Jeffrey Archer is keeping me occupied off late with The New Collected Short Stories.
The book has 41 short stories (if I have counted them correctly).Most of the stories are based on true incidents, which Jeffrey Archer had come across during his stay in prison and that makes them more interesting. I just finished the 17th story which according to me is the most engaging one of the lot so far.
Jeffrey Archer heard this story from one of his fellow prisoners named Karl. Karl suggested the English author getting away with a murder has better chance in Russia than in England.
Then he added, ‘I knew a countryman of yours who did get away with murder, but at some cost.’
Now, without wasting more words on prologue, let’s jump into the gist of the story.
Richard Barnsley, the owner of Barnsley Construction, was in Russia to settle a prestigious pipeline deal. Signing the deal meant Richard would earn a vast profit and Anatol Chenkov, the Minister for Energy in Russia would get two million dollars a year for the rest of his life from him. When Richard checked out of Grand Palace Hotel in St Petersburg to catch his flight to Heathrow, Anatol declared in the car that President Putin would visit St. Petersburg on 16th May and wanted to preside over the deal signing ceremony. That gave Richard less than three weeks of time to complete the contract.
‘What’s the first thing you will do after the deal has been signed?’asked Chenkov.
‘Put in a tender for the sanitation contract in this city, because whoever gets it would surely make an even larger fortune.’ replied Richard.
Anatol suggested Richard never to talk about sanitation contract in public as it was a very sensitive issue. Countless citizens lost their lives an year before by drinking the impure water. Richard understood why there was a DON’T DRINK THE WATER plastic card placed on the washbasin in the bathroom.He took an early flight for Heathrow.
His wife,Maureen was not present when Richard reached his home. He got a call from his secretary, Jill. Richard grabbed the first piece of paper from his wife’s drawer to jot down the meeting details which Jill had set with his lawyer, Sam Cohen and the Board members. He rewrote the details in his dairy and was about to throw the paper when it caught his attention. It said:
He learnt from Sam that Andrew Symonds was a divorce lawyer. Richard could not understand any ground on which Maureen could seek divorce except his fling with Jill. Sam advised him to stay mum on this topic until Maureen brought it up herself. If the court found out that he was not the best example of rectitude, then Richard would have to give away a lion’s share of his wealth to Maureen, who has showed interest in only how to spend Richard’s money till date rather than how he made it.
A clueless Richard found a silver lining when Sam quoted the words, ‘Divorce, never, murder, often.’
When Maureen expressed her wish to accompany him to St Petersburg for contract signing ceremony, Richard agreed immediately. On reaching Grand Palace Hotel, Richard’s first job was to secretly empty every bottle of Evian water in the suite with tap water. He took the DON’T DRINK THE WATER sign from the washbasin and put it inside his suitcase.
Before 16th May’s signing ceremony, Maureen wanted to spend the weekend visiting various tourist places. Richard agreed to her plans like a dutiful husband who also ensured to refill the Evian bottles and the drinking glasses every time Maureen drank from them.
During their tour of the Hermitage, Maureen felt queasy. By the time they reached the Summer Palace, she was feeling so sick that Richard had to bring her back to the hotel. On Richard’s advise, she took aspirin and drank lots of water while her husband drank orange juice and put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door knob. Richard woke up in the morning with bedsheet soaked in sweat and a pale looking Maureen. The hotel manager called him to ask if Mrs. Barnsley would like to see a doctor, but Richard declined politely and put the DON’T DRINK THE WATER sign back on the washbasin.
When Anatol reached the hotel next morning to pick Richard for the ceremony, he was surprised to not find him waiting in the lobby. After getting no response of phone calls, Anatol, with the help of hotel staffs, made the suite’s door open only to find two lifeless bodies of the Barnsley couple on the bed.
Now, I have two options. EITHER I leave the story here and let the readers find out why Richard was lying dead when he didn’t take even a sip of the tap water OR reveal the reason myself. But I have a strong urge to be a suspense spoiler this time and want to choose the second option.
The doctor after examining the bodies concluded that Mrs. Maureen Barnsley succumbed a night before to the Siberian disease. It claimed many lives in Russia because of drinking too much of local water. And Mr. Richard Barnsley passed away just half an hour ago.
The doctor said, ‘Like so many of our countrymen, he clearly wasn’t aware that Siberius is one of those rare diseases that is not only infectious but highly contagious.’ He added further if Richard agreed to call a doctor, then at least his life could have been saved.
After The Love Detective and gulping down the entire…ahem…Fifty Shades series, I was looking for giving some change to my reading taste buds. The search definitely had a delightful end with the enjoyable narrative style of Jeffrey Archer. Suspense, wit and surprises have made these stories the worth reading ones. Looking forward to share many such wonderful stories from Jeffrey Archer in future.