After property tycoon Charles Rudd and his CEO, Nick O’Keeffe, are lost in a sailing accident in Liverpool Bay, Will Rohm has
Rohm surveyed the high red sandstone walls which surrounded the Rudd estate, lowered his car window and pressed the button on the gate entry phone. A growl with a scouse accent came out of the speaker.
‘Can I help you?’
‘William Rohm from Leighton’s Assurance, to see Mrs Ezra Rudd.’
Rohm looked up at the security camera and smiled politely into the lens. Next to it, a second camera whirred as it focused on his number plate. There was a ten-second wait before the oak gates opened and he could edge the BMW forwards into an over-the-top landscaped world of carefully trimmed lawns, water features, towering conifers and Azaleas. If the shrubs had been in bloom, it would have looked like the 13that Augusta National. The main house stood a hundred metres away and was an ugly 1970s mansion which had been made worse by a succession of blingy facelifts.
As Rohm accelerated up the drive, a man in a tracksuit emerged from the house and directed him to a spot in front of a two-storey outbuilding with three double-garages at ground level. After Rohm had parked-up, the man introduced himself as Danny. He was in his mid-twenties, fresh-faced and had shoulders the width of one of the garage doors. The estates of multi-millionaires usually have a minder or two around the place and this guy looked like he had the right DNA for the job.
The entrance hall of the house was marbled-floored and had a curving grand staircase supported by faux Corinthian columns in white and gilt. Rohm followed his escort down a long corridor which was being energetically vacuumed by a woman in a blue pinafore dress with a white anchor logo on the front. The dress was the same denim-blue as Danny’s tracksuit and had the same logo. It was a nice logo. Modern-minimalist in style and markedly at-odds with everything else which carried the Rudd brand. They passed a small side-room where a heavy-set man in a black suit sat staring at a CCTV screen. A fat white cat lay dozing at the man’s feet. Neither of them looked up as Rohm and Danny walked by.
“You worked here long?” asked Rohm.
“Long enough to know that’s confidential, sir.”
“Sorry – I was just trying to make conversation.”
He wasn’t of course. Rohm was a compulsive snoop.
In a leather armchair by the windows, a woman in her early-forties with a mass of curly blonde hair extensions sat with her feet up on a stool, vaping as she read a magazine. There was a half-empty glass of something red and orange on the small table beside her. Danny gave Rohm a cheeky smile, pointed at the woman then left them to it.
As Rohm approached, Ezra Rudd looked up but stayed seated and offered no hand.
“Mr Rohm. Please sit…sit,” she said.
The long silk dress with interweaving black and yellow oval patterns looked pretty good on her. She slurred her words a little but Rohm picked up the accent of someone who’d spent time in the Middle East. He pulled up a chair and sat down.
“On behalf of Leighton’s Assurance, please accept my condolences for the loss of your husband.” Ezra Rudd was unresponsive. “As we said in our letter, the life insurance and Death in Service claims have been approved so this is just a courtesy visit. The money will be transferred at the end of the week.”
“So you finally decided I’m not a Liverpool Black Widow?”
Rohm looked blankly back at her.
“In the 1880’s, some Liverpool women murdered men for their life insurance money. They soaked fly-killer paper in water to get the arsenic then used it to poison their prey,” she said with a teasing smile. He realised she was hammered.
“We had to wait for the Coroner’s verdict. Sorry.”
“Yes of course you are.”
Rohm ignored the sarcasm and pressed-on.
“We’ll email a confirmation once the money is in your account. If you have any questions, just let us know.”
Ezra Rudd downed a mouthful of her cocktail then spat out her sentences without making eye contact.
“I have a question now. My husband was an experienced sailor, the boat was high-tech and new and fifty-feet long but he got caught in a storm and drowned. What do you think about that Mr Insurance Man?”
“But what are the chances – you people deal in probabilities don’t you?” she said, looking straight at him. “My husband made many enemies.”
Rohm was thrown and stayed silent for a full five seconds. Then he spoke slowly, choosing his words with care.
“Are you saying the Coroner and the police missed something?”
“A rich man dies at sea. Who knows what really happened?”
She was edgy and belligerent. The sounds of voices and a bleeping phone echoed down the corridor from the security room.
“And now guards and cameras everywhere. I’m in jail like one of the Black Widows.”