This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.
Steve was all over that story like a rash. Between his contacts in the police, and his girlfriend’s job, he was able to find out the names and addresses of everyone connected to Gabby and her disappearance. He already knew this was going to be bigger than a regional newspaper, so made a call to someone he knew in London to sell the exclusive story to a popular daily tabloid.
Not the one he had worked for previously of course, his bridges were burned there.
Telling his editor he had a lead, to excuse his absence from the newsroom, he worked more or less for himself from then on. Giving away a byline so as not to reveal his idenitity, he drip-fed his sensationalist coverage to the London tabloid, delighted to see it make national news. It was even quoted on the TV news channels, and if he kept it up, he just knew he would be back in the big time. The headlines began to have traction.
“University Tutor In Love Triangle”
“Bisexual Seductress Goes Missing”
“Where Is The Mysterious Sex-Siren Gabby?”
“Gabby’s Alcohol Addicted Mum’s Criminal Past”.
In less than a week, Andrew Donaldson’s career was in ruins. Gabby’s mum was hounded by the press waiting ouside the hospital, and Kimbeley Lau was shut away in her riverside flat, terrified of being named and her parents finding out. Ben and Mikki thought they had escaped notoriety, until Steve turned up at the house and they refused to talk to him. The next day, they were named in the national tabloid, and the toe-curling headline screamed “Shared House Of Sex. What Went On There?”
Then Kimberley’s world ended as a new headline was reviewed on a TV channel. “Lesbian Lover Pays For Gabby’s Disappearance. Why?” She was named too, and there was a zoomed-in photo of her flat.
At the local newspaper, Steve’s editor had seen enough, and called him in to discuss his future. But Steve resigned over the phone, telling the man to shove his job. That evening, Sarah packed her stuff and moved back to her mum’s. The penny had finally dropped, and she was also under investigation at work.
As far as Steve was concerned, he didn’t care in the least. He was heading for success again, and would soon be back in London.
For the police investigating, Steve’s gutter journalism was making life hard. Inspector Duggan was on the warpath, trying to find out who was leaking information. Tracing some of the computer checks back to an operator at headquarters, they suspended the woman involved, pending investigation and possible criminal charges. But for some reason, Duggan became convinced that Clive Wright was the one giving stuff to the press, and she set about looking into his life without letting him know of her suspicions.
While all this was going on, there was still not one solid lead about where Gabby might be.
To get her out of the limelight, Kimberley’s mum and dad came to get her. There was to be no graduation ceremony for her, she could get her degree in the post for all they cared. And they were not interested in bringing charges against Gabby for the missing money, or the two thousand she had borrowed previously. Mr Lau would swallow that loss, anything to avoid bringing more shame on his family.
The day after she got home, Kim stopped eating again.
Losing Sarah’s inside information was annoying for Steve, but he already knew enough to make up the rest, and in the spirit of true trash journalism, he set about inventing anything to keep the story going. Kim’s flat was described as a ‘Lesbian Love-Nest’, and Andrew’s house as ‘The Cottage Of Sin’. With people in his village shunning him, and also being asked to leave his job voluntarily or be sacked, Andrew was in hiding in a rented caravan at Caister, on the east coast of the county.
After evaluating all his remaining options, he concluded that he was going to have to work abroad, Once the dust settled, and the police allowed him to leave the country.
Because the credit card company was still happy to have the charges against Gabby outstanding, the warrant for her arrest held. Public sightings of her following the appeal were still coming in thick and fast. Any female under thirty with cropped hair was in the frame, and dozens of them had been questioned by police forces all over Britain.
Including a twenty-eight year old woman who had lost her hair following chemotherapy.
With Steve’s nonsense keeping the story on page two at least, Clive was sitting in the office one afternoon when Inspector Duggan arrived, looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp.
“Sarge, I’m taking you off the Parker case, effective immediately”.