The gleaming, black Mitsubishi pick-up rocked and thrummed on its chassis, like a wounded bull in the ring, pawing the ground before one final, fatal charge. And with each renewed vibration, Nik Klerides’s anxiety crept up a notch. He shot another nervous glance to his right.
‘I think, perhaps we should go now Mr Murray?’
The man in the driver’s seat didn’t move, but remained draped over the steering wheel, his right foot riding the accelerator. His gaze was still locked on the house at the end of the kilometre long track, as it had been since he’d swung the pick up left off the main road ten minutes before, jerking to a stop in a cloud of dust that drifted away on the light breeze.
In that ten minutes, the man called Murray hadn’t uttered a word. His attention was focused on the white-walled property that, perched above the locally-famous Sea Caves, looked out over the sparkling Mediterranean. Two storeys high, but with Roman-style turrets that gave an impression of more, its terracotta tiles contrasted sharply with the sky’s clear blue.
The fact that, though the truck was Nik’s he wasn’t driving, was just one source of Nik’s anxiety. Caught out by his former client’s sudden lunge for his keys and surprise suggestion that it was, ‘Time to see how this new truck of yours goes,’ Nik had found himself relegated to the passenger seat. There, he was uncomfortably aware he was no longer able to follow the dictum property developers along Cyprus’s southern fringe live by; Whatever the client does, stay in control.
The other source of Nik’s angst was the knowledge that whilst he could imagine what Murray might be thinking, he had no idea what he was planning. It meant Nik had no choice but to watch and wait while Murray decided his next move. But unsettling though the continuing silence was, Nik didn’t feel like breaking it to ask, ‘What are we doing here?’ To do so risked prompting another outburst of the sort Nik witnessed when he first described the ‘rather unfortunate problem,’ that had developed around the project. Given a choice, it was something he would rather avoid.
Chancing another glance, Nik noted that despite the heat, Murray was barely sweating. Even with the air-con turned right up, stuck out in the glare of the baking sun as they were, the temperature was well above the ‘24’ showing on the control setting. Nik’s shirt was already sticking to his back and chest, rivulets running down his face into his collar, a glistening veneer over his hairy, builder’s arms.
But as he waited and fumed, Nik knew he had only himself to blame and cursed his own stupidity. He should have seen it coming the moment his former client asked to take, ‘One last look at the place.’ He had seen enough of Murray the past couple of years to know that the quiet reserve that seemed so typically English was, in fact, a front. Even during the early days, when they’d haggled over the likes of the purchase price, contracts, delivery dates, and the all-important, profit-enhancing extras, Nik had seen signs of the steely resolve that by all accounts came to the fore in the days and weeks following the tragedy involving his family. Even back then it made Nik wonder what, exactly, Murray was leaving out when he spoke of the, ‘bit of military work,’ that preceded their decision to settle on what Nick always referred to as, ‘Our Beautiful Island Of Cyprus,’ – force of salesman’s habit. He should have realised that any man who could come through what Murray had suffered without crumbling, wouldn’t be the sort to just chuck things in with a, ‘Ah well, never mind,’ and walk away. Christos had warned as much.
Christos was Nik’s brother. Between them they owned and ran Klerides Development and Construction, Nik building, Christos designing and planning. Over the past ten years, they had seen the small building company they’d set up following their National Service grow into the burgeoning property development business it was today. And while it was still far from being a threat to the ‘Big Three’, it was, nonetheless, attracting an increasingly large slice of the market in overseas property investment centred around, Pafos, the popular resort on the island’s south-west corner.
As he glanced at his watch, Nik wished that right now, Christos was here. Three years older than Nik, and the lead decision maker when it came to the Big Issues, Nik was sure Christos would know what to do, especially given the way time was ticking. But the Englishman seemed in no rush to be going anywhere. Rather, he was just sitting there, immobile.
Apart from his right foot.
Nik was just thankful that, so far at least, there was no sign of movement up ahead, either around the wrought-iron gates that had caused his blacksmith cousins, George and Evsan, so much trouble, or behind the two-metre wall surrounding the property. But despite the apparent lack of activity, there was no question that whoever was at home was aware of their presence. Nik had seen the camera atop the nearest telegraph-pole swivel in their direction seconds after they pulled off the main road. Even if whoever was on watch hadn’t actually seen them swing in, they couldn’t have failed to see the dust cloud that spilled down the track after they stopped. Nik knew the Englishman had spotted the cameras as well, though Nik hadn’t mentioned the security measures he saw going in the week before the new occupant arrived. The knowledge they were being watched only added to Nik’s discomfort. With the temperature rising, and not just due to the heat, he knew there was nothing else for it. He cleared his throat.
‘Have you seen enough now Mr Murray?’ He turned in his seat, as if it might add weight to his suggestion. ‘I think perhaps we should not stay here much longer?’
But if Nik’s words registered, Murray showed no sign. His gaze didn’t shift from the property Nik and Christos had once hoped to use, with permission of course, in their next marketing campaign. So much for that idea.
He tried again.
‘Mr Murray?’ Murray half-turned towards him, but it was obvious his thoughts still dwelt elsewhere. A dream turned nightmare perhaps?
As Nik took in the stony features, he thought he caught a fleeting glimpse of something he hadn’t seen before. Something other than just the cold stare. The idea came there was something dark in it, but he dismissed it. Apart from the connection with the British Sovereign Base Garrison at Episkopi and the sad fate of his wife and son, Nik didn’t know much about Murray. Nonetheless, he was pretty certain that despite all Murray had gone through – crowned as it was with the house problem – the man wasn’t suicidal. Not yet at any rate.
But even as the thought settled, reassuringly, in Nik’s brain, Murray did something that sent the builder’s stomach sliding towards the hand-stitched Gucci shoes he’d picked up in Nicosia the week before. Murray straightened in his seat and, quite casually, slipped the shift into ‘drive.’ The truck gave a slight lurch as the transmission engaged.
‘Wh- what are you doing?’
At first Murray said nothing. Then, to Nik’s growing horror, he turned to him, smiled, winked, and floored the accelerator.
The truck’s back-end slewed side-to-side as the engine roared and the Pirellis with the legend ‘Rough Terrain’ gouged into the walls fought for purchase in the loose gravel. Stones, dust and burning rubber spewed behind. Then the tyres bit and, before Nik could voice any protest, they took off.