I must still be delirious, because I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Valerie James, my arch-rival and lifelong enemy exposed her secrets and went out of her way to save me?
“Julia,” Valerie says as she glides over. With an unexpected gentle hand she brushes a long strand of my hair out of my face and offers me a tissue to take care of the tears stinging the corner of my eye. “I didn’t know.”
“What?” I stand there in shock as she leans down and looks at me directly. Her eyes don’t have the fire, the sarcasm, or the superiority I always used to see in them. Right now, they show nothing but compassion.
“I didn’t know Blake had stolen Lynx out from under you or any of the terrible things he put you through. He called me about two months ago and said Lynx had violated some agreements and wasn’t a good investment. He told me he was planning to shut you down and asked if I would be interested in taking it over. I’ve always wanted Ladies World to have the edge you have, so I agreed.”
“Later, Kenneth told me they were monitoring your computer system and you had an absolute bombshell of a story hidden somewhere. But, they didn’t know who wrote it or what it was about. So when they took over the office, I came in to try to find it. However, it was a myth. There wasn’t a story. Blake was using me as a pawn to hurt you and help him drive up his stock with rumors of Ladies World’s new prospects.”
“But there is a…” I begin to say when the odd blond woman in the room coughs loudly. It stops my mouth long enough for me to realize I shouldn’t reveal the Wall Street Story until I’m sure Lynx is really safe. “There are a lot of good stories there.”
“Yes, there are.” Valerie nods with a look of respect. “You’ve got a great magazine. And that’s why I decided to give the deposition. When Mark called and said Blake had those pictures I confronted him. He tried to blackmail me with other pictures he stole. I was so grateful when Mark called to say you two retrieved them.
“Oh, those,” I mutter, slightly embarrassed for her to know I’ve seen them. “But that’s not why I came here today. I came because I like you, I respect you, and I love our rivalry. I think it makes us both sharper, better editors. But, I want to spar with you on equal ground, as peers. Kicking you when you’re down, particularly when you’ve been thrown down by the lies of a corrupt ass**le like Blake Stone, isn’t very sporting or honorable.”
“Thank you,” I say earnestly. I almost reach out and hug her but a huge “bang” fills the room. Everyone looks to see what’s going on in the doorway. There stands little Robert Clank, bowtie askew, sweating and smiling. He’s holding my jail envelope in one hand and my shoes in the other. It’s the first time I realize I’ve been standing there barefoot. I feel a blush developing under my skin.
“I thought you might need these, Miss Sharp,” he gasps. I end up giving him a hug as I lean on his shoulder to put my shoes back on.
“Hi Val,” Mr. Clank says cordially.
“Robert,” she acknowledges warmly. “How’s our resident superhero?”
“Oh, another day, another captive set free.” He laughs. They can tell I’m shocked by the exchange and the fact that a woman who runs in the top circles of New York society speaks with such familiarity to this diminutive little cop car chaser who bails out criminals for a living.
“Robert is the angel of uptown,” Valerie explains to me in a whisper as if revealing the secret to the fountain of youth known only to a few. “He’s bailed out more of my reporters, photographers and undercover folks than I can even count. He’s also quite well connected to streets and boardrooms. Get to know him.”
“I have.” I laugh. Mark makes his way over to where we are standing. With one arm around Valerie and one around me he guides us both back to the table.
“Ladies, Kevin has finished signing his testimony about the computers at Lynx and how they were altered. Paul is almost ready for Julia to sign the final draft, if you’d come this way,” the bailiff says.
“Hi, Miss Shark!” Kevin says with a smile, not seeming to realize his error.
“It’s Sharp, Kevin,” I correct mildly. “Thank you for helping me today.”
“Sure, sure,” he says enthusiastically. “Everyone at Lynx misses you so much, and loves working for you. I hope you can come back soon. We need you.”
I watch his eyes shift from me to the blonde woman I don’t know. I realize the blonde hair is a hastily donned wig. Her makeup is thick and doesn’t match either her complexion or her casual dress which has been accentuated with evening jewelry. Her highly polished black shoes seem to be a pair of JC Penny Nine-to-Five flats. While Paul is fussing over pages with the bailiff, I walk over to the mismatched anomaly who might be a drag queen and try to introduce myself.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t seem—”
The woman, who has been staring at the floor through most of the morning, gets a thin little smile, her lips pressed together and her eyes dart wildly toward a corner of the room. My mouth falls open in horror.
“Over there,” she mutters through clenched teeth and I realize for the first time she’s shaking. “Let’s go over there.”
Walking to the corner, I can see her signature short quick step that I’ve watched through my office door a million times.
“Okay,” she says sternly. “No need to make a fuss.”
“Janice, what the hell?”
“I only had an hour to put this together and I have limited resources. I’ve been out of work the last few weeks, you know.”
“What are you talking about? Why are you…um…like this?”
“What?” I burst out laughing. It’s loud enough to draw attention to our little corner of the room.
“Shhh!” She hushes me with a maternal glare. “I’ve made it this far. Let’s just get out of this and then forget it ever happened. I’ve already threatened Kevin with the most painful of deaths if he ever breathes a word of this anyone.”
“Get out of what? What do you mean you’re me?”
“Mark called and told me you had been put back in jail. He said if you didn’t sign these papers everything was lost. I went over the precinct and it was a wreck. No one would talk to me and there was nothing I could do. It didn’t look like anyone was getting in or out of there very fast. It’s quite inefficient, you know.”