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Chapter 6|The top floor

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Walking from the station towards the small business park on the edge of town, Kate and Jude try to reassure each other that everything will be fine, despite both being convinced that something terrible has happened. They comment on the cold, dry spell of weather, on the pretty, autumnal leaves on the trees by the road, and on the poor state of repair of the pavements. They studiously avoid any mention of what they’ve just read, where they’re going, or what they’re going to do when they get there.

Kate has left her bike locked at the station, and is carrying Freyja’s abandoned bag over her shoulder. Jude is carrying the double burden of their joint concern for Freyja’s wellbeing and her own worries about Mattie. She still hasn’t had a chance to reply to the text she received in the bookshop.

After what feels like an uncomfortably long walk, they find themselves standing outside a nondescript, somewhat dated three-storey office block. It has a small car park at the back, and a very functional entrance at the front. Four companies share the building, each with a buzzer on the entryphone by the glass door. The ground floor is divided between an architectural practice and an IT consultancy firm, while the first floor is given over entirely to some kind of healthcare services company. The top floor, meanwhile, is the preserve of Watson Macmillan Services Ltd, the only company whose name doesn’t give any clues as to what it actually does.

Kate suggests that taking the bag in with them might not be the best idea – in case Freyja’s not there and someone else recognises it. In that case, they might feel compelled to leave it in the office and miss the opportunity to return it in person. Looking through the glass door, though, they can see an alcove containing a potted plant: they should be able to hide the bag there before heading upstairs.

Kate presses the buzzer. After a short pause, there’s an indistinct crackle. ‘Hello?’ says Kate. More crackling. She’s about to reel off a concocted pretext for visiting when the door unlocks with a loud electromechanical buzz. Clearly the defective entryphone is not currently being used to screen visitors.

Quickly concealing Freyja’s bag behind the plant, the pair make their way up the wood-and-glass staircase, which is rather more up-to-date than the exterior of the building. They agree that Kate, with her journalistic experience, will do the talking.

At the top of the stairs there is a door, with a simple sign reading ‘Watson Macmillan’ beside it. Kate opens the door and goes in, followed by Jude. They are in a large open-plan office. There is no reception as such; rather, it seems to be the job of the person whose desk is nearest the door to answer the entryphone when they have an occasional visitor. That person now comes out to greet them.

‘Hello. How can I help you?’

‘Hi,’ says Kate, ‘we’re trying to get in touch with Freyja McClelland. We understand she works here?’

‘Um, yes, she does. She should be around, I think. If you take a seat here,’ he says, indicating a couple of office chairs beside an unused desk, ‘I’ll just go and check for you. Sorry, who did you say you were?’

‘I didn’t. My colleague and I work for Paterson Green Investments, and have some information that we need to pass on to our client in person.’

‘Paterson Green? OK. I’ll be right back.’

It’s been a while since Kate has pulled that name out of the hat, but it’s always worked well for her in the past and seems to have worked again. It occurs to her at this point that neither she nor Jude is exactly dressed for the part – but some of these financial consultants can be quite informal these days.

After a couple of minutes, the man comes back across the office towards them, accompanied by a slightly older woman. He introduces Julia to them, then heads over to his desk to get on with whatever it is he does when he’s not being interrupted by visitors.

‘I gather you’re looking for Freyja McClelland?’, says Julia.

‘That’s right, yes. We have some information we need to pass on to her.’

‘I’m afraid she doesn’t work here any longer.’

‘Oh. I see. Sorry. Your colleague gave us the impression that she still did. Can you tell us where she works now?’

‘Actually, she only left today, and as far as I’m aware she doesn’t have a new position lined up yet.’ Julia clearly isn’t going to tell them why Freyja left. But an unexpected departure would account for some of the odder items in her bag.

‘I don’t suppose you have a home address or phone number for her? She hasn’t kept her contact details up to date with us, you see, and this was the only address we were able to track down.’

‘I’m not sure I ought to divulge that information to just anyone – as I’m sure you’ll understand. If you have a business card, I’ll see what I can do and get back to you.’

Jude squirms slightly at this point, thinking they’ve been rumbled, but Kate takes it all in her stride.

‘I should have one here somewhere,’ she says, rummaging in her bag. ‘Ah yes, here you go.’

Julia takes the card and reads it. ‘Thank you, Ms Paterson. I’ll be in touch if I can be of any help.’

‘We would really appreciate that. Thank you for your time.’

Kate and Jude walk quickly away from the building, having picked up Freyja’s bag on the way out. Kate is careful to carry the bag in front of her until they’re out of sight of the office, just in case anyone’s watching from the windows. She’s feeling ever so slightly paranoid.

Reaching a quiet tree-lined residential street with large Victorian houses set back from the road, they collapse on a bench.

‘Ms Paterson?!’ asks Jude, who has clearly been holding in her astonishment since they were in the office.

‘Ms Kay Paterson of Paterson Green Investments. My alter ego. From my days when I did proper investigative journalism. It’s always useful to have some kind of cover – for when people don’t want journalists knowing their business. You wouldn’t believe some of the places it got me into back then!’

‘You are a woman of hidden talents, Katie. And I thought you needed me to help you!’

‘I couldn’t have done it without you, Jude. Honestly. Anyway, what did you make of Julia? Or should we call her J?’

‘I’m not sure. Can we get something to eat? I’m rather hungry.’

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