February 23, 2017
My Weekly asked me to write a short story for their magazine featuring Olivia Wolfe. The result is Dirty Business which I hope you enjoy. The central character is Olivia Wolfe, the hero of my latest thriller, Devour, but this time she gets involved in sorting out a domestic issue.
If the first two pages of Dirty Business are too small to read, here is the copy:
Olivia Wolfe watches a tall well-dressed woman in high-heeled boots and long black coat peer nervously down an alley at the back of a gym housed in a crumbling warehouse. The woman is as out of place among the graffiti, litter and hoodies as ballet is at a boxing class. A red Audi cabriolet is parked around the corner with the roof up: the toys on the back seat suggest she has a son and daughter between six and ten years old. Olivia guesses this woman is the client that private investigator, Jerry Butcher, wants her to meet. But why ask for her help? He’s never done so before.
The client looks behind her, as if worried she’s being followed, then disappears through the first door on the right. Conscious of her torn jeans and scuffed biker’s jacket, Olivia tidies her black, pixie-cut hair that’s been flattened by her motorcycle helmet, then follows the woman into Butcher Investigations. Jerry runs his business from a room that was once used to store gym equipment. Three people just about fills the space. Jerry sits behind a cheap pine desk, the woman on a plastic chair. Olivia sits next to her.
‘Olivia Wolfe.’ She shakes the woman’s hand. ‘You must be Anne Kincaid? I’m helping Jerry with your case.’
Anne is early forties, with dark bags under her eyes. She wrings her hands in agitation.
‘I don’t understand,’ Anne says. ‘You’re an investigative journalist. I’ve read your articles. This isn’t what you do.’ Her eyes dart from Olivia to Jerry.
Jerry replies, ‘I asked Olivia to help. She has skills I don’t.’
‘This has to be confidential. No Press.’ Anne shakes her head. ‘This is a bad idea.’
Olivia gently touches Anne’s arm. ‘I’m not here as a journalist. I’m working a private investigation. Everything you say is confidential. I promise.’
‘If Daniel finds out, he’ll have me certified. I’ll never get custody.’
‘We won’t let that happen,’ says Jerry.
The husband’s name rings a bell. ‘Is Daniel the managing partner of Kincaid & Stanton?’ Olivia asks.
‘He is. Which makes him difficult to divorce. No lawyer wants to go up against him.’
Olivia has heard rumours about the law firm’s ‘whatever it takes’ approach to winning which includes intimidating witnesses. Nothing unlawful has ever been proved, of course.
‘He’s having an affair,’ says Jerry, filling Olivia in. ‘For a year. He’s refused a divorce, threatening to take custody if Anne tries.’
‘But don’t the courts usually award custody to the mother?’ Olivia asks.
‘I’m on anti-depressants. Have been since I found out about it…’ Her voice tails off, her eyes watery. ‘He’ll twist things. Claim I’m an unfit mother. But he’s the unfit parent: he never sees Sam and Jody, he’s always with… her.’ She takes a deep breath, and continues. ‘He’s spiteful. He’ll go out of his way to take my kids.’
Olivia gives her a hug. ‘He won’t. Not if I’ve got anything to do with it.’ She glances at Jerry. ‘Why doesn’t he want a divorce?’
‘Doesn’t want a scandal.’
Jerry hands Olivia a paper file. Inside are photos of Kincaid with another woman, chatting and laughing. But none are incriminating.
‘Who is she?’ Olivia asks.
‘Works at his firm,’ Jerry replies. ‘I couldn’t get anything categorical to prove the affair. And I couldn’t find any other dirt, either. He’s very careful.’
This is going to be tough. If Jerry can’t find anything, how am I going to?
‘And you’re absolutely sure about the affair?’ Wolfe asks.
‘He’s admitted it. Said I just have to put up with it.’ Anne hangs her head. ‘I can’t bear to stay with him. But I won’t lose my children. I’m trapped.’
‘Don’t worry,’ says Olivia. ‘We’ll find a way.’
That night, Olivia reads an internet article on Kincaid that gives her an idea. She knows the journalist, so she phones him to double-check the facts. By the end of the call she is smiling. The following morning, she’s on Twitter and finally finds what she’s searching for.
‘Got you!’ she says, tapping Kincaid’s photo on her laptop screen.
Six weeks later, Olivia waits in the opulent reception area of Kincaid & Stanton Lawyers on the tenth floor of a glass and steel fronted building. Polished oak floors, an imposing semi-circular reception desk, a mirror-backed waterfall, opaque glass panel doors that swivel to reveal a corridor of meeting rooms, and a Lorna Wilson red and orange painting, are all designed to tastefully flaunt the firm’s status.
Olivia wears a strawberry-blonde wig, a Karen Millen suit, and carries a Saint Laurent faux-croc leather briefcase. She’s announced herself as Catherine Fforde, the General Counsel of an American construction company establishing operations in the UK. They wish to engage local counsel, and with fees likely to run into the millions, it wasn’t hard to get a meeting with Daniel Kincaid. The company is real, as is Catherine Fforde, who Olivia has taken great pains to look like. She arranged the meeting using a fake email address which is only one letter different from the real one. Olivia only has to be convincing long enough to get into Kincaid’s office. It’s a risk. If Kincaid smells a rat, she could be in serious strife. But to catch a man like Daniel Kincaid out, she’ll have to play him at his own game.
Olivia is shown into a meeting room behind Reception.
‘This won’t do,’ Olivia says. ‘I wish to meet Mr Kincaid in his office.’
‘I’m sorry, all our meetings are conducted here in our conference rooms,’ she says.
‘Please tell Mr Kincaid I’d like our conversation totally private, and therefore I wish to see him in his office. Otherwise, I’m leaving.’
The receptionist opens her eyes wide, but rushes off to phone Kincaid’s assistant. Minutes later, Olivia is led into an office the size of a tennis court, with stunning views across the City’s skyline, with it’s comic-book building names like the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie and Cheese-grater. Leather bound case law volumes adorn an entire wall. Behind Kincaid’s monolithic desk is a four-foot tall portrait of himself. Olivia deliberately pauses in front of it, keeping her briefcase steady. Hidden inside the briefcase is a video camera: she’s recording everything.
‘Welcome to the UK, Catherine. I may call you Catherine?’
Kincaid is dark-haired and blue-eyed, wearing a bespoke suit that serves to accentuate his fit body, along with a colourful paisley tie and pocket square. His smile is warm as he shakes her hand: she can see why women fall for him.
‘I’m so sorry about the mix-up earlier. The receptionist is new. I must apologise.’ He lowers his head just a fraction so he looks remorseful and gives her a winning smile. God, he’s good! ‘Please take a seat. You must be exhausted after your flight.’ He gestures to a wing-back leather chair. ‘Would you like something to drink? Tea? Coffee?’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
Continues on p.3