She took a deep breath, then checked her tape recorder again and did another mic check. Everything was still in working order. And just in case it wasn’t, she still had her notebook. Though the guards had insisted she use a felt tipped pin instead of anything that could be used as a weapon. That made her even more nervous. What the hell was she doing here?
The job advertisement was something she would have passed by, had she not still be flying a little high from her little adventure under the pier. She’d almost called him up when she realized she’d forgotten to give him back his handcuffs. They’d been sitting on her desk when she’d fired off the resume.
Diana Valerio, intrepid girl reporter. Ace reporter. Oh god, there were footsteps coming down the hall. She set the pen back down and pasted a friendly smile on her face. Somehow, she managed to keep it on as the guards set about securing the prisoner to the other chair. Unlike hers, it had been bolted to the floor. The man they were shackling to it looked every inch the stereotype of a scary black man. He was well over six feet in height, with pounds of prison muscle packed onto this frame. A scar ran down the left side of his face, from hairline to jaw, and she was surprised to see he still had the eye. She could see tattoos visible on his neck as well as on his clean-shaven head, and from the looks of things his nose had been broken several times.
His hands were secured behind his back with heavy duty manacles, and his ankles were also fastened to the chair. The guards didn’t stop there. They also put leather straps on his legs and chest to keep him firmly fastened in place. She found herself hoping he didn’t get an itchy nose. Then she found herself hoping the restraints weren’t actually necessary.
As soon as the guards left the room, she took a deep breath. “Mr. Viteri, thank you for agreeing to my request for an interview.”
“Ma’am.” He inclined his head in her direction. He shrugged. “Guy in the cell next to me owes me ten cigarettes.” His voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant, with a bit of a drawl.
“Um…” She tilted her head. “May I ask why?”
“Told him I was going to be talking to a woman named Diana today. He bet me you’d be more Amanda Waller than Wonder Woman.”
“I hope he pays up.” She smiled. “Is that why you agreed to an interview?” Her new boss hadn’t expected her to get the interview. The man before her had turned away dozens already. Given the man’s predilections, she was fairly confident her looks weren’t why he’d agreed to meet with her.
“Forty requests this month. But yours started with a please and ended with a thank you.” He shrugged again. “I am a southern boy, ma’am. Good manners go a long way.”
“I will keep that in mind.” She nodded.
“You also pointed out that you hadn’t read the books already written about my case. Just the trial notes. Said you wanted to get my side of the story without risking their influencing your views.” He smiled. “That’s the part that got you the interview, ma’am. Reporters should have an open mind.”
“Thank you, Mr. Viteri.” She took a deep breath. “Would you like to start?”
“I’ve got some time.” He winked at her.
“Alright then…” This time the smile was genuinely friendly. She’d been worried he was going to be hostile or confrontational. This might go well. “Shall we start in high school?”
“Rather not.” He shook his head. “High school set the scene, but it isn’t really where things got started.”
“Your lawyer cited bullying…”
“Ma’am, I think the fact that I’m in here kinda suggests he wasn’t a great lawyer.”
“Fair point. So, set the scene for me.” The tape recorder was running, but she picked up the pen anyway.
“I was bullied in high school. Skinny, broke, nerdy, black, and gay.” He nodded. “Pretty much the absolute lowest you could get in Bailey. I skipped a few grades on account of the nerdy, or things might have been different.” He glanced down at himself. “I was kind of a late bloomer.”
“Thing is, that’s a common story. You can walk down the street and run into a dozen people with the same one. High school had good parts and…” He looked up at her. “It bother you if I cuss?”
“I want your words, Mr. Viteri.”
“High school had good parts and shit parts, and on the whole, it didn’t bother me too much. But like I said, it sets the scene. I got bullied particularly hard by a bunch at the top. You know the names.”
She looked down at her notes. “Timothy Bradford, Elliot Mercer, Arlo Velin…” She looked back up at him. “Paden and Tobias Grady.” She didn’t miss the slight flicker across his eyes at the last name.
“High school is the time in your life when you’re still figuring out who and what you are. Where you start making your first real decisions. But it doesn’t define you. That part comes a little bit later. So, uh…” He chuckled a little.
“Mr Viteri?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Sorry, it’s just…” He took a deep breath. “You asked where my story starts and uh…” He shrugged, making the shackles rattle a little. “Hope you’ll forgive me for not being able to resist, but uh…” He smiled. “It really did begin on a dark and stormy night…”