Alexis Kearns charged back into the lobby of the downtown station. Forester was walking fast, but there was no getting away from her.
“That’s a lie, and you know it!” She caught the attention of an elderly couple and several officers when she made her declaration. She must have looked sophomoric while yelling at an officer of the law in her skull-and-crossbones tee, but at that moment she didn’t care.
Forester gave up running long before he reached the confines of his office. He wasn’t safe from her there anyway. “No, actually, it’s not.”
“You’ve had worse.”
“Oh,” the detective crossed his arms while his blue eyes tried to impale her. “Who?”
Alexis raised her arms dramatically allowing for her pink bracelets to rattle on her forearm. “Oh, I don’t know, how about Ashley?”
“She had her issues, but in her defense, she broke it off so that she could better herself.”
“Oh? And Janelle?”
“She cheated on me, but afterward she had the decency to move to Florida!”
“What about the one who threatened to kill you?”
“She found Jesus.”
“And the escort?”
Forester blushed, trying to not acknowledge the elderly couple and their growing fascination with him being yelled at by a girl ten years his junior. “I didn’t know about Sadie, and I never paid for her.”
“Well, what you said is still completely uncalled for—and false!”
“Oh please, Alexis, you know it to be true as much as I do. That’s why that comment upset you so much,” Forester said.
If Alexis could blow people up with her mind, pieces of Forester would be scattered throughout the station. “I am not the worst ex-girlfriend you’ve ever had!”
“Ashley, Sadie, Brittany, Sarah, and the Jesus freak—whose name is Carly by the way—all remain in Seattle but know that it’s best that we don’t see each other anymore. Janelle and Candy were even kind enough to leave the state! But you—we call it quits, and you’re here even more than when I was helping you with leads. And honestly, after the Halverford case, I think that you’ve got a lot of nerve even to show your face here any more.” He cocked his head, “Are you hearing me loud and clear? I don’t want you coming here anymore.”
“I’m sorry, you lost me at Candy. You dated a ‘Candy’?”
“Was she an escort too?”
“No, actually she was a grad student. She was only in the area for the summer. We had a great month together and—why am I even explaining this to you? Alexis,” he went on to emphasize every word, “I don’t want to see you anymore. You need to leave.”
“I’ll leave after you explain yourself!” Alexis’ voice carried through the lobby. She amused herself with visions of terrified police officers in the next room ducking under their desks in case they took their fight to Forester’s office. It wouldn’t have been the first time. “Why did you lie about the tip you got about Congressman Waverly?”
Forester’s ears were becoming red. They always did when he was angry, but never as red as they would get around Alexis. She would have found it endearing if she didn’t have the urge to rip one of them off and shove it down his throat.
“Oh, I’m sorry! You want me to explain to you why I didn’t rush to my ex-girlfriend, an investigative journalist, with private information about a government official?”
She placed her hands firmly on her hips. “No, I want to know why the Times, KOMO, KIRO, KING, NWCN and the douche from my paper were all able to learn about Waverly when I had asked you directly before the story could leak to anyone else.”
“Alexis, you’re young. You’ll have plenty of other men to terrorize in your—”
“Oh, so we’re bringing age back into this?” She nearly growled. When their relationship started, it turned a lot of heads. Not only was she a journalist and he a detective, but she was just nineteen years of age at the time. Forester wasn’t happy to have learned this after they had started dating, but she didn’t understand his issues with it. She found herself to be far more mature than most her age—and definitely more mature than he had been.
The age comment made him blush, so she kept going. “Turning thirty obviously hasn’t affected your choices for a sexual partner. Is screwing you part of the pledge process for the Delta Beta ditz sorority or do you regularly troll the campus with a badge and a hard-on?”
“My sex life,” his face lost all color when he noticed the elderly woman’s jaw drop, “is no longer your concern.”
She refused to admit that he was right (as always), so she moved to the next subject. “I was on Waverly’s ass for weeks, and you screwed me out of the story because you’re upset with me.”
“You’re damn right I’m upset with you!”
Alexis blinked with surprise as Forester’s voice echoed throughout the lobby. The elderly couple who had found themselves entertained by the banter turned away and pretended to converse with one another. A few of the people that had been walking by stopped to stare as if they were looking at two people amidst a strip of landmines. Upon realizing they might get hit with shrapnel, the onlookers trudged cautiously around them and went about their business.
Alexis withdrew her hands to her sides. She did not want to show him that he had defused her, even though she was well-aware that he had been aware of that for far too long.
Forester let out a sigh, and she knew that he had let out more anger than he had ever wanted to show her. When he spoke again, his tone was much softer. “Alexis, we haven’t been broken up for that long.”
“It’s been nearly three months—”
“Will you just let me speak? Jesus!”
“Okay.” She lowered her head.
“We haven’t been—”
Forester reddened further. She knew that she was playing with a malfunctioning pressure cooker on the way to exploding, so she kept herself from saying more.
He took a deep breath and let a few seconds pass, probably to enjoy the sound of her not cutting him off for a change. “We’ve been broken up for three months—nearly three months. With all of my ex-girlfriends, there’s always been a period where we haven’t seen each other. With some of them, it took just a few days to get over, while with others it’s taken months. Alexis, I broke it off at six p.m. on a Wednesday. At eight a.m. Thursday morning you were waiting for me in my office before I’d even gotten to work because you wanted to cover a story about an armed robbery. You’re in here two-to-three times a week. Even if it’s to talk about work, I’m still seeing you two-to-three times a week more than I saw any of my other exes.
“You wouldn’t accept that I don’t want to be your ears in the department anymore, but now you need to take the hint that I refuse to be. Yes, I knew about Waverly, and I know that it was a story that you wanted to break. Yes, I purposefully didn’t tell you about it and knew it’d be leaked to your competition, and I will continue to withhold information until you realize that I need this time to grieve over our break up so that I may one day move on. That, Alexis, is why you are the worst ex-girlfriend that I’ve ever had.”
The elderly couple had left. Forester’s pleading words must have made them feel guilty for eavesdropping.
It was guilt that had failed to infect her. “You’re the one who broke up with me.”
“Did none of that get through to you?”
“If anyone should be grieving, it’s me!”
Forester raised his hands in submission. “That’s it! I give up! I’ve dealt with women who have turned out to be hookers, who have threatened to kill me, who have cheated on me, who have had multiple personality disorders—”
“Which one had a multiple personality disorder?”
“I think one of her personalities was Alyssa. The point is that you’re the most inconsiderate of them all! I’ve got to get back to the office now so please—” Forester gasped as a crash behind her rang louder than his words. “Holy shit!”
A chorus of screams and obscenities followed: “Ahhhhh!” “Oh my God!” “Jesus Christ!”
Alexis spun around and gawked at the sight of a man’s body that had slammed onto the pavement. A pool of blood gushed from it and spilled from the sidewalk onto the street. A semicircle of mortified people obstructed her view, but she was able to see a man face-down, mostly concealed by his soiled-brown coat.
She felt the wind of Forester rushing past her and shoving his way out the revolving door.
This is it. This is my break-out piece!
Alexis withdrew her smartphone and chased after him. She pushed through the revolving door with her shoulder while she set her phone to begin recording video footage. She spoke into her phone once the red light appeared.
“This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter for the Seattle Chronicle and I’m at the intersection of Fifth and Cherry where a man has fallen from the city hall building across from the downtown Seattle police department.” She bolted from the door and onto the street where a crowd of shocked and horrified civilians began swarming around the body.
“Everybody, back up!” Forester yelled. He withdrew his badge. The emblem worked like a cross to vampires as onlookers got out of his way.
Alexis rushed toward the front of the herd and turned her phone to get a shot of the man. His limbs contorted unnaturally. His right leg bent in the opposite direction, and it looked as if he had landed on his face and his left arm at the same time. His elbow was fractured. If it weren’t for his jacket, she probably would have seen a bone popping out of his skin.
Forester placed two fingers close to the man’s jugular to get a pulse. His frown indicated what she already knew.
Alexis turned to the woman in a pantsuit carrying a to-go box and spoke with the camera focused on her. “Miss, can you please describe what’s just happened here?”
The woman opened her mouth but couldn’t put two words together. She looked as if she could see the spirit of the man rising from his body and flying toward the heavens.
“Did you see him fall from the building?”
A youthful voice concealed behind her spoke. “He didn’t fall. He jumped.”
Several people muttered indistinctly at the announcement while Alexis maneuvered her way around the businesswoman to get a clear shot of the boy who made the claim. He was a black-haired teenager dressed in dark colors. He stood next to a girl who could have come straight from an American Eagle catalog. The girl hid from the camera, but the boy gave Alexis his full attention.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Forester get on his cell phone. “I need a forensics team and crowd control out here right now. A man just fell from the city hall!”
Alexis waited for Forester to stop speaking to ensure that she picked up his quote loud and clear. After, she talked to the boy. “Kid—sir, what is your name?”
The boy’s eyes swept from left to right before he spoke. “Tim.”
“Tim Ashbury,” his voice trembled as he spoke.
“Tim Ashbury, tell me, what did you witness?”
Tim shrugged, keeping one eye on the fallen corpse a few feet away. “My girlfriend and I are on our way to Westlake Center, and I looked up and saw a man on the ledge of that building right there,” he pointed to the city hall. Alexis panned quickly to reveal the ‘City Hall’ sign before returning to Tim for a mug shot. “I… I didn’t realize that it was a man at first. I thought it was a large bird or something. I went to point him out to Stephanie, and then he jumped.”
An army of police officers stormed the revolving doors of the station and flooded the street.
Forester spoke in the loudest voice he could muster. “Everyone, please take a few steps back and remain calm!”
The crowd of people moved out of the way for the officers to form a shield around the body.
Alexis lowered her camera as they passed and made extra sure she kept close to Tim and Stephanie. She pointed the camera at the girl but, unlike Tim, Stephanie did not want to be filmed. Instead, she captured candid shots of the shocked and devastated faces of the civilians that found themselves unable to turn away from the gruesome sight. Even with the police forming a barricade of blue between the people and the body, Alexis could still make out the brown coat in the scarlet pond.
“This… this is horrible!” a woman in her forties exclaimed.
A couple of men in lab coats forced their way through the crowd with forensics kits in hand. The barricade granted them access to the body. As they began to examine the deceased, Alexis kept the focus on them and spoke just loud enough for the recorder to pick up her voice. “Now we have a forensics team investigating the body. The crowd watches in an uncomfortable silence. Detective Joseph Forester was the first on the scene.”
Two sets of eyes from the row in front of her turned after her narration, but she shrugged them off and zoomed in on the scene.
“Carver, come with me to the roof.” Forester said. A shorter, stouter officer followed Forester as he rushed through the city hall entrance, disappearing from view.
Alexis ignored Forester’s movements. She couldn’t step beyond the police barricade to chase after him. Besides, there was plenty to do while still on the street. She zoomed in as one of the investigators put on a pair of gloves and started to rummage through the corpse’s coat pockets. She stepped forward to get a little ahead of the crowd, her camera directly in front of her. A couple of officers shot her dirty looks but didn’t protest. They most likely knew who she was and that it was already too late to avoid publicity. In the distance, the siren of an ambulance was growing louder.
A man from the forensics team pulled a wallet out of the brown coat. She zoomed in closer. It was going to be impossible for her to hear what the man was telling his partner over the sounds of the sirens. Luckily, her roommate during her freshman year of college had been deaf and taught Alexis to read lips.
She repeated into the camera what the forensics analyst was saying. “The man’s name is James Hawthorne, age thirty-two, lives at forty-three twenty-six Canterbury Road, Seattle, Washington, nine-eight-one-oh-nine.”
“How did you do that?” a man behind her in a tracksuit asked.
“Sh!” Her pink bracelets rattled on her right hand as she raised her pointer finger to her lips. The bracelets slid down her forearm, revealing a tiny kanji tattoo on her wrist that read “never forget.” She had told her parents it meant “family.”
The analyst sifted through the cards in James’ wallet.
She read his lips aloud again, “He’s a real estate agent.” Alexis turned the camera on herself. “I’m going to have to verify that a James Hawthorne lived at that address of course, but first…” She panned her camera to allow the man in the tracksuit behind her to be in the shot. “Sir, might I have your name?”
He shot her a questioning look, but then faced the camera and obliged. “My name is Ted Covington.”
“Mr. Covington, can you describe the scene here right now?” Alexis double-checked her phone to ensure that they were both in the shot. In the distance, the ambulance grew louder. The blaring sirens caused several people in the background to wince and cover their ears.
“I,” he hesitated. “Miss, what are you doing? This isn’t for some sick blog or something is it?”
She scoffed. “I’ve been writing for the Seattle Chronicle for three years. I’m a reporter.”
Wrinkles of confusion appeared on his forehead like a mountain range above his eyebrows. “Three years? How old are you?”
“I started as a guest reporter my junior year of high school. Please describe the scene here before these sirens drown you out.”
“All right. Um, it’s—it’s a little frightening. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it. All these people were just going about their day—I was just jogging myself, and then this man he just… just jumped off a building and took his own life.”
“Did you actually see this man jump?”
Ted hesitated. “N… No.”
“Well then you can’t make that assumption,” she snapped. “I’m sorry. Go ahead.”
He complied. “I was just jogging, and then I saw someone falling from that building over there. I nearly stopped in the middle of the street because I was in such shock. Everything is just—I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The last of Ted’s words were going to be impossible to hear with the ambulance pulling up to the scene. The screaming of the alarm silenced as the ambulance came to a stop, but the rotating bright lights were blinding the crowd as a team of paramedics rushed to the body like the offensive line taking their positions on a football field. Behind them, Alexis was able to make out the first of what would be a series of news vans on their way to the scene. She didn’t have much time.
“Paramedics have made it onto the scene, and soon Fifth and Cherry will surely be flooded with dozens of reporters asking many of these people questions about the truly tragic event that has happened today, but you’ve heard it first here from Alexis Kearns of the Seattle Chronicle.” She stopped recording herself and logged in to her e-mail account. She typed in the e-mail address of Hugh Bauer, the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Chronicle. She typed ‘URGENT’ into the subject line and then left him a short message: ‘more to come.’ She added the video as an attachment and sent it.
A series of overly-polished men and women in two-piece suits emerged from their news vans with camera operators of all shapes and sizes. They began to flood the streets where they fought over the best lighting, camera angles, and people that they deemed “TV-worthy.”
Alexis didn’t have time to wait for Hugh to check his e-mail. She pressed ‘2’ on her speed dial, which went straight to Hugh’s office (‘1’ was for her voice mail, and ‘3’ was still Forester). While it rang, she put it on speaker and started to Google James Hawthorne’s information to ensure that she read the forensics analyst’s lips accurately. Hugh answered as she finished typing “James Hawthorne Real Estate” into the search bar.
“Hugh, this is Alexis. I just sent you an urgent e-mail. Get it onto the web right away.”
“Hold on, let me log on.”
“James Hawthorne Real Estate” got several hits. “Yes!” she muttered to herself. She could do more research in a couple of minutes, but for the moment it was crucial that the full story made it onto the web before anyone else broke it.
She was able to make out her voice on Hugh’s computer. “This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter from the Seattle Chronicle, and I’m on the cross streets of Fifth and Cherry where a man has fallen from the city hall building across from the downtown Seattle police department…”
Hugh paused the video. “Is this for real?”
“You’re damn right it is! I’m at the scene. Other reporters are setting up to go live. Run the story—now!”
“Are you still there?”
“Yes,” Alexis said. “I’m going to continue shooting and interviewing on my phone here. If any of our photographers are available, get them down here! In the meantime, I’ll keep e-mailing you video clips as I complete them.”
“I need someone there to do some background research on James Hawthorne. He’s a real estate agent and the man who died here. The faster you or someone else can get some information about him the bigger start we’ll have on this.”
“The police have leaked his name?”
“No, I did. Now get going! I’ve got a ton more to do down here.” She hung up on him and went back to setting up her camera to record video. She glanced up at the rooftop of the city hall building where a figure that must have been Forester was staring down at the crowd. She could feel him scowling at her from nearly a hundred feet above her.
Alexis sighed and sneered in response, but she knew that if she hesitated any further the other reporters would begin to catch up to her. She turned the camera on herself again and hit record. “This is Alexis Kearns, a reporter for the Seattle Chronicle…”