Disclaimers: See part 1.

Questions or comments? mryan12@hotmail.com



Shell Game

By M. Ryan


Part 7




Laura woke up with a sense of panic before realizing it was Saturday and she didn’t have to get up early. No early tee time today. She lifted her head to check the clock but couldn’t quite see the numbers. She could feel light breathing on the back of her neck though, and rolled over onto her back, wincing at the sting of pins and needles in the arm she had been lying on. Chris didn’t move; her hands were fisted under her chin and the rest of her was curled into a tight ball as she slept on her side. Laura yawned then reached over to touch the pale blonde hair that spiked in disarray. It was soft like she knew it would be.


In sleep, Chris’ brow furrowed in concentration as if trying to figure out a story’s angle. As she often did, Laura watched the other woman sleep, knowing she wasn’t in any danger of being caught in her observation. Her eyes followed the line of Chris’ shoulder, down a smooth arm, and then switched to the place where her waist dipped in. Laura knew how Chris’ scent would envelop her if she buried her face in the place between her neck and shoulder, knew how the skin would feel, and knew that it was all as necessary as breathing. So breathe now before you pass out. She snorted a little guiltily. You cannot possibly be turned on again. Honestly, teenage boys have nothing on you.


"You could sleep for a little while longer, you know." Chris didn’t even open her eyes; she just moved closer and wrapped one arm around Laura’s waist.


"Ah, no I couldn’t."


Chris sighed and kissed the shoulder that was now serving as her pillow. "What time are you meeting him?"


"Ten, at the club. Maybe play a round then we’re gonna go to the station."


"This bothers you."






Laura blew at the blonde hair in exasperation. "Well, it’s Sports Illustrated, I hate giving interviews, and I’d rather spend my Saturday with you. They’ll ask about Dallas, They’ll ask about my love life, they’ll ask about Mom and Dad, they’ll ask about my plans for the future, they’ll ask about…"


"Baby, he’s a reporter, that’s what they’re supposed to do."


"I know." Laura scowled.


Chris snickered. "It’s so endearing how you hate my profession."


"I don’t hate the profession and it’s my profession too. I just hate when it’s practiced on me." She turned to face Chris and sealed their bodies together. "I’d much rather loll around here with you all day. Read the paper, watch a video, grill some steaks, nuzzle your neck…you know, that kind of stuff." Laura moved just the tips of her fingers absorbing the feel of silky skin with the slight motion. "You’re so beautiful," she whispered.


Chris didn’t say anything for a moment, and then unglamorously scratched her nose. "Nah, it’s just a good on-air face."


"No…I mean it is, but it’s much more than that." Laura struggled to make her point. "I never really considered what would attract me to another person, or what I personally found attractive. Just that you have the most beautiful skin and the most wonderful smile. It’s staggering sometimes, how lovely you are to look at. Sometimes you’ll turn just so and I’m completely lost." She shrugged, thinking her description inadequate, unused to waxing lyrical.


"Good to know." Chris murmured.


"Will it always be this way?" Laura asked softly.


"What do you mean?"


Laura sighed. "You know, this comfortable and still cool and different. Will I always look for you in crowds? Will I always wish I’d told you one more thing before I had to go or you had to go?"


"Do you want it to?" Chris looked back into blue eyes and lifted a finger to smooth the worry lines between Laura’s eyebrows.


"No." Laura ran her tongue around her teeth. "This is still pretty new. Will we get disgusted when we really get to know each other? Familiarity breeds contempt and all that…although the Catholic Church’s belief is that familiarity simply breeds. Forgot where I read that."


"Hmm." Chris swallowed a laugh.


"So spill it."


"What?" Chris concentrated mightily on the stack of tapes on her desk and after trying to decipher Jody’s handwriting on one of them, pushed it to the recycle pile.


"What was dinner all about the other night? Get any good dirt? What are you doing here on Saturday anyway?"


Chris squinted up at the taller woman. "Could you be any more inquisitive?"


"Nosy’s what you mean." Tori dropped her purse next to her desk and sat down, flipping on her computer. "Just wondering what’s going on. You two looked pretty cozy." As usual on a weekend with the next newscast some eight hours away, the newsroom was empty and quiet except for the occasional squawk from the scanners.


"It was dinner." By stating the fact Chris hoped to avoid a denial and a lie. "And I just came in to look something up and decided to clean my desk a bit."


"Yeah? How’s your story going…the one on the investigation?"


"Slow." Chris pushed a lock of hair away from her eyes. "I can usually get someone to talk, but this time they’ve really closed ranks."


"The Police?"


"Uh huh. I’m not sure how anything good can come out of this. No matter which way it goes. If they clear the ones involved, some of these neighborhoods like Cedar Grove and Martindale that’ve had grievances against BFPD will go insane. If the investigation shows that the officers set the guy up, fabricated their stories and rigged the crime scene, the police department will have to be gutted."


"And it’s necessary if that’s the case."


"I know. But that’ll be pretty ugly too." Chris blew out a frustrated breath.


Tori brightened and made an attempt to draw Chris out of her mood. "Listen, why don’t we catch that girl over at Peppermints tonight? I’ve heard her before; she sounds a little Shawn Colvinish. You’d like her."


"No, I don’t think…" She was interrupted when Laura pushed open the door to the newsroom ahead of a man dressed in khakis and a tweed sport jacket over a polo shirt.


"Newsroom. Tori, Chris." She waved her arm in their direction.


"Well I can tell that this is a newsroom, but which is Tori and which is Chris?" The man asked with a smile, "Jay Felder, Sports Illustrated."


"Really?" Tori turned on the charm. "Victoria Chiles. So the boss gets an interview in SI. Cover story?"


"God I hope not," Laura muttered.


"That’s not my call. Since she’s Tori, you must be Chris."


"That’s me."


"You’d be the Christine Hanson of the demolished live truck? I read about it in one of the trades."


Chris winced. "Some things you never live down. Did you play golf with her today?" She jerked her thumb in Laura’s direction.


"Oh yeah."


"Did she kick your butt?"


"Peter kicked my butt and she in turn kicked his. We played that round in less than three and a half hours and we walked. I don’t remember the last time I finished in under five and I always ride."


"Hmm. What’re you guys doing here on Saturday?" Laura looked around. "Who’s supposed to be minding the store?"


"Ellen just left, I told her I’d cover until Henry came in." Chris answered, referring to the weekend producer and the EP. "I just needed to take care of some stuff."


"’Kay. C’mon Jay, the sooner we get this over with, the sooner you’re on that plane."


"She really hates this." Jay observed.


"Has she been rude?" Chris asked the question lightly. "We’ve tried the Miss Manners thing but she just won’t listen."


"Nooo. It’s just a feeling." He chuckled and followed the taller woman. "It was a pleasure Tori, Chris."


Chris turned back to her desk, still laughing.


"My god, you have a crush on her." Tori made the statement flatly.


Chris spun around to face her. "No. I do not have a crush on her." She stared fiercely at the other woman, figuring she could hold the pose as long as she needed to. It didn’t have the desired effect.


"No, you don’t." Tori snorted. "You’re too far gone for a crush."



"You have quite a bit of eye candy here."


"That’s not very politically correct and almost insulting."


"C’mon, I’ve been in the business. Looks count for everything. I was the sports anchor at WEWS."


"Cleveland." Laura answered absently. "That’s where I remember you from. I saw your tape when I was in Dallas. I was the EP. You did a story on…NASCAR in the north. It was very well written and your standup was memorable, but probably not a good idea to send a resume tape to a southern market poking fun at the hicks who follow stock car racing."


Jay chuckled. "You have a good memory and that’s a valid point, but I wanted to work in Dallas at the time."


"So why aren’t you still doing the anchor thing?"


"This is more fun and you don’t have to dress up."


"And the travel."


"Sure. I’ve met some of the best athletes in the world. Some are what you expect and others…well, I guess an ego is a prerequisite."


Laura unlocked the door to her office and let Jay into the small waiting area that led to her sanctum. "Kind of like on-air talent?"


"Exactly. So why didn’t you go that route? Your father had great presence and he was a strong storyteller." He sat down in one of the chairs and pulled a notebook and tape recorder from the inside pocket of his jacket.


"Care for anything to drink?" Jay shook his head and Laura pulled a small glass bottle of coke out of the executive refrigerator. She popped the cap, wiped the top and took a swig before answering. "My mother wanted me to play golf, my father wanted me to be a reporter. I went to Texas and majored in Journalism on a golf scholarship. I wanted to go to Arizona, but they never looked twice. To this day I’m not sure why except that I did have a bit of a temper then. I know I broke, trashed and ruined a small fortune in clubs and putters."


"How’d you learn to control it?"


"I haven’t." She gave a tight smile. "I just learned to hide it."


"But that doesn’t answer my question."


"I’m not a strong storyteller, and I am a terrible reporter. My father knew that, but he wanted me to give the business a try. And so I did. I’m a decent producer and I can get the most out of a newsroom. But that seems to be where my journalistic talent stops." She took another sip from the bottle and gestured at the huge dark cherry desk. "I’m not sure this is exactly what he had in mind."


"What about your Mother?"


"Mom knew. She knew that I’d always want to play for a living and that it was only a matter of time. She and my Dad probably had a bet on how long I’d last in news before I bolted."


"What would your Dad have bet?"


"Ten years." He would have stuck to the deal.


"And your Mom?"


"Seven. Tops."


"Who wins? When are you going to turn pro?"


Laura tilted her head back, considering the question and the implications. "When I can do it with a clear conscience."



"I’m going to ply you with liquor and guacamole until you tell me everything. Two...nonsmoking." Tori leaned against the hostess podium at Lupe’s while they waited to be seated at a table. Chris crossed her arms and tried to glower.


"I’m not drinking these days, alcohol promotes fat storage. Can we have a table on the patio?"


"Oh god Chris, it’s hot outside."


"There are fans." And no one else will be out there. "Is that okay Rose?"


"Anything for you Chris." The hostess waved for them to follow and Chris and Tori obliged. Wrought iron tables were set up on the covered patio and they were seated at the edge overlooking the flowerbeds that faced the street. There was almost no traffic, so it was much quieter than the interior of the restaurant. They settled in and Chris opened her menu as much to hide from Tori as to begin the laborious process of choosing a dish. The Chips and Salsa arrived but Chris made no move to start snacking. Finally she looked up from the menu. "I am not a specimen on a microscope slide, you know."


Tori’s answer was to cross her arms and shrug before replying. "I’m trying to figure out the best way to approach this."


"She’s gonna want a marguerita." Chris told the waitress. "On the rocks, no salt. I’ll have water, no, wait, a Coke."


"Do you order for Kaz when y’all go out?"


"We don’t go out."


"You’re a terrible liar Chris. No poker face whatsoever." Tori started on the chips, scooping up the chunky salsa and crunching thoughtfully. "You know I’ll get it all out of you eventually. You haven’t vehemently denied anything, it’s been half-hearted at best, so I’m guessing you’re dying to tell somebody something." She shrugged again. "Might as well be me since I’m putting the pieces together anyway."


Chris rubbed her chin as she considered the other woman’s argument. She supposed that if the situation had been reversed she would present her case in much the same manner.


"So when you went on vacation, did you really stay in Nashville, or did you take a trip to Cincinnati to watch our GM play a little golf?"


"I was in Nashville." Chris felt fairly comfortable with the half-truth.


"But did you end up in Cincinnati?"


"I…" Chris nodded slowly. "…Caught a round in Cincinnati." There. It was out. In more ways than one. "Actually she showed up on my parent’s doorstep that Saturday night and we drove over for her final round." She finished the statement in a mumbled tone just as the waitress arrived with their drinks and to take their order. Dispatched with an order for beef and Chicken fajitas, she bustled off, leaving the two women alone on the patio. Chris scrunched her face in consternation, already regretting the release of the information, and still wanting to tell her more. "You know of course, I have to kill you now."


"Don’t be overly dramatic."


"Who else in the newsroom knows or is talking about it?"


Tori cleared her throat a little uncomfortably. "Actually, they’re talking about you…and me."


"No shit?" Chris couldn’t help but laugh.


"Oh, well now I’m crushed."


"Don’t be. I guess Rendally’s slip was pretty much right on the money where newsroom gossip is concerned." Chris cocked her had. "Does it bother you?"


Tori waved her hand dismissively. "Nah. There’s going to be gossip no matter what you do so you might as well hang out with the people you enjoy."


"I guess." She took a sip of her Coke, then used her napkin to wipe some of the condensed water off the side of the glass. "I’ll probably kick myself later for asking, but how did you know?"


"The other night at the restaurant. I mean, I knew you were seeing someone, and even though you said it was complicated, it wasn’t solely complicated because you’re gay, it was complicated because of who it was. I don’t think you’d date someone who was married, that’s just not your style, which only leaves someone at work." Tori ticked off her points in a logical, matter of fact manner, and added with a shrug, "Then I saw the way she looked at you. Hell, I’d probably jump the fence if some girl looked at me like that."


Chris blushed. "So it was that easy?"


"Pretty much."


"Then why hasn’t someone else made the connection?"


"I’m not saying that they haven’t, they just aren’t talking about it."


"Hmm." Chris leaned back in the chair and steepled her fingers thoughtfully. "So what else?"


"What happens next? Do you get a joint checking account, move in together, what?"


"You’ve got to be kidding." Chris gave a disbelieving laugh. "Number one, you’re jumping the gun a bit, number two, there is no openly gay lifestyle available for me as long as I’m on air."


"She tell you that?"


"It’s a question of reality."


"Anchors live openly gay lifestyles in other markets.


"Yeah, in Philly or New York, LA or Dallas but not Burkett Falls, middle hole in the Bible Belt." In frustration, Chris grabbed a chip and bit down. "See, They won’t ever come out and fire me because I’m gay. It’ll be like, you were late this day or that day, you blew a story or you’re just too hard on equipment. At some point someone will start making a file and even if there’s no real evidence of moral turpitude…don’t you love that expression? I’ll be fired for cause and there will be paper to back it up. I won’t even remember half the shit that’ll be in there."


"Would Kaz do that to you?"


"She told me once she’d take me off the air."


"That’s cold. Geez Chris, why would you want to be involved with someone like that? That’s beyond hypocritical."


"She also told me that if it happens to file suit and she gave me the goods to fight it."


Tori looked puzzled. "But why? I don’t get it. You love her?"




"She love you?"


"Says she does."


"Do you doubt that?"


Chris blew out a breath impatiently. "No. I think she does. Or as much as she can." She tried for a different approach. "You know the story, she was in Dallas and she popped the main anchor there."


"Roger something-or-other."


"Yeah. Anyway, corporate moved her here to be News Director with the promise that she’d get to be GM at KDAL after Roger retired and the GM there was moved up to regional manager."


Tori shrugged, "It’s not a bad deal."


"Except that Roger croaked and they wanted to move her back as News Director, not GM."




Chris closed her eyes and chose her words. "At the time I was devastated. I knew she’d just go back there…maybe there’d be a little contact at first, but eventually she’d just drift away."


"That’s a rational fear."


"But she cut a deal and ended up the GM here. Sometimes I think it would have been better if she’d gone," Chris mused.




"We wouldn’t both be under the microscope."


Tori shook her head. "That wouldn’t solve your problem. You’d have to stay here for the duration of your contract anyway. Trust me, it’s better that you’re in the same place."


"Yes and no. You see, I think it suits her that there are barriers in place."


"What does that mean?"


"As long as we both have career obstacles, there won’t be any joint checking account and there won’t be a single household. In a way she gets to keep her independent life and also keep the risks to a minimum." Chris winced at how disloyal it sounded, but couldn’t seem to stop. "Maybe once in a lifetime you fall in love and you realize that you’re never going to feel this strongly about another human being. Ever. You’ll do anything for that person. Reasonable or unreasonable. All your good sense seems to go out the window. It’s almost like you’re addicted and you live for the next time you’ll be with them. If you’re really lucky it’s two sided. They’re just as bonkers as you are."


"Are you lucky?"


"Sometimes I’m just not sure. I guess some is better than none. At least that’s how I’ve rationalized it."


Tori shook her head. "But for how long?"


Chris considered for a moment. "On a good day? It’s enough, but just barely."


"And on a bad day?"


"That’s the really hard part."



On Monday Chris stood in the field next to the abandoned theater on 70th Street and bit her lip as she looked around. The police tape was gone of course, as were the bloodstains, but knowing what had happened there made her shiver despite the summer heat. A thunderstorm was brewing and the angry clouds in the sky matched the mood of the people in this working class neighborhood. "He had no priors," She muttered. "He was at BFCC working on his associate’s degree in accounting. A smart kid, so why did he run from the cops? And why were there so many of them here?"


"Ready for your standup?" Jody put the camera down and shook out the tripod, setting it up with a minimum amount of fuss.


"We got enough light?"


"Oh yeah, and nice dramatic clouds too. It’ll be as subtle as a jackhammer."


"Well, we are a business of clichés." Chris grimaced and brushed a burr off of her slacks. "It doesn’t make any sense."


"Ain’t gonna make no sense." They turned to see a man walking up to them in greasy jeans and a stained blue uniform shirt with a name stitched above the pocket. "You’re lookin’ in the wrong place. It just finished up here. The mess started over there." The man jerked his head toward the street. "Down at the Liquor Bank."


"Liquor bank?"


"You know, it’s a liquor store that cashes checks and does payday loans." Jody supplied.


"What did you see?" Chris asked the question softly, afraid of scaring off her only potential lead.


The man spat. "Ain’t for me to say. I’m just tellin’ you to start at the Liquor Bank. Boy had no business bein’ in there. He paid a high ‘nuff price. I don’t intend to." He spat again, turned and walked away. Chris would have followed but Jody grabbed her arm.


"No don’t."


"Why? We didn’t even get his name."


"But we know he works at Macy’s Garage over there."


"His shirt?"




"Sorry, I couldn’t read it." She tapped two fingers against her upper lip.


"What are you thinking, Chris?"


"Tax records."



Corporate visitors were always a pain but Laura was looking forward to seeing Brian again. He was their Regional Manager and was responsible for ten stations. She wondered if he was having the same kinds of problems adjusting to the new responsibilities as she was. She could have lived without the visit by Don Farmer.


Laura never passed up a chance to get her boots polished at the airport. It was perfect down time and she took the opportunity to read the paper, flipping through to the sports page first and missing the daily documentation of the Cowboys and their woes that was such a staple of the Dallas paper.


"Need new heels." The shoeshine man was laconic in his advice.


"I know. Just never seem to have the time."


He finished and she paid him, checked her watch and headed to the arrival gate. She only had to wait a few minutes before Brian came out of the plastic tunnel and he smiled when he saw her. "Kaz! How’s my favorite all-time ND? Been out in the sun…course you have, you look great."


"You look a little pasty Brian. You need to get out the office more."


"Nah, it’s the plane. Landing was a little rough." Don Farmer and another man that Laura did not recognize joined them. Brian took care of the introductions. "This is Thomas Reed, He’s doing a study on the efficiency of some of our stations. We’ll get the benefits of his expertise this week."


It was a good excuse, delivered smoothly, but Laura didn’t buy it. You are such a cynic. I’ll grill you later Brian. One eyebrow raised in a mock threat at her former GM before she turned to the other man. "I hope you don’t find much to complain about."


"I can almost always find something." His voice was deep with a slight northeastern accent, a nice smile and dimples. He made Laura uneasy and she resisted the urge to wipe off her hand after he shook it.


"I’ll bet." She turned to Don; "Did you check anything?"


"I never check anything, we’re all good to go."


She led them down the concourse, past baggage claim and out to the short-term parking lot. The heat was rising over the cars even though it was not quit noon. She got them all into the Accord and rolling out of the airport with a minimum of fuss. The traffic wasn’t bad and she was on the interstate quickly.


The first part of a corporate visit always included pleasantries and catch up. Brian filled Laura in on mutual acquaintances and gossip; she passed on some rumors about available talent. Don and Thomas were quiet during the ride, only laughing occasionally at one of Brian’s jokes. It didn’t bode well for the rest of the visit.


With June’s help she stashed them in the conference room and when she left they were busy dialing up the network on their laptops to check their Email. Laura figured on giving them a half-hour then serve lunch with all the department heads in attendance. She gave a passing glance at her own Email and looked up when June handed her a stack of checks to sign. "Anything blow up while I was gone?"


"Smooth sailing…so far."


"Let’s try and keep it that way. Call the managers and remind them about lunch, will you?"


"Sorry I’m going to miss it." June said with a smile.


"Wish I was." Laura sighed.



"What is it you’re looking for?"


Chris smiled at the woman across the counter at the Burkett County Tax Assessors Office. "I’m looking for the property owner at 3143 West 70th."


"Is that a private residence?"


"No, Business."


"Won’t take a minute then. If you want copies that’ll be ten dollars."


"Okay." Chris answered. The information was free, but they needed the documentation if there was anything of note. She ran her hand along the edge of the counter as they waited. The woman returned after just a few minutes with two Xerox copies.


"One’s a little clearer than the other, but you can have them both."


"Thank you so much." It took a second for Chris to find the ownership line and a second longer to digest the information. John P. Donnelly? Jack? "It’s not pay dirt but it’s interesting." Chris smiled at Jody in satisfaction.



Laura had to admit that Keith was better prepared for Corporate than she was. He gave her an outline of his concerns and needs before they sat down to lunch and she took a moment to go over them with him. Is it just that the grass is always greener? I didn’t realize how easy that job was when I had it. Just promoted to your level of incompetence I guess. "Okay, I’ll back you up, but nothing they say is gospel you know. They’ll leave here promising all kinds of goodies and consideration…We’ll put in a capital request and get turned down flat."


"I know. I’m learning to not be quite so naïve. But if I tell ‘em that we need a new set to go along with the new graphics package, then they’ll be almost relieved when I say I’ll settle for a new audio board. Don’t you think?"


"Well, it’s sound logic. Don’t know if it’ll work." She led the way into the conference room and made the introductions. The luncheon was stiff and uncomfortable and no one said much of anything. Looking across the table, Laura could tell that Mark was sulking and it had nothing to do with the numbers they had gone over earlier. Normally, the GSM could count on the support of the Regional Manager, since they shared a background in sales. But Mark was without allies in Brian and Don, and his resentment was evident. No doubt he would be the one supplying Thomas Reed with real and imagined inefficiencies.


Once lunch was over Brian went off to talk with Mark and the Sales staff and Don took off to the newsroom with Keith. Laura was left to take Thomas around the building and try to give him some background information on the station. He took copious notes, without humor, and asked enough questions to rival a five-year-old child.


"The chain of command in the newsroom?


"News Director, Managing Editor—we’re trying to fill that position, Executive Producer, Producers, Assignment Editor then reporters, anchors and photogs. Forty five in all, we could use some more." Laura answered as she opened the door to the newsroom and the bedlam spilled out. Sounds the same way I did when I was checking the place out.


After two hours it was a relief to bring him back to the conference room for him to sort out his notes and check his Email. She was hoping for just a smidgen of downtime when Keith and Don came back into her office. "Tight Newsroom Kaz. Wish all of ours were like this.


"Keith works hard."


"What I think we’ll do is watch the Five and the Six here in your office, then get some dinner at the hotel. We can talk a little there."


"Who else?"


"Elly and Mark, I think." He tossed his jacket over a chair and loosened his tie.


Laura gave an inward groan. Another late night and another meal. Don’t these guys eat at home?



A little dinner, some shoptalk, how bad can it be? Laura tried to be optimistic, she really did, but by the time they were halfway through with dinner, the GSM was on her last nerve, his constant criticism under the guise of just pointing a few things out, was making Laura angry and defensive. Brian didn’t say much and Laura couldn’t really get an accurate read of how he was interpreting Mark’s observations. Keith and Thomas Reed ate silently, neither contributing.


"If you bottom out the rate card, you’ve essentially said that what you have is not valuable. Then when the economy improves, how do you re-establish that value? I know it got us close to budget for the quarter, but how do we boost those rates for the fourth quarter and Christmas buys?"


"That’s true Mark, but it was on a very limited basis. Like a sale, to get rid of last year’s fashions. We weren’t going to extend it." Laura figured Brian wasn’t going to contribute and it was probably a little test anyway. "As it was, we got a lot of business we wouldn’t have gotten anyway, and it carried through. We don’t have a ratings problem, so you can’t say that the product isn’t valuable."


"The perception of the advertiser is the reality, Kaz."


Laura kept her frustration under wraps. What bothered Mark was that she tinkered with his precious rate card; in his way of thinking, she was a news director and didn’t have any right. Understanding that didn’t make anything easier, nor did boredom with the topic.


"But we were one of only three stations who even came close to hitting our numbers. Let’s wait and see on fourth quarter. You have good books to sell from, and that is not something you’ve had in the past."


"That’s true, Mark." Brian effectively ended the conversation and turned to Elly. "You’re the one who seems to know everything that’s going on in the market…"


"I have lots of talkative TV friends."


"…What do you hear from across the street?"


Elly took a sip of water. "Channel 4 is pretty quiet. They did get a new weather graphics system that they’ll launch in November. It’ll make them look more like the Weather Channel. I’m guessing they paid about 50k for that. They have some deep pockets over there. No talent changes, but their weekend weather guy was arrested for writing bad checks. They pulled him off the air for a bit, then stuck him on the morning show. Channel 12 is same-old, same-old. Since you’re moving us up in line for the news graphics package, we should have a whole new look for November, then it depends on how much support I get for outside media." She raised her eyebrows in question.


"As much as you have budgeted." Don Farmer answered.


"Oh well then. At least you’re not taking it back."


"Any other rumors?" Don laid his napkin down beside his plate.


"Nothing significant." Elly said it slowly, "Why?"


He nodded at Brian as if for permission. "We heard an interesting one. Tell me about your two anchors…Christine Hanson and Victoria Chiles?"


"What about them?" Laura asked.


"He wants to know if they’re gay." Elly said it matter-of-factly. Don looked momentarily deflated. "Don’t you?" Elly asked innocently.


The Director of News Operations chuffed in an irritated manner. "This came out of your own newsroom."


"Who?" Keith was angry now.


"It was on condition of anonymity. We figured it was a disgruntled employee, but there might be some validity to it. Obviously there is, or you wouldn’t have even known that I was going to ask."


"Oh for Christ’s sake!" Laura snapped. "Tori has a boyfriend…they’re moving in together next week. There’s no way that she and Chris are sleeping together. It was probably that little weasel Terrence, who wanted to go to our sister station in Birmingham and is convinced that I sabotaged his chances."


"Did you?" Brian asked.


"Fuck no. He can do that all by himself." Laura forced a calm she didn’t feel.


"Neverthless…" Don interjected.


"Nevertheless, it’s irrelevant. It’s newsroom gossip. Okay, they’re two anchors that actually get along…granted, that’s bizarre, but you said so yourself, the newsroom is very tight. Perhaps Mr. Reed has found something to complain about, but for the most part Keith and I have given you what you wanted…A smooth running news organization in a highly profitable station. Tori and Chris are major reasons why. If you’d rather take the word of someone who is not dedicated to being a part of that, who has ignored the chain of command and gone crying to corporate when things didn’t go his way, then there is nothing that I can say to convince you otherwise." Laura finished her tirade and felt sick to her stomach. Everything was true. I never lied.


For all intents and purposes dinner was over after that. The check came and Laura took care of it. Mark, Elly and Keith left for the parking area and she walked Don, Brian and Thomas to the bank of elevators.


"We’ll see you tomorrow, Kaz" Don said as the doors slid open.


"Buy you a drink Kaz?" Brian smiled after the two men got on the elevator and he waved them ahead. "Just you and me?"


"I’d like that."


The bar was almost empty and they sat at a table in the corner. Brian ordered a vodka martini and Laura chose to stay with Coke, even if it meant that she’d have trouble sleeping. He asked about the Amateur and the Open and laughed over her humiliation at exposing her white feet when she stood in the water at 17. He was still her boss though, and friend or not, she couldn’t forget that. "What bothers you most about it? Being GM, I mean."


"Umm. Dealing with Sales." She rubbed an eyebrow. "I think Mark would sell his mother if he could get a good rate."


Brian Laughed. "He is a good GSM, Kaz, if a little unimaginative. You need to listen to him more."


Laura leaned forward and propped her chin on her hand. "I could listen to him if he didn’t resent me so much. He wanted to be GM, and I’m in his way."


"He’ll get his station."


"Will he?" Laura’s eyes never wavered. "Are we for Sale?"


"No." Brian never wavered. "Station’s too valuable."


"I know how it works. We’ll be the last to know."


"It’s not like that."


Laura looked at her boss and smiled sadly. "I wanted to stay with the company because there was a substantial reward for me to do so. Enough so that I could finance a few years playing golf…if I sucked and never earned a dime. But I read the financial reports and I’m not sure that money’ll be there. It’s kinda like a shell game. We see the money ‘cause TV makes money, lots of money, but then it disappears and you can’t keep up with where it’s gone. Into VP’s salaries and expense accounts, to pay off interest on loans or into furnishing the nice corporate headquarters. Whatever. The point is we have a 50% profit margin and the money just vanishes. If we’re sold, I make off like a bandit. I’ll get a cut even if they fire my ass. But my managers, Elly, Keith, Lisa, Richard, Phyliss and even Mark are left high and dry. None of them are vested." She took a sip of her Coke. "So, understand that I don’t want to have to be the one to tell them that there ain’t no pea under that shell."



"Well, this is a change." Laura said as she took off her watch and laid it on the bookshelf. The apartment was over-air-conditioned and chilly, but she couldn’t think of any time she’d been so relieved to be home. "Did you eat?"


Chris was stretched out on the sofa reading a Newsweek magazine, her jacket was draped over a chair and her shoes were in the middle of the floor. "Yep, I had a burger and a big ol’ shake from Sonic. Looks like you’ve been through the ringer. Siddown on the floor and I’ll give you a neck rub."


Laura didn’t need any prompting and settled down on the floor, next to the sofa and between the smaller woman’s legs. "Yeah, right there. That would be the last nerve that they were getting on." She said as Chris started on the base of her neck with a circular motion.


"Bad day?"


"Predictable day. And more tomorrow."


"Anything you can tell me?"


Laura closed her eyes. "It’s all about gossip and rumors. Did you know that you and Tori are sleeping together?"


Chris concentrated on working out a knot. "Yeah, I did."


"Really?" Laura was surprised and turned around to look at her.


"Tori told me." She shrugged. "That didn’t sound right. Tori said that was the hot topic in the newsroom, I mean. She wasn’t freaked about it or anything. How did that come up?"


"Don mentioned it. Wanted to know what was going on. I said there was no way you were sleeping with Tori."


Chris knew Laura was being evasive, but she just let it slide. "Well, I could be sleeping with Tori. She’s really hot."


"You could, but I think Josh would object. Unless he wanted a two-fer."


"Guys always want a two-fer."


Laura scratched her knee absently. "I probably overreacted. I was just pissed. I’m always pissed these days." She looked over her shoulder. "I’d object too, you know."


"Yeah? I don’t think you have to worry about that." She draped her arms around Laura’s neck and rested her chin on top of the dark head. On a good day it’s enough.



"Nooo, not you too Elly." Laura half-mockingly clapped her hand to her forehead when she saw the Promotion Manager standing in her doorway.


"Relax. No questions, I just have some answers." She tapped the back of the chair but didn’t sit. Laura recognized it as a sign of a quick visit or that Elly had something interesting to say and couldn’t sit still. Her hair wasn’t wild, but it was a little too tame as though she’d run a comb through it before coming into the office. "About that matter we discussed earlier last week, I have found an established pattern over one month that involves a total of eight clients. Six are represented by the same agency, plus the beginnings of a paper trail."


"Is it rock solid?"


"Oh yeah. The question is, do you want this out in the open while Corporate is here? It might flush him out faster."


Laura shook her head slowly. "No. Not while they’re here. We’re not quite ready. Make sure you have copies of everything."


"Okay." Elly nodded. "Point two: No more surprises like last night."


"You were surprised?" Laura leaned back in her chair and had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.


"It was an odd twist," Elly allowed. "I don’t want to be in that crossfire again."


"What else."


Elly was almost twitching at his point. "Mr. Reed looked very familiar, so I Googled him."


"You did what?"


"Google. It’s a search engine on the Internet. Very nice, very clean, no ads, really efficient. Thomas Reed would appreciate the efficient part." She grinned wryly, "Seems Mr. Reed is the Vice President of Property Acquisition for Madison Broadcasting. Kaz, The sharks are coming."


He lied. "Oh shit."



To Be Continued


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