When I took my eyes off the point in the sky where she’d vanished, I noticed a silhouette at the end of the alleyway. Whoever they were, they were big. Big as the list of allegations of corporate manslaughter against The Lampoon. It would take more than bribes and blackmail to make this guy go away.
Trying not to make it seem like I’d made eye contact, I swivelled on my heel and started walking the opposite direction, whistling while I went. Heavy footsteps started to pick up behind me.
“Hey,” a voice said faintly. “Hey!”
He picked up the pace, and so did I.
“I’m not a cop!”
“Me neither!” I yelled, before breaking into a sprint.
He broke into a run and gave chase. I got to the end of the alley and rounded a corner. I slammed my hand on the top of a fence and vaulted over. I dropped by about six feet and landed at the entrance to an underpass. Doing my best to ignore the pain flaring up in my ankles, I started hobbling towards the open mouth of the tunnel.
I heard a thud. Looking behind me, he was picking himself up from the ground. He pointed a finger.
“I’m gonna get you!”
“Really?” I asked over my shoulder, voice bouncing around the underpass.
“Yeah,” his voice took on the same echo now. “In half an hour.”
This would have been more dramatic if we hadn’t been heavy smokers who’d stopped running after thirty seconds.
“You’re gonna catch up to someone like me,” I replied, between pants.
“Maybe you’re right.”
I heard a gun cock behind me.
I turned round. He was only at the entrance of the underpass. Two of the battered white lights running down the side of the tunnel revealed a man in a khaki trenchcoat and a cheap suit. There was grim resolve written on his face.
“I’ve never met someone with a face tattoo,” I said, still out of breath.
He said nothing.
“Come on, is this really how it ends?”
“Looks that way. I’m sure you’re good, but you’ll never be as cruel or as corrupt as me.”
“Oh god,” I cried, the anguish repeating itself as it ricocheted around the walls. “I’m gonna get killed by a lawyer.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“You’re about to be dead. Nothing makes an attorney money like an inheritance mess.”
“My family have nothing to inherit!”
“Only thing I’m passing on is male pattern baldness.”
There was also hereditary syphilis, but I thought that might ruin the tone. As it was, I’d caught him off guard.
He took out his wallet and threw a crumpled £5 note at my feet.
“Nothing makes money like an inheritance mess! Goodbye, friend. I hope killing the scholar was worth it.”
I perked up.
“I didn’t kill the scholar!”
“Yeah, and I don’t have hereditary syphilis.”
“Me too- I mean, no, really, I didn’t kill the scholar.”
“I saw you run out the betting shop. Her blood’s on your face.”
“I’m not a killer. I’m a journalist.”
He screwed his face up, trying to decide which was worse.
“What proof do I have?”
“Look.” It was my turn to take out my wallet. I took out the one document all hacks keep on them at all times. “I have diplomatic immunity from integrity or professional standards.”
“Issued by the British embassy?”
“No, Rupert Murdoch.”
He put the gun down and walked over to me. He snatched the piece of paper out my hand and started working his eyes over it like a typewriter. He shot a look back up at me.
“The Lampoon, eh?” he considered me a moment more. “This is getting out of hand if even you clowns know about this.”
“Thanks,” I snatched the paper back and put it away in my pocket. “You’re not that impressive either. I’ve heard the legends about the Von Scrutiny lawyer, where’s your anti-kneecap crowbar?”
“I’m not the Von Scrutiny lawyer,” he snapped. “He’s a Von Scrutiny himself, and absolute royalty.”
“Windsor Chair Von Scrutiny?”
“The very same. I’m just one of his cronies, and – if you’re not with the Students’ Union – your last chance of a scoop.”
“On principle, I’m never with the Union.”
“What principle’s that?”
“The principle of being expelled from the Union.”
We shook hands reluctantly. As we broke contact, there was a white imprint of where his palm had wrapped around my knuckles.
We made a hairpin turn out the underpass and onto the High Rise Bridge. We strode past tourists and tried to look inconspicuous.
“So you never wear trousers?”
“Not if I can help it,” I explained.
We came to stop in the middle. We leant against the bridge and stared at the river below.
“So how come you’re the best the Von Scrutiny clan can afford?”
“Seat’s a minor offshoot of a minor branch of a minor offshoot,” his eyes were on a boat making its way up the Tyne. “He’s small potatoes. All I did was defend OJ Simpson.”
“That’s all you did? He got off.”
“No, I defended him later, when he got accused of armed robbery and kidnapping.”
“Thirty three years in prison.”
“I know. Imagine if he’d served them.”
The attorney took out a hip flask.
“Von Scrutiny’s still a name that carries weight. It’s why he’s got the Union so shaken.”
“He’s got them a little more than shaken.”
“I know,” he unscrewed the lid and took a long swig. “It’s sad what happened to the scholar.”
“Sad?!” I shouted. Mist shot out my mouth and dissipated a foot above our heads. “You think it’s sad that the best quant this city’s ever known got her head blown up like a goddamn watermelon?”
“Look kid, you’re lucky to be alive.”
I opened my mouth to chew his ear off some more, but he got in before me.
“Yeah, lucky. I haven’t been told to doctor photos of you, or blackmail you, or kidnap your family,” the whiskey sloshed around as he gestured with the flask. “You’re lucky Von Scrutiny has set his ambitions on one city.” He paused, but the anger was still in his eyes. He levelled a finger at me. “You know he started off wanting this to be wholesome. He wanted to inspire girl power, like Hillary Clinton, or Priti Patel.”
I took my eye off the river and looked him square in the face. He looked at me, like he knew what was coming next.
“Who is Seat?” I asked finally. “Tell me that and I can go.”
He held eye contact for a few moments before he had to break it off.
“If I tell you who’s behind the Seat moniker, this all comes tumbling down.”
“How many more people’s blood do I have to get on my jacket before you realise it’s already tumbling down?”
“No, it really isn’t. This is real shit, kid. As real as that sexy boyfriend of yours we ran into between the chase and walking the bridge.”
That would have been too boring to relate. It was hot though.
“Fine. I’ll go back to my editor with nothing. But we’ve got a front page ready and waiting. If you give us the facts, you can get ahead of the story, but if you leave us no choice but to speculate, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
The attorney looked at me again, hurt in his eyes.
“I can’t believe this. A man of your stature – a journalist – being misleading with the truth?”
“I’m in shock myself.” I took my weight off the bridge and started to walk away. “And you know, shock can do weird things to a man. Possess him even. Compel him to sit down at his typewriter and start writing all sorts of stuff. About homicide and turmoil and crooked attorneys.”
The attorney’s jaw clenched. He set his gaze on the Baltic, which was running an art exhibition on middle aged women’s feet I’d been intending to frequent for research.
“I can’t give you a name,” he growled into the night.
“That’s okay.” I swung my body back round and continued walking. “I can sure as hell give you a story,” I called, my voice echoing round the iron girders.
“You know what, fine!” he shouted back. “I will give you something. I’ll give you your front fucking page. But remember what happens next comes down to you. You precipitated this!”
I nodded without looking back. It was then I knew I was onto something. I could pull anything off if I could pretend to know what precipitated meant.
Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Four – A Scheme is Hatched