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Romance and story telling from the desk of a master

Intrigue

More Romance, yes, but finger-biting tension too.


A man.
A woman.
They meet.
They fall in love - and in danger. Watch out!

 

The Substitute Millionairess

Synopsis


It started as an ordinary day in the life of young ROMLA HADRILL. Her sister is about to get married, and Romla has been forced to go out and find herself a suitable dress for her part in the wedding, as Maid of Honour. Normally, she loves shopping, but as she looks at herself in the full-length mirror, she canít seem to make one single decision. Something seems wrong. Slowly, awkwardly, she has to admit to herself what it is thatís making her feel so bad Ė it should be her thatís getting married. After all, she met DECLAN first. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, he decided he liked the younger sister better, and after that, that was the end of it. Romla was back on the shelf, shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding that should have been hers, with a bridegroom she should have been able to call her own. It takes all her powers of self-control to keep the tears away.

 

Then something dreadful happens. She is out of the shop, carrying a bag with the least awful choice of dress in hand, when she sees a man standing on the pavement, holding a gun. He is sticking it in the back of a handsome young man in a suit, and pushing him towards the open door of a car, drawn up outside the shop. A kidnapping? Romla doesnít hesitate. She leaps forward and starts banging the gunman on the back with her precious bag. Leave him alone, leave him alone, she yells. Fine, the bad man says nastily. We take you too! He bundles Romla in after the young man, and the car roars away.

 

What the hellís going on? Romla shouts from the floor. The handsome young man helps her sit up. I think we really are being kidnapped, he says helpfully.

 

Wait a minute, Romla says slowly. I know you. Youíre KERMAN SANCHEZ, the computer millionaire. Right, the young man says pleasantly - and wrong. Iím Kerman, but Iím not a millionaire anymore. Thatís the mistake these men are making. When they find out I havenít got any money left, theyíre going to be really pissed. Youíre broke? Romla gasps. Less than broke, he says. Broke would be nice. At least then I wouldnít owe any money. No, Iím really, really down. You blew it? Romla asks. I thought you were so clever! Maybe I did too, the young man says smiling, but we planned a deal with China that would have doubled the size of the company. When they pulled out last week, that left us out on a limb, and swinging in the breeze. Iíve got the Administrators in my offices right now, looking for anything that can be sold. Wow, Romla says quietly. Iím sorry, I didnít realise you were in such trouble. No, no, itís us thatís in the trouble, Kerman says caustically. Weíve been seized by a gang who think theyíll get a million out of me, just by holding me hostage. The problem is that I havenít got a million paper clips right now that I can call my own. Romla turns her head to look at the desperados in the front seat. You think they donít know? she whispers. Maybe they donít read the papers, he says. Why not, Romla is thinking steadily? I donít.

 

The gang take them to a house deep in the countryside, far from the city. There are no other buildings for miles around, and no landmarks. They could be anywhere. Kerman and Romla are led into a barn at the back of the main building. Luckily, it is warm September weather, and comfortable enough sitting on the bales of fresh-cut hay. Stay here, they are told. Weíre going to phone your office, Mr Sanchez. Kerman gives Romla a plaintive look. What are they going to say when they find out the bad news? he asks quietly.

 

Strangely, they are treated quite well. The gang bring them something to drink, and later, plates of baked chicken wings to eat. Kerman asks nervously what happened with the phone call. The gang leader shrugs. They say itíll take them a few hours to get the money together, he says, and leaves his captives alone again. Kerman looks distraught. They havenít told them! he says urgently. They must be playing for time. Then letís try to escape, Romla says gamely. 

 

Their first attempt goes disastrously wrong. They hadnít really planned it properly. Kerman waits behind the door while Romla calls out to the jailers. A man comes in and Kerman jumps him. Unfortunately, while they are struggling on the ground, another man comes in and smacks the computer company owner heavily on the head. Romla is casually pushed to one side, and Kerman is left to bleed. Romla comforts him, as best she can. Better luck next time, Kerman promises.

 

By midnight the gang are nervous. They havenít had a definite reply to their demands, and they fear Kermanís company is stalling. Whatís going on? the gang leader demands. Kerman doesnít dare admit that there is no money. He makes up a story about bank deposits and how theyíd converted much of their funds into Chinese currency. Itís bound to take a long time, he says, trying to be reassuring. Maybe weíll have to wait for the banks to open tomorrow. The leader looks sinister. Or maybe we wonít wait, he snarls. Maybe Iíll cut your ears off and send your precious colleagues a warning!

 

Nothing happens, but Romla and Kerman spend a frightening night, being watched now, all the time. They canít sleep, so they huddle together for support. Romla makes the man talk. She likes to hear the sound of his voice, and is interested to hear how he made his first million selling computers he put together in his garage. Heís only in his thirties, she thinks admiringly, but heís already such a success. Kerman isnít thinking that. All he dwells on is his recent setbacks and the potential loss of his company. You could always start again, she urges. Could I? he asks. Maybe I could, or maybe Iíve totally lost my confidence.

 

By dawn there is still no news and the gang are getting restless. Perhaps they hadnít planned on being here so long, Romla wonders. They may not have enough supplies for a long siege. Sure enough, a man comes in with mugs of coffee but says there is nothing to eat for breakfast. Kerman uses the opportunity to make a scene. He appears to lose his temper, and demands to see the leader. As he is escorted to the door, he signals back at Romla with his eyes. She gets the message. This could be a chance for you, it says. Escape if you can.

 

One gang member is left behind to look after Romla, but he is looking out the door to see where the others are going. When he steps back into the barn, he is surprised to find several bales of hale tumbling onto his head. Romla leaps from the stack. Her captor is stunned. She runs through the door and sets off up the lane, away from the farm. Unfortunately, she hasnít gone more than a hundred yards before a shot rings out. She skids to a halt, turns and sees the gang leader in the middle of the farmyard, a gun to Kermanís head. The next one is for him, the boss screams. You donít want to do that, Romla calls back. Dead hostage, no money. There is no money, anyway, she is told. Romla walks slowly back, dejected. How did you find out? she asks, when she arrives. One of the gang holds up a newspaper. It took you a while to read it, she observes tartly.

 

Look, Kerman says reasonably, thereís only one way for this to end. Youíre right, the kidnap leader says and points his gun at him. No, no, Kerman tells him. Give it up, walk away. Without a bean? the boss says gratingly. Sometimes you lose, Kerman mutters poignantly. The gang leader is unimpressed. You know us, you can recognise us, he tells his captives. Itís better for us if you die. All right, all right, Romla tells him, exasperated. I wasnít going to mention this, but if you canít get the million from him, why donít you ask me? The kidnappers laugh. The leader says sarcastically, I suppose you just happen to have a million to spare? Actually I do, she says. You know, you really should read the papers more often. Last February, I won two point two million on the National Lottery. She turns to Kerman. That was one reason I lost my fiancťe, she tells him. He couldnít stand the financial pressure. Or the competition.

 

The kidnappers dither. They discuss. They argue. At last the leader says, How do we know we can trust you to get the money? You canít, Romla says. I canít, not while Iím here. Look, Iíll have to talk to my sister. Sheís the only one who has access to my accounts. Get her on the phone! It takes another half hour before the gang can agree, then they reluctantly lead her into the farmhouse kitchen, and sit her in front of a telephone. Just to remind you, the gang leader says frostily, weíve got your boyfriend outside in the barn. Any funny business and he wonít be going home with you tonight. Romla nods, as if in agreement, not wanting to alert the man to the fact that she has only just met Kerman. Still, as she thinks about it, the idea of taking him home is developing an appeal. She likes the computer tycoon, she has to admit it. Who knows whether love could develop?

 

Romla has to wake her sister, who is having a lazy few days before the wedding. She decides the direct approach is the only way. Yes, weíve been kidnapped, she says forcefully. Now look, donít try and puzzle it out, just go and see Mr Bell, get the money and the gang will phone you later and tell you where to take it. Donít cause any problems. Donít try and trace this call, it wonít do you any good. Iíve no idea where we are, anyway, somewhere deep in the countryside. Just get the money. Mr Bell knows where everything is. Any questions, just ask Graham Bell and heíll tell you all you need to know.

 

The phone is snatched out of Romlaís hand and banged down. Then she is led unceremoniously back to the barn and told to sit on a bale of hay and wait. Kerman is looking anxious, but she tries to reassure him. It wonít be long before all this is settled and weíre out of here, she says calmly. The big question for you and me, of course, is where we go from here. Kerman doesnít get the hint. My future is easy, he says,  speaking softly so the guard wonít hear. Iíve always had a solution, right in front of me, but Iíve been too proud to face it. The Japanese have offered to buy my company, as is, no questions asked. They could take it over tomorrow and resurrect it into a fully working operation in a week. With the money they give me, I could settle my debts and be free and clear. And start again? Romla asks mischievously. Who knows, Kerman smiles. Maybe youíve got a spare million you could invest to get me going? Oh, I think you could have the full two million, she says, if you made it worth my while. Such as how? Marriage would be nice, Romla says with a grin.

 

Later, still waiting, Kerman looks up. What do you mean Ė two million? he asks. Donít you have to give these jokers your first mill? Oh, I donít think theyíre going to be in any position to spend anything, she says. She moves closer. I donít think I mentioned much about my sister, did I? Sheís a puzzle fanatic. She loves cryptic crosswords. I gave her some clues in my conversation, and if Iím not mistaken, she can work them out. Kerman whispers, Clues? Romla smiles. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Well, she knows I have a phone, my mobile. The gang searched us when we arrived, but they didnít look hard in my shopping bag. My mobile is at the bottom, under my new dress. Itís switched on, but in silent mode. If my sister tips off the police, theyíll be able to track the phone and find its location. That doesnít work too well in town, but out here, thereís no other buildings around. They can work out where we are, no problem.

 

Later, there is the sound of shooting outside. Romla and Kerman dive for cover. They huddle together under a pile of hay bales. Romla observes, Not bad for a start, but a kiss would be nice. When the police come bursting in here, you wouldnít want them mistaking us for villains, would you?

 

(Ends) 


 

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