Bill Bailey

Author, Actor



A government minister and a Fleet Street tycoon, a call girl and small-time private investigator are the unlikely group brought together by a right-wing conspiracy that will stop at nothing to gain control of international power bases. Tight and well paced, this compelling political thriller is a tale of greed and corruption, from the highest to the lowest.



D O W N L O A D  T H I S  E X T R A C T


T A P I N G  W H O R E S
B I L L   B A I L E Y

Chapter One

Michael Regis sat at the table opposite Ian Castleberry, who was shorter and a little fatter than he appeared on TV. He was nearly 51, and his double chin was prominent round his collar. Castleberry was toying with a napkin ring and looking a little distracted. Michael Regis was an arms dealer, though he would never have thought of himself as an arms dealer. His name appeared on numerous letterheads of firms as diverse as city banks and Belfast shipbuilders. But in fact the base of the pyramid formed by his wealth rested firmly on the grounds of the arms trade. He visualised himself principally as a facilitator and once even described himself as a mechanic when called on by a researcher from Who's Who. Both of them had a good laugh, and the researcher was put at his ease, knowing Michael Regis was a man who could laugh at himself. Regis was supremely and quietly confident, relaxed and charming. It was the kind of charm which could only come from old family and old money. The family was old, but the money was quite new. By the time Michael was born hundreds of years had whittled away at the historic family estates, and all that was left was a mortgaged semi-detached house in Horsham. His family re-mortgaged to send their promising son to Eton, Cambridge and Sandhurst. He rose quickly and effortlessly to Lieutenant Colonel and was assigned liaison to General Buck Howard, the American Nato commander. It seemed Michael Regis knew everyone - and everyone, in their turn, wanted to know the tall, handsome young Colonel. Introductions were made. Links were formed. In time the tenuous strands of the web became channels for information, and Regis placed himself comfortably at the centre of the web collecting the tolls for the passage of data.

Most people fail to realise that a large portion of industrialised economies are dedicated to the research, development and production of sophisticated arms. The money involved is so vast it would be hard to measure. There is such a torrent pouring into the industry you couldn't count it fast enough. Straightforward documented trade lay above the surface. The bulk was below, passing furtively and without leaving a wake through foreign embassies, secret services, banking and the military. Michael Regis was virtually unknown outside the corridors of power, but since he had tapped into this secret Gulf Stream, he was very well known inside. Very well known indeed.

They were having dinner at Le Bonheur, a discreet cellar restaurant near Victoria where Regis kept a table permanently booked in his name. It was a beautiful old converted wine cellar, and Regis's table was set into one of the arches at the rear of the room and couldn't been seen by the rest of the patrons. Anyone over six feet had to duck his head to enter, and it was lit by two period gas lamps set into the wall. The table was in use nearly every evening - if not by Regis, then one of his friends like Ian Castleberry, who found it convenient for the Houses of Parliament. It was a table much in demand and envied as much for its utter privacy as for the chef and wine list.

The wine waiter arrived and poured a drop in Michael Regis's glass, but Regis waved the waiter to continue. He knew the wine well. It was from his own reserve. He checked the clarity, though, as he raised his glass to Ian Castleberry.

'May as well have a splash while we're waiting, Ian,' he said as he offered the glass for a toast. 'And congratulations.'

Castleberry looked up a little surprised but raised his glass. They clinked. 'What's the occasion?'

Regis took a sip from his glass. 'The Penhaligans have today withdrawn their objection.'

The Minister very nearly dropped his glass of excellent wine. The blood drained from his face. 'You're joking, of course,' his voice nearly a whisper.

'Oh, no, not at all.' Regis smiled warmly. For centuries the Penhaligans had owned the 600 acres which adjoined the Castleberry estate, a mere 40 acres. The Penhaligan land was simply called The Monastery, from the ruins which could be still seen from the Chiltern hills, but for as long as anyone could remember the site had lain undisturbed and was now well established as a wildlife sanctuary. It was wild and beautiful and it had blocked the Castleberrys for over 104 years and the de Salles before them for longer than that. The Monastery was neither needed nor used much by the Penhaligans, except as a punishment for whoever owned those 40 acres now occupied by Castleberrys. Even the access road belonged to The Monastery, and indeed one shilling a year was paid to the Penhaligan estate for its use. Whatever had happened in the mists of time to cause such relentless hatred must have been powerful to have strained through the sieve of so many years. Generations of Penhaligans had been threatened and begged to sell the land, and they had never been moved to part with so much as a square inch.

Ian Castleberry had come to view the ownership of The Monastery as immutable as the law of gravity and likely to outlast that law as well as most others. And what Michael Regis was telling him was that The Monastery was finally for sale. He would more easily have believed the sun would rise in the west. His hand holding the wine glass was trembling. The wine spilled, and he found it necessary to grasp his right arm with his left to lower the glass to the table.

'How...on earth did you do it?' Castleberry finally asked in a weak voice. He knew Michael Regis well enough and could see he was not joking.

Regis indulged in another sip of his wine. 'It's timing, isn't it? You know that. A man may be infernally jealous of his wife, but if there's something he really wants, and the time is right, he'll prostitute her for it. Never seen a principle that wouldn't bend if you choose the right moment.'

'And what was it with that swine Penhaligan? What on earth did you offer him?'

Regis smiled. 'A horse.'

Castleberry leaned back in his chair. Old Sir Benjamin Penhaligan had an absolute passion for horses, for racing and training. Indeed, he had a good eye and a fine stable. 'Which horse?'

'Red Shadow.'

'You're joking,' Ian Castleberry said again. Red Shadow was the most illustrious grandson of Red Rum, a three year old, already a Grand National winner. He was owned by Harvey Gillmore, who had sworn publicly never to part with him.

'Harvey owed me a favour,' said Regis. 'He still has an interest in the horse, but Red Shadow will be raced from the Penhaligan stable. The announcement should be made next week.'

It was a little more than a favour. Harvey Gillmore was one of those Australian multi-millionaires who hit the shores of Britain from time to time like Pacific typhoons, flattening businesses, industries and newspapers and reorganising them like their daddy's firms in Sydney or Perth. No unions, low wages, hard work. But because of the economy Gillmore was in a lot of trouble. Regis had organised a consortium of banks to refinance in exchange for seats on the board of his holding company. For a price. The price was Red Shadow, or most of him.

Ian Castleberry laughed out loud, an explosion, a release from the emotion he felt. It was something he had dreamed of, a fantasy made reality by a few magic words at a moment when he was least expecting it. His mind had still been at Westminster and the interminable arguments with Treasury when suddenly the heavens opened and a gift beyond his dreams had fallen from the skies. The Monastery was finally for sale. Original documents indicated the properties had been joined together once, and after hundreds of years they were to be rejoined. It was too much to take in at one sweep.

Castleberry blinked. An angel was standing at the end of the table.

Michael Regis rose from his place. 'Ah, Jennifer. We've been waiting for you. This is Ian Castleberry. Jennifer Montgomery is a cousin of mine, one I acquired through marriage. I took the liberty of inviting her to dinner.'

'I'm very glad you did, Michael,' he said as the waiter seated her at the end of the table. She had blonde shoulder length hair and glittering blue eyes. Her dress was white in an expensive satin, tight to the waist, then falling loosely to a hem just above her knees. The neckline plunged low but was discreet, and it suddenly reminded him of an arrow pointing the way downward. Indeed, he was immediately taken by Jennifer's sexuality, and he felt his groin involuntarily tingle. He was a little embarrassed. She could not possibly be more than 22 years old.

'Thank you, Michael,' she said as he poured her a glass of wine. She held the glass under her nose for a moment. 'Hmmm. Brings back memories. A favourite of mine.' Jennifer smiled and looked toward Ian Castleberry, holding his eyes a moment before she spoke. 'I was under the impression Ministers had little time for enjoying themselves.'

Castleberry chuckled. 'Just the propaganda we'd like people to believe. Everyone leaps at an invitation from Michael for an evening at his table. Which is conveniently close to the Commons.' He paused for a moment as the waiter served the soup. 'You, Miss Montgomery, are the second surprise I've had this evening. I'm not sure my heart can bear any more.'

Jennifer Montgomery watched with a smile as Castleberry dabbed at the sweat on his forehead and receding hairline. It wasn't that warm at all. She turned to her cousin, who wasn't as tall as he looked, only a shade over six feet. But he seemed tall when he was standing. Even seated he dominated the table. His brown, nearly black eyes, were set apart in an olive skin which looked like a tan from a distance. A touch of the tarbrush, she thought? His hair, too, was black, and there was a lot of it. He must not have been less than 40 but seemed fit, if not athletic. If it weren't for his large nose, he could have passed for a woman's dream. But it was not his looks which made Michael Regis attractive. It was his charm. He made everyone around him comfortable. He knew what to do, what to say and how to say it in the most pleasing way. He seldom drew attention to himself, but nevertheless others found themselves drawn to him.

Regis turned to Castleberry. 'Jennifer is at RADA now, I believe...'

'Ah,' she interrupted him. 'No. Finished last spring. I've got my shingle out now, ready for offers leading to fame and fortune.' She laughed. 'Or at least to my Equity ticket.'

Castleberry looked up from his excellent bouillon. 'An actress. How interesting. I've heard that profession is a little...uncertain.'

'As is much of life, I've heard,' she said, holding his eyes until he dropped them.

Regis had finished his soup and poured refills from the bottle. 'Weren't you going to buy a flat in Hampstead?'

'Bought one. A house, actually. Lovely. Willoughby Road, a stone's throw from the Heath. Or rather Father bought it.' She smiled brightly. 'A few things still need doing.'

The entr‚e had arrived. As it was served, Jennifer observed a question had been asked and answered in the English middle class style. The Minister had wanted to know how she could survive in such a difficult profession as acting, and she answered she already had a bundle, enough to afford a house near the Heath. Acting then became respectable, like gardening - a hobby, something to do with one's spare time. She looked at Castleberry. He was sweating again, though he was clearly in good spirits. He was therefore drinking a little too much wine. A second bottle had arrived from the cellar. The hair he had left seemed to be ironed flat, and the slight curls round his temples looked rigid. There was something furtive about the man, despite his authoritative manner. He never held a frank look, always dropping his eyes to study a fork or the edge of the white tablecloth. When he looked at her, his eyes always first travelled down her cleavage before furtively crawling over to his fingernails.

The Minister held his glass for a refill from the new bottle. Immediately he drank half of it. 'I've got to say, Michael, I've not felt happier in my life. A wonderful, wonderful piece of serendipity. I have no idea how to thank you.'

'No need to thank me at all, Ian. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A word here, a word there, and it was done. A mere bagatelle.' He popped a succulent carrot into his mouth. A bagatelle it was not. Much detailed planning and thought and civilised arm twisting had gone into the operation. But he had enjoyed it. And they certainly had overlapping interests, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Gillmore needed cash, and, providing the Minister for Trade and Industry could smooth the path a little, there would be plenty for the Australian with enough left over to satisfy his own immediate needs.

It was surprisingly quiet and intimate in their little cupboard. The bricks were painted white and reflected the illumination of the gas lamps, but the light was soft and faintly flickering. As they ate, the conversation drifted towards the islands of small talk. Ian Castleberry was glad in a way because his mind was in glorious confusion. The excitement of the news of The Monastery made his pulse race as ideas of what he was going to do and whom he was going to tell danced through his brain. And opposite him the lovely cousin kept catching his eye, he was sure of it. Between his newfound estates and Jennifer Montgomery he could hardly put a rational thought together at all. He was hardly aware of what he was eating, even whether or not it was good. Miss - he supposed it must be Miss - Montgomery had superb breasts. He would glance at that suggestive arrow of her cleavage and be torn which way to look. Either one side or the other or let his eyes drift down to her small waist. When she was not looking, of course. He hadn't the courage to be direct, and besides, staring was rude. Yet he was more and more aware she looked at him. Directly, frankly, with friendliness, sometimes with a smile. He wished he had the courage of some of his colleagues to lock eyes and hold them. With males this was possible, but not with women. What was he putting in his mouth now? God knows. He just chewed it.

Castleberry was becoming a little giddy. Was it the wine? The wonderful news? Miss Beautiful Montgomery? It was hard to say. Could it be that good luck has a natural twin? She was definitely looking at him. Was she attracted? His heart beat a little faster still. Regis was talking, but he had no idea what he was saying. He simply answered with the right noises. Everything just felt so good for him. So right.

The remains of the meal had been cleared and brandy served.

'I suppose I should have my solicitors press this thing straightaway, lest old Penhaligan changes his mind. Good lord. After all these years. Hard to believe.'

'There's no rush, Ian,' Regis said. 'He's not going to change his mind.'

Castleberry had a sip of brandy. 'Can't wait to tell Catherine. And the boys will be delighted as well. Look forward to tomorrow, though. First time I can remember looking forward to tomorrow. Damned Treasury ministers. I think they are specially bred by Swiss gnomes and given clockwork hearts. Never mind.' He tossed his napkin down. 'There is a new dawn, Michael. Thanks to you.'

'Would you mind, Ian, giving Jennifer a lift on your way to Highgate? Don't want to overload the taxi account for an aspiring young actress.' Regis smiled warmly and squeezed Jennifer's hand.

'Of course, I'd be delighted.' The Minister looked at Jennifer and beamed. He was right. Nothing could go wrong on this night. His eyes followed their involuntary path along the arrow pointing downwards.

The Jaguar was parked in a dark shadow in the mews, and Ian Castleberry almost imagined for a moment it had been stolen. He held open the passenger door as Jennifer got in the car, and he went round to the other side. As he slid into his own seat, he was aware her dress had settled a little high on her crossed legs in the low seating position. He could just see a stocking top. And he was aware of her delicious perfume. What a beautiful girl, he sighed to himself as he put the keys in the ignition.

'Just a moment,' said Jennifer as she looked intently at his face. The courtesy light was still on. 'Something on your lip.' She touched his lip softly with a long red nail. 'There,' she smiled. 'Gone.'

Ian Castleberry didn't know why he did it. He wasn't a bold man at all, but the wine and brandy and perfume were making him a bit giddy. His hand dropped to her thigh just as the courtesy light went out. She didn't move or shove his hand away, which surprised him. He felt the satiny silkiness of the stocking top and, above that, the warmth of her thigh. She still said nothing. He risked a look at her face, which he found close to his. And then he was kissing her, thirsty for the wetness as his mouth was completely dry. He was trembling and cursing himself for trembling as his thoughts tumbled round like a tombola. Luck was like that, wasn't it? It came in runs, just like bad luck. But she was so young. How could she be attracted to him? Well, he was a government minister, an important man. He appeared on television. A pity she had to be Regis's cousin, but what the devil? His thoughts continued to tumble as he changed hands on her leg, fearful she would now back away. But she didn't. As he put his left arm around her, he could hear her breathing deeply, a little hoarsely. He risked letting his right hand drift a little further up her thigh. He could feel the edge of her knickers, and she uncrossed her legs. Her arms went round his neck. Her legs were warm at the top, burning, and he put his hand softly on her mound as her pelvis began to move. Then he felt her arms disengage, and she moved gently away.

'Better take me home now, Ian. This is no place for a fuck,' she said, laughing gently as she took his right hand and put it on the steering wheel.

He was relieved in a way because he didn't know what to do next. Yet he was reluctant to let the moment go. She was Where had that word come from, hot? A teenager's word.

'Yes,' he said. 'I suppose we better.' His voice sounded funny, and his hand trembled as he started the engine. They drove out of the mews, and he was reassured when she placed her hand on his leg. But he didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. It was too confusing.

Jennifer Montgomery looked at the portly middle-aged man driving the car, and thought for a moment about her cousin. Or her 'cousin', to be accurate. She and Michael Regis were related only by mutually rewarding business transactions. Not that she much looked forward to screwing the Minister of Trade and Industry who was clearing his throat on the other side of the Jaguar, but she did enjoy paying her 'cousin's' cheque for œ1500 into her account. She called herself a stratospheric whore because she cruised only at the highest atmosphere and served only the few men who could afford the private bedroom in the first class cabin. Jennifer Montgomery, whose real name was Sharon Stevens, was a Derbyshire girl, and her father still had a small electrical goods shop in Buxton. Her mother died before her tenth birthday, and her father had almost immediately pressed her into service as proxy wife. Abuse was the word they used, but she didn't think it near strong enough or dirty enough to describe how it felt to her. By her adolescence she had discovered several secrets. At the beginning she had withdrawn into herself, becoming secretive and full of remorse for what she was doing. For a couple of years she wet the bed then had to endure her father's rage, and her sleep was interrupted by violent nightmares. She was powerless, and she felt the despair of powerlessness. But then as her body began unfolding like a flower when she was nearly fourteen, she gained a little confidence. She had always obsessively watched other people - how they walked, how they talked, the order of words, the effects of body language. So she learned to fight her father with the only weapons she had. She enticed him, teased him, promised him - and found that she could in fact manipulate him. Suddenly there were gifts, favours, even money. When she left home just after her seventeenth birthday she cleared out the shop till and the little safe sunk into the floor of his bedroom cupboard. By that time she knew she wanted to be an actress. She moved to London but had to audition twice before getting into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts where she had done well. When her savings and the money she had stolen from her father ran out, she decided very clinically what she was going to do and how she was going to do it. She answered an advertisement of a prostitute, and asked her advice. Which led to the call girl circuit and then upwards to the very top drawer, to Veronica Hadley-White. Meanwhile she buried her Derbyshire accent under a very natural Home Counties inflection. The body language was harder, but she learned it. When she finally visited Veronica Hadley-White she was as convincing as the real article. Veronica asked that she remove her clothes and then proceeded to examine her as a buyer examines a horse. Every inch of her body was looked at in great detail and without comment. Her clothes, shoes and underwear underwent the same scrutiny. Afterwards Veronica Hadley-White sat opposite her and said, 'Very good body. Tacky clothes. I'll try you one time if you can manage to dress yourself properly. You only have one chance with me.' She must have been nearly 60 but looked and spoke like a duchess - or so Jennifer imagined. There were a number of rules, but the most important one was she must keep her mouth completely shut. She must not say anything about a client to anyone. Ever. At that level she could climb into bed with movie stars, kings and prime ministers. They paid well, and for their money they wanted security. Absolute silence. They required the best, and so did Veronica Hadley-White.

And Jennifer Montgomery was one of the best in London. Not once in her life had she had a 'normal' relationship with a man, and she saw no reason why she should. She was now a freelance and had no more than two or three engagements a week, most of them regulars. She leaned her head against Ian Castleberry's shoulder.

'I've never felt like this before,' she said. 'It's almost...electric. Isn't it?'

The Minister was startled. 'You feel it, too? Your hand is hot, like an iron.'

Jennifer moved her hand, spreading her fingers, stroking. 'I hardly heard what you were saying at the table. I was so fascinated with the way you were speaking. So lively, so reassuring. I can't ever remember being drawn to someone like I felt myself being drawn to you.'

He placed his hand on top of hers. 'It's difficult to believe, Jennifer. You're so young, and...'

'But surely you must be used to it? In your position?' She lowered her voice. 'And you're a very attractive man.'

Castleberry smiled, his confidence restored. 'Really, it isn't something I notice. I mean, normally I would consider myself a happily married man. One can't be too careful in an exposed political position. The tabloid newspapers are like roaches. They slide underneath locked doors, and stamping on them doesn't help.' They were in North London now, and the Minister began driving the Jag briskly as hormones dumped into his bloodstream. He easily beat a BMW away from the traffic lights.

'Ah,' said Jennifer, 'what a pity you're married.'

Castleberry flicked the wheel to overtake a car. 'Catherine and I are just good friends, really. Little more than that. She's a good sport.'

Jennifer Montgomery moved her hand along the inside of the Minister's thigh, drawing little circles with her forefinger beneath his flies. She could feel a little wad of flesh there. Her palm rested on the overhanging fat.

The effect on Ian Castleberry was powerful. A tam-tam was struck in the back of his head and reverberated through his consciousness, wave upon wave, scattering his thoughts like autumn leaves. He realised the feeling was terror! Never in his life had he met a woman like this. No one had ever been so sweetly aggressive. And he could hear her breathing, heavy now. Yes, he liked it, but he was also completely terrified. He was tingling all over yet could feel his sex retreating like a turtle's head.

Suddenly he swerved the big Jag, just missing a parked lorry, and realised he was doing over seventy miles an hour. A jet combat pilot had replaced the boy racer. He slowed down, trying to concentrate on what he was doing but only became more aware of Jennifer's heavy breathing.

And Jennifer was thinking she was in danger of hyperventilating. But it was certainly having an effect on Ian Castleberry, and the car drunkenly staggered from one lane to another. Horns were blowing. A taxi driver leaned from his window and unleashed an unbroken stream of abuse. She pretended she didn't notice all this. She pretended a lot of things. She pretended this pompous little ass was arousing her with his corpulent, unattractive body, and she pretended she wanted to make love to him - something which would revolt her if she thought too much about it. But she didn't think about it. It wasn't acting, not really, but it was pretend. In fact she had nearly finished her shopping list for tomorrow.

'Damn,' Castleberry said finally and pulled over to the curb behind a line of parked cars. And then Jennifer's soft arms were around him, around his neck. Her mouth met his, open.

'Oh, Ian,' she whispered as she pulled slowly away from the kiss. 'Exactly the right thing to do. I was going to die if I couldn't kiss you again soon.' Castleberry's mouth was still open from the kiss. It seemed as if he had turned to stone for a moment. Then, as if it had a mind of its own, his hand moved over and squeezed her breast. Just as she imagined he would squeeze an orange. 'Oh,' she said again breathlessly and let herself sink back against her door. Cars were passing in the road, and she opened one eye briefly to check, but the windows were smoked. Slowly she raised one leg and placed the heel on the edge of her seat. Her dress folded to her waist.

Castleberry's eyes, at first transfixed on her face, slowly lowered, following the arrow, to the view unfolding below. This night was so unexpected for him. Everything was catching him by surprise. First there was the news about The Monastery. The Monastery, my god, he thought. Then there was this extraordinarily beautiful girl who fell into his arms from heaven. And now he was involved in a scene like those in the pornographic videos he watched secretly in his study. She was turned toward him, leaning against the door moaning, and she had raised one knee, unconsciously exposing the most gorgeous legs leading in stockings and flesh to a pair of very brief white silk knickers. His heart was pounding. Now it was like kettle drums in his head - first the gong and now the drums. Tentatively he reached down and touched her. Her body arched like a bow, and one of her hands clasped his to her.

She held his hand there trapped for a moment as she lowered her leg and sat up. What on earth was he doing with his fingers, she wondered? They seemed to be twitching, like he was fingering a guitar. So she moaned again. When she opened her eyes and looked at the Minister, his eyes were still wide, his mouth still open. His chin was wet, and saliva dripped slowly onto his lapels. She pulled his hand away, took his handkerchief and dabbed at his chin lovingly. 'Thank you, Ian,' she said softly, smiling up at him. 'Let's go on. It's not far.' She returned his handkerchief to his pocket, folding it properly.

Ian Castleberry did as he was told because he couldn't collect enough thoughts together to speak. He pulled carefully away from the kerb and drove slowly to Willoughby Road like an automaton. He didn't speak once. Nor did she. Instead she leaned her head on his shoulder and put her hand back on the top of his leg. When they arrived at Willoughby Road, he found a parking place, locked the car and followed the woman in white to her house.

Jennifer Montgomery closed the door behind her, switched on the hall light and turned to Ian Castleberry. The horrible little fat man was standing like a statue, staring at her, and she wondered briefly if she should slow down a little, give him a rest, offer him a cup of tea. After all, she had no idea of his medical condition. Instead she held his eyes and unzipped her dress which she let fall at her feet. She walked toward him, her naked breasts trembling with each step, her eyes fixed on his. Were they misty enough, she wondered? She put her arms around his neck, and her lips moved towards his mouth which was open again. His hands, trembling and a little cold now, reached round and gripped her buttocks like a pair of cabbages.