Hattley had finally gotten some sleep. But, she awoke to the tweets.
They came faster than she could read them.
Aliens apparently kill elderly couple #graythreat @freedomfellows
Elderly NRA official shoots to death 1 gray monster; 2nd kills him, wife #aliensmustgo @mygunsforever
How many more will die? Feds must say how they will deal with ‘Gray Threat’ @FBI @CIA @Whitehouse @libertyisnotfree
Remember Harley and Velma! We will avenge them! @minutemenbranson #graysmustdie
Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, was the first politician to weigh in on Twitter.
“Where is Obama? Where was the Air Force? How were killer aliens able to land in USA?” @makeAmericagreat #killersfromsky
He also fired off another one, then just as quickly pulled the tweet back. Hattley made a note of it:
“Black. Brown. Yellow. Red. No, the real threat to USA is GRAY.” #killersfromskies #graythreat
Headlines and stories offered some detail, but not much. The deaths had happened only hours earlier and reporters were being kept at bay at that scene, too.
One headline on a local website said: “Branson couple dead near scene aircraft crash; apparent alien body also found”
Another, brief from CNN was headlined: “Sheriff: Gunfire preceded deaths of Branson couple, alien”
A Branson newspaper had this headline: “Coroner on scene but no cause of death yet for Branson couple, alien”
Hattley knew the coroner who would be working this case; he had been a good source in the past and she knew he would help her if he could. She also had successful dealings with the Taney County sheriff, though her last story had pissed him off.
She texted her editor, Amos, that she would try to reach those two officials. His reply surprised her.
“CNN wants interview. Work the deaths but then get ready to Skype.”
Huh? Me? CNN? Why? Hattley shook her head to make sure she was totally awake.
As she thought it through, it made sense. She had probably gotten closest to the gray visitors than any reporters — before the feds swooped in.
Too close, she worried. Amid all the excitement, she hadn’t taken enough time to consider what had happened with the gray creature near the big balloon. How he had grabbed her leg, how she felt. Was that news? How could she explain it?
She needed to tell someone, probably Amos, but she worried she would sound crazy.
How would she describe what had happened? Could she explain it? Could she stay objective toward the creatures? Would she get pulled off the story?
The biggest story of her life, she thought. Maybe the biggest that would ever drop in her lap.
No answer on the coroner’s private cell. She left an urgent and pleading message. The phone for the sheriff’s office went straight to voice mail; it probably had hundreds of messages by now. Still, she tried reminding him that they had talked before and she stressed how she could give him the chance to comment for a big story to a local reporter, one who knew the Branson area and its people.
She also played on his ego, telling him that whatever he told her would probably, eventually, reach millions across the country.
She decided to confide in Amos and to ask for advice about CNN.
“Hey, I need some …”
He cut her off. “You OK with the Skype?” he asked, without trading any pleasantries. “Contact them asap. I texted you info. I got Julie waiting on the other line.”
“Yeah, I can do the interview from the car, but …”
“Good. Just stick to the facts with those TV folks. Make sure they get your name right. It’ll be good for your brand. Make sure they have our name right, too. Say who we work for and more than once, OK? Give yourself some credit, too.
“You’re doing great. Gotta go.”
“I gotta go. Julie texted that she might have pix of the dead gray thing. Text me later.”
He was gone.
Hattley didn’t have time to allow herself to get more nervous. The coroner texted her to come meet with him.
“Nothing on record yet. But swing by the morgue. You can’t come inside. Wait by the ambulance bay. FBI everywhere. Tough to do my job.”
“Shit,” Hattley said aloud, worrying about a total federal clampdown on information. She grabbed her laptop and car keys.
She would stop and do the Skype from the lot of the coffee shop, she thought, sitting at her kitchen table long enough to scan other news sites covering the aircraft crash. No one had photos from the shooting scene. Good for Julie if she got them.
Wait. Take that back. There was one photo, partially blurred, sent to one of the local TV station, probably by a rescue worker or a neighbor who likes monitoring the scanner and made it to the scene early, before the authorities cracked down on rubberneckers. The shot was mostly tarp but the caption said three bodies were underneath.
Enlarging it, Hattley saw the stock of a rifle in the top corner. She could also make out what looked like a woman’s work boot in the bottom right. Scrolling further left, she thought at first she was looking at a hand print in mud.
She gasped and moved her open palm to her mouth when she realized what was actually pictured.
A hand stuck out from under the tarp. It was gray. It had those long fingers. On the index finger was a ring, a distinctive ring. It was silver. It had an orange hypocycloid.