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Day twenty – Bit of a fix

November 20, 2017

Exhausted after another twelve hours of sleep. Work (paid) to do and no time to think of anything to write today, as I have to be at the Hall for the tech rehearsal in three and a half hours. So I’m cheating.

For your reading pleasure today, I am pasting in an excerpt from one of many started, but never finished novels that sit accusingly on my computer. Hope you enjoy it.

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“IF you don’t have a fixer within twenty-four hours, you’re screwed.” Tilly paused to glance around the room at the fifteen faces staring up at her.  She was in her usual position, perched on the desk at the front of the classroom, palms down on the wood, legs swinging idly back and forth beneath the desk. For the past five years she’d been getting the train out to Reading three times a year to talk to a different batch of students. At £500 for an afternoon’s work, it was well worth it, given the number of weeks freelancing brought in less than half that amount.

Sometimes it bored her to tears and she did the whole thing on auto pilot. Sometimes there was such a lively discussion she felt guilty taking any money at all. Not that she’d ever refused the fee from her old friend Sam, another clapped out former denizen of Fleet Street. Not that there was much going on in Fleet Street anymore. Sam, who’d once struck terror into the hearts of politicians during the twenty years he’d covered Westminster, now taught journalism. He claimed to enjoy it. She understood why. A second wife. A young family. A mortgage. A steady job. A chance for a normal life. It would, of course, have driven Tilly insane. But coming out to Reading three times a year to talk for four hours about life as a foreign correspondent was fine.

The first time she agreed to do it, the talk had been painful for her, bringing back some bad memories and the distressing realisation that not only had she spectacularly lost her edge, but she’d made herself unemployable once she got it back. However, Sam told her she’d been a huge hit, everyone had loved her. Difficult to believe that. She’d spent twenty years making herself extremely unpopular.  How irritating to discover that in middle age she’d become appealing.

She had a rhythm now. She didn’t go over the same ground every time, although she had a formula.

She leaned forward and continued, “If the conflict has been going on for a while, you might be lucky enough to inherit a good fixer from someone else. But if it’s a new war or a natural disaster and you’re on the same plane or train or truck — or God forbid the one after the one — that’s bringing the entire foreign press corps into an area,  you’ve got to find a fixer fast. Unless the disaster gods have put you in an English speaking country, without a fixer you have no ears, no mouth and no certainty that what your eyes are seeing is the truth.”

Another pause, another glance around. All these young faces, all eagerly imagining that in a couple of years they would be covering wars and famine and floods. You could tell the ones who thought these triumphs would be in front of a television camera. They were either ridiculously good looking and cocky, unable to imagine a career in journalism that didn’t have their face in the frame or they were slouching, not sure whether they really needed to listen to this old woman who’d been a print journalist — as if anyone could be bothered writing hundreds of words of copy a day. Assuming they ever got to a front line with a film crew they’d be rather shocked to discover just how much work was involved. Of course, most of them would never get there. Most of them would end up in local radio or the regional press, working their way up from the weeklies to the dailies or they’d end up in PR or something completely different. There was, however, usually one out of the fifteen who looked as if they could make it all the way. Tilly had spotted this one as soon as she walked in the door — a tall, gangly, bespectacled young woman with flaming red hair and impossibly green eyes. She was sitting in the front, posture relaxed, eyes alert. While some of the students took such copious notes Tilly wanted to yell at them to stop showing off their shorthand and start listening, she could see from where she was sitting that the redhead’s notebook contained only one word: FIXER, underlined three times.

“Everyone,” she said, reaching behind her for her glass of water, “wants to be a fixer, because foreign reporters have what everyone wants — foreign currency.” She took a sip of water and put the glance back down on the desk. “So they’ll all tell you they know everything and everyone, that they can get you everywhere you could possibly want to go — and a few important places you hadn’t thought of — and that hiring them will give you an advantage over everyone else. More important than whether you believe them is whether or not you can trust them  And, if you’re a female reporter travelling on your own, whether or not you’re willing to have sex with them.”

Another pause, this one to see if things would get interesting. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the students just blinked blankly, waiting for her to continue. Sometimes the only perceptible reaction was the shudder from one of the male students who couldn’t imagine anyone of his gender wanting to have sex with her and sometimes things got interesting. The sharp intake of breath from the young woman in the third row told her this could be one of those times.

The student, her black curly hair pulled tightly off her face into a ponytail, her upper body shrouded in a baggy jumper, her brown eyes accusing, sat up straight and said, “You were willing to trade sex for information?”

Hurrah, thought Tilly, this is going to be interesting. Before she could open her mouth to respond, Red in the front row was also sitting up straight in her chair, turning to face her class mate, “Give it a rest, Pat,” she said in a strong Glaswegian accent. “She didn’t say was willing to trade sex.” She glanced back at Tilly, not sure if she’d overstepped the mark. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I’m assuming what you meant was that in some places you just had to have male protection?”

Tilly nodded and smiled, somewhat grimly, at Red. “Sometimes you’ll find a fixer who’s bordering on sainthood, who’s happily married and wouldn’t dream of laying a finger on you. And sometimes they aren’t.” She turned to look at the irate brunette, fixing her with a look that had discomforted a lot of powerful people. “And a lot of the time they’re the only thing between you and other men filled up with war and testosterone and cheap booze. And you’d be surprised how often the words ‘Leave her alone, she’s mine’ works. So, yes, sometimes, if you want to get out of a situation alive and without being raped, it’s a good idea to have a guy in your corner who’s willing to fight for you. And any woman who has feminist or other philosophical or religious problems with that scenario should try to avoid being sent to cover a war.”

The brunette looked suitable annoyed, but, judging from the smirks on some of the other faces, pulling Pat down a peg or two had not been unpopular. Tilly glanced back at Red, then around the room, deciding to add something she normally didn’t. “And sometimes, when you haven’t managed to get out of town fast enough and you’re holed up in a building that’s being shelled and there are four dead bodies in the room next to you and you don’t know when the building is going to fall down on your head, sex takes your mind off things for a few minutes. So, it’s not the worst idea in the world to set off in the morning with someone you wouldn’t mind bonking.”

The laughter was nervous, her comment catching most of them off guard, but Red was grinning. Red got it.

“I know some of you are dreaming of being Martin Bell or Kate Adie,” she said, “and that’s fine. I’ve got a lot of respect for both of them and even more respect for their completely insane cameramen. But, if you’re going into print and you don’t have a snapper with you,” she leaned back across the desk and picked up the battered Nikon she’d brought with her, “take one of these.” She held it up. “Obviously, it’s better if you know how to use it properly, which I don’t, but even if you don’t know, just holding it up and pointing it at someone who might not want a visual record of that particular moment can help.”

Before she could add that it could also piss some people off and make them want to shoot you, Red piped up, “But you do know how to use a camera. You’ve won awards.”

Tilly turned around to look at her and suddenly they were the only two people in the room. The redhead had done some homework. It was singular, not plural, but there had been an award for photos taken with that very camera, photos and the story with them that had catapulted a junior sub from a Fleet Street women’s section into a front page journalist. But unless Red was a helluva lot older than she looked, those pictures would have been taken before she was born.

Red shrugged apologetically. “Sam recommended your book. I read it.”

Tilly could tell by the sheepishly lowered gazes of the other students that Red was the only one who’d bothered.

“I was lucky with those photos,” she said to Red, “unbelievably, miraculously lucky.”

 

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From → SFSS Challenge

3 Comments
  1. So finish it.

    xox
    Red

  2. krysross permalink

    maybe a bit of backstory on Red? Assume she was going to have an ongoing part?

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