“G. Lee, load up in Live Six! Some kids founds another body out by the airport! Take Jani!”
Garrett shot the assignment editor a theatric scowl before rising from his hiding spot and strolling toward the newsroom exit. He’d almost made it when a stunning young brunette in a bright yellow business suit popped out of her cubicle and momentarily stunned him with her exotic perfume.
“G. Lee, is it?” she said flashing a megawatt smile and extending an impossibly manicured hand. “I‘m Jani Avery.”
“G-Garrett.” he said, taking her hand in his. It felt perfectly smooth, deliciously different from his own tripod-tortured pawss. She grinned deeper, revealing secondary dimples to go along with the perfect teeth. For a second he marveled at how good she smelled before abruptly breaking her velvet grip, lest she feel his pulse race through his calloused fingertips. “Lemme load up and we’ll go” he mumbled uncomfortably before shuffling off toward the live trucks. As he left WSLP's newest weekend anchor to gather her designer things, G. Lee fumbled with his cell phone.
“Lloyd, you seen the new weekend chick? She looks like a toothpaste model!”
“Yeah,” Lloyd’s voice came through the cell phone speaker, “She was Miss South Carolina or somethin’. I ain’t seen her on-air but I can report she looks damn fine on a billboard.”
Garrett hit the cell phone's end button as Jani opened the door and placed her makeup kit on the live truck‘s passenger seat. Wiggling upward in her tight yellow skirt, the pageant veteran maneuvered past a bag of half-eaten Cheetos before reluctantly buckling in to Live Six. When she did, Garrett dropped the van into reverse and gunned it. Seconds later they were on the interstate, hurtling toward his three hundredth cop car convention and her very first. As Garrett piloted the cumbersome news van through midday traffic, he stole glances at his glossy partner’s drop-dead profile.
“So, where is it you’re joining us from, Miss Avery?”
“Savannah, I was the weekend anchor. Plus I had a cooking show and a fashion segment…”
As the highly photogenic young woman recounted the highlights of her sixteen month TV career, Garrett glanced at his watch, the speedometer and the rear view mirror. As the words poured out, a touch of the low country twang she’d fought so hard to lose crept in. G made a mental note to ask about that later but for the moment pretended to be interested in her stint as Savannah’s Newscast Sweetheart. She was a local spokesmodel when he drifted into the lane for the airport exit. By the time he’d piloted the rolling billboard to the terminal turn-off, she’d beamed her way onto her last station’s weekend news desk. As they closed in on a cluster of flashing blue lights in the distance, she’d grown tired of reading small-time teleprompters. Before he picked a level piece of grass to park on, her agent shopped her tape around and quickly scored her an anchor-reporter gig in a larger market. Which is how she’d come to be riding shotgun on body-watch this muggy August morning. Throughout her tale of promo shoots and makeovers, the perfectly coiffed hostess never mentioned committing any journalism. When Garrett asked if she’d ever reported, her chirpy reply chilled him to the photog bone.
“No, but I’ve done tons of shopping mall remotes.”
Garrett examined her every gorgeous feature for signs of deceit. She was either putting him on, or the beauty queen to his right was about to get her expertly groomed head scrambled. Either way, he thought as he looked at his watch, it’s gonna be an interesting half hour. Before he climbed out of the van, he pointed to a group of detectives gathering under a grove of nearby trees. They’d barely looked up when Garrett parked the live truck, but he was betting his passenger could get their attention. Flipping the generator switch on the dashboard, he yanked on the door handle and gave Jani the first in a series of directions.
“Go see how close they’ll let you get. I’m gonna set up. We’re live in twenty five minutes.
With that Garrett rolled out of the news car and very nearly gagged. A sickeningly sweet odor wafted from the grove, blending with a most pungent funk to invade his every pore. The late summer humidity made the foul smell thick and soupy, like a cobweb of rot draped over all five senses. Instinctively, he buried his nose into his chest and opened the live truck’s brightly logo’d rear door. Flipping the switches needed to send the truck's mast poking skyward, he watched the on-board hottie exit the van. She was looking for a place to set her bright yellow shoes when the smell hit her. Her crystalline features scrunched inward as she tried to repell the smell from her sinuses. In the moment it took Garrett to glance at a transmitter dial, the 23 year old princess wiggled back into the cab and slammed the door.
“What’s up?” he asked without a trace of a smile, fighting to appear normal as the odor threatened to melt the protective coating on his prescription sunglasses.
“The…smell! I’ve - never… “Four words into the sentence, she found the silky handkerchief she was looking for and buried her pretty face in it.
As his company’s newest hire began to dry-heave into expensive silk, Garrett thought about the slowly rising mast, the quickly ticking second hand on his battered watch, the room full of impatient experts back at the shop.
“Look,” he said, searching for his gentlest tone. “in about twenty two minutes, a fat guy named Carl’s gonna punch a button that’ll put your face in a whole lot of living rooms around here. You’re gonna want some details to share with all those housewives.”
Her dark eyes flashed from behind the floral silk. At first Garrett thought she might curse or cry, but instead she muttered something in sorority-ese and got out of the live truck. As she stomped off, her expensive shoes all but disappeared in the field’s soft mud. He couldn’t help but enjoy the view as she strove for dignity as she shook cow shit form her designer heels. Only then did the detectives in the distance look up - if only to get a better look at the voluptuous news bunny headed their way. Garrett could have watched the young woman walk all day but he had a mobile TV studio to put together and under twenty minutes to do it.
Eight minutes later he was all but done. With the truck’s mast extended to its full height of fifty feet, Garrett had positioned the transmitter mast so that it faced the receive site miles away. When the engineer back at the station deemed the color bars acceptable, he hung up the phone and began plugging cables into the back of his Sony XDCam. After that he tested his wireless microphone and tweaked the light he’d erected. Looking up, he saw his new reporter talking to the tallest detective, her handkerchief still covering her face. Every couple of seconds she took her hand away from her face to scribble in her notebook. That familiar journalistic sight made Garrett feel better, a sensation that lasted a good five seconds before the yellow suited figure in the distance bent at the waist and began to wretch. ’You gotta be kidding me,’ he thought as he swung his lens in the direction of the gagging tiara-ciurcuit vet. On the tiny screen, he watched a woman who would soon grace the region’s billboard circuit spill what looked to be bacon and eggs all over her shoes. For the first time all morning, he wasn’t entranced by her beauty and the fleeting lucidity pushed him into action.
Bounding across the muddy field, Garrett met Jani and her new detective friend about halfway to the prone figure underneath the trees. Jani looked gray, then green, then gray again. The cop said nothing; he only gave Garrett a half-amused look as he handed the shaken pageant diva over to her shaggy partner. Garrett mumbled thanks and took Jani’s elbow but she jerked it out of his grip, using her pedicured hand to wipe away a string of spittle from her glossy lips. Normally, Garrett may have doubled over in laughter or shrunk back in disgust, but the only thing he could think about as they trudged back to the truck was a certain fat guy named Carl. That slob would punch up a picture of his own mother taking a dump if a producer told him to. A heaving news queen wouldn’t stand a chance in the wither of his bank of monitors’ collective gaze. Which is why Garrett punched the station’s phone number in his cell phone. But before he could tell the control room to kill the shot, Jani pantomimed madly for his attention.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
“I was gonna call off the live hit.”
“Why?” she shrieked, as if a little pre-shot vomit were a normal part of the newsgathering process.
Garrett lowered the phone and looked at her. Hair no longer quite as coiffed as before and lipstick smeared, she looked like a stewardess after a bar fight. Fighting the urge to laugh, Garrett looked at his watch and saw the big hand sweep the 11.
“Can you be ready in five minutes?”
“You damn skippy,” she muttered as she lunged for her make-up kit. From the abyss of the case, she extracted the tools of her trade: brush, hairspray, lipstick and toothbrush. As she surveyed her instruments, Garrett framed up a background shot of the distant detectives and handed the disheveled diva his wireless microphone. Without returning his gaze she took the mic and pinned it to her still rumpled lapel. Not knowing exactly was about to happen, Garrett panned the lens over to her and tweaked the focus. Sing, shout or spew, Jani Avery was about to make her midday debut. He only hoped she didn’t get any on him. But the beauty queen wasn’t about to yak on screen. In fact, as the control room voices counted backwards in her earpiece, Jani’s appearance slowly coalesced. By the time Carl fat fingered that fat glowing button, she radiated glamour, credibility and not a hint of upchuck.
“That’s right, Glenn. Two kids walking their dogs made the grisly discovery just about a half hour ago. From what detectives tell me, it is the badly decomposed body of a full grown male. Now they wouldn’t say much more than that, they did allude to the fact that this could be related to the other bodies found in the tri-county region this month…”
As she tied today’s events into the marquee hysteria of the past few weeks, Garrett stared at the one inch screen inside his camera’s eyepiece. Nothing he saw betrayed the fact that the object of his lens had just tossed her cookies - a pungent feat quickly being shadowed by her incredible recovery. When she brought her sixty second report to a logical close, Carl punched another button and cleared their shot. Garrett was about to congratulate his new partner when the phone on his hip rang.
“Da-yumn! The new chick’s hot! Why don’t you guys meet us at Leonard’s for some bar b cue?”
“I dunno,” Garrett said as he watched Jani rake the dry toothpaste across her tongue. “We gotta go interview the cops now.”
Garrett hung up without waiting for a reply. As the beautiful woman jabbed the toothbrush in her mouth, he unplugged cables and flipped off switches, surprised at just how much he liked the new girl.