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The Box


Posted: 27 August 2003
Word Count: 6635

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Harry Spicer was no ordinary head case. In fact in the beginning he was no head case at all, just plain Harold Ian Spicer, 23 Ponsford Crescent, Kingsland, Auckland, New Zealand, The World. There it was, plain as day, on the front cover of his Maths exercise book at Mt.Albert Grammar School.

One thing was certain about Harry Spicer right from the start. He was very good at adding and subtracting, very good indeed. He was even better at multiplying but he bordered on genius at dividing. By the end of his Fifth Form year two other students had transferred to other schools because of that skill and neither his Form Master nor the Headmaster had even the faintest idea that he was responsible. Harry also had an account at the local branch of the Bank of New Zealand with over two hundred pounds in it made from trading with or lending money to other students. One very odd thing about Harry was that he loved to have souvenirs of every little victory he had had over someone else. Didn’t matter how small the souvenir was as long he had one, and he remembered exactly what every little trophy represented. And he kept them all in a little box he had made.

As his Sixth Form year came to an end, sure of University Entrance, Harry thought that he had his future well planned.

Then a stunted, mesmerizing Austrian house painter changed everything, and because of a bout of whooping cough when he was 14 years old, which had put him back a year at school, Harry was 18 when he left.

Just old enough to join the Army without having to lie about his age, and because of the little black devil that had taken up residence on his shoulder, join the Army was exactly what Harry did.

Rather a lot of people came to regret that, later on.

Not for nothing was it called the Phoney War for the first few months. War, after all, is a skill like any other and its methods and techniques have to be learned.
Harry knew well that those who come first to the feast get the greatest portion and he instinctively wanted in early. He didn’t know what the opportunities might be, just knew that they would be there.

In the years since the First World War, the military had become run down and was now very short of experienced personnel. Anyone who joined up in those early days who showed any ability at organisation had stripes sewn on their sleeves very quickly, and Harry much preferred Sergeant Spicer to Private Spicer. It didn’t take him long to learn that the way they were told the Army worked and the way it really worked were two very different things, and Harry was after all very good at adding, subtracting and so on.

He was posted to the Infantry and very quickly came to the notice of his CO, Captain James Maddox, lately a third generation Southland farmer and an opportunist of the old school. The two men recognised each other’s natures immediately and Harry knew that here he would prosper.

Within two months Harry had been promoted to Company Quartermaster and had gained control of nearly every administrative function that he could reap some benefit from. He had a clear understanding with Captain Maddox that as long as everything went smoothly he largely had a free hand. This gave him control of Company stores, leave passes, even the liquor supplies for the mess.

Soon Harry had understandings in place with local suppliers and nothing came into the camp without his knowledge and agreement. Captain Maddox was more than satisfied; he was beginning to see some benefits for himself and was getting “well dones” from Battalion HQ for the promptness and accuracy of his stores reports. Anyone who wanted a leave pass or a little something to take home had to talk to Harry first.

Then a Corporal, an ex schoolteacher from Masterton whose Father was a Presbyterian Minister, decided that he didn’t like the way Harry was running things, it wasn’t right. He tried laying a complaint with the CO. About a month later, while the complaint was still lying in the Captains In Tray, a couple of bottles of stores whisky with the special duty free labels were found in the Corporals’locker.

After a brief Court Martial, the Corporal got a month in Ardmore Military Prison. Harry was enjoying a beer in the Sergeants Mess a few weeks later when he heard a Sergeant in the Military Police who had come to the camp to pick up another prisoner say that the Corporal had hanged himself in his cell after about a week. The little black devil laughed in Harry’s ear and by the end of the evening Harry was so drunk that they had to carry him back to his bunk.

The Battalion was transferred overseas shortly after, to Egypt. When Harry met the market traders in Cairo, he knew that he had met kindred spirits. He quickly set up trading arrangements for Company supplies and his profits were lucrative and immediate. Harry decided right from the start to work on the principle of little and often, a system that the traders all understood and approved of, and he was never once questioned or even suspected by the MPs.

One thing Harry was always willing to do was to learn from anyone who might prove more venal than him, and when he met Ahmoud bin Saif, the Manager of the Bank of Egypt in Cairo, he knew that he had met his match. The arrangements were simple, two accounts, no names, the fees would be double the normal and there would be a weekly deduction in cash whose purpose would never be enquired into. But Ahmoud bin Saif offered something else. He put it so succinctly.

“Effendi, I understand the difficulties that you might expect to encounter in a venture such as yours. I would be honoured to be of assistance should you find yourself being troubled for baksheesh or similar inducements. Please let me know and it will be taken care of with all rapidity.”

And indeed it was. Only one trader tried to extract something extra from Harry. He was found the next day on the railway lines, in three pieces. It never happened again. Harry’s souvenir this time was a postage stamp sized piece of cotton cloth cut from the traders’ djellaba and he put it into his box along with all his other little bits and pieces.

As the War moved on and began to turn against Germany, so Harry made more and more contacts both for Company related work and for his own private deals. His accounts with bin Saif grew steadily and began to reach the point where the Manager started to introduce Harry to an occasional contact himself.

Then some strange events started to happen. Captain Maddox was promoted to Major, nothing strange in that, but just two weeks later the Colonel was killed in an accident when the open top car he was being driven in swerved hard to miss a runaway donkey and flipped over. Major Maddox was suddenly promoted again to Colonel and he called Harry into his office as he was packing personal items from his desk into a briefcase.

“Sit down, Harry. You’ve heard about the Colonel. The Brigadiers just told me that I’m taking over the Colonels job. I need an aide, and you’re it, Lieutenant Spicer.”

For the first time ever, Harry was caught off balance. He had rigorously avoided a commission, convinced that the kind of control that he was handsomely profiting from could only be maintained as an NCO.

Colonel Maddox walked over to his door and closed it. As he walked back he said “I know just what you are thinking, Harry, and of course I would like the status quo to be maintained as well. Farming in Southland has never been a very good way to make a living. However, I believe now that Germany is going to lose this War, and that will mean that there will be business opportunities when it is all over.”

Harry smiled but said nothing. He sensed that there was something else coming but had no idea what it might be.

“Harry, my Fathers brother died in England about a month ago.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,Colonel.”

The Colonel waved the sympathy away and said ”He was actually the Marquis of Banbury, in Oxfordshire. Since he died childless and my Father is dead I now inherit the title. It appears that I am now the Marquis of Banbury. It also appears that my uncle owned an estate of some 1100 acres and a number of other associated business interests, all of which pass to me, and all of which are, apparently, in very healthy order.”

Harry sat as quiet as a rabbit facing a fox. He had known there would be opportunities in the war but nothing like this.

The Colonel said “It seems like the Battalion will be moving on to Italy soon. The contacts that you have made here will be of considerable value later on and must be maintained wherever possible. I want you to find a Sergeant who is 24 carat trustworthy who I will ensure will remain here with the Base staff as a local contact for Ahmoud bin Saif. His bank will be very useful.”

Harry could hardly believe what he was hearing. He said,"I know just the man, Colonel. Sergeant Thompson, I knew him back home. He has found himself a local bint and would do anything to stay here. Also, her old man is one of the local traders I’ve been dealing with. Between him and Ahmoud the local organisation should tick over nicely until this business is all over.”

“Just what I wanted to hear, Harry. Tell him no more than he needs to know, arrange a small weekly bonus for him. You will be coming to Italy as my aide and the commission will mean that you can meet people you would never get a chance to meet as a Sergeant. With Ahmouds bank available, we will have an almost unchallengeable safe place for funds. I intend having the farm in Southland sold, and all my interests will in future be based in England and then Europe. I suggest that you commit yourself to a similar course.”

Which, of course, was exactly what Harry did and as he did so, the little black devil started to grow.

As the Colonel had said, within a month the Battalion was part of the invasion force on the west coast of Italy. As every town and village was liberated Harry’s organisation skills went to work. The fighting was heavy, but the Allied Forces kept moving up the length of the country and there was a constant need to create and renew sources of food, transport, medical supplies, everything that the Allies and the locals would need to get things moving.

Harry used every skill he possessed to get supplies to the locals, making absolutely sure that whoever the local authorities were they knew just who it was had been responsible for helping them. He set up his local contacts, never tried to make more than a nominal profit or to upset any local arrangements that had survived the Germans, but made damn sure that everyone knew Harry would be back.

The Colonel was right about the difference his commission made. He met what seemed like an army of Contessas, some wealthy, some poor as church mice, but all susceptible to an unexpected charm that Harry was beginning to discover he could apply to women that he met. And he found that he liked it because his sexual experience before he left New Zealand had been nil. As a Sergeant in Egypt he had stayed away from the local women and suddenly here he was with Contessas up to his eyeballs. Most of them he thought looked like the rear end of the camels he had left behind in Egypt.

Then he met Alicia Santorini, La Contessa di Montepulciano. Or rather he nearly knocked her flat on her back as he charged out of the front door of the town hall in Sorrento, late for a meeting with the Colonel, and collided with a tall, slim woman in a cream, linen dress with a navy blue hat on. Just for a moment, his mind on other things, he didn’t realise who he had collided with and he started to give her a description of her parentage. Then he stopped in mid sentence. She was laughing and it was like listening to ringing crystal glass.

Stammering now, he saw just how beautiful the woman he had nearly flattened was and for the first time ever he did not know what to say. He frantically tried to recall some of his limited Italian, and all he could come out with was
”Buon giorno, Signorina, che bella giorno. “

This made her laugh even more and it was some seconds before she spoke. When she did it was in perfect, unaccented English. “Well, yes, I suppose that it is a rather lovely day, at least it was until a few moments ago.”

“Thank God you speak English, I’m really sorry about charging into you like that.”

“Ah, an Australian, I see, that might explain it.”

“I’m not a bloody Australian,“ said Harry “I’m a Kiwi.”

“You will forgive me, I trust, but what is a Kiwi”

“I’m a New Zealander,” said Harry, now thoroughly confused.

They stood there looking at each other for a moment and Harry finally recovered enough to ask her if he could buy her some lunch. The restaurants were getting back into full business now, with Harry’s help, and he was owed a few favours.

She stared at Harry with a calm frankness that he found uncomfortable and he realised that he had met someone not easily scared.

“Lunch today would be impossible, however it would be a pleasure to invite you to lunch this Sunday at my house, Casa Toscana, Via Santorini. If you could be there at 2 p.m. you would be most welcome.”

“ Yeah, that would be great” said Harry “I’ll be there at 2 p.m.”

She nodded and turned to walk away. Harry stood looking at her, and then suddenly called out “Hey, who do I ask for?”

Harry couldn’t help but catch the mischievous grin on her face as she looked back over her shoulder.

“I am Alicia Santorini, Contessa di Montepulciano.”

Harry stood there staring after her until she disappeared around the corner. For the next two days he was like a besotted schoolboy, wandered around the town, sat in bars and restaurants ordering drinks he never finished.He borrowed the Colonels car and turned up at the house nearly half an hour early. A maid answered the door and Harry was again lost for words, his limited Italian incapable of explaining who he was and why he was there. The maid waited for a few moments and then said “ Perhaps the Signore would care to come in.”

Harry walked into a large oval shaped hall floored in black and white marble with a high ceiling and light flooding in from a domed skylight. Ahead of him were magnificent walnut panelled double doors with gold rococo handles and sandalwood inlay. As he stared at them they opened and out walked Alicia Santorini. She wore a watered silk blouse the colour of opal, a heavy gold chain bracelet and dark grey linen slacks. For the first time he noticed her elegantly wavy dark blonde hair and emerald green eyes smiling as widely as they had when they first met.

“Buon giorno, Lieutenant, che bella giorno” she said, laughing.

Immediately Harry relaxed and grinned at her. “I reckon I deserve that,” he said. “Thanks for inviting me, this is a magnificent house.”

“Do come out into the summer house,” she said and Harry followed her through the house. She walked quickly but not so quickly that he didn’t notice that the rooms were sparsely furnished and the walls seemed devoid of the sort of artwork that might have been expected to be there.

The summerhouse sat to one side of what had been immaculate formal gardens, but which were now clearly in need of attention. Alicia introduced him to her Father and Mother, and waited for a moment as a tall, distinguished looking man with grey hair walked over from the house.

“Lieutenant, I would like to introduce you to my husband, but I have just realised that I do not yet know your name.”

“My name is Harold Spicer, Signora, Lieutenant Harold Spicer,” said Harry.

“Lieutenant Spicer, I should like you to meet my husband, Angelo Santorini, Conte di Montepulciano. “

“I am delighted to meet you Lieutenant Spicer. Welcome to our house.”

“Its my pleasure, Conte. I am grateful for the invitation.”

“Lets take our seats, I don’t know about anyone else but I am famished,” said the Conte.

A large round table was already set up and Harry joined the Conte and his family. Harry realised that the maid who came to serve the meal was the same one that answered the door. As the meal was served it was obvious that it was adequate but sparse. Not a fragment was left on anyone’s plate and Harry realised that this was a family that was struggling. The appearance of wealth was there but the substance had gone. He didn’t want to ask what had happened.

The Conte was a widely travelled man and an excellent host. Despite being interested in what he had to say, Harry found it difficult to keep his eyes off Alicia. She was without doubt the most beautiful and engaging woman he had ever met, and for the first time in his life Harry decided he was going to help someone for no other reason than it was needed.

The meal passed pleasantly and soon Harry had to leave. Alicia showed him to the front door and as he was leaving invited him to come again soon. Harry said that he would like that and looked forward to it.

It was at least two weeks before Harry could start to put together some foodstuffs and wine. He borrowed the Colonels car again and drove up to Alicia’s house early in the afternoon. The same maid answered the door and when she saw that it was Harry, spoke immediately in English to tell him that the Signora was not at home.

“Not a problem,” said Harry. “I’ve got a few things in the car that I would like to leave for the Conte and Contessa. Can you show me where to take them, please?”

The maid showed him the large but almost empty pantry next to the kitchen. It took Harry six trips to unload the fruit, vegetables, olive oil, olives, chestnuts, walnuts and wine. He left as soon as he had finished and drove back into town.

It was nearly a week before he heard from Alicia. A note was delivered to his office asking that they meet for lunch at 1.30 p.m. at the Ristorante Venezia in the Piazza San Marco, on the coming Friday, and Harry was suddenly as excited as he was impatient.

Harry arrived early and spoke to Marcello, the Head Waiter and arranged a comfortable and private booth inside the restaurant. As he sat waiting for Alicia, he realised that she meant more to him than just a casual acquaintance. She was the only woman he had ever met who had attracted him, shown intelligence as well as startling beauty and who, it seemed, cared something for him.

When Alicia walked into the restaurant, Harry almost jumped out of his seat to greet her, but the look of disgust on her face stopped him in his tracks.

Without a word she sat down in the booth. Marcello was shrewd enough to leave immediately and Alicia didn’t waste her words.

“What the hell do you think you are doing delivering black market goods to my house?”

Harry stood by the booth, staring at her, completely speechless.
Before he could think what to say, she went on “This War has taken many families close to poverty, ours among them. Throughout the entire time that the Germans were here, we never once dealt with the thieves that ran the black market and we have absolutely no intention of doing so now.”

Alicia paused for a moment, not once taking her eyes off Harry.

“My family has been in this area for over 400 years, and we have contacts and sources of information that you could only dream of. I have come here today to tell you that you will cease your involvement in this thieving, criminal black market activity immediately or you will be reported to the military authorities. Do not for one moment believe that you will be able to hide what you are doing.”

Alicia stood up and walked away from the booth without a backward glance. Harry had not uttered a word. Then the little black devil whispered in his ear.

Although the Allies were well established in Italy, there were still occasional raids of small squadrons of Heinkel 111 bombers on Allied positions. Nuisance raids mostly, but occasionally a few people were killed. After one such raid, the body of a very beautiful woman was found, her neck broken and with no other apparent injury except that the third finger of her left hand appeared to have been severed, and her wedding ring was missing.

It was not long after that raid that the Colonel, now promoted to Brigadier, was told that he was to be transferred to England to take responsibility for the entire supply chain for the invasion forces in France and Italy.

Brigadier Maddox called Harry into his office and said “Harry, book us a table at one of the better restaurants in town for dinner tonight. There are a few things that we need to talk over.”

Harry could not resist it. He booked a booth at the Ristorante Venezia, in the Piazza San Marco, a very private booth inside.

On the way to the restaurant in the car, the Brigadier said little. As soon as they were seated in the booth and Marcello had taken their order he told Harry about his new job.

“I will be leaving for England as soon as my replacement is here, which should be in about a month or so. You will be coming with me and you are now, officially, Captain Spicer. Congratulations.”

He paused for a moment.

“This is just what I have been waiting for. London is the financial capital of the world, and once we are there we will have access to every money source and service we could wish for. It will also give me a chance to take a look at my uncle’s land and the other business interests.”

Then the Brigadier gave Harry a very odd, almost quizzical look, before speaking again.

“Harry, I don’t know if you realise just how much things will change once we are in England. The social order is unlike anything you will have experienced before and it is utterly immovable. It has become what it is over nearly 2000 years and it marches entirely to its own drum.”

“I intend extracting out of my title every benefit I possibly can, but to do that I will need you to adopt a stance, a manner towards me when we are in the company of the locals that you may find difficult, even impossible to maintain.”

Harry started to speak, but the Brigadier motioned to him to be quiet.

“Believe me, Harry, all our efforts to date will have been wasted if we fail in this. To an Englishman, status, social standing, title, wealth, upbringing are the very stuff of life. They have a society now that would cease to exist if all of these came to mean nothing and, stupid or not, they fight like hell to keep privilege with those who usually don’t deserve it.”

Harry interrupted the Brigadier very quietly. “Sir, I haven’t come this far just to waste it all by not learning how to get on with a bunch of Poms. I’ve seen how the Italians run a society based on class and I know how class uses power. I want a slice of that power and I intend having it, one way or the other.”

The Brigadier stared at Harry in silence, his face expressionless. “Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. We are going to build not just a business, Harry, but an entity that will take on a life of its own. It will become so big it will be virtually untouchable.”

“I need you to go to Rome in the next few days. I’ve arranged for you to meet with a man called Giovanni Batista, he is the head of a manufacturing organisation in clothing, footwear and fabrics. He also has close family contacts in the banking industry in Rome, and will be a most useful parallel for Ahmoud.
He is expecting you for lunch on Wednesday and my driver will take you there and back. Look after him well, Harry; he will be able to pull together all the contacts we have made so far and to marry them into his organisation. It will be the perfect cover. He will also be putting $US100,000 into our each of our accounts with bin Saif as a gesture of goodwill. You should be able to verify that by telegraph with bin Saif.”

Harry saw little of the Brigadier over the next few weeks. He met with Signore Batista as planned and the meeting appeared to go well. Batista was a tall, elegantly groomed man, expensively dressed and mannered. His only pecadillo was a small gold earring in his left ear. Harry had prepared a terse summary of his and the Brigadiers activities, contacts, details of the type of business being done now and an approximation of the potential from each contact. Batista scanned the list carefully.

As he was reading, Harry said “I understand that your deposit into the accounts will follow this meeting, is that correct Signore?” but Batista seemed to be only half listening.

Harry tried again. “I am given to understand that the amount will be $US 100,000 into each account, is that correct?”

He lifted his head from Harrys list briefly, waved his hand and said ”Yes, yes, of course.”

“I will be in touch with you later this week, Signore Batista. Tell me, is it correct that Giovanni Batista in English means John the Baptist?”

“It does, Signore Spicer. Now, if you will excuse me I have much to do.”

Harry walked out of the office with a black anger building up in him that he had never known before. He began to understand what the Brigadier had really been saying about a class-based society. Then the devil whispered and a glacial calm took over.

Harry waited until the next day before telegraphing Ahmoud. He asked for an urgent response. Two hours later it came – no deposit had yet been made. He repeated the telegraph the next day and received the same reply.

He telephoned Signore Batista the same day, spoke to his secretary and was told that he would not be taking calls, perhaps the Signore would call again the following day.

Harry did just that. When the secretary answered Harry didn’t give her a chance to speak. “Tell Signore Batista that he is to call Termini 64177 by midday today.” Then he hung up.

Harry waited near the phone until 12.30 p.m., feeling strangely peaceful.

The monthly meeting of the board of Batista Internazionale took place on the last Friday of each month. This meeting was to be very special, as Signore Batista had indicated that planned expansion was to occur earlier than planned, and he intended a “special delivery” to his fellow board members. But this time he was unusually late and as the other members of the board stood around talking and looking at their watches, a messenger entered with a large box wrapped in gold paper and with a wide ribbon around it. A card on the top instructed that it was to be opened on receipt by the members of the board so the oldest member took it upon himself to pull apart the bow in the ribbon.

The four sides of the box collapsed outwards and there sat the head of Giovanni Batista on a plate. It was intact – the only thing missing was the little gold earring.

And that was the last time that Harry or his organisation ever had to use anything other than talk, the law or animal cunning to achieve what they wanted. The business contacts of Giovanni Batista had been wide, but not one of them mourned his passing. The tale was told for many years and the credit was applied whenever Harry wanted it to be, which as the devil grew became increasingly often.

Harry finally met up with Brigadier Maddox in London and once settled in found that despite the size of the task his group was charged with, the systems were all in place, the people were well trained and experienced after four years of war and his job was largely supervisory. After a couple of months he found that he was only really occupied for about half of each day, and asked the Brigadier what he might do to fill in his day.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that Harry. Lets have some lunch today, at my club. We’ll leave at about 1 o’clock, it’s only 10 minutes away.”

Harry met the Brigadier in the Supply Secretariat courtyard where his car and driver were waiting. The drive to the club took longer than expected because of damage caused by the V-1 rocket attacks. As they drove up to the front door of the club a uniformed doorman in maroon greatcoat and black top hat came to the car to open the rear door.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.“

Harry followed the Brigadier up to the tall Mahogany doors, which were opened at their approach by an elderly, uniformed porter.

“Good afternoon, Your Lordship, may I take your coats and hats.”

That startled Harry – it was the first time he had heard someone defer to the Brigadier as a member of the aristocracy. It was suddenly very clear that changes had taken place, the extent of which he did not yet fully understand.

They walked together into the main lounge filled with tall leather wingback chairs, about half of which were occupied. Harry had never before been in a place that smelled, really smelled, of money, the kind of money that those that had it had everything they wanted. Everything that he had achieved for himself and the Brigadier up to that point faded out of existence when he looked around the room with its elegantly understated but luxurious decoration.

Then clear as a bell, he heard the Devil laugh.

The Brigadier took Harry up to the dining room and introduced him to the Maitre d’. They were given a table by the window, and having ordered, were waiting for their drinks to arrive. The Brigadier said, “This is the table that the Duke of Cheshire always used to sit at. A wonderful tale was told about him, how he sat here for years even though it is some distance from the dining room fire in the winter. Finally one of the senior staff plucked up the courage to ask him why he wanted to sit here when he could be so much warmer by the fire.
The Duke is reputed to have said, “So I can see the bloody people getting wet!””

The meal they had was superb, Consommé Alsace followed by chicken poached in Barsac with salade nicoise, new potatoes and baby peas, with an almond and peach tart to finish. The coffee was freshly ground arabica and the port was a Taylors 1936.

When they had finished the meal, they retired to the members lounge and took two of the leather chairs set somewhat apart.

“That was one of the best meals that I have had in years, sir.”

“From now on, Harry, if we aren’t at work, call me James. You and I are going to build the kind of business enterprise that others will only be able to start on in a decade or more, the difference being that we can start almost as soon as the war is over and we are out of the Army. You remember what I said about the Dukes’ table, well that is what we are going to do; we’re going to watch the bloody people getting wet! In the meantime I want you to come to up to the house at Holcombe Park this weekend. My wife and family arrived a few weeks ago via the USA and we are having a bit of a party for my daughters 21st birthday. It would be a good opportunity for you to meet some people.”

The two men chatted on for another hour or so then drove back to the Secretariat.

Harry remembered that weekend at Holcombe Park for the rest of his life. Not just because of the people that he met or the business that grew, at times spectacularly, directly and indirectly from the meetings there with the Brigadiers friends and acquaintances, but because he met, coveted, courted and married Katherine Louise Maddox, youngest of the Brigadiers two daughters following that weekend. It was an extraordinary relationship; it was as if they both knew all there was to know about each other from the very first day. Harry never had to explain anything to Katherine; she was so perceptive that she only ever needed the briefest of details to have the entire picture in her head almost immediately.

In a way, though, that became part of the problem. The business interests that Harry and the Marquis were now developing were extending rapidly into areas as diverse as manufacturing, scrap disposal, shipping, importing, farming and even banking. Harry was becoming a seriously wealthy man, with business contacts in most European countries, and because they had the head start that their dealings during the War had given them, watch the bloody people getting wet was just what Harry Spicer of Kingsland, Auckland, New Zealand and James Maddox, Southland farmer, did.

For many years.

But the devil on Harry’s shoulder was getting larger, and it was beginning to work its way into almost everything that Harry did.

He could never just complete a business deal with someone, he always had to win, to beat the other person or the deal didn’t seem worthwhile. He became so used to winning that on the occasions that he didn’t, which were rare, he subsided into an almost catatonic state sometimes for two or three days. If he was able to blame the failure of the deal on someone else, they needed to disappear fast and stay hidden. Harry never forgave and never forgot. After all, that was how it all started, wasn’t it, that Harry Spicer was very good at adding, subtracting and multiplying, but was particularly good at dividing.

Then one day he was at home and the phone rang. It was the Manager of Ralegh and McKechnie, the merchant bank that had been one of the biggest and, to Harry, one of the most satisfying deals that he and James had bought into. Its value had quadrupled and it was responsible for initiating more business related to its capital value than any other business the two men owned. The fear in the Managers voice was almost tactile.

“Sir, I have to inform you that a senior trader in this bank has, over the past two and a half years, carried on a series of illegal and unauthorised trading arrangements that now leave the bank effectively insolvent.”

He paused and Harry could almost hear the man’s heartbeat over the phone.

Harry almost whispered into the phone “Give me the mans’ name.”

“Signor Enrico Batista, Mr Spicer”

The roar from the devil on his shoulder almost deafened Harry. He slammed the phone down, then carried on smashing it down until the phone and the Hepplewhite card table that it sat on were reduced to splinters. Then the kind of calm that only the dead know settled on him. Katherine stood silently in the doorway, a dark fear on her face. Harry walked straight past her, got into his car and didn’t stop until he was at his office.

Then he started calling in some debts. He contacted every single person he could think of who might help him find Enrico Batista. He never left the office for six days, and at 7.30 p.m. on the Thursday evening he got the call that he was waiting for. Not only had his contacts in the Mossad found Batista, they were delivering him in a private jet to a small airfield in southern Italy. Harry immediately chartered a Lear from a company in Kent and had them meet him at Heathrow. The flight took 5 hours and in that short time, Harrys madness became complete.

By the time that he arrived at the airfield, there was a car waiting for him. He was taken to a small villa and there tied to a wooden chair sat Giovanni Batistas’ younger brother – with a smile on his face.

Harry stood looking at him in silence, then asked the three Mossad agents to leave him alone.

They only heard one scream from the man, but it lasted for nearly half an hour. When Harry came out of the room, the screaming had stopped and Harry was soaked in blood from his head to his feet.

He said nothing, just walked over to the car and climbed into the back seat. One of the men walked into the room and there, neatly laid on the floor in front of the dead Batista, was almost his entire skin. The man immediately threw up and ran out of the room.

Somehow they got Harry back to England. He was cared for at home for a year or so, where the only person he would speak to was his 6 year old nephew, Ian. As far as he could he came to love the boy, seemed to see in him some kind of salvation. The very last coherent act that Katherine could remember Harry carrying out was when she saw him take a box out to the incinerator at the end of the large garden. He seemed to be tipping the contents of the box into the fire, but for some reason brought the box back to the house with him. She never asked what he had been doing, knew she would not get a reasonable answer.

Then one day he had a stroke. Katherine wished so much that it could have been final; he seemed to have left this world already. He spent most of his time in bed from then on, paralysed, unable to speak.

One day, young Ian walked into his room, thinking that his uncle was asleep. He started looking around as young children do, and while sitting by the bookcase, reached in and pulled out a box. Harry screamed in his head - but no one heard him.

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Comments by other Members

olebut at 14:19 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Doc Thornbury will be proud of you my boy at last you have proven your ability to string sentences together in some form which provides a gripping story.

My only slight query is why did the murder of Batista junior have such an effect on Harry after all he did it knowingly and without any pressure form an outside influence.

Most enjoyable John

take care


Becca at 21:51 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Hi John. I couldn't see if this was a short story or part of a novel, so I'm not sure how to think about it.
Say it was a short story: My immediate thoughts are that it contains an awful lot of different parts to it, it's a bit like a biography. There could be several stories in here. Editing could be helpful to pull it all together more succinctly. The story of the head, which I took to be the main one, was interesting and I felt that if you left a large amount of the rest of it out, it would be a cracker. I agree with David in not understanding why he went berserk. There was also a sentence I didn't understand, 'then a stunted, mesmerising Austrian...'? There are a few apostophies missing as in father's brother.
If it was a novel it's as if you've written almost the whole thing in one go already. I'll wait to hear from you about it and what your aims were in it. But a big piece of work clearly written, although long, and with good stuff going.

LONGJON at 06:40 on 28 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Guys,

Many thanks for your comments as always. It wasn't the murder of Batista junior that flipped Harry over the edge, Harry was someone to whom possession was everything, and he regarded the bank as a prize possession. It was his realisation that, through the son, the Father had got his own back when Harry thought he had had it all his own way.The smile on the son's face, his enjoyment of the revenge, as Harry walked into the villa was the last straw.

However, the "stunted, mesmerising Austrian house painter" was Hitler. It looks like nearly 50 years is enough for the memory of such a man to fade to the point where clues like "Austrian" and "house painter" are not sufficient. How sad.

Now, Becca, is it a short story or an incomplete novel? For some reason the idea of a novel worries me, don't think I could write one. It is long for a "short" story I agree, and most stories can benefit from some judicious pruning. I think I shall have a review of this over the weekend.

Take care,

John P.

Nell at 14:24 on 28 August 2003  Report this post
Hi John, this was a long piece but kept my attention to the end. It was well-written as usual too. I notice you said in reply to a comment that it was the son who exacted revenge - I somehow thought it was the brother. He was taken to a small villa and there tied to a wooden chair sat Giovanni Batistas’ younger brother – with a smile on his face.

I was confused about what it was that young Ian found in the box - it couldn't have been the skin as that was on the floor in front of the dead Batista, unless Harry collected it later of course.

Re. editing, I believe as a short story it would be of benefit, although the story as it stands could almost serve as a synopsis for a novel - I think Becca was spot on as usual there.

Having said all that the piece was easily readable, and Harry frighteningly believable. Hope this helps,

Best, Nell.

Nell at 14:27 on 28 August 2003  Report this post
John - I pressed 'Submit' and remembered what was in the box - all Harry's souvenirs. Maybe someone like me needs a little reminder later in the story too!

Becca at 18:54 on 28 August 2003  Report this post
John, daft of me, Hitler of course, although I only knew he was a house painter recently. But I'd put the sentence up with the para above, that way it'll read as one whole thought process.
Another story in there is his meeting with the beautiful woman. This may sound odd to you but had you thought about writing an anthology of short stories all with your main character?

I was reading something today in which Ali Smith, a short story writer, said that a short story is like a stone thrown into a pond, ... there is a central core around which ripples occur, everything radiates out from that moment, ... it's transient and quickly gone. I was paraphrasing her there, but she is expressing the difference between the novel form and the short story form, and I think very well. And it's the form I was trying to refer to above, rather than the length itself. If it's any consolation E. Annie Proulx, as a novelist was terrified at having to write a collection of short stories because she couldn't get to grips with the 'form.' It's almost as important a distinction as to say a short story is not a poem, or a poem a short story. Said in another way a short story is not a miniscule novel. There's some lovely stuff in here, I think it's worth working on, more power to you.

stephanieE at 18:43 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
John I like the idea behind this story, but as I was reading it, I thought 'this is a synopsis, not a short story' as there's so much packed into it. Alternatively, it's a treatment for a screenplay - I could see this character taking his trophies and building up his macabre collection as a dark thriller... It's too dense for a short story, so how about expanding it into something bigger?

Ralph at 18:03 on 18 October 2003  Report this post
Sorry I'm jumping in a bit late here.
I thought this was a fascinating story, and one that would blossom under expansion if that's what you chose to do with it. I say that not just because the true horror of this might really sink in if it were allowed to unfold more gradually, but because there is so much to see and sense around your central characters... you seem to have a natural grasp of what is required in terms of setting and period for a gripping novel without really making full use of it's potential here...

Perhaps also with more room to manoevre the device you have of this little black devil over Spicer's shoulder could either be made more of or else incorporated into the already elegantly complex motivations of your lead. Somehow as the devil stands it exists as not quite part of him but not entirely separate either, and I found it estranged me slightly from Harry's mindset.

One thing that puzzled me slightly: Harry emptied the box, but kept the box itself. Not quite sure why he kept it, or why he was so horrified when his nephew opened it... unless that's where the black devil ended up maybe??

All the best with it


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