"Why aren't you eating, Em?" he says when I put his plate on the table.
"I had a late lunch, busy with work. I'm not hungry now, but I'll have something later," I lie. I know I would choke if I put anything in my mouth.
I give my brightest smile—the one I use for photos. "I'm fine, Paul. Now eat up."
On my side of the table, I nurse a glass of wine and pretend to listen to his account of the day. His voice rises and falls, pauses while he chews the disgusting meal I've served, and resumes.
I nod periodically but I hear nothing. I wonder if Jude has seen the article.
TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012
Kate Waters was bored. It wasn't a word she normally associated with her job, but today she was stuck in the office under the nose of her boss with nothing to do but rewrites.
"Put it through your golden typewriter," Terry, the news editor, had shouted across, waving someone else's badly written story at her. "Sprinkle a bit of fairy dust on it."
And so she did.
"It's like an assembly line in here," she complained to the Crime Man, sitting opposite. "Churning out the same old rubbish with a few frills. What are you working on?"
Gordon Willis, whom the Editor always referred to by his job title—as in "Get the Crime Man on this story"—lifted his head from a newspaper and shrugged.
"Going down to the Old Bailey this afternoon—want to have a chat with the detective chief inspector in the crossbow murder. Nothing doing yet but hoping I might get a talk with the victim's sister when it finishes. Looks like she was sleeping with the killer.
"It'll be a great multi-deck headline: The Wife, the Sister and the Killer They Both Loved," he said and grinned at the thought. "Why? What have you got on?"
"Nothing. Unpicking a story one of the online slaves has done." Kate indicated a pubescent nymph typing furiously at a desk across the room. "Straight out of school."
She realized how bitter—and old—she must sound and stopped herself. The tsunami of online news had washed her and those like her to a distant shore. The reporters who once sat on the Top Table—the newspaper equivalent of the winner's podium—now perched at the edge of the newsroom, pushed farther and farther towards the exit by the growing ranks of online operatives who wrote twenty-four/seven to fill the hungry maw of rolling news.
New media stopped being new a long time ago, the Editor had lectured his staff at the Christmas party. It was the norm. It was the future. And she knew she had to stop bitching about it.
Hard, she told herself, when the most viewed stories on the paper's slick website are about Madonna's hands being veiny or an EastEnders star putting on weight. Hate a Celebrity dressed as news. Horror.
"Anyway," she said out loud, "it can wait. I'll go and get us a coffee."
Also gone were the days of the CQ—the conference quickie—once enjoyed by Fleet Street's finest in the nearest pubs while the executives were in the Editor's morning meeting. The CQ was traditionally followed by red-faced, drunken rows with the news editor, one of which, legend had it, ended with a reporter, too drunk to stand, biting his boss's ankle and another throwing a typewriter through a window into the street below.
The newsroom, now in offices above a shopping mall, had windows hermetically sealed by double glazing, and alcohol was banned. Coffee was the new addiction of choice.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Double macchiato with hazelnut syrup, please," he said. "Or some brown liquid. Whichever comes first."