She could no longer remember the first time somebody had called her that, but there was no disputing it. Where most people would judge they were in too deep, she felt the need reached for even murkier depths. That was the only way to be successful in this industry; to always push yourself.
At first, she used to tell herself that it was whatever she did or wrote was okay; they were only exposing what was true, after all. But this was not journalism, it wasn't regime toppling or life-saving; it was much more personal. For some, too personal. The truth was merely one thread. One they obscured along with condescension and scandal.
This was tabloids, after all.
When she picked up this job she meant it to be temporary. Law school was brutal and costly, she knew she needed to find something that existed outside it's stifling bubble. Of course, the pay wasn't bad either.
She'd answered an ad on Craigslist, of all places, and was surprised to find such a reputable organization on the other end of the correspondence. Somewhere along the line she'd inquired about their unorthodox hiring practices, and was told they did so because that was where the sort of people they wanted would lurk around expecting jobs to turn up.
It wasn't her proudest moment, but she'd felt a sense of belonging after that.
She'd started as a researcher and fact-checker. Like everything else in this business, there was only a vague sense of truth to those words. In reality, she was meant to hang around the city and attach herself to the outer rings of a celebrity or socialite's inner circle, or sit around sifting through rumours that came in on the anonymous tip-line, deciding which ones would or would not get them sued.
Usually the latter job would be hit or miss, but she had experience as a law student, so a few months after she started work they reported a marked decrease in lawsuit threats.
On her first day, she was introduced around the office by the HR officer, an old woman who seemed to stain every surface she touched with her greasy dollar store hand lotion. That was when she met him.
He wasn't exactly good looking, and the plastic surgery hadn't helped, but she'd instantly been taken in by his presence. Their editor, the boss, the HR lady had informed her. She didn't need to be told. It was clear from the moment she'd laid eyes on him.
He gave her a once over and wrinkled his nose in a way that implied she was unworthy of his consideration. She disliked him immediately.
This was before she knew the job, before she knew him.
Before he knew her, even.
It had been a simple distraction at first, one she could come into and leave with her disdain for her fellow employees intact. Back when she sat at her desk and worked through the tip-line e-mails.
One day, he'd come in and asked her about a particular call she had made. They'd usually turn such a story away, he'd said. It was so long ago and so unimportant that she couldn't be bothered to remember the details. Still, it had impressed him.
He told her since she was so familiar with it, she was responsible for writing the article.
Being a law student, she wasn't exactly familiar with trashy prose. Her entire repertoire until that point had been built in the world of precedent and statute; presenting those things in the form of a semi-respectable case.
Keeping the fragility of her position in mind, she'd said yes.
She remembered agonizing over it right up until the moment she'd started writing it.
If she closed her eyes and accepted the nostalgia, she could recall a little bit about the article. It was something concerning a local socialite, somebody who her friends at the time enjoyed reading about and possibly even admired. Petite, blonde, pretty. A winner of the genetic and financial lotteries.
She hadn't thought much of it when she'd made the call to approve the story, but when she'd made her first tear into this socialite's perfectly preened image, something inside her had slotted into place.
Even though she didn't know it right then, she was hooked. She had heard horror stories of people who had retched for hours after working on their first piece, no doubt exaggerated for her benefit lest she be unable to complete the work.
Yet that wasn't how she felt at all, she felt something strong resonate with her, almost as if she'd found a dark, heartless form of enlightenment.
Soon after, she started to go on "research" missions. As a beginner, she had a partner, a woman who couldn't have been much older than she was, even though she'd already burned out in the modeling world.
Before they had gone out together for the first time, he'd called them to his office. His words were concise and to the point, but they stuck with her. She doubted she'd have been able to make it this far without them.
Be there, be real. These "people" -friends of celebrities-, could spot a fake from a mile away, because they too were mostly fake. There was no point in putting yourself above them, since you were there for reasons even worse than theirs. It was easy, once the mutual duplicity had been accepted, to get along.
Never get in too deep, he'd stressed. Even though there would always be a few contacts in that group who would never be able to 'shake you off', as he'd put it. Once you got your story or were, heaven-forbid -made- you had to get out.
It was a process that was akin to digging for raw gold, without the dirt and crippling health issues. The lavish parties and pure, distilled drama was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. A never ending war where the uniform was a rented Balenciaga dress and a pair of Louboutins.
Within four months she'd written more than ten pieces under a pseudonym, only then was she offered an actual writing job, with a real byline. Now she could sit on the receiving end of tips, only bringing the finishing blow to someone whose ego "needed" a little deflation.
After all, this was all in search of the "truth".
Her old friends started to distance themselves from her, not wanting to be associated with somebody so prominent in exposing their future clients' secrets. Or worse still; their own.
But as soon as they'd unfriended her on Facebook they were following her on Instagram. It was the allure of celebrity-by-proxy.
Eventually, she preferred the position over them than their friendship. She was different now; transformed almost. Friendship was secondary, tertiary even, to a lot of things in life.
Or maybe she'd just forgotten what it meant, it didn't really matter. If one thing had become obvious to her it was that, as long as you were well off enough, the facts of life were matter of perspective.
That was when he began to take an interest in her. She didn't really know why, she didn't really care why, but she liked to believe it was her mind. It was simple things at first; coffee, lunch,"work" dinners.
He was a large part of why she'd really started considering settling down in this industry. She had a decent amount of experience to start, and his long-winded musings about how they were almost a necessity to the glossy idolatry of celebrity culture practically held her in a trance.
They weren't ruining lives, they were bringing their truths to light. They couldn't destroy families that had already been destroyed, couldn't end careers that never ought to have began.
It was a game of checks and balances. Every medium needed them.
She didn't just believe him, she agreed with him, and looked to him for a strange sense of comfort. A lot of her fellow employees treated this as just a job, to make ends-meet, often feeling guilty about the bigger stories they worked on. They didn't feel that sense of euphoria she got from a good days work. So she'd hidden it, passing herself off as a bit strange if caught out.
At one point, she even felt as if he were her not just her mentor, but her confidante.
With hindsight, that was the first red flag in their relationship, if it could even be called that.
No two people could understand each other that perfectly.
That was when she noticed her colleagues keeping a close eye on her, and it became too much to ignore. He wasn't just tossing his philosophies and ideas at her for the back-and-forth, or the admiration.
She had really wanted to believe he believed in her, and maybe he did.
But that wasn't enough for him.
She hadn't realized then what was sitting right in front of her.
It only came to her two years later, long after she'd left law school behind, having given into the allure of glamorous nights adjacent-to the stars and days spent feeling overly self-righteous as she tore said stars apart.
She'd drifted away from him, a painstakingly slow process so as to not trigger anything untoward. Whilst she missed his input and insight, she'd developed her own sense for the industry. She'd made friends with all of his most powerful allies, and had gone on to forge many relationships of her own.
It had been much easier than a normal mark, since even as they danced from one group to the next they danced to the same rhythm. Meeting the same people, playing similar games.
It hadn't taken too long for a new intern to appear on the scene, one as equally green and doe-eyed as she had been. He'd given her the same run-around, complete disinterest on day one, letting her flounder and find her place, then moving in.
She followed them, discreetly of course, using the best tricks in her book. Calling in many a favor, from sleazy motel security footage to a midnight dash by a local photog. Staking out his local haunts for weeks at a time, she slowly prepared her story as if presenting a case against the highest of courts.
In the end, she'd even grown close so close to her replacement that they were almost sisters. Of course, the girl remained none the wiser even as they played their usual games with their normal marks. Making nice.
This was one story she had to build with all she could.
Considering all she'd done and seen during her two years there; the stolen pictures of a low-level celebrity's OD that became an exclusive, or the politician's bumbling son with an addiction to runaway girls just shy of the right side of eighteen, she was surprised he was so passée in his tastes.
Even worse was how obvious he was in his actions, because he'd probably covered much worse than she had in his twelve years there.
The working theory was that he felt above it as long as he had editorial control. The ultimate gatekeeper. Even as her colleagues had watched her be taken in by his all-consuming gravity, they had kept their mouths shut. They'd seen him target others before. The girls were marks to him as well, albeit personal ones.
Knowing that she would never get such a thing published at her own rag, she drove about an hour away from home and dropped a large dossier into an unfamiliar mailbox.
Soon, a friend at a rival rag would be getting the scoop of a lifetime with every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed.
Whilst she didn't expect to be made editor right away, she knew it would be much easier to topple whoever was in charge if they were new. It was only a few steps above her post as a bonafide writer, and she wanted to gain a bit more experience along the way anyways.
What she did hold close in that moment was the fact that nobody with such an obvious flaw, using such obvious methodology in their personal life, deserved to ride on the laurels of editorship.
In fact, out of all the things he had taught her, she would cherish this the most.
If you must, bury it, deep.