“Bailey?” Assignment Editor Vince Guzman’s voice called, as though from a great distance, though he was actually just across a couple of desks in the Three NewsFirst newsroom. “You tracking with me here?”
News anchor Bailey Barber snapped her eyes up to meet Vince’s intense expression. She cleared her throat and said, “Sorry Vince,” she said. “I guess I have a lot on my mind today.”
Did she ever: Dereck was coming to town after being away for nearly a year—and it had been a very long year for her, without any, um, male companionship. And she was the honorary chair of the Des Moines Symphony’s opening night gala tonight, where she would have to appear in full evening-gown glamor to present the station’s donation check.
And, as if that wasn’t pressure enough, the evening had turned out to be the big sexy triple-date that she, weekend anchor Karli Lewis, and news photographer Mary Rose Mayer had cooked up together a few weeks ago.
Vince’s voice rose over the static-y crackle of the ever-present police scanner. “Karli only had time to get a reader on the air for last night, and we couldn’t get anything overnight for the early shows, so we need you to get down to the women’s shelter and interview someone about the break-in last night.”
“Okayyy,” Bailey hesitated, drawing out the word. “Don’t I have to be here to do cut-ins and write and stack the 5:00 and 6:00 shows?”
Jerry Schultz, walking back from talking to a reporter across the newsroom, chimed in: “The consultant”—he accented it like it was a nasty word—“is telling us that the viewers need to see the main anchors out in the community, doing the stories and connecting with the people.” He paused as he took in Bailey’s look of exasperation, then went on, “This too shall pass, Bailey, but we need to do it for a while to appease the powers. Art can do all the cut-ins today.”
A shout came from the news photographers’ carrel-farm around the corner from the newsroom: “You didn’t tighten the head, so the camera just fell? Are you fucking kidding me? That lens cost eighteen thousand dollars!”
Vince, leaning back to look at the assignment board, called out to Mary Rose, “A viewer sent in some decent cell phone video that I’d like you to pretty up as best you can for a voice-over-video about the guy who was knocked over by a deer near the start of 5K race and then went on to finish. Anybody have a good hook for that?” he called out to the newsroom in general. “Oh, deer? Deer horns in on footrace?”
“So, what’s the story I’m working on?” Bailey sighed, her hands hovering over her keyboard, ready to take notes.
Vince took a sip from the fragrantly full coffee cup that was always near his hand and turned to her. “Cops called to the women’s crisis shelter last night,” Vince said in patient tones that suggested she’d missed the summary while he ticked off the day’s list earlier. “The guy had a no contact order against him that said he wasn’t to go within 500 feet of his ex. So he decides to break into the shelter where she is hiding from him. The nun in charge of the place stands her ground and has someone call the cops. The guy has a big shouting match with the nun, and when the cops show up, they arrest him after introducing his face to the pavement. Go get the nun at the shelter. And don’t waste time. The perp’s first appearance in court is supposed to be around 3:00 this afternoon, and you’ll need to be there to see if he says anything.”
Bailey’s fingers flew over her keyboard as she took down the details.
A phone call later, and Bailey had calmed the prickly nun enough to get reluctant consent for an interview. Nervous about the afternoon’s rides, Bailey climbed into a news car’s passenger seat and braced herself to endure Mary Rose’s apparently video game-inspired driving style.
The whiplash-inducing ride ended on a nondescript street a mile or so northeast of the Iowa State Capitol. As Mary Rose pulled her video and audio gear out of the car, Bailey stood at the curb and swiveled, taking in the quiet street’s image and trying to collect her thoughts to focus on the story rather than her upcoming evening.
“Let’s go meet the Sister,” Mary Rose said cheerfully, hoisting the camera to her tattooed shoulder. “I want her to be just like Whoopi Goldberg, don’t you?” Bailey gave her head a quick mind-clearing nod, realized with a start what she’d just agreed to and shook her head, then marched to the door to begin the introductions and get the nun ready to be captured on video.
Petite and walking with a straight posture that reminded Bailey of her own mother’s strict carriage, the mid-sixtyish woman who emerged from the shelter’s plywood-covered door had lovely silver hair tucked behind her ears. Her stern erectness was offset by sharp blue eyes that conveyed wisdom and empathy through nondescript glasses. She wore a trim pair of pressed khakis and a starched long-sleeve chambray shirt. No black Whoopi Goldberg habit for this nun, Bailey thought, perceiving Sister Nicollette as likely coming from the generation of nuns who had ditched the habit for dress more accessible to the laity.
Bailey watched the nun give both Mary Rose and herself very deliberate but kindly once-over examinations. The Sister kept a strong game face, but Bailey noticed a distinct pause as she took in the brightly colored tattoos that emerged from the cut-off sleeves of Mary Rose’s personally modified official Three NewsFirst polo.
“Sister Nicollette, would you prefer to do the interview here or inside?”
“I’d prefer not to be in the spotlight at all, as this story is not about me,” the nun responded in a kind but very firm French accent. “But I don’t imagine you can get the story right without me, so please, let’s go in.”
“Thank you,” Bailey said, deliberately using her meekest tones so as not to make the nun any more prickly than she already was.
She followed through the door, through a room full of washers and dryers and into a cinderblock hallway with any number of doors closed to it. Apart from the institutional linoleum and stark ivory paint, it had the feel of a hotel hall—long, quiet, and anonymous.
The nun turned into one of the doors, this one opening into an open space where a secretary sat at a computer, and then into an interior door that bore a nameplate indicating it was Sister Nicollette’s office.
Sister Nicollette sat behind a sternly economical desk, deliberately logged out of the computer there, and turned to watch in measured surprise as Mary Rose found an outlet, plugged in a light and mounted it on a stand, quickly flared the legs of her tripod, leveled it with the claw under the head, snapped her camera into place atop the assembly, and handed Bailey a microphone bearing a prominent Three NewsFirst flag.
“Is it necessary, all this?” she asked.
“We just want to take professional video, Sister,” Bailey answered in placating tones. “We do this on every story.”
Sister Nicollette looked mildly appeased for a moment. Then Mary Rose snapped on the light and quickly maneuvered the barn doors into position. The nun blinked in shock, took off her glasses and polished them with a cloth that lay next to her monitor.
Bailey felt like glaring at Mary Rose, but she knew that it would be pointless. The photographer was doing nothing out of the ordinary, and the interview required a minimum of lighting and decent audio capture. Plus Mary Rose was working with the speed that only practiced experience can bring. As soon as she tapped Bailey’s shoulder to let her know she was rolling, Bailey dove straight in.
“Sister Nicollette, can you tell me what happened here last night?”
“Many things, of course. Thirty women stay here, and each of them has her story.” The nun paused, then apparently decided that she didn’t want to turn the interview into a confrontation. “What you’re interested in, of course, is the man who broke through our door and wanted to enter the shelter to see one of our residents.”
The interview proceeded as most do, with many tangents and parentheticals. Once Bailey had the substance of the events, including the man’s standoff with the nun, she made the usual brief but polite comments to bring things to a close. The nun had told how the man more or less froze when she confronted him. Sister Nicollette explained that many abusers won’t get physical unless they have established a history and pattern of abuse, so she had played the odds and faced him down.
Thanking the Sister, Bailey rose and began coiling the microphone cable to hand it back to Mary Rose, who was busily tearing down the light and her tripod.
“Your story is going to misrepresent everything that happens here, you know,” Sister Nicollette said firmly, coming around from behind her desk.
Bailey looked up in surprise, her raised eyebrows posing the unspoken question.
“You’re going to get this all wrong. The man who tried to break in here is irrelevant. And I am certainly not the important part of this.
“These women aren’t damsels in distress who need to be rescued or protected from evil,” the nun replied patiently. “Each comes for her own reasons, of course. But they’re all rescuing themselves. Some are freeing themselves from patterns of abuse, some are enslaved by addiction, many are both. Some just can’t find jobs that pay a living wage and provide the flexibility to care for their children, and they’ve exhausted all their other options. Some are breaking away from being trafficked, which can include all those things.”
“Will these women even let me tell their stories?” Bailey asked. “I mean, I’m working on a strict deadline today, but if I come back here when there’s time to do the kind of in-depth work that would take?”
“You might start by asking them,” said Sister Nicollette.
Bailey had to brace herself so as not to roll her eyes. She was not interested in being instructed by the nun, but she was intrigued by her portrayal of the women in the shelter. “Perhaps you could make an introduction for me?” she asked, deliberately using her most polite tone of voice.
The nun looked hard at Bailey, then turned abruptly and marched out to the hallway. Bailey exchanged puzzled looks with Mary Rose, they each shrugged, picked up equipment, and followed her as quickly as they could.
Once in the hallway, they spotted Sister Nicollette several doors down, talking to a tall young woman. As they approached, the nun turned to them and said, “Bailey Barber, I’d like you to meet Kristi Eliasson.”
Her hands were full of Mary Rose’s tripod and her own reporting things. Bailey tucked her reporter’s notepad and ballpoint under her left arm to free her right hand, which she held out to the statuesque young brunette. “Nice to meet you, Kristi,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m pressed for time, but I’d really appreciate an opportunity to sit down with you—maybe next week—to talk about what brings you here.”
“That’d be fine,” Kristi answered. “You know, I grew up in Story County, too. In Nevada—same town as you.”
Bailey’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You know where I’m from?”
“Well I watch the news, don’t I?” Kristi laughed in response. “You’re the hometown girl for Three NewsFirst. They’re always talking about how you grew up right here in central Iowa.”
Bailey shook her head. Kristi was right. And just because she was living in the shelter didn’t mean she was living in some other world. The two quickly exchanged phone numbers and made plans to touch base.
Remembering the white-knuckle panic of being Mary Rose’s passenger, Bailey took the wheel for the trip across the political part of Des Moines to the Polk County Courthouse. Bailey knew that the man would be arraigned on his charges any minute, and she was driving nearly as fast as Mary Rose would have to get there, so she wasn’t terribly surprised when she saw the lights in her rearview mirror. The officer was patient with her excuses, but she was going 26 mph over the limit on a busy street, so he gave her a ticket anyway.
Finally arriving at the courthouse, she and Mary Rose, laden with gear, approached the main entrance. A smiling man with unruly black hair and a wonderfully tailored blue suit held the door for them as though he were the host of some exciting party being held in the courthouse. Bailey noted that he was distinctly handsome in the slender, wavy-haired way that dark Irishmen often were. He welcomed the two of them into the building as though they were the late-arriving and long-anticipated guests of honor at his party.
The man—who was obviously a lawyer, as the Sheriff’s deputies waved him through the metal detectors without hesitation—stopped and waited for them in the entryway. Once the women and their equipment had all passed through security, he asked, “What’s the news today?”
“We’re here for the man who broke into the women’s shelter this weekend.”
“The man who is accused of breaking into the women’s shelter,” the lawyer corrected gently, a grin spreading across his handsome face. “But you know that.”
“Yes,” Bailey sighed. “I know that.” She looked hard at the lawyer and liked what she saw. He had a look of sharp intelligence in his smiling eyes, and the dimples in his cheeks grew deeper as he smiled more broadly in response to her eye roll. And it didn’t hurt that he was attractive in a more objective, fitness magazine-cover kind of way, either. Nothing about his plain blue suit looked special, but it hung on his lean frame like a dream. A flash of metal in the suit-coat pocket caught her attention. She was surprised to see two arrow-shaped pen clips on the outside; men didn’t usually wear pens out where people could see them.
“Do you know which courtroom that’s in?” she asked, feeling a sudden physical attraction shiver through her, then feeling a cautionary twinge at being attracted to another lawyer.
“Sure, it’s in 204. I’m headed that way,” the lawyer said, gesturing for the reporter and photographer to follow him.
Bailey found herself having to move very quickly to stay in the faintly vanilla-scented wake of the handsome lawyer. She cast a panicked glance back, looking for the heavily burdened Mary Rose, whose peroxided hair—with cotton-candy-blue highlights—made her easy to spot in the courthouse throng. She was only a couple of steps behind Bailey, and she gave a reassuring smile.
The lawyer continued moving through the corridor, exchanging pleasantries with other lawyer types, greetings with deputies and court attendants, and occasional quick exchanges with some of the dozens of seemingly ordinary people who had been swept up into the justice system now found themselves all over the frustration spectrum. Each person he spoke with seemed to relax a little in response to his warmth. Most laughed in response to some quiet quip Bailey couldn’t quite make out.
Bailey followed him into a courtroom, again looking back to confirm that Mary Rose was following. Vince had already made arrangements to have a judge enter an order permitting Mary Rose’s camera in the courtroom, and Bailey made sure to present the order to the court attendant.
As Mary Rose leaned in to check her tripod’s centering bubble, she whispered in Bailey’s ear, “He’s totally cute. You should throw down with him. Then you’ll have something fresh to compare the mystery out-of-town boyfriend with.”
Bailey cleared her throat, slugged Mary Rose gently on the shoulder, and shook her head in a firm No. “Besides, he’s coming back to town today.”
“So get to work fast!” Mary Rose hissed.
“I already got in trouble today for going too fast!” Bailey hissed back.