The Valley Football Stadium
As the Manchester United striker scored Henrietta Fox fired the big Nikon’s motor drive. A Charlton Athletic defender threw his body into a challenge and the two men clashed in mid-air under the floodlights. The ball they fought for spun away, looping into the net.
The camera girl, kneeling with the press photographers in the grass beside the goal, gripped her cell phone, slipping it to an ear under a mop of unruly red curls.
“That you, McKinnon? It’s Henri Fox. I’ve just pictured the Cup goal at the Valley. You want it?”
The anxious Scots voice said. “Sports Editor’s on my back, Foxy. Back page is already late. He knows the goal was at your end, we’re all watching you on Sky.”
“I got it full on, your man’s at the other end. I want a grand.” She looked up at the TV gantry, hoping McKinnon was desperate enough to pay.
“You’re an English pirate, Fox. Will ye take five hundred?”
“Shall I try the Mail or the Mirror?”
He collapsed immediately. “Aye, Foxy, we need it. Get pinging, lass. One picture. I’ll not wait for more.”
She laughed, slipping the cell phone into her leathers to make space for her laptop to transmit to the Morning Graphic. In ten minutes her goal picture would be on the presses and rolling. McKinnon had paid her rent again and she was happy. She’d been a pap for ten years and knew her worth. What she asked for, she usually got. She zipped up her leathers against the cut of the wind and raised her long lens, bringing random faces in the East Stand crystal clear in her viewfinder.
She scanned for VIP’s in the crowd. A man in his early forties she thought might be Middle Eastern caught her eye. Was he Lebanese or Greek? Possibly Jewish? He had a smooth complexion, wide eyed and assured with a heavy nose and full cheeks. His black hair, with a hint of grey at the sideburns, was a week or two over needing a trim. The untidy strands just covered his ears.
He was shorter than the woman beside him. They were deep in the Stand, their faces in a pool of light. Henrietta didn’t recognize him but knew, without doubt, she didn’t like him. She had no problem with his companion. The blonde with the distinctive blue eyes was Marie Montague, celebrity and consort to Marcus Barclay. Since her snatched picture of them kissing, any picture of the would-be First Lady made the papers and here she was, wrapped in a coat and scarf, a beret hiding her long, blonde hair.
In Henrietta’s viewfinder, the face, boldly zoomed, was impossible to miss. She was now the second most familiar face in Britain after the Queen. The couple argued with no interest in the game. Her mouth pinched, Marie Montague was getting a lecture. This was no secret lover or even a friend. The Nikon motor drive clattered under her fingers. She zipped off a sequence into its memory card. Anything Marie Montague did made her money.
And she knew just the man who would give it to her.
The Morning Graphic
Lewis Cuttner, the head of the gossip page, turned the proof in his hands, expecting a revelation. “Who’s the guy with Marie Montague, Henri? Don’t know him.”
Henrietta was vague. “They were in the crowd tonight, arguing like mad. It must make you something for the column? Mystery man out with the PM´s wife-to-be?”
Cuttner had the looks of a matinee idol on hard times. His eyes, hooding with impending middle age, were all smoldered out. He shrugged. “She’s not engaged to Barclay yet, Henri. It’s only speculation.”
“Night Talk doesn’t want it?”
“I didn’t say that. I met Lady Elizabeth Irewood at a party last night. One of Marie’s friends.”
“So?” Henri was impatient for a quick deal. She wanted to get back on the streets.
Cuttner said. “Couldn’t resist telling me she’d been to a soirée at Montague’s place in Chelsea. Our Marie is up the duff, my dear.”
Henrietta’s jaw dropped. “She’s pregnant!”
He shushed her, looking furtively around the editorial hall. “The same. Your picture is headed for page one tonight, with my exclusive, Foxy.”
“And the daddy’s Marcus Barclay? Randy old goat!”
“Who else? Tonight it’s mine. Tomorrow the whole world can have it.”
He smiled, pointing at the picture. “They don’t look like they’re screwing or anything. Not very sexy, is he?”
Henrietta pronounced. “I want a grand, Lewis.”
“Don’t you always, Henri? The Grand Dame strikes again.”
She grinned. “I’d love to be in his toast rack when the PM reads his morning paper.”
The gossip man preened. “Snatch a picture tomorrow, Foxy, you can name your price. After my story she’ll be besieged.”