“Oof!” I didn’t hesitate to swing back with an elbow as another reporter attempted to jostle into my space. Did he think that, because I was a woman, and barely over a hundred and ten pounds when soaking wet, that I wouldn’t use every inch of my five feet to keep my spot?
My elbow landed into a gut made soft by too many meals of fast food eaten in a car while on a stakeout or chasing a story, and the man staggered back. He lowered his camera just long enough to shoot me a dirty look before turning his attention back forward. His camera flashed, threatening to blind me if I let my eyes stray sideways.
I turned my attention back forward. Thanks to a combination of showing up early, knowing how to palm a twenty, and managing to catch the eye of Henry, the bailiff, I’d managed to land a prime spot near the front row of the court room’s observation bench. If I didn’t screw up, this might pay off – big time.
The trial had been the most talked-about news item for weeks. Rico Darville, unrepentant murderer, had finally been captured and was going to face the inevitable blow of justice! It didn’t hurt, of course, that Darville had a classic villain’s face, handsome but filled with sneering evil and condescension. Women swooned over him, even as police officers spat on his image and cursed his name.
Now, after more than two weeks of deliberation, the jury had reached a verdict. This was the big moment.
And if I could get my big scoop on this story, I’d be golden. No more scrabbling to find a paper willing to give my freelance stories a shot. This was my ticket to a regular beat, a steady paycheck.
And no fat, smelly male reporter was going to distract me from getting my golden ticket.
A knock on the far door of the courtroom made Henry straighten up from where he’d been standing at a loose semblance of attention. One hand checking the belt that held his holstered revolver, he stepped forward and reached out to open the door.
All around the courtroom, everyone sat up, leaned forward, drew in breath. This had to be him. Darville himself, finally facing justice for his heinous crimes!
“Bastard,” muttered the fat reporter beside me as Darville stepped into the room. He held his head high, turning his sneer on each member of the audience as they greeted him with boos, hisses, and jeers. He stalked into the room, acting as if he didn’t even feel the cuffs on his wrists.
I kept my mouth shut – but my pen flew over my notepad, capturing the atmosphere in words. The sentencing would be the big headline, of course, but setting the stage was an important detail that made good writing sing.
With Henry and another police officer following behind him, Darville stepped into the box to face the judge and jury. The judge, a white-haired boulder-smasher named Hawkins, glared right back at the criminal. Scuttlebutt suggested that Hawkins had demanded the chance to glare down Darville, insisted on being the one to drop the gavel and sentence him.
The foreman of the jury filed in, followed by the other members. There’d been days of fighting over the jury selection; the State didn’t want the slightest possibility of Darville walking free. The foreman, a burly construction worker, looked tired, his jaw unshaven.
“And has the jury reached a verdict, Mister Foreman?” Hawkins called out, raising his leathery voice to smash down the hisses and boos directed towards Darville.
“We have, Your Honor,” the foreman answered. “We find Mr. Darville, the accused…”
All of the reporters leaned forward, the entire section holding its breath. Every eye was locked on the foreman. No one was looking at Darville… except me. I needed to see his reaction to the sentencing, capture it on paper for the headlines.
And so, I was the only one to see his fingers twitch – and the metal cuffs around his wrists drop away.
“Look out!” The words ripped themselves out of my throat, but it felt like time had slowed to molasses. All I could do was watch, horrified, as Darville moved like a snake, his hands shooting out.
An instant later, Henry was falling backwards, his features twisted in surprise. Darville leapt up, landing impossibly balanced on the railing. He bounced up, a marionette on invisible strings, holding something in one hand.
“No sentence for me!” he shouted out, his deep voice cutting through the shock of the surrounded onlookers. Fingers, slack on cameras, didn’t even have the strength to capture the image. “Say goodbye to Rico Darville – you’ll never find me!”
Judge Hawkins managed to find his voice before anyone else. “We have your history, Darville!” he roared, standing up from behind his podium as if he intended to physically attack the criminal. “Even if you reincarnate, we’ll find you! You’ll face justice for your crimes!”
“All false! I’ve lied at every step!” Darville laughed, his eyes glinting with insanity. “You’ll never find me, not until I’m old enough to resume my true pursuits!”
The police officer who’d been standing beside Henry finally managed to wrench his gun free – and Henry’s revolver, in Darville’s hand, barked. The officer took two steps backward, his face twisted in surprise, and then crumpled to the ground as red blossomed across his chest.
“Guilty!” the foreman pushed out; his brain, perhaps, had been jammed and he’d felt the need to finish his previous sentence before the interruption of Darville’s freeing himself.
Darville shot him next. “And there’s my thanks!” he cried gleefully as the foreman fell back, half his face splattered on the rest of the horrified jury. “I find you guilty of being an ass!”
Next, Darville swung around to us, still wearing that insane grin. “Have you got this, newmen?” he called out, laughing as he gestured to us with the smoking revolver.
My tongue moved, my lips opening. “Mr. Darville!” I called out, scarcely aware that I was talking. “What’s your end goal?”
It was the question on the lips of everyone across the country over the last few weeks. He killed with impunity, but why? What did he truly want? What was this monster trying to accomplish?
Darville’s eyes fell on me, and despite my knowledge of the horrors he’d committed, his magnetism electrified me. “My goal?” he repeated, if surprised I’d even ask. “Why, to prove that I am stronger than my biology!”
“I reincarnate,” he declared, “into a new body! Is it my biology that drives me to murder? Or my soul? We shall find out!”
Finally, the alarm seemed to have made it outside the courtroom. The doors flew open, and armed officers came bursting in. But they were too late.
Darville lifted the revolver, placed it beneath his chin. It barked, one more time.
People screamed, some fled the courtroom. Things were quickly devolving into pure chaos.
But I stood there, amid it all, and wrote. And by the time that the newly arrived police had realized what had happened, I was on my way out, notepad clutched in my hands, making a beeline for the Gazette’s offices.
I had my scoop. The biggest twist in the biggest case of the year, and I would be the one with my name on the byline.
I was cashing in my ticket.