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Stephen A Manley

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Chances
by Stephen A Manley   

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Category: 

Action/Thriller

ISBN-10:  1827070263 Type: 
Pages: 

149

Copyright:  Dec 1, 1996 ISBN-13:  1827070263000
Fiction

Have you ever wondered where your life would be without a shoulder to lean on. Jim Randall was on that path, but fate had a different plan.


Most people don't get a second chance in this life, but Jim Randall had just that.

Randall was a hard hearted man, who didn't like to be held back by unfounded hopes or dreams.  However, fate was to change his life forever. His life, his view of life and his future plans for life. 

Jim's wife, Jenny, had died in a car crash. This had left him tormented by feelings of guilt and plagued by nightmares. He'd lost everything in a short space of time.  His mother had died of cancer, leaving him twisted and having to face up to his own mortality.  His fathers' death had left him alone, empty and vulnerable. A feeling that he didn't like one bit. But Jim wasn't completely alone, someone special had worked a miracle into the fragile web of his life.


Excerpt

1.
Beginnings.


"The rest of your life starts here Jim, you've got to start living, it's what she'd have wanted"
"SHE" Retorted Randall.
"I'm sorry, Jenny, you don't think she'd...er... Jenny would have wanted to see you like this, start living and keep Jenny's memory alive."
"Look thanks for calling round Bob, but I've got a heap of things to do and I'm er... running late, thanks for the present."
"Okay Jim, give us a call anytime, I'll be glad to call round, night or day, anytime"
SLAM...The door shuts noisily in Bobs' face, leaving him embarrassed and confused.

A Bible just what I need. Jim looks at the gift and grimaces. He'll be trying to convert me next, maybe have a church bring and buy sale in my garage, just the ticket eh!
Jim pours himself a large Vodka and sits down to drink it, then he pours himself another and another and...before he knows it he's remembering Jenny on their wedding day. She'd just fallen out of the car,


It never did fit her, even after all the hard work mom put into that darn wedding dress, Jim smiles, just a little grimace at first, then breaks into a loud, loud bellowing laugh.
Then he remembers the accident, the bus coming towards them and the laughing turns to weeping, then deep sobbing.

The next thing he sees is the gold plated carriage clock above the old oak bookcase, it read 8.00 am, he'd been asleep for 15 hours or so. He looks at the clock with melancholy; it had been a wedding gift from his mother. He got up, had a bite to eat, showered and got dressed. Donning his shoes, he decided to take a walk into town.





2.
Old Friends.


Another church, what do people find enjoyable about these places? They’ve never done me any favours.
The last time Jim had been in a church, was with his Dad, but they had to leave early because Jim wasn't feeling well. That had been his excuse anyway. He felt a little uneasy in churches as if everybody's eyes were staring into his soul, or rather through it. It was a place where nobody had secrets. Dad had been a minister. Before retiring, he’d been a busy pastor of a very active local church. He had been well known and loved in the community, so he had never really retired. "Once a Clergyman, always a Clergyman." He used to say.
I suppose that's a good enough reason to rebel The idea didn't make him happy, it just brought back memories of good old Dad. Dad the Preacher, Dad the Minister, Dad the do Good er, Dad the Father he never really got to know. How he wished he was alive today.

He had died in Africa on a religious mission of some kind. A freak building accident they had said. A digger had

crushed him while he was working on some sanitary project. He had been laying
pipes for pumping clean water through to a poor community. Jim missed his Dad, he
was just getting to know him better when the accident had happened.
Mom had died some fifteen years earlier of cancer, she'd had it for years. Jim was glad she'd been spared further suffering. It was an experience he didn't like to remember. He had seen her in pain trying to get through each day, until eventually she just gave up trying. He'd been closer to mom than he'd ever been to Dad. She had always been there for him, through thick and thin. Her death had taken a lot out of him, almost to the point of an emotional breakdown. It was the one thing that had brought him closer to Dad, the only thing they were able to share for a long time. "Funny how these thing work out" he said out loud to himself. Ah memories, I could do without them.

Aitken Christian Bookstore
Proprietor Mr R James...

It was a shoddy sign, the paint was flaking, the wood had seen better days and it was leaning to one side. It was in dire need of some major surgery, but it did the job. This was where Bob worked, Bob being Robert James. Jim looked at the door I should go in. he deliberated a while.

Just to apologize to Bob, I was rather rude to him yesterday. Or I could give him a call from home, No I'll go in, then again...Sort yourself out Jim, make a decision man, for once in your life. You’re beginning to sound like a politician.

He slowly walks up the three steps It feels like climbing up a mountain.
He felt a little uneasy going into a Christian Bookstore, about the same as he did going into a church, as far as he remembered. Well here goes, Jim opened the door and stepped inside. It was bigger than he'd imagined, there were quite a few customers too, he didn’t expect this. The counter was devoid of life and Bob was nowhere to be seen. A young lady was helping a customer choose a bookmark, a few youngsters were laughing out loud in the corner and an elderly lady was browsing around the music collection. He walked around for a while, trying to be inconspicuous and blend in with the woodwork. He saw a Bible just like the one Bob had given him. It's obvious he'd get it from here he thought. This brought a smile to his lips.

Nothing excited him, nothing really interested him in the store, except for


the large red velvet embroidered curtain in the corner of the room. Everywhere he turned, the curtain was there, beckoning him. Every time he looked up, the curtain caught his eye. Jim slowly walked across the room. The curtain was slightly open, so he tried to peek through the gap, but he completely misjudged it.

The curtain almost tore open fully when he pulled it to one side. OOPS! that's done it, beam me up Scotty. There were people inside talking, but not to each other, they had their eyes closed. Some were sitting, some were standing and there was one in the middle kneeling....Is that Bob?... "Hello sir, can I help you" It was the young lady from the store.
"Er... um... well yes, I think so, I was looking for Bob, er...what's going on it there?"
"They're having a prayer meeting sir" she replied thinking Jim would understand.
"Oh of course, I knew that, I mean, I guessed it was a...er... prayer thingy, whatever" Jim was beginning to blush.
"I'm Jenny, can I help you?" The young lady asked.
At this, Jim started to cry, not loudly, just inside at first, but it was building up and he couldn't stop himself. Jenny


could see that something was wrong and tried to defuse the situation "Would you like a cup of tea sir?" she asked.
"Er. No thanks, I'd better be going." Jim couldn't hold back any longer, tears were beginning to roll down his face. He didn't want to stay around for any further embarrassment. "Bye" he squeaked, then ran out, straight towards the car park. Then as if an after thought, remembered that he had walked into town.

He stood still for a moment in the middle of the street trying to compose himself. He side stepped and slowly walked towards the cafe' on the other side of the main street. He went inside and sat down. "Would you like to order sir?" Jim looked up to see a scruffy middle-aged lady standing over him with a note book in her hand.
"Just a coffee please and and er...Just a coffee." Looking at the state of the table, he thought twice about ordering something to eat. He wasn't in the mood for eating anyway.
For some reason he couldn't get comfortable, something in his jacket pocket was sticking into the side of his ribs. He reached down into his pocket.


Oh...I don't remember picking this up He looked down to see Bobs' gift, the Bible. He had brought it with him. He opened it, there was a bookmark in Romans 5. It simply said 'So now, since we have been made right in GODS sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him
because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.' Romans 5:1
I wish I could have peace, my whole world has been turned upside down Jim was feeling
uneasy again. He closed the Bible with a thud and everyone in the cafe' turned and stared. Oh great, just what I need.

"Hey Mister, are you a vicar or a priest or something?"
Jim looked up to see a young girl of seventeen, maybe older. She had short spiky hair and what could only be described as war paint on her face. She was staring directly into his eyes. He didn't know what to say, that uneasy feeling came flooding back again.
"Er...no why?" he replied.
"We thought you'd like to pray for us, or hear our confessions, ha ha ha!" The young girl went back to her friends, who shared with her laughter.
Blimey, people don't half mock religion, it's no wonder the churches are full of sad


faced people, mind you those Christian people in the store all seemed happy enough Jim stopped himself. What am I doing defending Christians, I'll be shouting Hallelujah next. He shared in a silent laugh with the youths on the other table.

Jim was staring at the cover of his Bible, when Someone sat down opposite him, blocking out the natural light from the windows. "I'm sorry that seats taken" Jim looked up to see Bob.
"Hello Jim" Bob unbuttoned his coat.
"Oh...er...Hi Bob" Jim replied, his face was going slightly red.
"Jenny said that someone was looking for me, she saw you come over here, is everything okay?" Bob had a beaming smile that could cheer anyone up. It was a smile that could break the ice at any party and disarm the most violent of people. This made Jim feel a lot better "Well to tell you the truth Bob" There was a short silence. "I'd come to apologise, I was more than rude when you dropped round yesterday and well I'm sorry, you didn't deserve that."

Bob looked Jim in the eyes "Don't worry about it, I just thought you may have wanted company, I'm a little too pushy at


times. I was the same at school as I recall eh Jim, I never knew when to quit. That was why your Dad and I got on so well, he could listen and boy I could talk his hind legs off."
Bob smiled, thinking of what he'd just said. Jim looked up, there were and there were tears in his eyes. He'd been thinking about Jenny again. "I'm sorry Bob, when that shop assistant of yours introduced herself as Jenny, well I flipped. I just couldn't control myself. It just brought back all those memories, I can't seem to separate them anymore, the good ones from the not so good ones, you know what I mean! They're all mixed up."

"Yeah, peace is a hard thing to find at times, I don't know how I would be in your place Jim, but I do hope that you will find some peace. Try not to find it alone though Jim, if I can help in any way, just give me a call eh!"
"Okay.....That's funny Bob, I was just reading about peace in your Bible." Jim held up the gift Bob had given him. Bob smiled, he was just about to speak, before someone interrupted him.

"Your coffee sir.". The waitress was back,



she had changed her apron, A vast improvement. Jim thought. "Thank you, would you like a cup Bob?" Jim asked.
"No thanks I'd better get back to the store, before I'm missed, maybe you'd like to come round for a chat and to meet Jenny. That's my daughter by the way" Bob stood up to leave.
"Why not" Jim took a sip of coffee, pulled a face and wiped away the tears from his eyes.

"Coffee that bad eh?" Bob said jokingly. “Yeah brings tears to your eyes”. Jim paid the bill, then he and Bob walked over to the store together.




3.
Reminiscing.


Bob and Jim spent the rest of the day talking and laughing. They recalled the good old days and the times gone by. Remembering school days and college days. It was the happiest Jim had been in a long time and Bob knew it.

The customers could hear them shouting and laughing before they came into the store, but Jim and Bob were having fun, telling jokes and remembering school buddies. They were Reminiscing about pranks they had got up to at school, the teachers they had rubbed up the wrong way, even the school trip to the Kennedy Space Center. They talked about the vacation they had taken together in Austria, when they had to come back early because Bob had broken his ankle trying to ski. "You know, these times will never come again." Bob looked into Jim's eyes "When we remember, we keep these things alive, keep them happy Jim, but don't relive them. Jenny, my daughter Jenny that is, nearly died a while back with Meningitis. The whole church prayed
For her and she got better. You know what sticks in my mind the most, it’s how Jenny

can laugh and how she can cry. She can share her feelings openly, it's a wonderful ability, a gift from God I’d say. It's brought us close many, many times and these are the memories we should keep alive. The times we share, try to remember your Jenny that way Jim and keep the memories alive, not the pain."

Jim stared back at Bob, he'd never heard him talk this way.
He stayed for a while, listening to Bob and looking at some old photographs of Jenny. She was twenty now and had been brought up solely by Bob. Sandra, Bobs' wife, had died giving birth to Jenny. However, Jenny didn't blame herself, or her father. She loved her Dad and enjoyed his company, they were very close. They were friends who needed each other.

"Thanks for today Bob, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to run out on you again, I promised to drop into the office to see Mein Führer, The Gestapo of Aitken."
This made Bob laugh "Okay Jim, keep in touch yeah."
"You've got it, thanks again Bob." Jim waved on his way out.

It was cold outside and the sky was overcast. The clouds were closing in and a

few drops of rain were falling. It reflected the mood that Jim was in. The weather reminded him of a vacation he'd taken in England a few years earlier, when it had rained throughout the whole three weeks. It ruined his vacation and his romantic ideas of England.

Outside people were rushing about in their usual way. It was a typical Thursday afternoon, shoppers were tottering about in a spending fury. Children were complaining about the weather, or not having any sweets. Fathers were window shopping for Hi fi equipment or car care products and Mothers were issuing slaps to their hyper active children. Yeah it was a typical Thursday afternoon and Jim had to go to work. Very typical, just an average day Jim thought.



4.
Is it Legal?



The walls were full of ornate pictures. Classics, Modernism, Abstracts, a few plaques from places visited, plus tapestries and wall hangings of just about every type. Just behind the giant wooden desk was a crucifix. That's odd, never had him down as a believer. Jim sat down and waited for Mr Walters. He looked at the shiny bronze plaque on the far wall. By craning his neck, he could make out the writing.

Walters and Henderson Insurance Investigations and Legal Representation.
What a mouthful he thought.

The company had been formed just after the Second World War, in 1947 by Christopher Walters and Mark Henderson. In 1981 the company had been passed down the family line. In 1984 John Henderson, Marks only son had died in a plane crash, leaving the company to Frank Walters, son of Christopher. He still kept the name Walters and Henderson for posterity purposes, it didn't seem right to change it, after all this time.


There was a big scandal in 1982 when one of the companies largest Customers, (until then) accused them of having their hands in some politicians pocket. It was unproven thus thrown out of court after a thirteen month legal battle. Soon after, John Henderson’s plane went down somewhere near Pennsylvania. It was put down to pilot error. The cause of death was legally written as death by misadventure. No bodies were ever found and everybody, including the newspapers, thought that by the time the plane had been found, the bodies had most probably been taken by wild animals.

Jim had worked for the company for nineteen years or so, since 1980. He had worked his way up from office clerk to sales advisor, becoming Senior sales manager in only 12 months. Then onto claims supervisor and upto his present position, which was of senior claims investigator.
He had started the job just three months prior to his mothers' death, he'd seen a lot of changes and a lot of new faces in that time. He was the companies most senior member of staff, not by position, but by length of time served. Other members of staff looked upto him as being a sort of father figure, a giver of

advice, though not always taken, because Jim had more experience than any other member of permanent staff.

Jim Randall was 38 years old, he was 5 foot 10 with short, light brown hair. He had piercing blue eyes and a large thin nose which leaned to the right. A remnant of his college days, when he used to play football, but he wasn't very good at it, hence the broken nose.
Prior to working for Walters and Henderson he was a photographer for a local newspaper, 'The Aitken Tribune' which went bankrupt in 1978 just three years after its launch. Jim had worked there for only eight months. For the following two years he taught “Practical Photography” to 1st year students at a local college.

Frank Walters was a man who normally kept himself to himself. His business affairs were a tightly kept secret. He ran the company like clockwork however, always on the lookout for a profit here, a bonus there and a potential insurance contract on every corner. He was 46, but didn't in anyway look his age. He was an ex-Pro Ice Hockey player and still enjoyed a daily fitness routine to keep him in shape. He was intelligent, the kind of man that wouldn't have the wool pulled over his eyes. He didn't have many personal


friends, he enjoyed his freedom far too much. He was a Bachelor, frequently chaste by female admirers, but he'd never committed himself to any long term relationships. He could be a bit blunt yet dismissive at times, but that was often an advantage in business circles. He was a wealthy man, who flaunted his financial position freely. He drove a top of the range executive four wheel drive car and drove it hard. His father had died in 1989, at the age of seventy two. Franks only visible vice would be his clothes, he owned a wardrobe that most fashion models would be envious of. However, he had a very conservative taste in clothes and shoes, always wearing dark suits, Italian shoes and pure silk neck ties. He was someone not to cross, most people who tried, didn't last very long on the companies payroll, or ended up with a reputation that was irreversible. The company was one of Americas' top ten earners and Frank was proud to have kept it that way for over eleven years.

In 1980 he was accused of manslaughter, but that accusation was quickly withdrawn and no charges were formally made against him. Whilst playing ice hockey one season, he had been frequently goaded by


other team players, who thought he was a bit of a bully on the ice. This happened once too often and at a game in Chicago he slammed his own team captain into the rails and pushed him over with the hockey stick. The team captain was carried off on a stretcher and later found to have a broken shoulder and neck. That was the last Pro game Frank had played. Shortly after that he was also dropped from the national team selection.

"Hello Jim, how are you coping?" Frank Walters asked. Oh Oh I feel a sacking coming on, go on Frank get to it, shoot the bad news at me. "I'm getting there Mr Walters, staying on top of things." Jim replied.
"Call me Frank eh Jim, there's no need for formalities here.". Frank smiled wryly "Let's get down to business then" Frank continued. What business is that then, cutting my bonus. Jim almost said out loud.
"What was that Jim?" Frank asked.
"Nothing Frank, I was just clearing my throat" Jim replied.
"Jim how do you fancy a working holiday in California?". Frank looked directly at Jim. Whoa! Jim wasn't expecting this, Frank wasn't usually a benevolent man, quite the opposite in fact.
"Sounds great Mr Walters, I mean Frank,


just great." Jim was taken aback.
"Well as I said, it will be a working holiday, we're starting an investigation there. Fraudulent claims, you know the kind of thing, nothing too taxing. It will give you a chance to sort yourself out and who knows, work on your suntan at the same time. You need a break Jim you've earned it, what do you say?". Frank was looking directly at Jim with an expectant look on his face.

It was too much for Jim to take, he had a grin on his face like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
"Well it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it sir and I'm your man"
"Great, here's the investigation notes" Frank threw the buff coloured Manilla folder across the desk towards Jim. "Keep in touch" he added, almost as an after thought. Jim grabbed the folder. "You bet" He still had a wide grin all over his face as he left the office.

Gail, Frank Walters secretary and personal aid could see the meeting went well, she smiled back at Jim on his way out.
Jim went home early that day, to get ready for the trip and to tidy his apartment. At


times like this, he enjoyed his job.
The blue shorts or the greeny blue yellowy loud ones, oh what the heck, I'll take them both Jim was getting into the spirit of things, he had already repacked his Suitcase at least four times in little over an hour.

He didn't sleep too well that night, he was far too excited about the forthcoming trip.




5.
New Horizons.


I suppose I should read these notes Jim thought. Well here goes.

Company Name: Bains Advanced Technology
Suppliers of Microchips and Communications advanced systems.
Case brought forward: Fire damage claim for $1600000
Cause of fire: Unknown
Date: March 11 1995
Additional notes: Security reported a break in on March 9 1995. Company Chairman Mr G Rooks found dead in his office, death due to Smoke inhalation.

Looks simple enough, two days work, one weeks holiday, that'll do nicely Jim rechecked his baggage.

Flight Number: AAL549G from Kennedy Airport on Pan Am Airlines at 1600 Hours. That leaves me a few hours to spare.

It was 3:30 PM. The departure lounge was hot and sweaty, tempers were short and


quick. The Air conditioning had Packed in and to put icing on top of the cake, the bar was running low on cold drinks. Jim made the most of it however, he put his feet up, relaxed and waited to be called forward.

The airport was full of holiday makers. It was noisy and passengers were running around wildly. It was total chaos, children were playing, parents were disciplining, often shouting and babies were screaming blue murder. A perfect start. Jim thought.

The plane landed as if it had been dropped out of the sky from a bungee, it rocked, it swayed and it shook. When the plane did eventually land the passengers took a deep sigh of relief and unfastened their seatbelts, in anticipation of their exit from the plane. Jim had spent 90 percent of the time in the toilet, he was glad it was over. He walked off the plane feeling like he'd left his stomach in New York.

There was a black limousine waiting for him in the Airport Car park with a driver.
First class all the way, great Jim slid into


the limo' and poured himself a drink. He said "Hello" to the driver and beckoned him to drive on.

The driver's name was also Jim, he was a friendly guy who was never short of something to talk about. His daughters new baby boy, the golf clubs around LA, the beaches, former clients, famous passengers, the Dow Jones index and every other subject that Jim wasn't interested in. The car journey was beginning to feel longer than the flight. Jim lowered the window and took in some fresh air.
"What a life" he said to himself.
"Here you go, The Pasadena Hotel, I'll bring your luggage in for you sir" the driver opened the trunk. Jim just nodded in quick agreement and marched into the hotel lobby, to book in. He was glad of the peace and quiet. He spent the rest of the day reading notes, writing out his expenses and day dreaming about Jenny, before going to bed early.

It was cold and blue, Jim was surrounded by a dark thick mist. He could hear voices shouting from the distance, but he couldn't tell what they were saying. Now and again lights would fly past him like shooting stars. Each step he took forward


the thicker the mist seemed to be getting, but when he looked back, the mist Wasn't there. "Keep going, there's light through
the darkness" a voice said to him. Once or twice he thought that he saw Jenny in front of him, holding her arms out. When he tried to reach out to her she disappeared. Once, a ladder appeared inviting him to climb it. When he did, the mist vanished, only to be replaced by fluffy white clouds. They reminded Jim of sheep, small white sheep, the kind you'd see in cartoons. When he started walking forward, the mist reappeared again, but it was getting thinner.....thinner ...thinner. He was almost through when..... He was in the car, Jenny was looking at him, there was panic in her eyes and the car wouldn't go into gear. A bus was coming towards them, getting nearer...nearer...nearer, then buzz... The alarm clock woke him up.

He was sweating, tears were rolling down his face, this wasn't the first time he'd dreamed of the car accident. They had been quite frequent at first. Wow, what a hairy dream. Jim was glad to be awake. He called room service and ordered a breakfast, a large large breakfast. He was hungry and in no mood for work, so he


took the day off to enjoy the hospitality
of the hotel.

The Pasadena was a small Hotel, its clientele were normally business representatives, or sometimes sports pros' looking for a hide away from society. Now and again small Golf Tournaments were held on the Hotels private course and award dinners were catered for afterwards. The hotel lacked nothing, the surroundings were beautiful, having one of the most beautifully populated Bird Sanctuaries in America. The small woodland area was a paradise for those visitors who needed space away from the pressures of city life. Above all, it had a friendly atmosphere, the staff were helpful and not intrusive or complacent.
I'm going to enjoy it here Jim thought.

The next morning he got up early and went for a jog around the grounds. It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue and there was hardly a cloud in sight, the fresh air was doing him good. He stopped several times to just take in all the beauty and take a mental note of the surroundings. He wished that he was an artist, this was one place he'd love to see on canvas.
When he got back he had a shower, donned his suit and took a cab to see Mr


Hargreaves, the Vice Chairman of Bains Technology and the companies largest share holder. Mr Hargreaves was large, he stood Well over six foot tall, with muscles to match and sporting a typical LA tan.

Bill Hargreaves was a college graduate who had made it big. His knowledge of electronics and technical expertise made him a much sought after employee for many of Bains' rival companies.
Bill had been a close friend of Gary Rooks, The former Owner/Chairman for many years. They'd been at college together and the job offer came as no surprise to him. Four years ago Bill was offered the Vice Chairman position, Gary had wanted a friend with him on the board. Bill was happy to comply. They'd both built a good reputation for the business and they worked hard to maintain it. Bill missed that friendship and their working relationship. He wasn't much of a family man, he'd never married because he found it difficult to mix with other people, especially the opposite sex. Apart from that he enjoyed his work far too much.

"Hi there" Jim greeted Mr Hargreaves.
"Would you like a drink?" asked Mr


Hargreaves.
"I'd love one, anything cold will do" Jim replied.
"Root Beer okay?" Mr Hargreaves shouted from the kitchen.
"Perfect, just the thing for a day like this" Jim tried some small talk.
"You bet ya" was the only reply he got from Bill.
Jim opened his folder, hoping to start the interview right away, instead they sat for a while talking and getting to know each other better.
"You can call me Bill" Mr Hargreaves passed Jim his drink.
"Thanks Bill, I'm Jim" They both got their notes out together. "Well Bill, this sounds like a case of bad luck, two days after the fire inspection and Bains is no more than a pile of hot chips eh!" Jim said jokingly. This put Bill at ease, he was feeling a little tense. "Yep they went through the place with a fine toothed comb, just a month before. They said that the place was a hundred percent and that if a fire ever did start, the modern sprinklers and the automatic alarms would make sure the fire went out quickly and wouldn't spread. Weird if you ask me. The sprinklers didn't come into action and


most of the alarms didn't sound, if they did Gary Rooks didn't hear em! Weird, I wrote that all down on my first claim form
and sent it along with the fire inspection report, but when I rang up your Mr Walters, his secretary reckoned that they hadn't received that report or claim form.
So I had to write it all out again, but I couldn't get another copy of the fire inspection report, it had been mislaid they said down at the records department.
Then what about that break in, there was nothing reported stolen and the cameras didn't pick up anything. It just doesn't make any sense Jim.".

There was me thinking I was gonna have time for a tan Jim thought. "I'll tell you what we'll do, both of us will go down to the records office this afternoon and see if they can get a copy from the fire inspection people, how does that sound?. Then I'll have to fax the office to see if the first claim form showed up there. If not I'll contact the postal company to see what shows up there, how about lunch?" Jim put his pen into his breast pocket and stood up.
"Who's paying?" Bill stood up too.
"I suppose I'll have to put it on my expense account, where to?" Jim asked.


"There's a great Italian over the road, how does that sound?" Bill suggested.
"Great" Jim closed his folder, put it into his briefcase and locked it. Then he buttoned up his jacket and they both walked over to the restaurant.

They talked about anything and everything over lunch, LA weather, work, vacations, bosses and ex bosses, they even got onto the subject of families.
The waitress signed the expenses form Jim shoved in front of her and they left a ten-dollar tip, before making their way to the County Records Department.

"I'm sorry Mr Randall, I've been unable to locate that report for you" Miss Banks was a slim, young pretty lady. She'd only been working in records for six or so weeks.
"Call me Jim, is there any chance of getting a copy from the fire department?" Jim looked directly into Miss Banks' eyes, she was looking very harassed, he didn't fancy pressuring her.
"I'm new to this job Mr...er...Jim, I'll check with the fire department, but I can't promise anything" Miss Banks stared right back into Jims eyes.


"Thank you Miss Banks" Jim replies quietly.
"You can call me Elaine" She stepped back into her office and picked up the telephone.

Jim watched as Elaine marched through the swing doors, into the back.
"I tell you what Elaine, I'll call back tomorrow, give you some time to sort this
one out. I've got to dash, things to do." Jim said.
"Yeah okay, until tomorrow then" Elaine replied.

Jim and Bill stepped out of the records office into the warm heat of the day. It was so stifling that Jim felt as if he had run into a wall. They got into the car and Bill drove Jim back to the Pasadena Hotel. "You wanna come in for a drink Bill?". Jim asked.
Bill held out his hands in front of him "No thanks, I've got to be running, I've got a million things to do"
"Until tomorrow then Bill, don't worry we're still at first base yet" Jim made a feeble attempt to reassure Bill.
"Yeah okay Jim, until tomorrow" Bill put on a false grin and waved goodbye to Jim.


That night Bob and Jenny were having another daily prayer meeting with a few friends, Bob had been crying and Jenny was trying to comfort him.
"Dad it's going to be okay, I'll give Jim Randall a call for you"
"Not yet Jenny, let's make sure it's from GOD first okay."
Bob wiped his eyes. He wished that he could forget the whole thing.
"Dad we've had the same message three times, we have to act now otherwise it may be too late" Jenny tried to reason with her father.
"What do I tell him?" Bob was trying to
talk himself out of the job.
"Do you want me to call him Dad?" Jenny held her fathers hand and gave it a squeeze.
"No I'll do it" Bob picked up the phone and called Jims Hotel.

"The Pasadena hotel can I help you?"
"Er... yes can you put me through to Mr Randall? Room 212" Bob asked.
CLICK...Yawn..."Hello" Jim had been woken up.
"Hi Jim...it's Bob, are you okay?"
"Well nothing that a good nights sleep couldn't sort out." Jim sat up and let out


another yawn.
"I'm sorry Jim, I just need to talk to you." Bob sounded nervous, Jim could hear it in his voice.
"Are you okay Bob?" Jim was getting worried.
"Sort of...well this may sound funny Jim, but I've had a word from GOD" Bob tried to relax.
Oh here we go, he's gonna start preaching to me again. "Go on Bob" he said defensively.
"Well Jim, in a nutshell, be wary of deceit, do not trust those who deceive themselves, be careful Jim, very careful.". Bob had done it he'd given him the message That wasn't too bad now, was it. he thought.

Jim stayed awake for most of the night pondering on what Bob had said.
In the morning he went round to collect Bill and they popped into the records department again.
"Hello Jim, bad news I'm afraid, the original fire investigation records were signed out and nobody in the fire department can make out the signature. Just the date, 21st of April 1995, I'm sorry Jim".
"That's okay Elaine, I'll forgive you.".


Jim felt like he was getting the run around.

Things didn't go well with the postal company either, they swore that the parcel had been delivered, they even produced the acceptance slip with yet another unreadable signature.
The date was 21 April 1995. This wasn't making any sense. It was turning out to be a rather trying day.

Jim decided to go back to the fire department by himself, maybe someone remembers the inspection, maybe someone kept notes or even held another copy, maybe aliens had landed and taken them back to Mars, along with the Fire report.
He was getting extremely frustrated, this was his last chance. He was beginning to regret taking this case on.
"Can I help you sir?" A rather small yet rotund fireman stood in front of him.
"I hope so" Jim replied "I'm Mr Randall, I've been trying to locate copies of a fire inspection report from March this year. I work for Walters and Henderson Insurance Investigators, I called earlier"
"Oh yes, Have you tried the county records office Mr Randall?" The short chubby


fireman enquired.
Only about a thousand times. Jim thought.
"You bet ya, they say it's been mislaid and your office say that the original was signed out sometime in April, the 21st to be exact."
Jim was beginning to lose his temper and it was beginning to show.
"Would you like to see our senior fire officer Mr Randall?" The fireman was also lacking in patience.

Fire chief Mac Macdonald was a tall skinny guy with an enormous bushy moustache, he had a coffee cup in his hand and he was hiding behind some fire prevention magazine, probably trying to sleep.
Jim knocked on the door.
"Hello what can I do for you Mr...?" Mac asked.
"Randall" Jim answered "Jim Randall, I'm trying to get copies of some fire
inspection records from March this year, but you wouldn't believe the run around that I've been given, the records office have mislaid theirs, your office had the originals signed out on April the 21st and I'm left trying to sort out an insurance investigation with no relevant upto date


facts, I need some help chief. I was just wondering if you remember the case, Bains Technology, the Microchip Company." Jim was getting tired of asking the same questions and getting no answers.
"Oh yes, I did that one myself, I think."
At last, great I'm getting somewhere. Jim thought.

"Went pretty smoothly as far as I can remember, pretty routine, but I can't remember anything specific, we do around forty a week, I can't remember them all Mr Randall, wasn't that the place that burned down?" Mac raised a finger to his forehead trying to recollect it.
"Yeah that's the place" Jim was visibly tired.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you any further Mr Randall, have you tried the county records department?" Mac asked.

Jim left with his tail between his legs feeling like he was onto something a lot bigger than he at first imagined it would be. Maybe more than he could manage alone. He felt like giving up and going home.
"How did it go Jim?" Bill asked
"Not too good I'm afraid, I may have to go back to my main office to pick up some more paperwork, see if I can locate this


elusive fire report, maybe it got lost in our mail department. It's probably sitting on my office desk right now knowing my luck, well I'm not gonna get a tan after all Bill" Jim was trying to map out his next move.
"Oh that bad eh, will you be back?" Bill was clearly bothered by all this, he'd been waiting for months for this claim to be actioned.
"GOD willing, but I'm not sure Bill, I'll give you a call when I hear something, well I'd better get packing" Jim extended his hand out and Bill shook it "I'll see you out" Bill walked Jim to the door.
"Take care" Jim shouted from the cab.
Jim landed at Kennedy Airport at a little before midnight, he got a cab home and went straight to bed. But his dreams were
full of Jenny and the accident, the car crash that had changed his life and his views on life.

Jim had escaped with a few bruises and a broken wrist. Jenny had died on the way to the hospital, inside the ambulance.
The door handle had punctured her lung when the bus slammed into the side of the car, that and the blow to the head as the


car lurched forward. If only I'd have been driving Jims conscience called out. If only the ambulance had got there sooner it replied.

Jim blamed himself, he'd always felt guilty for letting Jenny drive in the first place. They'd been to an office party. A complimentary Dinner for the staff. Jim had drank one too many vodkas, so Jenny drove him home. She never wanted to go to the party at all, but Jim had persuaded her to. Ever since the accident, Jim had been having nightmares about it. He'd seen a therapist, but it got him nowhere, the guilt remained, the pain remained and so did the nightmares.

Jim woke up at 6:30 am sweating and with a thumping, throbbing, aching headache, he was crying. He sat up trying to focus his eyes. It took him a while to get his brain into action, to uncurl his feelings and prepare himself for the day ahead. He'd often waked up in this state of mind, having had the same dream regularly for the past seven months, since the accident.
It's gonna be one of those days, I can feel it already Jim thought to himself.


It was still pretty dark outside and Jim could hear the gentle tapping of rain on the windows.

He put on his runners and jogging shorts and stepped outside, ready to brave the elements. However, he didn't stay out for too long, he couldn't pluck up the inspiration to go for a long run. The night before had sapped his energy and dulled his normally active consciousness. He got back to his apartment feeling worse for the effort. He prepared himself some breakfast and then took a bath, hoping that it would help him to relax.





6.
Back to Basics.


Jim went round early to see Bob, just as the Bookstore was opening at 8:30. Jenny was sorting out some video cassettes, she looked up to see Jim enter the store.
"Hello Mr Randall, Dad's out back, would you like a coffee?" Jenny asked.
"That'd be nice, thanks Jenny" Jim slipped through the large red velvet curtain.

"Hi Jim, how did the trip go?" Bob asked.
"A non starter I'm afraid, I may have to go back to clear some things up" Jim sat down and let out a sigh "So much for a working holiday huh!" he added.
"You know what I do when I'm feeling down and exhausted" Bob chirped.
"What's that Bob?" Jim looked up
"I pray, that always does the trick" Bob added.
"Well I'll try anything once" Jim replied.



"Amen"
"Amen" Jim agreed
"You know I feel better already Bob" Jim was smiling "Mind you I could do with another coffee, all this praying gives a man a thirst."
"I'll get you one, back in a minute" Bob slipped through to the kitchen with a smile on his face, he was glad Jim had popped round.
Jim stayed for another hour or so chatting to Bob and Jenny and relaxing, he was enjoying their company and the time away from work.

It was 1245 and the building was quiet, Jim had already searched the mailroom from top to bottom, with no success. He got the elevator to the sixteenth floor and walked towards his office. He practically dismantled his own desk looking for the missing parcel, but it hadn't shown up. As a last resort he went into Frank Walters office, hoping that something would turn up, Gail must be out to lunch he said to himself. Franks office door was open, so Jim walked in and went straight to the filing cabinets.

A B Here it is Bains Technology, What's this? There it was staring right


back into his stupid face, the
original fire inspection report and the copy, along with the signed claims form.
"Can I help you Mr Randall?" It was Gail, she was holding a mug of coffee and a giant vegetarian burger with all the trimmings. She didn't look too happy about seeing Jim in Mr Walters office. Jim slipped the sheets behind his back, hoping that she hadn't seen him.

"Oh Gail, I was after some more info about the case I'm on, I've got myself all tied up in knots and I'm at a bit of a dead end. I need a headstart before I end up making a complete fool of myself."
"Hmm what's the case Mr Randall?" Gail had bought it, or had she?
"Oh call me Jim....It's the Bains case." Jim was trying to play it cool and throw Gail off the scent.

A B Bains, here it is, all I've got is the insurance manifest and the acceptance of claim report, is that any help?" Gail passed Jim the sheets to look at. He browsed them over, then handed them back, along with the others. Gail took them and put them into the filing cabinet. She closed the cabinet with some force that it made Jim jump a little "I'm sorry Jim"


Gail said sarcastically.
"That's er...okay, so that's it, that's all
there is? I see I'm gonna have to write this one off." That got Jim thinking Maybe that's it, maybe Franks on a con. No I must be losing it, that doesn't make any sense, what would Frank get out of this?

Jim thought the subject over that night, it still didn't make any sense and he still had no answers. He didn't sleep at all, he just tossed and turned until it was time to get up. He took the day off, trying to get his mind together. He did some unpacking and made a few calls, What am I going to do? Jim was feeling frustrated, he was left with only one point of action. He decided to go back to Franks office and try to get access to some other major claim files, hoping that something would turn up there.

He waited until evening, when there would be less staff around to interfere and get in the way. The security guard waved Jim through the lobby door. "Evening Mr Randall, working late tonight?" the guard looked directly at Jim.
oh oh! "Not really, I've forgotten my brief case, might just need it if the


company wants some work out of me tomorrow". Jim stared straight back into
the guards face Quick thinking Jim...Good job Jim smiled in satisfaction.

"Look Frank we've gotta get this sorted and sorted quickly before some smart Alec sees right through your plan, we're already running late and I don't have to remind you that the stakes are high, do I?" A well built man was sitting opposite Frank, his finger pointing straight into his face.
"Don't worry, I know my job" Frank swiped the large mans hand away to one side.
"I don't doubt that for one minute Frank, I just wanna make sure that your loyalties are leaning in the right direction, so I would appreciate it if you could step up this operation and get the job done, then we don't have to see each other again, I'm getting slightly %&*$,# off with your attitude" The large mans finger was pointing into Franks face again.

Frank's move was swift, he grabbed the visitors hand, holding it for a moment, the large mans face screwed up slightly, he was in obvious pain.
"You point that thing at me once more I'll


feed it to the dogs" Frank knocked the visitors hand aside yet again.

Jim was struggling to hear the conversation, his face was right next to
the door, if he leant over any more he would be in danger of falling right through it. Keep on talking, just keep on talking Jim stepped back a little, trying to get his footing, but he fell backwards, his own weight and momentum sent him crashing to the floor. That's done it, I'm dead meat, where to now? Jim ran into the store room and hid behind some cardboard boxes, deciding that cowardice was his only choice, that's if he wanted to live to see tomorrow.

"Did you hear something? There's somebody out there Frank." The large man shot up immediately going for his right hand side pocket.
"Shut up Henderson, calm down and put that thing away before it goes off" Frank put his hand on the visitors arm advising him to put his pistol away.

Henderson....what's going on here? Now I'm totally confused, it can't be, no I must of misheard or something Jim dismissed the idea.


Crash... the storeroom door opened with such a jolt, that the door almost fell off it's hinges. There was a
flashlight...footsteps....then he heard a voice. "Nobody in here, You're probably
hearing things, get back into the office"
Frank Walters was standing right above him, it was a miracle that he hadn't seen him. Jim was sweating, he'd never been so scared. Thud.....Frank closed the door with as much force as he had opened it. Jim sat in the corner of the storeroom for a while not wanting to take any chances. He just sat there praying silently.
Be wary of deceit, do not trust those who deceive themselves. Isn't that what Bob had said? It wasn't a load of rubbish after all!

Jim sat there remembering the warning that Bob had given him just a few days earlier.
It was 11.30 before he moved and still he took it easy, hoping that nobody was around. Something crazy's going on here and I'm going to find out what. Jims mind was racing, he was more inquisitive and even more determined than ever. He quietly stepped into Franks office and carefully closed the door behind him, walked upto the filing cabinets and searched through them.



A B C D..Devlin PR Group, that was a big, case Frank did that one himself, a no go er the company only paid a fraction of the premium out because the paperwork wasn't in order or something.

E F G H I J K..Kirkstons Computer Manufacturers. Lets see, the claim was paid, but only for half of the policy value.
Jim went over to Franks private files, maybe he could find something there. Drat!... it was locked. Ah well you don't do this job without learning a few tricks over the years He got out his penknife and started poking around in the lock....Click.....The lock opened, Jim peeked inside, he couldn't believe his eyes. This was big stuff, The Bains case, The Devlin case, Kirkstons, the Newbry case, plus about twenty or so others. All of them had payment invoices stapled to them, but they weren't for the same amount as the original files, they were for a lot more, probably the full amount Jim was putting two and two together.

However, it didn't add up to four. Embezzlement, these guys are raking the company for all they can get....Henderson, maybe that was the name I heard. Could that be the supposedly ex joint owner of Walters and


Henderson. They're both in on it, him and Frank Walters, paying out fraudulent claims and pocketing the difference. This is dirty I mean dirty business, let's have a look at the payment details they may give me a clue. Both of them
have the same account number, I'd better write this down. Jim wrote down as much details as he could, before the night guard interrupted him. He hit the floor with a thud, as the guard opened the door. He lay there quietly for a while trying not to make any noise, not even breathing in case he gave himself away.
"Lazy *&%^,$#$, do they think we're here to nurse maid them, they can't even switch off the lights when they leave." The guard stepped over to the switch and turned off the lights.

Jim lay there for a while, watching as the guard walked to the other end of the corridor. Then he jumped up, put his note pad inside his breast pocket and did a bunk.
"Good night Mr Randall, did you find what you were looking for?" the guard waved to Jim.
"Er...No it must be at home or something, I've probably mislaid it." Jim quickly walked through the swing doors under the watchful eyes of the security guard. He couldn't get home quick enough, he did a


sprint that most athletes would be proud of. After a little light supper Jim went to bed, he couldn't relax, so he read a
little and had a pray. "Well I don't know where to start er...Lord, so I'll just say that I'm sorry for not believing in you sooner, though I'm not entirely sure that I believe now, well if that's the case Lord, help me to believe in you and please throw a few blessings my way eh. I hope that I learn to be a better person and all that, please forgive me and...goodnight".
"Goodnight" Jim thought he heard a reply just before he fell asleep and for the first time in a long time, he slept well. His dreams were not of Jenny, but of Light and Truth and Love.

Jim got up early, feeling very refreshed and ready for the day ahead of him, he took a slow jog around the park, looking at all the beauty around him and taking in the scenery. Then he Made his way home, feeling more alive than he'd ever felt before. After a cold shower and a painful shave he had breakfast and got ready for work.
"Good morning Jim, heard you had a late one last night?" Frank gave him a searching look.
Oh please God....help "Yeah, thought I'd lost my briefcase again, my memory's


playing me up, too many late nights eh!"
"How are you getting along with the case Jim, any advances?" Frank was obviously questioning him.
"Well I'm afraid that I may have let the side down this time Frank, I've come to a dead end, with no leads" Jim was being cautious not wanting to give anything away. He wanted to see Franks cards first, before he put his own on the table.
"You can't win them all Jim, it's just one of those things, it happens to us all. We may have to give up on this one, write it off maybe." Frank was taking this well, perhaps too well. Jim was all the more curious.

Jim was determined to find out who the visitor was on the previous night, so he bid good morning to Frank, slid over to the security desk and took a peek at the visitors book.

Mr Leam Forbes...Address: c/o The Starlight Hotel.
A small place, not too grand somewhere easy to hide. I'm gonna get nowhere there! Jim picked up his briefcase and made his way to his office.

No sooner had he sat down when the phone
rang.


"Hello Jim Randalls office, Mr Randall
speaking."
"Oh hi Jim it's Bill, any news? I haven't received your call, I was getting worried"
"A few developments Bill, but I'm not sure where to go from here. Listen I can't talk now I'll call you from home okay" Jim didn't want to use the office phone in case someone overheard him. Walls have ears he thought.
"Yeah okay Jim, catch you later"...Click the phone went dead. Jim went to the newspaper records department in the afternoon, he was hoping to get some information on the Henderson plane crash, or maybe a little insight into this Henderson character. He was clutching at straws, but something had to come up sooner or later, Jim was hoping it would be sooner rather than later. He found the original story on archive and an old photograph of John Henderson. The photo seemed very familiar, would you credit it, our late night visitor, Mr Forbes I presume, one and the same.....Got ya! Jim was getting into the swing of it now, the case was beginning to take shape.


Henderson lay on his hotel bed, thinking about the future and congratulating himself on creating such a flawless plan In a week or so, I'll be a rich man, a very rich man. Everybody thinks I'm dead, who am I to prove them wrong. Nobody suspects me and even if they did, who could prove it. Perfect just perfect. Given time he would get his cash and escape to a perfect hideaway, where the law couldn't find him and neither could anyone else. Walters was a bit of a problem, Henderson was thinking of taking him out of the picture, once the money was sorted. Until then he'd play the part and keep Frank Walters sweet. Frank was beginning to become a liability, a weight around his neck. Frank had always been a threat, he was too intelligent and Henderson knew it, he'd have to deal with him sometime. But that was one job he wasn't looking forward to.

That evening Jim followed Frank Walters home on the off chance of meeting good old Mr Henderson, or would it be Mr Leam Forbes. Whichever it was, he didn't fancy a direct liaison. He stayed around for an hour or so before going home to eat, then he got changed into his slacks and runners and went back round to Frank Walters house. He needed an idea and he needed one quickly.

This is getting me nowhere fast, I'll have to think of something else. Maybe just maybe...
He went to the phone box on the corner,


got the number for Frank Walters from the operator and dialled it.
"Hello 5557867" Frank answered
Jim put on a quiet gruff voice "Frank it's Henderson, come round and get me, it's urgent" Jim waited and listened.
"Look I haven't got the time right now, you shouldn't have called me here" Franks voice sounded nervous.
"Don't argue, just do it Frank"....Click the phone buzzed in Franks ear. Had Jim pulled it off?

He waited for Frank Walters to leave his apartment. About two minutes was all he had to wait.
Brilliant, you're absolutely brilliant Jim, move over Einstein.
Frank thought that he was being followed, every turning he took, the other car took also. Everytime he slowed down, so did that large car behind him Something's not right Frank was beginning to worry.

He stopped the car outside the Plaza Cocktail bar, the other car stopped on the opposite side of the street.
This aint the Starlight Hotel Jim thought. He sat there quietly and watched Frank get out of his car and walk into the bar. Two minutes later Frank came out alone and got


into his car.
Uh! what's going on? Jim was confused. He was just about to start the car, when.....the rear passenger door opened and who should get in...

"Mr Randall I believe" a voice asked
Oh oh! Jims worst nightmare had come true.
"Mr Henderson I believe" Jim replied.
"I go by the name of Forbes these days, I don't want people thinking I'm the walking dead"
"Yeah I can see your point, you're a doctors nightmare" Jim tried a bit of humour, hoping to calm the situation.
"Well I'm sure that my secret will be safe with you, you can take it with you." Henderson laughed, taking control of the conversation "Start the car Randall, let's go for a drive, nice and slow now" he added.

"Where are we going? Will I need my passport?" Jim asked Do I really want to know? This was turning into a bad dream.
"Just drive and don't get smart. I'll give you directions, I make an excellent navigator, I'll make sure we don't get lost" Henderson smiled and put a pistol into Jims back "Nice and easy now!"
Jim wished that he'd never got mixed up in


all this. He should have taken Franks advice and given up on the case, but something inside of him wouldn't let it go. Jim was doing this for a reason, people were relying on him for the facts, the real facts. Oh boy! who do I think I am, Perry Mason. This stuff is well over my head.




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