Andrew D. Benge | Hong Rui Choo
“I want to be clear, Mr. Hughes. What I’m about to tell you, it isn’t easy. I’m not entirely sure if I can even discuss it safely.” She wouldn’t give me her name. She had called the paper, and told me she had a scoop. I swear, she called it a scoop, like we were in the 20s, or a comic book.
“I’m sure it’s fine. Nothing to worry about,” I said, pulling out my laptop, ready to take notes on what she said.
“No, put that away!” she said.
I slid it back in its case. You get all kinds of conspiracy theorists with these clandestine meetings. I humored her, and got out a pen and paper.
“Thank you.” She pulled out a pack of gum, and began gnawing on a piece nervously.
“So, what’s going on, ma’am?” I licked the tip of my pencil. People like that for some reason. The whole secret hotel meeting makes me feel like a caricature.
“There’s a prison under Hagsford Manor.”
“Listen, you have to believe me. James Hagsford has a prison under his house.” . She fumbled in her bag for a minute, and gave me a tape.
“Look, you can watch this, it has all the information on it: I’ve been in the cells, I took videos, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” I took the tape. If nothing else, It could kill a few minutes of boring TV for me. I tucked it in next to my laptop.
“I’ll take a look. In the meantime, tell me, why would he have a dungeon?”
“No, not a dungeon. There are no torture devices or anything, just cells. There are about 15 in all. He locks people up in them. There was just one guy down there when I made the video.” She shook as she spoke. Her eyes were screwed shut. Her words came slowly, deliberately.
“Take your time, there’s no need to rush through this.” I poured her some water from the pitcher on the table. She took a long, gulping drink. She calmed, and took another piece of gum out.
“The guy said he didn’t know how long he had been down there, but he knew it had been months.” I shuddered at the idea. “He was gaunt, and his hair was long and unkempt, though you’ll see that on the video. He said Hagsford didn’t feed him often.”
I took down her story, what was left of it, and headed back to the office after making sure she was alright. I spent the rest of the day looking over the notes, then working on a puff piece my editor had given me. I didn’t think much of earlier, figuring it would lead nowhere.
I checked with a guy in IT, and grabbed an old VCR. Later, at home, after hooking up the VCR, I watched the tape. It started with her outside Hagsford Manor, saying she’d found out about the prison cells when her daughter came home from working as a maid there. The daughter had gone missing, but not before she told her mom about the cells.
“I’m going in to find them, to find her.” For about 13 minutes, the footage showed her wandering the halls, until she came to a door in the back of a broom closet. It was just as she’d said, a row of prison cells. There was a guy, rail thin, with a beard down to his chest, who told her everything she’d told me earlier that morning.
The next morning, I took everything I had to my editor. We ran through the tapes, and the notes I had taken. He paced his office for a few minutes while we spoke. He was visibly shaking, and the color had run from his face. He sat at his desk, and placed his palms face down on its cluttered surface, bracing himself.
“Ok. Here’s what we’re going to do. You take that tape down to IT, and see if they can digitize it. Then, you write a story to go with it. We’ll throw it up on the web. In the meantime, I’ll get on the phone with the sheriff and DA’s office.” he was looking at the mess on his desk like it was giving him the answers of what to do, “We’ll get their side of what’s going on, and work from there.”
“We raided the place. Hagsford wasn’t there.” Sherriff Johnson said, stubbing out a cigarette. He and I sat at a bar, going over what happened. “Found a body in the cells. We’ll leave a guard up there, keep an eye on the place.” He shook his head, and took another drink. “I’ll have someone come check on you at night. Posting your story, you might be a target now.”
“You don’t think he’ll really come after me? I figured he’d have jumped town, right?” It sounded dumb as soon as I said it.
“It’s likely, but just as likely he’s hiding somewhere. Holed up with a bit of his money, hoping not to get pinched.”
“Ah, great. Well, I better get going, got a bit more work tonight. Cheers.” I finished my beer, and headed off.
I sat in my apartment, jumping at shadows for days. After about a week, I was in the kitchen, mixing a drink to help calm my nerves, when a knock came at the door. I didn’t need to look through the peephole; I knew it was the police. As I opened the door, I heard a loud CRACK, and felt myself crumple to the floor. I heard several more shots fired, before blacking out.
When I woke, I was in a hospital. There were two officers, and a doctor fussing over papers and screens hooked up to me. Turns out, Hagsford tried to kill me, but hadn’t anticipated the police arriving. Lucky for me, they took him down, and saved my life. Sadly, we never found out why he had the prison. That’s life, I guess.