Black and White Town

Isabel drops her head below the hedge, not sure she really wants to witness this. Taking a deep breath, ready for another look at Carol Fisher, she pops up again, her camera following, hoping to capture the slap in motion through the living room window.

She presses the shutter. Pictures rattle off as she watches the large redheaded woman she’s been following all day, happy to think it’s more evidence to nail Fisher’s reputation in the community.

Dressed in her distinctive blue biker leathers, Carol Fisher has a young girl by the throat against the wall. A trail of unheard abuse spouts from the vile woman’s mouth. The camera beeps in Isabel’s hand, the surprise nearly making her drop it. She drops down again behind the bush and sees the disc full warning.

Isabel realises that her spare SD card is in the car. She pops the used card in her jeans pocket anyway, thinking of her next move. The front door bangs before she can do anything. In seconds Carol Fisher is no more than a few feet away from her on the drive. She must be leaving and Isabel isn’t the slightest bit prepared. She followed her through the electric gate an hour ago thinking she was clever but didn’t considered how to get out again.

Fisher, the leathers doing nothing for her body shape, lifts a leg over the powerful motorbike. She pushes her red hair back unaware she is being watched and lifts a unique red, white and blue helmet towards her head. Isabel jumps as she hears her mobile, the loud shrill of an eighties office phone. Fisher turns, Isabel’s desperate attempt to switch it off fails.

The big woman is on her in seconds.

‘Who the fuck are you?’ she screams. The colour of her weather worn face matches her hair. ‘Give me that camera.’

‘Sorry’ Isabel mutters.

‘I know…you work on The Langston Press. I’ve seen your dirty Asian face before. Why John Pilgrim appointed a dip-shit like you I don’t know? Probably had his dick in his hand.’

‘Can I have my camera?’ Isabel asks.

‘Fish it out there first,’ she says throwing it into the muddy pond at the side of the drive. ‘And then get your black arse off my property. Now!’

Isabel dashes to the pond and reaches her hand into the dirty water, wondering whether there’s any hope for her camera. The boss will go mad. She isn’t even supposed to be here. Not caring for her soaking sleeve she runs for the open gate before Fisher can say another word.

She makes it to her car in time to see Fisher roar past. She curses at her incompetence, how she’s just messed up her whole campaign. Climbing in the car she stews, thinking about Fisher. She is a local councillor, representative of the people. That is as long as their skin tone fits within her limited view of the spectrum. A foreign accent, a darker shade of skin is enough to get you a personal hate campaign in Langston. Renowned in the town, loved by the working class ex-mining population she would see to it that anyone who didn’t belong was back out on the next bus. Isabel is amazed Fisher gets away with it, but that’s her trick. She has a loyal fan club, a regular militia of bored youths happy to make life a misery for anyone imposing on their territory. Isabel has suffered herself and is at least glad she doesn’t have to live here. Born of a pale Irish father and a dark Italian mother she is mixed race, Heinz 57 she likes to call herself, tough with it, but in this town she’s been called a paki, wop, coffee-girl in the street. It’s all above board and ever since she started work on the local paper it has been her mission to expose this town and its councillor for the ignorant pigs they are.

She wonders how much Fisher misses the reality of life here. Most people were desperate to leave this ghost-white town. Who and why would anyone want to live there? The open spaces are nice, as is the high vantage on the local landscape giving views all round the area, but apart from some cheap new housing, the council estates are extensive, ghetto-like hell-holes no-one would choose to live in.

Isabel calls it the black and white town, white obvious in the faces, black from a landscape drawn by the legacy of coal, but it also summed up the town philosophy, everything cut and dried.

Still Isabel had it in her mind since she started work a year ago that she would do something purposeful, limited though opportunities would be on a local paper. That’s where Carol Fisher came in, something to get her teeth in, but naively she didn’t expect such a picture of violence to emerge. Corruption is no surprise even in a small town like this, but beating her live-in housekeeper she didn’t anticipate. Isabel assumes, from her appearance through the window, the cleaner is Slavic and quite possibly illegal, hence she could get away with it. Now she knows Fisher is not there, she would like to go back in and confirm that the working class hero not only employs live-in staff at her gated house but foreign ones at that.

Her phone rings again.

‘What?’ she says to the caller.

‘Where are you?’

‘Doesn’t matter, too much to explain…bad timing that’s all.’

‘I don’t want to know Iz, just get down to the Binghams on the business park, they’ve just scraped a body off the floor and it would be nice to have someone on the spot.’

‘John, I’ve got something I need to do first.’

‘What exactly could be going on in Langston that’s more important than a dead body?’

Isabel thinks about telling him but decides that another argument with the boss is not what she needs. He already thinks she’s crap at this and her going off at a tangent with a drowned camera was not going to win her any favours.

‘I’m on my way.’

***

Five minutes later she’s at the business park. She winds her way past the mining monument. It’s meant to be the centre of the new development but is surrounded by empty plots and deserted buildings, one of which is Binghams, now recognisable by the police tape surrounding the ten storey office block. A small band of reporters have congregated outside. There’s a story here although she can’t see it being anything other than a falling out among squatters. This building has been deserted for at least a year since the government grants ran out and Binghams ceased to exist. Call centre outsourcing was cheap in Langston, certainly cheaper than the likes of Leeds or London, but it couldn’t compete with Bangalore. The five year subsidy given to new businesses for investment in this otherwise defunct mining town ran out a couple of years ago. The squatters however seem more than content with the facilities.

‘Hi Col, what’s going on?’ she asks the first guy she recognises from the Evening Post.

‘Hi Iz,’ he replies, ‘because it’s you, I don’t mind doing your job for you. Thought you local bods would have been here way before us.’

‘I was out on another job. So let me guess, a falling out among the tramps?’

‘Are there that many tramps in there?’

‘Yep, been loads for ages, mostly local lowlife. Useful hideout from the cops, you can already imagine the battle for the best view can’t you?

‘Good guess, but sadly wrong.’

‘Ok, so spill it.’

‘When the call came in to our office, the report said the victim had a suit on. Don’t think a suit would be the regular dress code in that place, and given your theory on the residents, there is no-one going in who isn’t mob handed.’

‘Fuck,’ she mumbles, but it isn’t for Col’s attention, it’s a rally call to herself. Time to take notice. This could be the moment Isabel Kelly nails a decent story and gets the boss off her back.

***

Isabel takes in the scene at the press conference in Wakefield Police Station. Local TV plus a couple of nationals make it. She is quietly excited at being here. A local bobby with quite a fancy for her Latin looks tipped her off that the leader of the Yorkshire Branch of the BFB hasn’t been seen all day and they reckon it was him at Binghams. The link to the BFB, the Britain for British party, a new nationalist alliance party, brought in the wider media. The party is openly anti-Europe, anti-immigration but supposedly not racist. Not many are sold on the non-race agenda, and their almost exclusively white-male membership has done little to change peoples view. The potential race motive has tickled the telephones of every media outlet in the area.

She can’t compete with the nationals on their writing or insight but she does have local knowledge. The body was found on her patch and that has to give her a head start. The boss thinks so too and wants an update in the evening. If she has something good, then to hell with the local story, he will be on to every media outlet in the country ready to charge pounds and pence for the exclusive. Interesting that Carol Fisher is also a BFB councillor, Isabel thinks.

The noise in the room changes with the arrival of one uniformed officer and a suited official, likely the official spokesman. Flash bulbs and questions fill the room, until a respectful silence surfaces and the panel can speak. The uniform announces himself as Assistant Chief Constable and introduces the spokesman to read out a prepared statement.

We have a number of things to say. Firstly at 14:00 hours today, a body that was later identified as James Worthing, leader of the Yorkshire branch of the Britain for British party was found on a business park in Langston. As many of you will know, Mr Worthing was well known in the community for his media work as well as his political interest. There is a general murmur in the room as the name is digested and acknowledged in the crowd.

Everyone knew Worthing. Son of a Yorkshire farmer, turned chef, now celebrity chef following his controversial TV programs advocating his views on farming, hunting and food production..

Mr Worthing was found at the bottom of a disused office building and was confirmed dead at the scene. Police are seeking information on a white van seen leaving the scene and motorbike rider, believed to be female, wearing blue leathers and a red, white and blue helmet.

Questions leap from every mouth in the room, but Isabel is already looking for a way out the door. If she knows who owns that helmet, there is a good chance the local police do too. She has to get back to Langston and decide what to do.

***

She pulls into the car park of Langston Press still debating the power of the information in her hands. Before she has chance to shut the car door, Carol Fisher is on her. The biker gear is gone but the red hair is unmistakeable.

‘I want to talk to you.’ Fisher says, grabbing her arm.

‘I bet you do.’ Isabel feels a lot more confident now, the roles totally reversed.

‘You’re my fucking alibi. You know what’s going on here and where I was this morning. You’ve got pictures to prove it.’

‘I’ve got nothing. Remember you dumped my camera in the pond.’ She doesn’t like lying about the disc. She came here ready to own up to John about the story and agree how to deal with the Police. But now facing Carol Fisher she is having more fun winning the battle.

‘You have to at least make a statement.’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s the fucking law.’

Isabel decides she could play this game all day but perhaps there’s more to be gained in getting the story.’

‘So what happened then? You racists couldn’t agree on what shade of white is permitted in your club?’

‘Why should I tell you? You haven’t got a clue about people like us, how could you?’

‘Humour me then, if I’m your ticket to freedom, the least you could do is tell me what’s going on.’

‘Worthing was a useless piece of shit, that’s what’s going on. He was more obsessed with his next TV series than he was with the party.’

‘So you all killed him? Nice and democratic that is.’

‘That had nothing to do with me and you know it. There was a plot to get him out and I was the scapegoat. I gave Worthing a hard time, not that he didn’t deserve it, but they probably would like to shut me up as well, too big a mouth for a woman in some people’s eyes.’

‘Love it. So not only did they get rid of their celebrity leader, they framed you as well. That’s just brilliant. Good job none of you have any serious power, this country would look more like Afghanistan within a week.’

Isabel pushes past her, satisfied she got what she wanted.

Fisher grabs her back again.

‘Look quit taking the piss, I’m in trouble here. Are you going to come in with me? Tell them what you saw.’

‘If I tell them what you were up to, you might attract more unwelcome attention, perhaps you’re better doing a runner all together.’

‘Just tell me what you’re going to do.’

Isabel thinks about her response, her smile creeping wider than her face. This morning she was a nervous idiot, now she’s a picture of cool.

‘Carol, I’ll tell you what. You go declare yourself innocent, or go on the run if you like. I don’t care. I’ve got things to do.’

‘What does that mean? Are you going to back me up?’

‘That’s for me to know and you to find out.’

It’s childish but she can’t resist. This time she walks into the office and doesn’t stop.

 

© S.G.Norris