Richard had been making small-talk when he stopped and stiffened in his seat. I followed his gaze to two new customers — a man, formally dressed, sporting distinct spectacles, and a woman wearing a sarong and black head-scarf — who made their way to a reserved table at the other side of the rooftop surround.
The woman took command, beckoned to the waitress, and ordered something, probably drinks.
‘Friends of yours?’ I said.
Richard’s eyes refocused on mine. ‘Not bloody likely,’ he said, ‘I’m going to have a word.’ He started to rise, but I put out a restraining arm.
‘If it’s an encounter with the enemy, you’re outnumbered. They appear perfectly capable of defending their corner, and sending you packing.’ I paused, let the words sink in. ‘They’re not going anywhere right now. Cut me in on the deal,’ — I beamed — ‘and we’ll form a plan.’
Richard relaxed back in his seat. ‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘The sharp-looking guy says he’s a lawyer—perhaps he is—but I’m certain he’s involved in Tevfik’s disappearance.’
‘And the woman?’
He shook his head. ‘Never met her.’
‘She’s the one in charge, believe me. If you want him to open up, we’ll need to persuade her.’
He gave me a long look. I could sense he was seeing me in a different light. A favourable light. The impression I wanted to cultivate.
Necessity, old boy. Necessity.
Drinks arrived at their table. Two bottles of Perrier, two tall glasses, and an ice-bucket. The woman pointed at the blackboard. Held up two fingers. The waitress nodded, wrote on her note-pad. Recited their order. The woman seemed to agree.
Plenty of time.
Richard had his notebook out. Methodical, if a little fixated. He glanced at me, waved away my offer of a refill, and jotted down a few bullet points. He then underlined them. Twice.
I let the wine swirl through my mind. I was neither obsessive nor compulsive, and my only disorder — much to my chagrin — was a dalliance with a pretty girl.
Dalliances that had led me to my current situation.
Delcie, Hannah, and Mary. All avoidable. Plus a paternity accusation. Add whispers of a pending financial crisis worldwide, and my future looked less than rosy. Little wonder I sought refuge under the umbrella of the Manor House.
With both Delcie and Richard onside.
I made up my mind. If I could locate Eko and persuade him to return with us, I’d be a hero in Richard’s eyes. Everything else was immaterial. And the woman drinking her Perrier was going to be my deliverer.
Whatever it took.
Richard put down his pen, caught my eye. ‘I’ve made a few notes,’ he said. ‘Might help.’
A raised cricket bat had more visual appeal as a persuader, and I smiled at the thought of whacking the woman’s backside for six, but I tempered my emotions and simply nodded.
‘Let’s hear it, then.’
‘I — we — know about the fraud. That gives us an edge. I don’t for one minute think they want that banded around publically, do you?’
‘Correct. Go on.’
I’m sure they also know Tevfik’s whereabouts—possibly Eko’s as well. And even if they don’t, they can find out. That’s our deal.’
I smiled to show encouragement. ‘My thoughts exactly, old boy. In return for Eko, we keep shtum, and disappear back into our life. It’s a win-win situation.’
Richard started to rise. I held him back. ‘I’ll do the negotiation. They know you are harmless, but not me. I’ll let them believe I could expose them to a media scrutiny if they don’t play ball.’
Naturally, I was embellishing the situation. Not for one moment did I think it would be anything more than a short recuperation break for Tevfik’s wife — if Richard’s account was correct. The woman would tell us where they went, and off we’d go.
I sipped more wine while Richard fidgeted in his seat, made a few more notes, and the couple ate their dinner. Timing was everything. With full stomachs, they’d be more mellow and manipulative.
The moment arrived.
I drained my glass. The bottle, empty and forsaken. I stood up. ‘Let’s go,’ I said, leading the way, if a bit unsteady.
I adopted a Berko pose when I arrived at their table. Standing above my targets would intimidate them to cooperate. I addressed the woman.
‘Charles Fotheringay, ma’am. May I have a word?’
She looked up at me. Frowned. Her voice firm and resolute. ‘No, you may not. I don’t know you. Go away.’
The man started, put out a hand. ‘Amera, I think…’
She shushed him. ‘I don’t talk to strange males. Especially non-Muslims.’
The man looked down at his plate as if he’d seen something of more interest. I took it as encouragement.
‘But your companion knows my colleague, here,’ — I stepped to one side and ushered Richard forward — ‘they have a shared interest in one of your ex-staff, a Mr. Tevfik.’
Her expression changed from what I discerned as distaste to blatant animosity. She stood up, bag over her shoulder, and addressed her companion. ‘Jubair, excuse me. You deal with these…these…’ She shook her head. ‘I’ll tell my chauffeur to collect you later.’
She glared at me. I stood aside. She brushed past me and departed. I sat in her empty chair. Richard drew up another one, and we waited.
Jubair seemed lost in thought. I coughed, and he looked up. Straightened in his seat, addressed us in a low voice.
‘We’re a little sensitive, right now. My companion more so, because any adverse publicity could harm us.’
I surmised we had the upper hand, and I pushed it. ‘Look, your internal affairs are no concern to us—if you cooperate. Why was your companion so antagonistic? And where is Tevfik and the young boy, Eko?’
He clasped his hands together, looked uncomfortable. ‘Amera…how shall I say it…doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She’s above all this.’
‘Above all what?’
‘Interference, as she sees it, into our affairs by outsiders.’
While he sounded plausible, I wasn’t buying it. Neither did Richard, who was frowning. I decided pursuing it wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I repeated my question on Tevfik’s whereabouts.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘and neither does Amera. Or, rather, she doesn’t want to know. Non-incrimination, you understand? She told me it’s my responsibility to deal with anything to do with Tevfik.’
He was beginning to annoy me. ‘Jubair, cut the crap. If you don’t tell me everything you know, I’ll make it very unpleasant for you and Amera.’
He lowered his eyes. ‘You won’t like this,’ he said.