The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 37

With his love of journalism and need for a change of scenery, Charlie applied for a reporter’s job on The Mercury, a provincial newspaper in Kent. In a few days, he had received a reply inviting him for an interview with the editor of the paper the following week. On the day he had packed his few possessions in two suitcases, said goodbye to his relieved friend and was soon motoring down the M20 towards Dover, his fingers crossed that he’d get the job.

Frank Weller, the editor, a tough, no-nonsense newspaperman of many years standing had been both intrigued and cautious of Charlie’s application. He knew of Charlie’s highflying career on the London national and his recent downfall but was a kindly man and had experienced similar problems in his own life.

On the day of the interview, Charlie sat opposite the editor seated behind his desk who began the interview.

‘Which local paper did you start on before ending up at the Herald?’ Weller asked in a very broad Kentish dialect.

‘I didn’t.’ replied Charlie.

‘You didn’t?’ queried Weller ’Well, the usual course of action for starting a career in journalism is to get a job first with a local paper to gain experience.

‘It looks like I’m doing it the other way round.’ parried Charlie.

The editor leaned forward on his chair and stared at the fallen high flyer. Charlie found it difficult to read the editor’s thoughts by eye contact, as peering into the lenses of Weller’s glasses was comparable to trying to look through the bottom of a milk bottle.

‘As you know, The Mercury is a newspaper published on Thursdays and reports the news of the town, its council, magistrates’ court, police station, chamber of commerce and just about every activity concerning the townsfolk, with further coverage of the surrounding area. Which makes it very different from what you’ve been used to on the Herald!′

‘I’m prepared to give it my best shot if you’ll give me the chance.’

They were both now leaning over the desk, almost touching nose to nose.

‘What is the most important difference you will find between the national daily you worked on and a local paper like this?’

Charlie, thinking the interview was bordering on the lines of an interrogation, was not to be outdone. The day before he had paid the small subscription and read the Mercury’s on-line editions, pondering the very same question until he had realised what it was.

‘When I worked on the Herald I seldom met the readers whereas here I’ll meet the locals. That’s if I get the job.’

‘Aye, if you work on the Mercury, you’ll be meeting them right outside the bloody front door. Which calls for?’

‘Setting high standards when reporting the news, of course!’

‘Fair enough. I’ll give you a three month trial, when can you start?’

‘Tomorrow?’

Charlie looked for some temporary accommodation and found a bed and breakfast in the town with parking for the car. Situated close to the Priory Station in the Folkestone road, he negotiated a good deal with the friendly landlady for a month’s stay. That evening he unpacked his cases and ordered a mozzarella pizza delivery, which he devoured in the small bedroom upstairs. The kind-hearted landlady made Charlie a mug of hot, steaming tea, which she brought up to his room. Later, he had the best night’s sleep for a long time.

Starting work the next day, Charlie spent the morning meeting the other reporters and staff in the newsroom and cleared some junk left behind in the drawers of the desk from the previous occupier, an elderly reporter who had retired. A young IT technician got his workstation up and running and gave him his password which Charlie entered and started work. By the end of the day, he felt at home with the friendly Mercury team. Within a few weeks, Charlie had formed a camaraderie with Frank Weller, the editor, and suggested that as Dover was an international gateway, the paper might benefit by reporting more national and international news. Charlie suggested it might also be a good idea to write a feature every month on local, historical events, which if successful, should increase the circulation figures. The editor, impressed with his work so far, agreed and gave Charlie his own small office upstairs, together with a young cub reporter to mentor who had recently joined the paper.

One Friday morning, Charlie went into the office early after a restless night. He was still coming to terms with the recent changes in his life. Charlie had spent the last couple of days out and about sourcing local, newsworthy stories for the paper. Sitting at his desk in the small office upstairs, he began typing up one on immigration, referring to notes taken while interviewing some Border Force officers working in the port of Dover. He was aware like most that the UK’s lax border controls since joining the European Union, compounded by the lack of successive governments to restrict and solve the immigration problem, had resulted in a major problem for the country. One officer had told Charlie about an enterprising Rumanian who had rowed across the Channel from Calais in a kid’s inflatable dinghy, which surprisingly had not been swamped by the waves. As he was typing away another reporter on the Mercury walked in with two mugs of steaming coffee and plonked one down on Charlie’s desk.

‘Morning Charlie how’s you?’ enquired Terry Jones, a large, overweight man puffing with the exertion of climbing the stairs.

‘Nothing a strong coffee won’t put right. Thanks Terry.’

’I thought I would bring you one up, have you got that file I asked you for?

The door crashed back on its hinges and a tall girl with a pretty face charged into the room.

‘Good morning!’ said the breathless girl in a posh voice, squeezing past Terry to her desk in the only corner of the room not cluttered with overflowing filing cabinets. She hung her shoulder bag on the back of the chair and slipped in behind

‘Can’t you for once try to get in on time?’ sighed Charlie, rolling his eyes at Terry, and then looking at his young assistant, the cub reporter of the paper.

‘Remember Sam, punctuality is paramount! The first reporter on the scene gets the scoops! A rival who gets in before you will hide and mislead you with duff information, for his gain and your loss. It’s dog eat dog out there, but for all the slings and arrows that may come your way, it’s one of the most unpredictable and amusing professions to be in!’ lectured Charlie.

‘Spare me the sermon, Charles, it wasn’t my fault I’m late. I had to get the RAC out to give the car a jump-start.’

‘Not again, sounds like you need to get the battery checked.’

‘Do you think it needs a new one?’

‘Sounds like it.’

‘Well, with the pittance I get paid here, it will have to wait a bit longer.’

‘Oh, and another thing, Sam, how many times have I told you to stop calling me Charles? You make it sound like I’m some sodding Lord Fauntleroy. Call me Charlie!’

‘I will, but if you insist on calling me Sam, please remember my surname’s Cox, not Sam Fox. I’m not a page three pin up!’ retaliated the cub reporter.

‘Now, now, you two, you’re worse than an old married couple and the day’s still young! I’m off to Folkestone to get some info on the phantom clothesline pincher. See you later.’ chuckled Terry and went out the door.

Charlie and Samantha settled for an uneasy truce and got on with their work until lunchtime, when Charlie walked down to the local Subway in Cannon Street for a brunch and Samantha went to the Lord Nelson, the office’s local. Returning to work in the afternoon Charlie sat down at his desk and pushed the clutter of papers covering it to one side. With his keen interest in flying and missing piloting his light aircraft, which had gone in the bitter divorce, he thought it might be a good idea to write the first new monthly feature about the Battle of Britain, which had taken place in the skies over Kent. The anniversary of this historic period in Britain’s history was approaching and air shows and flypasts would be held all over the country to celebrate the decisive battle, which the young RAF fighter pilots, known as the Few had won. Charlie knew there would be lots of media coverage and documentaries shown on the TV, and mulled over how he could find a new angle. Maybe someone with a story yet to tell from that desperate time when Britain was fighting for her very survival?

‘What do you know about the Battle of Britain, Samantha?’ he asked.

‘Wasn’t it an air battle that took place in southern England during the Second World War.’ she replied. ‘Why?’

‘I thought it might be worth doing a feature on.’ replied Charlie. ‘The Battle took place here so there’s local interest and also an anniversary coming up.’

‘Why not, sounds like a good idea. I drove past what looked like an airfield in Hawkinge the other day and it had a sign outside saying the Battle of Britain museum. It might be a good place to start.’ suggested Samantha.

‘I will, Sam, thanks.’

Charlie wondered how he could get a better working relationship going with Samantha, as they were like chalk and cheese. He realised it would not be easy, as there would have to be a fine balance between friendship and the fact he was her boss.

As the afternoon in the office ended, Charlie asked Samantha what she had planned for the weekend.

‘Oh, I’ve got a busy one.’ she replied. ‘Tomorrow morning I’ve got to get the weeks shopping and then I’m having my hair done.’

‘Going somewhere nice?’ enquired Charlie.

‘It’s Dad’s sixtieth birthday on Sunday and there’s a gathering of the clan at their place.’

‘Where’s that then?’

‘They’ve got a place down in Worthing now. Dad took early retirement when he had a health scare.’

‘Sorry to hear that, Sam. Is he ok now?’

‘Yes, he’s had a couple of ops and is much better now.’

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