and for the last few months Wilkes had been making enquiries with various political and media contacts in the hope of gaining some interesting and lucrative post retirement work. So far he had four good offers to consider. Wilkes had done well for himself. Not as well as he’d have liked but he was still relatively young, there were still plenty of opportunities for further advancement.
His brother-in-law had rung out of the blue and the call had irritated Wilkes. The last time he’d spoken to Frank Morgan was two years ago. It was at the funeral of Morgan’s daughter, Sophie. She’d been killed in a car accident. Morgan had bought her a Porsche when she’d passed her driving test. Possessed of her father’s impetuosity, Sophie had driven too fast on a country lane and crashed into an oncoming car. She’d been a beautiful girl. With her mother’s looks and her father’s intelligence she should have had a hell of a life in front of her.
Her death devastated Morgan. But it wasn’t pity or compassion that Wilkes had felt at the funeral, it was schadenfreude. Although Wilkes didn’t get on with his wife’s sister, his feelings for her husband bordered on hatred. Frank Morgan was mouthy, brash, full of himself and arrogant. He was also clever, energetic, handsome and charming. And he was rich. At about 6pm Wilkes knocked on the door of a sixth floor Mayfair hotel. He was taken aback when the door opened. Morgan looked dreadful. His expensive suit hung loosely from an emaciated frame; his once defined and bullish neck was now scrawny and poked out, turtle like, from a loose, crisp white collar. The skin on his face was drawn and sallow and his piercing bright eyes now had a yellowish tinge. The man used to turn heads when he walked into a room.
Morgan noted Wilkes’s shock.
‘Not very attractive am I?’ He smiled. ‘Come on in.’
He showed Wilkes to a chair and offered him a drink. Wilkes declined.
‘Go on,’ pressed Morgan, ‘what I’ve got to tell you will take a while, you might as well relax.’
Wilkes accepted a beer and Morgan settled in a chair opposite him. They made a few pleasantries then there was an awkward silence. Morgan broke it.
‘You’ve never liked me have you?’
Wilkes shook his head.
‘Oh come on Frank, do we really have to go into this? Will it really achieve anything?’
‘No, I’m just curious.’
Aware that this was probably the last time they’d meet, Wilkes decided he’d have nothing to lose by being honest.
‘Well, no, I’ve never liked you. From the moment we met, you could never just enjoy your success you’ve always had to rub it in everyone’s faces. You always thought you were better than everyone else.’
Morgan let out a raspy laugh.
‘Not everyone, but most people.’
Wilkes felt irritated. As ever, he was feeling defensive in Morgan’s company.
‘And then there was that business with the insider trading. It embarrassed me at work, although, thankfully, not many people knew we were related. I thought you’d be taught a lesson. I thought you might go to jail or at least suffer some of the hardships the rest of us do. But no, you got that plum job in the restaurant business and everything seemed to be hunky-dory. I’ll admit, I was probably a little envious. But as I say, you always wanted to rub people’s noses in it. I’m sorry you’ve got cancer but I’m afraid it doesn’t change the way I feel about you.’
‘Well, thanks for your honesty. I’ve never felt the need to appear humble, I’ve never been ashamed of my success. I worked bloody hard for it, it’s been part of my life story, it’s part of who I am and I’m not going to apologise for that at this late stage.’
Morgan’s voice had begun to rise and, aware that he was getting angry, he took a deep breath to relax himself and settled back into his chair. He waved his hand, dismissively, and smiled.
‘The reason I asked you to come here, John, was so that I could make a sort of confession. I need to get a few things off my chest before I die.’He took a sip of his beer. ‘When Sophie died a few years ago I really began to question my life. A couple of months ago I found out Helen’s been having an affair. She’s never been right since Sophie died.’ He looked around him. ‘That’s why I’m living here, I can’t forgive her. They were the two people, the two things in my life that mattered the most. So I’m not bothered about dying. I sold my soul a long time ago but when I look back now, apart from Sophie and Helen, everything seems utterly pointless, like one big empty ego trip. I’ve done some unpleasant things in my life but since I got this job, after all those shenanigans about insider trading, I’ve been complicit in some rather serious things. And I want to tell you about them because you’re one of the few people I know who has integrity, and you’re in the best position to do something about it. I couldn’t tell you before, the threat was too great.’ He grinned. ‘It doesn’t matter now.’
Wilkes’s interest was aroused and the compliment made him feel a little more magnanimous.
Morgan went on.
‘You think I’ve always had it easy but you don’t know anything about my background. I had a shit upbringing. My father was an alcoholic who regularly beat me and my sister and mother. My mother kept things together earning a pittance as a cleaner and I had to start bringing in the money early. Everything was a struggle. But I knew very early on that I was smart, I could read people like a book. I dropped out of school, hardly went after I was fourteen. I worked in the street markets, was a runner for some of the local characters, even did a bit of drug running.’ He grinned again. ‘If things had been just a little different I would have been an out and out criminal. But I was smart, quick to learn and kept my mouth shut. I became a real wheeler dealer. I had my fingers in all sorts of pies. By a piece of luck I did some business with a nice old man who must have recognised my talents. He worked in the City and he got me a job on the Stock Exchange.’
Morgan’s dull eyes lit up and his voice became animated as he remembered his glory days.
‘I was a gladiator in the LIFFE trading pits of the late ’80s. I was the original barrow boy made good. An East End boy with attitude. As a floor trader I made a hell of a lot of money, got noticed and moved up. I was envied and feared. I didn’t give a shit. All those ex public schoolboys who wanted to be like me, wanted to be street. I despised them. . .’
Morgan, Wilkes noted contemptuously, always betrayed his roots when he got excited; his accent changed and his tone and language became coarser. Conscious now of the sneer on his face, Wilkes rubbed his nose to hide it. Morgan didn’t notice, his eyes were in the past.
‘… I’ll admit I was a bully and I was ruthless, but I was also charming, discreet and trustworthy. I had a personality type that drew others to me, I was charismatic. And I climbed out of the pit and into management, driving teams, getting exceptional results. I got rich and successful but then I started dabbling in insider trading and that’s what fucked me. I got too greedy. I got caught and was offered immunity from prosecution if I spilled the beans. I kept schtum. That’s what saved me, kind of.’ Morgan’s verbal flow was momentarily disrupted by the vividness of his memories.
Wilkes shifted in his chair.
‘Never one for modesty though, were you Frank?’
Morgan didn’t notice the sarcasm but the sound of Wilkes’s voice prompted him to continue.
‘I got caught at the worst time. I’d just met Helen who I’d really fallen in love with. She wasn’t the usual meat, she was quality. Physically gorgeous, mentally sharp, quick witted, imaginative, the full package. I knew her parents never approved. Unlike you, John, I wasn’t cut from the right cloth. Not from the right stock. Fuck them, though. It made me more determined to have her. We got married, had Sophie, life was great for a while then my world fell in. Anyway, I didn’t spill the beans, didn’t grass anyone else up but I was in debt up to my ears. I did some crap deals, spending too much… Needed to keep the wife in sartorial splendour.’
Morgan smiled, a bittersweet smile.
‘Frank, I appreciate the life story but what’s your point? What did you invite me here for?’
Morgan raised his hand, irritatedly.
‘Just let me finish will you? You’ll need to know the details eventually. I’m reporting a crime to you.’
Wilkes felt a little unsettled by this revelation.
Morgan carried on.
‘So, where was I?… Yeah, then, out of the blue, I was approached by an ex-work colleague. I only vaguely knew him, he was higher up than me and we hardly mixed so I was surprised when he called. He said he’d been asked to approach me about a possible job and gave me a number.I rang the number and spoke to a man who said his name was Vickers. He said he had an interesting job proposition but that it wasn’t suitable to discuss over the phone so he arranged to meet me the next day outside the National Portrait Gallery.
‘We went to a coffee house. He told me his clients had done a lot of research into my background and thought that I was the man for the job. I said, ‘‘What job? What clients?’’ He just smiled and I remember thinking I didn’t like him. A few months previously I would have just got up and walked out, I used to always follow my instincts. He told me his clients details were unimportant and that I’d never meet them, not to talk to anyway, as I was far too unimportant. He waited for a reaction but I didn’t give him one. And then he smiled again, it was a sort of creepy smile, and he told me he’d never met them either, well, not socially.’ Morgan’s voice took on a lofty tone as he tried to mimic Vickers: ‘ ‘‘I’m far too unimportant. I’m afraid we’re way down the food chain when it comes to these sorts of people.’’ Anyway, he described the job. Basically, it was managing the supply and quality of food used in meals that were prepared for a group of gourmets. But these gourmets weren’t ordinary people. He told me they were a small group of very rich, very powerful men. Privacy, he said, was of the utmost importance, that’s why they needed people who were discreet and trustworthy.
‘The meals only took place about four or five times a year, but there was an enormous amount of background organising that needed to be done. “Why me?” I asked him. Surely there were loads of suitable people in the restaurant business? I told him I had no experience. Vickers said that didn’t matter, that I had the right abilities and I was trustworthy. Anyway, I’d be trained by the current manager who I’d be replacing. I asked why the manager was leaving and he told me he wasn’t that well, that he was getting on a bit and that he just felt it was time. He told me the framework was all in place and that it just needed a steady, reliable hand to guide it. He gave me a few more details.
‘From what I gathered these gourmets indulged in meals that used rare or protected species of various sorts, you know, rhino meat, golden eagle eggs, something like that. I wasn’t too bothered by that and when Vickers mentioned the salary I was staggered. My money problems were all solved in one hit. Of course, I accepted the job, I would have been a fool not to. Vickers smiled when I accepted but then he became serious and he sort of threatened me which I didn’t really register at the time. I remember his face was really cold and he said something like, ‘‘You understand, Mr Morgan, that once you’re in you’re in, there’s no turning back? Privacy and secrecy are of the utmost importance, you understand?’’ I just nodded and said, ‘‘No problem.’’ I should have got out then. Anyway, I met the manager I was taking over from. He gave me a more detailed explanation of what the job was about.’
Morgan leaned forward in his chair.
‘It was a fucking international set up. These gourmets had set up orphanages all over the world. Outwardly they were run as charities but their real purpose was to rear meat, prime quality human meat. Human fucking Wagyus.’
‘What?’ said Wilkes, impatiently.
‘You know, Wagyus. Those Japanese cows; Kobe beef, the best beef in the world.’ ‘Oh come off it Frank, I haven’t got time for this. What did you want to see me for?’
Morgan sat forward in his chair, his face deadly serious.
‘I’m not fucking joking, John. What I’m telling you is dead true, just hear me out, I can prove it. When I found out what the operation was I rang Vickers and said I’d changed my mind. He said he’d come and talk it over. He turned up the next day andhe took me for a ride in the back of his chauffeur driven Merc and we went to a small warehouse, somewhere in the East End. I don’t know exactly where it was, I hadn’t been paying much attention, I’d been telling Vickers about why I didn’t want the job and that he needn’t worry, I was trustworthy and …’
Morgan shook his head and laughed.
‘I thought I was worldly wise. Vickers listened and made a few sympathetic comments and then changed the subject, just making polite conversation. Anyway, when we got to the place it was some kind of warehouse and he took me into a refrigerated part where there were all these sides of cow and pig carcasses hanging up in rows. He led me along the rows to the back of the warehouse and pointed at some meat hanging up. I saw two corpses, a child and an adult, hanging from meathooks. I tell you it was the first time in my life I felt that type of fear, you know, where you want to shit yourself?’
Wilkes could see that Morgan wasn’t joking, he’d never seen him look disturbed before.
‘I asked him who they were. I remember I was trying to sound controlled, unaffected. Vickers shrugged his shoulders, like he really couldn’t give a fuck and said, ‘‘Does it matter? You might as well ask me who the particular cows or pigs are, it’s really of no significance.’’ ’
Morgan’s eyes had taken on a kind of trance like quality as he recounted, in vivid detail, what happened, as though he was back at the warehouse.
‘Then He nodded towards the corpses and put his hand on my shoulder, “Go on, take a closer look at them.” I said, “No thanks,’’ and he said, “It’s not a request Mr Morgan, take a closer look.’’ I could see from where I was standing that there was something covering their faces, some kind of mask. As I got nearer I could see the masks had pictures on them and when I got right up I felt a sort of cold fear take hold of me. On the masks were pictures of Helen and Sophie’s faces. Not drawn, they were photographs of their faces and I remember thinking, how the fuck did they get those so quickly? They must have taken them some time before, they must have known I might change my mind. Vickers came up behind me. He said, ‘‘You get the point Mr Morgan? I told you, once you’re in that’s it.’’ There was no trace of a threat in his voice, for him he was simply stating a truth. There was no possibility of me backing out. He said, ‘‘You’re with us now, Mr Morgan, don’t let us down.’’ I remember how cold and impassive his voice was and that frightened me. Then he said a bit more about these gourmets.’
Morgan again imitated Vickers’ voice. ‘ “The people who fund this operation are not low life gangsters, Morgan. They’re a group of extremely powerful, extremely rich individuals who have the money and influence to do basically what they want.’’ And I said, ‘‘But this isn’t right.’’ And Vickers shook his head as though I was a child. ‘‘Let me take you back,’’ he said, ‘‘and I’ll explain on the way.’’ ’
Morgan shook his head disbelievingly.
‘That’s what was so strange at the time. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t given a bit more detail in the beginning. But there was no point. Vickers must have guessed what my reaction would be. But he’d also researched what type of a person I was. He knew I could be ruthless and he knew what motivated me. For him it was just a question of convincing me, just like the insider trading, that it was all morally justifiable. And as with everything else in my life, if there were substantial material benefits any flimsy moral argument would persuade me.’
‘So what did he say?’ asked Wilkes, his voice unconcerned, disbelieving. Although unsettled by Morgan’s apparent seriousness, he still suspected Morgan was winding him up.
‘He said there were seven billion people in this world and that most of them lived in poverty. Millions were starving, lived in fear, were abused, tortured, trafficked, drug addicts. He went on about the wars going on across the world; corrupt governments, child labour, prostitution, the lot. He went into loads of detail and basically painted this grotesque picture of the world which I couldn’t really argue with. Then he said that most people really didn’t care. They didn’t care that their clothes were made by child labour in sweatshops, that their mobile phones and computers were so cheap because they were made by people who worked in atrocious conditions and worked atrocious hours. They didn’t care that poor people were selling their organs for transplants for a pittance, to support their families. People didn’t care that their diet of internet pornography was supplied by prostitutes and children who were forced to act our their fantasies. They didn’t care that their recreational drugs are supplied at the expense of people who have to live with the violence of South American drug cartels or under the yoke of Afghanistan fundamentalists.’ Again Morgan mimicked Vickers. ‘ ‘‘If people cared, Mr Morgan, the world would be a different place, it’s as simple as that. Put my clients tastes in that context and you’ll see that they pay dearly for their particular peccadillos. They show far more moral responsibility in relation to their pleasures than the mass of humanity.’’ Anyway, he put it all much more cleverly, much more articulately than that and when he’d finished telling me what an awful place the world was he started singing the praises of the work done in these orphanages.
‘There are about two hundred of them around the world. Ostensibly, local churches run them but these gourmets actually fund them, so, although they’re staffed mainly by the church, these gourmets have sufficient of their own people in place to make sure their needs are satisfied. They make sure the churches get the credit for the success of the orphanages so they can avoid unwanted attention.
‘The children are extremely well looked after. They’re well fed, healthy, educated and happy. The staff who run the centres are dedicated and professional and in blissful ignorance of the few bodies that are managed away when the time is right. Those youngsters that show promise are even funded through university. Well over ninety-nine percent of the residents go on to lead happy, adult lives. If you did a survey and compared the lives of those in the orphanages to those outside you’d find that those in the orphanages are far happier, healthier and end up far wealthier than their counterparts, and that includes the meat that’s slaughtered. I remember Vickers saying, ‘‘These people aren’t monsters Morgan, there is a morality to their desires, they treat their food with respect.’’ ’ Morgan grinned. ‘I think he was serious.‘
Wilkes interrupted, repeating, in a tone of disgust, Morgan’s words: ‘Even the meat that’s slaughtered?’
Morgan grinned again.
‘Sorry, I’ve got so used to the trade I tend to use the jargon without thinking.’
Wilkes grimaced, irritated by the unnecessary touches Morgan was adding to his fantastic tale.
‘When I got back to work I told the manager. He laughed and patted me on the shoulder. He told me not to worry and that I’d get used to it. He was right. The first time I saw a dish I felt really sick. It was a Brazilian girl, she was about fifteen. They wheeled her in on a gilded trolley, and this group of so-called gourmets all applauded.’
‘How did you know she was a Brazilian girl?’ asked Wilkes, hoping to catch Morgan out.
‘Well, they had these expensive looking menu folders that had details of the courses to be served and they included pictures of the girl to show where the meat was sourced from. They were very professional pictures, like a model shoot. The girl was shown at various stages of her life. The last pictures showed her fully pregnant, smiling and happy. She wasn’t all on the trolley, they’d taken her head and arms off. She was turned on her side, one leg was bent at the knee and was crossed over the other, so that it accentuated her hips and buttocks. Her womb had been sliced open and two babies, that had been skewered like suckling pigs, were hanging out. The cook told me that the meat would be cooked Churrasco style which is a sort of Brazilian way of cooking it. That was what they used to do, cook the meat in the cuisine style of the country it originated from.’
Wilkes snorted, derisively.
‘I’m being serious,’ said Morgan. ‘I’ve seen just about every part of a human prepared and cooked in one fashion or another; testacles, knuckles, strips of labia, cheek, shoulder, thigh, whatever animal part you can think of they’ve eaten the human equivalent. It took me a long time to get used to these spectacles. But I did get used to them and I even started to justify what was going on.
‘As part of a quality control procedure I had to visit the orphanages and earmark the products for eating. The staff don’t have a clue what’s going on, they really love the kids and it shows. The kids are extremely well looked after, they have a damn good deal.’
‘I suppose it’s a bit like that old question about whether you’d kill one person if it meant saving a hundred others. For me, it was a no-brainer. All these kids, who would otherwise live in poverty, actually lead fruitful and happy lives. Even those products that we used were slaughtered humanely. Granted, their lives were shorter but they were much happier than they would otherwise have been. When you think of the poverty, slavery, trafficking, child abuse, hunger and everything else most of the world suffers, these people had a pretty good deal and only a tiny percentage are used in our kitchens.
Wilkes interrupted. He was angry.
‘Okay Frank, you’ve had your fun, what’s the point of this silly tale? What are you trying to do? Embarrass me? This is plainly ridiculous.’
Morgan let out an exasperated sigh.
‘You know, for a top copper you’re incredibly naïve. Jesus, don’t you read the newspapers? All the stuff going on in the world? Why should this be so outrageous? Did you ever read about that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, the father of the present nutter?’
Wilkes nodded his head impatiently.
‘Of course I have.’
‘He was a gourmet, a proper gourmet. While most of his people were starving, eating grass, he had a staff who inspected each individual grain of rice he ate to make sure it was up to standard. He had luxuries imported from the far corners of the earth on a whim. He had the power to do what he wanted. And if you’ve got that power, you use it, and if you’re used to that power then you abuse it, any way you want, as long as you can get away with it. And when you’re that powerful you do get away with it.
‘Even the most expensive food is now accessible to those with mediocre wealth and status. Does caviar or champagne really have the allure it used to? Can you imagine the thrill, as a gourmet with that power, of raising and eating human flesh? Can you imagine the thrill of demonstrating your power by operating entirely outside any acceptable moral or legal framework whilst at the same time being respected by governments, churches and charitable institutions across the world? Wouldn’t it all confirm your status as being apart from the dreary masses, your exclusivity? Wouldn’t it make your food taste that little bit better?’
‘You sound far from disgusted with the idea,’ said Wilkes, his voice contemptuous.
‘Well, I’d rather live my life as a Kobe cow than a battery farmed chicken.’
Wilkes screwed up his face.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It means we all get used. We have to make choices according to our circumstances; it doesn’t matter what herd, shoal or flock we’re from, we all get led along, one way or another.’
‘But the people you’re describing don’t have choices.’
‘Neither do the rest of them,’ countered Morgan, ‘the ones who are trapped in poverty, who are starving or abused.’
Wilkes shook his head, dismissively.
‘But you had a choice, didn’t you Frank? But I take it your greed, your need to be the top dog, as ever, overrode those considerations?’
‘That’s right,’ said Morgan, ‘I made my choices and I can’t go back on them, but I can do something about them now, it’s not too late.’ He took a DVD from his pocket and handed it to Wilkes. ‘Here, this has got footage of some of the cannibalised people. It shows the gourmets, the meat sources, the orphanages, Vickers, bodies, the meals, it’s got everything on it, it’s almost a documentary. It took me four years to put together. I didn’t do it out of conscience, I just needed a bit of an insurance policy in case they decided they no longer needed my services. I risked my life each time I added to that. Well, I’ll be dead in a few months anyway so I don’t give a shit. I’ve got some other copies and I’m going to put it on the internet in a week and send a few to the papers and the news channels. That,’ said Morgan, pointing to the DVD Wilkes was now holding, ‘is your opportunity to make a massive name for yourself.’
‘I’m not interested in making a name for myself,’ said Wilkes, sniffily.
‘Yes you are,’ said Morgan, ‘and I’m giving you the chance.’
‘This had better not be some kind of hoax,’ said Wilkes.
‘It’s not. That’s all going on the internet in a couple of weeks along with the fact that you’ve been told and the police are investigating. So the ball’s in your court.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Because I’ve got nothing to lose.’
‘No,’ said Wilkes, ‘I mean, why are you giving this to me? Why not just go straight to the newspapers?’
‘Because I don’t like you.’
The two men studied each other. Wilkes didn’t want to ask but he couldn’t resist.
‘Why not? Did you really think that your opinion of me wouldn’t be reciprocated? Why do you think I don’t like you?’
‘Well,’ said Wilkes slowly, considering his response, ‘I think you’ve always had something to prove because of your background, it’s something you can’t buy. If I’m frank I think that’s always irked you about me, I’ve got something you can’t have or buy.’
Morgan smiled, he was plainly amused which irritated Wilkes.
‘You really think that? Well, you’re wrong. The reason I’ve never liked you is that you’re a snob and like most snobs your attitude hides a wealth of insecurities and disappointments. You went to a top university, came from a solid middle class background and yet I achieved far more in every respect of my life than you and yet you still look down your nose at me. But deep down you know that side by side my quality always outshone yours.’
‘Until now,’ said Wilkes, spitefully.
‘Until now,’ Morgan agreed.
‘So, you’ve still not really answered my question. Why give the information to me? Why not go straight to the papers?’
‘Because I’m looking forward to seeing how you handle this. I’m looking forward to seeing how far your integrity takes you. As I said,’ and Morgan’s tone became sarcastic, ‘the ball’s in your court Detective Chief Superintendent. You’ve got a week before I go to the papers and this is spread all over the internet and I will be telling them all that you’re investigating this matter.’
Wilkes stood up and waved the DVD in his hand.
‘I’ve no doubt this is an absolute load of bollocks, some silly little hoax, a nasty attempt to discredit me.’
‘I can assure you it’s not,’ said Morgan. His face was deadly serious. ‘And if you don’t investigate it, you’ll reap the consequences.’
Wilkes felt a little off balance.
‘Well, if there is any truth in this,’ he said, ‘there’ll be a full and professional investigation.’ Wilkes moved towards the door and, just before he left, he looked back over his shoulder. ‘And if there is any truth in this you had better hope you die before you’re arrested.’
Morgan smirked, contemptuously, as he watched Wilkes leave the room.
During his journey home, Wilkes mulled over the meeting with his brother in law. The more he thought about it, the more surreal it seemed. It was the longest conversation they’d ever had. Previous conversations, entirely confined to family occasions, had always been politely superficial, a little uncomfortable, bearable. Now, comforted by the thought of Morgan’s physical and personal circumstances, Wilkes could freely admit to himself that there were things he had envied about Morgan. He felt oddly uplifted by Morgan’s change in fortunes.
Wilkes had a late supper when he got home and chatted to his wife for a while. He didn’t mention his meeting with Morgan. At about 10.30 his wife said she was going to bed. Wilkes said he’d watch a bit of television before joining her. He waited for about half an hour to satisfy himself she wouldn’t be down again and then he put on the DVD Morgan had given him. He watched, fascinated and repulsed, as evidence of Morgan’s allegations unfolded on the screen. He recognised two of the so called ‘gourmets’. One was a well known financier, the other a playboy son of a Middle Eastern despot. The others he wasn’t sure about. He replayed the DVD several times to reassure himself that the contents were bona fide.
By the third viewing a degree of inurement had set in and the implications of an investigation began to dawn on him. Morgan was right. This would make him internationally famous. Never mind those post retirement jobs he’d been looking at, this would propel him into the stratosphere. Morgan’s excitement grew as he entertained thoughts of television appearances, book and film deals and lucrative after dinner talks. He envisioned himself being doorstepped by the media as he came out of court, and talking gravely on current affairs shows. A case like this would run for years. The Americans would love this sort of thing, perhaps he could move there for a year or so. My God, what opportunities! Thank you Frank! Wilkes almost laughed out loud. He was jittery with excitement.
He let the DVD finish then removed it, put it in his briefcase and went into his office. There, he started up his computer, opened a document and began typing whatever came into his head. He gave the document a working title, ‘The Gourmet Club’, and produced an outline of actions he needed to take.
The most important thing was to ensure he wasn’t sidelined. There would be plenty of people seeking kudos from an association with an investigation of this magnitude. But how would he do that? They’d be bound to say he had a personal interest and shouldn’t be involved. Wilkes felt a stab of anxiety at the prospect of others taking credit, being fêted. The investigation could take months before any arrests were made and by that time he could be well out of the picture. Morgan. That was the answer. He could establish a firm grip on things by manipulating his association with Morgan. They’d have to install Morgan in a safe house, arrange security. Wilkes could advise the appointed investigators that Morgan would only speak to him. He felt reassured. He’d work out the details later. Besides, whatever happened, his initial involvement would ensure his reputation was set. He’d have to call a meeting with the Chief. By the time Wilkes got to bed it was about 4am.
He slept fitfully, for several hours, before his wife woke him with a cup of tea. Wilkes felt unusually alert and excited and spent some time adding ideas to ‘The Gourmet Club’ document before printing off a copy to take to work.
Arriving at the office a little later than usual, the first thing he did was to cancel his meetings for the day; his priority was getting in touch with Morgan. He needed to work out how he was going to handle him, get him to cooperate. That would be tricky, especially after the way they’d parted. Morgan was no fool. Perhaps he could use Helen’s vulnerability as a means of appealing to his better nature. That was probably his only hope.
Wilkes rang the hotel Morgan was staying in and asked to be put through to his room. The receptionist apologised then explained that there had been an accident and asked if she could call back. Wilkes left his number.
Five minutes later his phone rang. The caller introduced herself as Detective Sergeant Fletcher. She said she understood Wilkes had been trying to contact Morgan and asked what his association was. Wilkes used his official title and told the sergeant that Morgan was his brother-in-law.
Her voice became less officious.
‘Oh I am terribly sorry sir, I’m afraid he died last night.’
‘Yes, I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid he committed suicide.’
‘Yes, I’m afraid he jumped out of the hotel window.’
D.S. Fletcher asked Wilkes various details about Morgan. At the conclusion of their conversation Wilkes said he would inform Morgan’s wife, gave the sergeant his mobile number and put the phone down.
‘Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, the fucking idiot, the fucking gutless idiot,’ Wilkes shouted angrily. Now what to do? He would need time to think. With Morgan gone things were much more complicated. There was only the DVD that provided any evidence of his allegations. But Morgan must have had more, he was going to put it all on the internet and go to the papers. Surely, reasoned Wilkes, there must be some sort of documentation, further evidence stored on his computer?
An hour and a half later Wilkes drove into the driveway of Morgan’s house. A police car was already parked outside and Wilkes felt relieved that he would no longer have to deliver the news of Morgan’s death to his sister-in-law. He knocked on the front door and when Helen answered he saw her eyes were red from crying.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Wilkes said and gave her a brief hug.
‘Oh it’s all right, I suppose most of it’s replaceable, it’s just the things that had that sentimental value.’
‘Sorry?’ said Wilkes.
‘The burglars,’ said Helen. ‘They took some video tapes and DVDs that had footage of Sophie on, that’s why I’m so upset. I don’t care about the rest.’
Wilkes stepped past Helen and entered the living room, which had been turned upside down. A police officer was standing in the middle of the room, he’d obviously come to investigate. Shit, thought Wilkes. Helen had followed him into the room.
‘When did this happen?’ he asked.
‘Oh I went shopping this morning, the officer thinks they must have been watching the house.’
The officer nodded, wisely.
‘And what did they take?’
‘All the computers, mobile phones, DVDs.’ Helen sat on the sofa and began to sob. ‘I’ve got nothing of Sophie, except the photos, it was all on the computers and DVD’s.’
Wilkes excused himself and went outside. He’d started to feel uneasy. He rang his wife, explained what had happened and asked her to come over to comfort her sister.
‘I’ve still got to tell her Morgan’s dead,’ he added, as an afterthought.
‘Oh God,’ she said. ‘Why do these things always come in threes?’
‘What do you mean?’ said Wilkes.
‘Darling, I’m afraid we were also burgled this morning. I’m just waiting for the police to arrive. I didn’t want to tell you until you got home, there’s nothing you could do and I didn’t want to disturb you at work.’
‘What happened?’ asked Wilkes, his uneasy feeling deepening.
‘Well, I was out at the hairdressers. I’m not sure how they got in, I’m sure I locked up. I suppose at least they’ve not left a mess.’
‘What did they take?’
‘Well, it’s funny,’ said his wife, ‘they only took the computers and DVDs and your spare mobile. They left my jewellery, perhaps they just missed it in their haste.’
Wilkes hurriedly finished the conversation and went back into the house to tell Helen that Morgan was dead. When his wife arrived he returned to work. En route he rang D.S. Fletcher.
‘Tell me, Sergeant, is it possible to retrieve some of Mr Morgan’s property so I can return it to his wife?’
‘He didn’t have any sir.’
‘What do you mean? I saw a laptop in the room when I visited him last night.’
‘Well, all that we found was clothing and his wallet was on a side table with a few credit cards and some money, there was nothing else.’
‘What, no phone?’
‘Was there anything suspicious sergeant?’
‘No, nothing at all. We’re quite satisfied it was suicide. The door was locked from the inside, no signs to suggest anything else and, bearing in mind the state of his health, I think he just couldn’t face the last few months getting any worse.’
‘Was there anything on the hotel CCTV?’
‘We checked that sir, but unfortunately there’s been a technical fault, there’s nothing on the tapes for the last three days. Did you manage to tell his wife?’ asked Fletcher.
‘Yes, yes,’ said Wilkes, absentmindedly.
He finished the call and drove back to New Scotland Yard in a daze. He couldn’t think straight. His earlier elation had been replaced by a deep, gnawing worry. When Wilkes got to his office he sat in his chair and pondered. The more Wilkes pondered, the more uneasy he became and the more uneasy he became the more he convinced himself that Morgan’s allegations were mischievous. He spent some time rationalising the morning’s turn of events and the absurdity of Morgan’s allegations until the sickly feelings of anxiety had settled enough for him to decide on a course of action. He opened his briefcase, took out Morgan’s DVD and cut it into small pieces. He opened a window and threw the pieces into the air and watched as they fluttered away. He sat back down at his desk and loosened his tie and collar. And there he remained, rooted to his chair, unable to stir, his mind fuzzily flitting over the events of the last two days.
It was two days later that he received the phone call. He’d just got into the office and was settling at his desk when his mobile rang. It was his police issue phone so he expected the call to be work related and he answered using his official title.
A crisp, well educated voice addressed him.
‘Hello, Detective Chief Superintendent Wilkes. My name is Vickers. I used to work with your brother-in-law. It was such a shock hearing of his death.’
Wilkes felt himself go cold.
‘It certainly was,’ he said, trying to keep the uneasiness from his voice. ‘How can I help you, Mr Vickers?’
Vickers’ voice was steady, calm, unemotional.
‘I wonder if we could meet? I’d like to discuss your views on ‘The Gourmet Club.’
That afternoon, when Wilkes arrived home, his wife threw her arms around him.
‘Who’s a clever boy then?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I had a phone call from a rather nice man called Vickers.’
Wilkes felt queasy.
‘He told me they’d offered you a job.’ She hugged him again. ‘Oh darling, it sounds fantastic, I’m so proud of you. He said they’d done a lot of research into your background and you were just the type of person they were looking for.’
Wilkes didn’t hear his wife’s congratulatory praises. His mind was elsewhere. He was thinking of Morgan. He hoped he was in hell.