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Split(2)

By:J. B. Salsbury



He grunts and I glare, annoyed by his nonchalance.

“I’m serious, Leaf. Make sure you get the right angle. I need this to be perfect. If the camera hits me funky, I look like a Cabbage Patch doll.” I smooth my skirt and blouse, wishing the outfit brought me more confidence, but instead I feel like one of those assassin bugs that wears the corpses of other bugs as armor. Not what I’m most comfortable in but at least I look enough the part to be taken seriously.

Fake it till you make it, Shyann.

“I got just as much riding on this as you do.” His voice is more animated than his usual lazy hippie drawl. He eyeballs me for a second. “Sure you’re ready for this?”

I swallow my nerves. “Of course I am. I was born ready for this.” My toes curl up, already cramping in my Timmy Shoos. Not sure they were even worth the eighteen bucks I paid for them.

“Good to hear, ’cause”—he squints at a grouping of emergency vehicles in front of a single-level home and slows to a stop—“it’s go time.”

I lean forward to gaze out the front window. An officer glares at our news van. Typical. An ambulance sits in the driveway, and the back doors are open and the cavity inside is empty. “They haven’t brought her out yet?”

“Shit! Let’s hurry!” Leaf scrambles between the seats into the back to grab his equipment.

“Do you have any idea what this means?” I pull the mirror down and frantically swipe on some lipstick. “It only happened, what, like—”

“Fourteen minutes ago.” The van door slides open with a loud whoosh.

I was at the station the second the call came over the police scanner. Code 240. Aggravated assault. Female. Unconscious, strangulation, no sign of forced entry.

After a string of serial assaults on women in Phoenix, less than 150 miles from the mountain town of Flagstaff, the similarities of this assault were too unique to ignore. Assault on women wasn’t unusual, but whoever was committing them over the last few months wasn’t sexually assaulting his victims. They were, as the Phoenix police had announced, “unusual in nature.” And now we had one in our town.

Possibly.

It’s a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking.

Reporters from Phoenix won’t be here until morning. If this is what I think it is, we’ll be picked up live for the nine o’clock news. Only a few months out of school and I’ll be live in a top-ranking—number eleven to be exact—media market newscast.

Hopping from the van, heart pounding in my chest, I circle the front to find Leaf lining up a good shot. Butterflies explode in my gut as I shrug on my Burberry raincoat. The tag says Blurrberry and the signature plaid pattern is off by a black stripe or two, but a chance at national exposure calls for my very best fake designer clothes.

“This is it.” I pop in my earpiece and check the time. “Nine o’clock news starts in ten minutes. We have to be ready.”

Leaf mumbles something I ignore and I start planning my intro.

“Ladies and gentlemen . . .” I clear my throat and lower my voice. “The scene before us . . .” No, more emotion. That’s the key to this job, being completely emotionless, but infusing enough fake emotion so the viewers relate. Only the best broadcasters can do it, and I’m determined to be one of the best. “Big city terror ravages the town of Flagstaff, as what is speculated to be the eighth victim in a serial assault on women—”

“Shyann, you there?”

I adjust my earpiece at the sound of my producer Trevor’s voice, then speak into my mic. “We’re here.”

“Leaf, move left. If they bring out the woman on a stretcher, we’ll get a perfect view.” I shuffle into position. “There, good. We don’t have time to interview neighbors, but we’ll do the live feed and then you two get some faces on video. Tears, fear, all the shit that makes a great story.” He clears his throat. “Shyann, straighten your coat. You look like you just rolled out of bed in it.”

I glare at the camera and at the sound of Trevor’s chuckle, then roll my eyes.

“No smart-ass retort, honey? I’m shocked.”

My body heats with embarrassment and anger, which is kind of nice, seeing as we’re headed into the autumn months and my cheesy coat is doing very little to fight off the evening chill.

Trevor, my semi-boyfriend, loves humiliating me on-screen. He swears it keeps me humble. Says I’m hungrier than most, driven beyond what’s healthy. He also says I’m ruthless and have the emotional capacity of a gnat. Maybe he’s right, but I refuse to see my striving for success as a negative thing.

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