Friday, February 20, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Eight

Ms. Madison parked her car a couple of streets away, and walked briskly to the house. It was elegant, built towards the latter end of the nineteenth century, with servants' quarters to the rear, and a single-storey drawing-room extension built out to one side. A plaque by the door indicated that it was the registered offices of 'Atlas Training'. Ms. Madison narrowed her eyes. Companies House listed Stannard as the managing director of the comapny, and she knew the other directors were but his dupes or his cronies.

Dodging into the alleyway to the rear of the property, she shed the raincoat that covered the black jeans and sweater that constituted her burglary costume. A back balaclava, more functional than elegant, completed the ensemble. She scaled the wall gracefully, shinned up a drainpipe, and entered the house through an upstairs window. As she had been told, it was destered. Her rubber soled pumps made no sound, as she crept downstairs, following the map of the ground floor that she had memorised.

The safe was in what had once been the library of a Victorian Member of Parliament. It was of the same vintage as the house. Nothing fancy. Which would probably make opening it a lot harder.

As she entered the room, however, Ms. Madison saw the safe open. She drew back cautiously, wondering whether her information has been defective. No-one moved, however, so the burglarious blonde hurried forward stealthily once more.
A movement behind her causedher to turn. She was only just able to keep the blow aimed at her from knocking her out. Even so, it sent her staggering into the desk. She turned, adopting a fighting stance, ready to face whatever Stannard had planned for intruders.
Instead, two young women gave exclamations of surprise.
"Sparrowhawk..." Ms. Madison looked into the wide eyes of the girl the Green Man had once loved.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Seven

Ms. Madison and the vicar left the hall for the more private surroundings of the clergy house. There, seated across a table from the priest, she heard his tale of woe. How Stannard had approached the church with plans for a youth centre, explaining thathe desired to do good in the community, and that he would put a great deal of his own money into the project, provided they could match it. The people of the church had risen to the occasion, raising a sum in excess of a hundred thousand pounds, land had been bought, and work started, Stannard being photographed cutting the first sod. It had brought him good publicity, but almost as soon as the press had departed, work had ground to a halt, when it was discovered that the land was contaminated, and the cost of decontamination was far in excess of the church's budget. Stannard had explained that he was unable to pay any more, and ended the conversation there. Ms. Madison shook her head, muttering platitudes, and explaining that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Stannard's part.

Later, in the derelict chapel, the Green Man in attendance, she was far more forthcoming.
"Stannard should have checked what the land had been used for before," she blazed, "at the very least..."
"It is not the least I am concerned with." The Green Man shook his head. "I suspect that Stannard knew exactly what he was doing. The land was bought from Samwell Estates, a mysterious property company which Stannard has done business for before. It is my belief that Stannard is in fact the guiding hand behind Samwell Estates."
"So the deal with the land..." Ms. Madison gasped.
"...was neither more nor less than Stannard duping the church and its people in order to dispose of land he could do nothing with." The Green Man shook his head. "As I said, Stannard has been badly hit by the recent financial turmoil, and now he's trying to get as much money out of his empire as he can before it collapses. But I believe that there are papers establishing a concrete connection between Stannard and Samwell estates. Return to your hotel room. Directions to the place they will be will be there."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Six

The church was in a slightly down-at-heel part of town, a grand gothic edifice dating from the Victorian era. A large vicarage occupied part of the site, together with what had once been schools, but were now part of an outreach project. Ms. Madison paid her taxi fare, and hurried to the open door of the schoolroom. Acending the steps, she passed through a vestibule, into a room filled with teenagers, who were talking to a number of youth workers and a couple of men in clerical collars.

"Father Matthews?" Ms. Madison spoke nervously, voice high, tembling a little.

"Yes, child?" a man in late middle age looked around, taking in the stylish clothes of Ms. Madison.

"Amy Charles," the blonde produced a business card bearing that name. "I'm a freelance journalist."

"Oh!" The priest beamed. "Are you here to let the country know what splendid work we are doing with the young people of this district?" He leaned towards her.

"I'm afraid not," Ms. Madison smiled becomingly. "The world's a terrible place, Father, and people want to know that, rather than the good work you do. It's Mr. Stannard and the extension..."
"While I am loathe to speak ill of anyone," Father Matthews shook his head, "Mr. Stannard surprised even I, well-versed as I am in the ways of sinners as I am."
"Mr. Stannard claims that the money ran out before building could start," Ms. Madison lowered her voice confidentially.
"And under the law, he committed no crime." The Priest looked into her eyes. "But sin and crime are not the same. Not every sin can be a crime. Sometimes innocent men can be caught by such laws. God, who knows the heart, can judge where men remain silent."
"I understand." Ms. Madison nodded. "The estimates were probably deliberately falsified, to show the money running out before building work could begin. But there's no evidence to support that. Still, why didn't you go public?"
"It is not our place as the church of God to carry out that sort of campaign." The Priest smiled graciously. "We must trust in God for our ultimate vindication. Maybe we sound strange to you..."
"It's all right, Father," Ms. Madison took his arm. "I understand. Just tell me the background, and I'll keep my source to myself."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Five

By the time that Stannard had finished going through the 'guaranteed rates of return' on his investments, Ms. Madison appeared to be hooked. Any person in any sort of financial difficulties would have jumped at the opportunity he seemed to be holding out to her, with thirty, forty, even fifty per cent profits guaranteed, the blance sheets of other clients being used to show just how wonderful his businesses were, and how small fortunes could be made from relatively small investments. Not that Ms. Madison was as impressed as she seemed. She knew that Corona was little more than a glorified pyramid scheme, the money paid in going out almost immediately, most of it to pay these inflated returns, the rest to fund Stannard's lifestyle and his other enterprises.

She also knew that Stannard was unlikely to check her credentials too closely. The recent slump in property prices mean that his property empire, mortgaged to the hilt, was in serious trouble. The whole edifice was tottering and Stannard, like most criminals, had not prepared for the lean years that must invariably follow the fat. And a large inheritance belonging to an air-head heiress was bait that he couldn't possibly resist.

As the interview ended, Stannard rose, still smiling.

"Well," he nodded, "of course, I don't expect you to make an immediate decision, of course, but I do hope you'll consider investing in our operations. I like to flatter myself that this is still the best investment, even in these difficult times."

Playing hard to get, Ms. Madison noted. She gave him a smile of approval.

"I'll certainly give it serious thought, Mr. Stannard." She shook his hand. There was no point in her pressing things now. That would almost certainly arouse his suspicions, especially if he knew Sparrowhawk was creeping round.

She left the office, escorted by Vance, who handed her back her attache case, still smiling. After thanking him, Ms. Madison hailed a cab.

"St. Morton's Church," the blonde hopped inside.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Unlucky For Some

Academic plagarism. It is on the increase. Mostly among students, many of whom go to university at least as much for the student lifestyle as the scholarship. If it is detected then the most severe penalty is expulsion. But what happens when the person who has done it is not a student but an academic? Professor Douglas Stibbs of Cardigan University knew the answer...

But the penalty was paid not by him but by Jacqueline Lake. A brilliant student, she submitted an essay on town planning for Professor Stibbs' Second Year module. Pushing a deadline and suffering from writer's block, Professor Stibbs put his own name to the essay, which was published in a prestigious journal.

A few months after the publication, Professor Stibbs answered his door to find Jacqueline standing there, her expression thunderous. She point-blank accused him of having stolen her work and threatened to report him to the University authorities. Although he told her that no-one would believe her, he still gave her a cheque for a thousand pounds and told her that there was more where that came from if she would write a couple of chapters for a book he was writing. More, that he would credit her as his co-author. She was suitably grateful, believing that this would make her reputation, ensuring her an academic post once she graduated. So the matter of the copied article was allowed to drop, and the student worked hard on the chapters she had been allocated. Stibbs told her not to let anyone know, in case other students objected, and the quiet, bookish girl agreed.

At last, the book was finished, and Stibbs took Jacqueline out for a quiet celebration. On the way back, he pulled the car into a drive in an isolated spot by the sea. He told her that he loved her, flattered her, and she offered him her lips.

He took them. And her life as well, throttling her to death and casting her lifeless corpse from the cliffs. When her body was recovered, it was too badly decomposed for the cause of death to be established. And when the book came out, it was in the name of Professor Stibbs alone.

The man's conscience gave him little trouble over the years. Occasionally, he thought that he saw Jacqueline Lake out of the corner of his eye. But these were isolated occasions. However, when the next round of assessments came up, he found the old block had returned. Asked time and again for an article or two, he had to put the dean off with excuses time after time.

Until, marking part two essays, he read one of such brilliance that he could scarcely believe it was written by a student. Yet it was, a new student, a transfer from another University. Martha Adare. In due course that, too, appeared in a learned journal. And, in due course also, he received a note from Miss Adare, accusing him of plagarism. She bluntly instructed him to come to the stairs off the old quadrangle and bring five thousand pounds in cash. Naturally he came, although not with the cash. He meant to buy her off in the same way he had bought off Jacqueline. And with the same ultimate pay-off.

He reached the little stairwell with pounding heart, wondering whether Miss Adare would fall for his blandishments. Or whether he might have to take more permanent steps there and then.

But the stairwell was empty. He waited, wondering what could have delayed the blackmailer. Until the lights went out.

"Professor Douglas Stibbs," a male voice delared. "Five years ago, you killed Jacqueline Lake, after you stole her work, to pass off as your own."

The professor began to speak, but the voice cut him off brutally.

"Do not try to deny what is true, for I know. Tonight, you came here meaning to kill another. With one difference. Martha Adare, as you call her, is not a student, but a Private Investigator. Tomorrow, the newspapers will publish the story that you passed off an essay written to order by an Oxford Professor as your own. Your career will be over."

When the lights went on, the Professor was alone once more. He hurried from the college buildings and leapt into his car. As he left the car park, he almost ran over a couple of students.

His body was fished out of the sea a week later. A full confession was in his abandoned car.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Four

Early the next morning, Ms. Madison made her way down an almost desterted city street, heading for the offices of Cliveden Stannard's investment bureau. She allowed herself to whistle carelessly, as she swung her attache case. The receptionist saluted her again, as she made for the lift.

"Appointment with an adviser," she explained earnestly, hitting the button that summoned the lift.

"Good luck," the receptionist smiled back. "But be careful, huh?"

"Natch." She grinner. "I can look after myself, you know - a girl's got to in these uncertain times."

Before the receptionist could observe that the elegant blonde didn't look like she could, Ms. Madison had entered the lift. As she walked into the office, the young man called Vance stepped forward to greet her.

"Lynette," he took her hand, "it's great to see you. How are you? Did you get up to anything last night"

She coloured becomingly, not all that comfortable at being asked what she was still old-fashioned enough to believe was too personal to be appropriate in the circumstances.

"I... I brought the details you said," she held out the case.
"Great!" he took them eagerly," I'll have one of our analysts take a look at it. "Now, why don't you came this way? Mr. Stannard, our principal, is going to talk to you himself."
"Me?" Ms. Madison looked at him, wide-eyed, "why, that's lovely of him! I'm sure he's a busy man..."
"Never too busy for a prospective client," Vance beamed insincerely. "This way, Lynette."
Since the dossier on the company that the Green Man had sent her indicated that the company normally preyed on poor and desperate people, Ms. Madison was not, in fact, surprised at the fact that Stannard wanted to see her himself. Money talks, and the more the louder.
She was shown into an oak-panelled office, where a man in his early forties, with prematurely greying hair rose to greet her.
"Miss Mason," he extended a friendly hand, his charming, old-fashioned manner a marked contrast to that of his subordinate, "I'm so glad to meet you. Vance tells me that you've recently come into some money, and that you'd like help to invest it."
"That's right." She nodded shyly. "You see, I'm not very good with money..."
The smile on Stannard's face was almost predatory.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Three

Stannard's offices were located in a much more salubrious part of town. As Ms. Madison stepped out of the taxi this time, she was not told that this was just the wrong place for her. In pale suit, with a cheerful spray of orchids, she looked the very picture of a carefree young thing looking to invest some of her spare boodle. The receptionist saluted her, as she passed through the swing doors.

"I'm looking for Corona Investments," she smiled, "a friend said they helped people manage investments..."

"Second floor, suite seven," the receptionist pointed to a lift which had been recondited from an original of pre-war vintage. You're not the usual sort of client they get, if you don't mind my asking."

Ms. Madison smiled, before entering the lift. Her pose was going to be that of a wealthy young air-head, who had no idea how to manage the large amount of money that she had inherited from some welthy relative. The Green Man's seemingly unlimited funds were, she knew, likely to open doors for her. And perhaps blind Cliveden Stannard.

Ms. Madison entered Suite Seven, and a young man with gelled hair and an Armani suit rose to greet her, holding out a hand.

"Hi," he addressed her with the easy familiarity that someone somewhere has told businesspeople goes down well, "I'm Vance."

"Lynette," Ms. Madison used her real first name. It was a good idea, Sir Richard Arcos had told her, to use your real first name wherever possible, as the reaction to hearing your own name is often instictive. "Is this Corona Investments?"

"Sure," he spoke in that awful half-plebian accent that the whole of England appears to be adopting, in the belief that this appeals to people. "How can we help?"

"You manage investments for people, don't you?" she spoke with a note of hope in her voice. "Well, I recently inherited a lot of money from an uncle. A lot of it was in shares, and in this uncertain economic climate, I want to make sure I can make some money on them. You know how it is..." she looked at him with big, appealing eyes.

"Of course, Lynette." The man called Vance smiled artifically. "I'll have to arrange an appointment for you with one of our advisers. "When will you be free?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

From the Green Man's Private Files: Two

"Sparrowhawk again..." Ms. Madison sighed. "If I didn't know better, boss, I'd say there was still something between you."

"Only the past." The way the Green Man spoke told her that she had said too much. The blonde did not speak again, waiting for the Green Man to say something. After a moment when only the soft cooing of pigeons could be heard, he spoke:

"Not so far from here, in a more prosperous part of the city," he told her, "lives a man called Cliveden Stannard. His business card describes him as a property developer, but his business is, in reality, every form of corruption under the sun. At present, he is running what appears to be an investment syndicate. There are no shares. Shortly, the money will dry up, and the poor and desperate who entrusted him with their savings will be swindled. I have learned that Sparrowhawk has taken it upon herself to teach Stannard a lesson, in the guise of an interested investor. I also have reason to believe that Stannard knows she is an impostor, and is only waiting for a convenient hour to destroy her."

"And I am to protect her?" Ms. Madison smiled.
"You are to succeed where she has apparently failed." The Green Man drew back into the shadows. "You are to foil the plans of Cliveden Stannard. And if he has, as I believe, been guilty of willful murder, among his many crimes, then he will know my vengeance. Report back here in a week. I shall be waiting."
Ms. Madison gave a nod of acknowledgement, before she walked out the way she had come.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sunday Supplement: Not the End

Sir Richard Arcos writes: After an unavoidable absence due to the need to help one of my grandchildren recover some money lost to an unscrupulous speculator (which was recovered by the expedient of allowing Sparrowhawk to indulge in a little creative violence), I returned to my perigrinations around the churches. This Sunday saw me attending the Cathedral of the Church of the End Times, which is, somewhat unaccountably, situated in Treorchy.

The church noticeboard has no notices on it, only giving the church name and the times of the 'usual services'. At the door, I was greeted by a steward who was white-faced with excitement, at least, I presumed that was the reason for the face. He shook my hand and, when I mentioned speaking to someone after the srvice, he assured me that there might not be an 'after the service', as the Second Coming might happen before then. I jovially replied that in some churches one suspected that the preacher might, if allowed, preach on until doomsday. He gave me a dirty look, and I sat down.

Everyone was sat on the edge of their seats, and when the minister arrived, they were almost disappointed. He assured them that, although the world hadn't ended yet, he was pretty sure that he'd now corrected the error in his chart, and the world would end on Thursday.

We sange some hymns about the Second Coming, and then the minister unfolded a really long chart with symbols and dates on it. He spent about half an hour explaining how couurent events proved that the end was near, and confidently announced that he had identified the antichrist, who turned out to be the Mayor of Blaenavon. After which we sang another hymn, and had coffee, on the grounds that the world was not now going to end until Thursday, and one might get thirsty between now and then.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

From The Green Man's Private Files: One

The elegant blonde looked quite out of place, as she stepped out of a taxi on a railway bridge in a run-down part of town. The sun was shining, but that only served to show up the graffiti and the peeling paint. She sighed and shook her head, before turning to pay the driver.

"Still time ter change yer mind, Miss," he told her dubiously. "This ain't the place for you."

"You're probably right," she handed him exact change. Her voice was proper, accentless, rather that 'posh', intonation like that of a radio announcer. "But I can look after myself - and I have a very hard-working guardian angel, to boot. Don't worry about me. I have a habit of getting along."

"Orlright, Miss." The cabbie shook his head, as he drove off.

The blonde raised her head, the breeze disturbing her golden curls. With a quiet determination, she made her way towards the massive derelict building at the end of the bridge. The ground floor windows were boarded up, the upper windows broken, some more hole than glass. A sign on the side informed the passer-by that the building was going to be converted into flats. She ascended the steps to the main doors, which opened to admit her.

Inside, the building was cavernous and empty, shafts of light descending on a floor deep in the deposits of birds. Rusty cast-iron pillars ascended to the roof, and doors at the end of the building indicated the position of vestries and schoolrooms.

"This place is a dump," she shook her head, smiling. "Why's it always places like this?"

"The shadows, " a voice caused her to turn. There, barely visible, was the figure of the Green Man. "Where evil can be found. Forgotten places."

"You mean like last summer?" Ms. Madison shook her head. "With Sparrowhawk..."

"That's why I must see you," the Green Man nodded.