When the first video went viral, I didn't think much of it: A would-be robber stopped in his tracks by a child-sized, hood-wearing do-gooder, who emerges from the shadows, while the thug looks dumbly on, and dispatches him with some quick moves. The grateful victim shouts her thanks, but the mysterious figure has already disappeared.
I was inclined to dismiss it as a fake -- or maybe a publicity stunt -- when more videos began to surface. They were so similar they could have been the same scene shot from different angles. It could all be a viral marketing campaign for an upcoming superhero flick, I mused. As an entertainment reporter, I felt obligated to investigate. It was a slow week anyway: the dog days of summer, when most first-string reporters are on vacation.
First, I called my film industry contacts, but I didn't hope for much. If this was a stealth campaign, those in the know wouldn't reveal anything until allowed or risk being fired.
After the predicted denials, I turned to the videos themselves, all uploaded from different YouTube accounts. While a stealth PR campaign would depend on sock puppets, these all appeared to be genuine users, with accounts that went back years, including personal Vblogs and videos that would have been ridiculously time-consuming to create and back-date, just to fool viewers. I noticed another oddity: the videos had been posted from all over the country, in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles but also in podunk towns like Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Noticing that one of the posters resided in New York City, I started there, sending a personal message identifying myself as Sid Mursko, entertainment reporter with WPIX, and asking her to contact me about the video.
I was on a smoke break when the witness called. She readily agreed to an on-camera interview at the site of the video, so I grabbed my favorite camera guy, Bob, and headed out. At the very least, it could make for an interesting package to run in the D Block of the evening newscast.
Right away, I could see my interview subject was no PR hack: she was barely into her 20s and had a face full of metal. She looked exactly like the sort of Goth chick who hung out in this part of the East Village.
"I was standing over here," she said, leading Bob to a lit area in front of a club. She pointed across the street to the now-familiar site of the showdown. "When I heard someone scream, I took out my phone and started shooting." She detailed the now-familiar action, but added an intriguing detail: "My phone didn't pick it up, but right before the robber stopped in his tracks, I heard a sort of low, unearthly singing. I thought at first that it was my friend Faith, but she was chatting with someone. Then I noticed the little figure stepping out of the shadows, and her mouth was moving."
"Her mouth?" I asked. "You're saying it was a little girl?"
Goth Chick shook her head vigorously. "Not a little girl. A woman. A small woman."
Despite her insistence, I was skeptical: Before their voices change, young boys sound a lot like women. Plus, they're more likely to engage in risky behavior than a petite woman might be.
After the piece aired, my report got traction on YouTube, as well. Nowhere near the hits of the original videos, but respectable enough that my assignment editor readily accepted when I proposed a follow-up. Finding someone to interview was easy: The witnesses who had shot the other videos came to me, eager to tell their stories and extend their 15 minutes of fame. More surprisingly, though, each and every one of them was female. In this age where everybody has a camera phone, why were none of the photographers men? When I asked one of the witnesses about it, she said that she thought her boyfriend was videotaping it, too, but after the do-gooder -- now being called The Hoodie by the media -- took off, she turned to look at her BF, and he was standing there dumbfounded, seemingly disoriented. Both of them had also heard some mysteriously lovely low singing, but the boyfriend was useless about providing any other details, while his girlfriend recalled everything precisely.
Finally, I hit pay dirt. One of my interns dug up an actual police report on one of the attempted robberies. I called the victim to find out if she'd go on the record. She would, she said, but only if we'd protect her identity. Sheepishly, she admitted she'd been two-timing her husband, taking in a concert with her paramour.
Far be it from me to blow up a marriage, even one that's probably doomed. I agreed to her terms. We shot her in silhouette and promised to run her voice through an equalizer before airing the package. Her close-up perspective confirmed what the far-off YouTube shooters had suspected: Her rescuer was indeed a woman. And though The Hoodie's face was partially obscured by the hood, her mouth and neck seemed distinctly feminine, the Two-Timer told me. She added: "And there was something so familiar about that voice. I could swear I heard it somewhere before. Like, really recently."
"What concert were you attending?" Bob spoke up from behind the camera. I gave him the "don't upstage me" look, but we both knew I'd edit his question out later.
"Cari Bein," the Two-Timer told us. "Don't tell my husband. He loves her; he'd hate to know I went without him."
Among other things.
As he was packing up his gear, I punched Bob in the arm. "Why'd you do that? It's not cool."
"Well, I've been thinking. That first place we interviewed that Goth chick, in the East Village. Didn't it look familiar?"
I shook my head.
"You must not be part of the Bein Machine," Bob said, referring to the extremely loyal pack of mostly male fans that hung on Cari Bein's every word. "Cari's band mate, Serena, tweeted a picture from that neighborhood earlier the day of the attack. They ate lunch there after a girls-only shopping spree."
I rolled my eyes. "Stalker much?"
He continued, unfazed. "And once I figured that out, a lot of the other sites looked familiar, too. Here's the deal: They were all within a few blocks of someplace where Serena tweeted a picture of Cari on the days of the attacks. And this last woman? She was nearly robbed in the alleyway behind a Cari Bein concert."
In this business, I've learned there's rarely such a thing as a coincidence. It all began to fall into place, and it was the story of the year: A pop music vigilante, roaming the streets for justice. But why? And how could a tiny pop powerhouse discombobulate a thug with just her voice?
Back in the office, I reran every interview we'd done: paying attention to each word. I Googled the lyrics of Cari's No. 1 album, "Between a Rock and My Heart," and read between the lines. Almost every song swum with metaphor, if you knew what to look for. I dug through our video archives for an interview conducted backstage at the Grammys, when she was up for Best New Artist. Back then, when she'd claimed to be from a tiny island in Greece that "no one but the poets had ever heard of," I thought she was just being dramatic. Everybody these days wants to be the next Lady Gaga. But, it turns out, some people are much, much more special.
If my guess was right, this could be Emmy material, but I needed to confirm it. I called Cari's agent. "Tell her I'd like to interview her about the Hoodie. Or should I say..." I paused for effect. "The Siren?"