The Burrow household is nice, real nice. It’s modeled in that typical Southern brown-and-orange kind of way, lots of wood-paneling and comfortable leather chairs, made to look homely and cozy even though the house costs more than I will take home in ten years.
When I entered the house, Mr. Burrow was there to greet me just before he left for some errands, and let me sit down on one of those leather couches while his wife got ready. It’s been somewhat nerve-wracking to wait, but at least the place is nice.
It has a nice fireplace that doesn’t seem to have been used in years, and above it a huge flat-screen TV, currently tuned into the local news station, as so many TVs are recently.
CRT televisions, those old fat boxes, are getting more rare these days. It is probably because they’re gigantic and heavy and flatscreens are getting cheaper, but nicer picture quality does hurt the overall experience for me, in some twisted ironic sense. With the news channel playing here versus back at the office, it’s just not as trashy and enjoyable to see the anchor robot sensationalizing every trivial event when it’s not on a tiny, shitty screen.
It’s still trashy and enjoyable, though.
You don’t have to be a genius to guess there was another Social Media Killer “killing” this afternoon, this time Haus Liefeld, some video game writer out in Minnesota who owns a hot dog parlor doubling as a child porn trafficking storehouse. He’s fled and the Outskirts Corps have begun a massive manhunt.
It’s rare to see an attack against someone that doesn’t live in Georgia. Good riddance to the guy, but… how does the Social Media Killer even do it if they’re really a high schooler? It’s admittedly disconcerting to hear about a Social Media Killer attack while I sit in what might be the Social Media Killer’s own chair.
Is she home right now? She must be, if she just launched a new digital assault.
I’m in the home of someone currently ruining people’s lives, even as we speak.
If Kylia is outing criminals and pedophiles, is she really that bad a guy? It’s illegal and unethical to hack into these people’s’ social network accounts and expose their internet lives, but is it really wrong?
I don’t think so. It’s a bit misguided, and I don’t condone it, but she’s not necessarily in the wrong, I guess.
But vigilantes get punished, and they get punished hard. I can’t believe the police haven’t already tracked her as far as we have, and the corporations she has defamed are going to be a lot less lawful than those guys if they find her. They beat me up just for suspecting me to be involved; what will they do to the girl who actually did it? I’m not here to save her, though; I’m here to stop her.
After quite a while of waiting, Ms. Julia Zein-Burrow comes down the wooden staircase and into the living room, wearing a spring dress, a skirt and flowery top. Ah, crap, she’s really taking this in stride. I wonder what R8PR actually wrote in that message…
She’s a lot younger than I realized. Her hair is still the same shade of brown as her daughter’s, and it doesn’t seem colored. She’s obviously aged since her time as a child actor, but as a mother she looks fantastic.
Because her parents were part of the semi-famous Zein Family acting troupe, she kept her last name in hyphenated form. It’s a quite uncommon surname, which is probably how R8PR found her address so quickly and set up this super-impromptu fake interview.
“I’m ready for my closeup,” she says, imitating the famous scene from Sunset Boulevard.
“Oh, I apologize my dear,” I say, trying to take on a bit more of a flamboyant tone than I usually give my voice. “Our photographer’s out with the flu. We’ll have someone else come around next week to snap some pictures. But you look lovely, darling.”
She gives a limp wrist. “Oh, stop,” she says with a thick Southern drawl. “I just wanted to pamper myself before our little interview. Ain’t never hurt to look nice.”
“You can say that again. And thank you for preparing on such short notice. Our magazine can really use the piece.” I shuffle a paper Karina gave me with several prepared questions to ask before I start digging into the Social Media Killer business, and then press the record button on my empty tape recorder.
Here it goes. “Alright. So I’m Tracy Silver from the Weekly Lady Life, and today I’ll be interviewing the one-and-only Julia Zein, who captured our hearts on her stint on Stuffed-Doll Moll. We have to start by asking, how are you this fine spring evening?” I may be overdoing it.
“Oh, I’m peachy,” she says. “You are going to call me Zein-Julia in the piece though, right? I‘m quite adamant of it.”
“Of course, of course. We never want to disrespect a mother,” I say, really cushioning up my tone of speech. “In fact, that’s my next question. After you became a worldwide sensation way back in 1988 with your childhood masterpiece, you captured the hearts of so many… including none other than your darling Arnold Burrow. You two were married on your eighteenth birthday and you started your family soon after. You gave up acting for quite some time to raise your family, and I think that’s a noble thing to do. How does it feel, stepping out of the spotlight like that?”
Ms. Burrow takes a deep breath to prepare her answer. “Well, it’s not easy ending your career at such a time. I received a lot of criticism for my young marriage, and Arnold got some really nasty letters I ain’t gonna share right now. But we prospered and it’s been nearly twenty years together. I still love him like the first day we met. Do I regret not trying to go off and become some big movie star? No I don’t, not with my two sweet daughters bringing me joy everywhere I look.”
Little does she know one of her two daughters may be an infamous criminal. I wonder how she’ll take it “Nothing sweeter than that,” I say. “You’re still in the kid’s show business today with your prominent voice-over work. Do you feel some connection with keeping your breakout role in everyone’s mind?”
She sits up in her seat and straightens her skirt. The leather makes a squeaking sound. “Of course I still think about playing Moll all the time. She’s like a part of me, and she’ll never leave my heart.” She points to the wall behind me me and I turn around to look. Just above my head is a framed photo of herself; it’s a much, much younger Julia Zein dressed up as a stuffed doll, making a cutesy pose. She’s wearing overalls and her hair is very poofy. Fashion really hasn’t changed that much in all these years, which really baffles me. “Acting is still very fun, but it’s a bit too busy for me these days. I do a bit of voice acting because that’s what helps me stay with my family the longest. I don’t have to travel the world or live in a trailer, none of that.” She hesitates for a moment, and then laughs nervously. “And, don’t put this in the interview, but that’s pretty much the only work I get nowadays.”
“Oh, really? Why is that?”
“Well… people don’t like actresses after they get all their stretch marks and stop looking like them supermodels. Plus, I… had a run-in with…” She completely stops dead in her sentence. Her pleasant expression fades for a moment. “Ya know, maybe we should go onto the next question.”
“Oh, don’t worry, this won’t be in the piece… What kind of run-in?”
Ms. Burrow suddenly snaps. “Listen here, hot-shot. I came here expecting some nice questions about my time on my show and I ain’t going to accept no prying into my personal life.”
She quickly softens back up. “Oh, I’m so sorry, it’s just you mentioned–”
“No, I’m sorry. That wasn’t okay. Let’s move on. Alright?”
“Alright, darling. It’s all… alright.” That outburst was very strange. I am going to go ahead and assume there was some bad trouble in her career and it is not my place to pry. “Um…. do you still have your old costume?”
She sits back in her chair. “Of course,” she says. “I used to make my little Kylia, my youngest one, dress up in the costume every Halloween. It was too big for her when she was younger, but she loved doing it.”
Kylia. Hey, good opportunity for a natural-sounding segue. “That’s lovely. Is your daughter here this evening?” This might be the only chance I get to meet the Social Media Killer in-person, so I have to seize it.
“Oh, of course. She always gets home early to study for her exit exams. Real good student. Y’all might be hiring her for your little magazine pretty soon.” She turns towards the stairs and shouts, “KYLIA! Come on down here and join this interview!”
My heart starts pounding. I’ve been in deadly fights, I’ve seen some terrible things, but I usually don’t get so worked up like this. Finally seeing the girl responsible for so much trouble, so many people’s lives ruined, fills me with anticipation. It’s like meeting a celebrity in a way. I’m already meeting a childhood TV star, and that’s nothing compared to seeing the Social Media Killer.
The girl comes down the stairs slowly, and peeks from the top to see me before she descends. If I’m not mistaken… she’s actually acting a bit shy. That there is Kylia Burrow.
She looks just like she does in those pictures R8PR showed me; short, wearing a cute purple hoodie and jeans, with chestnut hair and chestnut eyes. She looks unremarkable enough that I have trouble imagining her face on the six o’clock news, her mugshot plastered on national television. They’d have to replace her with someone more dynamic-looking or people wouldn’t believe it.
“Hi…” she says to me. “You’re, um, Tracy Silver?”
“Yes, why yes I am,” I tell her, being careful not to slip out of character. “And you are the lovely Kylia Burrow?”
Her bangs are heavy on her head and I can tell she’s a bit nervous speaking with me, bouncing one of her legs off the other rhythmically. Just like in the pictures R8PR showed, she seems more like the type of girl who gets kidnapped by the bad guy and has to be rescued than the type of girl who would expose the personal lives of dozens of people.
This has to be a front. Right?
“So tell me about your time dressing up as your mother’s own television character. She made it like you were chomping at the bit to do it. Family at its best.”
I really want to retire this character soon. I am not an actor.
“Mom…” she whines. “You told the interviewer about that?” she asks softly.
Ms. Burrow laughs. “Sorry, sweetie. It’s just such a cute story. Should I talk about that time at Stone Mountain when–”
I glance at Kylia every few moments to see if she notices anything peculiar about me, and if I can see anything behind her current facade. What is she hiding behind that pale face of hers?
“So, what’s the future got planned for you, Kylia?” I ask. Hopefully the turn towards her doesn’t feel too stilted.
“Well… I want to be a writer. Maybe for a magazine like yours.”
I laugh. “Do you want an internship?”
“No no no,” Ms. Zein-Burrow says. “Not ‘till she finishes high school. Good grades are a top priority in this household.” She chuckles and gently slaps her knee.
I look down at Karina’s paper to see if there’s any possible “gotcha” questions to ask.
“Are they now? I read your husband used to be a member of the Cobb County School Board. He was responsible for a lot of changes in your community to improve education funding, wasn’t he?”
Her smile turns into a frown.
“I.. ain’t gonna answer that question for the interview. That’s a bit too personal.” She starts to look at me with a suspicious glare, as if asking why I would ask that kind of question for a puff piece in a women’s magazine.
“My apologies,” I say. After two strikes I better be on my guard.
“It’s… okay. I just want to focus on the show from now on, okay?” There’s a knock on the door and it opens; I can hear some paper bags shuffling through the doorway. “Well, if you wanna ask about school board business, why don’t you ask the man himself? Arnold?”
“Yes, honey?” a voice answers.
“That interviewer Tracy Silver is in here asking about the school board. You care to tell your side of it?”
“Uh, no thanks,” the voice answers.
“Sorry. He’s still kinda sore about it.”
“Sore? Sore about… Oh sorry, I won’t pry.”
“No trouble.” Ms. Burrow stands up from her chair. “Let me go help with the groceries. You just sit right there.”
“Thank you, but I can help.” I stand up too and follow her to the front door, where everyone in the family is bringing in bag after bag of food from their car. They must have bought three hundred dollars’ worth. I don’t think I spend more than fifty dollars in a week for myself, so this is a crazy amount of food. How do families survive when they gotta buy all this every week?
Entering the doorway with a bag on each side is another teenage girl, taller than Kylia– an inch or two taller than me, even– and wearing a basketball uniform. Her hair is closer to black than brown, and her eyes are hazel, almost fully-green.
We meet eyes for a moment and she stops in place to look at me. She seems intently curious at my presence here, but keeps her expression neutral.
Mr. Burrow calls out, “Jones? Do you remember if we bought that pie after all? I can’t seem to find it.”
“I’m carrying it now,” the girl says. She continues walking into the kitchen.
Karina was right about one thing.
I go outside to the car alongside Kylia and we each pick up a paper bag. Mine has three gallon-jugs of orange juice and some protein powder at the top. For one, I’m surprised these bags are constructed to hold so much weight without ripping. But I’m not surprised that the Burrow family is good at keeping themselves well-eaten. Wealth and health go together, after all.
Now that we’re side by side, I realize Kylia is shorter than I expected. I’m about a head taller than her. She’s almost TOO innocent.
Nobody else is outside, so it’s my chance to ask any telling questions I may have while we walk back. “Hey, Kylia, how do you feel about your mother being famous for so many young adults who watched her on television? Isn’t it weird?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s always been there, so I haven’t thought about it much. It doesn’t come up that much anymore though. I don’t think too many people remember her.”
To be honest, I had mostly forgotten about Stuffed-Doll Moll until this entire debacle. It was a show I watched often, but I guess it never stuck with me like other kid’s shows from that era.
“Oh trust me, they do. She may not be a celebrity like that, what’s-her-name, Social Network Killer, but she gets mentioned a lot around our offices.”
I went for the gambit.
Kylia says nothing as we walk towards the house. She’s silent for nearly a minute.
Finally, she speaks. “That Social Media Killer sure is popular,” she says. “But… how do you know it’s a she?”