When a body is pulled out of an office fire, three women are first in line for questioning. All of them have reasons for wanting revenge against the company’s CEO.
It could be Laura, who has returned to work to find that her maternity cover isn’t leaving. The CEO insists he’s doing what’s best for the company. Laura isn’t convinced he’s telling the truth.
Or there’s Mia. Brought in as temporary cover for Laura, she has quickly made herself indispensable – and popular with her colleagues. But if people knew why she was so desperate to keep her job, they might not welcome her so freely.
Then there’s Janie, wife to the CEO, who gave up her courtroom career to support her husband and his business. She has her own secret to protect – and will go to any length to keep it safe.
They never thought it would come to this.
Read on for an extract from Three Perfect Liars by Heidi Perks!
Three Perfect Liars
The Night of the Fire
Monday 13 May
It had taken seven minutes for the first of the fire engines to screech to a halt outside the offices of Morris & Wood, but even by then anyone could have seen it was too late. The fire had coursed through the building at an alarming rate. Red and orange flames were already obscured by a billowing cloud of dark-grey smoke. The sound of breaking glass shattered the air.
She was on the quay across the river from the office, with a perfect view that she no longer wanted, yet couldn’t bring herself to turn away from.
To her right a few people had spilled out of The Star pub and the couple of restaurants nearby. It was a warm evening in mid-May, warm enough to be out enjoying the longer evening even though it was a Monday night.
Most of the onlookers had probably protested against the development of the Morris & Wood offices when plans for the building were first proposed to the council. The development had caused outrage five years ago. Ad hoc meetings set up in cafés and school halls had been attended by angry residents from Lymington and beyond, who refused to allow such an eyesore to be built.
No one, they had said, wants to look across the Lymington River from the beautiful quay and see a monstrosity of a glass office staring back at them. Bloody Londoners, they had murmured among themselves. They are the problem, coming to the south coast from the city, taking over our town.
Only a few months later Harry Wood had had them all eating out of his palm. Well, maybe not all of them, but the ones who counted.
And so the plans had been approved, the building work started. Anyone who knew the first thing about architecture should have been able to see the offices would be a thing of beauty – too much so for an advertising agency perhaps?
By then the same residents had begun to forgive Harry Wood for anything. He had recruited locally, was supporting charities close to their hearts. The Lymington Care Home had never had so many minibuses and outings to the New Forest.
Yet once upon a time some of the people now gawping at the fire, as it continued to ravage the building, might have joked to their friends that they’d have liked to have burned it to the ground themselves. Because even after it was built, when its tall glass front reflected the light from the water, dappled against the setting sun, it still left a bitter taste in the mouths of a few. The ones who saw through people like Harry Wood.
Possibly, she considered, over the course of the next few days the police might wonder if there was any link between those early protestors and the fire.
Her heart beat rapidly at this thought, her eyes scanning the small crowd.
Might they think that? Was it possible the police would focus their attention on something so altogether different from the truth?
She pulled back against the wall, hoping to keep out of sight. Her pulse reverberated through her ears, deafening her to the sounds of the commotion unfurling in front of her eyes.
Three fire engines were now parked haphazardly, at least two police cars that she could see, and now an ambulance was pulling to a halt. The scene played out like a silent movie. She could imagine it unfurling in slow motion, even though the reality was frenzied.
There was a taste of salt on her lips and she licked it away, realising tears had escaped without her knowledge. Clenching her arms across her chest, she wrapped them around herself as tightly as she could, almost folding inwards. Her fingers tingled. If she brought them to her nostrils she would smell the fuel on them. She didn’t think she would ever forget that stench, its potency making her want to retch.
Is this what you wanted? she asked herself.
She pulled a hand away from her chest and held it over her mouth, her mind racing. She tried to imagine what would happen in the morning. How many employees would turn up to find nothing more than a pile of rubble where their precious offices once stood, or if they’d already have been told they no longer had jobs to go to.
Every one of them would no doubt have to speak to the police, tell them what little they knew. She was certain the detectives would be merely scratching the surface when it came to most of the staff, led on a merry dance that took them far away from what had really happened.
There would likely be the odd comment from one or two members of the team who thought they had something of interest to say, but she doubted they’d point the detectives in the right direction.
She focused her gaze on the small gathering of uniforms grouped beside one of the fire engines. A fireman was gesturing, pointing fiercely towards the building, while another one yelled behind him, calling others over. She hadn’t imagined the fire would spread so quickly.
Suddenly it was apparent that something was happening. Something urgent, for even from here she could sense the apprehension in the air. It had darkened somehow, become thicker with foreboding.
Automatically she inched forward until she was trapped in the beam of a street light. Her heart pounded even more heavily against the wall of her chest as she strained to get a better view, edging closer still, along the narrow pathway that ran in front of the waterside houses.
Everything told her she should leave. She should be at home with her family. At some point there would be a call about what had happened and, when it came, that was where she needed to be.
And yet at the same time she couldn’t tear herself away from the scene.
One of the firemen had now stood aside, allowing her a perfect vision of the stretcher on the pavement. A body was being carried out of the burning building, laid upon the stretcher, and then a circle of people closed around it and she could see no more.
Her body felt like liquid, as if at any moment she would melt away and sink into the ground.
What had she done? It had seemed such a perfect solution. But now could she see that it was by no means an end. It was only the beginning. Now she could see that her actions would strip her of everything that was truly important.
She clutched her stomach and bent double, retching on the path beside her. Her hands shook violently.
Revenge and anger had blinded her, and now she might very well lose the two most important people in her life. And it was too late to do anything about it.
Tuesday 14 May
Initial interviews between DC Emily Marlow and the staff of Morris & Wood, following the fire on Monday 13 May
Bryony Knight, Account Assistant
Bryony: Is anyone dead?
Marlow: I’m afraid we can’t answer that at this moment.
Bryony: Can’t answer? (pauses) Okay. Well. In answer to your question, I’v worked there for eighteen months.
Marlow: And who do you report into?
Bryony: Well (laughs), it was Laura Denning, before she went off on maternity leave. Then it was Mia, who replaced her, and now – it’s both of them! It doesn’t really work but… Do you know what’s going to happen? I mean, am I going to carry on getting paid? I’ve got rent to pay and if I can’t work…
Marlow: These are all things you’ll have to ask your Human Resources department. As I’m sure you can appreciate, I’m investigating the fire.
Bryony: I know. I just – well, I can’t afford to lose the money, that’s all.
Marlow: You say you like it there. So you enjoy your job? Have you always been happy at Morris & Wood?
Bryony: Totally. It’s an awesome place to work, I mean the offices are – were, I mean – the offices were amazing. Shit! I can’t believe they’re actually gone. Who could have done it?
Marlow: That’s what we’re trying to ascertain.
Bryony: And you think it was someone who worked there? That’s why you’re interviewing us all?
Marlow: No, I’m not saying that. I’m just trying to build up a picture of what the staff thought of the company, and how you all felt about working for Harry Wood.
Bryony: Well, Harry’s amazing. He’s a totally great boss. Everyone loves working for Harry – you won’t be able to find one person who doesn’t. Harry always stops and talks to you, he’s (laughs)… I don’t know. He’s very good-looking.
Marlow: So, in your opinion, you think everyone believes Harry Wood is a good CEO?
Bryony: Oh God, yeah. I mean, I don’t really know what a CEO does or anything, but if you mean do I think everyone was happy working for him, then as I say, totally. That’s why no one ever leaves.
Marlow: I see someone left very recently. Sarah Clifton?
Bryony: Oh, right, Sarah. Yes, of course. I forgot about her.
Marlow: Do you know why she did?
Bryony: Well, not for sure, but I heard the rumours.
Marlow: The rumours?
Bryony: Well, yeah. She had issues with her boss, Mike Lewis. But… well, one day she’d suddenly just gone. She was a very quiet girl. I didn’t even realise she’d left until a week later.
Marlow: Did you hear any other rumours, Miss Knight?
Bryony: Like what?
Marlow: Anything at all.
Bryony: (pauses) There are always rumours in an office that big; it depends which one you mean.
Henrietta James, Senior Account Manager
Henrietta: Harry Wood is a good CEO, I suppose, but I didn’t have much to do with him on a day-to-day basis. Of course all the young girls love him. By ‘young’ I mean the ones in their twenties. Not that I’m old, for God’s sake – I’m only forty-two – but you feel it sometimes, you know? When everyone around you wasn’t even born when you were leaving school. (laughs) Anyway, I think they like him because he’s always very nice, and of course he is handsome. Even I can give him that, but I guess they’re blinded at that age, aren’t they?
Marlow: How do you mean blinded? Do you think you saw things they didn’t?
Henrietta: I’m sure I did.
Marlow: Such as?
Henrietta: (sighs) Such as the way he only really has time for his own, I suppose. The people who work directly under him. He makes a show of speaking to us all, of course, but it always feels a little… off. I think he’s happiest when he’s around the board table with the senior directors.
Marlow: Mia Anderson is one of your directors, is that correct?
Henrietta: (nods) That’s right. We have five of them now. There had only ever been four in the whole time I’ve worked there, but Harry kept Mia on. Thank God, if you ask me. It was about time we had someone like Mia.
Marlow: What do mean, ‘someone like Mia’?
Henrietta: A woman at that level we could talk to. You know, she’s only the second woman to sit on the board?
Marlow: Mainly men were appointed?
Henrietta: Oh yes.
Marlow: Do you think this was an issue?
Henrietta: I don’t know. I’d never really given it much thought before. I always thought it was just the way it is. Women go off and have babies. That’s what they say, don’t they? Take me, I went part-time after having kids, so why would anyone consider me for a promotion?
Marlow: You don’t think you’d get promoted because you’re part-time?
Henrietta: I know I won’t.
Marlow: Is that the way it is throughout the company?
Henrietta: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the way Harry does things.
Marlow: I’m not suggesting you are.
Henrietta: I’m not trying to cause trouble or anything. I’m not saying there’s some inequality issue… I never did buy into all the stuff that —
Henrietta: It doesn’t matter. I’m just saying I don’t want you to start thinking I had any issues. I didn’t.
Marlow: I realise that isn’t what you’re suggesting.
You say it was nice to have Mia Anderson, because you could talk to her. How about Laura Denning? I believe she’s the other director you refer to? The other woman who sits on the board?
Henrietta: She is, but I’ve never really felt comfortable talking to Laura about anything personal. Laura Denning is very – professional, I suppose you would say.
Marlow: Mia Anderson was brought in to cover Laura Denning’s maternity leave?
Henrietta: (nods) Laura went off for six months. She came back two months ago.
Marlow: And yet Mia Anderson is still there? Has this caused any issues, in your opinion?
Henrietta: (laughs) Oh yes, and that’s a whole different story.
Marlow: In what way?
Henrietta: It didn’t go down well at all. The moment Laura Denning walked back in, after she’d had her baby – well, let’s just say we all knew there’d be problems. Yes, I suppose after that, things definitely started to change at Morris & Wood.
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