Russell was chewing his mint flavored gum. He wasn't really prepared to begin today's coverage with a death, not that he never had to before. He remembered a few months back when a private airplane crashed near the woods and they had to rush towards the site at seven a.m. in the month of January to cover it. It doesn't always have to be something of that magnitude. Somebody dies in Swimmer's Due and it makes a big evening news segment. But this time it's someone he knew. Not that he cared too much and all, not after all these years, but still it kinda left a bad taste in his mouth.
Tina, the new field reporter, was in the van checking her hair and makeup. Now she came out with the mic in her hand and nudged Russell, "You ready?"
Russell looked at her. Little too much of lipstick maybe? He said, "I'm ready when you're ready."
"I'm done. Let's go."
He picked up the Arriflex camera and followed Tina towards the highway. Not many people were interested in Georgie's death. There were only the sheriff, a few policemen and some local passer-by near the scene. He also spotted Georgie's estranged daughter Hailey Becker with them, wearing a short pink negligee and denim shorts. She ran the Becker's B&B near the highway. And Russell always thought what she offered besides just bed and breakfast.
The body of Georgie had been moved already. They did not get the permission to film it, although sheriff o'Reilly knew Russell personally. They would just have to do with the white outline.
He was setting up his camera when he saw a blue sedan pulling up near them. That was fast, Russell thought as he saw the new chick Elena emerging from it. She was sporting a very attractive open hairdo today. Too bad she's married, he thought. She looked too young to be married and all. He told Tina to wait for a minute and walked up to her.
"Hi," Elena did not smile as she spoke, "What the hell? Wh... how did it all happen?"
Russell smiled dryly, "Why don't you come here and hear from the newswoman herself? We're filming it now." He went back to his camera, waved towards Tina and said, "Ok, you ready? On my counting. Three... two... one... here you go."
Tina nodded her head and started, "After what appears to be a road traffic accident, the dead body of local 54-year-old George Becker was found this morning beside the 56th Highway close to Linus gas station. It was found at around 7-30 a.m. by owner Linus Riddel himself, who informed the event to the police immediately. Mr. Becker's body has been already moved to the coroner's office. He had sustained multiple injuries believed to be caused by collision with a speeding vehicle."
Tina paused. She's still a little unprofessional in her choice of reporting language, Russell thought. Thought he knew that it really didn't matter, Swimmer's Due TV held an audience of only about one or two thousands at most.
Tina moved towards sheriff O'Reilly and began, "We've got our sheriff Bob O'Reilly with us at the scene. Sheriff, any leads?" She held the mic in front of him.
Bob O'Reilly was a little short, chubby-looking man of sixty. Despite his not-so-intimidating frame, he had a rather deep and commanding voice which contributed to his overall authoritative personality. He was a friend of Russell's father and often came by their house to play poker with him. Even after his father died fifteen years ago, he continued to stop by and pay them a visit.
O'Reilly tucked at his hat and began speaking, "Well, it's quite premature at this point to make definite statement. It certainly appears to be a case of collision with a speading vehicle. He didn't have a visible knee injury and the primary impact appears to have occurred near the hips. So the vehicle is likely to be a truck. The time of death and definite cause will be known after the coroner's examination."
Tina nodded, "Any idea what he was doing on the highway at night, sir?"
Russell shook his head. Tina still had to learn a lot about how to ask the right questions. The sheriff smiled thinly and answered, "Mr. Becker had a drinking problem, that's well-known. Anyway, we are conducting a full investigation."
"Well thank you, Sheriff," Tina turned towards the camera, "Mr. George Becker was a former musician and had played guitar with a number of bands and solo artists all around the state including Tommy Frederick and Peter Gibbs before they became popularly known as Rosethorns. Mr. Becker leaves behind his only daughter Hailey. In this unfortunate accident, Swimmer's Due just lost one of its gifted citizens. With Russell Murdoch on camera this is Tina Benes, Swimmer's Due TV."
Russell chuckled. That was indeed hilarious near the end.
Russell was about to leave Dirk's office after showing him the morning's footage when he saw Elena entering the room. He slipped back into the chair. Dirk hadn't asked him to leave yet.
Elena said, "You needed me, Dirk?"
Dirk nodded, "Yeah, come in. It's not much. In case if you're wondering, I just want to clarify that we're still on for the Rosethorns project. We still have a month to work on it and after today's...uh... development, it is in fact more relevant." He paused for a moment, and then added, "I know how it will sound, but this... um... coincidental alignment of events might draw more viewers after all. We are, after all, doing a business here and two other towns subscribe to our channel."
Big city corporate media wouldn't even think of this politeness, Russell felt. Dirk spoke like he was talking to the deceased's relatives.
Dirk continued, "Another thing. As we are perpetually understaffed, Kyra won't be accompanying you out for interviews. Elena, you have to do them yourself. Kyra will do only the voice-over narratives. But don't start today. After all the guy died just last night. From tomorrow, you start on it from wherever you may please. Today you write your usual reports for the evening news."
Elena nodded. Russell also got up. It was better this way to do the feature without a host interviewer. He asked Elena as the came out, "You planning to go to Freddy's shop tomorrow?"
"I think so." She said, "After all he's the one where we'll get the most information, right? Would tomorrow be too soon?"
Russell frowned, "I don't think so. It's not like they were good friends or anything. And Georgie was much older than these people."
She nodded. "Ok, so I'll see you tomorrow." She paused for a moment, "By the way, what's the best restaurant in here? Not a diner or a bar, you know? I passed something called 'Apetit' on my way. Is it good? Me and my husband are planning to dine out tonight."
"Oh it's pretty good. It's probably the only semi-formal restaurant you'll find around here." He finished with a meek smile.
Elena smiled too, "Cool. Thanks for the tip. And... hey, why don't you join us tonight? Do you have any plans?"
Russell didn't expect to be invited himself. And he had a quite valid reason why he shouldn't go anywhere near "Apetit".
"Um, no. Please leave me out of this. It's after all your romantic dinner with your husband." He said.
Elena let out a short laugh. She's got a very sweet laugh, in a cool non-cheeky way, he thought. "How sweet", she said, "But no, not at all. You don't need fancy restaurants to have something romantic. Please join us. I'm sure Steve will be glad too. He being the manager doesn't really get to make friends in his place. Come on." She tucked at his elbow as she finished.
Russell sighed. "Okay."
"Great", she smiled, "Meet us there at Eight. That's good for you?"
Russell felt quite apprehensive as he straightened his shirt collar and entered the restaurant. After all, it had been only over a month that Amy broke up with him. She worked as the hostess in this place, so most surely he would have to encounter her now. He told himself that he certainly couldn't avoid this restaurant altogether forever. That meant sooner or later this was bound to happen.
Ah. There she was, talking to a customer with her measured yet flashy smile. She looked good in her brown formal jacket, with her blonde hair tied back. She had this attractive sophesticated charm about her that's indeed rare in these towns. Almost irresistable, he thought. But he decided not to go down that road again, not tonight.
She frowned a little upon seeing him but the smile stayed on her face. "Hey, look who's here", she came closer, "So, what brings you here, Russell Murdoch? Our fresh fish?"
Russell answered coldly, "I have an invitation, Amy. I'm here to meet the Turner party. Are they here yet?"
Amy went silent for a moment. Then she said, "Yes, they are... uh... in the corner table over there." She pointed out the direction. Then she sighed and added, "They actually mentioned that you might be coming."
Russell raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. Amy looked away and said, "You look good, you know."
"Well, you're not so bad yourself", said Russell as he started towards the table, not looking at her to see her reaction. But he felt that she was staring at him.
The Turners were sitting with their back to Russell as he was approaching them. He could make out that Elena's husband was mostly bald and probably shorter than her. He stopped short behind them as they seemed to be talking.
"Well, I understand that you need to socialize more with your colleagues but couldn't we invite this guy on a later date?", he heard the guy say.
Elena's voice was softer. "Come on. You'll like him. He's a cool person. And yes, I do need to socialize with my partner of this assignment. But that's not solely why I asked him to join us out here."
Russell bit his lip. This was bound to happen. But that's okay, he figured, it's their business. He was invited and he came; nothing wrong with that. He would just have to remind himself not to hit on Elena in front of her husband. He let out a short cough and came to stand in front of them. At once they stopped talking and looked at him.
Elena smiled, "Hi, you're here. Steve, this is Russell. And Russell, Steve's my husband. He's the manager of Gleemart."
Although in the corner of his eye Russell was looking at Elena who looked extremely sexy in her low cut black dress and a long necklace, he smiled and shook Steve's hand. Now that he found him standing, he's indeed a bit shorter that Elena.
"Hey," Steve spoke as they sat down, "Leni tells me you're quite good with the camera. That you have a very clear idea of the best angles and a good eye for details."
Russell smiled politely. "I'm sure she's only being generous. To me it's just my job. I never wanted to become a cameraman or something."
Steve shook his head. "You know, that's exactly what I'm talking about. People tend to get passionate about one thing and they end up doing totally another thing."
Elena affectionately put an arm around his shoulder. "You know," she said, "Steve was a huge film buff. In his teens, he used to go everywhere with his handycam and sometimes shoot short amateur films with his school friends acting in them."
"Really?" Russell asked, sipping his wine.
"Mm-hmm," she nodded, "He even won the junior section at the Boston film festival when he was sixteen." She kissed his arm.
Steve shrugged and sighed. "Yeah, those were good times. But see where I am today. Managing a f--king retail store in the middle of nowhere, no offense."
Seriously? This is her husband, Russell thought, this douchebag? Elena could do so much better than him. But then again...
Steve continued, "But Leni here on the other hand," he looked at her, "gets to do what she wants. Even in here. See, she even shares her name with Leni Riefenstahl."
Russell stared at Elena as she smiled. Shit, she's making it so hard not to hit on her. Her hair, her smile, her low-cut neckline with the dim yellow light above their table reflecting on her breasts, giving her cleavage like a more dark, deep, and sensuous shadow. Shit, he thought.
"Who's Leni Riefenstahl?" he asked.
Steve stared at him for a few seconds. "Um, she was a famous documentary fimmaker. But nevermind", he said, "tell me, if camera is just your job, what's your passion? I mean, what, let's say, makes you tick?"
Russell went silent for a moment. He considered telling them, but finally decided against it. He just smiled and answered, "Well, nothing like that you know. I'm not that talented or anything."
Eventually an awkward silence ensued as everyone concetrated on their food. After a while, Russell looked at Elena and spoke up, "You know, there's something you might be interested in. I'm kinda friends with Chris, the coroner."
She looked up, "Really? Is he working on Georgie's case?"
Russell nodded his head, "And, I went to see him in the afternoon. And sort of got an unofficial report."
She raised her eyebrows, "Anything unusual?"
He put down his fork. "Well, the official report's on tomorrow and it's kinda premature to say now. Don't discuss it with anyone else. But he told me that there are additional injuries that don't exactly match the profile of a truck accident."
"Well, for example, there's something that corresponds with a blow in the forehead. By a rather sharp object, along with blunt injuries in the same spot."
She stopped chewing, "Wow. Um, does that mean --"
"--murder? Holy shit." Steve finished her sentence.
Russell shook his head. "He can't be sure right now. He said that may be a possibility. But it's true that other injuries that might occur after getting hit by a truck, they're there as well."
Russell entered their house and closed the door lightly. It was late and he didn't want to wake his mother up. Funny, at the age of twenty-six still living with his mother. But he needed to look after her after his father died. He's sure Mom can take care of herself, but there's Matt, his brother, as well. Dad died a few months after Matt was born.
He went upstairs to his room, passing by Matt's room. Matt's probably still awake playing games in his computer. Russell locked the door and drank a glass of water. He sat on his bed and picked up, from its case, his white Fender stratocaster.
It's his secret. And passion. And he never shared it to people he didn't care about. Did he care about Elena? Maybe I do, he thought, but certainly not with Steve, that douchebag of her husband. Russell sighed. So much had happened since yesterday. And all so suddenly.
He didn't plug it into his amp. Instead, he selected "Since I met you baby" by B.B. King in his ipod and put on his headphones. He closed his eyes to that sound of ethereal music, unheard to the outside world, dead at that night... as his fingers found their way across the fretboard, note by note, bend by bend.
This guitar was a gift from someone when he was ten. And that someone died last night. Murdered?
(to be continued)