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The Justice Game

Randy Singer

Part I: Wrongful Death

1

Rachel Crawford closed her eyes while the show’s makeup artist, a spunky woman named Carmen, did a quick touch-up.

“The sun looks good on you,” Carmen said. “The Diva’s fake ’n bake turns her orange.”

“The Diva” was WDXR prime-time anchor Lisa Roberts. Lisa treated the staff like dirt and was easy to hate. Five foot ten with long, skinny legs, Lisa always complained about how much weight the camera added to her figure. Her chair had to be adjusted higher than everyone else’s, the camera always had to be positioned to capture her left side (exposing a mole on her left cheek that she considered sexy), and her water had to be cold with just the right amount of ice.

“Maybe my next report will be on tanning beds,” Rachel said. Carmen removed the makeup cape, and Rachel checked herself out in the mirror.

She was no Lisa. A little shorter, heavier, with more of a girl-next-door look. But Rachel had one thing Lisa didn’t-it was the reason for her glow.

“I hear tanning beds cause cancer,” Carmen said, perking up with the thought. “Not just skin cancer, either- liver, thyroid, all kinds of nasty stuff.”

Rachel did a subtle sideways twist, so casual that Carmen didn’t notice. The blouse Rachel wore fit loosely- not so much as to be obvious, but just loose enough. She would have a few more weeks before her secret was out.

As a new reporter for the WDXR I-team, Rachel had been working on a piece about the effect of cell phones on pregnant women. In two weeks, she would break her own exciting news on air as part of that piece. For at least one night, Lisa wouldn’t be the center of attention. Tonight, however, she had a very different story to cover.

“Thanks, Carmen,” Rachel said. She scooped up her pad and water bottle and headed toward the door. “This water’s way too warm,” she said, mocking Lisa’s perfect diction. Carmen cackled.

“Plus, it goes straight to my hips,” Carmen shot back, cocking her chin in the air as she gave Rachel a dismissive little shake of the head.

Rachel smiled and left the makeup room, settling into investigative reporter mode. Most of tonight’s report was already on tape. Things had gone well during the 5 p.m. newscast. What could possibly go wrong at six?

She loved her job. Yet she loved the thought of being a mother even more. She wanted to do both-part-time I-team reporter and full-time mom. But that was a conversation for another day.

Rachel fiddled with her earpiece, listening to the show’s producer give Lisa Roberts and Manuel Sanchez, Lisa’s co-anchor, instructions about the next few segments. Rachel sat up as straight as possible, though she would still be a few inches shorter than Lisa, and smiled at the camera. The show’s producer started the countdown. Lisa didn’t change her scowl until the man said zero, triggering a magical transformation from spoiled Diva to devoted and caring newswoman.

“Over three thousand international college students come to Virginia Beach each summer to work in the resort city,” Lisa said, reading the prompter. “An unlucky few end up being victims of the sinister human trafficking industry. I-team reporter Rachel Crawford has the details.”

Lisa held her pose as they transitioned to the I-team tape. She might be hard to stomach, but she was a pro. Lisa’s cover-girl looks and unshakable poise would soon carry her beyond the Norfolk market, away from the place Lisa scornfully referred to as a “dead-end Navy town,” the place Rachel loved and called home.

Rachel watched the report for about the fortieth time and allowed herself a brief moment of pride. The segment started with a few shots of The Surf, a popular Virginia Beach hangout, with a voice-over from Rachel about the way international student workers helped keep the place afloat. They had video of two Eastern European women tending bar, waiting tables, even taking out the trash. The camera angles had been carefully selected so the viewers could never quite get a good look at the students’ faces. The tape cut to Rachel, standing in front of the bar, a serious tilt to her head.

“But a few of these girls, who talked to WDXR under condition of anonymity, said there was a dark side to their summer at the Beach.”

The next shot featured Rachel interviewing one of the workers. The editors had blocked out the student’s face and digitally altered her voice. She talked about the owner of The Surf-Larry Jamison-the man who had promised the girls jobs and paid for them to come to America.

“If you didn’t become one of ‘Larry’s girls,’ you could never get out of debt, no matter how hard you worked. Plus, there were threats.”

As Rachel explained the scam, a Web site appeared on-screen. The girl’s images were distorted but it was obviously a porn site, one that Rachel had traced back to Larry Jamison.

“We asked Mr. Jamison about these charges,” Rachel said on the tape. “He refused to be interviewed for this report.”

In a few seconds, they would be live again. Rachel checked her earpiece and turned toward Lisa. She heard a pop that startled her-it might have been a few pops-something like firecrackers, coming from the other side of the studio’s soundproof door. She glanced at the doors but nobody else seemed bothered by it.

“Five seconds,” said a voice in her ear. “Four, three, two, one…”

A cameraman pointed to Lisa, and she turned toward Rachel. “Those girls you interviewed seemed so vulnerable,” Lisa said. “Did they understand they could press charges against this guy?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel noticed a flash of commotion at the back of the studio. Like a pro, she stayed focused on Lisa, explaining why the girls were not willing to come forward.

“Hey!” someone yelled. “He’s got a gun!”

Shots rang out as Rachel swiveled toward the voices, blinded by the bright lights bearing down on her. She heard more shots, screams of panic and pain-pandemonium in the studio. “Get down!” someone shouted.

There was cursing and a third barrage of shots as Rachel dove to the floor, crawling quickly behind the anchor desk-a fancy acrylic fixture that certainly wouldn’t stop a bullet. Overhead, the suspended “on-air” monitor blinked off. In the chaos, Rachel looked over to see Lisa, wide-eyed with fear, her fist to her mouth, shaking with a silent sob.

For a moment, everything was still.

2

Rachel huddled behind the desk, paralyzed by fear. Her breath came in short, staccato bursts, miniature explosions into the deafening silence. She pressed both hands against her face, half praying, half listening-shaking with terror.

She heard footsteps and heavy breathing.

She gasped when she caught the gunman in her peripheral vision, towering over her-Larry Jamison, the target of her I-team report. The man was wild-eyed, his gray hair disheveled, his face red and stubbled. He pointed a flat black pistol at her that looked like a chopped-off version of a weapon from a Rambo movie. He hit the magazine release and jammed a second magazine into the gun as the first one hit the floor.

“You’re the one,” Jamison hissed, grabbing her by the hair and yanking her to her feet. He pressed the barrel into the small of her back. From behind, he wrapped his left arm around her neck and wrenched her close. Rachel could smell sweat and alcohol, his putrid breath moist on her ear.

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