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It was nearly four in the morning when Alix Phillips ran for cover as gunshots rang out. A fruit-canning factory had been shut down in Alabama, putting thousands out of jobs. The union had been trying to stop the shutdown for months, and finally violence had broken out in the town, out of desperation and frustration. Most of the factory workers were African American, some of whose families had worked there for generations. There had been looting and destruction in the town and surrounding area all night, and two young men had been killed. The riot police had been called in from nearby cities, and the acrid smell of tear gas was everywhere. Alix was reporting from a live feed, and had to abandon the spot where she’d been standing, as Ben Chapman, her cameraman, grabbed her roughly by the arm and forced her to leave. He nearly had to drag her to get her away from the scene, as troops narrowed in on the area, and flames exploded the windows as looters set a building on fire. She had just been saying on her broadcast for national TV that nothing like it had been seen since the riots in LA in 1992.
“Are you fucking crazy?” Chapman shouted at her, as they took refuge behind a building around the corner, and National Guardsmen and riot police thundered past them. Ben and Alix were wearing their press badges around their necks and had been on the scene all week. Alix’s face was smudged with soot, and her eyes were watering from the tear gas heavy in the air. “Are you trying to get killed?” They had been working as a team for four years, and got along well, except in moments like this.
To her own detriment, Alix Phillips would put herself on the front line of any battle, riot, demonstration, or dangerous situation in order to bring the reality of it to their viewers. Ben loved working with her, but they’d argued about it before. Her fearlessness made for award-winning footage, and the network loved it, especially at a time in broadcasting when few reporters were willing to take the risks she did. It was in her DNA. But there were times when reason had to win out, or should have, and with Alix it never did. Once she was in the heat of a story, she was blind to all else. She’d been a TV news reporter since she graduated from college seventeen years before, and at thirty-nine had made a powerful reputation for herself, reporting from every hot spot on the planet. She covered the news abroad and in the States, on special assignment, and the producers loved her because she never turned anything down, and her brilliant editorials and assessments were known around the world. She was a legendary reporter whom everyone admired, and was a household name. Working with her was a privilege Ben enjoyed, except when she went too far and put their lives on the line. He was a brave man, but not foolish. But nothing stopped Alix, she was passionate about every story.
Ben was forty-two, and had been in the military until four years before. He had been part of an elite Navy SEAL team, which made him well suited to the kind of assignments Alix preferred, and he had signed on enthusiastically to work with her. Other more cautious cameramen had turned the opportunity down. She was healthy, extremely fit, headstrong, honorable, courageous, afraid of nothing, and very smart. Her stories were flawlessly covered, and his talent with a camera in his hands was equal to hers as a reporter. Their producers and audiences loved them. They were the perfect combination and complemented each other. Both were known for their professional integrity and in-depth stories. They had been all over the Middle East together, had covered military takeovers and civil wars in South America and Africa, natural disasters, coups d’état, and a number of important political exposés in the States. Trouble of any kind was their specialty, and they made it riveting to watch with his images and her words and presence on the screen. Ben always teased her that if there was a disaster somewhere in the world, Alix would find a way to get there, and risk her hide and his, just as she had already done several times that night in the Alabama riots.
They heard an explosion a few minutes after they’d taken cover. Alix dashed back out before Ben could stop her, and he followed. He was as zealous as she was, but he felt it his duty to protect her too, which she ignored whenever possible.
“Are you ever going to ask me if I think it’s smart to go back out or if we should wait?” he complained when he caught up to her. They were both tired and hadn’t slept more than a few hours in days.
“Of course not.” She grinned at him, and ran alongside a group of soldiers who had been sent to reinforce the riot squad. But in spite of the hazards, he liked working with her. They were combat buddies and partners in crime. He was six feet five with powerful shoulders, and in remarkable shape. She was a foot shorter, with a lithe, athletic body and long blond hair, and she liked to think she was as physically capable and tough as he was. She trained at a gym every day when they were at home in New York, and she loved to box. But twenty years as a Navy SEAL and sheer size made Ben the stronger of the two, inevitably, whether she admitted it or not. She was beautiful when she cleaned up, but was perfectly at ease in combat clothes, covered in grime. She didn’t care how she looked when she was working. All that mattered was getting the story, whatever it took.
The riot went on until seven in the morning, when all the rioters and looters had been rounded up and taken to jail. The fires continued to burn white-hot and weren’t put out for several days. The small factory town remained under military control when Ben and Alix left and got on a plane to New York in Birmingham, after driving fifty miles in their rented car to get there. The town they’d just left had almost been destroyed, and because of the factory closing, most of the locals were now unemployed and on public assistance of some kind, and many had already lost their homes. It was a sad story, and Alix had blamed local government in her broadcast for providing so little support and being so ill prepared to quell the riots and looting before they got out of hand. The mayor was said to be corrupt, although she implied it but didn’t say it, and the town was bankrupt. The region had been declared a disaster area on the morning after the riots began. She was pensive and quiet as they flew back to New York. It was hard to imagine such extreme poverty in the United States, but they had seen it before. And it tore at her heartstrings when she saw the kids, barefoot and in clothes that were ragged and too small, and many homeless now as well.
“What are they going to do now?” she said softly, glancing at Ben, as the flight attendant served their lunch in business class. Due to the hardships of their work, the network paid for them to travel business class whenever possible. It was one of the perks they both enjoyed about their job.
“Go on unemployment, or move away, if they can,” Ben answered seriously, remembering the poverty they’d seen there. It upset him too, although they had seen far worse things in the wars and horrors they’d covered together around the world. It helped that they were both unencumbered, neither of them with someone waiting for them at home, and Ben assumed they’d be back on the road again in a few days. They usually were. A new dire situation would happen somewhere and they would be sent there. It was not unlike his life in the military with the SEALs. Ben had been defending the people and principles he believed in all his life.
Alix came by her talent and courage honestly. Her father had been a famous British journalist and had been killed by a bomb in Ireland while covering a story, when she was a child. She remembered him only dimly, but from everything she knew about him, he had been a wonderful man. Her mother, Isabelle, was French. Alix had grown up in London, gone to college in the States, and once she decided to stay there to work in TV news for a major network, her mother had moved back to the small town she came from in Provence. She had been a good mother, and never interfered with what Alix chose to do. Alix loved her fiercely and visited her whenever she could, which was never often enough.
Alix’s college years in the States had been turbulent and stormy. A romance in her sophomore year had led to the birth of a daughter a year later. The baby’s father had been a year younger, a sweet boy who was passionately in love with Alix and tried to match her courage when she decided to have the baby, much to his parents’ dismay. They were cool Bostonians from a wealthy banking family, and their dreams for their son did not include an illegitimate child, nor marriage to an unknown girl from London, from what they considered an insignificant family, no matter how bright Alix was. And her dreams of following in her father’s footsteps as a journalist did not please them either, although Wyatt thought she was amazing. Despite his parents’ protests, they were married less than a month before Faye was born.
The delivery was easy, but everything that came after wasn’t. Wyatt’s parents cut off all financial support, and Isabelle came from London to help them with the baby, although she wasn’t thrilled with Alix’s decision either, but young love had prevailed over reason.
And three months later, the unthinkable happened. While vacationing with friends in Nantucket, Wyatt was killed in a boating accident, and Alix became a twenty-year-old widow with a three-month-old infant. Still in shock over Wyatt’s death, Alix and her mother attended the funeral in Boston, where they realized that Wyatt’s family had told no one about their son’s marriage or his child, and Alix and her mother were treated like unwelcome strangers. A somber conversation with Wyatt’s father the day after the funeral made clear that his family wanted no contact with Alix or their granddaughter in the future. They considered her nothing more than a youthful mistake he had made, and they felt no bond to mother or child. They wouldn’t even look at their son’s infant daughter.