"GOOD HEAVENS!" THE bespectacled, fifty something coroner startled, abruptly stopping short as he was about to perform the post mortem on the severely bruised corpse brought in a few minutes ago with nearly half its face nothing but caved in dried blood and gore. A low moan escaped its lips and one dazed amber eye slowly blinked open. The other one was swollen shut. "What the devil...? You're alive!" The coroner stuttered his colourless pale-grey eyes behind wire rimmed glasses, almost popped out of their sockets.
"Where am I? This don't look like either Heaven or Hell, an' yer sure as hell don't look like the man upstairs or the other fella below." With extreme difficulty, Kenn Michael Harrison raised himself and sat up on the sterile steel slab that was the operating table. The white sheet covering him slid down to just below his waist. "Yeah, I s'pose I must be back on ol' terra ferma. They must not 'ave wanted me up there or down below after all. Damn! Every bleedin' bone in m'body feels like I've been run over by a tank."
"Stay where you are!" The coroner commanded. Recovering from his initial shock, in his typically pragmatic British manner, he stalked over to the phone on his paper and file littered desk.
"Ain't goin' nowhere guv'. From the feel o' me right now, I'd say I'm stark naked and I don't think the public's ready fer this magnificent sight." Kenn lifted the sheet and looked down at his lower half. It was intact, thank goodness. "But Jesus H. Christ, everything hurts like bloody hell!"
Despite of himself the coroner smiled then proceeded to make the call.
"You better send someone down here, STAT! Apparently, the corpse that was brought in half hour ago, is still alive and kicking!" He barked to the person on the other end.
The coroner hung up the phone again and glanced at the man on the table. Despite being desensitized to all the unpleasant sights he had witnessed during his lifetime in this profession, he felt pity for the man when he did have a chance to see his face. It was not an event the coroner wanted to witness. But at least the chap had a sense of humour.
Two orderlies appeared with a stretcher within minutes after the coroner hung up the phone, and took Kenn upstairs to the hospital. Once there, he was immediately taken to the operating theatre, anaesthetized and God alone knows what the hell they did. Because when next he awoke, Kenn felt like an Egyptian mummy, all swathed in bandages with holes for him to see, hear, speak and eat. * * * * *
NEXT DAY KENN HAD A NURSE DIAL MARK Hammond's number in Canada for him, and learned that Mark had come to England for his funeral. Someone was kind enough to give the nurse the number to the suite Mark had booked at Claridge's. She dialled it for Kenn and gave him the receiver.
Poor Mark, he almost went into cardiac arrest upon hearing Kenn's voice. He could hardly wait to get off the phone and drive down to the hospital in Plymouth.
During the time that Kenn waited for Mark to arrive, he had his first visitor. One he would have preferred not to see, and wondered who the devil had told the man.
"Kenn Michael? Are you awake?" Lance asked softly as he entered the room.
"Yeah." Kenn grunted. "What are yer doin' here?"
"So it is true after all. You really did survive. I'm glad." Lance said as he sat down in the visitor seat beside Kenn's bed. Saville Row clad, six feet four inches tall, dark, handsome and aristocratic. Despite the limp that required him to use a silver-handled walking stick, Lance radiated power and confidence that his position as the president and CEO of one of the world's largest conglomerates dictated.
"Are yer really?" Kenn rasped with thinly veiled hostility, staring straight ahead through the hole left open over his good eye.
"Why would you believe otherwise?" Lance felt the other man's resentment and knew the reason for it, and even understood it. Had the situation been reversed, Lance knew he would have felt the same.
"I don't know, yer tell me. Anyway, why did yer come?"
"Look Kenn Michael, I understand that you have every right to be resentful after what happened. I wish I could change the way things turned out but I can't. However, I can remedy part of the situation."
"What are yer talking about?"
"I spoke to the doctor before coming to see you...."
"While your facial injuries are pretty serious, it's not a hopeless situation. With reconstructive surgery, you can lead a normal life again. And apart from a few fractured ribs, there was no other serious injury, so you're lucky in that sense. I've taken the liberty to arrange your admittance to Dr. Harold Gray's clinic in Beverly Hills. He's one of the best plastic surgeons in the world." Lance informed him. "Since the accident happened on my property and in my car, I felt it was only fair that I cover all your expenses for the re-constructive surgery. But there is one thing I want you do for me in return."
"I'd like you to go with a completely different look..."
"GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE LANCE! NOW!" Kenn snarled, enraged at the nerve of the man at asking him to disappear in not so many words. He reached for the buzzer to summon someone to come and have the man thrown out, but Lance quickly reached over and firmly restrained Kenn's hand.
"Listen man, I know you love Jennifer‑Claire, but she has chosen me. Prove that you really love her and have her best interests at heart. Let her have a life without being torn in two different directions man. You don't have to accept my offer if you don't want to, but I'm asking you to do so for Claire's sake."
Kenn stared up at the other man, still enraged, but also stunned at Lance's insecurity. However, when Kenn thought about her and how much he really loved her and only wanted the best for her, he was left with no alternative but to do what Lance had asked.
"My Gawd, yer are threatened by her feelings fer me....." Kenn shook his head, feeling a sense of victory over the other man, but happy to witness that Lance was human after all. However, Kenn still knew that Lance Stevens was not a man he wanted to cross.
"Put yourself into my shoes Kenn Michael, just for a moment, and tell me that you wouldn't feel the same."
"I suppose I would mate," Kenn admitted honestly.
"So you'll do it?"
"Yes, but strictly fer her sake."
"Thank you Kenn Michael, I knew you'd understand."
"Now if yer don't mind. I'd like to be alone." Suddenly as though remembering something else, Kenn stopped him again as Lance got up to leave. "Lance?"
"How is she?"
"She's going to be all right, the gunshot wasn't too serious. The doctor was able to remove the bullet and stabilize her without having to bring her to the hospital. Claire has the constitution of a horse and I wouldn't be surprised if she's up and around by the time I get back." Lance said with a boyish grin. "She was already chafing at having to stay in bed and rest all day."
"I'm glad she's goin' t'be all right. What about Brandon?"
"His body will be flown back to Canada the day after tomorrow after the police have completed their inquest into his death."
"Anyway, if yer don't mind, I'd really like to be alone now. I'd say give my regards to Jenny, but I can't do that now, can I?" Kenn swallowed hard on the constricting lump in his throat, and injected steel into his voice as he looked away from Lance, at the dull, grey day outside the window. "Go now Lance."
"Very well," Lance got up and left the room.
He never saw the watering of Kenn's one un-bandaged eye, or the single tear that coursed down and dampened the bandages just below it.
Kenn lay there pondering his decision for a long while after Lance left, and came close to reneging in his promise. Then he thought about Claire and remembered how he only wanted her happiness. And if Lance was the one who would make her happy, then so be it.
Mark arrived about half-hour later, and when Kenn apprised him of his intention, Mark thought that along with part of his face, Kenn had also lost his mind. Soon after Mark arrived, so did an orderly, to change the sheets on the bed. Between him and Mark, they helped Kenn into the extra visitors' chair. Neither of the men paid any attention to the orderly and continued talking. Meanwhile the orderly made up the bed with clean sheets.
"A new face yes, because it's necessary, but a new identity? Why?" Mark asked, perplexed.
"I've got m'reasons ol' chap." Kenn replied enigmatically. He chose not to tell Mark that the visit from Lance Stevens had everything to do with his decision.
"I think you should at least talk to someone first..."
"I don't need a fuckin' shrink Mark!" Kenn snapped. "I need yer help. We've been mates fer a long time an' this is the first time I'm asking fer one major favour. So, are yer with me or not?"
"All right." Mark agreed resignedly, unable to refuse Kenn anything. Apart from being his business partner, Kenn had also taken the place of the son Mark had had, but who never lived to become an adult.
"First of all, I still want yer to arrange the funeral. Closed casket. Then I want yer t'spring me the hell outta here an' take me to it."
"Man you're crazy."
"Like a bed bug. But no better way to find out how much people thought of yer, than attendin' yer own funeral." * * * * *
TIM CAREY COULDN'T BELIEVE his good fortune, as he listened to the conversation between the two men, while he made the bed. A venal, down on his luck, thirty‑something rock music groupie who had long decided that the world owed him a living, Tim knew who the injured man was. Just two nights ago it was believed that he was going to make a comeback when he got on stage in London with Jenny Devereaux, even though it was a far cry from his 'Black Daze' heavy metal style. But the chap still had it in him. If anything he had sounded better than he ever had before.
Nigel Cotten, one of the orderlies who had brought Kenn up from the morgue, had recognized the former rock star despite his injuries and had mentioned it to Tim, his good mate. Tim on the lookout for any opportunity that would help him land the good life, had boldly walked into the hospital, sneaked an orderly's uniform from his friend's locker and pretended to be one of the staff. He had also stolen a dictation tape recorder from a secretary's office, then furtively hung around outside the former rock star's room waiting to see who visited. While he had missed Lance's visit, he considered himself having struck gold when Mark Hammond arrived and entered the patient's room. Upon seeing a young female nurse's aide with fresh sheets for patient's bed, also about to enter the room, Tim had offered to do the task for her. Preoccupied with something else on her mind, she had been only too happy to let Tim take over.
Now here was the former rock star was all bandaged up, talking about changing his face and identity. Along with intrigue, Tim smelled the opportunity he was seeking here, like a hunting dog on a fresh fox trail. Thank heavens for the little tape recorder in his pocket recording every word. He could have notified the press, but Tim decided to hold out for bigger and better stakes, and this conversation was going to be his ticket to the good life. He didn't know how long it would be in coming, but Tim was as certain as the Sahara was made up of sand, that the day was going to come when he could utilize this tape to his advantage. He would just have to be patient and find another means of supplementing his meagre income until then. And he had to start by getting the hell out of Devon, and up to the City where it was all happening.
The next day Tim heard the news of funeral services being arranged for the former rock star. He reached for the tape that he still had in his jeans-pocket and smiled smugly.
One day you are going to make me a very rich bloke Mr. Harrison.