Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot...

School Bus WreckGarrett was unconscious when the call came in. Wedged back in a corner of The Pit’s skanky sofa, he’d dozed off to the dulcet tones of Bob Barker sleepwalking through another episode. But about halfway through Plinko, Hector burst into the tiny alcove yelling something about a school bus wreck, Camilla and Live Three. Suddenly he was up grabbing keys and batteries as he headed out the door, Camilla behind him, wrestling with her bag and one of those cheesy News Leader 3! jackets. Outside, Garrett realized why. The late morning sky was purple and gray, low clouds with the makings of a midday monsoon roiled in the distance. Looking at the live truck keys in his hand, he read the letters etched into the plastic orange fob. Live 3. Damn! Spotting the relic parked in a corner spot, he headed that way. As he did, the first of a million raindrops began to fall, the larger ones darkening his threadbare shirt. By the time he’d slung the rest of his gear into the faded white Suburban and backed it out of the lot, the shirt hung like a wet beach towel on him. Riding shotgun, Camille cradled a cell phone and scribbled down directions. Garrett pulled a knob and encrusted wipers skittered across antique glass, turning the windshield into an abstract canvas, slathered in pollen, mud and bug guts. Halfway down the driveway, the fabled news chariot back-fired causing a fat squirrel dash from a nearby bush. Turning out on the street, Live Three rocked from side to side before centering up, at which point Garrett looked in the rearview mirror and reviewed his new assignment.

“This s-u-u-u-u-u-cks…”

Thirteen minutes they pulled up on scene, a dipping curve in an otherwise featureless country road. The ride over had not been pleasant. As he always did, Garrett drove like a pyro en route to a barn fire, causing Camille to not once, twice but thrice curse his choice of RPM’s. It didn’t help that the rain really picked up just as they got on Highway 42, a twisting country corridor known for it’s own collisions. And then there was Live Three - by far the hoopty of the lot. Garrett and the fellas had been trying to kill Live 3 for years, but the ’83 SUV with the stubby mast and peeling logos just wouldn’t die. Nor would it hydroplane, a fact Garrett tested several times on his way to the ‘bus ax‘. Anything to piss Camille off, a woman he’d despised since she introduced him as ’her photographer’ to a deputy he’d drank moonshine with the weekend before. Arrogant shrew, he thought and chose to avoid her. But on occasion he couldn’t help it, like when the News Gods hurled down ill-timed thunderbolts in the form of crumpled school buses. Garrett’s only consolation were in the odds. Eight out of ten school bus wrecks turn out to be mild fender-benders, usually involving pissy kids and hidden mailboxes. In fact he would have bet the six dollars in his pocket that this would be the same, until the hospital helicopter flew overhead.

“Showtime…” Camille said, as they parked behind a row of fire trucks.

With that, she gingerly pulled the hood of her freebie jacket over her carefully coiffed hair and jumped out of Live Three. Jogging ahead, she held a thin reporter’s notebook to her chest, head down, her matching pumps kicking up water with every step. Never sure how women could run in those things, Garrett didn’t have time to ponder. He had a mast to raise, a signal to establish, lights to rig up and a tripod to deploy. That didn’t include the umpteen shots of the broken bus he’d need - provided he could even get to it through the growing maze of pick-ups ambulances and fire engines. Throwing open Live 3’s back doors, Garrett reached in and flipped the sticky toggle switch that fired up the generator. For once, it sputtered to life easily, freeing him to scan the air above the live truck for any overhanging obstruction. Look up and live, he thought as he threw the lever that pumped air into the broadcast mast’s age old cylinder. With a heavy wheeze, the telescopic pole inched upward - its faded red cable unfurling around it. As it grew, Garrett gathered gear around him. Camera, sticks, microphone…he was almost ready to go when 'Tri-City's NewsWatch Five' pulled up, a gleaming red satellite truck slathered in grinning anchor faces. "G. Lee on the scene", the truck’s tattooed driver cracked from the dryness of his cockpit.

But Garrett didn’t hear him. He was too busy running.

(To Be Continued...)

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