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The bright lights of the camera glared into Senator Carl McAdam’s eyes and bounced off his white hair. He squinted and looked down to avoid being blinded.
Rosario was used to it. In fact, she relished the limelight. At twenty three years of age and with the voluptuous looks of a playboy model, she loved being a reporter for Channel 4 news in El Paso.
She was adept in her job, gaining the respect of her colleagues for her ability to land the hard-to-get interviews. Male sports figures gravitated toward her for interviews but so did the women, especially those in positions of power or prestige.
The politically conservative Senator McAdam was the most difficult of all to pin down. It seemed he always had a pressing conference call to attend or some other lame excuse to avoid being interviewed. He didn’t hold town hall meetings and except for his expensive fundraising dinners, he made no public appearances. Yet today, here he was, in the underground parking garage of the El Paso Federal Building bathed in bright lights, confronted by Rosario’s microphone in his face.
In the garage, a small crowd waited for the senator. A much larger, mad throng milled outside in front of the building. El Pollo, a courthouse employee and Rosario’s informant, had tipped her about the senator’s planned exit strategy from the building. As a result of El Pollo’s tip, only Rosario, her cameraman and several photographers now surrounded the senator.
“Senator, I know you’re in a hurry to catch a flight back to Washington and you’re a very busy man, so thank you for taking the time.” She knew how to play upon peoples’ vanities when she had to.
“It’s my pleasure, uh Rosey, is it?” He glanced at her full bosom, then without much of a rush, back at her eyes.
Rosario was used to that response from men. In fact, she used her exotic Latin looks as a barometer to gauge how intently men, and sometimes women, would actually listen to her voice. She’d learned long ago that her physical appearance could be as important as her resume and skills when it came to getting what she wanted.
“Yes, Senator. Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court came down with a new ruling that nullifies another Arizona immigration law you co-sponsored. Your reaction, Sir?”
“Well, Rosey, it’s like this. The people of Texas, we’re a community unto ourselves just like New York or Florida or any other state which is a community all to its own. I can’t imagine anyone in those states would allow the Supreme Court to substitute its will for that of the people. Would you?” He grinned with a patronizing look as if he had stumped her.
Rosario kept her smile as well, ready for her own verbal jab. “That’s the same argument that lost the case, Senator. And the Court’s decision is the law of the land now. You can’t appeal it anymore.”
The color drained from the senator’s tanned face and his smile disappeared. “Listen young lady – .”
“It’s Rosario, Sir.”
“Right. Listen, Rosario. When the federal government fails and now refuses to do its job protecting our borders, we have a moral obligation as Texans to stand up for ourselves.”
With that answer, Rosario knew she had just boarded the Republican merry-go-round of political talking points. With a camera in his face, the senator could spew political rhetoric forever and say nothing. He reminded her of the Wizard of Oz making every excuse in the world to avoid having to answer Dorothy’s questions. And like Dorothy with the fake wizard, she wasn’t willing to take any crap from him.
Within two heartbeats, Rosario shifted gears. “What about tourism, Senator? El Paso has several major sporting events already cancelled because of the court decision that was predicted for today, costing the city millions in lost revenue.”
The senator turned to one of his aides, covered his mouth and faked a cough away from Rosario’s microphone. She heard the senator mumble something as the aide took a step and placed himself between McAdam and her.
“The senator has a plane to catch and we’re late already, thank you.”
“Wait, one more question,” said Rosario. She tried to move the microphone in the senator’s direction.
“He said thank you, Ma’am,” interjected a security guard with a deep voice of authority.
With that brief comment, Rosario knew she’d been McAdamized. The interview was over and the senator’s aides ushered him toward a waiting Lincoln Towncar. She knew the demonstrators at the front of the building were still expecting the senator to appear on the front steps of the courthouse. They probably couldn’t wait to hear his comments on the court decision and pummel him with questions.
But Rosario knew no other news team had gotten the senator’s take on the breaking story and she felt a sense of satisfaction. She drew in a deep breath and grinned at her cameraman. Her news director would be proud.
Just then a series of loud pops rang out from somewhere in the garage. The hard surface of the concrete shot echoes from every direction. To Rosario, it sounded like the fireworks she’d heard at quinceañeras and Fourth of July celebrations. But when people began shouting and screaming they weren’t making festive, happy sounds. Those were cries of terror.
The senator’s security personnel looked puzzled as they tried to make sense of the commotion. A dozen Hispanic men, women and children ran and ducked behind parked vehicles. Security personnel drew their weapons.
“Shots fired!” yelled the aide that had blocked Rosario from the senator. That voice of authority spoke with force, but under control into a mouthpiece attached to its owner’s lapel. “Security. Code Red! Let’s go!” The aide grabbed the senator’s elbow, pilling him toward the waiting open door of the car. “Get in!” he yelled at Rosario, as more shots rang out.
“Me?” said Rosario.
“Yes, get in!”
At the television station, the news director monitored the unfolding events. This chaos was turning into a unique exclusive for their news team. To interview the senator was one thing but catching pandemonium on video didn’t happen every day. He clicked on a microphone and spoke to Rosario through her earpiece.
“Go with it, Rosario! We still got audio on your lapel microphone.”
Rosario glanced at her cameraman, Brian LeFleur. He’d heard the director’s instructions too. The little red light near the lens was blinking and without him saying a word, she knew he was still taping the chaos. Brian wobbled as he pointed the camera at her. Her heart pumped hard. She threw the microphone at Brian’s feet. “Go back to the station. I’ll be okay.” She dove into the back seat of the car just as the wheels spun on the pavement, screeching like a frightened bat.
“What the hell just happened?” she asked Senator McAdam. She sat up, turned her head and glanced out the rear window. The smell of cheap cologne permeated the inside of the car. They were speeding up Magoffin Avenue in the general direction of El Paso International.
“I guess it’s another disgruntled Texan voter,” joked the senator under labored breathing.
She caught him ogling her long, bronze legs.
“Oh my!” he exclaimed.
Men, they’re all the same, she thought. From the president of the United States down to the local councilmen, all they seemed to be interested in was sex.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare, but is that blood on your leg?”
Rosario glanced down at a stain of red on her right shin. She felt no pain but a sudden panic set in and her heart again began to hammer her chest. For the tiniest moment she wondered whether she’d been shot and didn’t feel anything due to the adrenaline still rushing through her veins. She gave the stain a delicate touch. When she knew she was not injured, she took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. She raised her skirt hem higher than it already was, pretending to look for any injury. She made sure the senator got a good look, pushed the hem back down, then smiled at him.
“No, I’m fine. I don’t know where it came from,” she said, wiping the blood on the car’s carpet. She glanced through the front windshield. “Where are we going?”
“Not sure.” The senator pointed at his driver on the other side of the privacy window. “Bobby, here, he’s got instructions on how to handle these emergencies, if they arise at my public appearances. My guess is we’re going to some base or airport where there’s military protection. That’s usually what they do. Hold on, I’ll ask him.”
The senator pushed a button on the back of the front seat. A green light the size of a shirt button blinked. “Bobby, where are you taking us?”
Bobby glanced into the rear-view mirror. “Contingency plan calls for El Paso International Airport, Sir. They’ve been apprised of the situation.”
“Right. Uh, just what the hell is the situation?” asked the senator.
Bobby shook his head. “Not sure, Sir. Maybe it’s a copycat shooter of that Tucson lunatic. You know, that deranged bald-headed kid. I heard on my headset that they’re still securing the area we just left. Coupla people got hit, including a cameraman.”
“Thank you Bobby,” said the senator. He pushed another button and a red light turned on.
Rosario felt a sudden wave of anxiety, wondering whether Brian was the wounded cameraman. She shuddered when she realized the blood on her leg might well have been his. Yet, she was determined not to let the senator notice the distress she felt inside. “But you live in Dallas, Senator. Are you going to fly to Washington after what just happened?”
“Honey, I love America and my state of Texas, but I love life, too. You don’t expect me to stay here with these crazies do you, especially when they’re trying to kill me?”
She grinned. “Well, we are a community unto ourselves, you know.”
Rosario loved turning the tables on men like the senator. She’d had to contend with chauvinistic males all her life, and it was her wit that saved her every time.
As far back as journalism school when the professors handed out assignments, Rosario always got the “front of the camera” roles. “The camera loves you,” they’d say. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the spotlight; it was more that she wanted to learn every aspect of journalism. She wanted to write script, to edit video, even to operate the cameras. But no such luck. By her sophomore year, it had become obvious her physical beauty would always blind her male instructors to her other talents.
In Rosario’s undergraduate years, Ms. Bender had been her only female professor. But Rosario didn’t learn much from Bender’s professional ethics class. In fact, Rosario quit attending her classes when she showed up early for an office appointment and caught the professor on her knees in front of LeFleur, who had his pants down around his ankles.
No, it hadn’t been easy getting a full, rounded education, but she found a way to graduate in the middle of her class and divorce the no-good father of her little girl, all in the same year. She had had to claw her way to get to where she was as a lead reporter for a major network station. Most importantly, she knew how to command the respect of every man she dealt with. Senator McAdam would be no different.
“Touché, Ms. Rosario,” said the senator. “Despite all the loonies and Mexicans in Texas, I do love my home here.” He shook his head. “But everything’s changed since we got a coon in the White House.”
“I’m so glad to hear you say that, Senator.” She looked down at her microphone and then at his leering face. “I’ll bet a lot of other people are glad to hear you say that.”
The senator stared at the little black pin clipped to Rosario’s lapel, seeing it for the first time. Rosario turned her head, as if showing the senator a new pair of earrings. He saw the earpiece and his face took on a pallid look. He slumped back into the seat and muttered, “Oh my God, did I just say that out loud?”