The Bentley Hotel was an homage to finery: gray stone walls and tall fancy columns, brass-framed glass doors, and a fancy-pants doorman dressed in a colorful uniform. I parked at the door and jetted inside to check things out, no use bringing all that gear until I knew where I was headed.
The lobby was just as lush: mahogany desk, elaborate chandeliers, Persian rugs, and a winding marble staircase to the second floor. “Hey buddy, where’s the Chief Justice speaking?” I asked the first bellman I saw.
The bellman took one look at my blue jeans and snubbed me.
“We require proper attire in the lobby sir.” A cheerful voice came from behind the desk.
I turned to see hypnotizing golden eyes eyeing my “attire” with disdain. There was something familiar about her gaze. Where had I seen her before?
“Oh, Brock, it’s you. You can’t just pop in to see me like this. Especially dressed like that.”
“Uh, yeah.” I fumbled for my next line hoping the blank look on my face didn’t betray my clulessness. “I . . . uh . . . forgot that you worked here.”
“Well, I guess I can forgive you. We were both pretty trashed.”
The girl from the bar. What the hell was her name?
“I don’t usually get that wild,” she giggled.
And what the hell did we do?
She leaned across the reservation desk and her cleavage peeked through her swelling blouse.
“Me either.” I stared at her chest . . . for a name tag. “Susan, I’m working too. I’m here to shoot the Chief Justice.”
“Do I have to call security?”
Still flirting. Must have been pretty good. “With a camera. I’m working for KALX.”
“That’s different. The Bar Association is lunching in the Pelican Ballroom, second floor.”
“Thanks.” I turned to dash back to the Taurus for my gear.
“Hey, I had fun last night. Wanna do it again?”
“Yeah,” I called over my shoulder. “Gotta go. Can’t keep His Honor waiting.”
Heavy velvet drapes and plush burgundy carpet sucked every foot-candle of light out of the Pelican Ballroom. I barged right in, mid-introduction. Every eye in the place bored through my cocky shell. I knew someone was going to sue me for disturbing the “speech,” but I soldiered on.
I stooped in the darkest corner I could find to assemble my gear. Icky clicked into its lock on the tripod. The big blue multi-pin umbilical cord stretched from Icky to my recorder. I connected the 30 volt sun-gun to the battery belt strapped around my waist, and bolted it to the camera’s light post.
I’d never seen so many stuffed suits in my life. Every lawyer in the state must have been there. They crowded around tables covered in frilly, white table cloths, their hair receding; their stomachs distending. They stood in unison as Chief Justice Wallace Christophe strode to the podium.
I squeezed my way between chairs and tables slapping my recorder against attorneys and counselors all the way to front of the room and set my tripod fifteen feet from the dais.
The judge opened a manila folder containing his speech, and I switched on my light.
They call it a sun-gun for a reason.
About a ga-jillion watts hit the judge square in the face. He raised his hands and swatted at the rays like they were a hoard of angry mosquitoes. His face squinched like he’d bitten a green persimmon, and he tried to blink gathering tears from the corners of his eyes.
My heart pounded against my ribs. I just blinded a judge. At least he couldn’t see me on the dark side of the light.
“I’ll see you in court,” the judge warned in a scholarly voice, “if I ever see again.”
The room erupted with laughter. I wanted to hide under my tripod. When the attorneys had all taken their seats, the judge lowered his head and barreled right into his speech.
It happened about three minutes in.
Hey new guy.
The Chief Justice froze.
Damn voice pager!
Blow off the judge.
Weaver’s words echoed in my head. “It’s a voice pager. It’s great.” Great my ass. The brazen voice in the little box on my hip drowned-out anything His Honor was trying to say.
We don’t want him.
I melted into a puddle and tried to soak through the heavy carpet.
“I don’t want you either, New Guy.” The judge said like he’d issued his decree from the high court’s bench. The lawyers guffawed and pounded the tables.
I grabbed my shit and oozed out, banging every lawyer’s chair along the way. The girl with the golden eyes called after me as I rushed through the lobby. I didn’t even bother to wave. I just wanted to be gone.
I threw my gear into the trunk without disconnecting anything. The sooner I could be out of there the better.
Inside the car, the two-way was already calling. Hope the judge hadn’t started talking yet. Just come back, Boyd needs a photog.
“The judge was in the middle of his speech. You told the entire room we didn’t want him.”
Sorry. You ought to turn your pager down when you’re shooting.
"Now you tell me." I threw the car into gear and floored it. My tires squealed, and I was gone in a puff of blue-gray smoke, jumping ever speed bump in the parking lot. I hoped no one took that “How’s my driving” sticker on my bumper seriously.
I took the long route back to the station to cool off so I didn’t kill someone when I got back.
Hey new guy. It was the radio. Someone just called from their car phone. They say your driving’s fine, but your trunk is smoking.
I checked the mirror. Thick white smoke billowed from the edges of the trunk lid.
“Holy shit, I’m on fire!”
I threw the car into park and jumped out in the middle of MacAuthur Boulevard. Cars zoomed past like it was normal to see a smoldering news unit on the main drag.
New guy, you okay?
I fumbled for the radio. “No, I’m not okay. I’m on fire!”
There’s a fire extinguisher in the back seat.
I grabbed the fire extinguisher, threw the trunk open, and put the fire out. It was minor, but my rain gear was now melted to my sun gun. The stupid light must have switched on when I jumped that damn speed bumps.
On cue, the hangover I’d been waiting for all day erupted inside my head.
I had been a photog for two days. I’d been stripped and hosed, fired, hired, humiliated by a judge, and caught fire. I could only hope the words Weaver had spoken were true and tomorrow none of this would matter.
I somehow doubted it.