Authors: Steve Thayer
Tags: #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller
“Two minutes,” a reporter shouted.
Schoenberger turned to the sideshow. “Those TV people love white, female victims. The killer couldn’t have picked a better spot. This is where Channel 7 parks their cars. A couple of them interviewed me. I was going to call home and tell the kids to watch, but they’ll only use ten seconds of me, then ten minutes of themselves. ‘We know everything, blah, blah, blah.’ Assholes.”
Les Angelbeck bent his neck and looked up at the jungle of antennas atop the
Tower. Storm clouds were breaking over them. “I guess it’s for the best. In some cities murder is not news anymore. Does this ramp have surveillance cameras?”
“Not on the roof. Something about the weather.”
Angelbeck noted all of the windows overhead. “Anybody in these buildings see anything?”
“One lady thinks she saw a man in a mask dart out of here yesterday.”
“A mask? What kind of mask?”
“Blue or black. She wasn’t sure. The victim’s office was right up there,” Schoenberger said, pointing at a building across the street. “Apparently, she was able to watch her car from there. Somebody else must have seen something.”
Angelbeck looked back at the murder scene. “Maybe not. Could be a blind spot. Rapists have a way of finding them.”
“This wasn’t a sexual assault,” Schoenberger reminded him.
“All attacks on women are sexual assaults. What else have you got?”
“There’s a good partial print on the transformer.” “There’s no such thing as a good partial fingerprint.” “If he left us any other prints, we’ll find them.” Les Angelbeck stared hard at the black sky to the west. He glanced over at the cop dusting the transformer. “If the weather holds.” The last rays of sun were disappearing. The more ominous clouds were over the western suburbs now and moving fast. “Better get what you need, quick,” he advised them. “Looks like a hell of a storm coming.” A raindrop hit his wrist. Forked lightning stabbed at the city.
After years of investigative work the old cop had more than one stray thought, silent questions he directed at the chalk outline. Why here, in the middle of downtown, in the middle of the day? Why no sex, no robbery? Why no weapon? What kind of man kills with his hands? He took the last drag from his cigarette, then tossed it to the nasty wind. Raindrops began hitting like bombs. They started for shelter. The TV people stood talking in the rain.
Isn’t it funny, Angelbeck thought as they ran, when a woman is murdered the pronoun used to describe the unknown assailant is always masculine. “I hope a woman did it,” he mumbled to himself as he stepped in out of the weather. He was coughing. “Some big, ugly broad.”
Five stories below the newsroom, less than three minutes before air time, the elevator came to a halt. The Weatherman sighed with frustration. The doors opened. Shock followed. Like a page out of a big-city nightmare Dixon Bell’s eyes locked on to the eyes of a masked man-the dark, piercing eyes of a man who had been to hell and back. It was one of those frightening moments that freeze in the mind for life. A premonition of sorts. Death come calling.
He was not quite as tall as Dixon Bell, but he had the shoulders of an athlete. His manner of dress was white-collar casual-an expensive sport coat over a T-shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans. His faintly scarred hands were lazily tucked into his pockets, suggesting he was up to nothing malicious. He seemed to favor blue, for the mask he wore was blue too. Made of soft cotton, it was one of those masks that is pulled over the entire head, giving him a sky-blue dome. And in the middle of this mask. this blue cotton face, was a black leather triangle where his nose breathed the news.
Rick Beanblossom stepped into the elevator. “Hey, Weatherman, looking pretty nasty out there.”
Dixon Bell shook off the fear and filed the premonition. “Hell of a storm coming. We’ll lead with it.” A cold pause. “If I ever get up there.”
“No,” Rick warned him, dampening his spirits. “We’ll lead with the murder.”
They rose through the air together on this hot and sticky June day, news and weather on their way to work. Two veterans of Southeast Asia: one Marine grunt with the Navy Cross but no face, and one Air Force officer with a scarred face but no medals.
Congested cumulus clouds shadowed the tower now. The sickly yellow sun was still peeking through one southwest window. The wind was spitting mad. Fat raindrops attacked the blue-tinted glass. But in the newsroom it was crunch time, and few cared about the weather. Tempers were shot-especially the temper of the five o’clock producer. Dixon Bell hustled through the newsroom and up to Chris Mack’s desk. “Chris, how y’all fixed for live shots?”
Chris Mack looked up from his computer and checked the big round clock. The minute hand was inching toward the top of the hour. “We’ve got two today-one from the parking ramp and a traffic shot from the chopper.”
“Great. I need one minute at the top. Gotta tell Bucky.”
“About what? We have a murder.”
“We’ve got weather.” Dixon Bell headed for the assignment desk.
The burnout rate for news-show producers is about one every fourteen months. Studio light bulbs last longer. Part of the problem comes when they spend nine hours putting together a thirty-minute broadcast and a weatherman blows in literally at the last moment screaming he needs one minute at the top. Few stomachs can weather it. Chris Mack chased after Dixon Bell, show script in hand. “One minute? No way. You’re getting worse than sports. We have a murder.”
“We have a severe storm.”
If times like this gave producers heartburn, they gave Gayle Banks, the assignment editor, an adrenaline high. She was jokingly referred to as Gayle the Ghoul. Breaking news stoked her fires. The worse the news, the higher she got. “We’ve got severe weather? Where?”
“On top our heads in about five minutes.”
Gayle poked her head into the closet space behind her, the dispatcher’s shack. “Where’s the storm?”
The producer was dumbfounded. “There’s been no storm warning. We’re under a watch.” He looked out the window. “The sun is still shining. We’ll go to you after the murder. We put the new reporter on it. She’s nervous enough as it is.”
“A third of all severe storms arrive undetected,” the Weatherman informed him. “Let’s not make this one of them. I’m going to issue a warning.”
“You’re crazy, Dixon. Only the National Weather Service can issue a severe storm warning.”
“I’m not waiting for those clowns.” He pointed his finger at Gayle. “Get on the radio and tell Bucky to fly south of the Minnesota River and keep his nose to the southwest.”
“C’mon, he’s covering the backup on 394.”
“It’s for his own safety, dammit.”
“It’s a little more than a traffic shot,” Chris Mack protested. “We’ve got a whole piece tracked on traffic problems out there. It’s great. Andrea voiced it.”
The sprawling newsroom was split-level. On the larger, lower level, where they were arguing on the run, was the news-gathering operation. On the smaller, upper level were the news set and the control room. There the bright lights came up. “One minute,” the floor director shouted.
“Give me thirty seconds at the top.” Dixon Bell leaped up the stairs and bounded across the set. Weather Center 7 was buried behind it.
The producer shouted after him. “No seconds at the top!” He turned to Gayle, squeezing his brow. “This is crazy.”
“He hasn’t been wrong yet,” she reminded him.
“Yeah, but a warning?” Chris Mack looked around. “Where’s our holier-than-thou news director?”
“His asthma,” Gayle said. “He went home wheezing up a storm.”
“Thirty,” the floor manager shouted.
Chris Mack shook his head. “Okay, let’s do this. Murder at the top, then right to weather. But he’d better not issue a warning or there’ll be a shitload of trouble.”
“Base to Skyhawk 7.” The producer’s final orders produced lightning in one of the best news junkies in the business. For Gayle Banks, the rush to get information on the air was another kind of rush as well. As Chris Mack raced to the set to brief his anchors, Gayle began barking into the microphone, ordering pilot Bob Buckridge and Skyhawk 7 into a new position. She shouted into the dispatcher’s office, “Any storm damage, I want locations right away.”
The dispatcher scanned the radio chatter. “What storm?”
Gayle whirled around and screamed as politely as she could at photographer Dave Cadieux, “You take a camera up to the roof and don’t come down until you’ve got tape of Dorothy’s house disappearing over the rainbow.” Then she was back on the mike. “Okay, we’ve got a big change here and it’s tricky-back-to-back live shots on the same horn in section one. Minivan three, we’re going to open with you at the parking ramp. Then we roll tape of the dead babe, plus your beam to edit one. As soon as Beth throws it back to the studio, you power down. Bucky, as soon as that happens, you power up. We need at least fifteen seconds in between. We’ll use that to intro Dixon and the weather. Then we toss it to Skyhawk looking for clouds-big, ugly clouds. Then, Bucky, you might have to fly your ass back to 394 for section three. All photogs on the air, stand by to chase weather.”
“Ten-four,” came the crackled answers.
Gayle pushed the microphone away and turned to her interns, whose mouths were open in awe. A big smile crossed her face. “God, I love this shit!”
The rain was stop-and-start now, coming in bursts. Bob Buckridge, the pilot they called Bucky, flicked his cigarette out the door over the western suburbs. He watched the white butt twirl through the dirty showers, through poisonous smog, and into the traffic jam on Interstate’ 394. This new billion-dollar freeway was no more efficient in rush hour than a dirt road.
Buckridge was used to being jerked around. This was television. So he wasn’t surprised when they ordered him south of the river at the last minute. But he was concerned. The idea came from weather. It wouldn’t be the first time Dixon Bell had outguessed the National Weather Service. “Sometimes that guy gives me the creeps.”
“You don’t like Weatherman Bell?” Kitt asked.
“I love the guy, but sometimes … He’s from the South, you know.”
No place is hotter on a hot day than inside an airborne helicopter. They flew with the doors off. The rain splashing in felt good. Their headsets were on so the thunder was only a rumble in their stomachs. Buckridge was undeterred by the weather. He tuned in ATIS-Airport Terminal Information Service-and listened to the latest reports. Still only a watch; no warnings. Visibility was good in three directions, and home was to the east, the small downtown airport on the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Thunderstorms were localized. He was confident he could outmaneuver any weather. Besides that, Clancy Communications was not cheap. The station had purchased a five-place-interior JetRanger
, one of the safest single-engine aircraft made.
1 was painted boldly on the side in red, white, and blue. As he flew over stalled traffic on the ground, he knew he was ten times safer up in the air.
“Bell say he in Saigon when it fall.”
“So he says. Air Force Intelligence. I can imagine what those creeps were up to.”
Seated to Bucky’s left was his friend in war and peace, Kitt Karson. Vietnamese soldiers assigned to American units were all called Kit Carson. Kitt had been Bucky’s door gunner, one of the few Vietnamese trusted enough to serve on a Huey. “I follow you anywhere, Bucky. Let’s fly.” And fly they did, from Qui Nhon to Pleiku, from the Mekong Delta to north of Da Nang. In war Buckridge was good. Cocky good. A hot dog. “I don’t go down.” Through two tours of duty and two thousand missions they flew the slicks that brought the grunts to the enemy. When the call came, they returned to the landing zone, often under enemy fire, and lifted out the survivors, the wounded, and the dead. And though their ship took its share of hits, they never went down.
“Beanblossom doesn’t like the Weatherman, does he?”
“Beanblossom doesn’t like anybody.”
“Oh no, he likes me.”
“How much do you think he’d like you if you stopped feeding him stories on the Vietnamese community? Or if you lost contact with your friends in the old country? You’re just another source to him.”
When Saigon fell, Kitt made his way through the jungle to a Thai refugee camp. Finally safe from the Viet Cong, but not from the neighboring country that didn’t want him, he wrote to his old friend Bucky, now five years back in the States, and asked for help. Bob Buckridge flew to Thailand and fought red tape with more passion than he ever had shown fighting the North Vietnamese army. Using TV news as a weapon, he threatened boneheaded bureaucrats and befriended publicity-seeking politicians. This war he won. He brought his door gunner back to Minnesota and armed him with Sony’s latest Special Lens. Now it was only camera angles they shot, and their only rescue attempts were steering overheated commuters off overcrowded freeways.
Buckridge swung Skyhawk 7 over the southern suburbs of Edina, Eden Prairie, and Bloomington, staying seven hundred feet above the ground. The beauty of the connecting lakes and the layout of sylvan parks slid by beneath him. He crossed the Minnesota River, then circled back and tipped his nose to the turbulent southwest. It had been a long time since he had seen such a haunting sky. The pilot set his microwave antenna for the live shot. Raindrops exploded on the Plexiglas skewing the freeway scars and housing tracts below. “When I was a kid,” he told Kitt, “that was all woodland down there. It was beautiful then. Developers-they’re worse than napalm.”
“But you live down there.”
Kitt hung up his headset and checked the cables. He tuned in the monitor in front of him. He mounted the camera on his shoulder and pointed it out the door at the ugliest cloud he could find.
The eerie green sky was narrowing-mean, swirling cells growing thicker every second. The rain turned heavy again. Hail ticked off the Plexiglas.
The show began. Bob Buckridge could hear the schlocky music, then the chitchat of the newscast in his ears. He was hot, and wet, and bored. He lit another cigarette and glanced over at the face of Andrea Labore, now flickering on the monitor: an angel’s face in a hellish sky. He blew smoke at her. “Throw it to me, you bimbo, so we can get the hell out of here.”