#18 The Daily Reflection (2/2)
Part 2 of a political drama
Thank you so much for reading this far. In part 1 of The Daily Reflection, we met the MP for Surrey South, Charlotte Lawe, who recently voted against her government on a Bill in Parliament, and whose parliamentary researcher was sexually assaulted at work.
Charlotte has been accused of having an affair with the Adviser, Alex Rowledge. The only problem is: she’s never heard of him. When we last saw Charlotte, she was about to leave Parliament for the head offices of The Daily Reflection, the newspaper printing the stories about her affair.
To catch up on part 1, click here.
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#17 The Daily Reflection, Part 2
Charlotte stares back at herself in the mirrored walls that construct the building. A fitting metaphor, she thinks. Not just for the title though, but because it’s opaque, you cannot see what’s on the other side. There is no transparency to criticise its journalism.
She takes a great sigh and steps through the double doors. Approaching the electronic gates, she pauses and turns to the receptionist.
‘Excuse me, hi, hello. I’m here for The Daily Reflection, on the fifth floor.’
‘Thank you, madame. What was your name?’
The receptionist - who was loudly chewing on some very sticky gum - stops her chewing and rattles her fingers on the keyboard.
‘There’s no guests registered under that name, here, madam.’
‘No, no, I don’t have an appointment. I am here for the journalist, Isabel Beare. She wrote this article.’ Charlotte holds up a paper she bought in an off license around the corner.
‘I see. Madam, I can’t let you in unless you have an appointment.’
‘Please, call the journalist, she’ll know my name and want to speak to me.’
‘Please. I’m begging you.’
The receptionist looks up at her with a vacant expression, devoid of empathy. But then she lifts up the phone and calls the fifth floor.
‘Hi, Abigail. Can you put me through to Isabel Beare? Yeah, Isabel Beare, please.’ While she awaits the response on the other end of the line, the receptionist smiles - almost sarcastically - at Charlotte. ‘Oh, there is no Isabel Beare. Is that right?’ Her face droops and Charlotte looks confusedly at her. The receptionist puts the phone down. ‘Listen, Madam, I can’t be entertaining this. Please leave the premises. Arrange a meeting with the journalist if you want, you can speak to them that way.’
‘No, listen to me. Look at this article. That name there - that’s Charlotte Lawe - that’s me. That name there - that’s Isabel Beare - the author of this article. She does work here.’
‘Maybe they didn’t want you to come in. That’s within their rights.’
‘That is, that is. But I think there’s something wrong. Listen, I’m an MP - see, it says so here. This paper is printing lies about me. This whole article, here, is fiction. Call Abigail back. Tell her I’m here for the Editor.’
‘Yes, say the MP Charlotte Lawe would like to speak to the Editor. Now.’
The receptionist looks around, her teeth chomping away independently at the gum in her mouth. She shakes her head and then picks her phone back up again.
Charlotte mouths the words Thank you and steps back from the desk.
The conversation involves a series of mmhmms and yeps but not much in the way of content that Charlotte can deduce. When the receptionist puts the phone down, Charlotte begs, ‘What happened? Can I go up?’
But all she received was a shrug of the shoulders, and the unhelpful message that, ‘She’ll see what she can do.’
‘Right, well, what shall I do?’
‘I suggest you wait here five minutes and I’ll let you know if anything comes through.’
Charlotte turns and finds a plush, modern sofa with not much in the way of a backrest. She sighs and slumps into it, watching as a stream of people approach the receptionist and disappear beyond the electronic gates and up the elevators. She looks at the story again but it only makes her hands tingle with rage. She throws it aside and closes her eyes. She remembers the summer holiday she had with her husband and kids in Crete: the beaches, the gulls squawking and soaring overhead, the olive-skinned Greek folk strutting up and down the beaches drinking beer.
‘I’ve only got five minutes, what is it?’
Charlotte’s eyes opened to see the slicked grey swirls of David Monroe’s hair, the trim navy suit and the leather shoes so well shined that she’s blinded by the light that reflects from them.
‘You’re here about the articles, I assume.’
‘Yes, y-yes. Of course I am.’
‘Of course you are. Well, don’t waste your time. We have nothing to do for you.’
‘I want to speak to the journalist.’
‘There is no journalist.’
Charlotte looks at him with an odd expression. Then she replies with a great smile, ‘Ha, ha, of course there is. Her name is Isabel Beare.’
‘No, no, I don’t think there is.’
‘Stop it. Take me up, now, I want to speak to her. It’s not funny.’
‘You’re more than welcome to come.’ He steps aside to show her to the gate. He looks at the receptionist and smiles, as though to say, it’s all fine here.
Charlotte looks at him and then steps forward towards the gate. They ride the elevator up to the floor of The Daily Reflection.
‘Why publish it?’ she asks.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Why publish something you know is untrue. I’ve never even heard of Rowledge.’
‘I don’t care who you’ve heard of. I print what we get, and if I think it’s good enough to sell papers. That’s how this works, Charlotte.’
‘Yes, but you missed a key word in all of that. You missed the part about reporting the truth. Truth. Surely that’s most important of all. Otherwise no one will read your paper cos they’ll know it’s all lies.’
‘Truth? Ha, ha. Who said we didn’t publish the truth?’
‘I do. I know you don’t. Because of this shit.’ She holds up the paper and then shakes it at him. ‘Jesus, I know. I see it. So stop lying to me about that too.’
‘And why is it not true? It’s all there. It’s written, there are photographs. Is it not true just because you don’t want it to be?’
‘No, it’s not true because it’s not. It’s a binary thing. It either is true or isn’t.’
‘Is it really binary?’
At that, the doors ping open and David sticks a hand out to let Charlotte out first. She steps into the office expecting a flurry of heads to turn, but they’re all down, at their desks, on the phones or banging away at their keyboards.
‘Anyway, it’s obvious it sells papers. You bought one, didn’t you?’ He points down at the paper in her hand.
‘Where does she sit?’ Charlotte asks.
‘She doesn’t. There is no Isabel Beare. She doesn’t work here.’
‘That’s rubbish. Her name is on the paper, for goodness’ sake.’
Charlotte steps forward and asks the nearest person to her, a short wild-looking girl with two empty cups of coffee beside her. ‘Excuse me, where does Isabel Beare sit?’
‘Sorry, I don’t know who that is.’ The girl turns back to her phone and starts yelling obscenities at someone on the other end.
Charlotte walks along to her next interviewee and asks the same question. The young man just shakes his shoulders and mouths, no idea, with the telephone resting on his shoulder. He then indicates that he’s on the phone and that he shouldn’t be interrupted.
‘Excuse me, excuse me. Do you know an Isabel Beare?’
‘Never heard of her, sorry.’
‘How about you?’
Not even a word. Just a shake of the head.
Then she finds an empty desk. ‘Is this her desk?’ she asks the man sitting next to the space.
‘Sorry, ma’am. Nobody works here.’
‘Ma’am? Nobody? As if… This is hers, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Charlotte clenches her fists and then, staring at the desk in front of her, convinced it is where the articles about her were penned, she slides all the papers and the computer off the desk and onto the floor.
All the journalists stand from their desks and watch her.
All the while, David Monroe is standing where he left her, by the door, watching her, a great grin on his lips. Two security guards come up beside him as she walks back towards him.
‘Now, please leave the premises.’
‘B-but… You’re responsible for this. Why did you do it?’
‘I suggest you don’t ask me that question. But ask yourself. Why do you do anything you do? What are you trying to achieve? And then ask, who can help you, who can get you what you want? You should think more about your friendships.’
‘We could have been friends, you know.’
Charlotte throws the paper at David and walks to the lift, not even turning around to look at him as the doors close. As the lift takes her downstairs, pictures travel through her mind of all the things she would like to do to David Monroe: punch him, kick him, stab him even. Anything. He ruins lives on a daily basis and gets paid for it. He’s a disgrace.
Charlotte returns to Portcullis House and continues her day’s meetings in Westminster. She attends with quiet disengagement, her mind in one place and her body in another. Nevertheless, the day passes without further drama. She spends the night in her Westminster flat - the one paid for by the parliamentary estate. She hasn’t been there in months.
Next morning, she receives a WhatsApp from Lauren. No text - just a URL. She clicks the link and it takes her to Twitter. A profile named Isabel003214857, the profile picture of an egg with an orange background, has posted a video. It’s been viewed 187,000 times despite only being up for three and a half hours. Charlotte recognises herself instantly, and the sweep of Isabel Beare’s office desk equipment onto the floor. The comments beneath it all mock her: lunatic, mad woman, psycho…
She sighs and leans back.
Well… what else can she do?
A few moments in the dark of her flat, her phone illuminates the room. She sits up to see Billy Croppe’s name in lights. She feels that same familiar darkness his name brings.
Those two words. That’s all she gets. She folds the duvet over her head and feels the heat of her body whirling around her cocoon.
One year on.
Daisy’s bark is loud but soft. She’s a dog that needs all the attention all of the time, and any diverted attention should be a warning to anyone. She lifts her head up to her owner as strings of drool slink away from her mouth. Charlotte laughs and wipes the saliva up with her napkin as she finishes her croissant.
The smell of sea-salt reaches her with each breeze and dries her hands, but she likes the feeling. Her cold hands rubbing dry skin against each other. She pulls a hand cream from her pocket and slaps it on the back of her hand.
She returns to her house, enters through its little green door as the sound of the sea off Cromer’s coast rushes up and reaches out to her. She puts the TV on, watches an hour of a twee daytime murder drama where the killer is an old woman caught while drinking tea.
Charlotte picks her laptop up and opens it onto a website saved in her bookmarks. It’s a blog, about the madness of politics, about the evil of the people who work in it, about the process by which people are winners and losers, about the avoidance of talent and knowledge. The author, well, the author is Charlotte herself. And she clicks ‘new post’, and starts to write.
But as the first word emerges out the ends of her fingers, her doorbell rings. Daisy slips and slides as she scrambles to her feet, the vehemence of her bark almost pushing her away from the door as she fights to reach it. But once she’s gathered some momentum she leaps up at the letterbox barking.
‘Get down, girl,’ Charlotte says. ‘Get away, you silly dog.’
Charlotte opens the door, her foot blocking Daisy from leaping out at her visitor. It’s a delivery man.
‘Delivery for you, Ma’am.’
‘Oh. Who’s it from?’
Charlotte eyes it up and down. It’s a tall, thin rectangle, only a couple of centimetres deep and wrapped tightly in brown paper. She takes it inside as Daisy barks maniacally at the new presence.
She leans it against a wall, tears the paper back and steps back to look at the delivery. It’s a large mirror with an imprint over the face: a black outline of a newspaper front page. It’s a copy of The Daily Reflection. And the headline reads:
STAR POLITICIAN RECOILS INTO MADNESS
There is an etching of a woman sitting alone on a bench with her dog, staring out at the lapping waves of the sea. There is another smaller article about the return of the slug moustache to fashion, and a story about a grand new exhibition at the Tate Britain.
Thank you for reading this story! Can you solve the mystery of who sent the delivery? Let me know in the comments. There’s a few clues.
See you in two weeks’ time for more!