“Thank you everyone for coming. If you could please take a seat.” The PR guy, with slicked back hair and a three-piece suit, smiled his oily smile and executed a vague half-bow.
Kitty stared at the carefully composed woman sitting at the table on the dias. Next to her was a man in a seersucker suit, specifically tailored to let people know it was expensive but not flashy.
That must be her, Kitty thought.
Looking down at her own floral-print skirt and poet-sleeved blouse, she felt like a country bumpkin next to the composed, sleek, sophisticated woman in black Chanel. Even her spare but tasteful jewelry made Kitty feel a twinge of envy. Above them, projected on a screen behind the wall, was an image of Jeffrey Chen in costume for filming “BlackBird.”
Kitty felt like she couldn’t breathe. If she could focus on her tape recorder and get through this, it would be fine. People took their seats; the TV news camera crews set up along the side aisles of the room. Kitty concentrated on not making eye contact with any former colleagues. She was sure word had gotten around by now, and everyone knew she had been fired. She could feel the flush in her ears and cheeks.
“Freelance,” she murmured to herself. “I am freelance now. Still a member of the press—I will sell this story to a news outlet. Freelance. Freelance…”
“Ed, are we ready?” the PR guy asked a man behind a small soundboard. Ed fiddled with the dials one last time and gave a thumbs up.
“OK, thank you everyone for coming today,” the PR guy began. “As most of you know by now, on Easter Sunday, Jeffrey Chen was killed while filming ‘BlackBird.’ Because local authorities have failed to do their jobs and bring those responsible to justice, Judy Chen, seated behind me, the mother of Jeffrey Chen, has filed a civil suit and named 14 individuals she holds personally responsible for her son’s early and tragic death.”
He paused to let the information sink in. “I’m going to turn the floor over now to Victor Jones, Mrs. Chen’s attorney.”
A man is shot in a room full of witnesses and no crime was committed? A man was shot and killed in a room full of witnesses and no crime was committed? It started looping through Kitty’s head. The noise kept getting louder and louder, ‘til she realized everyone in the room was staring at her.
“Yes, Miss,” the attorney answered her from the table.
“That is exactly what the police and DA would like us to believe: No crime was committed. Clearly, Jeffrey Chen was killed because of negligence. Someone must be held accountable. Jeffrey trusted the people around him with his life, and he paid the ultimate price for misplacing that trust.”
Kitty reeled backward like someone had hit her. Finally: justice for Jeffrey. Someone would answer for his death. Someone. Coroner would have that damn smug smile wiped off his face—and my goddamned former boss, Dawes.
Jones read out names: the producers, the director, the props man, the special-effects people, the stunt guys, Stan Cramer, and even Hank Reims, Jeffrey’s childhood friend and stunt double. Fourteen names. Fourteen people who in open court would have to personally answer for their role in Jeffrey’s death.
“This will not bring back my son,” Mrs. Chen began quietly. “Nor will it fill the void left in all of our lives, especially of his fiancée, Ashley.”
She visibly swallowed back tears and continued.
“But as a mother, I owe Jeffrey justice. I owe him an answer. I owe him to not let his killers walk away. Film work is dangerous. Martial arts can be dangerous. But proper precautions should be taken to protect those at work. Clearly, they were not taken. As the lady in the back so clearly said, Jeffrey was killed in a room full of witnesses. Someone must answer for his death.”
The room erupted in questions, and the projection behind the dias changed to include the names of the 14 people against whom Judy Chen was filing suit. Kitty caught her breath when she realized the list included Hank, Jeffrey’s stunt double and best friend. She heard the lawyer read his name, but seeing it superimposed over Jeffrey’s mid-section made it sear like a laser into her heart.
Wow! Momma’s not pulling any punches…
She reflected how somehow she doubted her father would have the same grit about pursuing her mother’s killers. Or maybe he would, and the thought of him in the grip of vengeful anger scared her more than how him backing away disappointed her.
* * * * *
“Hey, Kitty!” the clear baritone voice carried across the parking lot. “Kitty! Wait.”
She sped up noticeably, but Scott’s long legs easily caught up with her.
“Hey—it’s good to see you.” Scott smiled down at her. “But I thought you had your press credentials taken away from you? How did you get in?”
“I walked in and sat down,” she mumbled defensively, while she fumbled with her car keys.
Why, oh, why couldn’t she get the door to unlock? Of all times for her locks to seize, why now? This is so embarrassing.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here; we miss you around the newsroom.” He flashed his gorgeous smile, and Kitty felt her spine tingle. She straightened and turned to him.
“How’s Stacey?” she asked and tried to be sociable. Scott’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Stacey, worked at the paper. Their tumultuous and passionate relationship was a frequent source of newsroom gossip—and a betting pool. Kitty had won $18 on the square that Scott and Stacey would be back together by Super Bowl.
“She’s … she’s fine. Thanks for asking.” Scott’s smile faltered.
“Good, well, tell her I said ‘hi’ and asked about her.”
Kitty looked him full in the face for the first time that day.
“But if you don’t mind I have a story to write.” She turned back to her car and finally got the key to turn in the lock.
“Who are you writing for?” Scott asked.
“It’s called ‘freelance,’ Scott. A girl’s still got to eat.”
Kitty buckled her safety belt and primed the accelerator with her right foot.
“Well, maybe we could get a bite sometime, get caught up, ya know? Stay in touch.”
“Sure, Scott. Sure. Bring Stacey.”
The VW engine roared to life and she revved the accelerator twice. While waving to Scott, she pulled forward out of the parking space.
She had to find Hank and talk to him—before any other news outlet did. He was her best chance to get a quote about the situation. But where was he, and had he been served yet by the process server? Or would she be the one to tell him?
“Bless you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
She blessed Jeffrey’s mother for forcing someone to do the right thing and accept some responsibility. Because Jeffrey deserved someone to stand up for him. It would have taken a strong woman to have partnered Lee Chen and an even stronger one to weather the rumors in the aftermath of his death.
Thank God for her, Kitty prayed. Thank you.
Gwenyfar Rohler is encore’s 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. Catch up on previous chapters at encorepub.com.