Black And White

Entry by: EmmaCLP

6th May 2016
‘I’d never have had you down as a skinny latte man,’ said Reg as he plonked a large china mug in front of his boss.
‘Nor me,’ remarked Stan sorrowfully. ‘My GP’s worried about my blood pressure. Says it’s far too high. And now my missus has gone and put me on a low fat diet. She’s bought this bloody monitor too. Driving me mad with it, she is. I can’t sit still for five minutes at home without her strapping the effing thing round my arm and taking my blood pressure.’
Birch laughed and took a sip of his double espresso. A large man in a beige cardigan and polyester slacks that were a fraction to short, Stan ruled the office with a rod of iron. He was forever bellowing instructions across the news room and reducing the thinner-skinned reporters to tears with his jibes. But his wife definitely wore the trousers at home.
‘So if you haven’t been poached by another paper what’s this all about?’ demanded Stan. ‘All this cloak and dagger stuff – it’s not like you. You usually come right out with it. Tell it in black and white, why don't you? Don't go all bashful on me now. You’re always ruffling feathers in the news room. You’re a damn nuisance if you ask me. We should have got rid of you years ago.’
‘Maybe I’m learning a bit of diplomacy in my old age,' said Reg. 'Maybe I’ve picked up a few tips from you.’
‘Old age?’ snorted Stan. He put his coffee down on the table in front of him and leaned back in his leather armchair. ‘Are you having a laugh? How old are you now? Remind me.’
‘Thirty-four,’ groaned Reg. ‘My mid-life crisis is just around the corner.’
‘Oh give over. You’re a babe in arms. I can’t stand all this “I’m getting old” nonsense. You’ve got years ahead of you. And you never know, if you play your cards right, you could be sitting in my seat when I retire. Not that I’ve got any plans to quit any time soon, mind you.’
Reg was bemused by the idea. A better salary wouldn’t come amiss but being a news editor had an awful lot of downsides. Stan was forever caught between two stools, neither one thing nor the other. Management treated him like dirt and most of the hacks didn’t have a good word to say about him either. Worse still, he was always stuck in the office. The recession had hit the Evening Bugle hard, just like every other newspaper, but at least the reporters escaped sometimes. Poor old Stan. The occasional skinny latte in Costa Coffee was the height of excitement for him.
‘No,’ said Reg. ‘That’s not what I need to talk to you about.’
‘Do I have to drag it out of you then, lad?’ said Stan.
‘What? I mean, no, of course you don’t have to drag it out of me. Sorry, mate. It’s the Fairfield Terrace job.’
Stan tried to pretend he wasn't bothered but his sweaty brow gave the game away.
'What about it?' he said finally.
'I think they've rumbled me,' said Reg.
'Go on.'
'That's it,' said Reg. 'I've been hiding in the back of the van for two days now. There's barely room to swing a cat in there, what with all the ladders and pots of paint.'
'You what? What are you talking about? Are you trying to tell me you're posing as a painter and decorator? You're supposed to be doorstepping the place, not switching careers.'
'That's what we agreed, don't you remember? You told me I needed a cover, just in case someone asked what I was doing there.'
'And?' prompted Stan.
'The man I've been watching for the last two days knocked on my window this morning. Frightened the living daylights out of me. Anyway, he asked if I was looking for work. I could hardly say no, could I? He told me he needed his kitchen painting in a hurry and would I do it?'
'What did you say?' said Stan, shifting anxiously in his seat.
'I told him I'd need to take a look first.'
'And did you?'
'Yeah,' said Reg. 'I thought if I got a butcher's inside his house I might get a lead on the story. Get something down in black and white.'
'And did you? Get a lead?'
'Kind of. Only he had a bit of a surprise in store. And it wasn't a good one...'