Shell Game

by M. Ryan

Part 2

Time, or the Lack of It

"So, do you like her?"

"I think she’s the one."

"Then get her in here and we’ll see if she’ll work and if we can do a deal." Laura used the remote to rewind the tape and take another look at the willowy brunette that she and Keith had chosen from the stacks of applicants for the open anchor position. "No contract? She’s free to leave?"

"That’s what she says. Two weeks notice and she’s here." Keith had printed her bio from the station’s website where she was currently working and clipped it to the resume that he pushed across Laura’s desk. "If we keep Chris on the Six and Ten, Tori should work very well on the Five.

Laura flicked her eyes over to where Keith sat, pleased that he had come to the same conclusion that she had without being nudged in the right direction. "Once we see some July numbers we’ll have a clearer picture. Hopefully Chris will have given the Ten the boost we’ve been looking for." She ejected the tape from the machine and tossed the remote on the desk. "Everything else all right?"

"So far, so good."

"Well let’s do the department head thing so I can get back to whatever chore corporate wants to assign me today." Keith stood up and both of them went down the short hallway that connected the GM’s office with the conference room. Mark Wilson was already there with his number sheet and calculator, Phyllis Bishop the Business Manager and Richard the Chief Engineer had their heads close together and were discussing something in a low tone. Laura pulled out the chair at the head of the table and sat down just as Lisa Tyler and Elly Michaels, the Production Manager and Promotion Manager entered the room. Leaning back in the chair, Laura ran her hand along the edge of the table. "Let’s keep this short. Mark?"

"We are at 97% of budget for July and we are pacing well ahead for August. There is some concern that GM, McDonald’s and a few of our other big regional accounts will cancel a large part of their third quarter schedule, but no real confirmation on that."

"Keep me posted. Phyllis?"

"Employee evaluations are due by the fifteenth of next month."

And so they went around the room. Summer was traditionally a slow time in the TV business, even during July sweeps. Since blackouts or the time when the employees could not take vacations took up about half the year, summer was a time of skeleton crews and missing personnel. And since the networks were in reruns and no one really sold from the numbers in the July book, it was a much more relaxed atmosphere. There would be time enough for nonstop activity in fourth quarter, when the new season launched and November Sweeps became a death march.

They came to Keith and the young News Director cleared his throat nervously. "We’ve narrowed down our talent search for the Five O’clock anchor position. Victoria Chiles will be coming in some time next week. She anchors the Five, Six and Ten at WBRE in Beaumont Texas. She went to Baylor…"

"Ooo, Kaz. Baylor."

"Yeah Lisa, Texans will inherit the earth." Laura gave a half smile to her college roommate and Production Manager.

"And she is very slick. We have a tape." Keith stood and walked over to the A/V cabinet and punched at some buttons on the TV. In a moment a news set flickered on to the screen and a lovely brunette began reading the news copy. The next few minutes were filled with the prospective anchor reporting live from the field, chatting with her co-anchor and one excerpt from a special news program where she served as narrator. The tape ended and Keith raised his eyebrows inviting any questions or comments.

"I was hoping we’d look for someone a little more mature than that. Someone who would bridge the gap between Chris Hanson and our older audience." Mark Wilson was petulant in his criticism and Laura fought the urge to snap back at him in annoyance.

"I like her." Laura looked over at the Promotion Manager who was making notes on a legal pad. "She’s very cool, she’ll make a nice foil for Chris. And she has dark hair…sounds a little shallow, but we’re selling a look here too." Elly Michaels looked pointedly at the Sales Manager, "Chris does very well with older viewers already. We need to keep stockpiling younger viewers. Lord knows the network won’t help us there."

"Is she sellable?" Laura asked.

"I’d like to meet her, but yeah. What does Target say?" Elly referred to WBFC’s marketing and consulting firm.

"They sent us the tape," Keith volunteered. "She was one of their top three prospects. Plus I’ve been looking at her for a while." The stocky young man sat back down at the table tapping the tape once with two fingers for emphasis. "She wants to move up to a larger market. This is a good fit for her. And she has a different look than Chris."

"Well it’s true that we don’t need another blonde at the desk." Mark said in almost a whine.

"Chris Hanson means considerably more to this station than a blonde at the anchor desk." Keith snapped in defense, surprising everyone at the table.

"Sure, she has charm, but she’s just a talking head…" Mark started to sneer.

"What do you really know about Chris Hanson? She works harder than all of your sales people put together. And it’s her reputation as well as ours on the line every night."

"That’s enough." Laura’s voice was dangerously soft. "We’ll bring this woman in to see if she’ll work out. She’s certainly worth a closer look. Make no mistake though, Chris is the franchise anchor." She gathered up her notepad, signaling that the meeting was at an end. "A minute Keith?"

He followed her back down the hall and she closed the door of her office after he entered. "What’s going on with you two?"

"I’m the News Director, right?"


"Then you have to let me handle this. It’s my newsroom."

Laura sighed as she eased down into her chair, rubbing her thumb along an eyebrow as she remembered saying the exact same thing to another GM in Dallas when after a month of being a News Director her authority was questioned. What did Brian say to me then? "I won’t have my department heads at each other’s throats. I’m not asking you to be a tattletale, but Mark’s agenda is totally different from yours. I’ll give you time to deal with it, but if it causes too much disruption, I will step in. Neither you nor Mark want that to happen, I can assure you." Her lips twisted in a rueful smile as she looked up at Keith who was still standing. In the back of her mind she noticed that he was not shifting from foot to foot, something he always did when he was nervous or upset. Working on hiding your tells Keith? Good for you. "I told you before that it’s hard when the number two guy gets to be number one. My guess is that you’re finding that out in a lot of different ways. You earned this. Don’t let him push you around."


"Oh she’s hot." Danny Rendally made a low throaty growl complete with tongue trill to voice his approval. He and Chris stood in one of the edit bays with production control punched up on the routing switcher and watched the new talent audition. It was sort of a clandestine operation suggested by Rendally, and the blonde anchor readily agreed.

"You are a pig. She reads better than Michelle." Chris chewed on her lower lip and looked for any sign of weakness in the girl from Beaumont. Any new anchor was a potential rival and ambition was the lifeblood of the newsroom. She was secure in her position for the most part, but Chris also knew that being the top dog in the TV business in any market was a very uncertain thing. "They’d be crazy to pass on her," she grudgingly conceded.

"You’ll still do the Six and Ten, won’t you?"

"I don’t know." Chris snorted in an attempt to hide the frustration she felt. Laura had told her that it was up to Keith to tell her where she stood and which newscasts she would continue to anchor.

Nothing Chris tried had moved the GM to spill the beans. "Keith won’t even meet with me until after the auditions."

"This the last one?

"God, I hope so. They’ve been moving them through like cattle."

The both jumped guiltily as the door to the edit bay slid open. "How does she look?" Laura raised an eyebrow as the color drained from Rendally’s usually unflappable features. "What, you think I never did this? Besides, they get all hinky when I go in the control room." She got no answer from the reporter and barely kept from laughing out loud. Stealing a look at Chris’ profile brought her up sharply, killing the humor. "You okay?" she asked.

"Sure, fine. I…"

"I need to go polish my story." Rendally made his excuses and sidled out of the bay.

Laura reached across and turned down the volume on the monitor. "I’m sorry."

"For what?"

For putting my job first. Again. "For not reassuring you. I should have realized how much it bothered you."

"It did."

"Have a little faith in what you’re doing for the station and the numbers you’re generating."

"Is that coming from Kaz the GM or Laura, my lover?" Chris tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice and speak calmly, but a hitch in her breathing gave her away. "I just wanted to know that everything is cool. You don’t have to tell me all the corporate secrets, but I hate to keep guessing about everything."

Huge egos in fragile little shells. Laura looked away. "I’m sorry. Her name is Victoria Chiles; we never looked at her for anything but the Five. The Six and the Ten are yours."

"I could do all three. I’ve been doing all three."

Laura pressed her lips together and nodded. "You could, but I’d rather you didn’t burn out in the next six months."

Chris crossed her arms and replied absently. "It keeps me busy when you’re tied up with running the station." God, that sounds needy. She almost winced and wished she could take it back.

"I’m sorry." Laura wouldn’t make excuses but she knew that Chris was frustrated. "It’s not a forever thing…"

"Sure it is. You want to do it right, I understand that."

"No, it’s not. And it shouldn’t come at your expense." She shook her head. "You are one of the best anchors I’ve ever seen. And you’d be amazed at the number of anchors in top ten markets that don’t have a tenth of the on-air presence that you have." Laura paused, choosing her words carefully. "It’s hard to balance what I’m dying to tell you with what I can tell you. And then there’s Keith who feels awkward enough about you and me."

Chris sighed. Kaz, the less-than great communicator. "Just because you don’t know what to say doesn’t mean that keeping your mouth shut is the best option. Just, just…" She stopped, exasperated.

"Just what?"

"Just tell me it’s going to be okay. Tell me we’re going to have some time together soon." Chris reached up to touch a tense shoulder "Tell me I’m going to get to be a reporter again." She gave a short laugh as she realized the truth about anchoring all three shows. "You’re right. I can’t report if I’m doing all three."

"We can’t lose you in the field, Chris. Three weeks was too long." Laura took a deep breath, relaxing for a moment and wishing more than anything that she could wrap her arms around the blonde woman, pull her close and breathe in the sweet fragrance more intoxicating than anything on earth. "It’s going to be okay, we’re going to have some time together and you’re going to go to Keith and tell him to let you know where you stand." She turned to the monitor, "She’s the one he wants. Hope she works out."

"Very polished. Wonder if she’s a bitch?"

"She’s talent, and you know why we call ‘em that," Laura smirked and Chris answered.

"Because shithead looks bad on a resume."


"Call me Tori." She was almost as tall as Laura and Chris couldn’t help but smile into the hazel eyes. Keith was taking her around the newsroom and introducing her to some of the staff. "I’m looking forward to watching you on the Five." And she knew the value of kissing up to the older established talent, a fact that afforded Chris some amusement.

"Good to meet you. Beaumont, right?" Rendally was right, she is hot. Heavy, straight dark hair fell to her shoulders framing an oval face with prominent cheekbones and a firm jaw. For all her height she was fine boned with no spare flesh and her smile was broad and friendly, not overly practiced. Chris didn’t want to like her, but she couldn’t help herself. "That close to Houston, did you follow the Astros?"

"Weekend season tickets. Baseball’s a bit of a passion, I confess."

"Hard to leave it?"

"Mmm, I could manage."

Chris chuckled, "You Texans and your sports."

Keith was beaming. Tori was his discovery and the audition had gone well. "Kaz wants to know if you’ll join us for dinner after the Six. We’re going to Maxine’s. Not like you to turn down a meal, Chris."

"I’m good for dinner. Gotta mark my scripts though. Good to meet you, Tori." Chris watched them move away as Scott, the Five O’clock producer brought over a sheaf of revisions. They discussed the changes and all the while she kept her eyes on the tall woman working the newsroom, oozing charm effortlessly. She forced down a feeling she recognized as jealousy. It’s my newsroom. How does she do that?

"Hope she stays." Scott’s comment interrupted her thoughts and he shrugged with resignation. "Well, if I can’t have you on my show, she’ll do in a pinch."

Chris shook her head at her own insecurities. "Did everyone know which show she’s gonna do but me? You’re good for my ego. Thanks." She gave his arm a squeeze, then reached in her desk drawer and pulled out the earpiece for her IFB.

The ritual was always the same and she supposed it was as comforting to her as all of Laura’s pre-swing rituals on the golf course. The scripts were rolled up and tapped against her leg as she left the newsroom and skipped down the stairs to the ladies room to put on her makeup and fix her hair. The preparations were automatic and she ran through her word exercises to loosen up her vocal cords and keep the possibility of stumbling over words to a minimum. Satisfied with her look, she checked her collar and straightened her jacket before checking her watch. Ten minutes before the cast…right on time. With that she walked out, still looking for the last element of the ritual.

Laura was there, in the hallway with her arms crossed talking to Richard the Chief Engineer just as Chris knew she would be. She always seemed to be there, somewhere before the first ‘cast. All it took was a moment of eye contact on the way to the studio and Chris felt perfectly calm. If it didn’t happen, the newscast wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t quite complete either. And every time those familiar blue eyes met hers and warmed, Chris knew that for all the difficulty and uncertainty, there was nothing else that would ever come close to the way she felt about Laura Kasdan and the familiar lurch in her chest was proof positive of that.


Maxine’s was an old diner renovated by a chef with a grudge against his former employer. Fired for insubordination, he swore he’d have his own place, so he bought a building and proceeded to back up his boast that he had run the show at the other restaurant anyway. He was right. The food was fabulous and there was always a wait. Laura wasn’t stupid and she knew that bringing Chris along guaranteed that they would be seated quickly. Chris winked across the table at the GM as Maxine, the chef’s wife, seated them at their table. "Chris hon, we don’t see you enough anymore."

"Business is good?"

"We always have a table for you." She passed around the menus. "Rodney’ll take care of you tonight. Enjoy."

Keith laughed as he opened his menu. "How do you do that?"

With tongue firmly in cheek Laura answered, "Ah, the advantages of local celebrity, but even I don’t get that kind of treatment."

Chris was in top form, in full storyteller mode, one tale sliding neatly into the next. Laura sat back and listened, enjoying the anchor’s choice of words and the way she spun the adventures out. Tori seemed to be drawn in as well, laughing delightedly at some of Chris’ descriptions. Keith chimed in on occasion but for the most part it was Chris and Tori who chattered away nonstop, teasing and charming the waiter, and conning the others into perusing the dessert cart. During a lull in the conversation Laura excused herself to go to the restroom and Keith did the same, leaving the two anchors alone together. Chris took a sip of iced tea and checked her watch. She still had to do the Ten and didn’t want to be rushed. "So do you think they left us here alone on purpose so I could butter you up some more?"

Tori laid her napkin next to her plate. "Actually, they already made me an offer and there’s really no reason for me to refuse it." She paused thoughtfully. "What’s it like to work for the Kazmanian Devil. Lord, we’ve all heard the stories."

Tricky ground here Chris. "Laura? She’s great. She works her ass off, and expects you to do the same, but she’s fair."

"How was she as a News Director?"

"She was…unbelievable." It came out a little more sadly than Chris intended, so she brightened purposefully. "She could do it all, you know. Shoot, write, produce, you name it. A real news wonk. She was always two steps ahead of everyone else."

"And Keith?"

"Wants to be just like her. He gets a little hyper, but he has good news sense."

"So it’s a good shop?"

"The best." Chris laced her fingers together and cocked her head at the other woman. "I could give you a real rah-rah speech, but the truth is that I’ve done the CNN intern thing and worked at WSB in Atlanta and I don’t think either one of them runs as tight a ship as Laura and Keith do."

"You call her Laura, not Kaz."

Chris gave a lopsided smile. Caught. "It bugs the piss out of her too."

Tori nodded thoughtfully. "D’you know anything about how the station does financially? I mean, are sales good?"

"Did I miss anything?" Keith slid into his chair, hoping he’d given Chris enough time to put the finishing touches on recruiting the anchor.

"No, Tori was just asking about sales."

Keith rubbed his chin, "We’re consistently one of William Simon’s top five revenue generating stations. Our Sales Manager is a…pretty innovative guy. We usually hit our numbers."

Tori nodded again. "Good to know."

"Hard to make them understand," Laura said as she rejoined the group, "No news, no profit. At least at the local affiliate level. And no profit, no news. It’s all daisy chained together." She sipped her Coke then crunched a small piece of ice between her teeth. "Baylor, hmm? When I was in Austin, they sent me down to Waco during the Branch Davidian thing. What a zoo."

"You were in Waco?" Chris turned fascinated eyes to her boss. "You never said anything."

"Geez Kaz, what were you doing there?" Keith queried.

Laura grimaced. "It was a mess all the way around. We were responsible for getting all the local background information to the network. They treated us like dirt and worked us like dogs. Were you majoring in Journalism at Baylor then?" She asked Tori.

"Just started. We took a field trip to see the news setup."

"It was the strangest thing." Laura shook her head in wonder. "They would bring busloads of school kids by to show them what a real media circus was like. Satellite trucks and news vans as far as the eye could see. Pretty horrific." She smiled at Chris, "I guarantee I’ll never look at network folks the same way again."

"Yeah, but what a story." Chris felt a twinge of envy.

"Everything ended badly. Then we packed up and left."

"Then you got the call to Dallas." Chris felt another piece of the puzzle slip into place.

"Yep." Another sip of Coke and Laura looked at her watch. "Gotta get you back for the Ten, Chris."

"I’ll take her back if you want to take Tori to her hotel?" Keith stood and fished his car keys out of his pocket.

"That’ll work. C’mon Tori. I’ve got a swell new Honda Accord I’m trying to break in."


At 10:48 Laura heard the snick of the front door lock from her bedroom where she sat reading a Time magazine. There was a rattle as keys were tossed down on a flat surface, then footsteps down the hall and Chris was in the doorway smiling tiredly. "That’s what I like to see."


"Girl in my bed, looking all rumpled and stuff."

"Um, this is my bed."

Chris slipped her shoes off and crawled onto the bed in question. "That is a small, insignificant detail. God you smell good." She moved in close and sniffed Laura’s shoulder, one hand slipping under a T-shirt to find the warm skin of Laura’s belly.

Laura tossed the magazine to the floor and turned to Chris; settling in closer and bringing her hand up to barely touch the smaller woman’s face. A smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she moved to kiss her, breathing in Chris’ scent before lips touched and the kiss deepened. Familiar and precious, Chris savored the taste and the feel, humming in contentment when she sighed and pulled away. "Don’t know how you do that."

"Do what?"

"You always seem to kiss me stupid."

At a loss for words, Laura let her eyes rove over Chris’ features, still amazed that anyone as charming, smart and as funny as this woman with the laughing green eyes could be remotely attracted to such a dour workaholic. Some of the doubt must have shown in her face because her smile faded and Chris asked, "What’s wrong?"


Chris let the answer slide by, not believing it for a second but unwilling to probe. Later. "I liked her. Tori, I mean. I really didn’t want to but I did."

"She starts in two weeks. We didn’t even haggle over the contract."

"Uh huh. I know how you like your anchors to just sign on the dotted line. No muss, no fuss." Chris sat up and stripped off her blazer. The skirt followed, then hose before she wriggled under the covers and pulled her bra off from underneath her cream-colored cotton blouse. "I’d be jealous if I wasn’t sitting here in your bed, all rumpled and ready."

Laura looked over at the discarded clothing in a heap next to the bed. "Since the station is paying for those duds, don’t you think you should take better care of them?" The thought abruptly vanished when Chris started kissing her neck.

"Always the practical one." She whispered into Laura’s ear, feeling the all-consuming desire to replace all those practical thoughts with nothing but pure sensation. Need me, her brain seemed to scream, the way I need you. Almost frantically she pushed clothing aside, craving total unobstructed contact and appreciating the purpose of all her senses and the contrasts between them.

Later, Chris lay half sprawled across Laura’s naked torso, listening in the dark to the variety of sounds surrounding the capsule of the bed. The traffic outside the apartment, the hum of the air conditioning and Laura’s even breathing all blended together to form a lullaby that had always soothed her into sleep. But tonight, a vague sense of unease had crept into the space usually occupied by total contentment. Things were about to change again, before she’d had a chance to really enjoy how good things were.


"We’ve got regional cancellations all over the board. Dodge is gone for third quarter, so is GM. We still have a little Ford, and Wal-Mart’s gone for now, but we’ll probably see a little of that come back in September. All in all, we’re fucked."

"How do we make it back?" Laura knew the answer before the Sales Manager tossed down his pad and swore. "It’s regional Kaz, there’s no fucking way to make it back. That’s money that’s built in to the budget. We expect it to be there because it always is. It’s close to a million dollars and it’s just gone."

Laura ran her tongue around her teeth. News is easy compared to this. It’s all reactive. You wait for the story to happen, you cover the story, you follow-up the story, you conclude the story. News Directors are going to make lousy GM’s. "Okay. Get your people in here. We’ll do a round table and no one leaves until we figure out a way to get some of it back."

"That’s pretty simplistic. We might figure out a way to make a few thousand back with a special or a sponsored project, but we’re talking real money here. I’m not sure you comprehend how disastrous this is." Mark was bordering on surly.

"Sure I do." Laura’s answer was dangerously quiet. "No one’s ever accused me of being stupid before. Get ‘em in the conference room. Now." She watched as Mark spun on his heel and left the office. For close to the hundredth time she wished she’d just stayed a news director, then the money end would be someone else’s problem. "No interruptions June," she called as she went by her assistant’s desk and opened the small refrigerator to pull out a Coke. "Don’t know how long this’ll take either."

"Not another late night, Kaz. You said you’d get out a reasonable hour tonight."

What exactly is a reasonable hour anyway? "Yeah well, it can’t be helped. You go on and leave at Five, I’ll lock up."

June watched the salespeople file in and shook her head. At least Laura Kasdan was taking longer to go insane than any of the other GM’s she’d worked for. With a sigh she shook her head again, and turned back to the FCC paperwork as she heard the firm voice of her boss lay down the law from the conference room. "Here’s the deal, we need revenue and any idea goes, no matter how farfetched…"


Chris was going out on a story for the first time in a month. Now that Victoria Chiles was handling the Five O’clock anchor duties, Chris was able to do a package and she was almost giddy with the prospect. And a live shot to boot. Gotta rush back for the Six but that’s minor. Gonna get some face time out and about.

The were following up a tip that Cooper Tire was going to build a plant in Tarver, a small town south of Burkett Falls and part of their market. Times were rough in the little town since a Sunbeam small appliance factory closed and the tire plant would mean over 1500 new jobs. The information had come from one of Chris’ regular sources that had proved reliable in the past. She planned a quick chat with the Mayor and a live shot from the proposed site as their lead on the Five O’clock. That left just enough time to strike the truck and make it back to the station with about 20 minutes to spare. She was working with Jody and they were familiar enough with each other’s habits to speed through the preparations. Before she knew it she was seated in front of the Mayor’s desk and the boyish photog was telling her that they were rolling tape and everything was good to go. Chris chatted the Mayor up a bit before getting to the meat of the interview. "So tell me about Cooper Tire."

"Aw Chris, you don’t want me to mess up the deal, do you?"

"Just confirm what I already know to be true. Cooper Tire bought land along Highway 80 from the city and the sale is final? That is a matter of public record, it’s gonna come out in about two hours on our Five O’clock Newscast anyway, don’t you want to take the credit?"

He narrowed his eyes at the reporter and pursed his lips. "You’re a pain in the ass, Christine Hanson. And that’s not for the record." In perfect soundbite fashion, the Mayor answered the question. "Yes, Cooper Tire bought the land in the east-side of Highway 80 close to the Martin Road intersection. We anticipate the plant opening sometime in the fall of next year." He paused for a moment. "You’ve stolen my thunder again Miss Hanson."

"It’s my job to stay one step ahead."

"I’d like to meet the rat who keeps giving you that one step."

"Not likely sir. How many jobs do think that this will bring to Tarver?"

"In addition to the construction jobs, they’re looking at hiring for over fifteen hundred positions."

Chris smiled, all the numbers she had were checking out. "Is there anyone from Cooper Tire we can contact for a comment?"

"Jim Waters is staying at the Best Western. He’s gonna be pissed the cat’s out of the bag."

"You should’ve scheduled the news conference this morning, sir."

Chris was gloating when they climbed back in the truck. "Got what we wanted and we didn’t have to squeeze. Nice way to get back in the swing of things." It was just a simple story, one that would mean good news for a community for a change. Chris got the same little thrill that she always got when a story fell together, even if it didn’t uncover government corruption or expose a scam. It was just a mundane story that might make someone’s life a little better.

Jody twisted the key in the ignition. "Best Western then?"

"Yep, then off to Highway 80."

The Cooper Tire representative was none too happy that word had leaked out. Other than tersely confirming what the Mayor had already said, they were unable to get any more information out of him. Chris had a script written by the time they reached the parcel of land that was destined to be the new factory. She cut the audio while Jody set up the truck and shot some B roll, then handed him the tape so he could begin to edit the package. With nothing else to do before the cast, she checked her look and started rehearsal for the live shot.

Jody finished the edit, fed the package back to the station and did his checks for the newscast. The temperamental live truck IFB crackled and went dead in Chris’ ear so they had to rely on the two way, making for an uneven, less interactive live shot. At 5:06 Jody broke it down and they were on the way back to the station ten minutes later.

It was merely coincidence that the story was on the tire manufacturing company that made the tires for the Live Truck itself. Even though it was less than six months old, a flaw in the rubber had caused a bulge to form on the front left tire. After that it was only a matter of time before an instant pressure shift would cause disaster to strike. It came when Jody made a quick lane change to avoid a car that stopped suddenly to turn left.

The blowout sounded like a gunshot and the weight of the truck combined with the absence of one of the front tires made steering impossible. Jody fought the vehicle but couldn’t keep it on the road and the Ford Econoline tumbled down the embankment and slid to a stop against a pine tree.


Her patience at an end, Laura shut the pager off at her hip without looking at the tiny message window. Every time it went off it always scared her to death. Beeperlepsy I think they call it. The salespeople had no ideas on how to get out of the regional cancellation mess they were in. They were accustomed to selling spots and closing deals on sponsorships, not solving a revenue shortfall. So give ‘em something to sell, a lot of something to sell, really cheap. "Okay Mark, how’s this: We do an August fire sale. For the next three days, all orders get standard rate card at half price for August buys. And that’s to clear. Any order placed during the next three days will not get bumped for a higher rate. Call everyone on your client list…regional, national, local…and we’ll sell out August at half price."

She didn’t have long to wait for Mark’s explosion. "We can’t do that! It would start a price war with the other stations that we’d never recover from. How do we say we have a valuable commodity if you make it worth almost nothing?"

"It’s a three day sale, Mark."

"I don’t care! If we sell out we’re still looking at a substantial shortfall."

"But half of something is still better than all of nothing." Laura stared down the Sales Manager and said quietly, "Do you have another idea? ‘Cause unless you can come up with something better, something immediate that I can placate corporate with, I suggest you get your list together and start calling."

"This could work, Mark." Marsha Lyles spoke up thoughtfully. "I’ve got a bunch of clients that won’t buy in the summer at our top rates, but if they were guaranteed to run at half price, they’d be all over this like white on rice."

Laura looked around the room at some of the salespeople who were nodding in agreement. "I never said this would fix everything, but it’ll fill some holes. I’ll draft up the deal and have it on your desks in the morning." Dismissed, they filed out. All but Mark who stood there scowling.

"This won’t save third quarter."

She nodded slowly in agreement. "No, but it might save August."

Mark crossed his arm and continued to glower. "It’s no secret that I wanted the GM’s job here. I worked for it, I was ready for it and Art practically promised it to me. Any News Director would be ill suited. You just don’t have the experience."

"That’s your opinion."

"It’s more than just my opinion. I’ll execute the fire sale and I’ll watch it bring you down. You have no idea the mess you’ve made here."

Laura felt her hackles rise but she forced herself to remain calm. "Do not imagine I will fail here and you will blithely step into my place." Her precise manner and lack of contractions should have warned him he was on dangerous ground but he leaned in anyway.

"You’re a News Director, albeit a good one, but just a News Director with a few corporate backers…"

"You are mistaken Mr. Wilson. I am the General Manager. Your boss. Question that again and you’ll be looking for a new position."

"No Kaz, that’s your mistake. You may be the boss but you’re just a rookie GM, you need an experienced Sales Manager and that’s me." Mark pointed his thumb at his chest. "So for the time being, I’m protected. Just waiting for you to step wrong." He gave a short laugh. "And given your history, you will."

As she watched him leave Laura resisted the strong desire to throw something at his head. Blowing out a breath she picked up the legal pad and stalked to her office. She slapped at the front of one of the monitors against the wall to turn on the Six O’clock Newscast but she stopped and spun around after seeing Tori Chiles on the screen and not Chris. Puzzled, she jerked her wrist up to check her watch. It was after six and Laura swallowed against a bad feeling. With an overwhelming sense of dread she pulled the pager from its clip on her hip and switched it on. Keith’s cell phone number flashed at her followed by the numbers 911.

Oh shit.


"Jody’s okay, just a little shaken up. Chris has a nasty cut on her head, a concussion and she sprained her knee. They’re both incredibly lucky. Live 2 is a total loss. We might be able to salvage some of the equipment but the truck itself is done for." Keith took a deep breath and looked at the Chief Engineer. "Do you want to tell her or should I?"

Laura, Richard, the Chief Engineer, and Keith stood in the emergency waiting room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She felt like she had broken all land speed records to get there, and now all Laura wanted to do was see Chris. "Tell me what?"

"We knew the tire was bad. I…wrote it up, Richard looked at it…we thought…" Keith looked down and Richard continued.

"I thought it’d be okay. I was worried about going over budget."

"Over Budget? They could’ve been killed!" For a second, what could have happened choked the breath out of Laura. "I want a copy of the maintenance report on my desk first thing in the morning."

Richard nodded and left. Keith slumped into one of the chairs against the wall, his head in his hands. "I’m sorry. You’ll have my resignation on your desk in the morning as well"


"I should’ve pressed the issue, made him change the tire."

"Yes, you should have." Laura sat down next to the stocky young man. "Lessons learned my friend. I almost lost my best photog and my…" She closed her eyes against a pain too hard to even imagine. "Anyway, we didn’t lose anything but a live truck and that’s insured. I’m not about to lose a news director and an engineer. The good ones are too hard to come by." It’s not fair. We all ought to be able to do our jobs without worrying about spending a couple of hundred dollars on a freakin’ tire.

"Well Kaz, your people certainly keep my people busy." Laura looked up into the kind eyes of Dr. Reese and he gave her a crooked smile. "Talk about charmed lives. I’d say that those two have nothing but bad luck, but that wouldn’t be true. They were extremely fortunate."

"Can we see them?"

"Sure. Jody can go home but we want to keep Chris overnight. Head injury, you understand."

Laura nodded. "Did you call Jody’s wife?"

"She’s on her way," Keith answered. "She’s never gonna let him go with Chris again."

Later Laura couldn’t help but smile as she remembered the comment. Chris looked small and fragile lying in the hospital bed and Laura couldn’t help reaching to touch the pale gold hair. Will it always be like this? Waiting to see if you’ll survive the next story? You need a keeper and I’m not around to do the job much anymore. What is this, car number ten?"

"This makes ten you know." Chris’ voice was soft and scratchy, bearing little resemblance to the professional anchor’s voice she was capable of and Laura swallowed back what might have been a sob.

"How did you know that’s what I was thinking?"

"I just did. Knew you’d come."

"Of course I came," Laura whispered. "You’re my life."

"Good to know." Chris fumbled for Laura’s hand and squeezed it. "Everything’s changing." She complained.

Without letting go of Chris’ hand, Laura pulled a chair closer to the bed. "Not this, baby. Not this."

To Be Continued...


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