Path: Opening

PATH FINAL COVER small

Path

Chapter 1

“Yes, yes I understand,” Celia’s voice was crisp and just impatient enough. “I got it, John. Look, the flight attendant is walking this way. Cell phones have to be off now.” Without waiting for his answer, she swiped off the call and turned the phone off before dropping it into her briefcase. Then she pulled out the brown envelope before sliding the briefcase under the seat in front of her. After smiling and nodding at the flight attendant as he passed, Celia laid her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. She’d been on enough flights to know they were still 15 minutes from takeoff, so a power nap before they were in the air would energize her. The flight was going to be turbulent; sleep once they took off would be impossible.

Celia had been flying on a regular basis for the better part of a dozen years, and she still hated turbulent flights. The smaller planes were the worst, bouncing over air pockets while she sat strapped into her seat, helpless to do anything but wait. It wasn’t fear, it was the lack of control, her therapist had said years before. Celia smiled at the memory of the woman with the soothing voice who asked the probing questions. That had seemed like a lifetime ago.

It didn’t help that 9/11 had happened the same year Celia had begun her regular travel. No one wanted to board a plane after that. And yet flying away from New York had been a comfort to Celia. She’d proven her mettle interviewing experts and smaller political figures while the rest of the press waited for a chance to interview a grieving family member or broken emergency worker. Not Celia. She felt utterly incompetent in those situations, but she was cool in a detached disaster or an analysis of a tragedy. That was why anytime there was an eruption or tsunami or a plant whose negligence resulted in a terrible explosion, Celia was there interviewing scientists and asking shareholders tough questions. She was relentless, and it had made her famous and comfortably wealthy.

Her body felt it when the plane began to accelerate, and she woke up instinctively. Looking out the window, she watched the stationary planes replaced by the long runway, and then she felt weightless for just a moment when the plane’s wheels left the ground. It was a perfect liftoff considering the weather, and after just a bit of shuddering, the plane made it through the first layer of clouds.

Once she felt them leveling out, Celia opened the envelope whose contents had had her curious since that morning. There was no return address, but the postmark was distinctive, and the writing was in an elaborate script that looked vaguely familiar. However, her preparations for the trip had been so hurried, she had not allowed herself to open it until she could sit still. Swiftly tearing the flap open, she pulled out two pieces of linen stationary that smelled faintly of lavender. The date was written in the top right-hand corner, along with the name of the author: Tasha Bronlow.

Natasha Bronlow was the daughter of a Russian immigrant and an English woman whose lineage allegedly included some sort of minor royalty. Her beauty and height had attracted the attention of model agencies when she was barely into puberty, and her aloof nature had captivated the public and producers alike. Unlike many models turned actresses, Tasha had proven to be extremely talented. Even the harshest critics marveled at how completely she embraced and portrayed a variety of characters, and by the time she was thirty, several awards graced the antique cabinet that had been photographed in many magazines. However, Tasha herself had remained an enigma, despite the very few brief interviews she had given and the paparazzi’s aggressive attempts to catch her unaware. She was like old Hollywood in a way – beautiful, detached, and a complete mystery.

Until July 18, 2007. That was the day detectives arrested her at her home in Greenwich, CT for the murder of five people. Five victims, seemingly unrelated, had been tied back to Tasha Bronlow, the final victim being her father, whom she shot in the head while he slept before slitting his throat. The public was shocked and fascinated and hungry for a tell all story, a movie, a crime special…anything to satisfy the curiosity they had always had about the famed actress.

They weren’t to be satisfied, however. Tasha remained virtually wordless throughout her arrest, arraignment, trial, and conviction. She did not take the stand, she did not give interviews, and her attorneys said almost nothing. It was rumored she had spent a good portion of her fortune keeping them quiet and keeping the press out of the courtroom. As soon as the verdict had been read, the jurors had been whisked away, and none of them had made the typical talk show rounds. Eventually even the most dogged reporters had stopped trying to gain access to her death row cell in Delaware, where two if the victims were murdered, including her father.

Celia had never followed the case closely. It was not the type of story she reported, and she was not enamored with Hollywood’s elite in the way some of her colleagues were. So it was more than surprising to see Tasha’s name at the top of the letter. For a reason she couldn’t explain, Celia bent forward a bit and glanced at the other passengers before beginning to read the fluid script.

Dear Ms. Brockwell:

I am sure you are somewhat surprised to receive correspondence from me. I will therefore come to the point. As I am sure you are aware, my last appeal was denied, and so it seems that my execution will take place soon. I loathe the vultures of the press and have declined to give them a single breadcrumb of my story. However, I have followed you and your career closely for quite a few years, and I have immense respect for you.

I understand that you prefer to maintain a distance from the stories on which you report. This, in my opinion, has been one of the reasons you excel. However, I would like to grant one authentic telling of my story before I am executed by the state of Delaware, and I would you to conduct that series of interviews.

Celia let out a long exhale and looked around the cabin again. Tasha Bronlow wanted her to conduct not just one interview, but a series? Why? Her story would need to be personal and compelling. Celia’s strength was a straightforward and thorough analysis of fact. How could she tell this kind of story? The story of a mysterious actress who essentially butchered five people, including her aging father? Ridiculous, but Celia couldn’t resist continuing to read.

I am sure you are puzzled by my request, but I believe you to be the only one who can correctly tell my story. I ask that you consider my request, as I would very much like to meet you and speak with you.

I do have parameters that I would like to be followed during the interview process. I understand that you will likely need to tell your superiors of our correspondence. However, they are not to leak this series of interviews, no matter how badly they crave the publicity. I do not want this story released until after my execution. This will not be a sordid retelling of the crimes’ physical details. All of those were available during the trial. I ask for the utmost discretion and that no details be released until the series is finished. I have included an outline and tentative calendar, which of course can be adjusted to accommodate your prior engagements.

The letter closed with contact details for her lead attorney, along with procedures for drawing up a contract. The second page of the letter contained her outline and tentative calendar. If Celia took the story, she would have three months to conduct the interviews. It wasn’t a lot of time.

For the remainder of the two hour flight, Celia reread Tasha’s letter and considered her request. Why did this elusive actress turned serial killer choose Celia the fact-finder to tell her story? This was a woman famous for her uber-dramatic roles; it would have made more sense for her to choose a reporter who took a more emotional approach. And, quite frankly, Celia wasn’t sure she could do it justice.

However, the reporter in her could hardly resist. It would be the crime story of the century, and she would be the only reporter who would ever be given true access into the actress’ life. By the time the plane touched down In Washington, Celia knew she would be contacting the attorney to move forward. She couldn’t turned away the opportunity to interview the nation’s most beautiful psychopath.

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