The Day of the Gun, Part VII
It has been quite a while (November 2012) since I posted my last blog about my action novel, The Day of the Gun. Still, I wanted to finish up the series. This posting includes Chapters 24 and 25. Interested readers can find the first 23 chapters under the “Posts by Category” section of my blog listed as The Day of the Gun, Parts I-VI.
“Are you getting this? Please tell me you’re getting this!”
Dana Dotson was giddy with excitement. She had been working the crime beat for three years — at least it was a step up from being the Channel 11 weather girl — but she had never found the right story to propel her career up the next rung of the ladder. The Gruesome Twosome case happened before her time; since then, very little crime had occurred in Lakeland. A few petty thefts and drunk-driving adventures were the only matters of note — hardly the stuff that captured a major network’s attention. She would win no Emmys or Peabodys for that coverage.
“I’m getting it,” Bob, her long-suffering cameraman, assured her. He was in his early sixties, nearing retirement, and looking to round out his years until he was eligible for full Social Security and pension benefits. Ambition did not burn bright in this white-haired curmudgeon with the large belly and short legs.
“Uh,” the shaggy-headed, blonde reporter squealed as she pointed. “There; there.”
“I got it, Dana. I got it. Relax.”
They had been hanging around the courthouse, as they often did, waiting for something to break. Maybe a local politician would be hauled in for driving while intoxicated or a pill-popping beauty queen would off her abusive boyfriend. Once upon a time, a disgruntled high school kid who had been suspended from the wrestling team had started a fire behind the school gym and was caught red-handed, so to speak.
Pickings were slim, but you took what was heaped onto your plate. Dana smiled at the image. She was a self-styled Queen of the Metaphor. Nothing drove the point home for the viewing audience quite as well as a deft analogy, a richly evoked word picture. She prided herself on her specialty.
Never in their wildest dreams did Dana and Bob figure on this kind of story.
Sundays usually were quiet days. On most occasions, Dana tried to fill her airtime on the six o’clock news with human-interest stories. She reported on old ladies who remembered the Great Depression when gasoline, if it could be acquired in a time of severe rationing, sold for a nickel a gallon — or was it a dime? The old gray matter was not what it used to be.
She had not exactly lit the world on fire with her groundbreaking stories. In one segment of “Dana Dotson Corner,” two sisters swore they each had dated Charles Lindbergh not long before his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. A college kid home on vacation could juggle three sticks on fire whole simultaneously playing “Dixie” on a harmonica. A local plumber once had appeared on the “Stupid Pet Tricks” portion of “The David Letterman Show” because his dog, General Lee, could climb trees and jump somersaults on command. Dana interviewed him when he returned to his humble roots as a roofer and construction handyman.
God, what dreck! What had she done to deserve this fate?
This Sunday thankfully promised something different. The Gilleland fellow had been laid to rest after being brutally shot down with an assault rifle, possibly fired by his friend and next-door-neighbor, for reasons as-yet unknown. It was juicy stuff.
Still, Dana had not deemed attendance necessary — funerals generally were boring if she already had all-purpose b-roll on a graveside service — until she heard the police scanner report a shooting at the cemetery and watched the on-duty cops race for their cars. Now that was news. Just seeing those guys drop their crullers and sprint for their cars was a newsworthy event. She envisioned an episode titled “big jelly-bellies gone wild,” aired with the theme song of the show “Cops” playing as the segment opened.
“Let’s go, Bob. We gotta roll.”
With her elderly, avuncular cameraman/driver in tow, Dana raced for the Channel 11 Action News van (“Action News you Can Count On!” the side panels breathlessly announced). They trailed behind the black and whites until they entered Parkwood. The scene was pandemonium. People were running and screaming as if they were pursued by marauding Visigoths. “Oh, yeah, we can work with this,” she muttered.
Shifting into Park and reaching for his movie camera, Bob sighed.
Then she saw it — the money shot, the dramatic “million dollar deal,” as she labeled any inescapably exciting newsworthy moment. It snatched her breath away. She was so excited she could not speak for several seconds.
A man sporting a machine gun marched along the road next to the cemetery spraying bullets into the cars. He wore a dark suit and closely cropped hair. He seemed to be searching for something or someone.
Bob aimed the camera and caught the picture live. This was the stuff to send a career into hyperspace.
“Roger, are you getting this footage?” she asked her news director as she pinned the microphone to the lapel of her sport jacket and stuffed the earpiece into place. “Jesus Christ!” the news director practically shouted from the Channel 11 studio. “Yeah, I’m getting it!” His voice was so loud Dana jerked her head back against the headrest.
Bob twisted the lenses to focus in tightly on the man with the gun as he stepped from the van.
Dana also stepped outside. Slamming the door, she gazed around the scene. “I don’t see Channel 8 or the Morning Crew. We have an exclusive!” Nothing could send Dana into paroxysms of excitement as much as trumping rival reporters. It didn’t happen often, but it was sweet when it did.
Bob spoke in a low tone. “Yeah, Dana. It looks like an exclusive.”
“Hey, Roge. Can we go live in thirty?” They needed to move swiftly before the competition made it to the scene.
Roger apparently recovered his composure enough to answer. “No problem,” he assured her. “Yeah, we can.” He shouted something inaudible to someone in the newsroom before returning to his new star reporter. “We’ll interrupt regular broadcasting with breaking news. It will be fantastic!”
“It is breaking news, Roge. It is fantastic.”
“Cue it for fifteen seconds.”
“Copy that.” She motioned for Bob to swing the camera at her and backed up so the commotion in the cemetery was clearly visible behind her. Wiping her hair from her face, she frowned. “I wish the wind would die down.”
“You look fine,” Bob assured her with a sigh.
“Hold on.” She reached into her pocket and removed several bobby pins. Hoisting her arms over her head she pinned her hair into place. “Is that better?”
“You look fine.”
“Damn, Bob. You’re no help.” She smoothed a wrinkle from her blouse and adjusted the lapel microphone. “This story could make or break us.”
“Make or break you. I’m already broken.”
He nodded as he focused the lenses and adjusted the camera on his shoulder. Holding out his right hand, he raised his fingers and counted them off. “Live in five…four, three, two…one. Suddenly she snapped her game face on, and her countenance subtly changed. Her shoulders lifted, her brow wrinkled, and she glared at the camera as if to convey the gravity of the scene through body language alone. Sweeping a few stray strands of hair from her face, she waited for the anchorman to announce the latest breaking news before turning it over to her.
“We go now to Dana Dotson, Channel 11 News reporter on the scene. Dana, what can you tell us about this breaking news story? ”
“Thanks, Charles,” she said with a nod. “Good afternoon, I’m Dana Dotson coming to you live from the Parkwood Cemetery where behind me at least one individual — perhaps multiple individuals — opened fire on a crowd of mourners attending a funeral of a local man who himself was a victim of a shooting.” It wasn’t her best, more lucid narrative, but with no rehearsal and under battlefield conditions, it was serviceable.
Good old Bob had been her cameraman long enough to know what to do. Despite his cavalier attitude, he was a consummate professional. Without a word from her, he scanned the scene over her left shoulder and focused on the man with the machine gun. Dana fell away from sight, although her running narrative continued. As much as she hated relinquishing on-camera airtime, she knew the story would be more powerful — more immediate — if she disappeared from view and simply interpreted the scene for the viewing audience. It was a front-row seat for history unfolding, and Dana Dotson was the guide.
“As you can see behind me, this is a scene of utter chaos. Charles, it’s difficult to describe the events, but it appears that the man with the gun is searching for someone attending the funeral. From the sirens that you can hear in the background, the police are in the area.”
“Dana,” the anchorman asked from the safety of the studio newsroom, “what do we know about the funeral?”
She nodded her acknowledgment in the second it took the sound of his voice to travel into her earpiece. She expected his question, and she was prepared with the answer. “Well, Charles,” she said as she read from an index card, “the man was James Gilleland, an accountant who lived next door to another man, Kurt Martin. On Friday, Martin engaged in a violent altercation with two unidentified men, both of whom he killed. Gilleland was also killed, although police have not determined whether Martin or one of the men he killed pulled the trigger.”
“Do we know his motive, Dana?”
“No, Charles, we don’t. Police have been reluctant to discuss the case — except to say they are aggressively pursuing all leads. From what we can tell, Martin was a loner who kept to himself, didn’t have any friends, was very quiet and reclusive.”
As she spoke, the camera followed the actions of the man with the machine gun. He scanned the crowd, apparently oblivious to his newfound fame on the local news. Brandishing the weapon, he gazed intently into cars and poked his head around trees and vehicles. His bulky frame and fierce countenance were tailor-made for TV. He was like a villain straight out of central casting.
This was good stuff, and Dana knew it. Charles did, too. They milked it for everything it was worth. “What happened to Kurt Martin after the shooting?” he asked as the television screen methodically tracked the gunman’s movements.
Dana responded in her most officious voice. “Kurt Martin fled the scene of Friday’s shooting,” she said. “He’s still wanted by police for questioning, but as of now he is still in hiding, his whereabouts unknown.”
“Could that be Martin we’re seeing on the screen right now, Dana?”
It was a good question, but she simply did not know the answer. No matter. A good reporter never allowed missing facts to destroy a blockbuster story. Facts sometimes even got in the way of a dramatic news event.
“We are not able to confirm or deny that fact right now, Charles. It could be Martin, but we have no information at this time.”
“What are the police telling you, Dana?”
“Well, Charles, we have not spoken to the police so far. As you can see, the scene behind me is very chaotic.”
“So it may be someone else other than Kurt Martin? If that’s not Kurt Martin, do we know where he is now, Dana? ”
“Geez,” Bob muttered, barely audible, but it was enough to throw her off her rhythm. Dana frowned before she could catch herself. She continued talking, but the flow was compromised, and that always irritated her to no end, especially on a live telecast. Normally, she would extract no small measure of vengeance from him for such an outburst, but when she turned to see why he had spoken, those thoughts fled from her mind.
“Various tips to the police hot line have reported Martin’s presence all over town, but our sources have not verified any of the reports.” It wasn’t true — she had no sources to speak of — but the comment sounded authentic enough for entertainment purposes. She had to say something until she could interpret the scene.
From the corner of her eye, she glimpsed movement. A Ford Taurus barreled into the man wielding the gun. He had time to utter only one word — “hey!” — before he flew up onto the hood of the car and starred the front windshield.
For a few seconds, this ambitious young woman, a natural-born reporter, allowed her professional façade to drop as her mouth fell open in surprise. She resembled an owl encountering strange phenomena. Glancing at Bob, she understood his exclamation and mentally chastised herself for not responding sooner.
Fortunately, she was still not on camera. At least that was something. Recognizing that she could not allow events to unfold without recording her perceptions for posterity, she blinked her eyes, cleared her throat, and spoke to the viewing audience in as soothing a tone as she could adopt under the circumstances.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, fully realizing that her career might hang on the job she did in the next few minutes, “you have just witnessed one of the most extraordinary scenes I have seen in all my years in journalism.” Her relative youth and the brevity of her career undercut the sentiments, but Dana chose not to dwell on such niceties. “A man firing a machine gun into a crowd of mourners at a funeral in Parkwood Cemetery was just struck by a car that seemed to veer out of control.”
Veer? Veer? She should have said “careen.” That was a better word.
“Dana, is the man all right?” Charles asked.
The question struck her as inane. “You’re seeing the same scene I am,” she said as she struggled to hide her irritation. “He certainly doesn’t look all right from here.”
Something else caught her eye. She swung her head and saw a man emerge from the car and scramble over to the supine form lying in the roadway. “Zoom in on him,” she said to Bob sotto voce. He nodded as he fiddled with the knob on his camera pack.
Charles, the loquacious anchorman, was caught in the moment. Witnessing the unfolding drama from the newsroom, he spoke before he realized he had opened his mouth. “What’s he doing, Dana?”
The reporter’s code of ethics dictated that a fellow newscaster should take pains not to place a colleague in an uncomfortable spot, especially on air. Charles — he of the carefully coiffed hair and straight, perfectly white teeth — either left something to be desired in the IQ department or he was trying to sabotage Dana’s story and perhaps her career. In any case, he had put her in a tight spot.
Ah, but she had been doing this work too long to be sidelined. Like any good reporter, she knew that a person’s ignorance should not interfere with a good story. If she didn’t know an answer, she could make one up on the spot.
“Well, Charles,” she said, trying to hide the irritation in her voice, “he appears to be examining the body. At this point, we don’t know his intentions — or his relationship to the man he struck or the condition of the man.”
Bob, the cameraman, recognized the significance of the scene before anyone else. “It’s Kurt Martin,” he whispered to the reporter. “Kurt Martin!”
In the heat of the moment, she misunderstood. Thinking that her anchorman had spoken to her, she responded in kind. “Say again, Charles?”
The anchor was still flabbergasted and not prepared to pick up the rapidly unraveling narrative thread. “I didn’t say anything, Dana.”
“It’s Kurt Martin,” Bob said louder, pointing. “The missing man — Kurt Martin!”
This time, Dana got it. Her eyes went wide. For a few beats, she was speechless. Finally, she motioned for Bob to swing the camera back on her, which he did without hesitation. Now it was time for Dana Dotson, star reporter, to regain control, win a local Emmy, and maybe kiss this podunk town goodbye.
“The man driving the car that struck the gunman is Kurt Martin, the suspect wanted for questioning in the shooting of James Gilleland.” The fact that Martin was not technically a suspect in the case — he was what police euphemistically called a “person of interest” — went by without comment. Now was not the time to complicate the story of the century with hair-splitting.
“Did you hear what she said?” Charles exclaimed. “It’s Kurt Martin — he’s the man that police want to question in the original shooting.” To Dana, he added, “we’ll try to locate a photograph of Martin and put it on the screen for our viewers.”
Dana ignored his last comment. Turning, she witnessed Kurt Martin stumbling back to the car. “H-he’s getting away!” she sputtered.
No sooner had she spoken than she saw Captain Hewson, chief of the local police, flanked by uniformed officers sporting large guns. The chief charged along a slight incline of the lawn and stepped into the street. Before he could speak, the Taurus lurched forward, swerving to avoid a frantic pedestrian, and headed toward the southeast entrance of the cemetery grounds. Motioning for Bob to follow, Dana raced toward the familiar figure. “Chief Hewson,” she called out. “Chief Hewson!”
The policeman winced when he saw Dana Dotson, local crime reporter and sleuth extraordinaire, coming for him. He may have mouthed the word “shit,” but it was difficult to tell. “Chief Hewson, what can you tell us about the shootings here today?” She held her microphone toward his face as she charged the final few feet toward the police captain.
“Not now, Dana — not now,” he said, conscious that a television camera as pointed in his direction.
“Can you confirm that the man driving that car is Kurt Martin?”
“Who is the man that was struck by the car?”
He waved her away with his hand.
“Chief, what was Kurt Martin doing in the cemetery today?”
“Please, Dana, not now.”
“How did you get those cuts on your face, chief?”
He stopped in his tracks. For a half second, before he slipped beneath the façade of a law enforcement professional, the chief looked surprised, and then angry. Blinking as he rubbed his face, he caught his temper. “I said, ‘not now, Dana.’”
The woman was nothing if not persistent. All good reporters have a knack for staying glued to a reluctant participant in the news of the day. “Chief, all I’m asking is whether the man driving the maroon car is Kurt Martin, the suspect wanted for questioning in the shooting death of James Gilleland.”
“And all I’m saying is that now is not the time.”
“Chief, the public has a right to know —”
He interrupted her before she could launch into the usual harangue about the public’s right to know, the First Amendment, and the reporter’s responsibility to assemble the facts. “We have no comment at this time,” he said in a brusque manner. “We have an unfolding situation that we have to deal with. Maybe later, when it’s over, we’ll have a statement.”
“But chief, if the public’s safety is at stake —”
He turned and hurried away from her with this entourage in tow.
Realizing that she would pry no additional information from Captain Hewson, Dana turned to address the camera. She never allowed herself to forget the live viewing audience. It was what made her a crackerjack reporter. “There you have it, ladies and gentleman. An obviously distressed police chief Hewson offers ‘no comment’ on the situation. As we can see, though, the police are struggling to find out what is going on here at Parkwood Cemetery today. And we at Channel 11 News will stay on the story until we have all the answers.”
“Dana, for the viewers who may just have joined us, what makes you think the driver is Kurt Martin?” Charles asked from his comfortable leather-backed chair in the studio.
“He certainly resembles Kurt Martin,” she said, frowning. “And it seems hard to believe that anyone else would have a motive to show up at the funeral this way.” It was hardly first-rate detective work but, hey, a girl’s gotta eat and dead air has to be filled up with something. Speculation offered on the spot was as good as anything else.
“Who’s he shooting at?” Charles asked. “Who is the man struck by the car?”
Damn, for a walking haircut, the anchorman sure had become nosy of late. Dana had to admit that she did not know. True to form, though, she compensated for what she lacked in substance with what she possessed in style.
“That remains to be seen. Speculation is that perhaps Kurt Martin has mob ties. If so, that would do much to explain the execution-style shooting of James Gilleland. Still, there is much breaking news to explore on this case and, as you saw, the police are tight-lipped about it at the moment. Back to you for now, Charles.”
As soon as they were off the air, Bob pulled his hand across his throat to indicate that the camera was “dead.” It was time to get a move on; their story was on the run and they must follow.
The two had worked together so long as a team they needed no verbal communication. They raced for the Channel 11 van. Dana slid into the passenger’s seat as Bob secured his camera and gunned the engine. It roared into life. Popping it into gear, he pulled the wheel to the left, dodged a car parked in front of him, and shot forward.
It was a perilous journey. The roadway was littered with hysterical people, a few of whom were bleeding profusely. Bob weaved in and out of the moving throng, blowing his horn as he dodged obstacles, but he came to believe they would never catch Martin.
Grimacing, Dana scanned the crowd, wide-eyed. “It’s like a war zone,” she observed. Although she had never served in a conflict or, for that matter, under fire, she recognized the pained expressions and battered bodies as evidence of genuine trauma. “What happened to these people? Have you ever seen anything like this? ”
“Uh, Dana,” Bob said in a small voice. Ignoring her philosophizing, he was focused on the road ahead. What he saw frightened him.
“Holy shit,” she muttered. The Taurus was racing back toward the van at an insane speed. Martin had reversed course and now was barreling down on them. Bob braked, hard, but a collision seemed inevitable.
Amazingly, it did not happen. As quickly as it had headed for the Channel 11 news team, the Taurus screeched to a semi-halt, swung in a circle, and reversed course yet again.
“What the hell is he doing?” Dana asked no one in particular.
She nodded, dressing up her cameraman’s assessment. “Desperate as a cornered wild animal. Let’s get it on tape.”
Bob jerked the door handle and emerged from the van. In a swift, practiced motion, he lifted the camera pack to his shoulder.
Dana stepped from the van as well, smoothing her hair with one hand and fixing her lapel microphone with the other. “Roge, Charles, can you hear me? ”
Roger answered immediately. “That’s affirmative, Dana.”
“Are you getting this? Let’s go back live,” Dana commanded.
“Yeah, okay, Dana.”
“Count us off, Bob, for five.”
He nodded as he adjusted the scope. “Live in five…four…three…two…one.” He pointed. As he spoke, a canned voice in the studio informed viewers that regularly scheduled programming once again was being interrupted for a breaking news story.
“This is Channel 11 Action News reporter Dana Dotson reporting live from Parkwood Cemetery, where a man tentatively identified as Kurt Martin, a suspect wanted for questioning in the death of a local man, James Gilleland, is attempting to elude police.”
The camera swept past her shoulder and focused on the scene as it unfolded. As before, Dana provided a patient, thorough running narrative.
“Martin is believed to be driving the late-model Ford Taurus you see here. The other vehicle, an SUV of some type —”
They bore witness to a scene the likes of which neither reporter nor cameraman had seen before. The Ford Taurus raced toward a Black Explorer at breakneck speed, and neither vehicle slowed or swerved from its intended course.
“Oh, my God,” Dana whispered, momentarily forgetting her place in the narrative.
The vehicles collided with enough force to throw their front ends together vertically in the air. The sound of metal smashing metal boomed across the landscape. It reminded the young reporter of crash test dummies bouncing around the interior of a car on televised accident films.
“Bob,” she said in a soft voice.
“I got it,” he assured her. He already was moving closer to the tangled metal, all the while focusing the knob. The viewing audience would get a jumbled, shifting picture, but a picture it would get, nonetheless. The hazy, grainy nature of the shot probably would increase the authenticity of the scene.
For several seconds, no one spoke. In the studio, anchorman Charles struggled to fill the dead air. He did not have to speak for long. No sooner had he launched into a diatribe about historic moments in journalism than the door to the Taurus popped open and a bruised, blooded figure staggered from behind the wheel, collapsing in the street. “Dana, are we sure that’s Kurt Martin?” he asked with a gasp.
“I believe it is,” Dana said as she scurried to follow her intrepid cameraman.
Bob halted and went down on his left knee. With his state-of-the-art camera and zoom control, he could not have asked for a nicer shot. He caught it all: A man stepped from the SUV brandishing a machine gun and marched toward the Taurus as the man suspected of being Kurt Martin, lying on the ground, leaned up and shot the man in the face. Martin then struggled to his feet, lurched over to the SUV, opened the door, and summarily executed everyone inside.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” Charles, the anchorman, exclaimed in the studio.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we must warn you that these scenes are extremely graphic,” Dana said from off camera. She was a master at improvisation. “The man believed to be Kurt Martin has just shot — and presumably killed — at least three, possibly four people. His motives are unknown.” In the background, sirens screamed.
Martin marched directly toward Dana. In a heart-stopping moment, he waved the gun at her. “Go away with that camera. Go on, now.”
Dana had absolutely no intention of turning off the camera when the one great story of her life and career was unfolding in front of her. She and Bob took a step backward, but they held their ground.
“Are you Kurt Martin?” she asked as he turned and headed for the Taurus.
The cameraman struggled to focus on the man.
“Keep on him, Bob.”
Then, in a scene that could not have been better written in Hollywood, Captain Hewson appeared as though he were straight out of a TV western. On each side were 10 or so uniformed police officers, each of whom held a weapon. They were not 30 yards from their suspect. Displaying his usual quiet competence and tenacity, Hewson parked his hands on his hips as though he knew the cameras were capturing it all.
“Martin, hold it right there,” he said.
In one swift motion, Kurt Martin reached for something inside the Taurus as he swung his body back toward the policemen. It took a few seconds for everyone to realize it, but he was gripping a bloody woman by the hair and holding her up in the line of fire. Whether she was dead or simply unconscious was anybody’s guess.
“Who is that?” anchorman Charles asked.
Dana did not know. She, like the rest of the viewing audience, waited to see what would happen.
“I’ve got a hostage,” the fugitive announced.