“The answer is no,” growled Mr. O'Neil to the persistent pleas of the leggy blond seated opposite his desk. While bobbing her crossed legs in agitation, she tapped her pen against the the arm of the chair double noting her excessive energy toward the goal for which she was being turned down.
“Mr. O'Neil, if you would just let me explain,” pushed the young emerald eyed reporter.
“Meadows, need I remind you I'm the editor, you're the reporter?”
“No, I understand that,” she murmured.
“Which is exactly why I'm trying to do my job, and report!” she redoubled her efforts after seemingly backing down. Mr. O'Neil groaned at the false defeat.
“Dawn, when you were at Ivy Ridge, you gave your journalism professor Anderson a very hard time with your chasing of thin leads.”
“But they all turned out to be right,” interrupted Dawn with a young defensive burst.
“And he let you slide on most of them because it was no secret that your parents had been quite generous with their donations to the institution,” continued Mr. O'Neil as if he had not been interrupted at all.
“My parents' donations had nothing to do with it!” replied an offended Dawn, indignantly.
“And after your parents passed away, and Mr. Anderson encouraged me to take you on as an intern here at the Tribune to help you move through-”
“I know, I know, you've told me that story a million times before,” interrupted Dawn yet again, impatient at being treated like the same lost little girl that was hired at the Rose Tribune several years ago. While understanding the compassion and understanding that everyone gave her during her difficult years, she hated being reminded of the personal debt that she owed the world.
“Then you also understand that it was out of great respect for your father that I also have allowed some of your better 'hunches' to go in the past,” replied Mr. O'Neil, gentler tone gone at Dawn's petulant insistence at not being treated like a spoiled little rich girl. The hurt look on her face told him that she was not in fact not quite as ready to be treated like a “grown up” as she had indicated. Believing that her tantrum was done, Mr. O'Neil sighed and leaned back in his great office chair. He was wrong.
“Then you should also understand that I have another one of my 'hunches' as you call them, and if I've been right so far, then why would it be any different this time?” she asked, tone nearly taking a whine in its plea. Dawn was not whining, rather it was her passion for her work that sometimes reflected emotionally in her expression to do the best she could. She was after all desperate to not be the spoiled rich girl that it was so easy to label her as. Mr. O'Neil sighed to himself again, wondering what to do with the earnest young lady in front of him.
“The reason this time is different, Dawn, is that the person you are accusing of foul play is a rather prominent banker, and happens to be a well respected man in the community. And to go after him with information that is not entirely air tight, is a dangerous game. Not only to the reputation of the Tribune, and myself, but to your career as well,” he explained.
“But I'm not wrong, I have records, transactions that prove it!” replied Dawn, redoubling her efforts in earnest.
“That you think prove it,” corrected Mr. O'Neil accusingly. “You don't know for sure that the transactions you have in question are really evidence of financial dealings with illegal sources. Despite how things appear Dawn, does not mean they are always sinister and evil. I realize you might find that difficult to believe,” he added.
Dawn looked at her watch, sighed, could see that she was getting nowhere with her thickheaded editor. “I'm going to be late if I don't leave now,” she huffed.
“Late for what?” inquired a skeptical Mr. O'Neil.
“The press conference. David Calloway is giving a press conference this afternoon to unveil his new enterprise with the automotive industry that has been kept so tightly under wraps until today that is.”
“I know about the press conference, and I know why David Calloway is holding it. What I don't know is why you're attending it?” asked an increasingly skeptical Mr. O'Neil.
“Well, in case you forgot, I'm a reporter, and I cover the news,” replied an all too charmingly sarcastic Dawn.
“Nice try, Meadows. Don't think I'm foolish enough to believe that you're just going down there to cover the news after the fight you just put up to follow your crusade.”
“I won't,” replied a decidedly morose sounded Dawn, absently checking the condition of her finely manicured nails, and brushing off lint that wasn't there on her smooth and silky pantyhose.
“You can't go making accusations that aren't backed up with solid facts. Not when the person you are accusing is as well connected as David Calloway. Gather more evidence, show me the facts in black and white, then I'll take the leash off,” said Mr. O'Neil reassuringly.
“I'd settle for you letting me go without these pantyhose for a week, while the air conditioning gets fixed,” joked Dawn with an exaggerated suffering look on her face.
“Don't push it Meadows. You wanna lose your career over a $4 garment?”
“That would be pretty stupid, wouldn't it?” asked Dawn rhetorically, though she mused the idea, to give her poor legs a breather, even at the cost of her career. “Well, gotta go,” breaking the spell of her thoughts. Uncrossing her long legs, she smoothed out her skirt and turned to leave the office.
“No merit-less crusades today at the press conference, and keep the pantyhose on. Do that and you should have a job tomorrow. Don't? And who knows where you'll be,” warned Mr. O'Neil cryptically.
Dawn nodded her blond head while she quickly trotted from the office down to the parking garage where she hopped in her green jaguar and zipped through the busy city streets to the steps of the Calloway banking firm. Parking around the side of the block, where she could find an available spot, she checked her makeup for blemish, and hosiery for runs (had to represent the Tribune with dignity), and briskly walked back around front where she made it just in time for the beginning of the press conference.
The opening statements by made my David Calloway combined with his confident demeanor set the tone for the press conference, and the initial questions asked by reporters seemed to change that very little. It was a light and positive spin on how good that the Calloway Banking Firm was doing, and how the partnership with national automotive industry was going to pave the way for an even brighter future. His smugness was unbearable, and the spinelessness of the reporters to push him with greater questions caused something journalistic in Dawn to snap. She held the reports detailing the “questionable” financial transactions involving Calloway under her slender arm, and it became too much to sit on.
“Mr. Calloway, I have a question,” called Dawn out loudly, just louder than the reporter who had been asking a question, before Dawn unceremoniously cut her off. It was a stupid fluff question anyway, Dawn justified her rudeness to herself. Caught slightly off guard by the sudden competition for permission to speak, Mr. Calloway scanned his eyes through the small crowd of gathered reporters to see who it was that was speaking. Stopping his eyes on Dawn, and smiling at how pleasant the young reporter was to look at, he nodded his head approvingly and said “yes, please go ahead with your question, Miss...?”
“...Meadows,” replied Dawn, completing the question. “I would like to ask you about your dealings in South America?” asked Dawn, rather mysteriously with a blunt tone. Mr. Calloway, narrowed his eyes, and furrowed his brow, responding with a quizzical look, obviously taken aback by the seemingly off topic question.
“I'm sorry Miss... Meadows was it? I'm not sure what it is your asking? Todays press conference is about Calloway Banking Firm's foray into auto industry, and the stimulating ramifications that will hold for the future of this city,” replied David Calloway quickly regaining his cool composure and getting some nods and pleasant ascent to his comments on positive job growth.
“I'm sure everyone here is pleased about the spin you are putting on the facts and figures your aforementioned investments, but what I'm not sure everybody knows is just how you're getting the financial backing to enter this new enterprise, or to finance the firm on whose steps we all now stand?”
“I'm sorry Miss Meadows, but is there a question you have that you would like to ask? I don't think I just speak for myself today when I say that you're cryptic demeanor is a little bit confusing,” returned Mr. Calloway with a knowing smile to the crowd who seemed to chuckle at his humor, and rally with nodding heads in his defense.
“No, I'm sorry, Mr. Calloway. I wasn't clear,” replied Dawn casting her head down in mock humility. Raising it back up a moment later she asked, “Is it true that you finance your bank through drug money derived from the empires of South America?” The question had the effect of a powder keg as the entirety of everyone gathered began to speak all at once. Some were gasps, some had questions, while others shouted their surprise, all the while, David Calloway tried to maintain the mask upon his face. Dawn watched him closely the entire time. She knew the crowd would ignite, and she forced her perception to stay focused on the tell in his face, to reveal to her the truth. A crack formed in the mask and it was entirely possible that nobody else saw it, but Dawn saw it. She knew. She knew that the question had hit home. Within that span of seconds, the crowd had devolved into shouts of the preposterousness of the accusation and the baseless facts, not quite the rally that Dawn might have hoped for. Rather, the rally seemed to fall on the wrong side. David Calloway raised his hands in an effort to silence the raucous of questions that spilled chaotically from the reporters and their arms extended with microphones, pens ready to quickly scratch against pads of paper.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Please let me put your fears to rest that Miss Meadows accusations are fact-less and unfounded. Were I not here to build a better community for this city, I would say that she was victim to vicious rumor, and carrying on a witch hunt expected of a cheap tabloid journalist. I can only hope that you learned better in your schooling in journalism, Miss Meadows, and I wish you the best in overcoming your naivety and gossip spreading. I am sorry folks, but this press conference is at an end,” finished Mr. Calloway with a brief smile, nod, and wave of his hands. Turning his back on the crowd, immediately resulted in the resume of chaotic question asking, a disorganized mess, all left unanswered. He disappeared up the bank steps, and swept through the great doors without another work, without looking back.
Dawn held her chin up despite some of the rude things that were said among her colleagues about the basis of her question, and the merit behind it. Standing there, she took it, as if she left it would appear that she was defeated by their banter, and crawled away to lick her wounds, sorry she had made a fool of herself. It was quite the opposite. Despite the negative response her colleagues presented, she had all the reaction she wanted when she saw the chink in David Calloway's mask. The truth was told in that tiny crack. And Dawn intended to widen that crack, and expose the corruption to the cold light of day. That is where the truth is ugliest.
As with many hot emotions, it burned itself out quickly enough, and the crowd of reporters grew tired of their jeers toward their colleague, and slowly dispersed back to their respective publications. Only then did Dawn herself, walk down the steps carefully in her heels and walk with as much dignity as she could muster back toward her car. To say she was unaffected by their words would have been a lie. The evidence was there in the ever so slight moist rim formed around her eyes. She wished her fellow journalists could have rallied to her side, to fight injustice, but she knew that she had to stand alone despite the pain. When she brought David Calloway to justice, the pain would all be worth it.
Her car beeped and whistled as she got near, pressing the button on her key chain from within her purse. No sooner had she unlocked the car with a squawk, did her phone follow up with a ring. Fumbling around in her purse, she found the little cell phone so concerned with getting her attention and checked the caller id: “O'Neil.”
“What's up, Chief?” answered Dawn (Chief was the nickname given to Mr. O'Neil by the staff, even though he was not part of a police or fire department. He was in fact just their editor, but it somehow fit his commanding demeanor).
“What's up? What the hell do you think is up? You've gone and made a mess of things after I warned you!” The words came through the tiny phone as a stream of screaming.
“Chief, I can explain, I” she tried to get the words in edge wise in her tiny guilty voice.
“Save it, Meadows. You're fired!” he roared.
“Chief, please, I,” she said voice quavering, searching for the right words, but it didn't matter. Mr. O'Neil had already hung up. Dawn let her arm fall to her side as though lifeless, the phone slipping from her non responsive fingers into the mess of her purse. She lifted her sagging head to look around as though in a daze after what she had just been told. The city was still alive with inhabitants milling about their lives, lives that were going on with or without Dawn Meadows.
Within her fog, Dawn noticed someone moving away from her car conspicuously. How did I not notice him before, she thought to herself. He huddled his jacket around himself and moved toward a nearby alley. Thinking of calling out to the stranger, the recently dismissed investigative reporter thought better of it. Slipping off her dainty heels, she padded silently after the stranger in her stocking clad feet. This is going to ruin a perfectly new pair of nylons, but at least he won't hear the click clack of my heels trailing after him. The element of surprise was worth a $4 pair of pantyhose. As she peaked around the corner of the alley to get a better idea of how far down he had gone, Dawn was surprised it was not far at all.
“Got ya!” he exclaimed, grabbing the surprised Dawn by her forearm, and yanking her roughly into the alley. With strength that far outmatched the slender young woman, he forced her down onto her knees. Still pinching her small wrist painfully in his iron grasp, he knotted his large and powerful hand into her lush blond hair and gave it a tug upward. Dawn let out a yelp in pain and topped it off with a whimper of fear, reflected in her terrified eyes, and despite the best courage she could summon, her body trembled. She had walked right into a trap!
The mystery of her ordeal was not long held. The sound of shoes scraping over the littered alley came from behind her and her captor. The second stranger walked in front of her with his back turned, then slowly turned around with a grin on his face. “Miss Meadows, how nice of you to make yourself available for chat,” he said.
Mustering up the best defiance she could afford her fear filled eyes, Dawn shot back, “David Calloway, I should have known.”
“You're a very brave girl, making wild accusations like that in front of the press,” he complimented.
“You need a muscle man to take down a little girl in an alley? If I'm brave then you're a coward,” she spat.
“Let's just say I needed to be sure I needed your full attention in the matter,” replied Calloway smugly with a nod. Nodding back, his muscle man gave Dawn's hair a sharp tug causing her to cry out in surprise. Satisfied that he had the smart mouthed reporter's attention, Mr. Calloway continued. “You see Dawn, my reputation is very important to me, and having a snot nosed spoiled rich girl like you going around telling everybody that I'm some sort of criminal just won't do.”
“Then why don't you just tell everybody how it is that you're really funding your so called honest enterprise?” asked Dawn, ever the reporter, even with tear brimmed eyes.
“Well, Miss Meadows, I can't say that I'll be doing anything of the nature, but I just can't let your tenacity go unrewarded. You Miss Meadows, deserve the truth for all your hard work. And for that hard work, I will reward you with hard work. You're going to get to see my operations first hand. You're going to get to be a part of things. You'll be on the front line.” Dawn wrinkled her brow in fearful confusion at his mysterious statements. Seeing the quizzical look on her pretty little face, he clarified. “Miss Meadows, I'm sending you to work in my drug camps in South America. You're going to get more truth than you ever wished for.”
“What? What are you talking about? I'm not going anywhere!” replied a visibly shaken Dawn. As she stated her protests, a van pulled up in front of the alley. The back doors opened up and two burley looking men, slid a long wooden box out onto the ground. Bearing crowbars, they popped the lid off, and turned toward Mr. Calloway who responded with a nod. They then moved with outstretched hands toward Dawn. She reeled back, painfully digging pebbles into her knees, the gossamer nylons offering no protection. The fist holding her hair left her very little room to move, and burned as he tugged her into submission. The pain in her scalp caused her eyes to burst with stars.
“You can't do this! You can't just ship me off to some jungle to work as a slave! I won't do it!” Dawn tried to make the argument reasonable.
“Oh but you will,” replied a cool David Calloway as his goons moved ever closer to the fast held young woman, helplessly on her stocking clad knees.
“People p-people will look for me!” now she sounded desperate in her studdering.
Mr Calloway smiled knowingly. “No Miss Meadows, I'm afraid they will not. You were just fired due to your absurd public accusations. People will assume you've simply vanished out of embarrassment. There will be no questions, no investigation,” laughed Mr. Calloway.
Before Dawn could argue further, she was lifted by the three goons, and tossed unceremoniously into the wooden crate. She kicked with her stocking clad legs, and scratched with her fine manicured nails, but there was no escaping this. Roughly, the held her inside the crate while forcing the lid down on top of her. One by one, they nailed the lid in place, all the while Dawn's screams echoing from inside, begging them not to do this.
(Several days later...)
The hot sun glared angrily from the sky down upon its subjects on the ground. Rows of workers tilled the soil, all of them bedraggled and dressed in little to rags. Most of them were of South American descent. Standing out from the laborers was a wisp of a young woman, with skinny arms, and slender legs, wobbly holding a shovel while she struggled to dig yet another hole. Long blond hair matted to her face, neck, and back standing out against the dark hair of her fellow workers. She was originally strangely dressed in a designer blue skirt suit, but the glaring sun had punished her hour after hour after hour and she her modesty had been defeated. She had shed the blue jacket, and the silk blouse that was underneath. All the modesty she could manage was the bra that heaved up and down with her full curvaceous chest as she panted like a dog in the heat. Her hips were still wrapped in the short skirt of her suit, and her long slender legs wobbled in the painful suffocation of her pantyhose. She longed to shed the deadly nylons, fearing they were cooking her alive, but a large chain was wrapped around her trim ankle, holding her in place in case she got any ideas. She got the idea that the men liked watching her suffer in silky undergarments, for every time she fussed over them, or pinched them off her legs to let them breath even for a moment, she was yelled at and threatened with whips. At these moments, she would flinch and cower, pleading her sorrow. It seemed she would even have a dress code out here in the jungle. How absurd.
As the days went on, and the water basins were brought out to revive the failing workers of the sun's viciousness, the young woman was always denied. She begged and reached with her slender fingers, licking her cracked red lips with desperation in her eyes, but she was only met with violence. She worked as long as she could, but the deprivation of water and the merciless sun eventually forced her to her knees. Her body was slick with sweat from head to toe, the pantyhose were painted on her body with moisture. Her throat was so dry she could not even speak. Her slender arms could no longer even hold her wavering body in a seated position, and with no rescue, She fell face first into the dirt. The sun continued to cook her in her pantyhose while the other workers carried on as if there was not a beautiful woman dying of exposure and thirst around them. It was as if this was common occurrence and not to be a disturbance.
Weeks later Dawn had been reduced to nothing more than a few bones and her sheer barely black pantyhose, thank hung from the top of her shovel, pierced into the earth. The silky undergarment billowed lazily in the faint jungle breeze as reminder to what awaited those who chose not to work.
David Calloway was correct, nobody did ask questions of Dawn's disappearance. In fact, if one were to check the human resource records at the Rose Tribune, under the file of Dawn Meadows, the reason for termination read: “Failure to adhere to dress code. Refused to wear pantyhose” Even that was a lie. If only someone could have known she worked under the sign and died in her stockings, likely because of them. But that truth would never surface. Nor would the truth of David Calloway's drug empire. Dawn got the truth, just as he had promised she would. But that truth would stay buried, just as her bones eventually were, and the pantyhose with them.