Saturday, October 6, 2012

Stacked Against Me

He is stunned that I am standing on his porch.  It is palpable in the air, and in his body language.  He sits quietly on his sofa in Salt Lake City, thumbing through a book, the weather is reasonable on this August day, so his front door is propped opened, only the screened door protecting him from mosquitoes, flies and reporters.

"Hi, I'm Chris Jones, I'm a reporter."  His eyes are wide, his hand frozen in mid page flip.

"He," is the last person to see Lori Hacking alive.  The story of this murdered, pregnant Salt Lake City woman has engulfed Utah, and awakens a national media feeding frenzy in July of 2004.

Lori's husband Mark, claims his wife goes for a run early one morning and never comes home.  Tragically, it turns out, he'd shot her in the head with a .22 rifle and tossed her body in a dumpster.  Mark had been perpetuating a Jinga-like deception, his wife thought Mark had graduated with an honors degree in psychology and is accepted into the medical school at University of North Carolina.  Sadly, it turns out this tale is just that, a long, hollow lie, and when Lori stumbles upon the truth, Mark shoots her in the head while she sleeps, killing her and the couples unborn baby.

The competition to find angles, stories, and exclusives on this case is unlike anything I'd ever before witnessed.

I recall knocking on the front door of a man who is somehow involved in the case, as I wait, a reporter from some trashy grocery store tabloid saunters up next to me as the door creaks open, I try to get the man to talk, he won't.  Then the editor chimes, in, "Hey, do you like New York?"  "Uh, yeah, I guess, I've never been there," says the befuddled stranger, "Do you wanna go?," the reporter says with the forceful, sooped-up patter of a New York native, "  "Uh, to New York?" the man fumbles, "Yeah, you and all the guys you work with, How many are there?"  the quick talking out-of-towner demands, yanking out a small notebook, "Six," he proclaims excitedly, "Tell me what you know, and all 7 of you are going to New York for the weekend, all expenses paid, on me."  The man blabs everything, I don't recall what it is however.

As the two of us march away from the door, I decide the information isn't of much value and decide not to report it, I tap the trotting reporter's shoulder, "You guys are allowed to do that?  Offer trips to New York?  We wouldn't ever do something like that."  What?" he says preoccupied with his notes, "Oh f%#k that, ain't nobody going to New York," he says as he clomps down the narrow concrete stairs and screeches out of the parking lot in his rented car.

On August 3rd, 2004, surveillance video from a convenience store near the couples home surfaces, it shows Mark and Lori purchasing a few items, then a few hours later, Mark returns to the same store without his wife.  Between the two visits,  it is revealed, Hacking has shot, killed, and dumped Lori's body.

The clerk on the video who unsuspectingly rings up one of Utah's most notorious killers, is now on the media hit list, CBS, NBC, FOX News, CNN, the New York Times, Rueters,  and me all have one goal on this day.  FIND THAT CLERK.

Inside the Downtown Maverik Store the manager has no intention of giving me the name of the young man who is now the most sought after person in Utah.  She invites me back to the office, as she searches for the the business card of the corporate public relations manager, another clerk, on his break, munching Doritos and slurping a large cola from a plastic cup points with his forehead to a worn sheet of paper on the wall, it is a list of all the store's employees and their phone numbers, he holds up three fingers, and my eyes drop to the third name on the list, I make a mental note, take the pr flack's number and rush out the door.  His name is listed in the white pages, and 10 minutes later, I am knocking on his door.

He refuses to get up from the sofa, he is frozen, it appears, in fear, "Can I talk to you for a minutes?"  "No," he says in a treble monotone, "Do you mind if I come in?" I touch the knob of the screen door,"  "you can't come in," he retorts in a low, emotionless drawl.  "You were there that night, you're the last person to see Lori Hacking alive?"  "Yes," he stares at me, book in hand, fingers fondling the pages.  "My boss said don't say anything to reporters," he scoots himself to the edge of his green sofa, and farther away from me and the front door.  We thrust and parry for about 30 minutes as I try without success, to get some sort of comment out of the man.  In the end I am denied.

A couple weeks later, as the fever of the story begins to cool, I find myself in a grocery store checkout line.  As I mindlessly pick up candy bars, and breath mints, my eyes lock on the cover of the National Enquirer, The headline is, as you might image, wild and flashy, LORI HACKING'S FINAL TRAGIC MOMENTS, in the middle of the front page, is a picture of THAT GUY!  the sentence under his mug reads:  Hear from the last man to see Lori Hacking Alive!"  I drop the Three Musketeers bar on the grocery store tile, and punch out something that I won't repeat here, but that propels the hands of the woman in front of me over the ears of her curious toddler.

I've ferried that failure to get that interview around with me for years, as I do every interview I didn't land, or video I was unable to capture.  I also remember every face that has denied me.  Weird, phsychotic? yes. Now, fast forward 6 years as I find myself at a Maverik Store in Herriman, Utah, and there he is, THE GUY.  One of my most gut-wrenching failures of my carreer.  "Hello, I say as I put down the beef jerky or apple on the counter top, "Do you remembger me?" I squint into his eyes, "Yes," he says in that familiar, haunting monotone, "Why did you talk to the National Enquirer, and not me?" I force, as I hand him my debit card, "I don't  know," he swipes it, and uncomfortably hands it back to me, "well, no hard feelings," I lie, as I stomp towards the door, then I turn and ask with my hand on the glass of the entrance, "did they pay you?"  recalling the hollow promises made by another tabloid reporter years ago, "yeah," he pushes his glasses from the end of his nose back to the bride, " a little bit," he say shifting from one foot to the other, "I knew it!" I announce as I bolt out to the parking lot.

It is a faint consolations, but I also realize, in the end, a failure is a failure, none-the-less sometimes, you have to accept that the cards, and in this case, the bills are stacked against you.

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