The Silkworm(4)
Author:Robert Galbraith


    ‘You’re sure she was following you?’

    ‘Yeah, I think so. I seen her behind me two, three times now. She isn’t local, I’ve never seen her before and I’ve lived in Ladbroke Grove thirty-odd years.’

    ‘OK,’ said Strike slowly. ‘You said your husband’s upset? What happened to upset him?’

    ‘He had a massive row with his agent.’

    ‘What about, do you know?’

    ‘His book, his latest. Liz – that’s his agent – tells him it’s the best thing he’s ever done, and then, like, a day later, she takes him out to dinner and says it’s unpublishable.’

    ‘Why did she change her mind?’

    ‘Ask her,’ said Leonora, showing anger for the first time. ‘Course he was upset after that. Anyone would be. He’s worked on that book for two years. He comes home in a right state and he goes into his study and grabs it all—’

    ‘Grabs what?’

    ‘His book, the manuscript and his notes and everything, swearing his head off, and he shoves them in a bag and he goes off and I haven’t seen him since.’

    ‘Has he got a mobile? Have you tried calling him?’

    ‘Yeah and he’s not picking up. He never does, when he goes off like this. He chucked his phone out the car window once,’ she said, again with that faint note of pride at her husband’s spirit.

    ‘Mrs Quine,’ said Strike, whose altruism necessarily had its limits, whatever he had told William Baker, ‘I’ll be honest with you: I don’t come cheap.’

    ‘That’s all right,’ said Leonora implacably. ‘Liz’ll pay.’

    ‘Liz?’

    ‘Liz – Elizabeth Tassel. Owen’s agent. It’s her fault he’s gone away. She can take it out of her commission. He’s her best client. She’ll want him back all right, once she realises what she’s done.’

    Strike did not set as much store by this assurance as Leonora herself seemed to. He added three sugars to the coffee and gulped it down, trying to think how best to proceed. He felt vaguely sorry for Leonora Quine, who seemed inured to her erratic husband’s tantrums, who accepted the fact that nobody would deign to return her calls, who was sure that the only help she could expect must be paid for. Her slight eccentricity of manner aside, there was a truculent honesty about her. Nevertheless, he had been ruthless in taking on only profitable cases since his business had received its unexpected boost. Those few people who had come to him with hard-luck stories, hoping that his own personal difficulties (reported and embellished in the press) would predispose him to helping them free of charge, had left disappointed.

    But Leonora Quine, who had drunk her tea quite as quickly as Strike had downed his coffee, was already on her feet, as though they had agreed terms and everything was settled.

    ‘I’d better get going,’ she said, ‘I don’t like leaving Orlando too long. She’s missing her daddy. I’ve told her I’m getting a man to go find him.’

    Strike had recently helped several wealthy young women rid themselves of City husbands who had become much less attractive to them since the financial crash. There was something appealing about restoring a husband to a wife, for a change.

    ‘All right,’ he said, yawning as he pushed his notebook towards her. ‘I’ll need your contact details, Mrs Quine. A photograph of your husband would be handy too.’

    She wrote her address and telephone number out for him in a round, childish hand, but his request for a photo seemed to surprise her.

    ‘What d’you need a picture for? He’s at that writer’s retreat. Just make Christian Fisher tell you where it is.’

    She was through the door before Strike, tired and sore, could emerge from behind his desk. He heard her say briskly to Robin: ‘Ta for the tea,’ then the glass door onto the landing opened with a flash and closed with a gentle judder, and his new client had gone.





    4




    Well, ’tis a rare thing to have an ingenious friend…

    William Congreve, The Double-Dealer



    Strike dropped onto the sofa in the outer office. It was almost new, an essential expense as he had broken the second-hand one with which he had initially furnished the office. Covered in mock leather that he had thought smart in the showroom, it made farting noises if you moved on it in the wrong way. His assistant – tall, curvaceous, with a clear, brilliant complexion and bright blue-grey eyes – scrutinised him over her coffee cup.

    ‘You look terrible.’

    ‘Spent all night weaseling details of a peer of the realm’s sexual irregularities and financial malfeasance out of a hysterical woman,’ said Strike, on a massive yawn.

    ‘Lord Parker?’ gasped Robin.

    ‘That’s the one,’ said Strike.

    ‘He’s been—?’

    ‘Shagging three women simultaneously and salting millions away offshore,’ said Strike. ‘If you’ve got a strong stomach, try the News of the World this Sunday.’

    ‘How on earth did you find all that out?’

    ‘Contact of a contact of a contact,’ intoned Strike.

    He yawned again, so widely that it looked painful.

    ‘You should go to bed,’ said Robin.

    ‘Yeah, I should,’ said Strike, but he did not move.

    ‘You haven’t got anyone else till Gunfrey this afternoon at two.’

    ‘Gunfrey,’ sighed Strike, massaging his eye sockets. ‘Why are all my clients shits?’

    ‘Mrs Quine doesn’t seem like a shit.’

    He peered blearily at her through his thick fingers.

    ‘How d’you know I took her case?’

    ‘I knew you would,’ said Robin with an irrepressible smirk. ‘She’s your type.’

    ‘A middle-aged throwback to the eighties?’

    ‘Your kind of client. And you wanted to spite Baker.’

    ‘Seemed to work, didn’t it?’

    The telephone rang. Still grinning, Robin answered.

    ‘Cormoran Strike’s office,’ she said. ‘Oh. Hi.’

    It was her fiancé, Matthew. She glanced sideways at her boss. Strike had closed his eyes and tilted his head back, his arms folded across his broad chest.

    ‘Listen,’ said Matthew in Robin’s ear; he never sounded very friendly when calling from work. ‘I need to move drinks from Friday to Thursday.’

    ‘Oh Matt,’ she said, trying to keep both disappointment and exasperation out of her voice.

    It would be the fifth time that arrangements for these particular drinks had been made. Robin alone, of the three people involved, had not altered time, date or venue, but had shown herself willing and available on every occasion.

    ‘Why?’ she muttered.

    A sudden grunting snore issued from the sofa. Strike had fallen asleep where he sat, his large head tilted back against the wall, arms still folded.

    ‘Work drinks on the nineteenth,’ said Matthew. ‘It’ll look bad if I don’t go. Show my face.’

    She fought the urge to snap at him. He worked for a major firm of accountants and sometimes he acted as though this imposed social obligations more appropriate to a diplomatic posting.

    She was sure that she knew the real reason for the change. Drinks had been postponed repeatedly at Strike’s request; on each occasion he had been busy with some piece of urgent, evening work, and while the excuses had been genuine, they had irritated Matthew. Though he had never said it aloud, Robin knew that Matthew thought Strike was implying that his time was more valuable than Matthew’s, his job more important.

    In the eight months that she had worked for Cormoran Strike, her boss and her fiancé had not met, not even on that infamous night when Matthew had picked her up from the casualty department where she had accompanied Strike, with her coat wrapped tightly around his stabbed arm after a cornered killer had tried to finish him. When she had emerged, shaken and bloodstained, from the place where they were stitching Strike up, Matthew had declined her offer to introduce him to her injured boss. He had been furious about the whole business, even though Robin had reassured him that she herself had never been in any danger.

    Matthew had never wanted her to take a permanent job with Strike, whom he had regarded with suspicion from the first, disliking his penury, his homelessness and the profession that Matthew seemed to find absurd. The little snatches of information that Robin brought home – Strike’s career in the Special Investigation Branch, the plain-clothes wing of the Royal Military Police, his decoration for bravery, the loss of his lower right leg, the expertise in a hundred areas of which Matthew – so used to being expert in her eyes – knew little or nothing – had not (as she had innocently hoped) built a bridge between the two men, but had somehow reinforced the wall between them.

    Strike’s burst of fame, his sudden shift from failure to success, had if anything deepened Matthew’s animosity. Robin realised belatedly that she had only exacerbated matters by pointing out Matthew’s inconsistencies: ‘You don’t like him being homeless and poor and now you don’t like him getting famous and bringing in loads of work!’

    But Strike’s worst crime in Matthew’s eyes, as she well knew, was the clinging designer dress that her boss had bought her after their trip to the hospital, the one that he had intended as a gift of gratitude and farewell, and which, after showing it to Matthew with pride and delight, and seeing his reaction, she had never dared wear.

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