The collective gasp that began when Don Mockson hit the floor lasted just long enough for Chip’s whispered “Oh shit” to carry clearly all over the room. Once that had filtered in as the definitive statement on what had transpired, pandemonium broke out. The more sensitive members of the audience (not necessarily who he thought they would be) began screaming. The more naturally guilty members of the audience began to run for the door. The very small number of truly altruistic people, along with those well-trained enough to fake it, began to head for the front of the room where the lifeless body of Don Mockson lay pillowed on Chip’s moccasins.
As the proximate bystander, Chip could have begun all manner of life saving or palliative responses at once, but he did not. Instead, he sat stock still, staring at where the tips of his toes would be if they weren’t obscured by a dead man’s tousled grey hair. Even when the trained altruists arrived and began to attempt to resuscitate the deceased, Chip sat completely still staring at the same place.
This was certainly the closest he had ever been to death. Even his parents, who had sickened and died just down the block from this very spot, had been farther away when they breathed their last breath. Lurlene had pressured Chip to try to explain why he has home in Fredrickton and he hadn’t a clue what nonsense he had made up, but at that very moment, he wondered if the death of this man was part of the reason. Which made no sense, because he hadn’t really known the dead man at all and how could you come home to be affected by the death of some person who wasn’t even dead when you made the decision to come home?
Some small, remote part of his brain tasked with editing the sequence of his thoughts finally woke up and shut the whole party down for being too wacko to be acceptable in such circumstances. Some allowances can be made for extreme stress, but mystical pre-causation was going a bit too far and Chip’s higher consciousness intervened and then there was no more consciousness for some time.
When Chip came too, he was surrounded by an equal mix of well-wishers and police officers. He didn’t think that he had done anything wrong, but upon regaining consciousness, one can never be sure. In fact, the police officers were a kind of well-wishers as well in that they wanted him to get well so that they could make him wait to answer some questions.
And wait he did. For what seemed like hours. Perhaps the man that the body lands on is not a pivotal witness, but it did seem like they were talking to plenty of more minor figures while he sat on a folding chair. Eventually at least he didn’t have to wait alone. The reporter in the gray pantsuit was directed to sit on a folding chair next to him once she was rounded up by the cops for looking like someone who knew something.
“Allison Mayes,” she said extending a confident yet ladylike hand.
“Chip Hardwick,” he tried to reply with equal aplomb, but the best handshake he could muster was only a few steps up from dead fish.
“You look like you’ve had better nights than this.”
“And you look like this is only about the middle of the pack for you.”
“It’s part of the job. When you’re the junior member of a freelance news cooperative, you end up covering lots of death and destruction. Apparently gore still sells something even if it doesn’t sell newspapers anymore.”
“Perhaps this isn’t the right time to discuss media consolidation, but what the heck is a freelance news cooperative?”
“Well, when there were no more newsrooms anymore, there were still plenty of reporters kicking around, so we used some of our investigative skills to come up with a business model that still made sense for something newer than the 19th century.
“We make decisions as a collective on what we are going to cover and then we have a duty roster for whose turn it is to get sent out to that event. It’s supposed to completely fair who gets what assignments, but I sure do draw the short straw for deaths and local politics more than it seems I should.”
“Sometimes for both.”
“Apparently. How about you, my new shell-shocked friend? How is it that you come to be in pride of place for a death and politics double header?”
“Um, would you believe I’m trying to be civically minded?” The truth sounded a bit lame even to him, so he couldn’t imagine how it sounded to her, but he wasn’t in a state to make himself more impressive to new women. Thankfully for the future tense of his ego, one of the cops came to take her to a different folding chair to ask her his questions.
Finally it was his turn to be asked the same basic questions they must have asked 100 onlookers that night “Did you see anything out of the ordinary? Did you see any weapons?” Chip tried asking some of his own questions to soothe his strangely guilty conscience but all the cop would say is that they were investigating all possible angles. He seemed to be leaning towards the possibility of a heart attack when he talked about what a possible angle might be, but he also seemed to know an impressive number of ways that a man might just drop dead.
When the cop was satisfied that Chip knew nothing that wasn’t already known dozens of time, he finally let him go. Chip was a little miffed about being kept so long for no possible investigative good, but it was a bit hard to maintain much emotional fervor at that time of that particular night. He mustered a teeny fervor when he saw that Allison had waited around the lobby for him to emerge from the meeting room. She walked with him to his car which now seemed miles away in this context and he was grateful for the company.
“I might be looking for some local commentary for the story I need to file. Can I call you to fill me in on some of the local cast of characters?”
“Not likely, but you are welcome to try me. I just got back in town a week ago from 10 years gone, so I don’t know how much help I can be.”
“You might be surprised how much help you could still be after this time. People are who they were for the most part, so you probably know more than you would think.”
They bumped phones to exchange contact info and Chip fell into the seat of his car for the short ride back to his loft. Managing to not fall going up the stairs, he most certainly did fall when he got to the top of the stairs, straight into his waiting bed.