Bleeder, Chapter 1

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Wednesday, December 5

3:05 p.m.

It's an uncharacteristically quiet afternoon at KWLF-FM News Radio in Chandler, Arizona. However, in the newsroom of a small station like ours, "quiet" is relative. There's the low drone from the on-air speaker, occasional squawks from the police and fire monitor, phone conversations, equipment beeps, and extraneous noises that my ears eventually learn to tune in and out as needed, when the ability to focus becomes critical. My beat checks this morning produce few leads for stories. There was a police report of a 30s-something white woman caught on a residential camera stealing delivered boxes from a doorstep, but I've already written a story about holiday package safety at home and at the malls. A lack of motivation is equally uncharacteristic for me, workaholic that I am. But a minute or two of downtime won't kill me. I lean back in my desk chair. Gazing around the newsroom, rapidly moving images flash across five huge TV monitors lining the top of one wall, silently displaying local television news programs and the KWLF website. With their volumes turned down, the rotating activity belies all action. The Associated Press computer emits various tones depending on the type of story, from soft dings for the regular fifteen-minute news updates to repeated beep-beeps signifying a breaking story. The AP "wire," as it's still called, used to spit out reams of printed copy on a long roll of paper that journalists would literally rip off the machine and run into the studio to read, hence the phrase "rip and read." Now it's just another computer monitor and feed that we can access from anywhere in the building. At the moment, the independent newsgathering source is quiet, with mostly holiday images flashing across its screen.The first responder radio scanners also indicate little going on with our city's firefighters and police officers on this hump day afternoon, as they emit only the occasional "10-4" or periodic static. I sit at a massive contemporary slab of wood in the center of the recently remodeled newsroom, with irregularly rounded cutouts for each person's individual work area. Everyone was glad to get rid of the tiny claustrophobic fabric cubicles, and now that everything's in the open, it seems to prompt additional decorum in what can otherwise be a loud, sometimes bawdy workplace. My spot is closest to the back door, and includes a computer and telephone, with file drawers underneath. A photo of my parents and me brings back good memories of their trip to Arizona last year. Grant Pope, our aging news director with tired, dark eyes magnified behind oversized, black-framed glasses, sits at his area with a local community newspaper and a pair of scissors in his thin hands, no doubt clipping ideas for future news assignments. The newsroom secretary, Sally Cobb, is the only one with an actual desk, just inside the front door. She's on her computer, and from the look of the screen, it appears she's finishing her online holiday shopping. She's sporting yet another colorful Christmas top, as she has every day since Dec. 1, and I suspect this fashion statement will continue without a repeat until Christmas Eve. Her phone headset rests on a hook attached to her monitor, rather than wrapped around her short wavy hair, so it's safe to assume it's slow in her world as well. A red holiday candle on her desk must be the source of the cinnamon smell wafting through the newsroom. Just off the newsroom table, in an edit bay cubicle against the west wall, equipment engineer and editor David Brooks sits slumped in a chair, hands on the keyboard, staring into a computer monitor, his ever-expanding gut stretching his Arizona Cardinals football T-shirt. In his fifties, he's been at the station for years, and doesn't get excited about much of anything anymore. He's spent hours putting together a "year in review" of top stories that I contributed to. A smaller room for recording voiceovers, also with new equipment from the upgrades, is positioned next to him, empty. Inside the on-air control booth on the opposite side of the newsroom, encased in two walls of thick glass, is Dean Jeffries, the afternoon drive-time anchor, interviewing a psychologist about how people can ward off depression around the holidays. Sleek modern furniture, new microphones and headsets make the recently remodeled room the envy of many bigger radio stations in town. Their voices on the overhead speaker add to what is typically a cacophony of noises in the newsroom on most days.It's my home away from home and I love it here. Dean is also the guy I've been going out with for about six months, and the only one in my embarrassingly brief dating time I look forward to spending time with. He's got a crazy dry sense of humor, likes to travel and his amazing crystal blue eyes seem to pierce deep into my psyche. I get a lovely warm feeling in my stomach when I think about him. My gaze falls on the beautiful Christmas cactus plant Dean gave me last month. The only reason three pink flowers are starting to bloom is because he is watering it, not me. Good things happen with a little luck. The guy convinced me — someone who rarely uses my weeks and weeks of personal and vacation time — to drive to Flagstaff this coming weekend to take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It's been decorated for their annual "Polar Express" ride, complete with Santa and hot chocolate, but minus the cowboys who "hold up" the train during the rest of the year. It's really for children, but Dean is kind of a kid at heart, and he thought it would be fun. They've got a few feet of snow up north, and while the cold is something I left behind in Iowa when I moved to Arizona, I don't mind going for a couple of days as long as I know I can drive back down to the warmth of the Valley.Dean reserved us a room at the El Tovar, an historic old lodge at the Canyon, and I'm quite proud of myself that I haven't whined about being away from work.Much. I'm uber-focused on my job these past couple of years at KWLF, not wanting to miss any big stories, but now hanging out with Dean, I figure the stories will be there when I return. He and I— "Reported domestic, possible hostage situation, 2 Paul 13, 2 Paul 14, 8224 S. Jacaranda Drive, be advised previous contact at this location, and subject is known to be violent." A calm female dispatcher's voice emanates from the Chandler Police Department scanner, and my eyes lock with Grant's as I race over to turn up the volume. Hostage. Known to be violent. The words start my heart racing. "Additional on the domestic, 8224 S. Jacaranda Drive, reports of a weapon involved, use extreme caution." DV is a police abbreviation for domestic violence, and one of the most dangerous calls, according to many officers. A DV prevention counselor I interviewed two years ago says technically, the statistics don't bear that out, yet cops continue to believe it. "Two Paul 13 enroute," one patrol officer's radio crackles back, acknowledging the call from the second shift, primary unit in Beat 13, which is a few miles south of downtown, and an affluent area of the growing city."Two Paul 14." A female officer responds from the nearby Beat 14. Law enforcement considers domestic violence cases particularly challenging, considering an angry abuser often wields lethal weapons, and because women and children are usually involved. Many times, cops can defuse and deescalate the situation, but other times they risk their lives to save a badly battered person, only to see the couple reconcile and the victim doesn't show up for court. Without a victim, the case gets dismissed. "I think that's an Ocotillo house. Nice neighborhood, south of Queen Creek Road." My finger points to the specific area on a wall map above the scanner. "Want us to roll?" Breaking news makes my adrenaline start pumping, and competitive as I am, I always want to be first on the scene. David's chair slides with a soft shirr across the carpet of the edit bay. He sticks his head out the door, looking at Grant, awaiting instructions. "You two need to be safe ..." Grant looks conflicted, the deep lines on his craggy face creased with worry. "Trust me, they won't let us that close if there's any danger." Turning to David, I nod. "Let's go." David hesitates, and I know he'll only take orders from our boss, not me. Grant signals approval and David lumbers out of his seat toward the gear room just inside the back door to gather equipment he'll need for a live transmission. He's not a tall guy, and with that stomach hanging over his jeans, he seems to be more sluggish by the day. My nickname for him, in my head anyway, is "slow-mo," which is short for the editing term "slow motion," when audio or video is reduced in speed. It fits him, too. My leather bag in hand, it carries recorder, microphone, notepads and other paraphernalia needed for my job as a crime reporter for the small station in the southeast section of the Phoenix metropolitan area. I lucked into this job, following a "shadow day" during college, and later hanging around and going out on stories with the other reporters until I graduated. That's when Grant hired me full time and I've loved the adrenaline-rush-with-different-stories-every-day haven since. "Meet you at the van," I shout at David, and grab the vehicle keys from the wall by the back entrance. I figure if I drive, we can get there faster than the methodical and sloth-like David. Speaking the address into my cell phone's GPS, it pops up on the screen. I toss my bag into the van, start the engine and pull up outside the door. David appears with his own gear bag, and he climbs in. We're off.

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