Lorne led Valerie and Chloe upstairs to the drawing room, expanding the topic which had arisen when they finished their dessert. "Really, it'll be no problem at all to change." He shrugged. "My plans are always flexible, anyway — the need to account for weather."
"You're sure?" Valerie stroked his cheek whiskers as they settled into the deep cushions of the davenport. "Won't we hold you back?"
"Not in the least. In fact, your being with me will give purpose to the adventure." He paused for a while, bobbing his head before continuing, "Now, I cannot conceive going without you, and I'll cancel the trip if you don't wish to come along."
"But, will we be able to handle it? We have no experience."
"You need nothing but interest and fitness. We'll begin with gentle routes and work our way up. No goals, no expectations — except to enjoy."
Lorne leant and kissed her. "I love the late summer and early autumn down there. The crowds have gone, and the huts are empty or nearly so. We'll have the mountains mostly to ourselves."
"Hmmm. And equipment? Clothing? Boots?"
"Christchurch has a fine selection of outfitters."
Valerie nodded. "Get us away from here, won't it?"
"I'd love it to be more than that. More than an escape."
"So Monday week?"
"The plane has a charter on its way back from its servicing in Toronto, as well as on Saturday and Sunday, so it's not available until Monday."
"I've been to New Zealand only twice, both times through Singapore. What a long and tiring trip that is."
"Yeah, two eleven-hour legs."
"But we'll be asleep most of that, won't we, Daddy. You do it the smart way. Fly overnight."
Yes, Sweetheart. We'll leave Monday evening and be in Hong Kong in the early afternoon on Tuesday. Then we'll continue to Christchurch on Wednesday evening. Have you been to Hong Kong?"
"Not yet. My first time is next week." Chloe tilted her head up with eyes full of excitement. "Are the mountains as big as the Alps?"
"In some ways, yes. The high peaks are a thousand metres lower, but they rise from lower elevations, some of them directly from the sea, making their relief from valley to summit about the same."
"So, they have year-round snow on them, don't they?"
Lorne smiled at her understanding. "Oh, for sure. There are over three thousand glaciers in the Southern Alps, and the largest is longer than any in the European Alps."
The three continued discussing details until they were interrupted by the ping of Valerie's phone. She reached across and picked it up from the coffee table and thumbed it on, then winced as she looked at the screen. Five texts and two missed calls. She tapped the app and read the latest text, then blew out a deep breath. "Broughton's been busted."
"Just now, apparently. This is from Darryl, my Chief of Security." She went back to the phone. "There are more texts here — came while we were eating. Let me get a fuller picture."
Her expression changed from anguish to relief and back to anguish as she read, and when she finished, she shook her head. "I wonder how many others he's raped. I need to phone Darryl."
The call was immediately answered. "They took him away a couple of minutes ago, Val."
"Is the woman okay?"
"Still incoherent. Now being transported to hospital for examination, testing and care."
Oh, God! "Did he?"
"He was about to when we broke down the door. We couldn't wait any longer for the police."
"That's going to be tricky, legally. How long before they arrived?"
"Only about three minutes. They're being very civilised about it, and they'll be reporting it as their own forced entry with warrant." Darryl laughed into his phone. "We covered her with a bed sheet, but we forced him to remain starkers as evidence for the police."
"Clever. I appreciate the risk you took, and I'm delighted the police are cooperative."
"My twenty-four years in Scotland Yard weren't all wasted." He chuckled. "After I had given them the arrest warrant and filled them in on his background, they realised the broader scope. I've his computer and phone in my bag, and the disc from his video setup. He was recording the action."
"Hmmm, Isn't that tampering with evidence?"
"We'll clone all the data before we find the devices and hand them over. We don't want anything lost in the shuffle."
"Wise. So, you're finished there now?"
"Just beginning. I've requested we be present while the police take an inventory. He has gold stashed throughout the flat, hundreds of tubes of Sovereigns, Pandas, Krugerrands, Maple Leafs, you name it. And bars of all sizes from a few ounces up, but mostly four-hundreds. I've not seen so many of those since guarding Bank of England transfers."
"So, his visits to the banks? Taking bullion to the safe deposit boxes?"
"No, the other way around; he was bringing it here. His case always appeared far heavier on the way back."
"Strange. "Valerie chuckled. "Like, was he planning to play Scrooge McDuck and swim in it?"
"No, it appears he has other plans. Before the police arrived, I had been sifting through the books and files on his coffee table. Sailing books and ones on navigation. There's a thick file labelled Orofino which contains the documentation and manual for a sailboat."
"How does that relate to the gold — other than the boat's name?"
"It's a short-crew go-anywhere yacht with all the comforts, and it's easy to single-hand. One of my dreams. The Hallberg-Rassy 54 is a long way up from my Dufour 36. He could easily skulk away to any water on the planet, and he knows gold is spoken fluently everywhere."
"Interesting. So, you're a sailor?"
"My wife and I are itching to sail off over the horizon. A year and a half away still."
"Hmmm. Yeah, freedom." Valerie blew out a loud sigh. "We all want that. Is there a port nearby where boats like Orofino could dock?"
"With her size, she'd likely be berthed in either the Saint Helier or the Elizabeth Marina, both just down the slope from here. I sent a text to Hamish to have him dispatch someone to check them out as soon as I saw what this might mean."
"I like your initiative. So what —"
"Have to go. A call from the Police Chief. I need to continue smoothing this."
"Thanks. I..." Valerie stopped and looked at her phone, realising Darryl had clicked off. Another woman. Should have had him arrested earlier. Damn the digging for —
"You okay?" Lorne's words and his gentle touch popped her out of her trance.
Valerie nodded, then laid her head on his shoulder and blew out a deep breath. "Yeah." After a long pause, she said, "They'll handle all the crap. Let's talk about climbing again."
YOU ARE READING
Set in an environment of extreme wealth in contemporary London, this is a story of tender new love trying to flourish while a tragic past conspires to destroy. As Valentine's Day approaches, two lonely people begin breaking out of their social shell...