The Bursar's Wife by E.G. Rodford is the first in the new George Kocharyan Mystery series, introducing George Kocharyan—Cambridge Confidential Services' only PI—who takes a case that quickly turns dangerous for all those involved (Available today!)
Meet George Kocharyan, Cambridge Confidential Services’ one and only private investigator. Amidst the usual jobs following unfaithful spouses, he is approached by the glamorous Sylvia Booker. The wife of the bursar of Morley College, Booker is worried that her daughter Lucy has fallen in with the wrong crowd.
Aided by his assistant Sandra and her teenage son, George soon realises that Lucy is sneaking off to the apartment of an older man, but perhaps not for the reasons one might suspect. Then an unfaithful wife he had been following is found dead. As his investigation continues— enlivened by a mild stabbing and the unwanted intervention and attention of Detective Inspector Vicky Stubbing—George begins to wonder if all the threads are connected…
I hated this bit of the job, the bit where they started crying. I pushed the box of tissues over, and Albert (‘call me Al’) Greene took one, blew his small red nose with it until it ran out of dry, then took another. I looked wistfully at Sandra’s empty chair; she knew how to deal with the criers, it was the ones that just sat there grinning that worried her. But Sandra only came in twice a week to do what little admin there was, and I was struggling to pay her for that, so I had to deal with the tears myself. Greene, an overweight, pasty-faced school teacher, took another tissue and blew hard. I picked up the photographs he was staring at and shuffled them. His wife Trisha Greene featured in all of them, all with the same man, all telling a story starting with sitting in her car outside a popular walking spot. Al Greene struggled to compose his voice.
“And you’re sure they were there together?” He was a drowning man grasping at straws.
I nodded, and referred him to my notes. I had spent an hour either sitting in my cold car or muddying my knees taking photographs in the dimming light. Many of the pictures I’d taken showed only the top of Mrs Greene’s head in her companion’s lap, or her back as she sat astride him, but I restricted the ones I showed to her husband to some heavy snogging, since I judged him a sensitive soul. He threatened tears again.
“Do you know who he is?” he asked, once he had used several more tissues – I made a mental note to up his bill.
“No,” I lied. I thought him unlikely to seek physical revenge – he seemed too in touch with his feelings for violence – but I saw no benefit in him knowing who the man was; and you never could tell how people would react to this sort of news. Besides, I’d also omitted to tell him that the man in the photo was not the only one that Mrs Greene had tested the suspension of her cabriolet with; I’d counted three others in the three times I’d tailed her to the car park. It was a known spot for casual sex.
“My mother was right about her.” He shook his head in the belated realisation that he should have listened to his mother. “I gave her everything she wanted.” His round face crumpled, and I resisted the temptation to tell him that there were obviously things she wanted that he couldn’t provide, but instead I looked through the window at the grey Cambridge skyline. If I twisted my neck and looked up Lensfield Road through the dirty glass I could just make out the clock jutting from the corner of Our Lady and the English Martyrs. It was lunchtime, but my stomach had told me that twenty minutes ago. I turned to my client.
“Do you love your wife, Al?”
He nodded hard. “Yes, of course.”
“There’s no ‘of course’ about it. I mean do you still love her despite this?” I fanned the pictures in front of him. Mrs Greene was not unattractive, and I had come to know some of her endearing mannerisms, like how she tilted her head up to look at someone under her fringe, or how she pulled at her bottom lip with her forefinger, or studied herself in the courtesy mirror in her car when speaking on her mobile phone, possibly even to Al here.
He nodded again, this time with feeling.
“Then I suggest you go home and ask her whether she is having an affair. Sometimes people are just waiting to be asked.”
“And if she denies it?”
“Then you have two choices. You can ignore it and say no more, or you can tell her you hired someone to spy on her, in which case your marriage is as good as over anyway.” He shredded his wet tissue.
“And if she confesses?”
“Then you either leave her or forgive her.” He did not look convinced by my pearls, and who could blame him. I opened a drawer in my desk. “Listen, if you do choose to forgive her, you both may have certain issues to work through, in which case you could do worse than talk to someone. If Mrs Greene were game, that is.” I flicked through a stack of business cards, given to me by the other occupants of the building: homoeopathist, acupuncturist, herbalist and nutritionist. I chose one with intertwining rings on it that read “Couples Counselling” and gave it to him.
Although the other occupants had often made clear that an investigation agency did not fit in with the spiritual ethos they were trying to engender (their words not mine), they did not turn away my referrals of highly strung clients they could pummel, prod, listen to, or ply with expensive herbal extracts. I still remembered the days when I had occupied two rooms in the building and the others were taken by a book-keeper, a literary agent and a Freudian psychotherapist. But times had changed, and I suspected that these happy therapists hoped I would leave so they could complete their little band with an aromatherapist or crystal healer.
Someone whose job it was to rake through the muck of people’s lives looking for evidence to feed the worst suspicions of loved ones or checking that disability claimants weren’t skateboarding in their spare time did not sit well with their wholesome vision. And if work continued to decline as it was doing, they would soon have their wish.
With Al Greene gone I scribbled a note for Sandra to invoice him and checked the appointment book. I had a free afternoon, so I put my feet up on the desk and planned what to do with it. I would start with lunch, then an afternoon film at the Arts Cinema. Knocking interrupted my planning. Maybe Al was back to ask me if I was sure it was his wife I had photographed. I called the knocker in and the door opened to let in the nutritionist who had a room downstairs. She looked like a walking advertisement for her profession, and leant against the open door, folding her thin brown arms.
“Nina, what a pleasant surprise,” I said, and meant it; she was the only person in the building I could have a conversation with. I swung my feet off the desk. She took in the room with amused disdain – the walls cried out for paint, the carpet for more fibre. Only a couple of pot plants on Sandra’s desk provided an oasis of life. Nina’s dark skin and hair contrasted with the starched whiteness of her coat. A small pin sat in her lapel, which I assumed showed membership of a professional body, but I had never been close enough to examine it. “Have you come to join me for a Big Mac?” I asked. “You can go large for an extra 30p.” She smiled with almond eyes and too-perfect teeth; an uninhibited smile that stirred something in me. Sometimes, if I’d had a couple of drinks, I worried about what Nina wore under her white coat. She was at least ten years my junior, but it had been ten months since my wife had found that women were more exciting than men and moved to Greece with one. Consequently I was having difficulty getting close enough to appreciate them, never mind read the badges on their lapels.
“I can see you’re busy, George, so I won’t keep you. I just came to tell you that there’s someone downstairs asking for you.”
I checked the diary again and shook my head. “I’ve nothing more today.”
“You sure?” she asked, in mock surprise. “I’d have thought that people were queuing up to find out if their partners were cheating on them.” I gave her a crooked smile.
“It’s not all I do, you know. Besides, wouldn’t you want to know whether you were being cheated on?” She unfolded her arms and looked at the flaking ceiling, taking the question seriously.
“I’m not sure. I think I’d rather not know. Or if I suspected someone I’d rather just ask than get a private eye to spy on them.” I got out of my chair, hoping she would notice that I hadn’t let myself go completely. It was pathetic, anyone over forty would not register on her radar.
“Maybe we could go for that burger and discuss it?” She smiled and opened the door.
“I always bring lunch to work, George. And anyway, I don’t eat meat.” She put her hand on the door. “I just came to tell you about your glamorous client.” I followed her out of the office. She started to walk away, and I wanted to ask her whether dinner was an option, but I’d left it too long and was relieved when she disappeared. Like I said, it was pathetic.
Dull November light filtered though the frosted glass window of the shared waiting room. It was empty except for a woman with oversized sunglasses and a silk headscarf who sat thumbing through an ancient copy of HELLO! magazine. She might have sprung from the pages of it herself, and I wished that I had spent more money on a suit. She lifted her head as I approached her, showing angled cheekbones and the sort of lips some women pursued through collagen injection. She appraised me through the dark glasses and I hoped she didn’t go on first appearances.
“George Kocharyan?” The accent was educated, clipped vowels, but difficult to pin down and a little strained. But then that described many people in Cambridge.
“I’m impressed, most people get Armenian names wrong,” I said. She stood up and smoothed her white, thigh-length raincoat. It cinched her waist with the help of a wide vinyl belt.
“May we talk in your office?”
Indeed we may, I thought, smelling money in her perfume.
Copyright © 2016 E.G. Rodford.
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E.G. Rodford is the crime-writing pseudonym of an award-winning author living in Cambridge, England. Rodford writes about the seedier side of the city where PI George Kocharyan is usually to be found.