Ashley heard the screams. She watched the crowd turn and gasp. She saw Justin stumble towards the post office.
She smelled coagulated blood. Its pungent odor pierced her nostrils causing her to gag.
Already exhausted, sore, and hungry, she slapped her hand over her mouth, the other arm pressing against her horizontal incision as if to keep her innards intact. Her world spun as nausea choked her throat. Then she felt a firm hand on her shoulder.
She steadied herself and breathed deep. The nausea somewhat dissolved. “I’m fine,” she gasped. “I think I forgot to eat.”
“How do you forget to eat,” Ned asked.
“Dunno,” she choked, “I just didn’t think about it.” Then she added, “What’s that stench?”
Ned nodded towards Justin. “Looks like it could be him.” A clot of people surrounded Justin. “I should probably get some pics,” said Ned. “You gonna be OK?”
“I’m fine,” Ashley said, “you move along. I’ll try to get some quotes.”
Ned floated amongst the crowd, discretely snapping shots of the event. Ashley pulled out her recorder and spoke to a few gawkers for reaction quotes. When Drake Mallard hit the scene, both Ashley and Ned darted straight to him.
“Officer Mallard,” she said, “what is your comment on this situation.”
Mallard paused and squinted at Ashley. “How am I supposed to know? I haven’t even made it to the scene. Get out of my way.” He marched forward and shooed the crowd aside.
“Ambulance is in route,’ he announced, “now quit crowding him.” He headed to Justin, occasionally demanding, “Step back. Step back. Give us room.”
“That wasn’t the most stellar example of journalistic acumen,” said Ned, commenting on Ash’s conversation with Mallard.
“I kinda hoped no one noticed,” replied Ashley.
Just then, Lanky strolled by. “Hey Superstar. Pretty exciting, eh?”
Ned nodded. “Not bad.”
“Superstar?” Ashley asked.
“Long story,” said Ned. Then he added, “Better call Bart. He’ll want something ASAP. We can’t publish until Monday, but we can get what we have on the website.” He paused, eyes narrowing. “Damn. Looks like the Crossfield Gazette will scoop us on this one, too.”
Ashley glanced over her shoulder. A scruffy man carrying a notepad and recorder made his way through the crowd. A tall cameraman followed. The reporter’s hunched back and ragamuffin hair swooped like oily curtains around his craggy face. His wadded shirt peeked out from under a wrinkled jacket. He apparently didn’t own an iron.
“That’s Hugh Harrington,” said Ned, “Your competition.”
Ashley’s eyebrows rose. “I didn’t realize this was a competition.”
“Never think otherwise.” He nodded towards the photographer. “Hey Snap.” The man bobbed his head in return.
“I assume that fine fellow is named ‘Snap?’ Seriously? A photographer named ‘Snap?’”
Ned laughed. “Yup.”
“Is he friendlier than his buddy?”
(Editor Note: Pssst! Nab your copy of the whole series publisher direct for less than the price of a mocha! Details here.) 😛