A Chateau in Normandy
Baldwin smiled smugly as he surveyed his lavish surroundings, self-congratulation exuding from every pore. That night would be all about him, his ability to manipulate others, as months of meticulous planning came to fruition.
A few of the scantily clad girls, all of Eastern-European extraction, giggled in the corner. He scowled at them, realising they’d been helping themselves to the potent punch intended for his esteemed guests.
With the final tune-up complete, the band members drifted off to get changed. Meanwhile, the experienced agency staff tinkered, adding the finishing touches to the thirty-foot table, laden with some of the world’s finest food, specially imported for the night’s soirée.
Baldwin’s gaze drifted out over the large terrace, and he took in the incredible view, the view that had sold him on the chateau. Thirty acres of manicured lawns, bordered by hedges shaped like animals—luxurious surroundings more suited to royalty than a lad brought up—or rather, dragged up—in the boarded-up slums of Salford, Manchester. A lad with a rap sheet longer than the Seine.
Most of his men were already standing in position, their weapons safely concealed beneath their smart tuxedos. They would be joined by the others once the limos arrived.
Baldwin glanced at his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes, his irritation bubbling just below the surface. The guests should have arrived at seven, a full ten minutes before; where the bloody hell were they? He marched over to the window and craned his neck to look up the long, tree-lined drive.
Nothing, not a limo in sight—nothing but the grey gravel, glistening in the evening sun. It didn’t bode well, not in his book, anyway. His blood pumped harder, faster, and he felt the familiar vein jut out on his temple, just as it always did when something didn’t go according to plan. His plan.
“Well?” he asked when Julio, his second in command, joined him at the window.
“Nothing as yet, boss. Everything’s ready, though.”
“That much I can see, you bloody moron. Now go and see what the fucking hold-up is. I want this evening to go smoothly. You understand, Julio: no cock-ups.”
“Yes, boss. I’ll get onto it straight away.”
“Never mind. I’ll see for myself. I know how those guys can twist you round their fingers.” Baldwin stormed into the communications room next door. The room was littered with pizza boxes, and a bottle of scotch sat on the desk in front of his men. The three men, all built like bouncers, leapt to their feet.
“Look at the bloody mess in here! Did I say you could drink on duty? This is supposed to be serious business tonight. I’m warning you: fuck this up, and you’ll pay for it—with your lives. You got that? Now, what’s the bloody hold-up?” He glared. The men nodded like toy dogs in the back of a car.
Glaring, Baldwin stepped forward. He stopped in front of the youngest of the three men, their noses a few inches apart. “I said, ‘Have you got that?’ Benji?”
The man gulped, his eyes bulging with fear. He nodded again. “Yes, boss. I got it.”
“This is your final warning, Benji. Screw this up, and…” Baldwin left the sentence unfinished on purpose.
The new recruit backed away, and Baldwin let him go—for the time being. He’d had his eye on Benji for a while. The man’s attitude stank. It hadn’t escaped Baldwin that the young man thought highly of himself and enjoyed strutting around as if he owned the place.
“Now, let’s start again, shall we? Tell me, what the hell is going on?” Baldwin sat on the corner of the desk, looking at the ten TV screens attached to the wall in front of him, each showing a different area of the chateau and its grounds.
“The limos called in a few minutes ago. They got held up a few miles up the road. They should be here any minute,” Benji said.
“Make sure they are. I’m getting anxious, and I don’t need to tell you what that means, do I?”
The men nodded their understanding of the unspoken threat. Baldwin’s anxiety was notorious, and it often resulted in bouts of violence. Despite his men having muscles ten times larger than their IQs, when Baldwin went on the rampage, he knew they all turned into quivering wrecks.
With the threat still lingering in the air, Benji pointed to one of the screens as a car pulled into the drive. “Here comes the first lamb now.”
Relieved, Baldwin headed for the door, but he stopped in the doorway, turned, and issued a final warning. “Remember what I said… Any fuck-ups, and I’ll personally cut off your balls and serve them to the pigs.”
Re-entering the Great Room, Baldwin clicked his fingers and the band brought the room to life with one of his all-time favourite Jazz numbers.
Julio gathered the girls together to make sure they understood their roles for the evening. Several of the girls noisily smacked on their gum, no doubt bored of hearing the same instructions for the fifth time since arriving mid-afternoon. The plans were embedded in their minds already. Baldwin made a mental note which of the girls he would punish later for showing Julio attitude.
An English butler announced the arrival of the guests as they entered through the main doors. “Mr. Chang Foo, representing the Chinese Government.”
As each guest was announced, Baldwin stepped forward, a welcoming smile lighting up his handsome face. He lost his annoyance at their lateness—temporarily, at least.
“Mr. Yashicotin, representing the Japanese Government,” the butler announced. After the dignitary shook hands with Baldwin, one of the young girls latched onto the man and guided him in the direction of the free bar at the rear of the room.
When everyone was assembled and the room was buzzing with excited chattering, Julio gave the signal for his men to take up their positions. The men who’d accompanied the limos drifted through the crowd and slotted into their allotted places around the room, roughly six feet apart, with their weapons still concealed.
As per their instructions, the band stopped playing as soon as Baldwin appeared on the makeshift stage. The room erupted with loud applause as he stepped up to the microphone. “Good evening, gentlemen. First of all, let me tell you what a great honour it is to welcome you into my humble home.” Baldwin paused to accept the rapturous applause generously given by the audience, before he continued with his sucker-punch. “It has always been my ambition to become the world’s richest man, and now, with the help of you and your respective governments, I’m in a position to achieve that ambition.”
He noticed several of the brighter men in the group eyeing him with caution. Their unease changed to alarm as his men took out their guns.
“Now, now, gentlemen, settle down. There really is no need to be alarmed.” Baldwin addressed the audience in a sing-song voice. “Providing, of course, you co-operate.”
The Russian Finance Minister, his face flushed and contorted with rage, approached the stage. He gesticulated with his hands and shouted in his native tongue.
Outraged by the man’s rudeness and the mistimed outburst, Baldwin nodded to one of his men standing nearby and signalled for the man to be silenced.
Three shots echoed around the room, and the Russian groaned.
Again, the Great Room fell silent.
The Russian clutched his chest and fell to the floor, his blood quickly making a pool beside him.
Several guests tried to escape out onto the terrace, but the armed men herded them back into the centre of the room.
Baldwin’s calm, yet assertive voice rose above the commotion. “Gentlemen, you disappoint me. I thought we were all getting along so well. It’s unfortunate that our Russian friend chose to disrespect me, but I hope the rest of you will learn from his mistake. The ball—as they say, gentlemen—is in your court. Now, what is your decision? Am I to take it from your silence the rest of you have no objections to helping me fulfill my ambition or—”
The Chinese Finance Minister chose to interrupt his speech. Yet another communist with balls, Baldwin thought, as the man approached the stage. Foo mumbled, “Robert, we are all friends here. We should discuss your ambition openly and frankly.”
Baldwin’s smile vanished. The Chinese Minister, whose position gave him great power, shrivelled in front of Baldwin. “And what do you foresee the outcome being, Mr. Foo?” Baldwin asked through clenched teeth.
Foo’s body trembled. He tried to take a step back, but Julio’s Colt dug into the base of his back. Panicked, the man ran, but three shots prevented him from going more than a few paces. Foo cried out in agony and slumped as the impact of the bullets sent him sprawling to the newly polished floor, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“Is anyone else going to interrupt me? Speak now. My patience is wearing thinner by the minute.”
The room remained silent.
Baldwin’s triumphant laughter echoed round the enormous room as he sensed his long-awaited objective about to finally materialise.
Final Justice is an Amazon top 100 thriller and B & N top 10 bestseller.
Final Justice is an Amazon top 100 thriller and B & N top 10 bestseller.