We asked you to write a story based on a news-hungry journalist desperate for that big scoop in 3000 words or less. We were amazed by the great stories that came our way and as usual, had some tough decisions to make. We would like to say thank-you to all who entered and congratulations to the winners.
1st Prize: £400.00 Christine Payne
2nd Prize: £300.00 T. Clifton
3rd Prize: £200.00 E. Dawson
4th Prize: £100.00 Liz. Elliot
5th Prize: £75.00 Eve Foster
by Christine Payne
I was in. It was difficult to move though. The air vent wasn’t really meant for a buxom blonde with wide hips, I grimaced, this was a tighter squeeze than I’d imagined. But then, as a journalist I was going to do anything to get my story and this would be one hell of a scoop. I could picture my byline now; there’d even be a photo of me, looking all serious and intense. Maybe I should get my roots done first; at the moment I looked like a sassy blonde out for a good time, I wanted to be taken seriously and I’d want to look my best. This story was so big that I might even get TV coverage. I’d be the reporter that broke THE story of the year.
It was all thanks to Jessica, my childhood friend, albeit inadvertently. She’d married computer geek Maxwell Briante and had done fairly well out of the relationship, I’d particularly coveted her sleek red sports car, a convertible that showed off her perfect hair, teeth and body when she had the roof down. I wasn’t jealous of course; I certainly had never wanted her husband, his good looks covered up a whole lot of secrets, in my opinion, no-one could be that perfect, but even so, his presence sent journalists into a media frenzy, but I felt there’d been something a little aloof and, if I’m honest, hard-faced.
Putting my personal feelings aside, I’d never have wished him any harm but someone had, someone with malicious intent had managed to get past all his hardcore security officers and had murdered him while he sat in his own office. Poor Jess was distraught, but I had a strong feeling that the millions left to his nearest and dearest might help ease the pain. Still, stabbed in the heart with the desk knife made me think it was a crime of passion and one that took a lot of force (knife buried up to the hilt) perhaps an angry competitor or an irate customer or even a lover. Jess had tried to get into the office afterwards but it was well and truly cordoned off, and although she cried real tears to me, there was something about her behaviour that made me wonder. Hence the reason for my squeezing along the air vent like an overgrown caterpillar crawling along a branch, I was determined though and this was a story that would sizzle.
Finally, I broke through the corresponding grate and slithered in an ungainly manner out of the shaft. I would be in big trouble if anyone spotted me in here and even if I could talk my way out of trouble, it wouldn’t get me the scoop I needed. Looking around the office, I wasn’t surprised that it was so beautifully furnished. Maxwell hadn’t skimped on his own comfort that much was obvious, but there had been many disgruntled employees who’d sent letters to the local papers about his tight pockets when it came to providing a few comforts for the teams that reported into him.
I tried the desk drawers, they revealed nothing of any importance, I checked the paper bin, all to no avail. My next search was the filing cabinet, I imagined that only the most secret papers were kept here and the secretary would have the other files in her adjoining office. But even though these files could have contained lucrative secrets, I had no way of knowing what any of the data meant. Frustrated, I pushed the files back into the drawer and closed it firmly, scanning the office once more, everything was so neat and tidy, I don’t know what I expected to find, a whopping big arrow pointing to an all-important clue maybe. However, no-one had been that kind to mark up any areas of interest and my dreams of breaking the news story of the year were beginning to evaporate into thin air.
Determinedly, I turned Maxwell’s chair upside down, checking underneath for any secretly taped envelopes, I checked along the lining of the chair and then crawled under the desk. Tipping the drawers out, I checked along the bottom inside and out, there were no hidden compartments or secret papers. Carefully placing everything back in its place and sitting back on my heels, my eyes, just above the level of the desk, suddenly caught sight of a small glass plaque on the wall. It was placed too high to be used as a mirror and, unless my eyes deceived me, it was slightly tilted. I scrambled to my feet and took a closer look. Although there were beautifully etched words across the front announcing yet another award for Briante Software, on closer inspection, and noticing the thick layer of glass, I had a feeling this was a ruse. I was right.
By carefully unscrewing the front panel, it was easy to see a small camera lens hidden behind and it was pointing straight at the desk. If this camera was recording, it would have filmed the murder. I felt my excitement levels rise to new heights before realizing that the camera would have also witnessed my poking around in the desk too, so it was important that I could access the data before anyone else. I couldn’t even rely on Jess to get me out of trouble for this one, as much as she had cried on my shoulder and told me all about this gruesome event, she had no idea that I’d planned to break in. I had thought I might just present her with the results of my investigation once I had gotten my story.
If I was right, there would be a place on Maxwell’s laptop that would store these recordings. It seemed that the software genius may have been concerned that people could access his most private papers if he wasn’t around, I guessed the gaming world could be a bit cut throat, so perhaps he had planted a camera just to check staff loyalty if nothing else. The laptop was conveniently still on the desk, I had been surprised that the police hadn’t whisked it away for examination but then it was neatly chained to the desk, although no doubt they would be back for it. Replacing the glass cover, I then made my way over to the desk and opened up his laptop, firing it into action, hoping that my hacking skills from my college days would stand up to the test of breaking into a computer genius’s laptop. I needn’t have worried, having tried all the usual passwords that I could think of, Jess’s birthday, her name and the numeric equivalent, the company name and then the same with Maxwell’s, I typed his name in backwards and clicked enter, and the computer rewarded me by granting access.
On the face of it, the laptop held few secrets, but I knew that couldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be chained to the desk if he’d not stored some secrets on it. Twenty minutes later and perspiring heavily, I had managed to find some hidden files – one being the camera storage point. It wasn’t difficult to access and there were no additional passwords protecting it, so I wondered if Maxwell had merely wanted to get at the information as fast as he could, perhaps he’d suspected something. I had no idea if he had been about to launch a new game or software, but he may have lived with the threat of others trying to steal his ideas.
I was hot, sweaty and agitated, I hadn’t expected to be in this office for so long and at any moment, expected a security guard to do the rounds and to come flying through the door to apprehend me. My fingers flew over the keyboard as my tension rose , clicking away at all the images and that’s when I knew I was onto something. It seemed Maxwell hadn’t been the dutiful husband after all, the slimy creep, I thought defensively on behalf of my friend, it appeared that his secretary got her bonus in more ways than in her paycheck and winced as Maxwell stared into the camera, a slightly creepy smirk on his face as he gave his secretary a bit of a seeing to. Skipping past the ‘too hot to handle’ moments, I clicked on the next one and caught Jess and Maxwell in a heated argument; it seemed that Jess had somehow witnessed his affair, catching them in the moment and I pictured the secretary slinking away looking suitably embarrassed.
While this didn’t bode well for the state of her marriage, Jess still deserved the truth about the murder, if only to eventually be able to resolve her emotions and to draw a line under this period in her life. I shook my head with disappointment, wondering why all men thought they could get away with a bit of extra marital carry-on? I sighed, but carried on searching, aware of the sweat trickling a trail down the back of my neck. I didn’t have long to wait. I skipped through the recordings and then observed the moment the secretary arrived again; she looked embarrassed alright and avoided making eye contact with him. Maxwell seemed wearied, repentant even and I hoped that he had realized his mistake. She placed his cup on the desk and scurried away without a backward glance, he absent-mindedly took a sip, discovering too late that it was laced with some sort of poison; Maxwell was soon coughing and choking. I watched as his face contorted in agony, I might not have liked him, but there was no pleasure in seeing someone suffer and meet their end like this.
I guessed I had my answer, the secretary did it. Maxwell slumped back in his chair, his eyes closed, he looked like he was simply sleeping, his mouth open slightly, his hands clutching at the desk. Although there wasn’t a close up view, I could see the remnants of his drink still dripping out from the side of his mouth and I wondered why the police hadn’t suspected poison. Within minutes, the secretary was back, wiping his face carefully, almost tenderly, as if regretful of her actions. Satisfied she had moved all evidence, she took his cup, glanced around one last time, then left the room with the murder weapon.
While this didn’t explain the brutal stabbing, I knew I had broken the story and determined to send a copy of the film to my own email address, but before I could do so, the next part of the story unfolded. Jess. I hadn’t noticed her slip into the room, but she was standing slightly to the side, talking about how she’d forgive him if he sacked that woman, how much she loved him still. She poured her heart out to him, saying she needed to know if he had any feelings left for her. She reached out to touch him, then her hand dropped and she shook her head. Tears were glistening on her cheeks and I realised, that she didn’t know he was dead. He looked so peaceful, like he had fallen asleep at his desk without a care in the world, without a care that his wife had caught him with his trousers down. I could see Jess’s face change from feelings of love to a moment of anger and inner hatred, perhaps she’d felt he was callously ignoring her, and in a rage, picked up his silver desk knife and plunged it deep into his heart. Maxwell’s body jerked forward as she thrust the blade into him and in horror, Jess ran blindly from the room. Now slumped forward, it was easy to see how the police had wrongly established that the stabbing caused his death, not knowing that the poisoning had happened only minutes earlier.
Clicking send, I hurriedly shut down his laptop and clambered back up into the vent. I was desperate to get away from this murder scene, worse, I could hear voices out in the hallway and I didn’t want to be caught in here. Once I had my story, my future career would be secured, I knew in time I would have to come clean about my breaking into the office but later was better as far as I was concerned. As I made my way along the narrow air vent, I knew that I had to get to my editor and write up my story quickly. This was truly breaking news. I also had to go and see Jess, to tell her that I knew everything. She needed to come clean to the police about her part in this tragedy, but at least I had cleared her of murder. That had to be something and me, well, I was going to be the revered journalist I had always dreamed about.
Note: As with our current policy, we only publish the overall winning submission which allows the other prize-winners to publish their submission elsewhere.
Image courtesy of [Stuart Miles] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net