Murder in a Storm?

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Director Steve Beckett sets out to try and solve the disappearance of his TV anchorman. Just one problem: Hurricane Opal is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Will he be able to solve it before its too late?

Submitted: February 19, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 19, 2018



By Brian L Clements
The radio started blaring, “Good Morning, Panama City. This is WPAP, 92.5. That was Shania Twain with ‘Any Man of Mine.’  It’s a humid 72 degrees right now and clear skies for now with a high around 85 today.  Preparations for Hurricane Opal continues while the Gulf Coast from Morgan City, Louisiana to Pensacola is under a Tropical Storm Warning. Warnings may be extended to the Panama City area and eastward tonight with landfall sometime late Wednesday. Also,the O.J verdict will be announced down today in Los Angeles....” 
That good sleep didn’t last long. Doesn’t look like the day will be good either. 
Hurricane?  I quickly got up from a somber sleep, stubbed my toe and quickly look out the window.  The Sun is out and it’s clear as a bell.  Kind of hard to believe that there is another hurricane ready to bear down on the Florida panhandle.  What is that?..Number 4 this year?

Starting to get a little tired of it..
It took me about an hour to get to work because the roads were very crowded. I was working at Channel 10 in town directing the local 6 and 10 news.  Its small market tv but I’ve have been doing that for about 15 year.  No real pressure like Atlanta or Houston.  I really like doing like directing. 
When I got to the station, it seemed like half of the people at the station were sitting in the control room watching the O.J Simpson Murder Trial. Dan, the janitor, one of the other directors, David, and the control room operator were arguing and had bets going on as to the outcome of the trial; guilty or not guilty.  To me, it was obvious.  Surprised they don’t have popcorn for everybody.
Anyway, you couldn’t tell by the way the weather was outside but there was a hurricane in the Gulf Of Mexico. Because of O.J., the station were not really covering the storm like it should.People seemed more concerned about O.J. Simpson trial than anything else. The bigger news story of the trial and the verdict is to be read in a couple of hours.
After checking what was going on in the control room, I started looking for the News Director, Bob Gleason. After searching for 15 minutes I finally found him in the General Manager’s office. They were also were watching the coverage of the Simpson Murder trial and talking about hunting.  Deer Season is in full swing, which I know nothing about.
I reminded them of the current situation and urged them to start doing weather updates. 
It took a few minutes to convince them because they felt we would not be affected. They finally agreed.  We had just one small problem; no anchor.  Everybody from the early newscast had left to get some breakfast.  We had to use our intern, Sylvia, until one of our main anchors got in. 
It was coming up on 9:25 for our next cut-in.  I had to find a crew real quick.  So, I found a salesperson to help with the camera.  The network was doing extended coverage of the O.J. case since the verdict was due in a couple of hours.  The network was allowing 3-5 minutes each hour for local news.  I could tell the intern was nervous before the cut-in.  She had only been here for about a month and her face had a slight flush to it.  Like a deer caught in headlights.
“Tell her 30 seconds...15,...Stand by camera 1,...Cue her!”
Oh no. She’s not talking.
She finally started reading her script and filled the 3 1/2 minutes with a slight quiver in her voice during the 1st 30 seconds.  I'm sure she probably didn’t remember anything she said during that time. But she did fairly well for her first live report.  However, I don’t think she will use this for her resume tape.
The morning weatherman got back before the the next news cut-in and it went a lot smoother.
Three more were done before the Simpson Verdict was in.
Around that same time, the main anchor, John Billings, came in along with the co-anchor, Beverly Shipes.  As with most anchors, their egos were very healthy.  Last night John was complaining that his key light was causing a shadow on his jacket.
They were your typical news anchors.  John had been in TV for about 20 years in various markets, the latest in Baltimore.  Sad to say but he was on a downward spiral in his career.  This station was his latest and maybe his last stop of his career.
Beverly, on the other hand, had just started anchoring the news.  Fresh out of the University of West Florida, she was very fortunate to land a job like this a year out of college.  She had a lot of help adjusting the the rigors of being a news anchor, even if it was a small market. John had not been very supportive of Beverly.  He always felt like he was babysitting a kid.  He just didn’t like helping anybody anyway.  With John, you were on your own. 
John had that that Clark Kent look with every hair in place and a square jaw. He talked down to most people, calling everybody “Babe” and he always reminded us that he used to work in big markets.  It seemed to impress some of the younger people but I have seen them come and go in my 15 years here.  To me, he was just another anchorman on his way down. 
Me?  I am where  I want to be and couldn’t be happier.
It always looked like they both had enough hairspray to withstand winds up to 120 mph. Great for a hurricane.  Our production manager, Steve, always wanted to mess up their hair to see if it would move but he was afraid that he would break his hand.
Around 12:00, the verdict was read and you could hear a small roar and even some applause coming from the control room. The verdict:  Not Guilty! Boy was I wrong.
The network then informed us that there would be no more breaks until about 2:00. So I had a chance to get some lunch at Golden Corral with my wife, Inga.  Had some Chicken, catfish and all sorts of good food.  She didn’t eat much. She was very worried about the hurricane since she had never been through as many storms as I have. She wanted to pack up everything and go to Dothan. You see, they don’t have any hurricanes in Germany.  I told her there should be nothing to worry about since it is only a Category 1 storm.  Boy, was I wrong with the hurricane also.
We said our goodbye kisses and she went home to start getting the house ready for the storm. I got back to work at the station around 2 in the afternoon and the newsroom was bustling with news people waiting and crew waiting for the next time we can have a news cut-in.  The latest on the hurricane was that it suddenly became a Category 4 hurricane since the last report.
Emergency Management was urging people in the lower parts of of the county to evacuate. Highway 231, which is  a four lane highway was bumper to bumper. So they closed the southbound lands and made all lanes northbound.
We finally had a production meeting at 2:30 concerning our coverage and and it got a little heated.  John tried to take over the meeting and wanted to do things his way.  He kept bringing up working in Baltimore.
“We need to do it like we do in the bigger markets.  Lead with it and get people excited. We should had done cut-ins during the trial”
I felt like he was wrong, “Yeah, Right. And get people mad as they hunt you down.  We also don’t want people to panic and try to leave during the storm.  People can get hurt.  The local officials know what they are doing.  We need to follow their lead.  Besides there is nothing new to report”
“Umph.  What do they know? I just didn’t fall off a turnip truck.  I have been anchoring for 20 years and seen everything.  You, on the other hand, will never go anywhere.  You’re damaged goods.  Wearing hearing aids.  What's up with that?”
“I am not damaged goods and I have shown it for quite a few years by directing the news and special events.  You, on the other hand, were let go by your previous station in Baltimore.“I’msure you think you have, John, but I doubt you’ve seen everything,” I replied, ”They have more information than what we do.  The Emergency Managers have been trained to handle situations like this and they are getting constant updates from the Weather Bureau.  And they have been through many warnings during the last few years. When was the last time they had a hurricane in Baltimore?  What?  1991?  We have had 7 close calls in the last 10 years. 3 in the past 3 months. Let's do it the right way.  As for my being here and my hearing aids.  I do need them to hear and I am very happy where I am.  Now, let's work together and do the best show that we can do.  Can we shake hands on that?”
To my amazement and probably everybody else’s he shook my hand and said, “Let’s do it.”
He seemed a little quiet after that. That’s a first. 
In fact, he came to the station shortly after Hurricane Erin came close to Panama City in August.  After the meeting, I went home really quick and got my house in the Northshore area ready for the storm.  Inga had already gotten most of the small items stored away.  I put the shutters from the previous storms over the windows and double checked that everything was put away.  She had 2 boxes of stuff to take just in case our house blows away.  I had Ellie stay with my parents and their dog, J.R., during the storm.  They lived in an older part of town not too far from the airport and a little higher elevation than most of the city.
When I got back to the station, it started to become very busy which most people call organized chaos. 
Since I was the director of the newscast, it was my responsibility to get the production crew organized.  This wasn’t too difficult because I had some high school students and mostly college students on the crew that were eager to work during a hurricane. I guess you can say it was the thrill of the moment.
We finally had a full news and technical crew so it was a lot less stressful for everybody. 
Everything was going well with the newscasts, but then some odd happened around 8:30 at night.. We could not find John. 
It happened after our 7:30 pm cut-in.  John went out to his car and said he was going to grab a bite to eat.  About the only place he could go was the McDonald’s, a mile away,which was still opened. I was surprised that they were still open because they were closed during the Blizzard of 89 when we got 1 inch of snow.  In fact the whole town was shut down.
People were concerned but nobody was sad that he didn’t show up for the 8:00 cut-in.  In fact, they were very at ease. Beverly and the weatherman did the news update by themselves. 
Around 9:00 pm, I decided to go out to the parking lot to see how the weather was and to see where John went.  His car was still there.  I noticed that his keys were in his car door.  But he was nowhere in sight.  I got the keys, put them in my pocket and went back into the building and then put the keys on his desk. 
I searched the building and then I saw somebody through the large glass panel laying on the blue 1970’s era couch in the sales room.  I knocked on the glass but he did not budge.  His back was towards me and it looked like he was sleeping very well.  I tried to open the door but the door was locked. 
Luckily, I was able to find a spare key from the news director and open the door.  When I finally got closer to him, I noticed he had some blood on the back his head.  I tried to checked his pulse and and could not find a pulse anywhere.  It turned out to be John.  He was dead.
At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It look like he was dead but I wasn’t sure. I have never seen a dead person before except at the 2 funerals I went to.  While I was checking again, I also felt a drop of water on the back of my neck, then another and another.  We had another leak in the roof and it was getting worse.
The first thing I did was to go to the newsroom to call the police.  The news crew were very busy answering calls from worried citizens.  Luckily, I got a cell phone for my birthday.  I just hope I can figure out how to use the darn thing. Only the second time I used it.
“911, What is your emergency?”
“I just found a body in our sales room,” I responded.
“A body?  Where was this again?”
“Our sales office.  He is laying on the couch in one of sales offices and it looks like he is dead.”
“Did you do it?”
I was getting a little annoyed now.
 “No, I did not.  I just found the body, however.  But, I have not told anybody here yet except
you. It is a the WLED studios on HWY 231.”.
“What is the address?  We are not getting a location.”
“I am on a cell phone.  We are located at Transmitter Road and Highway 231.  Could you send somebody?”
At that time everybody in the newsroom was staring at me trying to figure out what I was talking about. 
After I hung up, I saw Bob in the newsroom giving out assignments to the 5 reporters that were working that night. Even the sports director was getting into the act because they were short handed. One of the reporters was on her honeymoon and was called in.  She didn’t seem too bothered by it because her husband was there helping out also. I always thought that people went out of town for their honeymoon.
I finally was able to talk to Bob privately and tell him what I found. But, I was not able to tell him much because, by that time, the two police officers showed up. 
“Who Reported the body?” one officer replied.
“Uh, I did.” I said sheepishly.
“What is your name.”
Jim. Jim Beckett.”
“Where did you find the body?
“In one of the sales offices.”
“What was he doing there?”
“At first he told us that he was going out to eat.  But, When I found him, I thought he was
“OK,” He said in a sarcastic way, “Let’s go see this body”
I led the officers to the sales office where the body was.They checked for a pulse and they
radioed for a detective.  We closed and locked the door and went to another part of the building to talk to the officers. 
While we were waiting for the detectives, I showed the officers around the place.  Since the room was locked, the body won’t be going anywhere.  The officers then got a call for a rescue along the bay.
The detective got there about 20 minutes later.
Well, we went back to the sales office, I thought I was seeing things.  I really meant not seeing things because the body was gone.
“Well, where is it?” the detective asked.
“It’s supposed to be right here on the couch,” I told them.
“Well, it isn’t there now.
“It was there, I swear to you.  You can even see a little blood on the couch.”
“I do see it but it could belong to anybody?  Whose body was it you claimed to see?”
“John Billings”
“Your anchorman?”
“But, Where is he”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea.” I replied, ”Maybe his body was moved.”
“Or maybe he just walked away, maybe it really wasn’t there.  Could this be a publicity stunt.”
“You’re kidding me. During a hurricane?”
“Stranger things have happened.”
The detective filled out a report; took some samples and pictures  and said that there will be a follow-up in a couple of days”
“A couple of days? You’re kidding me?  What about the evidence?”
“What evidence?  I see no crime here. Water is dripping through the ceiling and the everyone is helping to evacuate people.If there is any evidence, it’s damaged or destroyed. Don’t call us us unless you find something.  We are a little busy”
“But then it might be too late.” 
“Right now that is all we can do under the circumstances.”
“Thanks, I guess I better get back to work now.”
That was so strange.  I am sure I didn’t imagine it.  An hour has already gone and still no John or his body. 
Maybe I imagined it.  I did have a long shift that day.  I got off around midnight after 3 more
cut-ins and a newscast.  This was about 3 or 4 hours after John went missing.  Another director came in to take over so I could get some much needed rest until noon tomorrow.  Landfall was not expected until tomorrow between 5 and 7pm.
I decided to sleep at the station instead of going to my folks house where Olga was staying. I could try to get some sleep tonight or try to find out what happened to John.  The only quiet place I could find sleep was in the sales office. After taking out my hearing aids, it was even more quiet.  However, I couldn’t sleep because this was the room where I found John’s body and then lost it.  That kept my heart pumping.  So, no sleep.
I didn’t want to raise any suspicion because everybody thinks that John just left and didn’t want to deal with a hurricane for a couple of days.  That’s happened before.  I remember a few years ago, during another hurricane, our weatherman did the same thing.  But we did find him the next day.  He just decided to go home. 
After running to the bathroom, I went back to the sales office.  I laid down for a while trying to relax and figure everything out.  I hope I wasn’t imagining everything.  So, I grabbed a notepad and wrote down all that I could remember about the John’s body.
After writing everything down, I tried to figure what to do with what I had.  I guess it won’t hurt to snoop a little also.
There I was sitting in the sales office where I found John’s body earlier and not sure what to do next.  While sitting and staring at the couch for about 5 minutes, I finally notice a dark smear on the couch where it looked like somebody had tried to clean up in a hurry.  I wasn’t sure what it was but it smelled like bleach.  The only reason I recognized the odor was because my mom used it to clean my dad’s white shirts.  You never forget it that odor.  I guess you don’t forget the smell of a dead person either.  I don’t have to worry about that right now. 
The leak is still dripping and the wind is starting to pick up a little outside.  Whatever I need to do I should do it soon.  Still have about 16 hour until landfall somewhere between here and Pensacola.
It’s going to be a long night and day.
I did get a few hours of sleep that night.  The wind did die down between the rainbands. You could say it was the calm before the storm.
Not much was happening that morning so I went to my folks house to make sure they and my wife were ok.  I told them what happened the previous night.  They just looked kind of
dumbfounded towards me.  In fact, my dad really didn’t believe me.  He thought that I was
making it all up or maybe just imagined it.
“What happened to the body?” My dad asked me.
I said, “I don’t know.  That is the same question the police asked”
“You called the police with no body?”
“Dad, there was a body when I called.”
My dad then asked, “Where is the body now?”
Feeling annoyed, I told him, “That is a good question that needs to be answered.  Trying to find
it will be a little difficult with a hurricane coming this way”
My wife tried to support me but it didn’t come out well when she said, “He means well, but he does get a little carried away sometimes.”
I guess it was a good time to sneak out so I told them I had to get back to the station. I hope I can get there quickly with all of the traffic on the main highways.  I was able to avoid the traffic by taking a lot of back roads but it still took me about twice as long to get to work.
When I got back to the station, I went to the newsroom.  There, the news director gave me a weird glare and said, “Look who I found.”
Couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was our anchorman, John Billings.  But he looked a little thinner than before.  Not much, but his double-chin was not as noticeable and as was his stomach.
Can’t worry about it now.  Have to get ready for the next broadcast.
When the next broadcast started, I started to see little things that were not quite right.  For one thing, John was nice to his co-anchor and to me.  So far.  Second, his mannerism was different. He seemed like he cared and he asked some very good questions to the guest without being prompted or arrogant.This was not the same John Billings that was here earlier.  He also didn’t call anybody “Babe.” Something was definitely different. 
After the hurricane came through, our station covered the cleanup along the panhandle and the manager decided to give a big thank you by giving the employees a big cookout and pizza party out in the parking lot a week later.During the cookout, the manager announced that Billings had put in his resignation.  A few people cheered.
A few days later, we were informed that John’s twin brother, Jason, had escaped from prison in North Carolina a few weeks ago and had threatened to harm his brother.  Everything was starting to add up.
During the next few years, we went through the daily grind of producing the news show and every once in a while the topic came up of whatever happened to Billings. 
Four years later, we did found out.  A body was found in the Apalachicola National Forest later identified as John Billings.The Coroner said that it had been there for four or 5 years.Hard to determine. He was wearing the same clothes that he had on the day he went missing from the station.His twin brother was arrested a few days later.  Turns out there was a feud between them dating back when they were in high school.  John was the one that got all the recognition and the girls while Jason was always in the background.  Kind of hard to believe.
One more thing, we found out that Jason also took his brother’s place at the station during the hurricane and fooled everybody here, including me.  He imitated his brother to a tee.  Almost like he rehearsed it over the years.  In fact, they found video tapes in his brother's cell that he recorded before he went to prison.  He had planned this for quite a few years.  He would had succeeded if his brother’s body was not found.
Jealousy, the original sin.

© Copyright 2019 Brian Lee Clements. All rights reserved.

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