“Scott! Get in here!” The editor called to her as she walked into the newsroom. If Kitty Scott walked into a bar, she would be memorable because she was a fat woman who dressed like she wasn’t. With sandy brown hair and a heart-shaped face—or it would be heart shaped if it didn’t bleed into her neck—she might not be beautiful, but she was inquisitive to the point of being nosey. In many professions that’s a liability, but for a newspaper reporter, it is an entry-level skill.
“Yes, sir?” Kitty didn’t even pause at her desk to drop her purse. When the boss called, the boss called.
“Get over to the hospital. We just got a call that a guy was killed on the film set.”
“Do I look like a reporter? Isn’t it your job to find out? Now, get moving.” He waved her away.
“Yes, sir.” She pivoted and headed out without a moment’s hesitation.
He smiled at her back as the newsroom door shut behind her. Other people might make the mistake of not taking her seriously because she was frumpy and paunchy, but not Rick Dawes. He had grudgingly accepted the reality that women were joining his workforce in the early ‘70s—and not as secretaries. By the mid ‘80s, he concluded, if the world was changing and women wanted to have the jobs of men, by God, he would treat them with the same toughness as his male reporters.
He liked Kitty Scott from the beginning. Though, when she applied to be a reporter—her first job out of college—he had some misgivings. She lacked a lot of grace and graces that were hallmarks of Southern womanhood, the advantages of the few female reporters he hired. When engaged in conversation or an interview, if Kitty didn’t like someone’s answer, she would ask the same question 10 different ways, instead of smiling and appreciating the subtext—which is what Southern belles were brought up to do.
It was part of why he assigned her to be the first female film beat reporter. She was prepared to wait however long she needed and press however much in order to get even the most self-absorbed L.A. producer to answer her questions about the economic impact of current filming projects in the Port City.
Actually, female or no, she was the first “film beat” reporter he had at the newspaper. Why had he never needed one before? Now, the Port City had film, and film was money and news. He smiled at the memory of the day she came back from interviewing Dennis Hopper. It was a vicarious joy he experienced through his reporters. He denied them so much: membership in clubs, advocacy, volunteering, political opinions. It was The Fourth Estate—the press had to hold the feet of the powers that be to the fire. To do that, one must be apart—to have impartiality. But interviewing celebrities was something everyone enjoyed—even Kitty, though she tried to act blasé about it. He was proud of that as well. She should keep her joy contained and fit in with the men in the newsroom; it was the best way for her to thrive there.
* * * * *
The hospital smells like nowhere else on Earth: Disinfectant, floor polish, urine, and air freshener mingled with a thin veneer of cigarette smoke. Kitty shook her head, trying to clear it and wondered again how anyone could work at a hospital and smoke. It seemed like such a contradiction of terms. She actually hadn’t been back since the night her mother was killed. While looking at the revolving entrance door, she took a deep breath and braced herself.
“Come on, Kitty, you can do it,” she muttered to herself over and over, until by some miracle, she made in through the door and to the elevators. But the smell made her gag, and her skin felt like it was crawling off of her. “This is no way to face an interview about a death,” she moaned.
There are some things reporters never like doing. Going to the hospital to report on death and accidents is one. “Dreaded” was a more accurate term. The staff needed to not to be bothered to do their jobs. The family didn’t want to be bothered while they coped with all the trauma in front of them. But there she was, asking nosy questions at the worst possible time.
And she knew the flipside of the page all too well. She remembered being wrapped up in pain and fear and desperately wanting information, reassurance, to wake up from the nightmare of life—to somehow unsee her mother, dripping blood on the floor, as the gurney rushed her away. She hoped to unsee her father in speechless shock, unable to sign any forms of consent for treatment, much less answer questions about medications or medical history. The next day when the police-beat reporter started asking her about the events leading up to her mother’s shooting, and the ongoing investigation for the culprits, she never wanted to do her job again.
But she did. Because a reporter does the job she is assigned to do—and she does it well.
This was her job and she was going to do it, no matter what.
“Yes, can I help you?” The receptionist asked. Kitty flashed her press badge, “We got a report there was an accident on the movie set.”
“Let me get someone to help you.” The receptionist retreated to the inner office and patted her perfect bun, convinced a hair was out of place. Kitty leaned on the reception desk to steady herself and took a deep breath, counted backward from 10, nine, eight …
“You can go in.” The receptionist held open the door to the inner sanctum.
Walt King looked ashen. Kitty had never seen him look so bad—and he had talked with her about car accidents, hurricane-related deaths, autopsies, and domestic violence deaths.
“I don’t normally say this, you understand,” he said. “But it’s bad.”
He paused to light a cigarette, his hands noticeably shaking.
“Why? What happened? We got a report that someone was dead? Is someone dead?”
“Might as well be.” He blew out a stream of smoke. “Apparently, he was in a man-lift on the movie set and went right into the high-tension power lines overhead.”
“Are you saying he survived?” she asked in disbelief.
“Barely. Apparently, he was still hot to the touch and twitching when the ambulance showed up.”
He got quiet.
“It looks like part of his head melted off his body.”
“Seriously? And he survived that? He’s not dead? How do you run a manlift in to powerlines? Don’t you see it above you?”
“They tell me he is still alive. They are getting ready to air-lift him to Chapel Hill to the burn unit up there.”
“Yep, that about covers it.”
He shook his head. “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”
“But was it intentional? Did someone do this on purpose?”
“I only deal with the medical side of it, and all I know is he’s still alive,” Walt held up a finger to count, “and that he’s going to the burn unit at Chapel Hill.” He held up another finger. “Beyond that, you have to ask someone who was there.”
“But how do you know he ran into power lines?”
“Miss Scott, I can show you some graphics about burns and how they are treated. I can tell you the impact on his neurological system is going to last the rest of his life.”
He held up a hand to stop her. “But I cannot tell you how long the rest of his life is going to be. Nor can I tell you for sure what kind of quality of life he will have. I certainly cannot speak to the events leading up to the accident—or incident. I do know we, and the hospital at Chapel Hill, will do everything possible to insure the best outcome possible for him.”
That was six weeks ago. Now she was back here, and it felt like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said.
Almost the same conversation word-for-word with her editor—the same smells, the same strained look on Walt’s face. Except this time he mentioned most of the crew from the movie was in the waiting room of the emergency room
“They’re holding a vigil,” he explained.
“A vigil? What do you mean a vigil?”
“Yes, it seems they aren’t going to leave until Jeffrey Chen is out of surgery.”
He paused, choosing his words carefully. Discussing someone with the celebrity of Jeffrey Chen, whose family had a long history of dealing with PR guys far more savvy than him (chewing them up and spitting them out when necessary), made him very cautious about handling this particular case, especially with this particular reporter.
He finally managed, “It could be a long wait.”
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. You can read other chapters here.