On camera

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1850 words.

Shawn liked his job. Working for the city as a CCTV operator made him feel useful. He could look out for badly parked cars, trading infringements, illegal rubbish dumping, even criminal suspects. And he was good too. Quick on the joystick, and easily able to flip from screen to screen, to follow anyone or anything. All those years of playing video games had honed his skills, and sharpened his reactions too. He was also admired by his colleagues, who seemed to be amazed by his recall of the location of every camera, and its code number.

After training, and doing some time on the general rota, Shawn had chosen the permanent night shift. Twelve hours a night from seven to seven, five nights a week. The control room was quieter at night, and there were just the two of them on duty. He generally worked with Mo, a woman almost as old as his Mum. She often went straight from work to another day job, so was always tired, taking any chance she could to slope off into the staff room for a nap. Shawn didn’t mind her shirking, as it gave him time to dominate the screens, and to control all the cameras himself. He never told on her either, as he didn’t want to have to work with someone else who might want to take over, or watch what he was doing.

He spotted something on camera nineteen. Outside of Bailey’s a fight was kicking off. He pressed the button on the main box, a direct link to the police. Putting on his best professional voice, he told the operator, ” City CCTV here. Fight in progress, Bailey’s Club, city centre. I will monitor”. He typed the reference number she gave him into the details on his reporting screen, and zoomed the camera in close. When the police got there, he saw them struggling and arguing with the unruly crowd outside. The phone rang, and it was their operator, asking for a description of the assailant. “Adult male, cropped hair, red T-shirt, tattoos on both sides of his neck”. He watched on the screen as the police arrested the man, wrestling him into their van. He noted the video timeline, in case they later asked for an evidential copy.

Not much else happened that night. He scanned around, watching the vagrants, the regular homeless, or missed-the-bus drunks settling down to sleep in shop doorways, back alleys, or on benches in the shopping precinct. Mo hadn’t appeared for ages. He guessed she would be fast asleep, sprawled across four chairs as usual. When it got to six, he would go and wake her, and go through the briefing handover for the morning shift. The phone rang again. Another police operator with a report of a missing person. “Young girl, aged fourteen. Collar length fair hair, wearing a short denim skirt, grey hooded top, blue and white trainers. May be carrying a small silver rucksack. Five feet three inches tall, no distinguishing marks. Her name is Samantha Harding, and she walked out of her address after an argument. Last seen just after midnight.” Shawn wrote all the details on a blank sheet of paper. He would type up a report for the morning crew soon.

Mo stretched her legs out, and raised her arms above her head. Wiggling her toes into the slip-on shoes, she yawned, and heaved herself up. Not a bad sleep, even on the row of uncomfortable chairs. Ruffling her hair into some semblance of a style, she padded out into the CCTV room. Shawn was glued to screen twelve, checking on a lorry delivering to a city center shop. She looked at his fluffy beard, and the big belly straining the polo shirt with the city logo on it. Even his feet looked too fat for his shoes, and they bulged under the imitation leather. He turned and smiled. “Good sleep Mo? This guy just made it into the delivery zone before the time cutoff.” He pointed at the screen. Mo gave a weary smile. Like she cared who delivered what or when. Shawn was obsessed with this stuff, and had made those crappy details his entire life. She wandered around the room tidying up. Dropping chocolate bar wrappers and empty cans into the waste bin, along with some random paper rubbish and the four crisp packets Shawn had munched his way through.

Shawn’s Mum had made him a nice breakfast that morning. Four sausages, three eggs, plenty of bacon, and lots of toast too. As he devoured it, he told her about the shift. Getting the man arrested, checking on the lorry delivery, and recording the rough sleepers. She smiled at her son as he ate and chatted. Such a good boy, and so good at his job too. Nobody had a better son, she was sure of that.

When the alarm went off just after four that afternoon, Shawn had something niggling in the back of his mind, but couldn’t place it. He went into the shower, and allowed the hot water to wake him up. He preferred a bath really, but had finally had to accept he had got too big to get in and out of it comfortably. When he had his uniform on, he went downstairs. Mum had his dinner ready when he appeared in the kitchen. Two meat pies, boiled potatoes, carrots and peas. One of his favourite meals. He left home in plenty of time to walk to work. He was never late, and the day shift guys were always happy that one of them could get off early, when Shawn turned up. He stopped at the shop to get what he needed for the night. Four cans of cola, four packets of crisps, three chocolate bars, and a packet of chewing gum. No point getting hungry or thirsty during the night. He needed to stay sharp.

As soon as he got to work, he could tell something was going on. For one thing, Mo was already in, at least half an hour before her shift started. And she was wearing the official uniform too, the only time he had ever seen her in it. He stopped short, looked her up and down, and raised his eyebrows. Black polo shirt with logo, black skirt, black tights, shiny shoes. She had combed her hair, and was even wearing some make-up. She stared at the floor, and didn’t acknowledge him. Shawn was confused, but not about to get into why she was there, and dressed that way. He ambled into the control room clutching his carrier bag, and was shocked to see Mr Singh, the young manager in charge of the city security services. Standing next to him was a senior police officer, and a smartly-dressed woman with a serious look on her face.

Mr Singh turned around. “Ah, Shawn, can you follow us please”. He led the way out of the control room and along the corridor to an office with ‘Conference Room’ written on the door. The policeman and serious woman took a seat either side of Mr Singh, and Shawn was indicated to sit opposite. He smiled across the large table, but nobody smiled back. Mr Singh opened a document wallet, and produced a large laptop from under the table. He turned it on, moved the screen around so Shawn could see it, and began reading from the top document.

“At 07:03 this morning, the body of a young girl was found behind Headley’s food store. She was fourteen years old, and her name was Samantha Harding. She had been raped and strangled, then dumped behind the shop’s rubbish skip”. He pressed a button on the laptop, and the familiar view of CCTV camera eleven came into view. A young girl appeared wearing a hooded top, and a very short denim skirt. She was carrying a silver-grey rucksack, and looked like she had been crying. She stood for a while outside the front of Headley’s, looking around nervously. A few people walked past, paying her no attention. Then a small van pulled up. A man got out of the van, and walked over to the girl. He engaged her in conversation, pointing at the van. The number plate could clearly be seen as the girl repeatedly shook her head, looking away from the man. She started to walk in the direction of the bus station, but the man grabbed her from behind, roughly dragging her backwards in the direction of the shop’s delivery entrance at the rear.

Shawn sat spellbound, watching the events unfold as if on a film. Mr Singh’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Please note the time line on the recording. 05:50. I understand that some time before that, you had received a missing person report from the police, about this girl?” I checked with Maureen, your colleague. She has told me that you made no report of that information, and no search for her on any camera. Furthermore, you did not tell her about it, to hand it over to any of the day shift when they arrived. In fact, Maureen tells me that you were spending all your time checking on a lorry delivering to Home Life Hardware, across the road from where Samantha was standing. What have you got to say, Shawn? Don’t you realise this murder could have so easily been prevented, if you had been doing your job? In fact, the crime was captured in detail on camera nine, but I am not going to show that now, as it is too distressing”

Shawn’s mouth was open, but he had no idea what to say. No point telling them that Mo had been sleeping, she would just deny that. Turning up looking so smart and efficient today was obviously because she knew there was going to be trouble. He hadn’t seen any news reports earlier, but he guessed Mo had. He pointed at the screen. “You can clearly see the number of the van, Mr Singh”. His boss straightened up. “Yes, we can. And thanks to that, a man was arrested earlier today, and will be charged with the crime. But that’s hardly the point, is it Shawn? This girl would have been spotted and picked up by the police before her attacker had the chance to see her standing there.” Shawn’s thoughts were rushing through his head like traffic on a busy motorway. “I am sure I wrote the details down, Mr Singh. You know me, I never miss anything.” With a sigh, Mr Singh replied, “Well then where is the report? Why didn’t you type it into the system, tell Maureen, and the early shift operators? This is gross misconduct I’m afraid, and I have to tell you that you are dismissed immediately. Please hand over your keycard and identity card. As for you conscience about the poor girl, I will leave you to have to deal with that.”

Shawn walked home in a daze. What was he going to say to Mum?
And he would be far too early for breakfast too.

31 thoughts on “On camera

  1. Missing bits of paper deciding fate are in a distinguished literary tradition (e.g. bloody Thomas Hardy and Tess of the D’Urbervilles!) – the unfairness of it all, and the importance of genuine team-work, are painfully true to life, as all your stories are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Robbie. Despite the UK having more CCTV per head of the population than anywhere else in the world, it still amazes me how many serious crimes go unnoticed. Thanks as always for reading.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He put the paper down, then got distracted by the lorry arriving. He forgot about the missing girl, and then when Mo came into the room, he was focused on that. Mo tidied up, throwing away the paper, and he went home, thinking about his breakfast. Simple as that. How people get obsessed with tiny details, and thinking about food, forgetting the big things, because they are not ‘On Camera’.
      Maybe it didn’t make sense. I know people like that, and something about CCTV security setups and their staff. Maybe it was a ‘had to be there’. Sorry. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

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