LAST FRIDAY EVENING at City Hall was to be an event. The halls were lit up like a cruise ship; a heavy-duty braid of TV cables snaked from remote transmitters at the curb, up the winding staircases, and down the marble corridor, stopping at the doorjamb of the third-floor City Council office suite. By 5:30 the air was electric. A collegial herd of camera crews and reporters from competing stations--heeding an earlier call that bug sweeps were set to start at 6 sharp--elbowed into the cramped hall, anxious for a scrap of action. A rig of floodlights and deflector umbrellas gave the space a technical, if not too cozy, ambiance somewhere between a Dayton's floor display and an interrogation room. KSTP's reporter primped her hair. KARE's reporter primped his script. With sweeps month in the back stretch, visions of story plums danced in their heads.
At 5:52 approaching footsteps echoed down the hall. The mood quickened and stiffened. Whatever was going to happen was happening, and then it happened. Four men dispatched from Security Board, the company hired to sniff out any eavesdropping devices still stashed in the crannies of government, rounded the corner and ran smack into the nest of cables and ladders. At 5:53 one of the men, in a golf-tee tie and argyle socks, growled. Another, white-knuckling a power flashlight, grimaced. A third, wheeling four brown suitcases of equipment on a battered dolly, beelined for the glass doors. At 5:54 they disappeared without a word inside the suite, poof, a flash in the camera pan, as if... well, as if their quick transit were almost beside the point.
"We got it. OK, it's gonna go like this," said KSTP, rushing a frame around the scoop. "It'll be 'arrived at City Hall a short time ago.' Or how about, 'this search is needed to give some peace of mind.' Bingo." That peg nailed down, every reporter took the cue, every camera rolled, every script (with "peace of mind" the shared mantra) was delivered with crisply enunciated vowels.
"OK, gang. Show's over. Let's pack it up." The fill lights blinked off. The rush dissolved. Then, from the back of the set, a man, his wife, and two kids in tow, emerged and slipped into the offices, locking the door behind them.
"Hey, isn't that guy staff for Jackie Cherryhomes?" one of the technos muttered. "I hear she's out of the country, in Japan or something. Looks like she's the only one who bothered to send a guy down to keep an eye on things."
"Whaddya know," said his crewmate, stashing the last light in its case. "Guess she's getting as paranoid as the rest of the bunch."
"Paranoid? These people? Now there's a breaking story." And with that, the pack packed up and straggled off for drinks around the corner.