Occupation: Crime Reporter
“The kid died.”
I’m racing past my editor when he hollers this after me. I backtrack to his desk. “What’s the plan?”
“A1,” he says and turns back to his green screen.
Last night a bunch of U.C. Berkeley students had a party at a big house off campus. Six kids lived there, but four others had crashed there after the party.
Firefighters said a candle left lit when everyone fell asleep had ignited the blaze at about 4 a.m. The one working smoke alarm in the house sent the kids rushing for safety. Five jumped off the upper balcony, one breaking his leg. Four other kids had been asleep in the first floor and stumbled outside. One kid didn’t get out.
When firefighters arrived, they found 19-year-old Jason Mason, unconscious inside the house.
Now he’s dead.
And my job is to make sure he didn’t just end up being another faceless name in the paper. I’ve been a Bay Area cop reporter for five years and made lots of calls to grieving family and friends. But that didn’t mean it was easy.
It was never easy.
I’m going to have to call that girl, his friend, the college kid hanging around outside the burned down house this morning. She told me his parents were on a plane on their way home from Japan where they had been on vacation. I won’t be able to reach them before deadline. This girl is my only hope.
Crackling from the stack of police scanners at the cop’s reporter station greets me when I arrive at my desk.
Doesn’t sound like anything interesting, so I turn them both down a notch and rifle through my bag for my reporter’s notebook. In a barely legible scrawl, I find it.
The girl’s license plate number.
I’d found her crying in her car outside the house this morning. She had told me the barest details about the fire before bursting into tears and driving away. I copied down her license plate number and called the DMV. I give them our newspaper code and they give me vehicle registration information.
Katie Hall. Pleasant Valley.
Within 15 minutes, the news research department hands me her phone number.
When Katie picks up I can hear loud music blaring
“I’m really sorry to bother you right now. It’s Gabriella Giovanni, from the Bay Herald.”
“Couldn’t you wait two seconds to call me? He just died! Back off, lady. Let me grieve.”
I close my eyes and hold my breath. But she doesn’t hang up.
“I’m so sorry about your friend. I’d like to tell people about Jason if you want to share that with me.”
“Are you kidding me?”
I swallow hard. I know I can apologize and hang up now, but I wait. I have to.
“Couldn’t you have waited until tomorrow to call me?”
Again, I can just say sorry and click off.
I don’t have the heart to tell her the truth: People won’t give a shit about your friend next week. They might not even care in two days. Tragedy is everywhere and unless I give the reader some reason to care about someone who dies, they will brush the horrible details into that little part of their mind called “Doesn’t Affect Me or My Life.”
My job is sometimes this crappy — come back from lunch and the next thing I know I’m on the phone with a girl who pretty much hates my guts just for being alive.
“I’m really sorry,” I say.
“He was such a good guy,” she says, sobbing. “It’s not fair! Do you understand? It’s not fair. He had everything in front of him. His whole life in front of him. Now, he’s dead.”
I murmur sympathetically. It’s a damn shame. She’s right. He was way too young.
To my surprise, she spends the next half hour telling me all about Jason. When we hang up, I know I’ve got it — I have the information I need to tell this boy’s story so that when people read about his death in the paper, they don’t shrug and turn away.
Now, that won’t happen. It won’t happen because of this girl, Katie, who was grieving but still chose to tell the rest of the world why it was less bright now that her friend has died. Now this boy’s death will get the justice it deserves.
The next day when I get into work, there is a little pink slip on my desk —a message from Katie Hall. It has one word on it: “Thanks.”
You can read more about Gabriella in Blessed are the Dead, the first book in the new “Gabriella Giovanni” mystery series, published by Witness Impulse. Books are available at online booksellers.
Comment on this post by 6pm EST on June 13, and you will be entered for a chance to win a digital copy of Blessed are the Dead. One winner will be chosen at random.
Meet the author
Kristi Belcamino is a writer, artist and crime reporter who also bakes a tasty biscotti. Her first novel, Blessed are the Dead, (HarperCollins June 2014) is inspired by her dealings with a serial killer during her life as a Bay Area crime reporter. As an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and watched autopsies.
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