Burning Bird Ch. 01: The Bomb


Like any good story, it dropped like a bomb.

Ezra watched as it rippled through the studio, the devastation unfolding in slow motion. The ring of alerts. Screens lighting up. Then their reactions. Eyes glancing down. Jaws dropping.

Ezra kept talking, feeling the white-hot lights above searing his skin. His eyes bore into the camera in front of him. “And in local news, a tragic accident leaves four dead…”

All ears ignored him as he relayed the gruesome details, everyone fixated on the horror story scrolling under their fingers. A key grip turned to whisper to his neighbor. A crew member put a hand to her mouth, gasping in disgust.

“The collision was captured by a security camera, which we’re about to show you now. But we want to warn you viewers at home–the following may be disturbing…”

As they cut to a clip of a minivan careening into a sidewalk, Ezra scanned the room to watch his own disaster unfold. The studio was small but densely packed with aides and camera crew. And nearly everyone was looking down at their phones. Or at each other.

But no one dared make eye contact with him.

Fuck me, Ezra thought.

The monitor turned back to Ezra, and he tried to keep his eyes on the teleprompter as he continued to tell the story. But he could still see them out of the corner of his view. The whites of their eyes illuminated by their phones. The shock unfolding on their faces.

He kept his blinding white grin stretched tight across his face. So taut he could split a lip.

“But their families are certainly in our prayers. Well, we’re going to take a quick break,” he said, trying to keep his quivering leg in place as he clacked the stack of papers in front of him. “And please, remind your kids–don’t drink and drive…”

Carrie raised her fingers. “And we’re out in three, two…”

“We’ll be back with more after these messages.”

The live light switched from red to green, and Aguilar stood up straight, ripping his earbud out of his ear.

“What?” he bellowed. “What are you all looking at?”

For the first time in minutes, all eyes turned to stare at him.

Carrie held out a hand, the other one gripping her clipboard. “Calm down, Ez…”

“No!” he said, slamming his palm on the table, so hard the papers went flying. “I’m trying to do my job here. I don’t know what all the rest of you think you’re doing.”

He stormed off the stage, out of sight of the camera. Carrie called after him.

“You better get your ass back here, Aguilar! You have four minutes, you hear me? Four!”

He burst through the studio door, into the blinding white hallway, tugging at his collar to remove his microphone. He stomped past the rows of framed posters, a wall of fame for Phoenix’s most accomplished anchors–Lisa Lopez, Ethan Spalding, Kristen Cartwright. And his own stupid, happy grin.

He pulled his phone up to survey the damage. His stomach dropped. Eighteen missed calls. Fifteen texts. Twenty emails. And more coming. The dread started to well up inside him like a tsunami.

Then a news alert, tweeting innocently.

He could almost predict the headline word for word. gaziantep escort Still, he felt a stab of nausea when he saw it, the wave breaking inside him. His worst suspicions confirmed.

Phoenix Today News Anchor Ezra Aguilar Accused of Sexual Misconduct.

He felt the blood drain from his face. He seized his temples, ready to tear his perfectly combed hair out by the root. But he let go, squeezed his eyes shut, and slammed his head against the wall behind him.


He cracked the glass on the portrait behind him and for a moment he saw stars. He crumpled to the ground.

You stupid fuck, he thought, staring into the beaming bright eyes of his own portrait directly across from him. What did you do?

Assistant producer Justin Chegal opened the studio door and leaned into the hallway. “Ezra? What the hell?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head, looking like he’d just stepped off the battlefield. “I can’t go back in there.”

“Aguilar, the show’s still on. We need you in there.”

“I don’t care about the fucking show,” Aguilar said, buring his face in his hands, feeling the misery exploding inside him. “Can’t you see I’m a dead man?”

“Well, dead or not, the show’s still live. And we need your corpse in that chair.”

Ezra fumed. “Did you see the headlines?”

Justin nodded, biting his lip. “Yeah.”

“I’m fucked!”

“You are,” he said matter-of-factly.

Ezra shook his head. “Everyone in that room thinks I’m a–“

“Everyone in that room makes their salaries off your back, it doesn’t matter what they think of you,” Justin said, sliding down beside him. “They’re only paid to light your pretty ass and keep your face from getting shiny. And right now, you could use a touch-up.”

Ezra looked down, seeing the sweat bleeding through his shirt.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes as he trembled to his feet. “Someone set me up!”

“I know,” said Justin. “Fuck them.”

“I have to call Tara… And my fucking lawyer…”

He pulled up his phone.

“There’s no time for that!” Justin protested. “You are live in fifty thousand households in…” He glanced at his watch. “Two minutes.”

“She needs to hear it from me,” Ezra said determinedly, holding the phone to his ear. A hand on his hip. Tapping his foot.

Two rings. Three.

“Come on, come on,” he begged to the light fixtures. But all he heard was his wife’s sweet voicemail in his ear, “This is Tara. I’m sorry, I can’t come to the phone right now–“

He switched the call off and texted her, furiously:

“Tara, i love you. i can explain everything.”

“Ezra,” Justin said, as patiently as he could muster. “They’re waiting.”

“Fuck the reception in this place,” Ezra said, watching the little blue bar at the top of the screen move like a glacier. He shook his phone, as if that could change a thing.

The studio door clanked open. Michael Hawkins, a terrified black intern in horn-rimmed glasses peeked through the doorway.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, tugging at his bowtie. “Carrie says we need Mr. Aguilar back in the chair–“

“I got it, Mike. Thirty seconds,” said Justin, waving the intern away. But Mike looked past him, staring at Aguilar–his bright blue suit, his six foot frame. He had never seen the powerful man so fragile.

“I’m good, Mikey,” said Ezra, waving him away. “Just need a minute.”

Mike nodded, bit his lip, and closed the door. Justin turned back to Ezra. He reached out an awkward hand, trying to comfort him. But he wasn’t really the affectionate type. He ended up petting him, like he was coaxing a nervous pony.

“Listen, man,” he said, his hand brushing against Aguilar’s massive shoulders. “Now, one of two things is gonna happen. Either you’re gonna get back in that chair and handle this like a man, or you’re gonna stay out here throwing this fucking tantrum. And people may think whatever they want of you, but if you put it another hour, they’ll be damned if they don’t respect you. Your choice.”

Ezra nodded, tugging at his tie, releasing the steam welling under his collar.

“Yeah, okay,” he said, more to himself than to Justin. “Okay, okay…”

“Good,” said Justin, putting a hand on his back and leading him back down the hallway towards the studio door.

“But Tara–“

“Don’t worry about Tara. I’ll text her for you.”

“And Laurie?”

“Taken care of. Just give me your phone.”

Ezra looked down at his iPhone, the blue bar still loading. Justin held out an expectant hand.

“I want it on me,” said Ezra, jerking the phone away.

Justin blinked in surprise. “Ez…”

Ezra tried to recover. “I mean, I just want to know if someone calls…”

“You can have it back in twenty minutes, Ezra.”

“You have my wife’s number,” he said, tucking the phone into his pocket. “Can’t you call her?”

Justin pursed his lips. “Okay.”

The silence burned between them.

“You know I didn’t do it, Justin.”

“I know,” said Justin, struggling to compose his expression. “I know.”

Ezra regarded him with a suspicious eye and opened the door.

He stepped back into the studio as crew members parted like the Red Sea, leaving him a beeline to his chair. He could feel their eyes upon him, piercing through his suit.

He shook his wrists and returned to his seat, sucking in a deep breath.

Carrie snapped her fingers. “We need makeup here. He looks a hot mess.”

Two aides ran to his side, frenetically painting over his gleaming brown skin.

“He’s bleeding, Carrie,” one of the aides said weakly.


Aguilar raised his hand to the back of his head, feeling something warm and wet. He winced, feeling the tiny shards of glass from the poster buried in his scalp.

“We can’t deal with that now,” Carrie said. “Just don’t move your head too much.” She walked up to the edge of the table, her eyes twisted with concern. “Do you think you can keep it together for the rest of the hour, Aguilar?”

“I got this,” he said, flipping through the stack in front of him. “Let’s do it.”

She pressed her lips together and nodded, her bright pink curls bobbing from under her headset. “Okay, then. Back to your stations, people. We’re live in fifteen! Ten…”

Ezra adjusted his tie, looking down, careful not to make eye contact. Careful to keep his composure. He dared to peek right, spying Justin leaning against the back wall, his thumbs twiddling out a text message. Justin gave him a thumbs up.

“Five, four…”

Ezra cocked his head to the sides, cracking his neck like he was about to enter a boxing ring. Just as the live light switched on, it occurred to him that this little story could be the end of his career. And if that was the case, this could be the last time he ever saw the camera.

“Three, two…”

So he would have to make the most of it.

“And we’re back,” he said. Then he did what Ezra Aguilar did best, the stunning performance that got him on that hallway wall.

The crew stared on as he held the room spellbound–his flashing white teeth, his irresistible laugh, his sexy intonation. The man could command the whole city with a single raise of his eyebrow. And as he tore through story after story, for a moment all the scandal and accusations melted away. All anybody could see was that handsome face, that familiar smile–the smooth, charismatic anchor that the whole state of Arizona had come to adore. Ezra Aguilar was a household name, one of the most beloved faces in all of Phoenix.

His fall from grace would be earth-shattering.

But his swan song was near perfect. Up until the last moment, just as he was about to sign off. He stumbled, his silky smooth delivery shattered by a road block. Right in the middle of his sentence, blazing back at him in the blue light of the teleprompter, a single pointed word:


“Sorry,” he stammered, careful to avoid reading it aloud. His smile flickered like a candle in the wind. “Typo there. As I was saying…”

A couple crew members exchanged glances. He was flailing, like a plane that had been shot down–spinning through a spiral of jet fuel and smoke. Even as he delivered what might be his last sendoff ever, he couldn’t stick the landing.

His eyes burned, tears of humiliation threatening to spill out of his eyes. Carrie closed her eyes; Justin shook his head; and Michael watched, horrorstruck, as he made what would likely be his last ever farewell.

“From all of us here at Phoenix Today,” Aguilar said, forcing a grin and holding back his tears, “Have a swell Tuesday.”

Carrie nodded and raised her hand. “Aaand… we’re out.”

Normally a shoot would end with whoops, a smatter of applause. Idle chitchat. But not today. Ezra just stared at the back of his hands, feeling the world beneath him spin out of control.

He looked up. Nobody was looking at him now. Everyone was glued to their phones, or shielding their eyes.

Except for one person. Mike, with his hands folded in front of him–only he looked on.

Ezra caught his gaze, and like a film strip of a haunting dream, the memory flickered through his mind.

His teeth on Michael’s neck. His nails against his firm young ass. The satin of his skin. The salt of his sweat. The gleam of his glasses, smiling up at him with his cock in his mouth.

Ezra looked away. Neither of them exchanged a word, though the same thought crossed their minds.

What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?

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