“Hey, Slim, how ya’ doin’?” Kitty greeted the head of transportation. He was, of course, grossly overweight—hence the nickname. A gaggle of middle-aged white men hung around him—teamsters, who drove trucks for film productions in town. They spent their time in parking lots of locations and they griped, professionally. It didn’t matter the weather was beautiful, they would gripe about it. It didn’t matter everything was running smoothly, they would gripe about it. In the shadow of the Bellamy Mansion, they huddled in a semi-circle and engaged in their usual activity.
“Hello, Miss Kitty.” He nodded in her direction. The men around him all nodded, muttered greetings and smiled. They liked Kitty and Kitty had learned the way to find out the real dirt on a movie set was to talk to the drivers.
“So, how’s filming going?” she asked brightly.
“Well, you know how it is Miss Kitty—another day another dollar,” Slim shrugged. His chorus nodded agreement. “They haven’t got a clue, but we will keep it rollin’ no matter what. You can count on that.”
“I do,” Kitty nodded. “I’m sure they do, too.”
“Yeah, well, they should. That’s all I’m sayin’.” Slim spit a wad of tobacco juice out of the side of his mouth into an empty Sun Drop can. “Miss Kitty, are you here to do a story about us and how we keep the film industry rolling?”
“Slim, we ran that story last year.” She smiled and shook her head. “I don’t think my editor is going to let us do it again so quickly.”
“That’s OK, Miss Kitty, I understand, when you have something this special you don’t want to over expose it. Wear it out. I understand.” His chorus chuckled and Kitty joined in.
“Thanks for understanding, Slim.” Kitty gave him a side-long glance. “Hey Slim, there is something I want to ask you about.
“You having car trouble?”
“No, thank you. It’s not that. It’s about, well … I was wondering if any of you gentlemen hunt? Like for food?”
The chorus all nodded.
“Are you in need of some venison?” Slim asked. “I can ask my wife, I think we still have some in the freeze…“
“No, no thank you.” Kitty cut him off. “I’m in need of some information. I’ve never held a gun, and I am trying to understand some things.”
“Is this about the poor kid that was killed on the other movie?” Slim asked quietly.
“Yes,” Kitty nodded. “They’ve suspended filming…”
“Don’t I know it!” Slim interrupted her this time. “Got eight drivers with nothing to move and no work right now.” He kissed the Sun Drop can again. “What do you want to know?”
“Can anyone explain a basic firearms procedure to me? Like I said, I’ve never held a gun before.”
Maybe it has something to do with having a father who buries people for a living—too much contact with death as it is.
“Listen, gun ownership—even handling a weapon—is a responsibility. It is not taken lightly. It is not a play toy.” Slim was starting to visibly vibrate. “Guys, whatdaya think? Am I right?”
To a man they began reciting like a liturgy in church:
“If a sportsman true you’d be
Listen carefully to me. . .
Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone.
That it may unloaded be
Matters not the least to me.
When a hedge or fence you cross
Though of time it cause a loss
From your gun the cartridge take
For the greater safety’s sake.
If twixt you and neighboring gun
Bird shall fly or beast may run
Let this maxim ere be thine
‘Follow not across the line.’
Stops and beaters oft unseen
Lurk behind some leafy screen.
Calm and steady always be
‘Never shoot where you can’t see.’
You may kill or you may miss
But at all times think this:
‘All the pheasants ever bred
Won’t repay for one man dead.’
Keep your place and silent be;
Game can hear, and game can see;
Don’t be greedy, better spared
Is a pheasant, than one shared.”
Slim held up a hand and started counting off on his fingers. “All guns are always loaded—treat them as so!
“Your weapon belongs either in your hand or on the rack.
“Your weapon is not a toy.
“Always check your weapon and verify it is clear of obstructions.
“Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
“Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
“Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.”
Kitty’s jaw hung open. Clearly, these were not afterthoughts, but rules carefully and forcefully impressed upon each young man when first introduced to firearms, now written upon his mind consciously and unconsciously and practiced almost religiously. To violate the rules would not only result in loss of life but a violation of something deeper. They agreed to spend time together in the woods, each holding something that could kill the other ones. There had to be rules in order to have trust, and the trust had to be rock hard.
“So how did that actor kid get shot?” Slim demanded. “Was the gun treated like it was loaded? Clearly not.”
He ticked off each point, his voice increasing with anger and vehemence. “Was the weapon checked for obstructions? Clearly not. That other actor kid—his finger was on the trigger when he wasn’t prepared to shoot. Was he sure of his target and what was beyond it? I don’t think so—if he was, he made the decision to destroy Jeffrey Chen because he pointed a gun and pulled a trigger while aiming at him—which you only do if you have made the decision to destroy something or someone.”
“You all knew that poem?” Kitty finally managed. She registered subconsciously that, for all his pretensions of not knowing their names, Slim clearly knew each of the actors on another film in town.
“Of course, we learned it in Boy Scouts. Had to if you wanted to do shooting sports.” Slim deposited another wad into the can. “Obviously, none of the movie people from LA ever learned it. Shame.”
“Yes, yes it is.” Kitty paused. “So you hold Stan—the other actor holding the gun—you hold him accountable for Jeffrey’s death?”
“Now, I wasn’t there, but clearly he didn’t follow safety procedure. It sounds like no one else did neither.” Slim took a deep breath. “Miss Kitty, I was in the Corps, and I can tell you, it is not a game when you point a weapon at another human being. If he made the choice to aim a weapon at another person and pull the trigger—even if he thought the weapon was unloaded—he behaved in a manner intended to kill. Even if that kid was fooling around and not taking it seriously—especially if he was fooling around and not taking it seriously. Yes, he holds responsibility.” Slim shook his head. “But where was the weapons master who is supposed to keep them safe? Keep them from doing that? Who put a gun in the hand of someone not qualified to hold it and let them fire?”
The chorus murmured their agreement.
“Can I quote you on that Slim?” Kitty poised her pencil above her notebook.
“Aww, Miss Kitty, you want me to lose my job? Can’t you just say ‘an anonymous source’?”
“Not to keep my job with Mr. Dawes.” Kitty shook her head and smiled. “No, he believes in journalism that cites verified, reputable and quotable sources.”
“Well, Miss Kitty, I got my wife and children to think about. So I’d kindly ask you not to quote me.”
“I understand Slim, it can be off-the-record background research.” Kitty agreed.
“I sure would like to know the answers to those questions when you find out, miss.” Slim spat again. “Because if you’ll excuse me sayin’ so, I think you will find out.”
“I hope so, Slim,” Kitty sighed. “Do you think you could put me in touch with the drivers from ‘Blackbird’? The ones currently out of work?”
“Why do you wanna talk to them?” Slim asked warily.
“I’m just doing my job, Slim: asking questions, trying to get answers.”
He nodded, spat again and added quietly, “You might want to ask if any of them heard the second set of shots that night. The ones fired after the ambulance left to take Jeffrey Chen to the hospital. Yeah, you might want to ask them if they know anything about that.”
Gwenyfar Rohler is the fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,” which takes place while filming in Wilmington, NC.