The Deal

By M. Ryan

 

For disclaimers see Part 1

Comments are welcome! mryan12@hotmail.com

 

Part 5

Vultures, Liars, & Pimps

It was Sunday and Laura wasn’t playing golf. She’d come home late from the station to a message on her answering machine canceling her tee time due to flooding. No softball today, either. So she slept in and decided to use the time to do some maintenance on her gear.

Look sharp play sharp, her mother used to say. Laura finished twisting off another set of worn down spikes and tossed the shoe to the floor. Looking down she counted the pairs. One, two, three, four, five. That’s weird, you have one pair of high heels, one pair of everyday loafers, oh and one pair of black cowboy boots. But you have five pairs of golf shoes. Well, you have to get your priorities straight. With a sigh she got out of the chair to look for an old toothbrush and her shoe shine kit.

The CD changer clicked to another track and Mary Chapin-Carpenter was singing about dancing down at the twist and shout. Laura hummed along absently as she started on the shoes, wincing at the soreness caused by the previous day’s activities. She’d been exhausted after dropping Chris off at her house, but hadn’t been able to fall asleep until the wee hours. Awkward with touching the younger woman, but comfortable in her presence, Laura was trying to deal with the contradictions wrapped in a blanket of growing need. This sucks, She thought.

Methodically she cleaned, polished and respiked the shoes, then turned to her clubs, laying them out on the breakfast bar and setting up the vise. She was peeling the old grips off when the smoky sound of a Chris Isaak song interrupted her.

What a wicked game you play,

To make me feel this way.

What a wicked thing to do

To let me dream of you.

She snorted impatiently. Have you ever really listened to song lyrics before, Kaz?

And I don’t want to fall in love

No, I don’t want to fall in love

With you.

No, it had always been just background noise, supplied by a roommate who worked at the college radio station. Frustrated by her inability set aside the wash of emotional thought, Laura punched the machine off and switched on the TV. Digging in the couch cushions she pulled out the remote and began switching through the channels, settling on a Sunday news talk show. One club at a time acquired a brand new grip, and there was something definitely therapeutic about the monotonous task. All she had to do was leave her bag at the pro shop and someone would take care of regripping, but Laura preferred to do it herself.

Laura left the clubs on the breakfast bar to dry and cleaned up the mess spreading from the kitchen to the living room. The stack of newspapers on the table beckoned and she gathered them up, stretching out on the couch to read. Stories about the tornado damage dominated the local paper, but after having been caught in the middle of one, the reports were curiously bland. Her eyes began to droop and after a few minutes, Laura was sound asleep.

It was late afternoon when her eyes flew open, realizing she had slept most of the day away. Guess I needed it, she thought, stretching languorously and hearing her shoulders pop. Sunset was a couple of hours away so she made a decision and went to the bedroom closet to get an extra helmet.

**************

Chris spent Sunday cleaning up yard debris from the storm. She helped her new next door neighbor clear fallen tree limbs from his roof, then drank iced tea on the porch with the newly married man and his wife. It was an easy day of outdoor activity that helped put the happenings of the day before into perspective, but didn’t ease the thrumming excitement that still lingered even after a good night's sleep.

Inside the house, Chris opened a beer and started getting her clothes ready for the next workweek. With her ascension to the Six o’clock anchor position came a new wardrobe, and the consultants had worked up a chart of the colors she could and could not wear, the types of collars that looked best, and even chose the accompanying jewelry. Spontaneous clothing selection was no longer allowed.

Thank God my hair’s okay or they would’ve changed that too. She was trying to decide on Thursday’s look when she heard the doorbell. Carrying the beer with her down the hall she could barely make out a figure on the porch through the frosted glass of her front door. Pulling it open, she couldn’t help but smile at the fidgeting woman standing there.

"Wanna go for a ride?" Laura was rocking on her heels nervously, and she held out a helmet in invitation. Baggy khaki cargo pants were gathered by a wide black leather belt, and a white tank top showed tanned muscular arms that could easily handle the red and chrome monster parked in the driveway.

Chris decided to tease a bit. "I dunno, is it safe?"

"Sure…and it’s the best time of day. When you ride at dusk, you can feel the temperature change from cool to warm back to cool again as you go through the hills." Laura’s half smile was shy, but her eyes were relaxed. "It’s as good as sex…or at least what I imagine sex is like."

Chris almost stopped breathing. She really has no idea. How can anyone be so na´ve and so seductive at the same time? "Aahh, okay. Do I need to change?"

"Pants would be good." Laura nodded at Chris’ shorts.

"Give me a minute. Come on in. Can I get you something to drink?" Laura followed Chris into the living room.

"No, I’m fine." Awkwardly she stood in the middle of the room, still holding the helmets, questioning the wisdom of coming over in the first place. She looked over a cluster of framed photographs, picking out Chris’ siblings easily. The images of the laughing family made her smile a little sadly. Laura knew that there were no such pictures of clan Kasdan.

Chris shucked her shorts in record time, yanking a pair of Levis out of the closet. "Have you eaten yet?" she called to the other room.

"No, we can stop somewhere." She turned to see Chris tucking a white sleeveless blouse into faded blue jeans. The smaller woman wore the casual clothes with the same easy style she wore tailored outfits on air. Laura shook herself out of her reverie and handed over one of the helmets. "This might be a little big on you…it’s an older one of mine."

They left the house and Chris climbed on the bike behind Laura, settling her feet on the passenger pegs. "Where's the best place for me to hold on?" she asked, wondering why Laura would choose an activity that required such close contact, then realized that she’d answered her own question.

"You can grab hold of my belt, or my waist if you’d rather." She punched the starter and the Triumph rumbled to life. Chris hooked her thumbs in the wide leather band as they jerked forward onto the street, settling in close to the taller woman.

Laura got them out of the city traffic pretty quickly, and soon they were flying down the rolling hills in the piney woods south of town. The storms of the day before left pockets of changing temperatures, and as Chris felt the air slide over her exposed skin, she understood the attraction to what her parents had always considered a dangerous form of transportation.

She breathed in deeply and moved her hands from Laura’s belt to circle the other woman’s waist, tightening her hold. Conversation was impossible so she just gave herself up to the sensation of speed and wind and Laura’s skill at handling the powerful machine.

They stopped at a country store that was still open and serving roast beef and gravy sandwiches on crusty French bread. Sitting at a picnic table under an awning, Chris devoured the messy meal, while Laura looked on with amused eyes.

"Where’d you learn to ride?" she asked between bites.

"Took a class." A careless shrug, "What did you expect?"

"I don’t know, something rebellious maybe?" A raised eyebrow told Chris that theory was a stretch.

"So how did you end up in Burkett Falls? You could’ve gotten a job in Nashville." Laura had decided it was time to turn the tables on the reporter and fill in some of the blanks.

Chris looked thoughtful for a minute. "Nashville is home. It’ll always be home, but I didn’t want to start in that market. Mostly I just wanted to be on my own."

"No pressure from your parents?"

"I think they knew I wanted to get out, so they let me go. I interned at CNN, and they offered me a job, but you know, that’s just resume padding, since they don’t pay worth a damn and they work you like a dog."

"You were at WSM for a bit."

"Yeah, I was still in Atlanta after the CNN gig, and I thought I was hot stuff. Then I found out I’d just be writing stories for anchors who were making seven figures. I didn’t see any point in slaving for ten years before I got a chance to do any real reporting, and I started looking. Figured out that a smaller market is the best place to get experience, so I answered an ad in Electronic Media for a reporter in Burkett Falls, and here I am." Chris finished her sandwich, wiping her hands on the generous supply of napkins.

"In a few years, you’ll be able to go anywhere you want." Laura meant it as a compliment, she wasn’t prepared for the frown that crossed the reporter’s face.

"Everybody says that, and you’re supposed to want to go to a bigger market, but I’m not sure I’d be happy in that grind." She smiled ruefully, "Guess I’m just a small town girl at heart."

"Would you go someplace like Dallas if you had the chance?"

"I don’t know." Green eyes looked up in amusement, "Can’t go anywhere for three years anyway."

Laura laughed softly, "No one twisted your arm." She stood up, gathering their trash. "We’d better get back, I don’t like riding after dark.

Chris skipped the belt this time and wrapped her arms around Laura’s waist from the beginning. It was cooler now, and she shivered slightly, tightening her grip and bringing more of her body in contact with the warmth of Laura’s back. They took a longer route home to extend the ride, but there was still some light in the sky when they pulled up into Chris’ driveway. The smaller woman hopped off the bike gracefully and stripped off her helmet, running a hand through her hair. Laura followed suit, feeling it was inappropriate to say goodbye with her head encased in plastic and foam.

"I loved it," Chris said happily, "Can we do it again?"

"Sure. Keep the helmet."

"Cool. See you tomorrow?" The taller woman nodded. "And Laura?"

"It’s Kaz"

"You’re wrong. It’s good, but it’s not as good as sex.

*********************

At the Monday morning meeting Laura was wearing the look that Chris recognized as her game face. All the warmth of the weekend had seemingly disappeared, leaving behind a cold stranger impeccably dressed in black pants, cream colored double breasted blazer, and a white silk shirt buttoned all the way to the top. Her eyes were the cold gray of the past Saturday’s stormy skies as she went around the room considering story ideas.

"We’re in Sweeps and for every idea you bring in here, you’d better have thought about what’s in it for the viewer. If you can’t sell it to me, how can you sell it to them?" The only story she showed any warmth to was Rendally’s mention of the fire ant epidemic, and that was just good for a kicker, not as a lead. "Chris, you’ve got your special report on school lunches for the Ten. It’s finished, right?"

"They’re adding the graphics today."

"What else ya got?"

Chris flipped through her pad, dismissing two ideas outright. "Um, We have two major hospitals here in town, but they share one airlift helicopter. A lot of cities do that; it’s not a problem. But here, they only have one pilot…and he works 24-7." She looked up, "He has no relief and he’s on call all the time. Since the highest incidences of helicopter accidents occur with medical choppers, I thought it might be interesting to look into this. Is it a potentially dangerous situation?"

Laura considered it, rubbing her thumb along her eyebrow thoughtfully. "Okay, can you turn it today?"

"I’ve got a call in to St. Joe’s and Burkett Falls General, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.

"All right then. Janie, do the list." They went down the list of checks and follow-ups, and the assignments were given to the remaining staff. The last item on the planner made Janie chuckle a bit and she smiled as she read it. "Kaz has a photo shoot this morning on the riverfront, City Lights magazine has named her as one of the twenty most influential people in town. Should be some nice publicity."

The reporters hooted derisively, and Laura twisted her lips into a wry smile. "Look, Lance Barker from 4, Jack Pace from 12, and I tied for ninth place. It’s all the News Directors in town, it hardly qualifies as something special."

"Make sure you tell Lance ‘hi’ for me," Keith said sarcastically.

"Oh I think he’ll be on his best behavior, after all, there will be cameras." She dropped the planner on her desk and looked up, "We done here?" At her dismissal, the reporters and producers filed out, and a tap on her door signaled the arrival of the Promotion Manager.

"Hey, good job on the storm Saturday, we really kicked butt."

"Did you get the promos on?"

"Yeah, got some damn fine proof of performance stuff on pretty quick Saturday night…Already got a call from Dave at Target Research. He said we did it right, except for a few things of course." Elly grinned, ""Cause if we were perfect…"

"We wouldn’t need a consultant," Laura finished.

"They really ought to call ‘em ‘Insultants,’ since that’s more accurate. Didja remember to dress for the shoot this morning?"

"Yeah," Laura stood up and held out her arms, "This okay?"

"It’ll do, but I was hoping for something a little sexier."

"News isn’t sexy." Came the dry response.

"I’m not doing news, I’m selling it…And as your liar for hire, I don’t have to deal with those pesky credibility issues."

Laura chuckled despite herself.

***************

It was windy on the riverfront, and for the hundredth time, Laura wished she’d put her hair up as the dark strand blew around her face. The three News Directors regarded each other with stony silence, standing with arms crossed or hands in pockets, and the photographer was starting to get frustrated.

"C’mon, could you loosen up a bit? It’s just a picture, you don’t have to be hostile."

Lance snapped the gum he was chewing and bared his teeth. Jack Pace looked over in annoyance. He was a good twenty years older than the other two News Directors, and was definitely old school with his gray hair combed neatly back and clad in a dark pinstripe suit. His animosity had more to do with being third in the ratings than any real dislike, as opposed to Laura and Lance who could barely tolerate their close proximity. The photographer continued to snap away, figuring that something had to be useable from this miserable experience.

"Hey, I hear you trashed another car this weekend, Kaz." Lance smirked, trying to bait her as he checked the knot on his tie. "Saw the footage on CNN. Tell me, who was Chris Hanson’s lucky shooter?"

Laura just looked away and Jack Pace snorted, "You just wish you had someone as good as Hanson."

Lance sneered, "Just stick to your fifty plus audience, old man, and leave the quality demographics to us."

"Shut up Lance, what the hell is your problem?"

"Oh, she speaks." Turning to the tall woman, he continued his verbal assault. "How’s your May going? Stunts aplenty from what I’ve seen. Chris is a little young to be carrying the Six, don’tcha think…whose bright idea was that?"

"Got a thing for the little blonde, Barker?" The News Director from 12 couldn’t keep out of it. "I heard she beat the crap out of you at a softball game."

Laura smiled tightly and stepped closer to the obnoxious man, "You can say what you want about me, but leave my people out of it."

"Or what?"

She stepped even closer to Lance, and her voice went dangerously low, "If you have to ask, you have a very… short… memory." Laura raised one eyebrow, silently asking how far he wanted to take it, and acknowledging a victory when Lance moved back.

"I think I’ve got everything I need," the photographer interrupted, "Thanks for your…cooperation."

"Fabulous." Lance said with venom, as he stalked to the parking lot, leaving the others staring after him.

"Miss Kasdan," Jack Pace observed, "Lance is not fond of you."

"That sir, would be an understatement."

He chuckled wryly and shook his head. "He’s not long for this market, nor are you, I suspect. I was an executive producer at KDAL for a while several years ago, and I enjoyed it immensely." He paused thoughtfully, "Would you like to join me for lunch, Miss Kasdan?"

Laura crooked a grin, "I’d like that, and call me Kaz."

*********************

Gossip was gossip and in the media business it never hurt to have a little inside information. Laura’s lunch with Jack Pace provided some valuable information, plus a few tidbits about some of the people she had worked with in Dallas. All in all, she was in a good mood as she strolled into the newsroom, happy that most of the reporter’s desks were empty since that meant they were out in the field.

Chris was at her desk though, her pale gold head bent over the keyboard of her computer, eyes flicking from her notepad to the screen and lips moving silently as she tried out the words of her story.

"How’s it going?" Laura resisted the urge to sit down and opted for keeping a professional distance, noting the addition of another hash mark on the side of her desk. We’re at nine already? Maybe we should try for an even dozen.

Chris kept typing and didn’t even look up. "Good. Wanna take a look?"

"I’ll pull it up in my office." Stepping inside her sanctum, she stripped off her jacket and hung it up on the hook behind the door and crossed to her desk rolling up her sleeves as she went. The file was open, so she couldn’t edit it and hit the bar for view only mode. The reporter’s writing was crisp and precise without being overly dramatic, a good informative story highlighting the central issues: The pilot’s lack of off time and the high occurrences of accidents involving hospital airlift services. She dashed off an express note with her approval and turned to her budget variance reports.

The two-thirty meeting came and went, the newscasts were firmed up, and there was a steady stream of photogs rotating through the edit bays. Laura finished checking stories and turned to the stack of subpoenas and summons served over the last week.

Most of them had to do with accidents and fires that were covered as a matter of course in any given news day, but some were more complicated, asking for details on stories that might prove helpful in civil suits as well as criminal trials. She was making a list of dubs that had to be made and what the station would charge for them when the phone rang. "Newsroom this is Kaz."

"Art wants to see you and Elly in his office right now." The administrative assistant’s voice held a sense of urgency that had Laura frowning as she left the newsroom and headed downstairs to the business offices. She was waved in to the white carpeted office where the Promotion Manager was already waiting. By the grim look on Elly’s face, Laura knew that the news was not good.

"What the fuck is this?" Art pointed a remote at one of the TV/VCR’s and a promo started to roll. There was Chris in front of the LifeAir helicopter, doing a standup tease. Art turned up the volume.

"A chopper like this one can save a lot of lives, maybe even yours…but safety is becoming a real issue when it comes to medical helicopters…find out why tonight on Action News 8 Live at Five."

Art looked at Elly, "Did you write this?"

"I approved the copy." The Promotion Manager replied.

Laura shrugged, "What’s the problem?"

"The problem is that the CEO of St Joseph’s Hospital called when he saw this…You know, the people who sponsor the Tower Cam? He’s afraid of a hatchet job on his helicopter service, and I can’t say I blame him."

"I read the script, it’s not a hatchet job." Laura inserted.

"The damage is done, the promo was irresponsible."

"There was nothing wrong with the promo." Elly was emphatic, "It was a tease…nothing more."

Art was livid. "I don’t give a flying fuck, pull the spots and kill the story!"

"Kill the story?" Laura was incredulous, "Why?"

"Because, my thick headed news director, if St. Joe’s pulls the Tower Cam Sponsorship, that’s ten thousand a month in revenue that I can’t afford to give up."

"Art, we have an obligation to report…"

"Elly, could you excuse us?" He waited until she had left and closed the door. "Don’t preach to me about what our obligations are! I have an obligation to make budget, if I lose this revenue, I don’t see any way to get it back."

"I stand by the story, it needs to be aired." Laura pulled herself to her full height and looked down on the shorter man. "What happened to keeping your nose out of the news end of the building?"

"Listen." Art was quivering with rage, "When they give you that station in Dallas, you can do whatever the fuck you want, but right now, I say kill the story." He sucked in a breath and snarled, "Now get out."

Laura turned on her heel and strode to the door only to be stopped by the General Manager’s voice. "And Kaz? Don’t even think about calling corporate on this one."

She jerked open the door. "You don’t know me at all, do you?" And she slammed it behind her.

***************

Janie had been the assignments editor for over eleven years at Channel 8. She had seen five News Directors, twenty-two producers, and thirty odd reporters come and go over that span of time. She could feel and predict every hiccup in the newsroom and she knew that something was about to happen when she walked over to Chris’ desk and imparted some information that had been passed on from the General Manager's secretary.

"Your story’s in trouble, Chris."

The reporter looked up and blinked. "No, it’s almost finished, Jody’s editing it now."

Keith looked up from his monitor, concerned. "What’s the problem?"

Janie elaborated, "Kaz is in Art’s office…They’re arguing about Chris’ story. Apparently St. Joe’s has threatened to pull the Tower Cam sponsorship if it airs."

Puzzled, Chris looked at the Managing Editor, frown lines creasing her forehead. "She wouldn’t kill it, would she?"

The door into the newsroom was almost ripped from its hinges as Laura flung it open and walked in. Uh oh, Chris thought, recognizing the blue white rage in her boss’s eyes. Laura walked across the room to her office with long angry strides, and as she passed Chris’ desk she flung out a command.

"Kill it. The story doesn’t air."

The slamming of the door punctuated the directive, followed by the distinct sound of an object shattering as it was hurled against a wall inside the News Director’s office.

**************************

Elly Michaels’ office was large only because it included an editing suite, The large monitors of the computer based post production system dominated one entire wall, and video tapes were scattered everywhere. There were no windows, and no lights, save for a small halogen lamp in the corner, and the flickering from the monitor screens themselves.

"Don’t just stand there, c’mon in." Elly directed Kaz without turning around to look, "I’m just finishing up." Her short dark hair stood on end in testimony to the day’s frustrations.

While most of the staff was busy with airing the Six O’clock ‘cast, Laura had gone in search of a working copier and had noticed that Elly’s door was still open. "How do you work in the dark?"

"Well, it certainly narrows your focus. How do you stand the noise?"

"I close my door."

Elly gave a short laugh. "Rotten day, huh?"

"You too. For what it’s worth, the spot was fine."

Elly closed the project she was working on and turned to face Laura. "You know, I used to think that the nicest thing that anyone could say to me was that the promo was better than the story…I exaggerate, I stretch the truth, and I tease, all to drive viewers to the newscasts. Then the one time I get nailed, it’s for a promo that wasn’t misleading at all."

"This business sucks."

"Yeah, it does. I’m a liar, but he’s a pimp." She shut down the computer, switching off the monitors. "Was Chris pissed?"

"Aaahh, I didn’t really talk to her."

"Better fix that, don’t need another hostile anchor," Elly couldn’t resist the pointed barb, "You’d know a lot about that, huh?"

"Don’t even go there."

*********************

"Can I see you for a minute?" Chris jumped when she heard the low rumble of her boss’s voice behind her as she came out of the studio. The blonde anchor had expected the issue of the dead story to be addressed before she went on the air, and was annoyed that it hadn’t been.

"Sure." She followed the taller woman up the stairs to the newsroom and into her office. The fragments of a white ceramic coffee mug were strewn across the carpet and Chris could recognize the station’s red and black logo on one of the pieces as she turned to shut the door.

Laura’s eyebrows lowered thoughtfully as she looked at Chris, debating the best way to begin. This wasn’t the first time she’d had to explain a story’s untimely demise due to the vagaries of management, but it was the first time that any semblance of personal interest had intruded into that particular chore. "It was a money thing, nothing more." She hoped that the brief explanation would satisfy the reporter, but Laura should’ve known better.

"A money thing?" Chris was incredulous. "We’re talking about lives at stake…and they won’t change unless someone brings it out into the open."

"Well, for the time being, it won’t be us." Laura put on her jacket, sliding into it as Chris continued to fume.

"That’s it? How can you be so cold about this? You approved the story!"

Laura slapped her hands down on the desk as her temper snapped for the third time that day. "Didja think I was all powerful and I could change Art’s mind when all he’s seeing is dollar signs? Get real, Chris. No matter how noble journalism is, television is still a business and the station can’t pay the bills if the clients are pissed off."

"You could have…"

"I did everything I could. This is a fight you cannot win. Trust me in that."

Chris stood, gritting her teeth furiously, as if she wanted to say something else. She shook her head once to calm herself and looked up Laura, feeling the aggression drain out of her. "All right, what do you want to do?"

"We table it…maybe rework it. It’ll hit the air eventually, though probably not in its current form."

The reporter rolled her eyes. "No, us. Do you want to do something tonight?"

Laura stammered, "I’m sorry?" I just skewered her and she wants to do something tonight?

"We could go to my house and neck on the couch." The look in Laura’s eyes was priceless, and Chris chuckled. "Probably not ready for that."

"No, I’m…not…" Laura bit her lip and grimaced, wondering if this was going to work at all. "You wanna go for a walk?"

*********************

"You are not playing golf in the dark." Chris had changed into a pair of soccer shorts and tee shirt, and was standing next to Laura’s jeep holding an eight iron, a wedge, and a putter.

"Nah, it’s more like pitch and putt, and there are lights."

"Well, what am I gonna do?"

Laura finished tying her shoes and stood up grinning, showing even white teeth. "You’re going to keep me company, and clap politely when I make a good shot. Besides, I promised you dinner later."

The tiny executive golf course had nine short par 3 holes, and was lit up like a football field on a Friday night in Texas. Laura paid the green fee and led Chris to the first tee. More casually than she ever played at the club, Laura tossed a ball to the grass and smirked when she hit it easily to the middle of the green 137 yards away.

"Should I clap now?" Chris took the eight iron as it was handed to her, and the two of them strolled to the green, the hum of insects loud in the twilight. "So, I’m the caddy, right?"

"There’s only three clubs, Chris."

"Yeah, but I’m entitled to ten percent of your winnings."

"Someone’s been doing their research."

Chris handed over the putter, "Oh, I excel at research." I’m reading books about golf, for god’s sake. I must be head over heels.

They did the loop in a little less than an hour. Laura smugly thought that this was one of the few times where she got to have her cake and eat it too, a little practice on her short game, and some time with someone who was becoming increasingly important in a life formerly devoid of any emotional entanglements. They laughed, argued and agreed, testing with topics as diverse as movies and the stock market. As they were finishing up, Chris really did clap when the tee shot on nine came within inches of the hole.

"Have you ever had a hole in one?"

"Yep, three of ‘em." Laura tapped the ball in and bent over to pull it out of the cup. "Got one the last time I played with my mom."

"Was she good?"

Laura’s eyes held a look that Chris could only describe as profound sadness. "She was fabulous, really…In all the years we played, I never beat her. Tied a few times, but she always pulled a rabbit out of her hat. Even with an ace, that last time, she beat me by three strokes." Laura cleared her throat. "She saw me win the ‘95 Amateur, but the cancer had spread pretty quickly, so…" she trailed off, uncomfortably.

"I’m sorry."

"It’s okay, just haven’t talked about her in a while." Laura added her score and out of habit, signed and dated the card. "Look, I ended up four under par. Guess that means you’re entitled to dinner. What’s your pleasure?"

"Mexican at Lupe’s?" Green eyes brightened at the mention of food.

"I kinda saw that coming."

*********************

Laura hopped out of the doorless jeep and followed the reporter up to the porch of her house. Chris had forgotten to leave a light on, so it was dark except for the moon and the glow from the streetlight on the corner. "Is this the part where I kiss you goodnight and tell you that I’ll call you later?" Laura wasn’t too nervous, after all it was dark, and darkness could hide a multitude of sins. Or clumsiness.

"You could do it that way, or I could just kiss you." Chris took one of Laura’s hands and laced their fingers together, but didn’t step any closer.

"I think I’d like that," came the soft answer.

"You’ll have to help me out a bit…It’s hell being short." Chris moved closer and slid her other hand lightly up Laura’s shoulder to the base of her neck, her knuckles tickled by dark silky hair, and stood on tiptoes to touch her lips to the mouth that smiled slightly down at her. She wasn’t prepared for the explosion of longing that curled in her stomach or the white-hot fire that seemed to consume the rest of her body. She reveled in the tentative softening of Laura’s lips and reminded herself to go slow.

It’s different from the last one, Laura thought, More needy? She pulled away slowly and Chris looked at her, puzzled.

"I don’t know what to do with my hands." Laura whispered.

Chris couldn’t hide a smile. "Anything you want."

Laura untangled her fingers from Chris’ hand and brought it up to rub her thumb along the smaller woman’s jaw. Chris tilted her head into the caress and closed her eyes, willing her tingling flesh to stay that way forever. She brought her hands up to rest on Laura’s hips, pleased at the way their bodies fit together, then felt Laura’s mouth descend on hers again, this time with a mixture of urgency and curiosity, her tongue exploring lips and mouth gently, softly.

They broke again and Chris slowly opened her eyes to see yet another shade of blue, different from all the others she had seen before. My god I’m drowning…

Laura stepped away, her hands falling to her sides. "I’m…going…now." He breath hitched and she backed up, nearly tripping down the steps, then caught herself. "Tomorrow…okay?"

Chris watched in a stupor as Laura stumbled away to climb into her jeep and drive off, stalling the engine twice before she reached the corner. I’ve just been kissed senseless by a rank amateur.

********************

By Friday the grind of sweeps was in full swing, and Laura was using every tool in her arsenal to keep the staff focused on the job at hand. They broke a few good stories, and the targeted special reports were generating a lot of interest if the amount of phone calls were any indication. Trouble with one of the new live trucks kept Laura busy with the engineers, and after half a day of running tests on the uncooperative vehicle, she was hot, sweaty and ready for the weekend. The qualifying round for the Open was the following week, and even though the weekend was going to be practice hell, Tonight was set aside solely for time with Chris.

She stood in the parking lot, lifting her long hair off the back of her neck to feel what little breeze there was, as she waited for Richard to give the word that the truck was fixed. Laura already had it out with Art about taking Monday and Tuesday off, promising that everything was under control, and still realizing that there wasn’t any way to guarantee it. The live trucks were barely a month old, and they were still getting the bugs worked out.

"That’s everything…You can get one of your photogs to run it out for a test, then it should be good for tonight." Richard closed the side electrical panel and picked up his toolbox, and Laura nodded gratefully.

"Cool, anything special we need to do?"

"Yeah, tell ‘em to watch the clearance…These trucks are a little tall to be going to the drive-thru at McDonalds." He let his eyes rove over her tall frame, thinking she was a good-looking woman, too bad he was married.

Another day, another leer, Laura thought as she went back in the building. Funny, it used to bother her more, but lately it just seemed to roll off her back. Pondering the shift in attitude she opened the newsroom door and realized that something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

Keith and Chris were in the middle of a ferocious argument, the intensity of which had paralyzed nearly everyone in the newsroom. A bluish vein bulged in the forehead of the young man while Chris stood nearly toe to toe with him, fury evident in every line of her body. Laura’s entrance went unnoticed as they continued to shout.

"What’s going on?" Her authoritative tone cut into the fight and they both stopped mid-bellow and faced her, the silence startling in its intensity.

Then Keith answered quietly, "The AirLife Helicopter crashed. All three on board are dead, plus two on the ground. Chris wants…"

"I did the original story, I should be on the scene!"

"…I sent Maria and Jason, they were already out and they can do live at Five and Six…plus the live from the Clark Trial."

"Tom can solo, I need to be there!" Green eyes were past the point of asking, they pleaded.

Laura stuck out her jaw slightly and shook her head emphatically, "No, Keith’s right. I want you on the set."

"We blew it before Kaz, You can’t…"

"I just did. You’re too close to it, and if we’re doing two live shots, I’d rather have you here." Don’t, Chris. You promised it wouldn’t come into the newsroom.

Awareness of her position and the very public nature of the argument filtered through to Chris and she forced herself to calm "Fine." Her eyes were still accusing as she turned away and went over to the printer to pick up a script.

"My office, Keith." Laura stalked away.

He followed her in, pushing the door shut, and started to apologize, "I’m sorry…" He stopped and spread his hands in silent explanation.

"If you learn nothing else from me, Keith, learn this: Never yell at the talent in front of the rest of the staff, nothing good ever comes out of it." She sighed and crossed her arms, looking out the window into the newsroom, finding the blonde head bent over her keyboard. "She’s still adjusting, Keith. She’s not just a reporter anymore, her time in the field is going to get more and more limited, she’ll end up doing more public relations crap for the station, and it’s not going to be easy."

"Nobody forced her."

Laura nodded, "You’re right. Just be patient, okay?" She swallowed against a wash of guilt. Had she pushed Chris into it? No, she said it was the road she was on. It wasn’t my own self-interest, was it? "And she’s thinks this is her fault Keith…That she could’ve stopped the accident if we’d aired the story earlier."

"But it’s not her fault."

"She won’t look at it that way.

******************

Leaning against the wall of the control room, Laura watched the last few minutes of the Six with a feeling of uncertainty, puzzled about something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. The ‘cast was good, and because Chris had done the background on the story earlier in the week, their coverage of the crash was exceptional. Kate’s voice sounded like it was coming from far away as she gave instructions for the wrap, "You’ve got twenty seconds coming back…we’ll close on the downtown Tower Cam."

Those damn Tower Cams, Laura thought. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place. Distracted, she jerked violently at the tap on her shoulder and turned to see the General Manager waving her out of the booth. Silently, she followed him out and down the hall.

They walked past empty cubicles on the way to his office; the sales staff having left early as was their practice on Fridays. After the noise of the control room, the quite was welcome.

Art waved Laura to a chair, a sure sign that this was an extended meeting, and sat down behind his desk, holding his tie to his chest then smoothing it out. He looked at Laura for a moment and snorted briefly, "We messed up. You can say ‘I told you so.’"

"Why? We both have to deal with the fallout." Laura gave a grim smile, "Ever hear that saying? It’s television…It’s only television, it’s not brain surgery, and nobody dies…Except that this time they did."

"Would running that story have made a difference?"

Laura thought for a minute, "As a journalist, I have to think so, that’s why we do this after all. The truth is we’ll never know." She tapped the arm of her chair absently, "It’s a credibility problem…we bowed under the pressure of a sponsor and it looks like we were bought."

"You say ‘we.’ I made the decision." Art pulled at his lower lip.

Laura nodded slowly, "Yes you did, but I executed it, and that makes me just as responsible."

Art let out a breath, "I’m meeting with the guys from St. Joseph’s on Monday, I would’ve liked for you to be there, is there any way you could postpone…"

"No, I can’t. Take Keith, he knows as much about it as I do."

"All right then, get him in here and we’ll go over it."

It was after eight o’clock by the time Keith and Laura got out of the General Manager’s office, and dinnertime for the nightside crew meant that the newsroom was nearly deserted. After sitting down to send a few more e-mail messages, Laura tried to call Chris at home. Her machine picked up on the second ring, but Laura didn’t leave a message. What would I say anyway? She thought, Sorry I reamed you in front of everyone, wanna go out now? With a sigh she started to tidy her desk, deciding to bring home some paperwork for the flight to Austin, when the phone rang.

"Kaz, it’s Lisa, thank god I caught you. Come down to Mainstreet right now, Chris is drunk off her ass and we can’t get her out of here."

"Aw shit, I’m on my way."

Lisa and Trey met her at the door and pointed to the corner of the bar. The crowd was pretty thin for a Friday night, and she didn’t have any problem spotting the miserable hunched figure separate from the other patrons of the club. Laura nodded at Lisa, indicating that she would take care of Chris, then made her way over. "Can I sit down?" At an absent wave, she pulled a stool over and settled into it, waving the bartender over. "Lemme have a 7UP." Chris tapped her glass to indicate she wanted a refill, and he looked over at Laura. She shook her head and he left, returning with just the one drink and Chris snorted. "You’re the boss." She said bitterly.

"Yeah, I am. Do you think that makes this any easier?"

Chris looked away, "Whatever."

"How much have you had to drink?"

"Not enough, I can still think."

Laura studied the surface of the bar, idly following the whorls of the wood grain. "We sold out, and the truth is, I can’t apologize enough for it. I can’t even promise that it won’t happen again."

"You should’ve let me finish what I started! It was my story.

"No Chris, that’s where you’re wrong, it was our story. The newsroom acts as a team. You were in the studio, you asked the hard questions, you did the background, and you were the anchor of the story. Just because you weren’t on the scene, didn’t mean that you gave up ownership…It wasn’t really yours to begin with."

"You make it sound so reasonable…but that’s what you do." Chris gave a humorless laugh and tilted her empty glass. "They shouldn’t have died," she said sadly, "If we’d aired the story they wouldn’t have."

"You don’t know that, and all the guilt in the world won’t change it."

"Yeah, but there we were, ready to take advantage of it…Like vultures. Sorry we’re not a metered market, we could find out how we did bright and early tomorrow morning." Chris threaded her hands through her hair, as if she could strip away the feeling of responsibility. She looked at her boss, her green eyes unreadable in the semidarkness of the bar. "How do you stand it? The need to produce results all the time, no matter what?"

Laura smiled wryly, "They pay me to do it, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. Now have you had enough of this pity party?"

Chris’ eyes went a little unfocused as she tried to follow the point that Laura was making. "You make everything so simple professionally…How come you’re so messed up personally?"

"Years of practice. C’mon, let’s get you home." Laura hopped off the barstool and took hold of Chris’ elbow, steadying the smaller woman as she stumbled getting up. "How much have you had?"

"A whole buncha that Absolute Vodka stuff. I love the ads, but it doesn’t taste very good."

"Maybe it’d be better if you mixed it with something." Laura helped her weave through the tables and out the door. "You’ll be sick as a dog in the morning."

"Nope, never hungover. Good genes I guess. Rats! The jeep. We never get to ride the motorcycle when I’ve got a really good buzz."

"Good thing too, you’d fall right off, and it’d be quite a show in that skirt. Can you get in or…ah hell…" Chris turned and fell against Laura, wrapping her arms around the taller woman. "This isn’t good."

Chris breathed in the scent of cotton and laundry detergent, with a light tickle of plain deodorant soap. No perfume, just eau de Kaz. "What’s not good about it? I’ve finally got you holding me. D’you how long I’ve been working on that?"

"Could we not do this in the parking lot?" Laura was getting the shakes and she hadn’t had anything to drink. The body against hers promised all kind of things she wasn’t ready for, and she half pushed, half-lifted Chris into the vehicle. "In the jeep, there you go." She reached across to buckle the seatbelt, surprised when Chris halted her hand.

"I’m sorry. I guess I stood you up."

"S’all right, you’re not the first drunk anchor I’ve had to take home."

"Oooh, should I be jealous?"

"Not unless you feel that being tossed into the bed of a pickup truck so you won’t throw up on the upholstery is a sign of affection." Laura started the jeep and pulled out of the lot. "If you feel sick, let me know."

Chris closed her eyes and leaned back, suddenly a little queasy. "Which anchor was that?"

"Roger McNamara in Dallas."

It took Chris a minute to place the name. "The guy you slugged?"

"That’s the one."

"Hmmm." Chris couldn’t concentrate on the subject enough to pursue it any further and she reached over to turn up the radio. "Oh, I like this." Sheryl Crow was singing about her favorite mistake, and Chris joined in...Badly. Thank god it’s not a long trip, Laura thought.

Getting Chris out of the jeep was a little easier than getting her in, but now that the defenses of Laura’s personal space had been breached, The blonde woman was not about to let her boss rebuild the walls, so Laura unlocked the door and went into the house with Chris draped over her.

"Bed for you, I think." Laura gently removed an arm from around her shoulder.

Chris gave a low laugh, "You can come too." She stripped off her blazer, tossing it to the living room floor. Next came the skirt, leaving her clad in only her hose and a pale beige blouse that brushed the tops of her thighs. She reached to grab Laura’s hand and began pulling her to the bedroom, "C’mon."

Laura questioned the sanity of following Chris, but couldn’t stop. Drawn easily into the seduction, her nerves were shot to the point of no resistance. Stupidly, she stared at the enormous bed in the center of the room while Chris skipped into the bathroom. "Gotta get this makeup off, or I’ll have raccoon eyes in the morning." Laura waited, hearing splashing sounds and debating whether or not she should try to escape. Then the bathroom light snapped off and all rational thoughts fled.

Chris was attractive with makeup, but she was beautiful without it. Healthy skin glowed and she smiled, knowing the effect. The hose were gone, so bare legs disappeared into silk blouse that was mostly unbuttoned, and she began a slow walk to the taller woman. "You’re still here… guess that means you’re staying."

"I guess." Laura’s voice was hoarse.

Chris turned and fell on the bed, her arms spread wide, and her feet still on the floor. "I am so tired." She yawned, closed her eyes and fell fast asleep.

Laura stood waiting for a moment blinking at the turn of events, realizing that she’d been saved and punished at the same time. For the first time in her life she understood the allure of a cold shower. With a sigh she lifted Chris’ legs onto the bed, and covered her with a blanket.

Now what?

Chewing on the inside of her cheek, Laura debated her next course of action. With a calmness that belied the turmoil in her gut, she walked over to the nightstand and picked up the phone. After dialing, she listened to the ringing then waiting for the instructions to finish before leaving a message. "Peter, it’s Kaz. I’m…gonna skip the 6:45 tee time and shoot for 11:00. Could you let Jeremy know? Thanks."

No excuses now. Without disturbing Chris or getting too close, she stretched out on the bed, sticking one of the pillows behind her head and crossing her legs at the ankles. Briefly she wondered if she could even sleep with someone else in the same room, much less the same bed. After only a little while, she relaxed and dropped off, answering that question.

Continued in Part 6


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