Do You Promise Not to Tell?by Mary Jane Clark
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TV producer Farrell Slater just stumbled on a story that might save her career...or get her killed. A prestigious New York auction house just sold a Fabergé Egg for six million dollars. But Farrell knows it is a fake. So does a college student who promised never to tell the location of the real one. And so does a cunning murderer who has already dismembered one victim...set fire to another...and strangled still another in order to carry off the greatest scam of the century. And now he or she has a special fate in mind for a TV newswoman who just can't keep a secret. . .
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Do You Promise Not to Tell?
By Mary Jane Clark
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Mary Jane Clark
All rights reserved.
Farrell Slater knew her days were numbered. Her contract was up and Range Bullock, executive producer of KEY Evening Headlines, didn't like her. A lethal combination. Unless she could redeem herself, Farrell knew her contract would not be renewed and her days as one of the producers of the network's highly-rated evening-news broadcast would be over unless she could pull a journalistic rabbit out of a hat.
She'd even started going to church again. Funny how worry led one back to the kneeler. On the way to the office this morning, Farrell had stopped for ashes at St. Gabriel's. It was the first time in years she'd bothered. Might as well start the Lenten season off right. Having God on her side right now wouldn't hurt.
How the mighty had fallen. Eight years ago, as just a thirty-year-old, Farrell had been the talk of KEY News, having won three Emmy Awards in one season — industry recognition for her outstanding achievements in television news production. Everyone had loved her then, everyone had wanted to be her friend. She was a hot property, admired and sought after by her colleagues.
What had happened?
Part of it, she had to admit to herself, was that she hadn't been able to sustain the momentum and enthusiasm for her job. She had started to coast — just slightly at first, then a little bit more. So, to some degree it was her own fault she was where she was. But not entirely.
There was no doubt in Farrell's mind. Her boss detested her. Was there any way she could redeem herself? Did she want to? Bullock had written her off. The stories he was assigning to Farrell now were always "below the line," iffy stories listed way down on the morning's rundown, beneath the pieces sure to make air.
Occasionally one of Farrell's stories developed into something more than Bullock had anticipated. The executive producer was then forced, grudgingly, to give it a slot in the Evening Headlines lineup. If the piece came out well, Bullock credited its depth, creativity, and impact to the correspondent. If the piece came up short, Producer Farrell, ever the goat, got the blame.
Hanging her violet wool coat on the back of the door, Farrell, dressed in a simple turtleneck and black wool slacks, headed for her desk in the office she shared with Bullock's pet producer, Dean Cohen. Farrell lifted a cup of coffee from the Strokos Delicatessen's brown paper bag and, studying her office mate, tried to remember what it was like to be the favored one.
Dean certainly wasn't any smarter or more aggressive than Farrell. His pieces were solid, never outstanding. But Dean was a skilled player in the KEY political game. He knew when to keep his mouth shut. Farrell did not. His sucking up to Range Bullock made Farrell want to gag.
"Happy Ash Wednesday," Dean nodded, acknowledging the black smudge on Farrell's forehead.
"That's a contradiction in terms," Farrell corrected.
"Oh yeah, right. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that." Dean turned his attention back to his New York Times.
Now, why had she done that? She could have just smiled and said a simple thank-you. That's what most people would have done. But no. She had to put Dean in his place. It was a constant game of one-upmanship between them and she knew it. It didn't play well.
Perhaps if she were prettier, she could get away with it. But Farrell wasn't a conventionally pretty woman. Quirky, maybe — exotic, on a good day. She'd known since she was a little girl that she would make her way in life with her strongest asset, her brain. A coarse cloud of black curly hair crowned her high forehead. Large (almost too large) brown eyes gave her a look of wide-eyed wonder — not very reassuring in the television news business. The appearance of control could be more important than actual control.
Booting up her computer, Farrell groaned inwardly as she viewed her lot for the day. How could she change Bullock's mind when he kept assigning her the dreck? The Fabergé auction over at Churchill's?
Below the line.CHAPTER 2
Pat struggled to stay seated. Please, God, just let the bidding go up.
The gavel snapped crisply. "Sold! To number four-ten. Fifteen thousand dollars for the Fabergé brooch."
Patricia Devereaux craned her auburn head, eager to see who had captured Olga's treasured crescent pin. Searching the crowd, she saw movement two rows ahead. Sitting on one of the folding chairs in the venerable Churchill's auction gallery, a wraithlike old woman dressed entirely in black smoothly replaced her green auction paddle in her lap. As the woman rose to leave, Pat got a better look.
Luminous dark eyes peered out from her magnolia-skinned face. The woman's raven hair could not be untinted, but Pat suspected that years ago the shiny black had been its natural color. In her time, she must have been a real beauty, Pat decided.
But now the former beauty would be wearing Olga's brooch. Pat felt a tug of sadness. Dear Olga. How many times had the tiny Russian woman lovingly attached that pin to the collar of her carefully starched linen blouses? Olga had cherished the white enamel crescent studded with tiny sapphires — a gift from her father who had once worked in the studios of the famed jeweler Carl Fabergé. If an old woman was to wear this unique pin, Pat preferred that it be Olga.
Fabergé. The Imperial jeweler to the last Romanov czars.
Pat and her nineteen-year-old son Peter watched the distinguished-looking auctioneer standing at the raised walnut platform stationed in front of the large room. Well-dressed men and women spoke softly into the telephones at desks banking either side of the auctioneer's podium. Their job was to efficiently express bids made by potential buyers not on the floor of the salesroom.
The auctioneer expertly moved through the numbered items in the Churchill's catalogue. A small copper ashtray embossed with the Russian Imperial Eagles went for fourteen hundred dollars. A pair of silver Fabergé asparagus tongs earned over its estimate of two thousand. A silver table lighter in the form of a crouching monkey went for twenty-five thousand. The monkey's expressive face and lined forehead had clearly charmed its new owner.
"What do we have for the gold cigarette case?"
Pat studied the picture of the cigarette case featured in her program. The fourteen-karat golden cover was monogrammed and featured a diamond-set Imperial Eagle. When pressed, the sapphire thumbpiece opened the elegant container. Beautiful.
"Four thousand once.
"Four thousand twice.
"Sold! Four thousand dollars to number one-ninety-six."
Pat recognized the buyer. It was the same man who had purchased Olga's silver cigarette case at last year's auction. The tall, pleasant-looking man was wearing a tweed sports jacket. She guessed him to be about forty-five, maybe older. As she studied him, he looked in her direction and smiled.
Did he remember her from last year?
"That's Professor Kavanagh! My Russian Studies prof." Peter was out of his seat and headed for the cigarette-case buyer. The men shook hands and Pat watched as Peter gestured toward her and she could see his lips form the words, That's my mother. Pat thought the professor looked surprised, maybe even pleased, to hear the information.
Pat was used to it. People often commented that it had to be impossible for her to be the mother of a nineteen-year-old. But she'd been Peter's age when her only child was born.
As Pat looked on, she was surprised herself. Seton Hall University must be paying good salaries. Fabergé cigarette cases didn't come cheap. The men shook hands again and Peter came back to join his mother. His face was flushed with pleasure.
"This is great, Mom," he whispered. "Meeting my favorite professor at a Churchill's auction — I think he was surprised to see one of his students at something like this."
Pat enjoyed her son's enthusiasm. Peter was such an earnest kid. She often found herself hoping he wouldn't get hurt.
"I told him about your shop, Mom. He said he'd like to stop in sometime."
"Great, sweetheart," she whispered back; but she was more interested in what was happening at the front of the room.
The numbered treasures continued to fetch small fortunes and Pat felt the electricity building in the crowd as the star attraction slowly made its way closer to the auction block. Then, it rolled into view. The audience sat up straighter in their chairs and a low, reverential roar swept over the tension-charged room. The television news crews stationed throughout the gallery rolled their video cameras.
Pat shivered at the auctioneer's announcement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Moon Egg."CHAPTER 3
Safe from the curious stares of the eyes below in the auction gallery, there was privacy in the Churchill's skybox. In the skybox, one could see out, but no one could see in.
The bidding on the Moon Egg was heated. From the floor, on the phones, the price went higher and higher.
The auctioneer entered the bids as he received them, and the price rose higher still.
Whatever it took, the skybox bidder was determined to have the egg. It was meant to be.CHAPTER 4
"What else should we shoot, boss?"
Tall and lanky, B. J. D'Elia stood poised with his video camera, ready for Farrell's cue.
"Hold on a minute, Beej, I'm thinking."
Farrell stood at the side of the crowded gallery and debated with herself. This was a better story than she had originally anticipated. Should she snag Churchill's president, Clifford Montgomery, for a unilateral interview? What was the point? Range was never going to buy a full piece on the sale of the Moon Egg. He wasn't going to give one minute and thirty seconds of his valuable Evening Headlines airtime to this story. Farrell had known this the minute he'd assigned the piece to her.
A voice-over, at best. Anchor Eliza Blake would narrate fifteen or twenty seconds of video of the Fabergé egg and the auction scene, telling the audience that the egg had sold for a record six million dollars.
But it was a far more compelling story than Farrell had first thought. Frustrated, Farrell was certain she could construct a more interesting piece. She'd get some file video from the film and tape library. She remembered some old black-and-white newsreel stuff KEY News had obtained of the Romanovs at play on their royal yacht, the Standart. Shortly thereafter, Czar Nicholas II and his family had been forced from the Alexander palace and sent into exile, only to be executed a few months later by the ruthless Bolsheviks. Their royal bodies had been doused with acid and buried in a pit in the darkness of the Russian woods.
She could ask Robbie to pull it for her.
The story of the long-lost Moon Egg and how it had been discovered decades after its creation as an Easter gift for Czarina Alexandra from her devoted husband, was a producer's dream. It had all the elements: romance, wealth, betrayal, tragedy. I can't miss with this story, thought Farrell. It's great TV.
Farrell pulled out her cell phone and stabbed the numbers that would connect her with the Fishbowl, the Evening Headlines command center. Dean Cohen picked up.
"Cohen," he answered crisply.
Swell. The fair-haired boy busy kissing up to Master Bullock. Dean was forever trawling around the Fishbowl. He thrived on hanging out in the executive producer's glass-enclosed office.
"Dean, it's Farrell."
"How'd the auction go?"
"Great. Can I talk to Range?"
"He's on another line."
Farrell held on, her eyes scanning the auction gallery. She saw a tall, pretty woman gathering up her things and rising from her seat. An even taller teenaged boy got up along with her. There was something familiar about her.
Pat! She looked almost the same as she had the last time Farrell had seen her. How long ago was that? Farrell's mind searched. Could it be almost twenty years? And that must be Peter — he had been just a baby when last she'd seen him! My God.
"Bullock here," snapped the voice in the earpiece. Bullock's abrupt, clipped manner always caught Farrell off guard.
"Range, it's Farrell."
"I know who it is."
Of course he knew who it was. How stupid of her to identify herself again. When would she learn that, with Bullock, she should dispense with the niceties? He just wanted her to get to the point.
Farrell hated herself as she heard herself stammer, "Well, the Moon Egg just went for six million."
"Well, I think we could do a good story on it."
"The whole history of the thing is fascinating."
"Who bought it?"
"A telephone bidder who wants to remain anonymous."
There was a short pause on the line. Farrell pictured Bullock checking his computer screen.
"We're heavy tonight. Best we can do is give it a twenty-second v/o."
The connection was broken.CHAPTER 5
"The Bowl doesn't want it," Farrell announced, shrugging. "Do you mind, Beej? I'm going to take a cab back to the Broadcast Center now."
"Damn, I love the shot I got of that doorman in the Russian cossack getup out front. Cool costume. Oh well, you go ahead, Farrell. I'll see you back there."
B. J. D'Elia continued to pack up his video gear as he watched Farrell walk away, her shoulders slumped. It would only take about ten minutes to break down and stow away the tripod, lights, and wires and load them into the crew car parked outside Churchill's on Madison Avenue. Farrell knew that. And with no story to produce for tonight's broadcast, there was certainly no big rush to get back to KEY. She must want to be on her own, not in the mood for company or conversation. Who could blame her? Farrell couldn't get herself arrested on Evening Headlines.
Twenty-eight years old, Bartolomeo Joseph D'Elia loved working in television news. Forty hours a week, plus all the overtime he could get, he was paid for his passion. Going out to cover whatever assignment blew his way, B. J. lived by his wits, his skills, and the seat of his pants.
Was he lucky, or what! He thought of that all the time. Most poor stiffs hated to get up in the morning, dragged themselves to their boring jobs, counting the hours until it was time to go home. Then they ate some dinner, watched a lot of television, and went to bed, only to get up and do it all over again. When he thought about what life must be like for those guys, he shuddered. B. J. knew he was one of the fortunate few who actually looked forward to work each day.
Farrell, on the other hand, was struggling, and everyone at KEY knew it. Gossip was elevated to an art form. Who was in favor, who was screwing up, who was on the rise, who had already seen his or her best days. Career bumps and rough patches sustained the voracious appetites of the newshounds. They watched with the same fascination of rubberneckers on the highway who slow down to see if the passengers in a car wreck are going to come out alive — mesmerized and grateful (perhaps "happy" would be the right word) that they were safe, at least for today.
KEY News was no longer the cradle-to-grave operation it had once proudly been in years gone by. In the past, when a longtime employee had served the company well, the news division would keep him on staff when his most productive days were behind him. You took care of us, now we'll take care of you. Not anymore.
Corporate loyalty cut both ways. Employees sensed the company wasn't committed to the workers the way it had been once. Many employees didn't give as much as a result. Why bust your hump for the company when it wasn't going to be there for you?
That's why B. J. was a standout. He always went the extra mile, treating every story he worked on like it had Emmy Award-nomination potential. He paid attention to the details, put thought and energy into each camera shot. Producers loved to work with him. When B. J. had done the camera work in the field, they knew that there would be great material to work with in the editing room. Producers always asked to have him assigned to their stories.
He was also a lot of fun. Quick-witted, well-read, and street-smart, he was able to size up a situation and, when it got tense, diffuse it with humor. In a world where everyone took themselves very seriously, B. J. could be counted on to put things in perspective with some comic relief. But today his attempts at humor had failed with Farrell. She hadn't even smiled at any of his wisecracks.
He finished winding up the last bit of black rubber-coated electrical wire and stowed it in the camera gear case. He forgot Farrell as once more he looked to the front of the auction gallery.
That young Asian woman staffing the telephone bank was a babe. He wondered for about five seconds if he should go for it.
Excerpted from Do You Promise Not to Tell? by Mary Jane Clark. Copyright © 1999 Mary Jane Clark. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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"In news as in life, luck often counts as much as hard work. Clark captures the spirit of an enterprising reporter who relies on both to 'get' the story of her life." --Deborah Norville, anchor, INSIDE EDITION
Meet the Author
Mary Jane Clark is the author of more than a dozen novels, including: Do You Want To Know A Secret, Do You Promise Not To Tell, Let Me Whisper In Your Ear, Close To You, and Nobody Knows. She was for almost three decades a producer and a writer at CBS News in New York City. She lives in New Jersey and Florida.
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It started out a little slow for me, but once I got past the first few chapters, it really got my attention.
I highly reccomend this book. She has once again cornered the market on the suspense. I started reading it and could not put it down. It is well worth the read.