�� �Gunther Lecke was always happy to smile and entertain the press when they came to view his magnificent castle. He could play the genial host to perfection and had even been known to tell a joke or two, though always the same jokes, or an amusing anecdote that over telling had turned in his mind from lies into fact. When more distinguished people made request to meet with him he would send a helicopter to Frankfurt-Main airport to ferry them back, greeting them with outspread arms and a welcoming Bavarian charm. It was a role that he slipped into with ease because he despised each and every one of them. His first business meeting of 1994 was with the recently elected chairman of a very large British Industrial Group, whose holdings at one time had rivalled those of Crown Inc. For a while the British company had exceeded Crown in size as Crown slowly disintegrated in a spiral of self destruction, but then Crown rallied when Gunther seized control in Europe and now there were three mega-corporates left to do battle for supremacy;� Crown Inc (Excluding Europe) and based in the USA, Lecke GmbH, and the British conglomerate, Steele Horizons PLC.
�� �Paul Steele (Lord Steele), had begin the process of preparing his son Jonathon for the task of Chairman, but with only five years now in the real world of commerce, the young pretender had a long way to go. Nevertheless, Jonathon had impressed his father and the board already with flashes on brilliance and the demonstration of a ruthless streak that his father never had. Paul� had been surprised in the changes in his son since he left Univerisity. As a young boy his son's close friendship with Daniel Preston while they had both been pupils at Ashwood School had been a wonderful thing for both of the boys. They practically grew up together, and on three occasions that nearly did not happen as three times Daniel saved Jonathon's life. Eventually they even went off to University together but when the tragedy of� flight PA103 over Lockerbie killed Daniel's parents, there were sharp changes in both the boys that would have profound effects upon their lives, with terrible consequences unimaginable at that awful time. Daniel left University, his degree incomplete,� and was already a wealthy man, known for his coldly clinical dealings, whilst Jonathon, Paul's son, also became hardened, losing what was left of the boyish innocence inside of him. He too became hard and ruthless as if in some way he felt that by acting in emulation of� his dear friend Daniel, he would be helping him, although that never was the case. The boys had never met since the night that Daniel left University, and in those six short years, Daniel was already something of a City legend, 'the man in the Fedora', 'The Financier'.
�� �Lord Steele was becoming more and more involved with 'The Ashwood Foundation', recruiting new members to the select board of governors that financed the whole venture, and always driving the vision forwards. He looked forward to the day that he could hand over control to his son, but he knew that the day was a long way off yet. For this meeting he had sent Jonathon, just to see how he would do when dealing with a man who could smile right into your face as he fed you a cup of poison. Paul was under no illusion about Gunther Lecke whose reputation was never envied, but frequently feared, and so on that January day in 1994, it was Jonathon who stepped out of the helicopter that had landed in the keep of Gunther's fantastic castle. He looked around in amazement - he had heard all about the place and seen enough pictures, but up close, it was incredible. A fairytale castle with every conceivable gimmick that ever appeared in Hollywood - 'all that was missing' mused Jonathon, 'were the queues for a ride.'
�� �"Welcome! Welcome!", exclaimed Gunther with a ready smile and throwing his arms wide to show off his Castle, "please ? You had a good trip ?"
�� �"Yes thank you Herr Lecke. Amazing place you have here, just incredible", said Jonathon who could not think of what else to say - he was almost speechless, as was so often the case when the castle in all its hideous, garish, and utterly tasteless detail was seen by the naked eye for the first time.
�� �"I was expecting your father, Lord Steele. I trust he is well ?"asked Gunther unable to disguise a little irritation in his voice.
�� �"Oh yes, father is fine and he asked me to offer his deepest apologies for this last minute change - he was simply unable to attend due to something that came up unexpectedly at The Ashwood Foundation. He says that he hopes you will understand ?"
�� �"But of course! And your dear Mother, Lady Steele ? She too is also well ?"
�� �"Yes, thank your Herr Lecke."
�� �"Gunther please, no need to be so formal. It is wonderful, do you not think ?"he said gesturing around at his casle, " and the snow makes it all the more beautiful!", added Gunther with true feeling, since when showing off his Castle he was both proud and boastful.
"If we finish our meeting in time you may like to try out the excellent skiing in these mountains" continued Gunther with a wave to the high peaks that towered overhead as he escorted Jonathon into the warmth of the Castle, "and there is no need to worry about skiing clothes or equipment, I am sure we have catered for you already", he added.
�� �The room they had entered was typical Gunther. At first glance the walls appeared to be the plain granite stone blocks of the castle itself, but a closer inspection would reveal that it was simply a very well constructed fake lining and that the archer slits high up in those walls were tripled glazed against the winter cold. A huge fire roared in an equally vast hearth that took up a good part of one wall. The logs were red and black and white in parts, but they never burned, those fake logs kept roaring in gouts of bright flame, fed by the gas jets below. Overhead, cunningly concealed air vents ensured the temperature and humidity were whatever Gunther desired. A long and very highly polished Oak table took most of the floor space, with fifteen large wooden chairs ranged down each side and one extra large throne like chair at the head, onto which Gunther sat, like the King of his Castle.
�� �"So, I begin", said Gunther - it was his meeting and he was calling the shots, let there be no mistake. "What do you know of Bolivia ?".
Jonathon had no idea how to answer that question, or where it had come from. He had had a brief about Gunther's rapidly expanding empire but South America had never been on the agenda. What was the man playing at, or was it a game at all, he wonderd ? "I know it is one of those South American countries that probably harbours Nazi war criminals", he replied and then cursed himself for the stupid indiscretion when he saw a Gunther's smile slip for a second.
�� �"Nazis ? Who knows ? I know nothing of that", he said with a dismissive shrug. "Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The newly elected government of last year under S�nchez de Lozada are making huge steps already to try to bring their county into the 20th century. Their biggest crop is coca from which is obtained cocaine, it is the country's main income, but this may change one day. Naturally, I have no interest in Cocaine!", he said laughing at his own joke.
�� �"I imagine not. So what is it about the country that does interest you, Gunther ? I don't think you brought me all this way to lecture about South American economies ?" Jonathon replied, unsure where the conversation was going.
�� �"Tell me, Mister Steele, do you know anything of Bio Fuel ?", said Gunther seeming to change tack on a whim.
Once again, Jonathon was caught out. With his own company's heavy investment in mineral oil, any challenge to that position was of interest, but as far as he had been advised, the so called Bio-Fuels were a long,� long way from issuing any kind of a challenge to good old crude.
�� �"We have looked at the technology, but it is far to soon to be of any use", Jonathon replied, part ad-lib and part based on what he did know, "how is your own research coming along?", he said, referring to the Austrian Bio-Fuel company that he knew Gunther owned.
�� �"Ah well there we have it! The nail banging on the head, as I think you say in English ? I always liked your quaint sayings, sometimes so very apt", he exclaimed, the excitement apparent in his toad-like eyes, "my chemists may have found a breakthrough!"
Jonathon yawned theatrically, "oh come on! They have been saying that for years."
Dramatically and without warning, Gunther suddenly dropped a large lump of rock onto the immaculate polished wood table. It rolled a few inches and made deep scores in the table's glossy surface and countless smaller scratches, but none of this seemed to concern him - he was playing a game. "You know what that is ? Go ahead Mister Steele, pick it up. Its harmless".
�� �The rock was about three times the size of Jonathon's clenched fist. It was a dark gray in colour with patches of black that ran in streaks like wide veins, and it had an unusual lustre that made it look more like a lump of molten metal than a natural stone. Looking at it closely, Jonathon could see that the surface was in fact crystalline, and that the crystals were opaque, tube like formations that gave the whole surface of the rock the appearance of rolled cloth. Jonathon had never seen a rock like it. "Its very beautiful", he said, "is it valuable ?"
�� �"That, no not especially. There are those that collect such things who might pay perhaps two hundred dollars for such a piece. Do you know what mineral it is ?", said Gunther with a smile that was more like a snake preparing his prey.
�� �"I really have no idea."
�� �"It is called Cylindrite, because of its strange and uniquely shaped crystals. It is a sulfide mineral found only in Bolivia."
�� �"Ah, I see now why you asked me about that country", replied Jonathon but still seeing no point at all in the discussion of a rock whose intrinsic value made it no more than an expensive piece of coal as far as he was concerned.
�� �"My chemists have been testing this mineral as a catalyst in a new process that they developed to create fuel grade diesel from rapeseed. We have only just begun this program of course and they tell me it may be ten years before we reach the output levels they think is possible, which is why I have invited you here. When the process is perfected they tell me it will quadruple the yield and more than double the refined quality - that means and eight fold increase. If we can farm enough of the crop, we could halve the pump price of mineral Diesel, or better, reap a huge profit at current prices."
Jonathon was nonplussed, "Well Gunther, that's all very interesting I am sure. I will have to get our technical boys to look at this stuff. Is that the reason you invited me, or rather my father, here ? To bring us up to date with your research ?"
�� �"Ach no! Steele Horizon� has the sole mining rights in the very region where this mineral is found. You did not know that ?", asked Gunther seeing the look of surprise on Jonathon's face.
He decided to bluff it out again, "well you know, the corporation is so big...one never knows all the assets....but do go on. I am quite fascinated now."
�� �"I would like to own those rights, as a safeguard you understand, in case in ten or twenty year's time....well who knows ?"
�� �"But if your research proves correct, those rights could be priceless" said Jonathon, "haven't you rather showed your hand, as it were ? Why on earth would I want to propose selling such rights to you, or indeed to anybody for that matter if what you have told me turns out to be true ?
Gunther smiled, but it was only his mouth that created an illusion of that emotion, his eyes remained cold and calculating. "Perhaps I should explain. I would wish you to give me those rights. I was not planning on purchasing them"
Jonathon was shocked at first, and then bemused, "give you the rights ? Why on earth should I want to do that Gunther. Do you take me for a fool ?"
�� �"You know Jonathon, I have a creed. I believe that any organisation is only as good as the information that it receives. Do you agree ?"
�� �"It helps", admitted Jonathon, unsure where this tack was going.
�� �"So" Gunther replied a little theatrically as he fanned a series of photographs across the table, then pushed them all towards Jonathon. "I think they capture your mother's beauty rather well, don't you think"?
Jonathon did not want to look but he had to, at his mother who was naked in all of the pictures and the young actor whom he recognised straight away. His face was ashen when he spoke, his voice barely a whisper "where...where did you get these"?, he managed to say.
�� �"Where ? It does not matter where. It matters only that I have them and that you have access to something that I want. Do we understand each other ?"
Jonathon almost spat as he replied, his anger and outrage barely under control. His face was red with rage and his hands trembled, "yes you bastard, I understand you alright".
�� �"Good! Excellent! I can look forward to your recommendation that Steele Horizons get out of Bolivia then ?"
�� �"Next month, we have a board meeting. I'll do it then. How can I trust you to destroy those...those disgusting mages ?"
Gunther laughed out loud. "My dear boy, you cannot!", he exclaimed, "but you can trust me to spread them around the world if you fail with your half of our bargain."
Jonathon glared at the man and stood up to leave, but Gunther said, "Unfortunately the helicopter will not be ready until later this afternoon. I suggest you enjoy my ski slopes for an hour or two. The mountain air will help you think clearly what you must do."
�� �Gunther showed him the way to a room that was fully equipped with skiing clothes of every possible shape and size, and left him to get changed before going out to the mountains. Back on his desk there was another report and Gunther was keen to read it. When there were no visitors, Gunther was known to rage and scream - his voice carrying to every corner of the castle. He was not a man to suffer fools at any time. As he read the report he began to chuckle, and then burst out laughing in huge guffaws that brought tears of mirth to his eyes. A very frightened secretary dared to look into his office and could not believe that she was seeing her boss dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief as he fought to control his laughter, but that was what he was doing alright; he was convulsed with laughter. Whatever could have caused it she wondered ? Nobody had ever heard a sound like it before, at least not from him. Gunther saw the secretary retreating and beckoned her back, still smiling, and said to her, "oh my dear, if you only knew what I had read. Go and find Herr Shafer and send him to me at once, if you please." Lukas Shafer was now the head of security for Gunther Lecke - it had been part of the price for organising the end of the King family. Even though Gunther knew he had failed in part, Crown was still all but finished and Lukas had earned his position. In another era he would have won an Iron Cross, but that was Gunther's father's time, not now, in 1994. Gunther was still chuckling when Lukas, without bothering to knock, entered the room.
�� �"Ah Lukas, my dear fellow", at last Gunther managed to control his laughter although he could not hide the schoolboy like smirk that had replaced his smile. "Lukas, you will of course remember that problem that you and your men were supposed to have taken care of for me ?"
Lukas looked at him for a moment. He worked there and he took the man's money for his trouble, but he did not have to like his boss and nor did he. The only reason he was still there was the money, that and the fact that if he left, Gunther would have him hunted down and destroyed, so they both played a game, each wary of the other. "So, what is so funny ?"
�� �"The three Americans are now dead, or at least two are dead and one has disappeared".
�� �"Should that interest me ?", said Lukas, the arrogance in his tone clear.
�� �"It might do if I told you that the two Englishmen are now also dead. That whoever killed them did more damage to that part of South London than the glorious Luftwaffe managed in the second world war."
�� �"So ? Why should this concern me ?"
�� �"You do not think it a coincidence, my dear Lukas ?"
�� �"Get to the point! I know you are playing one of your stupid games. So five men on my team are now gone - that was the kind of life they led. It means nothing."
�� �"On the contrary, it means a great deal. You know that the body of Nathan King was never found ?"
�� �"He was not much more than a boy. You don't seriously think that he escaped and that he killed them do you ? Bullshit! The only thing he ever killed was a Bear! Maybe. Killing a man is very different Gunther, very different indeed."
�� �"I have been able to trace a Nathan King to London, right now, an American. Do you think that is mere coincidence?"
Lukas paused for a second to think "how did they die, these five ?"
�� �"The first, by a knife, gutted like a fish. The second, shot and drowned in his own boat. The two in London, their garage blew up. And one American has simply never been found."
�� �"But this Nathan King is just a kid. If it is him, how could he know of such things ? Killing is not a game, it is a skill that is learned only by practice. Even if he had expert training say in some Martial Art, that still does not mean he could actually kill, in cold blood No, it is too ridiculous. Do you know where he is now ? I will go and kill him myself ?"
�� �"I am afraid that he too has vanished, well for the time being. It is my belief that he will either go for the Frenchman, or come here after you, Konrad and Albrecht."
It was Lukas's turn to laugh, but his laugh had an evil malevolent edge to it, "if he comes here first, Pascal need not worry ! Okay, I make you a wager ? Ten thousand says he will never get here ?"
Gunther extended a sweating hand to shake with Lukas, "done ! If he does get here and you kill him, I will pay you fifty thousand as a bonus! There, you cannot lose."
�� �"We will be ready". Lukas's smile was cold, wicked, his eyes spoke the evil that lurked behind them.
�� �"I want you to call Pascal and tell him to be on his guard. So far Mister King has been totally unexpected. Let us see what happens when the element of surprise is removed, eh ?"
�� �"You want me to go to France and help Pascal ?"
�� �"What ! Help a� filthy French shit ? No, let us just enjoy the entertainment", said Gunther, laughing once more - what wonderful sport he was looking forwards to.
�� �While Gunther was briefing his men on the developments in America and England, Jonathon was somewhere high in the nearby mountains. Most of the immediate area was already owned by Gunther and his own private ski-lift ran from the Castle to the highest of the surrounding peaks. The mountains had a clean crispness to them, coated in virgin white snow like an iced wedding cake. The tall Pines that grew on their slopes were all laden with decorations of frosty icicles. Jonathon saw no trace of any other skier in the deep snow - it was to him as if he were the first man to ever venture up this mountain. Reaching the summit he had a fabulous view, on one side looking far to the East where once there had been East Germany and the communist states beyond that. To the West, far away, the Swiss Alps and then France. The Castle appeared as a child's toy, far below at the other end of the cable car which was already returning, its cycle fully automated. Jonathon breathed in the thin air and tasted the purest air that there is before he dug in his ski-sticks, and pushed off down the slope towards the Castle.
�� �He tried hard not to see those photographs but the harsh black and white images appeared in front of his eyes like a slide show. As he skied, weaving in and out of the forest, taking small jumps of four or five feet over heaped snow banks, feeling the air bite at his face� and going ever faster his head swam and tears he cried froze on his cheeks. He had never been much use at any kind of sport, but thanks a childhood friendship, he could at least ski and was quite competent. This day he took risks like no other, it was as if he was fearless when in reality what he was, was broken-hearted. Faster and faster he went as if the sheer speed of his descent would tear the memory from his mind, and his skiing became total instinct because all he could see was his mother, and those damn pictures. Gunther may get what he wanted in Bolivia, but Jonathon swore that one day there would be a reckoning and when that day came, he would destroy Lecke and everything he stood for. Suddenly, at almost suicidal speed, the Castle loomed up ahead. Jonathon cut in� hard snow-plough, using his sticks too to slow himself down, but still he was closing too fast, and at the last possible moment, threw himself to the ground. He rolled over and over, his skis flying from his flailing feet, until at last he came to a stop. By a miracle, he was uninjured.
�� ��� �Before the next board meeting of Steele Horizons, fate stepped in and changed things once more. Pushing through a whole series of reforms S�nchez de Lozada, Bolivia's premier, nationalised a number of industries including the mines that Gunther Lekce was so desperate to get his ands on. The mine that yielded the particular mineral that Gunther wanted was insignificant to the Country's wealth;� it just fell under a general remit, a sort of collateral damage to the main Bill. However, that fact remained that although Gunther still possessed the photographs with which he sought to blackmail Jonathon, for the time being, Jonathon had nothing to offer. An uneasy stalemate existed between the two men, but no matter where that might one day lead to, Jonathon still vowed his revenge.
�� �The Sheriff of Camden, Maine did not get back to work for a week into the new year of� '94. His vacation was fine and had the Turkey they ate been cooked right through, then so would he have been too. He had said to his wife that it had a funny smell to it when she cooked it, but the taste seemed to be okay. Luckily his house was blessed with three bathrooms, and the family spent a week running between all three until at last, the Turkey had done its worst. He vowed to never eat one of the birds again. Well now he was back and no sooner had he unlocked his office than he saw an envelope in his post, that he did not recognise. For the moment, his mind was on other more pressing business. Some kids (or at least it was blamed on some local kids) had taken to raiding some of the more remote cabins to steal snowmobiles upon which they went for joyrides - it sure made a change to hot-wiring a truck in the Mall parking lot. A lot of folk were getting angry over the thefts and the damage, and the Sheriff had his work cut out trying to catch them.
�� �He opened the official buff envelope and saw that at long last, the data check he had asked for had been run, and there were some very interesting results. According to the vehicle licensing agency, a Mickey Garcia from Texas purchased a car from Benny Stone of Saint Paul, Minnesota, three years ago. Garcia had been found, stabbed to death in his own bar. This on its own meant nothing to the Sheriff's enquiry, however, the next bit did; Benny Stone did military service with one Corey Young, the victim of the Maine murder that the Sheriff was interested in. Benny Stone disappeared not long after Garcia was murdered. 'So', thought the Sheriff, 'not so much a link but a whole damn chain that joins all these men together, and now it looks very much as if this Benny Stone guy is the killer, since why else had he vanished all of a sudden' ? Where does this Mickey Garcia fit in ? What the Sheriff wanted next was a picture or a description of Benny Stone to see if he was anything like the drifter that had been seen around the town before Christmas, or, if his hunch was correct - and it usually was, then Benny Stone's picture would not be a whole lot different to that nice writer fellow who called himself 'Nathan King' and who rented the cabin down on Passamaquoddy Island, last summer and then lit out just before Christmas. With that thought in mind, the Sheriff sent a fax to the Saint Paul Police department, before setting out to look for the latest missing snowmobile.