This posting features Chapter 49 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Dana pointed to the helicopter hovering to their right. Both she and the chief wore headphones plugged into microphones. This nice new future on the Channel 11 News Copter meant that they did not have to shout at each other over the noise of the rotors.
“That’s gotta be Roth,” she said.
Hewson nodded. “Oh, yeah. It’s him all right.”
“I bet he’s pissed.”
From the front seat next to the pilot, the cameraman, Bob, spoke. “He’s pissed, all right. He’s requesting communications. He wants to speak to you, Dana.”
The reporter leaned up and addressed the helicopter pilot. “Hey, Frank, can you switch me to his frequency?”
“Sure, Dana. Hold on a sec.”
The voice of the diminutive U.S. Attorney exploded into her ear. “I am speaking to Ms. Dotson, I presume.”
“Yes, sir. You presume correctly.”
“Let me guess, Ms. Dotson. You received an anonymous tip that the story of the year is a short helicopter ride away. This story, you decide, is so important to you personally — so integral to your plans to ascend to the network news — you feel overcome by the need to rush to the story. Am I right so far?”
“I presume this is the D.A., Mr. Roth?”
“United States Attorney Roth.”
“I stand corrected.”
She could hear the irritation in his voice. “Whatever you think you’re doing, Ms. Dotson, I must insist that you to turn around. You could face charges.”
“Well, you got it mostly right. I do have a lead on a story, but I have no intention of turning around. Your threats don’t intimidate me.”
“I am afraid I must insist.”
“The skies are free, Mr. Roth. We have filed a flight plan and complied with all FAA regulations.”
He laughed. It was a short, husky guffaw — almost a bark, really. He did not attempt to constrain his sarcasm. “And this little recitation is supposed to impress me?”
Dana felt herself growing angry. “I’m not gonna turn around, Mr. Roth, no matter what you say. Skip the psychobabble and the bravado. End of story.”
“Is that so? Have you ever heard of obstruction of justice, Ms. Dotson?”
“Have you ever heard of the First Amendment, Mr. Roth?”
“Enough of this,” he said, his voice undeniably angry now. “I insist you turn around or I will charge you with interfering with official police business.”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Roth. I am on official police business.”
The radio line fell silent. After a moment, the U.S. Attorney, sounding hesitant, spoke in a soft voice. “How so? Enlighten me.”
The chief joined the conversation. “I asked Ms. Dotson and Channel 11 to fly me to Demopolis, Mr. Roth.”
More silence filtered through the airwaves. “Sheriff Hewson, I presume.”
“So, let me see if I understand the situation. You — a local law enforcement officer, might I remind you — have recruited a news helicopter to fly you to the scene of an … incident. In exchange, the news reporter who accompanies you gets an exclusive. Is that about the size of it?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
“I don’t suppose a further discussion of federalism and jurisdiction will dissuade you from this potentially career-threatening behavior, will it, sir?”
Hewson laughed. “There was a time when such a threat would have scared me shitless, but that time has long passed.”
“Besides, Steve Harris called me. He says he’ll surrender, but only to me.”
Again, the line fell silent.
“Roth. Are you there?”
“And when did you plan on sharing this tidbit with federal authorities?”
“Let me ask you, sheriff, why would Harris call you with such an offer?”
“Let’s just say he trusts me.”
“Uh-huh. And instead of coming to me or the FBI with this new information, you go to the press. Interesting. This decision speaks volumes about your priorities. Your priorities and your judgment.”
“He knew I would help,” Dana offered.
The line fell silent.
“Roth?” Hewson said.
“What the hell is he doing?” the pilot shouted.
Everyone looked over at the police helicopter. With dawning horror they realized it was charging directly into their flight path.