First Page: Further Down the River (Crime Fiction)
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As she climbed the wide stairs at City Hall, balancing the hot coffee on her new case, Maria paused to take in Tower Bridge. Framed through the glass wall and lit in the late autumn sunshine against a pure blue sky, it reminded her of the postcard she had sent her grandmother back home in Warsaw. The same postcard, her kid sister Anna had texted, that her grandmother had taken to church to show to the priest.
‘Look, it’s from my granddaughter, she is a diplomat in London.’
Some things are hard to explain to grandmothers. The meaning can be changed between languages and again between generations. Now over ninety years old, what would she understand of the job of a Foreign Direct Investment Senior Policy Analyst?
But she knows all about war. In her prayers she remembers her friends, all then in their early twenties, starving, dying behind the barricades or while trying to escape through the sewers. She remembers the wretched anger and despair people had as they fought among the ruins against tanks with only stones, convinced that London was refusing to help them, ignoring their pleading by secret radio every night.
So, Maria was a diplomat. An envoy, an angel of peace. A grandmother’s fanciful idea. Britain would never again abandon Poland, and Maria was working in London to help make sure it stayed so.
Her desk was surprisingly cluttered for someone who only started a few days ago. The piles of paper were not unusual, though her habit of printing everything that might one day be useful was already showing itself. More unusual were the plastic forks, sachets of sauce, empty plastic cups and other items which gave her desk a certain landfill quality. The screen beside the desk was no better, though the vaguely semi-circular arrangement of yellow sticky notes could give an impression of a sunrise at a distance. As she took her coat off she noticed someone had left two empty bins beside her desk. She put one inside the other. Pushing the debris to the back, Maria slid her laptop onto the desk.
Maria had been told to get her photograph taken for her security pass, the one she would have to wear on a lanyard while at City Hall. Her temporary pass would run out soon. Leaving her computer to start up, she reached for her bag and went downstairs to a small room behind the reception desk. An older woman took her inside and they sat each side of the computer and camera.
‘Just keep still please love. You can smile if you like … OK, that’s done. And now, your name?’ she said, half hidden behind the monitor.
‘Maria Kaminski,’ and without pausing she spelt it out.
‘Is it Russian?’
‘No, it is Polish.’
‘Been here long?’
‘Yes I have, all day in fact.’
The woman stopped typing and looked up at Maria.
‘Oh, sorry dear, I didn’t mean to … you know … be like that.’
‘It’s just people ask it so often.’
‘You must get right sick of hearing it?’
Maria remembered a saying her grandmother would tell to her when she was small and making some excuse. A bad dancer blames the hem of her skirt.
‘No,’ said Maria. ‘It’s my fault. It was very rude of me.’