Real estate, alternative real assets and other diversions


The Storyteller

Insurance investigator William Rohm has discovered that before they were drowned in a sailing accident in Liverpool Bay, multi-millionaire Charles Rudd and his CEO Nick O’Keeffe had been threatened by a vengeful crime syndicate, less than impressed at being cheated in one of Rudd’s big-money property deals. But with no hard evidence to take to the police, Rohm is returning to London with only unconnected facts and a too-close-for-comfort encounter with Rudd’s grieving girlfriend to show for his efforts. 

As Rohm drove back to London, he tried to empty his mind of the events of the past two days – he would leave it all to swirl around in his subconscious to be sifted, processed and marked Action, File or Delete. Things would be clearer tomorrow after a good night’s sleep in his own semi-detached house, in his own bed with his own wife. 

His homecoming was nice. He’d had hugs from both the kids, a kiss from the missus and a lick from the dog and after a late supper of scrambled eggs, he’d flaked out just before midnight. The next morning, his journey into work was a thirty-five minute train ride from Chorleywood into Marylebone then another twenty on the tube – Bakerloo to Oxford Circus and Central Line to Holborn. Rohm had been a commuter most of his working life and would spend the time on auto-pilot as he planned the day ahead. Today would be about drawing a line under the Rudd and O’Keeffe insurance claims. 

He stared out of the train window at the rolling Hertfordshire countryside and thought back through the Rudd affair for what he hoped would be the last time. He’d probably never know what had really happened out there in Liverpool Bay and there was nothing he or the company could do about it. The cops would have no interest in his suspicions or theories and he couldn’t join up the dots to make any sort of case against the EPSOK gangsters. He knew from the research that most bodies lost out at sea stayed lost but even if the remains of the drowned O’Keeffe were eventually found, they probably wouldn’t tell him anything new. But they might get lucky – some flotsam from Rudd’s boat had been washed up hadn’t it? The currents in a shallow tidal bay full of sandbanks had dumped that stuff on a beach so why not a body? Why not indeed. Now that was a good question…  

Rohm had got off his train and was already half-way down the escalator to the Underground before he noticed where he was. It didn’t matter – he had something more interesting going on inside his own head. Suppose O’Keeffe’s body was never found because he was still alive – that somehow he’d got ashore and then kept on running? The Russians were after him too don’t forget – he was Rudd’s partner in crime. Was this the missing piece in the puzzle; the thing that had been bugging Rohm from the start of this case? Maybe, maybe not, but it was worth a look. We might not leave footprints on the ground like the Mesolithic hunter gatherers on Formby beach but we still make tracks. Even if he was using an assumed name, there’d be messages to family or trusted friends, phone records, stuff bought, money being moved around…it’s not as easy to disappear as it used to be. If Nick O’Keeffe was out there somewhere, he’d have left a trail. All Rohm would have to do was find it and follow. 

Will Rohm walked quickly into his open-plan office, grabbed a Mocha and said his good mornings to his team. 

Everything that happened on the premises of Leighton’s Assurance was confidential but some things were more confidential than others. Access to sensitive commercial and personal information was dependent on pay grade and some of it was so private it could only be viewed in the security of the firm’s Data Centre. As soon as he finished his coffee, Rohm would take the elevator up two floors, punch-in his pass code on the door entry key pad then go to a terminal and search the digital world for a man who was meant to be dead. 

He sat down at his desk, logged on and looked out across High Holborn at the old Pearl Assurance building. It was a swanky hotel now, too rich for his blood or bank balance. He tugged back the sleeve of his M & S jacket, glanced at his humble Seiko watch then stared at nothing for a full thirty seconds. 

 “Felix?” said Rohm over his shoulder.

“Yes Will?” 

Rohm’s assistant Felix Fyndes remained glued to his screen as he responded.

“All Rolex watches have an individual serial number which is registered to the owner yes?”

“I don’t know – I can find out?” said Felix, now turning round to look at his boss.

“Sorry – it was a rhetorical question. They are. Contact Rolex and ask them to check their records for any watch owned by a Mr Nicholas O’Keeffe. Whilst they’re at it, see what they’ve got under the name of Charles Rudd.”

“Why do we want to know?”

“Tell them it’s a possible insurance fraud.”

“Is that true.”

“Not really.”

“So why are we doing it?”

“Tell you later – I’ll be in the Data Centre,” said Rohm, getting up from his desk. He’d remembered that in the photograph of Rudd and O’Keeffe together, they were both wearing Rolexes. If O’Keeffe was still alive, he may have had to sell it. If his body had been found, someone may have taken the watch and tried to sell it. It was a thousand-to-one shot. 

An hour later, Rohm returned to his desk empty handed. He’d found nothing. Absolute zero. It looked as if Nick O’Keeffe really was dead. Rohm shrugged resignedly as he sat down at his desk. Felix wasn’t there but at the next work station, young Andy Mann was at his PC, ploughing through a set of spread sheets. 

“Where’s Felix?” asked Rohm.

“He’s out for lunch boss,” said Andy. “He messaged you some stuff.”

Rohm opened up the email with low expectation and little enthusiasm. 

Rolex have nothing registered in the UK under the name of Nicholas O’Keeffe.  

In 2015, Charles Rudd paid for two watches bought from Dobson’s in Liverpool; a vintage Comex Sea Dweller 16600, value £120,000 and an engraved GMT Master II Ice in white gold and diamonds worth £370,000. Neither watch has been brought in for repair since they were purchased and Rolex didn’t know Mr Rudd had passed away. Ten days ago, the Comex was taken into Harbison’s Jewellers in Douglas, Isle of Man. The name given by the customer, a Mr John Cain, didn’t match the registration. He left a phone number but no address. When the database flagged the alert, the store owner called Rolex and the Manx police. I’ve contacted the cops – it’s being handled by Detective Inspector Kirsten Steele.

Cheers, Felix.

It looked as if Rudd had bought the watch for O’Keeffe as a present. And Rohm’s thousand-to-one bet had paid off. 

Felix had left a contacts list at the bottom of the page and after a string of identity-proving emails and phone calls, Rohm had lined-up conversations with the jeweller and the Manx cops.

At two o’clock, Rohm dialled the jeweller’s number. The owner, Jeremy Harbison, answered.

“Thanks for speaking to us,” said Rohm.

Once the introductions were over, Harbison had a minor rant. “It’s all been very difficult…the police have been back here three times…it’s bad for business…”

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