By Nancy Grace
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THE FLIGHT UP FROM ATLANTA TO MANHATTAN HAD BEEN PRETTY PAINLESS. Of course, the security lines and hassle of traveling through the Atlanta airport were hell on earth, but that was a given.
Once Hailey Dean stepped off the Delta 757 and onto the jetport connecting the plane to the terminal, suddenly so much came rushing back. It had been a little over a year, but walking through LaGuardia past Nathan's Famous hot dogs, the magazine and newspaper stands, down the escalator and to the taxi stand outdoors, it felt like she'd never left. It felt the same as before.
Before two of her favorite clients were murdered at the hands of a man who was once her courtroom adversary, a man who not only passed as an upstanding and highly successful member of the Georgia State Bar, but before that, as an Atlanta beat cop. For just a moment, Hailey felt Matt Leonard's hands around her neck again.
Hailey shook the sensation off and moved forward a couple of steps in the taxi line. After a few minutes, the next cabbie approached and she hopped in the back seat. Although brusque as expected, he hoisted her only bag into the car trunk, slammed it shut and slid into the driver's seat in front of her.
"Where to?" The cabbie didn't turn around, just directed the question toward the rearview mirror.
She'd learned long ago not to speak too many words to New York cab drivers. With what was left of her Southern accent after living in Manhattan, they could hardly understand a word she said.
"Fifty-fourth Street. Manhattan." She clipped it out short and firm. Less words to misunderstand. It all came back to her without even thinking. The cabbie said nothing, just gunned the motor as dirty-gray snow churned up from the tires and out to the sides of the car.
Hailey buckled her seatbelt and leaned back against the seat of the cab, looking out as Queens raced by outside her window. The row houses jammed together along short streets visible from the Long Island Expressway, diners, apartment buildings, billboards . . . all blended together . . . not particularly beautiful but strangely familiar and somehow reassuring despite the fact it wasn't really her home. The Southland was home and always would be. But New York was part of her now, and she didn't realize she missed it until she saw it and smelled it and breathed it again. In that very moment there in the back of the cab, she was glad to be back.
They exited the FDR just before the UN rose into view, turned right, and careened around the corner and lurched to a stop. Hailey gave the driver cash, declined a receipt and pulled her own bag out of the taxi's deep trunk. Hailey always traveled light, so it wasn't tough to yank it out and let it drop to the curb. She turned and looked all the way up to the top of her apartment building to where its roof met the sky. Way up there, thirty-one flights above, was Hailey's cottage in the sky.
Taking the steps up as quickly as she could while pulling the bag behind her, she wondered briefly if the flowers would start up again now that she was back in Manhattan. Ever since two of her patients were brutally strangled, followed by her own false arrest for the murders, the arresting officer, Lieutenant Ethan Kolker, had tried to make amends. As best he could, anyway.
It started small with the old standby, a dozen roses. When she'd promptly had the florist pick them up as a "return," another dozen came, and then, another. When those too were returned, more thought was put into the order. Kolker tried it all, violets, calla lilies, somehow even finding her favorites, stargazers and Cherokee roses. They too had gone straight back from whence they came, to the florist . . . every last petal.
Although they were beautiful, flowers never impressed Hailey. In fact, flowers made her feel guilty, that such beautiful creations were cut and pulled from the fields (or hothouses) where they flourished, for the fleeting whims of a human. Hailey never responded verbally or in written form to the flowers from Kolker, nor did he ever include any written apology or explanation of his thoughts.
Then came the chocolates. A succession of treats, also including no communication of regret, sorrow or epiphany, arrived and were returned as well, this time directly to Kolker's precinct in downtown Manhattan . . . no note attached.
Kolker could always tell the boxes had been opened, then carefully repacked and returned with no comment whatsoever, always returned in the boxes in which they'd been sent, a new mailing address placed directly over Hailey's own home address.
Sure enough, when Hailey pushed through the heavy glass revolving door into her building's lobby, Ricky the doorman came from around the front desk to give her a big hug.
"Where you been? I missed you! Way to keep in touch . . . Not!" He ribbed her a tiny bit. Hailey had seen him graduate from college and doggedly follow his dream to become a sportscaster. She hugged him back tightly but before she could respond, he said, "And, hey! You've already got a package. Let me get it for you." He bounded back behind the front desk and into a storage area behind an open side door where the doormen stashed deliveries.
This time it was a box, wrapped, as usual, in plain brown paper. One look at the handwriting and Hailey knew it was from Kolker.
"How'd he know I was coming back?"
"Who's he? The dentist again? He didn't give up yet?"
Ricky had no problem getting up in her business. He was referring to Adam Springhurst, the dentist who practiced in the office beneath Hailey's down in the Village. They'd had a fleeting relationship around the time of the murders, but it left Hailey with the feeling she was cheating on Will by even considering dating again. Her heart wasn't in it, and she disengaged as best she could, sure she came off as cold and uncaring. It was actually just the opposite: She couldn't afford to care. It could hurt too much.
In any event, because Hailey ended up applying Adam's dentist drill, whirring at full force, into the temple of the defense lawyer who'd stalked her and murdered her two friends, things between them had been on hold, for lack of a better term.
"No, not the dentist . . . the cop."
"What cop? Not the one that arrested you? He's the only cop that's ever been here . . ."
"That's the one. How did he know I was coming back?" she repeated the question.
His eyes got wide to display innocence. "I don't know . . . It wasn't me! Ask the morning shift. You know how Julio is . . . He'll tell anything for a hundred bucks!"
"Don't you worry, I'll do just that."
"Don't tell him I told you! Hey, you need help with that box? It's kind of big. Want me to carry it up?"
"No. Thanks, though, I can manage." Hailey glanced at the clock sitting on the counter of the front desk. "Wait, on second thought, let me just dump my bag here. I've got to get across town. I'll pick them both up tonight. You hold it for me? The box and the bag?"
"You got it, sunshine."
Hailey turned and headed back out. She hurried down the steps and up the sidewalk to First Avenue. Looking into oncoming traffic and holding her right arm up high, Hailey quickly hailed a cab. She slid into the back seat with nothing but her purse and her pad of handwritten notes.
"West Side, Sixth Avenue and 59th." Hailey rolled the window down to catch the breeze and the driver began inching through traffic across town to the West Side. All the television networks were there, HLN and CNN in the Time Warner Center looking down on Central Park and Columbus Circle. Fox there on the corner at Avenue of the Americas, with American flags flying out front, CBS, NBC, ABC . . . They all made their homes here.
Hailey was glad she stopped at her apartment, vacant nearly a year now. But after the murders of Hayden and Melissa, not to mention her own near-strangulation, she needed to leave the city. She wanted to go home and see the red dirt, smell the azaleas' perfume in the air, feel the hot afternoons heavy with humidity, see her mother and father.
The apartment sat there during it all, quietly waiting for her to come back. She paid Ricky to water her plants and crack the windows an inch or two every couple of weeks. Her mail had all been forwarded to a post office box in Atlanta. Not that she ever read it. It was all bills and catalogues and flyers. She paid nearly all her bills online, and as for shopping, she'd rather be beaten with a stick than set foot in a shopping mall, much less spend her free time thumbing through a catalogue.
When she left the courtroom years before, the need for new business clothes to wear in front of juries no longer existed. No more long-sleeved black and navy dresses, black pumps, hose. In fact, she hadn't forced herself into a pair of pantyhose in years and the clients she counseled in her psychologist's practice would suspect something very amiss, even downright wrong, if they saw her in anything but her favorite pair of worn jeans and scuffed brown cowboy boots. Living in Manhattan where everything was cement, she'd already had the boots resoled twice, but there was no way she'd break down and buy another pair. These fit just right.
Sights and sounds of the city glided past as she looked out the backseat window. Throngs of pedestrians at every corner waiting to flood into crosswalks, vendors cooking God knows what. Hailey called it "street meat"; she never really knew what it was, but it sure smelled good. Makeshift carts selling knock-off purses, watches, pashminas, scarves, and jewelry. The big avenues going north and south, up and down. The island floated by . . . First Avenue, Second and Third, Lexington, Park, Fifth, Sixth . . . before she knew it, the cabbie hit the brakes in front of GNE, Global News and Entertainment.
With her purse on her shoulder and her notepad clutched to her chest, Hailey wove through the people milling in front of the towering skyscraper that housed GNE. She'd never been in the building before, although she'd jogged by it many times in the past en route to Central Park. She rarely detoured off her regular jogging path up and down the East River. To get to the park from the East Side required ducking through hundreds of cars, thousands of pedestrians, and way too many exhaust fumes. Whenever she did do it, however, she was always struck by the park's beauty. The first time she ran through it forever stuck in her mind.
It was a brilliant Sunday morning and she'd been running over an hour when she unexpectedly came upon the park exit leading to the Plaza Hotel. At a distance, she saw a gold-plated statute, high up on a pedestal, shiny and glittering in the sun. It was one of the largest around. Wondering who deserved such glory, she stopped running and walked up to see it.
It turned out to be a shrine erected to William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general responsible for literally burning a wide, sweeping swath of a path through the South, including the city of Atlanta, during the Civil War. The destruction of country so beautiful—carried out not to win the war, but out of pure joy at the South's devastation—remained a dagger in the hearts of many Southerners to the present day.
"Driver's license, ID" An old, gray GNE security guard repeated the phrase by rote without looking up from behind a long, glossy bleached wood counter.
Fishing through the deep leather purse hanging on her shoulder, Hailey pulled out her old District Attorney's badge, cased in a worn wallet holder. From behind the shiny gold badge, she pulled her Georgia driver's license and held it over the counter for the guard to inspect. He took it from her hand and began copying the information down on a sign-in sheet. Looking around, Hailey noticed several well-dressed security guards strategically placed throughout the lobby. They all wore blue sports coats with gray pants, with nearly invisible earpieces in their ears.
"Hailey Dean, Hailey Dean. That name rings a bell." He looked up at her and then lowered his glasses to peer at her over their upper rims. "Right. I remember you. I read all about you in the Post, saw you on the TV too. That nut-job lawyer almost did you in, but you got him good. Right in the head. Dentist drill, right? Man I'd like to do it to my lawyer. Made my divorce worse than the old lady did. Almost called the divorce off just to get rid of the lawyer!"
The last thing she wanted to talk about was the night she was nearly murdered. She remembered the feel of Leonard's hair, slicked back as always, when her hand, clutching the buzzing dentist drill, slammed into his temple. She never remembered actually turning the thing on.
Funny how little details like that can bug you for the longest time.
Hailey managed a smile, telling herself the security guard's heart was in the right place.
"Yep. Hailey Dean. Right in the head with a dentist drill. Wonder if the dentist used that drill again. He shoulda framed it. Right?"
Before Hailey had to come up with a response, she heard her name screeched out across the large expanse of the GNE lobby floor.
"Hailey! Hailey Dee-e-an! You made it! You're so much smaller than you look on TV! I thought you were at least five feet ten! I just love it!"
IT HAD TO BE TONY RUSSO. SHE'D RECOGNIZE THAT VOICE ANYWHERE. IT had been in her ear for hours on end for months. The Jersey accent had actually grown on her, but this was the first time she could attach a face to the voice on the phone.
She had imagined someone tall, dressed in a suit, businesslike, maybe like an on-air anchor. He couldn't be more different. Barely topping five-feet-six, he was dressed in a baggy pair of low-rider jeans working their way down. Fashion "trends" were not for everyone, and with that in mind, Hailey didn't want to see Tony's other side.
The show's host, Harry Todd, was Tony's polar opposite. Todd had to be in his late fifties despite insisting, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary, that he was only thirty. He'd undergone every plastic surgery procedure known to man and doggedly followed every trend to stay young. His current stab at youth was spiking his highlighted hair straight up in the middle, stiff with gel, like a mohawk. Ego aside, he was the undisputed star of daytime talk.
Somehow, Todd garnered a huge share of the daytime market and not only managed to hang on for nearly twenty years, but was still perceived as a ratings monster, and nobody dared suggest otherwise. GNE would go right down the crapper without Todd as the tent pole holding up the daytime numbers.
And Anthony Russo was Todd's chief booker.
Russo booked Martha Stewart on Harry Todd straight out of jail and even got her to wear the famous green poncho she knitted behind bars. He got Brad and Angelina, and every sitting president since Reagan.
The show was executive-produced by a female power broker by the name of Sookie Downs. Downs had come up through the network and landed at the helm of the biggest daytime talk show in the industry. She ran the show with an iron fist from her mansion somewhere in the Hamptons, literally smack in the middle of an apple orchard.
Rarely making the trek into the city, she relied on her henchman, Tony Russo, to hold the show together and do her bidding. He carried a private cell phone on his hip at all times so they could stay in constant contact. Right now, Russo looked Hailey straight in the eyes. "You're so beautiful. I had no idea! Do people just come up to you on the street and say 'You're beautiful'? I love it!"
Hailey gave him a hard look. Was he serious?
He looked so sincere . . . but glancing over at him as they walked side by side toward a huge, swanky bank of elevators, she noticed he had already looked away from her and was scanning the lobby of the building to see if there was anyone there he needed to glad-hand before they got on. Meaningless compliments apparently just rolled off his tongue.
Okay. She sized him up pretty quickly. He was just one of those TV types she'd always heard about, shallow, frenetic, would say or do anything to get a story. Note to self . . . Take Russo with a pinch, no . . . a box . . . of salt.
The elevator was so spacious it felt like a room, oak paneled with high-def flat-screen color TVs installed flush on either side of the doors. Pretty luxe. Both screens were tuned to GNE and were flashing shots of dead civilians on a roadside in Afghanistan. The screen quickly dissolved into four old white men in suits, in boxes like The Brady Bunch intro, politicians arguing about White House strategy.
The elevator shot smoothly up to the thirtieth floor, where they stepped off and turned right. Russo swiped another security pad built into the wall next to huge swinging glass doors. Pleasant music piped into the area just outside the elevator banks ended abruptly and Hailey could hear raised voices in the distance. Even a long corridor away from the show's headquarters, tension was palpable. It hung in the air.
Walking along with Russo, she turned right into his office. The windows looked down onto a tiny park with cement instead of grass and some sort of statue in the center. It was surrounded by high-rises whose windows were grimy, many of them looking back vacantly, their blinds askew, suggesting they desperately needed tenants.
"Nice office, huh? I love it!"
He certainly loved a lot.
"Took me ten years, but I got the window!" I guess beauty's in the eye of the beholder . . . Hailey managed to keep that thought to herself. He seemed so proud of his window office, she felt guilty for noticing the bleak view.
"You'll just have to excuse me, Hailey. I don't feel so good today. I ate at the diner across the street, and I'm pretty sure there was a hair in my eggs. I've felt nauseous ever since. Has that ever happened to you? You know . . . a hair in your eggs?"
"No . . . I don't recall a hair in my eggs . . ." She could add nothing to Tony's personal horror story.
He went on. "Yep . . . I finally got the window office. Everybody wanted it, but they gave it to me." While Russo's face and body were angled toward her from behind a corporate-looking desk, the same as every other desk in the building, his eyes remained glued to his computer, its lighted screen glowing dimly back onto his face.
Something on his computer screen triggered Russo to leap straight up, rolling his chair back. "Hold on . . . I gotta get a print-out right now! Don't move! I'll be right back!"
Racing from around his desk and out the office door, Russo left Hailey alone with the rows of TV monitors covering the walls. They were all tuned to daytime talk, and nearly every screen had a group of women sitting on a couch in front of a studio audience. Banners across the bottom screens screamed out shocking scenarios. One said "Leaves Wife of 27 Years for Step-Daughter." Sitting on the sofa were three women glaring across the set at a chubby, forlorn-looking man in a suit that was way too snug, seated beside a twenty-something girl in a low-cut top and tight jeans.
The second screen showed a group of women sitting around a table drinking out of large coffee mugs. The banner across the bottom read "Wife Poisons Husband and Boyfriend With Antifreeze Hidden in Lime Jell-O."
On the third, a former fashion model was seated on a sofa with a woman who was obviously a fitness trainer, dressed in scanty aerobic workout tights. They were cheering on obese women walking down a runway.
Before Hailey could focus on a fourth monitor, a door slammed, and she turned to look through Russo's glass office wall toward the noise. It was Tony, rushing down the carpeted corridor toward all the other cubies.
"I was right! I found it! A new story, people! A torso! A bloody torso stuffed in a suitcase washed up on the beach in Jersey City! Unidentified! White female! People! We've got a show! You're dead . . . We're alive!"
Hailey could only assume he meant the show was alive, not cancelled.
Tony waved a handful of AP wires over his head like a cannibal brandishing a bloody scalp still warm off a skull. A loud flurry ensued among the bookers, who pounced on their phones to start rounding up guests and booking satellites.
Hailey studied their reactions, hunching over their screens, some with a phone to each ear and, somehow, manipulating BlackBerrys at the same time. What about the torso? Wasn't anybody a tiny bit concerned that a once-living human being had been severed in half?
"What about the head?" somebody yelled out over the short walls of the cubicles to no one in particular.
"Shut up and book! If we're lucky, it'll wash up tomorrow and we can do that . . . or better yet . . . maybe they'll fish it up while we're live today!"
What was wrong with these people?
And how in the world did I get tangled up with them? Hailey stood up and stalked to the coffee machine. It was loaded with expensive Starbucks offerings. These people obviously had money to burn. She went for her usual, whenever she couldn't get Irish Breakfast, chamomile with skim. No sugar.
Stirring the tea in the Styrofoam cup with a red plastic stick, she thought back on just how she landed here, in the center of a towering high-rise in the heart of Manhattan, the vortex of the television news industry.
"It's a gift from God. A gift!" Tony popped his head around the corner.
"What gift?" Taking a first, hot gulp, she looked at him over the Styrofoam rim.
"The torso! We'll do it the first fifteen minutes . . . You don't mind being the second story off breaking news, do you? I mean, it's a woman's nude torso! No head! It's a gift from God!"
Tony took her by the elbow and began steering her down the corridor.
"So I'll have somebody walk you to hair and makeup, and then on to the studio. Harry can't wait to meet you! He's just thrilled! You're just what we need! You'll be an overnight star . . . The audience will love you! A lawyer-turned-shrink whose husband was a cop gunned down in the line of duty. And you're a fox! The camera's gonna love you!"
Hailey stiffened like she always did, even now, this many years later, when someone brought up Will out of the blue. It was like cold water thrown on her face.
"Mr. Russo, I've never been married. Will was not a police officer. He was in college studying to be a geologist when he was murdered."
With that, Hailey turned on her heel. Walking as fast as she could without actually breaking into a trot, she made a beeline for a door that had a fire exit sign, along with the words alarm will sound posted above it in red letters. Turning the knob, she threw the words back at him over her shoulder.
"I don't think I'll be able to do your show today . . . Thanks for the offer. I'll find my own way out."
Russo was stunned. A Harry Todd guest? Refuse to go on air? A no-name former prosecutor who didn't jump at the chance to guest on a nationally televised talk show? She was walking away from the number one daytime talk show in the whole country? He couldn't wrap his mind around it . . . Someone who didn't want to be on TV?
In all his years, Tony Russo had never encountered such a thing and took off, hot on her heels. She had the head start, but he was gaining on her, darting through the heavy metal stairwell door, which had coincidentally set off an alarm when she opened it.
The cement stair shaft reeked of smoke. The steps were littered with years and years of old cigarette butts from every employee who wanted to sneak a puff without having to go outside. Now she got the alarm. Sneaky smokers must have entered through another floor that didn't alarm. Hailey's abrupt exit was not so sneaky.
"Wait!" he called out after her, pumping his chubby legs furiously to catch up. Russo was going as fast as he could, but Hailey was an avid runner . . . only when Russo slipped on the third flight, skidding down eight or nine stairs on nothing but rump and elbows, did Hailey stop to look back up.
Everything went quiet. She no longer heard his footsteps. Hailey took a few tentative steps back up. Did he fall? Was he hurt?
After a half-flight up, from around the corner of the stairs, she spotted him. His khaki pants had slid down even farther than before, and his stack of papers had scattered the length of the stairwell. His glasses were missing, and to top it off, he looked like he was going to cry. Something that sounded like a muffled man-sob echoed against the walls.
Cry? He was a grown man, for Pete's sake. Hailey sprinted back up the steps.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah . . . I just don't understand why you ran out like that. What happened? It took me so long to book you and fly you back to New York to be here on the set with Harry . . ."
"I'm leaving because you have no idea who Will is. Everybody, including me, we're just stories . . . stories to fill up your hour . . . nothing more. Will was murdered. He's dead. He was gunned down just before our wedding. And it means nothing to you. I won't let him be shilled out for ratings. The whole thing makes me sick, but now that I see you're all right, I'm leaving."
Hailey turned and started back down the stairs, but after only a few steps, she heard it again, louder. An outright sob, no longer muffled. Was he actually crying? Shedding tears? Ridiculous.
The sobs got a little louder. Tony Russo was outright crying. Hailey stopped, her hand on the railing. Was he that sensitive? Reaching into her bra, she pulled out one of her father's old white cotton handkerchiefs she always carried for good luck, turned, and headed back up.
- On Sale
- Aug 10, 2010
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Hachette Books