Third post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.
Short Story. “the Court Reporter” 2800 words.
This story is inter-related to the last, and the next. I write thrillers. Expect a crime.
A word from the author:
Sorry for the length of this short story. The next in this interlinked series “the Doorstep” tomorrow, will be much shorter at 700 words – that’s the way it came out. The Doorstep will be the last published on this blog for a while. Although I intend continuing on with the series, writing a new short story each day, I remain unsure as to the popularity of the fictional format on a blog like this. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll give you some hints as to what might or might not happen into the future of this story. For a start, I’m completely missing any ideas for “E”.
To catch up on the story, read the Announcement and the Bean also.
The Court Reporter
The call had come in with the usual number on it. Her contracting firm, Alexander and Sons. One of the most reputable and old-school businesses of Merseyside, providing services across Liverpool, and further North, down as far south as circling the North M25 around London.
Sharon had picked the unexpected call up within five rings. She was in the supermarket at the time, grabbing a couple of frozen pizzas and some beer for her flat mates, to make up for it.
‘Hello.’ She fumbled the phone to her ear.
‘Hello, Sharon. This is Teana Williams from Alexander.’
Sharon remembered standing there frozen in the aisle of the frozen food section. Teana, a big lumpy corn-rowed woman of Nigerian origins, wasn’t her normal contact at the agency. ‘Hello Teana. Is everything alright?’
There was an incriminating pause. Then Teana said, ‘Yes and no. The good news is that I have a court reporter job for you commencing next Wednesday. High profile one, too.’
‘There is some bad news, un-fortu-nate-ly. Not unexpected for any of us, but we, well…’ She’d said the unfortunately in that long drawn out African version of the word, with an emphasis on the “nate”.
‘What is it?’ Sharon’s voice had become very quiet now, dreading the worst – Alexander was letting her go, or going under, or…
‘The Old Baily has made a rush decision to withdraw sten-o-grapher services from the Crown Courts with almost immediate affect. We thought it would be a few more months, but the trial of the -’
‘They liked the digital recordings?’ Sharon’s voice was harsh now, unbelieving. Aghast, her Dad would have said, in his literary-minded way.
An announcement came over the shop’s tannoy system, drowning out any other words from her phone. A special on Hot Cross Buns, one day only. Sharon had cupped the phone closer to her face, and waited for the end of the static. Then all she’d managed was – ‘But -’
Teana’s rushed voice, ‘We will still find work for you, elsewhere in the system, you know? Alexander has always been loyal to its sten-o-graphers. We understand com-plete-ly how much training you’ve gone through, and how much more you can offer.’
Of course they did. Sharon had trained for over 18 months to obtain her stenography and short-hand qualifications. It had taken her many months to afford her own equipment. And yes, she could provide so much more than digital recordings could – she had symbols for nods and shakes of the head, for instance. And she could deal with it when people were over-talking each other in court – that happened all the time. And what about when the speakers didn’t announce their names all the time, and sounded like each other? And -
‘I don’t think it will work,’ Sharon had said.
‘Nor do we, but for the interim, we’ll be looking at other avenues for your services – there is plenty of work in the NHS complaints, and other tribunals, you know, and we’re branching out into business routes, along with creative visualisers, very thrilling. Really thrilling work, you know? With visualisers like that.’
‘What?’ Sharon didn’t actually care, but the woman sounded hyped, while Sharon was virtually losing her job on the supermarket floor.
‘Those artists – you know – the ones who do all those drawings while people speak?’
What was the woman blabbing on about?
‘They record the business presentations in drawing form, and we – you – will do the transcripts. Happy happy stuff.’
Happy happy stuff? Good god.
‘Oh, I am going on too much. Shall I give you the details on the court job, then?’
‘If you must.’ But of course, Sharon needed it.
‘Oh, I must. It’s quite exciting, really exciting. You are fortunate to be working on one of our last court jobs, and it is high profile. Can you guess what case it might be?
Sharon had shrugged, then realised Teana couldn’t see her.
‘Can you? Can you guess?’
Sharon shook her head this time. Nobody noticed in the supermarket. She must have looked quite normal standing there on a mobile, holding the door open to the cabinet, slightly shivering.
‘Excuse me!’ a woman leaned over and elbowed herself to a frozen Margareta, jutting it into Sharon’s armpit in the doorway, while frowning at Sharon’s selfishness. Sharon glanced into the woman’s trolley – she had it piled high with soft drinks, a large multi-pack of assorted crisps, a large bag of mini baby-bells, and several tins of beans, ready-made pasta shapes and other colourful packets Sharon had no idea about. Kids. The bitch had kids.
“Sorry,” she mouthed at the woman, and shut the cabinet door, sad that she’d missed the cow’s fingers.
‘It’s the stalker case!’ Teana announced, impatient with Sharon’s lack of guessing.
High profile, yes. National news. But according to the papers, it was pretty open and shut. It would probably only go on for a day or two of legal proclamations for the sake of judiciary proceedings. And everyone’s wallets, except for hers. Sharon would probably only get a couple hundred pounds out of the work, less tax.
She had spent the week looking into further work for herself, and getting more and more deep into a funk.
All her contacts were out of ideas about where qualified stenographers like her might go in the future. Many older women were seeking early retirement. She already took on jobs for simple digital to transcript work, but it wasn’t high paying, and it was infrequent. Part of her own services to the courts as a verbatim reporter also offered digital recording, as a backup for her memory when she went to transcribe her own shorthand notes from the cases. But the courts already had proper digital set-ups with sound recorders through most rooms.
Even the flaming British Institute of Verbatim Recorders – which she’d just paid £500 to join – gave her no ideas when she rung up. She’d demanded her money back, asking why they’d taken it, knowing the qualification and registration was about to be superseded by digital across the justice system. The man on the phone had arrogantly stated he understood her emotions at this unfortunate time, but there was no point speaking to him like that, Madam. Then he’d suggested she take her complaint to the correct authorities – not him. He’d post her out the complaints procedure but it would come via second priority post, sometime over the next month.
On the day of the beginning of her last court job, Sharon was facing having to ask her parents for a loan to go back to community college to train in something else, and worse, that they support her while she did it.
This was the only option she could think of, had thought of, in the whole week since the call. Visions of having to go back to live in that little childhood bedroom of hers menaced the twilight times just before she entered her disturbed sleep each night.
On hearing of her idea to retrain, her idiot flatmate, Mike, had helpfully suggested hairdressing – given her obvious need for a good cut herself, he’d added. Sharon had burst into tears, the best thing that could have happened as it brought down reprimands from Jeff and Coxie, stopped Mike cold, and importantly, delayed them all from asking the more relevant question of where her next rent cheque was going to come from.
Sharon couldn’t help feeling her whole life was now one big heap of delay.
The upcoming £200 less tax court case just added salt to the festering wound, this time her mother’s saying. Her Mum used the word “festering” a lot.
At the court’s entrance steps, Sharon found twenty or more journalists shuffling for prime viewing. The top city’s papers, local television and national news agencies vied for best placement. They obviously knew who they were waiting for, and it wasn’t Sharon, who’s own arrival drew precursory attention then instant dismissal. A big fat man wearing a decade old brown suit didn’t bother to glance her way. He stood overtaking two steps of her path, chatting with a semi-celeb news announcer Sharon vaguely recognised for her streaked blonde hair, and gravity-defying tits.
‘Excuse me,’ she said. Then louder.
The blonde gave her a curt look, but didn’t bother to tell her friend. His back moved in waves of fat when he talked. Sharon suddenly felt nauseas.
‘Out of the bloody way!’
That one he did hear, but his shuffle did nothing to make way. Sharon pushed up the side of him, feeling the rasp of his thighs against her own. She moved her bag to that side as a protector, then remembered its contents. Almost useless contents in the future, the stenograph had been worth £4000 even secondhand until last week. Now she could barely give it away. She let the case slam into the blonde’s outside knee as she hiked up the step. The woman went oomph and clutched at her injured joint.
‘Oh, so sorry,’ Sharon said as mildly as she could, knowing that the 2 pound weight could have – hopefully – done a little damage.
‘She did it on purpose, the bitch!’ the woman shrilled. Sharon stopped, momentarily confused about what she should do next. Her stomach bucked. Then she realised the accusation was directed at the fat man, with the expectation he come to the woman’s honour. Hands shaking, Sharon jumped the next step away from them, crashing into the backside of another reporter.
‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ she mumbled her way up the final three steps as she shoved people out of her way. The protests behind melded into general babble and then all began moaning afresh. Sharon took a quick turn to see why – below her a big van had pulled up. The real competition, the BBC, had just arrived.
She took her normal route through the swing door rather than the ultra-slow rotating doors that nobody bothered to cage themselves into more than once. Inside, despite her repeat appearances, the security guards appeared not to recognise her, as normal. The routine and library-like quietness of the place relieved her nerves, however.
‘Papers and identification, please,’ the female guard said, looking like she belonged on a female rugby team, in the back scrum. Dad would make her watch rugby again when she returned to live at home.
Sharon unzipped the bag fully, and got out the agency papers informing the courts of her duties for them. She passed the papers and her agency ID badge and drivers license over to rugby woman, and slid the bag along the small conveyor passing through a little x-ray machine. The two male guards manning the x-rays gave the bag and machine a quick glance, obviously recognising it.
‘Stalker case,’ Rugby woman explained to them. They nodded, as though such a case, with all it’s media attention outside, was all the norm around here. Sharon knew it wasn’t.
The bag started chugging through the little x-ray, and Sharon stepped to the front of the human x-ray, holding out her arms slightly from her frame.
Sharon turned to Rugby Woman.
‘Have you any more ID?’
‘More ID. I need more identification to confirm who you are.’
Sharon felt her stomach lurch again. ‘What do you mean? I’ve always just had that ID. It’s been okay before.’
Rugby Woman turned to her fellow guards, who both nodded at her. Rugby Woman took it as confimation of her approach. Leaning forward, she said, ‘More ID, please.’
Sharon stepped back to the front of the woman’s counter. Her stenograph case had now cleared the x-ray, and was sitting precariously wobbling on the edge of the conveyor at the end of the counter.
‘I don’t have much more ID. A credit card?’ Her mouth felt dry.
‘No. Picture ID,’ Rugby Woman said.
Behind them, another person had arrived from outside, and he stood waiting his turn through the security system. Sharon shot him an apologetic glance.
Sharon scanned her memory of the contents of the little wallet that fit in her stenograph bag. Bus ticket, library card, credit card, debit card, and bits of change for the awful coffee they sold through machines in the court waiting rooms. Enough for lunch, if they suspended for a lunch-break.
‘Can I have the bag back please, to check.’
Rugby Woman glanced again at the men, who appeared to contemplate the correctness of this also, then one took the bag off the conveyor and slid it along the counter.
‘You go ahead,’ Sharon said to the man. She recognised him vaguely, probably a lawyer she’d seen in other cases. She took the bag aside, balanced it on a slightly raised knee as there was no bench or counter-space to plant it on. With one wobbly hand, she dragged the wallet out, and looked at the contents. Nothing there, she stuck her hand into the side pocket. She normally had her passport in there, but it had never been needed before. So, she knew damned well that she’d taken it out only a couple of weeks ago. Never needed before. Safer at home, rather than carrying it around unnecessarily. Organised, to a Tee, she was. Always.
And she was right. Her hand found no passport in the pocket. Only her mobile.
The lawyer breezed through the security checks, producing only his own court pass and emptying his wallets of copious coins and keys into the little tray provided. As he picked up the pocket stash at the other side, he gave Sharon a nod. All well, your turn again now.
She waited until he had moved on around the side of the building, heading for the internal elevator that would take him to his own chamber rooms. She was delaying the inevitable, which now included the certainty that Sharon needed the toilet quite badly.
‘I don’t have any more ID,’ Sharon wondered how her voice could change like that. It didn’t sound her own. A child had overtaken it.
‘I require more ID,’ Rugby Woman said.
‘Why? You didn’t have more from that man just now.’ Sharon regretted saying it as soon as it came out.
Rugby Woman’s eyebrows raised into a tick across her forehead, ‘That man is a respected solicitor and a regular here. You aren’t.’
‘Could you ring my agency, perhaps? I’m sure they could set things straight. I’m expected as the court reporter today.’ Wasn’t that obvious, given her paperwork, and the bloody stenography machine?
Rugby Woman raised one eyebrow. ‘What do you think?’ she said to her cohorts.
‘She should have more ID on her,’ Skinny Man said.
‘We’ve been told to make sure they’re legit,’ Crew Cut Man added. They both looked satisfied with themselves.
‘Could you ring?’ Sharon asked. Again. Pleading for some sanity in her life.
Who was going to get in trouble here anyway? Surely it would be the guards, not letting the court reporter into the courtroom. Surely.
Rugby Woman opened her mouth, then clamped it shut again. Behind her, Skinny and Crew Cut both crossed their arms. Gates closed.
‘Fine. Is there anybody else I could speak to?’ Sharon said.
That did it. All three guards raised themselves up a fuller one inch in height, personally threatened.
Sharon blinked back the tears in her eyes, and swallowed the lump in her throat. ‘I.D. Please,’ she croaked.
‘Can I have my ID back, please. I’ll ring the agency myself.’
Rugby Woman looked down at her own hands sceptically, perhaps realising the stalemate and repercussions of her actions for the first time. Reluctantly she handed the wad of papers and plastic back to Sharon. Sharon shoved the wad into her bag, not caring where it went. Just wanting to move away from all their attention. Anywhere. Before she got sick.
Little spots danced in front of her eyes.
‘You’ll need to get it done within the next five minutes, though,’ Rugby Woman said, having re-found her hostility.
‘What?’ Sharon paused with her hands trembling on the zip.
‘Court staff are meant to be in the court ancillary by 9:30am.’ Rugby Woman gave a satisfied nod to the large clock set on one wall. 9:25am.
Sharon felt the red heat rush onto her face in a wash of rage. ‘Oh fuck this!’
She swung the valueless Stenograph bag onto her hips, and pushed through the door, as another lawyer-type was trying to come through it from outside. The force smashed the door into his hand, and he leapt back to make way for her, as Sharon left the court building for her last ever time.
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