The Deal

By M. Ryan


For disclaimers see Part 1

Comments are welcome!


Part 9

Bridges and Segues


On Thursday at midnight the May Sweeps period ended with a whimper barely heard by the viewing public. For the larger metered markets, the complete results would be known by the next day. The winners and losers would spend the next few months deciding how to make the numbers work to their advantage, because there was always a spin. For the medium to small markets it would be another week or so before they had the book in their hands. Neilson, the god of television, guarded its power over the ratings system with jealousy and venom, serving up the means for a station’s destruction for a hefty subscription fee and on their own timetable.

At least that’s what Laura thought.

She’d never had to wait for a book. In Dallas they kept up with the overnights and could make adjustments as they went along. If something didn’t work one night, they could see the numbers and go from there. In a diary market, there were no second chances; viewers returned the diaries at the end of the month and the results came after the game was played. There was no going back.

Laura opened the refrigerator door, the light brightening the darkened kitchen and drank from a large bottle of orange juice. Her vigil of the sweeps’ passing came more from an inability to sleep than a need to see the ratings period through to the bitter end and while the sense of relief was welcome, it wouldn’t cure her insomnia. The three-day push to the finish had been hard on everyone in the newsroom, and getting back to her neglected golf game had added to the strain. The Open was a week away and Laura was feeling less than confident.

Too many distractions…okay, just one distraction. Focus had never ever been a problem. Now it seemed as though she had the attention span of a gnat, but it was the neediness that bothered her the most, the craving to be close to the blonde reporter that was giving her fits. C’mon, you should’ve expected this, it’s all new, it’s fabulous and fun and all that stuff, but it can’t take over your life…It can’t.

Laura closed the door extinguishing the light, then felt her way back to the bedroom, flexing her shoulders as she went and feeling the familiar pop. Overdid it today, I think. She’d gotten up early to practice, practiced at lunch, then hit the range again after work. Laura knew there was a difference between getting in a groove and digging a rut, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something about her swing that wasn’t quite right. You just need to play a round. The walking will help, maybe you could go in a little later in the morning…Keith could handle things for an hour or so, it’ll be just what you need. Having settled on a cure for her restlessness, Laura crawled back into bed catching a whiff of a floral scent she knew wasn’t her own. With a groan she flopped over on her back, one arm flung over her eyes and hoped for a little sleep and maybe a dream of holding and being held by someone who was becoming as necessary as air.



Chris cursed the game and all who played it, especially demented blue-eyed news directors who could seemingly turn emotions on and off at will. She ground her teeth in frustration as she clicked down the list of stories on the AP wire, her attention divided between the computer and the door of the newsroom. Laura had paged Keith to tell him she’d be in around ten, and it wasn’t even nine yet, so there was no point in looking at the door every thirty seconds, but Chris checked again anyway.

Chris always knew with clear certainty that when she finally fell in love it would be quite a crash and as far as things went with Laura, the impact was jarring to say the least.

In the three days since what Chris was starting to call "Erica Monday," Laura had done nothing but ride herd over the newsroom and practice golf. She wasn’t cold, she wasn’t remote, she was just driven, as though nothing was more important than getting through this one week. For the first time Chris saw the machine in action and understood how a twenty-eight year old could become a news director in a top market. I miss her…I understand, but I still miss her. No phone calls, no dinners, just professional interest and support, then off to practice as soon as the Six was finished. The book’s over now, does that change anything? Or is everything on hold until she gets back from Mississippi?

She was gathering her notes for the morning meeting when a stack of magazines tied together in a bundle landed on the floor near her desk and she looked up into the mischievous smile of Danny Rendally. "Hey Chrissy, wanna have some fun?"


It was a good round and Laura had a little swagger back as she took the stairs two at a time up to the newsroom. Her hair was still damp from the hurried shower at the club and she flipped the dark length out as she pulled open the door. It was fairly busy; most of the reporters were on the phone setting up interviews and shoots for the day’s stories. Janie was busily filling out the assignment board and as she walked by Keith’s desk he handed her the mail. "Morning…good game?"

"Pretty good, needed it," she said laconically flipping through the envelopes and trade magazines as she continued to her office. "Any problems?"

"Everything’s cool so far."

"Great." Still distracted by the mail, she pulled her keys out of her pocket to unlock the door and froze. "What the hell?" Dozens of City Lights Magazine covers wallpapered the office door and multiple images of three News Directors stared back at her in a weird faceted housefly perspective. One eyebrow lifted as she considered the likely suspects. "Mr. Rendally," she called sweetly to the corner of the newsroom, "How long did this take you?" There was a moment of silence and then the laughter started.

The reporter peeked out from behind his computer monitor, "Why do you immediately assume it was me? Anybody else…"

"Anybody else wouldn’t have left his tape dispenser behind." Laura picked up the offending desk accessory from the shelf next to the door and tossed it across the room smirking at his discomfort. "As punishment, you get to take my place at the Harrison School District Career Fair on Monday."

‘Aw, come on…not the Career Fair," he came out from behind his desk, "Chris helped…"

"Ooo, a confession and an accomplice. You can both go."

"Rendally, you fink," Chris accused. Laura chuckled softly as she unlocked the door and pushed it open. As she tossed the mail down on her desk it suddenly occurred to her that something like Rendally’s little prank would never have happened in Dallas, no one would have dared. She sat down behind the desk and wondered what had changed. Me. I’ve changed. In Dallas it had been a struggle every day to prove that she was smart enough, good enough, and ruthless enough to run the news operation at KDAL. In Burkett Falls, no one questioned whether she was qualified; they just wanted to see if lightening could strike twice.

"I think it looks good." Elly Michaels stood in the doorway admiring Rendally’s handiwork and holding a copy of the magazine. In the photo the two men were looking into the lens and Laura was on the left, gazing slightly off camera, one hand in a pocket hitching up her unbuttoned blazer on one side. Dark hair blew in strands away from her face accenting her features. She gave every appearance of being exotically beautiful, aloof and untouchable. "Although Jack looks like he just smelled something really nasty and Lance has that charming sneer, you look really…nice"

Laura snorted in embarrassment. "Well it’s hardly pinup material and it doesn’t do us much good the day after sweeps are over."

"Yeah, the timing sucks but any publicity is good publicity."

"Did you know about the cover?"

"Sure, I saw the proofs." Elly smiled, not unkindly. "Ticked you off, huh?" She nodded at the impassive expression on the News Director’s face. "I’d say I’m sorry, but a freebie’s a freebie."

"You could’ve told me."

"I could have." Elly scrubbed her hand through her hair and Laura idly thought it was a little early in the day for it to be standing on end. "But I didn’t. If it wasn’t against the regulations of the USGA for amateurs, I’d plaster you with our logo next week."

"You checked."

"Of course. The promotion department is an ad agency and the station is my client. My one and only client. I am under no illusions about what will happen to me if the May book sucks." Without apologies or blame Elly confirmed what Laura already knew and she nodded in understanding.

"Whatever cranks the numbers Kaz. It’s not like you to forget that." Elly smiled bitterly and passed Keith in the doorway as she left the office.

For a minute Laura sat motionless as she watched her carefully guarded privacy slip away into the realm of an advertising scheme. Her head was beginning to ache, and she looked up at Keith. "Would you make sure that everyone’s here for the two-thirty? We need to do a little post sweeps staff meeting and we might as well do it now since I’m out next week." Laura threw half the mail in the trash and started sorting through the buildup of paper on her desk. "What else?" she asked Keith since he made no move to leave.

"About next week, the Open…how do we cover that?"

"We don’t."

"Oh c’mon Kaz, Tupelo is only three and a half hours away…You’re in the U.S. Open for god’s sake."

Laura dumped more paper into the round file, "Okay, just a blurb in sports."

"If you make a move, we need someone there to cover it." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Laura stopped what she was doing and sighed. "Keith, I probably won’t even make the cut…"

They were interrupted by Chris tapping on the door, "Didja ask her?" Laura’s eyebrows lowered in irritation, "Ask me what?"

Shift, shift, "Chris had an idea how we could cover it without making you the main event, basically make the Open a follow-up story to her special report on Title IX. We could show how these women have benefited from the increasing number of athletic scholarships offered to women to even out the number offered to their male counterparts…"

Chris picked up the story pitch, "And since the Open will have amateur players from various colleges who are there on scholarships, it seems like a good opportunity," Chris’ enthusiasm dulled a little at the look on the News Director’s face. "That way we’re already there if something interesting happens…or not," she finished.

Laura leaned back in her chair with a touch of exasperation, "Has it occurred to anyone that this is my vacation we’re talking about? It’s not a station function and it’s not a promotional opportunity. I don’t want an entourage and I sure as hell don’t want to be put on display."

"Yeah, but if you’re there it makes it our story, and aren’t you always saying that we never give up ownership of a story?" Chris knew she had her and resisted the urge to smirk. Laura regarded the blonde reporter through narrowed eyes, her fingers tapping on the armrests and figured she’d been cooked in her own juice. Looking away she blew out an irritated breath. "All right Keith, set it up for Thursday-Friday, though I don’t know where you’ll find a hotel rooms for a reporter and a photog at this late date."

Keith did a little victory bounce and fist pump before he turned to leave the office but Laura’s voice stopped him, "And Keith? Stay out of my hair…It’s my vacation."

"Sure Kaz." And with a grin he was gone leaving Chris behind. "Close the door," Laura requested and the reporter complied, returning Laura’s gaze evenly, never once breaking eye contact. "Why do you want to do this?" The News Director asked the question softly.

For Chris the answer was easy. "I want to be there with you and for you. Surely that’s not so hard to understand." She swallowed against the need to touch the other woman; instead she slipped her hands into the pockets of her blazer. "Will it bother you if I’m there?"

Laura’s mouth was suddenly dry. "I’m…sorry about the last few days, you deserve better than to be ignored."

"Is that what you were doing? I thought you were working your tail off." Chris bit her lower lip and asked again, "Will it bother you if I’m there?"

Laura hesitated for a moment and her brow crinkled thoughtfully, "I’d like for you to see me play. I guess that sounds arrogant."

"You? Arrogant?" The blonde reporter could lift one eyebrow too.

"Sarcasm doesn’t become you."

Chris dipped her head and hid a smile. "The deal was that we do this at your speed, and we keep it out of the newsroom. That hasn’t changed. I can do the story and not come within fifty yards of you; all you have to do is tell me. Think about it." Chris stepped back to leave knowing it was the only way she could keep from saying too much, but Laura’s voice, barely above a whisper, made her stop. "I want you there. More than anything in the world, I want you there." Blue eyes did not waver or hide an unspoken plea from a carefully guarded heart.

Chris sucked in a breath and her lips twitched into a smile, "Cool."


The two-thirty meeting was crowded but the mood was light and the final firming up of the primetime newscasts was accomplished quickly. Laura nodded at Keith when he finished the rundown for the Six and stood up, clearing her throat. "Well, the book is over and the blackout is lifted. I know a bunch of you are going on vacation next week, I just wanted to get in one last word about…" Laura stopped herself, "Oh hell, I just wanted to say what a good job everyone did. We broke some good stories and dealt with some bad ones. If we don’t get some decent numbers, it wasn’t from lack of trying."

She ought to wear jeans more often. The thought flitted through the back of Chris’ mind as she listened to the News Director praise the staff when it suddenly occurred to her that this was the same woman who had ruled KDAL with an iron fist, who had so terrorized a newsroom that they sent a condolence card to WBFC when they found out that this was the new domain of the infamous Laura Kasdan. Puzzled, she looked around at the staff. There was no obvious animosity; in fact she was certain that if pressed, most of them would have good things to say about their boss. Who mistreated whom in Dallas, Laura?

"The special reports looked good, the series were good, I think we had some strong viewer interest. So we’ll take a little break, we won’t worry about the July book ‘cause nobody looks at those numbers anyway, and we’ll be back strong in November." Laura gave a lopsided smile not sure how to close, "I’m really proud of y’all and to show my thanks…Dinner’s on me. We’re grilling burgers out on the patio after the Six." Nothing excited a newsroom like free food and the whooping drowned out anything else that Laura wanted to say. The staff began to disperse to assemble the pieces and parts of the Five and Six, and The News Director headed for her office.

"Not so fast, Kaz." Lisa Tyler held up a hand to quiet the newsroom. "We, that is all of us want to wish you the very best next week." She tossed a package to Laura who caught it neatly and displayed a plastic bag full of Orange University of Texas golf tees. Lisa held out her fist with her forefinger and pinky extended and gave her wrist a waggle in the Longhorn salute, "Hook ‘em horns."

Before Laura could open her mouth Rendally stepped forward with a box, "Just a little token of our affection…really." Laura narrowed her eyes at the reporter and opened the lid with some trepidation, pulling out a Tasmanian Devil golf club head cover…except that the brown tuft on the top of its head had been replaced by a long hank of black hair. "Well," she drawled, "No one ever said you were subtle Rendally…my very own stuffed mascot."

The reporter blushed slightly. "Tear ‘em up Kaz."


"Pretty nice party." Lisa slid a plastic plate heaped with potato salad and a towering hamburger onto the wooden picnic table and climbed over the bench to sit across from Laura. "We’ve never done this before, it’s a good idea."

"Yeah, I figured it’d be a good way to end the week." Laura pushed her plate away and for a change most of the food was eaten. They were alone at the table, most of the staff had broken off into splinter groups of five or six.

"Are you ready?"

Laura grimaced nervously. "No."

"Uh huh. You’re ready." Lisa poked a fork at her food as she considered how to ferret out the information she was looking for. "So…Chris is going to cover the Open?" She looked up to see a muscle jump in the taller woman’s jaw.

"She’s doing a follow-up to her special report on Title IX." Laura stilled her hands, waiting and half-afraid of the next question but Lisa abruptly changed the subject. "I guess this is a lot different from Dallas, Austin too."

Laura relaxed, "You have no idea."

Whiskey colored eyes narrowed thoughtfully, "You’ve never let yourself be teased before, you know? You always took everything so seriously."


"So what’s changed?"

Laura cocked her head to one side and pondered the question. "There’s no Roger…I’m not fighting every day to make sure it’s done right. I’m not hostile because I don’t have to be." And it makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? She gave a short laugh, "Guess it was just that big market grind."

"Hmmm." Lisa looked past Laura’s shoulder at the reporters gathered around one of the other tables and her voice dropped to a quiet serious tone. "She watches you, you know. Especially when she thinks no one’s looking. She always knows when you’re in the booth for the Six…and she just lights up on the air, did you know that?" Laura shook her head slowly and Lisa continued, "She’s always asking me questions…about you, always digging, and she is relentless. Kaz, what have you gotten yourself into?"

Laura winced, certain that she didn’t want to have this conversation. "Could you be more specific?"

"This is so incredibly dangerous, it isn’t even funny."

"I know that." Laura snapped in a low voice.

"And it’s partly my fault. I had no business pushing…I just never thought you’d…" Lisa stopped at the look on Laura’s face, suddenly realizing that her friend had no idea what was happening and was ill equipped emotionally to deal with it. With a sigh she shifted arguments, mentally scolding herself for not sticking to the point she wanted to make. "It’s not against the rules, you know. The handbook only says intimate relationships are discouraged."

"I am her supervisor, and logic dictates that that kind of relationship is disruptive." Laura tapped on the wooden table for emphasis. "But it’s not only that, it’s the on-air thing and public perception. I could be the reason she gets yanked. Career wise, I could probably survive…I’m not sure she could."

"So what’s gonna happen?"

Laura dropped her head and spoke so softly that Lisa could barely hear her. "When I’m alone, I can almost talk myself into breaking things off and telling her that it’s just not gonna work. I can almost convince myself not to be selfish and put a stop to it before we both get in trouble." Laura paused and lifted dark blue eyes filled with emotion, "But she’s the most incredible person I’ve ever known and she likes me. She makes me laugh, and think, and feel. Can you understand what that means to me?"

Lisa nodded, understanding much more than Laura was telling. "For God’s sake be careful, Kaz."

"I will protect her as long as I can. If things…don’t work, I’ll still protect her." Laura didn’t need to see the slight widening of the other woman’s eyes to know that Chris was coming up behind her, the shiver running down her spine was notice enough.

"Can I sit here or were you talking about manager stuff that the peons aren’t supposed to hear?" Chris put her hand lightly on Laura’s shoulder for balance as she stepped over the bench and sat down. The patio was clearing out and they were the only ones left except for the caterers.

"Nope," Lisa said, "We finished talking about manager stuff. I think I’m going home to see if I can talk Trey into a backrub. Kaz, good luck next week, I know you’ve got the game. See ya Chris."

They watched her leave and Chris turned to Laura. "Did I chase her away?"

"No, she’s just…concerned."

"Us?" Chris inquired.

"Yeah." Laura closed her eyes and inhaled Chris’ perfume. "Any plans for tonight?"

"Well, I was thinking that I’d sit on my porch swing until something better came along."

"Oh. I have to make sure the caterers get everything cleaned up. Probably be another hour."

Chris smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Why don’t you bring something to drink since that seems to be your area of expertise right now. Are you playing golf tomorrow?"

"No, I’m a little fried right now, I need a break." Laura hesitated, Lisa’s warning still fresh in her mind. "Maybe we should rethink this and…"

"Stop." Chris put one hand out to touch Laura’s arm. "I have one day before I have to give you back to the golf gods. I’m not wasting that rethinking." She stood up and slid out from behind the bench. "I’ll wait for you," she said, leaving Laura alone with the catering crew and the debris from the party to celebrate the end of sweeps.


"Why aren’t you sleeping?" Laura felt the breath from Chris’ inquiry on her ear, followed by a hand tangling in her hair. The moon lit the bed with a bluish tint through the slats of the blinds, where Laura lay on her stomach, chin on her forearm.

"Not tired." Laura still felt the shivers of awareness that the blonde woman seemed to provoke just by her presence.

Chris chuckled. "You should be. We damn near christened every flat surface in the house, horizontal and vertical. The word insatiable comes to mind." Chris settled herself across Laura’s back, laid her head down between the taller woman’s shoulder blades and heard her low hum of embarrassment.

"Guess I got carried away…missed you."

"S’okay." Chris slurred, one hand tracing the muscle of Laura’s upper arm as she savored the admission. "I gotta think that if you play golf the way you make love, no one else stands a chance."

Laura peeked over her shoulder and said wryly, "It wasn’t just me." The need had been maddening for both of them and Laura wondered if it would ever ease, half-afraid that it would. She filled her lungs, feeling Chris’ weight rise and fall with her breath, then twitched when a busy hand found a sensitive spot. "Ah, that’s a little sore."

"What? Oh, your live truck scar. That still hurts?" Chris ran her fingertips along the rough edge of skin unable to make out the detail in the dark. How ‘bout that? Marked you as mine even way back then. "Maybe you should have a doctor look at it."

"No it’s okay, I think I just bumped it on something when we were…earlier." Laura felt a jolt as her body reacted to the gentle caress, and wondered briefly if it was making up for years of deprivation. Slowly she rose up on her elbows and turned over on her back. Chris followed the movement, shifted and readjusted until her compact feminine form was draped over Laura’s long torso. "You were right, you know," Laura said as she felt soft kisses along her collarbone.

"About what?" The question was murmured against warm skin.

"When you said I’d wonder how I ever lived without it."

Chris laughed seductively and Laura felt the rumble all the way to her feet. "I was trying to be a tease, it was the least I could do." She tucked her head underneath Laura’s chin, comfortable with the closeness and closed her eyes. "What’s running through your head, Laura?" She asked in a whisper without really expecting an answer.

"I love to hear you laugh," came the unexpected reply. "It makes me feel…I don’t know…happy is pretty inadequate." Chris felt a shrug and then silence. It should make you feel loved, you idiot. Chris bit back one of those laughs and settled for a smile as the body under hers relaxed and Laura drifted off to sleep.

Continued in Part 10

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