Split(3)

By: J. B. Salsbury



“Son of a bitch.” More shuffling. “He’s our only witness.”

Words blur as I drift in and out of darkness. Not like the blackouts, but something different. Deeper. As if sleep pulls me, then releases me like a yo-yo.

“Dammit! We’re gonna lose him.”

The pain dies off. Peacefulness wraps around me. I drift back into night and welcome the dark I know will protect me.





ONE



SHYANN


Present day

There isn’t a single moment in life that compares to this one. Eh . . . I suppose if one day I meet the right guy who doesn’t mind playing second to my career goals, maybe a wedding would compare. Or not. I mean, weddings mean family and family means ripping open old wounds, and, well, that idea alone makes me want to barf all over my knock-off Jimmy Choos.

No, I was right the first time. This moment is a game changer. It’s hit or miss, no room for second place. Five years in college, working my ass off and pulling in more student loans than I’ll be able to pay back in four lifetimes all teeters on thirty seconds of live newsfeed.

I shift restlessly in my seat, squinting back and forth between my phone and the dark road through the windshield. “Should be right up here, less than a mile.”

“Know that. Got the same address you did.” My cameraman turns left into a residential area, a decent part of town, middle- to lower-class neighborhood. “Besides, the place will be crawling with police. There’s no way we’ll miss it.”

I turn toward him and grin. “Police, but we’ll be the first and only news van.” I’m downright giddy! “This has to be perfect. We can’t afford to fuck this up.”

He grunts and I glare, annoyed by his nonchalance.

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

Fake it till you make it, Shyann.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possibly.

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

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

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

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