As I rounded the corner off Northumberland Street, I found Arendt leaning under a streetlight casting shadows round her eyes. The rest of her was orange.
“Good night?” I asked.
“Standard bukkake. Did you know some men have orange semen?”
“Not until now.”
I walked past her.
“Won’t you stay and talk a minute?” she gestured at the other side of the streetlight.
“Sure,” I walked over and leant next to her. It was only when the streetlight absorbed my weight that I realised I was exhausted. “The scholar’s dead.”
“I feel useless.”
“Well, that doesn’t help anyone. You any closer to a name?” she asked.
“I’m as close to a name as a hooker is to God.”
Arendt laughed. She wasn’t politely shrugging off a slight: more than anything else, she seemed amused.
“I’ve seen the look in men’s eyes when they abandon all pretence Joe. I’ve witnessed more honesty than the walls of a Church could ever hope to.”
I tried to appreciate what she was telling me.
“You’ve also witnessed some pretty huge dicks.”
We chuckled lightly. She folded her arms and readjusted herself against the cold.
“Whatever you do next, the solution isn’t anger.”
“If you think I’m not gonna get revenge for the scholar-”
“You used the scholar as a lead for stories, and only occasionally lighter stuff, like tax fraud. Sometimes she’d try and teach you what fractions were. The anger at her death isn’t yours.”
“What is mine then?”
Arendt stopped making eye contact.
“What is mine then?”
“Remember what I told you.”
I looked down the street where the sex shop was stood. The neon sign wasn’t on. The only time that had happened was after Princess Diana’s death, before they’d been turned right back on to offer 50% off on bereavement shags.
I looked back at Arendt. She just nodded back at the shop.
My footsteps rang out on the cobblestones. The door had been ripped off its hinges. The light from the street streamed into the landing that led to the stairs. I glided down.
Powerful white light filled every corner of the room. The desks had been tidied, and a bunch of flowers had been placed in the middle of the office. It was horrible.
The fire safety protocol had been put in a new, accessible folder pinned to the noticeboard. We had a noticeboard. I peeked inside the folder. We had a fire safety protocol. Someone must have written one to replace the old note that had read “Psyche!”. The carbon monoxide detectors looked like they were working. Someone had taken the cups off the smoke detector, and our lawyer was in his office, and not pacing the ledge at the top of the building following another libel trial.
“The Union, Joe,” my editor said behind me.
I turned round. I barely recognised the man in front of me.
“Sir, you’ve shaved.”
“They’ve put me up to deodorant as well.”
“I know, it’s unbelievable.”
“No, as in, what’s deodorant?”
“Oh, it’s a thing that’s meant to stop you smelling, apparently.”
“I never heard of it.
“I don’t blame you, it tastes dreadful. You got a present too.”
He held up an envelope with my name written on it. I grabbed it and ripped it open.
If Seat wins, we make you attend a professional ethics course.
My hands started to shake.
“What does it say?”
“If Seat wins, we make you attend a professional ethics course. Thirty.”
“Goddammit, those monsters!” my editor roared. “If we don’t give them what they want they’re gonna tear this place down to the ground! Well, tear it up to the ground.”
“Look,” I said, putting the letter in my back pocket, “none of this is ideal, but so far it’s a makeover and an empty threat.”
My editor winced slightly.
“There’s more than that at stake Joe.”
“The principle.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Also they have my kids.”
“I know what that means to you sir.”
“I should hope so. You’ve known me long enough to know I’m a family man. I’d do anything for Neil and… the other one.”
“Sir, are you wearing make-up?”
He broke away and turned around, suddenly interested in some bauble on his desk.
“Must be some eyeliner from the cross-dressing social with the dominatrices.”
I stepped into his office.
“No, I mean…” I put a hand out, and he slowly rotated back to face me. Yes, definitely a thick coat of make-up, all over his cheeks. “Sir, did they hurt you?”
“Perhaps,” he said, the gruffness in his voice slipping slightly. “It’s days like these where I find myself pining for the 70s. Back then your enemies stayed in one place, like the Vietcong, and they were straightforward and easy to fight, like the idea of doing drugs.”
There was a pause. It dawned on me that the shadows under Arendt’s eyes hadn’t been shadows.
“The chips are down,” my editor admitted. “Like that time we got busted by the Leveson Inquiry. But did we shut down then?”
“No,” I said, surprised at the conviction in my voice. “We installed a suicide net for our lawyer and carried on!”
“Exactly. The election might be our best shot of making the Union forget about us. If Von Scrutiny gets in, the old networks will be too preoccupied trying to wrest back control to worry about us. Then we go back to reporting the important stuff, like rating the Foreign Secretaries of the 20th century by how bangable they were.”
“You’re saying we attempt to influence an election?”
“I know it’s a bold suggestion for a newspaper. But I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t a last resort.”
I thought about the last time I’d said that. For the first time in years, I found myself thinking of Recliner Von Scrutiny. Those two sexy legs of hers, which was horribly deformed for a chair. I’d loved her all the same, even though I knew it was gonna end badly between us.
I took a breath.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this sordid tale: Chapter Five – A Council of Hookers