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Three Sisters Bleeding - new Chapter 1

by  Gavaghan

Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2008
Word Count: 2354
Summary: Comments received made me realise I had begun with the wrong chapter - and so here is the new Chapter 1

High above the scurrying commuters, in her glass-walled office, Saskia sat before a polished desk. On it lay her black mobile phone.

Was it too early to phone him? She looked at her watch. It said 8.35am. No, he should have left home by now.

Still she kept her hands folded in her lap. This was a moment long-planned for, long-craved and she wanted to relish it longer. She let a hand stray to her belly.

This was the most daring thing she’d ever done, but those who dared nothing remained mired in a sludge of mediocrity.

She eased her chair around to face the soft September sunshine and studied the commuters below, who spilled from trams and buses to pick their way across St Peter’s Square.

Many hurried, clutching hastily packed bags or briefcases, stealing anxious glances at their watches before quickening their pace and muttering ‘excuse me, sorry’ as they weaved through the crowds. These she identified as the mediocre.

Some stopped to buy breakfast panninis at a yellow-awned vendor and ate them while they loitered before a shop window, a futile finger to their unappreciative bosses. These she identified as the rebellious weak.

A very few made their way through the crowds at their own pace – an easy stride before which other commuters stepped aside. These she identified as the winners.

Her kind.

She turned her chair around, reached for her mobile and called him.

‘Hello?’ His deep Irish lilt still rippled through her as it had done on their first meeting, eleven years earlier. She had wanted him then but it had not been their moment. Now was.

‘Darling, it’s me.’

She did not like the subsequent pause, in which she could imagine him glancing furtively around, his almost-black Celtic eyes rich with worry; running an agitated hand through the dark curls that, despite his forty one years, were still lush. Ciaran was simply the most beautiful man she had ever seen – how could she not want him?

‘Sas, it’s lovely to hear your voice, but I need to be quick. I’m needed in a meeting.’

‘I won’t keep you then. Are you free tonight?’

‘Angel, you know I can’t get away as often as I’d like. It’s only two days since we were last together. Can you not wait until next week? It’s hard, I know, and for me too, but next week is not so far away.’

‘I’m sorry but it can’t wait. It’s important. I need to see you as soon as possible.’

Another pause. She tapped a long fingernail on her desk.

‘I can get away for an hour tonight,’ he said.

‘Fabulous. And thank you, darling. You’re very good to me. You make me so happy, you know.’

‘As you do me, Angel. Seven thirty? At The Admiral?’

She let out a husky laugh. ‘They see us there so often they’ll be assuming we’re husband and wife by now.’

He did not laugh. She did not mind. He would have to get used to the idea.

‘See you then,’ he said.

‘Love you.’

‘Love you more.’


Satisfied, she returned the mobile to her desk. Now she needed to attend to their future together in other ways – she knew that everything she was and had drew Ciaran, despite himself, inexorably towards her. Success was like gravity.

And she was soon to have more of it.

At 9.00am Serov, Nikolai Baratynsky’s lawyer, would phone – only the second time he’d ever phoned personally.

Two years earlier, she had called in favours to attend a dinner at the British Embassy in London, because she knew there million dollar contracts would be exchanged like football cards – and where contracts were being exchanged, company lawyers were needed.

Serov had needed to call in no favours to attend. As the primary lawyer and ear of Nikolai Baratynsky, a soon-to-be Russian billionaire, his presence had been cravenly sought.

She had been seated amongst the other supplicants, far from him. She had remained patient as she picked her way through a sumptuous four course dinner, never forgetting to be interested and intriguing company to those around her. You just never knew who might one day be useful.

Her smile had become an ache by the time they had left the table and were able to mingle informally. She had moved through the room, pausing at one cluster of conversation after another, until there had been just five feet of carpet between her and Serov.

She had bided her time while companions joined and left his side. Finally, he had only one companion, a stout man in an expensively vulgar suit. He moved away to slide his hand around the waist of a high-breasted, hard-faced, bottle-blonde dripping with heavy gold. No doubt called Olga.

Saskia had crossed the five feet of carpet and without preamble said, ‘Hello Mr Serov. My name is Saskia Hunter.’

From under thick eyebrows that neither rose in surprise nor dipped in a frown, he had surveyed her with a blue-eyed cool. She had seen in those eyes admiration of her ice-blonde, high cheek-boned, sleek shouldered, beauty, but also that he had seen many beautiful women. She waited for his appreciation to deepen to something more serious, a judgement of her character, confident of what it would be.

She was ready with her own when he extended a bear-like hand, and said, ‘Miss Hunter. A pleasure.’

They had mentally danced around one another, lightly discussing the appalling night outside, the food, the room before he had put out bait - a throwaway sentence about an obscure piece of international legislation. Saskia had abandoned charm to précis exactly where and how it might impact on Baratynsky’s British business.
He had nodded without speaking. She had withdrawn a business card from her clutchbag, handed it to him and received his with cool but gracious thanks.

She had known he would not make first contact and so, a fortnight later, had mailed him an astute summary of how an update to the legislation might give Baratynsky a loophole. He had responded with a brief email – I will be in touch.

The first phone call had come eight days later from one of his juniors, asking her to give her opinion on a very minor new contract in the UK. She had postponed all other appointments and worked at home, pausing only to cram ordered-in sushi down her throat and snatch a few hours’ sleep, to produce a wide-ranging but succinct report.

Serov himself had phoned to congratulate her and ask her to handle the contract.

That night she’d had eaten Argentinian steak in Gauchos, courtesy of her joint founding partner, the very delighted Mark Mason.

Serov had never since phoned himself. Contact had always been with juniors. She hoped then that this call marked an escalation of their dealings, confirming that the fortunes of Hunter Mason would grow with that of Baratynsky.

She excised Ciaran from her mind, and focussed on the small print of the latest Baratynsky contract. When her phone beeped at precisely 9.00 am, she answered to hear her secretary’s voice announcing Mr Serov.

‘Put him through.’

She waited for the clicking that told her she had Serov on the line, and then said, ‘Serov. How is St Petersburg this morning?’

‘Cold, but beautiful. Like Saskia. How are you today?’

‘I’m good, thank you. Particularly smiling at this moment because I have you on the line.’

He laughed, then said, ‘I would like to ask you a favour.’

‘Of course. What?’

‘I have a problem. Your Serious Fraud Office is investigating Baratynsky’s restaurants in the UK.’

‘But he only has three restaurants in the UK. Why on earth would the SFO be interested in them?’

‘Agh, a disgruntled competitor. Baratynsky has done nothing wrong and so he cannot hurt him on anything big, so he seeks to bring him down on a technicality. And the SFO would like to capitalise on this, make like Eliot Ness bringing in Al Capone for taxes. They have not had enough successes recently.’

A muffled alarm bell rang at the back of her brain. Involvement in anything that brought down the SFO made company lawyers nervous. Licences to practise could be at stake.

Cautiously, she said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Serov. But so long as there are the successful, the less successful will want to bring them down. A sad part of life, but one we unfortunately have to deal with. Tell me, have there been any transgressions in those restaurants?’

‘Oh, the usual. Suppliers kept sweet, that kind of thing. Nothing that would lead to more than minor fines.’

‘Only embarrassment then?’

He paused. ‘Perhaps a little more. It is not the restaurants themselves that concern me. My concern is with one of the suppliers who also links to Baratynsky’s wider interests.’

‘Ah. You mean the trail might lead to much bigger difficulties?’

He said nothing.

‘Serov, what favour are you asking of me?’

‘I would like you to dispose of all the paperwork you have relating to Xtron UK.’

She bit back, ‘What?’ The clanging of alarm bells momentarily deafened her.

‘Servov, could you forgive me for just one moment? My secretary is trying to attract my attention, it must be extremely important for her to knowingly interrupt a conversation with you.’

‘Of course. Take as long as you need.’

‘Thank you.’ She put the phone on mute.


She had handled the paperwork for Xtron UK and knew there was nothing illegal in any of it. Yes, they’d flown mighty close to the law, as close as possible without breaking it – but that was what company lawyers were paid remarkable sums to do. She had seen nothing that had crossed the line.

Which meant Serov had slipped something by her, in another guise. Something apparently innocent that spread its tentacles into something illegal and very big. And in which she was implicated.

Christ, what was it?

She breathed deep and reconnected the line. ‘Forgive me, the interruption was important but not important enough to justify breaking into our conversation. I’ll speak to my secretary about that later.’

‘Do not apologise, Saskia, I understand.’

Probably only too well, she thought. ‘You were saying?’

‘I would like you to dispose of all the paperwork you have relating to Xtron UK.’

‘Serov, that would place me in a very difficult position. If the SFO approach me for paperwork I must provide it.’

‘What you cannot dispose of you must amend.’

Must? The word descended like frost. Serov was a charmer, evasive, elusive, he worked through silence and inference. He never used words like must. Here was the steel she had known was in him but had expected never to be used against her.

Shit. Shit. Fuck. Shit.

‘I need more detail,’ she said.

‘Of course. I will have one of my team furnish you with all the detail you need.’

She hated his certainty that she would comply. It meant he knew she had no choice. That she was as deep in it as he was, deeper. Little people like her might go down, but not Serov and Baratynsky.

‘I look forward to speaking again soon, Serov.’

‘I will be very busy. One of my team will deal with you until all this has been cleared up and I am in a position to put further work your way in thanks. And there will be a great deal more work for you if you impress me in this. It is at these moments one discovers the mettle of a person, and whether they can be trusted in much bigger matters. And one more thing.’


‘There are to be no emails, no letters, no trace. You deal with my people by phone only.’

‘Of course.’

‘Goodbye for now.’

She rose and strode across her office, the clicking of her heels swallowed by the thick carpet, into the main work area. At the sight of her, the solicitors and secretaries who occupied it refocused with exaggerated concentration on their tasks. She crossed to her secretary’s side and leaned down to her ear.

‘Re-schedule all my appointments for two days, bring me a pot of black coffee and everything we have on Baratynsky.’


‘Yes. Everything. And if you value your job, not a word of this to anyone.’

‘What about Mr Mason?’

Should she tell Mark? As joint founding partner of Hunter Mason perhaps he should know. No. Her professional reputation had once before cracked, and it had been the work of years to fix and polish it until it glistened again. She would only tell him when and if she had to.

‘No. Not a word to anyone.’

She returned to her office, closed the door behind her and flung herself in her chair.


A surge of adrenalin raced hot-cold through her body. Claustrophobia raced after it. She wanted to be anywhere in the world but here, anyone in the world but her.


This isn’t helpful.

Breathe. Calm. Think.

She found a hand had strayed to her belly again. Her breath slowed. The adrenalin subsided, then the claustrophobia. ‘For my future with your Dad, this is not going to happen.’

When her secretary appeared five minutes later with a pot of coffee and the first of many files, Saskia was ready. She combed through one after the other, reading and re-reading correspondence and contracts, making notes, sitting back to consider links. She drew spider diagrams of each contract, who it linked to, who it went to beyond that; studied the network, pulled other files before her to scrutinise.

Her mobile buzzed. Fuck that.

Hold on. What if it was Ciaran? Cancelling tonight?

She picked up her mobile. A text from her sister, Annis. Well, it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been from their other sister, Heloise. She opened it.

‘I’ve been trying to reach Helly, but she isn’t answering. Have you heard from her? I’m worried about her xxx’

Christ, isn’t everyone always worried about Heloise? How about someone worry about me for once?