The first blow to Gunther Lecke's rambling empire took six months to unravel and a further four months to wrangle its way through the German legal system. Considering the issue at stake, that was a considerably accelerated time-scale by any measure, but wealth and connections together with the evident widespread unpopularity of Gunther Lecke in most circles, were great allies. An ancient statute that dated right back to the fifteenth century was uncovered, and amazingly that law was still valid, had never been challenged or repealed. All the land in the mountains where Gunther chose to live was by law to be at the service of the people - private ownership was forever banned, but better even than that discovery was the additional clause that no dwelling, domicile, castle or fortification was to be built in those mountains, ‘lest it doth spoile ye charme to thine eye'.
The original castle that was the base for Gunther's elaborate, if at the same time tacky and tasteless creation was built in 957AD, long before the statute that forbade such a building forever. In the 12th century the castle provided a temporary home to Richard 1st who, when returning to England from the Crusades was briefly held prisoner there until a considerable ransom was paid. After that brief moment in the spotlight it more or less fell into disrepair over the centuries and when Gunther discovered it, it was in a very sorry state indeed. However, the main outer walls and towers were all intact, the basic shell was sound and it was in and around this that Gunther had his own Castle constructed. No sooner had the ink dried on a Court Order for the public use of the beautiful mountains that surrounded his castle, than Gunther was stunned by an even greater blow - he was ordered to return the castle to its original condition, to remove all evidence of the construction work that had been undertaken, and further, he was to vacate immediately. To add further to his troubles, he was to bear all the costs for this work that was to be carried out within a strict deadline, at the risk of vast fines should he fail to comply. A footnote advised him that some compensation could be applied for, after the court was satisfied that he had complied fully with their ruling. Gunther was devastated, but after the advice of his own lawyers he withdrew to an office block in Frankfurt and left what he saw as the destruction of his castle in the hands of a project manager, specifically hired for the job.
Nathan and Daniel were delighted with their first salvo at Gunther Lecke, things simply could not have worked out any better for them. Gunther had a sizeable fortune but not so great that he could ignore the kinds of crippling costs he was now incurring, and thanks to a team hired by Daniel, some of his smaller businesses were already being teased away from right under his own nose. Things did not look good. He knew damn well that Daniel was only carrying out the threat that he and Nathan King, Nathan who incredulously seemed to truly believe that the Englishman was his long lost brother, had made nearly a year ago now. He had to stop them at al costs and there really was only one way. Some months ago he had received word that ‘The American', that most expensive but totally reliable problem solver, seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth, but there were others - maybe not as good as him, but all a lot cheaper. One of them ought to strike lucky, sooner or later.
Daniel had been very busy from the start, setting up an acquisitions company whose sole task was to chip away at all and any Lecke business interest. At the same time he had embarked on his own very secret pet project, one so secret that only he knew of its existence. Nathan had no idea at all about what Daniel was getting up to, and that was exactly how Daniel wanted it to be. By an almost ironic twist of fate the hugely diminished Crown Inc conglomerate was enjoying a new lease of life, back in the railroad business that Joseph King had founded the dynasty upon a hundred and fifty years ago. The railroad they were dealing with was very different to those that opened up America in the 19th century. With the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy, Crown Inc found a steady customer for railroad parts, and later for whole locomotives. Business was booming in the Orient and when they received a call from Daniel Preston, a reclusive British multi-billionaire who expressed an interest in the Saint Augusta Islands, the board of Crown Inc were at first bemused. Eventually they discovered that in fact, they did still own such a property although there was nobody employed by the company now who knew anything about them. Upon discovering that they were three tiny worthless islands somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a plaything of Tyler King who was murdered on one of them, they were only too glad to be rid of them. Once he had secured ownership, Daniel put the rest of his plan into action.
Nature intervened during the second year of Daniel's relentless assault on Gunther Lecke. Lecke had invested heavily in Paraguay, partly through connections he maintained on behalf of his father. Many of the people who escaped Germany via the Odessa system ended up in friendly South American countries. Paraguay had been chosen by Gunther to supply the huge quantities of rapeseed that he would need to process in his new plant. For the time being he was paying extortionate prices for the cylindrite mineral that he depended upon to convert the rapeseed into biodiesel. What he had not foreseen was that his entire crop would be struck by the geminivirus. The virus spread like wildfire through his unprepared crops, wiping out the entire harvest and leaving the farmers with no choice but the burn the fields to eradicate the disease, and leave them fallow for the next year. The impact to Gunther's finances was astronomical and although he reasoned correctly that Nathan and Daniel could have had nothing to do with the disaster, still he placed the blame on their doorstep. By this time the bothers had formed a shadow company to carry on the mission of breaking Gunther Lecke; DANA Holdings was based in Zurich where it occupied a luxurious office block in the heart of the city.
John Columbus Pope was forty-eight years old. Once he had carried the body of an athlete, lean and muscular, but now he was well past his prime with flabby muscles, a modest paunch and a good few pounds overweight. He was a short man at five feet nine inches and now looked stocky rather than fat. His face was weather-beaten so much that his skin looked more like leather stretched over his skull in which two slate grey eyes looked as cold as ice. His black hair had silver traces in it, and he kept it fairly short for most of the time. John never looked right on the land but on the deck of a boat, any kind of boat, he seemed to become one with the vessel - he was a man born to be sailing the world's oceans. He earned a living skippering boats anywhere around the Pacific Rim that he could get a job. Sometimes he would take charters out for tourists who wanted to do a spot of fishing or Island hop for a week or two. His favourite job was the delivery of a boat to wherever it needed to go, and by doing that he had developed a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable. John liked nothing better than to cast off in a brand new boat and sail it alone, until the time he had to hand it over to its new owner. None of this work was going to set him up to retire and he figured he would sail around the Pacific until he was just too old to do it anymore. When he got offered a job to deliver a brand spanking new luxury motor yacht to Keauhou in Hawaii, he jumped at the chance and when he then learned that the boat was currently in San Diego he knew that the job would pay very well and that he would have a good long time to enjoy her. A few days after he had accepted the job he got a very strange telephone call indeed. Yes, he was not as fit as he used to be and yes, he had said, for the right money he might be available, and yes he was due to sail from San Diego, right across the Pacific. Did he want to pick up and easy five hundred thousand dollars on the way ? Oh you betcha he did, retirement suddenly looked a whole lot better.
So it was that John Pope ambled into the modest timber building that acted as the office of Bartlett Weaver, another son of the sea, born to the ocean as much as was John Pope. Bartlett's love was a little different - he designed boats, but he had finally hit the big money when he designed Dreamweaver 1 for a rich Arabian for whom money was no object. Since then he had built another six more Dreamweavers, each more lavish and expensive than the one before. His latest, Dreamweaver 7, was to be the last one, Bartlett having made more money now than he knew what to do with. He was building the very last boat he would ever build right now, and when that one was ready he planned to get on board and sail it away into the sunset. But first he had one more delivery to arrange. He was bent over his drawing board - no fancy computers for his boat design, when John Pope entered the office.
"Mister Weaver, Bartlett Weaver ?", said Pope in his deep gravely voice that sounded like a box of bolts being shaken about.
"Yep, that's me ? What can I do for you my friend ?", asked Bartlett as he offered his hand for a handshake with his visitor, a little disconcerted by the man's cold stare, despite the smile that played on his mouth.
"John Pope. I'm here to sail you boat for you ?"
"Hi John. Pleased to meet you. Heard a lot of good things about you too. So you were a SEAL one time ?"
"Yeah, one time. A long time ago", said Pope quietly. It was not something he chose to talk about.
"Well I heard you breath the sea, top man in a boat. Can I get you a coffee or a beer maybe ?"
"Coffer would be fine. Beer and boats don't mix as far as I am concerned."
Bartlett laughed, "no, and I agree with you too. If you had taken a beer you would have been out of here before you finished it. Good man! Sorry for my little test. Now, I need to see your passport and your skipper's papers - for the insurance ?"
Pope smiled as he handed over the documents, "good coffee Mister Waever."
"Bartlett, or Bart if you have too. Now the boat is tied up on pier four, Dreamweaver 7 is her name. Why don't you go on down and check her over. Take as long as you like, and when you are happy, come on back and I'll sign her over to you. In the meantime I will make a copy of your papers, you know the routine by now I am sure, standard stuff."
"Okay Bartlett. I'll do just that".
"You find any problem, anything at all, just come on back and we'll fix it."
"I'll go take a look", said Pope as he drained his cup and then left the office.
The boat was everything that Pope had been promised it would be, and more besides. A long sleek black vision with engines that he fired up that were so quiet and smooth he could not tell that they were running. When gliding through the ocean at ten or twenty knots, the boat was eerily silent. This final version of Bartlett Weaver's vision (and a millionaire's bank balance that paid for it) was the most lavishly equipped of them all. Every single item was the very best available and the auto-pilot was ‘state-of-the art'. It had already been programmed with a course which meant that if he so chose, Pope need to not much more than baby-sit the magnificent vessel until he reached his destination. He spent three hours going over every part of the boat and found not one thing out of place, and so he returned to the office, happy to take charge of her, but then, he would have signed for her no matter what - this trip was special.
"Well I'm glad you like her John. You have a two thousand mile trip ahead of you so I want you to take it easy for the first five hundred miles - let those babies of mine bed in real good, and then, if you like, you can open her up and find out what she can really do."
Pope smiled, an easy smile that seemed to crack his face, "yeah maybe. I have a week to get her to Keauhou ? That's the deal right ?"
"That's the deal my man. Your papers are fine, just as I expected them to be. All you need to do is sign. You planning on taking on a crew ?"
"No, I think I can handle her okay", said Pope as he wrote his name on the release document.
"I'm sure you can too. You need to sleep, let the auto-pilot take care of you. Good luck."
"I'll call you when I get there", said Pope as he walked back out of the office with Bartlett's last words in his ears, "be sure and see that that you do. I'll be here waiting for you. Take good care of her, mind."
That first year had also been something of a voyage of discovery for Daniel and Nathan, who had moved into Daniel's chateaux just outside Zurich. Nathan discovered that he had a lot to learn about the world of high finance in which Daniel moved, whilst Daniel began to discover the great outdoors, encouraged by Nathan. Although he would never have the physique of his brother, that the result of years of training, he nevertheless developed a healthy tan and toned up his body considerably as he discovered new interests with Nathan that lay right outside his own front door. His many business associates remarked on the change they saw, saying how well it made him look and for a while, Daniel basked in their compliments. All the while the machinery that was DANA Holdings was grinding away at Gunther Lecke's empire, a take-over here, a deal there, another negative number on Lecke's balance sheet. A brief meeting with the Bolivian Trade Minister had been all that they needed to send the price of cylindrite through the ceiling - just some friendly and free advice at that as to the possible use of that rare mineral. For the people around the world who collected the rare rock for its beauty alone there was a pleasant after effect when they learned of its sudden increase in value. Combined with the huge loss that Gunther made when his rapeseed crop failed, that more or less finished his bio-diesel venture - he just did not have enough capital left to back it any further, even though he knew what a killer product he had on his hands. His empire was imploding at an incredible rate and the pain was hurting. Two years from the day that he had been promised destruction he was forced to leave his plush new Frankfurt Headquarters and instead rent a very modest floor of an office building in a far less popular suburb. He would be lucky to even retain that as time wore on, but very soon now he hoped to fight back, and fight as only he knew how. It was all just a matter of time.
The Citation executive jet banked around in preparation for its landing, then lowered its undercarriage, set the flaps and dropped out of a clear blue cloudless sky onto the ribbon of white concrete that shimmered in heat below. The wheels made the briefest screech as they touched down and then the engines went into reverse thrust with a loud roar that flushed a great flock of multi-coloured birds out of the tree tops, and soaring up into the sky with a chorus of calls. There was one odd thing about the aircraft; all the windows in the passenger section had their blinds closed as if its occupants did not want to look out on the glorious vision that awaited them.
"Come on Daniel! I played your game and I've not peeked once. Now will you tell me where the hell we are?", said Nathan flashing a big grin at his brother.
The side door of the aircraft opened letting the cool air-conditioned atmosphere out, and the tropical heat in, that carried with it a warm breeze that wafted sweetly into the cabin.
"Why don't you step outside and see ?", Daniel teased, hoping that all his work had not been in vain and that Nathan would love what he had done for him. He prayed that he had done the right thing, that Nathan would be able to find his own peace at last, but as he had come to know his brother, he was sure that what he had done, was right for both of them.
The last time that Nathan had seen Grand Augusta it was a raging inferno, a funeral pyre of all the people he had loved. The fire marched right up the entire island, devouring everything in its path. The tarmac of the two roads bubbled and then burned, some of it running off into pools where it set later, much later when the fire ran out of fuel and everything was gone. To a stranger standing on that Island a few days later it would have looked like the landscape of some distant alien star - everything was blackened and the ground was inches deep with grey ash. Here and there were a few skeleton bushes and the burned trunks of the trees that had survived stood tall like grotesque charcoal characters in a Lowry painting. Wispy white smoke tendrils were still rising creating a dense mantle that floated low on the ground but in every direction, there was nothing left. The houses that had been built had all burned and collapsed in on themselves, the main house then blew high into the sky when the fuel tanks underneath had exploded. Most of the birds had escaped to make new homes on the smaller green island, and some of the monkeys had reached safety there also. Many small burrowing creatures went deep underground and so escaped the devastation but on the north of the island, the entire wild pig colony perished. Nobody really knew how they came to inhabit the remote island, but now they were lost forever. A few short months later, nature began her relentless fight back. Nervous noses twitched, tasting the air to see if it was safe to emerge and already fresh green shoots erupted from the grey ashes. Almost ten years on the island was as green and lush as it had ever been. The compound that had been the site of the main house was long ago reclaimed by a dense jungle, the roads had almost disappeared, and the radar station on the Island's peak was an overgrown pile of rusting rubble. The birds and the monkeys had returned to claim their kingdom and the island was paradise once again.
Nathan stepped onto the new runway with mixed feelings. Looking around he realised that this time they had landed from the opposite direction - that the old guardhouse should be at the far end of the runway now, but as he squinted into the heat haze that rose from the long concrete path, he could see no building at all. Without a word he began to walk back down the runway, and Daniel watched him go, his outline shimmering in the heat haze from the runway. There was a new Range Rover parked at this end, near to the aircraft, and a few yards from it, a new road - the only road now, that led across the island to emerge from the jungle at the other end of the long beach, faraway from the original massive beach house. Nathan was just a speck now who turned off the runway, into the jungle. Daniel went to the Range Rover, got in, and drove across the island. He had had a new and quite modest house built at this extreme end of the wide sweeping beach, but had made sure that not one stone of the old site was touched - he knew that this would be the first place that Nathan would go to.
There was pitifully little left of the old houses. A few strands of rusting wire that had once been the perimeter fence, a few piles of stones that had once supported a magnificent teak floor. Scraps of twisted metal, piles of broken bricks, the only evidence that this had once been such a loved place, and now Nathan had returned to pay his last respects. He stood where he reckoned they had lain, his family, all those years ago now. There may have been some bone fragments if he rooted around in the ground but he had no desire to disturb them. Daniel had left this place exactly as it was, for Nathan, and for him alone. So Nathan stood there for a very long time, his mind filled with the happiness that he had known here, and for the last time in his life, he cried again, not the deep racking sobs of recent grief but tears of sorrow for what he had lost and perhaps a few more for what he knew he had become. The debt was almost paid in full now, and as the sun swooped down to the sea, Nathan walked away, through the jungle to the beach, then along to the lights he could see burning at the distant far end of the bay, and he was smiling.
John Pope set out from San Diego at a very sedate fifteen knots. The sleek boat seemed to glide right over the top of the sea and the only sound was the ripple of the tiny bow wave that it made for its passage. He had checked the auto-pilot and the sat up on deck, a wide-brimmed Stetson on his head and wearing a pair of Aviator sunglasses. He wore only a pair of white shorts and despite the extra pounds that he was carrying, he still looked the mean ‘son-of-a-bitch' that he most certainly was. Turning the charm on as he had done for Bartlett Weaver was second nature to a man who would still be smiling as he cut a person's throat. In another time he would have been a Western Gunfighter, but just as they died out in time, so Pope's breed was dying out too. The world had run out of its need for specialists of his kind when Europe was unleashing masses of killers from its newly democratised neighbours, almost every day, or so it seemed. At his foot there was a cool-box full of beer, to save getting up from his comfortable seat, and for the rest of the day he let the powerful boat whisper through the water. He drank a few too many of his beers on that first day and fell asleep on the deck, but the boat kept to its course, slowing opening a gap between it, and San Diego. When he awoke on that second day, Pope had no ill effects from his drinking at all - he was as fit as ever, but now with his big payoff in mind he stuck to water and then, ignoring all the advice he had been given (because that was all part of his plan too), he opened up both throttles to maximum and the boat almost leapt out of the water with joy. Speed was what it was built for, but still so eerily quiet, just a muted growl as he felt the warm wind whip his face. The boat ate up the miles, that day and the next too and on the third day, still gunning the engines, Pope finally throttled them back to an almost stationary, ten knots. Night fell and the auto-pilot corrected course for the minor deviation that Pope had made and then he cut the engines altogether, allowing the black painted craft - nothing but a shadow in the night, to coast the last few hundred meters to the land that was ahead. He moored the boat carefully then set foot on the tiny island. It only took him twenty minutes to cross to the other side, and once there he selected his position, then sat down to wait.
The dawn that broke had a beauty that was almost beyond description. A gold and orange orb rose out of the horizon and lit the tops of the waves that rippled like quicksilver. Fantastic colours scattered across the ocean and the half-light of dawn sent searching sunrays into the jungle, waking the birds who began their morning song. A cool breeze wafted in from the Pacific and the waves that washed up onto the gold beach were little more than a swell, lapping softly onto the sand. The sun rose higher still, subtly changing colour to a deep rich yellow, and there was not one cloud in the impossibly blue sky. Soon the monkeys were chattering too and then Nathan and Daniel came out of the new house. They both waded out until they were knee deep in the crystal clear surf, then cast out the lines from their fishing rods. Nathan was about fifty yards away from Daniel - far enough to ensure that their lines did not tangle. Looking from one man to the other, it was impossible to tell then apart, but closer up the scars of Nathan's battles looked ugly compared to Daniel's unmarked golden brown skin. They laughed as they shouted cat-calls to each other, each determined to land the biggest fish. So far, Daniel was in the lead of that competition and he knew that he could expect no quarter from his brother.
Nathan pulled at a bite and missed, then turned his head to shout friendly abuse at Daniel, but as he did so a sudden glint temporarily dazzled him, just for the briefest second. He squinted and then, again he caught it, so fast that most men would have missed it, but Nathan still had that incredible ability to capture a scene and review it as he did now, all in a split second, and he knew with horrific certainty, what it was that he had seen, out there, halfway up the side of the smaller green island. He threw his fishing rod into the sea and began to run, his strong legs powering through the surf, and as he ran he began to shout, to shout with all the fear and desperation and deep dread that he had ever known, "Daniel! DANIEL ! GET DOWN ! GET DOWN!", he screamed as the gap between them narrowed but Daniel just turned and laughed at his mad brother running flat out towards him, "GET DOWN FOR GOD'S SAKE!", screamed Nathan. Daniel at last realised that Nathan was not playing a prank, that he was terrified as he had never seen him before. He was a few feet away, that was all, and Nathan leapt up out of the surf, a strong football tackle that saw his lean body power through the air, his arms outreached, reaching desperately towards Daniel, and his face a mask of unbridled terror, and even as his stretching finger tips touched Daniel, a single rifle report cracked through the warm air, a violent discordant sound that sent masses of birds up into the sky, and the white foaming surf ran red with blood.
Grand Augusta Island
The Pacific Ocean