“It’s the way we should go with this, Ross. You won’t regret it, I promise you.”
Ross eyed his business partner through narrowed eyes and shook his head. “I was the one who built this business from scratch. This decision should be down to me, not you.”
Laurence laughed. “It doesn’t work that way once you’ve pulled in the investors, mate. The decision will be made at the next board meeting with a vote. You’ll have no say in the matter if you’re outnumbered.”
Ross tilted his head. “Is there an underlying threat in there?”
“No, merely stating facts.”
“And what will be the outcome if I object?” Ross bounced backward in his executive office chair, in his stylish, modern penthouse office overlooking Manchester city centre. He’d settled in the city long ago, after achieving his degree in business studies at Manchester University. He’d started up his import and export business that year and expanded quickly over the next three years, winning awards for his entrepreneurial skills and creating a company that employed over five hundred people in the city. His father, John, nicknamed him Midas because everything he touched appeared to turn to gold. Laurence had persuaded him it was time to ‘grow the company to an even greater level’ and insisted he should take on investors.
Laurence’s persuasive tongue had seen that happen only a year ago. Despite the business growing by twenty percent in that time, the investors wanted an even greater return on their capital. Hence the reason Laurence was trying to persuade Ross to float Spalding Enterprise on the stock market.
Laurence shrugged his broad shoulders, hitching up and dropping back his tailored jacket as he did so. “Like I said, if you object and enough of the board vote yes, then it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Look, it’s late. Why don’t we thrash this out over dinner? I have a table booked at Jeremy’s Grill, my favourite restaurant, this evening. I thought I’d make the most of Claudine going out with the girls tonight. What do you say? The sooner we sort this out, the quicker we can get on with making you some serious money.”
Ross snorted. “I make enough to sustain my wealthy lifestyle. Are you sure you’re not just concerned about your wealth here?”
Laurence held up his hands. “Caught in the act. I have a few things to sort out in the office first. I’ll meet you at the restaurant at seven, how’s that?”
“Seven or thereabouts. I have several calls to make before I call it a day here. I’ll see you there.”
“Deal. You won’t regret this, Ross.”
He watched Laurence leave his office then turn to face the Manchester skyline, which was lit by a beautiful red sunset, the brightest he’d seen in a long time. Summer would arrive soon, and he reflected on the plans he had lined up for his wonderful fiancée, Rachel. He sighed wearily. He was desperate for a holiday. He hadn’t had time off since he and Rachel had spent Christmas together in a ski chalet in Austria, when he’d got down on one knee and proposed to her. At thirty-five, he’d thought it would be an ideal time to settle down and start a family. Luckily, Rachel thought along the same lines, and they were busy making plans for an August wedding. Their holiday wouldn’t just be a holiday—it would also be their honeymoon. He had booked a villa on a secluded island where all their needs would be met by three waiting staff. He smiled as the idyllic setting he’d spotted in an exclusive brochure ran through his mind. Rachel had no idea he was planning such a lavish honeymoon.
He shook his head. “Back to work, old boy. Your day hasn’t ended yet.”
Ross made several calls to associates who were also workaholics whom he knew would still be knee-deep in paperwork and tied to their desks at this time of day. He jotted down a few notes regarding people he wanted to chase up for answers to a few dilemmas he had first thing the following day. Then he slammed his diary shut, stood, and pushed his chair under his now-tidy desk. Switching off the light, he paused in the doorway to admire the beautiful sunset once more. Then, briefcase and laptop in hand, he made his way to the lift that would take him down to the basement garage. Even though the restaurant was only around the corner, he decided it would be better to drive directly home from there rather than to have to return to the building to retrieve his vehicle.
The lift whizzed down to the basement. His footsteps echoed as he walked through the door to the entrance of the car park and towards his new sleek, top-of-the-range black BMW. He deposited his laptop and briefcase on the backseat and opened the driver’s door. Feeling something hard at the nape of his neck, he froze.
He tried to turn his head, but a stern voice warned, “Face me, and your life will end here. Got that?”
His eyes momentarily closed, and his mouth dried up, making it impossible to either argue with or try to persuade the man he was making a huge mistake.
“Get in the car,” the man instructed.
Ross began to move round to the passenger side of the car, and the object pressed harder against his neck.
“The driver’s side. Stop taking me for an idiot, and you just might get out of this alive.”
“If it’s money you’re after, then we can discuss this amicably.”
“In the car,” his accoster said before he ran around the other side of the car and jumped into the passenger seat beside him.
A car’s lights blinded him. There’s someone else in on this, but who?
He switched on the ignition and selected reverse on the centre console of the automatic. The car glided out of its parking spot, and Ross steered it towards the entrance. The red Toyota parked opposite pulled out and proceeded to follow him.
“When you reach the road, head out of the city.”
Ross swallowed. “In what direction?”
“Take the road to Bolton,” the man replied through gritted teeth, tapping the gun against Ross’s temple.
Ross quickly dismissed the notion of defying the man’s instruction. Instead, he kept his foot pressed down on the accelerator and said nothing.
The man fiddled with the car stereo until he found a station playing street music and upped the volume. Ross was incensed, as he never played his music above a set volume. The noise was a distraction, especially because the chosen music was not to his taste.
They drove through the lingering traffic left over from the busy rush hour and finally made it out onto the M61, which would eventually lead them onto the A667, then to Bolton. Ross’s heart rate escalated with every mile they travelled. The way the man was holding the gun against his head made him wonder if his life would come to an end any second. He reprimanded himself. Why would the man risk killing me mid-journey? Killing the driver would put his own life in danger.
Fifteen minutes later, they had reached the outskirts of the city and were approximately three miles away from Bolton when his passenger ordered, “Take the next turning on the right.”
In the fading daylight, Ross indicated to the right. The road turned out to be a country lane, one that he’d never noticed before on this route, which he had taken daily for the past five years.
“Pull over here. Get out of the car.”
Ross unhitched his seatbelt and opened the door. The man slipped across from the passenger seat and was out of the car and within inches of Ross once more before he had the chance to slam the car door in his face. Seething at the missed opportunity, Ross turned to face the man and asked, “Why?”
Both men’s attention was drawn to the land behind them as the other car pulled to a halt alongside the BMW. A young white male stepped out of the vehicle and approached them.
“You took your time.”
“As if that heap could keep up with a Beemer. What happens now?”
“Shut the fuck up. You’re not here to ask questions.”
“No? Then why am I here?”
Ross sensed confusion and a tension developing between the two men, as if their plan hadn’t been worked out properly, until the man holding the gun to Ross’s head said, “To clear up after the deed has been done.”
Ross’s fear rocketed as the man’s words sank in.
There was only one way out—he had to put up a fight.
He balled his fist at his side as he waited for the opportunity to come his way. The gun dug in the back of his neck again.
“Walk. Over there.” The man pointed to the right, at a metal farm gate. When they reached the gate, the man was annoyed to find it padlocked. He kicked out at the metal and ordered, “Climb over it.”
Ross, his hands shaking, gripped the gate and proceeded to climb the bars, the muddy soles of his leather Hugo Boss shoes slipping on the metal. As his legs spread, the seat of his trousers split. Great, my thousand-pound suit ruined because of these shmucks! He made it over safely and landed on the other side of the gate. There was a loud squelch, and he soon realised he’d stepped in a large cowpat.
The other two men laughed at the disgust on his face. He clenched his fists again, ready to attack once the man with the gun followed him over the gate.
He scaled the tricky obstacle easily and aimed the gun at Ross’s temple. “Turn around.”
“Where are we going? You don’t have to do this. I have money…take the car. It’s worth over eighty grand, and I promise not to go to the police.”
“You won’t get the chance, buddy. Move it.” The man jabbed the gun into the tender part of his neck.
He tried to dodge any more cow dung in his path, but the light was virtually non-existent. His nerves shattered, and he clenched and unclenched his fists as he awaited the possibility of attacking his accosters.
They were a quarter of the way into the large field, the longish grass was sodden, and the dampness crept up his trouser leg as they walked through it. A loud bang echoed then everything went black.