It’s What We Do Dummy, a short story by KiwiDreamer. Date added: 2012-04-26. Times viewed: 1814.
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- Intro: A rookie male reporter and senior female photographer rush out to cover a town disaster and she ends up doing a bit more than mothering him.
The female photographer snarled, “Bring the SUV to the door.”
Newly hired journalism graduate Tom Gunn pocketed his phone and nervously asked another reporter, “The photographer told me to pick her up at the door. Which door will that be?”
“The one nearest the Illustrations Department.”
“Thanks. Oh which one is that?”
“Christ how green can you get? Who’s the photographer?”
“Oh then go to the main door. That stuck-up bitch wouldn’t deem going out of a side door.”
Tom grabbed a key remote from the news director’s assistant and signed for the vehicle and raced down to the secure garage two levels below, taking the stairs believing that would be faster than waiting for a lift to clear of giggling women holding take-out coffee.
He’d just arrived at work and had been introduced to some people, his first day working at the Hilltop Herald when his phone went and the caller said, ‘Gunn grab a vehicle and collect the waiting photographer. The stopbanks at West Creek have been breached and the town is being inundated. Go’.
Inundated meant flooded, presumably with floodwater. What else? Gee he was on to a major story on his first day. His family, already proud of him, would be over the moon. He noticed the newsroom was almost empty of reporters. Ah so that’s why he’d been tossed this assignment.
In summer in New Zealand the land on the East Coast becomes parched and any west-driven rain is usually blocked by the backbone of high hills. But this rain had swept down from the north-east, the remnants of a tropical cyclone and the downpour hit the half-baked pasturelands, browned and thinned of growth by near-drought, and with little or no soakage the dumped water ran off and pooled into the lowest levels where the rivers flowed like drains. The result was abnormal flooding. Stopbanks were earth bunds, sometimes reinforced, designed to protect human settlements by keeping the swollen creeks and rivers channelled and on course.
If the rushing water penetrated and collapsed a stopbank, people and property in those villages, towns and even cities were at the mercy of rampaging or slowing rising floodwaters.
Tom worried about who would drive, he the rookie or the seasoned bitch, er photographer. That was one thing lecturers at Journalism School had forgotten to mention or perhaps he had been asleep in class after the previous night of boozing and attempting to bed a horny female or two.
Before he’d the vehicle came to a stop, the rear door on the passenger’s side was flung open and two bags were tossed on to the seat.
Tom almost cried out in fright, fearing it was a vehicle snatch. Well he was a country boy and he’d heard about city thuggery. His father occasionally spoke about it while his mom worried about city buggery and, although embarrassed, gave her son dire warnings.
The freckle-faced woman of about thirty whose hair was in a mess had Tom gaping.
“Go,” she snarled, slamming the door. “Haven’t you seen a decent pair of boobs before this country boy?”
Activated he almost swung the SUV into the path of a bus.
“Jesus,” said the bitch and her voice modified slightly. “At least you had the nous to brake and pull out of that faster than I might have done.”
God she had a soft spot for him already? Ah unlikely, very unlikely.
“So you’re Tom Gunn, top graduate of the latest output of no-hopers from Journalism School.”
He thought he shouldn’t say oh she obviously wasn’t a graduate just as he hadn’t said his mom actually had tits as big as hers but despite being held in a bra his mom’s were floppies.
“I was hoping to keep that quiet.”
“Well that hasn’t happened.”
He muttered fuck and the bitch grinned at him and said, “Never mind sweetie, at least you don’t appear up yourself.”
Tom blushed, never having heard a female use that term. God these city girls were tough bitches.
“I suppose you’ve heard I’m married with an eight-month old baby. Um a baby conceived after marriage?”
“Well I am. Carla has just been weaned and now I’m back on to unrestricted assignments. Please help me not to drown because if I go Carla will be devastated.”
“Um aren’t we going to cover the exodus with the unit in a chopper covering the inundation?”
“No this is what we do dummy. We wade in looking for drownings and rescues, me clicking away, you sending your comments by phone for recording. Ask for Carol because she’s the most literate as well as the fastest re-write operator of disjointed reporting coming in from the field like this.”
“Yes do you think you can remember that or are you too busy crapping yourself?”
“I’m fine. I’ve had toughening up experiences on the farm.”
“On the farm, you’re taking the piss. No drama happens on farms.”
He entered the motorway and accelerated, heading for the turn off to the plains.
“Oh have I offended you. Tell me about the battle each morning against the flow of cow shit in the milking shed.”
“We fatten beef cattle and breed pedigree bulls,” he said, now really offended.
“Oh sorry. I can see I’ve hurt your feelings sonny boy. So you were chased by bulls?”
“We have purebred Angus. They are much more docile than some other breeds.”
They drove in silence until she said, “Do you know my name Tom?”
“Yeah Julie White, our constantly award-winning news photographer, best action photographer of our team of ten frontline photo-journos.”
“How the hell… oh I get it. I’ve actually met someone who reads that bullshit our company pulls out.”
He was silent.
“Come on, you read it in that company bullshit didn’t you?”
“There’s a photo of you on the Local Journalism’s Wall of Fame at Journalism School with the citation of your award for heroic civilian bravery. It’s Kevin Simpson’s photo of you emerging from that house fire, your face blackened and your own hair on fire, as the fire brigade arrived, you holding the baby in one arm and dragging the unconscious solo mother by her hair with your other hand.”
“What the fuck is that school doing attempting to glorify me?”
“Keep calm Julie. It’s an acknowledgement amongst our peers for the best operators in the field. It’s what we do dummy… er I’m only quoting you. There are no photographs of newspaper journalists who fall into gutters drunk or who beat up their husbands or girlfriends.”
“What the hell are you saying… oh? God you are a smart little shit. You led me to come to my own conclusion instead of heaping it on me and having me reject it.”
“Something like that.”
“Um tell me stuff that hardened you on the farm when you were growing up.”
“If you promise to tell no one.”
“Hmmm. You’re a surprise package buddy. Very well, I promise.”
“One thing I recall was dad not coming in on schedule for lunch. It was school holiday time and mom said she would hold lunch for another half hour but I jumped on a farm bike and went out to look for him. I found him pinned under the over-turned tractor with a bone sticking out of his leg and blood everywhere. He was unconscious. I found his cell phone but it had been crushed. I ripped my shirt into strips and it tied a tourniquet above the wound and the blood flow almost stopped. I jumped on the bike but it wouldn’t start, only splutter. It was out of petrol. The tractor ran on diesel. So I had to run for help. I figured the neighbour’s home was closer than ours and headed there, my mind yelling to me I was running the wrong way. I collapsed in the kitchen, severely out of breath and told Mrs Wilson and she called emergency services. Dad recovered okay and now walks with just the faintest limp.”
“Oh you were a good boy. How old were you?”
“Omigod. Anything else?”
“Once I pulled two dogs off a girl they were beginning to savage and today the scars barely show and another time I was coming home from shifting cattle and saw the tractor at the silage pit but couldn’t see my older sister. I went over and found part of the open face of the silage stack had collapsed and her feet were sticking out. I dug her out with my hands. She was unconscious but recovered okay. Fortunately that was only two years ago and I had my mobile phone with me. The ambulance guys gave her oxygen and soon told us she would be okay. She stunk of silage though when coughing bits up.”
“You’re okay Tom. I’ll help you out at West Creek.”
“Thanks Mrs White.”
“Are you grovelling?”
“Then call me Julie.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
“Up yours Julie.”
She grinned. “I think you’ll be all right kid.”
They approached the small town on a country road and stopped and asked a cop what was happening.
“This is a blockade but you are media and can go through. Here’s the first of the folk coming now. The town is being evacuated because the water level continues to rise and the downstream ponding below the town is now backing up towards the town.”
Tom drove to the top of a hill and Julie said stop, they should wait a while.
“But all the action is down in the town,” he complained, anxious to rip into action.
“I said wait. It won’t be too long.”
Vehicles that had been occupied only by the driver or perhaps a couple of family members were now packed. Julie, squinting downhill to the far bend on the road said, “Here they come, evacuees on foot because their vehicles are either disabled or under water. This will make the photo we want. They’ll take fifteen minutes getting here but it will be worthwhile, a whole line of crowded vehicles and people walking on both sides of them.”
“Wouldn’t our crew in the chopper get a more dramatic picture?”
“You might think that but you don’t get the drama on people’s faces from the air, the fear and despair…the worry about losing their homes and their fears of people they know possibly drowning.”
“Jesus,” said Tom who during the next twenty-four hours would learn a great deal from Julie, things that a seasoned photograph had learned from experiences, things not taught at the School of Journalism.
And as Julie had suspected, he turned out to be a surprise.
* * *
As they neared the town Julie said, “Drive up to the top of that hill and we can leave the vehicle there safely.”
“No look at that woman with those three small kids and those four elderly people behind her. I’m giving the vehicle to them to get them to the refugee centre being set up somewhere.”
“Jesus Tom, do you want to be fired on your first day at work? Our masters will hit the roof if you do that.”
“Well it should be done. Um you take a photo of me handing the vehicle over to them. That ought to help get us out of the crap.”
And so Julie took the possible award-winning photo, not that they were thinking about that. But no, that award-winning photo would be taken after nightfall.
Tom picked a guy his age to be the driver of the SUV. He had a mobile phone and agreed with Tom’s suggestion to return and ferry more people to the refugee centre. Tom took the guy’s name, address and phone number and slapped him on the back and said, “You’re a hero mate.”
Julie’s mouth hung open in astonishment.
As she transmitted two of those images standing on the roadside to the newspaper’s illustrations department via her mobile phone, she said to Tom, “You made that guy feel he was a hero.”
“Oh did I? My intent was to full him with self-importance to ensure he didn’t run off with our vehicle and try to sell it.”
Passing people, who by then appeared to be the tail-enders, frowned at hearing Julie laughing excessively amid their misery.
He picked up her bags as well as his.
“Give me my bags,” she snapped. “God why do men think women are weak?”
“Sorry,” he said, offended again. “Where I come from that’s called politeness. I wasn’t trying to run off with your tampons.”
Julie apologized amid her giggling.
“You better brief me,” Tom said. “You have the experience and I’m not talking about bed.”
She glanced and him and then began her briefing, beginning with the first priority and that was to work as a team. The second priority was to do nothing foolish to endanger them and she continued down the list of things he needed to know.
He asked, “Where will we sleep?”
“On the upper floor of a temporarily abandoned house I should think. Remember what I said, the emergency crew won’t assist us unless our lives are threatened. They have other priorities but accept we are also here doing our job.”
Some of the lowest lying homes only had roofs showing as it was five hours after the first breach of the riverside stopbank. Flood levels were still rising and the downpour showed no sign of easing.
Julie took a photo from a higher point of a bank building with the flood water almost up to the top of the entrance doors, the sign above stating ‘Westpac Bank’.
Two hours later, as daylight was fading, they waded out in muddy water almost up to Julie’s armpits to reach the northern highway bridge covered by only a foot of water at the start and then it was dry further up the arch where water swept debris under that part of a bridge. The part of the bridge they were on was under pressure by build up debris and swirling water pressing against it.
“Hand me that camera you carried above the water for me darling. It had my 400mm lens. There’s a chicken coop coming down with fowls and a rooster perched atop.”
Tom watched her take that photo and then lifted the cover with her back to the direction of the rain to look at one of the images on the LCD screen. She turned back smiling and pulled out her phone to send the image.
“You called me darling,” he accused.
“You must be hearing things,” she smiled wickedly.
“Oh fucking hell,” Tom cried, pointing upstream. “Look there’s a kid clinging to that log.”
“There,” he said pointing. “See her arm held up and hand waving?”
“That’s a branch,” Julie said, lifting her camera to look through the viewfinder.
“Oh Christ,” she wailed. “It’s a small girl” and she took the photo.
Tom pulled off his sneakers, knotted them together and placed them around Julie’s neck.
“No Tom, don’t,” she yelled. “It’s no time for heroics. I’ll call command and get them to send in a rescue chopper.”
“Choppers will be rescuing and looking for other people in distress. Here take my waterproof jacket. Don’t lose it because it’s new issue and my notebook and phone are in the pockets.”
“Tom I’m ordering you…”
He thrust the jacket at her and said hurriedly, “Don’t be alarmed. This is what we do dummy. We’re public spirited journalists. That’s why our public image is better than undertakers and used car salesmen.”
He sloshed his way forward and then ran in the dry to the highest point and spotted what he was looking for, the log with the kid hanging on to a branch stub. He picked an area that appeared almost clear of debris, dived off the bridge and swam hard with the current to the log.
“Oh fuck. Why did I have to be paired with a fucking compulsive hero,” Julie moaned and reached for her phone and called the field office of search and rescue command to report a mid-river drama.
She then leaned against the bridge railing and kept the head of the compulsive hero in view using her camera rangefinder and thought, “That smart-ass fucker can really swim.”
She could barely make out the images of Tom, now astride the log with the girl out of the water and safe in his arms. Safe yes, but for how much longer?
The chopper equipped with searchlights for rescue work, arrived but began working a grid patter too far up from where Julie could see Tom. Frantically she called the command field officer and there was a brief delay and the guy said, “Proceed ma’am, you are now in direct contract with the pilot John Reid.”
“Hi John I’m Julie. Go farther downstream. I’ve lost sight of them but have a mental bearing. That will be the area. More to the right. A little more.”
“Tally-ho. We have them in view Julie. Our guy in about to go down on the winch line. Thanks Julie. Over and out.”
Julie felt huge relief and began crying because she still felt anxious. Then a spotlight from the shore illuminated her and a voice boomed over a loudspeaker: ‘That idiot on the bridge. Come back here to the dry immediately or we’ll send out a team to take you into custody.”
She waved in acknowledgment and defiantly shouted, “Get fucked” and began wading back, the spotlight staying on her.
An officious guy said to her, “You deserve to be jailed and then noting the news media ID around her neck said, “Fucking media, I should have guessed.”
Julie’s phone went.
“Excuse me,” she said icily to the guy wearing an ‘Emergency Official’ vest.
“Yes. Oh hi Commander Evans, that’s great news. No the guy is my reporter Tom Gunn, I’m Julie White and I need him here with me. Oh yes I did do through college with Rosemary your daughter. I’m standing just below your command caravan Commander. I want him dropped here. Tom is a compulsive hero. Sorry I can’t say what that means, if the journalists with you wish to know they’ll have to ask Tom.”
“Jesus so you’re Julie White,” said the official as Julie cut the call. “I must apologize Mrs White, I thought I was dealing with a greenhorn making trouble for us. If I’d had known you were Julie White I would have left you…”
There was a horrible sound of creaking and groaning but it wasn’t the approaching chopper. There was a serious of enormous bangs and the section of the steel bridge where Julie had been standing ten minutes earlier collapsed. Julie switched her camera to film mode and the spotlight still on the bridge allowed her to film the actual collapse that ended with a huge splash.
She turned and photographed the surprised looking official.
“Your name please sir?”
She noted it and then kissed him and purred, “Thanks you probably saved my life.”
They watched the bedraggled reporter Tom Gunn jump from the chopper to save it from actually landing and as the chopper went off to have the girl medically checked, media representatives who’d piled out of the command office having heard rather than seen part of the road bridge collapse, packed around Tom to try to find why he should be called a compulsive hero.
Someone had thrown a blanket over Tom and someone was handing him a mug of hop soup when the hovering Julie took her photo of the Compulsive Hero with a Police superintendent, a top TV reporter and the Mayor of the small town included in the frame with Tom making them laugh. He’d said indignantly he’s simply done what anyone would have done had they been on the spot and with time to go for a bit of a swim.
That photograph would win Julie yet another award for excellence in news photography.
Soon after that searchers were called to stand-down and the research and rescue effort would have to wait till daylight to resume work, although two helicopters with two spotters aboard made a few more sweeps looking for any more tail-enders in trouble. Everyone began entering the big tent to be served a hot meal by Red Cross volunteers.
The Mayor called, “Please make way for our hero” and he pushed Tom forward.
The food wasn’t quite ready and Tom used the opportunity to make a short speech.
“The girl I pulled out of the water is Mayor Roach’s granddaughter and she’d going to be okay. She’s a tough and level headed 7-year-old called Jilli Masters. That’s Jilli ending with an ‘i’ she told me when I hauled her out of the water. We then wondered what to do next and then the chopper arrived. I want my colleague the gun photographer Julie White up here with me. She called that chopper in.”
Julie bent her head down to try to remain incognito but she was too well-known and was pushed to the front.
She hugged and kissed Tom and then said to fellow journalists, “It’s the first day at work as a reporter for this little shit Tom Gunn,” Julie began, aware when Tom was being taken to the head of the line a TV cameraman began filming and continued to film.
“On the way in here this afternoon Tom and I stopped and as the lone long of evacuees on foot continued to pass, young bright ass here, only just out of journalism grad school, had a philanthropic idea.”
She continued the story how Tom handed across their $60,000 SUV to a young stranger and called the guy a hero to fill him with a sense of mission in the hope he’d return to ferry more people to the refugee centre and arrange for the return of the vehicle.
The journos and the rescue teams and city officials laughed and clapped as Julie finished that story.
And so the reputation of Tom Gunn gestated.
A police constable called, “The Hilltop Herald SUV is parked at the rear of the command vehicle, locked with the keys sitting on the front seat.”
“Oh Christ, Julie shorted and everyone fell about laughing and were at it again when Tom called, “Is there a car thief in the house who can open our SUV for us?”
After the meal, Julie and Tom were given a hillside house to reside in for the night and were told to minimise signs of their occupancy.
It was summer and humid because of the rain.
Tom lay under just a sheet and was wondering would Julie be awake when the sheet was pulled up and she slipped in beside him.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi… hey you’re nude.”
“Yeah well I figured you’ve had a great day and finishing up with your first real woman would be icing on the cake.”
“But you’re married…you’re baby Carla’s mother.”
“Oh trust a farm boy to be on the straight and narrow.”
“Eh? My sister had sex with me a couple of times.”
“Oh and she insisted of course? Blame your sister.”
“Eh? Both times, about three months apart, it just happened. We were both surprised.”
“I bet. Well are you going to have sex with me?”
“Gee Tom, what’s this in my hand, a fence post?”
“Julie the funny thing about this…” Tom said taking a breast with his teeth by the nipple and stretching it and just letting it drop as Julie was about to scream, “… is that I was told you were an up-yourself bitch. That’s the trouble with reporters these days; they don’t always get their facts straight. I think you’re a bit of all right.”
Five years later Julie took her almost seven-year old Carla to the School of Journalism and they stood at the Local Journalism’s Wall of Fame.
“Mummy there are four pictures of you.”
“Yes dear, the idiots don’t know a high achiever from their backsides.”
“That sounds rude.”
“It is dear and mummy is sorry. We are here to see how they have recognised Tom Gunn… oh here we are.”
“There’s five pictures of him mum.”
“Oh so there are. I think they may need for find a new wall for him.”
“There’s a wall over there,” Carla said pointing.
Julie grinned and said, “Yes dear, before too long he’ll have a Pulitzer Prize or two listed here. See, here’s his first award that I told you about when we are coming here, an award for bravery going beyond the call of duty in being a reporter by diving into a river to save a girl being swept away by floodwaters in late twilight. They were hoisted to safety in darkness by a helicopter search and rescue team. Tom was my protégé then, which means I was his leader or more like a head teacher. But he’s now a big star.”
“Those next two pictures are of Tom receiving his award as New Zealand’s top news reporter on daily newspapers two years in a row. The next one is of Tom in Australia being awarded best news story in any Australian newspaper for that year when he was working in Sydney. Soon after that he was recruited by the BBC in England and became a TV news reporter.”
“I know Tom; you sometimes yell here’s Tom when he comes on the news on our TV in the bit on news from Britain. Why is he so handsome?
“Because he comes from a farm and was raised by nice parents who fed him good food.”
“Are his parents pleased with him?”
“They are very proud of him and so is his sister.”
“What are their names?”
“His mother is Gladys but her husband calls her Glad and he is Bill and Tom’s sister is Fiona.”
“How old is Fiona?”
“Thirty-three she told me last year but I don’t know when her birthday is.”
“How come you know all this stuff mum?”
“Because I trained and worked as a newspaper journalist and then became a magazine photo-journalist and that’s what I do now. I talk to people I work with and remember what they say.”
“Yes I know because I read some of your stories and your photos are always the best. When will I meet Tom?”
“I expect we’ll meet him later this year when we go as a family to New York on holiday. Tom is going there soon because he’s been head-hunted.”
“Bosses in New York decided to pay Tom more money than the bosses of the BBC were prepared to pay and so the Americans won and got a world-class reporter.”
“How will Tom know who I am?”
“Because you will be with me in New York and the first day I met Tom I told him about you and that you were just weaned at eight months old.”
“Did I like you milk best or formula? I’ve asked you that before but I’ve forgotten.”
“I probably said mother’s milk is always the best but formula is pretty good too.
“What is this other picture of Tom about?”
“Tom won a major prize for his story for the BBC when he persuaded the helicopter team going out to an oil rig under tow in the North Sea to take his digital recorder and tape their conversations from when they came in sight of the tow. It was one of the few helicopters available strong enough to battle a very fierce gale that was blowing at that time. Tom borrowed a camera and took a shot of the guy agreeing to take the recorder and to ask the senior pilot for permission to tape their conversations. Tom was still there with the camera he’d purchased from a tourist and took a photo of the helicopter returning to land in simply dreadful conditions and then had the crew line-up before they went off for their debriefing and he was handed back his recorder. The helicopter was unable to get an injured man off the rig but managed to drop special medical supplies that were retrieved. Those pictures and Tom’s story were published around the world, well at least in many countries.”
“That will help make him famous.”
“Is that why those American bosses went after him?”
“Darling all these questions. You should become a reporter when you grow up.”
“I’m going to do that.”
“Yes daddy and I talked about it. He said I wasn’t to tell you because you’d only get excited and push me into it.”
“Oh did he just?”
“Does that voice mean daddy’s in big trouble?”
“I’m sorry dear. Let’s go home and no more questions.”
“That really means daddy is the gun, doesn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about darling. Let’s run to the car, the winner gets an ice cream. Run!”
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