He continued down Eastgate in the suitably Monday-morning dreich. To a passerby who knew him slightly and who was ignored when he lifted his hat to McAllister, the man seemed to be searching for something or someone. Which he was; he was searching for an answer.
He reached the ornate eighteenth-century town house that loomed over the end of the High Street and paused to light a cigarette. He would need all the nicotine his body could absorb to get through this morning.
Climbing the spiral stone staircase to his office, he heard the clatter of what sounded like a bucket. Through the half-open door of his office he saw a cleaner mopping the floor. He knew the Gazette employed a cleaner, he had seen the payments in the budget, but he had never been in early enough to meet her.
"I'll no' be a minute," she said without looking up.
"Fine." He walked the five steps across the landing to the reporters' room, where the floor was still wet. He took a tall chair at the end of the long High Table, as Don McLeod, his deputy, referred to it. He lit another cigarette and waited.
As he stared out of the solitary window at the dark grey cloud cover, he started to mentally compose the obituary. A nice woman, with an impressive bosom; can't put that in an obituary. He half smiled, his first since seeing the chrysalis of her body, covered by the sheet, her hair still tight in that immaculate French roll she had worn as long as he had known her.
A good womanno, that doesn't do her justice.
"Goodness, you gave me a fright." Joanne Ross stood in the doorway. "Never expected to see you in so early."
McAllister busied himself stubbing out a cigarette in the metal ashtray with "Souvenir from Ayr" stamped around the edge.
She stared at him for a moment, seeing the darkness around and in his deep, almost navy blue, eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Let's wait for the others."
She knew that was all she would hear until Don McLeod, deputy editor; Rob McLean, her fellow reporter; and Mrs. Smart, the business manager, turned up. She took off her Fair Isle beret; finger combed her heavy chestnut hair, hung up her scarf and coat, stuffing her gloves into the pockets. It might be mid-September, but cycling across the river, the North Sea wind could penetrate right to the bone.
"Tea?" she asked.
Joanne and McAllister were awkward alone with each other. The sound of Rob running up the stairs was welcome. Following him came the wheeze of Don's breathing, clearly audible from a half-flight of stairs above.
Sitting at the reporter's table that filled up most of the narrow room, facing the Underwood typewriter that she thought of as ancient and unforgiving and imbued with the spirit of John Knox, Joanne grinned at Rob as he came in.
Rob grinned back, shook the wind out of his overlong straw hair, threw his motorbike jacket at the hatrack, which wobbled but stayed upright, and holding his hands in the air, declared, "Goal!"
Don McLeod had to climb into the tall chair beside McAllister. They always made an incongruous pairhe short and barrel shaped, the editor long and pole shaped. He sat for a moment to get his breath backthe climb up the stairs on Monday always seemed steeper than on other days. His glance at the railway station clock registered the editor's early attendance, he winked at Hector Bain, Gazette photographer and serial nuisance who had crept in, taking the chair next to Joanne, knowing she at least would not shout at him, he muttered Good morning, lass, to Joanne, ignored Robit being too early for a twenty-two-year-old's version of witand began the search of his numerous pockets for his little red pencil, the one that kept the Gazette reporters up to the mark. He found it and put it behind his right ear. Now he was ready to start the week.
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