Real estate, alternative real assets and other diversions


The Storyteller

Following the deaths of property tycoon Charles Rudd and his CEO Nick O’Keeffe in a sailing accident in Liverpool Bay, insurance investigator William Rohm has travelled north to sign-off their big-money life policies. When he discovers that organised crime were involved in a deal the avaricious Rudd was working on, Rohm realises that this case could be seriously hazardous to health – his.

Danvers wasn’t available until four o’clock that afternoon and so Will Rohm had a few hours to kill. It was another grey, cold day and he tried to stay inside as much of the time as possible. He visited the restored Harbour Master’s house on the waterfront, walked around the maritime museum and then took-in a sublime Rothko exhibition at the Liverpool Tate. The artist described his own work as ‘the simple expression of the complex thought.’ Rohm loved that economy. After all, why use fifty words when you can say it in five? When he’d seen the show, he ate lunch, turned his collar to the bitter wind and headed east into the city centre. 

The place was full of new shops, good restaurants and well-dressed people and the public realm was thoughtfully designed and carefully managed. But just a ten-minute stroll from the Grade A offices and Prime Rent retail space, down narrow side-streets away from the glitz, were remnants of one of the city’s former selves – the abandoned Victorian seaport whose face was lined with the tear tracks of its past. Boarded-up buildings lay there, prone and inert, waiting to be resuscitated by the crash team of regeneration and like a voyeur at the scene of an accident, Rohm took a few photos of the derelict facades then walked on. He passed a teenage girl rough-sleeping in a doorway next to a group of bickering drug users but there was no one to share his feelings of sadness apart from two of his old companions, anger and guilt.

Half-an-hour later, he was sitting in the plush comfort of the Seafarer Group’s reception suite, waiting to see Danvers. The same silent big guy sat at the desk but Evie Malone was nowhere to be seen. Rohm decided he was going to shake Danvers up a little and see what fell out on to the floor. If the case stayed as it was, he’d have to sign off the life insurance claims without ever knowing what had really happened.

It was almost four-thirty when he was finally taken through into the boardroom. Danvers was seated at the table and he gave Rohm a smile and a firm handshake without standing up. He looked different. His smile wasn’t as wide. Maybe he was getting tired of being charming.

“My office confirmed it’s a no-go on the extra money for the Key Person compensation and the dispute contingency. Sorry,” said Rohm.

Danvers shrugged philosophically.

“People have been saying that Mr Rudd was a worried man…just before he died I mean,” said Rohm, going straight in with a high tackle. He studied Danvers carefully, watching his facial expressions and body language. The man didn’t move so much as a micro-muscle. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Danvers finally. 

“State-of-the-art security systems installed overnight in his office and at his home, bodyguards hired. I’d say he’d got nervous about something wouldn’t you?”

“It’s a dangerous world Mr Rohm – cyber and physical threats all around us. We felt we’d fallen behind the curve.”

“And you did all this just after you closed the Blue Havens marinas deal – a deal with a company whose probity is questionable to say the least.”

“Euparal Leisure are a respected European investor.”

“We both know they’re owned and controlled by EPSOK.”

What was left of Danvers’ smile vanished completely and didn’t come back. 

“Then Mr Rudd takes his boat out into a storm in Liverpool Bay. Why would he do that – was he running away from something?” continued Rohm.

Danvers’ face had frozen into an impassive stare. Rohm knew he’d get no more out of him unless he upped the pressure. It would be against the company’s rules but now he was playing for high stakes.

“EPSOK is run by international criminals. Did Charlie Rudd do something to hack them off? Maybe someone was already on the boat when it set sail – maybe that someone killed both men then made it look like a sailing accident.”

Danvers stood up and walked across to the drinks cabinet. He poured himself a large whiskey, took a slug and stared at the framed photo of the two dead men. 

“If I tell the police what I’ve found out, they’ll have more than enough to re-open the case,” said Rohm. He was bluffing of course. The cops would need more than speculation, more than theories, but if Danvers was to believe it, Rohm had to believe it himself.

Guy Danvers turned round and looked pensively at Rohm.

“And when they hear you’ve been doing business with known gangsters, the FCA will be all over you like a rash,” said Rohm. “…along with the National Crime Agency and HMRC. They’d go back through all the deals you’ve made over the past ten years – they’ll be camped out here for months.” 

“So what do you want?”

“I don’t like loose ends,” said Rohm. “It’s sad really – I guess it’s a form of OCD. So why don’t you start by telling me the truth about the Blue Havens deal? If I’m happy with your story, it doesn’t have to go any further.”

Danvers took another mouthful of whiskey. “Do you know what a Ransom Strip is?” he said.

“A narrow piece of land across the front of a site? Its ownership is retained by the seller who can charge a fee for crossing it. They’re bad news. It usually ends up in a fight.”

“This one did. Charlie sold all the Blue Havens marinas with Ransom Strips buried in the contracts.” 

“How the hell did he get that past Euparal’s lawyers?

“Euparal didn’t use UK solicitors. And they were in a hurry – they thought they were getting deal of the century. Charlie camouflaged the Ransom Strips in legalise and made them look like Rights of Way on the plans. He told them it was so that he could always get to his boat. They agreed to give him a couple of moorings at each of the marinas. It all looked harmless enough. Euparal fell for it.”

“So when you presented them with the bill for having access to their own land, they went ballistic.”

“You could say that.”

“How much we talking about?”

Danvers didn’t answer.

“How much?”

“1.7 million.”

“Not very much.”

“Per site, per year, in perpetuity. There were twelve sites.”

“Still not a fortune when you’re owned by an outfit like EPSOK.”

“It wasn’t the money – it was being shafted that got to them. They never thought anyone would dare. We warned Charlie; me and Nick O’Keeffe both, but he wouldn’t listen. A few million was there for the taking and he couldn’t resist.” 

Danvers finished his drink and sat down at the table. 

“A week after we billed them for the first time, Charlie told me a man had come up to him in a restaurant. He didn’t speak good English but the message was clear enough. Take out the Ransom Strips or Charlie wouldn’t see Christmas. We did what they wanted but then a letter arrived from Euparal’s lawyers saying they’d be taking action for misselling the properties and for malfeasance. We’re in the middle of that now.”

“So you’ll eventually settle out of court and move on. Not great but it looks like you got away with it.”

“I’m afraid not. Their initial claim was for fifty million but they’ve made it clear that’s just the beginning. They’re going to ruin us. And they would have killed Charlie.”

Rohm shook his head and gave Danvers a wry smile. “So if you mess with the Russian mafia – they’ll make an example of you.”

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