It was my job.
To hunt her, to track her like an animal.
Not to hurt her, you understand. Not physically anyway, at least not deliberately. Just to catch her doing something we could exploit. Being caught en flagrante delicto with another guy would be a major, major coup. We salivated over that possibility. If I didn't like the hunt so much enough to keep working in spite of the payoff, I'd be able to retire just off those proceeds alone.
I worked for The Eye. I know you've seen the flimsy on every checkout stand and every I-Café. And in every net ad. Even if you are too high minded to buy it or read it, you've heard of us. We were the best, or the worst, depending on how you looked at it, of the game. And I was the top razz of the top rag. I loved the game, and my job. Even if the current hot subject was an unprepossessing little college professor who had the crazy notion to hook up with an alien ambassador.
At first it was just a footnote in our rag, at the most a tiny box insert leading to a story within. But when the editors realized people were buying out any edition that had her picture on the fronts piece, she got moved up to full covers and I got put on her full time.
I didn't think the assignment would last long.
Or that it would be the end of my career.
It was a story meant for the rags – human girl marries alien ambassador. It had everything, sex, romance, moral outrage, the flare of the exotic, a tinge of horror at what some suspected was to be her ultimate fate. We haven't evolved too much in twenty centuries of recorded history, nor in the last three when we first started seriously considering the possibility of alien life. And she was the first, you see, at least the first prominent enough for anyone to care about. He'd just been another alien Ambassador whose system had joined the Federation. She was just another college professor, albeit with a touch of fame for being a Nobel Laureate. But then they became an item, and the public's attention was captured and it began to clamor for stories. And The Eye aims to deliver.
She didn't seem inclined to give us the secret human lover that we'd hoped for, that we all hung around and dogged her every footstep to find, but the public wouldn't have liked that anyway. Not at this stage. Time enough for that later. Now they were still enamored of the fairy tale romance part of the story. But she was still hot news regardless of that ultimate and eventual scandal. And every day made for a new front page that had to be filled. So for now we'd had to settle for lesser things.
Waiting around for her to appear, we'd yarn about what we love to catch her doing. Short of the ultimate scandal, sneaking out to grab a hamburger would be great fun copy, given she'd moved into the vegetarian Vulcan embassy after her marriage. But we never caught her doing that, either.
Of course, fights with her Vulcan always made the page. Fortunately she had a temper, and at least in the beginning days of their courtship, she was less circumspect about showing it. Every frown, every argument, even better a clout from her to him, was good enough for a headline, and a sellout rush on a paper full of front page speculation about whether the interstellar romance was over. I caught a few of her temper tantrums on camera before they got married. But she got wiser about that as time went on.
Catching him out would be good too. But I wasn't assigned to him. Just as well because he was duller for this sort of journalism. Unless he was with her, he wasn't likely to do anything that would generate our kind of news. There were traditional reporters on him covering the legitimate news he was making. But that didn't interest our readers.
I wasn't legitimate. Not in that way.
Tabloid reporter. Scandal net. Paparazzi. Razz for short. That was me. And it was as good a title as any to describe what I did. And as I was the best, I got the sweetest target, and that was her. She might not have known it, but from the day my editor put me on her trail, she occupied most of my waking thoughts. I was lucky I was so good. There were worse assignments.
I talked to the razz covering the Vulcan and they lamented their fate. The best his hunters could hope for when he wasn't with her was to catch him unbending even remotely with some young Vulcan woman, or even another human, so they could run the suggestion he was thinking of straying. That the fairytale was over for him. But his behavior was too circumspect. And his security was too tight. Plus, his picture alone just didn't generate the same kind of sales rush. Aliens were not news, it was the unlikely union between the two of them that was. After a couple of months the rags all gave up on him and pulled off his personal razz onto other assignments. He was effectively dead as far as the rags were concerned. At least until he did something interesting.
So I ended up covering him too by default, but only when he was with her. Women liked him, but they needed to see her with him before they could imagine themselves in that picture. She made him human. Accessible in a way he ordinarily wasn't. She was the real news story, the modern Cinderella, the interstellar princess, the one whose picture on the cover could guarantee a sales boost, particularly if it was a good one, something juicy.
In the beginning, we needed something every day. Things that would never make a cover for anyone else were golden for her. I was one of the first ones to realize how the dynamic was different for them as opposed to some other actor/actress couple, or any famous human. Just catching them doing something completely normal together, so long as he was with her, was newsworthy. I paid off my vacation cabin with a shot of the two of them holding hands and eating ice cream cones in the park. When they left the snows and ice of Geneva to take a vacation during a recess in the Federation Council, a snap of them in swimsuits in a remote beach paid for my Ferrari. They were good for me, and I got good at capturing them.
Sometimes, if news was really slow, we razz would collude together and engineer a pushing and shoving stampede or scuffle just for a picture of him putting his arm protectively around her. It was like that. We didn't feel any sense of remorse about it, even if we made it convincing enough to see the hint of fear in her eyes.
Of course she wasn't dumb. She got wise to that. So did he, unfortunately. His response wasn't just the protecting arm. In a heavy handed manner that belied his diplomacy, he stepped up her security, put Vulcan guards on her nearly full time. That made our lives harder, so we learned to back off. Anyway, only the first couple of pictures of that sort of thing were news. Like the first picture of her giving him a quick hug or kiss. They saw it splashed around on fifty billion vidscreens and she became more circumspect. But that's part of the game. We just had to keep after them. Dig deeper.
Fortunately she hated the guards, any guards. If they made our lives harder, they made her miserable. And since she really didn't scare too easily – sort of goes without saying, having married a Vulcan -- even with the heavier guard, she often managed to sneak out, elude them, evade them, and get away alone. We still had faint hopes she was meeting some secret lover, and ran some insinuating stories about that, but we all followed her enough to realize that she just hated being cooped up.
That didn't leave us with the most exciting copy, but in this business we don't get to pick our assignments. We can try to play something up, for news, but in the end the public chooses what it wants to see, by cover sales. I was the first of the razz to realize she made good copy doing almost anything. Buying candy. Playing baseball. Ice skating on Lake Geneva. Wearing shorts and running shoes, her hair in two long braids. Laughing at a good joke. She was the human who'd gone off into an unknown alien, Vulcan world. The public were enchanted to see that she could come back out of it and still do normal ordinary human things. That she was real. They wanted to touch her, shake her to see if she was real. Our copy was the next best thing for them.
But I needed other pictures too. Candid shots that showed she was a real person were only good if we kept alive her Cinderella, fairy tale image. That was the easiest part because there was plenty of opportunity for that sort of thing, even for the legitimate press. Both of them in fancy dress, her hair up, studded with jewels, him in an elaborately embroidered tunic, at symphonies, in ballrooms and glittering embassy parties. We all took pictures of that. The public ate it up like the candy it was, sat up and begged for more. They wanted their fairy tale princess to shine. And we aimed to please.
But we razz were the ones who followed her even, or especially, when she took her hair down. And I was the best, the most persistent of all. On a good day I took hundreds of pictures of her. And any day I had access to her was a good day. We couldn't get into her classes, or the Vulcan embassy, but we had access to her at most public functions. And I followed her to and from even those places I couldn't get into.
I liked tracking her. She was a good subject. Interesting. Photogenic. Not the usual shallow minded movie star, nor a raving beauty who was all front, like a stage set. Not that she wasn't pretty enough -- in an ordinary girl next door kind of way. And she almost never took a bad picture. That was a definite plus. Believe me, too many of the so-called incredible film star beauties need all the technological bells and whistles done to their images to maintain that allure. Or that you have to take hundreds of stills before finding one that you can use, that keeps up that fiction. She might have been only pretty enough, but with her, what you saw was what you got.
She wasn't a phony in other ways either. We would have caught her out, eventually, all the people shadowing her, if she was. She had a real brain under those schoolgirl looks. She could not only hold her own in an interview, she could take it over. The legit reporters began to grow positively wary of how she had learned to always come out on top in their encounters.
We razz all laughed at that. Of course, our kind weren't interested in interviewing her. Truth wasn't really part of our journalistic style.
Though for all our scumming insinuations otherwise, she loved her husband. Just her smile alone, the one she gave him when they caught up with each other at the end of the day, was proof of that. And after months of following them around everywhere with a high powered zoom lens, peering at them under magnification, I got pretty adept at reading his expressions too, more so than most humans. I could tell from the way he looked at her, that he felt that way about her too.
He loved her. She loved him. We splashed it over the tabloids daily with high powered zoom lens images. The whole Federation got caught up in that love affair. It was no wonder the public fell in love with them. It was good for us, and would be better if and when the fairy tale crashed down into reality. Then we'd really cash in.
And as for me? I spent eighteen, nineteen hours a day shadowing her. Waiting until she appeared in the morning. Hanging out at her school, or some building I couldn't enter, until she appeared again. Following her until she disappeared into the embassy at night. Taking hundreds of stills of her in every conceivable dress from shorts and sneakers to business suits to ball gowns. I knew her every smile, her dancing eyes when she was amused, her narrowed stare when she felt challenged, the slight line between her brows and the tension in her shoulders, the way she nibbled her lower lip when she was nervous. The frown when she was displeased. The scowl and temper she showed when she was truly angry, more than once complete with a clout at the target of it when she had really lost her temper.
I caught her kissing her Vulcan husband, hugging him, doing that two fingered touch that was the Vulcan equivalent, dancing with him, fighting. Crying. Slamming her aircar doors and gunning her aircar engine to get away from him when they were still courting and she was miffed. I had looked at her through that close up lens in a thousand situations. I knew her like a hunter knows his prey. Intimately. Every flicker of an eyelash, every pore on her skin, every breath, measured or hasty. At least, as much as I could see through a camera lens, she was utterly familiar to me. I followed her, took the photos, edited them, pored over them, picking out the best to send on to my impatiently waiting editors. I probably spent more time with her, even though at the end of a long distance lens, or staring at her printed image, than her husband. I had the front seat on the love affair, the one who saw it all, or nearly all, or as much of it as could be seen. And I passed it onto the voyeuristic public.
Maybe it wasn't any wonder that I found myself becoming enamored of her too. I don't use the words "falling in love". I don't believe in them. They're for marks. For consumer use. Not real.
But that I did was incredible to me. I didn't recognize it at first. I had never had lost myself on a job before. And I'd covered the gamut of the rich and famous. She was a target, a mark. An assignment to put it in the nicest sense. Raw meat in some others. A meal ticket. Prey.
I was the hunter. She was the hunted.
Normally we razz don't think kindly of our marks.
I never called her by her name. None of us did. Marks aren't people.
So one was more surprised than I was that she corrupted me. Captured me. Screwed up my thinking. Caught at what I thought was my non-existent heart.
Maybe it was because most of those I had hunted before didn't have much of a heart to catch.
My editor complained about it first. Charles Baker Winslow, Charlie to his reporters. The descendant of a scion of Fleet Street rag traders. He bragged that his family had been in the business since the Norman Conquest, passing the news along by town criers, long before the printed press existed.
"I'm not seeing news here, Teddy," Charlie said, spreading out images on his desk that I had zipped him the evening before.
"Those are good," I insisted.
"Merely pretty," he dismissed, with a sneer.
"Candy is what the public wants," I argued.
"You know the cycle. We have to keep a balance. It's been a week at least since you showed me something more than candy. Where's the fire, the scandal? I need a fight, some tension. She's only human. You can't tell me she doesn't stray. You gotta give me something."
I rubbed my forehead. "I can't make up scandal that doesn't exist."
"Who are you kidding?" he said, disbelievingly. "That's your stock in trade."
I was mulishly silent.
He blinked and shrugged, his shoulders dropping. "So you've gone cold on her trail. No sweat, baby. It happens to the best. You can trade with Largo. He's showing signs of going stale on the Richardson breakup. And he's eager to get in on this. He's got some fresh ideas. I'll let him know."
Marla Richardson was a 3-D film queen who had delighted the press by marrying an equally prominent star, until her husband, Jeff, had even more delighted the tabs by being caught cheating with the co-star of his latest film. She was gorgeous, he was gorgeous, the co-star was gorgeous. There had been a huge fight, complete with scratches and hair pulling on the movie set, and now there was a huge divorce in progress with all sorts of juicy allegations on both sides about illegal euphorics and spousal abuse and kinky sex games. It was the kind of story a good razz could sink his teeth into and Largo had been giving it full justice. But it was predictable, our basic stock in trade, and had been going on for months. Largo was as old a hand as I was, as dirty, as conniving. He'd done that story credit.
But he'd also casually mentioned to me that he could see all sorts of opportunities to trip out the fairy tale couple in my story, and had insinuated he'd love to help. I wasn't about to hand them over to the likes of him. Even if he was usually me, except for my recent sea change.
"No," I said, brusquely. "I'm not interested in trading."
Charlie shrugged and held his hands out in a gesture that implied his options were limited. "I'll give you another day and use these," he gave the copy a brief disparaging look, "for now. Because we both know you're good. But you know what I need. I can't let this story go stale, not while it is still a major revenue boost. Get me something good -- controversial -- by deadline. Or else." He cut the connection.
I rubbed my unshaven jaw – it was only 5:30 am, 'put the paper to bed' time in our corporate offices, but here I had about an hour to get up, get my morning call to Charlie down to go over yesterday's copy, and be in front of the Vulcan embassy in time to catch the little princess before she went out and about. Today was Saturday, so no teaching, but she often shopped in the morning, for everything from foodstuffs to fancy dress. Sometimes he came along, and they went to the park or a museum instead. I knew their schedule that well. I couldn't afford to be late, especially not today, but I took a few minutes to look over the last few days of copy that I had sent in.
And I saw he was right. I was getting soft on them. On her. It was rare but it could happen to even the best of razz, particularly when you stopped thinking of them as targets and they became people. We spent so much time tied to our targets that we laughingly called it the Stockholm syndrome, after those people who start to identify with their kidnappers. But I wasn't about to become that kind of casualty. I shaved, tossed my gear in a carrybag, including the extra long lenses and dressed in my best running shoes, the better to track and tag. And I hardened my heart. If I couldn't find a scandal today, I'd manufacture one.
Either way, that princess was going to go down.
And about time too…
To be continued…