EXPOSURE

Parental Advisory Rating: V & L

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!

Credits:

Director: XWPFanatic

Writers: XWPFanatic, TNovan and Tonya Muir

 

EPISODE FOUR: READING IS FUNDAMENTAL

I stand silently in the large conference room off the newsroom. It’s early yet and the reporters and anchors haven’t shown up, leaving the building in relative silence. I meet my crew today, though the only one who concerns me is Kelsey Stanton herself.

It hadn’t taken much convincing to get her on the team. Chambers knows that she’s a little gold mine. She’s a publicist’s dream come true, even if she is a director’s nightmare. She’s intelligent, charismatic, and already in the public’s eye due to her relationship with Collins. She’ll be a good draw to our pieces, as long as she holds her own. She has to have done field work to be where she is now. I’m just not sure how much and in what market. I could have asked, I suppose.

Her attitude will be troublesome. Chambers warned that she didn’t want the position, that he’d had to pull rank. I suspected as much. Rumor is she hates tabloid television so I figure she must hate me as well since that’s where all my experience is.

I’m looking out the window over the sound stage, which is bathed in darkness and silence, when Jimmy strolls in. I hear his clompy too-big shoe approach so I don’t need to turn around.

"Olson," I say by way of greeting.

I know he’s checking me out, unused to seeing me with anything but jeans. I went for the soft look this morning: I’m wearing black cotton pants and a deep blue silk shirt. My long thick hair is braided away from my face.

"Hello?" I try again, still not turning.

"Oh!" Even without looking, I know he’s blushing. "Morning. This is it, huh?"

"Yup. We’ll have a quick team meeting this morning and then Chambers wants to talk to us. That’ll leave us time for some equipment checks before lunch."

"Cool." He scrapes a chair back and drops himself into it. He’s about as graceful as a hippopotamus sometimes.

Conrad comes in next and silently plants himself next to Jimmy. I’m still not watching them.

"What do you know about Kelsey Stanton?" the orange-haired kid asks, hating silences. He talks to hear himself talk; it was the first thing I learned about him.

"What about her?" I query. I don’t know a ton, but I sure do have my suspicions.

"I hear she’s a bitch on wheels," Conrad speaks up. "The whole news room hates to work with her. They fight over who has to do her stories and promos. The makeup lady dreads that part of her day."

"Yeah," Jimmy agrees. "I hear the same. Why did we have to get the bitch, Harper? That Samantha woman seems like a better bet."

"Every team needs a problem child." I shrug. "And we all know it ain’t one of us," I drawl softly, pleased with myself. It isn’t until that moment that I turn around to face the room.

Wouldn’t you know Kelsey Stanton is standing in the doorway? Her expression is frozen, her green eyes shuttered. She’s a woman used to hiding her emotions.

"Speak of the devil," I say to let the boys know she’s there.

They turn crimson as they avoid her eyes.

She’s not alone. Erik Collins stands beside her, a hand resting on the small of her back. He looks angry, his handsome features drawn up into a scowl.

"Now just-" Erik starts, but Kelsey lays a hand on his chest, shaking her head.

"Thanks for walking me in, Erik," she says softly and I detect kindness in her voice. "Good luck today."

Erik nods but he’s still glaring at the lot of us. Though I’m the only one who will meet his eyes.

He turns his attention back to the small blonde at his side and leans forward to kiss her cheek. "Don’t let them get to you, Kels." His words are meant only for her but I pick them up. "I love you."

She nods, pats his chest with the hand still resting there, and nudges him out the door, which she closes behind him.

She stands before us and the room is filled with uneasy silence. She’s wearing a copper colored pantsuit with a light colored blouse, no skirt today. I’m glad for it since we’ll be doing some walking. She seems nervous, but determined not to show it. Her body also radiates anger.

"Queen Bitch reporting for duty," she says slowly, taking a seat at the far end of the table, and I realize that our first meeting could have had a better start.

 

* * *

 

We are sitting in the news van Chambers has provided his new "Go-team." If he calls us that one more time, I may have to kick him. He tried to do a little pep talk for the four of us, but as he saw it failing abysmally, he sent us out on assignment, shortening our equipment checks and making us miss lunch.

Kelsey Stanton is sitting in the seat beside me, fuming still. Her arms are folded tightly across her chest, her legs are crossed and everything about her is screaming 'don't fuck with me.' If she were a porcupine, I'd be picking quills out of my ass right now.

She doesn't intimidate me. Although poor Jimmy is cowering in the back of the van, sitting on a crate, wishing he were anywhere but with us. Conrad is at the station, checking out the equipment and meeting the other editors. We didn’t have any confrontations this morning, despite the boys’ words, but she’s not thawed yet, either. She only speaks if one of us asks her a direct question. Ironically, I’m the only one with the balls to try. I hope she’s a professional and can turn it on in front of the camera. If not, I’ll certainly lay into her then and I guarantee she won’t like it.

It's lunchtime and we're behind schedule because Ms. Important closed herself in her office to ‘attend to business’ for the better part of an hour. We have an appointment with the Los Angeles County Commissioner at two to discuss water permits being issued to political cronies. My comment that this sounds like the start of the plot of Chinatown is met with stony silence.

"You could at least pretend to not hate me," I finally say, knowing it will annoy her further. "I mean, after all, we're gonna be working together for awhile." I don’t hate her nearly as much as she hates me. I almost feel sorry for her.

"Only just."

"Just what?" I am confused.

She looks at me as one might look at a dead animal carcass. "Just until the anchor spot opens up."

"Your old one?" I tweak. I can't help myself. I really should lay off of her. This can’t be easy on the ex-anchor.

A frosty smile is my reply. "No, the New York one."

"You mean network anchor?" I ask.

The smile grows bigger and colder. "Yes; it's my reward for doing this demeaning assignment."

I stop at a red light and use the opportunity to turn my full attention on my passenger. I roam my eyes over her body, undressing her, tossing each piece of that nice copper colored suit back into Jimmy's hands. Oh, I wish. She flushes because she knows what I am doing. "Honey, you haven't been demeaned yet," I drawl, letting my Louisiana accent slip out again.

"The light's green. And do you have to keep that thing on so loud?" she asks, pointing to the police scanner attached to the dash.

Lazily, I turn my attention back to the road, ignoring the honking of drivers behind me. "So it is, and, yes, I do." I step on the accelerator and we continue making our way down South Figueroa Street. "Reeves isn't going to retire anytime soon."

She snorts, shakes her head. "Obviously, you don't know anything about the network. He's due to retire this year or next, at the latest."

My turn to snort and shake my head. "Obviously, you don't know shit about his finances. I happen to know that he has gambling debts out his butt. Atlantic City now owns more of his property than he does. And he's got a son in rehab. All that gets expensive. He'll be staying around for awhile." I shrug, change lanes, pulling around some little old lady doing ten miles an hour. "Besides, word on the street has it that Hathaway is a shoo in for the job."

"Hathaway? I think not. He's an idiot."

"Emphasis on 'he', Kels."

She bristles, "Don't call me that."

I ignore her, liking the nickname I overheard Erik use and, more than that, enjoying her reaction to it. "No woman has ever anchored the network news on a nightly basis. Only one co-anchored and where the hell is Connie Chung nowadays? Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Lesley Stahl, they all do news magazines. Besides, you're too young. What are you thirty-five?"

She looks aghast, that I would think her that old. "Thirty-two."

"My point exactly. You gotta have some credibility. You sure they didn't promise you the NY nightly news? Not network?"

"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response." She fidgets in the seat, angry beyond all reason at me. "And who the hell are you to act as my career counselor? You're trash TV, the lowest rung on the television evolutionary scale. God, you've barely climbed out of the primordial ooze."

"Yeah, well, when the rest of the higher life forms die off, the only thing that's gonna survive are single-celled organisms like myself. And cockroaches, because they’re indestructible." We're passing Sixth Street and I make a decision, turning left onto Fifth at the next light. "Hey, Jimmy, guess where we're near!"

The orange-haired Korean, who's been watching our interchange like someone at a Ping-Pong tournament, smiles. "Dirty water dog?"

"Yup!"

For the first time since leaving the station, Jimmy doesn’t look like a frightened kid in the back. He bounds forward and throws open the back door. He is at the hot dog vendor before I have even finished illegally double-parking in front of the LA Public Library, Main Branch.

"You want one?" I ask as I am about to hop out my side of the van.

Kelsey makes the same face as yesterday after she saw me with what's-her-name on my bike. "I think not. Those things are terrible for you."

"Haven't seemed to hurt me yet." I leave her to wait for us as I buy one of Mother Nature's most perfect gifts to mankind.

Jimmy is already starting on his second dog when I arrive at the cart. Whenever we're in downtown LA, our crew always stops by Old Vito's cart. Vito looks like the dogs he sells - wrinkled, red and long.

I am finishing squirting extra ketchup on my foot long when I hear Kelsey's voice in the background. I roll my eyes and share a smirk with Jimmy. I let her wait; I am busy.

"Harper! Jesus Christ, Joseph and Mary! Get over here!"

"I didn't know we brought so many people with us, eh, Olson?"

He grimaces and runs a fine boned hand through his orange hair. "I'm gonna dye it back. I gotta stop these Jimmy Olson jokes. It's hurting my career."

"Jims, you don't have a career yet. You've only been out of school two months."

"Harper! Goddammit!" Her voice is louder this time.

I turn around and shove the remainder of the dog in my mouth. I spread out my hands conveying the universal sign for 'what the fuck do you want?'.

"The scanner!"

Shit. Something's breaking loose. Suddenly, my feet find life again and I race back to the van. I get there in time to hear: "Gunshots fired in the LA Public Library, all available units respond."

We all swing our heads around to stare at the front doors to a major news event. "Jimmy!!" I lunge through the still open back door and grab my Betacam. I shove two extra batteries into my vest pockets. "Jims, let the station know what’s happening and that we’re on it!" I switch on my micro-cam and the Betacam. "How’s the feed?"

He is turning on the monitors in the van. "Receiving both."

"Let's go, Kels!"

"Where?" she asks, unbuckling her seat belt.

The question strikes me dumb for a long moment. Where? Where? "Inside, Kels. That's where the story is. Not out here. Out here is for desk jockeys and wannabe network anchors. Inside is where the reporters are." I know this will get her to do exactly what I want. Confident in her following, I race for the entryway, just in time for the flood of frightened people to nearly run over me when I arrive there.

I am grateful that I am tall and strong, because I am able to force my way inside without any injury or long delay. I stand in the impressive foyer, ignoring the architecture, the antiques and the chandelier. All I want is the psycho with the gun. I hope it's a psycho with a gun. Those guys pull down huge ratings. And, so far, we’ve got an exclusive. On my first day at the station. Chambers is gonna treat me like God from now on.

Another gunshot. Sounds like a rifle, but I can't really tell for sure. The acoustics in here are really messing me up. I am moving toward the sound when I realize someone is behind me. I spin around only to find Kelsey on my heels. "Let's go!"

The archway at the far end leads to the children's library. Oh damn. Not kids. I'd trade the highest ratings in the world to keep one kid safe. We are entering the hallway leading to the reading room when three more gunshots explode. The noise is deafening in the echoing room.

Kelsey looks like she might pass out at any moment.

As my hearing returns, I hear whimpering to my right. I bend down and approach the small girl I now see huddled in the corner. The girl's trying to make herself as small as possible; she doesn't want to be an easy target. "Hey there," I say softly, reaching out to the child. I lay my camera aside, knowing my micro-cam will pick up the shot for me.

The girl flinches away from me. Her large brown eyes peer out from beneath her arms to size me up. She looks from me to Kelsey and back again. Finally, she flings herself at my legs, clasping onto my calves with all her strength. I feel her tears seep through the cotton of my pants. I reach down a hand and rub her back. I hazard a guess based on her brown skin. "No te preocupes, estas bien." It's ok, I've got you.

She looks up, momentarily soothed.

"Ahora, necesito que estes bien callada." I need you to be very quiet now.

She nods. One small hand comes up to wipe away her tears.

"Eres una nina valiente. Como te llamas?" Such a brave girl. What's your name?

"Cristina."

"Que linda. Quedate con la amable rubia." How pretty. Stay with the nice blonde lady. Did I just call the Ice Bitch "nice"?

Cristina looks over again at Kelsey. "Ella tiene tanto miedo como yo."

She's right, of course. Kelsey looks as much, or even more frightened, as Cristina is. I wonder if it was such a good idea to bring the anchor into the midst of the story. "Lo esta, yo creo." She is, I think. "Donde esta el hombre?" Where's the man at?

Cristina points to the other room. "El esta en el cuarto grande, con todo los libros grandes."

He's in the reading room. Now for the million dollar question. "Cuantos revolves tiene el?" How many guns does he have? Of course, knowing that doesn't tell me how many rounds of ammunition he has. He can have a fucking arsenal and I won't know until I get in there.

She shrugs.

And now for the ten million dollar question: "Hay otro ninos alli dentro?" Are any other children in there? I already know the answer in my gut.

"Si. Mi clase todavia esta alli. . Yo iva para el bano cuando el comenzo disparando a la gente."

Ah, that explains it. She was using the bathroom while her class was in there. The shooting began and she hid as best she could. She probably started to go back in the reading room, heard the gunfire, and came out here instead.

Cristina fingers my vest shyly. "Es la policia?"

I chuckle. "No. Pero soy mejor que un policia." I'm better than a cop. I can bring the whole damn world on someone with just the right camera angle. Which is exactly what I’m going to do with this bastard. For Cristina. And all the other kids who get used and abused by adults with guns.

I stand up and guide the girl to Kelsey who is still looking faint. I take the blonde’s hand and put it around Cristina’s trembling fingers. The woman looks at me and I see true fear in those eyes. It’s the only emotion besides anger or hatred that I’ve seen in them. For a moment, I run through a gamut of emotions. On some level, I do feel sorry for her but I don’t have time for sympathy. I can’t coddle Ms. Silver Spoon, and exasperation is the feeling that wins out.

"Stay here with the girl."

Kelsey looks down as if seeing the child for the first time and nods dumbly.

Shouldering the camera, I move away.

For a long minute, I kneel by the threshold to the reading room. The massive doors leading to it slightly askew, wide enough for me and my camera to fit through without any trouble. I am plotting my entry when I feel something touch my lower back. With a start, I turn to see Kelsey close behind me, my shirt clutched in her hand. I tilt my head at her in question.

"It’s my job now," she whispers with growing confidence. The proud smile I feel creeping across my face is nearly big enough to split my cheeks.

"Good girl," I murmur, reaching back to pat her knee. "Where’s Cristina?"

With the hand not clenching my shirt, she points towards the entrance where I see an adult carrying Cristina out of the building to safety beyond. There are still a lot of people rushing out of the building. We’re the only two brave – or stupid – enough to be heading into the line of fire.

I nod, pat her knee again. It seems some of her wits have returned. Kids have a way of reminding people of priorities. I half turn, not enough to loosen her hold but enough to lean towards her and whisper in her ear. "Stay close to me. We’re gonna work this guy, try to bargain the kids’ freedom for some airtime. Okay?"

She nods.

"If it’s safe, we’ll put you in the shot with him, have you talking him down."

She flinches and I know she’s battling with the obvious rating ploy I’m describing to her. This is the moment I see how far she’ll go to make a point. Will she accept the fact she’s on board now or will she fight me all the way?

Slowly, Kelsey nods, her grip tightens.

I sigh with relief and glance down to the arm that disappears behind my back, tapping it. "You’re gonna ruin my shirt."

"I’ll buy you a new one," she responds, not willing to let me go. I smile. That’s okay. This isn’t what I would have wished for a first time. I like to break my virgins in gently; Kelsey won’t have that opportunity, unfortunately.

I enter the reading room, slinking along the floor, Kelsey glued tightly to me. We get inside but are still out of view, a bookshelf directly in front of us. I’m adjusting the sound on the camera because I can hear frantic murmuring beyond the books and I’d love to be able to decipher it later. Assuming there is a later.

I feel a tap to my back, glancing back I see Kels point to a large circulation desk to our left. Good girl. The thick heavy semi-curved desk will offer us a hell of a lot more protection than the waist-high bookcase we’re hiding behind. I motion for her to move to it. She moves slowly and very quietly to get behind it. I back up with her as we take cover.

"Okay," she whispers through clenched teeth. "Now what? We’re in."

I reach into my vest pocket and hand her a clip-on mike and a power pack. Without any hesitation she accepts it into slightly trembling hands. She fastens the mike to her lapel, tucking the power pack away at the small of her back under her jacket. "Hold tight for just a sec," I whisper, as I begin to stand up. I want to get a quick sweep of the room to find out what I can see.

I raise up to do a quick pan of the room. In the back, I get a glimpse of the gunman. Focusing quickly, I realize he is distracted by the sound of the police response. The dumb son of a bitch doesn’t even realize that two other people have managed to get in here with him. He’s too busy staring out the window. Yeah, go ahead stupid, stand there long enough to let the snipers get a bead on you. As if he can hear my thoughts, he backs away from the window as his hands tighten on his weapon. I duck back down behind the desk to begin calculating in my own mind what I’ve just filmed. And what has most likely been projected to viewers of KNBC and the police outside.

Kels throws me a questioning look.

"It’s a lone gunman." Even in a crisis, I keep my sense of humor. "He’s wearing body armor and a mask. And he has an Uzi," I whisper this directly into her ear. I try not to notice either the fragrance of her shampoo or her perfume.

She takes it in swallowing hard as she nods her understanding. She’s still pale, but the fear is keeping her alert.

I take a deep breath. It’s now or never. Shut up and jump. I set the Betacam down and remove my vest. Don’t want Psycho-with-a-gun thinking I’m concealing a weapon.

"What are you doing?" she whispers as she watches me adjust the micro-camera.

"I’m gonna go make nice." I watch as a slightly amused look crosses her face. I grin at her. "I’m capable of doing that. When I want." As I duck out from behind the desk, I whisper, "Stay here until I signal for you."

Staying low, I move toward the back of the room toward the gunman. Gary’s right: I’m stupid. But I have an exclusive so far. And if I can live to enjoy it, it’s gonna be a great day. I begin to slowly straighten to my full height as I move. I try to keep my eye on our host and still get a look around. I finally see what I am afraid of. In the corner, clustered into a small mass, two adults are huddled protectively around nine or so children. Dammit! One of the women sees me so I quickly place my finger to my lips. She nods.

The next step I take brings the gunman around to face me. I look down briefly to see the crinkled magazine under my foot. Oops. I return my gaze to the gunman as I slowly bring my hands up to my sides, palms up, so he can see I’m not armed. Then I turn around to show no hidden weapons. As I make the slow circle, praying I’m not gonna get shot in the back, I notice that somehow my Betacam has made it to the top of the desk. It is pointed right at us and the light is on. Apparently Kelsey wants videotape of my death to play at the office Christmas party and other festive occasions.

I turn back to the gunman who levels the barrel of the gun at my heart. "Who the fuck are you?" The question is muffled by the black mask he’s wearing. It reveals only dark brown eyes, but those eyes sing volumes to me.

{{Break here for the first week?}}

"I’m Harper Kingsley. I work for KNBC." The Micro-Uzi makes me really apprehensive. Those things are notorious for having hair triggers and our host is already nervous. "Would you like to talk to us?"

He nods. Good, this is good. "Okay, partner, here’s the deal. I have a friend with me. She’s a reporter…"

He tenses as he grips the gun tighter. "Where?"

"Right there." I hear her. Turning at the waist, I see Kels stand up from behind the desk. She mimics my hands-open position as she slowly steps forward.

"I’m right here," she says. "We’re not here to hurt you or trick you. You can talk to us. We’ll listen. Harper will film it for you too."

He nods again. "You got a camera?"

"Yeah, back there." I point back to the desk.

"Get it."

"Okay." I slowly begin to back up. Kels doesn’t move from her spot. I’m not sure if she is immobile from fear or guts. But I’m glad she’s not making him more nervous.

"Listen," she says as she glances over to the huddled formation in the corner. "Why don’t you let the children go? They’re terrified and don’t really serve a purpose in this whole thing, do they?" Her voice is steady and low and I find it very soothing. I hope Wonder Nut does too.

I grab my camera and return to a position behind Kels. It gives me an excellent shot of her and him. He looks to the children.

"Do they?" Kels asks again very softly. "Do they really have any reason to be here?"

"No. I didn’t know they’d be here. There are never children in this reading room."

"They were on a field trip." Kels offers as she slowly moves to them. She kneels down, doing a quick visual check. "You okay?"

One of the women nods, still too terrified to speak.

This is fucking wonderful! God, our ratings must be sky-high at the moment. This is better than a slow car chase down the Santa Monica freeway.

"Good. We’ll get you out of here in a moment." Kelsey’s soft voice is soothing the woman’s fears even as her fingers reach out and stroke as many of the children as she can reach: touching hands, arms, bowed heads. She seems to have given them courage while gaining more of her own and she stands, moving back to the gunman. "If you want us to help you, you have to let the children go."

"The police will come in…"

"No, they won’t." Kelsey reassures him, it’s obvious she has no desire to bargain this point. If the man wants our airtime, he’ll have to abide by this rule. "No one will come in if you let the children go. It’s the children they’re worried about. And it will look very good for you when you decide to leave too."

The gunman hesitates, then nods at Kels. She immediately motions for the women and the children to make a quick exit before Nutflake changes his mind.

The women scramble to their feet, grabbing as many children as they can and pulling the rest to their feet as they head for the door. Kelsey is also tugging children to standing positions and shoving them gently towards the opening and the women standing there. I pan around to capture the frantic race for freedom, very proud that we have managed to gain it for them.

"Stop!" he yells, just as they are at the door.

Damn! Double-crossing, Uzi-toting, child-abusing Nutflake. I’m gonna be happy to capture the LAPD’s use of excessive force on your ass. I manage to meet Kelsey’s eyes for a split second and I see in them the fear of a plan gone awry. She’s on her toes, ready to try a new tact.

"She stays!" He points the gun at one of the women. She’s apparently an employee here, as she is wearing a library nametag.

She stops and puts down the two children she was carrying. She pushes them out the door, then turns very slowly.

"Get over here! Now, bitch!"

I sigh. There’s no need for that. Especially not for a woman as attractive as she is. I stifle a chuckle. I always keep my priorities straight, even in hostage situations.

The woman comes over and slides up behind me, grabbing onto the back of my shirt. Oh this shirt is toast.

"Police are outside the doors," she whispers. "Lots of police."

I nod as I continue to film Kels and the gunman. Now, we just have to get our asses out of the line of fire and let the cops do their job.

"Thank you." Kelsey smiles as she takes a seat at a reading table. "Why don’t you sit down here and talk to me? Tell me what the problem is. Tell me why you would come here and do this."

I’m impressed. Kelsey is pulling herself together just fine. She’s smoothing her hair and her coat and she looks every bit the professional I’m learning she is.

He cocks his head as he points the barrel of the gun away from Kels. I’m glad he did that. Chambers wouldn’t like me losing her on the first outing.

"I like the library."

Ah, that explains everything. I watch warily as he takes a seat at the end of the table across from Kelsey.

"Generally the library is where you come to read, not target shoot," she says with a very charming little smile. It almost doesn’t sound like an insult. "Are you sure there’s not another reason you came here?"

"He died here," our host says quietly.

I see Kels reach for the mike pack to adjust the volume. Good girl; story first, compassion second. "Who died here?"

"My son. My son died here. In this room." He waves an irritated hand through the air.

"I’m sorry," Kels replies sincerely as she brushes a hand through her hair, tucking an errant strand behind her ear. "What happened?"

"He took an overdose in this room and died. Nobody noticed, nobody cared. They found him at closing. It’s their fault that my son is dead." His anger flares as he jumps from his seat and whips the gun around on me and the woman behind me. I wait for the inevitable and hope that the camera will keep working even if I can’t. I almost shout out a protest when I see Kelsey rising to her feet and approaching him slowly. Jesus Christ, we’re all dead!

"It’s okay," she says softly as she reaches out for him. "I understand your loss. I understand your pain, but there’s no reason for anyone else to die senselessly in this room, is there?"

The gunman whirls around, turning the barrel to the ceiling firing a burst of gunfire into it.

Kelsey avoids the bits of the ceiling raining down around her. She takes a few cautious steps back. She looks a little shocked but is hiding her fear well. Her hands aren’t even trembling as they cautiously brush pieces of the ceiling from her hair and arms.

"It’s their fault! Someone should have been here!" He lowers the gun to Kels pointing it right at her. "You don’t care! No one cares that my boy is dead!"

"I do care." Kelsey offers as she stays near the table. "I do care. If someone here is truly responsible for his death, then I can help you bring them to justice. But you have to trust me and let me help you."

"How can you help me?"

"I can do a story about the library and its policies. If we find out someone here was negligent…"

"You’d do that? You’d help me?" He lowers the gun.

"Yes. Yes, I will, but you have to trust me." She moves slowly towards the table again and begins another approach. "You have to let me help you." I zoom in and see her swallow hard as the sweat breaks out across her forehead. "Give me the gun. I can’t help you unless you give me the gun." With her other hand, she’s brushed bits of plaster from the table and chairs, inviting her captor to sit with her once more.

"No!" He raises the barrel again. I actually feel my heart beat double time and I’m nearly ready to get between them.

"Okay, okay. You don’t have to give it to me."

I hate to break it to her, but he isn’t.

"But I can’t help you if you don’t. Harper and I may as well leave and let police come in here."

"If you try, I’ll kill you."

Kelsey, would you please not mention the goddamn cops to him again.

"Well, then-" Kels gestures around. "This room will have seen four senseless deaths. Mine. Harper’s. Your son’s. And yours. Because if you kill us, the police will have no choice. I just thought you’d like to be around to see your revenge."

This seems to make some amount of sense to the man and though he’s still gripping the weapon in flexing fingers, he does take the seat she’s offered him. Kelsey sits as well, a little too closely for my tastes, but she can touch him now, placing a comforting hand on the fidgeting man’s arm.

"Tell me about your son? Huh? Let’s start there," she’s trying to calm him down before she goes for the gun again and I think it’s a pretty good plan since he looks just a touch too trigger happy for my tastes.

"He came here that day because I’d kicked him out of the house. I caught him with drugs and he wasn’t supposed to have them, ya know? His parole officer told me that."

Okay, I think, zooming in on the two figures. Leave it to Beaver, this ain’t. But it’s great television.

"I was so angry, I kicked him out and told him he needed to pull himself together. Was that wrong?" the gunman’s eyes seek out Kelsey’s, finding in them gentle acceptance.

"Not necessarily," she sooths softly. "Sometimes you have to force kids to make their own decisions and take on their own responsibilities. Especially if he was already involved in the wrong crowds. He couldn’t have expected you to turn the other cheek while he continued to hurt himself, could he? You loved him too much for that."

God, she’s good.

The gunman nods sadly. "I loved him very much. He must have come straight here, didn’t know what else to do. I don’t think he was trying to kill himself, do you?"

Kelsey smiles sweetly, pats the man’s arm. "No, I doubt it. I think his judgment was impaired, is all. Maybe he got some bad stuff. I’m sure he wanted to work things out with you and come home. He knew you were right."

"But these people-" his voice rises in anger again and he starts to stand but Kelsey interrupts him.

"Unh unh," she chastises gently, pulling him back to his chair and reaching again for the weapon. "I told you. I’ll help you bring justice here by determining if they’re understaffed and undertrained. If the library was negligent, we’ll get our revenge for your son, I promise you that. But it won’t be at the end of this gun." She taps the weapon, the sound of her well-manicured nail on steel echoing through the room. "We’ll do what they couldn’t. We’ll make sure that other people don’t die from their negligence without resorting to senseless death."

The man hesitates in his half standing position before allowing himself to be tugged back into the chair. He’s still holding the weapon though it isn’t with the white-knuckled grip of moments before. He wants to trust Kelsey, that much is obvious.

Hell, my little blonde gold mine is so sincere, I want to trust her. Her compassion is earnest and convincing, her grip on him strong and comforting. I see just a glimpse of the woman she must be under all the makeup and cold exterior. This must be the woman that has captured Erik because, until this moment, I just couldn’t figure out why he would stay with her. I figured she must be one hell of a good lay. It’s a theory I’d love to test some day.

So distracted by these lecherous thoughts, it takes a moment for me to realize what’s going on in front of me.

I watch, amazed, as the Psycho Wonder puts the Uzi on the table, then stands up and steps back from it. Kelsey takes it and places it gently to the floor, respecting the weapon even once it is out of the nut’s hands. Giving it a shove with her foot, it slides over to me, stopping at my feet. I follow its slide with the Betacam. As I pan it back to Kelsey, she has left her own seat and is making a slow and cautious approach, holding her hand out to the man, who takes it.

"Do you have any more guns?"

Uh, gee, Kelsey, a better time to ask that question would be before you take his fucking hand! Christ almighty!

He shakes his head slowly. Kels reaches for the mask.

Oh, damn, damn, damn! She’s gonna do it! I feel my breath hitch as she pulls up on the mask and reveals the face beneath it. It’s a woman! Holy shit! I get it all as the sobbing woman falls into Kelsey’s arms and the police rush in.

They take her into custody, detaching her arms from around Kelsey’s neck and handcuffing them behind her back.

I’ve got every moment of it on tape. I follow them as they take her from the room. Then I turn the camera back on Kels who is sitting at the table with her head down on her crossed arms. I continue to film as I approach her.

She looks up and snarls. "Turn that fucking thing off before I shove it up your ass!"

I do as she says, knowing that Chambers will have her hide for using that language while we were undoubtedly live. Her peaches and cream reputation on-screen won’t last long if people hear much more of that.

She moves past me and out the door. I let her go. Those porcupine quills are up and ready again. Whatever compassion she felt moments before for that distraught mother have not overflowed into our relationship.

I take the camera from my shoulder and set it on the table. I turn to the woman who was with us through all of this. She is leaning against the desk breathing heavily as her nerves settle, it makes her breasts sway in a most pleasing manner. "You willing to give us an interview?"

She nods, as she looks up to me. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome. What’s your name?"

"Marion."

I bite back the chuckle as I place my hand on the small of her back to lead her from the room. Marion the librarian. Fucking priceless! I begin humming "Seventy-six Trombones."

"I get that all the time," she says, raising an eyebrow at me. I think she’s flirting with me. And I love it.

As we exit the room, the police intercept us. After giving them enough information to get them off my back, I realize I have to let them get a statement from Marion. I turn her over to a cop friend of mine in the bunch. He says he’ll bring her to me at the van as soon as he can. Pays to drink with the boys in blue.

I leave the building to find Kelsey leaning against the van, eyes closed, hands splayed against the metal, steadying herself. I lay my camera inside at Jimmy’s feet.

"God, Harper, that was fucking great!" He bounces around the van switching tapes and putting everything together. "You were live from the moment you were talking that to that little girl. Shit! Who knew you could speak Spanish?"

I shrug, "I did. So did my Spanish professor who gave me an ‘A’ in the class."

"Chambers wants you to call in. He wants to Kelsey to go live with a wrap up for a special broadcast. But she refused. He’s ready to strangle her."

"Give me a sec, Olson."

I pull out of the van and go over to Kelsey, laying a hand on her shoulder. "You did great in there."

She looks up and gives me her best dirty look. "Yeah, and I didn’t even need a penlight." Kelsey’s green eyes are weary. "Congratulations, in one day you’ve made me just like you. I didn’t think it was possible."

I shrug, "Oh, you coming out of the closet now?"

"Fuck you. You made me give up my journalistic integrity in there. I’m supposed to report the news, not become it, dammit! You don’t care! You don’t care because you don’t know what it means to be a journalist. You don’t know what it means to have millions of people trust you, and then piss it all away in less than thirty minutes. For ratings! For fucking ratings! I was traded so the station can sell more sports car and beer commercials!" She pushes herself off of the van and stalks away.

"No!" I holler after her. "You used it to save ten kids’ lives. And, guess what, Kelsey, it was worth it! You didn’t piss away any trust in there, Kels. You got that mother to lay it all on the line for you, just because you asked and you were sincere. All of your high-minded principles don’t mean shit if it had ended any other way."

She stops and turns slowly to face me once more. "Don’t feed that line to me."

"Why? Because it’s true?" I smirk. "You can’t handle the truth?" I use my best Nicholson imitation, which is – actually – pretty damn good.

Kelsey bursts into laughter, big belly laughs that cause her to bend at the waist. It’s a tension release; she needed it big time. She shakes her head. "You’re certifiable."

I shrug. This is not news to me. Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse. "Tell me something I don’t know. But, before you do, give Chambers the wrap-up he wants. So we can get the hell out of here."

"What? You got a hot date or something?"

A gentle voice calls to me from beside our van. "Harper, do you still want me for that interview?"

Both Kelsey and I turn and look at the pretty librarian. I can’t wait to explore her Dewey Decimal system. "Uh, you could say that. Now, let’s get this finished so Marion and I can enjoy our good fortune to still be alive."

"Harper, you’re a dog. You know that, right?" Her voice is slightly teasing, though, not holding the censure it had moments before. Things change so quickly between us, going from understanding, to sympathy, to anger in moments. I take us one step further, laying on all the charm I can muster and stepping right into her space.

I lean forward, once again making myself ignore her perfume. "And you’re jealous. You know that, right? I’ve got your number, Kelsey Stanton. And, one day, I’ll make the Ice Bitch thaw. And, you’ll thank me for it." I smile warmly as I pat her butt, admiring its shape and feel under my hand. "Let’s wrap up."

"Touch my ass again, Harper, and you’re dead. Now get your camera. I’ve had a hell of a long day." She shoves me away without real vehemence and uses steady fingers to start combing through her hair and preparing for our final wrap.

I smirk. And I know she won’t be able to relieve any of that stress with Erik. I, however, plan on relieving as much stress as possible. I shoulder my camera again and glance at Kelsey. Unaware of my eyes focused on her, she is casually checking out Marion the librarian.

Straight, my ass.

 

Next week on Must Read TV:

<fade in>

"Of course." I chuckle as I flex my toes in his very attentive hands. "You keep that up and I'm gonna have an …"

<cut to>

"Can't say I have," I reply in as bored a tone as I can. "So is your avoidance of the subject an admission to not knowing her name?"

She grins knowingly but allows me the subject change. "Veronica, please meet my partner - in a non-sexual sense - Kelsey, and her friend Erik."

The blonde extends a hand across the table. "Hi," she says meekly. "It's Victoria, nice to meet you."

<cut to>

Harper is pressing me fully into the wall, I can feel her body hot and firm against me.

 

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