Authors: Sean Campbell,Daniel Campbell
DEAD ON DEMAND
© Sean Campbell 2012
The moral rights of Sean Campbell & Daniel Campbell to be identified as the authors of this work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Published on Kindle by De Minimis.
Cover Art designed by Nadica Boskovska.
All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
CHAPTER 1: FALLING APART
Edwin cursed. The lawyers were at it again.
Virtually every week since he had become the editor at
newspaper, Edwin had been served with ominous-looking legal forms delivered in innocuous manila envelopes. The court logo visible through the plastic window was the giveaway which set his heart racing. This time was no exception. As Edwin fumbled with the envelope his pulse quickened, and his head began to throb.
Although stressful, such lawsuits were the responsibility of the paper's in-house legal team, who bore responsibility for defending the paper, or settling out of court.
It usually came down to money. Sensational stories sold papers, and profit demanded skirting the line between accuracy and attention-grabbing half-truths.
But today was different. The lawsuit wasn't addressed to
, but to Edwin Murphy. This time, it was personal.
Edwin's hands shook as the papers fell to the desk, and his eyes burned as he skimmed the document. Once he realised why he had been served, Edwin didn't hesitate. He hit the intercom buzzer, leant in towards the fuzzy microphone and said: 'Betty, cancel my morning appointments.'
With a sigh, he switched off his laptop and mobile phone, and then reached for a bottle of brandy which he kept hidden in the bottom drawer of his desk.
He should have seen it coming. His marriage had not been a happy one for a long time. It was fine during their first few years together back in Cambridge. Then, on her twenty-fourth birthday, Eleanor had confessed that she wanted to start a family. Edwin didn't feel ready yet. He thought that they were too young to be tied down. He committed the cardinal sin of saying so.
She said she understood his need for time, but in his mind that time was measured in years rather than months. Before long, Eleanor became frustrated and angry.
In true alpha-male fashion, Edwin did what every red-blooded man confronted with an angry woman does: he hid.
He spent his nights at the office, and convinced himself that he was doing it for both of them. 'I've got to earn enough for two now,' he had declared as his days began to start earlier, and finish later.
Edwin shook his head sadly, and looked around the office which had become his refuge. There were no tumblers in the office, so he upended the dregs of a coffee mug onto his ficus, and set the mug back down on his desk before pouring a generous tot.
He drank the amber liquid in one, setting his lips aflame. Brandy wasn't his tipple of choice, but on this occasion it seemed fitting. It had been a brandy his father-in-law offered when Edwin asked for Eleanor's hand in marriage. He poured himself another tot, then raised his glass to the empty office, a mocking toast to the demise of his marriage.
After several drinks, Edwin reached for the envelope again. His eyes struggled to focus as he read the reason that Eleanor had cited for the divorce: irreconcilable differences, which was as vague as only a legal document could be.
But Edwin knew what it meant. Their marriage had been on the rocks ever since they'd tried to start a family. They'd pretended, postured and tried to convince themselves otherwise but they'd never recovered from the death of their son, Drew.
It wasn't as if Edwin hadn't made an effort. Before Drew had been born, Edwin had taken early paternity leave to decorate the nursery. It was late September at the time, and a chill had begun to rattle through their Belgravia townhouse.
The townhouse was a fix-me-up. It was safe, and it was in one of London's priciest residential areas, but the interior was a shambles.
The room Eleanor chose for the nursery was on the top floor, right across the hall from the master bedroom. It was far too cold for a child. Something had to be done before young Drew arrived, and no expense was spared in making it a nursery fit for a king.
With Edwin's determined supervision, it came together in no time. He added a new stud wall and stuffed the gap with insulating foam, and painted it a vibrant mix of green and blue. The colour scheme had been recommended as soothing by Eleanor's best friend, a child psychologist. Edwin couldn't see what was so special about it, but if it kept the peace it was worth the cost of two tins of Dulux.
It was October 30th when Eleanor felt the fateful contractions during a family dinner. The food was abandoned, and Edwin rushed her straight to Barkantine Birth Centre at St Bartholomew's Hospital. On arrival, it became apparent that something was wrong.
Eleanor had abnormally high blood pressure, and was rushed into an emergency caesarean section, but it was too late. The baby was a breech birth, and Drew was born with his umbilical cord wrapped tight around his neck.
Soon after, Eleanor sank into a deep depression which didn't lift until she fell pregnant again four years later. They stayed together – united in grief at first, and later by the arrival of baby Chelsea. But something had changed, and they drifted apart.
Edwin rested his head on one hand, and lazily flicked through the paperwork with the other. There were pages and pages of legalese which he skimmed before reaching the final document: a financial summary detailing the assets they had to divide up. Their entire marriage had been reduced to a series of valuations. Shares, account balances, even his book collection had been appraised. Underneath the assets were a series of red numbers indicating debts to be taken off.
Edwin clucked at the total printed in bold at the bottom of the page. The sum total of their wealth was dismal, all things considered. They had great jobs. They owned their home. To the outside world, they were the picture-perfect professional couple.
But fate hadn't been kind to their finances. They'd invested heavily in shares, mostly banks and Fortune 500 companies. 'It's the right thing to do,' Eleanor's father had said. 'Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves
But what went up had to come down. In late 2007 the bottom fell out of the market.
At first it seemed to be confined to the French bank
, but it quickly became apparent that bad debt had been spread throughout the global banking system. Edwin swirled his brandy around absentmindedly as he remember reporting on the bank collapses with glee. He never thought that mortgages in far-off countries would ever affect his little empire. But they did. In a few short months, the Murphys' allegedly prudent investment into banks and big blue chip companies saw almost two thirds wiped off the family books in a little over a year.
While the losses were only on paper until they needed to sell, the shortfall left the Murphy family in precarious circumstances. They had foregone a repayment mortgage in favour of an interest-only mortgage and the crash wiped out their ability to repay the capital.
Eleanor blamed her husband for losing thousands, and a succession of arguments ensued. Plates were thrown, insults slung and Edwin spent many nights on the sofa.
They tried spending time apart. Eleanor began to spend every other weekend with her parents in Sandbanks. When that failed to improve things, a trial separation lead to Edwin moving out of the townhouse and into a one-bedroom flat in Angel. Soon they were seeing other people, or at least Eleanor was.
Edwin threw himself into his work with a vengeance, spending up to fourteen hours a day in the office. Even on a Sunday, Edwin could be found at his desk tapping away at his laptop, proofing, cutting, and expounding his own views in the Sunday editor's column.
In retrospect the divorce was inevitable. Edwin sighed, scribbled a note to his secretary to find the best divorce solicitors she could and resolved to take the rest of the day off.
The following Monday was a beautifully clear morning. The previous weekend's mist had settled further north and for once Edwin's small apartment felt bright and happy as the light splayed across the kitchen worktop, making the metallic sink dance.
Edwin woke early that morning. He had an eight o 'clock meeting with the American owner of
, Derek Wood, and Mr Wood did not like to be kept waiting. Edwin wolfed down a small slice of toast with no butter. He could risk nothing more fancy than that, otherwise his queasy stomach might betray him. As he showered, Edwin ran over the numbers in his mind once more. He could massage the stats only so far. Today was the day he would have to finally come clean and let Mr Wood know that the ad revenues were down for the third successive quarter.
Resolving to be blunt but honest, Edwin patted himself dry and then donned his favourite suit. It was a three-piece in dark navy wool, with a wide pin. Eleanor used to call it his power suit. He carefully donned a matching tie, straightened it using the tiny mirror above the bathroom sink, then pronounced himself respectable and left the flat to flag down a taxi.
On the North Bank of the River Thames, a wall of tall and imposing buildings crowded the skyline, stretching from the City all the way to Westminster and beyond.
In the City of London, colloquially known as the Square Mile, office blocks clawed skywards. Men in suits, working mostly in big banks and for insurance companies, could be seen scurrying around behind the windows. Many were clutching coffees, trying to revive vacant stares with an injection of caffeine.
To the west, the skyline changed. St Paul's Cathedral interrupted the office buildings, its iconic domed peak towering three hundred and sixty-five feet above the tourists below.
Further west still were some of London's most prestigious addresses, among which lay
's head office at One-Sixty-Three Fleet Street. Few tourists ventured into the area, but it was as busy as any other.
was in the heart of legal London, a stone's throw from the Royal Courts of Justice. Although many newspapers had been priced out of the area,
was still based on the same site which it had always occupied, a minute away from the Thames.
The original building was long gone, destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War. But
has risen from the ashes inside a new building, clad in glass and steel.
Staying in Fleet Street cost the owner of
, Derek Wood, more than a pretty penny, but it was worth every cent of his investment. On a clear day, Wood could see ten, maybe even twelve miles from the roof terrace. More importantly, London could see him. The bankers might have been masters of the universe, but it was Derek who decided who made the news.
In the top-floor conference room, only a French door away from Wood's private terrace, a secretary laid out a breakfast of fresh fruit and bagels. A pot of freshly brewed coffee sat on a warming plate, waiting to be poured.
Wood always began his mornings with a bagel and a coffee: black, no sugar. He did not believe in tea, and as such it was never served at the meetings he arranged, which greatly annoyed
's editor-in-chief, Edwin Murphy. Wood considered that a bonus.
Wood's personal assistant, a simpering young man fresh from Oxford, laid out a selection of newspapers at the head of the table and hovered awkwardly as Wood scanned through the headlines. Wood always indulged in this ritual. He simply had to know what the other papers were up to. Three short sharp knocks announced Edwin's arrival.
Wood glanced at his watch, nodded appreciatively at Edwin's punctual appearance and then gestured lazily at a leather chair and carried on reading. When he was finished reading the last paper, he lowered the broadsheet and gazed at Edwin over the dark rims of his designer glasses.
Wood watched Edwin sit and then help himself to a glass of water. Edwin took a quick sip to moisten his lips, and said: 'Good morning, sir. I trust you are well.'
Wood nodded for Edwin to get on with the month's presentation, tapping his watch impatiently.
'Our total readership remained steady this month. We shipped 3.06 million copies per day on the weekdays, and almost 4.7 million for the Sunday edition. This is a 0.12% increase on last month.'
'Good. Revenue is up then. By how much?'
'Well... we forecast retail income at the rate of £2.2 million net per quarter, but our quarterly revenue generated was £2.1 million. This was under-forecast due to some write-downs on bad debt.'