“The Club from Hell”, Chapter THREE
“For Pete’s sake, Jill,” John said. “That’s not funny. What are you trying to tell me?”
“I mean,” Jill spelt it out coldly down the phone, “there’s been an accident. Frank was up a ladder on Court Four and, and…”
Jill usually controlled her emotions but here there was a catch in her voice. The pause grew uncomfortably long. “Come on, Jill. Tell me what happened.”
It came out in a rush. “And the heater came down off the ceiling. It landed on Walter. Hit him on his shoulder. He might have been all right but it knocked him against the back wall and he hit his head. At first we thought he was just knocked out. His foot was twitching. But his eyes,” her voice trailed away again. “His eyes were wide open, staring. They stayed wide open the whole time, it was horrible.”
“How is he now? You’ve called an ambulance?”
“For Christ’s sake, John, you never listen? Of course we called. 999. Blue lights, the full performance, nenaw nenaw, two paramedics, an hour ago, more. They tried and tried to bring him back. They worked on him, I don’t know, twenty, thirty minutes. In the end they had to give up. He’s dead, John. We’ve got to accept it. Walter’s dead. They’ve taken him away, his body that is. On a stretcher. The police will be here soon. Please come back.”
Shit, shit, shit! Walter dead? It didn’t seem possible. And what about the club? Not that he should be bothering about the club right now. What about Walter’s daughter, as well? His guilty secret. It would be awkward having Kristin around and having to pretend they didn’t know each other. TGI Friday? No chance now, John thought. Quite the opposite. I wish it weren’t Friday at all.
“Okay,” he said, “stay calm. The kids both won, by the way. I’ll round them up and we’re on our way. Oh, and Jill, before you do anything else, call Nick, as soon as you can. We need some good advice on this.”
Nick Gaultier was the solicitor the Smiths had used during the protracted negotiations with the Vale board to buy the club.
“I already have. Luckily he picked up straight away,” she added resentfully.
“Don’t say anything till Nick gets there. I’m off to find Jess and Sam. I’m leaving now.”
John groaned as he went in search of his kids. Not much had gone right since that darned lottery win. And now this. Complications with Kristin, too. What more could go wrong? He shuddered to think.
John found Sam in the men’s locker room. “Come on, Sam. We’ve got to be leaving. Right now. Shift yourself! Make sure you collect all your kit, too. Especially that racquet.”
“Oh Dad. Do we have to go now? Can’t we watch some of the under nineteens? Jonathon Nicol’s playing at two o’clock.”
“No. There’s a problem back at the club. Do you know where Jessica is?”
“Haven’t seen her. The girls are mostly hanging round in the locker room. I’ll text her.”
“No, call her.”
“I can’t. I don’t have any minutes. You call her, Dad. You can use your new cell. I’ll text her anyway.”
“What’s her number?”
“Hold on.” In no time flat Sam sent the text and then read out Jessica’s number. John tentatively prodded it into his old-style brick and put the cell to his ear. “Ah,” he said with pride, as if just he’d succeeded in assembling a flat pack state of the art supersonic Eurofighter Typhoon Air Superiority Combat Jet worth 150 million quid. “It’s ringing.”
Sam looked at his father expectantly but after a few seconds John shrugged, “Afraid it’s gone through to voicemail. We’ll have to find her.”
Outside the locker rooms they bumped into one of Jessica’s rivals in the under fifteens, the fifth seed Jenny Waters.
“Hi Jen,” John said. “Have you seen Jessica anywhere?”
“No, she’s not in the locker room, I can tell you that. I thought I saw her headed towards Reception. But that was half an hour ago. She could be in the gallery.”
“Thanks. If you see her, tell her we’re looking for her.
“Come on, Sam. We’ll go that way.”
“Wait, Mr Smith,” Jenny said. “I was going to hand it in. Here, Jess left the cover for her cell in the locker room. I’m sure it’s hers. No one else has got one of these.”
Jenny unzipped a pocket on her huge sports bag and extracted Jessica’s second most prized possession, a lurid pink and green cover for the latest Samsung Galaxy smart phone. She’d bought the Galaxy, ranked her number one most prized possession, with money from her grandparents a month previously, and the ridiculously expensive cover had arrived a week later with savings from her birthday.
Since then the phone had taken over Jessica’s life. Both Jill and John had remarked on the time she was spending with it. ‘It’s only Facebook, Mom,’ she had told Jill during a recent argument about school work. ‘I need to know how everyone’s getting on with their project. And anyways, I’ve been making new friends.’
“That’s strange,” Sam said. “She never takes her cell out of the cover.”
John frowned and turned to Jenny. “Thanks again, Jen. She’ll be around somewhere. We’ll find her.” Then to Sam: “We’ll ask at the front desk. They may have seen her.”
The manager of the busy Queenstown Squash and Racketball Club, Cameron Hiscoe, was on duty with his daughter, Donna. “You haven’t seen Jessica anywhere, have you?” John asked him. “We need to be leaving but we don’t know where she is.”
“Jessica?” Cameron said. “I’m not sure that I know a Jessica. There’s so many of them here today.”
“I know her,” Donna said. “She’s the redhead, isn’t she? With a black scrunchie?”
“That’s right, she’s thirteen, but tall.”
“I did see her here. It was a good while ago though. She was still in her squash kit. I noticed because she went out the front entrance and I thought she’d be cold out there. Without a trackie and all.”
“That’s not like Jess,” John said. “She hates the cold. Has she come back in?”
“Not that I’ve seen. She went off to the left, towards the car park.”
John scratched his head. “Sam, you go upstairs and check the galleries. I’ll see if she’s still outside. But listen, don’t go missing yourself.”
In normal mode Sam would be lost in no time, goofing around as always with his friends. “Meet me back here in five minutes,” John said, “after I’ve had a look outside.”
“Sure thing, Dad.”
Jill had put up a large board at the front of the club saying, without explanation, ‘CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’. She had considered telling Frank to do it, but she wanted the job to be actually done, and Frank was even less likely than usual to achieve anything constructive. Instead, when she came back in, Jill told him to go home.
Gerry intervened immediately. “No, you better stay until the police have come. They’ll want to take statements from everyone.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Frank complained for the umpteenth time. “I was only trying to help, before HeatCo came. You should have told me not to use the ladder. It’s just not safe.”
And for the umpteenth time Jill did her best to control her irritation. This time, however, being blamed for Frank’s zero competence was simply too much.
“Said what?” she exploded. “For pity’s sake, Frank, shut the something up! If I’d had my way you wouldn’t have been anywhere near this club, today or any other day, let alone these courts and not in a million years on even the bottom rung of any flaming ladder. In your hands a screwdriver becomes a major public health hazard. Why don’t you go off and… and… do some odd jobs, “she sneered, “at Grandpa Wilburforce’s? An opportunity to wreck his house rather than my squash club.”
She looked at him fiercely. “See who you can kill there!”
“Hey, hey,” Gerry said. He was still in his quaint squash kit and now that he’d recovered from the initial shock, his closest friend killed in the freak accident not a yard away from him, it was he who had taken charge. It had been his suggestion for Jill to contact their lawyer, immediately after she had made the 999 call. With his background in corporate affairs, Gerry was used to thinking strategically, and a sound strategy would be needed now. He wanted to see all the obvious bases covered.
And one thing was definite, the obvious hostility between Jill and Frank was not going to do any of them any good when the police arrived. So Gerry said, “We’re all a bit stressed. Let’s get a coffee in the bar.”
“I’m not taking anything with that loser,” Jill said sharply.
“Feeling’s mutual,” Frank replied, staring at his feet. “I’m out of this dump.”
“Don’t be a fool, Frank,” Gerry said gently. “You know the fuzz will want to talk to you.”
Ignoring this, Frank moved, in a cross between a slouch and a stomp, away from the court corridor where they were standing. Gerry would have laughed, but it wasn’t a day for laughing.
“Come on, Jill. We’ll go and sit down till the police get here.”
“I can’t believe that Walter’s gone,” Gerry said when Jill had made them each a coffee and they were seated in the large bar area. “He only retired last year.”
He wiped his hand across his face, as if trying to erase the horrifying images of the morning. “One consolation, I guess. He has, had I mean, never got over Madeline.“ His voice fell, and he paused. No one knew it, but Madeline had been his passion too. People had joked about how close he and Walter had been. Little did they know that he’d be a whole lot closer with Walter’s wife.
“That darned breast cancer,” he went on. “Two years it is and he’s always talking about her.” He corrected himself. “Was always talking about her.
“Dammit, oh dammit, I forgot. I’ll have to call his daughter. Kristin; do you know Kristin? She’s quite a girl. She lives an hour away, in Pennington.”
“Kristin? No. I didn’t know Walter had a daughter. I guess I didn’t know him so well. He was just,” a tear ran down her face, “just so cheerful.”
Gerry sighed. “What a guy. Life’s not going to be the same.”
Jill grimaced. “Not for any of us.”
Gerry took a grip. “Yup. But let’s think about today. We need to cover all the bases.” He started to check off on his fingers. We’ve called the paramedics. We’ve called the cops. We’ve called John.”
“Nine times,” Jill said, “nine times at least.” She was still furious with John, partly because of the time it had taken him to pick up, partly because he had got lucky in avoiding the morning’s drama, and partly because he was, well, just because he was him, and he always got away with it.
“And we’ve called Nick. Tell you what. You’d better give your insurers a call, too. Sooner rather than later.”
“You’re right. I suppose this is going to be expensive. I’ll call them from the office.” Jill was feeling better with Gerry’s calm approach. “You see if you can reach Walter’s daughter. Is there any other next of kin, by the way? And I’ll check the insurance.”
For a moment Jill sat while Gerry fiddled around in his ancient brown bag, seeking his cell phone. Then she got up and headed for John’s office. With no one else in the bar, Gerry was able to openly scrutinise her rounded ass in her customary tight jeans. No matter what, Gerry thought, with poor Madeline gone but always in his thoughts, Walter’s accident scarcely two hours earlier, a great ass was still the ass of trumps. And in his opinion, Jill’s was right up there. He sighed. Yes he could sneakily scru-tinise her. He did it all the time. Much better, so much better as he so often wished, would be to confine the action to the first syllable. He wished he could screw her. Forget about the tin eyes, he joked bitterly to himself. It had been so long.
In the tiny office Jill reckoned she knew where the insurance correspondence should be, but insurance was John’s business, and filing was never his strong point. Indeed, for all she basically loved the great lunk, sometimes she wondered whether any of his points would be classified by a neutral observer as strong. There were plenty of the other sort, but maybe she was being unfair. Indeed this time, there in a file labelled ‘Premier Insurance’, was the relevant collection of papers. She felt guilty about her doubts. It was just that you couldn’t rely on John.
As Jill leafed through the schedules and certificates and policies, a nagging thought started to trouble her. She remembered overhearing John discussing Premier with Nick Gaultier. Premier had offered them too good a deal to turn down, too good on the structure and contents insurance, that was. Nick hadn’t been happy with some aspect of the deal though. Jill racked her brains but she couldn’t remember anything more. She found Premier’s claims number on one of the documents, called it and after prodding through several inhumanly spoken options, and several minutes of listening to the tinny sound of a rock band that she was continually yelling at Sam to turn down in his bedroom, she got through to a flesh and blood voice.
“Yes, good morning Mrs Smith.” Was it still morning? Jill said sarcastically that she would be positively thrilled if a recording of their conversation was used for Premier’s training purposes, but the woman kept her cool and efficiently led her through the details of the accident.
Job done, Jill thought as she put the phone down. John could pick up the no doubt extensive ramifications later. Jill really wanted him back at the club. There were so many things to take care of, and even when he was bumbling around in his own time-and-motion disaster zone, John had a way of making her less tense.
They’d have to dump the kids at home, but these days that wasn’t a problem.
As John re-entered the Queenstown club from the car park Sam was making his way down the stairs with Kasey Urquhart, the first seed in Jessica’s competition, someone they knew well from the local squash circuit. Kasey was a short, powerful girl who wore unusual red glasses and a matching red eye shield on court. She was still in her squash kit, white with red piping, but she had applied some lipstick, the same colour as her glasses. This made her look older, certainly older than Jess. Kasey was laughing at something Sam had said.
“Hey, Sam,” John said. “Is she up there?”
“Is who up there?”
“For heaven’s sake. Is Jess up there?”
“Oh, of course, Jess. No, she’s not in the gallery.”
“Are you looking for Jess, Mr Smith?” Kasey asked. “She told me she was meeting a friend.”
“Oh. Do you know who?”
“She wouldn’t say. She was kinda coy. I thought she might have found a boyfriend.” She giggled at Sam. “You know what Jess is like. She’s got more than five hundred friends now in Facebook. I bet some of them are real hot. One of them is bound to be special.”
John tried not to show he was shocked. His son Sam, Jessica’s twin, still sometimes reminded him of the little boy he had only just left behind. He was now tall for his age and gangling, but most of the time definitely a boy and not a spotty teenager. Kasey herself was another one on either side of the growing up cusp. For all her drilled professionalism on a squash court, and her increasing sophistication, she could be a child when things weren’t going her way. Which frequently happened against Jess. And what about their Jess? Hardly into her teens, he thought. Was she already having assignments with boyfriends? Had her life moved into today’s teen arena, where apparently you were judged merely on how hot you were? Hot! Inwardly John shuddered. What did she do with these alleged boyfriends, anyway? And what did they do with her?
“Could you make another check for us in the locker room, Kasey? Jess might be back there now.”
“Sure, Mr Smith.”
They followed Kasey to the corridor that led to the locker rooms. After she’d entered the girls’ John told Sam to go and collect his kit. “Leave it in the car. Here, take the keys.”
Moments later Kasey re-emerged. “No sign of her there, Mr Smith. Have you tried calling her?”
“Yes. It just goes through to voice mail.”
“That’s strange. She worships that Galaxy. Now I’m like, why doesn’t she have it with her?”
They were interrupted by Sam bursting back into the corridor. “Dad, Dad, look at this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s Jess’s Galaxy. Look, the screen’s smashed.”
Now John was alarmed. “Show me. Are you sure it’s hers?”
Sam handed the Galaxy to his father while a frowning Kasey looked on. “It must be hers,” she said. “There’s lots of iPhones, and older Samsungs, but no one has the s3 yet. Only Jess.”
“Where did you find it?” John demanded.
“It was lying in the dirt beside the car.” Sam looked as if he was going to cry and held up something in his other hand.
“And I think… I think this is Jess’s purse.”
“Hello Nick.” Jill was greeting the lawyer at the entrance to the club. “It’s so good of you to come. Such short notice.”
Nick Gaultier smiled. “No problem. This sounds like a bad one.” He grimaced. “Is the body still here? Have you spoken to the police yet?”
“No to the first. I insisted the paramedics take poor Walter away. They said it should be okay. No suspicious circumstances. As for the police, they just called to say they’re on their way. There was an incident in town, apparently, which has delayed them.”
Nick was a college friend of John’s, tall, mid thirties with an aura of power that had already attracted a wide client base. More women than men, Jill suspected. John and he had been members of the university squash team, and he was still fit and still single. He was wearing his customary sober three piece suit, customary flamboyant silk tie and expensive sneakers. ‘Shoes maketh the man,’ Jill quoted to herself. I wouldn’t mind making the man myself.
She introduced Nick to Gerry, who was even now still in his squash kit. He had intended to shower back home, as he usually did, just round the corner from the club.
“Hi,” Nick said. “Didn’t we meet at that Rotarian party last fall?”
“That’s where it was. I thought I recognised you. You were giving a talk on commercial building insurance, if I recall. If that sounds dull, it wasn’t. I’d never believed something could be so complicated.”
“That’s right. It can be difficult. It provides lawyers like me with a ton of business.”
He turned to Jill. “Just like here, I recall. Complicated, wasn’t it? The insurance, I mean. I didn’t want you to take on Premier’s public liability offering, if I remember the small print. The rest of it was solid. Who did we go for in the end for public liability?”
“I don’t know. John took care of that. I knew there had been some complication.”
“You’re right, it’s coming back to me too. I went on holiday just when you were completing the deal. That darned Avery Wilburforce, pardon my English, but what an asshole. Everything was so delayed. Tell you what, Jill. You should speak to Premier, and whoever the other people are. They’re going to be taking a big interest in this one.”
“I’ve already called Premier. They’ll talk to John and fix for someone to come out. I don’t know who’s got our public liability. I’ll go and get the file.”
“And I think I’ll head home for a shower,” Gerry said. “Won’t be more than fifteen minutes.”
Moments later Jill returned with the insurance file, handed it to Nick and went to make him a cup of coffee. Nick was frowning when she put the coffee down in front of him.
He looked up at her. “This doesn’t look so good, Jill. I’ll have to talk to John.”
“What do you mean? What’s the matter?”
“Well, I can hardly believe this. If all your insurance documents are here, in this file, it looks as though you don’t actually have public liability cover. There’s several proposals, but nothing’s been followed through.”
“But we’re covered for all the damage, aren’t we?”
“That’s not what’s worrying me. That’s small anyway, a few thousand pounds at most. The public liability though, depending on this Walter. Who was he, by the way?”
“Depending on Walter’s estate, and the attitude they take,” Nick was looking directly at Jill, “this could run into millions.”
“You mean we could be sued? Millions of quid?”
“I’m afraid so. And unless John did something about it, finalised one of these proposals, and we were very specific on this point, I remember the correspondence, you two could be personally liable.”
Jill’s hands went to her face. “But we don’t have that sort of money,” she gasped. “Millions of pounds, that’s crazy money.
Aubrey is an English writer and squash player, on the verge of 65 and what-happens-next! Aubrey is a consultant in the medical device industry, and apart from this and writing, spends his time titrating squash against the diminishing capacity of his bad knee. He returned to the game twenty five years after retiring from a moderately successful amateur career, and surprised himself by achieving selection for the English o-60s Masters team for the 2011 home internationals.
Aubrey’s writing credits include the first ever novel to be set in the world of competitive squash, “Sex and Drugs and Squash’n’Roll”, and in June 2012 he published his second novel, “Just Desserts”. The books are available on Amazon, Kindle etc.
Aubrey has three sons, and lives with his new partner Alison, by fortunate chance – or judicious selection – a physiotherapist, outside of London.
Next Up: Chapter Four by Will Gens