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HUNTED BY DEVILS

Chapter Text

ONE

Half-expecting an assassination attempt from Chong's men, for his failure to obtain Cassidy's records as much as for the fact he was his father's son, Griffin made no attempt to guard himself. There seemed no point; money had not bought the kind of loyalty his father had needed to stay alive. Besides, it was the problems of life which beset Griffin; death would be easy in comparison.

In the days which followed his father's murder Griffin grew resigned to the greedy demands of the press, perfecting an icy public calm as rumour and speculation dogged his heels. He was sardonically amused by the speed with which his father's peers decided to make his acquaintance, particularly the Vice-President of Melville Holdings.

Melville's funeral had been a simple affair because Griffin had notified members of his father's board of directors only after the event. It was they who arranged the memorial service held three weeks later. It swiftly degenerated into a media circus as the powerful and the merely wealthy flocked to pay their respects, anxious to assess the unknown who was heir to the Melville billions.

His father's passion having been reserved for other than the flesh, Griffin was the only family mourner, a lone figure in the front pew. While Melville had perfected the mechanics of power, he had always been uneasy with the day-to-day trivia of human congress, as if they were a need he could not comprehend. If Griffin possessed other relatives he had never heard of them; as far back as he could remember there had been only his father, and those Melville had hired to care for him.

Ostensibly listening to the newly-elected Premier of New South Wales deliver a panegyric, Griffin speculated cynically about the identities of those who must have blackmailed the man to attend. No politician would voluntarily ally himself with Marius Melville now; not with scandal hovering like a toxic cloud. The news of the nature of Charles Cassidy's legacy must break, the only question was when.

Staring fixedly ahead with an intensity which turned the altar to an indistinct blur, Griffin wondered if Charlie had felt at her father's memorial service what he felt now. It seemed unlikely; but for her his father would still be alive. Even that knowledge could not blunt his longing for her.

One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so. The half-remembered song from his school-days played mockingly in his brain. Not that she had ever been his.

Reliving their too short time together, Griffin realised how little of herself Charlie ever shared with him. It hadn't occurred to her to return his words of love; words never spoken since his teens and which had slipped past his guard, frightening him half to death because he feared the vulnerability they entailed. He had been right to fear them.

Charlie had Sam now, the father of her son and a pillar of the community. Griffin had seen them together only last week in Sydney, finding an excuse to leave the charity ball which duty had demanded he attend in place of his father.

To Griffin's surprise he even found himself missing Josh, perhaps because the boy reminded him of himself thirty years ago. Griffin was too intelligent not to realise how closely he had identified with the Cassidy family - in particular with Charlie's struggle to free herself from the manipulative clutches of her father. She had won her battle, albeit with secondhand blood on her hands.

It had begun so innocuously, with one of the commands his father had always voiced as requests, when he summoned Griffin to Geneva. 'I want you to do me a favour. I need Charles Cassidy's records, which the mischievous fool gave to his daughter just before his death. Obtain them, by whatever means you judge will be most effective. But do it quickly, otherwise I shall have to take other steps to recover them.'

Because Griffin had learnt early in life what the consequences to others were if he did not obey, he had tried. While he had expected to succeed, experience having taught him that most things were for sale at a price, he hadn't expected to fall in love.

'You manipulative bastard! You're a whore! That's all you are!' Even though Charlie had calmed, clinging to him, he had known it was the beginning of the end. The growing contempt in her eyes had confirmed it.

The female of the species. His father had underestimated Charlie, or perhaps the ferocity of a mother defending her young from threat. Something else he would never know. He didn't want to know - he was already the custodian of too many secrets. The memory of the means Charlie had used to protect herself stirred in the shadows of his mind, rekindling the raw horror of what he had seen. Hard to believe the human body held only eight pints of blood. Or was it nine? His father reduced to butchered meat.

He became aware that the mockery of a service was coming to an end and clamped down on self-pity.

Melville employees flanked Griffin as he left to greet the dignitaries jostling with the press. An elegant and severe figure in black, he was unaware that there were those to whom his icy self-containment was more threatening than Melville's monolithic courtesy had been because no-one knew what Griffin might do. The news that he was Melville’s illegitimate son had become public knowledge only at the time of Melville’s murder.

Elias Goring, Melville's lawyer and personal friend for more than forty years, appeared at Griffin's side, anxiety deepening the lines on his face. "James, I must speak with you," he muttered urgently.

"Later," murmured Griffin, who neither trusted nor liked the man.

Griffin tensed when he spotted another familiar face on the fringe of the crowd, Chinese bodyguards unobtrusively in place. He moved toward them, politely brushing aside those who sought to detain him, careful to keep his empty hands in view. He had seen the invitation list and had been braced to meet his father's killer. Atavistic impulses under control, he greeted Chong with the same distant courtesy with which he had met everyone else. Having lived amongst the Chinese for so long, Griffin was as adept as they at oblique conversations.

By the time the Triad leader and he parted company, still in the public eye, both men knew the blood feud was over. A pragmatist, Chong would be glad to avoid a costly war; for his own part, Griffin had no taste for death. Too much blood had been spilled already, its reek clinging to him. The chill of the morgue was with him still. When he closed his eyes images of his dead father’s face remained, as if imprinted on his retinas: one more figure in his private chamber of horrors.

He evaded members of the Melville board, all of whom had yet to be convinced he had no ambition to step into his father's shoes and flew to Sydney, retreating to his suite at the Malmont Marquis. The silence clamouring in his tired mind, he was standing at a picture window, still dressed in funereal black, when the first of a series of bland-faced men entered his life, the line of their ill-fitting jackets distorted by the guns they carried. Having been expecting this since his failure to buy Cassidy's records, Griffin accompanied the men to their headquarters.

The pattern of questioning, release and detention for further questioning by ASIO was formed. Recognising the lures set for him, Griffin did not hide his disdain at their clumsy attempts at entrapment. While his manner won him no friends he was always treated with care; the potential heir to the Melville empire would never be treated with anything less. So accustomed to deference that he took it for granted, Griffin did not notice their forbearance.

When the nature of Cassidy's legacy was leaked to the media, a witch-hunt began. Several high-ranking politicians and two businessmen prominent in the community resigned; whispers about a cover-up only grew louder. Melville, a name once unfamiliar to the popular press, became a convenient scapegoat for the corruption rife in political and business life: the new Professor Moriarty. That, too, hurt, if not as much as Griffin's realisation that Charlie must have used her remaining influence to try and see him put behind bars.

He was given little opportunity to come to terms with the nature of his losses; such indulgences were not available to the heir of the Melville empire. Continuing to meet the heavy demands of his own workload, Griffin took on the public relations duties which were expected of him, attending charity balls, dinners, concerts and parties as if unconscious of the security services, who made no attempt to conceal their investigation of every aspect of his life, or the ever avid press. His rooms searched, his mail intercepted, his servants were questioned about his personal habits; privacy became a forgotten luxury, stress grinding away his control. Like an over wound clockwork toy Griffin did all that was expected of him, slept when exhaustion demanded it and, as was his habit, kept his own counsel about his inmost feelings.

He rarely lost his temper; the day he was sent an audio tape of a telephone conversation with an ex-lover cold fury goaded him into using the power which had always been at his disposal. Possessing an excellent visual memory, not least of the compromising photographs he had seen while helping Charlie to move her father's records, he made one call, from a public telephone. It lasted only four minutes but the surveillance by ASIO stopped ninety minutes later and was not resumed.

Fear of incrimination played no part in Griffin's actions. He had accepted his own guilt years ago. By his continued silence he had condoned his father's activities, day after day, year after year, until he became accustomed to the burden and the accompanying lack of self-respect, trapped into complicity by loyalty for a man he had both feared and loved.

oOo

Like so many powerful men Marius Melville clung to his power even from the grave, having left detailed instructions to be followed in the event of his demise. At his command, the reading of his Will took place six weeks from the day of his death. Ironically, the date coincided with Griffin's fortieth birthday.

His flight from Manila delayed, Griffin was the last to arrive at the luxurious penthouse suite which comprised the nerve-centre of the Melville empire in the Far East. Goring was waiting for him when he stepped from the express lift, a fact unusual enough to put Griffin on his guard.

"James, at last! I've been trying to speak with you for weeks." More animated than usual, Goring's tone was a mixture of reproof and accusation.

"Yes?" said Griffin without interest, having ignored the series of faxes which had followed him around the Far East with the persistence of homing pigeons.

"This afternoon has been arranged in accordance with Marius's wishes. I had hoped to see you before now. It is imperative that you and I speak privately together. Perhaps tonight. At my home. You have the address?"

Griffin's reply was interrupted by the arrival of Goring's secretary, a stunning-looking Chinese girl of no more than twenty-five. "Perhaps later," he said blandly. "If you will excuse me, I've kept everyone waiting long enough." Wanting to get this meeting over with so he could decide what to do with the rest of his life, he escaped into the boardroom.

He responded to the standard civilities which greeted his entrance as if unconscious of the predatory stares of the nineteen men seated around the boardroom table. Only one chair, that which he presumed his father had always occupied, remained empty. His manner composed, Griffin seated himself with a characteristic economy of movement and invited Goring to take charge of the meeting. He sat back, aware of the greedy undercurrents pervading the room. Melville had been an absolute ruler of his empire, those hungry for that power were straining at the leash.

In measured tones which betrayed his sense of occasion, Goring began to speak. Melville's last Will and Testament was a lengthy document, sounding more like a complex business plan. As dispositions were made with no mention of Griffin, more and more glances turned in his direction. It took over four hours to reach the provisions which specifically disinherited him from every aspect of his father's estate.

Reaction was instant. The room in uproar, Goring abandoned his attempt to continue. Like everyone else his attention was on the man at the head of the table.

His interlinked fingers motionless, his expression unrevealing, Griffin's gaze travelled from face to face, unsurprised by the emotions he read on them. He had no friends in this room. Save that he was paler than normal, and that a muscle jumped in his tightened jaw, he gave no indication of the agony this public flaying had inflicted. Under his eyes men fell silent, their anticipation to hear what he would do was an almost tangible force.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Your...concern notwithstanding, I believe I've heard all I'm entitled to regarding the disposition of my father's estate." As he rose to his feet the Vice-President of Melville Holdings blocked his path.

"You'll contest the Will, of course."

Griffin spared him a brief glance. "No." He did not trouble to hide his distaste for the man, who smelt of stale whisky and a too-sweet cologne. Those traits were preferable to his taste for under-age girls.

"I don't believe you," said Johnson flatly. "No man turns his back on a fortune!"

"Believe what you wish." Side-stepping the larger man, Griffin strolled from the room, determined that his departure should not be seen for the flight he knew it to be.

The silence broke before he had closed the door. No-one followed him. Melville having broken his empire down into self-contained power bases, each with a new president, there were new alliances to be forged, deals to be struck if market confidence was to be maintained.

Like a wounded animal seeking a bolt hole Griffin went straight to the airport; with no interest in his destination he caught the first available flight. The press were waiting for him by the time his plane landed at Sydney; the airport authorities proving helpful, he managed to avoid the cameras, escaping to the hotel suite reserved for his use fifty-two weeks a year, where he could be certain the head of security would protect his privacy.

Shutting out the world, Griffin leant against the door he had just closed, surveying what he could see of the sitting-room. Immaculate as always, he suddenly recognised how impersonal the room was. It, and suites like it in the other eight hotels he managed, had been his home for more than seventeen years. He could pack in minutes and leave with nothing to show he had ever lived here; he could vanish and there was no one left to care.

The solidity of the door the only thing he could be certain of, it was beyond him to move. Every muscle in his body ached as if he had been beaten, his face feeling stiff and unfamiliar after hours of pretending nothing was wrong.

Whatever the world had assumed he had neither wanted nor expected to inherit control of the Melville empire. Equally, he had not expected to be stripped of everything, including pride. His father had barred him from receiving so much as a photograph from his personal estate; it was that searing rejection which had devastated Griffin. While Melville had never said so, even during their worst moments Griffin had assumed he was loved. Despite their numerous differences of opinion he had thought his father proud of the man he had become. It seemed he had been in error.

He glanced absently at his watch, the significance of the date slow to register. As birthdays went, this one had been more memorable than most. He was not in the habit of celebrating the day, no-one who mattered had ever remembered the date. Exhausted, he pushed himself from the illusory security of the door, stripping off his jacket and unfastening the choking silk of his tie. Rubbing the back of his neck, he walked into the bathroom only to stop when he met his own reflection. Bruised-looking eyes stared back at him from the mirror. It was then that some deep-buried pain broke free, until he shook with the force of it.

Now there was nothing left, not even the comforting fantasy that he had been of any value to the man who had meant so much to him. His knuckles yellow where he gripped the porcelain rim of the sink, Griffin's head bowed as the rigid control he had exercised for the last six weeks finally broke.