17 January 2014

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Here is an extract from the beginning of Due Diligence, the first Jenny Parker novel. When you've read it, let me know what you think Jenny should have done differently.

As I sit on the edge of the giant bed alone at last in the functional tidiness of my Travel Lodge room, the feeling of vague unease I had after first examining Associated Composites’ accounts has grown into a realisation that there is something very wrong. Every attempt I make to get to the bottom of things is met with ill-disguised fudging and at this rate of progress I could be here for a long time. I really do need to get home tomorrow; I’m concerned about what’s happening there.
Tim tells me all is well, Toby has been a good boy; he has eaten all his tea and he went to bed at the right time and is sleeping now. Even over the phone I register my husband’s insincerity, he might as well be Sullivan or O’Rourke, but I have to comfort myself with belief. 
I imagine a world where I no longer have to deal with Tim and for an instant I feel a lightness – which evaporates quickly as all the thoughts crowd back in about Toby needing a father and how I couldn’t manage financially without Tim.
A firm rapping on my door jolts me back to the here and now. There’s only one person who knows my whereabouts and that’s Paul. Our arrangement is to meet for dinner at eight, it’s only seven fifteen and I’m sitting in my underwear looking forward to a relaxing shower. A tide of anger tempts me to shout, ‘Fuck off and leave me alone,’ but instead an inane, ‘Who is it?’ actually emerges.
A soft voice with a disarming accent replies. ‘It is I, Giuseppe Casagrande. My apologies for disturbing you, Signora Parker.’
My heart beats faster in shock, I peer through the tiny peephole and a distorted version of Casagrande is indeed on my doorstep.
‘Wait, one moment.’ I cast around for something to wear, quickly dress and open the door. He walks in majestically and sits down on the chair by the desk. He is alone, dressed in a dark blue suit now, looking even more expensively elegant. I realise that I felt compelled to admit him; refusing him entry was something I didn’t consider. Now he is here I feel my discomfort increasing and wonder if I should have sent him away. After all, I am a vulnerable woman alone in a hotel room.
‘Thank you for seeing me.’ He waves to encompass the room. ‘And in such unconventional surroundings. I fear you might find me not entirely professional.’ 
He smiles to reveal perfectly white, perfectly even teeth. I wonder whether they’re his own. I also wonder what he would possibly want with me. His manner seems more assured now and less disturbing than I experienced at the office. There is a cool charm, the air of a man operating in his own element, performing work that he is good at and comfortable with. The thought that this might be rape or murder is easily dismissed. His suit is far too expensive for him to be engaging in anything messy.
‘I am asking for your help, your assistance, Signora Parker. The people I represent require the takeover to proceed smoothly. It is very important to them. It is not something that they can allow to fail and it is very close, practically complete: a done deal as you say.’
I begin to mentally phrase my queries – what people? Why do they want it so much? Why me? How can I possibly be of any help? – but Casagrande’s tight manner and precise economy of words convince me that this is no question and answer session. He is here to speak, I am supposed to listen and, I feel a pang of worry at this, agree to do whatever he wants. He places a thick document case on the desk. It’s black leather and blends in comfortably with the general opulence of his attire.
‘Here, this is for you, an indication of our serious nature and good intentions. I am sure you will find its contents convincing. All you need do is make sure that your firm delivers a positive report on Composites, something that says that a thorough check has been made and that all is as it should be. Something that will smooth the process of the transaction.’
He pushes the leather case towards me and stands up. A sudden realisation of what the case might contain grabs my stomach. Of course it could be some of the extra documentation that Paul has requested but I have my doubts. Then excitement grips me and I can hardly stop myself from zipping it open and checking out my suspicions. In the presence of Casagrande this seems inappropriate, almost insulting, and I resist. As he turns for the door I manage to voice my uncertainty.
‘Wait. I don’t know how I can help you. It’s not up to me; it will have to be a partner that signs off the due diligence on your business. I’m only an accountant, I don’t think I can help.’
There is a stern look on his face as he turns towards me.
‘Signora Parker, let me explain. Where I come from there are two kinds of people. In the north, if you do not do what is asked of you then a member of your family is taken and pieces of them are sent to you until you do what you are asked. In the south, if you don’t do what you are asked, then you are killed. You need to be aware that the people I represent are from the south.’
With that he opens the heavy door and leaves me standing in numb incomprehension until the fearful implications begin to sink in. I no longer have any desire to open the case. It can only bring certainty to the situation I am in. I lie down on the bed and close my eyes hoping to wake up to find the world the place it was before Casagrande showed up.

photo credit: yewenyi via photopin cc