The Goring Hotel
5.40pm Thursday 28th April
The Goring Hotel was a redbrick, Victorian terraced building on six floors with a gardened courtyard. The royal suite on the 6th floor would cost £5,000 a night. The imposing, stone-arched ground floor windows had quartered panes. Now Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, SW1, was under siege. Barriers kept the public and press alike from the steps of the ‘mini-grand’ hotel and the traffic was diverted around the empty street.
Reporters and camera crews, eagle-eyed and intent on the front door of the hotel, formed up in cliques behind barriers. Mothers with children, shop girls, clerks, grandmothers and nurses formed a cosmopolitan army of London’s workers, gathered in good humour, crushed behind steel fencing. Many had sleeping bags prepared to stay till the very last celebrity sighting.
Henri Fox parted the crowding pressmen with a twist of the throttle handle. Her Yamaha Virago revved wildly and she jumped it up the kerb, hoping she wasn’t too late to join the melee. Weaving across the pavement she dodged the reporters with a regal, one-finger salute. The exhaust rasped back from the walls of the old hotel that had been the HQ of the US Army in the First World War. Now it had a war of its own outside. She killed the engine and slid off the black and chrome bike, chaining it against a railing. With a cable she locked the matt-black skid lid to it.
How she loved these big press turnouts. Friend and foe alike pitted one against the other. The outcome decided by one five hundredth of a second at F8. A Wild West paparazzi gunfight but the Colt 45 was a Canon or a Nikon. The best picture won the money. She liked to work alone. The comfortable National papers staffers stayed in their cars and the paparazzi cleaned up. Each arriving taxi brought extra players as the press gathered.
Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William was headline news across the globe. Only the killing of Osama bin Laden would take more column inches.
Henrietta shouldered her way into the front rank of cameramen opposite the door. The two leather straps of her big, digital Nikon, swinging loose, pulled at her hair. She dragged it free with a sweep of her hand, inadvertently flicking the tails of her curls into the face of the diminutive, wiry paparazzo next to her.
He stood engulfed in a shiny, grey cagoule from head to toe and his attention never wavered. He scanned from the front door to the curtains in the way that a waif watches a cream cake in a shop window.
“What’s the score, Chaz? Am I too late? Who are you on for?”
She checked the battery charge of her Nikon, and then did it again. She could taste the acrid diesel pollution of London on her tongue. She cursed she hadn’t taken time for a coffee.
The cockney cameraman shook his head.
“I’ve been ’ere overnight for the Express and the Telegraph. Kate’s not here yet, princess. Gotta come sometime. Phone the Palace PR. He’ll tell you.”
She delved inside her leathers.
“That cagoule of yours is a bit ripe, Chaz. Smells like a farmyard.”
He raised an arm to sniff at his rubber sleeve.
“Shouldn’t do. I keeps it in me wellies in the boot.”
She flipped open her mobile.
“Cass? Where are you? All hell’s breaking loose here.”
Cass Farraday grumbled a reply into her earpiece.
“I’m here. I can’t find a damn parking space.”
Henrietta rolled her eyes.
“You must be mad. No one parks in Grosvenor Gardens. Dump that car somewhere. Jump in a cab.”
“Have I missed anything?”
Henrietta looked around the crowd.
“No. The street’s full up. How about ringing the Palace? We only want to know if she’s coming.”
She grimaced at the grunt in her ear.
“I’ve already done that. Press Secretary’s gone on answer phone. ‘Leave a message.’ It’s nothing to do with them, he says. Try her side of the family. Very helpful.”
“Well, she’s not married to him, yet, Cass. Hardly a Hello! Magazine buy-up, is it. You better hurry up.”
Her companion, Chaz, raised an eyebrow. “I ’eard you, princess. We been stitched up? Who is it? The Mail? Mirror?”
Henrietta threw back her head.
“Chaz, you’re impossible. We haven’t been stitched up by anybody. No one’s buying this wedding.”
She felt in her pocket for the woollen bobble hat she had brought back from China. She had used it to disguise her unruly red hair whilst hiding on a brick barge on the Grand Union Canal. * The Deadline Murders by Ron Morgans *
She and Cass Farraday had been on the run from Shanghai gangsters and had escaped with their lives with a world exclusive. The hat was now restraining her carrot-red hair. Down the street a new cab arrived. Cass Farraday emerged. His precise, educated voice instructing the driver turned heads at the front of the pack. The cut of his dark-blue, Jermyn Street suit emphasised his spare frame, contrasting starkly with his thatch of straw-coloured hair.
Strands flew across his brow in the April wind. A white shirt and a blue and gold Old Reptonian tie completed his air of casual, unscripted elegance, as if he had a special dispensation against scruffiness. He strode to the front row of cameramen, covering the ground with imperious strides. He was talking loudly before he arrived.
“Henri. Anything happened? What have I missed?”
The public school voice caused his fellow reporters to listen intently. He gave her a ready smile and ran bony fingers through the errant strands of hair that hovered over his eyes in the wind. He smoothed them back across his skull absently, only for them to take off again.
Henrietta greeted him with disdain.
“Hello, Cass. Who are you today?”
“Royal Correspondent,” Cass replied.
“It’s a disaster. They’re not here.”
Cass Farraday scribbled in concise, shorthand outlines.
“None of them? She’s hot, Henri. We can’t get enough of Kate. But money won’t buy the pictures, nor will begging. Well, she could be hoist by her own petard.”
Henrietta looked at him askance. “What?”
Cass gave a sigh.
“Shakespeare, Henri. Hamlet. It means it could backfire on her.”
“Sometimes, Cass Farraday, you do talk a lot of bollocks.”
Hysterical, high-pitched screams, evolving quickly into a collective roar erupted from the crowds thronging Beeston Place. The press pack was transfixed on the pavement, frozen still and gaping up the street.
Henrietta was the first to react.
“Cass! She’s coming!”
A black, polished sedan turned onto Beeston Place, followed by the cops in a Range Rover. It pulled smoothly up to the steps of the Goring. Jeremy Goring, the fourth generation of Gorings to own the smart hotel, stood hand outstretched in greeting.
Kate Middleton moved quietly to be received, followed by mother Carole and sister Pippa in a fitted navy jacket and two-tone pink skirt. The crowd surged forward at the barriers in a babble of questions and good wishes, all shouting at once. The family turned, acknowledging the public cries, and each smiled.
To the crowd’s delight Kate gave a sweeping gesture, raising an arm over her head in salute to the people who had waited for days for a glimpse of her. She grinned broadly. The multitude on Beeston Place went wild.
Henrietta lowered her Nikon, dug Cass in the chest and smiled broadly, too.
“Yes! That’s my money shot. Cash in the bank, Farraday. And all mine.”
She drew out her cell phone and dialled McKinnon at the Morning Graphic.