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“I don’t,” said Olivia Joules indignantly.
Barry Wilkinson, foreign editor of the Sunday Times, leaned back in his chair, trying to hold in his paunch, staring over his half-moon glasses at the disgruntled little figure before him, and thinking: And you’re too damned cute.
“What about your story about the cloud of giant, fanged locusts pancaking down on Ethiopia, blotting out the sun?” he said.
“It was the Sudan.”
Barry sighed heavily. “We sent you all the way out there and all you came up with was two grasshoppers in a polythene bag.”
“But there was a locust cloud. It was just that it had flown off to Chad. They were supposed to be roosting. Anyway, I got you the story about the animals starving in the zoo.”
“Olivia, it was one warthog—and he looked quite porky to me.”
“Well, I would have got you an interview with the fundamentalist women and a cross amputee if you hadn’t made me come back.”
“The birth of Posh and Becks’s new baby you were sent to cover live for BSkyB?”
“That wasn’t hard news.”
“I certainly didn’t imagine anything there.”
“No. But nor did you say anything for the first ten seconds. You stared around like a simpleton, fiddling with your hair live on air, then suddenly yelled, ‘The baby hasn’t been born yet, but it’s all very exciting. Now back to the studio.’”
“That wasn’t my fault. The floor manager didn’t cue me because there was a man trying to get into the shot with ‘I’m a Royal Love Child’ written on his naked paunch.”
Wearily, Barry leafed through the pile of press releases on his desk. “Listen, lovey ...”
Olivia quivered. One of these days she would call him lovey and see how he liked it.
“... you’re a good writer, you’re very observant and intuitive and, as I say, extremely imaginative, and we feel on the Sunday Times, in a freelancer, those qualities are better suited to the Style section than the news pages.”
“You mean the shallow end rather than the deep end?”
“There’s nothing shallow about style, baby.”
Olivia laughed. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Barry started laughing as well.
“Look,” he said, fishing out a press release from a cosmetics company, “if you really want to travel, there’s a celebrity launch in Miami next week for some—perfume?—face cream.”
“A face-cream launch,” said Olivia dully.
“J.Lo or P. Binny or somebody ... there we go ... Devorée. Who the fuck is Devorée?”
“White rapper slash model slash actress.”
“Fine. If you can get a magazine to split the costs with us, you can go and cover her face cream for Style. How’s that?”
“Okay,” said Olivia doubtfully, “but if I find a proper news story out there, can I cover that as well?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart,” smirked Barry.