General Disclaimer: The characters in this story may bear some resemblance to characters owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this.
There isnt any explicit sex or violence in this story, although there are references to violent acts. Theres also some fairly rough language, so if this might offend, please dont read this.
Feed the bard: Speak up now, let me know what you think.....
Tap-tap-tap-tap........ The clatter of keyboards being poked and prodded by slow, one fingered typists was starting to wear her down; an incessant, aggravating repetition that scraped into her ears and jangled the tender nerves behind eyes which were already starting to ache with fatigue. Bleakly, she stared at the flickering screen in front of her. Two hours solid creating, crafting and sweating and only half a screen of text to show for it. She rubbed her eyes wearily, then started as a cup of coffee was clattered down onto her jumbled, paper strewn desk. Red rimmed eyes, blinking and staring slightly, turned to greet Jimmy as he smiled down at the pale faced woman who sat absently rubbing her temples.
"Jeez, Taylor - you look like shit. Looks like you could use this." He grinned broadly at her, expecting to be swatted for his remarks, and couldnt keep the surprise from his eyes when she just shrugged and smiled wearily back.
"Ah, thanks Jimmy. Youre a lifesaver." With her nose stuck deeply into the coffee cup, all he could see were two grateful green eyes peeking back at him, and lacking their usual sparkle of mischief.
"Whasamatter? Having trouble with the article?"
"Yeah." She rubbed her eyes again, then gestured to the half filled screen. "Im really struggling to get this down in a way that....well, that really captures her. I want to let people know who she really is...."
"Dont know why youre bothering - a lot of people couldnt care less about that bitch apart from when she finally buys it."
"Maybe." She turned from him, staring into the screen when she heard the anger colouring his words.
Jimmy sat down at his desk next to hers and studied his small colleague with a thoughtful look. "You really are finding this hard, arent you?" A nonchalant shrug was his only reply, followed by a cautious green gaze as her head turned towards him. "Taylor, what have I told you about getting involved? Were journalists - we just report news, we dont seek to judge. We dont work on that kind of paper."
"We dont seek to judge? What were you doing just a minute ago?"
He sighed loudly, annoyed. "Taylor, just write the damn article! What could be so tough? A cruel, sadistic bitch gets what she deserves....who wants to understand her? Just be thankful its not you lying buried in a grave somewhere because of her...."
"I see your point, Jimmy. Im so pleased that we dont seek to judge here. I dont think I could handle that." Eyes flinty as chips of dark jade glinted as she frowned at him. "Thanks for the coffee Jimmy. Now if you dont mind, Ive got a deadline to meet." Taylor turned away from him, just catching his whispered comments; flinching, she let them ride over her. Wasnt worth it. He just didnt understand - maybe no-one did. Maybe only Jess could.
Jess.....Jess. She cupped her ears against the din of the office - the clicking keys, the shrill ringing of phones, the incessant, inane chatter that was becoming more than just the background noise it normally was. It drilled into her mind, distracting thought and disturbing peace; people were so noisy. They lived life in such a whirl of murmurs and laughter and shouting, making as much noise as they could to fill the emptiness, a facsimile of experience to pretend that life mattered. But if there was one thing that shed learned over the last few months, it was that life didnt matter, because in the end, it was just cheap. To be bought and sold on an open market, the exchange rate low because supply outstripped demand.
Now, she ached for solitude, for peace and quiet - to reflect on the awful truths shed had pushed down her naive throat; needed time and space to help her make sense of the world - a world that she was now being forced to redefine. "God, I cant hear a thing in here.....cant hear myself think!" Stumbling to her feet, she staggered towards the lift and made her way out of the packed building, around the block and into the haven of the tiny park.
One hour later, and she was back at her desk; short blonde hair neatly brushed and suit straightened as she sat once again staring at her screen. "When did my world flip over? How could it happen and me not even notice?" she mused as her eyes flicked briefly over her scribbled notes, narrowing as she translated rough notes into newsworthy copy.
Sure, you remember when ......... three months ago, when you first met her.
Taylor wriggled around in her seat as she swept wide open eyes around the ornate courtroom, soaking in the smell of the warm wood panelling, the scent of pine mixed with varnish and polish as it mingled with a hundred perfumes and more than a few natural odours. Luckily, the press gallery was a safe haven from some of the more unsavoury occupants who seemed to be concentrated in the public gallery, where a throng of people hung over the balcony, trying to get a good view of the defendants table.
"Wow! Cant believe Im actually here, in this courtroom, and actually covering this case! Talk about my big break!" She flipped open her notepad and checked her pens for the tenth time so far that morning, as all around her people milled about, murmuring and mumbling their hushed conversations, stamping their feet and shuffling clothes, bags, papers - the room was alive with sound, and movement and quietly pulsed with expectation. Taylor couldnt help it; she felt the white hot bolt of excitement surge through her as the judge, counsellors and other citizens of the court enter. The noise levels dropped instantly, and Taylors ears throbbed loudly from the sudden silence.
A few moments later, a tidal wave of murmuring rolled up the aisle, preceding the defendant as she made her way to her table at the front, accompanied by her council. Like waves crashing onto the shore, the murmurs erupted into shouts and curses, spitting and stamping of feet as the courtroom came raucously alive. Taylor clutched her pen tightly, quite scared by the almost palpable emotions that surrounded her, and overcome at the solid hatred being directed towards the tall, well built woman now sitting quiet and unmoving at the front of the room. Words as poisonous as any barbed arrow loosed themselves from the pack and were aimed towards the woman; Taylor couldnt tell if they found their mark. The woman never moved, never flinched.
"Go straight to hell, you evil, murdering whore!"
"Death is too good for you - I hope you suffer. I hope you burn in hell for what youve done!"
"Youll get yours butcher!"
And all the while, underscoring this like understated strings in an operatic movement, was the sobbing and crying coming from one wall of the courtroom. Not the defendants family, but other families who had lost their loved ones and were here hoping to see justice and vengeance done, hoping that it would ease the stabbing ache in their hearts and take the screaming nightmares from their sleep.
The intensity of noise and the emotions it carried had Taylor fighting for breath, biting her lip to keep from crying or bolting. And shocked, because shed never experienced anything like this in her life so far, and no-one at the newspaper had prepared her for this. Not Craig, her editor who had fought off claims from her more experienced colleagues to give his newest, most junior reporter a shot at the big time; not Laura, the one colleague who didnt seem to resent her for it....and not Paul - especially not Paul, used to having all the plumb jobs and still smarting from their last assignment where Craig had paired them together and then chosen her to write up the piece. She felt scared, lonely and betrayed, sitting in that courtroom all alone, and wondered how the defendant must be feeling. I couldnt cope if all this was directed at me, she mused.
Jess. Taylor looked up from the keyboard where she was labouriously typing, and paused to re-read what shed written. The description of Jess - yeah, shed been so cool, so aloof that day. Hadnt let it touch her. How the hell did she manage that? I was a nervous wreck before the week was out.
Taking her by now usual seat in the packed and smelly room, Taylor glanced up at the Judge as he leafed through various papers stacked on his desk. She noticed how his face remained impassive as he read through the police interview transcripts and studied the photographs. Unlike the jurors, who gasped, cried and shut their eyes desperately - when they werent staring at Jessica Hunter.
Jessica Hunter would have demanded attention anyway - infamous or not. With a tall, stately bearing, well proportioned and muscular figure and inky black hair which fell in thick waves to her shoulders, she drew eyes like honey draws children.
Like notorious trials drew eager reporters, thought Taylor with a giggle, which she quickly repressed when a moment later, she found herself captured by piercing blue eyes which flickered in her direction, studied her and then moved on. Stunned by the intensity of that gaze, she missed the next few comments of the prosecuting council as he called yet another witness; just about managing to pull herself together - God, Ive never looked a murderer in the eyes before - when she was again assaulted by those same cobalt eyes. Eyes that drew the unsuspecting and gullible, the meek and unconfident, the arrogant and the power-hungry, as she was learning - like a venus flytrap, promising all that was wanted or needed, luring you in and then snap! Jessica Hunters magnetic eyes held her for an instant; they narrowed slightly as they observed her reaction with one eyebrow slightly raised, then she broke the magical connection with a slight, mocking smile. Taylor felt as though shed just walked across a river on a crocodiles back.
So dangerous.....Jess had oozed it, and she hadnt realised how much of that powerful charisma shed held in check during her trial. Jess had sat through witness after witness, statement after statement, insult after diatribe - and all without comment, without betraying any emotion - apart from that little smile she had sent to Taylor.
After that, Taylor had been careful to keep her eyes directed away from the front table; head bent over her notepad, she scribbled constantly, sometimes trying to stop the tears from blurring her ink as she wrote, sometimes trying to understand how anyone could do the things Jess was being accused of. Sometimes, she wrote just to try and get through the long, tortuous days so she could go home, play with her cat and try and forget the glimpses of the world she saw when she was in that room. A world she knew existed - of drugs, and children, sex, exploitation, cold blooded murder and more. She had thought shed known what the world was like - she read about it everyday in her own newspaper, didnt she? - but to see it up close, to experience its heartbreak, to smell the rank smell of a rotting society.....no, that wasnt something she had been ready for.
How to capture that in words? How to capture the wrenching away of one innocent girls view of the world......but this wasnt about her, she reminded herself sharply. Who would be interested in reading about scales falling from her eyes on her painful road to Damascus? No, this was about Jess. How to capture Jess in words - that was the challenge.
She read what shed written so far, and deleted the lot.
"Wh...what?" The coffee cup froze on its journey to Taylors lips as Craigs words sank in.
"You heard me, Taylor. Jessica Hunter has agreed to give us her exclusive story - and shes promised to talk this time. Its a fantastic opportunity for this paper."
"But she wouldnt even talk much in court! Why on earth is she agreeing to this now?"
Craig shrugged his thick set shoulders and settled his heavy rimmed glasses more comfortably on his thin nose as he peered at her through half closed eyes. "How the hell should I know? Im not gonna question a gift horse when it looks me in the mouth. Maybe she wants to repent before she goes to meet her maker? Maybe she just wants to make a quick buck, although what shed do with that is anyones guess. Maybe buy herself a few last packets of smokes from the prison shop." He guffawed loudly, then pulled her typed copy of the trial across his desk. Jessica Hunters grainy black and white picture stared stonily up at him. "This is a good write up Taylor, youve done well with this."
Embarrassed, she smiled bashfully and a slight blush crept over her cheeks. "Thanks, Craig. It was hard work, but Im glad you thought it was worth it."
"Oh, its definitely worth it, love. Youve got real talent. Which is why I want you to carry on with this."
"Youll be the one interviewing Jessica Hunter."
The mouthful of nutty lukewarm coffee splurted out as Taylor tried to swallow, breathe and gasp all at the same time. "Me? I....I cant!" Interrogated by Craigs stare, she spluttered, "I couldnt ...... wouldnt you be better with one of your more experienced people? Maybe Paul? I dont think....."
"Two oclock tomorrow afternoon, Taylor. Be there. And I want a damn good story out of this. Something like - evil meets its destiny, or when justice and terror collide or how I became the unnatural beast I am type of thing. Okay? Good - off you go then. Keep me updated."
The next day found Taylor dressed in her best blue business suit, nervously gripping a pencil, pad and her trial notes and reluctantly following a female prison officer down thunderously echoing corridors towards the visitors room, cordoned off and heavily guarded for her today.
"...and dont approach the screen too near, and under no circumstances let her try to pass you anything over or underneath the screen without letting....."
The officers voice droned on, accompanying the staccato rhythm of her heels as they tapped their way down the steel corridor. All around was noise - chatting, banging, crying, thumping........more noise, thought Taylor glumly as she tried to keep up with what the woman in front of her was saying, and trying to block out the comments, swearing and occasional wolf whistle that accompanied their slow progress. Eventually, they reached a sturdy steel door; the warder pressed a buzzer and the door creaked open and clanged shut behind them. She was motioned to a chair in front of a screen, where she anxiously sat and fiddled with the pencil in her hands in a desperate attempt to keep from biting her nails whilst waiting for her interviewee.
God, those eyes....she;d almost forgotten what it had felt like to be captured in their web. They stabbed her, lanced into her soul it felt like, and all the confused emotion that had submerged her at the trial washed over her again.
"So glad you decided to come." A rich, deep voice broke into her terrified, mesmerised state. "I wasnt sure if you would. You seemed such a timid thing." A wide, knowing smile broke across the other womans face as she observed Taylors consternation with glee.
"Its my job. You wanted to give an interview...."
"Yes, I did. But you didnt want to come, did you?"
"N..uh. Its my job." Taylor ended lamely, feeling a fool. Feeling almost naked in front of this woman.
"So you said. Why dont you do it, then?" Jessica watched with amusement as Taylor set the pad neatly in front of her, and laid her pencil next to it. She straightened the pencil a little so it ran parallel with the edge of the pad. Jessicas eyebrow arched. "Ready?" She asked sweetly.
Taylor nodded, then looked at Jessica expectantly.
"What are you waiting for?"
"You to start talking..."
"Oh, Im not really much of a one for talk."
"Then how do am I supposed to get my interview? I thought you wanted to tell your side of things.."
"Ah. Then you made an assumption, didnt you?"
"Have you done much interviewing?"
"Ah, yes, Ive done some. Why do you ask?"
"Just like to know what Im dealing with. Shall we get started?"
"Sure....." Taylor opened her mouth to launch into a question, but was abruptly cut off..
"So, Taylor - how long have you worked at the Courier?"
"About four months....how did you know my name was Taylor? I never mentioned my name."
Jessica snickered, then approached the perspex screen; her eyes glinted slightly as Taylor gave a small gasp and unconsciously tried to move her screwed down chair further away. "Look at your visitors order."
She did; it was made out to her. "Oh." Craig mustve given her my name. Ill kill him. Uhh, not a good turn of phrase, she thought as she raised her eyes to Jessicas, who waved her hand and instructed;
"Please, carry on with your interview."
She took a deep breath and opened her mouth, and was again interrupted.
"So what were you doing before you joined the Courier?"
"I was at college....why all the questions? I thought I was the one doing the interviewing..."
Jessica laughed, a deep, ripe bubble of sound that came from deep in her chest. It was quite infectious and soon had Taylor smiling a small, albeit very nervous smile in return.
The interview had gone from bad to worse, with Taylor struggling to get in one question, and Jessica learning more than she should about the rookie journalist. Taylor had been sure that Jessica would contact Craig and refuse to see her again, and was astonished when another visitors order arrived for the same time the following week. And so they had continued, meeting for an hour every week, with Jessica dodging questions and Taylor squirming uncomfortably whilst trying to get information from the woman.
"What are you smiling at?" Craigs bushy hair stood on end where he kept raking his stubby fingers through it. He glanced at Taylor as he helped himself to coffee. "Want one?"
"So whats so funny? Havent seen you smile in ages."
Taking the coffee and gulping it loudly, she just shrugged, then scowled as he leaned over her shoulder and read through the few paragraphs on her screen. "Hmm. How long have you been at this now? Writers block?"
"Yeah, dont rub it in. Ill be fine."
"You better be. Theres not much time, and I want this to run as tomorrows headline. Ive already thought of a catchy banner......"
"Uh - I dont think I want to know, Craig."
He laughed and patted her shoulder, a sympathetic look in his eyes. He really liked her, and genuinely admired her talent but was becoming increasingly worried - shed become so withdrawn lately. "Hey, its not like you to struggle like this. What happened to the raw hack who wrote the Reilly expose?"
Taylor snorted as she remembered her sensational second article, one that Craig had to censor before he let it go to print. "I dunno. Maybe shes lost her fire."
"Look love, this is the scoop of the decade and it landed in your lap. I dont know what you did to impress her, but when she asked for you....."
"She asked for me?"
"Why, yeah. Didnt she tell you?"
"No." She furrowed her brow as she absently chewed an already ravaged thumbnail. "No, she never mentioned it. I always thought you...."
"Well, hell no - not that I wouldnt have loved you to work on this, but she insisted it was you and nobody else." Observing her stunned silence for several long moments, he added "She obviously thought you have what it takes. Maybe she saw your fire?"
"So you werent particularly close to your parents, then?" Taylor popped her finger into her mouth and bit down onto a stubby nail; she withdrew it quickly when she noticed Jessica staring at her with a glint in her eye.
"Oh God no. They were low life losers. My father used to beat me."
Taylors eyes grew wide. "Oh."
"Yeah, with his belt. I used to have cuts all up my back from it, every time he came in drunk I knew I was in for it. And my mother, well she was too fucking scared of him so she just used to watch him."
"That mustve been awful for you. To have your parents treat you like that. I....I cant imagine what that mustve been like."
"You get used to it."
"What about your brothers..." flicking through her notes, ".....uh, David and Robert?"
"David was only a baby when I left. Rob, my older brother, he was a bastard. Pure and simple. I had this little kitten, he used to torture it. I watched him smash some baby birds heads in with a brick one day. He only did it because I asked him not to. He was a fucking evil bastard."
"Oh my God! I had no idea...."
"Yeah, and people call me evil." Jess smirked an odd smile; sending cold shivers skating down Taylors spine.
"Those things that you told me last week, about your father and your brother. I did some checking around."
"Your father never beat you, did he? He left not long after you were born - I checked. Your mother put the date of desertion down when she filed for divorce."
"So whats the difference? Beating me, pissing off from me? Still left scars." Said with a casual shrug and grin.
"And those things you said about your brother?"
Jess smiled again, a cold smirk that never reached her eyes. "Yeah? What about them?"
"Your brother Robert was born with a hole in his heart, and he died before he was two. I checked all of your familys birth and death certificates. He could never have done the things you said." Jess laughed loudly, baring strong white teeth as she stared at the angry Taylor through the screen. "Why did you tell me those things when you knew they werent true?"
She continued to laugh and raised one sardonic eyebrow. "Why not? Youre trying to understand me, arent you? To explain why I did the things I did? If they hadve happened, would you have accepted that as a possible explanation for my wicked, evil ways?"
"I...no, of course not.... if you did do the things you were found guilty of, there could be no justification for that. I cant believe youd play such cheap mind games with me!"
"Cant you? But I am supposed to be an evil, manipulative witch, remember. I think that was one of the comments that you so accurately recorded at my trial. Great job, by the way."
"Dont change the subject! What the hell am I doing here anyway?"
"I thought you were here to interview me?" Jess purred smoothly, and smiled again, amused to watch Taylor stewing and rapidly coming to boiling point in front of her.
"Im trying to do my best here but, damn you......!"
"Ahh, whats the matter? Am I not helping?"
"Fuck you!" Angrily, the blonde jumped to her feet, grabbed her papers and bolted out of the room, bitter tears of frustrated anger slowly rolling down her cheeks.
It was eleven oclock - Taylors stomach loudly reminded her that she hadnt eaten all day, nor the previous night when shed eventually managed to drag herself reluctantly from work. She wasnt really in the mood for it though and couldnt bring herself to go through the motions. Ill eat when I get home tonight, she decided, once more glancing at her watch. Her stomach churned again; not long to go now and she needed to have this article done and on Craigs desk by five pm.
The office racket was again starting to depress her spirits and things suddenly got worse when Paul sidled up to her, clutching a frosted donut and a steaming plastic cup of frothy cappuccino in his hands. "So, Taylor. Hows the big scoop coming along?" He snickered as he took a long gulp of his coffee, and Taylor had to choke back a laugh at the furry little mustache that snaked across his thin upper lip when he pulled his cup away. "Bit short isnt it? What, only two paragraphs for the story of the year?"
"Its quality that counts Paul. You should try it sometime."
"Ah, whats the matter Taylor? Are we PMTing again?"
"I dont know Paul. Are we? I know Im not."
"Testy little thing, arent you?" He ran a hand through her hair slowly, tickling her earlobe and stroking her neck. "Mmm. Whats the matter Taylor? Not getting any lately? Just say the word, sweetheart and I could help you out. I know how it can affect a womans concentration. Makes you all so snippy. You need a man in your life..."
"Maybe youre right Paul. So what makes you think youd qualify as one?" She pulled away from his hands before they could grope any further; shed been confused the first couple of times shed felt his hands on her and had put it down to nervousness or over sensitivity on her part. But not today. "Touch me again like that, and Ill report you to Craig."
"Oooh, the little kitten has claws! Im sure I dont know what you mean Taylor - I was just trying to be friendly and supportive to a colleague who looked like she needed it. Not my fault youre so....uptight....about these things."
"Im not uptight!"
"Sure you are - I pat your head and you act like Im molesting you. Anyoned think youd never been touched before. Now theres a thought..."
"Paul, get the hell away from me now before I lose my temper and do something we both might regret! And keep your crawling hands off me - I know what youre up to and I wont warn you again!" She stood and glowered up at him, hands on hips and scowling angrily until he smiled, patted her cheek and went off whistling.
Grinding her teeth loudly, she walked quickly to the bathroom and tried to calm herself down and realised she actually felt a bit better for standing up to him this time. Usually, she felt cheap and vaguely dirty after hed played his games with her - sure, she knew why he played them, but it didnt usually stop her from getting caught up in them. What is it about me and other people? Why do I always seem to wind up looking like an idiot and feeling guilty about it? Shed felt awful about running off from Jess the way she had, after swearing at her - something she very rarely did. Mother would have been disgusted. Shed have given me the silent treatment for a week, she reflected, almost hearing he mothers snipped accent and high voice saying "Taylor Chance! I never want to hear you use such language again, my girl! No daughter of mine would ever feel the need to sink to such levels. Ladies do not let their emotions get the better of them! No decent man would ever want to marry such a woman - remember that, my girl, or youll be spending your life alone. Is that what you want?"
Twisting her toe into the plush carpet of her mothers living room, she could hear herself give the expected reply "No Mother. Im sorry."
Taylor shifted uneasily in the now familiar chair as she waited apprehensively for Jess. Nibbling a thumb, she rubbed her eyes yet again whilst straightening out her pad and pencil, she flipped over to a fresh page, headed it with the date and then neatly underlined it twice with bold strokes. Several deep breaths and some more eye rubbing later, and she felt composed enough to deal with another session with Jess.
"Even your handwritings neat." Jess sardonic voice floated over the screen. Taylor glanced up, and gave a little startled, nervous smile. "Im surprised to see you back," Jess continued. "I wasnt sure if youd come after last time."
"I have a job to do and Id like to get on with it, if thats alright with you." She replied shortly, keeping her eyes on the clean white page in front of her. She swept her hand absently through her hair and tugged at suddenly unruly curls, feeling very self conscious all of a sudden, and wishing she had a hairbrush to hand.
"Straight to business, huh? I like it. Fire away!" Jess smiled, and for the first time Taylor noticed the warm glow that lit those cold, aloof eyes. Blue eyes which immediately narrowed when Taylor raised her head and returned the genuine smile.
"Are you alright?" Jess stared into the reddened eyes across from her and noticed how her lip started trembling. "You look like youve been crying."
"No I havent"
"Yes you have. Dont lie to me - I can always spot a liar and youre a bad one anyway. Whats happened?"
"Sure. Thats why youre filling up again now. Tell me."
"Look, I dont want to talk about it. Its private. Id really rather just finish this so I can write the article and get out of here. I think well both be happier when this is all finished, dont you?"
"Hardly!" Taylor gasped as Jess moved close up to the plastic screen, a genuinely concerned expression on her face."What makes you think I would be?"
"You havent exactly been co-operative so far. Frankly, Im wondering why you agreed to this at all!" Challenged Taylor, small chin jutting and eyes blazing into the deep blue pools so close to her own.
Jess beamed. "Feisty little thing, arent you? I thought you would be when I saw you giggling in the courtroom that day. And when you stormed out last week....its been a long time since anyones done that to me. Theres fire hiding there, beneath that prim exterior." She grinned wider at Taylors stunned expression. "How about we cut a deal? Ill play nice with you today, if you do something for me?"
Taylor was immediately on edge. "What? What would you want me to do?" She practically squeaked, hands clenching convulsively around her pencil, and a thumb gravitating towards her mouth.
Jess laughed aloud at the look of horror on the womans open face. "Relax! Its nothing illegal! Just tell me whats upset you. Yeah?"
She thought for a moment, then nodded warily. "Ive just....its one of the people I work with. He upsets me sometimes."
"And you let him get to you so much that you cry?"
"Is he worth it?" Surprised, Taylor shook her head. "So what does he do to upset you so much?" Pinned by that clear, compelling gaze, Taylor told her about that mornings encounter with Paul.
"Hmm. He sounds like a slimy shit. Want me to have him killed?"
Stunned silence hit her for a long moment as Taylor struggled to move beyond a horrified "What?"
"It can be arranged, you know." The eyes that bored into her were deadly serious.
"Are you kidding? You...youd actually....youd actually have someone killed? I cant..."
"Jesus, Taylor, lighten up! I was only kidding!" She gave a wicked grin and stretched back in her chair.
Taylor wasnt sure, and chewed her nails ferociously. "Well, it wouldnt have been the worse thing youve done....." She half whispered.
"How would you know? You think you know all about me - what Ive done, from the trial?" She smiled again as she eased her legs up onto the desk; with movements as sinuously graceful as a cat sunning itself lazily on a warm window ledge, she stretched mightily. "Ohhh, God the beds in here are so small! Im aching all over. Hell, I miss my own bed - it was specially made to fit my size and to help with my back."
Thinking she heard a momentary tinge of sadness in the tone, Taylor plunged. "Do you regret being here? I mean, for the things you did?"
Jess snorted. "I regret not being able to sleep in my own bed every night, not being able to take a shower when I need one. Lots of things about this place I regret, Taylor. And yes, there are things Ive done that I regret - but dont get me wrong. Im not pleading remorse or redemption here. I havent found God, seen the light! Hallelujah brother! There are plenty of things that I did, and I dont regret them one bit." The cold mask was back.
"You dont?" Wide, sincere green eyes blazed back at her and for a moment, she almost smiled.
"No. Did you think I would? Ive done much worse things than order a man killed for sexually molesting a young woman. Much worse, believe me. Things that would strip that innocence right off you, like acid eating through flesh. In my wild, experimentative youth."
"I know youve killed many people."
She snorted. "Why? Why not? Because I could and because I wanted too. And because I liked it." She leaned in close again and her voice dropped to a seductive burr, rumbling in Taylors ears like a cats purring. "You dont know what its like to take a life. The power, the control - and to actually feel someones life force trickling over your hands. Its intoxicating, Taylor, more addictive than any drug. Its sensual." She grinned wickedly as she saw a blush beginning to creep over the pale round cheeks opposite. "Its better than sex, Taylor."
"How could you? I mean, enjoy it?" Taylor spat out the words, flung them at the woman opposite, trying to shake the satisfied features.
"Dont knock it till youve tried it."
"I dont understand you." Taylors head dropped into her hands as she levelled a confused look at the relaxed woman.
"I know you dont. Thats the difference between you and me. You need to understand, to have everything make sense. Everything neat and tidy. Huh?"
"Well, I guess...." she mumbled as she stared at her well ordered writing materials. All neatly placed on the table where shed them dropped earlier.
"A very rational, sensible approach to the world. But people like you forget the truth."
"And what is the truth?" Her fingers tapped slowly on the desk.
"Madness and chaos, Taylor. Thats all the world is. Try to control it and you go against human nature. Release it......ahh, and then you really experience life!"
"Like you did?"
"Like I did."
"But....you killed people! Thats...."
"Mad? Evil? Or human? Its in all of us, Taylor. Even you."
"Im not like you! I wouldnt ever want to be like you!"
"Then why else are you here?"
"Hey, lets just get one thing straight! I do not want to be anything like you - I could never live with myself if Id done even a tenth of the things youve done!"
"How do you know?"
"I just do! I could never do the things youve done, take pleasure in ending the life of another human being!.....Never! Im not like you!"
"Taylor, were all like me."
Laura glanced up from her monitor as Taylor walked across the busy office, eyes red and swollen and Laura was struck by the gaunt, angular aspect to her friends face. When had she gotten those deep shadows underneath her eyes? Never a particularly outgoing person, Laura had been surprised when the normally reticent Taylor had responded to her friendly overtures when shed joined the staff, and ever since theyd made it a point to share an early morning cup of coffee and a giggling, girly chat. Surrounded on all sides by male sharks sniffing the young, clean blood of the newcomer, Taylor had needed a friend and ally and had jumped at Lauras offer. Until recently - theyd barely spoken now for a month or more, and Taylor was coming in early and going home late. And never eating or sleeping, by the looks of her lately, thought Laura as she again studied the young woman from across the room. Laura missed her.
So ten minutes later, she had Taylor by the elbow and had steered her down the stairs and had her settled at one of the Cafeterias tables with a plate of steaming, fragrant pasta and fizzing diet coke set before her. "Eat." She ordered.
"Laura, Im not hungry and I really dont have time for lunch...."
"Then make time. You look like shit if you dont mind me saying so."
"Gee, thanks mate!" Taylor sarcastically dead panned, but dug her fork into the bubbling mound of pasta and scooped it into her mouth.
"Ive been watching you. You havent taken a lunchbreak in weeks, and I bet you havent been eating at home either, have you?"
"Thank God for coco pops." She mumbled indistinctly around her food.
"What is going on with you lately?"
Lauras exasperated voice grated her ears; she swallowed nervously and glanced quickly away. "Nothing."
Laura heaved a huge sigh and glared at Taylor pointedly. "Sometimes talking to you is like trying to get blood out of a stone! Thought we were passed all that? Has Paul been bothering you again? Why dont you just rat on the slimeball and have done with it?"
"And then what? Be even more unpopular than I am right now? Im finding it tough enough working here as it is, without making things worse myself. Besides, its not Paul. Not really."
"Then what? Look, Im trying to help you Taylor - youre my friend and I dont like to see you like this!"
Silence rang as Taylor ploughed into her lunch, avoiding eye contact and staring at her rapidly emptying plate. "Its her, isnt it?" The reaction from the small woman confirmed it. "I wish youd never gotten that bloody assignment! Its changed you.."
She smiled gently and quietly replied, "She said it would. She once said we were alike...."
"Youre nothing like her Taylor and dont let her kid you! Shes just an evil bitch whos fucking with your head!"
"No, you dont understand...she didnt mean it like that...."
Jess shuffled in and sat quietly, her face slick with sweat and her hair clinging damply to her brow. She smiled weakly at Taylor. "Hi. How are you today?"
"Im good, thanks Jess, but you look awful!"
"Gee, thanks mate!" She swept a shaky hand through tangled dark hair, smiling. "Pick up all sorts of bugs inside, even in solitary. Just feeling a bit under the weather. So, what is it today? Weve done my happy childhood, my normal adolescence and my first proper job in the bank. Whats the hot topic for today? How I turned towards a life of crime, by Jessica Hunter.......!"
"Yeah, well I really would like the answer to that one, but somehow I think youll make me work for it." Taylor grinned as her comments brought out a laugh from Jess.
"Youre a fast learner! Think you know me, huh?" Her laughter turned into a coughing fit and she struggled to catch her breath for a few minutes.
"I still dont understand why you did the things you did. I cant even begin to imagine what mustve happened to push you into it."
"Sorry to disappoint, but nothing really. No abusive childhood, no deep seated psychological trauma. Yeah, my father ran out on us, my brother died but I was really too young when that happened and my mother did her best. Kept us fed, looked after us."
"Did she love you? I mean....let you know that she loved you?"
"Well she sure werent no hearts and flowers type, Taylor! But she was okay. I spent a lot of time on my own - she was out working a lot to support us, which I didnt really understand at the time. Same as a thousand other kids mothers. But they dont all turn out like me..."
Curious, Taylor picked up a faint tinge of confusion and possibly even regret in the words, and she was struck by a thought. "You dont really know what made you do it, do you?"
Jess smiled wryly at her words. "Youre pretty smart, Taylor. Youre a good judge of people. I wasnt - I am now. I just dont trust anyone - you learn not to in my line of work, pretty fast. All I know is that it was pretty easy to get into that life - the drugs, the robberies and all. The rest just follows. Funny, but it was like I woke up one day and there I was. Blood on my clothes, some low life dealer thinking he could move in on my patch lying dead at my feet, and I couldnt remember how Id got there......strange. But, I figured - here I am, this is obviously who I am and like I said before, I liked it. And I liked the advantages of the money and the position."
"What do you mean?"
Jess shrugged, coughed again then rubbed her shaky hand over throbbing eyes. "Power, fear - control. Its addictive, or at least it was to me, then."
"Then? You mean it wasnt later?"
Jess smiled up at her, her eyes softening for a moment. "Youre so young still....and so optimistic. Have you always been like that? I sort of envy you that. I had that once, but I guess I mustve lost it along the way." Almost wistfully, Jess stared at her clasped hands.
"You sound like you regret losing it. But you said you had no regrets." Taylor was caught in the soft gaze of the dark woman in front of her; her pencil lay forgotten as she gripped her fingers tightly together and leaned in closer.
"Its stupid to regret things that have already happened." Blue shutters clanged down across suddenly guarded eyes. "But lately I have been wondering what might have happened if thingsd turned out differently." She gave a wry smile. "Who knows, maybe I wouldve been more like you!"
"Would you have wanted that?"
"Life turns on choices, Taylor. I made mine - in the early days, maybe I didnt really understand what that meant, but they were still my choices and now I have to live with the consequences of those choices. They brought me here."
"But.....yeah, they brought you here! Dont you regret that?"
"Well, I wouldnt have met you then, would I?"
Once again, Taylor was momentarily lost for words. "........but...."
"You coming here over the last few months has meant a lot to me. Ive never really had anyone to talk to before - I mean, I wouldnt never have talked to anyone. Made me too vulnerable - safer to be on your own, especially in my line of work....but I guess I kinda like it after all." She looked over at the still gasping Taylor and giggled a little. "You should come see me when Im ill more often! You get to see a whole different side to me! ....Give me your pencil and some paper...."
She motioned to the guard, who flitted back and forth between the two women, transporting bits of paper and a hastily scribbled note. Jess smiled her goodbyes as she stood up to leave.
"Think you know me, huh? Be well, Taylor - see you in a few days."
Taylor sat opposite a still pale and gaunt looking Jess who coughed her way through the meeting, making the reporters chest ache in sympathy. "Why didnt you have any of these people speak for you at your trial?" She waved the paper around as she spoke.
"It wouldnt have made any difference." Jess husked.
"Well, but even so..."
"What purpose would it have served? Im guilty...hearing nice things about me would onlyve confused things."
"What are you saying? That you didnt want people to hear good things about you?"
"Justice is easier served in black and white. Im guilty, therefore I am evil. Or insane. Take your pick. I deserved my sentence and thats all there is to it."
"You talk like thats what you wanted......"
Jess laughed quietly, holding Taylors sincere green gaze as she brought her face close to the screen. "Youre so sweet. You know what Id like?" Taylor shook her head silently. "I wish I could give you a hug. You must be about the only person in the world who believes theres any good in me at all."
Her face fell. "Yeah. Including me."
With eyes like saucers, Laura listened enthralled as Taylor came to a halt. "Amazing! Are you putting all this into the article?"
"I just dont know what to put....I feel like Im betraying her if I do. She doesnt want people to see that side of her."
"But what a great angle, Taylor! A great story - why arent you writing it?"
"Because shes ....shes a friend and she asked me not to."
Laura laughed in amazement. "Youre too bloody honourable to be a journalist, Taylor."
"Maybe. I have to...I have to go in an hour, and I need to have something written for Craig by five. Thanks for lunch, Ill see you later."
"I dont know how to write the article."
"You. Youre so inconsistent. Theres all this good stuff about you.....but so much more that is...... the worst in human nature. I just dont know how to write you."
"Yes, you do. You write me how people want to see me, and its how I deserve to be seen. Im a vicious killer who wouldve had no hesitation about killing you, Taylor, if youd ever gotten in my way. Thats who you write."
"But...its not that straightforward, is it?"
"People never are, but who cares? Dont do me any favours, Taylor. Write the article thats gonna get you somewhere." A white toothed grin greeted Taylors frown, dancing blue eyes colliding with confused green ones. "You worry too much. What have I told you about trying to understand everything? You just dont want to admit that the person youve gotten to know is capable of such things......well, get over it. I am."
"Well, I still dont understand it." Taylor giggled as Jess threw up her arms in despair, a wry grin creasing her face at the words. "I mean, you are very intelligent, stable home life and all - you dont follow the profile of a typical serial killer."
"Bloody hell, Taylor! Im not a serial killer! Dont confuse me with one of those raving psychos!" Hurt pride coloured Jess face and roughened her rich voice as she shook her finger at Taylor through the screen.
The little blonde carried on, musing half to herself..." And you covered your tracks so well during those ten years. Ran your operation so tightly, no-one could lay a finger on you. I guess you were good at it."
"I was exceptionally good at it. All aspects of it."
"So how come you got caught?"
"What?" Jess seemed startled, for the first time Taylor saw her shifting uneasily in her seat.
"Yeah, how come you got caught? I mean, I remember hearing the police reports. In the end, they caught you pretty easily."
"Just got lucky, I guess." Jess hedged.
"Oh, come on! After ten years?"
"Like I said...." She moved up to the screen; ice blue eyes bored into Taylor. "....they mustve just got lucky. Now drop it."
Shrugging out of her thick winters coat, she left it with the warden, took a deep breath and walked into the tiny cell, almost jumping as the hollow clang of the bolting door echoed around the tiny, enclosed space. Nervously, she smiled into the eyes that searched for her. "Hi," she said, as warmly as she could.
"Im glad you came." Jess rich voice flowed across the cell as she pushed away from the remains of her solitary dinner and crossed the floor to greet her. "I was hoping you would." Jess too smiled nervously and paused an arms length away. Hands anxiously bunching at her sides, Jess stood stiffly, as if uncertain how to continue.
"Of course I came. You asked me to."
"Yes, well thanks anyway. It means a lot to me. Weve only got a few minutes...."
They both stood, hesitating, until Jess reached out her arms and pulled Taylor awkwardly to her. Startled, the young woman stiffened, then relaxed and crept her arms around Jess back. They stood, hugging tightly, for several long seconds until Jess reluctantly loosed her hold and placed her hands on Taylors shoulders and smiled deeply into the face so close to hers, unseparated by a plastic screen for the first time. "I wanted to say thanks, for the last few months. Its meant....a lot to me. Having you visit. Im glad I met you." She muttered, half choking, and enveloped the smaller woman again in strong arms.
"I wish there was something I could do for you..." Taylor sobbed into the womans neck quietly.
"Youve already done it."
"No. All I did was listen to you, try to find out about you."
"Yeah, but thats more than anyones done for me in a long time. And I guess Id sort of lost sight of who I was, or at least who I couldve been. You helped me think about that."
The slight journalist gently withdrew from the other woman. "But you always seemed to sure......about who you were and...."
"I know what I am. I cant change the things Ive done and I have to pay for them. But at least in these last few months, Ive found something else in myself that has helped me come to terms with things more. Before, I was so full of anger and I still dont know why. Now, I realise it doesnt matter. All that matters is doing the right thing."
"But this cant be right! You deserve another chance - you can change!"
"Taylor, I havent changed. Im not strong enough to. I dont deserve any more chances. Its too late for me."
"God! I thought you were stronger than that, but youre not are you? Youre afraid!"
"Being a cold, sadistic killer never made me strong, Taylor. Youre the strong one, because you believe in people in spite of everything, and youre prepared to give people chances."
"I wish there was something I could do, say...."
"There is. You can stop living the life you dont want, and start living one you do. Believe in yourself - you hold yourself back too much. I see so much potential, and its so tightly wrapped up that it cant get out. Just let it go, Taylor. Youll be happy. I know you will." The young blond woman nodded, and sniffled a little.
"Be well, Taylor." Jess pulled away, and brushed a thumb across a soft, pale cheek, sweeping away the tear that rested there. "Ah, dont cry. Not for me. Never for me."
"You wont, and someone has to." She sniffled in response. "Do something for me?"
"Ah, Taylor. I wish Id met you years ago. You mightve given me a belief in myself.....that one spark of goodness. Who knows?" Gently, she raised Taylors chin, lightly kissed her cheek and turned her towards the door. She banged heavily on it before hugging the tearful young woman again. "Take care, my friend."
And then she was gone, walled up behind a solid iron door. With tears streaming down her face, Taylor ran through the corridor and out into the warm, late afternoon sun.
She stood in the bathroom, shrouded in silence and focussing on the numbing cold of the tiles as it seeped into her skull; with eyes screwed shut, she concentrated on her breathing and counted her heartbeat ........ a momentary invasion of noise told her the door had been opened, then silence reigned again. She felt a hand gently rest on her shoulder and turned to see Lauras worried frown.
"Is it over?" Laura nodded, and squeezed her shoulder. "Did she......was it quick?"
"Yes. I think so."
Taylor nodded, furtively dashed tear drops away and shrugged off Lauras hand as the waves of grief, frustration and - unexpectedly- guilty relief crashed over her. "Im okay, thanks. Wheres Craig?"
"Asking for you and screaming for his feature. Hes holding the front page for you." She gave her colleague a weak, watery smile before heading off; Laura watched the slumped shoulders disappear and cursed the day her friend had ever met Jessica Hunter. Just one more living victim she could add to her already long list. Still, at least there would be no more victims for her.
Craig was pacing around his office like a lion with a headache, his beard bristling with tension and excitement. He took one look at her and erupted. "For fucks sake, Taylor! Wheres that fucking header? I cant hold this any longer.....!" She thrust a neatly typed piece of paper into his hand. "Thank Christ for....wait a minute...whats this?" His amazement turned to anger and as a red blush suffused his face, Taylors legs began to shake.
"Its my resignation. Im sorry to let you down, but I cant do this any more. Its best that I go."
"What the hell....?"
"Please try and understand Craig. Look, Im really grateful for all that youve done, but Im just not cut out for this....I hope you understand..."
"No I bloody well do not understand! Ever since you hooked up with that mad bitch, I havent understood you!"
She laughed, shortly. "Im not sure I understand myself anymore. I thought I did once, but I just dont know....Goodbye Craig." She pecked him on his blustery cheek, and turned to go. "Oh, by the way. You might want to do something about Paul. Hes a shit who gets off on molesting the young women in the office. Youre losing talent because of him."
She left quickly, the sounds of the office fading fast as she marched out, turned the block and headed to the park. At last, she thought as she heard the gentle rustle of branches and leaves, and felt the peace of the place soak into her bones - at last, time to hear myself think.....
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