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An excerpt from

Three In A Bed

Andrew Croker

CHAPTER 1

SATURDAY 28th June 2014 – DAY 1

The Times: BRITAIN NEARS EU EXIT

The Guardian: CAN A FEMINIST GET MARRIED?

The Sun: SCHOOL FURY AS BOY 7 DOES A SUAREZ

The one was standing, hands on hips, her toes curled over the end of the diving board. The other was lying on a sun-bed, her back arched, laughing. Bent over her in pink turtle-covered shorts, clutching a beer, the man was planting a raspberry on her flat stomach.

‘Don’t be daft.’

‘I’m serious.’

‘So am I.’

Frank leaned back in his chair, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead, ‘Look at the contrast, the blue sky, the white villa, the little splash of colour from the umbrella, the olive trees. And Burke’s shorts, like Cameron’s. And those bloody girls.’ He spread his arms. ‘I’m telling you Sam, that is art.’

‘Can I remind you we don’t have a culture section. Last Sunday we gave X-Men five stars.’

Sam was standing at the sliding glass doors that could open to the terrace, looking out and back up the Thames. If it had been a normal summer’s day he’d have been able to see over the Eye and all the way to Heathrow. ‘They’re Vilebrequins.’

‘Who the hell is he?’

‘His shorts are. Don’t go all Brian Sewell, they’re just pictures that tell a story.’

‘But it’s a classic. Look: all four in focus, pin sharp.’

Sam came over, looking over Frank’s shoulder at the layouts on his desk.

‘How do you get four?’

‘Nipples.’

He leaned on the desk, thinking about all the options. He could see how each image could be cropped; what headline would work best. ‘That one.’ He pointed at the shot where Burke was on his back on the lounger, propped up, with the blonde one astride him, again in just the tiniest of bikini bottoms.

‘Face?’

‘Exactly. Think we need to see it is him.’

‘But the big wobbly gut hanging over his shorts is good, and then I can’t use the RASPBERRY NIPPLE headline,’ said Frank.

‘Exactly.’

Sam walked across the office, past the meeting table, looking to his right through the long glass wall, past Frank’s PA Mary typing away, and across the packed newsroom. At the horseshoe of sofas he sat down and looked up at the muted wall of TV monitors that showed Frank what was happening in the world. Frank pointed at them, ‘Good job Wimbledon built that roof.’

Sam looked at the score. ‘Nadal’s killing this guy now.’

Frank started playing with one of the remotes. ‘Lost the first set though. Football starts in a minute. But I’m not still sure you’re right about this.’

‘Gordon Bennett.’ Sam pushed himself up and went back. ‘This is a serious story, Frank.’ He stood next to him again. ‘That one’s on page five, and the one with the ice cubes.’ Looking at it all laid out, any way he looked at it, it was the best story he’d done since, well, for ages - years even. ‘That one on four with all three of them needs to be bigger.’

‘You sure we can use THREE IN A BED with it?’

‘Housekeeper’s affidavit. Says he did.’

‘Lucky bastard.’

Through the glass Mary was now waving, three fingers raised, mouthing, ‘Lomax, line three.’ Frank muted the tennis and put him on the speakerphone.

‘Hi Carson, I’m with Sam. Where are you?’

‘The boat’s going back to Monaco, we’re taking the helicopter to Nice in a minute, get the jet.’

Sam resisted saying, ‘Of course you are,’ and said, ‘Good trip?’

‘Yeah, really good. But Caroline needs to get back. All under control?’

Frank said, ‘Yes fine, we’re leading with your mate Lord Nigel Burke.’

‘Good. Hi Sam. Anything new on it?’

Sam perched on the edge of the desk. ‘No, we tried again today. It’s still just no comment through his lawyers. No denial. I think they’ve gone to ground, probably got the kids away with them too, maybe abroad. There’s nothing new on the story.’

‘And guys he isn’t my mate.’

‘Doesn’t he come to your big summer party?’

‘Hell, who doesn’t?’

‘Well we don’t,’ said Sam.

‘If you fellas came nobody else would.’

They exchanged a look, both imagining their owner, Carson Lomax, padding round the deck of his yacht with a cigar in one hand and the photos in the other, probably in a similar pair of shorts. Given his wealth the Hic Salta was fairly modest at two hundred odd feet. As owners went he was fine, but he wasn’t a newspaper man at heart. He was interested, helped when he could, but Sam reckoned most of the time he was just doing what he thought Rupert Murdoch would.

‘Anyway there’s more at stake than any friendship I might have. What’s your intro? I haven’t got that.’

Sam picked up the layout. ‘MARRIED Tory Peer Lord Nigel Burke can today be exposed as a sleazy love-rat who took part in a tryst with a pair of stunning Ukranian women a THIRD of his age. As our shocking exclusive photos reveal, the 61-year-old dad-of-three was caught red-handed romping with two girls in their TWENTIES in a Black Sea love-nest – behind the back of his loyal wife SARAH.’

‘Love it,’ said Lomax. ‘What’s the headline?’

Frank said it as if he was announcing a royal birth. ‘It’s ‘RASPBERRY NIPPLED.’

‘What?’

‘It’s ice cream,’ said Sam, with no enthusiasm.

‘Where?’

‘Raspberry Ripple.’

‘I can’t see any ice cream.’

‘He’s giving her a raspberry,’ said Frank, looking at Sam for support, not getting it, and then giving him a thumbs down.

‘In what I’m looking at he’s giving her a beer.’

‘It’s an English expression, blowing a raspberry.’

‘Caroline, you have to listen to this, Frank’s telling me that in England you blow raspberries.’

Sam suppressed a laugh, knowing that Caroline wouldn’t.

‘Oh, she says you do.’

Frank didn’t want to give in. ‘It’s cockney rhyming slang, ripple nipple. As in she’s got great raspberries, which they have by the way.’

‘Hold on Carson,’ said Sam, pressing the mute button, talking to Frank. ‘Actually that’s wrong. Raspberry ripple is a cripple, not nipple ... you berk.’

Frank unmuted the phone ‘We also like ‘YOU BURKE.’

‘That even I get. Your choice of course. By the way, best photos we’ve had for ages - collector’s items, like that German guy.’

‘Helmut Newton,’ said Sam.

‘That’s the guy. What else you got?’

‘An eight page pull out on Scottish devolution.’

‘Very funny Sam. Birds and soccer then. This guy Sanchez really bite somebody?’

‘Suarez. Oh yes. You supporting USA?’

‘Hell no. Canadians don’t do that, it’d be like you guys supporting the Welsh. OK, and how’s your new boss doing?’

‘Fine, good, great,’ said Frank, looking at Sam and shrugging as if to say: ‘What am I supposed to say?’

‘Listen guys, got to go, you know what’s at stake, this is huge for everybody. Hold on.’

They could hear Lomax having some sort of discussion in the background.

He came back on. ‘Sam, Caroline says are you at the usual place later?’

‘I will be.’

‘So you OK with it?’ said Frank.

‘Guys, you two run the paper, you know I never make those calls, that’s why I pay you the big bucks.’

Frank hung up and said, ‘thanks for that.’

‘Come on, for years we worked for a chinless wonder trapped in the past, then for three years you were moaning about aggressive venture capitalists, and now we’ve got a fairly laid back billionaire who basically lets us get on with it.’

‘I know, I know.’

‘And you can’t dislike somebody who makes your soul mate Caroline happy.’

‘True. But we have now got the boy wonder,’ said Sam, pointing at the ceiling.

‘One year making tea at the Calgary Herald and he thinks he’s Citizen Kane.’

‘Anyway, what am I supposed to say to him? Carson, your son Jay’s an irritating little shit and when he’s not playing golf or out on the pull he’s interfering, and trying to show he’s in charge, while we put the paper to bed, yet again?’

‘It’s a small price to pay. I’ll give you raspberry ripples. You weren’t born within the sound of Bow Bells.’

‘On a really calm day in Watford we could hear them.’

Frank went out and asked Mary to fetch the new girl.

Mary gave him a filthy look ‘She does have a name.’

‘Sorry.’

She waited.

‘Remind me.’

‘It’s Justine. Walker. Try and remember.’

Sam looked at it all again. There really was a lot at stake here. For weeks they’d been running on empty. BGT, Bieber, Plebgate, lizard-face Farage, the World Cup, Murray mania, endless Muslim scaremongering, royal babies. The irony was that the real political significance of nailing Burke would be lost on their readers; they’d just want the fleshy hanky-panky. It annoyed him that the so-called serious newspapers would have the field day with the story.

Frank came back and sat on one of the sofas next to Sam, who had his feet up and was scrolling through the shots on his laptop of the girls cavorting – maybe frolicking was better - by the pool in various states of undress.

‘He’s right. They are a bit Helmut,’ said Sam.

‘Gary will be flattered by the comparison. How did Boris describe the Olympic beach volleyball girls?’

‘Glistening like wet otters.’

‘Sure it wasn’t beavers?’

‘It wasn’t.’

‘Think that might be lost on our readers anyway,’ said Frank, trying to get some volume on the football.

‘FIFA must be praying that Brazil stay in,’ said Sam.

‘I know, but I love Chile. And they must want Uruguay out. We’re going with Suarez having bitten eight people.’

‘Has he?’

‘Who cares? Not going to sue is he?’ Sam switched to the website version of the Burke story. ‘What do you think?’

‘I can look at the paper and tell you what’s wrong with it in five seconds,’ said Frank. ‘That said, I’ve just got no idea, it’s a mystery.’

‘Well this is the only place that this story will be real news.’

‘Yes, but it’s not a paper is it?’

Sam looked around at Frank’s time-warp office: papers and magazines piled everywhere, the massive oak desk, the filing cabinets. Frank really was old school. He admired Frank’s insistence on still coming to work in a suit, usually pin-striped, and a bright silk tie and cuff-links; his last defiant stand against the brave new digital world. Sam looked out into the newsroom where their senior crime writer was working away head to toe in Lycra, a fluorescent yellow cycling jacket hanging on the back of his chair, and thought that maybe Frank had a point.

‘The paper that drops on the doormat is about seven hours out of date, it might as well be seven days. It’s reviews and previews.’

Frank looked at the web page. ‘Who the fuck are all these women I’ve never heard of? Billi Mucklow. Iggy Azalea. Are they real people?’

‘Sure are.’ Sam scrolled down. ‘Look at this.’

‘Christ, that must be photo-shopped.’

‘No, that’s Kim Kardashian. Plan was that arse would break the Internet.’

‘I like her already.’

Sam closed the laptop. ‘Well King Canute you’d better get used to it. It’s just as sophisticated, maybe more.’

‘If you say so.’

......................................

Sam and Frank had joined the paper on the same Monday in May 1980, both just twenty. At their Friday induction session the Sports Editor Rhod Boughton asked them to critique The Sun’s preview of the FA Cup Final between West Ham and Arsenal the next day.

Frank interrupted him from the back row and said, ‘That’s bollocks.’

Boughton said, ‘What? Who said that?’

Sam and everybody else in the room turned to look at Frank.

‘That’s not the team: Devonshire and Pearson will both play.’

Sam tried desperately not to laugh.

‘You don’t know that son.’

‘Want to bet?’

Boughton, a notorious Welsh Fleet Street drinker and punter said, ‘Go on then.’

‘If I get the West Ham starting eleven right then I start in sport for you on Monday.’

‘OK Billy big bollocks, you’re on. But if you’re fucking wrong you’re fired.’

‘You’re on too Rhod.’

Frank got up, marched to the front, and shook on it. Late that Saturday night Sam found Frank in the pub. ‘That was ballsy. How did you do that?’

‘My cousin’s in the youth team. Trevor Brooking told him, he cleans his boots.’

‘You could have been fired before you were hired.’

‘Exactly. A bet to nothing.’

And that was it, they were mates. And living proof that opposites attract. Sam was drawn to the front page, Frank to the back - though Frank had somehow completed the journey before Sam had even started. Sam took a little longer and stalled in showbiz until he infamously blagged his way to Paris.

Frank outlasted most of the managers and players he knew on first name terms and became Sports Editor, and from there it was a small step to becoming Editor almost twenty years later, helped by Sam telling the then chinless proprietor Viscount Woodbury that he couldn’t see anyone else he could work for, and refusing to do it himself.

Sam knew that in theory it was simple now. They were too expensive to fire, and too good at what they did to replace. The kids who ran the online side were breathing down their necks, but in theory they were safe. Sam had steered them clear of phone hacking and all the scandal that went with it. But Sam increasingly found himself wondering, after all this time, if this place and the paper was all they’d ever know or do, and if earning too much was stopping them from doing what they really wanted to, whatever that was. Well, in Sam’s case anyway; Frank, despite his digital blind spot, still just loved it.

The last time they’d talked about it properly, Frank had said, ‘Cheer up, you make it sound like we’re in the waiting room at Dignitas.’

Sam looked out across the office and something caught his eye. Way across the office a girl was talking to somebody on magazines, and laughing. Then she turned and started heading their way. She walked past the sports desk, then exchanged a few words with the website team. He didn’t see a single person of either sex she walked past who didn’t turn to look. And while she knew it, there wasn’t a hint of self-consciousness. She seemed to be feeding off it, weaving through the desks. The way she moved reminded him of someone or something. It wasn’t a model on the catwalk. No, he couldn’t place it.

‘Who’s that?’

Frank looked up ‘Who?’

‘Who do you think? The girl who looks like she’s lost and looking for the Vogue offices.’

‘That’s the new girl, Justine, I think.’

‘Bloody hell.’

................................

Mary showed her in. Sam took his feet off the table, stood up, and slipped his shoes on.

Frank said, ‘Sam Plummer, this is Justine.’

She filled the gap and said, ‘Walker,’ and shook hands with Sam. He couldn’t help thinking she could hold her own with the two girls he’d just been looking at. Then he caught himself as he always did when he looked at a girl who he knew wasn’t much older than his daughter.

‘Justine’s’ joined the legal team, she’s on today,’ said Frank.

‘I thought Charlie was dealing with this?’

‘I’ve been working for him. He’s at a wedding today, his sister I think.’

Sam said, ‘Are you new?’ Knowing that she had to be. He would have noticed.

‘Yes. I’ve been seconded, from the group.’

Sam turned to Frank. ‘So where’s the big white chief?’

‘Donald? The Lomaxes have got him in Canada, some big group legal issue.’

‘Has he signed it off?’

‘He told Charlie to deal with it. I hear he sorted the problem and Lomax told him to go fishing. So you know what Don’s like, he’ll be in some salmon river in the middle of nowhere.’

She was looking for something in her file.

Way back when Sam had been on the front line he earned a reputation for being able to read people straight off, particularly women. He couldn’t ever remember being wrong. He’d once tried to analyse it, the eye contact, the body language, the voice, but in the end it was intangible. She looked nervous but at the same time confident, determined even, and was trying hard to look more business-like than sexy - on that one Sam thought she was failing. Yes she was in a suit, but the skirt was cut just that bit tighter and shorter than most would try. Her legs looked like they’d been waxed in the last hour. He knew she was a lawyer but if it had been his birthday he’d have still not been surprised if she’d turned out to be the strippergram. He tried hard not to stare.

They all sat down on the sofas, Justine opposite Sam.

Frank said, ‘Justine, we are going with Burke tonight.’

‘Has there been anything more?’ She asked, looking at her notes. ‘I think you spoke to Charlie last night.’

Frank intimidated a lot of people, but Sam liked the way she was cool with him. ‘We’ve had this for nearly two weeks, we can’t wait any longer. He’s had his chance’.

Mary was now semaphoring and it was enough to get Frank out of the room.

Sam carried on, ‘Not really. Been trying for a good follow-up for next week, but it’s a bit thin. No ex-boyfriends or pimps for the girls, they’ve never left Ukraine I expect, and he’s snow white - but that’s why it’s a good story. We have more good pictures though.’

‘The one with the ice cubes is great,’ she said with a straight face.

He found the way she maintained eye contact interesting - unnerving almost.

‘Isn’t it likely somebody else he’s slept with will come to us with a kiss and tell?’

He was impressed she’d made an effort to understand the business.

‘True. Our man on the ground, Damir, is still out in Odessa babysitting the housekeeper. She’s key. We’ve got her affidavit – saw all of it: him in bed with the two of them, cleared up the condoms, heard all the noise. We paid her five grand up front, five more in two weeks. More than she’d earn in a year.’

‘Where is she now?’

‘He’s got her in a hotel. Apparently she wants to go back to Kiev. It’s one of those stories that unfolds very quickly – sometimes they take months - but it’s watertight.’

‘So what is the most likely follow up?’

‘Burke will speak to somebody after this breaks, I’d like it to be us, but that’s unlikely now. He’ll use somebody - a fixer.’

‘Like Max Clifford?’

‘If he wasn’t in jail, yes. What we can do is find the two girls – we’ve got a head start, and they’ll be good value. Get the gory details, if we’re lucky they took pictures.’

She smiled and said, ‘Everybody seems to these days.’

He let that go. ‘I assume you know why this is so big?’

‘Because he’s the Tory poster boy on media reform.’

‘Very good, exactly, and he has a huge amount of public support. All those years on TV, everybody likes him, sort of Michael Palin meets Jon Snow. But fatter.’

‘But you don’t?’

‘Like him? No, we all hate him. What he’s proposing, more regulation, is a disaster.’

She picked up the draft pages. ‘That doesn’t seem to be in here.’

‘I’m sorry to say that for the majority of the population it would be, “Can we see some more pictures of those girls with their kit off?” And for Daily Mail readers ideally a bit of both. A perfect story for the sidebar of shame.’

‘So basically you’re doing the heavy lifting for the broadsheets?’

She was impressing him more now than when she’d sashayed across the newsroom floor as if she was in a shampoo commercial.

‘Have you had anything?’ He asked, back to business.

‘Just another email today from his lawyers: no comment. Reserved their position, standard stuff. You don’t know for a fact that he’s actually had penetrative sex with either or both of them though do you?’

She looked him in the eye as she said it, then crossed her legs. Sam was sure he blushed. She seemed awfully sure of herself.

‘Unless you’re Paris Hilton or Colin Farrell you tend not to video it and put it on the web, and we don’t often get pictures of actual sex acts, unless it’s a honey-trap or blackmail – or you get very lucky with CCTV.’

‘Hang on, Paris Hilton didn’t put it on line, and nor did Kim Kardashian. It’s always the guys.’

He liked the way she stood her ground.

‘Fair point. And anyway we can’t use them, even online, all we can do is sell them on. We don’t actually say bonk or shag; we say love rat, frolicking, threesome, love-nest, love-triangle, unfaithful, holed up, two-timing. The usual stuff.’

‘If three in a bed is true, three-timing even. Well, he probably just wants a show doesn’t he? He is sixty-one after all.’

He couldn’t help hoping maybe the Lomaxes would keep Donald waist-deep salmon fishing in the wilds a bit longer. Donald Whelan was great but then he didn’t come to meetings in Louboutins – nor did he have piercing blue eyes. She just gave the impression that she wouldn’t be intimidated easily, not by men anyway. Frank had once said, ‘Why have you got this pathetic weakness for strong intelligent women?’

Sam had said, ‘Sorry, how would that be a weakness?’

She carried on, ‘Have you seen the Tulisa video?’

‘I have. Crazy. And it was the guy who took that.’

‘That was fairly obvious. Doesn’t justify what they did to her.’

‘Mazher? I agree. That went too far. Look, the media coverage of the last year or so paints us all as monsters, we’re not. There are a lot of good people over there, and here.’

She said, ‘Well considering you write it, you get a pretty bad press.’

‘If you only read The Guardian and Private Eye that’s true.’

‘So where do you draw the line?’

‘Well I have some golden rules, but that comes down to values and judgement.’

‘I’d like to hear the rules some time.’

Sam looked at her and thought that was a toss-up between genuine interest, patronising him, or just taking the piss. He quite liked it.

And he hated being compared with Mazher Mahmood. The Fake Sheikh did cross the line. He’d carried on at The Sun where he left off at The News of the World. As far as Sam was concerned breaking the law and claiming it was in the public interest simply didn’t wash. And he knew right now that down at the Old Bailey a judge was hopefully deciding the same. Ironically, they just weren’t allowed to write about it.

She said, ‘So back to Burke. He and his lawyers are clearly extremely nervous that we are going to run this. Why don’t they deny it, rather than just say “no comment”?’

‘Because it’s true. Why else?’

‘Fair enough.’

‘Are you with us next week?’ He hoped she was.

‘Yes, I was seconded for a couple of months. I’m on this group fast-track programme.’

‘Enjoying it?’

‘Yes, very lively, rather fun. If you need to contact me here’s my card.’ She slid it across the table. As she leant forward he tried not to look down her shirt. ‘My mobile’s on all the time. Do you need help on the follow up?’

He took the card, running his thumb across it. It had her company email and mobile but no address. ‘Hope so, we need a good one. Or we’ll just get swept aside by the broadsheets. We can do stuff on line but we don’t have the reach. So no, not yet, but it’ll be lively tomorrow and beyond.’

‘What will the Government do?’

‘Drop him like a hot potato. Yet another really daft appointment.’

He thought they were done but she went over to the wall behind Frank’s desk and said, ‘So will this one go up there?’

He looked at the framed front pages: four rows of six that covered nearly the whole wall.

‘The Wall of Shame? Sure.’

‘All yours?’

‘All since Frank became Editor and I ran news, so about fifteen years ago.’

She looked at them all, noticing how the masthead had subtly changed over the years, the acres of flesh and screaming headlines. ‘SHAME’ was the most common word, closely followed by ‘DRUGS’ and ‘SEX.’

‘Will you start another row?’

‘No we keep it at twenty four, somebody will go. Probably the Hamiltons - fed up with them.’

‘Which are your favourites?’

Sam stayed where he was, talking through them. ‘I like the real ones. Politics is fun: Jeffrey Archer, John Major, Mandelson; I loved doing him.’

‘Not the showbiz?’

‘The Hugh Grant one was good. Prescott, bought that off Max Clifford. We all called him Max Factor.’

‘Why?’

‘The make-up artist.’

She laughed. ‘Any entrapment up there?’

Sam scanned them. ‘No. Look, I’ve done it but I’m not a big fan.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, if you get a hooker to tell some guy in a nightclub it’s £500 for a quickie and you can snort coke off my tits and he goes for it fine, but you can’t say you’ll give somebody a few million for a bit-part in a movie then badger them for sex and to score some drugs that you then supply.’

‘Still, it’s naive to fall for it.’

‘Staggering, but people do. And I simply don’t believe it’s real journalism. We’re supposed to report stories, not create them.’

She moved on, looking at the front pages. ‘I remember Rebecca Loos.’

‘Well you would. Might take her down. Sven was always great value.’

She stood looking at them with her back to him. The shirt was white and looked new, cut narrowly at the waist. The skirt could not have been a better fit. She was reading all the short punchy headlines, the photographs with acres of flesh. ‘Dominant theme really.’

He was looking at her legs, not the stories. ‘You can’t have Watergate every week.’

She turned around. ‘Do you put ‘gate’ on everything now?’

‘If we wrote Watergate now our readers would think it actually was a story about water.’

She picked up the layout from Frank’s desk, looking at the three pages. He went over and stood next to her.

‘We call that a 1-4-5.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Classic format, front page splash, double page spread on four and five’.

She put it back down. ‘With this story, these two Ukrainian girls look amazing, but isn’t it just stereotypical to talk about them as sex bimbos? I read the notes and they seem pretty hard working and well educated.’

Sam really was surprised and impressed that she’d read all the research behind the story. He sat down in Frank’s chair.

‘We don’t call them bimbos. Nobody’s used that word for a couple of years.’

‘You know what I’m saying, sex objects.’

‘I know one’s at university, but then so’s every girl in Ukraine; eying a way out, flirting with the escape committee, trading favours for a visa if they’re good, and a black Amex if they’re bad. They learn French and English so they can do the summer circuit in Monaco and winter in Courchevel.’

As she sat on the edge of the desk and looked down at him he thought if she turned up in either of those places she could start a turf-war.

‘That’s just cynical and stereotypical.’

She was right but he said, ‘Unless incentivised, beautiful young women, smart or not, tend not to go to bed with middle-aged men.’

‘If you say so.’

Before Sam had a chance to respond, Frank strode back into the office.

‘How are you two getting along?’

‘Emily Pankhurst is ahead on points.’

Justine laughed and stood up. ‘Sam’s been very helpful, yes. What would you like me to do?’

‘You’ve not done much of this before?’

‘A little elsewhere in the group but to be honest we don’t get many political sex scandals at Auto Trader.’

‘Well the protocol is that as today’s duty lawyer you advise us whether we are OK to go with it – you put it in an email, copy in Don and Charlie, and assess the risk. Based on that we go with it.’

‘OK. Well I’ll speak to Donald again, if I can reach him, and I’ll write it.’

‘Don’t worry, Frank and I have done this before, a thousand times, and I read your briefing note, it was very good. It’s just process. Do it on Monday. We’re running it, but you’ll need to stay here tonight until it’s ready to go. Keep your phone on if you go out.’

Sam said, ‘Online is the issue. Once we put it up it’s out there. All over the world there are so called journalists and all they do is look at social media and recycle it.’

‘It’s a joke,’ said Frank.

‘So what we often do, and what we’ll do tonight, is spoof the first edition with something else. Frank, what are we using?’

‘Nurses or Suarez.’

‘That stops other papers getting it in their first editions. We’ll put Burke in our second edition, and get it online during the night.’

‘So when will you pull the trigger?’

‘We’ll just watch and I’ll make the call. Early hours online.’

Frank said, ‘Those were the good old days. We actually left the building, walked the streets, knocked on doors, went out and found stories.’

As Sam stood up he knew Frank was right. Those were the days. ‘Anyway, good to meet you. We’ll talk later if we need to.’

As she picked up her file she said, ‘Thank you both, that was all very educational.’

Frank held up the layout, turning serious. ‘Do you know why this is a great story; not just good, great?’ he said.

‘By the way what is Raspberry Ripple?’

‘Don’t worry, we’re not using it.’

She thought about it. ‘Major political figure, sort of. Happily married, we think, or thought. Ukraine. Sex, we think, we know? Drugs. Exclusive?’

Frank signalled for Mary to come in, and he held up the front page mock-up. ‘Mary Cheetham, your specialist subject is tabloid journalism. Your time starts now. What makes this a great story?’

‘It’s ‘c’ Chris, the tits, in focus. All of them.’

‘Final answer?’

‘Final answer.’

‘You are funny Mary, don’t humour him,’ said Sam.

She carried on. ‘It’s because Lord bloody Nigel Burke is the architect of the proposed bloody daft Tory media reforms, and for some bizarre reason Cameron and his cronies listen to him. But now it’s another huge error of judgement, like Andy Coulson. If we nail him you two’ll never have to buy another drink in Fleet Street, or Wapping.’

‘You’re wasted out there Mary, wasted.’

Justine said ‘Is that really what this is all about?’

Sam was on his feet, wanting it to finish on the right note. ‘Yes, but not for our readers. They’ve all got double digit IQs and the attention span of Russell Brand. Both answers are actually right: if we ran that story with no pictures you wouldn’t believe it, it’s like the Fergie toe-sucking, you just couldn’t picture it yourself. It wouldn’t have the edge, or credibility. Even when Jamie Theakston admits he went with the three hookers in the torture chamber, and apologises, without the pictures…’

‘Which I did buy but we wasn’t allowed to publish,’ said Frank, opening a drawer, ‘they’re here somewhere.’

‘Not now Frank’.

He got the message and stopped rummaging. ‘Without the pictures there’s still that seed of doubt.’

‘Anyway’ said Frank in closing, dropping the layout on his desk ‘You get Sam’s point, it’s irrefutable, the camera never lies.’

‘Clearly,’ said Justine, following Mary, closing the door on her way out.

Sam was pacing the room. So what was all that about and where was it going? Nowhere - obviously. It was another fun but pointless bit of flirting that helped to alleviate boredom. But right now, for a change, he wasn’t bored; he was in the middle of a really great story, their best for a long time, and he had at least managed to persuade Frank not to spoil it with his worst ever headline.

Sam said, ‘I told you nobody under thirty knew what Raspberry Ripple is.’

‘Well we’ve got no bloody readers under thirty, as you keep telling me.’

‘We have on line.’

‘You keep telling me that too. I would have thought by now you wouldn’t get nervous.’

‘Doesn’t happen very often any more does it?’

‘Sadly not.’

‘Anyway, I can’t hide my feelings.’

‘True, you are the worst poker player I ever saw. Beautiful girl that Justine.’

‘One ugly flaw sadly.’

‘Really?’ Frank seemed surprised.

‘She was wearing an engagement ring.’

‘Ah. Well that never stopped you.’

‘That’s wedding rings.’

They sat there looking at the story again, Frank as always making changes with his thick red felt-tip pen. ‘So your headline and you let me stick with that photo.’

‘Done.’

Then they went back to the web version. Sam changed the headline to “YOU BURKE” and said, ‘It’s almost the perfect story.’

‘I know.’

‘This is going to be huge, is there anybody else in Britain hated by every single media organisation?’

‘Ed Miliband?’

Sam laughed. ‘Right, let’s light the blue touch paper then. So, out of ten?’

‘Justine?’

‘No Frank, the story.’

‘A solid nine. If he was in the cabinet, or royalty, ten.’

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