Kate took the lift down, pinching a first edition of the Evening Standard from the security desk in the marble lobby. As she waited for the barista to work his magic with the steamer, she flicked idly through the pages, checking for the bylines of friends.
The paper was wall-to-wall preparations for the London Olympics and she almost missed the paragraph at the bottom of the News in Brief column.
Headlined "Baby's Body Found," two sentences told how an infant's skeleton had been unearthed on a building site in Woolwich, not a million miles from Kate's east London home. Police were investigating. No other details. She tore it out of the paper for later. The bottom of her bag was lined with crumpled scraps of newspaper—"it's like a budgie cage," her eldest son, Jake, had teased about the shreds of paper waiting for life to be breathed
into them. Sometimes whole stories to be followed up on or, more often, just a line or a quote that made her ask, "What's the story?"
Kate reread the thirty words and wondered about the person missing from the story: the mother. As she walked back with the cups, she ticked off her questions: Who is the baby? How did it die? Who would bury a baby?
"Poor little thing," she said out loud. Her head was suddenly full of her own babies—Jake and Freddie; born two years apart but known as "the boys" in family shorthand. Them as sturdy toddlers, schoolboys in football gear, surly teenagers, and now adults—well, almost. She smiled to herself. Kate could remember the moment she
saw each of them for the first time: red, slippery bodies; crumpled, too-big skin; blinking eyes staring up from her chest; and the feeling that she had known their faces forever. How could anyone kill a baby? she thought.
When she got back to the newsroom, she put the cups down and walked over to the news desk.
"Do you mind if I have a look at this?" she asked Terry, waving the tiny cutting in front of him as he tried to make sense of a feature on foreign royals. He didn't look up so she assumed he didn't.
Her first call was to the Scotland Yard press office. When she'd started in journalism, as a trainee on a local paper in East Anglia, she used to call in at the local police station every day to lean on the front desk and look at the logbook while the sergeant chatted her up. Now, if she contacted the police, she rarely spoke to a human being. And if she did, it was likely to be a fleeting experience.
"Have you listened to the tape?" a civilian press officer would ask, in the full knowledge that she hadn't, and she would find herself quickly rerouted to a tinny recorded message that took her through every stolen lawnmower and pub punch-up in the area.
But, this time, she hit the jackpot. It was not only a real person; it was someone she knew. The voice on the other end of the phone belonged to a former colleague from her first job on a national newspaper. He was one of the poachers turned gamekeepers who'd recently joined the safer, some said saner, world of public relations.
"Hello, Kate. How are you? Long time..."
Colin Stubbs wanted to chat. He'd done well as a reporter, but his wife, Sue, had grown tired of his rackety life on the road and he'd given in to the war of attrition at home. But he was hungry for details about the world he'd left, asking for gossip about other reporters and telling her—and himself—over and over that leaving newspapers was the best thing he'd ever done.
"That's great. Lucky you," Kate said, determinedly upbeat. "I'm still slogging along at the Post. Look, Colin, I saw something in the Standard about a baby's body being found in Woolwich. Any idea how long it'd been there?"
"Oh, that. Hang on, I'll pull up the details on the computer...Here we are. Not much to go on and a bit grim, really. A workman was clearing a demolition site and moved an old urn and underneath was this tiny skeleton. Newborn, they say. Forensics are having a look but it says here that early indications are it's been there awhile—could be historic, even. It's a road in student land, towards Greenwich, I think. Don't you live round that area?"
"North of the river and a bit farther east, actually. Hackney. And still waiting for the gentrification train to stop. What else have you got on your computer? Any leads on identification?"
"No, newborns are tricky when it comes to DNA, says here. Especially if they've been underground for years. And the area is a warren of rented flats and bedsits. Tenants changing every five minutes so the copper in charge isn't optimistic about it. We've all got our hands full with the Olympics stuff..."
"Yeah, of course," Kate said. "The security must be a nightmare—I hear you're having to bus in officers from other forces to cope. And this baby story sounds like a needle-in-a-haystack job. Look, thanks, Colin. It's been good to catch up. Give my love to Sue. And, Colin, will you give me a call if anything else comes up on this?"
She smiled as she put down the phone. Kate Waters loved a needle-in-a-haystack job. The glint of something in the dark. Something to absorb her totally. Something to sink her teeth into. Something to get her out of the office.
She put on her coat and started the long walk to the lift. She didn't get far.
"Kate, are you off somewhere?" Terry shouted. "Before you go, you couldn't untangle this stuff about the Norwegian royals, could you? It's making my eyes bleed."