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Split
Author:J.B. Salsbury

“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.

“Wake up, Shyann!” Trevor’s voice powers through my earpiece.

“I’m awake, asshole.” I press it and dip my chin to listen, not wanting to miss a single word of direction.

“There’s my girl.”

He’s not a bad guy; matter of fact, he’s a lot like me—motivated to do something big in order to make a name for himself. He’s ambitious and detached from petty things that get in the way of success. Now that I think about it, that’s where our similarities end. “How much time until we’re live?”

“We’re opening with your story. Tell us the basics, then stand by. We’ll do the local news but pop in as developments unravel.” He clears his throat and mumbles something to someone in the studio. “Be ready in five.”

I flash five fingers and then roll one to Leaf and he nods. “In five. We’re ready.”

“All right, Leaf’s feed, looks like he’s got a good visual of the police and the front door. If we can get them bringing the body bag out, that’s our money shot.”

“Body bag? The victims in Phoenix all survived the assaults.”

“I guess she could be alive, but if so, why are they taking so long to get her to the hospital? Either way, the shot’ll be epic if we get it.”

A fissure of discomfort slithers through my chest at the casual way we deal with death in the news. Sure, on-screen we’re the caring and empathetic news reporter, but inside we’re rejoicing to get a shot of a dead body? No, I push all that shit back and focus.

“Let’s do this— Whoa!” The heel of my shoe sinks into the ground. I flap my arms for balance and barely recover. The earth is mushier than usual after a couple days of rain, and even though this is one of the more developed neighborhoods in Flag, it’s still a city in the mountains, which means lots of natural ground.