Just the Facts
by Kerri L. Bennett
It began in an elevator. I walked in after finishing my business on the third floor and found that I wasn’t alone. A man dressed in a dark button up and jeans lounged in the back left corner. He was wearing shades, and I had to wonder at his reasoning since we were indoors. I smiled and he nodded politely as men with manners in the area do.
For a few moments there was silence, and then he said, “I’m Cole.”
“Rachel,” I told him and caught a glimpse of green as he peered at me over his lenses.
“Nice to meet you, Rachel,” he smiled. I noticed the grooves around his mouth, not quite deep enough for dimples.
The elevator had already dipped beneath the second floor without stopping. I was in luck. Neither the ride, nor the conversation would last much longer. “Same here.”
The round button for the first floor lit up. I was already inching toward the door when his finger pressed the emergency stop and we jerked as the car froze in its descent, surely inches away from meeting the outer exit.
“I’m sorry,” he replied when I showed him my shock. “I hope you don’t have any pressing appointments this afternoon.”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” I tried not to vocalize my nervousness.
“Like I said, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re going to make them.”
“Of course I am,” I sounded much calmer than I felt. “I just need you to let go of that button so we can get to the bottom and out the doors.”
“You’ll have to wait a bit for that, then.”
By now the buzzing that had begun when he’d stopped us was mixing with my nerves. It was not a pleasant combination. “What do you want from me?”
“Only for you to listen to my story.”
“But I’ve absolutely no idea who you are! Why would you want my opinion of whatever it is you have to say?”
“Precisely why I need you to hear it.”
“Look, would you just let me out of here? I’ve got somewhere to be.” I tried logic again.
“We all have somewhere to be, but not everyone happens to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Obviously not.” I looked at my watch. I had a good twenty minutes before I would be late. Now if I only knew whether this manic is dangerous or not! “Um, Cole. I can see you need some help here, and I’d be glad to call someone for you or help you find wherever it is you need to go, but you have to let go of the button,” I struggled to sound cordial.
“I appreciate it,” he nodded again. “Did you know that I was a journalist once?”
“That’s nice. I’m a reporter. This is where I work,” I spoke brightly, trying to pretend the situation was normal.
“I figured. They said I was pretty good once upon a time.”
“Did they? Then why aren’t you still writing?”
“Said I lost my edge. Said in this economy, with all the online competition closing down print editions left and right, they couldn’t afford mediocre,” he answered tonelessly.
“So you don’t have the nose for a story anymore. Why not work a beat and then you don’t have to go looking. The scoops come to you,” I suggested.
“No room for a beat reporter. They wanted headlines. They have to sell papers.”
“So work for the competition. In a town this size, there’s got to be a vacancy somewhere. Even in obits.”
“That’s why I came here,” he offered a shade of a smile. “I figured if I could get a job anywhere, it would be The Ledger. It’s where I started.”
“Really? How long ago? I’ve been here two years in June.” He seemed pleased that he’d surprised me. “It isn’t The Times, but then nowadays even The Times isn’t The Times anymore,” I wanted him to laugh at my little joke, but he didn’t. “Though, it’s nice enough,” I tried again.
“Two years,” he stared blankly at the door. “Spent three months in obits and worked my way up from there. By the time I left four years later, I was the cover story above the fold nearly three days a week.”
“That’s amazing. Why’d you leave?”
“The lure of bigger things. The promise of more money, hints of syndication,” he shook his head. “So much for being critically acclaimed.”
“So you took your eye off the ball. Not really the worst thing in the world. Lots of people get seduced by fame. If it’s any consolation, I hear she’s a terrible mistress.”
He grinned at that and pulled off his shades. The glass green of his eyes shone with sin. “You wouldn’t know?”
“No, I wouldn’t.” I answered coldly.
“How is it then, that your name’s above the fold more often than not?”
When I didn’t reply, he pushed farther.
“What would you know about?” he raised a brow in challenge, “Other than research and books, that is? What would you know about life and how to cover it?”
“I know enough,” I spat, hating that my face always got the better of me.
“I’ve heard that before,” Cole raised his head and pinned me with his glass-like gaze, “but I’m not sure I believe it this time.”
He seemed more dangerous than before. I took another step back, putting me farther into the corner. Accordingly he took two steps in my direction. I could feel his breath scattering its warmth across my cheeks.
I shut my eyes, not wanting to see what would come next.
“Apparently, Rachel, neither do you,” he whispered. I could almost feel the movement of his lips against my ear. I braced for the onslaught.
The ding of the door had my eyes flying open. I was alone in the tiny car, pressed tightly into the back left corner. The lobby and my missed appointment with Mr. O’Connor awaited me. Let us hope that Mr. . . I pulled the stationery with The Ledger’s logo out of my coat pocket. Mr. . . . Cole O’Connor was the forgiving sort.