PAPERBACK BOOKS
THE GOLF ISLAND SIEGE 

The Golf Island Siege is a thriller novel involving four fictional professional golfers competing in a skins game to publicise the opening of a Queensland island golf course. An armed subversive group called the KMA seize the chance to promote their cause by taking over the island, holding the golfers hostage and demanding a two million dollar ransom. The golfers experience unmerciful psychological pressure when forced to complete the game on the basis of the winner goes free the losers will be executed.
A brilliant novel for fans of thrillers, golf and a brain-teasing storyline.

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ISBN: 1 92069961 9
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 320
Genre: Fiction/Thriller
 

Author: John Gallagher
Imprint: Zeus 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: May 2003
Language: English

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                About the author, John Gallagher 

A lifelong interest in the game of golf and writing has finally been combined to produce the first in a series of thriller novels with a golf theme. As a long time professional writer contributing to a wide variety of markets including magazines, newspapers, television, radio and stage, the world of novel writing was seen as an ultimate goal to satisfy a creative imagination. Apart from the joy of playing the game, John has experienced the pleasure of achieving a single figure handicap, being a club champion and holding a course record.
Years of reading, watching, playing and absorbing the comments, advice, observations and suggestions of the world’s best professional golfers and teachers have enabled John to produce authentic sounding golf narrative and action.

The ever- increasing study and analysis of the mind in sport is another area John examines within the framework of his character development, sub plots and storyline.

         

CHAPTER ONE

  

 For most of the assembled media personnel it was impossible to camouflage the flutter of expectation with journalistic indifference.  The Surfers Paradise function room had witnessed the launch of many grandiose ventures in the ‘80s and today one of the biggest players from the decade of greed and gullibility was making a triumphant return from the financial wilderness.  Mike Horton was a colourful, larger-than life entrepreneur who contributed as much as anyone to the money madness and mayhem that eventually came to a jolting halt in the 1987 stock market crash.
At one end of the room a large table was covered with microphones and tape recorders. A single television camera was strategically placed. A full size screen dominated the space behind the table. That end of the room had the look and feel of a normal press conference setting. The rest of the room had the look and feel of a Mike Horton inspired press conference.

The Barton Miller trio entertained from a small stage enabling the sound of their superb arrangements to reach the whole room providing a non-intrusive soothing counterpoint to the babble of voices. 

Opposite the stage, a number of tables were currently dominating the attention of the invited media personnel. A wide variety of food was rapidly being consumed in a manner suggesting it had been a long time between a free smorgasbord feast of this quality and magnitude. Attractive waitresses dressed in figure-hugging uniforms moved discreetly, but not unnoticed, around the room dispensing glasses of expensive imported champagne. The more observant would recognise the colour of the uniforms as being the same as Mike Horton’s old horse racing silks before he was banned from the racetrack following a betting scandal.

    Standing alone with a glass of champagne in hand, one of television’s instantly recognisable personalities stared at the stage and tapped his foot in time with the music.     He was a tall, rugged-looking individual with tanned handsome features capped by a head of dark hair interspersed with an occasional silver-grey streak. David Hill, the feared investigative reporter for a top rating television program, was dressed in casual, designer label clothes that enhanced what was obviously the fit, athletic physique of a man of adventurous action.

“My invitation said this was going to be a serious press conference. What a joke!”

David Hill frowned as he turned to look at the person who had interrupted his music listening pleasure. His irritation quickly subsided when he saw the mischievous sparkling eyes belonging to the voice.

Hill enquired, “You’re not impressed?”

“I’m impressed, but I’m also disgusted.”

 Hill grinned as he asked, “What are you disgusted about?”

 She took a long sip from her glass before waving her hand in a wide circle.

  “At the outlandish and totally unnecessary extravagance of this charade.”

Hill glanced at her drink and enquiringly raised his eyebrows.

She noted the gesture and obviously understood the inference.

 “You don’t agree?” 

He raised his glass as he said, “I can buy a week’s supply of beer for the cost of what I’ve got left in this glass. That is what I call disgusting.” 

 She was about to add another comment, but stopped as a sudden realization struck.

 “Oh…you’re…um…David Hill…the current affair man…? 

“Correct, and you are…” 

She held out her hand.

 “Jenny Cooper. Pleased to meet you mister Hill.”

She took a lingering sip from her glass before uttering a sharp retort, “You are a disgrace to the profession of television journalism.” 

The change in tone and sharpness of the comment startled him.

 “Pardon?” 

Her tone lightened slightly.

 “That’s what it said in an article I read recently. I must admit, I agreed with most of the points the writer offered as valid reasons for his comments. Some of the methods you use to get exclusive stories are shall we say…questionable. I especially liked his description of you. A journalistic terrorist.” 

 It was now his turn to take a long, thoughtful sip.

 His anger was apparent when he snapped, “Do you know anything about the prick that wrote the article?” 

She shrugged, “No, but…” 

“Toby Michaels, the biggest bloody non-event in the television current affair field. My opposition or so he likes to imagine. He’s what we call a fringe reporter, a forager picking up bits and pieces of a story…never in the front line…never eyeballing the enemy. Is it any wonder most people in the business with intelligence and experience wouldn’t bother to read his drivel let alone agree with him?” 

  If, Jenny Cooper, noticed the veiled barb she didn’t show it. Instead, she drained her glass before saying, “That over the top reaction indicates you may have some reservations about your methods…maybe even guilt feelings?” 

She offered him the empty glass.

He unwittingly took it.

She turned abruptly and walked away. 

He watched her long shapely legs transporting her across the room, and he assumed with a tinge of disappointment, transporting her out of his life. 

 The sound of applause started out as a ripple and then increased in volume. It was the carefully rehearsed and orchestrated, Mike Horton’s grandstand entry. He waved and smiled as he crossed the room with a confident, arrogant swagger, occasionally stopping to shake a hand and exchange an aside with people he recognised. 

Horton was a short, bald-headed man with beady eyes set close in a round, florid face. He wore a multi-coloured silk shirt, and an expensive Hong Kong tailored lightweight summer suit. Although the suit had been made to measure, on Horton’s rotund body it appeared to have been made to measure someone else. 

 Mike Horton thrived on this kind of occasion. During his heyday, he had hosted many similar events designed to dazzle the audience with plans for multi-million dollar schemes and ventures. With a number of major banks as investment partners, Horton had no trouble convincing his audience to trust him with their money.

 It was all so simple, but a brief study of Mike Horton’s early life showed numerous examples of why it was so simple for Mike Horton.  

Horton’s first foray into the world of confidence tricksters and scam merchants began as a teenage scalper at major sporting events. The next entrepreneurial venture involved worthless trinkets sold from a suitcase ‘shop’ in a variety of laneways. The shop would quickly close whenever a police officer appeared. A short spell on side-show ally selling tickets to see the headless Amazon jungle pygmy gave way to the more up-market career as a used car salesman operating from vacant building blocks. 

 The early eighties were the beginning of Mike Horton’s long-cherished ambitions to create a niche in the big time. Fate and a mystery financer enabled Horton to launch a career as a luxury resort developer. The project went from boom to bust in two years. The mystery financer disappeared with a huge sum of other people’s money leaving Horton to take the blame. During a subsequent enquiry, Horton, under oath, delivered a passionate outpouring of oratory. He was so convincing he went from villain to hero and actually increased his credibility by portraying himself as the innocent victim devoid of any intention or complicity in the fraudulent proceedings. He was, he professed, a naïve businessman, too honest and unsophisticated to have been capable of such complex financial transactions.   

 Rather than acting as a warning and subsequent sobering effect, the whole experience merely galvanised Horton’s future ambitions. Much of what he had said under oath was the truth if not quite the whole truth. His excuse for his naivety and unsophistication was he had taken too big a step from small time to big time.

 Although it had been a painful learning experience it had provided a lesson that embedded itself in his psyche. In future he would be the teacher not the student.

 The most exciting aspect of the whole deal, and the element that most helped to soothe his battered ego, was the sheer simplicity of raising millions of dollars for nothing more than a ‘glitzy’ idea that promised ‘too good to be true,’ financial returns for investors.  

 Horton’s first go-it-alone venture was a theme park called Future World. It failed to survive the financial and legal disputes of the present world. A brilliant lawyer defended Horton’s role in the affair and while he agreed that a two million dollar performance bonus was not entirely appropriate, the lawyer was never the less adamant his client was legally entitled to receive the money. A case he proved with little opposition. 

 A luxury island resort finally elevated Mike Horton to the lofty success heights he’d long ago accepted as being inevitable. Three years later, Horton was unceremoniously dumped following a boardroom coup. A substantial golden handshake accompanied the dumping. Shortly after, a rumour in financial circles suggested Mike Horton had been instrumental in creating his own downfall and subsequent windfall. 

When the great stock market crash blew away the paper millionaires that littered the financial world during the nineteen eighties, Mike Horton, was not the first to go under, but he was the first to book a flight to a country without an extradition treaty with Australia. He eventually returned and, once again, his legal minder enabled him to avoid the wrath of the law and a few hundred investors. 

 Today was Horton’s first public appearance since the troubled times. Media invitations were eagerly accepted indicating Horton was still a worthy source for out of the ordinary news. They also hoped the food and wine would be just as worthy. 

On reaching the conference table, Horton held up both arms and called for silence.

“Thank you for the warm reception. I appreciate it’s not because of your affection for me, but more the fact that no one’s been feeding you freeloading bastards since I’ve been off the scene.”

A hearty laugh from Horton and a more subdued one from the crowd followed the statement.

 Seated, Horton pointed to a conservatively dressed man sitting next to him.

“As some of you know, this is my lawyer, Kevin Brown.

“ In a moment, I’m going to introduce you all to my latest venture. After the presentation you can ask me any questions you like. However, be warned, if you ask a question I don’t like, Mister Brown will note your name and may use your question as evidence against you.”

Horton ended the statement with a raucous belly laugh.

 “Don’t look so nervous. You know I’m only joking.” 

 A few of the media personnel who had in the past received defamation writs from Brown barely forced out a wry smile at the ‘joke’. 

Horton sat down and adopted a business-like tone.

 “Time for you lot to repay my generosity.

“Ladies and gentlemen…I’m proud to announce the completion of my latest and greatest project.”

 The lights dimmed. Horton activated a video recorder. The large screen was filled with a shot of a tropical island.

 “Okay folks…Feast your eyes on the splendour of the best golf course location anywhere in the world. Golf Island.”  

 The same conference was the subject under discussion in a small, dingy, fortress-like room in an outer Brisbane suburb. 

A table in the centre of the room was littered with crushed beer cans, takeaway food cartons and overflowing ashtrays. Five men, all in their early thirties, were seated at the table. A first impression of the group would not be a pleasant lasting one. Five unshaven, hostile-etched faces, fleshy arms adorned with garish tattoos protruded from discoloured sleeveless singlets. Aggression hovered just below the surface, and brutality would be second nature to this Neanderthal-like quintet. Their nicknames, Psycho, Snake, Nam, Axeman and Spider, additionally illustrated their criminal gang mentality to distance themselves from mainstream etiquette and behaviour. 

The group’s eyes were focused on a sixth man standing in front of them at a white board. The contrast between this man and the others was incongruous. He was approximately forty years old, medium height, slim and immaculately dressed in a hand tailored grey worsted suit, plain white linen shirt and a striped yacht club tie.

 Ox-blood coloured, buffed and polished shoes completed the ensemble of a man accustomed to style and refinement. A full head of neatly groomed blonde hair created a colour-coordinated blend with a smooth skinned lightly tanned face. Piercing blue eyes gazed steadily from behind gold-rimmed, tinted glasses.

 The white board to the left of the man was covered in photographs. He pointed to these as he delivered a monologue in the rounded, precise style of a stage actor. 

“Keeping everyone under control once we take over Golf Island will not present a major problem. Our inside man on the island suggested we keep the staff locked up in the sports complex here. The four golfers and Horton will be on the same floor of the hotel block, here. That means we only need three of us on guard at any one time during the day. The dog will look after the night time hours.” 

The biggest and most brutal looking of the seated group interrupted, “You’re dead certain about the number of staff, Yanos?”

 Yanos Keepher, the urbane spokesman for the gang, nodded as he said, “Absolutely certain, Psycho.

“It’s a skeleton staff until the following day when the resort is officially opened. There’s a chef and his assistant, a waitress, and a barman. That’s just four people plus, of course, a handyman who happens to be our inside information source. That’s the beautiful part of the whole plan. One day later and we could not pull this off.

“In a few moments you’ll hear Mike Horton announce that no one other than the golfers and himself will be allowed on the island until Friday. Horton is going to fly the four golfers over on Thursday so they can settle in without being hassled by fans. We hijack the plane, spend a day on the island collect the ransom money and leave. Perfect.” 

“Psycho spoke again.

 “I’m still worried about dickhead Horton. He may refuse to fly the plane unless we rough him up first just to let the bastard know who’s runnin’ the show.” 

Yanos Keepher pondered the statement. He knew he would have to choose his reply carefully.

 “With five million dollars of golfing investment to protect, believe me, Horton won’t refuse to fly the plane.”

 He paused momentarily, “However…if he should be foolish enough to not follow our instructions…then you may use your special brand of persuasion to…as you say, let the bastard know who’s running the show.” 

 A huge, leery grin indicated Psycho was satisfied with the answer.

 The other gang members shared his joy. 

 Keepher’s next words had a sharp edge.

“Remember one thing, er…gentlemen, any unnecessary violence will seriously affect negotiations. None of the people on that plane will want to play the hero role because they all have too much to lose. Be absolutely clear about this. Anything happening to them before we get to the island will severely jeopardize our mission. Is that understood?” 

Psycho answered. “No worries Yanos. You’re the brain, we’re the brawn when and if you need it.”

He turned away from Keepher to face the others and gave a conspiracy wink as he said, “Ain’t that right guys?”  

A chorus of agreement acknowledged the statement. 

Yanos Keepher turned on a portable television set.

“I think Mike Horton is about to address the media. Let’s hear what he has to say.” 

A picture of the press conference filled the television screen.  

Following his loud and proud Golf Island utterance, Mike Horton was soon in full stride as he matched the images on screen with his voiceover.

 “The Golf Island resort is off the Queensland coastline. It is north east of both the Whitsunday Passage and the nearest major coastal town of Airlie Beach. Thick vegetation skirts the whole of the western side of the island. That has remained untouched.

 “On the eastern side most of the rental accommodation and leisure facilities are completed. To the right of the large building is the site for twenty residential units. Each unit will be sold for 1.5 million dollars. They can be purchased off the plan.” 

Horton paused and took a sip of champagne.

“Between the rainforest, the resort, and the golden sands of the beach is the facility that gives the island its name.” 

 A high, full shot of a golf course dissolved to an overhead fast tracking hole-by-hole shot from teeing area to lush fairways, across the occasional lake and finally to manicured, undulating greens surrounded by sculptured bunkers. 

Horton continued his commentary.

 “You are looking at a unique golf course, folks. Each hole is a reproduction of a world-class golf hole from eighteen different championship courses. Hector Johnson is responsible for the architecture, and, in keeping with the tradition of other great courses, Johnson has designed the holes around the existing environment. In other words, nature has created the hazards not bulldozers.” 

 Horton switched off the video recorder. The lights returned to their original setting.

Horton’s tone was one of barely suppressed excitement.

“I don’t know how impressed you are so far, but this next piece of information should give you a buzz.

“To launch the project in a grand, Mike Horton manner, I have invited four leading professional golfers to compete in a skins competition to be named The Golf Island Challenge.” 

 He finished the contents of his glass.

“The foursome will be Vic Flowerdale, Ted Bishop, Karl Reutmann and Ricky Carson.” 

A man with unruly ginger hair called out, “Inviting them is one thing, getting them to actually appear would be another matter.” 

Horton’s reply contained a triumphant flourish.

“Through their various managements, all four have agreed to play. Don’t forget, each of them is desperate to challenge for the top rating spot. With the current number one taking a year off while his wife has their first baby, the Golf Island Challenge is a perfect warm up for the new season. The winner will gain a tremendous psychological boost over the others.”

 Another voice, heavy with sarcasm floated out of the crowd.

“Has anything been signed or is it simply a cheap publicity stunt?” 

Horton reached down below the table. 

The same voice called out, “Not the order of the shoe, Mike.” 

 A roar of laughter filled the room. The remark was prompted by an action Horton had performed many times in the past. Whenever he disliked a particular question he would hurl his shoe at the person posing the question. At one infamous meeting he not only threw his two shoes he also threw another ten he had secreted under the table prior to the start of the meeting.

 On a number of occasions a sweep had been conducted with the winner being the first person to cause Horton to hurl a shoe. 

 Horton’s voice had a pleading tone.

 “Cut it out guys, I was just scratching my leg. The days of the stunts are over. This is a serious deal demanding respect. If you can’t be respectful keep quiet.” 

A female voice commanded attention, “Mister Horton, Jenny Cooper from the Sunday Supplement…” 

 Horton’s demeanour changed instantly.

“Jenny! Welcome, welcome, glad you could make it. Love your column, never miss it.” 

 As Horton gushed, David Hill grimaced. So she was the owner of the sharp tongue and shapely legs. He had read her weekly column many times. 

Jenny Cooper’s special talent was the ability to write about people in an incisive, understanding and entertaining way. She had a gift for subtly uncovering personality traits her interview subjects either consciously or unconsciously preferred to keep private and otherwise hidden from the world. 

David Hill smiled grimly as he realized why she had so quickly identified his guilt feeling. 

 Jenny Cooper thanked Horton for the welcome and then asked, “It must have been one hell of an inducement to get that particular four. Can you tell us what it was?” 

Horton beamed in delight. He was going to enjoy the next few minutes. He looked slowly over the sea of faces. Suddenly the look of enjoyment was replaced by an angry scowl. He spoke to the television cameraman. 

 “Stop filming for a moment.”

 He stood up, pointed and yelled.

 “How did you get in?” 

All eyes turned to see the cause for the outburst.

 David Hill grinned and raised his glass. 

The action inflamed Horton’s anger to fever pitch. His voice croaked with rage.

 “I didn’t send you an invitation, Hill, so you can bloody well piss off!”

 Horton sat down and folded his arms.

 “I’m not saying another word until that bastard is thrown out of here.” 

A long, embarrassed silence settled over the room. Hill stood his ground.

 Jenny Cooper broke the silence.

“David Hill is here because I invited him. I apologise if I’ve made a mistake. I don’t know the reason for the animosity between you two, but I do know the answer you were about to give me is the important issue right now. If David Hill is forced to leave most of us will leave with him. That would be a shame because I believe you have a statement to make that will rock the sporting world. We would all like to put it on record.”

 A loud, enthusiastic chorus of agreement erupted. 

 Horton turned to Kevin Brown. They exchanged a few moments of whispered conversation, before Horton turned back to face Jenny Cooper.

 “You’re right, Jenny. The answer to your question is the important issue.” 

He told the cameraman to start filming.

After staring and scowling long and hard at David Hill, Horton cleared his throat and launched into the big announcement.  

“The four golfers are coming to Golf Island to compete in a three-day skins game with a prize pool of…fivemilliondollars!” 

 An appreciative murmur filled the room.

 The beaming countenance indicated the reaction matched Horton’s high expectations.  

“You heard me right, folks. The prize money will be distributed as follows. Day one, holes one to eight, one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars per hole. That’s a total of one million dollars. Day two, holes nine to sixteen, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per hole. That’s a total of two million dollars. Day three, holes seventeen and eighteen, one million dollars per hole.”

He paused for effect.

He continued with relish,.

“A grand total of five million dollars, making it the biggest single cash prize in the history of the game!”

 He punched the air with clenched fists as he yelled,

“The man is back…Mighty Mike Horton is back in business, yeahhhhhhhhh!” 

 A smatter of applause accompanied the slow process of digesting the enormity of the announcement. Eventually, one voice verbalized the thoughts of many. 

 “Mister Horton…Ted Andrews from Money Matters Monthly…It’s not all that long ago your credit rating was around the triple z mark. We all dread a repeat of the paper money empires, so if your project is cashed up, who did you, er…persuade to put up the finance?” 

Horton glanced towards Kevin Brown who returned the glance with a nod of assent. 

 “I’m going to respond to Ted’s question with a full and frank reply which should satisfy every one of you suspicious buggers.

“Everything you saw on film is fully paid for, including a private plane and helicopter both of which, incidentally, I’m licensed to fly. The prize money is sitting in the bank. The original agreement with my financial backers was for them to provide the money to cover the project to its current stage. It’s now up to me to sell the units and promote the resort to a worldwide tourist market. The backers gave me five million dollars for publicity and promotion capital. I’ve used the whole lot for The Golf Island Challenge. “Can you imagine the value of the publicity that will be generated from the challenge? “Far more than five million dollars I can tell you.” 

Ted Andrews persisted.

“So the backer’s cash has dried up?” 

 Horton’s reply had a touch of irritability,

“The first stage cash has ceased, yes, but I now have the job of taking it to the next stage. “As you all know, promoting and selling an idea is what I’m good at.” 

 He removed a sheet of paper from his pocket.

 “Okay, Mister Andrews, let me give you an inkling of what it means to think beyond the pages of Money Matters Monthly.

“The Golf Island Challenge has been heavily promoted on the ‘net’ so it’s a certainty a massive crowd of spectators will attend at fifty dollars a head, per day. The hotel is fully booked. All up, those two items alone will generate a conservatively estimated income of two-and-a-half million dollars. That’s only the beginning.

“With golf being officially the biggest participation recreation in the world, and this resort having a golf course like no other in the world, it’s a guaranteed winner from the day we open for business. Also, how long do you think it will take me to sell the units off the plan? There’s another thirty million dollars.

“Am I getting through to you people about the scope and viability of this venture?” 

He paused to take a long sip from a freshly filled glass. 

A buzz of muted comments filled the room. 

 David Hill shook his head in disbelief. He muttered quietly to himself, “Yet another variation on the pea and thimble scam.” 

 Ted Andrews, the financial journalist, obviously had a skin thicker than a promissory note.

“Bearing in mind your statement regarding a full and frank reply, can we assume the money came from overseas investors?”  

Horton snapped, “Sit down and give someone else a go.” 

 A jovial chorus of voices shouted, “Where d’ya get the money, Mike?” 

 Horton again conferred with Kevin Brown before saying, “It’s no secret. My partners are the emerging financial force in the marketplace. It’s Chinese money.” 

A babble of comment erupted.

A voice called out, “What do the Chinese know about Golf, Mike?” 

 Horton was pleased. He had survived some of the more tricky spots with comparative ease.

 “They don’t need to know, do they? They recognise a good deal and I was smart enough to go over there and present one to them.” 

For the first time, the voice calling out from the crowd had a friendly tone.

“When are we invited to see this resort, Mike?” 

Kevin Brown handed Horton a sheet of paper. Horton took it with a flourish and began reading.

“Here’s the program. The golfers will be taken to the island on Thursday to overcome jet lag and rest up before the game. They, and a skeleton staff will be the only people allowed on Golf Island. Be warned…any person from the media jumping the gun trying to get exclusives will be permanently banned.”

 He waved his hand.

 “All of you will be invited to an early breakfast session on Friday before the crowds arrive.”

 He glared at David Hill.

 “When I say all, I am, of course, excluding you, Hill.” 

 Horton eased himself upright.

 “The resort’s mainland office is situated at Airlie Beach. All additional enquiries should be directed to a hotline number I’ll leave on the table here.

“ As you can appreciate, I’ve got a lot to do so I’ll leave you now and trust you will all repay my generosity with a barrage of publicity.” 

 Horton moved off with Kevin Brown following.

 A generous round of applause broke out as the two made their exit. 

Yanos Keepher turned off the television set. He smiled as he addressed the other gang members.

“No complications, no nasty little hidden factors. Could they have made it any easier for us?”   

Derisive laugher greeted the comment. 

“Okay, that’s all for now. We meet on Wednesday evening for a final briefing, and a check of weapons and equipment. Stay out of sight and study every aspect of the operation until you know it by heart.

“Remember…the whole world will be watching us. Let’s show them what to expect whenever we strike.”

 Five throats simultaneously emitted an aggressive scream followed by a fist-pumping chant of KMA - KMA - KMA.” 

Jenny Cooper headed for the function room exit at a brisk, determined pace.

 David Hill experienced mixed feelings as he watched her depart. To follow or not to follow that was the quandary.

 Cooper’s purposeful stride had taken her to the car park before Hill caught up. He fell into step as he asked, “What’s the hurry?” 

Her pace never slackened as she replied with a curt, “I have an urgent appointment.” 

 “I wanted to thank you for the eloquent way you saved the press conference.” 

She stopped at a dark, blue sports coupe. After disarming the alarm system she opened the door.

“Nice to have met you, Mister Hill. Goodbye.”  

With elegant style she eased into the car. 

Hill held the door open.

“Could you give me a lift back to my hotel?”

“My appointment is urgent…as I just told you.”

 Hill’s tone was insistent.

 “I can make it well worth your while. It’s a chance to scoop everyone that was in that room. No kidding.” 

She shook her head in disbelief.

“I’ll give you some credit for the original pick up line, but …”

She attempted to pull the door closed. 

 “I can arrange for you to meet the four golfers at the resort next Thursday. The day before any other media person.” 

Despite a strong doubt her journalistic instincts began to jangle.

“I’ll give you one minute to explain.”

 “On the way back to my hotel.” 

She released a long, resigned sigh as she opened the passenger door.

 She allowed Hill to settle in the seat before issuing a sharp rebuke.

 “Under no circumstances will I do anything to defy Mike Horton’s strict, non-negotiable instructions to stay away from the resort until Friday.” 

 Hill extracted a piece of paper from his pocket.

 “This is a letter from a good friend of mine inviting me to be his guest at the Golf Island Resort on Thursday. You’re also invited. Read it.” 

A frown accompanied her move to take the letter. The frown deepened as she began to read.

“It’s from Ted Bishop?” 

 “We grew up together. Kept in touch ever since. Whenever I’m on assignment in a country where he’s playing we get together for a natter over a few beers.” 

 She said in a puzzled tone. “You said…I was invited?” 

 “The second last line…if you currently have a lady friend, you’re welcome to bring her along. 

“Would it be difficult to be my ‘ pretend lady friend’ for three days in exchange for the pick of the stories? ” 

She handed the letter back.

 “There’s no way Horton will let you…” 

 “There’s no way Horton will risk upsetting Ted Bishop. Remember, Ted represents one quarter of a massive investment.” 

 She sat back in her seat and silently debated the issue for a few moments.

“What is the story with you and Horton?” 

Hill laughed.

“When he was last in circulation, I exposed a few of his more dubious business deals. He tried all kind of things to get me out of his hair.

“First he tried legal action. That was thrown out of court. Then he hired a couple of thugs. “I threw one out of the window and the other down a flight of stairs. After that, Horton became very adept at concealing anything he was involved in.” 

 After digesting his words for a while, she said, “What about the Golf Island project? It seems to be a legitimate deal.” 

 Hill stared into space for a few moments.

“You ever heard of the pea and thimble scam?”

 She shook her head.

 “It’s a money-making swindle favoured by travelling carnival people. I think the Romany gypsies came up with the idea, but, if they didn’t, they certainly developed it to a fine art form. It works like this.

“The operator places a pea under one of three thimble-shaped containers. They then challenge people in the crowd of onlookers to guess which container hides the pea. The operator shows the pea; places a container over it and then shuffles the containers about rapidly for a few seconds. One person is then invited to put some money down and have a guess. The only time a punter can win is when the operator allows it.” 

“Why would the operator allow it?” 

 “When there’s a set up, a person that’s part of the scam team has a ‘winning streak’ and walks away with a fist full of money. That encourages the mug punters to try. The operator will let the punter win a few times then challenge him to a double of nothing bet.   The punter never wins the double or nothing bet.” 

 “Do you know how it’s done?” 

 “It’s the same technique used by magicians for their ‘now you see it now you don’t’ close up magic tricks. It’s called ‘palming’ a skill developed from the law stating; “the hand is quicker than the eye.” The pea and thimble scam adds the element of greed to enhance the skill.” 

 Jenny enquired, “What’s the connection between that and Mike Horton?” 

 “Every venture Horton is involved in has a pea and thimble angle attached to it. He cannot help himself. He’s a born carnival man. Honest, straight down the middle business deals bore him senseless. He either sets up the ‘palming’ element before starting the venture, or he begins to develop it along the way.” 

Jenny turned on the ignition.

“He’s been a long time off the scene. It’s possible that he’s changed…seen the error of his ways kind of thing?’ 

Hill sighed, “The last time we clashed I told Horton I’d be standing next to him on the day he fouled up and revealed the pea by mistake. The way he blew up today makes me think he remembered that.” 

Jenny eased the car from the parking bay.

“He may have been angry because you represent a past he’s trying to correct.” 

Hill issued a direction, “Turn left out of the car park.” 

 “You could be the kind of vindictive type who refuses to give someone another chance,” Jenny said.

 “That’s not the case. Take the next right.” 

 “Incidentally…I trust your offer comes without strings attached?” 

 “Pull up here.” 

 She stopped the car in front of the hotel that had just hosted the press conference.

 He handed her a business card. “Contact me tomorrow if you decide to take up the offer.” 

She took the card. 

 “You didn’t answer.”

 Hill opened the door and climbed out.

 “No strings. Thanks for the lift. This is my hotel.”

 He closed the door and sauntered towards the hotel entrance. 

A bemused expression accompanied a shake of her head. As she pulled away from the kerb side, the expression gave way to a wry smile.

 


 

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