Public stories, Private lives
At about one thirty Mike discretely nodded to Nikki who got up and followed him upstairs to his office. As Mike closed the door Nikki said,
"She's got to see sense this time. We can't let her go on living in denial."
"It might not be as easy as you think, you know."
"It might be with this," She said as she pulled a miniature tape recorder out of her jeans pocket. "I took the precaution of making a little copy of what Rachel Hicks said about Fenner."
"Nikki! You know you're treading on very dangerous ground here."
"Who cares if it makes Karen Betts see that Fenner really is the shit we've been telling her he is."
"Nikki, taping conversations without the speakers' knowledge is a criminal offence. You know that."
"Oh come on! There's only you and me who know about it and if Karen takes this as gospel, which she'll have to, then she's not exactly going to grass on me is she."
"You're taking a big risk, you know."
"Wouldn't you have done the same?"
"Well, then. Fenner has been shagging Rachel Hicks for months, right under Karen's bloody nose. Shell Dockley got jealous because Fenner had stopped screwing her and moved on to Rachel, and we all know what Dockley's like when she doesn't like someone. She set fire to Rachel's house after warning her off. When that didn't work and even after Fenner threatened her, she tried to walk away with Rachel's baby. God knows where it would be now if she had."
"I should have guessed she'd have something to do with this."
"Quite. But the police have taken her away now and let's just ask Crystal to pray Shell doesn't get bail."
"Did Fenner know that Dockley was going to do any of this?"
"I don't know. I doubt it because it's not Fenner's style. Oh, he'll hand out threats but he doesn't usually follow them up."
"Usually? So he might have done this time?"
"I seriously doubt it. Anyway, we haven't got any proof that he did or didn't."
"As long as he's not directly involved in the arson or abduction attempt then we can forget taking this to Anton. The last thing Karen will want is for this to get official."
"So, are you going to talk to her?"
"I'll do it after the budgeting meeting. That'll give me at least two hours to plan what I'm going to say. I'll do my best, but I'm not promising anything."
At two that afternoon, Mike locked his office door and poked his head round the door to Yvonne's to speak to her secretary.
"Barbara, can you make sure that absolutely nobody goes in to my office?" Barbara looked at him a little bemused.
"Something you want to hide, Mr. Barrett?" The deep, laughing tones of Yvonne made him turn.
"No, I just don't want anyone in there, Ms Atkins." They walked up to Meyer's large conference room for the budgeting meeting.
"I think we'll all need a stiff drink after this one," commented Yvonne.
"Don't we always?"
"I wonder what surprises are in store for us this month?" It was something of a joke between Mike and Yvonne that Yvonne always spent most budgeting meetings arguing with Karen and the two of them not allowing anyone to get a word in edgeways. They were joined soon after by Karen, head of news, Janice Taylor head of health and Karen Newburn, accounts manager. She's got to have the most undesirable job in the place, thought Mike. They all sat round the long conference table and were then joined by Anton Meyer and his secretary Keri McGrath who would be taking the minutes. Janice began pouring everyone coffee and to Meyer's disgust, Karen Betts and Yvonne both lit up cigarettes.
"One day I'll ban smoking from this room."
"Fat chance!" Muttered Yvonne.
"As we're all here, shall we make a start," Said Meyer who had clearly heard Yvonne's comment. Karen Newburn began handing round copies of that month's figures which didn't make particularly pleasant reading.
"There's no way news has spent this much!" Karen exclaimed.
"I bet Fenner's been fiddling the books," said Yvonne.
"Oh, sure," replied Karen. "He doesn't even have access to the accounts."
"Please, ladies. Can we not start this meeting in the usual fashion for a change. It would be nice to be done with this inside an hour."
"but I just don't see where these figures are coming from," Said Karen.
"Which is what we're here to discuss," replied Meyer. Karen wondered how he could remain so calm.
"You've all been overspending," Said Karen Newburn.
"On what, exactly?" Said Yvonne.
"Petrol's one thing."
"Oh give me strength," Said Karen. "If we can't get to the people we're writing about, how would we get the stories?"
"God," murmured Yvonne. "We're actually in agreement for once."
"It's not just petrol expenses," Went on Karen Newburn. "It's mobile phone bills, stationery costs, you name it. Everyone's going to have to tighten their belts, admittedly some more than others but that's the way it is."
"Why are we working at such a loss?" Asked Mike who until then had remained quiet.
"We're simply not selling enough papers," Replied Karen Newburn.
"Why?" Asked Janice. "It's the only paper round here that contains all the really local news."
"And why do you think Denny was reading The Sun at lunchtime?" Put in Yvonne. "It's because we're not catering to the most profitable section of the community. At the moment we're only really selling to those who buy the paper whilst they're picking up their pensions or a lottery ticket and we're not writing what people want to know about."
"So are you suggesting we fill the paper with pictures of tarts who've got nothing better to do than stand in front of a camera all day?" Said Karen. For some reason this immediately made Mike think of Shell Dockley.
"No," Said Yvonne. "What we need to do is to sell this paper in places where it might actually be bought."
"Such as?" Asked Anton.
"Like, I don't know," Yvonne mused. Then she clicked her fingers. "why not have a couple of paper sellers at the business end of town?"
"Yvonne's right," Added Janice. "That way, people would buy it on their way to work. They'd have the paper without going in to a shop to buy it. I mean, who has time to do that in a morning."
"So who were you thinking about?" Asked Karen Newburn. "Because there's no way we can take on anyone extra at the moment."
"What about two of the photographers. They're never all out at once and you'd only need them to be selling papers say, first thing in the morning and at lunchtime."
Karen Betts hated agreeing with Yvonne on anything but she could see that this made some sense. The meeting went on in a similar manner for another hour and a half during which time Mike hardly said a word. He was trying to work out what the hell he was going to say to Karen.
When the meeting came to an end Mike beckoned to Karen.
"Have you got a moment?"
"Why? Do you want to have another dig about Jim?"
"No," Mike lied. "But it is something you should hear in private." Karen stared at him and followed him back up to his office.
"So," She said when Mike had closed the door. "Why all the secrecy?"
"Karen, this is about Jim."
"Jesus! I'm sick of this. Well, what now?" Mike unlocked his desk drawer and removed the tape recorder that Nikki had left with him. He placed it on the desk in front of him.
"On this little cassette," He began. "is a recording of a conversation that Nikki had with Rachel Hicks, in connection with Shell Dockley's arson attack on her house."
"Christ!" Said Karen. "I didn't know it was her."
"Yes, but that isn't the issue here. As you will find out when I play you this tape, Rachel told Nikki that for the last few months she has been having an affair with Jim Fenner and that Shell Dockley discovered this. Do I need to say any more?"
"You're saying that Jim has been seeing Rachel and that Dockley got jealous?"
"Something like that. Karen, I'm telling you all this because I want you to finally realise what a complete and utter waster Jim Fenner really is."
"And you want me to quit the naïve act and face up to the fact that he's screwing other women behind my back."
"Well, I think it would be better for you if you did."
"You and the entire office I assume."
"Well, it was Nikki who brought this to my attention."
"Go on then, let's hear it." Mike switched on the tape recorder and they sat in silence listening to the conversation Nikki had had with Rachel Hicks on the subject of Jim Fenner's sex life.
When it came to an end, Mike turned and looked at Karen. There was a mixture of hurt and anger in her face.
"Why has everyone been able to see this except me?" She asked in a very small voice.
"We all have the ability to misjudge things, you know." Mike replied. He was trying to be as diplomatic as possible with Karen.
"I'll kill him for this," She said.
"As the crime editor, you shouldn't be telling me things like that," He replied, trying to put some lightness back in to the conversation.
"I suppose I should thank you for telling me," Karen said.
"If I'd been in a similar situation, it's probably the last thing I'd do," Mike replied. "the best thing for you to do, is to kick him out of your house and out of your life."
"Yeah, I guess it is." Karen suddenly got to her feet. "There's just one thing I have to do first, though." Mike got a bad feeling about Karen's last sentence so he followed her as she ran downstairs towards the main office which was full of reporters. Karen stormed straight up to Fenner's desk and slapped him right across his left cheek. Everyone was somewhat taken by surprise when she did this but then they all clapped.
"Keys!" Karen said to Fenner who was reeling from the shock.
"You what?" He said.
"Your keys, now. And you'll find everything on the doorstep when you get home."
"What the hell are you talking about?" It was surprising just how oily and hurt Fenner could sound, thought Victoria from her place at the adjacent desk.
"Does the name Rachel Hicks, or Shell Dockley mean anything to you?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes you do. Now get out of my sight before I really show you how much you've hurt me."
As Fenner fled from the office, Yvonne who'd been standing in the doorway came up and put a hand on Karen's shoulder.
"Do you know something, that's the best thing I've heard you say in a long time."
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