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A few weeks later, after Vic Leighton was found floating in the River Thames, the errand boy made his way to a secluded spot in Hyde Park. Nigel Bassington-Pryce was already there, sitting on a bench, his face shielded by an open newspaper.
"Well?" Nigel said curtly, keeping the newspaper in place as the errand boy seated himself at the other end of the bench.
"Seems it was at his hotel after all."
Nigel dropped the newspaper. "Was? What in hell happened? Where is it now?"
"In a safe place, I'm sure." The errand boy forced a smile, pretending a nonchalance he didn't feel. Unlike Nigel, he didn't have a private fortune to fall back on if he lost his job. "Despite what the hotel people kept telling me, I knew it was there. Only place it could be. So I had a man keep checking with them every couple of days. Last time he went, the clerk lost her temper. She told him they put mini-vaults in the rooms about a year ago and since then they've had only one item of guest property in the hotel safe. A package belonging to a Julie Green."
He permitted himself a faint but triumphant smile. "Package was collected same day Vic's body was found, so I made a few inquiries. Turns out Julie is the name of Vic's widow, and her maiden name was Green."
Nigel's face paled to a sickly gray. "You think Vic left instructions for her to take over?"
"Sounds like it to me." The errand boy gave an offhand shrug. "Because if he'd left the instructions with anyone else, I doubt we'd be having this conversation."
"I'm sure you're right." Nigel's expression brightened slightly. "Did the clerk say who picked up the package?"
"Records only show the date it was put in the safe and the date it was taken out."
"Then why haven't we heard from the widow?"
"Because she doesn't have the package." The errand boy smiled smugly. "She hasn't been over, and I know it hasn't been sent to her in the States because I put out a general alert the day Vic was found." He hesitated, knowing the package could have slipped through despite his best efforts, but hoping his hunch was right. "I think Vic made arrangements for it to be collected in the event anything went wrong. By a solicitor, maybe. Or perhaps a member of the hotel staff since he was a regular there. Someone he trusted to hold on to it until his widow can pick it up."
"And what will happen when she does?" Nigel demanded. "We have no idea if she'll come after me, or do the decent thing and destroy it."
"And we can't afford to wait around to find out," the errand boy finished as he handed Nigel a tiny scrap of newsprint. "I saw this notice about Vic's death in the Sunday papers. It gave me an idea…"
Nigel listened attentively while the errand boy outlined his intentions, then he folded his newspaper and stood up. "In other words, get her over here and make her an offer she can't refuse." He stared at the ground for a moment, then he shrugged and tossed the newspaper into a nearby trash container. "Why not? Better than holding our breath and hoping. But if anything goes wrong, don't expect me to bail you out."
* * * *
From a concealed observation post in London's Heathrow Airport, Detective Inspector Simon Winter watched patiently as the passengers from the Boston flight filed through immigration and passport control.
As the line straggled slowly past, Simon concentrated on the younger women and tried to decide which one would turn out to be his blackmail suspect. The hard-faced blonde who looked ready to take on the world and everyone in it? Or the pretty redhead batting her eyelashes at the immigration officers?
When the signal he'd been waiting for came, Simon stared in surprise. The petite brunette dressed in pale blue denim was his blackmailer? As a policeman, he knew blackmailers came in all shapes and sizes, but he'd expected someone older, tougher looking, more in keeping with the part. Not someone who looked as sweet and fresh as the girl next door.
He transferred his attention to the solemn-faced little girl holding the woman's hand. His informant hadn't mentioned a child, and he wondered who she was. His suspect's daughter? Maybe a young sister, or niece?
He stifled a yawn and picked up his suitcase, reasonably certain he was wasting his time. While it was his job to check out any and all information received, his informant's belief that an American woman was blackmailing Britain's star politician seemed more than a little farfetched. Blackmailers needed something solid to back up their demands. If there was something, despite his best efforts, Simon had failed to find it.
But he hadn't expected to find anything. Most people he talked to seemed to believe Nigel Bassington-Pryce's chances of sainthood and becoming Britain's next prime minister were running neck and neck. In fact, no one, not his political opponents, the gutter press, or any of his other detractors had found a single speck of dirt with which to sully Nigel's squeaky clean reputation.
Keeping the woman and child in sight, Simon hung back while they collected their bags from the luggage carousel, then followed them through Customs and the crowded arrivals area to the exit beyond.
Copyright © 2004 by Chris Grover