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Outside Broadcast

The trick, Felix had found, was all in the camera angle. That and his natural ability to ham up any situation. And Jilly the producer standing off-camera with a squirt bottle, just in case it didn't look quite dramatic enough. And Su the camera-woman staggering as though unable to keep her balance in the gale. The resulting piece would be an on the spot bulletin guaranteed a decent slot on the evening news and further enhancement of his reputation as a fearless reporter.

Yes, he knew how to deliver a good storm story. Not for him the stupid risks taken by his colleagues from the other channels. You wouldn't catch him standing on a jetty as storm surge waves crashed down on him. You could die that way. Or at the very least catch a nasty chill. Nor would you see him standing beneath perilously trailing cables and street signs as the wind screamed death at whichever unfortunate town was in its sights.

And yet, to watch his reports from the safety and warmth of an evening sofa you'd be hard put not to believe he and his team had stepped into the path of the hurricane, just to bring you the full technicolour story.

He stood now, in the lea of the Grand Hotel, staring out at the lowering sky and whipped sea, considering his options. Su was grumbling. She had plenty of footage of sea foam covering the esplanade, boats rocking alarmingly and battering against sea walls, she'd even managed to capture the moment some fool in a pound store rain mac had taken a drenching and nearly been sucked into the sea at the Anglers' Steps. Now she wanted to record his piece and get the heck out of Dodge.

'We're losing daylight, Felix,' said Jilly, her phone clasped to her left ear. 'Just pick your spot and get on with it.'

Felix clenched his jaw. He knew this town. He had grown up not far away. He knew where the waves struck, he knew where the walls were weakest, he knew which properties flooded with every high tide. But the storm wasn't behaving the way he expected. He leaned around the corner, squinting into the wind and rain. The old hotel on the cliff looked pretty dramatic and vulnerable, but its use in storm reports had become clichéd. Besides, the waves weren't stretching up the cliffs the way they normally did.

He glanced back the other way. No, they were smashing against the base of the castle. In all his years, he had never seen the castle take a pounding like it. He stepped back inside. So, the castle was the obvious spot, but there was nowhere to position safely and still capture the action.

'It's not doing what it should be doing,' he grumbled.

'It's a storm,' said Jilly on a sigh. 'You know, unpredictable weather masses, pressure systems, all colliding and doing peculiar and exciting stuff?'

'You don't understand. It shouldn't be hitting there. It should be hitting the cliff.'

'The wind direction is different, that's all,' shrugged Jilly, turning away to bellow into her phone.

But Felix shook his head. The wind wasn't different. It was howling in from the east, the way it always did in these conditions. No, it was the sea that was different. It was doing it all wrong.

They stared out bleakly at the Channel 9 crew recording their piece in front of one of the amusement arcades. A wave hurtled in, smashing them against the glass frontage. The reporter recovered quickly and continued her report, wiping water from her drenched hair as she shouted her piece into the mike. Dramatic, brave, immediate, award-winning reporting. Felix scowled.

And then he saw it. The old funicular railway. Of course. The perfect spot. If he could just persuade the operator to run it, they could film from the safety of a carriage just a short way from the lower station, looking out at the castle and esplanade. He grinned.

Jilly stared at him expectantly. 'Do we have a plan?'

'Oh yes,' he murmured. 'I just need to make a quick call.'

The operator had complained bitterly. It was more than his job was worth, though of course, it always is in these situations. There was no way he could run the rail in these conditions. Not even for fifty quid. Nor a hundred. A hundred and fifty however …

With their pockets duly lightened, the crew clambered aboard the carriage and signalled for the operator to start the rail. Felix waved him to stop once they were clear of the roof of the station, then slid the door open and positioned himself in front of it. He waited until Su signalled that she had a clear shot, then he began.

'The storm struck these shores at approximately ten thirty, as was predicted by the Met Office. The gale force winds whipped up sea foam, covering the esplanade and causing problems for drivers unlucky enough to be caught out. The local police have urged people to stay away from coastal areas for the duration of the storm where possible, but as ever, not everyone heeds the advice. We filmed one man dicing with death at the Anglers' Steps. He was nearly sucked out by the ferocious waves, but luckily managed to haul himself clear.'

Felix paused to stagger as though struck by the wind, and held up a hand as a shield as Jilly squirted water at him. Gasping, he continued. 'Conditions are appalling. Many beach front shops have already been inundated by the surge and several boats in the harbour have been damaged.'

Su zoomed in on the castle as a wave smashed against it, spraying a plume up almost to the turrets. She filmed a large piece of debris being smashed into pieces against the lower stones, then she gave a sudden lurch, as though blown by the wind. Jilly aimed another well-timed squirt at Felix's head.

And then the world went sideways. The feigned lurches and staggers paled into insignificance as the carriage slipped and rocked on its rails. Jilly screamed as she slid to the back, smashing against the wooden bench. Su, professional to the last, somehow kept her grip on the camera as Felix tumbled through the open door and down the cliff to the station below.

The carriage tipped back onto the rails just once, then the wind took it again and it toppled, hurtling down towards the station. Su finally lost her hold on the camera as she was tossed from floor to ceiling on the descent. The camera, still recording, came to rest a short distance from an unconscious Felix, automatically focussing upon his face.

He came to as the operator dropped down beside him, shouting in concern. He mumbled and tried to turn, yelping as various breaks and bruises announced their presence. He glanced at the ruined carriage and snapped into focus.

'Jilly and Su?' he grabbed the operator's arm. 'Are they alright?'

'Aye, they're in better fet than you. They're a bit bumped and they're cursing you fit to bust, but they're no injured.'

He relaxed. He would never have heard the end of it if either one of them was hurt. But wait. The funicular railway had stood for well over a hundred years without being affected by the weather because of its position in what was effectively a chine in the cliff. He stared at the operator.

'What happened? The railway has always been safe.'

The operator's face darkened. 'It's the new coastal defences they've put in. The sea don't know which way to roll n'more. The cliff to the south might be safe now, but we take a hammering here every time the weather takes a turn.'

Felix woke in a hospital bed. He became aware of a TV burbling in the background and realised to his dismay that it was tuned to his arch-rivals, Channel 9. He lifted his head and squinted at the screen as the feed switched to an outside broadcast. The camera panned in on the reporter they had seen earlier by the amusement arcade. She was windswept, her hair awry, but her make-up was still perfect as she delivered her report.

'And to prove just how dangerous this storm is, a crew from another channel got into grave difficulties earlier at the funicular railway. Apparently all three suffered minor injuries,' Felix looked down at his plastered leg and grimaced, 'and are currently receiving treatment at the local hospital. It just goes to show, even experienced storm chasers can get it badly wrong in such extreme conditions,' she smiled sweetly at the camera. 'We wish them all a very speedy recovery.'

The doctor dashed into the ward to the sound of his patient's anguished howl. He ducked as a pillow was hurled across the room at the TV set. Turning to his patient, he lifted his hands in question, but was answered with a sly grin.

'I suppose it'll do my reputation as a fearless reporter no harm,' said Felix, with a wink.


© 2014 Kay Lawrence.


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