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Jinto was watching junk TV when Orlock came in.
"Building's on fire," said Orlock.
"Yeah," said Jinto, watching the woman drop her baby out of the window.
Down fell baby, landing in the blue net down below. Only, you could tell that this was a reconstruction, not the real thing. There was a cut from the woman releasing baby to baby bouncing on the blue net. You never actually got to see baby fall, and that was because the TV people were too cheap to go hire themselves a real stunt baby.
"This is the real thing, man," said Orlock.
"Yeah, it's all real," said Jinto, as the TV cut to real video footage of a real house sliding into a sinkhole in Florida.
"No, man, I mean this building is on fire," said Orlock.
"Building?" said Jinto. "What building?"
"What are you on?" said Orlock.
And that was when the door banged open and Betty came in, hot and flustered, holding little Zoey in her arms. Zoey was in her nightdress, and was crying. A swirl of smoke entered with Betty.
"Smoke," said Jinto, surprised, as Betty banged the door shut.
"I told you," said Orlock.
"There's a fire," said Betty. "And Pac's upstairs."
The TV was showing sneak footage of a snarling zoo attendant goosing a gorilla with an electric cattle prod.
"So he burns," said Orlock. "If brother Jinto here is awake, let's all get the hell out of here, okay?"
"Hey, not so fast," said Jinto. "We got our TV to think about."
"The TV?" said Orlock. "Plenty more where that came from!"
"No, no! Not the set, our appearance."
On the TV, police batons rose and fell, pulping a one-armed cripple.
"We could be stars, okay? But we got to do something. Like save the dog, okay?"
"Why?" said Orlock.
"We just walk out the door, that doesn't make a story."
"But why TV?" said Orlock. "Why you want to be on TV?"
"Hollywood," said Jinto. "Fame - okay?"
"Dream on!" said Orlock.
"It's worth a shot," said Betty.
Hollywood. The magic word had converted her, filling her head instantly with dreams of flashbulbs, her hands wet in the concrete, her fans cheering, her star gleaming.
"Man, you guys are right out of it," said Orlock. "It's only a dog."
The TV was showing a close-up of something which was alleged to be the president's penis.
"So maybe it wasn't," said Jinto. "Maybe Zoey was up there and we had to fight our way upstairs through the smoke and everything to get to her."
"Sounds good," said Betty.
"Man, I got to be in court tomorrow," said Orlock.
"So what you going to tell the judge?" said Jinto. "They got you on video, you know that. You can't say you weren't there. But your lawyer, he says - "
"He tells the judge," said Betty, trying to hijack the story.
" - you were a hero," said Jinto, speaking louder as he drowned out Betty, as he rolled right over her, because, hey, this was his story. "You saved a little girl, risk of your life, all that, are you with me?"
And Orlock was starting to see it, so up the stairs they went, exiting the room as the TV cut from the aftermath of a tidal wave to a bank robbery shootout.
At the top of the stairs there was still the gap where Goo Goo had crashed through the banisters in Friday's fight. Dying in the fall. Jinto rammed Orlock with his shoulder. Taken by surprise, Orlock fell. A brief scream, then a thud of impact.
"What you do that for?" said Betty, shocked.
"It was an accident," said Jinto. "Here, let me take Zoey, you're going to drop her."
And Betty gave him Zoey. And Jinto kicked Betty hard in the gut and over she went. Falling down to the smoke and flames. Zoey cried.
"Sha, sha," said Jinto, trying to soothe her as he took her into the bedroom where Pac the dog, stoned as usual, was sleeping on oblivious to the fire.
But she cried a lot, and it bugged him. He had to wait, and waiting was something he wasn't good at. Nothing to do while he waited but watch the dog's TV.
"You and me, we was asleep," said Jinto, muttering his rehearsal. "Betty too. And Orlock. All in this one room. Zoey, she was downstairs - okay? Fire gets up. Betty and Orlock. To the rescue. They don't come back. You're downstairs, Betty. Pretty fierce heat. I go down the stairs, I rescue you."
Outside, sirens, bullhorns. They're coming. Someone's called in the fire. Have to make a move soon.
Jinto threw open the door, revealing an inferno. The stairway in flames. And here was Zoey in his arms, clean and spotless. Nobody would ever buy into the story of her being downstairs. Not unless there were a couple of marks on her.
"Take a walk," said Jinto, rolling Zoey downstairs.
The plan was real simple. Let Zoey get a little singed, then run down and rescue her. But it went wrong. Zoey exploded, kind of - nightdress becoming incandescent, going up in a shriek of flame. Jinto started down toward her, but the heat was too fierce. And he registered the fact that she was probably better off dead - 90% burns already, her chances of female beauty finished, she'd be a hospital freak if she ever got out of this alive.
So he went back into the bedroom and closed the door on her.
Pac was still sleeping.
"What kind of lowlifes have a dog that's stoned?" said Jinto disgustedly.
And, coming to a decision, he opened the door again and dumped Pac into the inferno.
Sole survivor, thought Jinto, making for the roof. It wasn't much of a story, but a hope of fame is better than nothing. The fire took the dog, took Orlock, took Betty, took little Zoey - sob sob! - but hero Jinto got out of there alive.
As Jinto came out onto the roof, the helicopter overhead caught him in its searchlight, and he waved, and the cameras in the helicopter broadcast his story of salvation to the waiting world, live on channel 10.
This story, "Live on Channel 10", made its first appearance when posted on Hugh Cook's website zenvirus.com on 2003 February 28 Thursday.
Copyright © 2003 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.