A Cautionary Tale set in Nicaragua in 1996 by Caroline Kennedy
High up in his lonely retreat on the Maribios Mountains, Terry Chapman surveys the golden beaches and the viridian waters of the Pacific Ocean 1500 metres below him. Standing on the cliff edge surrounded by towering hardwoods, he watches for a moment as, in perfect unison, three gray whales rise majestically to the surface of the water blowing heart-shaped sprays into the air above them. He smiles. Despite a niggling sense of foreboding – (something he can neither understand clearly nor articulate satisfactorily) – he is feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier in the day, he had heard from his best friend Larry in Costa Rica. Larry Jackson, his old schoolmate from Sheffield, had been his “business” colleague for decades and, most recently, had worked with him on what they had jokingly referred to as the “The Nut Job”. In truth it was no joke at all. The pair had been profiting handsomely, (some police estimates had even suggested by as much as 2-3 million pounds), from importing and distributing highly lethal fake nuts manufactured in China and selling them as “organic” almonds to health food shops around the UK.
Larry had texted Terry that morning from Tamarindo.
“Where the hell are u? Haven’t seen u in 2 weeks. No answer when I call. Guess u must be shacking up with some bird. Msg me, for Christ’s sake! Very worried. L”
Terry had deliberated for a moment how, or even if, he should reply to his friend. He had silenty cursed himself, knowing he should have had the sense to throw his cell phone away before leaving Costa Rica. It had been a calculated risk to keep it. And now, here was Larry, messaging him, asking his whereabouts. Eventually he had decided to risk the consequences and had messaged back.
“Keep looking over ur shoulder. Spies everywhere. & don’t forget 2 keep ur nose clean! Don’t worry about me. T.”
He had then tossed the phone over the side of the cliff and watched its swift descent into the rippling water below him creating an almost imperceptible splash in the vast expanse of ocean.
At the moment the cellphone hit the water Larry Jackson had become a part of Terry Chapman’s past. In fact, Terry already regretted having responded to his friend so swiftly. He was very aware this could have been a set-up. But at the same time he looked upon Larry as the younger brother he never had and he still had an overpowering urge to protect him. He wanted him to understand that Tamarindo was not the tourist heaven the guidebooks had convinced them it was, nor the safe haven for fugitives some of their ex-con mates had assured them it was. It was a highly seductive trap, a dangerous trap. For it had turned out there were police informers everywhere. The threats were obvious. Terry just wished that Larry, who was far more trusting and far less cynical than he was, would come to the same conclusion, sooner rather than later.
Terry and Larry had made the split decision to flee England following a tip-off from a friendly police officer that their “Nut Job” game was up. Their former pal-turned-copper warned them that they “better scarper the country asap or face very serious consequences.”
As it turned out, their short-lived, though lucrative, venture had been seriously threatened following a handful of unsuspecting victims falling ill and requiring emergency hospitalization. It had taken a while for medical staff in the various hospitals up and down the UK to come to the conclusion that the common factor between their extremely ill patients and, thus, the most likely cause of the severe symptoms threatening their lives were the offending almonds. It had taken even longer for the South Yorkshire Police forensic tests to prove it conclusively.
According to the front-page story in the News of the World on Sunday June 23rd 1996, just a week after the pair had safely absconded to Costa Rica, the vast Interpol network around the world had been alerted.
Under the banner headline,
“MUM OF THREE NEARLY DIES AFTER EATING FAKE ALMONDS!”
“Interpol agents are desperately hunting for ex-cons Terry Chapman (55) and Larry Jackson (52) whose fake “organic” almonds have been responsible for causing black fingernails, severe hair loss and swelling stomachs in 37 patients across the entire length and breadth of England.
According to a recent police forensic report, these “almonds” were manufactured in China from a deadly mixture of microscopic plastic granules and almond essence and sold for as much as 3.50 pounds for 250 grams.
When asked for a comment, Detective Inspector Charles Grantley of the South Yorkshire Police Force, who is currently in charge of the case, stated, “These men are potentially dangerous. I would warn anyone who may have any information about their whereabouts to give us a call.
When approached by the paper, Diana Chapman (46), petite blonde wife of one of the fugitives and mother to the couple’s three children, simply told us, “I hope you find the mother-f….er and bring him back here. I’ll deal with him! “
Terry and Larry were not prepared to wait for the results of the forensic tests. As soon as their pal informed them it would only be a matter of time before police officers would pound on their respective doors with arrest warrants, they decided to make a run for it. So, without a word to their wives and children, they closed up their dodgy “import-export” business, sold their houses in Sheffield, emptied their several bank accounts, abandoned their families to their fates and escaped to the relative safety of Tamarindo, one of Costa Rica’s premier tourist resorts. Once there they intended to lose themselves among the locals, the tourists and an ever-increasing band of multi-national offenders fleeing justice.
But after two months of high living in some of the seedier nightclubs around Tamarindo and following the frightening realization that some of the criminal elements he and Larry had been mingling with were slowly being rounded up and repatriated by determined Interpol agents Terry’s nerves had got the better of him.
One night, without informing Larry or even his latest “squeeze” of his plans, he had taken his newly forged Nicaraguan passport, booked himself a bus ticket to Managua, hopped onto a Transnica bus in Liberia and headed north across the border to the relative safety of Nicaragua.
For the first time in his life Terry was grateful for his swarthy looks. Now, for once, he would be happy to be mistaken for a Latino. To date his jet- black hair and sallow complexion, a throwback to his Sicilian forebears, had never helped him get a job in Sheffield, which is why he had always been forced to strike out on his own. (Or such was his feeble excuse, first to to his bemoaning mother who was living on a meager widow’s pension and then to his long-suffering wife who had three young mouths to feed). But now, he realized, his colouring might just prove to be his saving grace. If he kept his nose clean, if he ceased to brag about his past misdeeds, if he learnt the language fluently and made a serious attempt to blend in with the locals, he was confident he could remain safe.
Terry removes his British passport from his pocket, gazes nostalgically at the burgundy and gold cover one last time and then hurls it over the edge of the cliff. Its pages fan out and flutter silently in the breeze as it falls. Eventually, it hits the water and bobs around until a small wave sweeps it out of sight. From his other pocket Terry withdraws his forged Nicaraguan passport and checks his new identity. His name is now no longer Terry Reginald Chapman from Heeley, Sheffield but Luis Felipe Roces Gonzales, born in Leon, Nicaragua on November 12 1948. From this moment, Terry thinks, Larry Jackson has no place in the life of Luis Felipe Roces Gonzales. Terry has turned a corner and there is no looking back.
Thoughtfully, Terry returns the forged passport to his pocket and, for the second time that day, starts to walk the perimeter of his land.
Despite this niggling sense of fear he can’t explain, he is convinced he has done the right thing. After all, his more famous older half-brother, Eddie Chapman, after his life of crime had ended up running a health farm for overweight ladies in Hertfordshire, hadn’t he? So why couldn’t he, Terry Chapman, alias Luis Felipe Gonzales, end up running a small hotel for enthusiastic birdwatchers in Nicaragua? He is sure that, like Eddie, he has found his own slice of paradise, a safe paradise, a paradise that will serve not only as a home but also as a cover for any future schemes he may want to involve himself in.
Yes, Terry is comfortable in the thought that under his new identity he can elude the law for many years to come, if not indefinitely. And he swears to himself he will never again make the mistake of bragging about “The Nut Job”, or any other of his shameful schemes, to whoever he happens to meet in the local bars and to whatever chica he happens to wake up beside following nights of heavy drinking. That, he now realizes, had been his big mistake in Tamarindo. After a few glasses of rum he had often allowed Larry to cajole him into sharing all the details of their several very elaborate scams to anyone who cared to listen.
But, in one of his rare sober moments, Terry had suddenly faced the realization that this had been a very unwise and potentially very dangerous miscalculation. He knew he could never rely on any member of the expat criminal community, Larry Jackson included, not to “sing like the proverbial canary” if they were interviewed by some relentless Interpol officer seeking their extradition. Terry instinctively knew that to save their own skins this motley band of fugitives that populated Tamarindo would happily point the finger at him and repeat every detail of his elaborate story. He could not blame them. He knew that in their place he would do the same.
His half-brother Eddie had warned him a long time ago. Placing his arm protectively around his younger brother’s shoulders, Eddie had cautioned him:
“Don’t believe all this cock-and-bull shit about ‘honour among thieves’. Believe me, there is no such thing.” Eddie had turned Terry around to face him. “When push comes to shove, Terry, it’s each man for himself. Don’t ever forget that! Understand?” Terry had nodded.
So Terry had resolved then and there to distance himself from Larry Jackson and to simply “disappear.”
As Terry walks the circumference of his beautiful property he cannot quite believe his luck. The place he has chosen sits in an area of vast natural resources. Above ground lies an immense grove of giant cedar, teak and mahogany trees stretching for several hectares inland from the coast. Scattered among the trees is a previously productive but now abandoned shade-grown coffee plantation ready to be revitalized. And below his feet sits an untapped supply of copper, iron and zinc just waiting to be exploited. He realizes it is a place where few tourists, other than a handful of serious birdwatchers and hardy hikers, would ever penetrate but where he could, if he was astute and patient enough make his fortune.
Eddie had told him before he left England,
“Find a place where the land is cheap, the labour is cheaper and the authorities are bribable. That way you can count on being a success. And, who knows, they may end up making a film about your life too!”
Eddie had been joking, of course. Or had he? Terry was uncertain at the time. But remembering Eddie’s words now he smiled, He little realized that those would be the last words he would ever hear from his brother.
Terry freely admitted he had always been a little in awe of Eddie. Or, as Larry Jackson had mercilessly teased him throughout his life, he had “always been a lot in awe of Eddie.” And that was the problem. If he was honest with himself, Terry had spent most of his teenaged years not just wanting to be like Eddie Chapman but actually wanting to be Eddie Chapman. For, as Terry’s schoolmates would eagerly tell you, Eddie Chapman’s exploits, before, during and after the Second World War were truly the stuff of comic book heroes.
Eddie Chapman had started his infamous life of crime in the 1930s as a notoriously skilful safecracker. When the War broke out he was facing a long prison sentence in Jersey. A year later when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands Eddie befriended the invaders, offering to work as a spy for Germany if they could arrange his escape from jail. Realizing that Eddie’s unique skills could be very helpful to them, the Nazis flew the safebreaker to Vichy France to be trained in explosives, radio operation and parachute jumping before dispatching him back to the UK to commit acts of sabotage.
Soon afterwards Eddie, with the aid of his undeniable charm and a few faked photographs, managed to convince the German Intelligence Service (Abwehr) that he had blown up the renowned de Havilland aircraft factory in Hertfordshire. For this he had been rewarded handsomely for his efforts (110, 000 Reichsmarks and a yacht) by the Abwehr and inducted into the German Army as an Oberleutenant and awarded the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler.
But, still facing imminent imprisonment in England for his prewar safecracking crimes, Eddie eventually had no choice but to agree to become a double agent for the British Security Services in exchange for leniency. Code-named Zig Zag by MI5 his main accomplishment was successfully disseminating misinformation and faulty maps to the Germans, thus foiling their plan to buzz-bomb Central London, a deed that authorities later confirmed must have saved countless lives.
Following the War and never having received the promised pardon from MI5 for his past misdeeds nor any remuneration for his work as their double agent, Eddie took up a life of crime again. Heading a band of “gentleman criminals”, known as “The Gelignite (or Jelly) Gang” he continued to break into safes all over Europe.
Eventually, his whole life, the good, the bad and the very ugly, had been fictionalized into a successful movie entitled, “Triple Cross” based on Eddie’s own somewhat fanciful autobiography, “The Eddie Chapman Story”.
During his early childhood years Terry would fall asleep as Eddie sat on the edge of his bed recounting detailed anecdotes of his more preposterous adventures. And, as a teenager, Terry had mingled with some of England’s most notorious villains and con men, “Mad” Frankie Fraser, the dashing “Dandy” Kim Caborn-Waterfield, Jack “The Hat” McVitie, Billy “The Chivver” Hill, the infamous Richardson brothers, Charlie and Eddie, and “Dandy” Kim’s erstwhile girlfriend, the sexy blonde movie starlet Diana Dors.
Terry had been allowed to listen in as the group hatched future raids and discussed their recent brushes with the law. He had felt important that they all trusted him not to spill the beans simply because he was Eddie’s little brother. And despite their divided allegiances to different gangs and despite their petty individual rivalries they all trusted Eddie Chapman.
The notoriety of Eddie’s “Jelly Gang” and the constant references in the daily tabloids to the flamboyant Eddie Chapman and his villainous gangster friends had made Terry something of a “hero” at the Burngreave Secondary Modern School he attended in Sheffield. Despite the headmaster’s threats of expulsion for any boy found in possession of any material featuring “that shameless traitor, Eddie Chapman”, not a day went by without one or more boys being “discovered” in the toilets, in the locker room or hovering behind the school lab, eagerly ingesting stories of Eddie’s latest escapades.
Every boy in the school, it seemed, wanted to be Terry’s best friend, the best friend of Eddie Chapman’s little half-brother, in the hopes that they too might one day get to meet their hero whose wartime capers resembled the stories they read about in their weekly Boy’s Own comic books.
Occasionally, using the Polaroid Model 110 that Eddie had given him for his 9th birthday, Terry had asked to be photographed with the villains so he could show the photographs off to his school friends just to make them jealous. He had also asked for their autographs so he could sell them to the more gullible of his classmates willing to surrender their weekly pocket money for a signature from any one of England’s most notorious gangsters who paid a visit to the Chapman family home in Heeley.
And on more than one occasion Terry had managed to sneak out of his house at night and, along with Larry Jackson and some of their chums, had gone to the local Classic cinema in Fitzalan Square to watch “Triple Cross”, the movie that glamorized Eddie’s daredevil life.
Terry reflects that somewhere buried among piles of boxes of personal effects, in an abandoned storage unit in Sheffield, a few of his childhood memories still existed. Discoloured polaroids, fading autographs, the 1950s Polaroid camera, the Classic cinema ticket stubs for several late-night screenings of “Triple Cross” and a much-thumbed copy of “The Eddie Chapman Story” inscribed by Eddie:
“To my little brother, Terry. One day you may understand why I would rather have lived for Germany than die for Britain”.
These precious items, Terry realizes sadly, were now all part of his past.
Looking around at his property, Terry is certain that Eddie would have given his blessing to his new acquisition. Here the land was definitely cheap, the labour – even cheaper and he was pretty certain he could use the notorious Chapman charm (something he had been cultivating all his life) to bribe the local authorities.
Yes, an easy way to make unimaginable amounts of money is finally in his grasp. After months of evading Interpol, after a lifetime of dodgy deals, Terry knows that, like Eddie, he will soon be able to retire a very rich man. As Luis Felipe Roces Gonzales he can start afresh without a soul knowing, or even suspecting, about his knavish past. Eddie would be truly proud of him now. And he decides then and there that once he was more settled he would send Eddie a postcard and invite him and his wife Betty to visit.
But, as he smiles at his current good fortune Terry fails to realize that, from the moment he set foot in Nicaragua a couple of weeks earlier, he has made a series of foolish and avoidable blunders, blunders that Eddie Chapman, with his precision-like attention to detail and his astute instinct for danger, would never have made.
On his arrival in Managua Terry had immediately befriended Sy Pechoc, a seemingly affable, elderly Chinese Mr. Fix-It he encountered on his first night while seated at the bar of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. On hearing Terry was new in town, Pechoc had instantly offered to help him find permanent accommodation, potential work opportunities, an endless supply of “compliant girls”, a detailed orientation of the vast, sprawling city and a useful education in Nicaragua’s inherent bureaucracy.
To ward off any suspicions his new friend might have harboured about his English accent and his inability to speak fluent Spanish, Terry gave Pechoc some cock-and-bull story about having left Nicaragua with his family at the age of 4 and never having used his native language since. He passed himself off as a successful businessman coming home to his mother country to look for long-lost relatives, to purchase a piece of land on which to build a hotel and to look around for other possible business ventures. While Pechoc said he was probably unlikely to help him find his family members he could very well assist him finding a desirable property and could even introduce him to a few local businessmen.
The two men hit it off and, over a series of convivial evenings downing more than a few local Flor de Cana rums, ordered by Terry and placed on his hotel tab, and a night or two of alcohol-fuelled flirtations with a parade of pretty, willing girls provided by Pechoc to help sweeten any potential deal, Terry had been convinced to purchase, sight unseen, the rights to a beautiful piece of land Pechoc owned high up in the Maribios Cordilleras overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“You really wouldn’t regret it, mi amigo,” Pechoc had smiled, kissing the cheek of the girl sitting next to him. “You could be the envy of all your English friends, believe me.”
“Sounds interesting,” Terry nodded thoughtfully while pouring over the batch of photographs of the property spread over the bar in front of him. “Of course I would have to see it first before coming to any decision.”
“Of course, of course,” Pechoc agreed. “But we mustn’t leave it too long. There are other people interested in it already. People who want to dig for copper. People who want to cut down the beautiful trees and export hardwood to the US and Europe.”
He picks up a photo showing the sheer majesty of the giant mahogany trees and passes it to Terry.
“You must agree that would be a crime. That’s why I give you a special price. It’s a steal, mi amigo. I would have sold it months ago if I didn’t mind so much about these magnificent trees. I was, how you say, holding out for someone like you who would fall in love with the place and leave it how it is.”
As if on cue, the girl beside Terry looked up from polishing her nails with her napkin and said, “Lo he visto. Es el pedazo de tierra mas hermoso que he visto en mi vida. Y los arboles son magnificos. Si solo tuviera el dinero, lo compraria yo mismo.”
The other girl nodded. “She say it is very beautiful. She say she love the trees,” she explained in broken English, “She say she too like to buy but no money.”
Terry examined the photos again, perusing over them one by one. He then glanced at the map, trying to work out exactly where San Jose de Cusmapa was in relation to Managua.
Sy Pechoc reached over and pinpointed the property with his pen.
“Well?” he asked, “Shall we drive up there tomorrow?”
The girl who spoke broken English clapped her hands, “We go! We go!”
“Other people are interested, you say?” asked Terry, while silently deliberating whether he had, in fact, already bedded either of the two girls during the past week of heavy drinking with his new friend.
“I’m telling you, mi amigo,” Pechoc tried to look as serious as he could for a man who had just downed three double rums, “it is, how you say, a real bargain? Plenty zinc. Plenty copper. Plenty iron. A coffee plantation. And those magnificent trees.”
He pauses for a moment to let this sink in.
“Yes, a real bargain. You won’t find anything like it anywhere along the Pacific. Costa Rica is overpriced and every inch of the coastline has been sold. And the coastline here too is rapidly being bought up by foreigners eager to invest in this country. Soon there won’t be much left to buy.”
And, as a further sweetener, he added, “Listen, mi amigo, I am being straight with you. With the amount of natural resources it has you could turn around and sell it tomorrow for more than double the price!”
Terry fell silent. He didn’t want to look or sound too eager but he truly felt this was the right thing to do. He needed the land. If he played his cards right, he mused, he could become something he had always wanted to be – an overnight millionaire and better still, possibly even a “legit” overnight millionaire.
He sipped his rum and brooded over the pros and cons for a while without saying anything. Pechoc had the land. Buying the land off Pechoc would save him time traipsing around estate agents’ offices viewing properties he might have no interest in. On the table in front of him he had the photos, the survey and what appeared to be a genuine document, signed by the vice president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Mines, confirming the existence of large deposits of copper, iron and zinc on the property and giving the owner permission to extract them, under local government supervision, for the period of 10 years.
And in his pocket Pechoc had the registered title and the contract. To Terry it was all very tempting. It all seemed so perfect. And then, of course, there was the added bonus – if he made a deal with Pechoc he could probably expect an almost inexhaustible supply of pretty “compliant” girls to keep his bed warm at night.
Terry thought of his brother, Eddie. What would he have done? It was at moments like this that Terry truly missed his brother’s wise counsel. Eddie’s ability to talk his way through any situation, to make swift decisions, to convert any looming defeat into a victory and to save his own skin simply by applying his mesmerizing charm had become something of a legend in their family. Damn! What was that phrase that Eddie always repeated in times of indecision?
Ah, yes. He remembered now.
“Hesitation is a sign of weakness, Terry. If you want to be taken seriously never ever hesitate.”
To the superstitious Terry it all seemed fortuitous.
“OK,” he said out loud, “It’s a deal.” He stretched out his hand to Pechoc. Pechoc extended his. They shook on the deal.
“Bartender! Otra ronda, porfa!” Pechoc’s voice sounded triumphant.
The Chinese businessman grinned from ear to ear and kissed the girl next to him more passionately. She let out a deep breath and winked back at him, raising her fingers in a very distinct but almost imperceptible sign for victory. But Terry, who was busy swallowing the dregs of his rum with one hand while the other was snaking its way up between the thighs of the girl beside him, failed to notice. Had he done so things may have turned out very differently.
Then, under the increasingly liberating effects of the alcohol and in flagrant disregard for his own safety, (again, something Eddie would never have done), Terry reached into his jacket pocket, removed his wallet, counted out $120,000 in $100 dollar notes and shoved it across the bar towards Pechoc.
In response, Pechoc pulled out the contract from his pocket, signed it, then passed all the documents to Terry who was now the proud owner of 1000 hectares of property in the cloud forest of San Jose de Cusmapa. Terry had a good feeling about it.
With a furtive look around him to make sure no one was looking, Pechoc shoved the thick bundle of notes into his pockets, grabbed the grinning girl beside him and sprang off his barstool to leave before Terry could change his mind.
“It was nice doing business with you, mi amigo. I hope we meet again soon. Let me know when you’d like to, how you say, make the acquaintance of some local business people.”
Pechoc handed Terry his embossed business card, shook hands with him and tottered out of the bar, supported by the girl whose name Terry had either forgotten or hadn’t even known. The girl beside him, who spoke no English, started to leave too.
“Hell, no!” Terry said, grabbing her arm. “You and I are going to celebrate!”
He threw a handful of cordobas onto the counter for the bartender’s tip, picked up the unfinished bottle of Flor de Cana and, struggling to remain upright, wobbled unsteadily across the lobby, into the elevator and up to his room. The girl followed him docilely, the clacking of her stiletto heels echoing eerily through the hall as she crossed the travertine floor.
When he woke up with an immense headache the next day, it began to dawn on Terry that, God forbid, maybe Pechoc had spotted him as yet another sucker and simply taken him for a ride. So, after asking the girl her name (it was Lourdes), then turfing her out of his bed and seeing her out of the door with a $50 tip, he frantically searched through his pockets for Pechoc’s business card. He decided he would have a couple of coffees to sober himself up and then call him.
Alas, there was no response from Pechoc’s phone. All week Terry tried calling the number on the card but although it rang no one ever answered. It was only a couple of weeks later that the girl (bloody hell, what was her name again?) brought him the news. Sy Pechoc had been ambushed outside the hotel that very night, his body riddled with bullet holes fired by a furious business partner who had been denied a share of the sale proceeds.
Terry should have taken this as a warning and, like his brother, Eddie, before him, headed back to England to face British justice. But instead, he refused to be intimidated. He had sunk a large chunk of his money into this 1000-hectare property and it represented so many of his hopes and dreams, that he had no intention of simply giving up. Unlike the easygoing Eddie, Terry is a man of changeable moods (a psychiatrist had once diagnosed him as bi-polar) and a mind as opaque and brooding as the sudden fogs that envelop his cloud-forest property. And this sinister and unwelcome turn of events sets him off on a dangerous path.
Now, as he walks through the property, Terry’s mood begins to darken as he responds to the shocking news of Pechoc’s murder. He ponders his next move. Instinctively he knows the first thing he must do is to acquire some guns. Whatever happens, he needs to protect himself and his investment. He is convinced that he might well be the murderer’s next victim. In fact, as the days pass, he becomes increasingly obsessed by this thought.
Impatient to establish ownership of the property beyond doubt Terry sets to work registering the purchase with the local authority, erecting impenetrable razor wire fences around the perimeter and starting to build his dream home. But no one can work fast enough for Terry and, in his increasingly manic need to be ready to face his unseen “assassin” he ends up shouting at lawyers, bullying workers, accusing builders and cursing local government officials.
“But impetuous actions,” as Eddie had so often counseled him in the past, “will always lead to disastrous results.“
And so it was in this case. Terry’s “dream house” that he had intended to serve as a residence, a center of operations for his mining, hardwood and coffee businesses and a lodge for visiting hikers and birdwatchers, turns out to be an immense, ill-designed, hastily-constructed wooden fortress. Terry christens it “Horizonte Perdido” after his favourite film when he was growing up – Franz Capra’s “Lost Horizon”. (Well, favourite, of course, if he didn’t include “Triple Cross”).
Emboldened by the fact that weeks have passed since Pechoc’s murder and the murderer has not yet confronted him, Terry decides to leave a team of security guards in charge of “Horizonte Perdido”, throws an overnight bag in the back of the beaten up old Jeep Cherokee he had acquired from a local chicken farmer and drives into Managua for a night on the town.
Terry has come to realize over the past few weeks that, despite the company of a couple of stray dogs that have found their way onto his property and the band of itinerant Nicaraguan workers employed to build his house, he is desperately lonely. And he is eager to find some female company to share his dream home with him and help him run his small hotel. Once he has found the right person he reckons, he can then start to mine for copper, resurrect the coffee plantation and start chopping down the hardwoods. Despite his past, Terry really does want to go “legit”. But for someone who has spent his whole life living just outside the law, it is a difficult path to follow.
“Once a thief, always a thief!” Eddie had joked once. “Just look at me!”
Terry had been surprised. He had truly thought that once Eddie and Betty had set up their health farm, Shenley Lodge, that Eddie’s criminal days were over.
“What do you mean?” he had asked him. “Surely…?”
“Don’t be so naïve, Terry,” Eddie had chuckled, “you really think I’d give up all that and live here in the company rich, fat ladies wanting to shed some weight to compete with their husbands’ nubile young mistresses? You know me better than that. I’d be bored out of my bloody mind?”
That night in a local nightspot in Managua Terry picks up a young American backpacker, Lannie, who pours her heart out to him. She claims to have run out of money and has no way to get back to her family in Oregon. It soon becomes abundantly clear to Terry that Lannie would be a willing – and extremely grateful – girlfriend, and all he needed to do was offer her meals and a roof over her head. So, during the course of the evening Terry sets the trap. He befriends her, he listens to her and he counsels her sympathetically. (After all, he realizes, he is old enough to be her father). To impress her further he takes her to the brand new five-star Hilton Princess Hotel, plies her with endless glasses of champagne beside the pool and offers her a job and a place to live for as long as she wants, “no strings attached”.
It was an offer he knew Lannie couldn’t, and wouldn’t, refuse. To make himself appear “harmless” he gives her the same cock and bull story he had given Pechoc on their first meeting but adds that he is married with children (he dangles his ring finger under her nose and, opens his wallet to show her photos of his wife and their three sons) and tells her they will be joining him in San Jose de Cusmapa as soon as the house is ready.
Lannie, being homesick, destitute and extremely gullible instantly falls for the Chapman charm and readily accepts his offer. Just as Terry knew she would.
For the first time since the murder, Terry’s dark mood begins to evaporate. After all, Lannie is quite pretty, in a lean, athletic kind of way. Whether it was the alcohol affecting her or whether she was really attracted to Terry, (or “Luis-Felipe”, as she calls him), he couldn’t tell. But, from the way she provocatively licked her lips after sipping her champagne, how she flicked her long blond hair away from her face and didn’t instinctively cross her legs and smack his hand away when his fingers slithered beneath her skirt, Terry immediately wanted to spend time with this girl. And he intended to do so.
That night Terry screws Lannie (like he has never screwed his wife, Diana, or any of the other women in his life, for that matter). That night for the first time in decades he feels free – free of the fear of police knocking on his door at the dead of night, free of the inexplicable foreboding that still lingers at the back of his mind, free of the persistent nightmares that he had been swindled by Pechoc and free from the psychotic thoughts of the assassin’s bullet piercing his back at any moment.
When Terry finally stirs the next morning, the sun is pouring through the open windows, Lannie is sitting on the toilet singing to herself and a Continental breakfast sits on a trolley at the end of the California king-sized bed. Terry grins. His plan is working out. He appreciates Lannie’s naked body as she now stands at the washbasin, unaware of his gaze, looking at her own reflection in the mirror.
“I love you!” Terry shouts out suddenly, much to his own surprise because Eddie had constantly warned him:
“Do yourself a favour, Terry, never ever tell a girl you love her. You’ll never hear the end of it!”
And, until now, he had always taken Eddie’s advice. Heavens, he muses, (while still gazing admiringly on Lannie’s lithe young body), he couldn’t even remember telling his wife Diana he loved her, although it was always very obvious she loved him. For the first time since leaving England he experiences a slight pang of guilt about his family. But it melts away fast as Lannie approaches him, draws back the bedsheet, and drops seductively on top of him.
“Buenas dias, Luis Felipe,” she smiles, her wide blue eyes staring straight into his. “Que hacemos hoy?”
Terry responds the way Eddie would have done. He pushes her gently away.
“I’m sorry, Lannie,” he says, “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I really didn’t.”
(But of course he did. It was all part of his plan, his deliberate trap to ensnare the innocent girl).
Lannie looks shell-shocked. “But last night you.. you offered me….”
“I know, I know I did. But that was before..before, you know.” he continues gently, deliberately confusing her, “But it’s better we go our separate ways. The way I feel I risk becoming too attached to you. And I can’t do that. I didn’t lie to you, I have a wife and kids…I’m truly sorry, Lannie.” He strokes her hair, calming her, wiping her tears away.
And so Terry’s little ploy works like a charm. Lannie, completely under the Chapman spell, tempts him into yet more lovemaking (which is what he wants), eats a hearty breakfast, readily agrees to every one of his “house rules”, (as he refers to them), bundles her meager belongings into the backseat of his aging Cherokee Jeep and willingly, and lovingly, accompanies Terry back to “Horizonte Perdido”.
As it turns out, Terry couldn’t have made a wiser choice. Lannie is a naturally friendly, outgoing girl. She immediately sees the potential of the property and spends a lot of her days, while not making passionate love to Terry, cultivating an organic vegetable garden, doing yoga under the shady branches of the magnificent mahogany trees, delighting the band of itinerant workers with her badly pronounced Spanish, jogging along the trails at the edge of the cliffs accompanied by the stray dogs, driving the Jeep into town to stock up with groceries and rearranging the furniture inside the house to give it a less austere look.
Sadly Terry makes the mistake common to many expats and, instead of socializing with the locals, he drags Lannie to bars and restaurants frequented only by the few foreigners living in or passing through San Jose de Cusmapa. And, although the locals try their best to befriend them, Terry’s arrogant ways do nothing to help improve his standing among them.
Despite Lannie’s persistent attempts to persuade him to make more effort, Terry continues to ignore the locals socially. Shopkeepers, builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and local government officials, all feel insulted and snubbed by him and end up resenting his presence within their small community. But Terry, blissfully ignorant of the mistrust, animosity and hostility he is provoking, gradually begins to seal his own fate and an atmosphere of menace grows by the day.
Added to that, with the “honeymoon” part of his relationship with Lannie over, Terry’s dark mood begins to return. Lannie starts to find his changing disposition “alarming, scary and intolerable” and threatens to move out. But Terry has given her no money so she is trapped with him inside his “dream home”. Sadly, unknown to either of them, his psychotic obsession with this land will ultimately spell their doom.
“I really need to go home, Luis Felipe,” she announces to him one day over breakfast, “I’ve been away far too long. I miss my Mum and Dad.”
Terry frowns. He sips his coffee before replying. Once again he ponders what Eddie would say in this situation. Eddie always had a ready answer. And then he remembered exactly what Eddie’s advice to him was when his very first girlfriend threatened to leave him and he had been devastated.
“Switch it around,” Eddie had counseled. “Make it seem like you are the one wanting to break free from her. Show her what she’d be losing. Just see how quickly she changes her mind!”
Terry had followed Eddie’s advice to the tee. And it had worked brilliantly. The girl had ended up pleading, nay, begging Terry to forgive her, she didn’t mean what she said, to please, please stay with her. Sobbing incoherently she had said would do anything, anything just to make him happy.
And then, of course, in the meantime, Terry had found another “bird” and walked out on her anyway.
So Terry knows what to do. He smiles at Lannie.
“You’re absolutely right,” he replies. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for some weeks now this is not working out as I hoped. I thought I loved you but I realize now, I don’t.”
He gets up and walks to the window. Gazing out over Lannie’s newly sprouting organic vegetable garden, he continues:
“I’m sorry, Lannie, I’ve actually met someone else, or rather someone I knew before you has come back into my life recently. I wasn’t expecting this. I’m truly sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me.” He looked around at Lannie who, by now, was crying silently into her napkin. “Of course I’ll give you your airfare home.”
And, just as Terry had hoped, Lannie rushes over to him, throws her arms around him and weeps into his shoulder. “Please,” she sobs, “please don’t throw me out!”
Terry smiles to himself. Once again, big brother Eddie has saved his love life from being one giant fuck-up. He would hate to admit it but right now, Terry realizes, he probably needs Lannie far more than she needs him. He strokes her hair, gently dries her tears away with his fingers, takes her hand and leads her to the bedroom.
Now that his scheme has worked, Terry wonders, again and again, how he can prevent Lannie from leaving him. He puts her to work buying furniture for the part of the house he plans to use as a hotel. For the time being, while their honeymoon period has been reawakened, he trusts her enough to give her wads of money, borrow his Jeep, let her drive into Managua to order anything she needs to furnish the place. He tells her the look of the hotel is entirely up to her.
“This will be your baby,” he says. “I trust you to run the entire operation yourself. I won’t interfere, I promise.”
Becoming slightly paranoid that even this won’t be enough to keep Lannie at Horizonte Perdido, Terry secretly negotiates the purchase of a second tract of land adjacent to his own, with a waterfall and swimming hole that Lannie had recently discovered on one of her daily runs with the two stray dogs.
“It’s just the most beautiful spot,” she gushes excitedly to Terry when she returned to the house, “you must come see it. We can go skinny dipping there and no one will see us. You’ll love it.”
Terry finds out from one of his contractors that the owner of the property is an absentee American who is willing, in fact, desperate to sell.
Terry buys it and puts it in Lannie’s name A few days later, on her 24th birthday, he hands Lannie the deeds of the property. She is ecstatic. But as he holds her close to him, wishing her a happy birthday, Terry knows that he has only given her the land as another means of holding her hostage to this place. And just in case, in the future, she decides to build a house for herself and move out of Horizonte Perdido, Terry has already made quite certain her particular parcel of land is located within a “protected zone” and he has bribed a local government official to make absolutely certain that a building permit will never be issued.
A few days later, Terry is wandering through the local hardware store in San Jose de Cusmapa, looking for security lighting to place around the grounds closest to his house. A local guy, whose face he recognizes, roughly pushes him aside as he passes. Terry swears and shouts after the man.
“Watch where you’re going! Idiot!”
The man briefly turns, sneers at him and spits on the floor. Terry is about to chase after him and punch him in the face. But, as he moves forward he notices a piece of paper fluttering to the ground. The guy has obviously dropped it. Terry picks it up and reads it.
“Beware! You no belong here! You watch out! We come for and your girl soon!”
Throughout his life Terry has tried to imitate Eddie’s tough guy image. And normally it has succeeded. But, now, faced with a deliberate threat from someone he didn’t know, in a country that is still unfamiliar to him and where he has no friends apart from Lannie, Terry, for the first time in his life, is truly scared. Thoughts race through his mind. Was that guy Pechoc’s murderer? Or was he a disgruntled contractor he had failed to pay for his work on the house? Or was it someone from Terry Chapman’s past who had finally caught up with him?
Whoever the guy was and whatever the note means, Terry reacts badly. His mood deteriorates, his delusions multiply and his obsession with his house and land begin to take on a frightening form. He decides to turn his dream home into a real fortress. To Lannie’s horror, he begins to seal up all the windows and doors on the ground floor and installs security lights on all sides of the house. He wraps the house entirely in razor wire and sets broken glass into the tops of the surrounding walls. Strategically-placed mirrors allow him to observe the only unobstructed entrance from his second-floor hide-out which he shares with the increasingly terrified Lannie.
As for Lannie, there are no more jaunts into Managua or sauntering round the market in San Jose de Cusmapa. There are no more jogs along the cliffs, no more yoga under the hardwood trees, no more tending her organic vegetables, even no more visiting her beautiful waterfall. Terry reclaims the keys of both the Jeep and the house and refuses her permission to ever go out of the front door without him.
“You are staying here with me!” he announces menacingly, “It’s for your own safety, Lannie It’s too dangerous out there!”
On several occasions over the next few weeks, while Terry’s attention is occupied constructing barricades to reinforce the doors, fixing internal shutters on the windows and turning their bedroom into a reinforced garrison, Lannie makes several desperate and abortive attempts to escape from him.
“Please,” she pleads. “Please let me go! I can get help. I can call the police!”
She cries copious tears but they only serve to harden Terry’s resolve to keep her by his side. And, just in case, she tries to make a phone call, he cuts off the line, puts bars across all the exits and refuses to let her out of his sight.
When he leaves the house to go food shopping he padlocks her inside. In town he buys more guns, more ammunition and several knives making sure the locals see him so they will know he owns an arsenal of weapons and is ready for any fight that might ensue.
Terry’s state of mind is deteriorating to such an extent he is no longer even wondering what Eddie would do in his place. Meanwhile, his cash is fast running out and he finds himself under increasing pressure to do the unthinkable, to sell up and move out while he still has the chance.
But his land, once so desirable, is now considered a white elephant. The locals argue that despite Terry claiming rights to it, it is not actually his to sell. Members of the Chinese community in Managua inform him that the title he received from Sy Pechoc was a clever forgery. And every person in the little town of San Jose de Cusmapa is already convinced that the property brings bad luck. A whisper that reaches Terry’s ears describes the former owner throwing himself off the cliff at the very spot that Terry had dropped his cellphone and British passport into the Pacific Ocean on his very first day walking the perimeter of his property.
One night Terry’s fears become very real. A group of drunken men fire on his house. Incandescent with rage, he fires back at them. Lannie begs him to simply talk to them, to befriend them, to find out what they want from him before it’s too late, but Terry adamantly refuses.
In the light of the security lamps he can identify every single one of them, he tells her, and will be willing to bring them to court for damages and attempting to endanger their lives.
And he is as good as his word. Despite Lannie’s argument that he will alienate them even more, Terry drives into Managua and hires the best lawyer he can find to lodge a formal complaint for trespassing, destruction of property and attempted murder.
A few weeks later, Terry packs the reluctant Lannie into his car and heads towards the courthouse. None of his attackers turn up to offer a defense. Their attorney claims they told him they were shooting at some black-hawk eagles that had been preying on their livestock. Having made so many enemies there is no one within the community who is willing to speak up for Terry. So the Judge awards him only a very nominal amount of damages against his attackers.
Incensed at the lack of justice, Terry drags the very reluctant Lannie back to the car for the drive up the mountain. But, unknown to them, ambushers are lying in wait. Terry is well armed and psychologically prepared for battle but he is still shocked by the force of the fusillade that greets them, Injured, Terry loses control and the car to swerves violently off the road.
He glances towards Lannie and sees a bullet has entered her forehead. Blood is pouring from the gaping wound. She is already dead.
Terry closes his eyes and thinks, “Oh God, Eddie. What do I do now?”
Satisfied with their work, the ambushers open the car door, grab a bottle of rum from the glove compartment and get drunk while waiting around for Terry to die.
Then laughing and joking, they make their way home.
By the time the story hit the headlines in England, Eddie Chapman was close to death himself. Confined to a nursing home following a short illness, his medical team decided not to inform him of his brother’s tragic end. They felt that even for a man who had led such a full and colourful life the shock of Terry’s death might simply be too much for him. As it was, Eddie Chapman followed Terry to his grave less than a month later still believing that his younger brother had finally found his paradise.
- Author’s Note: How do I fit into this story? After the success of my book, “An Affair of State” in 1987, I was approached by one of the villains mentioned here, Charlie Richardson, one of the notorious Richardson brothers. Charlie wanted me to ghost-write his autobiography. I have to admit I was both tempted and intrigued. He wined and dined me a few times, introduced me to some of his friends, Dandy Kim Caborn-Waterfield, “Mad” Frankie Fraser and Charlie’s brother, Eddie Richardson.
One fine autumn day he drove me out to Shenley Lodge, the health farm owned by Eddie Chapman and his wife, Betty. We spent a great afternoon together. Chapman showed me a lot of his memorabilia, told me what a good chap Charlie Richardson was and encouraged me to undertake this commission.
By the end of the day the Chapman charm had worked and I had almost capitulated. But, being a single mum of three children, I had to put their safety ahead of my own. And I was very aware that this could be a foolhardy and potentially dangerous assignment.
A week later I called Charlie Richardson and refused his very lucrative offer. I couldn’t get it out of my head that the money he was offering me (and it was substantial) was blood money. Innocent people might have died. Charlie and his brother were known murderers.
But I always thought back on the offer and wondered what would have happened had I accepted. I thought of Eddie Chapman (he had that mesmerizing effect) and thought that one day I would write a short story about him.
So here it is. Not exactly about Eddie as there have been too many stories written about him already but about a fictional younger brother. I couldn’t help thinking what would it have been like to grow up in the larger-than-life shadow cast by someone as swashbuckling, as daring and as notorious as Eddie Chapman.
Written in Valle Escondido, Granada 2017-2018
Dedicated to my host Stuart Hughes