A cloud of smoke billowed from Arnold Knight’s mouth and out the window of the moving WTMC news van. He took another drag and threw the spent butt into the street. The energy pills he had bought at the gas station down the road were just beginning to kick in. After twitching in his seat for a moment, Knight reached into his pocket and pulled out another cigarette. Once again, he held the pack absently to the driver (who also happened to be the cameraman) and once again, the driver shook his head.
“Jesus Christ.” Knight spit the words, along with saliva, into the hot air outside. “What the fuck did we do to deserve this assignment?”
Arnold Knight had been an anchorman at WTMC for fifteen years. During his time with the station, he had covered political scandals, murders, robberies, high profile court cases, and even a few kidnappings. Unfortunately, a DUI arrest followed by a nasty divorce, in which highly embarrassing personal details had been divulged, had knocked Knight out of favor with the public. These days, he was lucky to cover a dog show or street renaming. In fact, he was more likely to be found at the Platinum Pony drinking tequila shots and harassing dancers than at City Hall interviewing the mayor.
He received his current assignment after returning to the station from covering a fundraising event for the local high school. Today, he would have the honor of documenting a cash giveaway at a failing supermarket in a bad part of town. The story would run once during the early broadcast, near the end…and only if they were running under time.
As he took another drag, Knight flipped the visor down and the mirror-cover up. His white hair, slicked back with gel, shone brightly in the early morning light. Knight tilted the visor and caught a glimpse of his eyes; they were bloodshot and weighed down by heavy bags. Though he was only fifty-four, his recent lifestyle choices had aged him twenty years. He flipped the second butt out of the window and reached behind him for his makeup kit. It would take nearly a pound of powder to make his face TV worthy.
“I don’t know how in the hell I’m gonna get this shit to stick to my face,” Knight complained as he dabbed the applicator. “It’s gotta be a hundred fucking degrees out here already.”
He turned to elicit an agreement from the driver. All he got was a noncommittal grunt. Knight returned to his kit and compact mirror.
“You’d think after thirty fucking years of doing the weather that Charlie could get something right occasionally.” Knight rubbed base under his eyes. “I thought he said it was supposed to rain or something today.”
“I think that was last week.” The driver’s tone struck Arnold’s ego.
Knight turned to face the driver seat.
“How old are you, son?”
“And how long have you worked for the station?” Knight attempted to keep his anger in check.
“Well, then, son…” Knight wound himself up for another tirade against the injustices of getting old and being divorced. He usually reserved his speech for last call at the local hole in the wall. In fact, he had just given a brilliant recitation four hours ago. The flashing red and blue lights stopped him mid-sentence.
“What the fuck is going on here?” Knight stared through the windshield. His eyes widened and he dropped the powder-covered sponge to the floorboard.
“Isn’t that the store that we’re supposed to cover?” The driver’s voice raised several octaves.
The entrance to the MegaSaver was bathed in the strobing lights of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. Yellow tape was being strung around the building to prevent the crowd of onlookers from interfering with the crime scene. From across the street, Knight could see a sheet-covered body being wheeled out of the supermarket and rolled into the back of a waiting ambulance.
“Drive! NOW!” Knight slammed his hand against the dashboard several times, stirring his driver into action. Before the van came to a complete halt in the lot, Knight jumped from the passenger seat.
“Get back, get back!” A police officer stretched his arms wide to block the reporter’s charge.
“Arnold Knight: WTMC!” The reporter’s voice boomed with excitement and authority. The young cameraman stumbled into him, attempting to load a tape into the camera, power it on, and focus it all at the same time.
“I don’t care who you are, you can’t cross the tape.” The policeman shook his head and took a step forward.
Suddenly, a wild cry came from the entrance of the store. The reporter jerked his head around towards the sound. Knight watched as police led a weeping man out of the grocery store and off to the side. With another moan of anguish, the man ripped his shirt open and threw it onto the concrete. As Knight stared in amazement, the hairless man curled into a ball and rocked on the pavement. He couldn’t quite make out the man’s crazed words, but he thought he heard something about karma and gross profits.
“You better be taping this shit, kid.” Knight stared at the naked man now contorting himself into various yoga positions.
“Mr. Knight,’ the cameraman pressed a Bluetooth set in his ear, “the station wants us to go live in five.”
Knight whipped his head around to face the camera. His eyes instantly sharpened; the bags under them lifted. Knight’s posture straightened and he took command over the situation. It even appeared that the blotches of uneven makeup vanished in the bright light of the reporter’s rediscovered confidence.
The young man steadied the camera on his shoulder and counted down the seconds with his fingers. Despite the chaos that was unfolding behind him, and the lack of official information to report, Arnold Knight cleared his throat and prepared to relaunch his career.