By J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith
Is demum miser est, cuius nobilitas miserias nobilitat.
Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous. -- Lucius Accius, Telephus
The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies. Photographers stood massed behind barriers patrolled by police, their long-snouted cameras poised, their breath rising like steam. Snow fell steadily on to hats and shoulders; gloved fingers wiped lenses clear. From time to time there came outbreaks of desultory clicking, as the watchers filled the waiting time by snapping the white canvas tent in the middle of the road, the entrance to the tall red-brick apartment block behind it, and the balcony on the top floor from which the body had fallen.
Behind the tightly packed paparazzi stood white vans with enormous satellite dishes on the roofs, and journalists talking, some in foreign languages, while soundmen in headphones hovered. Between recordings, the reporters stamped their feet and warmed their hands on hot beakers of coffee from the teeming café a few streets away. To fill the time, the woolly-hatted cameramen filmed the backs of the photographers, the balcony, the tent concealing the body, then repositioned themselves for wide shots that encompassed the chaos that had exploded inside the sedate and snowy Mayfair street, with its lines of glossy black doors framed by white stone porticos and flanked by topiary shrubs. The entrance to number 18 was bounded with tape. Police officials, some of them white-clothed forensic experts, could be glimpsed in the hallway beyond.
The television stations had already had the news for several hours. Members of the public were crowding at either end of the road, held at bay by more police; some had come, on purpose, to look, others had paused on their way to work. Many held mobile telephones aloft to take pictures before moving on. One young man, not knowing which was the crucial balcony, photographed each of them in turn, even though the middle one was packed with a row of shrubs, three neat, leafy orbs, which barely left room for a human being.
A group of young girls had brought flowers, and were filmed handing them to the police, who as yet had not decided on a place for them, but laid them self-consciously in the back of the police van, aware of camera lenses following their every move.
The correspondents sent by twenty-four-hour news channels kept up a steady stream of comment and speculation around the few sensational facts they knew.
". . .from her penthouse apartment at around two o'clock this morning. Police were alerted by the building's security guard. . ."
". . .no sign yet that they are moving the body, which has led some to speculate. . ."
". . .no word on whether she was alone when she fell. . ."
" . . . teams have entered the building and will be conducting a thorough search."
A chilly light filled the interior of the tent. Two men were crouching beside the body, ready to move it, at last, into a body bag. Her head had bled a little into the snow. The face was crushed and swollen, one eye reduced to a pucker, the other showing as a sliver of dull white between distended lids. When the sequined top she wore glittered in slight changes of light, it gave a disquieting impression of movement, as though she breathed again, or was tensing muscles, ready to rise. The snow fell with soft fingertip plunks on the canvas overhead.
"Where's the bloody ambulance?"
Detective Inspector Roy Carver's temper was mounting. A paunchy man with a face the color of corned beef, whose shirts were usually ringed with sweat around the armpits, his short supply of patience had been exhausted hours ago. He had been here nearly as long as the corpse; his feet were so cold that he could no longer feel them, and he was light-headed with hunger.
"Ambulance is two minutes away," said Detective Sergeant Eric Wardle, unintentionally answering his superior's question as he entered the tent with his mobile pressed to his ear. "Just been organizing a space for it."
Carver grunted. His bad temper was exacerbated by the conviction that Wardle was excited by the presence of the photographers. Boyishly good-looking, with thick, wavy brown hair now frosted with snow, Wardle had, in Carver's opinion, dawdled on their few forays outside the tent.
"At least that lot'll shift once the body's gone," said Wardle, still looking out at the photographers.
"They won't go while we're still treating the place like a [expletive] murder scene," snapped Carver.
Wardle did not answer the unspoken challenge. Carver exploded anyway.
"The poor cow jumped. There was no one else there. Your so-called witness was coked out of her -- "
"It's coming," said Wardle, and to Carver's disgust, he slipped back out of the tent, to wait for the ambulance in full sight of the cameras.
The story forced news of politics, wars and disasters aside, and every version of it sparkled with pictures of the dead woman's flawless face, her lithe and sculpted body. Within hours, the few known facts had spread like a virus to millions: the public row with the famous boyfriend, the journey home alone, the overheard screaming and the final, fatal fall.. .
The boyfriend fled into a rehab facility, but the police remained inscrutable; those who had been with her on the evening before her death were hounded; thousands of columns of newsprint were filled, and hours of television news, and the woman who swore she had overheard a second argument moments before the body fell became briefly famous too, and was awarded smaller-sized photographs beside the images of the beautiful dead girl.
But then, to an almost audible groan of disappointment, the witness was proven to have lied, and she retreated into rehab, and the famous prime suspect emerged, as the man and the lady in a weather-house who can never be outside at the same time.
So it was suicide after all, and after a moment's stunned hiatus, the story gained a weak second wind. They wrote that she was unbalanced, unstable, unsuited to the superstardom her wildness and her beauty had snared; that she had moved among an immoral moneyed class that had corrupted her; that the decadence of her new life had unhinged an already fragile personality. She became a morality tale stiff with Schadenfreude, and so many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column.
And then, at last, the frenzy wore itself into staleness, and even the journalists had nothing left to say, but that too much had been said already.
From "The Cuckoo's Calling" by J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith. Excerpted with permission from Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company.