A police car entering their cul-de-sac was rare enough. Stopping outside her home immediately raised Gwen’s anxieties. A uniformed sergeant walked to her open front door. His face was glum.
‘It’s Russell isn’t it?’ He nodded.
‘Mrs Edgar, can I come in?’ Gwen stepped back. ‘The Foreign Office asked me to inform you that Russell Edgar died in a road traffic accident in Islamabad last night. He was a passenger in a motorised rickshaw taxi when a lorry ploughed into it. It killed all three.’
‘Three? What do you mean?’
‘The driver, your husband and a third person.’
‘A third person? Who was it?’
‘I regret I don’t have that information, but the Foreign Office is talking to their local British Consul and asked if you could telephone this number. I‘m really sorry to be the bearer of such news. Is there anything I can do? Contact anyone?’ Gwen shook her head before closing the door behind him. She touched her hand to the moisture on her cheeks.
The Consul only had sketchy details on the accident. They had not identified the third person, other than it was a female. Mr Kabal the hotel manager where Russell stayed, needed to talk to her regarding possessions left in the room, which included his intact mobile phone. Russell’s body could be back in the UK within the next 72 hours. The relevant certificates and documents were en route to the Consul who would oversee the repatriation.
Russell was the Finance Director of a Multi-national company with significant connections to Russian Oligarchs. He visited the Indian continent quarterly. New chemical plants, were being erected in remote areas near to natural resources. This meant cheap labour, extensive Government grants and minimal interference in its operations. Gwen had gone with him on one visit and left appalled at the poverty in such a beautiful country.
The hotel was not one she knew, so she dialled Russell’s mobile phone. After a brief pause, it was answered.
As Mr Kabal responded, Russell watched from a chair on the veranda.
‘Hello Mrs Edgar, thank you for calling. I’m so very sorry for your loss’ He paused. ‘I’m liaising with the British Consul and sent him Russell’s passport which he left in the safe in his room, together with a small sum of money. What about clothes and other personal possessions? What shall I do?’
‘How much money? As for his clothes? Pass them onto someone more needy. He travelled light so I’m not sure about other personal possessions?
‘Well his watch, although destroyed. Wedding ring, a framed photograph, and two books. There was just under £500.00 in cash.’
‘Thank you. Keep the cash for bills you incur. I want the wedding ring and watch returned. As for the photograph, what is it?’ Mr Kabal hesitated then looked across at Russell.
‘It’s a beach scene with Russell and yourself, with a ‘Hotel Rocero’ in the background.’
‘What am I wearing?’
‘A black two-piece with a white trim.’
‘I don’t want it. Throw it away.’
‘A local Funeral Director has Russell’s body. He is awaiting recovery instructions from the Consul. We will move his body to Islamabad airport then back to the UK. The police report and a death certificate issued by a local Doctor have been passed onto the Consul.’ Mr Kabal sighed. ‘Mrs Edgar, can I say again how sorry I am. Tragic.’
‘Who was the woman?’ Russell nodded.
‘Bushra, the Manager from the plant. Showing Russell some local beauty spots. How sad. However, there is one other issue Mrs Edgar. When Russell’s body arrives home, I recommend it remains sealed. It was a terrible accident.’
‘Mr Kabal. I understand. Thank you for everything you’ve done. If you incur any further expense, let me know. I’ll phone the Consul to confirm the recovery.’
As Gwen disconnected. Russell raised his glass of whisky.
‘Brilliant, Kabal. That’s the worst bit done. I‘m well insured so Gwen will want for nothing.’
‘But that wasn’t Gwen in the photograph, was it?’
‘No. I wanted her to understand that. Her anger will help her reconcile. Things were poor between us for ages. We’d have split eventually. This way it’s a win, win for us both. I disappear, she gets rich and they’ll never catch up with me.’
‘You’ve been planning this for a long time Russell. Hope you appreciate these are dangerous people. When they know how much you’ve been stealing, they’ll come for you.’
‘I realise that Kabal I’m not stupid! Meanwhile, your job is to look after my continuing investment in this Hotel and our partnership. I’ve got various properties around the world and with a new identity, I’ll take my chances. Now, where are the documents? What have I got for my £100K?’
‘It wasn’t cheap. Police accident report was expensive, death certificate likewise. Your new identity was easy. Derek Harford, you are an Australian businessman en route to Singapore. But first, we have the small matter of your body being returned to the UK. Your challenge is waiting.’
‘What do you mean?’ Russell emptied his glass.
‘You need to arrive at the airport in your coffin. That’s where the switch will occur. A body is coming in from the UK tomorrow for local burial. Once you’re both in the customs and cargo warehouse, my contacts will ensure that coffin is returned to the UK, and you will be back here in a few hours.’
‘What if they open it at the airport?’
‘You need to be in it. I’ll bandage you as if embalmed. To open a coffin in transit is rare. We’ll give you something to calm you. It’ll only be for about an hour. We’re putting a small oxygen cylinder inside, just in case you panic. Once you’re back out of it, your coffin will be used here. Dozens die on our streets every day. No problem.’
‘Oh, hell.’ Russell said, reaching for the whisky bottle on the table. ‘I think you’ve made Gwen hate me enough hate to make sure she’ll just want to get it over with.’ He shook the whisky bottle. ‘I’ll need more of this before I get there. Are you sure it’s the only way?’ Mr Kabal held out the mobile phone.
‘No. You can phone Gwen and tell her it was a joke. You can phone your Chairman and ask for mercy, or you can run now before they realise it was a scam. Otherwise, tomorrow Russell Edgar disappears forever. You have a new life. Gwen is rich. We, still have our partnership and major investment, and life will resume.’ He paused.
‘Be ready for ten in the morning Russell. You should be back here early afternoon.’
As the transit van pulled into the car park next to the cargo warehouse next morning, Mr Kabal touched Russell on the shoulder. In his hand were two white tablets. Russell shook his head, then gulped from a bottle on the adjacent seat, before moving into the rear of the van.
They’d padded the coffin. There was a small cylinder with a face mask. He settled his body in place then nodded before scented bandages covered his face and Mr Kabal lifted the lid over the confined space. Russell heard the sound of an electric screwdriver.
He sensed his coffin being lifted from the transit van before being placed on a series of rollers where it juddered for several moments before coming to a halt. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow so reaching up with his free hand he pulled the scented bandages towards the moisture as rivulets ran down his chin. As Russell touched the face mask, he felt a jolt. There was the sound of a vehicle engine nearby. The coffin was being lifted and turning. Further jolting occurred. There was another forward movement, followed by silence.
Fifteen minutes later, reaching for the cylinder switch, Russell sensed a deep throbbing from the exterior of the coffin. There was a trembling, juddering, movement. Then a lifting feeling. Images of Gwen and Bushra, the most sensual lover he had ever known, flooded into his mind. As he turned the knob on the cylinder he knew the outcome. Lapsing into unconsciousness, the face of a smiling, conspiratorial, treacherous person dominated his senses.
Russell’s phone was activated. ‘He’s on his way.’ said Mr Kabal. ‘As agreed, final payment within 24 hours.’