“Tell that one about the drunk, G. Lee.” Oz said.
Garrett leaned on the back his car and eyed the pretty new reporter from Channel 3. Her bright aqua outfit had taken on a strangely metallic hue in the fading sun, the swirling blue lights from the nearby cop cars glistening off its every dry-cleaned crease. Mostly she ignored him but he knew she was listening as she stared at her empty note-pad. He didn’t want to tell that story in front of her especially, but the cops in the distance weren’t in any hurry. Besides, Oz had thrown down the gauntlet and as usual Garrett couldn’t resist.
“All-right,” he said as he shifted his weight from one bad knee to the other. “About ten years ago, me and Jani Avery were ridin’ with this state trooper looking’ for drunk drivers.”
“Jani Avery from ’XLB’?” asked the pretty new reporter.
“Yeah - she’s their main anchor now, but she used to do noon and weekends for us…”
Back then, Jani was deep into her reign as the region’s TV sweetheart. With her dark eyes, blinding smile and intense delivery, she’d quickly ascended to the news-set throne, upending one badly-aging news queen in the process. But viewers were already forgetting the older woman’s name as ladies in housecoats admired her wardrobe and the men in their lives quietly watched the new news bunny’s mouth move. As for Garrett, he’d barely gotten to know her after their awkward inaugural assignment. She’d been warm to him throughout her rapid rise to the station‘s top, but as her face began popping up on billboards through out the tri-cities, she’d grown a bit distant. When she came to him for help with her DUI sweeps piece, ole ‘G. Lee’ was more than happy to share some air. He’d even sprayed on a bit of cologne the night they were scheduled to ride with the trooper - just in case they got jostled around there in the backseat…
Three hours into their ride, his cologne had faded, along with his interest in the story or the evening. Beside him, Jani stared out the opposite window, made small talk with the trooper and answered her new cell phone, which seemed to ring every four and half minutes. She’d barely said a word to Garrett all night, and while he was used to that, he’d been hoping for just a few minutes of her undivided attention. No such luck, though - and their driver wasn’t helping. Squat, taught and jug-eared, the State Trooper seemed to make up for his lack of height by being an unbearable hard-ass. He’d even insisted on running Garrett’s license before he’d let him ride along. He smiled weakly as he handed over the wallet-warped card, his mind racing over the details of the dozen or so well-earned speeding tickets. When the dashboard camera didn’t erupt into sirens, Office Hard-Ass allowed him to squeeze himself and his camera into the backseat. From there, the diminutive trooper promptly ignored him as he stole his own glances at Jani through his regulation-sized rearview mirror.
“So where you from, Miss Avery?”
It had gone on like that for hours, the trooper chatting up the news anchor while the cameraman squirmed. Between his curious inquisition of his most radiant ride-along, the trooper pulled over car after car, issuing pink slips and lectures to annoyed motorists over even minor infractions. Despite their chauffeur’s unmitigated zeal however, they were coming up empty. The suits back at the shop were drooling over the idea of drunk drivers acting a fool on tape and grandmothers driving left of center just weren’t cutting the mustard. Garrett and Jani had all but given up when just after midnight, a dusty Buick roared past..
“He’s definitely 10-55..” the gravely voice declared from the front seat.
“Really?” Garrett said, exchanging the night’s first glance with Jani. “How can you tell?”
“I been doing this a long time…” The trooper’s voice trailed off as he fell in behind the beat-up Riviera and flipped on his roof lights. Up ahead the driver’s silhouette didn’t flinch as the blue strobes bathed his hulking shoulders in unnatural light. Instead he flipped his right turn signal and wheeled his rumbling sedan into a dusty trailer park.
The trooper said nothing more as he followed the car up a gravel driveway. When the driver put his car in park, the trooper did the same, calmly wedging his Smokey-Bear hat over his buzz-cut before leaving Garrett and Jani in the backseat. Flipping a switch on his camera, Garret opened his door and stepped out, steadying his shot on the squad car’s roof. Through his custom earpiece, Garrett could hear the trooper’s voice through the wireless microphone attached to his state-issued clip-on tie.
“Sir, how much we have to drink tonight?”, the trooper’s voice crackled in Danny’s ear.
“Yeah, I had a few drinks,” came the slurred reply, “ but I’m home, dude, I’m s-s-safe.”
Danny heard the trooper chuckle for the first time all night. “Sir, this ain’t baseball, and you ain’t safe. I’m gonna need you to step out of the car.”
As the man unfolded himself from the driver’s seat, Garret inched forward and craned his neck and lens upward to keep him in frame. With his faded work jeans, dirty black t-shirt and greasy mullet fully extended, the driver towered over the cop and the cameraman. When he saw G. Lee and his unblinking lens, he cocked his shoulders back and swelled up his chest.
“Who you schp’osed to be?” he slurred as he turned toward the camera. Garrett barely had time to zoom out before the man’s chest took up the entire viewfinder. But as soon as it did, the man crumpled with a grunt and a thud to the gravel driveway below. Before Garrett could pull the eyepiece away from his face and see what happened the trooper was on the man that was almost twice his size. With a fluid movement borne of repetition, the trooper pulled the man’s hands behind him and encircled his wrists in handcuffs. The trademark sound of the bracelets clicking home made the viewfinder’s audio needles jump and Garret couldn’t help but smile in the blue glow of the eye cup’s tiny screen. Turning back to the trooper’s car, he saw Jani pounce out and do a little victory dance on the side of the road, one she ended abruptly when the trooper wheeled Mr. Mullet around to face her. When he did, the drunk man’s bloodshot eyes widened at the beautiful young woman with the familiar smile.
“You’re J-Jani Avery.” he spat. “ I watch you on the noon news.”
With that, the man tried to reach out his hand and seemed to realize for the first time he was indeed in cuffs. This sent other thoughts racing though his greasy head apparently, for he then tried to squirm away from the trooper and lunge at Garrett’s ever present lens. Somehow the trooper managed to hold on, and the best the man could do was swing his shoulders in drunken menace and curse like the cross-state trucker he soon proved to be. Deep inside his viewfinder, Garrett back-pedaled and fought t the urge to giggle. It had been a long night, but the redneck in his lens was more than making up for it with roadside show. As the small trooper pushed the man toward his waiting car, Garrett wondered for the first time about seating arrangements, blissfully unaware the evening was about to take a painful turn.