“That’s not how he died!”
Cecile’s words hung there in the stale trailer air, slowly floating toward the pockmarked ceiling as the woman in the housecoat gaped at the once pretty reporter. Behind the camera, G. Lee dropped his head and tried to assume the shape of his tripod. That. Bitch. He could only stare at the frayed green carpet as he fully absorbed what his partner had just done. Why would she do that? Shaking his head slowly, G. Lee realized he already knew. Cecile couldn’t help it. Whether she was yakking uncontrollably in her cell phone, shouting intimate details across a crowded newsroom, or dredging up the name of her dead husband, the woman was physically unable to keep her mouth shut. He’d known this for years, of course. It’s why she was so damn effective. However distasteful, Cecile’s nosey nature and inability to be ignored made her a formidable reporter, the last person you’d want to see knocking on your company’s door if you were embezzling funds or diddling an assistant. But scandal was never enough for Cecile. She preferred fatalities. Why else would she volunteer to climb every widow’s porch that popped up in the Tri-City region?
Over the years, G. Lee had pointed his camera at scores of reporters. Beauty queens, policy wonks, circus clowns: to a person they’d approached grieving family members with a mix of resignation and dread. Not Cecile. She seemed to thrive on heartache, swooping in on hapless survivors like some overdressed angel of death. It was the same pitch every time. Barging in, she’d feign sympathy, drop a few details of her darling Nelson’s untimely demise and pronounce herself a sister in sorrow. More times than not, the families would relent instantly to the loud woman’s seduction; agree to wear a microphone, cough up a picture or two of the recently deceased. That’s when G. Lee’s stomach would usually turn; not just because of her unsavory tactics, but because she was so damn good at them. Mostly, he avoided her. But that schmuck Hoyle had called in sick this morning, forcing G. to load up in a live truck and accompany Cecile to her latest dayside atrocity. Now he was hunched over his rig in a poor family’s living room, as Cecile insisted on telling a blubbering mother that her son hadn’t perished on scene, but had suffered for hours at the hospital before the car wreck’s injuries killed him.
“W-w-what do you mean?” the woman in a housecoat asked.
“Well,” Cecile said as she glanced to make sure the camera was rolling, “the trooper told me Davy was still alive when they loaded him into the chopper. Said he lasted three more hours before - you know - the internal bleeding was just too much.”
With that, the room erupted. Mother collapsed in a heap of grief, wailing in a way that always reminded G. Lee of his very first drowning. He tried to console her, but before he could fully stand up, a beefy teenager in a Mark Martin t-shirt rushed in to the room, saw his Mama in pain and yelled something over his shoulder. Suddenly the room was full of men folk, each a head taller and a good deal wider than the news team combined. One of them grabbed G. Lee’s camera and tried to lift it off the tripod, but the heavy sticks came with it, slowing him down long enough to allow G. Lee time to grab it. Together they wrestled it toward the door, as more male family members poured into the room from the back of the mobile home. Cecile tried to placate the crowd, but too many people were yelling for words to have any effect. All G. Lee could do was clutch his gear to his chest as the angry cousins, brothers and kin bounced him from one beer belly to the next. Mercifully, someone opened the trailer’s screen door and he and Cecile were shoved down the rickety steps, their wireless microphone flying out behind them. The men folk followed, chests expanded, fists balled up and breathing fire. Still believing she could make everything right, Cecile begged the man to 'just listen' to her. But they’d had enough of the intruders and were about to further demonstrate their displeasure when G. managed to pull his reporter free.
“Cecile, GET IN THE DAMN TRUCK!”
Surprised at her photog’s tone, Cecile relented and stomped off toward the live truck. G. Lee turned and tried to apologize to the men, but reconsidered when he saw one of them fingering the snap on his Leatherman case. Bending to pick up the microphone, G. Lee shoved it into his runbag and trudged off after Cecile, hoping he’d make it to the truck before he was felled by any flying pocket knives. When he climbed into the driver’s seat thirty seconds later, Cecile was buckled up and fumbling with her precious cell phone. Snatching it out of her hands, G. Lee threw it into the floorboard and leaned uncomfortably close toward his on-air talent.
“I swear Cecile, you ever pull shit like that again and I’ll gut you like a fish and call your kin while YOU bleed --”
G. stopped himself, suddenly aware he was threatening a coworker. Leaning back in his own seat, he cranked the key hard, dropped the lumbering beast into Drive and flung dirt as he left the trailer park. Beside him, Cecile only stared through the windshield, a shocked expression struggling to pierce through her Botox injections. They made the trip back to the station in utter silence, but G. Lee knew that would end just as soon as Cecile made it back to the news director‘s office.
After all, the woman just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.