60. Shangri-La

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At quarter past two, Valerie's chauffeur opened the car door in front of the Shangri-La and offered a grey-gloved hand to assister her out. "I'll watch you safely inside, Ma'am, then fetch the others."

"Thank you, Lester." Valerie walked toward the hotel entrance, relieved to have the security. Thank you, Lydia. Much better than taking the Underground. She relaxed further at seeing no obvious hacks as she strode across the lobby, and she was nearly at the counter when a male voice behind her questioned, "Miss Redburn?"

Damn. Why now? She ignored the voice and continued to the counter. A man stepped beside her and said, "Miss Redburn, I'm Christopher Yuen, a Client Services Manager. I've been expecting you."

Valerie stepped back and examined the smartly-dressed fifty-something man, noting the name tag. Looks authentic. Far too sharp for a reporter. But... "This is unexpected. Please tell me why I'm here."

"I'm here to —"

"No, tell me why I'm here."

He pursed his lips and nodded. "Yes, now I see. A meeting room has been arranged for you by..." He paused to open his folder and scan the page. "By Lydia Norton. She gave us your description and asked that we greet you upon arrival, Ma'am."

"Good." Wish she'd told me. Save the scare. "Appears she over-organised."

"Or my approach was insensitive. And for that, I apologise." He lifted his arm and motioned across the lobby toward the lifts. "Shall I take you up now?"

"Please."

Valerie remained silent, running facts from files through her mind while they ascended and as Christopher guided her along the corridors and unlocked the door to usher her in. "You have a splendid view of the Tower and the Bridge from here, Ma'am." He glanced at the table, then at the contents of his dossier. "Catering will have refreshments here in the next short while."

"Thank you

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"Thank you." After Christopher had left, Valerie stood staring out the window at the scene below. Relax, girl. The end is in sight. They need to see calm confidence. She began a controlled breathing regime, and she had calmed significantly when she was startled by a knock on the door.

She blew out a deep breath as she approached the peephole, and when the fisheye view showed a maid and a catering cart, she opened the door. Where's my confidence gone? "Please, come in."

While the woman arranged the contents of the trolley onto the low, round table, Valerie returned to gaze through the window and resume her controlled breathing while her mind reviewed salient points from her morning's reading.

A quiet voice startled her. "Will that be all, Ma'am?"

Valerie turned and nodded. "Yes, thank you."

After she had locked the door behind the departing staff, Valerie settled into one of the wing chairs around the table. I can't let him affect me like this. She shook her head. But, I have let him. I need to stop. Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to wander to Lorne.

A few minutes later, she opened her eyes at the knock at the door. That's much better. She strode across the room, and after a glance through the peephole, she opened the door to Lydia and two women. "I'm delighted you could meet with us. Please come in."

Lydia introduced Valerie to Sylvia Robertson and Roxana Turani, then she pointed to the table. "We've coffee, tea, water, juice and an assortment of savouries and sweets. Let's relax a bit before we move into the heavy stuff."

After a few minutes of small talk, Lydia turned to Sylvia. "Let's begin. You had mentioned in our email correspondence that you are lesbian. Is this public knowledge?"

"Very public. I came out on New Years Day 2001." She chuckled. "It was my new millennium resolution. I had been active on the Pride Trust committee before its insolvency, and then I worked on establishing Pride London."

"When was that?"

"We received our charitable status in 2004."

"Why hadn't you mentioned your sexual orientation in your deposition to the police?"

"I'm an idealist, and I maintain sexual orientation should not affect a person's status or treatment. I saw it as irrelevant."

"It is now highly relevant." Lydia pointed to a thin red folder. "This shows he argued his intercourse with you was consensual and that you had enticed and encouraged him."

Sylvia bobbed her head in silence for a while, then she said, "Yeah. So much for idealism. My orientation would have tipped the scales."

"Yes, and if we play it correctly, it still will." Lydia picked up a folder and opened it, then turned to Roxana. "We have little background on you except a few emails and your 2005 medical file excerpts. Tell us about your encounter with Broughton."

"I was in my second year of university when he approached me and talked me into doing a photo shoot for a magazine feature on Muslims in London. I really needed the money." She took another sip of tea.

"After he defiled me, I felt worthless. Sunk into a deep depression, and I was contemplating suicide when my girlfriend took me to Intimate Folds, trying to cheer me up. That's where I first saw Sylvia."

"Intimate Folds?"

"An upscale strip club catering to lesbians." She laughed. "Two-thirds of the clients are male. They come to stare at the fannies and boobs; the women come to immerse themselves in the sensual emotions."

"So, you're also lesbian?"

Roxana nodded. "Puberty confirmed what I had suspected for years."

Lydia pointed to the medical record. "Your hymen reconstruction?"

"Preparing for an arranged marriage. My family was stuck in the old manipulating ways."

"Are they still?"

"I don't know." She shrugged a shoulder to her cheek. "And I no longer care. As the wedding approached, I mustered the courage to tell them my orientation. They've disowned me, and I'm finally free." She reached across and squeezed Sylvia's hand. "We've been together since 2007."

Lydia picked up the medical file and opened it. "Your doctor was diligent. She had done vaginal swabs and had their DNA analysed." She smiled as she tapped another folder, "Now confirmed as Broughton's. And the residual Rohypnol is consistent with both Sylvia and Valerie."

The women continued adding details as Lydia probed, then she switched off the recorder. "Far more than enough to bring him to trial."

Valerie smiled as she nodded. "Yeah, his Shangri-La will again fade over the horizon."

Roxana tilted her head. "What's Shangri-La mean?"

"It's from a 1930s novel and movie, Lost Horizon, and the word has come to mean an imaginary place where life approaches perfection." Valerie grimaced. "I wonder if he had dragged others into his utopia."

Lydia pointed to the files. "We'll find out once his trial is announced."

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