A Storm Named Zach

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 17

I was still on my knee, waiting for Zach to answer me. He wouldn't say no, would he? That just couldn't be possible. Now I was getting worried, and I think everyone else was feeling the same way since they were staring at us, their mouths hanging wide open.

Finally, finally, Zach said in a deep voice I'd never heard, "Jeremy, stand up."

I did as I was told. I felt like I was about to go to the guillotine or get a paddle from my blind junior-high principal for talking too much in study hall.

Everyone was still looking at us, wondering what was going on. I took a quick look at Isaac, and he looked like he was going to start bawling, poor kid. I was really getting nervous now. Did I make a colossal bumble? What in the heck did I do wrong? Shit. Fuck. Damn.

But then Zach took a knee in front of me, slid off the ring I had just slipped on his finger and said, "No. I can't marry you until I ask you a question. A serious question."


"Will you, Jeremy Winchester Farnsworth, please do me the honor of being MY husband, my one and only, forever and ever?"

"You little devil! You got me so scared. Yes! I promise to love you, cherish you, nurture you every day that I am able. And to quote your brother, Hell to the yes!"

Man, did that ever make all the guys yell and whoop. They made so much noise I bet every animal in a two-mile radius went scrambling for cover. Even Bryce was happy, jumping up and down while his grandfather smiled and clapped for us.

"Ha!" Zach said, after a monster kiss. "I realize it's gonna be difficult to pull fast ones on you, but when you least expect it, I'll do it every time."

"I wouldn't have it any other way, my love. Thank you for saying yes. And I gotta say, that was a good one."

After hugs all around, even from the ever-stoic Antoine, we put our shoes back on and followed Bryce and his grandfather Gray Eagle back to the helicopter. Everyone was on a high, joking and laughing and enjoying our short time together. There was no doubt in my mind that we had all become life-long friends. Our pack.

We found Pilot Pete trying to nap in the back of the chopper, doors wide open, and his book plopped on his chest. How that was even comfortable was anyone's guess.

"Guess what, Pete? My brother and Jeremy are going to get married! You should have been there. It was epic."

"Is that what all that yelling was about? I thought I heard something going on because right after that, all these rabbits came charging out of the bush. Weirdest thing I've ever seen."

"Yep, that was us," Steven said. "Want to see the video? I've got it on Jeremy's phone. It was so cool."

"I would, but we need to get moving. Can you send it to me? I'd like to see it."

"No problem. Everybody, put your digits in my phone, and I'll send it to you. There's no cell service out here, so we have to do it the old-fashioned way," I said. "Tom, what do you guys do without cell service?"

"Live a nice, quiet life. Drives Bryce crazy, but after a couple weeks he doesn't miss it." Bryce wasn't paying any attention because he and Isaac were busy exchanging numbers and promising to keep in touch. That was a good thing.

"Tom, there is just no way I can thank you enough for what you did for us today. All of us. I know without a doubt, my guys will always remember this special day. So, thank you, my friend. I'm so glad we spent this time together."

He took me aside and said, "Don't thank me. That was all you. I just did the translation. Besides, we'll meet again. You know that. A word of advice: You've started your pack. Make sure you're always there for them. Even with the boys over there in Vegas. In the short amount of time you've known each other, they look up to you. Do not let them down. Follow your heart, ask for wisdom, and when in doubt ask, What Would Wolfie Do?"

"Thank you, my friend. I won't let them, or you, down."

"Now get going. You have a house to buzz."

"How do you…oh, never mind. I get it. Just listen. And mediate."

"That's right, my brother. Besides, I'll be checking up on you. I get out to Pasadena a few times a year to visit my daughter and son-in-law and Bryce. And I expect to be invited to your wedding. And I don't want to miss out seeing Wolfie again. I have stories about you to share with him."

"That would be great, son," I joked.

"You think that's funny, huh? Have Wolfie help you see how many lives we've shared together, son."

"I will. Can I give you a hug?"

"I will never, ever say no to that."

After we were buckled up and Pilot Pete was warming up the engine and rotors, he said, "Sorry guys, we don't have time to do a fly-by of the bridge. But if we push it, I think we can still buzz the Squirt's house."

"That's fine by us. Like you told us, today was so much more amazing than anyone of us had imagined. Squirt? What's a landmark Pete can use to find your house?" I asked.


"They're just west of Sunset Station Casino. Maybe ten blocks. Is that too far off course?" Steven answered for the kid.

"No. I've flown that way before. When we get close to the dam, we should get cell reception. Someone needs to call your friends to go outside and look for us. It's going to be fast. Antoine, that okay with you? I know you don't like heights and I don't want to freak you out."

"No, I think I'm good. Besides, my totem is Soaring Raven, so I need to start embracing it."

"Good for you!" Pete said, and everyone agreed.

It didn't take long flying at a hundred-and-twenty-five miles per hour to reach the outskirts of Henderson. It was actually one of the coolest things I've done. We came in hot and low, and sure enough, we caught a glimpse of Mama Sally and Natalie standing on the front lawn waiting for us. When they spotted the chopper, they waved like crazy. Antoine whooped with delight, surprising us. It was a total rush.

"Was that Natalie?" Antoine asked.

"Yep," Isaac said. The Squirt was completely thrilled. "You're going to be her daddy; I just know it!"

"Wow. That's so hard to believe."

"I going to need to hear that story, but I have to talk to the tower to find out where they want us to land," Pete said into his headset.

It was busy at the small airport, with helicopters coming and going, and business jets taking off and landing. Unless I had a sound-proofed house, I don't think I'd like to live too close to this place, or near their airspace.

I guess we were all in a huggy mood, because one-by-one, everyone embraced Pilot Pete for the extraordinary experience we just went through. He seemed surprised but enjoyed it just the same.

"Listen, Pete. We don't know each other very well, but I'd like you to come out to Zach's and my wedding in So Cal. Tom's going to be there, and maybe it'll be a good time for you guys to play catch up."

"I'd love that."

"Great. Here's my number. Text me your address so we can send you an invitation and get you a hotel room. You'll have fun, I promise." Then I leaned into him and said into his ear so Zach couldn't hear, "There might even be a Llama involved."

"I wouldn't miss that for anything," he laughed. "Llama or no Llama."

The other SUV had just rolled up, so we had to cut things short. We all waved goodbye and strapped ourselves in.

Back on the Strip, things had quieted down considerably, for the most part. After driving past the front of our hotel, we saw the media trucks and vans were still stationed all around. Only two network helicopters were flying overhead now, probably doing live shots for the afternoon news. The lead driver in the other SUV took us around the back, but it was still slow going because of all the looky-loos hanging around. I was happy we were going in the back way because I was not in a mood to talk to a gaggle of pushy reporters.

Through the kitchen this time – which totally riveted Zach – and up the back elevators, we met Director Rick at our door. It was amazing how he choreographed all of this to the second and managed to meet us at precisely the right time. But I sure wasn't going to complain.

"I take it everything went well, Jeremy?"

"It couldn't have been better. I owe you big, buddy. And he said yes!"

Zach asked, "You were in on this?"

"Just a teeny bit. But that's fantastic. You two are going to be so happy. I can see it in your eyes. And believe me, I see a lot of couples come out here to get married, and I don't see that kind of love very often."

"Thanks for saying that."

"Well, it's true."

"So, we still on for that press thing upstairs?"

"Please, would you?"

"Yeah, I will. Like I said, I owe you large. Did you get that newbie reporter?"

"I did. I'll give him a call. It shouldn't take more than an hour tops to get him here and set up in the suite upstairs. That okay?"

"Yeah. I have some calls I need to make and change my clothes, so that works out perfectly. Let me know when you're ready."

"Sure. See you soon. Oh, and just between you and me, no one knows that we've recently started dating."

"No worries, Rick. I'd never say anything."


"Hey, Squirt?" I asked when the three of us got back in our suite and slammed the door shut behind us. "Think Mama Sally would let you spend the night? Zach and I are heading back home early tomorrow afternoon, and we'd like to spend as much time with you as we can."

"That would be so cool! But where would I sleep? And I don't have any clean clothes."

"That couch you're sitting on pulls out into a bed. As for clothes, we bought Zach a boatload of stuff. I'm sure he'll let you borrow something clean. They might be a bit big, but we'll make it work. Plus, I was thinking we need to take you shopping. You probably need some new stuff that fits correctly."

"You two are way too nice. Thank you. But I really do need some new stuff. Money is always super-tight when you're a foster kid. Um, not to be pushy, but can I get some men's briefs instead of Walmart tighty-whities? It's so embarrassing when we change for gym. I feel like such a dork when the guys make fun of me for wearing those."

"Absolutely. Whatever you want and feel comfortable in."

"Jeremy? I think I saw somewhere that the hotel next door has a huge shopping mall. We can get him some clothes there. But this is on me. No discussion, so don't even go there."

"Okay, Little Bear. I love it when you get all zesty on me. Maybe we can find you a new pair of Vans. That's on me, my love."

"Oh. My. God! You two have it so bad for each other I feel like I'm in a vat full of maple syrup."

"Says the kid perving on the hot Native kid," I joked.

"I did not."

"Duh, everyone saw it. You have good taste in men, just like I do. But don't worry, little brother. Your secret is safe with us. Besides, who are we going to tell?"

"You're gonna tell your housekeeper, that's who. I have to go through a condom class from some old lady I don't even know! Trust me. I'm not ready for any of that stuff anyway."

"Good," I said. "Butt sex is not to be taken lightly. I had to give that speech to my nephews. Well, not the butt sex part but the condom stuff. I even brought props! It included bananas and rubbers, and it was awesomely embarrassing for them. I loved it."


"The thing is, sometimes you can get caught up in the moment. Zach just found out he has a brother, and I'm sure he agrees with me that you need to be safe, so you're around for a very long time. Maybe, for now, you can just be boyfriends with Bryce if you guys become friends, or anyone else you're attracted to. Hold hands, maybe, and if you must, try that kissy face thing you find so disgusting. Here: Pinky swear with us that that's all you'll do until you come to live with your brother and me. Didn't Gray Eagle say you need some male figures in your life? I want you to be smart and safe as much as Zach does. Just as much as I want my nephews to be safe. You're family now, an important part of our pack. We love you, and only want the best for you."

"Okay, I get it."

"It's true. We may sound like we're your new dads, but little brother, we just want what's best for you, that's all. We'll never judge you. That, I promise."

He didn't say anything, but ran across the room and latched onto Zach. "Thank you. I don't want you to think I sound ungrateful. I just never had a man, or men, in my life. Especially as cool as you guys are. Thank you for caring about me. I really mean it. And it's great to have a real family again."

"Awesome, Squirt. I'll go call Mama Sally. I hope she says yes," Zach said.

"Good call. I think coming from you might make her 'yes' easier," I said, "since you're going to be his guardian."

"But let me tell her about the helicopter, and about Antoine too, okay?" Isaac asked.

"Sure. Hey, I have a thought. With everything that's gone on today, why don't we bring some pizzas or Subway or Panda or something for lunch when we drop the Squirt off? That way, we can tell her everything that's happened and spend a little time with them."

"Brilliant idea, Little Bear. You've already started embracing your totem. You get a kiss for that."

When I broke away from Zach, Isaac stared at us and asked, "Is that all you guys do? Kiss all the time?"

I laughed at that and said, "No, we do other things too."

"TMI, Old Owl, or whatever your totem name is. Geez. I don't need to hear that."

After Zach and I stopped laughing, he said, "I think both Antoine and Steven are off tomorrow. Maybe they could meet us for lunch at Sally's, and we could introduce Natalie to Antoine, and maybe his wife if she's free. Steven knows Natalie, so maybe this would be a good thing for everyone involved. What do you think?"

"It's brilliant, is what I think. Make it happen. While you're doing that, I'll be in the bedroom calling Fi and my sister. Let me know when that reporter shows up, okay?"

I grabbed a cold bottle of water out of the mini-bar, then kicked off my shoes and sprawled out on the bed. I wasn't sure who I wanted to talk to first but figured I'd try my sister before it got too late in Spain.

"Hey, Sis. What's all that noise? Are you guys eating again or did you take the twins to some crazy club?"

"Hi, Honey! Yeah, they eat dinner so late in Barcelona. We're at this delicious Tapas bar we like here in our neighborhood. Fi and I are going to have to go to yoga class seven days a week when I get back because I'm getting a bit tubby. Everyone's waving at me to tell you hi. How are you doing after that awful shooting?"

"Really good, actually. So here goes: You want the super-crazy great news first, or the regular news first? Luckily, there's no bad news this time."

"Aw, shit! What now?" she laughed. "Crap, I owe the boys more money for swearing. Damn. Two more weeks until they turn eighteen and I won't have to play this game with them anymore. Give me the regular one first, I guess, while I settle up with them."

"I sorta got talked into doing a press briefing about the shooting. But I negotiated it into a one-on-one sit down with a local reporter because I didn't want to deal with a room full of rabid reporters. In fact, I'm going to do that in a few minutes. I wanted to give you a heads-up, so if you see me on TV in the morning, you guys won't freak out."

"Okay, thanks for that. You know you don't have to do that press thingy if you don't want."

"I know, but they'll hound me just like they're hounding Zach if I don't do it."

"True. Okay, what's the other thing?"

"Um, I need you to be chill when I tell you this. It's kinda big. Try not to scream and cuss me out and make a big scene, okay?"

"Oh, God, Jer. What did you do?"

"It's all good, I promise. Here goes: I asked Zach to marry me."

The phone was silent for so long I thought our connection was dropped. But when she came back on, I could tell she was crying. "Oh, my gosh. That's so huge. He said yes, right?"

"He did. You're not pissed?"

"Why in the hell would I be pissed? You've always loved that boy. You never told me, but I could tell. There was this spark between the two of you, always. And I know he loves you. Everyone knows it. You were just biding your time until he came back into your life. Oh, God, Jeremy! That's great news. I am so happy for you. Both of you."

"Thanks, sis. That means so much. I really had no idea how'd you take it." In the background, I could hear the twins asking her what was going on.

"The twins are going nuts. Henry is too. Randy says they want to be in your wedding."

"Of course they will. Listen, I'm running short on time, and I gotta call Fi, and then I have that press thing. I'm going to send you a video a friend took of me proposing to Zach. Sis, it was so cool. Anyway, I just wanted you to be the first to know. We'll talk more tomorrow, okay?"

"Of, course, honey. We love you so much. A wedding! I can't believe it."

"Oh, man. You're already planning it in your head, aren't you?"

"You better believe it, mister."

"Okay, whatever. We'll talk more tomorrow. I gotta run."

"Sure, Jeremy. Please give Zach our love and welcome him to our family."

"Will do."

Next came Fi, something I really wasn't looking forward too. But I had to do it. I didn't want her to hear about it from someone else first. I took a deep breath and dialed her number. She picked up surprisingly fast.

"Hi, Fi. Watcha doing?"

"What the hell, Jerry? You never ask me that. What's wrong now? Did you whack someone else?"

"No. And nothing's wrong. In fact, everything's perfect. Couldn't be better. Can't I call my best friend and see how she's doing?"

"Are you high? You sound weird."

"I'm not high. You know I don't do that. I'm just happy, is all."

"Spill it, Jerry. You know I don't like it when you get all weird on me like this."

"Okay. I'm just playing with you. In a minute I'm going to send you a video our friend took earlier of Zach and me. I wanted to give you a heads up because I know you're going to freak. And when you freak out, you freak out better than anyone I know."

"Oh, brother. Seriously. What have you done? Would you please just spill it?"

"Are you sitting down?"

"Yeah. Nacho and I are at Starbucks. Please, just spit it out."

"Fi? Try not to make a ginormous scene, okay? This is super-serious. Here goes: I asked Zach to marry me."

"Fuck you, Jerry! That's not funny. Not at all," she screamed, and then hung up on me! Geez, such a drama queen.

Oh, well. She'd get over it, eventually. I sent her the video of us at the medicine wheel, and just as I was about to call Fi back, Zach came in and said they were ready for me upstairs. Good timing. I'd deal with Fi later when she calmed down.

"Did Mama Sally say yes to Isaac spending the night?"

"Yeah, once I told her we'd bring lunch tomorrow. I get the feeling she's tired of cooking, and I kinda feel like we bribed her."

"Not surprised. I'll try and make this interview quick. Why don't you and Isaac find a cool restaurant we can go to for dinner. A steak house, maybe, or one of your favorite chef's. Don't worry about the cost because this is a super-special day and we need to celebrate. If you can't get reservations, check with Director Rick. He seems able to make just about anything happen."

"No, kidding. Good luck."

"Thanks," I said, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "See you soon."

As always, Director Rick was waiting for me in the hall. He still had a phalanx of security team members stationed on our floor and at our door, which I was grateful for.

"Thanks again for doing this, Jeremy. I understand why you didn't want to do the big press briefing earlier. It was a madhouse, let me tell you. We had to do it in the big ballroom because there were so many people. And not just our press, foreign press, too. We normally don't get that."

"I'm not surprised because you have so many Asian guests. I figured it would be a hot mess, and I'm glad we were in Arizona when that happened. I don't have much experience with the press, other than at work, and recently when Zach's dumbass dad fled the country. They're ruthless. I literally had to kick them out of our house when they tracked us down and tried to break in the front door. They almost made it."

"Wow. That must have been scary. Wait. Hold on a minute here. Your boyfriend? Is he…?"

"Yeah. Ziggy Dumont's son."

"What a fustercluck. Poor kid. Well, just so you know, your secret's safe with me. I'll never spill it."

"Thanks for that," I said, as we waited for the elevator. "So, tell me about your reporter friend."

"He's a cute guy, and we've been dating on the sly for a couple of months now. We get along great, and I really like him, and he says he likes me. The big problem is he doesn't want to come out at work, or anywhere really, because he thinks it would jeopardize his job since he's so young. I keep telling him he's being silly. I mean, Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper are out, and even some guy on Fox News, and it hasn't hurt their careers, right? And his station is owned by CNN, so that shouldn't be a problem either. They're as liberal as can be."

"It shouldn't. But to tell you the truth, I hate CNN."


"I have a beef with one of their star reporters. She's made our lives miserable. But we don't have time for that now. That's a story for later."

"I get it. Thing is, I don't think this line of work is going to work for Stoney. He needs to have a tough hide, that I know, but I'm not sure he's up to the task. Don't get me wrong. He's great at what he does, but well, he's just not quite comfortable in his skin yet, as handsome as he is. Maybe it's because he's so young. Anyway, I keep telling him he should try something else, something not so cutthroat and demanding, like movie reviews or entertainment reporting. He'd be great at that."

"I would guess that maybe his biggest problem is that he works for a small market here in Vegas, and I'm sure it's still kind of conservative out here as well. It must be hard for him to be his true, authentic self. Maybe he should move to a market that's more accepting. There are tons of LGBT+ folks in our L.A. news stations. Because of where I work, I know a few entertainment reporters. I could make some connections for him if he wanted."

"That's what I keep telling him. But he says he needs to build up his career first. Plus, his family is here, and then we wouldn't see much of each other."

"Yeah, that's tough," I said as we boarded the elevator. "But still, after what happened today, I realize you only get so many trips around the sun. The folks we met on our helicopter trip pressed that home. In a huge way. You have to make every minute matter and cherish the ones you're with. I guess I'm lucky. I'm going to spend the rest of my life with the man I love more than anything. Everything else is just…everything else. If you have a pack of good people around you, nothing can go wrong, or at least, they're there for you if it does."

"Makes sense. Maybe after you're done, you can tell Stoney that. Okay, here we are. You'll like this. It's one of our two Presidential suites. It's huge."

"How can you have two Presidential suites? As if Trump and Obama would stay here at the same time," I laughed.

"One's for the President, the other for his staff. Actually, the whole floor would be for his entourage. That only happened once, luckily. What a huge mess. I think I worked forty-eight hours straight that time."

"I bet."

Rick rang the doorbell, and his friend was instantly right there. "Hey, Stoney, this is Jeremy Farnsworth. Jeremy, Stoneman Garcia."

"Nice to meet you, Jeremy. And thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it. Guys, come on in."

"Actually, I need to attend to some other things. How long do you think this will take?"

"Well, Jeremy promised me ten minutes, so we'll try to stick to that. I have to set up the camera, and maybe dust him with some powder. Don't want him to look too shiny, right? Bright lights and all that!"

"Sure," I said. Makeup? Really? Whatever. I wasn't a clown and figured I could rub it off when he wasn't looking. "Hey, Rick? Before you go, Zach might hit you up for dinner reservations once he finds the restaurant he wants to try. He's the resident foodie. Can you do your magic with that?"

"Of course. I'll make sure that happens."

"Thanks for that. You're awesome." Once Rick left, I asked, "Okay, Stoney or Stoneman? What should I call you? And let's get this over with."

"Great. Stoney's good. I thought we'd sit right here in these two big comfy chairs by the window overlooking the fountains and have a nice chat. I'm not going to grill you. I just want to get what you went through, how it felt, that kind of thing. Is that okay?"

"Sure. No problem." I'm not sure why he was scared of coming out, since he couldn't get a word out without waving his arms all around. I clocked him a mile away. Everyone would.

"Let me get the camera set up, and then we can get going. I can't thank you enough for what you're doing. This is a big coup for me."

"Well, I don't have a whole lot to tell you, but I'll try and tell you what happened from my perspective. It was really pretty quick."

"Shh, don't say any more," he said, as he made the zipping lips thing. "We need this to be spontaneous. There. I got the lights just perfect – yay me! – and both cameras are rolling."

"I get the feeling your new at this. I have friends that say 'yay!' all the time. I'm not sure a reporter should be using that term. Didn't they teach you that in Journalism school? And we're not live, are we? I didn't sign up for that. If we are, I'm out."

"Oh, no, no. Don't go. I'm just taping it. I'll go back to the station, and with the help of my fabulous new editor we'll cut it down to two or three minutes. She's been around for a really, really long time and is great at these things. Can I dust your forehead and cheeks? It's so hot here, and everyone gets so shiny. That doesn't work all that well with the lights. Plus. It's hypoallergenic."

"Sure. Go for it. Make yourself proud."

"Okay. You're so sweet. Close your eyes. My goodness, you have great skin. Are you a swimmer, or is that a spray tan? We have to get a spray tan every week for work. I hate it because I look so orange. But you! It looks so real."

"Um, yeah, it's real. I swim."

"It shows. Okay, I think we're ready. Want some water before we get going? Beer, vodka, Jägermeister, anything? I know I could sure use a shot of tequila right now. This is so exciting! You should see the bar in here. All top shelf."

"I imagine, but no, I'm good. Thanks, though."

He did one last check around the room to make sure everything in the frame was perfect, and I had to admire his attention to detail. The living room alone in the suite was at least as big as our entire suite and took up at least a third of the floor. It was tailored perfectly in beautiful red and gold satin and fringe. Way over the top. I imagined it cost probably three grand a night, possibly more. It had a commanding view of the fountains and the fantastic view up and down the strip. It was actually pretty amazing. The view of the lights at night must be outrageous. But still, it was overkill, and I'm sure it was all for show and meant to impress.

Stoney said, "Super, I think we're set. Oh, goody! The fountains just came on. This is going to be sweet. If you're ready, let's get started."


"Okay. Three, two, one. Stoneman Garcia reporting for KDMP Channel 9, part of the CNN family of companies. We're at the top of the Bellagio Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, where a robbery and shooting happened earlier today. I'm sitting here with Jeremy Farnsworth, the young man who took the casino shooter down with a bar stool. Thank you, Mr. Farnsworth, for talking with me."

"Please, call me Jeremy."

"Great. Will do. Can you give us your perspective of what happened? Where were you and what were you doing when the shooting started?"

"My friends and I were headed downstairs to do some shopping, and then catch a helicopter tour of the strip –"

"Then what happened?"

"I was at the concierge desk, double-checking our reservations, and had just met my friends in the lobby. That's when the shots rang out."

"What happened next? What were your thoughts? Were you scared? Did you duck for cover?" I felt terrible for Rick because as much as I liked Rick, this guy was a total moron. And if this guy thought he was in the closet, he was a double moron. His hands and speech totally gave him away. Shit, he was sitting in a chair with his legs crossed like he was on his man period.

"No, I wasn't scared, and I didn't run and hide. What a stupid question. I had my friends with me, and I needed to make sure they were safe. I just reacted –"

"Really? How? How did you do that, exactly?"

"Well, Stoney, if you'd let me finish a sentence, I'll tell you." Wow, that wasn't too cool, and I instantly regretted saying that. But this dude was getting on my nerves. My guess? He was never, ever going to make it as a reporter. Vegas or anywhere else. Maybe if RuPaul bought a news channel.

"Sure. Go ahead. We're all just so excited to hear what happened next."

"You realize people got hurt, right? Some got hit, some broke bones. This isn't exciting, at least to me and my friends."

"Got it! Poor choice of words. Please, go on."

"Long story short, because, no offense, you're kinda insensitive and – Yay! – clueless, I took care of my guys and made sure they were in a safe place where they wouldn't get trampled, and then when the shooter came down the walkway, I whacked him with a bar stool. And really, yay? You say that on the air? That's like, so unprofessional," I said, queening it up. "Girlfriend! Are you like sixteen? End of story, Stoney. Anything else?"

"Yes. Why are you so hostile?"

"Dude, I'm out. I don't know what your story is, but they can't be paying you much for your stupid line of bullshit." I got up, ripped off my mic, and started walking towards the door. But then I turned around, walked over to the camera that was focused on me, unhooked it from the tripod, slipped out the video card, and shoved it in my pocket.

"You can't leave now. This is my big break, and I have like a million questions for you."

"I'm sure you do. But you're not getting anything more out of me. Seriously, dude. Are you even a real reporter? Have some compassion, you dildo, and don't interrupt your interviewees. You have a lot to learn, dude. You might have some friends in high places, and just because you're pretty – that won't last. Get real. Life doesn't revolve around you."

"Wait! Don't go. I'm begging here. We're not done."

"Oh, yes, we are."

"Oh, no, not by a longshot." This came from the other side of the room, and when I recognized that voice, I almost punched Stoney.

I could kick myself in the ass for not knowing this was a ginormous setup. The minute the word CNN was mentioned bells went off in my head. I ignored it because we were far from home, and I figured we were safe from the stupid-ass media. And I gave Director Rick the benefit of the doubt. I hoped to hell he got hoodwinked just like I did.

"Padula Danghardt. I should have known you'd be here. Flies on shit. That's you. And to throw this kid under the bus like that. Don't you realize he's clueless? You just ruined his life."

"Collateral damage, that's all. Happens every day."

"Not that I care, but when did you go to the dark side?"

"When? I'll tell you, but first, Stoney? Get out. I transferred twenty grand into your account. Learn from this. You can't trust anybody."

"She's your editor? Shit, dude. You're stupider than a slug. And truth?"

"Yeah," Stoney said so quietly I could hardly hear him. He looked like he was about to cry.

"Either be real, or man up. You can't have it both ways. Poor Rick. He thinks he's got this great guy, a young up and comer. Turns out, you're just a flake. A con man. Get the hell out of here. I feel like punching you, and not the first time in the last few minutes."

"Okay, okay. I'm going."

Once he was gone, Padula said, "Sit. You promised ten minutes, and you and I are going to have a chat."

"Fine. I'll play your game, whatever it is. But no cameras."

"We won't need them. This has nothing to do with the shooting."

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead