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Saturday Night Fights
short fiction by Benjamin Barrett

 

      I look up from the floor just in time to see Jake walk in the backdoor of Burbank Studios Lot 127 where my uncle had gotten me a job for the summer to support my ambitions of screen writing.  Through the door behind Jake I see waves of heat rise off the asphalt.  Jake is wearing tan shorts and a yellowing tee shirt that sticks to his sweaty developing beer belly like plastic wrap over a bologna sandwich.  He is late, as usual.  I stand up and finish organizing a stack of stage notes and cue cards my new boss had carelessly dropped.
     “It must be two-hundred degrees out there,” Jake says.  He pulls his shirt away from his chest and wrings the sweat out onto the concrete floor.  “Celsius,” he adds as he pushes back his dark brown bangs.
     “Hey Jake, I hear you’re up for the anchor job on CNN,” rings out an unfamiliar voice from the news crew.
     “What do think your chances are?” asks Gina.  She is already sitting in her co-anchor chair and having her final make-up touches put on.  Her long blonde hair had been fixed into a respectable bun and her blue eyes are being highlighted.
     “I guess it depends on what Charlie tells ‘em when they call,” answers Jake as he smiles and says hello to everyone on his way to the dressing room.   
     The room moves like a beehive, everyone running around frantically testing this or checking that.  I see my boss, Supervising Producer Charles Jurkovich, or Charlie to everyone who has shaken his hand, step out of his office.  The room clears a path as he walks through slow and tentative, like a cat across a bed, or an old woman wondering where she forgot her keys.  His eyes dart quickly under his sagging, leathery lids.  He coughs his coarse smoker’s cough and reaches for his pack of Winstons in his shirt pocket.  Arriving where I am standing as he gets a cigarette lit, Charlie takes the stack of papers from my hand and clears his throat.
     “Five Minutes!”  He yells over the noise of the rushing crew.  His voice is rough and well used, like an old record played through a worn needle, and he tends to remind me of a cruel alley dog that lives in my trash bin.  “Where the fuck is Hill?” he continues, “Is that son of a bitch ever on time?”
     “Ready,” says Jake as he jogs out of the dressing room door toward his seat in the Anchor Chair.  He is still in his tan shorts, but the tee shirt has been exchanged for a white button-down, a dark blue coat and red tie.  Jake sits and smiles back at Gina while his stylist makes some last second hair and make-up adjustments to give Jake that whimsically professional look.
     “You look good tonight Gina,” Jake says.
     “Thank you very much, Mr. Hill,” she says and grins.
     “Jake, you’ve got to do the damn sports tonight, Jim’s at home crying about some kidney stone shit,” says Charlie from behind camera one.
     “Sorry Charlie, you’re out of your mind.  I’m the Anchor these days, remember,” says Jake.
     “Forget your prima donna bullshit Kid, you got the fucking job.”
     “Hey Charlie, watch the language,” quips Gina.
     “Look missy, I was telling Ed Sullivan to fuck off when you were shitting your diapers.”
     “Come on, get someone else Charlie.  Get Paul.  How’s it going to look to CNN if I’m back doing the Sports,”  says Jake.
     “That fucking weatherman couldn’t find his ass without a mirror, and Gina, hell, she’d be fine with Politics or Human Drama, but what’s she going to do with a name like Biakibatuka?  Sorry Kid, it’s all you tonight, so suck it up.”
     “I do Politics and Drama.”
     “And tonight you also do sports.”
     “Shit Charlie, what’s CNN going to say?”
     “Who fucking cares.  You’re to soft to go anywhere anyway, kid.”
     “Don’t be kidding around Charlie, you know how much this job means.” asks Jake.
     “Who’s kidding you little shit.  You ain’t ready for CNN so you better just relax.”  I can see Jake’s jaw give some slack as he stares in Charlie’s direction trying to spot him through the spot light that just hit his eyes like Tetanus shot.
     “You suck Charlie,” announces Gina.
     “One minute!” hollers a man wearing a headset. 
     “Any questions you want to ask, son?  We got a minute.”  Says Charlie.  It takes a second for me to realize he is talking to me.  An entire list of questions ran through my head in a heartbeat.  What is this supposed to teach me about screenwriting?  What was Ed Sullivan really like?  How many other favors have you done for my Uncle?  But what came to my mouth instead was only,
     “How come we do the Bakersfield Week-end News from a back lot in Burbank Studios?”
     “Shit, do you want to live in Bakersfield?  There ain’t nothing in Bakersfield Kid, not even the News,” says Charlie.  He laughs then coughs hard.
     “Hey Charlie,” says Jake.  His eyes have taken on a sense of panic, like a child lost in the mall.
     “Not now,” answers Charlie.
     “Quiet on the set!” yells the man in the headset.  I can hear the opening music and credits in the background.  “We’re live in Five, Four, Three.”  He puts up two fingers, one finger.
     “Hello and welcome to CBN’s week-end report.  I’m Jacob Hill.”
     “And I’m Gina Malonie.  Tonight’s top story is again in Iraq…”
    I watch the huge smile plastered on Jake’s face disappear the moment the small red light above his close-up camera was off.  He was trying to stare through the lights like a        stand-up comic who was bombing on stage.  From the way Jake has been dropping hints all week about the job with CNN and how much he wanted to do National Hard Core News it would seem as if he’d wanted to be a newscaster since childhood.  Maybe he had.  Jake has been heard serving up subtle compliments to Charlie all week, waiting until he knew Charlie was in ear shot, then casually talking to those around him of how well respected Charlie was by everyone in the industry, especially those at CNN.           
     “One good word from Charlie can get you far around here,” Jake would say rather loudly.  Charlie had never given any of it a response until now, and from what my Uncle had told me Charlie will sink you as quick as he’ll help you swim.  A cool breeze begins to blow as the studio air conditioning turns on. 
      “Thank you, Gina,” says Jake into the camera.  “ Two South Bakersfield boys go missing tonight.  Jimmy Hernandez and Jason Simpson were reportedly last seen by friends at school yesterday before they apparently began a hike into the local hills to explore what friends’ report as a ‘secret botany experiment.’  Neither boy has been seen since yesterday afternoon.  If you have any clues as to the whereabouts of these two boys please contact the Bakersfield Police Department at the number on your screen.  Gina.”
     “In other news tonight…”
     I could see the torment on Jake’s face as he waited for the commercial break, his eyes were narrowing, becoming slowly fierce like a cornered wolf.  Charlie stood next to me the whole segment with what looked liked a small grin on his lips.  Finally, Jake got his cue from Gina.
     “When we return, more top local stories and the Weather forecast from our ‘Man with the Plan’ Paul Rumm.  See you in a moment,” says Jake.
     “And we’re clear.  Two minutes everybody,” hollers the man with the headset.  The room explodes into controlled chaos.
     “Will someone get that light out of my face for a minute, please!”  Jake yells as he waves his hand in front of his eyes.  The light goes off.  “What’s going on Charlie,” says Jake over the noise, without getting out of his chair.  “I thought you’d want me out of here.  All you do is bitch and moan at me anyway.”
      “Look kid, I got my reputation in this business for being right not nice.  If I sent you up I’d get fucking laughed out of the Union. You don’t have the balls to do the tough stuff.”
     “How would you know when all I’m doing is stories on linebackers and lost hikers.  Give me something good and I can do it.”
     “You used to love that sappy shit, kid.”
     “Well, I guess people change.”
     “Why don’t you give him a break, Charlie,” adds Gina.
     “Thirty-seconds,” yells the headset man.
     “Stop your crying kids, it’s time to work,” says Charlie and coughs hard.  Then he looks over his left shoulder and subtly tips his John Deer baseball cap at a man in the booth.  The man nods back. 
     “What the hell,” says Jake.
     “What the hell!” says Gina.
     “Looks like the fucking Teleprompters went out.  We’ll have to use the back up cue cards.  Hey kid, go get ‘em,” says Charlie and looks directly at me.  I take one step backwards and someone grabs my right arm and shoves a pile of handwritten cue cards under it.  I lift them towards Charlie.
     “They can’t see them like that, damn it.  Hold them up,” he says.  I hold up the card so Jake and Gina can see them.  “And that one is Jake’s.”
     “Go ahead, give me the shit Charlie.  It hardly makes a difference now,” says Jake.  His voice has gone very dry.
     “Hey, my prompter is still working,” says Paul.
     “Great, now shut up you dumb shit,” says Charlie.
     “We’re live in Five, Four, Three,” two fingers, one finger.  The man with the headset steps back behind the camera.
     “Welcome back to Bakersfield Week-end Report,” says Jake staring hard at the cue cards in my hands.  “In local news, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be making a special appearance here in Bakersfield for one night only, Tuesday, July twenty-fourth at Bakersfield Community College.  They will be performing selections from Prokofiev and Dvorak as well as Wagner’s ‘Gotterdammerung’ and ‘Die Walkure.’  For more information contact the Bakersfield Association for Community Arts.”
      “That sounds really interesting Jake,” says Gina with her patented ear to ear smile.
      “It sure does Gina.”
      “Now here’s a look at what’s coming up in the weather.  Paul, what’s it like out there?” asks Gina smiling into the camera.
     Paul blunders through his weather report once again, with little negative impact since there are only son many variations on “Hot.”  He’s becoming quite a well-known oddity around Bakersfield and people find it strange they’ve never seen him around the town at all.  Nobody seems to miss Jake or Gina however.  Jake seems to be using this time to generate a good amount of anger toward Charlie from the general scowl on his face.  Then, he suddenly shivers as if he just fell in a frozen pond.
     “Thanks for that, Paul,” says Gina.  “And when we return, a special Week-End Report sports team interview with hometown hero and new Chicago Cub Kevin Washington.  Back after these words.” 
     “We’re all clear.  Two minutes.”
     My attention was immediately focused on Jake.  I, like everyone else in the room, had listened to the stories of Jake’s recent split with his fiancée after she left him for a younger, richer pro-baseball player.  From the reaction of everyone in the room it became very obvious that Kevin Washington wasn’t only famous for his big contract around here.  The latest rumors were that Kevin was leaving his wife and kid for Jake’s former.
     “How can you do that, Charlie.  You’re a real bastard you know that,” says Gina.  She’s waving a finger at Charlie to strengthen her point.  Charlie just smiles back at her.  “Look Jake, I’ll do the interview.”
     “No, that’s all right.  It doesn’t really matter anymore.  None of it does.  Shit, I’ll do it.”
     “That’s the spirit, kid.  I mean, hell, all the son of a bitch did was steal your wife after he signed a forty million-dollar contract.  Hell, that’s fucking life.”  Charlie could hardly keep from laughing.
     “We’re on in Five, Four, Three,” two fingers, one finger.
     “Hello and this is Jacob Hill filling in for Jim Taylor Sports.  Tonight we are talking with new Chicago Cub outfielder Kevin Washington via satellite.”  An overly tanned face, and bleach blond buzz cut in a Chicago Cubs jersey appears on the TV monitor above Jake’s head.  “Kevin can you hear me?”
     “More than ever, Jake,” comes the voice of Kevin Washington over the monitors.
     “So, I sure the big question everyone in Bakersfield in wondering is how it feels to be a Forty-Million dollar man.  Any changes?” asks Jake into the microphone pinned to his coat.
     “I guess the biggest difference would be now I really can have everything.”
     “How is that different?”
     “I guess before the contract I had everything I needed, a great house and wife, but now that their paying me what I’m worth I can have anything I want too.”  Kevin cracks a big smile on the monitor, being fully aware I’m sure of what this must be doing to Jake.
     “That brings us to the nest question.  Reports in Chicago say the fans, as well as some of the other players, think you’re going find it difficult to live up to such a salary.  What is your response to them?”
     “We’ll see what they’re saying after I hit forty homeruns.”
     “Wow, a million dollars a homerun.  I think we’d all like to be so lucky.  I can see what kind of pressure you’re under though and it must be tough.  The other big question is that for a self proclaimed power hitter, some have wondered about your lack of size compared to the others.”
     “Well Jake, once those balls start flying, I always seem more than adequate, you know what I mean.  Hell, you’re not a very big guy yourself.”
     I can see Jake becoming more frustrated as he reads the interview questions Charlie had written off the cue cards in my hands.  At one point his hands go flat on the desk in front of him and I can see his knuckles turning white from where I stand.  Charlie is pacing behind me, grinning broadly and smoking his Winston.  Jake pauses, glances in Charlie’s direction then looks away from the cue cards and asks one more question.
     “On a more personal note Kevin, have the reports of your infidelity affected your relationship with you wife at all?”
     “Hell no,” Kevin stutters slightly.  “My wife knows those are all lies and we’re as solid as ever.  I love her more than ever.”
     “That’s great to hear Kevin.  Congratulations on the big contract and all the benefits that come with it.  I hope you have a great season.”
     “Thanks Jake.”
     “Thank-you Kevin.  And now for some scores for the day,” says Jake.  The red light over his camera turns back to black while a screen with scores from the day appears on the monitors.  Gina gives Jake a look of concern.  He nods lightly at her and smiles.
     “That’ll be all for this edition of the Weekend Report,” says Gina into the camera.  “I’m Gina Malonie.”
     “And I’m Jacob Hill.  Thanks for joining us and have a pleasant tomorrow.”
     “And we’re clear,” calls the man with the headset.  “Thanks everybody.”
     Jake sits still for a few minutes then slowly gets up and starts for his dressing room.
     “Hey Jake, aren’t you going to talk to Charlie?”
     “I don’t really see the point, it’s all fucked and it just gets harder from here.  What do I fucking care?”  Jake coughs hard and walks calmly into the dressing room.
     “Well, I don’t care what he says, I think you’re a shit Charlie.  I can’t believe you could be so cruel.  You’re a real son of a bitch,” says Gina and storms off like an angry mother. 
     “Put those damn cards down, kid, and come with me.”  I follow Charlie just outside the studio door.  He stops and lights another cigarette and takes a long drag.  “So, what’d you think of the TV business today, son?”
     “It was all right, I suppose,” I say.  “Though I don’t know what this’ll teach me about screen writing.”
     “Here’s where the real stories are, kid.  In the NewsRoom. Now why don’t you go get me some more smokes,”  Charlie coughs hard.  “It’s this god damned smog that’s killing me.”   The ground is still warm, but a cool breeze is beginning to blow and it seems like the night could be cold.  Just then Jake and Gina come through a side door of the building and walk straight into the parking lot disappearing through some cars, effectively avoiding everyone.  Charlie looks up and watches them walk.  “Damn, I’m going to miss that kid.”  He smiles.