Monday, November 10, 2008
Maloney's Law excerpt by Anne Brooke
Paul Maloney, a small-time private investigator from London, reluctantly accepts a case from his married ex-lover, Dominic Allen. Before he knows it, Paul finds himself embroiled in the dark dealings of big business and the sordid world of international crime. The deeper he pushes, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear. Can he solve the mystery and protect those he loves before it’s too late?
PD Publishing (2008)
The glow from my ex-lover’s cigarette lights up the warm night air, and I catch a faint impression of his hand’s shadow before the darkness descends again.
In the silence, I sense rather than see his lips draw on the smoky pleasure, tingling tar and need into his waiting lungs. I don’t ask to share it and he doesn’t offer. More than anything this reminds me of the last time we almost had sex.
‘I suppose you’re wondering why I asked to see you, Paul,’ he says, and his voice makes me shut my eyes for a moment. In the deeper blackness I can see the strong, sensual lines of his face as clear as if it were daylight. ‘I mean why now? Not the greatest of meeting places for us, is it?’
‘You’re here, aren’t you?’ I reply and wait for him to speak. It’s 2.02am. I’ve picked a disused chapel in Hackney for this meeting, as it’s near home, it’s private, and it’s dark. Inside, it’s a good place for sex, if you’re desperate and don’t mind the broken glass. I thought he wouldn’t turn up, but I was wrong.
For a moment he seems to be trying to choose his words, then he says, ‘I need your help, you see.’
I laugh. There doesn’t seem any other way of responding.
‘I’m serious. It’s a business offer.’
At once I shut up. Money is money, whoever it comes from. And five years, ten months, and five days in my job as the proprietor of Maloney Investigations (anything considered) has taught me never to turn down business.
‘Go on,’ I say, and as I speak, a lone car swings into the street, its headlights illuminating our shapes and outlining the solid lines of the chapel that frames Dominic.
Instinct kicks in and I propel him back into the safety of the doorway. It smells of cannabis and urine. As the car approaches at a crawl, I shield him with my body, pull the cigarette from his mouth and kiss him. He tastes of nicotine and mint. The blokes in the car shout abuse out of the window but, thank God, don’t stop, and after a tense few seconds they drive off into the darkness. I don’t want to stop either, but when the danger’s past I’m the first to pull away.
When I do so, I wonder who he’s screwing now — some young, good-looking bastard, I bet. Yeah, I can just see it, and the look on Dominic’s face when he gets what he wants, too. Maybe I can try to mix business with pleasure? As he's the last man I’ve slept with, it must be three years, four months, and one week since I had sex at all. At least with someone else in the room. I wonder if that makes me unusual.
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘Thought they might leave us alone if they didn’t recognise you. Cruisers only.’
He nods. ‘You were right. Can I have my cigarette back now?’
I pass it to him, my fingers lingering on his before he eases them away. He doesn’t comment. Instead he wipes the back of his free hand over his mouth, and I blink back tears.
When he speaks, he speaks quickly. ‘There’s a business I want to investigate, buy if the money’s right. Information Technology. They deal with Eastern European markets, but there’s something not quite right about them and I want to know what.’
‘What is it? Drugs? Porn?’
At once he shakes his head. ‘No. I’d know if it was. But I want you to look into it anyway, see what you can find. My business has to be clean; there can’t be any dirt thrown that might stick. Do you understand?’
‘Sure. Sounds simple enough. You say something’s not quite right, but you don’t think it’s serious. So what’s got you suspicious?’
‘Rumour only. You know what the business world is like. I want to be certain, that’s all.’
Again his answer is too fast and I don’t believe him.
‘Why don’t you use some of your own hot-shot investigators? I know you have them. Won’t they be able to do your legwork for you?’
He drops his cigarette and crushes it underfoot before lighting another. In the flash of fire, I catch the intensity of his gaze.
‘Even my own people have been known to talk, and I don’t want to give my competitors reasons for suspicion. Not at the stage of negotiations I’m at now. I want someone who, if they go down, won’t take me with them.’
His reasons are too slick, too unconnected, but his last statement makes me blink again. He was always honest with me, something I never got used to.
‘Yes, I know what you’ll say,’ he continues. Even though I have no idea what that might be. ‘You’ll say we used to fuck each other regularly, in spite of my situation, and that would be enough to crucify anyone. But no-one knows this, except you and me. And that time-waster assistant of yours. So if it becomes public knowledge, I’ll know who to blame, won’t I? And when I hold a grudge...’
He doesn’t have to complete the sentence. I’ve read enough in the papers about the boardroom — and backroom — battles fought and won by Mr. Dominic Allen to know the extent of his power. Oh yes, more than anyone I understand his strength compared to my weakness, and I’ve almost made up my mind to walk away from his problems, and my past, when he speaks again. This time his voice is softer.
‘And there’s another reason,’ he says. ‘You’re the only one I can trust. Please, will you help me?’
‘You don’t have to help him, you know. He’ll only screw you over, like last time.’
First rule of PI work. If you have to hire a secretary, or any staff, never get someone who knows you. They’ll only end up telling you stuff you don’t want to hear. And, worse, it might even be the truth.
‘No, he won’t,’ I say, wishing again for a way to afford more than my one-roomed office plus kitchen. ‘This time I’m wise to him. Anyway, it’s cash. I’d be crazy not to take it.’
‘You’d be crazy to do it, too.’ Jade stops staring at her computer screen and throws me one of her accusing looks from behind her blonde lashes. ‘You’ll just go stupid again.’
I grimace at Jade’s use of the phrase, “go stupid”. It covers the time, nearing the end of my eleven-month affair with Dominic Allen, and afterwards, when I stopped eating, left hundreds of pleading messages on his mobile, and lurked night after night outside his house in Islington waiting for one glimpse of him. After seven weeks of this, on the morning of Friday 1 June 2001, in the office, I’d smashed every single breakable item I owned in front of Jade’s horrified eyes. I’d then collapsed onto the floor and sobbed for an hour and a half without being able to stop.
It was a difficult time for us both and I can understand her concern. Now though, I’ll make sure it’s different. I’m older and calmer for one thing and my dealings, if any, with Dominic will be carried out in the light of this new maturity.
‘No, I won’t “go stupid”,’ I say with a smile. ‘He’s history. So much so that I was fine when we met last night. Or rather early this morning. It was–’
‘Did you snog him?’
‘No, don’t be silly. Of course I didn’t. He’s a client, or might be. I wouldn’t be that unprofessional, would I? What the hell kind of a question is that anyway?’
‘So you did then.’
‘But not in the way you think. I was carrying out my duties, protecting him from the greedy eyes of the public. You know he’s better known than Beckham. Almost.’
I pause and feel my face redden. ‘Is George Michael gay?’
Jade nods, her lips pursed. ‘And while your tongue was reacquainting itself with his tonsils, did you happen to ask after Mrs. Allen and the two little Allens? Or did Mr. Allen’s wife and children not cross your mind?’
This is a dirty move and I don’t stoop to answer it. Second rule of PI work: don’t employ someone who’s moral. Jade has a Baptist background, though I’ve never seen her enter a chapel since I’ve known her, so that’s twelve years and ten months. But a religious upbringing can never be wiped away. It certainly hasn’t stopped her asking a knife-twist question, which I ignore. Instead, I drop the file I’ve been clutching onto my desk, fling myself into my chair, and flick through the papers to find the one I want.
It takes me longer than I’d anticipated. At the end of ten minutes, I still haven’t located it and, just as I’m wondering if it was one of the items I’d burnt After Dominic, there’s a slight cough. When I look up, Jade is standing in front of me holding out a mug of hot chocolate as if it’s about to explode. I don’t like hot chocolate, though I’ve never dared tell her this. It’s her usual way of dealing with a crisis; Jade counts gay men as honorary women, so I just smile and take it.
‘Sorry,’ she says.
Still unable to trust myself to speak, I nod, and she returns to her desk. While Jade starts tapping away on her keyboard again, I pretend to be looking at my file. It’s hard to concentrate on what Dominic told me last night, when all I can think about is either our past or the way his lips felt under mine seven hours ago. I wonder if he’s remembering, too, but it’s unlikely. He was never one to look back. All he’d done when I lunged at him was to tolerate my kiss before wiping it away and getting down to business. This was a shame as at 2.05am last night — or again is that this morning? — and indeed now, the most compelling thought in my head is the memory of how he and I first met. When–
‘Paul? Paul? You okay?’
At the sound of Jade’s voice, I jump, startled out of my thoughts, and look up to see her leaning over me, frowning. The scent of Anais Anais mingles with the now congealing hot chocolate.
‘Yeah, sure. I’m fine. I just need...I think I’ll go home for a while. I’ll take the papers with me, get to grips with some of the background. If anyone calls, tell them I’m on a case,’ I pause in the act of getting up. ‘In a way I suppose I am, if only for an initial read-through, so it won’t be lying.’
‘Okay,’ Jade thrusts a slim pale blue A4 folder into my hand. ‘You’ll be wanting this then, whatever you decide.’
I glance at the empty file with a fresh label on the top right hand corner, just where I like them to be. On it is typed: The Dominic Allen Case, 11 August 2004 to...Below it is my name in italics.
‘Thanks.’ I can’t help smiling. ‘You’re right, I’ll be wanting this.’
‘Thought so. You’ll be back later, before the end of the day?’
‘Sure, see you at 5.30.’
On the way out, I look back at her, and she gives me a little wave before the solid oak door with the central spy hole clicks shut.
The eleven-minute walk home clears my head. I’m glad I don’t have to commute; I hate the sweat and sourness of the bus in the morning, and it was a deliberate decision when I set up Maloney Investigations, to base myself as near to home as I could. Not that the office is much: just a one-windowed room big enough for two desks and a large, black filing cabinet and a narrow promise of a kitchen built along one end. But it’s mine, and Jade’s light touch with the Constable prints and seasonal flowers means clients, when they turn up, aren’t frightened away. Or if they are, it’s not because of the office.
Hackney’s changed so much in the seven years and five months I’ve lived here; it’s become leaner, darker at the street corners and at night when most of the drug-dealing takes place. During the day it’s brighter and more strident, filled with the sound of beggars and Indian women wrapped in saris the colour of desert, sky, or fire. It’s poorer, too, but that’s never bothered me. I hope it doesn’t bother the clients. Now my stride takes me along the familiar pavements lined with small squares of brown grass, leading in their turn up to countless flats carved out of Victorian houses once owned by rich people. The air is heavy with car fumes and the taste of undiscovered dreams.
At home, I drop my jacket on the mahogany hall table, next to the emergency cigarette packet, before heading into the box-shaped kitchen and pouring myself a Highland Park. Whisky is for home, for privacy. It’s medicinal. Besides, it’s turning out to be one of those days, so I deserve better than the Glenfiddich. Gazing at the golden liquid as it shimmers in the glass, I wonder. One breath, two. The smoky scent of it fills my head and I breathe out again. Then leaning against the metal coolness of the sink, I pour the drink away, swilling the drips with tap water. It’s too early for this. I promised myself once that I would never drink before 6pm, and it’s a rule I’ve always kept. Almost always.
Still the space in the day where I should have had a glass of whisky in my hand lies empty now so, clutching Jade’s file and my papers to my chest, I wander back through the hall and into the living room. The main room, to be honest. My income isn’t great. Even though I’ve lived here for so many years, today it’s as if I’m seeing it from a new perspective: the shabbiness, the old beige sofa with its light blue throw — a present from Jade — and the glass coffee table with its immovable scratches. Not to mention the pine dining table for four with the mismatched chairs, the scattering of crime novels and old newspapers, mainly The Independent, which hide the shortcomings of the carpet. Against all this and at the far end of the room is the magnificent Victorian fireplace and mantelpiece. Upon it stand my only ornaments: two Staffordshire dogs, which were a present from my mother for my eighteenth. God knows why.
What would Dominic see if he were here? The dogs he’d always hated, but what would he see that was different from three years and four months ago?
Answer: nothing. Nothing has changed, nothing at all.
Dumping the papers onto the sofa, I stride into my bedroom, where the deep green duvet still lies crumpled at the foot of the bed where I left it this morning. In the long mirror inside the wardrobe, my face gives nothing away.
I take off my clothes. Slowly, as if unpeeling the layers could remove the present. When I’m naked, I gaze at my image for a long time, trying to see myself as if I’m someone else. There are many things here that Dominic would remember: my face, thin and narrow, a throwback to my paternal grandfather; green eyes framed by short, almost black hair, a wolf on the hunt so another lover told me once; a long body, dark wavy chest hair leading down to strong, muscular legs; an average cock, not too small, thank God, though I’ve always wished it larger. Don’t we all? There are things here that he wouldn’t remember, too: a touch of grey around the hairline; a slight softening of the belly — must get to the gym again on a regular basis if I can afford it — and the scar on my right arm where two years ago a suspect knifed me. It still hurts a little in winter. My eyes are more cautious, too.
Would he find this attractive? Would he?
Damn it, damn me. Swinging away from the mirror, I drag my clothes back on, curse myself again, and head back into the living room for the comfort of the sofa and the papers I must read this afternoon.