A fast-paced thriller about the most daring of kidnap plots...
Sir Brewster "Bruiser" Moxmanton, Old Etonian baronet and thug-about town, is a desperate man.
So he's quick to appreciate the money making potential of a plot to kidnap the 50 contestants from the international "Queen of the Earth" beauty contest and hold them for ransom.
The operation is on...
Release date: January 1, 1789
Print pages: 400
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of the Republic was involved. Everybody jumped to it.
The cops were instructed that Ringrose was on Corsica, touring with his wife Helen and their two daughters. Bien.
In anticipation of a result, a Dassault Mystère-Falcon jet of the Groupe de Liaisons Aériennes Ministérielles had been moved from Marseille to Ajaccio, ready to whisk Ringrose to London where les rosbifs were out of their skulls with worry. This was a sight the French would normally relish. But not now.
The gendarmes raced through all the usual checks – car-hire computers, hotel registrations – and got warmer by the hour. Finally
they found Ringrose’s hired Renault impeccably parked in the clifftop town of Bonifacio, alongside the quay where the ferry
from Sardinia berths. It was unoccupied.
After all their efforts, les flics had been scooped by the French Foreign Legion.
Up on the cliff, above the ferry landing stage, squats a Legion barracks, the Citadelle Montlaur, in the final stages of closure,
with the men being shipped out to Southern France. It is an unlovely pile, apart from the cream-walled area around the arched
main gate where a sentry box is manned by a ramrod legionnaire in a white képi, and khaki uniform with extravagant, red-tasselled epaulettes. The setting is made for holiday snaps.
Ringrose, in ill-cut slacks held up by an old necktie knotted round his waist, was trying to get Helen and the girls positioned
under the crossed tricolours for a photograph – and doing his best to ignore the knot of squaddies giving the eye to his pretty
daughters in their skimpy frocks.
‘Tom,’ said Helen, sweetly unaware, ‘we ought to have a picture all together. Why don’t you ask one of the soldiers?’
The squaddies watched him turn towards them, proffering his camera.
‘Mais certainement – avec plaisir,’ said a young hopeful, leaping forward. Grinning self-consciously, Ringrose joined his
‘Monsieur, le chapeau!’ said the legionnaire.
‘Daddy, he wants you to take your hat off. The brim’s throwing a shadow on your face,’ said Laura, the family linguist.
‘Sorry,’ said Ringrose, disengaging his arm from his wife’s slim waist and removing the offending headgear to reveal a silver
forelock that fell over the brow of a sleepy, tanned face.
The legionnaire raised the viewfinder to his left eye then slowly lowered it again. He gaped.
‘C’est lui! Celui qu’on cherche!’ he shouted to his comrades. They all looked intently at the English family. Then the legionnaire,
still clutching the camera, broke into a run. He raced, shouting, through the gateway and into the guardroom on the right.
Moments later a sous-officier returned with him.
The NCO took one look at the tall Englishman, brought his heels together and saluted. ‘Commandant, voulez-vous venir par ici
tout de suite, s’il vous plaît,’ he said.
Commander Thomas Ringrose, head of Scotland Yard’s Serious Crimes Branch, was baffled by the torrent of French and turned
to his elder daughter. ‘What’s going on, Laura?’
She said slowly, ‘As far as I can make out, they’ve been looking for you everywhere, Daddy. There’s been a terrible crime.
The Prime Minister asked the French to find you.’
‘Bugger,’ said Ringrose.
For the next half-hour pandemonium disrupted the austere routines of the Citadelle Montlaur but soon the bemused Ringrose
family were watching a Super Puma helicopter set down on the parade ground, ready to carry Ringrose over the mountains to
the waiting Mystère.
Ringrose swore under his breath. ‘God knows why it has to be me,’ he shouted into Helen’s ear, above the racket, ‘but I want
you to stay and enjoy the rest of the holiday.’
Helen said firmly, ‘You go, we go. I’m not having you coming home to an empty house.’
‘Too right,’ chorused his daughters. ‘You need your home support team.’
At last the cops could join in. A car-load of blue uniforms tore off to collect the family’s luggage from a nearby pension. In the guardroom, a Legion officer showed Ringrose a newspaper, Corse-Matin, which displayed the lurid headline: ‘DISPARUES!’ Laura translated: ‘VANISHED!’ Then she said, ‘The story’s about a large
number of girls of different nationalities who have been kidnapped in London.’
Her father frowned. ‘How many?’
‘Forty-nine? Surely not!’ Ringrose peered over her shoulder.
‘Yes, Daddy, it definitely says forty-nine. The report says it should have been fifty but one girl got left behind.’
‘Does it say whether or not the girls are still alive?’
Laura read to the end of the report and handed him the paper. ‘They don’t know.’
An hour later the Ringroses were London-bound.
The jet climbed fiercely, the G force momentarily making Ringrose’s head swim. As his eyes settled back into focus he found
he was still clutching the copy of Corse-Matin. He gazed out of the aircraft’s window and pondered. What manner of man (a small voice added, ‘Or woman,’) could have concocted
such a ridiculous criminal spectacular?
And hope to get away with it?
Lucius Frankel circled Kew Green twice, watching his rear-view mirror for any sign that he was being tailed. Nothing. He had
no reason to be so cautious – it was too early in the game – but he felt an almost obsessive need to make every moment into
a drama, to savour to the full his commanding role in all that was to happen.
He parked and strolled across the grass, passed Gainsborough’s tomb, and nipped across Kew Road. He turned his back on the
Botanical Gardens and consulted his map before he plunged into the network of narrow streets that led down to the river.
The single-bedroom apartment was on the third floor of a small block. Its only notable feature was an unhindered view across
the Thames to Strand-on-the-Green. Before he entered the building he pulled on plastic gloves.
As he let himself in, the person he had privately codenamed the Source stood up in a grubby black tracksuit. Over the chairback
hung a cheap khaki jacket and on the table rested wire-rimmed glasses that gave the Source’s face the cast of a revolutionary
Lucius flopped into a worn tapestry chair and said shortly, ‘I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to. Give me a
The Source said: ‘I’m establishing a whole separate identity. I’m leaving the telephone in the previous tenant’s name and
paying all bills with cash.’
Lucius nodded. ‘This crib’s fine. It hits the right note of anonymity. There has to be a neutral clearing house for information
and eventually for storage of the money.’ He levered himself up and made a tour of inspection, tapping the walls. ‘It’s going to be essential to keep the telephone working and for you to be available here at pre-set times. You’re going
to get lonely. Your only contact will be my voice on the line. Once we’ve pulled it off, I shan’t come near you. You’ll get
The Source tried to object. ‘Don’t kid yourself,’ said Lucius Frankel. ‘You’d better listen to what I’m saying. This is going
to be one scary game. You crack and we all go down.’
The Source was hardly listening. ‘I just know this is going to be the most amazing event in my whole life.’
Lucius stared long and hard. He caught the starveling glitter in the Source’s eyes and it made him uneasy. He struggled to
conceal his irritation and pump sincerity into his voice. ‘I know what you mean,’ he said. ‘Me, too.’ Then he grunted. ‘Let’s
start with the money.’
The Source fished in a veneered mahogany sideboard and dumped a brown-paper bundle on the table. ‘It’s twenty-five thousand
exactly. My total stake. I’m not to be asked for any more, no matter what the final overall expenditure. In return, I collect
one-fifth of the proceeds. Agreed?’
‘Agreed,’ said Lucius. ‘Without you, the operation is impossible. The remaining share-out is my worry. I say who gets what.
Anyone doesn’t like it, they get dealt with.’
The Source’s neck hair prickled. Sometimes you could glimpse the cold, violent beast that crouched inside Lucius Frankel.
Lucius produced his notes. ‘Our biggest preliminary outlay, by far, is going to be for the two coaches.’
‘How’s the recruiting going?’
Lucius hesitated. The Source asked too many questions but had to be kept happy. ‘I’ve been researching the Great Train Robbery
of the nineteen sixties,’ he said. ‘Those idiots doomed themselves with too many helpers with serious criminal records.’
‘So?’ The Source had poured some red wine.
Lucius sipped from a heavy-bottomed glass. The surgical gloves still covered his hands. He said, ‘So some of their past crimes
were big enough to earn them an automatic place on the list of suspects.’
He shook his head at the long-ago folly, the overhead bulb bouncing highlights off his sleek black hair. ‘Our team will be
much more compact – I see eight as the maximum. None of the principals will have a criminal record. It’s the military I’m
‘Who …?’ began the Source.
Lucius rose from his chair. He smiled but shook his head. ‘Not yet. Later,’ he said.
Why this damn fury all the time? Celia had once said to him: ‘You know, Bruiser, it has to be some chemical imbalance. I think
it’s very sad for you, especially as you never appear to care a twopenny toss.’
He did care, of course.
Once, not so long before she took off for good, she had suggested, in a joke-that-wasn’t-a-joke, a session with a Wimpole
Street witch-doctor. ‘I mean, it can’t be right, can it, you constantly flying off the handle?’
Cee, whose loyalty had been exemplary for a long time, had been reacting to his latest asinine prank and the subsequent headlines.
In the tabloid press, Bruiser was appreciated as one of a disappearing breed of gentleman rampagers who roamed the upper reaches
of London society. He knew he was being used by the media. He was fodder for the newspaper-reading mob, one of the cast of
nobs, mountebanks, hairdressers and frock-makers who fill the daily gossip columns. The knowledge did nothing to moderate
Before Cee married him, friends had warned her, or so she told him later, that he was mad, bad and dangerous to know, but
she had found him amusing.
Cee had once squeezed his arm, saying: ‘You can be very endearing sometimes.’ Bruiser did not understand that remark although,
pondering later, he decided Cee had really meant quaint. Was she poking fun?
But there was no doubt about the laughter that had attached itself to his name after the incident at Buckingham’s club. The
evening, unsurprisingly, had been boisterous, because he had been in the company of Dickie Biggs-Salter and Rolly Ponsford.
They had reached Buckingham’s famous treacle roll when Rolly had spotted the red-haired civvy, two tables distant, dining
with – of all people – General Lingfield, retired, who had lately been recruited to the board of Edison Electronics. ‘It’s
that oik Burt Spanner.’ Rolly identified him accurately.
Despite his name, Spanner was a subtle, technically educated man with a BSc from London University, who had created the Association
of Professional Computer Operatives. His members had demonstrated their ability to bring day-to-day government to a halt by
shutting down the terminals into which for the previous fifteen years the bureaucracy had obligingly fed all its knowledge.
Under his skilled command, the APCO had brought the government to heel in four weeks and the right-wing newspapers had found
what they had long sought: a left-wing bogeyman to replace Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader.
Spanner’s presence in the gentlemen’s sanctuary of Buckingham’s blighted the evening. Rolly fumed and Bruiser grumbled sotto voce: ‘Damn fellow’s got no right to be here. I’ve a good mind to say so to the General.’
Dickie pushed the port decanter towards him. Not unmindful of his own position as a serving officer, he drawled, ‘Knock it
off, Bruiser. You go anywhere near the old boy and he’ll have you across the muzzle of a cannon. Spanner’s a guest of the
club and noblesse has to oblige.’
It was by the sheerest misfortune that the trio should leave the premises just as General Lingfield was bidding farewell to
his guest and helping him on with his camel-hair coat while the hall porter sought a cab outside in St James’s Street.
The General was mounting the staircase to the first-floor smoking room when Bruiser and Rolly confronted Spanner.
Slightly slurred, Bruiser said, ‘C’mon. Let’s debag him.’
The roly-poly trade-union leader’s first reaction was one of terror: he was being mugged, he thought.
Then, as a massively built man of six foot three lifted him under the shoulders and another took him by the suede shoes, the
terror turned to a bellow of indignation. His assailants cheered manically, but Dickie Biggs-Salter was appalled. ‘For Chrissake,
stop it!’ he yelled. ‘There’ll be hell to pay!’ He went unheeded.
Rolly dragged the trousers down Spanner’s kicking legs just as General Lingfield, summoned back to the pavement by his guest’s
roars, advanced down the steps.
The next few minutes were a blur of struggle and shouting, but it might have been possible even then to salvage something
from the sorry mess if the incident could have been contained within the circle of those involved. However, the photograph
had appeared in next morning’s Daily Mirror. It had been taken by a passing taxi driver, and it was a stunner.
It showed Spanner clean off the ground, his trousers around his ankles, Bruiser and Rolly, teeth bared in feral joy, the General,
hand frozen in mid-air on its way to a vigorous connection with Rolly’s cheek, and Dickie, arm crooked around Bruiser’s neck,
attempting to pull him off. The elderly club porter stood wringing his hands.
And, in public, that is what everyone else did. Bruiser and his party were nothing more than high-born hooligans. But through
all the printed comments there ran an undertow of amusement: a large section of the public was gleefully ready to give its
silent approval to Spanner’s humiliation.
Buckingham’s did not wait for General Lingfield’s complaint: the committee sacked Bruiser and Rolly within the day because,
the assault on Spanner notwithstanding, gentlemen should be able to hold their drink. Dickie, thanks to the evidence of the
photograph, escaped with a reprimand. He was equally fortunate when the matter was brought to the attention of his colonel.
But Bruiser and Rolly were required to resign their commissions. The regiment passed judgement with genuine regret: they had
proved themselves resourceful, fearless officers in the Falklands, but none of it counted now in these politically sensitive
days. Outside times of war, the British Army had no place for cowboys.
At this sorry time, the gossip columnists of the Daily Mail unearthed the origin of Bruiser’s nickname. He wished they hadn’t.
In Bruiser’s day, Eton College remained perversely proud in all twenty-five of its houses of the ‘fagging’ tradition, in which
small boys waited on older ones. The system had flourished for three centuries until Headmaster Michael McCrum called a halt.
At twelve, Brewster Moxmanton was a dour boy, already well developed for his age, and for a whole term endured the boot polishing,
the sausage cooking, the errands. That summer, at home, his mother had been absent as usual on the show-jumping circuit. His
father visited intermittently, rarely taking time out from his business affairs in London or from the company of political
cronies. In this family doldrum, Brewster had turned to a stimulating association with Colour Sergeant Wally Barnes.
The former NCO occupied a converted stable block on the edge of the Moxmanton estate, alongside the Maidstone road. He paid
no rent: the accommodation was a reward from Brewster’s father. In the war, during the commando raid on the Bruneval radar
installation, the old man had taken a bullet in the thigh and Wally Barnes had hauled him to safety down the beach under enfilading
Besides his Military Medal, Wally Barnes had another distinction: he was an expert in unarmed combat and when the Americans
joined the war, before the main assault upon Hitler’s Fortress Europe, had trained many of them in this form of mayhem.
‘It’s nothing fancy,’ he told Brewster. ‘It’s not the stuff that looks like ballet. It’s rough-house fighting that’ll give
you the edge on untrained people – just a means of kicking more shit out of your opponent than he’ll ever kick out of you.’
The boy was thrilled. Wally Barnes was the first adult who had ever talked to him man-to-man.
Brewster first witnessed Wally’s prowess at the village summer fête, held each July on Pilgrim’s Green, a resting place in
medieval times for the devout on their trek to Canterbury. Wally recruited half a dozen mates from the Royal British Legion
and, on a canvas stretched over a bed of grass cuttings, gave a good-natured display of holds, throws and incapacitating blows.
Naturally, he muted the strength of his attack but his volunteer victims were well rehearsed in blood-curdling reactions to
his strikes and knuckle-thrusts into their flesh. It was a lively show, although Brewster discovered later that Wally excluded
the section of his repertoire that encompassed instant death, eye gouging and testicle crushing.
However, in private, Brewster learned the lot. He marvelled as Wally Barnes, a chunky, cheerful man of only five foot seven
– Brewster’s own height at thirteen – disposed so adroitly of his adversaries. He knew then that, before cricket, before rugby,
he had to master fighting.
Wally had been amused at the boy’s pleadings, and subsequently surprised at the single-minded application he brought to the
training sessions. Brewster practised relentlessly throughout the summer in the yard behind Wally’s cottage. He had straw
to break his falls, a punchbag and sandbox to turn his arms and hands into steel-tipped pistons. Even Wally became worried
at the dedicated hours the boy put in.
His father came to hear of his son’s new interest. Arriving to collect Brewster for three weeks at Cap Fleurie, he said briefly,
‘Hear you’re learning to look after yourself. Absolutely right. Be more use than cricket. And Sergeant Barnes is just the
chap for you. Let me know if you need any equipment.’
By the beginning of the Michaelmas term, Brewster felt that Wally Barnes had given him the ‘edge’ of which he had spoken.
‘And, remember,’ said Wally, ‘you’ll not only have an edge if a bigger boy picks on you, you’ll also have the crucial element
of surprise. After all,’ he added, with his open grin, ‘who’d believe that a young lad like you could fight like a pro? Just
remember to go easy. You’re only out to hold your own and give a bully a fright.’
On the first day of the new half, Brewster had sought out Ellis, his house captain. He had stood squarely in front of him
and said, ‘Ellis, I want you to know that I’ve decided not to fag this term. If you want your shoes cleaned you should do
Ellis, a handsome, blond boy and cricket hero to the lower school, had risen up mottle-faced. ‘You’ll do as you’re damn well
told. You’ve fagged for one term and that means you’ve got at least three to go. Now get out.’
Brewster had stood even-eyed. He said, levelly, ‘I mean it, Ellis. Be warned.’
Ellis threw a cushion at his departing, rigid back.
Within the hour, the cry of ‘Boy up!’ echoed down the staircase and Brewster, in his room, had listened to the fading sound
of scampering feet.
Soon after the ‘Library’ of senior boys came for him. Ellis stood in the doorway. ‘Moxmanton, I assume you heard the call.
You are last boy. I need you to make tea.’
The others peered expectantly over Ellis’s shoulders. Brewster sat unmoved. Finally, he said, ‘I’m sorry, Ellis. I told you
I wasn’t fagging any more.’
He did not protest when ordered to change into his shorts for a beating. Silently he bent over a chair and Ellis administered
six strokes. Brewster made no sound, neither would he run the errand. The ‘Library’ retreated. According to Eton rules, a
boy could not be beaten twice on the same day.
The next morning Ellis was out in his running gear on Agar’s Plough. He saw Brewster standing loosely on the cinder path ahead
of him. ‘Out of the way,’ said Ellis, panting up. Brewster stood his ground.
‘Out of the way, I said.’
‘I did warn you, Ellis. I’m sorry you wouldn’t listen.’
‘You incredible little shit,’ said Ellis.
Wait for him to touch you, thought Brewster.
Ellis was four inches taller than Brewster and now he reached out to take the junior boy by the shoulder and twirl him out
of his path.
Brewster let the hand connect with his shirt then three of his knuckles thrust forward into Ellis’s solar plexus. As his target’s
hands came down to protect himself, Brewster sliced inwards hard against Ellis’s ribcage.
Ellis screamed with pain and grabbed at his attacker’s hair. Brewster reached down, took Ellis firmly by the genitals, gave
a sharp twist, then dropped to one knee, lifting his opponent by the crotch and propelling him clean over himself.
Ellis’s humiliation was public and open-mouthed boys watched Brewster walk calmly away.
Of course, the seniors could not tolerate such insubordination and Brewster was beaten again. He still did not respond to
the cry of ‘Boy up!’
Brewster waited two days, which he deemed sufficient time for Ellis to recover from the first ‘lesson’. Then, on the field
in a gentle autumn mist, he confronted Ellis again.
‘You’re mad. Stark, blithering mad,’ said Ellis, who, despite his rage, could feel the onset of a chill uncertainty.
‘I’m truly sorry, Ellis,’ said Brewster, as evenly as he had addressed him on the first occasion. ‘All you have to do is take
me off the fagging roster and I’ll leave you alone.’
There was something frightening about Brewster’s calm demeanour. In his steady gaze, there was nothing of boyhood or youthful
Ellis cursed, took up a boxer’s stance and shuffled forward.
Brewster feinted with him for a few seconds, then screamed into Ellis’s face. In the frozen moment after the shock wave of
sound, he hooked Ellis’s foremost leg with his own foot and threw him over onto the wet grass. Ellis, winded, scrambled to
his feet and came forward again from a crouched position, roaring his anger. Brewster let him come, took a neat backward step,
allowed Ellis’s fading tackle to reach his knees, then spun round in a complete circle until he collided with Ellis’s flank.
He delivered two vicious blows in lightning succession to Ellis’s lower thoracic vertebrae. The older boy dropped like lead,
temporarily paralysed and howling into the turf.
Boys were already running towards the scene of combat but the fight was over. Ellis, feeling sensation return to his legs,
ceased bellowing. He could see Moxmanton bending over him. The voice was no more than a whisper. ‘Ellis, next time I’ll break your pretty face. You’ll carry the marks for the rest of
Spittle bubbled at Ellis’s mouth. ‘You’ll pay,’ he swore. ‘You’ll pay.’ But Brewster didn’t.
The matter went to the headmaster, which everyone considered a bit off. After all, Moxmanton was only a kid. Ellis should
have been big enough to fend for himself.
Brewster’s fast-growing band of supporters and admirers, including Rolly Ponsford and Dickie Biggs-Salter, did not appreciate
the skill that he had acquired from Wally Barnes, and Brewster took care not to brag about it. The best anyone at Eton knew
was that he had faced up to a bigger boy and thrashed him.
‘It’s no bloody use you letting the other bloke know you can handle yourself,’ Wally had lectured him. ‘We’re not concerned
with fair play here, we’re concerned with winning. And if you can hold on to that little bit of surprise until you’ve delivered
a couple of telling blows, you’re half-way home and dry.’
A few years later, Brewster received the same advice, rather more elegantly couched, from his instructor at Sandhurst. But
right now the headmaster of Eton was in an irritable mood. He couldn’t take seriously a senior boy’s complaint that he was
being harassed by a thirteen-year-old. Wasn’t this a matter for the house master to sort out? ‘And as for you, Moxmanton,’
he said, ‘– or should I call you Bruiser in the light of your Christian name and your deplorable behaviour? – you appear to
have got it into your head that fagging is a synonym for slavery. Well, let me disabuse you of this idea. A boy who can accept
orders responsibly and legally given will be all the better fitted in years to come to give orders. And I don’t suppose,’
the headmaster failed to rid his voice entirely of a tinge of sarcasm, ‘it has escaped your notice that boys from this school,
once they go forth into the world, tend to give orders rather than take them?’
Brewster did not know the meaning of ‘synonym’ but his headmaster’s drift was beyond misunderstanding. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said
‘Well, that’s that, then,’ said the head, his mind already on higher things. ‘Oh, yes,’ he added vaguely. ‘You’d better shake hands with Ellis.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Brewster.
It was Ellis who gave the other members of the Library an account of what had taken place behind the headmaster’s door: ‘Moxmanton,
or Bruiser as the boss called him, copped the sort of blistering he’ll remember until his dying day.’
Within the day this account of the interview with the head filtered through the house and beyond. Brewster, who had neither
comment to offer nor apology to make, was suddenly a boy of distinction. The headmaster of Eton had called him Bruiser. And
so it would be for ever more. Ellis could have bitten his tongue for letting that out of the bag.
At the next cry of ‘Boy up!’ Bruiser sat alone in his room, bolt upright, waiting.
There were three seconds of drowsy afternoon murmur then came the sound of doors opening frantically. The din of a dozen pairs
of stampeding feet echoed along the corridors and staircases of the redbrick, Victorian house. Bruiser remained coldly still.
Ten minutes later he knew his seniors were not coming for him. Expressionless, he changed into long trousers from the shorts
in which he had been ready to take another beating, and got on with his prep.
He never answered the call again; neither was he punished. Bruiser did not crow about this: he had out-faced Ellis to preserve
his own integrity, a regrettable incident, but Bruiser Moxmanton was never to be trifled with again. His self-containment
was much admired by his contemporaries, especially by Rolly and Dickie. They became inseparable.
Bruiser failed to see the irony of his senior years at Eton when he enjoyed the convenience of the fagging system that he
had so notably failed to reinforce. ‘There are those who serve and those who exist to be served – and the world would be a
happier place if everyone was clear in which camp he draws his rations,’ he told Rolly and Dickie one day when they were on
‘We won’t be drawing any rations at all unless we put some slog into this,’ said Dickie, raising his blade. From the towpath the abuse of the coach resounded across the water.
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