I strode into the station the next morning confident in my abilities for the first time. ASSMAN’s drunken congratulations the night before was just what my sagging attitude needed. With Sam’s carhop story, I had finally broken the jinx. I had shot and edited a good story, one people would not forget when they switched over to Johnny Carson’s monologue. And Susan and I had agreed that I had been an ass, but an ass that deserved a second chance if he learned to pick up a phone when he was going to be late.
“Nice piece last night, Brock.” Sarge patted me on the back.
“Thanks, Barb. I worked hard on it.”
“You finally got that white balance thing down. All the colors on the school board meeting were right.”
School board? She was just jealous. After all, she had turned down the chance to do Sam’s story.
“Good story last night, dude.” Dick Hicks high-fived me. “Can’t believe you got it in. The ASSMAN was pretty hot you shot the thing.”
“Thanks. Lou helped get it in the late show.”
“Yeah, you guys rocked it.” Hicks headed to his desk to make his daily crime blotter calls.
I loaded Icky, with its duct-taped viewfinder, and the rest of my gear into the Turd-Brown Taurus.
When Weaver pulled in to the parking lot he was wearing a smile almost as big as mine. “Helluva job last night!” He pumped my hand. “I knew you had it in you! How’d you talk Lou into working it with you?”
“He stopped by the edit bay as I fini – What do you mean, talked Lou into working it with me?”’
“Nothing.” Weaver gave me a quizzical look. “I just mean you two knocked it out of the park with that story last night.”
“Two of us my ass. I shot and edited it. Lou just made sure it got back to the tape room.”
Weaver’s smile began to wane. It was obvious a light bulb was blinking inside his head. And it wasn’t one he wanted to see. “You . . . didn’t see the newscast last night, did you?”
“No, I was buying flowers and arguing with Susan.” My stomach knotted with a sudden realization that all was not well with Sam’s story. “Why?”
“You need to see this.” Weaver headed for the newsroom door.
“But, I know the story backwards and forwards,” I explained as I trailed him. “I worked on it all night.”
Weaver led me through the empty newsroom and into to the feed room. Lights and l.e.d.’s blinked and fluttered on complicated-looking electronics that were crammed, ceiling to floor, in two heavy racks opposite the door of the tiny room. Two wall-mounted video monitors flashed pictures from network affiliates around the country, and CNN. A third ran the KALX off-air signal. The fourth showed the competition, KELC.
In six months, I hadn’t bothered learning much about the room, except how to get video from a live truck to the switcher, and which tape deck the ASSMAN used to record the newscast.
Weaver grabbed the shuttle knob on the ASSMAN’s recorder and scanned backwards past the last commercial break in the 10pm newscast. Sam’s face wiped in over an out of focus shot of the Sonic Drive-In sign. She sped through the story doing all her spins and tricks backwards at sixteen times normal speed until Lou’s smiling face beamed from the anchor desk.
Weaver stopped the tape. He gave me a this-hurts-me-more-than-it-does-you look.
“What? Did the director fat-finger the switch and punch color bars over the beginning?” I pulled my hand nervously through my mullet. “What was so important that you can’t just tell me?”
“You’ll see.” Weaver sighed as he punched play. Lou delivered a sugary intro with a gleam in his eye and tossed to the story.
No photog credit. No big deal, the story had gotten back late. Maybe the graphics girl didn’t have time to whip up a fancy lower third graphic with my name on it. Photogs never got credit for their work anyway. That’s just the way the business worked. We were paid for our work, reporters for their name and poofy hair. Nothing to get bent over.
The story rolled, just like I had edited it . . . until the last shot. Sam’s lips moved, but the words didn’t match, neither did the voice. It was much deeper. Manly.
It was Lou’s standard lock-out. “Reporting from the Sonic Drive-In, Lou Jameson, KALX News.”
Sam disappeared from the screen.
Weaver paused the tape and waited patiently for me to react.
He didn’t have to wait long.
“That son of a bitch.” I whispered in disbelief. My heart began to race as I fought to keep my words measured. “That no-good piece of shit,” I said a little louder. My hands balled themselves into tight fists.
Weaver put his hands up hoping to keep me from boiling over. “Brock, stay calm. Let me handle this.”
Crack! My hand sent itself straight through the hollow-core door of the feed room.
“Stay calm?” I dug my hand out of the splintered hole in the door, and wiped a thin trickle of blood from my knuckles on the thigh of my faded Levis. “That no-good bastard stole my story! I’ll have his job, that plagiarizing son-of-a-bitch!”
“Brock! Calm down and let me handle this.”
“I’ll calm down,” I mumbled “just long enough to knock that bastard flat on his ass.” I made a bee-line for the conference room where reporters and producers gathered each morning to plan the day’s coverage. I could feel Weaver on my heels.
“. . . and hats off to Lou Jameson,” a perfect mid-western non-accent drifted into the hallway outside the conference room, “for a masterful bit of storytelling on that Sonic story last night.”
I poked my head in, just in time to watch News Director Percy Finch draw his midget fingers to his forehead and wave a flaccid salute toward Lou. Finch's small crowd of producer drones clapped dutifully, while Barb Wilders and Dick Hicks tried to avoid his gaze. At the end of the table nearest the door, Lou Jameson beamed in the adulation.