The brisk impersonal tone of the police operator’s voice still echoed in my head.
“What kind of phone?”
“Nothing valuable,” I said wearily. “Just an old iPhone. I can’t remember the model, but I can find out.”
“Thanks. Anything you can remember in terms of the exact make and serial number might help. And you mentioned medication—what kind, if you don’t mind me asking?”
I was instantly on the defensive.
“What’s my medical history got to do with this?”
“Nothing.” The operator was patient, irritatingly so. “It’s just some pills have got a street value.”
I knew the anger that flooded through me at his questions was unreasonable—he was only doing his job. But the burglar was the person who’d committed the crime. So why did I feel like I was the one being interrogated?
I was halfway to the living room with my tea when there was a banging at the door—so loud in the silent, echoing flat that I tripped and then froze, half standing, half crouching in the doorway.
I had a horrible jarring flash of a hooded face, of hands in latex gloves.
It was only when the door thudded again that I looked down and realized that my cup of tea was now lying smashed on the hallway tiles and that my feet were soaked in rapidly cooling liquid.
The door banged again.
“Just a minute!” I yelled, suddenly furious and close to tears. “I’m coming! Will you stop banging the bloody door!”
“Sorry, miss,” the policeman said when I finally opened the door. “Wasn’t sure if you’d heard.” And then, seeing the puddle of tea and the smashed shards of my cup: “Crikey, what’s been going on here then? Another break-in? Ha-ha!”
It was the afternoon by the time the policeman finished taking his report, and when he left, I opened up my laptop. It had been in the bedroom with me, and it was the only bit of tech the burglar hadn’t taken. Aside from my work, which was mostly not backed up, it had all my passwords on it, including—and I cringed as I thought about it—a file helpfully named “Banking stuff.” I didn’t actually have my pin numbers listed. But pretty much everything else was there.
As the usual deluge of e-mails dropped into my in-box, I caught sight of one headed “Planning on showing up today ;)?” and I realized with a jolt that I’d completely forgotten to contact Velocity.
I thought about e-mailing, but in the end, I fetched out the twenty-pound note I kept in the tea caddy for emergency cab money and walked to the dodgy phone shop at the tube station. It took some haggling, but eventually the guy sold me a cheap pay-as-you-go plus SIM card for fifteen pounds and I sat in the café opposite and phoned the assistant features editor, Jenn, who has the desk opposite mine.
I told her what happened, making it sound funnier and more farcical than it really had been. I dwelled heavily on the image of me chipping away at the lock with a nail file and didn’t tell her about the gloves, or the general sense of powerless terror, or the horribly vivid flashbacks that kept ambushing me just as I was rummaging for change, or stirring tea, or thinking of something else completely.
“Shit.” Her voice at the end of the crackly line was full of horror. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, more or less. But I won’t be in today, I’ve got to clear up the flat.” Although, in actual fact, it wasn’t that bad. He’d been commendably neat. For, you know, a criminal.
“God, Lo, you poor thing. Listen, do you want me to get someone else to cover you on this northern lights thing?”
For a minute I had no idea what she was talking about—then I remembered. The Aurora. A boutique super-luxury cruise liner traveling around the Norwegian fjords, and somehow, I still wasn’t quite sure how, I had been lucky enough to snag one of the handful of press passes on its maiden voyage.
It was a huge perk—in spite of working for a travel magazine, my normal beat was cutting and pasting press releases and finding images for articles sent back from luxury destinations by my boss, Rowan. It was Rowan who had been supposed to go, but unfortunately, after saying yes she had discovered that pregnancy didn’t agree with her—hyperemesis, apparently—and the cruise had landed in my lap like a big present, fraught with responsibility and possibilities. It was a vote of confidence from her, giving it to me when there were more senior people she could have buttered up, and I knew if I played my cards right on this trip, it would be a big point in my favor when it came to jockeying for Rowan’s maternity cover and maybe—just maybe—getting that promotion she’d been promising for the last few years.
It was also this weekend. Sunday, in fact. I’d be leaving in two days.
“No,” I said, surprising myself with the firmness in my voice. “No, I definitely don’t want to pull out. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? What about your passport?”
“It was in my bedroom; he didn’t find it.” Thank God.
“Are you absolutely sure?” she said again, and I could hear the concern in her voice. “This is a big deal—not just for you, for the mag I mean. If you don’t feel up to it, Rowan wouldn’t want you—”
“I am up to it,” I said, cutting her off. There was no way I was letting this opportunity slip through my fingers. If I did, it might be the last one I had. “I promise. I really want to do this, Jenn.”
“Okay . . .” she said, almost reluctantly. “Well, in that case, full steam ahead, eh? They sent through a press pack this morning, so I’ll courier that across along with your train tickets. I’ve got Rowan’s notes somewhere; I think the main thing is to do a really nice puff piece on the boat, because she’s hoping to get them on board as advertisers, but there should be some interesting people among the other guests, so if you can get anything else done in the way of profiles, so much the better.”
“Sure.” I grabbed a pen from the counter of the café and began taking notes on a paper napkin. “And remind me what time it leaves?”
“You’re catching the ten thirty train from King’s Cross—but I’ll put it all in the press pack.”
“That’s fine. And thanks, Jenn.”
“No worries,” she said. Her voice was a little wistful, and I wondered if she’d been planning to step into the breach herself. “Take care, Lo. And ’bye.”