The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 47

The day after Charlie’s visit to the aircraft museum found him up early driving the short distance to work. Sitting in rush hour traffic piled up at a busy junction in the town, he turned on the car’s radio. Charlie sat bolt upright as he heard the breaking news announcing the death of the deputy prime minister the night before during a lecture in Oxford. It shocked him because he had met Michael Dodds only a couple of days ago when interviewing him over his party’s plans for Brexit. Dodds was the popular MP for Dover and had been instrumental in assisting Carol Dowding with the meteoric rise of the party and subsequent position as Britain’s new prime minister. A media tycoon with a chain of commercial radio stations covering the country, Dodds had been a useful asset to the party. Following the success of the People First in Britain party winning the election, he had joined the cabinet as deputy prime minister. Charlie liked the man, who had politely answered all of Charlie’s searching questions without the display of arrogance normally associated with most other politicians.

Arriving at work, he parked the car, walked into the newspaper offices, filled a coffee cup from the vending machine and went up the stairs to his office. Flicking on the small TV sitting on one of the file cabinets, he sat down at his desk, grabbed the remote and trawled through the 24hr satellite news channels that were all busy reporting the politician’s death. The consensus was that Dodds had had a heart attack or stroke. Charlie turned on his laptop and took a sip of the lukewarm liquid, grimacing at the sour taste. Charlie’s fingers flew across the keyboard, adapting the story on Dodds that he had already written for the next edition of the paper, using the notes and memories from the recent interview for more background. He saved the file, went online, and opened the National Archive Agency website on the screen, banking that Dave Brockelhurst from the museum was right and the court martial records of the pilot would now be available.

Charlie entered the RAF pilot’s name into the search engine and a withdrawal notice displayed stating the record was still restricted and not available for public viewing. He checked the dates again and wondered why, even though it was now past the statuary seventy-five year period. His inquisitive nature kicked into gear, which he relied on to ferret out conspiracies and track connections others could not see, and consequently kept their suspicions to themselves. It might just be an administration error, he thought, but instinct told him he was on the trail of something important as he re-entered Faulkner’s name, only to get the same obstructive result.

Charlie, not one to be deterred, picked up his phone and went through his long list of contacts, made while working for Reuters and the Daily Record in London. He found the one he wanted, dialled the number and spoke to a civil servant in a government department. They exchanged pleasantries and Charlie explained the purpose of his call. The contact told him that he would find out what he could and promised to ring back shortly.

Just before lunchtime, the door slammed open and Samantha breezed into the office, back from a local assignment. She greeted Charlie and sat down behind her desk, taking the notes she had written during the interview out of her bag and onto the desk.

‘How did it go?’ enquired Charlie, for it was Sam’s first interview for the paper, with the boss of the new leisure centre in Honeywood Parkway.

‘It went OK, thanks. Do you know it’s costing over twenty-six million pounds, although on the plus side the manager reckons it will create another thirty jobs on top of the existing seventy odd that will transfer when the old centre closes.’

‘Did you ask why the completion date is running late and how much over budget its gone?’ questioned Charlie.

‘I did!’ beamed Samantha. ‘He was being cagey at first, but I got it out of him by saying our boss would give him some good offers on advertising space to promote the centre when it opens.’

‘I hope you cleared that with Frank first?’

‘Well, I thought the boss wouldn’t mind doing it in return for the scoop.’

‘I don’t think he’ll quite see it that way, Sam.’ said Charlie, noting her crestfallen face.

‘Never mind, better get on and write it up.’

At that moment, Charlie’s phone rang and he picked it up. It was the civil servant calling back.

‘Hi Charlie, the good news is that court martial record you’re after isn’t restricted anymore.’

‘Great! And the bad news is?’

‘Well, the War Ministry originally classified it in 1940 which has now lapsed.’

‘Go on.’

‘Another agency has re-classified it for a further fifty years.’

‘What! Which agency?’

‘Afraid I can’t help you this time, Charlie.’

‘Can’t you find out more?’

‘It’s covered by the Official Secrets Act, not bloody likely, mate! Sorry, but it’s more than my job’s worth. Let me know next time you’re up in town and we’ll meet and have a beer.’

‘Thanks, I will.’ said Charlie.

Charlie replaced the phone, even more determined to find the underlying cause of the matter. He wondered who would want to sequester the record of an old court martial from all those years ago. Picking up his mobile, he dialled a number he knew off by heart. A familiar voice answered and after a fair amount of haggling, Charlie extracted a promise from the other party that a path would be found through the grinding wheels of bureaucracy blocking his way forward.

Charlie, on a roll, asked whether there was anything untoward about the death of the deputy prime minister and received only muttered expletives in reply. Following some creative negotiating by Charlie with complaints that it was extremely short notice coming from the other end of the line, a meeting was arranged for the next evening, which Charlie would confirm later in the day. Finishing the call, Charlie clicked the print button on the file of Dodds story, picked up the internal phone and dialled the editor’s PA.

‘Hi Valerie, can I come and see Frank now?’

‘Hang on a moment I’ll see if he’s free.’

Charlie heard her put the handset down as the printer whirred away beside his desk. In a few seconds, she came back on the line.

‘OK, he said he wants to see you anyway.’

‘Thanks. Val.’

Charlie took the story out of the printer and went out of the office, leaving Samantha engrossed, typing up her interview.

In Frank Weller’s office, Charlie told him about the major story he now wanted to do on Michael Dodds. The editor thought it was a good idea, agreeing to allow the trip on firm’s time so it could make the deadline for the next issue.

Returning to his office, Charlie called and confirmed the meeting and turned to Samantha.

‘I might have a lead on the death of Michael Dodds, the deputy pm. Frank’s agreed to us taking a trip tomorrow afternoon up to Windsor to check it out and agreed it would be good experience for you to come along.’

‘Well, it’s rather short notice, Charlie, as I’m supposed to be getting my hair done after work tomorrow. I suppose I can postpone the appointment.’

‘We’re going to meet someone there who might give us some inside gen about what happened at Oxford, and as a bonus I’m hoping to get a copy of the court martial record for the feature on your great uncle.’

‘That’s great, boss. Let’s hope it confirms what my gran wrote in her diary. Is he a reliable source?’ asked Sam.′

Charlie laughed, ‘Yeah, I reckon, he’s always come up with the goods in the past and you can see how a reliable lead builds into a newsworthy story.’

‘But what could be the inside on Dodds? I thought he died from a heart attack.’

‘Thought, Sam? Don’t accept the obvious! You should know by now a keen investigative journalist never takes sides and always checks and re-checks the story. If you follow the leads, get the facts right and then write it up, you’ll do all right.’ sighed Charlie.

‘Surely, they taught you on the media course the what, when, where, who, why and the how? Well, they’re the basics and you’ll achieve creditability if you abide by them.’

‘All right Charles, less of the lecture.’ said Samantha, laughing and rolling her eyes.

‘I’m only trying to help you, Sam. Just remember, if you want to get to the top in investigative journalism, curiosity combined with initiative and well developed reporting skills is your path to success!’

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