Pivotal events. People can always tell you where they were and what they were doing when some pivotal event occurred that changed the course of their lives. For instance, “Where were you when you heard John F. Kennedy was shot?”
Well, David Walker had two such pivotal events in his life. For the second one, he was on duty at WKXR TV Peoria when the wire service streamer flickered to life at exactly seven-o-five p.m.
The five and six o’clock evening newscasts were done and the news anchors, Shannon Brewster and Gregg Hammond, along with the rest of WKXR’s staff, were out of the office attending our annual Halloween party at the Springhill Suites Hotel in town and were not due back at the station until eight p.m. for the nine o’clock broadcast.
David was alone at the TV station except for Mildred and Carl – two people he knew he could rely on in a crunch.
Mildred was Sam Larson’s current secretary. Mildred at age fifty-eight was not eye candy for the boss, nor was she window dressing for the station. The old girl knew her stuff. Before becoming Sam’s secretary, she’d worked as a film archivist, and as the station’s traffic director, timing local commercial spots for the station’s night time programs. She knew the whereabouts of every piece of video-tape and file owned by WKXR TV and was an excellent copy writer to boot.
Carl, in his ten-year stint with WKXR had worked as a sound boom operator, a lighting man, and was currently cross training as a cameraman. He did a pretty good as long as the subject didn’t move around too much.
And, of course, there was David himself. Even thou he spent the majority of his days lately, selling air time for WKXR, he was well acquainted with the anchor chair.
He’d started at WKXR TV as the three a.m. news anchor. What we in the business call the invisible hour, because no one – of importance or anyone who could do damage to WKXR — was likely to see him at that hour, which is precisely why Sam had given him the job. It made the alphabets – the FCC and NAACP — happy without offending any of Peoria’s Grand Dragons since by that time of the night, they’d finished their nightly rounds and were back at home snug under their white sheets instead of in them.
Not that David figured he’d need either one of their services, but it gave him a sense of calm knowing that he was prepared to handle anything that came up. He reasoned that was why Sam had entrusted him with the running of the station. He felt he was getting past his second class citizenship at WKXR.
But still, it was All Hallows Eve, a traditionally slow news night in the Midwest. Nothing like Detroit’s Devil Night ever happened here. WKXR’s Halloween news broadcast was normally filled with film clips of haunted houses, scarecrows, and Jack-O-Lanterns, and the usual costumed little kids waving happily to the camera as they went about Trick-or-Treating. His own daughter, five year-old Kaila, was among this year’s Trick-or-Treaters caught on tape.
He leaned back in Sam Larson’s, the owner and general manager of WKXR, big overstuffed leather chair, his six foot four inch frame taking up every square inch. His custom made size thirteen double ‘E’ Florsheims were propped up on the desk’s highly polished all wood veneer while he enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of Sam’s imported Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
As he savored the coffee’s strong pungent flavor and aroma, David pondered over the events of two hours earlier.
Sam had called him from LaGuardia just before boarding his flight.
“David, you alone.”
“As alone as I can be considering I’m at the station.”
“David, you know this trip to Chicago was kind of a last minute thing because of a story I happened across. When you read it, I’m sure you’ll find it as important as I do. Can you wait at the office until I get in? I should be there around seven thirty or eight.”
“Sam, Sam, have you forgotten what night it is? And all of the ‘stuff’ I went through for this night. It’s Halloween!! Kaila’s first Halloween, and I promised her that we would do it together. Sam, I can’t stay tonight. Any other time, I’m your man, you know that, but not tonight.
“David, do us both a favor and just wait there for me! I can’t give you a lot of details over the phone, but David, I swear to you it’s important and worth your time. You won’t regret it when I tell you what I’ve got.”
“What could be more important than missing Kaila’s first Trick or Treating?”
“You remember a year or two ago, we ran that news footage of that horrendous crash out in Iowa. Well, I think I’ve uncovered the real reason that plane went down!”
“What do you mean, the real reason? Never mind the fact that the crash happened two years ago and people aren’t interested anymore, everybody knows the reason the plane went down was hydraulic failure. Sam, there’s no story there!”
David’s acute listening skills, caught the sound of a crowd of people milling around in the background. Sam was already at the airport. He could hear the overhead announcer paging last call for flight 40….. When Sam’s next words broke into his consciousness.
“Yes there is, and it involves you and me. Before, I put this story on air, I need to run it pass you first.”
“What do you mean, it involves you and me?”
“What I should have said, David, it involves you and Kate.”
The mention of Kate’s name had caught him off-guard. He was having trouble following Sam’s conversation. Hell, he was having trouble just catching his breath.
“Yes, David, Kate. And I don’t want to waste another day getting this news out. I should be back at the station before eight.”
“David, wait for me!”
“Oh, one more thing, call Margaret and tell her not to wait up for me. Tell her I’m going directly to the station after the airport. I have a feeling you and I will be there all night.”
“David, I’ve got to go, their calling my flight.”
He heard a click and the line went dead.
He’d been so rattled, he hadn’t had a chance to ask Sam more questions.
Sam had practically whispered into the phone, as though he thought someone might be listening to their conversation. As owner and general manager of the station, Sam was not the type man who whispered anything. His normal speaking voice was a shout. Was it paranoia? No. Sam was all too aware that people were out to get him. His personal work motto was get them before they get you.
But there was something else that had made David decide to miss Trick-or-Treating with Kaila and wait at the office for Sam.
It had vibrated along the telephone wires between New York and Chicago and made a distinctive echo in David’s ear. It had intrigued him as much as the mention of his late wife’s name. Sam Larson was scared.