Public stories, Private lives
For the rest of the morning, Victoria steadily ploughed her way through the stack of hard copies she'd collected earlier. It was amazing, but half the names on her list of prostitutes came up in one way or another. Most of them had been in court before for either soliciting or other crimes such as shop lifting or possession of drugs with intent to supply. Then Victoria came across the story from a few months ago of a girl named Chloe Hill. She had previously been a classroom assistant in the local primary school. Being a mum of two children, she'd got herself in to debt with a loan company and had begun to work the streets to make up the payments. She'd been picked up for soliciting and was inevitably sacked by the school she worked for. Victoria put down the paper she was reading and turned to look for either Cassie or Alex, both of whom had researched the story because this had come from the financial section of the paper. The story wasn't centered on the prostitution angle but on how easy it was for working single parents to get in to debt.
"Does anyone know where Cassie or Alex are?" Victoria asked of the room at large.
"They're both off chasing their dodgy antiques dealer," Called Jasmine. Victoria picked up the story and walked upstairs to where the editors' offices were. Knocking on Yvonne's door, she poked her head in. Yvonne was on the phone, arguing with someone, but she smiled at Victoria, gesturing her to come in. Victoria took the vacant chair and waited for Yvonne to finish her phone call. When she finally slammed the phone down, Yvonne turned to Victoria with a rueful smile.
"Why do all bastard lawyers have to be so bloody cautious all the time?"
"I suppose it comes with the job," Said Victoria.
"So, what can I do for you?" Victoria held up the story.
"I was going to ask either Cassie or Alex but they're both out."
"Yeah, that antiques dealer they're following up should produce something good." Yvonne took the paper and read for a moment.
"Nikki and I are doing a story about a load of prostitutes who were in court on Monday. We're going to be looking at why they get in to it in the first place. I came across that when I was searching the archives this morning."
"Oh yeah, I remember this one now. We didn't really concentrate on the prostitution but we looked at the financial situation most single parents are in some of the time. That was sad about Chloe. She had a decent job and two really nice kids but she borrowed because she couldn't afford the costs of childcare. She ended up on the streets because the loan company sent someone round to give her a few frighteners. But that could never be proved and once the school heard she was working as a tart they kicked her out anyway."
"Well, she was in court again yesterday and me and Nikki and maybe Denny are going to see her again this afternoon. Apart from the fact that her case is a current one, she's a perfect example of why women end up working for the likes of Jim Fenner."
"Absolutely," Said Yvonne. "I bet she's still opening her legs for cash for those bastards she borrowed money off in the first place. She was a really nice kid when I met her in May," Victoria held up a hand.
"You saw her? But I thought only reporters did that." Yvonne smiled.
"They do usually, but both Cassie and Alex were out on another job at the time and I like to keep my hand in now and again." Victoria picked up the paper and scanned it for the author of the Chloe Hill article. Sure enough it said Yvonne Atkins. Victoria grinned.
"I don't know why I didn't notice it before."
"Being an editor's all well and good," Replied Yvonne. "But there's nothing quite like doing all the research and then writing the thing up yourself. I miss it sometimes. I suppose I miss the people contact as well. You get to meet a lot of fascinating people in this job, and not one of them is the same as the next."
As Victoria went downstairs, she thought about this. She loved the work that took her out of the office. She wouldn't swap it for anything else in the world. Usually she met somebody different nearly every day. There weren't many jobs in which you got to see the whole of society in it's each and every habitat. Nikki spied her returning to the main office and called her over.
"How's it going?"
"We've got a trend," Said Victoria in delight. "Over three quarters of the women we're going to see either today or tomorrow are single mothers. A large proportion of them used to have perfectly respectable jobs until they got cautioned for soliciting. There's also someone who's been written about before," She held up the paper she was carrying. "Chloe Hill. I've just been talking to Yvonne about her because that story came from finance, not from crime. It seems that this Chloe Hill ended up on the streets because she couldn't make the repayments on a loan and I'll bet my entire bank account that that's the same situation for most of the women who were in court on Monday."
"Jesus!" Said Nikki smiling widely. "You've done well this morning." She glanced at her watch. "It's almost lunchtime and I've just got a couple more phone calls to make. Go and see if you can book Denny for this afternoon, but if not her then one of the others, then go and have something to eat. I'd like to set out about one. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, sure. What should I do with all these?" Victoria eyed the pile of back issues on her desk.
"Have you photocopied the stuff you want?"
"No, I've not had time." Nikki picked up the phone on her desk. Putting it down again in a very short time she said,
"Babs says she'll do it for you while we're out this afternoon. You'll find the office she shares with Zandra at the end of the corridor upstairs. She said if you take them up there now, she'll do it as soon as possible." Gathering the fairly enormous stack together Victoria went back upstairs, along the corridor passed the four offices of the editors and in to a room full of filing cabinets, photocopiers and computers.
"Are you sure you don't mind doing this?" Victoria asked Barbara Hunt, the secretary who worked for Yvonne and sometimes Mike.
"Not at all. Have you marked the articles you want done?"
"Yeah, with paper clips. I owe you one for this." Barbara smiled and Victoria left to go and look for Denny. She found Denny in the photographers' room, sorting rolls of film in to boxes.
"Denny, are you free this afternoon?"
"I think so," Said Denny looking in the large diary where they each had to write down what jobs they did. "Yeah. We're going to see Rachel Hicks aren't we?"
"Her and numerous others. Nikki says we're leaving at one o'clock and you'd probably better bring some extra film. It's mostly single mums who've been done for prostitution so we'll probably be getting pictures of all the kids, but I'm not really sure."
"Okay, that's fine. I just hope Rachel Hicks doesn't freak out if she sees me. I mean, she knows I was friendly with Shell, innit."
At one o'clock that afternoon, Nikki Victoria and Denny left for their round of calls. When Nikki said that they'd be going to see Rachel Hicks first, Denny looked worried.
"You know, she might not want to see me."
"Why?" Asked Victoria.
"Well, I used to be Shell's bird. She just might not want to be reminded of that bitch, that's all."
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Denny," Came Nikki's reassuring tone. "If it isn't, well, we'll have to see what we can do to persuade her. You're taking these photos if it's the last thing we do. You're the best photographer we there is." Victoria recognised the unmasked flattery that Nikki was using to calm Denny and she smiled. Denny blushed.
When they drew up outside Rachel's mother's house, Victoria was surprised to see how large it was. Denny saw her look of surprise and said,
"Yeah, I know. You'd think that with her mum living like she does, Rachel wouldn't have to go out whoring. But Rachel's mum wouldn't have nothing to do with her when Rachel got pregnant. She threw her out. I bet the only reason she's taken her back is because of Shell burning her house down."
"Denny, I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention Shell," Said Nikki.
"I won't, but I bet Rachel does." Nikki rang the doorbell and it was Rachel who answered. She gaped at all three of them.
"What're you lot doing here?"
"Rachel, we'd like to talk to you."
"What about? The fire was ages ago. That Dockley bitch got put away. What more can you want?"
"It's about you being in court yesterday," Said Victoria. Rachel looked at her, as if remembering how nice Victoria had been to her whilst she was in hospital.
"You can come in, but my mum won't like it. She's already given me enough grief about being arrested." Rachel led them in to a sitting-room filled with far too much flower patterned furniture for Nikki's liking. Mrs. Hicks was sitting reading today's issue of the Lark city Post. Nikki shared a grin with Victoria when she saw this. Rachel introduced them to her mother and explained why they were there.
"We don't need your sort making the situation worse," Said Mrs. Hicks.
"We're not here to do that," Nikki responded. "We're here because we're running a story on why many young mothers see prostitution as the only answer to their problems." Mrs. Hicks told Rachel to go and make them some tea. When she'd gone, the older woman began her tirade.
"Rachel only started mixing with that lot when she started hanging around with that waste of space who got her pregnant with Maddy. He was in to drugs. I told her from the start that he was bad news, but she wouldn't listen to me. Anyway, when she started selling herself, I told her she didn't belong here anymore. After Maddy was born and after Tom killed himself, she didn't bother to come back. Well, not until she had too."
"Tom didn't kill himself, mother, he overdosed."
"That's the same thing in my book, Rachel. You know that." Rachel put cups of tea down on the coffee table.
"Mum, don't you have to be somewhere?"
"Trying to get rid of me now, are you?"
"It might be easier if I get this over with when you're not here."
Once Rachel's mother had left for a meeting in town, Rachel seemed to relax. Denny lightened the atmosphere by saying,
"Jesus, your mum doesn't change does she, Rachel." Rachel smiled.
"No, I'm going to have to move somewhere else soon. She doesn't like having Maddy in the house. Maddy's asleep now but mum hates having a crying baby around the place." Victoria took up the conversation.
"Rachel, why did you get in to prostitution in the first place?"
"We needed the money for the rent. Neither of us were in a job at the time and I knew that Tom had debts with a couple of dealers. My mum threw me out when she found out I was pregnant. All she kept telling me was that tom was a waste of space and that staying with him would only bring trouble. You know all about what happened to Tom after Maddy was born," At this she looked at Nikki and Denny. "You were both round here then. I had to go on the streets even more after Tom died, because I was the only one bringing in any money. Then there was all that stuff with Shell. Anyway, when the police were doing the raids on Saturday, they picked me up and that's how I ended up in court yesterday."
"Did you ever have a job when you were living with Tom?" Asked Nikki.
"Yeah, I worked in the local off-licence and Tom used to have gardening jobs here and there but when you've got a baby on the way, you need a regular income. The dealers were on Tom's back all the time, that's why I eventually went on the game. I wouldn't be doing it now except that I've got to start saving something if I'm ever going to get a place of my own again. We lost everything but the clothes we were wearing the night Dockley set fire to the house."
"So, to be blunt, you're currently working on the streets to be able to get straight again?" Asked Victoria.
"yeah. If I don't, I'll never get straight again."
"Can we take some pictures of you and Maddy?" Asked Denny. Rachel went upstairs and brought her baby back down with her. Maddy was still asleep so the pictures didn't take all that long.
"Rachel, how many of the other girls you work with are mothers?"
"Practically all of them. Most of us do it because we've got kids to support. We wouldn't do it if we didn't have to. Nobody in their right mind would sleep with the likes of Jim Fenner if they didn't have to."
"Can we use that as a quote," Grinned Nikki.
"Do you ever hear from Dockley?" Rachel asked Denny.
"You're the second person to ask me that today. She keeps writing to me to tell me to go and see her."
"If you do, tell her from me she's got a hell of a lot to answer for."
When they'd left, Denny was very quiet. She opened the back window of the car and lit a cigarette.
"Her mother's a real bitch," Commented Victoria. Denny snorted.
"Yeah. No wonder Rachel ended up doing what she did. Rachel's mum's almost as bad as Shell's."
"Denny, are you okay?" Asked Nikki.
"Do you reckon I should go and see her?" Asked Denny, who'd clearly been mulling this one over for some time.
"Do you want to go and see her?" Asked Nikki.
"I don't know. Shell's part of the old me. I'm okay with Shaz. I don't do drugs anymore and I'm kind of settled. Shell might kick all of that out from under me." This was getting very philosophical for Denny, mused Nikki. "But maybe I owe it to her," Said Denny.
"It sounds to me like you owe her nothing," Said Victoria.
"I know," Agreed Denny. "But Shell was there for me when my mum turned up and then pissed off again. I don't want to owe her nothing when and if she gets out. Maybe if I go and see her, I can put all of that stuff behind me."
Part Twenty One
The next person on their list was Chloe Hill.
"We'll have to tread a little carefully with this one," Cautioned Nikki. "This Chloe Hill used to be a prostitute, let's not assume that she still is."
"Jesus, you'd have to get a bloody good windfall to give that up," Scoffed Denny.
"I know, but we won't get anything out of her if we go in assuming she's still a tart if she isn't."
As they approached the tiny terraced houses in one of the more poverty-stricken parts of town, Victoria reflected that whatever Chloe was doing now, it couldn't be that successful.
Chloe opened her front door in the company of her two children. Denny saw this for what it was. A way of forestalling any immediate physical attack from punters or loan sharks. Chloe definitely looked surprised to see the three women stood on her doorstep.
"What do you want?" Nikki held up her press ID badge.
"Can we come in and talk to you?"
"It's about what happened some time ago, the reason why you lost your job with the school."
"You what? That was ages ago. One of your lot came round at the time asking me all sorts of questions." Then Denny surprised all three of them.
"Do you still work with Rachel Hicks and the other girls?" Chloe looked gob smacked.
"What business is that of yours?"
"We're writing a story about how working mothers get in to prostitution because of problems with debt," Said Victoria, feeling that being straight and forthcoming with Chloe was likely to get them quicker results.
"Look," Chloe tried to bargain with them. "I've actually got a job interview tomorrow. If I get it then you definitely won't hear anything from me. But if I don't, I might let you ask your questions. Let's face it, having my name in print talking about how I survive isn't going to make it any easier to get a job."
"If there's anything you can tell us, give me a call," Said Nikki handing over her card.
On their way back to the car, seeing the look on Victoria's face, Nikki remarked,
"You win some, you lose some."
Back at the office, Mike was standing in Karen's doorway.
"What are you doing tonight?" He asked hopefully.
"Getting to work with this lot," Karen held up a batch of notes on various news stories for the next edition of the paper.
"So, I can't persuade you in to sampling that new Thai restaurant with me?"
"You know I'd love too," Said Karen with a broad smile. "But if I don't make a head start with this lot, I'll be behind all week."
"Ah well, we'll have to leave it till the weekend then." Karen stood up and came towards Mike.
"I, will always have time for you," She said putting her arms round his neck.
"Is that right?" Mike asked in a deep, quiet voice that made Karen's insides melt.
"Keep on treating me like this," Karen murmured against Mike's lips. "And you'll get everything you want." They were about to continue this conversation in any number of non-verbal ways, when they were interrupted by an all to recognisable oily tone.
"Ah, sweet. I know it's a shame, but I need to disturb this little display of stomach churning lust." Karen moved out of Mike's arms and they both looked at Fenner.
"What do you want?" Asked Mike.
"Like I said, a word with my boss. Is that okay?"
"Yes, of course," Said Karen reluctantly. She could hardly refuse to give one of her juniors some of her time in the middle of a working day, even if it was Jim Fenner doing the asking. She looked at Mike apologetically. "I'll see you later." But Fenner being Fenner, couldn't pass up the opportunity to put the boot in with the man he considered to be his rival.
"It's obviously not going that brilliantly if she prefers to spend her time with me."
"Fenner, not even a starving, flee-bitten cat would prefer to spend any time with you if they didn't have too."
"You should know," Fenner shot back. "Karen's the one with the claws here."
"Okay, boys, that'll do. Mike, we'll finish this conversation when I've got rid of the vermin here. Jim, sit down and get on with what you wanted to say." When Mike left to go back to his own enormous workload, Karen shut the door and turned to face her ex.
"Is this really necessary?" She said in disgust.
"What?" Fenner replied with a sincerely innocent expression on his face.
"You, taking out your jealousy on me and Mike. You're hurting me just as much as you're annoying him, you know."
"I just don't understand why you'd want to spend time with a coffin dodger like that rather than me. I mean, he'll be drawing his pension in ten years."
"Let's get one little detail straight," Said Karen fury burning in her eyes. "You no longer have any claim over what I do with my life. You forfeited that when you started sleeping with slags like Shell Dockley. If I choose to begin a new relationship with somebody who will actually treat me with the kind of respect I used to think I deserved, that is absolutely no business of yours. The only connection you and me will ever have is through work. I am your immediate boss and you are one of my reporters. That is all. do I make myself clear?" They stared at each other, equal amounts of anger giving the air a feeling of charged electricity, crackling with unexpressed feelings of pure hatred on both sides. Eventually, Jim stood up, clearly forgetting the reason he'd originally come upstairs, as he walked out the door, rage evident in his face and his walk. Karen was left wondering just how careful she would need to be in his presence in the future.
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