Cal sinks to his knees, the rushing shushing pulsing of the presses indistinguishable from the roar of blood thrumming through his veins, the sound of his heart pumping amplified by the pressure of the protective ear devices he’s wearing.
Blood and ink dominate his eardrums. And he can also see blood and ink spilled on his hands when he considers the sleepless nights he spent combining just the right words to get Stephen elected, helping write him the speeches that would put him in a position to shed blood.
They had been so focused on blood and oil in the investigation and now all he can think about is blood and ink. Lady Macbeth with a dagger and a quill.
And with clichéd associations like this, he’ll be an excellent greeting card writer when this is through.
Which is now.
He’ll send his first card to Della to congratulate her on a well-deserved promotion.
Cal looks down at the realization that he’s changed careers almost as often as he’s changed lovers. He’s sold ads. Managed political campaigns. Been a journalist.
He had once hoped that his life would have some stability by this point, either professionally or romantically.
Everyone, including Stephen, has told him there must be something wrong with him, seeing as he has always been able to flit through life with no strong attachments keeping him anchored to any one person or place.
Ah. Well. He need only look at the newspapers being printed above him to see what the ‘strong attachments’ he has formed thus far are worth.
A touch on the shoulder snaps Cal out of thoughts of the past and future and brings him back to the present. The hand is too large to be Della’s, too hard to be Dan’s, and too unlikely to be Pete or Helen’s.
Cameron. As usual, it’s difficult to tell from Cameron’s face what’s coming next. Reprimands and promotions are given with the same impassive look and spoken with the same intonation. A certain clenching of the jaw, a tell he shares with Dan, is usually one of the only indications short of a snort that the man has any emotions he’s willing to share.
Cameron tilts his head to the side, indicating that Cal should follow him out of the room.
Cal doesn’t want to get up. Wants to stay on his knees and watch “The Wife,” “Murder,” and “MP” flash by until his eyes go dry and tear up again.
“Have you made up your mind, Cal?” Cameron asks once they can hear one another over the sound of the machines. “What are you going to be? Tinker, tailor, soldier, or sailor? Or, more appropriately, journalist, lover, friend, traitor?”
“You know I’ve been all of them. In various combinations. And you left out spy, Cameron.”
A raised eyebrow. “You’re lucky I left out beggar man and thief. And you know your freelance contract forbids you from taking anything but the Collins story. I would always manage to include something like that, even on a napkin.”
Cal feels the phantom impression of the pen scrawling the revised version of the contract on his back and winces through his grin. “About that.”
Cameron holds his gaze for a long moment. “Senior reporter. Five year contract, but no salary increase and I think you know why. It’s already on your desk. I’m sure Liz has run off copies for everyone by now.”
Cal looks down. “I—“
Cameron stops him with a clap on the shoulder. “Whatever it is, I can live without hearing it.”
And Cal lives without obviously thinking about or feeling it, throwing himself back into work as though he had been living in a dream world, as though he’d been watching a television programme about his life during the past few weeks instead of living it and has now elected to turn the television off.
It’s both easier and harder for the rest of the team to adjust to Life After Collins, if it can properly be called “After” when there are still some of the smaller stories to file.
On the one hand, while all of them have at one time or another skirted too close to a source, they have never been the source’s campaign manager/confidante/protector/betrayer, which makes the situation easier for them to handle.
At the same time, however, the relative absence of personal conflict means that they have not constructed the ironclad emotional barriers that Cal has. This lack of protective coating leaves them feeling exposed and harried when the truth comes out and constant scrutiny and requests for interviews come in.
Another source of anxiety stems from the fact that, while the hunt may be over, the adrenaline has not yet left their systems and there is no comparable quarry to unleash their investigative instincts on, even in the aftershock stories coming out of the Collins Affair.
Gradually, however, the shock wears off and transforms itself into exhaustion. And then, finally, a recovery period. They become more or less used to the way their lives have changed.
Dan, though he still publishes under his mother’s maiden name and isn’t anywhere close to being a staff writer, can be heard referring to Cameron as “dad” in the office and asking him for more money, which never fails to amuse the rest of the staff even when both Fosters roll their eyes and sigh that it’s not pocket money Dan’s after, for Christ’s sake.
Pete finds himself in demand when other senior reporters have big leads. He has some leverage in picking and choosing the stories he finds most vital and things are going swimmingly.
Helen returns to the Westminster beat, where she now inspires more respect as well as more than a hint of fear, even when some of her questions seem innocuous.
Della begins to establish more of her own networks of doctors, policemen, middlemen, and bankers.
Cameron knows he’s been tested and passed with colors so high they should be on the newspaper’s masthead. He behaves accordingly.
Cal slowly but surely regains confidence in many things, including his right to spend whatever money he likes for a story without Cameron’s prior approval. His ability to give of himself while at the same time being shockingly blunt with people, even if he’s playing them, has never left, which means, among other things, that his job performance is as good as ever.
Cal regains hope as well as confidence when he realizes that a.) he still has an excellent contract and b.) he’s not recently had any flings with unstable or otherwise unavailable women. He begins to entertain the possibility that he’s come out of this less damaged than he would have believed possible. Despite himself, he’s formed solid attachments. Invitations to drinks from Della, Cameron, Dan, Pete, and Helen have subtly ensured that he won’t drift away.
The stories have adjusted as well. They have become….well, not less “newsworthy,” exactly. It’s just that there’s a noticeable lack of police presence, senior reporters conferring in the toilets, and closed-door emergency sessions with attractive barristers in Cameron’s office.
Until, three months later, another story turns up in the newsroom along with Dan’s wife.
Cal smirks in the welcoming way that only he can manage when Dan’s wife walks in.
“Come to bring Dan his lunch, Victoria?” He teases, expecting her to give him a playful glare.
He is disappointed. Victoria pretends Cal hasn’t said a word and looks past him to Della, who appears to have a few words she’d like to say to Cal but won’t, in the interest of letting Victoria speak.
“You must be Della Smith,” she says, extending a gloved hand. “I’ve heard good things about you.”
“And you’re Victoria….”
“Foster,” Victoria replies, loud and cheekily defiant, as if hoping her father-in-law is lurking nearby ready to wince at her claim on the name.
“Ah. I wasn’t sure whether you’d kept your name or--”
“Changed it to Dan’s to irritate his disapproving family? Well, actually, just his dad, really. His mum’s lovely.”
Cal watches the exchange, leaning back in his chair, still smiling.
“You probably haven’t heard much about me, or at least nothing good, from Cameron,” Victoria continues, smiling the smile of the resigned.
Della’s face reveals that she’s trying to decide whether or not to lie to a woman she has just met.
Victoria lets her off the hook. “Don’t worry, I know precisely how Cameron feels. He hasn’t relaxed his jaw around me since we met.”
Cal sits up at Victoria’s next words. “You likely haven’t heard much about me from Dan either, since I work at the Foreign Office and he doesn’t want a load of journalists using me for information or everyone thinking I’m his source on all things non-domestic.”
Victoria turns to address both Della and Cal. “Well. In light of what I’ve uncovered, I’m involving Dan—and you, Della. You and Cal,” she explains with a mock glare at Cal “come recommended by DCI Bell, who once headed my security detail.”
“So this lunch I joked about you bringing Dan is a meal ticket for all of us?” Cal asks.
A sigh belied by a grin. “You could say that, Cal. Dan’s waiting to meet us down at the pub. I’m sure they’re still serving food.”
Over cheese sandwiches and a game of pool, Victoria hints at having proof of the existence of a covert organization, a Foreign Office within the Foreign Office that blows the covers of MI6 agents who stumble upon it and creates rumors of illicit nuclear trafficking in order to enjoy the fruits of the fallout.
By the time Victoria’s finished her story, Della’s is the only hand steady enough to aim her pool cue.
Cal is pacing furiously, hand twitching with the urge to take the notes he knows he shouldn’t lest they be stolen or claimed as evidence.
Dan has been unusually silent and is white as a sheet, most likely convinced that Victoria will soon be strong-armed into a car with a diplomatic registration plate never to be seen alive again.
Della is the first to arrive at a workable plan for Victoria’s safety. “Victoria. You look just enough like an officer I get information from. I’ll call over to DCI Bell and see if we can’t claim she’s transferred to work with him for a spot of training at the Met. You take her place and you’ve got round-the-clock protection and an excuse to be seen at the newspaper offices when DCI Bell comes ‘round. I’ll arrange that while you lot go to Cameron.”
Della looks to Cal expecting him to protest her move to discuss safety before they've made a plan for the story proper and is mildly surprised when he agrees with her.
“This story is huge, Della, and you're right to think of how we can stay safe before we proceed. A double Foreign Office is much more dangerous than anything Stephen may have got up to. The more protection we can trust, the better. I’ll get on to a few of my MI6 contacts after I run them past you, Victoria.”
Victoria nods, touching glasses with Della and Cal before turning to Dan. “Me as a copper certainly would be a surprise to your father. He still doesn't think my prescriptions are legal.”
Dan laughs, a little color coming back into his face, and embraces his wife as though they’re the only people in the pub.
Back at the office, Dan and Victoria are uncharacteristically quiet and determined. That, combined with an urgency in Cal he hasn’t seen since Collins, keeps Cameron from making any cutting comments. For the moment, at least.
Without asking any questions, he turns around and strides toward his office, instructing Liz to re-instate the secret knock.
Once Della, DCI Bell, and legal counsel have joined them, they begin a plan of attack.
Over wine, Cameron mentions something about honey traps and glares at all of them, especially Cal. “This time none of you are to get intimate with anyone involved in this story, do you understand?”
It takes a minute, but then they all turn to stare at Victoria and Dan, who are quite close to one another on the sofa. Both are wearing their wedding rings.
Della is the first to laugh. “You’ll not be wanting grandchildren then, Cameron?”
When they’ve all calmed, some of the nervous tension released, Cameron, too horrified to dignify Della’s comment with any sort of response, dismisses everyone but Bell, Dan, and Victoria.
“Look. I don’t know how to make this safe, or whether it can be made safe, but I want Dan and Victoria staying at my house until this is over.”
Bell locks eyes with Cameron, about to protest, but is quick to realize that Cameron is a worthy enough opponent when he’s acting solely as an editor; adding father to the mix means Bell likely does not have a chance, especially when Cameron’s eyes are a mix of steely and frightened.
“Fine," he replies. ‘DI Scott’ here,” he says, gesturing toward Victoria, “and I are personally watching your house because of a threat made against you. Dan is there because…”
“Because he drank all his money away and needs a roof over his head?”
“And for that Dan demands the key to the wine cellar,” Dan informs his father.
Security plan almost in place, the work of verifying Victoria’s information begins. At several points, there are more government agents than journalists in the newsroom. Cal fulfills his James Bond ambitions when he successfully hides someone in the boot of his car. Dan charms diplomats at the opera. Cal, Della, and Dan uncover a link to the CIA.
After the fall of the government, massive restructuring at the Foreign Office, and a number of assassination attempts (not all of them between Cameron and Victoria), the team gathers to observe the stories being printed.
As they watch “The Mole,” “The Whistleblower,” and “The Conspirators” flash by in print, Cameron glances at Victoria and winks before gesturing at the rest of them to get back to work.