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Desi nodded, interested in this useful information.

“It’s rude to call someone that,” said Paddy.

“Big Mo that runs the laundry,” explained Matt, “he’s a Paki.”

“Not really,” said Paddy, feeling uncomfortable. “I asked him, and he’s from Bombay, so he’s Indian.”

“That’s right.” Matt nodded and looked at Desi to see if that had cleared things up any.

“But Indians and Pakistanis’re not really the same thing,” Paddy said, sounding unsure when she wasn’t. “Because didn’t the Indians and the Pakistanis have a big war? I think it’s like saying an Ulsterman is the same as a Republican.”

The men nodded, but she could tell that they had stopped listening.

Desi cleared his throat. “Oh aye,” he said, not grasping her angle at all. “Everything’s more complicated when darkies are involved, eh?”

Paddy cringed. “I don’t think that’s very nice,” she said.

The men looked blank as she let herself be washed into the house on a wave of mourners. She felt their eyes on her back, judging her, thinking her a snooty wee cow.

THREE . A TYRANNY OF EGGS

Paddy had spent her lunch hour wandering around the Sunday-shuttered town, nibbling boiled eggs wrapped in tinfoil, carefully avoiding newsagents with sweets counters. She hung her duffel coat on the hook by the door, carrying her yellow canvas bag over to the copyboy bench, setting it underneath. She’d had the bag for two years and liked it. She had inked the names of bands on it, not bands she necessarily liked to listen to but ones she wanted to be associated with: guy bands like Stiff Little Fingers, the Exploited, and Squeeze.

From their bench in the corner Paddy could see down the entire hundred-foot-long, open-plan newsroom and notice when anyone raised a hand or called them for an errand. She slid her bottom along the buttery oak, pulling up next to Dub.

“Right?”

“I hate weekend shifts.” Dub glanced up from the music paper he was reading. “Quiet.”

Paddy scanned the room for raised hands or open faces. No one wanted anything. She found her thumbnail running along a gouge she had made in the wood. She liked to run her nail along the soft grain, imagining herself in the future as a grown-up journalist in a fancy suit and real shoes, on her way out to a hard story or an evening at the Press Club, brushing past and seeing the little indentations, remembering where she came from.

Murray Farquarson, known as the Beast Master, shouted out from his office. “Meehan? Is she in?”

“She’s in,” shouted Dub, nudging her to go.

Paddy stood up and sighed, affecting reluctance like they all did when called to do any work. She muttered under her breath, “For Godsake, I’m just bloody back,” dragging her feet over to Farquarson’s door, secretly pleased that he had asked for her.

Farquarson called for Paddy by name whenever he needed a discreet job done. He trusted her because she had no allegiances; none of the journalists had groomed her for an acolyte because they’d assumed she wouldn’t stay. They wouldn’t have known what to talk to her about even if they had wanted to recruit her: she didn’t like sport or know any of Hugh McDermid’s poetry. The journalists had a lot of odd ideas about women; she was always having to stay late and lift heavy boxes to show that she could. The only other women on the newsroom floor were Nancy Rilani and Kat Beesley, a genuine news reporter who had been to university and worked on a paper in England before coming home. Nancy was a heavy-breasted woman of Italian descent who wrote the agony column and most of the weekly women’s page. She never spoke to Paddy or Heather Allen, the part-time student, wouldn’t even look at them, and gave the impression that she would trade any other woman to any man for peace and favors. Kat was proud. She always wore trousers, kept her hair very short, and sat with her legs open. She stared at Paddy’s tits whenever she bothered to talk to her. Paddy didn’t quite know what the story was with her.

She peered into the dark office and found Farquarson sitting at his desk, looking through cuttings about Brian Wilcox. He was a skinny, agitated man, all angles. He lived on a diet of sugar and tea and whisky. He didn’t look up when he heard her at the door.

“JT’s in this office somewhere. Get him in here pronto. Best guess is the canteen.”

“Right ye are, Boss.”

Something big had happened in the Wilcox case or he wouldn’t be asking for the chief news reporter.

“And I want clippings about missing kids dying in accidents- railway lines, wells, quarries, that stuff. See what Helen’s got.” He pointed an accusing finger at her. “Say the clippings are for a freelancer, and don’t tell anyone about this.”

“Okay.”

Paddy walked briskly through the newsroom, out into the stairwell, and up the two flights to the canteen.

Gina and David Wilcox’s three-year-old son had been missing for almost four days. In the Daily News photo Baby Brian had a shock of white hair and a stiff, coaxed smile on his face. He had been sent out to play in the front garden at twelve o’clock and was alone for fourteen minutes while his mother spoke to the doctor on the phone about a personal matter. When Gina hung up and looked out the front door her child was gone. The child’s parents were divorced, a rare occurrence in the west of Scotland. It was mentioned in most of the coverage, as if it wouldn’t be hard to misplace a tiny child in the decadent chaos of two separate houses. The story was all over the papers- the child was pretty and it was a welcome break from tales of galloping unemployment, the Yorkshire Ripper, or Lady Diana Spencer’s simper.

The self-service canteen on the top floor was bright, the long, wide window overlooking a dirt-floor car park across the road. It was just midday, and the queue for hot food was already fifteen men long. They were printmen in blue overalls with inky fingers, hollering casual conversations at one another, shouting because the presses they worked on all day were so loud. Paddy didn’t like going down there because they had pictures of naked women on the walls and the Linotype operators stared at her tits. JT wasn’t in the queue. Through habit and affiliation the tidy rows of tables and chairs were segregated into blue-collar print workers’ and journalists’ areas. JT wasn’t sitting in either.

She ran down three flights of stairs. Staff weren’t allowed to use the lifts, nor were they usually allowed to enter or leave the building through the black marble reception area, but she was on urgent News business. The immaculately groomed Two Alisons who manned the front desk and switchboard stopped talking to watch her scuttle to the front door, pulling her cardigan around herself as she ducked out of the building. Outside, a queue of Daily News delivery vans were backed up, rear doors rolled up, showing bare metal floors strewn with sacking and tape. Paddy passed them, hurrying the four steps along the road to the door of the Press Bar.

The pub was lunchtime busy. Men were shouting to one another with an air of forced levity, anxiously squeezing in as much drinking as they could. Paddy pushed past Terry Hewitt, blushing to think what he had called her, and found JT standing at the far end of the pub, wearing a blue shirt under a brown suede safari jacket. He was nursing a half of bitter. Paddy had watched him: she knew he didn’t much like to drink, but he had to sometimes or the drunks on the paper would hate him even more. He was laughing joylessly at one of Dr. Pete’s jokes, his eagerness to fit in setting him apart. He looked relieved when Paddy told him he had to come right away, and he put down his drink with indecent haste, not even attempting to finish it or to grab one last precious mouthful. Paddy saw Dr. Pete watching the fresh young drink thoughtlessly abandoned on the table. He narrowed his eyes and shifted his gaze back to JT, his face shriveling with disgust. Oblivious, JT followed Paddy outside.

     

 

2011 - 2018