Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
fine, Hayley. Really. I’m getting to like the blue hair.”
statement. But I’ve got something else in mind for tonight,” Hayley said,
far the party had been a smashing success. The women looked beautiful and the
men were elegant in their tuxedos. The food was exquisite, and gracefully
served, and, most importantly, the speeches weren’t too long. And now it was
of the state of New York was to present the award to Luke and his team. It was
their reporting that had largely curtailed the activities of Eddie Rivers and
his thugs. It was only a matter of time, the governor remarked, before someone
came forward with the evidence that would put him away for a long time.
“They say a
picture is worth a thousand words,” the governor said, “so rather than telling
you the kind of reporting Luke Thompson’s CNN team turned in, let’s watch the
actual footage they captured, mostly with hidden cameras, from around the globe.
I need to warn you that what you are about to see is disturbing, shocking, and
very real. If you do not feel up to viewing it, this might be a good time to
step into the lobby.”
moment, a huge screen slid down from the ceiling and the lights were dimmed.
Fiona looked nervously at the spot where the video machines were, hoping Hayley
would press the right button and not panic, as she had many times in the past.
What she saw in that video booth shocked her.
met Fiona’s, and a little smile spread across her face. Instead of the usual
simple black jump suit and comfortable shoes she wore to every event, Hayley was
wearing a gorgeous black-and-white outfit that was so chic it had to be
couture. And on her feet were Christian Louboutins.
But that wasn’t
the biggest shock of all. Gone was the insane blue wig and, in its place, Hayley’s
hair had been perfectly styled into a sleek pixie cut.
mouthed to her friend, but the message was lost as the huge screen filled with
images of women and young girls being loaded into trucks in some faraway place.
sounds, shouts really, as someone was being ordered not to return until she had
earned two hundred dollars. A girl, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen, was
seen opening the door to the street, keeping her head down, so as not to show that
her eye had been blackened.
nearly nude, women were being pushed out on a stage to dance for a bunch of
booze-swilling men, who clearly felt touching was permitted. For a price,
anything was permitted. A naked young girl was swinging to and fro over the bar,
in a red velvet swing. The camera zoomed in to the bruises that covered her
which accompanied the film clips, made it clear that one man, and one man alone,
ran this worldwide network of human misery.
In the huge
close-up on screen, Eddie Rivers didn’t look like the kingpin of a sex-for-profit
ring. With his boyish good looks and easy charm, he could have been mistaken
for the spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America. Yet he had run this seemingly
impenetrable worldwide organization for twenty years without an indictment.
“One day, and
soon,” Luke's voice said, “someone will have the courage to speak the truth, to
put this man away.”
began to come up, and the governor rose and introduced Luke to loud applause.
Luke helped Fiona to her feet, so that she could share in this moment with him.
But the film
did not stop.
The quality of
the film changed, became a little grainy, but the image was clear. It played on
the big screen above the beautiful couple, Luke and Fiona.
The scene was
shot in the joint called the Velvet Swing.
A woman walked
out of the dressing room, removed her robe and took her place in the swing. Her
luscious body was naked except for a little silver belt with tiny bells
attached. She began to swing, moving to the music, tossing her mane of blonde
hair, seemingly lost in a different place and time, accompanied by the sounds
of the little bells.
showed a man coming over to her section of the bar, smiling at her. He tossed
some bills at her and blew her a kiss. The man was Eddie Rivers.
The woman was
press can elevate people to sainthood one week and, with great relish, send
them to perdition the next. Good and evil have no distinction. The only
criterion for public attention is do people care? And care they did about the
unfolding saga of Fiona Chambers, the girl in the swing.
No one had reported
seeing her after she fled the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel on the night of
the big gala. But it was impossible to pick up a newspaper or watch television
without seeing her image, and dissecting the terrible incident at the award dinner.
Was she, as it
seemed on the DVD, the girlfriend of sex-trade kingpin, Eddie Rivers? Or had
she somehow been coerced into participating in his crime empire?
meeting on the train between Fiona and Luke been accidental? Or did Mr. Rivers
somehow have a hand in setting up the encounter, to discredit the reporter
before his grand jury hearing?
Some people went
so far as to speculate that the whole train crash was sabotage, planned to
throw the couple together. But most people had enough sense to figure out that
no one could have predicted the outcome of a passenger train hurtling off a
assumed that Eddie Rivers had somehow been behind the tape. But it was such a
good story, most people didn’t care.
It was a late morning,
five days after the disastrous gala at the Plaza. Satellite trucks lined the
graceful streets of the historic district of Chelsea. Reporters loitered, a
passerby gawked, cops directed traffic with lazy indifference.
her way through the crowd of reporters and photographers who were clustered
outside Luke’s apartment. She kept her head down, her eyes straight ahead until
she was inside the building.
She pushed the
elevator button, then changed her mind and raced up the stairs. She assumed the
elevator had been bugged and outfitted with hidden cameras.
“Luke, let me
in! Luke, it’s Hayley.”
opened a crack. Hayley slipped inside Luke’s apartment carrying a bag of
“Any word from
Fiona?” he asked, sliding the chain on the lock and returning to his media center.
He had been working the phones, the Internet, checking sources non-stop since
he made his escape from the ballroom.
He was a world-class
reporter, following a story, and he wasn’t about to stop until he found the
truth. Whatever that might be.
took the bag to the kitchen, and started arranging things on a dinner plate.
Instead of her usual mishmash of clothes, she was dressed in a chic black linen
suit, with a jacket fitted to show off her tiny but perfect body. The chic pixie
cut still supplanted the blue wig but Luke noticed none of this. She felt
certain that one day he would, and like what he saw.
She looked in
the fridge and found the plate she had made last night. It was untouched. “Luke,
you’ve got to eat. You look like hell.”
shaved since the night of the gala dinner. Dark circles ringed his eyes, his
face was pinched by pain. “I’m going to find her. Someone can’t just disappear
off the face of the earth.”
at the floor and said nothing.
away, not looking at him. He followed, and grabbed her by the arms, a little
too roughly, causing her to wince.
Hayley,” he said. “But if you know something, tell me.
troubled, and she responded, “I hate to even think it, Luke, let alone say it.
But I know one person who could help someone disappear without a trace.”
Luke stared at
Are you saying Eddie Rivers had Fiona kidnapped?”
what I’m saying. What good would that do him?”
“Then what—” Luke
stopped, suddenly understanding. “Are you saying he’s helping her? That they’re
herself to look pained, choosing her words cautiously. “I don’t know what is
true and what’s not. I only know what I saw on that tape.” She walked to the
window and looked down at the throng of reporters camped outside the window. “Well,
that’s not exactly true.”
“Hayley, I don’t
know how he did it, but that film was faked. You can create anything these days
because of modern technology. Someone working for Rivers doctored that tape to
discredit me and Fiona. They made it look like it was her in the swing. But you
and I know better. She would never, ever—”
Hayley held up
her hand. “It
her, Luke. I know that for a fact.” Tears welled up in
her eyes. She’d always had this ability to cry at will. It was a talent she had
used often, and to good effect in her days on the streets. “I saw her in the
Velvet Swing, doing…
“I don’t believe
you,” he exclaimed, staring at her coldly.
“Do you think
I’d lie about something like that?” Hayley was indignant. “About my best friend
in the world?”
talking, Hayley. Now!” Luke commanded, his anger surfacing.
Hayley walked out
on the terrace and watched the barges moving down the Hudson. Luke followed, and
stood listening as her well-rehearsed memories were told in a carefully
modulated voice. She knew how to make fraudulent words sound real.
“It was years
ago, when we first got to New York. Fiona and I had stumbled into the job at
the Velvet Swing, but we were both dying to get out of it.” She paused. “Well,
was, and I thought Fiona felt the same way. But Mikey had been…you know, in
and out of scrapes as usual. I needed every penny I could get my hands on to
bail him out.”
“So you didn't
stayed. And I just assumed Fiona didn’t want me to be there by myself.”
It was all
Hayley could do to keep herself from glancing at Luke, to see how her story, partially
true but also slanted, was playing out. Somehow she concentrated on the river,
and avoided his penetrating looks.
“I don’t think
I want to hear any more, Hayley.”
“You need to
know the truth, Luke. Then you can decide for yourself whether or not she’s
been playing you. And me.”
her. “Hayley, I’ve known you since you were little. I don’t think I ever
remember anyone playing you. Usually, it was the other way around.”
A flash of
anger streaked across Hayley’s face. “Forget it, Luke. Apparently you choose to
believe Fiona is some sort of goddess, above and beyond the likes of me. You’d
rather hang onto your distorted version of her than hear the truth.”
swiftly, and went back into the room.
down! We’re both just hanging by a thread here. I know you love Fiona as much
as I do,” he said, following her inside.
give him the satisfaction of agreeing with him.
Luke sat down in
one of the vintage leather chairs that flanked the couch. “Tell me what you
“I decided I
needed to get out of that place. Mikey was coming around more and more, and I
knew sooner or later he’d get sucked into something.”
“Always a good
bet,” Luke muttered.
him a hard look, but did not react. “So I went to the club on a Saturday to
pick up my check. And that’s when I saw Fiona. In the swing. Like you saw her
on film, smiling at Eddie. He was hovering around, leering at her like he’d
never seen a naked woman before. Naturally, he’d had a thing for her, from the first
day we started working there, just like everyone else did.”
hunched in the chair, staring at his hands. “What did she say? When you asked
her about it?”
“I waited till
she got home the next morning. When I asked her
, she just looked at
me as if she didn’t even see me. And then she walked out of the apartment. She
didn’t come back for two days.”
down next to Luke, and took hold of his hand. “I never spoke of it again. Until
“Okay, what?” Hayley
“Okay, why? I
believe you. But if she did that, she must have had a very good reason.” The
look on Luke's face belied his words. This new revelation had been very hard for
him to hear.
withdrew her hand, and sat staring at him. The seeds had been planted; she knew
Luke too well to push. “Well, when you figure out what that reason is, I wish
you’d let me know. It’s caused me a lot of sleepless nights,” she murmured
Rising, she kissed
him lightly on the head, let herself out of the apartment and bounced down the
stairs two at a time. The sunlight was bright as she pushed her way through the
paparazzi. There was a smile on her face when she headed down the street.
How was it
that she had not noticed before what a beautiful day it was?
Chambers, I love your daughter. I don’t know what the answers to all these
questions are, but I do know there are some. I won’t stop looking until I get
to the truth.”
had taken the call in the study of the brick-and-stone cottage where he still lived,
years after he had retired from teaching. He was the unofficial student advisor
at the college, in matters of ethics and life’s questions. This problem with
his own daughter, however, had been a struggle for him. She had refused to
discuss any of it with him.
you, Mr. Thompson, Fiona is a strong young woman. If there are indeed answers
to your questions, I’m sure she will share them with you when the time is