Amy was at her desk when Erickson approached. She hadn’t been there long, she just needed to grab some office supplies and pick up her in-box before heading home to work. She glanced at yesterday’s front page. There was a face in the crowd behind Rodriguez, someone who was familiar. Where she was standing, it was hard to tell if she was another witness waiting to talk to police, or just a rubbernecker. She didn’t feel recent, but not too far in the past.

Erickson coughed his polite cough for attention. Hard to believe he still thought the noise was polite in this, a time of plague. At least his mask looked thick and snug. “I wanted to say to you personally, I think you did a good job on the Rodriguez interview. I hear she was pretty freaked out, I mean of course she was, and you handled her gently.”

“Thank you.” Most likely, he was warming up to something that would take guts to ask. She hoped it didn’t come with an educational lecture. If he started that, he could be here a while. Last time, she got so bored, she thought about gargling her coffee to see what he would do. She was still revising the piece on Wyatt’s grieving family, and needed to get back to it.

“I need you to use the same delicacy when dealing with the public at large right now, they’re freaking out. Some people are angry at the protesters, saying that they interfered with the police’s ability to chase the person who attacked Wyatt. There’s a rising rumor that his murderer was one of them, and that they know who it is, but are keeping quiet.”

“Well, that’s not fair, those protesters came to his aid even when he had been a giant ass to them the whole time. Without Rodriguez and the protesters giving chase and showing cops where to go, they never would have been able to keep up with the woman. Besides, Wyatt’s sister is involved in the protests, and she’s still active out there. I drove by her this morning. If they were hiding someone, she wouldn’t still be going along with it.” She started to understand why he was buttering her up. People are angry, and if they turn on each other, Liffey would be just another riot.

“That’s another thing. Some people are saying it might not have been a woman who attacked him. They were athletic, and certainly strong. It could have been a slender man, one of those with a cyclist type body, big calves and such. Someone built for the kind of parkour moves he was doing. Not to be insensitive, but did Rodriguez say she saw actual breasts?” He made the motion with his hands out from his chest, just in case she forgot what breasts were. Bless him.

“We didn’t cover it. She seemed confident it was a woman though.” He had a point. It was dark. She saw someone with long hair but through bushes. She saw them more clearly when they leapt the fence, but they had a body on their shoulder, they would have still been partially covered.

“Some people are saying it’s possible it might be your old buddy Brand.” That got her attention. She would need to be careful. She did not want people knowing she was still interested in Brand, the rumors about her obsession with the lost figurine were a little too close to home.

“Brand? I’m sure he’s dead. I don’t think he would have stayed quiet this long.” Don’t forget the practiced, casual flip of the wrist.

“Well, if he’s been out in one of the caves, there’s no barbers out there, he wouldn’t have been getting very chunky living off of bunnies and deer. He would have long hair and a slender build, like the person who was seen eating Wyatt’s ear. And there were body parts in that hotel room with him, what if that was set out for dinner? You know, maybe we thought it was an altar, but it was just his sick version of a candlelit supper?” He leaned against her door frame, waiting for her feedback on his pet theory.

“I don’t know. I followed his trail for a while, and every sighting of him came up with nothing. He’s just an urban legend now. If he’s alive, he probably hopped a train.” There was all of our missing people though.

“You know as well as I do how many campers go missing in Liffey,” Oh, Erickson had noticed that too. “There’s a lot of uncharted caves out there. Brand seems like he may have been a resourceful type. Witnesses said the attacker was wearing a tank top and super short denim cutoffs, no shoes, right? Cops were saying it’s because the guy was probably on drugs, got all hot and sweaty so he put on his summer gear. Thus the super strength, he’s all hopped up. But what if it’s also because he’s been hiding out in those caves? Needing to learn to chase deer for dinner. He wouldn’t exactly have access to the mini-mall to pick up a jacket, he’d have to wear what he could find in the woods.” Aww, he was as excited as a puppy dog. Listen to him go on. Interesting though.

“What if it’s an athletic woman on drugs, giving her the strength to toss Wyatt over her shoulder? He wasn’t that big of a guy.”

“I suppose it’s possible. Just doesn’t seem very likely, no offense to your gender. What’s wrong with a dude with long hair?”

“Nothing. I just don’t think Brand would be quiet this long, he seemed pretty unstable. It could be a guy, though. Maybe even a guy hiding out in the caves. But if a woman was out in the caves doing the same thing, she could get strong too.”

“Anyway, Finkle thinks we should make the public more aware that there is the possibility Brand is involved. Help to keep the public from turning on each other if they have a common enemy. I agree that we should encourage that.” Ah, Finkle. The warm up was to encourage her to butt kiss the mayor, forgo objectivity for bias, for the sake of the masses, whose needs so frequently lined up with what the mayor needed at the time.

Erickson continued, “Wyatt was a small business owner. And he had a family, two young kids. Now he has a grieving widow. He’s become a hero for local Republicans, he died protecting his property. On the other side, like you said, it’s a little unfair to be putting this on the protesters, I’m with you, I don’t think it was one of them and I don’t think they got in the way. And Finkle’s right, we don’t want them turning on each other, we’re a hair’s breadth from a riot out there.” At least he wasn’t trying to let chaos reign so he could sell papers.

It seemed so unlike Finkle though, to not be using the chance to lift up Wyatt as a martyr to further his political agenda. He was usually a shining example of corruption, greed, and self-interest. Amy supposed he preferred his business to remain quiet. He might think national attention could mean people start looking more closely at rumors.

Tulley burst in, slapping the edge of her door with a thwack that made her jump. His blond hair looked like he had been pulling on it while writing again. “Congratulations, I hear you get to dive into your creepy occult shit again.”

Oh wonderful, Erickson already opened his big mouth. The rumors have already started. Great. “Looks like I’ll be writing about Brand, if that’s what you mean.”

“Well, you are the expert on occult artifacts and all. Our little creepshow lover. Full of spooky woo-woo?”

“I wrote about one statue, connecting a series of events together. It was October, the readers loved it.” Amy hoped he never found out exactly how much time and effort she spent following up on the strange little statue.

“It’s true. Some of our readers love that babbling creepy shit.” He dismissed her with a flick of his chin. “James, they got that layout ready for you.” He vanished as suddenly as he came. She did adore how the man hated pleasant chit chat, she couldn’t imagine trying to have a conversation with him.

“Right, gotta go. You still have a friend at the morgue, right? Go see if there’s anything solid they’ve overheard. See if they can poke around about a possible connection to Brand. I’ll get someone else to revise your story on the family.”

“Will do.” Well, she’d talk to Janie. She certainly wouldn’t try to slant things toward a man who was probably dead, but she might be able to find something real that could point people away from blaming protesters. That will be enough to keep Erickson happy.

P.S – This is the second of my posts for Grim List, a day late but la, life. The first prompt I did was Illusion, and I have posted an excerpt from the story she wrote about the object, which happens to be inspired by a prompt from Grim List last year.