Late on Friday afternoon, Andy remembered he had to work the week-end shift. Until that moment he had been looking forward to some well deserved time off from the grueling pace as a cub reporter on the local newspaper. All he wanted to do was sleep, and he hoped nothing untoward came up in the next two days. It was a small town for Christ’s sake, nothing interesting ever happened, maybe a sports events or a bar brawl, possibly, ordinary stuff.
The police scanner squawked shattering his stupor. Oh shit. An accident was reported at the corner of Dundas and Cherryhill, and the dispatcher’s serious tone conveyed that, indeed, the unexpected had occurred. The feeling crept over him as if he was just entering beginning of a nightmare. Andy grabbed his camera and notebook, hopped into the car and headed to the scene.
As he parked close to the incident his nostrils cringed at the odour of burned rubber followed by a queasy ache in his intestines. Burned down to its frame, a motorcycle formed an outline of a black charred circle on the grass. Though he looked, he couldn’t see the driver. Then he saw a crumpled mass of clothing about fifty feet away. He had located the driver.
Quickly he took several photos of the bike from various angles including a close-up of the vehicle’s shell. Moving over to the body he noticed it eerily still wore a full suit of leathers and a helmet, and appeared lifeless, although it would be the paramedics’ job to determine that. But his editor required pictures, so steeling himself from the vision in front of him, he began to take the photos. Andrew realised someone behind him was yelling. “Forbes get the hell out of here!” The voice belonged to Constable Dayton, who had just arrived at the scene, and whom Andy knew well.
“Remove your ass immediately!” Officer Dayton barked. Andrew quickly snapped one last detail shot of the as yet unnamed cyclist. The site would now be officially classified as an accident involving a dead body. With shaking legs Andy slowly moved away. A torrent of emotion surged through him and chills slithered down his spine. The man on the ground was the first corpse he had encountered on this job. The first he had encountered in his life, excluding funerals he had attended. He realised the gravity of the situation, that this person had lost his life. He knew the image would haunt him always.
After Fifteen minutes the police had concluded their initial investigation.
“So Gord what’s the possibility of getting a statement from you later for the paper? And what do you think happened?”
Gordon Dayton replied. “I’d say the gas tank exploded. It’s the only explanation for the bike’s burned condition. This part of the road doesn’t get much traffic and obviously no other vehicles were involved. It’ll be up to the forensics team to determine the particulars but that’s neither my job nor yours.”
The afternoon had now turned into evening and though the stench was still evident, a breeze had picked up and blown most of it in the other direction.
The young reporter returned to the office and began to develop the rolls of film and type up the bare essentials of the report.
After the accident had been documented he started to prepare the week-end assignments and waited for information regarding the identity of the motorcyclist. The police officer phoned and stated that the young man was a construction worker from a community two hours east of the city. Andrew added the fact to the story then submitted it with the photos to the night editor using one of the three terminals situated at the rear of the newsroom.
Whew. That nasty job is done. Wrong. The story was only starting. He lifted his cup, sipped, and in disgust shoved it away. Only a few bitter dregs swam at the bottom of the mug. He’d had enough caffeine for the night anyway. And he was in no mood to brew a fresh pot. If he could find a bottle of booze, now that would be a different story. At this hour, alone, the office, felt damn eerie. His was one of six desks; the editor had his own office. The space smelled of tuna fish and cheese gone bad. Bob must have forgotten his sandwich and left it in the desk drawer again. The grey metal furniture looked shoddy and cheap. And as he shifted on his seat, bloody uncomfortable too.
Andrew cleaned out his mug, and had slipped into his coat when the phone rang. He glared at the instrument debating whether to answer it, but knew he’d be in trouble if he didn’t. The city editor, Tony Morelli, said, “We need a comment from the family about the death of their son.”
Usually the newspaper’s policy was to get comments for official family photos if the deceased was local or had family in the immediate vicinity. “I’m confused. The cyclist did not live in our area so the story doesn’t have a local angle except that he worked here temporarily. Isn’t the paper’s policy for comments and photos only if the victim or family lived in the surrounding district?”
“Get in touch with someone in the family anyway and get a comment.”
Andrew dug out the regional phone books available from the paper’s library. He started to randomly cold-call people with the victim’s surname to find the applicable family. Before settling in with the task he gave in and brewed a new pot of coffee. Some Friday night. Cold-calling hostile strangers to request a public comment concerning their newly deceased son.
After six tries Forbes connected with the young man’s uncle. “You want photos and comments about my nephew? I just learned about the accident myself.”
“Perhaps you could provide another family member’s number?”
“Typical reporter. You little piece of crap You don’t give a shit about how the family feels, you only want your sensational exclusive to please your boss and save your sorry ass.” And he hung up.
Andy returned the receiver to the cradle, heaved a huge sigh, added a no comment response from the uncle to his article and re-submitted it to Tony. That for sure had to be the end of the story and he went home tired, grumpy and angry. The next day would bring another long day of work.
Early Saturday morning Andrew prioritized the up-coming assignments in order of time, location and importance. He separated his tasks into their component parts. What the hell is this? Almost hidden on the last page of the list he noticed the editor’s assessment of the accident story. The uncle’s comment was insufficient; more comments from the family were required. The message ordered him to contact the funeral home and obtain the date of the funeral, or at least the visitation.
Damn it to hell. Nothing is going to satisfy the old geezer. Andrew called the funeral director and inquired about the service. “My editor would like me to attend the service and elicit remarks from the family.”
“I agree it’s a bad idea but I have no choice in the matter.”
“Well you are welcome to attend but may I suggest you remain incognito?”
So it appeared Andy would be attending the visitation on Sunday.
For the remainder of the day he completed his duties: store openings and features on local people in the community, a typical day reporting for a small town newspaper. His mind valiantly attempted to avoid thinking about Sunday.
Andrew slept-in on Sunday and then knowing he couldn’t avoid it drove to the funeral home. It seemed like Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor played in the air as he steered the vehicle to the next town.
He parked in the small car park behind the building and sat summoning the necessary courage to step out of the car and enter the mortuary. The back entrance led to a side corridor where he came face-to-face with the funeral director. “Hello I am Andrew Forbes, we spoke on the phone.”
“I didn’t really expect you to show up.” The mortician shuffled from one foot to the other and his eyes peered around the room for spectators.
“This is really not a good idea is it?”
“No. It isn’t. You should leave before the family spots you. They’re mighty upset and I know the uncle. He has a temper.”
Rivers of sweat ran down the reporter’s back and from the other side of the wall where the victim’s friends and family were gathered, sobs and wailing drifted loudly into the hallway. Apparently he had been a popular and well-liked young man. Andrew nervously flicked imaginary chunks of dirt from his jacket. He had violated the family’s privacy and his conscience would not allow him to proceed further. Terrified he decided to leave immediately. It felt like he was present at an intervention but he wasn’t sure whose.
Andrew had almost reached the exit when the cyclist’s older brother marched up to him. “Are you the press? The asswipe who’s been bothering my uncle?” He wore a scowl and his clenched fists hung at his sides. The only way the relative could have recognized the reporter was if the undertaker had pointed Andrew out to him.
In broken mumbles Andrew confessed he was the reporter. “M-my ed-editor sent me. I’m afraid he will fire me if I don’t comply with his instructions.” Andy amplified his voice in the hopes the rest of the congregation took notice of his words. “My condolences for your loss.” Andrew sincerely hoped the family believed him but somehow doubted it.
The brother then raised one of his fists as if to punch Andy in the face and grabbed the reporter by his shoulder and pulled him closer, screaming in an insane voice that made Forbes fear for his life. His slim figure was no match for the burly relative. Andrew danced backwards managing to squirm away and evade the hit. He pushed the angry man off him, pivoted around and headed toward the front door. Andrew smelled the reek of fear emanating from his body. His limbs felt weak and his stomach regurgitated the bitter taste of bile to his throat. He needed a shower to wash away his disgust at himself and his profession.
He descended the stairs as quickly as he safely could without landing on his butt, just what he didn’t need, and behind him heard the uncle, the brother, several cousins and friends all in their best clothes, the women’s heels clicking on the hard wood floor, hollering in hot pursuit.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity he tumbled out the door, stumbled down the steps and fled away from the mob.written for Blogophilia Week 5.6 Topic: The Nightmare Begins Bonus Points: (Hard, 2pts): mention fractional distillation (Easy, 1pt): incorporate an intervention