Authors: Warren Slingsby
Janet comes round in a strange hotel room, her memory almost erased by a drug and alcohol fuelled binge from hell. Unsure which hotel or even which city she’s in and no idea how she came to be there. She is not alone; there is a dead man laying next to her. And there are some eye opening surprises awaiting her in the room. Surprises which will lead her to abandon her life as a successful banker and plunge her head first into the unspoken world of stolen art.
She inadvertently stumbles into a dangerous game of cat and mouse crossing the paths of thieves, thugs and oligarchs that will take her from Glasgow to Edinburgh and onto Barcelona and the Cote d’Azur. During her journey, she will unlock the secret to the location of the most infamous and valuable stolen painting in the world. But there’s a high price to pay for such knowledge and riches as the super wealthy who inhabit this secret world are not prepared to give it over without a fight to the death.
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Warren Slingsby in association with Completely Novel.
2nd Edition printed 2015.
Copyright © Warren Slingsby 2014
No part of this book can be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Except for those in the public domain, all the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
ISBN No. 9781849145947
This book was written and edited by Warren Slingsby
More information about the author can be found at warrenslingsby.com
Many thanks to Tom Gabbutt, Sam Burgess, Tracy Dyson, Adam Morrison, Steven Lucker, Catherine McGrath, Lottie David Jardine, Leah Burgess, James Butler, Andrew Woodhead, Shay Moradi, Lucie Warrington, Stuart Warrington, Dominic Howe, Kerry Dyson, Julian Kimmings, Nicholas Emms, Chris Dance, Roy Slingsby, Lajos Sovago, Kerry Kidd, Sally Slingsby, Lucy Butler, Karen Johnson, Vicky Swift, Debbie Quinlan-Lodge, Gill Wood, Jane Leah, Emma Bodger, Craig Richardson, Tom Thorpe, Nadine Slingsby, Mark Hendry, Sophie Whitaker, Jay Woods, Chris Cox, Richard Telford, Aran Wilkinson, Laura Campbell, Sara Strid-Coughlan, Oliver Kneen, Philippa Armitage, Edward Nolan, Aidan Nolan, Carla Stockton-Jones, Wendy Newby for support and encouragement in getting this book published.
Many thanks to Lottie Jardine for her precise feedback.
Special thanks to Tom Gabbutt and Sam Burgess for their invaluable advice, patience and feedback whilst I lost myself creating the secret world of stolen art that follows.
I’m eternally grateful to my sub editor, Karen Johnson, for her speed, accuracy and words of encouragement along the way.
For Mike, my life mentor
“Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.”
Janet’s left eye opened less than a millimetre, enough to take in a small section of the unfamiliar room through gloopy blackness. Her right eye, she guessed, was totally glued shut with mascara. Her eyelid certainly didn’t have the strength to lift itself. It wasn’t just her eyelid, the rest of her body felt odd, exhausted, unable or unwilling to communicate with her brain. She tried to move her head backward slightly to take in more of the room, but her neck just gave her a thump of pain. She could see the stitching on the quilt seam in super close up but couldn’t quite get her eye to focus properly on it.
She closed her eye again.
Then she was gone. Dropping heavily back into her black pit. Her body twitched with bad dreams. Dreams she’d be glad she would never remember. The fine hair on her back and arms stood on end from the chill in the room. It was April and the windows in the room were open, the curtains were pulled slightly back allowing some spring sunshine to flood in and shedding light on the other side of the bed.
Two hours passed by and a message alert sounded as one of the phones in the room received its sixteenth text message of the morning. A few seconds after, Janet’s eye opened slightly again. This time her head was a little lighter, her muscles a touch stronger for extra sleep. She thought she knew now why her vision was so heavy with blackness, she must have a ton of mascara on, plus falsies. Her left eye still remained steadfastly shut, but her right eye opened a little wider. She was in a hotel bedroom, a nice one. She could see a huge window which was floor to ceiling with grand dark red drapes. It was all slightly out of focus. She was laid on her left side with her left arm behind her, it was completely dead; the blood cut off by the angle of her shoulder. She brought her right leg forward and pushed herself backwards over her left arm onto her back. It freed up her dead arm. The movement forced an involuntary grimace from her lips. Her numb arm lay at her side now, but she couldn’t move it. Seconds later, it filled with intense pins and needles as the blood began to flow back. She could literally feel the life running back into her dead arm and along with it, warmth and sensation. She lay for a while longer. She could move her fingers again.
Above her a huge chandelier glistened in the sunlight. A pair of knickers were dangling from it. They looked very much like her knickers. That was weird. She tried to clear her mind and think about where she was and what she had been doing. There was nothing, but she felt that maybe she wasn’t in London where she lived. She wasn’t sure why it felt different. Something to do with the light or the temperature of the air flowing through the curtains perhaps?
She was effectively blind in her whole right hand vision, but she studied her delicate ivory pants from her half open left eye. There was something not quite right about her knickers. They seemed to be torn at the sides, as if she or someone had ripped them from her. She felt her hip with her functioning right hand and found a sore a patch on her hip bone. Come to think of it, she was very tender. As though she’d been with a man who’d been pretty rough with her. She shut her open eye once more, but not to sleep, to think. To focus. She tried to force her mind to recall what she’d been doing last night, where she was, who she was with. Nothing. Whatever happened was now wiped.
Once enough blood had streamed back into her arm, she lifted it to her right eye to give her eye lid a helping hand to open. The mascara on her lashes had stuck fast, but her eye was also sore and scabbed. Like it was bloodied and the blood had mixed with the mascara to create a strange glue. Being as gentle as she could with her newly working hand, she peeled her eye lids apart and blinked a few times until her vision started to clear. It improved, but was still a little fuzzy. She moved her head to the left and saw more of her clothes around the room. Her dress was slung over a chair. Her phone lay on the floor. She looked the other way and a man was staring back at her. She started to scream but somehow she was still sharply inhaling at the point she should have been exhaling and nothing came out.
She sat up and groaned as her stomach muscles complained. Pushing herself away from the man.
He didn’t move and continued to stare in a way which made her skin crawl. She reached out to him, then pulled her hand back. She didn’t really know what she was going to do with her hand.
“Hello,” she croaked, cleared her throat and then “are you okay? Hello.” But she felt stupid as the words passed her lips. This guy was not responding and yet his eyes were wide open. He was definitely
okay. She reached out again, this time placing her hand in front of his mouth to feel if there was some breath. Held it there for a few seconds. Nothing. Then warily touched the skin on his shoulder with one out stretched finger and the coldness confirmed his lack of life. His skin could have been old leather. The elasticity had gone. She’d been sleeping (or unconscious) next to a dead fucking man for God’s sake. He continued to stare, now at her hand which propped her up. She found herself breathing heavily and had to tell herself to keep calm.
He looked Italian to her, but she didn’t recognise him. As far as she could remember, she’d never laid eyes on him before, but here he was, naked and dead in a hotel room next to her. It suggested that something must have gone on between them last night. Whoever he was, he obviously worked out. He had a great body. He was handsome with short, dark hair, blue eyes and thick set eyebrows. He was clean shaven and wore a silver ring. This was so fucked up. He was on his back and there were no obvious signs as to what had happened to him. She tried not to, and knew she shouldn’t, but she sneaked a look at the dead guy’s junk. It raised one of her eyebrows and she hated herself for that.
‘Dead man in the room Janet, hello!?’ She would try not to look at him any more.
She turned away from him, moved to the side of the bed and stuck her head in her hands. She ran her fingers through her hair, but it was matted with... oh, fuck knows what. Her bag was on the floor, upside down and its contents spread around. Makeup, cigarettes, money, cards, a hairbrush, plus a ton of other crap. There was a broken glass and a bottle of champagne on its side and a patch of the plush deep red carpet was wet underneath. Further around the room, a lamp hung off a table, still plugged in and hanging by its cord. It was still on and shone downward onto the carpet where it lit up more broken glass.
A mobile phone message alert sounded behind her. It wasn’t hers and it sounded a long way off. There was another sound masking it, but she wasn’t sure what it was. Perhaps a shower or fountain. Definitely running water. She grabbed the sheet and put it around her shoulders. Suddenly, very aware she was totally naked, and even though there was no one else (alive) in the room, it was not a good feeling. She didn’t even know where she was. She went to stand up, but needed to help herself up with her hands. Like her legs were made from jelly. It was the same feeling she got two days after her trainer made her do his leg circuit. Her vision went blindingly bright for a few seconds and she thought she may faint, so she grabbed at the dressing table. She held herself there for a few seconds until it passed. Her focus regained, she took a few steps. Avoiding the broken glass, she walked around to the foot of the bed and took another look at the handsome naked man on it, but from this angle he still looked as unfamiliar as before.
There was a quiet knock on the door. It took a good five seconds for Janet to compute what the noise could be. Another two seconds for her to figure that she was in a room with a corpse and that it was probably best for whoever it was not to come in. She half ran, half limped to the door and opened it a few inches. She peeped around and looked who was knocking. It was a cleaner.
“Could you come back later?” Then she realised that wasn’t a great idea either. “In fact, much later. In fact, I don’t think we’ll need any cleaning today at all.”
“OK, that’s fine” The cleaner, who was Scottish and about 16 years old, looked up at Janet with very worried eyes. “Are you okay? Do you need me to get you a doctor?” She had a husky Glaswegian accent that didn’t fit her face.
Janet thought about what she had said for a few seconds. “What? No, no, don’t worry.” She touched her hand to her eye instinctively. “I’m absolutely fine. Just a rough night. Bumped myself in the dark. Thanks.” She gave her her most calming smile. The cleaner lingered as she closed the door. Her eye was very sore. She didn’t like the look in the girl’s eyes and thought that it could spell trouble. She might go to tell her manager. Janet grabbed the ‘Do not disturb’ sign from the inner door handle and transferred it to the outer door sneaking a quick look around, but the young cleaner was gone. Probably in another room now.
If the cleaner (or anyone) saw the inside of this bedroom with her in it, it could be the end of her life as she knew it. How would she explain the scene? ‘Oh, I can’t remember anything - I just blacked out.’ Likely story.
She went to the bathroom. There was more broken glass in the doorway, so she stuck her shoes on and then crunched over glass to the mirror. The hot tap was running and the mirror was steamed up. She turned that tap off and wiped the mirror until a small patch revealed her face. Her eye was a dark reddish brown and her eyelid was swelled up and shiny. It looked sore. It was sore. Her hair was all over, but looked very different to how it normally did after a night out, like it had started off a different style. She had dark grey eye shadow above her eyes and a ton of blusher.
She never put so much make up on.
She actually looked hot, in a slutty, trashy way. The black eye troubled her. Had the dead guy hit her or was she so drunk she’d fallen or had she been drugged maybe?
She needed to rest her wobbly legs again and sat down heavily on the toilet seat. She looked all around her unfamiliar surroundings. Confused and dizzy. She put her head in her hands for a second. She passed out and slumped off the side of the toilet against the wall and slid down. Fifteen minutes passed as she twitched and flinched on the bathroom floor. As she opened her tired eyes, she saw the room was on its side. She was light headed and just told herself lay down for a second. ‘If you get up too quick, you’ll go down again girl.’
She studied the side of the bath and the tiles. They were spotless. Sign of a good hotel probably. Except
something was not right here. The board which covered the first quarter of the tap end of the bath was slightly askew, like it had been removed and hastily put back. She reached up and pulled at the panel, it was indeed loose. She pulled a little more and it came away. She peeked around the panel and saw that stuffed into the gap was a tan leather overnight bag. She sat up. The bag filled the space completely. She stared at it for a second and looked around as if she expected someone to be watching her. Was this his, she wondered or had it been here for longer than their stay? The bag was unmistakably Gucci with a red strip and two green strips running along its length. She grabbed the leather handles and pulled it out of the gap. The leather was beautifully soft and smelled wonderful. It was open and in plain view, stuffed into the bag was money. A lot of money. She pulled the sides to open it more and looked in. It was full of tightly packed bundles of twenties under hundreds of loose ones. She took one out and fingered through it. She guessed that two hundred twenties wafted in front of her face. That made £4,000 in each bundle. She looked at the contents of the bag again. She guessed there must be at least a million and a half or possibly two here. Maybe a bit more. On top of the money was a dark grey gun with a black handle and a car key. She picked up the gun by the barrel, ensuring her fingers stayed clear of the trigger. She thought it would be heavy but was still surprised how solid it felt in her hand. It had COLT SUPER .38 AUTOMATIC across the barrel and a rearing horse (a Colt she guessed) protruded from under her fingers. She placed it back into the bag and then picked up the car key. It was a single black oblong with two buttons. Lock and unlock. Rather than a horse, this had a angry looking bull on it, but other than that, it looked the same as her car key. She pushed it back in for now.
She went back and looked around the wreck of a hotel room for clues as to where the hell she was, but none jumped immediately out at her. Usually you get a hotel information pack which would have told her, but she couldn’t see one. She turned the TV on to see if that would help in any way. Maybe it would tell her what day it was at least. There were just ads on, no volume and she couldn’t see the remote control.
A phone received another message. She found the phone on the floor and picked it up. On the lock screen, it said there were 12 missed calls, 6 voice messages and 16 text messages. It also said there were a heap of Facebook alerts and a Tweet. The guy had missed calls from several people. She pressed the button which dialled voice mail and listened to some of the messages. An agitated man was saying how they were at their lock up and asked what Joseph’s E.T.A. was.
So she knew his name now.
The second sounded more concerned and said to get in touch if there were any problems. The third simply said ‘Call me back Joseph’. The fourth was a different guy and he sounded really pissed off and babbled something about double crossing and to come clean. The fifth and sixth messages were the same guy sounding even more angry and upset and had other people in the background shouting at the same time.
She went to sit on the bed. Then after a second, sat herself down on the floor. It felt wrong to sit on the bed with the dead guy. Sorry, with Joseph. She looked at the text messages and they ran roughly the same as the voice messages. Starting out calm and enquiring as to the whereabouts of the owner of the phone (Joseph) and descended into vicious threats of violence. The final one said simply -
wen I find u I goin to mince u up