An excerpt from Buildup: Pulling Strings

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Nicholas Farr was quite impressive in person. Tall and solidly built without being fat, attractive without being anything out of the ordinary, rather than handsome in the plastic way Justin tended to associate with politicians. "My apologies for the wait, Mr Hobb," he said in a deep, rich voice just as Justin stood up to accept the hand offered him in greeting.

Justin was half mesmerised by the voice even as he took Farr's hand, pleased to find that hand warm and dry and with no silly games about testing strength. He was utterly shocked to realise that he'd given a ritual "No, don't worry about it" completely on autopilot.

He did not need the complication of being attracted to the client.

He forced down his reaction to the man. Farr was a politician; of course he was going to be charismatic. It didn't mean anything; and besides, Justin couldn't do a good job if he was distracted.

He let go of Farr's hand and returned to his seat at the desk, glad to find that with the break in physical contact he could focus on the job again. But he had to concentrate on what Farr was saying and ignore the lovely voice as best he could. Farr had doubtless had coaching on how to win an audience, but his voice was naturally attractive, and Justin had no doubt that Farr also had a natural talent for capturing someone's attention.

Farr ran through the basics of the case with him, then said, "Do you have any thoughts at this point?"

"How secure is this room?"

And there was the first break in the politician's mask, a pleasant smile on Farr's mouth, but something harder glittering in his eyes as he said, "As secure as my staff can make it, Mr Hobb. Given the resources they have access to. Others may have greater resources."

A warning, loud and clear.

"Anywhere better?" At least offer him the chance to lay out his problem in full.

"A little walk. We can't take any of the files with us; I'm entitled to see all of the evidence against me even where it's security sensitive, but there are limits on what will be tolerated. It can't leave this building without explicit permission and good reason."

Justin nodded and followed Farr out of the room. The files weren't relevant at this point. What mattered was whether Farr was willing to come clean on the full extent of his problem.


Only when they were strolling through a rather pleasant park did Farr say, "Willing to risk hearing the lot?"

"Go on."

"It will have been arranged locally. But I doubt the ultimate backers are amongst my local enemies."

"I did check various news sources. There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether opposition to a treaty currently under negotiation is just a small minority of malcontents, or something big enough to result in active resistance."

"I don't need to explain in detail, then." Farr put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed it briefly. "Thank you for at least being willing to look at the problem. I'll understand if you decide you can't risk getting involved any more deeply."

Farr had been utterly honest about the situation, if still careful what he said. Justin liked that in a client. He was a lot more willing to stick around in a potentially dubious situation if he felt he was likely to be given warning when the shit was about to hit the fan. "What do you need?"

"As much as you're willing to give." Farr nibbled on a knuckle, the first real sign of stress he'd shown. "Just giving me some idea of whether my suspicions are correct would be helpful. If I'm wrong, it should be safe enough for you to work on my defence case. Prepare a report my lawyers can use; ideally give evidence in court if necessary." He dropped his hand to his side and looked Justin full in the face. "If I'm right... well, I'll understand if you want out before anyone starts leaning on you hard enough to hurt, but I'm still going to fight it in court. If I run or knuckle under, my financial assets and my reputation are gone anyway, and I don't think they're prepared to get physically rough in public. Not yet."

Farr's stare was intense, earnest, and once again, Justin felt that tug towards the man. Not just physical attraction. Emotional attraction. Justin had had ample opportunity to learn to read the body language of others, and this man was either a superb actor or that rarity, the honest politician. Maybe even both.

It was stupid to let interest in the client sway him, and he wouldn't have permitted himself the indulgence if it had been a simple matter of lust. But Farr as a person interested him. It would do no harm to give the man a week of his time, and at least assess the possibility of fighting the smear.

And realising that he'd accepted that it was a smear job decided him. "I'll take a look at the files and see what can be done. More than that I can't promise until I know what we're dealing with."

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