'My laptop's been stolen.'
'Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry to hear that. But hey – you'd had it a while anyway.' He shifted in his seat, switched the phone to his other ear. 'Tell you what, I'll buy you a new one.'
'It's not that. You don't understand.'
'What is it, then?'
'We're on it.'
With those three words, Gabriel Priest's world crumbled. 'We're on it.' That she had been so stupid, so careless, that they could be exposed in this way, was unthinkable. He had warned her time and again about storing images and files securely. 'Don't leave anything on your hard drive. Get it off there, encrypt it, keep the data in a safe or something…' She'd laughed at him, thought him paranoid.
Gabriel took a series of deep breaths, tried to steady himself.
She didn't reply immediately. He heard her breathing. Then, finally, she said; 'I left it on a train.'
'You stupid… anybody could have it! Anybody at all.' He pressed his fist to his forehead. 'Wait a minute. You said it had been stolen.'
'Soon as I was on the platform, I realised I didn't have it. I got straight back on once the crowd had cleared and went back to my seat.' He heard her swallow. 'It wasn't there.'
'When you say "We were on it", just how much…?'
'Everything. Us. And everything else.' He heard the doorbell ringing in the background. 'Gabe, I have to go. I'll call you back as soon as I can.'
'When did this happen?'
'Last night, coming back down from Manchester.' She hung up.
Gabriel sat and stared at the handset in disbelief. Hands shaking, he put the phone down on the rest.
The damn thing could be anywhere by now. It could be on eBay! Right now, some thieving little toerag could be beating the password protection, assuming there even was any password protection, and looking at…
He started to hyperventilate. Christ, this couldn't be happening, not to him! He was God's chorister, he had the primetime Sunday evening slot on television. Not one of those do-it-yourself channels either: even in his distress he sneered at the thought of Peter Stone, the cheap sets, the second rate backing singers. Gabriel had only the best; Gabriel was on the BBC.
He squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Images danced through his brain, images that were very likely stored on Rebecca's laptop. It wasn't just the two of them, although that was bad enough. He was a pillar of the community, a paragon of virtue, a holy paradigm. If video footage of the things he and Rebecca got up to was made public… even in the mask, it was obviously him. In some of the clips, he was singing 'Jerusalem'. Then there were the boys from the choir, his trumpeting angels, as Rebecca called them, young and fresh-faced, doing his bidding because they trusted him, believed in him. How could he ever explain that! No-one at the BBC would understand that.
The BBC! What if someone gave the laptop to the BBC? It would be a major news story, for all he was one of their own, they would show him no mercy. He imagined the announcer, his voice deep, his expression grave, telling the nation of the downfall of Gabriel Priest. There'd be reporters chasing Faith down the street. She'd laughed about it when they pursued her before the wedding. He doubted she'd be laughing when this came out. If, he reminded himself. If this came out. He'd think of something.
The phone rang and he seized it. 'Rebecca!'
'Mr Priest?' It was a voice Gabriel didn't recognise. 'Gabriel Priest? That is you, isn't it?'
Gabriel's heart was in his mouth.
'My name is George Woodward. I'm the senior investigative reporter with The Sun newspaper. I have a laptop computer in my possession…'
Gabriel shrieked and threw down the phone. The Sun! The tabloids would have a field day, they loved nothing better than a fallen hero. It was so cruel, so unfair. They'd chase the kids, his mother, they'd hound the whole family.
And they would crucify him.
He realised he was standing up, arms out to the sides. He sat back down. He would go to prison. He would go to prison for a long time. There were people there who would… do things to him. Hurt him. Well, he wouldn't let it happen. He wouldn't. They weren't going to get him. He still had some choice in the matter. Tears were streaming down his face, but his mind was made up. Gabriel went out to the garage and quickly found what he was looking for. Within minutes, he was working the rope into a noose, looping the end over the roof beams in the loft. He stood at the edge of the hatch and eyed the drop; more than enough for his purposes.
Rebecca raised a glass of champagne in a gesture of salute to her companion. 'Cheers!' she said.
'Cheers, sweetheart.' Peter Stone drank deeply from the glass in his hand, then lay back against the pillows with a satisfied sigh. 'That was beautiful.'
She smiled, not sure whether he meant the sex or the meeting he'd just attended at the BBC when he had reluctantly accepted the recently vacated primetime religious programme slot. 'Do the voice again,' she urged him.
He obliged. 'My name is George Woodward. I'm the senior investigative reporter with The Sun newspaper. I have a laptop computer in my possession…'
They both cracked up laughing. Rebecca stood and retrieved the bottle of champagne from the ice bucket on the sideboard. She refilled their glasses, then as an afterthought moved her laptop to the desk, out of harm's way.
BIO: Julie Morgan lives by the seaside in the north east of England. She has previously been published on Muzzle Flash and (as Julie Wright) in Out of the Gutter, Flash Pan Alley and here on Powder Burn Flash.