The Reporter

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I’ve been a journalist ever since I left school at fifteen. My first job was as a runner for my local evening newspaper. From there I progressed to that great training ground: the small ads, followed by control of the births, deaths and marriages section – what we called ‘Hatch ’em, match ’em and despatch ’em’. Three years I was on that. Then I was apprenticed to Joe, an experienced journalist. I followed Joe everywhere he went. Usually, my job consisted of fetching him pies, mugs of tea or glasses of beer, depending on the time of day and the location. But he did teach me a lot. Whilst he was consuming whatever I’d brought him, he’d always talk me through what he’d done and how he’d approached the latest job. Sometimes, at the juiciest parts, he’d even empty his mouth before giving me the details.

Eventually, Joe said he’d take a chance on me, and sent me out on my own to watch and report on the official opening of a village fete. It was our local MP did the opening, and as we were only a month or so short of an election, I took the chance to ask him some questions about the local political scene and his plans for the next parliament, if he and his lot were elected. Boy, did I get a roasting from Joe for that. I was supposed to report on what I saw. I wasn’t supposed to interview the celebrity. I pointed out to Joe that he hadn’t said I shouldn’t, which he accepted was true, and in fact pointed it out to the editor when he was called in to be hauled over the coals for letting me go out alone.

I never found out exactly what happened in that meeting, but a memo that went round the following week told me all I needed to know. It was to all staff, and it said that Joe had been promoted from senior reporter to chief reporter, and I was moved from trainee reporter to junior reporter to understudy Elise, who was in charge of political reporting. When I asked her about it, Elise said that although I shouldn’t have done that interview, and although my piece was simplistic and naïve, it showed promise. Her job, she said, was to knock me into shape as a political reporter, if I was agreeable. I blushed. Why? Because I had for some time had a bit of a crush on Elise, and the idea that she found me ‘agreeable’ provoked a reaction that, had she noticed it, she would have thought highly inappropriate.

After about five years with that paper, I had a call from a commercial radio station. They were headhunting me as political commentator and offering more than twice the salary the paper was paying me. Of course I took it. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t everybody, given the chance? Anyway, I did that job for seven years, occasionally freelancing with a local TV outfit. It was my work with local TV that got the eye of the regional bosses of a national TV news collecting outfit, which is where I am now.

The deal with the news TV is that I don’t do politics at the editor level – they’ve got very senior guys for that – but I do general news reporting which sometimes has a political dimension Today, I’m talking to the founder of a bird centre that works win conservation of birds of prey around the world and has been heavily involved in the efforts to address and reverse the drastic declines of vultures, particularly in Pakistan and South Africa.

Important work, yes. What they are doing is vital on so many levels. And there probably is a political angle to it, if I dig deep enough. Thing is, though, if I handle this well, maybe the political editor will see it and be sufficiently impressed to offer me a permanent slot on his team. So. Heads in gear and here goes.

“You ready, Sir?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Great. Deep breath and let’s get started. Three… two… one… and – I’m standing here this morning in what is unquestionably one of my favourite places in the south of England. A haven of peace and tranquillity broken only by the calls of some of the world’s most iconic birds of prey. I’m going to be talking with the founder of this very important charity about the work it does in the struggle to conserve vulnerable populations of some of the planet’s most endangered species …

This was written in response to Kreative Kue 311 published on this site. Although not mentioned by name, acknowledgements are due to the Hawk Conservancy Trust (https://www.hawk-conservancy.org) and to its founder, Ashley Smith.

 

Kreative Kue 311

Kreative Kue 310 asked for submissions based on this photograph:

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John W Howell is a multiple nominated and award-winning author who blogs at Fiction Favorites. Details of John’s books can be found on his Amazon author page

Cheeto by John W. Howell © 2021

“Hey you.”

“Who me?”

“Yeah you with the Cheeto.”

“Cheeto?”

“Yeah in your beak. A Cheeto.”

“It’s a mayfly.”

“What’s a mayfly?”

“In my beak. A mayfly.”

“Looks like a Cheeto to me.”

“What’s a Cheeto anyway.”

“Cheese corn puff.”

“Did you say cheese?”

“Yeah.”

“Where do I get some?”

“In the store.”

“What’s a store?”

“Where people buy stuff.”

“That’s that then.”

“What?”

“I stay away from people.”

“Why?”

“They might take my mayfly.”

“Trust me people don’t like flies.”

“They haven’t tried a mayfly then. By the way, what did you want?”

“I thought if you talked, you would drop the mayfly and it would be mine.”

“Not a chance. I can talk with a mayfly in my beak all day long.”

“So your mom never taught you not to talk with your mouth full?”

“No but she did teach me one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“How to take out the eye of a fresh talking stranger.”

“See ya.”


My effort was:

Making a meal of it

“Mum, Mum! Look what I found! Can I eat it?”

“What is it, Simon?”

“Don’t know, Mum. But can I eat it? Come and see.”

“””Where did you find it?”

“On the grass. There’s loads of them. Can I eat it?”

“Let me see. Oh, yes. That’s a dried mealworm.”

“Mealworm? Ptah! We don’t eat worms!”

“You’re right. Apart from anything else, that would put us in competition with the blackbirds, and you won’t want to take on any of them!”

“So what is it?”

“It’s the larva of a mealworm beetle.”

“What – like a caterpillar?”

“Kind of.”

“Mmm. I like caterpillars.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“But, why is it called a worm if it isn’t one?”

“Because humans are stupid.”

“Why are they dried, though, Mum? Wouldn’t they be better alive and wriggling, like proper caterpillars?”

“Because they turn into beetles very quickly – sometimes after only a few days. Drying them stops that happening.”

“So does that mean I can eat it, Mum?”

“I’m not sure, Simon. Give it to me. Let Mummy check it first.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah [gulp], that’s fine.”

“MUM! You ate it!”


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On to this week’s challenge: Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at keithchanning@gmail.com before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.

Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries next Monday.

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 15.2

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!

 

Rory (ret’d). Chapter fifteen, part two.

I messaged Charlie through our private, encrypted system. “Re CC sec sys. Back door?”

“Cryptic or what?” he replied.

“When front door blocked…”

“Back door helps. Gotcha,” followed by a light-bulb emoji.

When he got back, I explained what Betty had asked us to do and why.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ve left an upgrade and testing route open so I’ll be able to do what they’ve asked.”

“Without leaving a trace?”

“Hey – Charlie here. I don’t leave traces.”

“Fair enough. Have you finished there now?”

“I’ve just got a few terminals left to upgrade. The core system is hardened and tested. Tomorrow, once the terminals are done, I have to demonstrate the effects of someone trying to breach their security. Once I’ve done that – which is a standard set of tests – they’ll sign off and pay for the job.”

“When will you be able to do what Green’s woman is asking for?”

“As soon as I’ve finished there, although I’d rather leave it for a day or two.”

I called Elizabeth Bailey the following morning and passed on what Charlie had told me. She seemed reasonably content to wait another forty-eight hours but no longer, as the court papers had a ten-day response deadline and three days had already elapsed.

Charlie looked inside from his home, using a combination of three multi-hop VPNs that would make it impossible to know where he had actually come from. The final hop made it appear that he was in eastern Russia.

“Interesting little trick here, Rory,” he said, “once I have what we want, I’ll trigger an attempted breach alarm, making it look like a bot-driven DDoS.”

“I think I’d be really impressed if I had any idea what you’re talking about,” I said.

“DDoS – distributed denial of service. You must have heard about them. Basically, a piece of software is placed on a vast number of computers – usually as a result of people unwisely opening an email attachment with an evil payload. That software allows all the computers to be controlled from the author’s location. What they do, on a signal from the controlling machine, is all make requests on the target server at the same time. That almost invariably overloads the target computer and causes it to go down. One of the measures I installed on the court’s system is the ability to recognise and thwart such an attempt and to add it to a failed-intrusion report.”

“So if they do happen to see any trace of you looking around…”

“They’ll assume it was the DDoS. On top of that, I found out which staffer was compiling the files we’re interested in, so I’ll take over that user’s terminal. The logs will show that terminal accessing those files, which will appear perfectly normal – of course, I’ll make sure the time-stamp on any access trail is appropriate for that user, too.”

“When can you do it?”

“I just did, whilst we were talking. All under software control. Do you want to see the files?”

“Not half!”

“Okay, let me just offload and erase the back-door software and release the terminal… there. The files are in the new folder on the desktop.”

I opened the folder and started looking through the files. They indicated that Peter Dodd’s four henchmen were relying on their understanding of a verbal commitment they claim Dodd made that they could keep all they gained from the pyramid set-up. They took that to mean that any liability on their part was limited to passing up the tier-one share of the profits to Dodd. At Charlie’s request, I copied the directory down to a memory stick and he wiped the files from his system and removed any trace of their providence or even existence.

I called Green Gilbert again and told Elizabeth Bailey that we had successfully entered the court system and downloaded the files. I also informed her what I had so far gleaned from the files and offered to send them to her.

“You keep them. Don’t send them to me. We can’t be seen to be in possession of those files at this stage.”

“Aren’t they required by law to disclose to you all the evidence they have before the case goes to trial?”

“Yes, they are, but not yet. We expect them to build up their case first then present the evidence to us at the latest date they can lawfully do so. That’s exactly what we would do in their position. The trouble with that is we would then be hard-pressed to build up a rebuttal in time. This way, we have a more level playing field. We can build our case on what they know before they’re obliged to bring us into the loop.”

“Okay, but you should know this was a one-off. Charlie gave himself—”

“Stop right there – don’t say a word more, please. I don’t want to know how you did it, Mr Rogerson. I just thank you for doing it.”

“Then you should be aware that it won’t be possible to have another bite of that particular cherry. The door is closed.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m convinced, whatever it is, you’ve done enough. We may need to call on you for other, different investigations in relation to this case at a later date, but for now, I think you may just have given us the breathing space we needed.”