I posted my first draft of my prologue ”In The Dark”. This is the edited version, although knowing me won’t be the last edit. I have sent it to my writing group, who will notice things I never even thought of. The only problem with this prologue, it sort of changes the rest of the novel, but I’m not afraid of hard work.
An investigative reporter, my job hasn’t changed since I went blind five years ago.
Why should it?
I can do everything I did before my eye strokes. Only this time, I hide in the darkness. That’s exactly what I’m doing today. Richard (my friend, colleague) has a meeting with his informant. My role? To record the meeting.
There is a constant, low vibration, from the main road. It is quiet at this time of night, but every so often a blast of frigid air strangles the warmth. The coffee machine crackles, spits and hisses into action, before the room goes quiet again.
‘Sarah, can you hear me?’
I adjust my earpiece, pushing a strand of brunette hair away from the microphone.
There is a hint of lemon cleaner, still lingering on my table. It contrasts with the sweet chilli sauce I have just put on my chips. I pick one up, squashing it between my fingers, before I eat it in one go.
For now, my mobile is leaning behind my water glass. A couple more taps on the screen, it will record whatever is in front. I know what you are asking. How? A voice like you hear on a satnav steers me around the screen. It will speak the name of the app with one tap. Open it with two. Swiping left and right tells me the exact setting.
All I need to do now, is tap the screen open and press record video.
Hopefully today, we will get closer to the monster behind the mask. Moving drugs, using the train network to do it. No doubt, they will live in plain sight. A family man, or woman like a gamblers coin. Their money earnt of those addicted to misery. They wouldn’t want their own children reliant on drugs but are more than willing to make their money on the desperation of others.
Merlin’s steady breathing calms me. A German Shephard, not exactly your standard guide dog, but the perfect breed for me. He instantly took to my lifestyle, in such a way, a Labrador wouldn’t.
We are a coordinated couple.
I move my hand to grab hold of my coffee. The cold ceramic cup no longer holds any warm liquid. I’m not even sure of the time, but I can’t check.
Shaking more sweet chilli sauce on my chips, I take a bite. The spice is not bothering me in the least. My taste buds are forever changing. Graham, my husband, jokes if I want a career change, I should become a food critic.
I can’t think of doing anything different. From a girl, I’ve always wanted to solve crimes like Nancy Drew. I’m too short for the police – five foot two, and in heels not much taller. This is the next best thing, but I don’t get to arrest the criminal, just hand over the evidence instead.
‘Five minutes,’ Richard says.
I get my mobile ready – tap to open my phone. Phone open, the muted voice says. Already on video, I tap to start the recording. Turning it around I hope it is facing the right way.
‘All good . . .’ Richard whispers into my earpiece, as if he is reading my mind.
The door opens, a brief, momentary chill pulls at the hairs on my arms. The frigid air strangles the warmth out of the room. It disappears as quickly as it started; the door shutting with a soft thud.
Someone walks past me, showing no sense of hesitation. There is a sweet, sickly smell, which overpowers the overcooked burger Richard has ordered for his informant.
It is easy to follow the sound of Richard’s voice, welcoming his contact. ‘Hi Scott, burger.’
Head down, I eat.
‘No, I’m good, can’t stay . . . I know I said I’d do this, but . . .’
‘You can’t back out now, we made a promise.’
‘You don’t get it, even talking to you here . . .’
‘Scott, remember why you’re here. Kelly. You know as well as I do what happens. You will go to prison. She’ll be on her own.’
‘Leave my sister out of this,’ he says. It is a high-pitched whine. This boy is genuinely scared, but he has every right to be. The people with whom he is dealing. They will have no problems in getting rid of any excess rubbish.
‘I would, but will they . . . you know what they’re like, what they expect you to do.’
I hate the fact this exists. Vulnerable teenagers, lured in by new mobile phones, money, gifts. Nobody misses them. If caught, they will go back into the system, which lets them down again.
Only last week, we reported the death of a sixteen-year-old girl. The victim of a stabbing, she stood no chance. Greed! Drugs. Money. Power, but not for those like Scott.
‘You gotta protect me,’ he says.
‘I will, but I need his name, who gives you the gear?’
‘The money’s gone up . . .’ he says, trying to be brave, but his voice is more like a squeak.
As usual, Richard, confident, not giving up. ‘Sure kid, but for that sort of cash I need something good.’
‘It’s . . .’
‘Come on lad, you know it makes sense.’
‘What if someone talks . . .’
He is backtracking, his pitch, higher and higher. He slurps at whatever he is drinking. Coughing; more like choking on his own false bravado.
All the while, Richard says nothing, but taps on the table, in a sort of morse code. Like he is ticking down the time. Every so often he gives a little cough to nudge his informant into talking again.
The boy’s breathing is shallow. I get the impression he would leave if his legs would allow him.
Finally, Richard speaks. ‘I get you’re scared, but where else would you get this sort of money?’ He rustles bank notes. ‘Go on Scott, two little words. . .’
‘But . . . If I’m found out . . .’
‘You’ll be long gone. With this sort of money you can get you and your sister far away from here. Somewhere they won’t find you.’
Richard can’t be sure of that; he’s making promises he can’t keep. I ground my two-inch heels on the floor, to keep my focus.
‘All we need is the name of the man you have contact with, the drop off point.’ Richard doesn’t let his informant any room for manoeuvre.
In the middle of a squeal, and a sigh, he says, ‘Airport . . . He gives me the gear after college . . .’ His words tumble out, one after the other, without pause, or a break. Once they’re out, he exhales. It’s like he is finally aware of what those words mean.
Richard speaks straight away. ‘Where do you take it?’ he says.
Scott’s trainers knock back his chair, the legs colliding with the floor.
‘Come on Scott, you get a lovely day out at the seaside I bet.’ Richard rustles the notes again. ‘It won’t come back on you. You will be long gone. This is a one-time offer.’
‘I . . . St Ives . . . I meet this bloke . . . in some fancy restaurant on the sea front. He gives me the cash and I hand over the gear.’
‘What’s the name of this restaurant?’
‘I don’t know . . . honest.’
‘What about the name of the guy you meet?’
‘No names, they just tell me what he’s wearing.’
‘Come on Scott, smart lad like you, must have heard something.’
‘I . . . If I tell you, I get the money right?’
‘A promise, is a promise, but I can’t do anything to protect you if I don’t know who you meet in St Ives.’
Richard’s voice is calm, and steady. He is completely in charge. If this man knows something, he will talk.
‘It was afterwards, I was in the arcades, Casino Royal. Playing on the fruit machines . . . he was emptying out the two pence machines. Someone called him George, I don’t know who, but he owed them money.’