Ned Silver was being banged out.
Across the Edinburgh Post newsroom, journalists were slapping their hands hard on the tabletops. It was a rhythmic racket—some were banging their feet on the floor, others tapping the sides of their grey, flickering monitors. One or two rang peals from their chipped coffee cups, using stained old spoons. The sound rebounded from the worn brown carpet to the stained white ceiling tiles, and out of the open windows to the chilly street outside.
Years ago, typewriters would have been banged, and maybe even print presses clanged, and then, after the tumult of industrial percussion, there would have been a long session of hard drinking in the pub. These days it was only tired hands sounding on dust-smeared laptops, with little time to party, commiserate and celebrate afterwards.
Shona Sandison, senior reporter, watched it all. She had seen many journalists leave in recent months. Unlike most, Ned had been a friend, once. Now he was just a speech and a night in a sodden pub away from being another memory. She watched, unsmiling, as Silver looked out over the newsroom and took a piece of paper from his rumpled corduroys. Colm, the news editor, had already handed Ned a bottle of whisky in a pale cardboard case, an envelope of money gathered from the office, and a fake front page, announcing his departure.
"Speech!" someone yelled.
"Don't encourage him," Shona said. She was working, holding a telephone receiver close to her ear, cupping her hand over it to muffle the noise of the newsroom. The phone was ringing and ringing. She was waiting for a police contact to answer his mobile.
Opposite her, swivelling on his seat, the crime reporter, Hector Stricken, grinned. "He'll love this," he said. "He's been waiting years. It's his grand exit. It might be funny. It probably rhymes or something. Give him a listen, Shona."
"I'd rather set myself on fire," she said, lolling back in her chair. Her walking stick, which she had hooked on her armrest, fell to the floor with a clunk. She had a new story to investigate. It was probably a murder, and she was gathering information—an old man in Stockbridge had been found dead in his ground-floor flat.
Shona nodded over to the office of the Post's new editor, Ron Ingleton, who appeared to be hiding. "Where's that wee prick, Ingleton?" she whispered loudly to Stricken. "Squatting in his Führer bunker?"
"Shona," Stricken said, shaking his head.
"The man's a fuckwit," she said.
Colm was saying some words about Ned's long tenure as arts correspondent at the Post...broken many stories over the years...how he had been an important asset.
"Ass-et," Shona snorted. Some people looked around. "Near enough," she muttered. The phone was still ringing, somewhere.
Shona looked over at Silver, his hair thinning, his nose redder that it used to be. When they had been friends, he had not worn his glasses, and now he wore better clothes. Back in those days, he had been floppy-haired, and thin, and funny. This was before she had been stabbed. Then, sometime after that, he had married and didn't seem to want her company anymore, with no more drinks after work, or coffees at lunchtime. Now he was going to London for some communications job, and that was that. She doubted they would speak again.
She tilted her head and turned away from the hubbub in the room, as the phone was finally picked up with a click.
Detective Reculver answered. "Ah, Shona Sandison," he said. "The impossible pencil."
"Both blunt and sharp. Go on."
"I hear a man's dead," she said.
"What's that racket?"
"An old timer is leaving," she said. "Doing a speech. Anyway, I heard it's a murder."
"You might have heard right," he rumbled. "But I can't say more at the moment. You'll get the news release like everyone else. No exclusives, this time."
"Whatever. Was it a robbery? Who was he?"
"Yes, maybe, and a suspicious death. The name was Love. An artist." Reculver lowered his voice. "Nasty business—a bloody mess. Look, meet me tomorrow, eleven a.m., normal place."
"Give me an address for this fella?"
"How about a 'please'?"
"You can have my 'thank you' tomorrow."
"No. But look near the bookshop on the main road—there's polis everywhere. Shouldn't be too hard to spot."
"A Mr. Love?"
"Aye. Do one of your internet searches—you'll find him right enough."
"Okay, see you tomorrow."