Ghosts Know

Ramsey Campbell

Tor Books

1
ON THE AIR


 
“And another thing about all these immigrants,” Arthur from Stockport declares. “You won’t want anybody hearing about the factory that’s had to change its name.”
“You’re here to enlighten us, Arthur.”
“Don’t patronise me, Mr Wilde.”
I’ve never had a caller make my name sound so much like an insult, though he’s had plenty of competition. Beyond the soundproof window of the studio Christine twirls one finger in the air. “You’ve got just a minute, Arthur,” I tell him. “We’re nearly at the news.”
“You always put anyone who thinks like me on last, don’t you, Mr Wilde? Bob from Blackley, he’s another. You haven’t let us on for weeks and now I’ve not got time to say what I came on for.”
“You’re using up your minute, Arthur.”
“It was a muslin factory till the lot who took all the jobs said it sounded too much like Muslim. They didn’t fancy the idea you could make those in a factory, so they told the boss they’d get him done for being racist if he didn’t call it a fabric manufacturer.”
“Where did you hear about that, Arthur?”
“It’s well known, Mr Wilde. Just try talking to a few people that live in the real world. And before you ask, the factory’s somewhere in Lancashire. Pakishire, we’ll have to call it if they carry on like this.”
“You mustn’t use words like that on here, Arthur.”
“It’s all right to call us Brits, but they won’t let us call them—”
“That’s all from Wilde Card for another lunchtime,” I say not quite fast enough to blot out his last word, and flick the switch to cut him off. “Here’s Sammy Baxter with the news at two o’clock.”
I take off my headphones as Christine switches the output to the news studio. I’m leaning back in the swivel chair to wriggle my shoulders and stretch when Rick Till blunders in, combing his unruly reddish hair at the same time as dragging his other arm free of his leather jacket. He’s always this harassed when he’s due on the air, even though he isn’t for five minutes. “All yours, Rick,” I say as he hangs the jacket on the back of my chair.
Samantha’s newscast meets me in the control room. “Kylie Goodchild’s mum made an emotional appeal…” The fifteen-year-old is still missing, but we don’t hear just her mother’s voice; it’s underlaid by the kind of tastefully mournful music that films use to demonstrate they’re serious. I’m so offended by the artificiality that I yank the outer door open and demand “Whose idea was that?”
Christine comes after me and lays a hand on my shoulder. “Graham…”
Some of the reporters and presenters in the large unpartitioned newsroom glance up from their desks, and Trevor Lofthouse lifts his head. He shakes it to flip back a lock of hair and adjusts his flimsy rectangular spectacles but doesn’t otherwise respond. “Do we really think we have to manipulate the listeners like that?” I’m determined to establish. “Do we think they won’t care otherwise?”
“What are you saying is manipulation?” Lofthouse retorts.
“Calling it an emotional appeal. What other kind is she going to make? Who needs to be told?” As the news editor’s spectacles twitch with a frown I say “And calling her the girl’s mum. What’s wrong with mother? It’s supposed to be the news, not somebody gossiping over a fence.”
“You’re off the air now, Graham. No need to start more arguments today.” Before I can retort that I never manufacture them he says “Why are you so bothered?”
“Maybe I hate clichés.” I sense that Christine would like me to leave it at that, but I resent the question too much. “Can’t we even broadcast an appeal without some music under it? We mustn’t think too highly of our audience if we think they need to be told what to feel.”
“It’s from Kylie Goodchild’s favourite film.”
Lofthouse doesn’t tell me so, and Christine doesn’t either. Paula Harding has opened her door and is watching me across the length of the newsroom. Even though she needs heels to reach five feet, it’s disconcerting that I didn’t notice her until she spoke—I’ve no idea how much she overheard. “Which film?” I suppose I have to ask.
To Kill a Mockingbird,” says Trevor. “Her class are studying the book at school and they were shown the film.”
I’d say it was an unusually worthy favourite for a girl of her age, but Paula calls “Can we talk in my office, Graham? I’ve just heard from one of your listeners.”
Christine gives my arm more of a squeeze than she ordinarily would at work, and I lay my hand over hers for a moment. As I head for Paula’s room everyone grows conspicuously busier at their desks. They’re embarrassed to watch me, but I suspect they’re also glad I’ve been singled out rather than them. Even Christine doesn’t know what I’m thinking, however. If Paula means to lecture me or worse, that may be all the excuse I need.


 
Copyright © 2011 by Ramsey Campbell