I knew people. I knew her boss’s boss. I knew the minister in charge of the department she worked for the last ten years. Favours for silence were owed all over the place, some for secondhand information told in confidence, others of my making. A misplaced hand here, a quiet dinner somewhere special. Right, or wrong, married men were so easy to add to the list. Still, no one answered my calls, no one gave themselves a chance to tell me I was making a fool of myself over some woman playing a cruel joke.
Swerving to avoid an oncoming car, I juggled my ringing iPhone, pulling over to answer the call I wasn’t expecting from Stan. It was my Editor-in-Chief, calling from his house, not best pleased with the interruption his celebrations. After my series of calls, word had got through and I was being warned off with some excuse about it being the season to be jolly and that’s what everyone was trying to do.
It was bollocks. These people never switched off, their work was twenty-four-seven. I was being pushed off the path because something serious was going on. It knew it with every unanswered call. My mood turned to regret as I tried to erase what I’d called her in my head, tried to remember the joy at seeing her face lighting up my phone barely an hour ago.
I skipped my parents house with fewer characters than I should have sent, and headed straight up the motorway, stopping only for supplies, parking in the underground carpark in the only space left in the line of news vans that shouldn’t be moving for another twenty-four hours.
“No,” was their immediate response, barely turning their heads from the TV as they each lay back on a mess room sofa. Dan Huntley and Mike Pollage were on the shift that was always quiet, the shift that pulled in double time, but still no one wanted. “No,” was their second reply when I told them it was just down the road and all I needed was an hour of their time and their professional skills not required. “No,” was Dan’s reply when I took the keys from the hook on the wall, Mike was coming around, his head shaking silence told me he had already given up fighting.
We were on the road within five minutes, the three of use squashed in the front seats, Mike driving, his only clause in our forced contract. Dan already digging into the pizza that was still hot enough to steam his glasses. With no traffic, the one day of the year, we parked across the gates ten minutes later. I was at the video intercom before the protection officers, dressed in festive jumpers, had left the front door flanked by two brightly lit trees. The call picked up before they’d reached the other side of the gate. It was another few minutes before I was in, leaving the windows of the van to steam. With my message relayed as I walked across the wide block paving forecourt, Mr Secretary at the door as I arrived, the two officers dispersing to separate corners.
“Ms Carmichael,” the Secretary said in his trademark low voice. He was still wearing a shirt, the loose top button and missing tie his only nod to the season. He stood with the opening spread just wide enough for his thin body, making no motion for me to enter.
“Jessica please,” I replied with my on-camera smile.
“What is it that cannot wait until my office reopens?” he said, the deep lines around his mouth curling to a glimpse of a smile.
“How’s Mrs Secretary?” I said and watched as he tried to pull the door tighter against his body.
“The family is well thankyou,” he said. “Is this a social call?” he replied raising his brow.
“No, sorry. Business,” I said and his brow stayed raised. “Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers?” I replied and watched as the smile fell from his face, his eyes shooting behind me. I turned as saw one of the protection officers looking our way, turned back to see the secretary shake his head.
“I don’t know what you mean?” he replied.
“Is that your final comment?” I said. “I have a source,” I added, raising my eyebrows. His face was pale and his hands were shaking. This man had signed off war, he’d signed off benefits cuts putting millions into poverty, he’d taken money for the party that should have gone elsewhere and he’d done it with a smile. The professional lier couldn’t keep this down. “Shit,” I let the words slip. “Shit,” I said to the percussion of my heartbeat. Fear for Toni ballooned in my chest, excitement bubbling through my brain. What the hell have I stumbled into? “Okay,” I said. “I’ll just have to take the crew and find out for myself.”
“Jessica,” he said as I turned, but I didn’t look back. “Leave this alone,” he said and thought I heard a tremble in his voice. With my heels clicking on the paving, I watched as the two officers headed in my direction, only diverted when in arms reach, the gate sliding open.
The call came through barely before we’d left the curb, Stan again, this time his temper boiling over. I held the phone away from my ear, cringing at words shouted down the line, watching the road as we headed back to the office. This was big, bigger than I could have known, but it looked like it might cost me my career. I wasn’t scared of losing my job, turning the other cheek was my fear, letting something big out of my grasp. I wasn’t scared of going it alone, it was just a little bigger than I expected. We sat in silence as the miles rumbled by like a countdown to my fate, not knowing what waited for me as we headed back at the office.
“Stop the van,” I said and Mike slowed. Dan jumped as his phone rang, handing it over as he answered the call.
“It’s for you,” he said, his face screwed up. The screen showed a withheld number, but it was Stan’s voice on the other line.
“Stick with it, but you’re on your own kid,” he said before the line went dead.
Handing back the phone, the two conversations still tangled in my head, I watched as the tall door mirrors lit up in a sea of flashing blue lights.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.