Shell Game

By M. Ryan

Part 3

The Prom Queens


It wasn’t hot yet but the day promised to be a scorcher. Chris felt sweat trickle down her back as she sprinted to stay ahead of the dark haired woman who was following about ten yards behind. "Last one to the crosswalk buys the PowerAde!"

"Not fair, you little snot!"

Chris laughed delightedly and ran even faster. The two women dodged a broken place in the sidewalk, their running shoes slapping on the concrete as they sped to the end of the block. "Gotcha!" Chris grabbed the light post on the corner and spun around it. "I win!"

"You…" Tori Chiles grabbed the shorter woman’s shoulder and gasped, "Cheater."

Chris smiled broadly and held her hands over her head briefly in victory before exhaling and dropping them. "I just know when to press my advantage."

Tori straightened. "A good run though. Nice to have someone push me a bit."

It had started as just a friendly gesture; an offer to run together one morning had turned into a comfortable routine. Tori had rented an apartment two streets over from Chris’ house and a strong friendship built on respectful rivalry was in its beginning stages. The dark haired anchor had a quick wit, a keen sense of fun and didn’t take herself too seriously. The last trait, in Chris’ opinion, was all too rare in on-air talent.

"Yeah, it helps."

"Well come on, since I lost again. I bought some of that infrared stuff you love so much."


The walk to Tori’s apartment was a pleasant cool down, and they talked about story ideas and complained a little about Tom and Roy, the two male anchors who worked the primetime newscasts. Chris did the Six and Ten with Tom while Tori was teamed with Roy for the Five. "Tom’s not so bad when he reads what’s on the teleprompter, it’s when he ad libs that things get out of hand. Last week he was talking about the special election for city councilman and instead of just saying it was close, he wants to say they’re ‘neck and neck.’ It comes out as ‘neck and nut.’"

"You’ve gotta be kidding." Tori shook her head.

"Wish I was. Everyone was yelling, I thought my earpiece was gonna come flying out. Puts a whole different spin on the election."

"That’s priceless. Roy’s so incredibly stiff. He’s just a tree."

"Yeah, but he’s a local boy and he’s got fans."

"I guess. No chance for the two of us to do a ‘cast together, is there?"

Chris shook her head emphatically. "Not unless both of them were in the hospital or something. Don’t know why, I mean Laura says women like to look at women on the air and men like to look at women on the air, so why not just have an all female anchor team."

"More balance I guess." Tori kicked a small rock and it skittered down the sidewalk. "You and Kaz get along pretty well, don’t you?"

"Uh huh." Chris tried for casual.

"She’s not what I expected."

"What’d you expect?"

Tori thought for a moment. "A screamer. Though now that I’ve been around her a bit I can see that’s not her style. Bet she could nail you to the wall with a look."

"I’ve seen that look."

"I’m sure." They stepped onto the walkway that led to Tori’s half of the duplex. "Want to come in, or sit here on the steps?"

"Here is good. I’m kind of gross." Chris flopped down on the top step dangling her hands between her knees as the other woman went inside and the screen door closed behind her. In a minute, Tory was back carrying two bottles of neon red liquid. Chris cracked open the seal and drank thirstily then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Good stuff."

"She’s on vacation next week." Tori said, recapping her drink.



"Huh. So am I."

Tori shook her head. "Not smart Chris."

"What?" Chris wasn’t alarmed. Yet.

"You don’t plan your vacation when your boss is on vacation. You miss out on a little slack time at the office."

"Oh." Chris swallowed in relief. "She’s playing in the U.S. Amateur next week. Station’ll probably get a little extra publicity."

"So what are you doing?"

"On my vacation?" Chris shrugged. "Not really sure yet. I just scheduled the time when there wasn’t a blackout." And that’s the problem, isn’t it? She hasn’t asked if I wanted to go, didn’t ask if I had anything planned. Just says that’s what she’s doing. "I may go to Nashville and visit my parents. Doesn’t sound very exciting." She took another drink. "You’ll get to do all three Newscasts for a week."

"And that’ll be cool. More face time." Tori rested her chin on her knees. "Listen, why don’t we do something tonight after the Ten? We won’t stay out too late. I know this guy and he’s been bugging me about going out for drinks. He’s got a friend and we could sit out on the patio at Lupe’s."

Chris barely kept from squirming. "I don’t think…"

"Or bring whoever you’re dating right now."

Oh, that’d go over like a lead balloon. "Ah, I just don’t know." She plucked at her shoelaces and frowned thoughtfully. I could just go for a bit. She’ll probably be tied up anyway. It’s just out for drinks. "Okay. Tonight after the Ten."

"It’ll be fun, you’ll see." Tori stood up. "Gotta get a shower and get ready. Lucky you, not having to be at work until two.

"Yeah, everyone wants to go in at two, but no one wants to stay ‘til eleven."

Okay, so I’m moping. Chris set off at a brisk walk toward her house then slowed down when she remembered that she didn’t have to hurry anywhere. I wasn’t invited. Charles was invited. Well, Charles is her caddy. Still, she could’ve asked. I can’t just invite myself to go, can I? It’s okay, I’ll go out tonight, have a drink…Tori’s right, it’ll be fun. I wish… She was walking fast again, her arms swinging in agitation. Could I have picked anyone more difficult to love?



Laura swore again and thumped the club down on top of the tee driving it into the ground. What is your problem? She stripped off her glove in disgust and stalked off the practice tee swatting at a mosquito on her arm. It was past midnight but one of the advantages to being a local golf celebrity were the perks that her Country Club offered. Peter kept a stash of practice balls available just for her and she’d been given a key to the breaker box that turned on the lights. She’d been at it for about four hours now; most of the balls were gone along with all of her patience.

Dammit, answer Chris. Laura punched in the number and ground her teeth when the machine answered again. She flipped the cell phone closed and flopped down on the ground next to her bag, tired and frustrated. She hadn’t seen or spoken to the blonde anchor at all that day, didn’t know her plans for the evening and Chris hadn’t returned her pages. Did she finally get tired of waiting? Hell, I’m tired of waiting. She closed her eyes and swore again. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You are responsible for your own position. It’s a problem, so solve it.

She slid her driver into the bag and pulled out her wedge, stood up and started walking down the range. As she got close to one of the balls scattered through the practice area she chose a target; one of the distance markers. Setting up quickly she swung and gave a slight smile when it landed within a foot of the area she chose. Picking out another ball, she sent it flying toward the sign as well. This is making me crazy. Where the hell is she? Flowers. I’ll send flowers. Girls like flowers, right? I’ll take her out to dinner between the newscasts tomorrow night. She swung again. Whose bright idea was it to put her on the Six and Ten anyway? She shanked the ball off to the right. Mine. You fucking idiot. Enough was enough and she turned to go back to where she’d left the bag.

The air conditioning in the Accord was a welcome relief and making all kinds of excuses she knew she’d regret later she turned down the street to go by Chris’ house. What did that study say? Almost one third of on-air personalities have had some sort of experience with a stalker. Way to go Kaz, you’ve made her a statistic. Chris’ car was in the driveway but no lights were on. Grumbling at what she saw as a weakness, Laura pulled the car in behind the dark red Volvo and climbed out of the seat. Shaking her head she walked up to the porch where a blonde head gleamed in the glow coming from the streetlight. "I called. No answer. You make enough money, couldn’t you get a cell phone?"

Chris blew out a sharp breath in exasperation. "The station could pay for one. I went out for drinks with Tori and some guy, I just got back. Sorry, I thought you were tied up." One leg was tucked under her as she slowly pushed the porch swing with her other foot. She scooted over to give Laura room to sit down but the other woman made no move to join her. So that’s the way it’s gonna be. Chris sighed again. "I wish…"

"You wish what?"

She crossed her arms against a sudden hurt. "I wish you’d been there too. Tori’s a lot of fun, you’d have gotten a kick out of it."

"Yeah, well I’m fairly certain that Tori would not have gotten a kick out of it."

"Don’t sell her short. She’s pretty open minded."

Open minded enough not to gossip about a gay anchor banging the GM? I don’t think so. Laura cringed at her thoughts. "C’mon Chris, no one wants to hang with the Boss. I was a little worried when I couldn’t find you."

"I said I was sorry."

Laura said nothing as she tried to shake off the irritation that she knew was irrational, but couldn’t seem to do anything about.

"Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Overthinking and come sit down." Chris patted the porch swing.

"I hate this," Laura grumbled. "We can’t even really hang out together."

"It’s a bitch."

"And I don’t know how to fix it." Laura stuffed her hands into her pockets before slouching down on the swing. "I can usually fix everything, but this?" She shrugged. "I can’t." They rocked in silence broken only by the whirring of insects, both lost in thought.


The Newsroom was empty except for Janie when Chris came in the next day with a bag from a local sandwich shop, sipping her soft drink from a straw. "Hey Jane, where is everyone?"

"Out. Leaving me here by myself and no one asked me if I wanted anything for lunch. Swear to god this place is gonna kill me."

Chris smiled and shrugged. "I’ll stay and listen to the scanners if you want to go and grab something."

"Sure you don’t mind?"

"Nah, go on."

Janie gathered up her purse and was out the door before Chris could blink twice. Shaking her head, she cleared off a space on the assignment editor’s desk and set down her lunch. Opening a bag of chips Chris started munching while perusing the vast quantities of faxes and press releases scattered across the top of the desk.

"Hey Chris, you’re here early."

The blonde anchor looked up to see Tori with a go-box from a Chinese restaurant. "Mind if I eat my lunch with you? Jason doesn’t care for Chinese." she said, referring to the videographer she was paired with for the day.

"Sure, grab a seat." Chris waved to the desk opposite the assignment editor’s. "Wasn’t getting anything done at home, so I thought I’d come in early and see if I couldn’t scare up a story before the afternoon meeting."

"I’m working on vandals in the Highland area. Bunch of kids ran wild and shot out some car windows with a BB gun last night."

"Police get ‘em?"

"Yep. Taking them off to juvy even as we speak." Tori attacked the sweet and sour chicken with chopsticks as Chris watched. "Why do people feel the need to eat Chinese food with chopsticks? It’s woefully inefficient."

Tori shrugged, "It’s kind of a one time fun thing I guess. Hey, do you like sushi?"

"Honey, we call that bait where I come from."

"Rats, I thought we could try this place…"

"Shhh." Suddenly the scanners erupted with terse commands and Chris leaned forward to try and decipher the messages. Ambulance to 70th and Cotton? Not a good neighborhood. Shots fired? What the hell? Why so much radio traffic? The Officers aren’t responding to the call…they’re already there. Weird. She leaned over and flipped on the intercom to the editing bays. "Jody? Wanna go for a ride?"

"What’s the deal?" Tori asked.

Chris dumped the remains of her lunch in the trashcan. "Dunno. Tell Keith where we went."

"You bellowed?" Jody let the door swing shut behind him.

"There’s been a shooting by that old theater on 70th." Chris talked as she dug through Janie’s desk for a notebook. "Something strange is going on."

"Okay," he said without hesitation, "We’ll take unit five."

"I’ll be there in a sec." And Chris was out the door.

"Jody?" The boyish photog turned to Tori with raised eyebrows and she felt a twinge in her gut that would later be explained as the first stages of the Chris Hanson effect. "Don’t you ever get the heebee jeebees going out with her?"

"All the time, every day."


"Kaz, you have got to see this." Keith strode into the General Manager’s office with Elly right behind him. "Can I?" He gestured toward the Beta deck with a tape.


The News Director popped in the cassette, spun the shuttle, pressed play and stood back. There was Chris, flagged microphone at the ready, talking to a rather large woman. "He didn’t have no gun. I saw everything, they shot that boy in cold blood." Chris nodded prompting the woman to go on. "Didn’t give him no warning either. Didn’t say ‘freeze’ like they show on TV or nothin’. And then…" Suddenly the woman was pushed aside and the uniform of an angry police officer filled the screen before the photographer zoomed out. "This is over. No more interviews until we’ve spoken to the witnesses." In the background the woman shouted angrily, "But you didn’t want to talk to me." Moving past, the officer reached out and bodily shoved Chris into another man standing behind her and they both stumbled against the news unit.

"Jesus." Laura breathed.

The tape continued to roll and the officer was heard yelling, "Turn that thing off!" The scene tilted crazily until all that was visible was the ground, then only black.

Laura swallowed, "Chris and Jody okay?"

"How did you know it was Jody?"

"Who else would it be?" She answered dryly. "What happened exactly?"

Keith took a deep breath. "Guy ran from a couple of police cars. Apparently he made it to this field next to an old theater on 70th street, where some other police cars met him. Cops said he had a gun, looked like he was gonna shoot, they shot first. Bunch of people saw it, said the guy didn’t have a gun. Chris got that woman on tape, but they shut down the scene after the rest of the stations got there."

"Racially motivated?"

"Could be. He was a young African American. Don’t know if he had any prior arrests. The issue is, do we show this? If we do, we get zero cooperation from BFPD and we look a little sensationalistic…"

"But it makes a great promo." Elly chimed in. "I hate to spoil the surprise, but people’ll tune in to see what this was about. It’s powerful stuff."

Laura rubbed a thumb along her eyebrow thoughtfully before reaching for the phone. She flipped through her Rolodex and keyed in a number. "It’s not a question of can we use it, but how we’ll use it." She shifted her attention, "Chief Morris please. Laura Kasdan KBFC. No, I’ll wait please." She covered the mouthpiece. "On the other line. Probably with the Mayor." How will you break it down for the show?"

"Chris’ll do live from the scene at Five and Six. Tori’ll be on the set."

"Okay." Laura nodded, realizing that the trick was not to take over, but to lend support and let Keith handle it. "Chief Morris? Laura Kasdan at Channel 8. I’m looking at a very disturbing videotape. One of your Officers is shoving one of my reporters." She looked up and her eyes twinkled for a moment. "Chris Hanson…Yes, she does seem to attract her fair share of trouble. We’re going to air this on the Five O’clock News. We will not use it for teases and promos. We will not air it without giving you a chance to explain though, so I’m sending a crew over… You can make a statement if you want. We’ll air that with it. No sir, I think you know we have to show this, but we’ll be fair…That’s up to you. You’re welcome." She dropped the phone back into the cradle and looked at Keith. "Any questions? Make sure it’s balanced."

"Gotcha." And Keith was out the door. Elly stood watching him go before crossing her arms and raising one eyebrow at the GM. "You’re killing me here Kaz."

"Nah, You can use it later for a proof of performance."

"How am I supposed to build compelling topicals if I keep getting hamstrung?" At Laura’s severe look she rolled her eyes. "I know, it was just to good to pass up. Anyway we get the Prom Queens on together for two newscasts and that ain’t bad."

"The what?"

Elly laughed. "Chris and Tori, the Prom Queens. They’re almost an…item." Elly stopped as she noticed Laura had become completely still. The Promotion Manager frowned thoughtfully and dropped into a chair opposite the large desk. After a moment she started speaking. "You know, when I was in Columbus, the station across town got some new talent, a guy from a Network bureau who wanted to live closer to his family. The GM at the station I was working at told me in all seriousness to spread a little rumor that the guy was gay."

Laura cleared her throat. "What did you do?"

"Got another job." Elly cocked her head at Laura and regarded her for a moment. "There are always rumors."

"What if they were true?" Laura fought to keep her hands still, certain they would give away her agitation.

"Hard to say. Every market has a few gay weathermen." Elly laughed shortly. "The Gay Weathermen…sounds like an alternative rock band. Anchors are different. Reporters are different too." She looked at Laura intently. "This is a pretty conservative market. If you know something Kaz, I wish you’d tell me."


"It shouldn’t make any difference, but it does. Don’t think for a moment they wouldn’t use something like this over at Channel 4. A little rumor, and viewers go apeshit. Forewarned is forearmed."

Laura ran her tongue across her teeth. "I don’t think we need to worry at this point."

Elly nodded but it wasn’t in agreement. "It must be tough to sit in that chair."

Laura tightened her jaw. "You have no idea.


Chris was pumped. Even after returning to the studio to anchor the Ten, she was still riding an adrenaline high. It was a good story that she could follow up and report on for the next few days. The Officer who shoved her made a terse apology that they aired during the Ten. All in all it was a pretty good news day. And now I want to spend some time with my girl. She turned in to the parking lot of the generic apartment complex that Laura lived in and pulled in next to the silver Accord. Silver, not red. I wonder if Mark knows how many brownie points he lost on that deal. The Jeep was there too, along with the covered motorcycle and Chris briefly thought that the GM needed to buy a house just for the garage that would come with it. She sprinted up the stairs and twisted the knob, knowing it would be unlocked and stepped inside.

Laura was in the kitchen, drinking from a bottle of water when the door opened. "A good ‘cast. Did someone have to tie you down to keep you from bouncing off the walls?" She raised an eyebrow in question.

"Ah, so you watched. Then you know they did ‘find’ a gun," she made quotation marks in the air, "In the ditch next to the field."

"Mm hmm. Keith let me know." Laura opened the refrigerator door to replace the bottle when Chris took it out of her hand and drank while slipping one arm around the taller woman’s waist. For a moment, Laura marveled that she could feel comfortable with someone so completely in her space. Then Chris put the bottle down on the counter and kissed her soundly, her mouth cold from the chilled water. "You taste good."

"Just brushed my teeth," Laura said in response.

"Guess you’re ready for bed." Chris put her hands on Laura’s hips, one thumb rubbing under the elastic waistband of her shorts.

"I’m pretty…worn." Laura found herself lost in the darkening green of Chris’ eyes and swallowed against the sudden arousal caused by busy hands. "I’m guessing you’re not."


Chris leaned forward to kiss the taller woman’s collarbone and Laura closed her eyes as Chris breathed on slightly damp skin. "Did you hit some balls tonight? You’re sort of salty." She whispered.

"What?" Laura blinked and tried to make her brain function. There was barely any contact but she knew she wanted more. Craved more, and suddenly there was more. Pressed against the refrigerator, the blonde anchor began a systematic assault on all of Laura’s senses.

At some point they moved into the living room and onto the floor next to the couch. Less hyper, but much happier Chris took up her customary position, half sprawled over Laura, one hand playing with a strand of long dark hair. The quiet didn’t last long. "Big story, I’m horny."

"I hate that word." Laura winced.


"I don’t know. Guess it sounds kind of coarse."

"Hmm," Chris smiled. "I’ll remember that. Accurate though."

Laura closed her eyes. "To answer your earlier question, yes I did hit some balls tonight."

"Good." Chris waited a moment before she broached the next subject. "When do you leave?"

"Saturday." Laura cleared her throat nervously. "Aren’t you coming with me?"

Chris sat up slowly and pulled her blouse together again and answered carefully. "I don’t know. You never asked."

"I just assumed you were coming." The minute she said it, Laura knew it for a mistake and could feel Chris moving away from her.

"I, uh," Chris licked her lower lip, "Probably need to go see my parents." Hurt, she stood up, jerking her clothes back into place.

"No, wait." Laura fought down a rising sense of panic. "I should’ve asked sooner, I’m sorry."

"But you didn’t." Chris looked down, "You just assumed." She gathered her thoughts. "You don’t need me very much, do you?"

"What are you talking about? Of course I need you." Laura clenched her hands at the sudden ache in her chest and struck back. "I’m not the one running around with the Prom Queen."

"The what? You mean Tori?" Chris snorted in dismissal. "You weren’t around. I wasn’t going to just sit and wait."

"Yeah, well…" Laura felt her argument dry up along with her mouth.

"Prom Queen? Jesus, Laura." Chris started for the door. "I thought…oh hell, I don’t know what I thought. I was hoping maybe we could spend some time together away from the station, out of town or something."

"The U.S. Amateur is not a vacation!"

"I know that. But you never even considered taking some vacation time together. Not a weekend, not anything." Chris turned to face Laura, who was disheveled in the T-shirt and shorts she had hastily pulled back on. She sighed. "I’m tired of coming in second. Or third."

"But I…"

"I know. So I will go to Nashville and you will go to Ohio and maybe a little time away will do us both a world of good."

"Are you dumping me?" Laura asked the question almost desperately. "I don’t have any experience in this area, but I’m fairly certain this is what it feels like."

Chris’ shoulders slumped. "I just wanted some of your time. Your precious time. Everyone and everything else gets it, just not me." She turned and opened the door. "I didn’t mean for it to happen like this. I’ll see you when you get back."

"So that’s it? Have a good time, see you later?"

"You don’t need me there. I guess I need to be needed." Chris smiled slightly, then left, closing the door behind her.

Go after her. Laura stood reeling, knowing that everything Chris said was true, to some extent. The problem was, she still had no idea how to fix it.


To Be Continued


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