Captive Hearts - Natasha West
Ashley Quick knew she shouldn’t say anything. She really shouldn’t. It wasn’t her business.
Then again… It was Mac’s second hotdog. And his wife had let slip about his high blood pressure at the Christmas party after two and a half glasses of pinot grigio. Mac was playing with fire with every mouthful of mechanically separated meat. He might die in front of her.
Ashley decided she had to speak up. She just needed to be super tactful. She cleared her throat. ‘Hey, Mac?’
Mac turned to her. ‘Yes, boss?’ he mumbled, mouth full.
‘You eat any more of that, and you’re gonna die of a stroke pretty soon. Possibly this afternoon. And then your poor wife will have to raise your kids alone. Well, until she meets a new man. Your kids are, what? Five and seven? Young enough that they’ll definitely end up calling the new husband, Dad.’
Mac’s eyes widened in horror, and that was how Ashley knew that she’d probably missed ‘super tactful.’ But she’d started now. There was nowhere to go but forward and down. ‘But if you’re OK with your wedding album being shoved into a storage box in the attic, so it’s not an awkward reminder to New Daddy of the man who used to have his family before he died a very avoidable death at forty-four, by all means, finish your pig arsehole in a bun.’
Mac was agape. The piece of hot dog he’d been eating fell clean out of his mouth. Ashley watched his face pass through the shock of what she’d said, slipping quickly into rage. ‘Jesus fucking Christ, what did you have for breakfast this morning? Barbed wire on toast?’
Ashley shrugged. ‘I’m just telling it like it is, Mac.’ She was always having this conversation or some form of it. Over and over, with everyone she knew. Because Ashley was honest in a way that didn’t really go hand in hand with politeness. She supposed that was why she’d ended up working in news. She craved facts; the truth stripped down to the bone. Of course, it hadn’t really turned out like that. She wasn’t breaking stories, getting the truth out there. She was reporting on local sports team wins, council plans, and - today - a break-in at a school. Local news didn’t really deal in hard truths. But Ashley did. And it didn’t matter very much to her if people got their egos bruised by it. Not if they needed to hear it. And Mac clearly needed a shock to the system if he was going to change his diet. ‘You’ll thank me one day,’ she said, though she didn’t believe it. No one ever thanked her.
Mac threw the remainder of his meal in a bin next to the roadside food truck. ‘You know what? You’re a real…’ He couldn’t quite bring himself to finish the sentence. He took a deep breath instead. ‘I’m going to get the cam.’ He stormed off to the van parked down the street.
Ashley checked her watch. Ten minutes until she was expected to do this crappy interview with the headmistress of the school across the road. Someone had nicked the lead of the roof. Not exactly big news, but Ashley would do her best to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.
As she finished her cup of coffee, she looked at the school and its surrounding gate. She started thinking…
She got out her pad and made a few notes.
‘So when the caretaker arrived on Tuesday morning, he didn’t realise anyone had gotten in at first. Until it started raining and water began to pour onto year nine integrated humanities. Liam Coleman had apparently spent all morning on his hair, and he was absolutely beside himself when his quiff got drenched. I’ve had his mother in asking for compensation,’ the headmistress of Harewood Comp said wearily, trying not to look at the camera pointing at her over Ashley’s shoulder.
Ashley nodded. ‘Mmm, I see. And how did the criminals get in?’
‘We think they climbed over the railings,’ said the elderly caretaker, jumping into shot beside the headmistress. She looked rather irritated by his limelight thieving but said nothing.
Ashley turned her attention to the man. ‘The railings out the front?’ They’re about twelve foot, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, we think they probably brought a ladder,’ he said quickly.
‘Someone put a ladder up against a railing on a residential street at night and no one noticed?’ Ashley said. She could feel Mac stiffening without even looking at him. She knew he