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April 5, 2022

Exploitation


Richard Olsen is a financial journalist, investigating Hawksmoor Trading Ltd, an investment company with a lot of dirty fingers in a lot of dirty pies. His story is going nowhere until he meets Annie Hart, a junior secretary with a conscience about what Hawksmoor is doing. She provides him with the evidence he needs and even goes to bed with him. Everything seems peachy, until a lawyer comes to his office with a warning ...

Music by Music by  JuliusH Pixabay.

Image by rawpixel.com

This story first appeared in Business Spotlight.

Transcript

“Shall I get you a taxi?”  Richard asked. He turned up the collar of his cashmere coat against the dirty November wind blowing down the London street outside the restaurant in Covent Garden they’d just left.

“I’ll take the bus,” Annie answered.

“Let me walk you down to the Strand then.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “If you want. You can get your taxi from there.”

Richard had already thought of that. As they walked he tried to take her arm, but she shook herself free. Not much longer, he thought, stay nice. At the lights where she had to cross the road, he stopped.

“Well, goodbye then. I … I’m sorry it ended like this. But it’s for the best.” He thought about giving her a last kiss, but her fierce, pale face stopped him.

She nodded. “Probably. By the way, I should tell you one thing …”

“Taxi!” Richard shouted hastily, waving at a black cab. It stopped and he climbed gratefully into the warm interior.

“Take care!” he said. Odd, he thought. She doesn’t seem particularly sad. Cold, but not sad. He was glad she wasn’t crying. That was always so embarrassing.

“Camden Town, please. 156 Pratt Street.”

As the cab set off he relaxed for the first time all day. Thank God that was over! At fifty-five he was too old for this kind of thing. A pity that he couldn’t write the article he’d planned, but that bastard lawyer had left him no choice. Perhaps he and Miriam should go for a holiday somewhere nice and warm like Mustique. It would give poor Annie time to get over him.

Richard Olsen was a journalist, a financial journalist. Six months earlier he’d started researching an investment company, Hawksmoor Trading Ltd. It was a difficult organization to investigate. Its speciality was ethical investments in Africa, meaning the diamonds they traded were certified as coming from legitimate sources and the rare metals from well-managed mines with happy employees. Best of all, their return on investment was phenomenal. Quarter for quarter they showed profits between 30-50%. Big investors begged to be allowed to give them more money.

“If something seems too good to be true,” he told the financial editor of the newspaper he worked for. “Then it probably is!”

 He began collecting evidence. A geologist who’d been fired from a mine in Zambia showed him horrifying pictures of working conditions. He flew to Angola and found the company’s diamond trade was actually based on blood diamonds – stones dug up illegally and used to finance wars in the region. They were bought by middlemen, given a fake certificate and sold to Hawksmoor at a fraction of their real price.

But, every time he thought he was getting somewhere, his source would dry up. Richard became increasingly frustrated and was about to stop when he met Annie Hart, a junior secretary who’d just started in the company with a strong interest in the environment.

“They’re destroying everything they touch in Africa,” she agreed. “We have to stop them!”

Richard explained that he needed documentation to prove his claims.

“No problem,” she answered.

Her being attractive was a bonus, and after a time their meetings moved to a discreet hotel in Mayfair. He showed her any new information he’d uncovered, she gave him the documents that she’d copied, and then they went to bed. Richard could hardly believe his luck.

He began writing an exposé of the company that would lead to it being investigated from top to bottom when published.

“Thanks to you,” he told Annie. “I might end up winning awards. You’re amazing!”

So, the visit to Richard at the newspaper offices by a lawyer that morning came as a big surprise. His name was Adam Kingston, he said, and he wanted to discuss Hawksmoor Trading.

“We have nothing to discuss,” Richard said. “You’ll learn my opinion of Hawksmoor in the newspapers soon enough.”

“That would be unwise, Mr Olsen. Because then Mrs Olsen would have to learn about Ms Hart …” 

Richard’s problem was that if Miriam found out about Annie she’d divorce him, she’d warned him of that when they’d married. Consequently Richard had always been careful to keep his little affairs secret. After all, Miriam was the one with the real money and Richard had expensive tastes.

The conversation with Kingston was brief. The photographs he had of Richard and Annie were - undeniably - intimate. Richard agreed not to write an article and then rang Annie to arrange a last meeting.

Understandably, she was upset. It had been a rough day for her, she said. She’d been told by HR at Hawksmoor to clear her desk in ten minutes and was then escorted by security from the building. And now Richard didn’t want to see her anymore.

“And you’re not going to write about what we discovered?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry Annie. I was always honest to you about Miriam.”

“So I’ve lost my job for nothing!”

“And I feel terrible about that,” he said, looking sincere. “I really do.”

He ordered himself another cognac and then paid the bill.

*********************************************************************

“Darling! Wasn’t that the company you were investigating?” asked Miriam a few weeks later. Richard came off the balcony of their hotel room to find her watching CNN and a report of a police raid on the Hawksmoor offices. Senior directors were filmed being led out in handcuffs.

“Arrests followed this morning’s sensational report in The Guardian newspaper by freelance investigative journalist Annie Hart,” the reporter said. “Annie, what led you to start…”

After Miriam went down to the pool he called Annie.

“That was my story, Annie! You never told me you were a journalist! I’ll sue you, you have no right …”

“You didn’t want it, Richard,” answered Annie coolly. “Go ahead, sue me. Speak to my lawyer.”

“I will! Who is he?”

“Oh, you know him already. Adam Kingston. Shall I ask him to visit you again?”