The disinherited psychopath killed the new heir with a single bullet that missed the aforementioned new heir by 24 cm.
Hubert Murwell was in the news. As an international media tycoon, he was used to a certain amount of press scrutiny. His rivals liked to throw mud. And the pinko-liberal journalists liked to stir it.
You might think it strange that a man who hated journalists so viscerally had made his fortune out of their trade. But Murwell didn’t hate all journalists. He had a lot of time for some of them. The ones who wrote what he wanted them to. And as his ownership of the world’s media increased, the journalists who wrote what he wanted came to outnumber the ones who didn’t.
So for every column inch of negative press that was written about him, he reckoned he could count on a good yard of positive press.
However, to conclude that he was untroubled by what the pinko-liberals wrote would not have been true. It rankled. He was said to have compiled a blacklist of every journalist anywhere who had ever criticised him in print.
What it came down to, ultimately, was control.
Even if the segment of the media that he couldn’t control was diminishingly small, even if millions more read the Murwell-owned favourable ink than the pinko-liberal hostile, even if he was able to throw mud of his own against his attackers – even so, it rankled.
Murwell liked to present himself as misunderstood. He was not the sinister, world-domination- seeking figure that his enemies portrayed. He was just an ordinary Joe, salt of the earth, man of the people. A bloke’s bloke. He’d worked his way up from humble beginnings. If he could do it, anyone could. His was the voice of reason and he spoke for the common man.
He professed not to understand why cabinet ministers trembled when they were about to meet him. At the same time as suppressing a smile of satisfaction.
However, the reason he was in the news now was nothing to do with his business empire or his political influence. It was all to do with his personal life. Ironic, really, given that many of his most popular titles owed their success largely to probing and exposing the private ecstasies and miseries of the rich and famous.
The seventy-year-old billionaire had ditched his wife of forty years for a younger model.
And, yes, she was a model, or had been. But she was also – infuriatingly for the present Mrs Murwell – the possessor of a brilliant mind and sparkling wit. She came to Murwell’s attention because her Pulitzer-nominated, NYT-bestselling memoir was published by the American arm of his publishing company. Young, beautiful and bright, as well as unashamedly neo-con in political outlook, Harvard-educated Sophie Lu had everything going for her. Murwell was smitten.
Incidentally, Lu’s Harvard background may have been a crucial factor in Murwell’s falling for her. Famously proud of the fact that he himself had not been to university, Murwell was well known for hiring (and firing) graduates, particularly those from the best universities. It was only to be assumed that he would get a similar satisfaction from bedding one of them.
The story delighted his critics because his newspapers had always put themselves forward as protectors of family values, using that as the justification for their prurient exposés of other people’s affairs. And until now – whatever else you might have said about Murwell – you couldn’t accuse him of being anything other than a devoted family man.
His apparent loyalty to his wife had always infuriated his enemies. It seemed to be against character. Murwell was as selfish was he was ruthless. It just didn’t make sense that he had stayed married to the same woman all these years.
But now it seemed likely that the marriage had only survived because Murwell had maintained a string of mistresses – amazingly without anyone ever finding out. It had probably been his intention to set up Sophie Lu as the latest of these. But that determined young woman had other ideas.
How she did it is a mystery.
But the fact is she got one of the richest men in the world to fall in love with her. He dumped his wife of forty years and announced his intention to marry Sophie Lu.
There was worse to come – worse, that is for Murwell’s three grown up children from his first marriage (two of whom were older than their father’s new girlfriend).
Sophie Lu was pregnant.
In a family meeting with his kids (from which his estranged wife was excluded) Murwell reassured them that so long as they behaved themselves, they would not be cut out of the will. However, it went without saying that the portion they could expect would be considerably reduced. The future Mrs Murwell was certain to survive her husband and would therefore receive the lion’s share of the estate. Not only that, he made it clear that the baby on the way would be entitled to a portion equal to those of his half-siblings. That is to say, the children’s part of the estate would now be split four ways rather than three.
Their mother would have to content herself with whatever she could get from a divorce settlement. She was to be written out of the will entirely.
Two of the three adult children, Michael and Genevieve, took the news in silence. They had picked up the warning about “behaving themselves” and knew when to suck it up.
The third, the youngest, Tim, had never been able to control his emotions like his older brother and sister. He gave vent to a whining tirade, the gist of which was “It’s not fair!”
Tim had always been Hubert Murwell’s least favourite child.
Born with all the advantages Murwell had missed out on, the boy had nonetheless turned out to be a useless wastrel. A spoilt brat, who expected everything to be handed to him on a plate, and complained if the plate wasn’t silver.
“I told you to behave yourself!” said his dad.
The repeated warning was a threat. Michael and Genevieve knew that. But neither of them said a word to save Tim from himself.
“You can’t talk to me like that! I’m not a child anymore.”
“You’re behaving like a bloody child.”
“It’s better than the way you’re behaving! Making a fool of yourself with this gold-digging bitch. I’d say you were old enough to be her father, but you’re actually old enough to be her grandfather! God, it makes my skin creep! She’s younger than Michael and Genevieve.”
“If the next thing out of your mouth isn’t an apology, you’ll regret it.”
“I’m not going to apologise to you. You think you can push people around. You think you can push us around. We’re your children.”
“I don’t notice Michael and Genevieve complaining.”
“And the way you’ve treated Mum! Casting her aside like that, after all she’s been through.”
“Enough. I warned you. And one thing you ought to know about me is I don’t make idle threats. You will receive nothing. I no longer consider you to be my son.”
“What? You can’t do that!”
But Hubert Murwell said nothing. He wouldn’t even look Tim in the eye. Neither could Michael and Genevieve, but for different reasons. They were trying not to show their relief. The cut was back to three-way.
Weeks went by. It was clear the old man wasn’t going to relent. Tim consoled himself by resorting to a practice he had engaged in obsessively during the difficult years of his adolescence. Catching neighbourhood cats and torturing them to death. It was his way of working through his issues.
But no matter how many cats he killed, he didn’t feel any better.
It was so unfair. And the feeling of unfair was a knot of misery twisting his guts. There was only one way to release the knot.
He sent a message via his brother that he wanted to apologise. Word came back that he would have to apologise to Sophie too, and to his unborn half-sibling. He consented.
He knew that what he was going to do would place him beyond any hope of inheritance but he was past caring about that now. The knot of misery inside him was crippling. He was bent over, hardly able to walk.
He knew that there was only one way to release the knot. He raised the gun towards his would-be stepmother, aiming for her heart.
One shot. That’s all it took. One shot and he killed them both. (The entry wound, the post-mortem later revealed, was 24 cm from her womb.) One shot and the knot of unfair began to release its hold.
Hubert Murwell didn’t weep when he gazed down at his dead girlfriend, knowing that the fourteen-week-old foetus she was carrying couldn’t be saved. “Those pinko-liberals are going to have a bloody field day with this,” was all he said.