Cover image for Illegal tender
Title:
Illegal tender
Author:
Hammond, Gerald, 1926-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.

©2001
Physical Description:
217 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780312272920
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Status
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Concord Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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Summary

Summary

It could happen to anyone. An email arrives with an air of authority and a carefully-worded request for bank account information. One lapse of caution, and one click of the mouse. Suddenly, the recipient's entire bank account is emptied. This is precisely what happens to Elizabeth Ilwand, heir to the Agrotechnics fortune - a Scottish manufacturer of agricultural technology. A sum of &£1.5 million disappears from her accounts when she unwittingly responds to a fraudulent email. Luckily, her trustee is Henry Kitts, friend and associate of the Three Oaks Kennel, board member of Agrotechnics, and sometime amateur sleuth. While Elizabeth searches for ways to recoup the gigantic loss, Henry investigates the email in the hope of tracking down the thief. But matters take a more chilling turn when Henry discovers the body of Maurice Cowieson, a local businessman indebted to Agrotechnics, who appears to have been killed in a car crash while on his way to discuss important matters with Elizabeth. Upon further examination, his injuries tell a much more insidious story.... Once again, using a backdrop of game hunting, malt whiskey, and sporting dogs in the Scottish countryside, Gerald Hammond evokes the witty and enchanting panache that has become his signature over the years.


Author Notes

Gerald Hammond was born in 1926. He was an architect for thirty years before retiring in 1982. He has written over thirty mystery novels and is the creator of John Cunningham, dog breeder in Scotland, and Keith Calder, gunsmith. He also writes under the pseudonyms Arthur Douglas and Dalby Holden.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Why anyone would "relish" (as Hammond's series hero, gun-dog kennel co-owner Henry Fitts, describes it) slaughtering wild fowl in the brisk Scottish air as sport is anyone's guess. In what Hammond claims in a preface is his last mystery novel he's written more than 30 he makes it seem a civilized form of recreation. Fortunately, Fitts disapproves of slaughtering people and is soon on the scent of a killer. Not too soon, of course; this is a leisurely British detective story (Scottish, actually) in which there's time out for fine wines, whiskies and a brandy or two. Fitts's sidekicks are hunting dogs, a species the author obviously loves and knows well. Fitts faces two challenges: saving a local business, which is facing ruin through the ineptness of its manager, and helping his ward, Elizabeth, who has been robbed in an e-mail fraud. Much of the story involves the complex technicalities involved in solving these problems. Skillfully, Hammond makes it all mildly interesting. The obligatory murder comes unexpectedly and for a long while has to wait its turn for Fitts to get around to it. He brings the least likely (but most credible) suspect to justice without benefit of the usual meticulous police procedural details or the graphic, grisly depiction of an autopsy. Hammond's charm is in that he creates an entire world of which his characters are a natural part. It's like a soap opera (without the suds) that we join "in progress." It takes a while to sort out the details but leaves us feeling we've been somewhere. (June 11) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One `Uncle Henry?' said the voice on the phone.     I have never been blessed or cursed with nephews or nieces, so the voice had to belong to Elizabeth Ilwand (née Hay), granddaughter of one of my old and now deceased friends. `Hello, Gooseberry,' I said.     I heard her laugh at the other end, a hundred miles away. The nickname is an old and private joke between us and one which seldom stales. `Would you like to come through at the weekend?' she asked me. `There are one or two bits of business.'     Elizabeth had been a sulky and rebellious girl, but the shock of her grandfather's death had begun a change which had come to fruition with her marriage the previous year She was now a charming if imperious -- not to say bossy -- and sometimes headstrong young woman. Her grandfather had been an extremely wealthy man and she was his sole heir. In harness with the local solicitor, I had acted as his co-executor and was still one of her trustees. According to Sir Peter's will, those duties would not come to an end until two years after her marriage. That clause might not have stood up to scrutiny by a court, but Elizabeth seemed in no hurry to assume full responsibility for her inheritance. Our duties, however, had become progressively lighter as she had matured and come to understand the workings of an estate which comprised much of the Borders country for some miles around her home just outside the town of Newton Lauder. The signs were that she would become as caring a landowner as her grandfather had been.     A quick, mental review of my engagements satisfied me that I had nothing inescapable imminent. On the other hand, it was late October, always a busy time at the Three Oaks Kennels where Isobel, my wife, is a partner; and although I have no formal position with the firm I am usually in demand for dog-walking, dummy-throwing, helping with the eternal feeding and cleansing and holding the fort when the partners and their helpers are otherwise engaged. This last activity usually peaks on Fridays and Saturdays.     `Would Monday do?' I asked her.     `If it suits you better. But we'll be holding the first shoot of the season on Saturday.'     I felt my interest stir like a spaniel at the sound of the gun-room door, but there were one or two points to be clarified. `Syndicate? Or a let day?'     `The syndicate. And it looks as though several members will be away in France at the Rugby World Cup match. It's a driven day, so Mr Calder says that you wouldn't have to do much walking.'     That was certainly a consideration. Beaters are not always easily recruited and at weekends there is considerable competition from other estates and from families in need of help with the shopping. Some shoots, especially early in the season before the birds become jumpy, may be wholly or partially walked-up and, although I can still manage a mile or two on pavement and rather more on grass, I am past the age for struggling through turnip-tops or spruce plantations. The Hay shoot at Newton Lauder, however, still commanded the loyalty of a squadron of beaters and both they and the syndicate members were always considerate to one who they regarded as having probably been a contemporary of Peter Hawker and having shot with Lord Ripon.     `I'll be through on Friday afternoon unless you hear to the contrary within the next hour,' I told her.     `That's fine,' she said. `Usual drill.' Which meant `No need to bring a dog or a dinner-jacket.'     As my friends are aware, my time for taking phone calls is after breakfast, when Isobel has left for the kennels and before I set off, as is my usual custom, to join her there. Elizabeth had caught me with my boots on and my stick in my hand, but I paused to phone Gordon Bream, to say that I would be passing through Edinburgh on the Friday and could make myself available for the discussion that he had been suggesting. Then, with something more to look forward to than the pleasant but humdrum demands of the dogs, I set off with what passes for a spring in my step. There were no entries to competitions scheduled for the Saturday, John was not judging at any field trials and neither he nor Isobel were scheduled to go picking-up. No brood bitch was on the brink of whelping and the two kennel-maids would both be available for duty. My services, it seemed, could be dispensed with. I was relieved if mildly insulted.     Isobel was not going to let me go unburdened. She was inclined to remember the days when Sir Peter, and even more so `Her La'ship', had entertained in some style in a draughty baronial mansion which had since burned down, to the great relief of most of those concerned. As a result, I took with me on the Friday morning two cases of `good' clothes (as opposed to the old and comfortable garments that I intended to wear for most of the time and which fitted into a third and much smaller bag). My boots, as usual, went loose onto the floor behind the driver's seat.     It was a beautiful day. A summer of drizzle and fog had proved disastrous to the crops, but autumn was trying belatedly to make up for it, too late to save the farmers. Driving south into full sunshine becomes a penance when the sun gets lower in the sky, but I put on my Polaroids, pulled down the sun-visor and got through the Forth Bridge traffic and into Edinburgh in an hour. I had purposely arranged to meet Gordon at his office which was conveniently adjacent to a multi-storey car-park -- my joints react unhappily to the impact of my feet on concrete.     I had rather hoped for an early adjournment in time for a drink before lunch but Gordon led me into his spacious and luxuriously furnished office. He was tall and thin with drooping moustache and yet a face that always looked ready to laugh. This contrasted with his way of life. As the most senior partner in a prestigious firm of accountants he had seats on several boards, was frequently appointed as an arbiter and was reputed to be financial adviser to God.     The discussion to follow would, I knew, amount to a board meeting of Agrotechnics (Farm Machinery) Ltd, because the other three board members (including Elizabeth) would never have dared to contradict Gordon and invariably went along with our lightest suggestions.     `We have to do something about Cowieson Farm Supplies,' Gordon said. `In my opinion, the hour of doom has already passed. I've invited Maurice Cowieson to join us for a few minutes for some tough talking. Will you join me in taking a hard line?'     `Of course,' I said. `You do the talking and I'll follow your lead.'     Agrotechnics had been founded by Sir Peter Hay to combat unemployment in his beloved area of the Borders by manufacturing the latest and best in agricultural equipment. His wishes were still respected. Rather than cause job losses in parallel industries, he had allowed considerable latitude to his debtors; a principle which we had followed reluctantly but faithfully. Unhappily, however, a local firm which had been retailing the agricultural machinery of Agrotechnics had been getting into serious difficulties.     Maurice Cowieson -- Chairman, Managing Director and principal shareholder in Cowieson Farm Supplies Ltd -- arrived a few minutes later. He was a tall man with a full head of white hair and, although he must have been in his fifties at least, the vitality of a man half his age. He had the reputation of one who lives life to the full or a little beyond and I could see the signs in the scarlet veins showing in his nose and eyeballs and in the beginning of a pot belly on a frame which was otherwise mostly skin and bone. His unlined face, however, which might well have resembled a skull, was fully fleshed and imprinted with an expression of affable charm.     At Gordon's invitation he lowered himself into one of the leather chairs and carefully straightened the creases in his trousers. `Well now,' he said cheerfully. `What's this meeting about? How can I help?' His cultivated charm was spoiled by a rasping voice.     `I think that you must have a very good idea what it's about,' Gordon said. Any suggestion of laughter had vanished from his face. `Your outstanding account with Agrotechnics is now nearing the value of the firm and stock.'     `Oh that,' Cowieson said. `I hope to settle all my accounts very shortly. There was a fire ...' He left the sentence hanging in the air.     Gordon managed to keep exasperation out of his voice. `I am well aware that there was a fire.'     `The fire doesn't account for more than a quarter of your debt,' I pointed out.     He ignored my inconvenient remark. `When the insurance pays up ...'     `Mr Cowieson,' Gordon said, `you know as well as I do that your insurers are not going to pay up. They have made that clear. The fire in your warehouse was started by a disgruntled employee and arson was specifically excluded from your policy,'     Cowieson looked slightly less urbane. `I shall be taking them to court.'     `That would be no more than throwing good money after bad as an expensive delaying tactic and we are not going to wait around for it. In any case, as Mr Kitts has said, the fire was only partially responsible for your troubles.'     The smile remained fixed on his lips but it had vanished from his eyes. `What, may I ask, would you say was responsible for the remainder?'     `Plain bad management, of course, Gordon said. `You've been trying to run the firm with inadequate staff.'     Cowieson looked amused. `In one breath you tell me that I have financial problems and in the next you tell me to take on more staff.'     `The time to take on more staff,' Gordon said patiently, `would have been several years ago. If the few staff that you have hadn't been so overworked and unfulfilled because of being prevented from carrying out their functions effectively, one of them might not have been so disastrously disgruntled. That sort of penny-pinching only keeps overheads down and miscalculations up.'     Sensing that charm was no more than wasted effort, Cowieson resorted to being plaintive. `My iniquitous contract with you requires me to take a certain minimum value of stock in every period of three months or lose the agency. Unsold stock accumulates.'     `It will,' I said, `while you're not selling effectively. None of our agencies in other parts of Scotland has any difficulty meeting a similar quota.'     It was time to try injured dignity. Cowieson lifted his chin. `I don't think that there's any point in prolonging this meeting. I'm already in discussion with the Swiss about getting fresh backing. I expect to have a favourable reply any day now.'     `For your sake,' Gordon said, `I hope that's true. Shortly after the fire you granted a "floating charge". In case you didn't understand what your lawyers were putting before you, that means that you pledged the firm, inclusive of buildings and stock. If the debt is not reduced very substantially and soon, Agrotechnics will take over.'     If Cowieson was at all shaken by the threat, he showed no sign of it. `There's no need for such a drastic step, gentlemen,' he said. `Just have patience for a little longer and I'll pay my debts in full. And now, would you care to join me for lunch?'     `I'm afraid not,' Gordon said with great firmness. `You really can't afford to buy business lunches any more and we're certainly not going to entertain Agrotechnics's debtors.'     For the first time, Cowieson looked put out. He pursed his lips and stood up. `In that case, please excuse me. I have a living to earn.' He stalked out of the room.     `The cheek of the man!' Gordon said. Gordon's favourite restaurant was only a step from his office. (Or possibly vice versa. It was suspected by his staff that the presence of the restaurant had been a major factor in choosing the location of the office.) Needless to say, it was excellent, providing mainly a French cuisine but incorporating the best from other nationalities.     `So he thinks that he can stall us off with talks about talks, with the Swiss or anybody else,' Gordon said. `I don't see it coming to anything, myself. I suggest that we tell him to come up with the money within -- what shall we say? -- two weeks. Failing which, we'll crystallize the floating charge, take over and put our own managers in, which should ginger things up considerably.'     `I'll go along with that,' I said. `Will you tell him or shall I? I'll be in his neighbourhood for the next few days.'     `I'll write to him formally,' Gordon said, `and confirm it by fax. Which reminds me. Have you seen one of these?'     From his pocket he produced a folded length of computer paper. I opened it out and saw that it was a conventional e-mail. It was in Internet format, opening with an address followed by half a page of superfluous details giving incomprehensible information as to how the message had been encrypted and transmitted. My eye skipped to the body of the message. It read: Dear CompuServe community member, our records show that billing information you have provided to us is not correct. This may be caused by one of the following reasons: 1. You haven't fill correctly our sign-up form. 2. By some error during connection, the information received was incorrect. 3. Your bank didn't reply correctly to our billing identification request. Anyway, to continue using CompuServe you should fill the the following form. If you wish to cancel your account fill this table anyway and in the end write word CANCEL. Member Identification User ID: Password:     Membership Information Country: First Name: Last Name: Address: City: State (USA Only): Zip or Postcode: Evening Phone No: Daytime Phone No:     Billing information Name On Card: Credit Card Type: (Gold, Platinum): Card Number: Expiration Date(MM/DD/YY): Bank Name: Account Number: Sorting Code: Password: Social Security Number (USA Only): Bank Phone No: We are sorry for inconvenience and hope that you will continue to enjoy CompuServe. Account Manager, John Debri As the reader will have gathered, my wife is younger than I am. She comes almost from another generation, and I have learned from Isobel how to fumble my way around a computer, to use it as a super-typewriter and even to send an occasional e-mail, but that does not make me Internet-literate. Certain anomalies, however, were evident even to me. `It doesn't ring true,' I said. `For one thing, why would CompuServe -- who, as I understand it, are what's known as a "service provider" - use an Internet format instead of their own? And why would they want both bank and credit card details? They would surely know how the account has been settled in the past. And it's barely literate -- the writer's first language isn't English. Somebody's preparing a scam.'     Gordon nodded approvingly, even slightly patronizingly. `You're absolutely right. It's an attempted fraud. It was sent to one of my partners. He phoned CompuServe and they said that it happens regularly. Sometimes people fall for it. If he sends out a hundred of these and only, say, two people give him the information he asks for, he can clean out their bank accounts or obtain some very expensive goodies on their credit card accounts. The police told George that they've traced some of the e-mails as originating from the Vancouver area, but that's very little help. If the culprit has a laptop computer, he could send them from any cybercafé, or a terminal in an airport, almost anywhere, gather up the returned information somewhere quite different and be long gone before anybody tries to catch up with him.'     We had reached the coffee stage but I was in no hurry to move. I was mildly intrigued. I had seen many attempts at fraud during my working days but life in the Fife countryside tended to insulate me from that sort of stimulus. The chairs were comfortable and a period of rest would be a substitute for my usual postprandial nap. One tires easily after threescore and ten. `How would he have got your partner's e-mail address?'     `Not difficult. People often include them on their letterheads. And Internet correspondence in what they call the forums is open to any reader. But anyone with the skill to juggle the money electronically would surely be able to hack into more personal e-mail correspondence.'     Telephone banking had only been making an early appearance when I retired. It still required a mental effort to appreciate the huge sums which are now transmitted -- indeed, which only exist -- in the form of electronic signals. `I thought that the really clued-up fraudster hacked straight into the computer of a bank, insurance company or building society and transferred money direct from account to account,' I said.     Gordon nodded. As an accountant who was still among the world's workers, he was more up to date than I was. `That's a much more sophisticated operation,' he said, `quite beyond most amateurs.' He tapped the paper. `Any fool could carry out this one.'     `This fool certainly couldn't,' I told him. `May I keep this?'     `Surely. I have other copies. I only carry it around so that I can warn people not to be caught out.'     `That's what I want it for,' I said. I turned off the main road, which was heading in the direction of Newcastle, threaded my way through the old Borders town of Newton Lauder and climbed a hill beyond the outskirts.     A monumental archway, looking pompous and out of place, marked the end of the drive to Hay Lodge. (The original edifice, now gone, had been known as Hay Castle but, when he caused the new house to be constructed on the site, Peter had bowed to Lady Hay's insistence that the name Hay be retained but had jibbed at the alliteration of Hay House or Hay Hall.) As I slowed to turn through the archway a red Mini shot out and across my bows, driven by a young woman with a determined expression and a cigarette in her mouth. I heard her make racing changes up the gears as she vanished towards the town. I made more stately progress towards the house.     I still half expected Hay Castle, the old monstrosity, complete with turrets and crow-stepped gables, to be standing at the end of the driveway. (Peter had referred to it as The Hay Stack, but never when Her La'ship was within earshot.) The sweep of bright blue sky was definitely an improvement as was the comfortable modern house set to one side of the sweep of gravel. The new house, of stone and glass and silver-weathered cedar, looked, as always, as though it had been placed there first and the countryside arranged around it later. I could not pay any architect a higher compliment than that.     The footings of the Victorian pile, which had burned down some years earlier regretted by none save only Her La'ship (who, as I recalled, had been the most almighty snob), had been incorporated into a flower garden which, despite the advanced state of the year, still showed some roses. Most of the garden's colour depended on the berries in beds of massed cotoneasters and berberis but a small stand of maples had been planted behind the house and these were in full flame. The birches, always the first to fall, were bare but the wood facing the lawn behind the house was green and gold.     The former Elizabeth Hay, now Mrs Ilwand, had been an attractive girl. She would have been more so but for a very determined chin. Aided by Ralph Enterkin (my fellow trustee), I had steered her away from an unfortunate liaison with an obvious fortune-hunter and towards her new husband; but the steering had required a very delicate touch. The result had so far proved successful. Duncan Ilwand was a very good-looking young man, possibly too good-looking for his own good although, to do him justice, he seemed quite unaware of his good fortune. He had no money of his own but he was well connected and so had a proper respect for property. He and Elizabeth had been fellow students.     It was a recurrent shock not to see Peter Hay's scarecrow figure standing in his well-worn kilt at the front door, but Elizabeth must have been awaiting my arrival. She met me at the door. I was reminded again of the contradictions in her character when she insisted that I go for the rest which she knew I would be needing but was firmly insistent on my taking it when and where she directed and whether I wanted it or not. (There was more than a trace in her of her formidable grandmother, Her La'ship.) I can be quite as stubborn as she can, as she knew perfectly well because I had fended off the unsuitable suitor who had found favour with her; but on this occasion I was happy to have Ronnie, her factotum, carry my luggage up to my usual room and there to remove my shoes and settle on top of the bed for an hour of blissful oblivion broken only by what I took to be the sound of the returning Mini.     After precisely one hour, which Elizabeth considered to be the correct duration for an afternoon nap, Ronnie came knocking apologetically at my door with a message that Madam expected me for afternoon tea downstairs in fifteen minutes. Ronnie was a large man. He was no beauty. To describe him as rough-hewn was almost flattery and he had a reputation as a formidable pub-fighter when in his cups, but he had a heart of purest gold. He had been Sir Peter's stalker and ghillie, but a life spent largely on the hill or up to his immense backside in cold water had not been kind to him and, as rheumatism and arthritis began to limit his usefulness outdoors on an estate in which his functions were diminishing, he had been more or less converted into gardener, assistant keeper and general dogsbody. He even functioned as butler on those occasions when buttling was required, and managed very well.     In accordance with some custom of his own, Ronnie brought with him a silver tray on which were two glasses of a very good malt whisky. I invited him to take a seat while I washed and made myself tidy. It had been some months since I last visited the house. Elizabeth would no doubt bring me up to date on the superficial gossip but, though he could keep his mouth shut when it mattered, I could count on Ronnie to tell me what was really going on. He knew that I had her interests very much at heart.     He needed little or no persuasion. `Mr Ilwand and the Mistress are still lovey-dovey,' he said. `You'd jalouse they was still on their honeymoon. She aye wants tae ken where he is, ilka minute o the day. It's no that she disna trust him, it's just her way. And we've a new housekeeper.' (Continues...) Excerpted from ILLEGAL Tender by Gerald Hammond. Copyright © 2001 by Gerald Hammond. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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