Saturday, January 14, 2017

Brothers in Scrum

"G. Lee, you on scene yet?"

"Negative. Interstate's at a standstill."

"Well, once you're there, throw up a picture. We're taking you at the top of the six."

G. Lee dropped the cell phone in his lap and stared through the windshield. A sea of brake lights stared back. He glanced at the dashboard clock. 5:40. Twenty minutes to get to what was sounding like the city's seventh homicide in as many weeks. In his lap, the cell phone began to vibrate again. Looking down, he saw it was The Desk again. 'Jesus', he muttered, before noticing the helicopter circling in the distance. G. Lee grabbed the steering wheel, yanked it to the right and stood on the gas pedal. Trapped commuters looked up from their own cellphones and watched the SUV with the oversized 7 on the door race by them in the breakdown lane. G. Lee didn't return their angry looks. He didn't have time.

Eight minutes later, he pulled into the housing development as his GPS chirped in her sunny, female voice.

"You've arrived at your destination."

Overhead, the Channel 3 chopper hovered, as if parked on a cloud. G. Lee didn't give it much thought, but he knew it was why his bosses were blowing up his phone. Up ahead, swirling blue lights bounced off the crumbling brick walls of the housing unit and washed over the curious faces of the crowd  assembling on the sidewalks. Only a few of the faces turned to watch as the news unit park behind a police cruiser. Even fewer kept watching as a shaggy-haired man in his mid-forties climbed out and walked around to the back of the SUV.

G. Lee raised the hatchback lid and without even looking, grabbed his gear. TV camera, industrial-sized tripod, bulging fanny-pack and what looked like an astronaut's lunchbox. He clicked the fanny-pack around his waist, hung the camera by its strap over his right shoulder, hoisted the tripod onto his left shoulder, grabbed the case with his one free hand and trudged up toward the clot of police cars.

At the edge of the yellow crime tape, a tall black man with a salt and pepper beard stood intertwined with his own tripod, his face buried in the blue glow of the Channel 4 camera's viewfinder. Several yards away, uniformed cops made small talk as detectives in rumpled dress clothes loitered on the porch of one of  the housing units. Hoyle Laxton twisted the barrel of his lens ever so slightly, bringing the detectives into sharp focus. He kept his eye glued to the viewfinder as G. Lee joined him at the crime tape.

"Where you been, G? Thought the coroner was gonna beat you here."         

G. Lee planted his tripod on the ground beside Hoyle's, lifted his camera atop of it and framed up a wide shot. As the camera rolled, he popped open the astronauts lunchbox, pressed a button on the transmitter inside and snaked a cable between it and the camera.

"Been suckin' fumes on I-40. Tradin' snapchats with your Mom. Cops talk yet?"

Hoyle snorted, never looking away from his camera's eyepiece. "Not yet. Check out the lady in the housecoat."

G. Lee scanned the crowd and spotted her, a large woman in a faded green housecoat. She was slumped over the roof a police car, her head buried in folded arms, round shoulders hitching as she fought to control her own sobbing. G. Lee zoomed in, locked down his shot and felt nothing at all. It's not that he couldn't empathize, but the callouses on his soul rarely allowed it to happen in real time.

"Think she's the victim's auntie. Cops ain't sayin'. You wanna dog-pile her?"

 "Not especially," G. Lee said. "Let the reporters do it when they get here."

With that, Hoyle and G. Lee fell silent as they recorded shot after shot of bored cops, parked police cars and rubbernecking locals. Soon, other news crews joined them and the kind of idle chatter found in media scrums the world over took place. It was rarely about the tragedy at hand. Rather, they traded war stories about blocked interstates, clueless assignment desks and the unquenchable thirst of the news beast that kept them all employed.

Most of the photogs knew each other well and generally looked out for one another. G. Lee and Hoyle were especially tight. They'd ping-ponged around the region for years, recognizing each others' silhouettes from a distance at house fires, jackknifed semi's, protests and presidential campaign stops. When Hoyle's wife left him, G. Lee listened to him lament the loss, then traded in the favor when it happened to him. It was the closest thing to a friendship either of these electronic loners would lay claim to and they helped each other more than their bosses ever knew.

Which is why it was so hard on G. Lee when what happened to Hoyle happened right in front of him...