Reader’s short story: The Camera Never Lies in Fast Forward, by Richard Gallimore

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The inspector was concluding his police cadets’ induction at the training centre.

He always liked to end with a teaser. It had been the same one for the last 15 years and none of his many hundreds of trainees had been able to solve it.

“So,” he began. “This is the scenario.

“It concerns three people: the son of the then chief constable, a graduate and a female sergeant.”

The inspector paused and looked around to ensure his wide-eyed audience had taken this part in.

“The trio went to north Wales for a survival and initiative test. The objective was to see how they worked as a team and to determine which of the two men was a natural leader.

“They took three tents and survival gear to Snowdonia. We did not expect to hear from the party until they reported in three days later.

“When they failed to report back the alarm went out. We soon located their car. A search party followed a trail and within two hours the three tents and scattered personal belongings were found. Worryingly what could only be described as human marks were seen along and towards the edge of the mountain.

“The S&R team radioed colleagues to search the bottom of the mountain. They soon found three bodies which had obviously fallen hundreds of feet and stood no chance of survival.

“Beyond that we can only speculate – other than at the top amongst personal belongings we found the police camera which had been left switched on but on replaying the tape there was nothing to be seen.”

The inspector smiled to himself thinking, ‘They’re a bright lot but this one’s a real puzzler.’

A hand went up.

“Yes, Peterson?”

“I reckon the blokes were fighting over the girl.”

“Could be, even though she was newly married,” replied the inspector to loud guffaws.

“Yes, Rogers?”

“Sir, what sort of camera did they take?”

“Funny you should say that since I always have it handy in case someone like you should ask. Here, it’s a Sony U-matic. Why?”

“Sir, may I have a closer decko?”

The inspector gave the Sony-U-matic to Rogers who held it expertly.

“Know anything about these, Rogers? They’re old technology.”

“A bit sir. You any equipment to play the tape?”

The inspector went to a cupboard and dragged out an old-looking video player.

When the unit was showing a green light, Rogers’ finger hovered over the start button and, turning to the inspector, said: “Here goes.”

There, in stark colour, were some of the most beautiful scenes in Snowdonia. Off-screen raised voices could be heard.

As the camera quickly panned round and then appeared to be hurriedly placed on the ground while still running, two men came into view. To the inspector they were clearly recognisable as the chief constable’s son and the graduate.

He stood in a trance as he watched. The sound was down but distinct as everyone heard the shouting, the gist of which was that both men felt they had the right to be the team leader and both fancied the newly-married female sergeant.

As she appeared on-screen trying to restore order by pulling rank, a fight broke out between the two men who were now wrestling. In spite of her best efforts to contain them, all three disappeared as one over the edge of the mountain. The film had lasted about 60 seconds.

“How in hell did you manage that, Rogers?”

“My father was a cameraman with London Weekend TV in the late seventies when Sony U-mats, as they were known, were all the rage in TV and, I suppose, the police force.”

The inspector now knew what had happened to the trio but wondered how this snivelling little recruit had been able to achieve what neither he, the combined police forces or god knows how many recruits who had passed through his hands had been unable to.

“According to my father, back in the eighties LWT, as the company was called, introduced large-scale economies, one of which was to save on video tape.

“Outside of TV it was a little known fact that if you record at default speed you record on the full width of the tape, but if you wish to economise on video you use half width.

“Whether it was by accident, design or fate someone or something evidently switched the default button so the tape was recording on half bandwidth. You’d have to know about this little button,” Rogers pointed to a nearly invisible recessed green blob which he flicked.

“So when you play this tape in default mode you’re running full width of the tape… but put the thing into this direction,” Rogers flicked the green blob once more, “and you get the half band.

“Maybe it was set at half band by someone in the camera unit to save on tape while the team was in Snowdonia.

“Anyway that’s how everyone missed the recording: firstly because it was on an inaccessible part of the tape, yet it’s been there the whole time, and, secondly, because somehow the camera got reset back to Sony’s own default mode once it was retrieved by the rescuers.

“So now inspector, your 15-year mystery is solved: simply because of Sony technology which no-one in the force thought about. It’s called Fast Forward.’

“Play it again, Rogers,” requested the inspector gently.

Rogers did as asked.

For the first time in 15 years, tears filled the inspector’s eyes. So now he knew - as he watched the video and saw the unfolding of events he realised that this young female sergeant had done her duty: in being faithful to her marriage and by trying to save the lives of two jealous male colleagues.

He would never see her again but now he really knew what had happened to his bride of six weeks and it had taken a Sony fast forward button and a rookie cop to reveal the truth.