“You’re the naked cameraman from TV!” She screeched with sudden recognition, and shrank behind a rack of novelty bumper stickers, then peeked out. “Did I really say that out loud?”
“Yes, I am, and you did.” I punched the price of her cold drink and newspaper into the cash register. “One twenty-seven.”
Her eyes shifted nervously from the bumper stickers to my belt buckle to the front page photo. There I was, in all my black and white glory, hands raised like a suspect at gunpoint, but it was a fireman’s hose holding me at bay. Water droplets glistened in the tight curls of my frizzy mullet. No shirt, no pants, and a scrap of sheet stretched in front of the good parts. Emergency lights behind me created a halo-effect around my torso and projected a shadow of my twig and berries on the small sheet. A strategically placed black bar made the picture fit to print in a family publication.
She handed me two dollars and strained at a shy grin. “Must have been pretty cold.”
It had been that way since I’d arrived at work that morning. Just forty-five minutes into my shift and I was ready to crawl under a rock. I could handle the men; a bawdy comment about shrinkage was usually enough. But how do you answer a grandmother or co-ed?
“Yeah,” was all I could muster. I dropped seventy three cents into her hand.
“It must be fascinating being a cameraman. Running to wrecks and murders and meeting all those interesting people.” Gold flecks sparkled in her big brown eyes.
She was trying to flirt, but I just wanted her to leave. “I wouldn’t know. KELC fired me. And they had never actually hired me in the first place.”
“That sucks.” She wrinkled her nose.
“Nobody else would even answer the radio. I lugged all that gear three blocks, to get shots of that damned overturned tanker. Then, that bastard Weaver from the competition shows up, grinning like a possum eating shit and shoots my little striptease.”
“Sorry I brought it up.”
“Nah, I’m sorry. You didn’t come in here to listen to a minimum-wage cashier bitch and moan. It’s just that bastard Weaver took my gear when they packed me in the ambulance. Then, he uses my shots in his story. That son-of-a-bitch.”
“I thought he was a bastard.” She joked putting the change into her purse.
“He’s both. I wouldn’t piss on his guts if they were on fire. I’m sorry. Bitching again.”
“That’s okay. It sounds like you got hosed . . . Sorry, bad pun.” Her lips hitched between a wince and a smile.
“Yeah, really bad.” I shook my head and tried to disguise a smile. “But look, it’s my first smile of the day. Thanks.”
“If you need some cheering up, there’s a big party tonight.”
“I think I’ll stew in my own juices for a while.”
“If you change your mind, it’s at The Cotton Gin. You should come – it’s dark in there. Nobody will recognize you.” She dropped the change in her purse and bounced out of the store.
The slap of another newspaper on my counter dragged my attention back from the door.
“Good thing I’m not on fire.” Jim Weaver laughed from the other side of my counter. “You got balls.” He set his cold drink counter. “Not that I could see ‘em.”
I had met Weaver once before he made my privates public. He was a round man with round eyes, an uneven mustache, and bristly gray hair half way around head. His right shoulder sagged a little lower than his left, and his left eye squeezed into a permanent half-wink from years peering through the lens of a television camera.
“Really, I looked at your video last night.”
“Looked at it? It was all over your story.”
“You expected me to just hand it over to KELC? You needed a tripod, but it was good for a rookie. You’ve got a good eye – too good to be ringing-up newspapers in a shop-n-rob. You might make it in this business.”
“Tell that to Cranch. He fired me for the ‘over exposure.’”
“Yeah, I feel pretty bad about that, but I couldn’t not shoot it.” Weaver dug his hands in his pocket and shifted from one foot to the other. “Hell, you even shot it yourself. Or tried to.”
I had almost forgotten that I had rolled tape too.
“The focus was soft, and it was a little dark, but I used it in the story for the morning show, just to piss off Cranch.” Weaver grinned slyly. “Like I said, you got balls, kid.”
I wanted to jump across the counter and beat the crap out of him, but it was hard not to like Weaver.
“How’d you like to rub his face in it?”
“What do you mean?”
“One of my guys walked off the job two weeks ago. The News Director wants me to hire some hot-shot college grad who thinks he’s Edward R. Murrow and Cecil B. DeMille all rolled into one. I want you.”
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that hiring a photog is like looking to score at The Cotton Gin – eager beats pretty, every time." He laughed at his own joke. “Anybody can point a lens and hit record. But you’ve got an eye, and what you did to get those shots – taking your own car, hiking in with all that gear, sneaking out of the command post – that tells me you’ve got the fire that makes a good photog.”
“How do you know about all of that?”
“I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you. You want the job or not?”
“When do I start?” I practically jumped over the counter, this time to hug him.
“Don’t be too eager. We ain’t talked money.”
“Look around. It would be illegal to pay me less than I get here.”
Weaver laughed again and shook my hand. “When do you get off?”
“I can be off now.”
He shook his head. “No, no. Come see me tomorrow.” Weaver headed for the door.
“Eager, I like that,” he called over his shoulder as the door closed behind him.