Charlie Britton leaned back in his chair, plonked his size twelve boots on the desktop and contemplated the start his day. A black eye patch covering his left eye strikingly offset the tall, heavy-set facial features topped by the thick, curly brown hair. Although an ocular prosthetic eye was in place to prevent the tissue in the eye socket from growing to fill the space, Charlie preferred wearing the simple patch, which he found prompted varied remarks, diverse comments or complete silence from those meeting him for the first time. All good indications that allowed an insight into judging their characters and traits as if reading a barometer to gauge the weather.
He stared out of the window at the narrow rectangle of blue sky above the large red-bricked wall in front. Seagulls wheeled and screeched, scanning the ground below for titbits of food deposited in waste bins, or left in the gutters by their untidy human cousins. The room at the top of the building had once commanded a panoramic view of the harbour and the English Channel beyond, before the Dover planning authority had granted Tesco’s planning permission to plonk a supermarket right in front of it.
Outside, the dark smoke from the funnels of cross-channel ferries using the harbour rose into the air, wafted by the sea breeze over the town and responsible over the years of accumulated grime coating the facades of the buildings. Charlie knew the hazy air outside would be tinged with the pungent tang of diesel fumes. The windowpanes vibrated with the resonance of the noise of juggernauts and refrigerated trailer engines, waiting in lines to embark the ferries through the open bow doors. With a grunt, he compared this small, cluttered office with the one he had occupied before in central London, a large, luxurious suite with commanding views over the River Thames and the sprawl of its suburbs to the north. Charlie shrugged his shoulders and crossed his arms, let out a large sigh and muttered,
‘It’s your own bloody fault, Britton, you’ve only got yourself to blame!’
He reflected on the drastic changes that had recently taken place in his life. His downfall from a high flying reporter on the prestigious London Herald, the acknowledged leader of London’s top, elitist pack of investigative journalists, to a local reporter on a provincial weekly newspaper in Kent. Gone were the days of mixing it with celebrities, landed gentry, pop stars and glamorous models. Losing his classic Ferrari 250 GT, the luxury apartment overlooking Regents Park and his Piper Warrior light aircraft kept in the hangar at White Waltham aerodrome. All because of the actions of Abigail, his beautiful young wife, who had left him after admitting to an adulterous, torrid affair.
Charlie, already a seasoned drinker during lunchtimes at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street and many more pubs and clubs after work, had refused to accept the fact that she had left him for another man. He had found solace in drowning his sorrows to the point of sinking into the darkest depths of alcoholism, as he desperately tried to dull the pain of his loss. Missing important meetings with the divorce lawyers coupled with the devious efforts of his wife’s plotting and scheming to get the best settlement, the acrimonious divorce had cost him dearly. The property and toys were all gone but so was his self-respect.
His previous reporting successes had exposed how one of Britain’s largest banks had deliberately closed down thousands of businesses, instead of supporting them in the recession, by calling in loans and cancelling overdrafts to add billions of pounds to its balance sheet. Other investigations had uncovered greedy politicians fiddling their expense accounts and the investigation into the role of tech companies during elections had raised important issues for democracy in the country. For this Charlie had won a top journalistic award at the prestigious British Journalist Awards at the Connaught Hotel in London, which Norris Jackson, the mayor of London would present to him during the ceremony. Since the divorce however, his reporting skills had plunged, bordering on incompetence and resulting in a precarious position at work, which finally came to a head at the awards. Charlie had consumed prodigious amounts of beer and whisky chasers during the banquet and had become involved in an argument with Norris Johnson that had erupted into a drunken brawl under the full glare of the nation’s top celebrities and media. Arthur Hill, the Herald’s proprietor seated further along the table, had witnessed the proceedings with grave displeasure.
Early the next morning, the phone had rung waking Charlie in bed with a start. Nursing a cruel hangover, he had reached over and lifted the receiver.
‘Is that you, Charlie?’ enquired the editor-in-chief of his paper.
’Yes, boss. I’m not feeling too good, but I’ll make it in. Er, how badly did I humiliate myself last night?
‘Fatally, Charlie, fatally.’
Charlie had groaned and rolled over in his bed, cursing loudly.
Later that day, without ceremony, the editor sacked Charlie from the paper that thanks to his reporting achievements had doubled its circulation figures. He had realised it would take more than a few beers to wash away the taste of failure.
Charlie’s strong will had halted the downward spiral into the dark depths with the help of some good friends who had stood by him, and began to claw back some control in his life. For it had not been the first time he had fought despair in his life, as he reminded himself by reaching up with his hand and touching the eye patch covering his left eye. He remembered the weeks in a hospital bed, the pain and the brutal readjustment of forcing himself to re-calibrate his life after the terrible injuries that he had suffered. He would now draw on the experiences gained from the recovery after his first career ended, nearly costing him his life.
He fondly remembered the good friends and contacts in the service who had helped him with his rehabilitation, helping Charlie to apply for a job with Reuters, the international press agency with bureaux all over the world. With his inquisitive nature and zest for life, together with his military background, Reuters had accepted him and started on their London editorial desk. Charged with covering stories of military interest in the Reuter’s style of rigorous accuracy and complete impartiality, Charlie had enjoyed the work but soon his restless spirit yearned for the freedom of the outdoors instead of being cooped up in an office.
With the experience gained with Reuters, he had applied for and got a job as a fledgling reporter on the London Herald. His reporting acumen had earned the respect of his peers and his rise through the ranks of reporters had been nothing short of meteoric, but his downfall, as Charlie well knew when it came had been even more rapid.
Charlie, who had always assisted any friend needing help, was taken in by a good friend who gave him support and a roof over his head. Calling on his reserves of willpower and taking a sabbatical from alcohol he started putting the pieces of his life back together. The divorce had all but stripped him bare except for the clothes on his back, some smart Saville Row suits and his old Jaguar XK 150 that urgently needed some serious bodywork. The balance of the large mortgage remaining after the sale of his Regent’s Park apartment, sold way below market value in a depressed marked, had left him embarrassed during compulsory meetings with his bank manager.
Some six months passed and with the danger of stretching his friendship too far by overstaying his welcome with his friend, Charlie judged it was time to move on with his life.