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New short(ish) story: “SCOOP!”…

27 Jan

As you may recall from this post, I have recently formed a new partnership with the lads from FoulEnt, on the Niume blogging platform. I had initially supplied our page with several of my existing short stories, which were all written for Linda G Hill’s Stream of consciousness Saturday feature, but I have finally gotten around to writing an all-new story which was posted on Toileterature earlier today.

It was an interesting experience, sitting down to intentionally write an original story, with no prompt and no specific theme in mind, but nevertheless I soon took the familiar route of just making it up as I went along, with no plan at all of where it would end up, so I suppose I’m lucky it didn’t try to turn itself into a novel.

Since this blog is my primary site and only exists for my own amusement and the benefit of you, my lovely readers, I thought it only fair that I should post it here in full. 

So here is Scoop! I hope you enjoy it.

{For those of you with sensitive dispositions; there is quite a bit of strong language, so consider yourselves warned} 

Geoff

Geoff Standish stared down at the keyboard in irritation, then back up at the pristine white screen of his computer, willing his brain to come up with a new angle. His stomach rumbled loudly and looked at his watch, noticing he’d missed his break and wondering if he could sneak out before his boss returned from yet another extended, boozy lunch

He hadn’t appreciated how easy he’d had it, when he’d been chief writer on the tiny local paper at home and, until he started as junior crime correspondent on the Evening Echo, it hadn’t occurred to him how difficult it would be to make his name; now he had to compete for stories with Darren, the ambitious young reporter who ran the crime desk. 

It wasn’t that Geoff was a bad writer, exactly, but he had done a fair amount of blagging at the interview to secure this, the next step on the road to his dream job of reporting for the nationals. He knew it had been a risk, lying about his qualifications, but he had figured his resumé would be enough to convince any new employer of his suitability for the position; especially since the editor at his last paper was his ex father-in-law and Geoff had reckoned on a getting a good reference from him, even if it was just to make sure he left the paper and didn’t come back.  

Splitting up with Mandy had obviously been a factor in him changing jobs, but he managed to persuade himself that he’d finally made the move to the big time because he had outgrown the parochial little rag he’d worked for since leaving school (conveniently ignoring the fact that Mandy’s father and two brothers had promised to beat the shit out of him if he  ever spoke to her again) and, despite everyone else knowing his ex-wife had taken his job like the opportunistic bitch she was, he knew his destiny as a Pulitzer prize winning journalist was still within reach 

The trouble was, there wasn’t a lot to report on around here and he had been reduced to writing a weekly “around the courts” column, which was no more than a list of neighbourhood drunks, vandals and bored teenagers, fighting in the city centre on a Saturday night.

What he needed was a proper crime, something he could really get his teeth into.

*****

Mandy

She drained the last mouthful of cheap coffee, dropped her paper cup into the bin with an expression of distaste and glared around the empty office. Why had she taken this bloody dead end job in the first place? If she hadn’t been so keen to fuck Geoff over, she never would have accepted her father’s offer to “make a bit of extra spending money”, particularly if she’d known how much of her time it would take up.

What was even worse, that useless little turd had got himself a proper job with a big city paper, which he wouldn’t have had the guts to apply for if it hadn’t been for the family cutting him loose when they divorced last year. She didn’t know why her father hadn’t cut out the middleman and sent her  to the Echo with a glowing reference, and simply sacked her idiot ex-husband. 

Except of course, she did know; alimony. If Geoff was out of work, she wouldn’t get the money her father’s flash lawyer had managed to screw out of him in the divorce.

She was almost disappointed that he hadn’t tried to get in touch with her since they split up, if only because of the kicking her bothers would happily inflict on him if he dared come around here again…
All of a sudden Mandy became very still and for a while she appeared deep in thought.

After a minute or two, she began to smile.

*****

Darren

“Fuck!” 

Darren Blake wasn’t having a good day. 

“You bastards, I’ll sue you to fucking smithereens, you wait and see!”

He stood on the kerb, shaking his fist at the recovery vehicle as it towed his brand new Porsche away from the restaurant, the bright yellow clamp easily visible against the gleaming black paintwork.

He’d only had a quick working lunch and a couple of drinks, he couldn’t have been more than half an hour over on the parking meter, 45 minutes, tops. And when he came out, those two fucking gorillas in hi-vis jackets were winching his beloved car onto their bloody flatbed truck like it was some piece of scrap to be junked. Well, if they’d as much as scuffed the tyres, he’d have their bollocks for desk ornaments.

Darren smiled grimly, “bollocks for desk ornaments”, that was a good one, he’d have to remember that, for when he was recounting the story of this shitty day to the lads in the office…he looked at his watch;

“Shit.” Darren looked up and down the busy street, “Taxi!”

*****

Geoff had just finished the last of his court reports; a case involving a dispute over the height of a conifer hedge, a story not even the most sensationalist reporter could make interesting, when the sound of a phone ringing made him look up. It wasn’t his phone, he hardly ever got calls from outside lines this late on a Friday afternoon, so he stood up to look over his cubicle and saw a light flashing on Darren’s fancy desk console.

Should he answer it? It could be a huge story, he’d kick himself if he missed his big break through indecisiveness at a time like this. 

He stared at the light, flashing in time with the phone’s insistent ringing, sounding loud in the deserted office.

“Oh, what the hell.”

He walked quickly round the partition, proud of his ability to make snap decisions, and snatched up the receiver in a way that he (wrongly) thought of as being the way a go-getting, thrusting young executive answered the phone. Sadly, the cord was a lot shorter than he’d realised and the receiver sprang out of his hand and clattered against the side of the desk before Geoff got it anywhere near his ear.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” 

He was just bending down to retrieve the dangling phone handset, from which he could hear the tinny “Hello…hello?…”  of the caller’s voice, when a voice a lot closer to home made Geoff grit his teeth and groan inwardly.

“Whoa there, Geoff! You taking up phone juggling? Hahaha!” 

He looked up to see Darren, striding in through the double doors of the office, like he was making a grand entrance at a fucking state dinner, shrugging out of his poncey camel hair coat and peeling off those ridiculous fucking driving gloves he insisted on wearing, (he would have been even more furious if he’d known Darren had arrived by cab) then reaching out an imperious hand for the phone as Geoff finally managed to wrestle it into submission.

“Fuck you, Darren, I got to it first. Who the fuck do you think you are anyway? Swanning around like you fucking own the place, you’re not fit to shine my shoes, you piece of shit…” 

…Is what Geoff wanted to say.

But instead, he just meekly handed the phone to his smirking boss and scuttled back to his cubicle, seething with self-hatred and, more importantly, Darren-hatred, as he listened to the one sided conversation.

“Hello, sorry about that, my assistant is rather clumsy today.”….(Geoff could feel a vein in his temple throbbing)…”Yes, yes this is the crime desk, Darren Blake speaking, how may I help you?”…..”Oh, hi Stacey love, I thought I recognised that sexy voice, haha, what have you got for me?”…..”Really? And where was this?”……”You’re a star, Stacey, haven’t I always said so?”……”Hahaha, oooh, you’ll get me into trouble one of these days, you little minx. Let me buy you dinner one night, ok?”…..”Mmm, I’d love to. I’ll speak to you soon, gotta go babe, call me. Ciao Bella, mwah!”

Darren glanced over at Geoff’s cubicle, from where there came a sharp splintering noise and some muffled swearing. He frowned and snapped his fingers loudly a few times, as if summoning a particularly inattentive waiter.

“Geoff?” **snap snap**  “Geoff, I need to borrow your car, mate.” **snap snap**  “Come on, keys, I’m in a hurry.”

Geoff paused in the act of picking splinters of the pencil he’d been holding out of the palm of his hand and slowly rose from his chair, peering suspiciously over the partition at Darren, still holding his hand out impatiently.

“Come on, come on, I haven’t got all day.” **snap snap**  “That was my police contact, with a tip about a robbery over in Thornbury. I’m going over there to interview the alleged victim now and my motor has been fucking clamped, so I need yours.”

“Umm, but I was…”

“Yeah, well you’ll have to get the bus home, won’t you? This is a big story, I’m not losing out to some hack from the nationals, just because you got all precious about your bloody Citroen Picasso.”

Geoff hesitated, maybe he could reach some sort of compromise;

“How about if I drive you?” He fished the keys out of his pocket, but stopped short of handing them over.

“Nah, sorry Geoff, this is strictly need to know, old chap,” Darren took a quick step forward and snatched the keys before he had a chance to react, “confidential informants and all that, you know how it is.”

He turned to go, the camel coat flaring out dramatically from his shoulders as he pocketed Geoff’s keys, then as an afterthought, he looked back with a grin.

“Don’t forget to keep your bus ticket, you can put in a claim for travel expenses, hahaha.”

Then he was gone and Geoff was alone in the office once more.

*****

Stacey grinned to herself as she hung up the phone. She didn’t know what sort of prank her friend Mandy was pulling on that twat, Darren from the Echo, but whatever it was, he deserved it. “Ciao Bella” ? Really? What a prick.

*****

Geoff stepped through the front doors of the Evening Echo building and turned up the collar of his jacket against the drizzle, just in time to see his own car pull away from its parking space and head for the main exit. A taxi pulled up and four girls from the typing pool got out and pushed past him without even glancing in his direction, chattering and laughing together, completely unaware of his existence. He glared bitterly at their retreating figures, despising them for their happiness, turned back to the cab, then looked once more for his car and saw it was just pulling out into traffic.

Then, on the spur of the moment, feeling like a real investigative journalist for a change, he yanked open the taxi’s rear door, jumped in and held a twenty pound note over the seat to the startled driver.

“Follow that car!”

*****

Mandy stood at the window, smoking nervously and watching the gated entrance of her gravel driveway for the arrival of her guest. She was confident the call to her friend at the police station would make her pathetic excuse for an ex-husband come running, hungry for The Big Story that would make his career, and she didn’t want to miss the start of the show.

She didn’t have long to wait. Mandy was stubbing out her cigarette in an overflowing ashtray when she saw a car swing into the drive. The rain, falling more heavily now, was visible in the headlight beams as late afternoon turned to dusk and dusk, in turn, lost its battle with the gathering storm clouds, the resulting gloom filtering everything through a grey murk that reduced visibility to a few yards.

Geoff’s Citroen pulled up by the front door and Mandy frowned in irritation as he parked the wrong way round, brake lights flaring briefly through the rain. The interior light came on, she saw his silhouette lean across the seat to grab something and a few seconds later he climbed out, shrugged into that grotty old raincoat of his and hurried to reach the shelter of the porch.

*****

Darren flipped the wipers on as the drizzle turned to a steady downpour and peered through the windscreen, trying to make out road signs as he passed yet another narrow junction on the unlit country lane.
“Bloody hell, Geoff, haven’t you ever heard of SatNav, for fuck’s sake?”

He glanced down at the open notebook on the seat next to him, checking the address once more and looked up just in time to see he was approaching a crossroads. He slowed Geoff’s car to be sure he didn’t miss anything, scanning the signpost on the corner,

“Barnfield Road, yes! Thank fuck for that.”

Darren turned left and continued for another half a mile before he saw lights ahead of him, which as he got closer he realised were attached to gate posts. This looks like the place, he thought, pulling into the gateway and driving up to the large, ivy-covered house, where he parked and looked up in distaste at the shitty weather outside. Not wanting to get his expensive coat soaking wet, he took one of Geoff’s that he’d found on the back seat, picked up his notebook and stepped out into the rain.

Turning the collar up, he ran to the front door and had his foot on the first of three wide stone steps when he was grabbed violently from behind and a heavy sack was thrown over his head. Darren tried to yell for help, but a punch to the kidneys knocked the wind out of him. While he was gasping for air something was pulled roughly across his mouth, his head was yanked back as the coarse material of the sacking cut into his face and tongue and he gagged.

His attacker was not only unseen, but also silent, emitting only the occasional grunt as he easily held onto the struggling crime reporter, but then he heard another voice, shockingly close to his right ear.

“Hello, Geoff, looks like you’ve been a naughty boy, coming round here where you’re not wanted.”

The owner of the voice tutted, as if this was a personal disappointment to him and that Geoff had badly let him down.

“Except I’m not fucking Geoff!” Darren wanted to scream, but he couldn’t make anything more than choking, wheezing noises, so he just frantically shook his head and prayed this was all some kind of horrible mistake.

Then he heard a door open somewhere in front of him and a woman’s voice spoke to whoever held him.

“Take him into the barn, we don’t want a mess in the house.”

His captor’s grip loosened as he switched hands for a brief second and Darren broke free and made a run for it. He desperately sprinted away from the voices, only half-registering the sound of laughter, thinking he had to be heading away from the house and towards the road.

He thought that for about five seconds, because after that he ran into the side of Geoff’s car.

Hard.

*****

Geoff, meanwhile, was crouched in the shadow of a dripping conifer hedge halfway down the drive, having successfully tailed his own car in a taxi all the way to…Mandy’s house!

He couldn’t fucking believe it, how did Darren not know whose house this was? Her old man was in newspapers, for fuck’s sake, he attended all the press piss-ups and had even visited The Echo once as a guest of their chief executive. Some bloody crime editor he is, Geoff thought bitterly, I could do his job standing on my head.

He watched as Darren climbed out of his car and scurried to the front door.

“That’s my coat, you thieving…”

Then Geoff saw Mandy’s two brothers; a couple of gorillas in jogging suits, jumping out of the flower beds that surrounded the area in front of the house and grabbing Darren as he got to door of the porch. One of them dropped a hood over his head and gagged him, before the door opened and his ex-wife appeared.

After Darren’s abortive escape attempt had left him unconscious on the immaculate gravel, Geoff watched in horror as the gorilla twins dragged his limp body round the side of the house and into the darkened barn. A few minutes later, Mandy came out of the house and followed them inside, closing the door behind her.

*****

Mandy felt a thrill of excitement as she walked quickly through the rain to the barn; she had been waiting for this for too long not make the most of it and now it was actually happening, she wanted to savour every minute.

The door swung closed behind her and she headed to the far end of the darkened building where the small tractor and plough was parked under a circle of yellow light, cast by a single shaded bulb. It also illuminated the sad figure of Geoff, who was tied to a wooden chair, sack over his head and rope gag still in place. Mandy saw with amusement that he hadn’t got rid of that horrible old coat, which must be all of ten years old by now, but then Geoff never had been any good at buying clothes, as she had constantly pointed out to him, to no avail.

Her brothers, Derek and Kevin, were standing either side of the chair, looking very pleased with themselves indeed, so she gave them a nod of gratitude as she approached the strange little tableau; like a gangster, about to exact terrible revenge on a rival, she thought, with two of her top wise guys there to back her up.

“So, Geoff, you seem to have got yourself in a spot of bother. Why on Earth would you come round here on a night like this, when you surely knew the kind of welcome you’d get?”

At this, Geoff began to make some very odd noises and started to thrash about in his chair a fair bit, all of which Del and Kev found highly amusing and let him continue for a moment, before Kev gave him a swift back-hander round the side of the head and he toppled over. 

Right onto the upturned blade of the tractor’s folding plough.

The tip of the sharply pointed blade punched straight through sack, skin and skull as if it were no harder than the clay soil in the fields. The bound figure jerked violently for a couple of seconds, then slumped and hung, shifting with an unpleasant cracking noise as the weight of the body in the chair was preventing from reaching the ground by the steel blade buried in its head. 

Mandy stared in horror at the rapidly spreading pool of blood, more pouring from the stained sacking by the second and she tried to scream. Nothing came out except a strangled squeak and her legs buckled under her; she collapsed to her knees on the hard bricks and the last thing she saw before she was swallowed by the black pit of unconsciousness were her two brothers, being noisily sick on each other’s feet.

*****

Darren

Eeerrghh, Ow, what the fuck?  What the FUCK!?  Who was that crazy bitch?  And why did she think I was that twat, Geoff, for fuck’s sake?  I can’t fucking move…Wait, I’m fucking tied up!

“Mmmffghff drrg ghrrffff mmnggff!!”

This fucking gag, I’m going to choke, you bastards. What the fuck do they want? Wait, what’s that…footsteps?  The bitch is back, shit. 

“So, Geoff, you seem to have got yourself in a spot of bother…”

I’m not Geoff, you fucking stupid cow! Why don’t you understand, whatever you think I’ve done, I’m not him!  Look, just take off this fucking hood and you’ll…

Owww, you cu…

Oh shit, I’m falling over, catch me you bastards…

Whooaaaaa…

Crunch.

*****

Geoff ran to the door of the barn as soon as it closed behind Mandy and peered in through a knot hole. He watched events unfold, clapping a hand over his mouth to stop his cry of horror giving him away as Darren met his sudden demise, then turned and half ran, half stumbled to his car. With a sigh of relief he saw Darren had left the keys in the ignition and he simply got in and drove away.

When he was a safe distance from the house, Geoff pulled over and rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment, until he got the shaking under control. Then he made two phone calls; an anonymous one to the police and another, slightly more satisfying one to his editor, who he interrupted while he was at a press association dinner.

“This had better be bloody good, Standish, they’re just bringing out the brandy. Have you finally found your Big Story, you bloody well better have?”

“Yes sir,” said Geoff, staring out into the rainy night, “I think you could say that, yes.”

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