Chapter 24 — Two Interviews
”Beware the silver-tongued, for they strike with a smile. I knew a man once who could talk for ten minutes to a complete stranger and be invited in for supper. He spoke for hours about any topic that arose, even if he knew nothing, and beguiled experts of their own craft. He ingratiated himself into the house as if he belonged, as if he were in control. Take heed, for one slip of resolve, and he had you in his vice, and trapped you in a corner of twisted words. But this was no true devil, just a man. His voice meant nothing once I cut out his tongue.”
~Cinza, the Rallsburg Diaries
”Well Janet, everyone here’s waiting for the arrival of the guest of honor. Honestly, I can’t say I’ve seen a more heavily anticipated red-carpet for a Monday night talk show.”
”Tell me, Ted, since you’re the expert—what should we expect?”
”I’ve met her mother a few times, but no, I can’t say I’ve ever actually spoken to her myself.”
”Her mom had no idea, right?”
”None at all. She assumed her daughter was dead this whole time.”
”Wow. Just wow.”
”I gotta ask, Ted. Any idea why the Evening Show, of all things? I mean, Russ Wallace doesn’t exactly have the widest audience, and he’s a softie when it comes to interviews. And who watches talk shows live anymore?”
”He’s gonna have ’em tonight. The whole show is just one interview, with the most famous person on the planet right now.”
”Wait, I thought there were two.”
”Hang on, Janet, I think something’s happening.”
The cameras whipped upward. A cloud of lenses winked at her, light reflected off the neon signs everywhere. They’d spotted her.
She curled her wings back, beginning a slow drop off. As she peeled them back further, the glide turned into a dive. Faster and faster. The huge red carpet—and the area she’d requested at the end—was lit up by spotlights. The sun was already going down, so no one had seen her gliding overhead for a full ten minutes.
Hailey didn’t mind. She’d been working through pre-show jitters that whole time, trying to think of the perfect thing to say.
The cameras followed her in, and the sound of a thousand flash clicks went off as she hurtled in. Hailey swooped her wings wide, as wide as they could go so that the burst of wind wouldn’t be so strong, but still hit the whole crowd and everyone beyond.
A few hats blew off as she touched down. She only took two steps to land, compared to the usual five or six. She was in her usual flight suit—faux-leather jacket, breezy shirt underneath, aviator cap, tight-fit jeans. She’d taken extra care to make it look clean and polished, and added a multicolor scarf for the occasion. Originally, she’d considered some kind of dress, and spent hours agonizing through options with Jess watching over her shoulder, until she realized that none of them really said ‘Hailey’. Jess was right; she should just be herself.
Voices shouted from every direction, so much that she couldn’t understand a single word. Cameras kept clicking and flashing. Hailey waved, basking in the glow. She knew she was live around the world, in every major city on the globe. She wondered how many translators were anxiously awaiting her first word. How are they gonna translate ‘awakened’, anyway? And what’s the word for magic in German?
Why did I pick German?
Hailey didn’t bother trying to talk to the crowd of reporters. For one, she’d agreed that her interview was going to be inside with Russ. No sense ruining a budding relationship for the sake of the paparazzi.
I wonder how many magazine covers I’ll get.
Waving and smiling, Hailey made her way up the carpet and through the doors. The show staff waited just inside, and to her surprise, most of them seemed unimpressed. She was herded straight into makeup, since the show was set to go live in thirty minutes. The make-up girl just stared for a minute under an array of lights, utterly confused. Hailey shrugged, bemused, and soon enough she was sent off to the stage for sound checks.
”Everybody looks so annoyed,” she wondered aloud to the guy who was helping her strap a battery pack and transmitter onto her belt for the microphone.
”They don’t usually do live shows.”
”I’m from another studio. They brought us in to help.” He shrugged. “Honestly, no offense, but I don’t even know who you are.”
Hailey smiled. “That’s okay. Nobody really did til a few days ago.”
”So they’re usually taped?” she prompted.
”Yeah. I dunno if Wallace even does live. You better hope he can carry the show.”
”I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
”This whole fast turnaround with no warning’s pretty nuts too.”
”I kinda had to show up as late as possible and not tell anyone when I was coming,” she explained apologetically.
”Why’s that, then?”
”Security. So nobody crazy could try to shoot me out of the sky.”
The guy raised his eyebrows. “What, you flew here?”
She grinned, and murmured a little spell under her breath, floating up into the air a few inches. She didn’t want to use her wings inside and blow everything around.
His eyebrows vanished into his bangs.
”What the fuck…” he muttered.
Hailey released the levitation spell, dropping to the floor with a soft thump. “So why’s the turnaround so hard?” she asked, after he didn’t say anything for thirty seconds.
He managed to get back to professional really quick, to her relief. “For international TV? No one wants to be the guys who screwed up the mics, or the broadcast, or sound balance, lighting, whatever. We can do quick, and damn did makeup work fast on you, but still. Pressure’s on, you know?”
”Sorry about that,” she said honestly—all while glowing from the inadvertent compliment he’d given to her. No makeup, all me. “I didn’t really want to be doing this in the first place.”
He shrugged. “We’re getting paid really well for this show.”
He picked up a walkie from the folding table. “Check two please?”
”Say something,” he added, nodding to Hailey.
She took a deep breath. “I’m absolutely terrified to be doing this.”
The walkie crackled. “Solid read on mic two. Clean filter.“
”Copy.” He stepped away. “You’re good. For the love of God, don’t bump that pack hard though.”
She nodded. “I’ll do my best.” Hailey glanced around. None of the staff seemed to be waiting for her though. “Where do I go?”
”They’re finishing warm-up, I think.”
”House band and some amateur stand-up, get the audience in the right state.” He nodded toward the stage, where Hailey could barely hear someone talking over speakers. “Also doubles as another sound check.”
”Cool.” Hailey’s stomach was jittering. She glanced around. “Do I have time to use the bathroom?”
He rolled his eyes. “Can you do it without taking off your pants? ‘Cause you’re pretty strapped in here.”
Hailey looked over her shoulder. She hadn’t realized the wires he’d fished through her belt and underneath her jacket up to the lapel mic, almost totally concealed. “Wow. You work fast.”
”Thanks.” He cocked his head slightly, listening to his earpiece. “Alright, they’re calling for you. Head up the stairs and to the right.”
”Stairs and to the right. Thanks.”
”Fifteen minutes!” shouted someone with a clipboard as Hailey walked by, though not at her. Weirdly enough, despite being the headline guest, Hailey was mostly left alone. She wondered if she was different somehow, or if this was how they treated all their guests.
Maybe all the actors already know their way around a soundstage, so they don’t usually have to help guests out. Lucky for Hailey, the place had pretty clear signs everywhere. She just followed the big, bold signs to the MAIN STAGE, right on the path the sound guy had told her.
”You’re Hailey?” asked a harried-looking woman with a pen stuck in her hair and another clipboard. She had two different headsets on, one for each ear.
She nodded. “Yup, that’s me.”
”Okay. Mr. Wallace will be around in a minute for a quick rundown before either of you head out. Did you have a list of no-gos?”
”A list of whats?”
”Topics to avoid.”
”I uhhh…” Hailey shrugged. “How to awaken, I guess.”
”How to what now?”
”…Do you know what this show is about?”
She shook her head. “Some book. Russ and the writers do all the research for the interviews.”
Hailey shrugged. “Should I let him know, or you?”
She sighed. “Just tell him yourself, unless you want to get awkward on air. Live show, so we can’t drop anything from the tape. You only got about a six second censor delay.”
”Twelve minutes!” came another shout from down the hall. Whoever it was had a powerful voice. Hailey felt a bit jealous. She decided to figure out how to do that with magic sometime soon. Might come in handy. You never know. Cinza probably has a few ideas.
A small crowd rounded the corner at the end of the hall, Russell Wallace himself in the center. One make-up artist brushed at his face as they walked, while he talked rapidly to a gaggle of writers and other staff Hailey could only guess at. She waited for them to notice her, but it took the whole walk for Russ to even glance her way.
He smiled. She’d always liked that smile, if nothing else. He had a sincere, honest smile and a good laugh, compared to most of the other hosts. Russ wasn’t really the quickest or the sharpest wit, but he was charming enough. Why’d Nate pick him, of all people?
”Miss Winscombe?” he asked. To her surprise, it was the same voice he used on-air. She always assumed (for no apparent reason) that their host voice must be an affectation.
”Hailey, please. Miss Winscombe is my mom.”
”Good lord, what the hell is she wearing?” muttered one of the attending staff in the back.
Hailey rolled her eyes. “I make this look good, dude. Don’t knock it.”
”You heard that?”
”I’ve got really good hearing.” She grinned. “Isn’t there a show we’re supposed to be prepping for here?”
”She’s not wrong,” said Russ, obviously amused. “Everyone who isn’t important, go away or you’re fired.”
Half of the gaggle vanished instantly, including the amateur fashion consultant. Hailey relaxed a little at Russ’ smile.
”That’s good,” said Russ. “Keep it loose. This is gonna be a piece of cake.”
”I’ve never been on TV before,” said Hailey, glancing out at the stage.
”Don’t worry about them,” he shrugged. “The crowd’s just there for show. Just focus on me and you’ll do great.”
”You got a list for me?” he asked, turning to the stage manager.
”She’s got it,” said the woman, obviously irritated.
”Ah.” He switched back to Hailey. “So, what’s off-limits?”
”Honestly?” Hailey winced. “I didn’t really have time to think about it. I didn’t know I could have off-limits things.”
”I’m not really a hard-hitter, I’m just a talkie host.” Russ shrugged. “This isn’t an interrogation. Comfortable, fun interviews are my show.”
”Well, uhh…” Hailey took a second to think, and the first thing that came to mind was the girl across the street, watching the whole thing from her phone—waiting for a signal to blow through the whole building if she had to. “Jessica Silverdale.”
”The best friend?”
”Right. Nothing about her.”
”And how to awaken. Nothing on that.”
Russ raised an eyebrow. “You know it’s in the book, right?”
”You’ve read it?”
”We got a heavily edited copy from the publisher, exclusive to us. We had to sign a dozen non-disclosures and they had a squad of armed security escort the thing in and out.” He glanced around. “Only me and my best writers got to read it, and it was still missing a ton of things, but I know all about awakening.”
”…I don’t want it to be me,” said Hailey. “It’s his fault then.”
”You don’t know the guy who stole them?” she asked, surprised.
”Nope.” He raised a hand as Hailey opened her mouth. “Tell me on-air. Audience loves a genuine reaction.”
”Anything else?” he prompted. “I’m needed in sound check.”
He frowned. “That’s a radioactive subject. I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pole.”
”You got it.” Russ smiled. “You’re gonna do great, Hailey. You look fantastic, by the way. Props to makeup.”
”She didn’t go to makeup,” said the stage manager, as annoyed as ever.
”Well, props to you then,” he continued, without missing a beat. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” He hurried away.
”So what do I do now?” Hailey asked.
The woman shrugged, craning her neck to look across the stage. “What the fuck is lighting doing…?” She grabbed a clicker on her headset. “Huell, turn off chair three, dammit! We only have one guest tonight. And get every camera on chair one. Make sure the wide’s centered on it.”
Hailey took a deep breath, and then another one. It took away a lot of the jitters.
”What the hell are you still doing here?” the woman said, snapping back around to Hailey.
”You need to be at the guest entrance!”
She waved wildly at the wall behind them, where a helpful blue arrow pointed the way.
”Okay.” Hailey set off, immeasurably grateful to be away from the hysterical woman as she started cursing to another member of the beleaguered staff.
A harried assistant pointed her to the guest entrance, where she found a chair and an ice chest of water bottles. Hailey popped one open and downed half of it. She wished it were something a bit heavier, but she’d take anything to clear her dry mouth a bit.
The band started to play the intro theme, while the warm-up comedian left the stage to a round of applause—or maybe they were just applauding for the intro. She could hear the announcer over the speakers, with the typical deep radio host voice.
”Coming to you from New York City, live for the first time ever, it’s an Evening Show special event!”
Hailey still had a few minutes before she’d be on stage. She pulled out her phone and checked the stream out of curiosity. The show was getting simultaneously broadcast over social media, presumably at Nate’s request. They’d agreed on the condition that advertisements be built directly into the video, so they couldn’t be skipped.
She couldn’t get the video to load. Surprised, Hailey tried a different site, since the first one wasn’t really known for having the best streaming service. The second one worked fine, and Hailey got there just in time to see her own face smiling back from the intro title, over a generic shot of the New York skyline.
”Hailey Winscombe!” called out the announcer. Hailey missed the rest of the line—and everything else the announcer said—as her eyes dropped down to the number below the video stream.
A hundred and forty-two million viewers… and it was going up every second.
What the hell am I doing? Hailey’s heart-rate spiked. She took another drink of water and a few deep breaths. This is crazy!
”…your host, Russssssellllllllllll Wallaaaaaaace!”
Another huge round of applause, as Russ stepped out onto the stage.
Deep breaths, Hales. You got this. This is nothing. You’ve faced down monsters.
”Thank you!” said Russ, beaming into the crowd. “You’re tremendous, really. Thank you all. Well, we’ve got a great show for you tonight, and a very special one at that. It’s our first ever live show, people!”
Another burst of applause.
”Yes, this is one hundred percent live, so anything that can go wrong, is absolutely going to go wrong—and our man in the censor booth has his hand on the ducking trigger!”
He didn’t actually swear… Hailey laughed. It’s a show. It’s just a show. I got this.
”A great show, really great show coming up, people, and of course, it’s what everyone’s talking about. That’s right, we’ll be spending a whole hour on platypus pajamas.”
A screen above the audience popped up with a shot of a platypus wearing flannel. It got a huge roar of laughter.
I mean, it’s a cute picture… but come on.
Russ grinned. “No, but seriously, folks. We’ve only got one thing to talk about for the whole show, which I know is going to really bum out those ten viewers who just tune in for the music at the end. Sorry, people. I’ll make you a deal—if we run over, I’ll sing you a little song at the end, and Charlie and the band will back me up. Won’t you Charlie?”
The leader of the house band shook his head and rolled his eyes, accompanied by a quick musical sting.
”Right, so Charlie wants to keep our audience after this show. Smart guy, Charlie. This is why he’s in charge and I just stand up here and make a fool of myself.” Russ made a little signal with his hand, just out of sight of the camera.
The feed swapped to a different angle, right at the same time that Russ turned. “Now, this is normally the bit where I do my usual amateur stand-up and remind everyone why they should stay in school, but we figured no one really wants to see that. Especially not our hundred and fifty million online viewers.”
Hailey double-checked it on her phone, and sure enough, they’d passed that number already. A huge cheer erupted in the audience, and this time it felt genuine. She briefly wondered how much these people paid for tickets—and how well they were vetted by security, if at all. She quickly dug into her belt pouch for a few gemstones and tucked them into the inner pocket on her jacket, just in case. Her favorite tourmaline hung around her neck as usual.
”That’s right, our stream just beat the Super Bowl. I expect my talk show championship ring in the mail by the end of the week.” A grin and another pause. “An ‘Evening Show’ that’s not in the evening? Insane, they called me! Mad, they said! And they were absolutely right!”
He beamed around the audience. “But while I have you all here and my blackmail’s still holding out, I’m going to make the very best of it. Without further ado—because I hear our viewer count plummeting already—please give a huge New York welcome to Hailey Winscombe!”
The band started playing a song she didn’t know, and the audience went wild with applause. Hailey felt a shove forward from the stage manager, who’d appeared out of nowhere behind her. She pocketed her phone, shook her head slightly to clear her hair away, and put on a smile.
”Let the record show that my client, Miss Winscombe, is here of her own volition, and was not summoned, subpoenaed, or otherwise compelled to appear for questioning.”
”You brought a damn stenographer?”
”Let the record also show that this conversation is being recorded by both parties. The state did not agree to an off-record interview, so my client exercised her right to record the interview as a citizen, and the state consented.”
”That clacking is annoying as fuck.”
”Attorney for Hailey Aurora Elizabeth Winscombe is Jefferson Baux, associate at Hanford and Jenkins. The state declined to have an attorney present.”
”Are we fucking done yet?”
”State’s interviewer is…” Jefferson waited, while Hailey shifted uncomfortably in the chair. It wasn’t the steel chair and stone box she’d dreaded, but a pretty ordinary conference room. No windows, but the walls were lined with wood paneling, it was carpeted and the office chairs were pretty nice. Not as good as the ones her mom had, but still comfy. She sat on one side, with her lawyer next to her and a stenographer from his firm at the end of the table.
”Michael Aderholt, and I’m federal, not fucking state,” grunted the man across the table, sitting alone except for a laptop.
”Pacific Northwest division, sub-station chief, SeaTac branch of the National Security Bureau.”
”Let the record show Mr. Aderholt is currently the designated lead agent for the ‘Rallsburg Incident’ case.”
”Would you stop that fucking clacking?”
Jefferson smiled. “Will the state consent to an unrecorded interview with my client?”
Aderholt glanced down at his laptop, where he was getting information fed in from his superiors. “You two already blew enough smoke up the ass of the whole fuckin’ country for every single news outlet to park a van outside. What the fuck are you afraid of coming out?”
”My client merely wishes to let the public know her status as a public figure, before and after the interview takes place.”
He didn’t miss the implication. “The fuck are you accusing us of?”
”Nothing, sir. I offered an explanation for our… excessive display entering the structure.”
”And you’re gonna do the same fuckin’ thing when you leave, are you?”
”If my client wishes. Can you say she broke any laws?”
”Violating my fucking airspace.”
”My client has not entered the restricted zone while airborne, nor proceeded past legal limits for unregulated civilian flight.”
That he knows of… Jefferson had asked her not to tell him, since it would count as informing him she intended to commit a crime. A minor one, but they wanted to stay as clean as they possibly could.
”It might also be pointed out that since my client does not use a vehicle, she is not required to have a pilot’s license.”
”Skydiving license then, asshole.”
Jefferson smiled slightly. “Sections 105.21 and 105.25 don’t apply in this case, as my client does not use a parachute.”
Aderholt leaned back in his chair, looking vaguely impressed. “There’s a fucking loophole for you.”
”As I said, my client will be flying out of here, just as she flew in. She has a prior engagement this evening that she simply can’t miss.”
”Oh, she can miss it.”
”Was that a threat to my client, Mr. Aderholt?”
”You can’t hold me,” said Hailey, staring him directly in the eye.
Aderholt smirked, in a way that made Hailey distinctly uncomfortable.
”What my client means,” said Jefferson quickly, “is that since you haven’t charged my client with a crime or formally placed her under arrest, we reserve the right to end this interview at any time and exit the premises.”
”Right.” Aderholt rolled his eyes. “Well, Miss Winscombe, let’s get down to fuckin’ business then.”
”One moment.” Jefferson leaned over to confer with Hailey privately. “You still want the NDA?” he whispered.
”Can we pull it off?” she whispered back.
”We might. It doesn’t hurt to try.”
”I want to help, but I don’t want this stuff getting public.”
He nodded, turning back to Aderholt. “My client has an additional condition to present the state before this interview can proceed.”
Aderholt threw up his hands. “Jesus fuck, what now?”
”We’d like an absolute assurance of secrecy, on the basis of potential national security threat, to the information presented within this interview. Neither your records nor ours will be presented to the public without the express agreement of both parties. The information will only be acted upon for credible threats to public safety and stability.” Jefferson pulled out the agreement and slid it across the table.
”Sign it,” Hailey added.
Aderholt looked up at her, eyes narrowed. “You don’t tell us what we can and can’t do, kid.”
”You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Mr. Aderholt. I do. So if you want my help past the basics, sign the agreement.”
”I think you’ll be quite pleased with the additional level of service my client is willing to render the state in exchange,” added Jefferson.
Aderholt picked it up and left the room for a minute, which dragged into two, and then five minutes.
”What’s this mean?” Hailey asked, as sweat trickled down her forehead. “The delay.”
”He’s talking to his superiors. They’re deciding if they’re okay with the muzzle and leash.”
”And if they are? Is it strong enough?”
”Well, as strong as two days of crunch legal work can build.” Jefferson shrugged. “Honestly, I think it might be too strict to be a good reactive deal, but it always has the escape clause where we can clear any action we deem credible. I’m used to working within the law, not creating new ones, but I’m assured that it should be fairly ironclad.”
”Assuming they play by the rules,” said Hailey dubiously.
”Well, yes, but if they don’t then this is all pointless anyway, and you don’t even need me here.” He smiled. “You weren’t wrong. They definitely can’t hold you, from what I’ve seen.”
The door swung open again, and Aderholt came back into the room.
”No deal,” he said, sliding the page back across the table unsigned, the vaguest hint of a grin on his face.
Jefferson sighed. “So be it. Let the record show that the state refused the offer by my client for additional service and support.”
”Noted, asshole.” Aderholt turned to Hailey. “Now, let’s talk.”
The lights weren’t as bright as she expected.
Hailey always assumed they’d be as bad as most stage lights, but they actually weren’t all that blinding. She waved to the crowd, which she could actually see, and smiled her way across the stage and into the first chair, right next to the desk.
As the applause finally died down, Hailey could see the cameras. She wondered if she was supposed to look at the camera, or at Russ. She decided, for the sake of her nerves, to just look Russ and ignore the rest of it. Like they were just talking in front of the crowd, and not one… hundred… fifty… million people.
Or more, she realized, since that was just the main online stream. It didn’t count TV viewers, restreams, other translations, rebroadcasts…
Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man.
”Hailey, you with us?” Russ prompted, flashing her a worried smile.
She blinked a few times, focusing back on his face, ignoring the crowd. Jess was right. Be myself. I got this. “Sorry. I’ve never been on TV.”
”Well, you’re doing just wonderful so far!” Russ glanced around. “We’ve all seen that clip of you flying out of the building.”
”Which one?” she asked, and got a laugh for it.
”Ah hah! So the burning building in Tacoma was you?”
She shrugged, still keeping the smile stuck to her face. It was getting easier over time, like she was just having a nice conversation with a good friend. “Not according to the FBI.”
Russ grinned. “But, of course, I was talking about the video from Friday. Where you—help me out here, Hailey. How did you pull that off?”
Hailey smiled. “Magic, Russ.”
”…Magic,” he repeated skeptically. “Don’t hold it against me, but I can’t say I’ve ever believed in magic. I’ve even had Penn and Teller on my show, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how they do it, but I’m still pretty sure it isn’t magic.”
”Well, it isn’t.”
Russ blinked, and a wide grin spread across his handsome face. “…Sorry to break to to you, Vegas, but looks like you’ll need a new act.” A pause for laughter. “Seriously though. You’re saying they’re just cheap parlor tricks, but this—this is the real deal, is that what I’m getting?”
”Absolutely.” Hailey shrugged. “This is new. Real magic.” She could tell Russ—and the audience—were looking for a bit more than that. She smiled and held up her hand, and out of the corner of her eye she saw the video monitor next to the audience bleachers swap to a wide shot. Perfect.
A clear plastic water bottle zoomed into view—the same one she’d been drinking from minutes earlier. It came in low, flying across the stage as if it had a tiny rocket attached, until it suddenly swung upward as it reached her chair. Hailey caught it easily, and in one smooth motion took a drink.
Russ stood up and applauded. “Fantastic, just fantastic. You just did that?”
Hailey grinned. “And a whole lot more. Don’t forget, Russ, I flew here tonight, all on my own.”
”…I don’t suppose you can give us a quick demo?”
Hailey set the bottle on his desk. She looked out at the audience. “Hold onto your hats, people. And I mean literally: grab ’em tight.”
The next eight minutes or so were spent going through a considerable repertoire of Hailey’s spells, and a few she’d picked up on the website too. She did a short lap flying over the studio audience while the camera desperately craned to keep up, blowing hair and loose clothing around while she did. Little elemental tricks were a piece of cake, and she even pulled off a bit of water manipulation via telekinesis. It didn’t last long, just a sphere of Russ’ drink floating out of his mug, but it got another round of applause nonetheless.
Honestly, this stuff really isn’t that impressive… Hailey could tell they were applauding just to applaud. It was a light entertainment show. The audience—both in the studio and online —were there to hear what she had to say, not just see tricks with fire and telekinesis.
”Now Hailey, before we burn the studio down,” Russ said finally, as Hailey had a series of little flames circling her head like a halo. She smiled innocently, and he grinned back. “I gotta say, we’ve heard a lot about you over the last six months—”
”Has it been six months?” she asked, more to play up the moment than anything. “Man, time flies.”
Her bad pun got an appreciative laugh, and Russ went on. “—But we haven’t heard anything from you. So let’s get right down to it: when did this all start? Magic, I mean.”
”About a year and a half ago.”
”Am I right in guessing it’s all thanks to that town?”
She nodded. “Everything started there.”
”Why’d you go to Rallsburg in the first place?”
Hailey shrugged. “It had a good business program.”
”Come on.” He tapped his cue card on the desk a few times pointedly. “You could’ve gone anywhere with your transcript. Why there? Did you know something?”
”Nope. I didn’t have a clue.” She took a deep breath, playing up the moment. “I went there because my boyfriend was going there.”
”Ah… Weston Davis, right?”
She was genuinely surprised. That detail probably wasn’t in Cinza’s book. “You know who I was dating back then?”
Russ shrugged. “Well, it was a pretty public investigation. He made the news a couple times.”
”Oh. How’d he do?”
”Feeling competitive?” Russ grinned. “I’m guessing you weren’t watching the news a lot at the time? This was back in May.”
”Not really… We were all kind of dealing with the…”
”The ‘incident’,” Russ supplied helpfully.
He shifted gears immediately, sensing she didn’t want to discuss that in detail yet. He’s good. Thanks, Russ. “So, Hailey. Did you and Weston ever reconnect?”
”We did, yeah. We’re still friends, but we aren’t together anymore.”
”Anyone new in your life?”
She smiled. “Yes. But he probably wouldn’t want me naming him live.”
”Ahhh, a secret boyfriend.”
”For now,” Hailey laughed.
”Does he know about your… talent?” Russ glanced over at the camera. “Well, I’m sure he knows by now.”
”Oh yeah, he knew.” Hailey waved him off. “He’s awakened too.”
”Awakened, that’s the word for it?”
Well… for better or worse, yeah. “It’s what we stuck with. I don’t have a clue who came up with it,” she added with a shrug. “But yeah, he’s awakened, and me, and plenty of other people.”
”So there’s a whole group of magical people in the world, that no one knew about?” His eyebrows arched skyward. “Pretty crazy stuff. Well, we’ll be digging into that and a whole lot more with Hailey Winscombe and another special guest here live on the Evening Show, right after the break.”
”Is that it, then?”
Hailey nodded. “Everything I know about what happened in Rallsburg, to the best of my memory.”
”Jesus H. Christ,” Aderholt muttered, leaning back in chair. “Two psychopaths who can make monsters outta nothin’ murdered a couple hundred people?”
”Yeah,” Hailey sighed, “and one of them survived.”
”And he hasn’t given up.”
”Right.” Hailey leaned forward again. “You guys need to be tracking him down. Right now.”
”What the fuck do you think we’ve been doing?” Aderholt threw up his hands. “You’re the one that can fly, why the fuck haven’t you found him?”
”But… you guys have satellites. Thermal stuff. Helicopters and so on. Right?”
”And we’re searching a rainforest in the fuckin’ fall. If he’s even there anymore.” Aderholt rolled his eyes. “It’s a big-ass country, and from the way you tell it, he doesn’t even gotta show his face to fuck you up.”
”He’s got followers. They can’t all hide.”
”Sure they fuckin’ can, because they’re normal-ass citizens goin’ about their normal-ass days until they get called up for the murder of the week.” He glared at her, as if it were Hailey’s fault somehow. “Welcome to the modern dumbfuck era. Pick up a few burner smartphones, hook up to public wifi, use end-to-end encryption and you got your very own homebrew terror-fucks. Any fucker can google that shit in ten seconds, and there’s no goddamn way we can track it all.”
”And let’s not forget, we got no goddamn idea who we’re protecting!” Aderholt added, raising his voice. “Your people have literally zero identifying characteristics and no pattern to follow. It could be literally any motherfucker off the shitgutter. We can’t protect everyone. You wanna give us a list of awakened?”
”Then quit your fuckin’ whining and let’s move on to cooperating.”
”I’m here as a favor to you,” Hailey reminded, trying to keep herself calm.
”Want a cookie?” he snarled, fist clenched.
She glared at him, folding her arms across her chest. “Where’s Agent Ashe?”
Aderholt rolled his eyes. “I made a call. It was the right call at the time.”
”You called him insane!”
”Bitch, he was saying the place was ripped up by monsters. What the fuck would you have said, with no evidence and no witnesses?”
”There were witnesses.”
”Miss Winscombe,” Jefferson cut in. He’d stayed mostly silent throughout the description of Rallsburg and the exchange throughout, since Hailey had gone over most of it with him several times over the weekend. “A word?”
Hailey slid her chair away from the table and stood up. Jefferson followed her to the corner of the room, while Aderholt scribbled something on a notebook.
”I want to throw him through that window,” Hailey muttered, nodding at the one-way mirror against the far wall.
”As your counsel, I can’t advise it.”
”How about I just make that pencil hit him in the face? Can’t legally prove it was me, right?”
”As your counsel, I’d enjoy that—but still, I can’t advise it.”
She sighed. “I know.”
”Is this gonna take all day?” asked Aderholt. “My wife’s making a roast tonight.”
Hailey clenched her hands tight, out of sight of the irritating man across the table. Her nails dug into her palm, and she imagined her fist plowing right through Aderholt’s face instead. It made her feel a little better.
Jefferson shook his head slightly. “Remember what we’re here for. One step at a time.”
”…Right.” Hailey took a deep breath. It didn’t do much, so she took another, and that one did the trick. She felt calm again. With a straight face and only the hints of indentation on her palms to show for it, she took a seat at the table again. “That was the whole story, Mr. Aderholt. The Rallsburg Incident. No more digging through the ruins.” She leaned forward slightly, looking him directly in the eye. “Are your bosses happy yet?”
Aderholt matched her glare beat for beat. “Who killed him? Who got him in the end?”
”Like I said, I didn’t see it. I was trying to lure the golems away so people could escape.”
”Didn’t work, did it?” he said snidely.
Hailey didn’t respond. She just glared at him, while her hands dug indentations in the sides of her chair, out of sight.
”You got one of my agents shot.”
”They shot him!” Hailey cried. The chair nearly tumbled over backward as she leapt to her feet.
”Because he was aiming for one of yours!” Aderholt shouted back, also getting to his feet.
The glass behind him visibly vibrated. Someone was pounding on it, trying to get his attention. Aderholt fell silent, glaring over his shoulder. He stormed out of the room.
Hailey started pacing back and forth on her side of the table, working through stress and anger. Jefferson stood back, giving her space. He knew better than to say anything.
Aderholt took a full ten minutes to return. He looked noticeably calmer. Hailey was surprised they’d actually let him continue the interview, but she refrained from making a quip about it. They were supposed to be cooperating. This wasn’t helping. She was supposed to cooperate with the good guys. Assuming they are the good guys… Well, Agent Ashe is at least.
”Can you give us any more information,” he started, in an admirably even tone, “about Brian Hendricks? Accomplices, whereabouts, personal history?”
”Besides what we’ve already brought up…” Hailey paused. “Accomplices. One of the guys at the bar in Tacoma.”
”You said you never saw Hendricks there.”
”No, but one of his guys stood out. He’s a cop—or at least, he was a cop. He had a badge.”
”Openly?” Aderholt was interested now. “Could you tell what department?”
”No… I don’t think it was even from Tacoma. I’m not sure.”
”If I get you examples of every police badge from the area, you think you could identify it?”
Aderholt nodded. “Well, that’s a start. I take it you gotta run though. Got your big fuckin’ show tonight.”
Hailey checked her watch, and sure enough, it was getting close. If she wanted to be there on time, she had to fly soon. “Yeah.”
He opened a folder and slid a few pieces of paper across the table, along with Hailey’s passport. “In exchange for the previous cooperation agreement, you’ve got provisional clearance to enter restricted airspace for any FBI operation, without notice. Personnel will be instructed of your abilities so they don’t shoot you out of the sky—”
”If they could,” she quipped, unable to resist.
Aderholt took a breath, visibly restraining himself from responding. “Our office would appreciate advance notice when possible though. There’s also instructions here on how to contact us through secure channels. Finally, this paper—” He lifted one to the top. “—indicates that the state recognizes your personal contributions to the town of Rallsburg and will not pursue any potential crimes that may or may not have been committed therein. This includes an agreement co-signed by the DA and the Washington state governor’s office.”
Even though Hailey didn’t think she’d committed any crimes even worth talking about, it was still reassuring to have it in writing. Who knew what they might try to make up just to hold her down? Things had gotten so violent toward the end… She took the paper and handed it to Jefferson, who nodded.
”Your lawyer will get the full version later, that’s just a summary.” Aderholt stood up. “We’ll be shifting our operations in the Northwest with this new information. Any further assistance you’re interested in rendering to your country is greatly appreciated. I’ve been asked to inform you that the Bureau is prepared to offer you a full-time position as an expert thaumaturgical consultant.”
”A what consultant?”
”Magic.” Aderholt rolled his eyes. “One of the FAA nerds back there begged for the name.”
”Offer stands, no need to accept it right now.” He pulled out a folded envelope and handed it over. “Look it over when you got time.”
As Aderholt put his hand on the door, he turned back. “One more thing.”
She was still thrown off he was acting so polite suddenly. Compared to most of their conversation, this was unsettling. “Yeah?”
”Hendricks. He has a daughter, right? We never found her.”
”Checkin’ against the list of bodies. There were only like four or five kids. She was the only one unaccounted for.”
Hailey hesitated. “I don’t know where she is.” Not technically a lie… I haven’t really talked to her in forever, and I have no idea where she actually lives in Seattle.
”You don’t, huh?” Aderholt frowned. “You know, we never had a picture of her, so we couldn’t exactly put out an alert. But say we had one now—”
”Don’t,” said Hailey, cutting him off. He raised his eyebrows. “Trust me. Just… just don’t. She’s had enough.”
”What if she’s in trouble?”
”She’s not.” Hailey shook her head. “She knows what her dad did. Don’t make her famous on top of that. Let her be a normal kid.”
Aderholt stared for a few seconds. Finally, he nodded. “You got it.”
”I’ll be watching tonight. Don’t screw it up.” With that, he pulled open the door and walked out of the room. Hailey slumped back in her chair, waiting for the telltale burst of relief telling her she’d done the right thing—that she was on the right path, helping people, doing what she needed to do.
It never came.
A couple seconds of awkward silence, then a light flicked off above the audience.
”Back in five!”
”Jesus, five minute commercial breaks,” Russ muttered. “They’re milking this for everything they can.”
”Was that okay?” Hailey asked, while innumerable conversations broke out in the crowd. Everyone stayed stock-still in their seats though. She wasn’t sure if she could move. “I felt like I did okay.”
”You were perfect. Just keep it up, you’ll be great.” Russ stood up, stretching out. “Next segment’s gonna have the other guest. You ready for that?”
”It’s the only reason I’m here.”
Russ raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that?”
Hailey shrugged. “Do I have time to go use the bathroom?”
”Sure. We agreed to equal time for the two of you, so he gets the exclusive for a bit. You won’t be on screen, even if you’re here.”
”Okay.” Hailey stood up. “Thanks, by the way.”
”Making this easy.”
”That’s my job.”
”He’s not here, is he?” she asked tentatively.
”…I have no idea, actually. That’s between his people and the studio. He’s on in five though, so I’m assuming he is.” Russ shrugged. “He’s the most paranoid guest we’ve ever had, I can tell you that.”
Hailey nodded, thanked him again, and left the stage in a hurry. Someone pointed her to the bathrooms, which Hailey found mercifully empty. She relieved herself, cleaned up and took another deep breath. The pressure, which had vanished entirely out on the stage, returned tenfold now that she was alone.
She stared herself down in the mirror. You’re doing just fine. All you have to do is be yourself. You’re showing them that humans have nothing to be scared of. Just be yourself. She repeated the mantra over and over, but it didn’t help.
A crackling sound. The countertop crunched under Hailey’s hands. She twisted around.
Her soft gray eyes were fixed on the cracks that had splintered out from Hailey’s grip. “Are you okay?”
”Yeah, totally.” Hailey brushed her hair out of her face and put on her usual smile. “Where have you been? We haven’t talked in forever.”
”I’ve been… I’ve been traveling.”
”That sounds fun.” Hailey leaned back against the counter, trying to act casual. “Anywhere nice?”
”…Not really.” Beverly bit her lip, then nodded at the counter. With another crackling sound, almost like the ripple of snapping wood, the countertop melded back together into a single piece—brand new. “I saw you on TV.”
”Yeah, about that…” Hailey glanced at the door. “I’m supposed to go back on in a couple minutes.”
”It’s okay. We’re uhh… well we’re kinda in a… a bubble, I guess?”
”We can talk as long as we want.”
”You can do that?”
”Yeah… I learned it from watching… someone else. And I just take it a lot further.” Beverly’s gaze fell to the ground. “I can do a lot of things now.”
Hailey’s first instinct was to ask her to teach it, but she knew Beverly never would—if the spell was even possible for Hailey to cast. Despite being leaps and bounds above normal awakened, there was still a tier above her, one Hailey was itching to climb. “What did you want to talk about?”
”I don’t know. I just thought… well, you looked like you needed a break. Maybe get away.”
Hailey shook her head. “It’s just jitters. I felt totally fine out there.”
”Hailey…” Beverly glanced at the countertop again.
”Seriously. Everything’s great.” Except we’re still being hunted, and the FBI is making things way harder than they need to be, and I didn’t tell Rupert any of this was gonna happen, and Hugo still hates me, and I feel awful about ignoring Natalie, and my mom’s gonna get even more grief over this, and I still have no idea what’s going to happen when Cinza’s books get published tomorrow, and I still haven’t got a clue how to help Jessica—
”If you’re sure.” Beverly pressed her hands to her temples.
”Are you okay?” asked Hailey hesitantly.
”Yeah… just tired.”
”There’s still a lot of readings?”
”I didn’t… I didn’t realize how many pieces there were,” she murmured. “It’s too much.”
Hailey put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay.”
Beverly shook her head. “…You can’t know that. But… thank you.”
”What are friends for?”
She smiled. “I gotta go, before I get too tired. Good luck.”
Hailey’s hand fell through the suddenly open air as Beverly vanished with a tiny gust of wind. Actual teleportation. I wish I could pull that off… The muffled noise of the studio outside resurfaced and filled her ears. The band was playing filler music during the commercial break for the audience. Like she’d implied, no time had passed for Hailey during their conversation, somehow.
Hailey washed her face in the sink, trying to get back into focus. She adjusted her hair slightly, then wandered back out onto the set. The sound guy was waiting for her, and quickly double-checked her microphone setup to make sure nothing was off. She didn’t notice. She was anticipating—along with the crowd, the stage manager, Russ at his desk, and everyone in the world watching—the arrival of the other special guest of the night.
The whole reason she’d agreed to this little show and dance.
I’m gonna remind him who he’s dealing with.
”Welcome back, welcome back everyone. Welcome back to the Evening Show, where we’re performing live tonight, which means everything you see and hear is actually happening. No fancy post-production or CGI tricks.” Russ grinned at the camera. “Now, this is the part where I wanted to do some of our live screen effects, but my writers told me something about staying authentic… and my censors told me we just couldn’t get away with it.”
Hailey glanced around from her spot on the couch. She’d decided to go back on stage right away, rather than get another introduction, but she wasn’t going to be on screen for a while. She assumed that Russ was building up to Nate’s introduction, but he surprised her by turning right to her.
”So in that case, we’ll just rely on special effects from our special guest tonight, Hailey Winscombe!”
The screen swapped to her, and the band played a music sting. Hailey managed to recover quickly, waving to the applauding crowd and putting on a smile. Where is he?
”Hailey, thanks again for joining us tonight.”
She nodded. “It’s been a lot of fun.” Not lying, either… Russ is a nice guy, and who doesn’t love showing off in front of the whole world? But… where is he? Don’t forget why you’re here, Hales.
”Glad to hear it.” Russ glanced over at the camera. “I hope you don’t mind we dragged you back for round two here. Our other guest of the night is having a bit of trouble finding the studio, apparently.”
Hailey laughed. “Trust me, that’s not new for him.”
”Careful, we don’t want to spoil the surprise.” Russ glanced around conspiratorially and lowered his voice. “But if you want to feel like sharing a story or two while we wait, I bet the censors are quick enough to catch his name.”
”How fast are they?” Hailey asked, glancing up at the booth of panels and sensors where she assumed the censor would be. “His name is Porcupine Williams the Fifth.”
Russ stared at her blank-faced for a couple seconds, before cracking a grin. “Apparently, they had to blur your whole face, just in case we got any expert lip-readers watching. Our contract was very specific. I think we’re already in trouble for saying ‘he’, but I’ll let that one slide just for you.”
I don’t remember anything like that in the agreement I signed. I wonder what would happen if I just told everyone? No, you’re here to be the better half. Give them a good impression, make it a fair fight. Wait for him to show up.
”I wouldn’t want to talk behind his back, Russ,” Hailey said smoothly, without too much time wasted. “We’ll give him a little more time.”
”Fair enough! Back to you then, if you don’t mind.”
”Oh, I’m an open book.”
”Speaking of books,” Russ continued. “I’d be amiss if I didn’t bring up the one everyone’s talking about. The Rallsburg Diaries,” he added in a spooky voice. “That’s what set off this whole crazy weekend, right?”
”That’s the one.”
”Now, we’ve all read the teasers, and I’m sure there’s a couple thousand people with them open waiting to yell at me for misquoting, so I’m not even going to try. We’ll just stick to the basics, sound good?”
Hailey nodded. “I haven’t gotten to read it, so that sounds great to me.”
Russ was good at acting genuinely shocked. “You haven’t? But you’re in it!”
”The guy who stole them didn’t bother to send me a copy,” she explained with a shrug. Too hostile. Dial it back a bit, Hales. Give him something else to follow up on. “But I do know the author.”
”Ah, the mysterious Cinza.” Russ glanced over the crowd. “You can answer one right off the bat then—is she for real?”
”Well, yeah. I just talked to her yesterday before I flew out here.”
”And for the sake of copy-editors everywhere, she doesn’t happen to have a last name, does she?”
”Not that I know of.”
Russ smiled apologetically for the camera. “A big sorry to all my friends back at the Times and the New Yorker. I tried.” He turned back to Hailey. “Well, speaking as one of the lucky few who got to read the whole thing, I’ll let you in on a secret.”
”You’re allowed to?” she joked.
”At the risk of my lawyers mobbing the stage… you come across really well in the book.”
”No, I’m serious!” Russ smiled. “Whoever she is, Cinza clearly thinks very highly of you. And I have to say, my heart broke at a few passages about your struggles.”
Hailey shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Thanks.”
”And after what you almost pulled off at the end… Can you talk about that?”
She nodded. “It was a crazy plan, but it’s the best one we could think of.”
”You weren’t the one coordinating it, but you still played a pretty important part, right?”
”Yeah. I was one of the people actually doing the ritual.”
”And it came very close… but you got interrupted.”
”…Yeah.” Hailey winced. “We almost had it. Cinza saved us, but it was close.”
”And if you’d pulled it off, you would’ve got him, right?”
”Well, that was the idea, yeah. Put together a ritual so strong that no matter where he was, he couldn’t block it or get away.”
”To protect the town?”
”Well yeah. We were the only ones that could. I mean, if you know what we were up against? Humans like you couldn—”
Hailey’s phone buzzed on her belt, way too loud. There was no way the cameras didn’t pick it up—and from the way the audience reacted, they’d all heard it too. She’d forgotten to turn it back to silent after the commercial break. She frantically tapped it off, and Russ helped by jumping to another question.
”You’ve been in hiding since May, right?”
”You know, they did a ton of coverage on you after the Incident. What we like to call ‘puff pieces’.”
She grimaced. “I saw them.”
”Too embarrassing?” Russ asked, smiling slightly.
”Seriously. Way too much.” Hailey glanced out at the audience. “But hey, I’m not dead, so you guys can stop running those. Cool?”
”They had plenty of other stories too. Like all the other students who stayed over the summer.” He frowned. “And with their families.”
Hailey hesitated. Where’s he going with this…? “I remember.”
”Don’t you think they deserved to know how their children passed?”
”I…” Hailey faltered. His tone was way darker. More serious. What just happened?
Russ didn’t let up. “I did one interview myself, as a special piece for my friends back at the Times. Mrs. Aleida Nelson, out in Portland.” When Hailey didn’t answer, he continued. “Alex Nelson’s mother.”
Like a bell chiming in her head, Hailey realized who he was talking about. “I wasn’t—”
”I’m not saying it’s your fault, but you could have told her,” Russ went on. The studio was dead silent. Not a laugh from the audience. Hailey looked around nervously, and everyone else seemed as caught off-guard as she felt—with one exception. The stage manager had a satisfied smirk on her face, half-hidden behind her clipboard. “He was your friend. We all saw the pictures. You could have told a grieving mother why her son was dead.”
”I didn’t even know,” Hailey said quietly.
”You found out at the town hall meeting, the same as everyone else,” Russ pointed out. “While Jaysmith Miller’s parents, Christina Albrecht’s sister, and a whole lot of other people were unaware that their families were being murdered.”
”They only found out when I called them this morning,” Russ went on. “Finally giving them the answers they’ve been searching for since May—six months ago.”
Hailey shook her head. What do I do? Shout him down? He’s not wrong. And I’m live in front of the whole world. What’s going on? This was supposed to be light and easy. She felt like Russ had just stabbed her in the back, in front of hundreds of millions of people.
”The floor’s open, Hailey. You’ve got the world listening. Say whatever you like.” Russ stared at her coldly. “Tell us humans your side of the story.”
Hailey opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Minutes passed, with Hailey just looking back and forth between a couple different cameras and the monitor showing her face. Alone, on screen, with nobody to play off. She was the center of attention, but all the thrill and joy was totally gone.
I don’t know what to do… If I don’t do anything, Jessica’s going to barge in here, and everything will get even worse… Say something. Say anything! What’s wrong with you, Hailey?
The stage lights flickered off. The lamp indicating they were live went black.
”Power glitch?” asked Russ, glancing around.
A harried-looking man on a phone rushed down the stairs from the booth. “We have to shut down. Right now.”
”What’s going on?”
The crowd started to murmur. Hailey was still frozen on the couch, watching the proceedings like she weren’t even there. Her phone buzzed again on her belt, but her brain barely registered it. Russ got up and started talking in a low voice with his assistant.
Hailey could still hear every word.
”We’re being sued. Along with Pro Paradigm and anyone else who’s done any piece on the book.” The assistant held out a slip of paper. “Emergency injunction came down ten minutes ago. They’re claiming libel, defamation, privacy issues, and gross negligence and disregard to public safety. We have to stop the broadcast.”
”Libel and defamation for what?” asked Russ, now audibly angry. “She admitted it on camera, unpressured. We didn’t claim a thing.”
”It’s not Hailey, or her lawyers.”
”Who the hell—”
The assistant gulped. “Kendra Laushire.”