The Deal by M. Ryan

the deal

Artwork by Calli

The Deal
by M. Ryan

Hit Me With Your Best Shot
I’m gonna lose my job.
I’m probably not going to work in TV ever again.
And I’m gonna be sued.

She sat in her office with the door closed and the lights off. Four TV monitors were on across the room, lighting her face with their flickering. Her long, dark hair gleamed with blue highlights from the various network late shows as she stared dully into space. The monitors were always on; god forbid some other station across town would cut in and we not know about it, she thought.

Sighing, she thumped her forehead down on the desk. She could still hear some activity going on in the newsroom, though most everyone had left after the 10 o’clock newscast. The overnight crew didn’t really get cranking until after midnight. Well, she thought, if I’m going to make a clean getaway, now’s the time to do it.

Shit.

With that, Laura Kasdan gathered up her briefcase and her box of belongings and left her office. You never brought more into a TV station than you can carry out in one box, running. Someone had told her that years ago, and after today she understood the sentiment.

Deep breath, open the door and just walk, she told herself. Laura walked purposefully across the newsroom, turned and looked back, noticing the fresh bloodstain on the carpet. Cleaning that will probably coming out of my successor’s budget, she thought. Noses do bleed profusely, don’t they?

And with that she walked down the hall and out of the building.

The General Manager of KDAL had two problems. One was his News Director, and the other was his news anchor, Roger MacNamara. Roger was the number one on-air personality in Dallas, he spoke with authority and his journalistic integrity was unimpeachable. He was Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow all rolled into one.

At least that’s what market research told the Suits at Corporate. Dark hair with just a bit of silver on the temples, carefully colored every two weeks, and chiseled features, he oozed sincerity…well when you can fake that, you’ve got it made, the GM thought. Roger was also a prima donna who hit the sauce pretty hard and was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Laura Kasdan was the best News Director he’d ever worked with and he’d worked with some good ones. She didn’t take any crap or any excuses, and she’d gotten them back to number one on all the prime time newscasts. He pinched the bridge of his nose and grimaced. Two years ago when Laura Kasdan was named as the News Director, everyone in the building was shocked. She had the rep though, the GM thought as he drummed his fingers on the open personnel file in front of him. KDAL needed some fresh blood, and boy, did they get it.

There was opposition in the Newsroom, of course. Just how did Corporate justify handing over the news operation of their flagship station in a top five market to a twenty-eight year old wiz kid?

But Kaz had done everything they’d asked of her. She’d trimmed the fat, streamlined the organization, and delivered the numbers. The ratings were everything they’d hoped for and a little bit more. The reporters and photogs, always an unruly bunch even in the best circumstances were brought in line. And they’d finally gotten the right teams of on-air talent together.

Everything was going so smoothly, something was bound to screw up.

Then Roger had to go and grab her ass, the GM fumed. According to witnesses, Laura asked him to remove it…

He didn’t…and all hell broke lose.

Laura spun around and punched him in the nose. Punched is really too mild a word for what she did to his nose, the GM mused. Socked, slugged, splattered, flattened…whatever, ‘ol Rog is gonna be off the air for a while. Thank God it wasn’t sweeps, but it’s still a public relations nightmare.

So there it is…I want to keep ’em both, but that’s not gonna happen, the General Manager

thought, as he picked up the receiver and punched in a phone number. I bet Corporate already knows, he smiled wryly.

They did.

It was a forty five-minute commute from the station to Grapevine where she lived, and even though it was March it was warm enough to have the windows open as she drove her Jeep down I-635. Laura had the music up really loud, partly because of the wind noise and partly so she wouldn’t have to think about Roger and her job.

She’d been spoiling for a fight after a day of a million and one frustrations. Stories had fallen apart and the reporters couldn’t seem to get a firm hold on the stories that were working. The newscasts had seemed incomplete. Not a good news day, she mused running her hand through her hair as it blew in the wind.

There was still a lot of traffic on the interstate, especially for a Thursday night. Laura changed lanes to get ready for her exit. Well, she thought, you can put it out of your mind for only so long. There’s going to be hell to pay, on so many levels. Her thoughts rambled on… You could go to work for a News Consulting firm. You could teach the part on what not to do when dealing with talent.

The guard at the gate waved the Jeep through and Laura continued around the tree-lined street until she got to her house, opened the garage door with the remote and pulled the Jeep inside next to the gleaming chrome of a Triumph motorcycle. She picked up her briefcase, shoved it into the box, and then carried it all inside, dropping the load just inside the door. Laura spared a glance toward her answering machine, noting that there were twenty-eight messages waiting. She unclipped her pager from her waistband and tossed it on the counter by the phone, making her way from the living room to the master bedroom and into the bathroom where she started running the shower.

She stripped efficiently, tossed her clothes in the hamper, and stepped into the shower stall. After wetting her hair, she leaned back against the wall, then slowly slid down until she was sitting with her chin on her knees with the water pounding the top of her head. Oh God, what have I done?

She stayed like that until there was no hot water left. When it ran cold, she figured there was no point in it anymore and she stepped out of the stall and grabbed a towel, dripping water all over the bathroom floor. After slipping on an oversized t-shirt and boxer shorts, she began combing out her hair, looking into the mirror at tired blue eyes, ignoring the phone as it began to ring, figuring the machine would pick it up.

“Laura, this is Don Farmer at Corporate…We need to talk. Uh, you’ve put us in a hell of a position, and uh, we need to talk about how this is gonna shake down. Give me a call in the morning…probably not a good idea to go to the station tomorrow…”

No shit, Laura thought as she listened to the machine echo eerily through the house.

“Anyway I wanted to let you know that you still have some options…We’re not ready to cut you loose, so just hang tight…call me.”

Laura walked back to the kitchen where the answering machine was. There were twenty- nine messages now, and she deleted them all. She’d call Don in the morning, but there wasn’t anyone else she wanted to talk to, or explain to.

Options…Laura snorted, all her choicest options disappeared when she plowed her fist into Roger’s face. She crawled into bed, switched off the light and rolled onto her side, hugging a pillow to her chest. Oh, come on, you have options…You can take some time off and play some golf. She yawned, the fifteen-hour day catching up with her. Brood about it in the morning, she told herself.

And Laura Kasdan closed her eyes on the worst day of her thirty-year-old life.

*******

The alarm didn’t go off and for a minute, just a minute, Laura thought she’d overslept. The clock read seven fifteen, and Laura rolled over with a concerted effort to prolong her sleep. I know that Don’s not going to have his butt into his office until nine Atlanta time, she thought, so go back to sleep.

Except that her mind was off and running, making her stomach churn.

No point, Laura sighed after a few minutes, so she sat up and threw the covers off and ambled into the kitchen rubbing her neck absently. Staring into the refrigerator is not going to make food appear, she told herself, you have to buy it once in a while. She grabbed a Coke and closed the door, popped it open and took a big gulp feeling it burn all the way down. Ah, the breakfast of champions, Laura thought as the phone rang.

“Kaz, it’s Brian,” the General Manager, “Pick up the phone, I know you’re there. I called the pro shop and they said you hadn’t called for a tee time yet and I know it’s too early for you to get a hold of your lawyer.”

Laura picked up, “All right, what’s going on.”

“Jesus, Kaz, I left about 20 messages on your machine last night, could you have at least given me a sign that you made it home okay?”

“I made it home okay, how’s Roger’s nose?”

“Roger needs a plastic surgeon, and he’s gonna be off the air for a bit. God knows how we’ll file the insurance claim. Couldn’t you have just kicked him in the nuts?”

“I’m not sure he had any to kick.”

“Very funny,” Brian said, “Both of you are in a shitload of trouble, I called Don Farmer last night, he already knew everything.”

“I know, I had a message to call him this morning,” Laura told him.

“Well, forget that my friend, he’s on his way here. He called last night when you weren’t answering your phone or your beeper…”

“I turned it off.”

“…and said he’d be on the 10am Delta from Atlanta. So get dressed and get to DFW, pick him up, and do what you have to do to save your career.”

“Roger grabbed me, and I have to save my career?”

“You know you can’t fuck with the talent, Kaz, they’re like racehorses, when they’re running good they’re money in the bank. News Directors pale next to a thirty share.”

“I got you that thirty share!”

“I guess it comes down to this: You’re young, you can still make it to the network if you want, but if you make waves, if you sue, you commit career suicide. Roger wins anyway. You are three years away from your vested stock plan. Can you swallow your pride and stay in this corporation for three years for half a million dollars?” Brian took a breath, “If you can walk away from that, then walk. But otherwise get to DFW and pick up the head o News Operations at the largest employee owned media conglomerate in the country and do what you have to do to save your career!”

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

“Brian, you know I’m out already…I’ll miss you.”

“Yeah, me too. I hope you end up someplace nice. If you never punch anyone ever again, you might even get your own station.” He paused, “I’m sorry…maybe the deal won’t be too bad,”

“You’re right, I’d better get going.”

“One thing, Kaz…be careful what you agree to. Don’t let them back you into a corner…or hang you out to dry”

“Later, Brian.” She hung up and padded back to the bedroom to get dressed.

******

There wasn’t much that frightened Laura Kasdan; she worked in an environment that was hostile at best and outright confrontational at worst. But driving to DFW was right up there with taking your life in your hands and it always made her nervous. Traffic around the airport was miserable on this Friday morning, and she resigned herself to a good long walk from the parking area to the Delta terminal. She stepped out of the Jeep and felt the wind gust around her, blowing her khaki pants against her legs. She shrugged into a jacket over her red polo shirt and started walking, not looking forward to the encounter with Don. As she entered the terminal, she moved her sunglasses to the top of her head and inhaled, smelling that strange airport smell that brought with it the promise of journey’s ending and beginning.

She checked the monitors on the way down the concourse, noting that the flight was on time, and made her way through security, dumping her keys into the dish that the agent held out for her and reaching for her pager. Then she remembered that she’d left it on the counter, turned off, her one last unbreakable contact with the newsroom that had been her life for the past two years.

She stepped through the metal detector, picked up her keys and continued on to the gate, getting there just as the passengers were arriving through the long plastic hallway connected to the plane. She waited with her arms crossed until she spotted the tall, stocky blond man carrying an oversized briefcase and then she moved toward him.

Don spotted her immediately and smiled, “Laura,” he said, “Good to see you, wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Likewise, Don.” She answered. “Did you check anything?”

“No, I’m just here to see you and then I’m gone. I’ve gotten us a meeting room, let’s see if we can find out where it is.” He stepped up to the check in booth, inquired after the location, then they both started back down the concourse.

They followed the signs and turned down a narrow hallway, past a small office where a woman at a desk looked up and smiled at them. “I reserved a conference room, William-Simon Communications, ” Don informed the woman.

“Yes, Mr. Farmer,” she answered, “Room three, just down the hall, your lunch is ready, as you requested.” Laura and Don made their way to the room, Don opened the door and Laura stepped inside and Don followed, closing the door behind him.

“Well, Laura,” Don said as he pulled up a chair, “This is a supreme cluster fuck. What the hell were you thinking?”

“Wasn’t thinking anything, he grabbed my butt and I slugged him.” She reached up and plucked the Ray Bans off the top of her head and tossed them on the table. “I have grounds for a lawsuit, so does he. You want him back on the air, and that’s sort of impossible if I’m running the newsroom. So unless you’ve become the hiring and firing fairy, I can only assume that you’ve come to cut a deal.” She paused and leaned forward, “So what’s the deal?”

Icy blue eyes narrowed at him across the table and Don took stock of the woman seated there. Well, you couldn’t fault Roger’s taste, she was beautiful. That dark hair and those eyes, set in that perfectly proportioned face. She’d never be anchor material; no one would buy the news from looks like those. But in a business where everyone wanted to be on the air, she’d been an exception. Just a little while as a reporter, and then she’d turned into one hell of a producer. Now, regardless of her age, she was the best News Director in the Company and he’d be damned if someone else was going to snatch her up.

“Brief and to the point as always, Kaz,” Don answered. “All right, You get to be News Director at another station, your salary and benefits stay the same. Roger is reprimanded and retires in three years, you come back to Dallas and run the show. How’s that?”

“Which station?” Laura asked in a low, dangerous voice.

“WBFC in Burkett Falls,” Don inwardly winced, waiting for the reaction.

“Burkett! Jesus what is that, a number sixty something market?” She stood up shouting “From top ten to Bum Fuck Egypt, I should have killed Roger, at least I could’ve stayed in Texas!”

“Look it’s just three years, Kaz, and when you get back you run the show in Dallas…Not just the News Department, the station. You’ll be the GM.” Don waited for the implications to sink in.

“What about Brian?” she asked quietly.

“Brian’s going to be a Regional Manager in three years, he’ll be over 15 stations probably including Dallas.” Don waited a moment, “You’re on the same track you know, if you don’t hit anyone else.” She was considering it, and he knew he was close.

Be careful Laura, she told herself and tipped her head back as she weighed her options. It was incredibly tempting to just tell Don, no how, no way, take your medium market pissant station and shove it where the sun don’t shine. But no…remember the plan Laura, she told herself. Three years was all she needed in the company, even if was in exile from Texas.

“You need an answer today, right?” Don nodded. “One thing…I have Cowboy season tickets and I’m not giving them up…get me to Dallas for the games and you have a deal.” Laura smiled.

“Awww, they’re not even a good team anymore.” Don said.

Laura actually snarled, “Otherwise I go shopping – I start here in town, and I will make it my god damned mission in life to see that KDAL never sees a thirty share again.”

“You don’t have to be nasty, we’ve got airline trade,” Don smiled.

“You were pretty sure of yourself there, Don,” Laura returned with a lopsided smirk.

“I won’t fight if I can’t win, Kaz. Learn from that.” He pulled a file out of his briefcase, passed it to her and checked his watch. “Did you park in the short term lot?”

“No, long term,” She smiled at him and lifted one eyebrow, “I always plan for most situations. Learn from that.” Don gave a little snort and tossed two airline tickets out on the table. “We have tickets for the 12:15 flight to Burkett Falls. Art Dement, the GM is expecting us. You’ll arrive back around eight, and unless you just can’t imagine going through with this, you’ll have the weekend to start planning your move.”

“What, no golf?” Laura said half joking, then she sobered, “What if Mr. Dement doesn’t want me for a News Director?”

“It’s not his choice anymore,” Don said, standing. “He needs help and I’m gonna drop six feet of blue eyed help on his station and watch what happens.” Both of them looked back at the plate of sandwiches in the middle of the table that neither one of them had touched. They looked at each other, shrugged, sat back down and started on the sandwiches. It sure beat airline peanuts.

*****

The flight was uneventful and Laura wiggled her jaw a little to ease the uncomfortable pressure that had built up in her ears in the pressurized cabin. The closed in space made her a little antsy as they taxied to the gate, and as soon as the flight attendant opened the door, she and Don stepped out into the aisle and moved forward with the rest of the crowd off of the plane.

Coming through the gate, Don spotted who he was looking for and gave a brief wave. Laura followed him over to a middle- aged man with salt and peppered hair and a beard. Don performed the introductions and Laura offered a hand to the General Manager of WBFC.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Ms. Kasdan,” he said smoothly shaking her hand with a firm, dry grip. Blue eyes looked into his ordinary brown ones. For a minute he was aware of an incredible surge of power and charisma, then it was gone. He blinked, “We didn’t think we’d see a candidate for our News Director’s job with your kind of… qualifications.” Laura raised an eyebrow. So that’s how it’s going to be, she thought.

“I didn’t think I’d be applying,” she answered sweetly. He laughed a bit nervously.

“C’mon, the car’s out front, we’ll go to the station and take a look around.” The three of them went down an escalator, past the rental car counters and out the automatic sliding glass doors where a gold Lexus waited. How cliché, Laura thought, I’d like to meet a GM who didn’t drive a Lexus. She flipped her dark hair back over her shoulder and smirked at Don as she opened up the front passenger door and slid into the seat, pulling her Ray Bans out of her jacket pocket and putting them on.

Art got in and started the car, pulling it smoothly away from the curb. He stole a glance at Laura’s profile. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but the beautiful woman sitting next to him was not it. This might not be such a bad deal after all. “So you went to UT? Great to win that national championship last year, Huh?”

“Um..I went to Texas, not Tennessee.” Laura rolled her eyes, glad of the sunglasses and hearing Don’s low laugh coming from the back seat.

“Oh, right. I just saw UT on the stuff that corporate sent last night, and I assumed…”

“S’alright,” she drawled, “An honest mistake.” She shifted in her seat and looked at him. “Tell me about your news operation.”

“Right. We do a Noon, Five, Six, and Ten, Monday through Friday and a Morning Show from five thirty to seven during the week and from eight to nine on the weekends. Then a Five or Six on the weekends, depending on network, plus a Ten O’clock newscast.” He smiled over at her. “We do more news than anyone else in the market.”

“How many people?” Laura asked.

“Sixty in the newsroom, that doesn’t include part timers. They’re a good bunch but they don’t have much direction. The Managing Editor is a young and a little on the explosive side, but he’s been running things since our News Director left.” He took a breath. “We’re not major market, Ms. Kasdan, but we have a clue about how to do news.”

“Call me Kaz,” Laura said. “What about live?”

“We’ve got two live trucks in town and one up at the Jacksonville bureau, that’s about 50 miles north of Burkett, and part of our DMA. No satellite truck,” his eyes met Don’s in the rearview mirror, “…Yet, but our competitor has one that they went in halfsees with their network for. Two of the trucks are scheduled to be replaced this year. There are 10 news vehicles, none are older than two years, and we just replaced all the newsroom computers with Pentium III processors. We’re using Associated Press as our service and we subscribe to CNN. What else do you need?”

“What’s your on-air talent situation?”

“All the on-air guys are under contract right now. No one’s up for renewal until October, except for the Noon Anchor. I know that makes November Sweeps a little tricky if you were to make any changes, but if you’re gonna change, we’ll want to wait ’til after May anyway.” Art looked at Laura for a minute and continued. “The last few books have been disasters for us. We’re losing huge chunks of our audience to the guys across town, and revenue from first quarter has sucked. I need…We need a really good May book. Here we are.”

They pulled into a small lot in front of a square brick building. The landscaping was tasteful, and a four-color logo looked down from one corner proclaiming: Action News 8 -Where the News Comes First. Laura blew out a short breath. There really are too many cliches in this freaking business, she thought.

The lobby had red clay tile floors that had been waxed and buffed until they gleamed, with the requisite on air talent portraits decorating the walls. The receptionist smiled and buzzed the three of them through a set of double doors that opened up into an area filled with desk cubicles and offices with actual doors. “This is Sales,” Art gestured, “and the business offices. My office is at the end of the hall. News and Production are upstairs and they overlook the studio. ” He led them to a black metal staircase and started up as Don and Laura followed close behind. The relative quiet was broken as soon as Art pushed open the glass door at the top of the stairs and the full pandemonium of a busy newsroom on a Friday afternoon spilled out.

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

Danny Rendally had the desk at the very back corner of the newsroom for a reason. He was the most senior reporter and as others had left, he took over desks that slowly moved him back to the prime office position. His desk sat facing the door so he could observe everything in the Newsroom. All the comings and goings plus the added bonus protection of knowing that if some nutcase came through the door with a gun, upset about something they’d reported, he wouldn’t be the primary target. It had happened before in other markets. Paranoia had worked very well for Danny and he wasn’t about to change.

So he was paying attention when the GM came through the door with a guy he recognized as a corporate suit, and a tall dark haired woman who didn’t look like corporate at all. She was casually dressed for one thing, her jacket pushed up past her elbows, wearing khakis and a polo shirt. Plus, she actually looked at the newsroom. When her blue eyes finished their sweep and fastened on him, he swallowed nervously as it all clicked into place.

The Kazmanian Devil.

Well, that’s what some of the reporters from Dallas called her after she’d given a seminar at RTNDA, the News Director’s convention last year. Laura Kasdan in Burkett Falls, he thought as the threesome went into the News Director’s office. What the hell is going on? He turned and reached for his phone.

***********

Don closed the door, and slipped his hands into his pockets, regarding Laura and Art soberly. “So,” he said, “Is this going to work?”

Laura half smiled and said “News is news, I could do worse.” She cocked her head at Art and asked, “What do you want from my end?”

“I want a first rate news operation that I don’t have to be concerned with.” He looked at Don before continuing, “I was always in sales, never had much to do with news except sell with the numbers they gave me. If the numbers are good and you stay within your budget, I’ll stay out of your hair. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Laura wasn’t sure if Art was asking her or Don that question. “Alright, I can start in a week,” she drawled, “Next Monday good enough?”

“Sure,” he answered, “Just one thing, though…Why did you hit Roger MacNamara?”

Laura’s eyes became ice chips as they narrowed and bored into his. “He grabbed me…and I don’t like to be touched.” She said in a low rumble. Art barely resisted swallowing and stepping back.

Don looked at Laura and concealed a laugh. “Okay then, make the announcement.” This is gonna be good, he thought. And opened the door.

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

“Hey Mitch, it’s Danny Rendally at WBFC in Burkett Falls, How’re things in Big D?” Danny was doodling on a legal pad because that’s what he always did when he was on the phone. He listened to the other reporter’s answer and then came right to the point. “Listen Mitch, Don Farmer, the Head of News Operations, just strolled in our Newsroom with Laura Kasdan in tow…Tell me something, have you misplaced your News Director?”

He listened to a detailed explanation of the previous day’s events with his mouth slightly ajar and he stopped doodling. Holy shit, he thought, no one’s going to believe this. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. “That’s what I needed to know. Hmm? Yeah, yeah, I’ll let you know as soon as I know something.”

Rendally practically vaulted over his desk to get to the assignment editor’s desk where two reporters were standing. He started laughing, “You’re not gonna believe this…I think Laura Kasdan is going to be our new News Director…”

Just then the door opened on the News Directors Office, cutting him off and he turned to see the Corporate Guy, the GM and the woman who was surely going to make his life a living hell.

The GM cleared his throat and waved at Rendally, “Go round up the news staff, we’ll have a little meeting here.” The reporter bolted down the hall. Man, oh man, he thought as he poked his head into the edit bays to call everyone to the meeting.

Once everyone was assembled, Art began, speaking over the background noise of police scanners and ringing phones. “I have an announcement to make, We have a News Director,” he turned, “This is Laura Kasdan, she’s been at KDAL in Dallas for the last two years and…” a bit of a pause, “It’s great to have her here. Laura…anything you’d like to add?”

Laura gave a humorless half smile, letting her eyes sweep around the room. Speculative looks and frank curiosity met her gaze. “You can call me Kaz,” she said, giving them permission not to use her first name. “And I’m damn glad to be here.” She said through slightly clenched teeth.

One of the men, he looked to be thirtyish stepped forward and offered a hand. “I’m Keith Roberts, the Managing Editor. I’ve…heard some good things about you, hope you like it here.” Ah, she thought, so this is Mr.Young and explosive. She shook the offered hand and started to say something when she was interrupted by a woman’s insistent voice.

“We’ve got some bad news, some good news and some weird news of the… um, Chris Hanson variety…what do you want to hear first Keith?” The woman had been manning the scanners and seemed to have a phone surgically attached to her ear, so Laura assumed that this was the assignment editor. She raised an eyebrow, questioningly. Keith turned and asked, “What happened?”

She answered, her words spilling out in a mad rush. “A truck jack-knifed on I-20 and the traffic is backed up forever, the good news is that we sent Chris to do that story on the construction and the traffic tie ups, so we got some video.”

Keith rolled his eyes, “And the weird part?”

“Well Chris was driving because Jody was shooting video of the traffic and the truck was actually in front of them when it skidded, and well, Jody got it on tape.” The staff in the newsroom started talking at once, but Laura still heard Keith take a deep breath and ask, “Then what happened?”

The newsroom suddenly got very quiet as the occupants suddenly heard the question. Laura tilted her head, very much aware of the undercurrents in the room. It was…like they were holding their collective breath or something.

“Well, the truck clipped the front of the news unit and Chris went into a spin, then into the median and, uh, crashed into those barrels full of water that they put around those big poles on the interstate to keep you from killing yourself if you were to…like, hit one.”

“Are they alright?” Keith asked. The assignment editor nodded her head so hard that her bangs bobbed up and down. They’re fine except that Chris split her lip when she hit the steering wheel. The really neat part is we got it all on tape, The truck skidding, hitting the car, the car spinning then crashing through those barrels and everything.” She finished, out of breath. The room was absolutely quiet and then the GM started to laugh, shaking his head.

“That’s a hell of a story,” Don Farmer said. Art kept laughing and turned to Laura and raised his eyebrows and said, “Welcome to WBFC, you just had an introduction to the main reason our last News Director ran out of here screaming.”

“So that’s THE Chris Hanson?” Don asked, and Art nodded. “She makes the bullet list at least once a week, ” referring to the list that each department had to turn in to corporate weekly, outlining what was going on. “Yeah that’s Chris. Well, if we’re done here, can I interest you two in an early supper before you have to catch your plane?”

Laura was busy looking at the assignment board, a flow chart of how the day’s stories were making their way to their respective newscasts. She checked her watch and turned to the managing editor, who was watching her closely. “You’ll go live from that accident at five, won’t you?” she asked.

“Yeah, if I can get the truck out there in time.” He looked past her and said to one of the photographers sitting over on a desk. “Bobby, get Live 2 over to the I-20 exit at Johnson Road for a live shot at five, and take Rendally with you in case Chris looks too bad to go on the air.”

“Good deal,” Laura said, “I’ll go too.”

“What about dinner, and your flight?” Don inquired.

She shrugged, “I’ll get a later flight. Thanks for the job. Later, Art.” And she followed the cameraman and the reporter out the door.

The Head of News Operations and the General Manager left the newsroom in silence, opening the glass door and starting down the stairs. “Do you honestly think she’s going to work out here?” Art asked Don.
“This isn’t Dallas.”

Don thought for a second and said, “It doesn’t really matter. She can help you while she’s here, and you know what she’d lose if she took a walk.” He smiled, “The ball’s in her court now, It should be pretty interesting anyway. Just enjoy the ride”

Like I have a choice, the GM thought.

***********

The Live truck was old and it smelled bad, the tall woman noted as she climbed into the passenger seat. The reporter blinked as he realized he wasn’t going to ride shotgun, then opened the sliding door and got in the back. Laura looked around with interest. The beta tape decks in the rack looked pretty new, and the rest of the truck showed only a few signs of abuse. She felt a shudder as the engine came to life and started rolling. They pulled through the gate and out into the street heading north to the Interstate.

“So, how long have you been here?” she asked. That was always a safe place to start since TV people loved to talk about where they’d been and where they wanted to be. Rendally answered first, pretty much as Laura expected. Seven years, came from the ABC affiliate in Columbus, graduated from Ole Miss, and so on. Bobby said he’d only been a photographer for about a year. Laura filed the information away for later.

“I’ve met Mitch Carstairs…he was one of yours at KDAL wasn’t he?” Rendally remarked pointedly.

Was. Laura smiled slowly and looked over her shoulder at the reporter. “You didn’t waste any time making that phone call Mr. Rendally.” She flipped her hair back over her shoulder and settled back into her seat. Here we go, she thought.

“Is any of it true?”

“What?”

“The part about slugging the anchor?”

An eyebrow arched, “What do you think?”

A pause, “I think I’m probably safer changing the subject.”

“Oooh, good choice,” Laura drawled. She turned and looked right at the reporter, letting her blue eyes emphasize her point. “For the record… You bet I belted him. As for the rest of it…” she shrugged, put on her sunglasses and said, “Believe what you want.”

Rendally just nodded and Bobby concentrated on his driving. As they approached the exit, Laura could see that the traffic had come to a standstill on the other side of the Interstate. The wrecked eighteen wheeler lay on its side. Bobby steered the live truck over to the left shoulder, passing the rubbernecks staring at the mess. A Ford Taurus with a Channel 8 logo rested drunkenly next to a pole surrounded by the broken remains of plastic safety barrels. There were police cars and fire trucks everywhere and a small crowd was gathered nearby.

“I think we’ve found them, ” The cameraman said as he pulled into the grassy median.

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

Christine Hanson licked the cut on her lip carefully; tasting blood and wincing a bit as it stung. If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all, she thought. The police officers were hovering, one had given her a handkerchief to wipe the blood off of her mouth. Now he was hitting on her. She sighed. That was the problem with being on air, everyone thought they knew you personally.

One of the officers gestured, “Hey, your people are here.” Chris looked up to see one of the live trucks pulling into the grassy center section of the Interstate. She looked over to where Jody, her cameraman, was setting up the camera and tripod. He’d seen the truck too, and started walking toward her.

“Calvary’s here.” He said shortly as he reached her. “Who’s that?” he asked as a tall dark haired woman climbed out of the front seat of the live truck, and walked toward them with long, ground eating strides.

“I don’t know,” Chris answered as she and Jody started making their way over to the truck. “What’s Rendally doing here?”

“Hey Chris,” Rendally said, as they met, “You look like hell.”

“A little makeup, I’ll be fine.” Her green eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun.

“Brought a surprise for ya Chrissy,” he said, using her hated nickname. “Meet our News Director, Laura Kasdan.”

The first thought that crossed Chris Hanson’s mind was that she had seen eyes like that only once before but she couldn’t remember where. Clear blue and piercing. The second thought was that she was looking way up into them. God she’s tall, the much smaller woman thought. Dark rich hair framed those startling eyes and her clothes were worn with a casual elegance. Chris realized she was staring and gave herself a mental shake. This is your new boss, she told herself, act like you have a clue.

“Hi, I’m Christine Hanson,” She stuck out her hand and felt it enveloped by a somewhat larger hand in a warm, firm, almost familiar grip.

That portrait in the lobby doesn’t do her justice, Laura thought. She didn’t think a camera could ever quite capture the life in those green eyes. Her blond hair was cut short on the sides and longer and fluffier on the top…a good on-air look, Laura thought idly. And there was something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on, something…comforting? Where the hell did that come from?

“Laura Kasdan,” she said, forgetting to add the automatic ‘call me Kaz.’ She smiled a bit as she broke contact, and turned to the photographer. Jody introduced himself and the two cameramen left to start pulling cables and setting up for the live shot. Rendally, left behind, regarded the two women.

“Do you really want her to do the live shot?” he asked Laura, “She looks a little shaken up.”

“You’re not doing my story.” Chris told him emphatically.

“She was there, she does it…busted lip and all.” Laura answered, a little pleased at the competition between the two. “A little make up, she’ll be fine.” She repeated the reporter’s words, then turned and started walking toward one of the fire trucks parked near the wrecked eighteen- wheeler. Left behind, the reporters watched her leave.

“You are not gonna believe all the shit I’ve heard about Miz Kasdan.” Rendally said in a low voice.

“I don’t get it, where’d she come from?”

“Dallas…KDAL,” Rendally answered, “She was the News Director there.”

“A little young for it, what the hell is she doing here?” Chris asked.

“She fucked up,” He answered simply. “This is where you’ll end up if you ever punch an anchor.”

“She hit an anchor? Damn!” Chris started to laugh as Jody walked up and handed over her IFB and makeup kit. “Let’s get this set up, we’re getting close to news time. Where do you want me, Jody?” she asked the cameraman as she put on the ear piece, opened her makeup, and began the business of making herself presentable to a million viewers.

*********

Laura heard the whispers as soon as they thought she was out of earshot. She knew that news people were about the worst when it came to gossip. After all, they made their living ferreting out information and spreading it around to anyone who would listen. And it was a good story. Really. If she hadn’t been so personally involved she’d be talking about it too.

She walked up to the man she guessed was in charge, introduced herself as being with Channel 8, and arranged for him to comment during the live shot. That accomplished, she made her way back to the live truck where Rendally was sitting glumly in the front seat.
“Hey… Captain Wallace is gonna give us some time during the live shot, why don’t you get him set up.” She glanced at her watch. “You’ve got about fifteen minutes before we go on.”

The sandy haired reporter took off and Laura looked into the van where Jody was editing his video. She watched him for a while as Bobby positioned the mast for the best signal back to the station. Chris was pacing next to the truck, going over what she planned to say, gesturing and flipping through her notebook, stopping and starting, and organizing the pace of her tale. Laura smiled. This should be interesting.

The time evaporated, and all the players moved into position. Chris did her mic check, fiddled with the earpiece of her IFB, squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Sell it, sell it, sell it, she told herself, as she looked into the lens, heard her cue for the tease, and the words began to flow.

“Traffic was already slow because of the construction on I-20, but this accident brought it to a standstill. You’ll see exclusive footage of this eighteen wheeler spin out of control, tonight on Action 8 News Live at Five.”

“‘Bout 30 seconds then you’re back on, Chris.” The producer’s voice said in her ear.

Laura watched the show open roll in the monitor inside the truck… anchors were up full on the screen…toss to Chris and she was on. The young blonde reporter projected lots of energy, was precise in her telling, and very, very credible. As Chris told the story of the accident and got a quick comment from the Captain, Laura grew more impressed by the second. I’ve been in major markets that didn’t have reporter talent half this good, she thought. Well, bright spots are where you find them. She listened as Chris tossed it back to the Anchor, answered a question, and then waited to be told she was clear. A very professional performance, split lip and all, Laura thought.

Chris blew out the breath she’d been holding and asked the producer if they were coming back to her again during the show. She got a very definite ‘maybe’ in her ear, then looked up at the woman who’d been watching her carefully during her stand up. “They’ll probably come back for a traffic update toward the end of the cast,” she answered the raised eyebrow from the dark haired woman. “Do we need to stay for the 6 O’clock show?”

“Yeah,” Laura answered, “unless something happens and Keith needs the Live Truck. Good job, by the way…considering.”

“Oh,” the reporter looked startled, and touched her lip gingerly, “I forgot about that.” There were a hundred questions she wanted to ask Laura Kasdan and now seemed as good a time as any, but for the first time in her life, she had no idea how to begin. Weird, she thought.

Laura crossed her arms and leaned back against the live truck, watching the cameramen putter with the cables. They’re uncomfortable, she thought, Rendally’s just pouting. Chris had walked over to one of the officers, probably to ask about traffic control. Laura always forgot how much she hated waiting around a news scene until she had to visit one. Life was more hectic in the newsroom where you had to balance more than one crisis at a time.

It could be worse, the tall woman thought. It could have been market number 199 and somewhere up north. At least Burkett Falls was only about three hundred miles from Dallas. She sighed as Jody gestured to Chris that it was almost time to set up for the wrap and tease the 6 o’clock show.

Watching the reporter come to life in front of the camera again, Laura thought, Yep, it could be a lot worse.

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

It was after seven by the time they got back to the station. Laura expected Art Dement to be waiting, and she was not disappointed. White carpet and dark cherry furniture decorated the General Manager’s office along with the ever-present monitors. Ah, thought Laura sarcastically, another surprise. Just once couldn’t the furniture be oak?

“How’d it go?” He asked her as she sat down in a chair in front of his desk.

“Not too bad…Chris is pretty good, Jody runs a mean Live Truck, and Rendally is shopping for a larger market”

“They’re always shopping for a larger market.” The GM answered.

“Yeah, but I’ve seen his demo tape. He sent it to me in Dallas.” She laughed softly at the look on Art’s face, leaned back and with eyes half closed said, “Remember that everyone will eventually meet everyone else who works in TV. Mr. Rendally just met me sooner rather than later.”

“So is this gonna work?” Art asked.

“Sure it is.” It has to, she thought. “You’ll get what you want and I’ll get what I want. It’s a good deal all the way around.”

“I don’t want a hot-head News Director who makes the newsroom into a combat zone. No using the anchors as punching bags.”

Laura gave a humorless laugh, “No, the newsroom will run like a well oiled machine. Trust me.”

It was Art’s turn to lift an eyebrow. “Uh huh…Well, you’ve got a week to get ready. Here,” He handed her a binder, a sheaf of papers, and three Nielson rating books. “You’ll need these…Your budget, paperwork, and the last February, May, and November ratings. Don changed your flight to 8:30…You can still make it home by Midnight.”

Laura opened one of the rating books and looked up. “What’s the story on Christine Hanson?”

“Chris?” The man actually started to snicker, ‘She’s…well…she’s a fabulous reporter, it’s just that…things happen around Chris. She has this huge loyal following…did I tell you she anchors the Noon News? Anyway she’s wrecked half a dozen cars…”

“Seven after today.”

“Okay seven…but it’s always some great story, so…what do you do?” He spread his hands in a gesture of futility, “I wish I could tell you that today was the exception rather than the rule,” He laughed again, “But I can’t.”

“If she anchors, she’s got a contract, right?”

“Yes, but it’s up in June.” Art answered.

“Then we need to get her signed, because you don’t let someone with that kind of on-air presence and that kind of luck just walk out of here,” Laura said standing. “And someone else will get her if we don’t.” I would have.

“Luck?” The GM asked.

“Yeah, ’cause when the shit hits the fan, at least you know you’ll have someone close by. I’ll get someone in the newsroom to drop me at the airport.” She gave a thin smile, “I’ll see you a week from Monday. I’ll let you know my schedule as soon as I can.”

“I am…looking forward to having you here…Kaz,” Art said standing, “I just wish circumstances were…better.”

Laura shrugged, “There’s a reason for everything, I guess.”

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

“And for wrecking yet another news vehicle, we, the All Powerful Producers of Action 8 News, do hereby put another notch on the desk of our erstwhile reporter, Christine Hanson…hoping that next time she’ll take out the car with the busted air conditioner.” Applause followed the Six O’clock Producer’s announcement. Chris hid her face in her hands as Rendally put another hash mark on the side of her desk, bringing the total to seven.

“Could I have picked a worse time to crack up another car?” She said with a slightly hysterical laugh. “Got the Head of News Operations in town, new boss, the whole package.” Chris shut down her computer and threw her notebook into an open drawer.

“Yeah, I’d say you’ve done enough damage for one day, but hey, there’s always Monday.” Rendally answered as he picked up his jacket and prepared to leave. “So, Chris are they real or fake?”

“What? You’re disgusting!”

“I meant her eyes. God, you’re easy. Is she wearing contacts?”

Chris pondered the question and shook her head. “No, colored contacts give you dead eyes. Those were definitely not…”

“Ah, the ice woman cometh,” he interrupted, spotting Laura as she walked through the door.

“I need a ride to the airport, anyone headed that way?” she asked the cluster of people still left in the newsroom.

“Uh, sure…I’ll give you a lift,” Chris volunteered.

“Kiss-up.” Rendally whispered and she gave him a little shove.

“Sure you don’t mind?” the taller woman asked.

“Not if you don’t mind getting in a car with me…No really, I’m an excellent driver.” Groans came from around the newsroom. “I am…stuff just…happens. C’mon,” The blonde reporter said as she led the way out of the newsroom.

Once they got to the parking lot, Chris made her way over to where a dark red Volvo sedan was parked. Laura lifted an eyebrow and said, “Probably a pretty good choice for you.”

“Very funny…that’s not even original.”

Laura smirked as she opened the door and got in. Chris was quiet as she started the car and drove out of the parking lot, but she couldn’t stay that way forever. “So, when do you start?” she asked looking over at Laura.

“I’ll be back in the office a week from Monday.” She gave a sideways glance at the reporter. “Try not to destroy anything while I’m gone.”

Chris just laughed. “So it’s back to Dallas to pack up and move, hmm? Do you know were you’ll be staying yet?”

“Not yet.”

Chris just went on, “This’ll be a big change from Dallas, I bet. What’s the smallest market you’ve been in?”

“I was in Austin for a bit.”

“That doesn’t count, it’s only one market size larger than us…a real Texan, huh?” she looked over and smiled.

Laura didn’t really mind the chatter from the younger woman, which was a little strange since personal questions usually drove her insane, but Chris was so good natured it didn’t bother her, she just listened, answering briefly, if at all. It was kind of nice.

They arrived at the terminal and Laura squashed a slight feeling of disappointment. She could see the Delta counter just inside the glass front where Chris parked the Volvo.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said getting out of the car. “I’ll see you in about a week.” She tucked the binder under her arm, turned and shut the door.

“Have a good flight, Laura.” Chris said softly, watching her go inside. The car was oddly quiet without the other woman’s presence. Everything she’d heard about Laura Kasdan today had seemed so much larger than life, and Chris wasn’t sure how she was going to fit into their little corner of the world. And despite the speculation in the newsroom, Chris was certain that Laura Kasdan knew exactly what she was doing and what she was getting into.

What an interesting puzzle, she thought. Chris was a reporter, and there was nothing she liked better than puzzles.

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

What a day, Laura thought closing the binder and leaning back in her seat. She checked her watch. Yeah, she’d be home before midnight, but just barely.

You idiot. One minute of uncontrolled anger and your whole life is turned upside down. She blew out a breath and closed her eyes tiredly. God, there were a million things to do, and she had no idea where to start.

Stop it. Sell the house, make the move, that’s all there is to it. Ruthlessly she squashed any self-pity she might have been feeling. Three years, that’s all, remember the plan. With that thought firmly in mind, she slept for the rest of the flight.
Part 2
Welcome to the Newsroom

Laura lay on her back and watched the first light of Monday break through the slats of the mini blinds in her bedroom. She’d been awake for a couple of hours, unable to sleep and unwilling to get up. A busy week of moving, and settling in had taken its toll and her nerves were shot to hell. Sunday night she finally walked away from the chaos of her new apartment and went to a driving range to hit golf balls until the manager turned off the lights and she was forced to leave.

She looked over at her clock for what seemed like the hundredth time. The digital numbers had not progressed at all since the last time. C’mon Laura, she told herself, quit putting it off…just get up. With a groan she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, standing and stretching as she made her way to the bathroom.

At least the shower had decent pressure, she thought after climbing out of the tub and slicking her hair back. She absently grabbed a towel and just blotted some of the water off of her sleek form, letting a goodly amount drip onto the floor on her way back to the bedroom.

What to wear, what to wear, Laura pondered, looking into her closet and thinking that she should have gone to the dry cleaners. Too late now, she thought with a shrug, settling on a pair of black cotton pants, white silk shirt and basic linen jacket. Take the Jeep today, she thought…no need to freak them out just yet.

No, Laura amended, wear the boots and take the bike. Let ’em see what they’re getting. Besides it’ll be…fun.

She dressed quickly, listening to Morning Edition on the radio, then stamped her feet into black cowboy boots. After locking the door she clattered down the concrete steps to the ground level of her apartment where her bike was covered with a tarp. Taking it off, Laura stowed it in the jeep, then swung her leg over the Triumph Thunderbird. After donning her helmet and zipping a battered leather jacket closed over the linen one, she brought the motorcycle to life, feeling a familiar surge of adrenaline.

If there’s a God in heaven, she thought, he’s got a bike like this.

It was a good idea to ride this morning, she thought. It helped to strip away all the distractions and focus on the pure mental and physical aspects of getting from one point to another. By the time she got to the station parking lot, she was in total control.

She parked near the base of the stairs leading to the back door of the newsroom. Another good thing about the bike, she mused, there’s always a good parking place close to the door. There were already a couple of employees standing outside in the designated smoking area, puffing away and watching her with idle interest. She took off the helmet, shook her hair free and started up the stairs oblivious to the looks she was getting.

The newsroom was just beginning to stir as Laura entered and made her way to the managing editor’s desk “Do you have the key?” She asked, jerking her thumb toward her office.

“Yeah, sure.” Keith answered, rummaging around in the top drawer, locating it and handing it to her. She motioned for him to follow and unlocked the door, unprepared for the sight that greeted her.

Videotapes and FedEx packages covered every flat surface in the office, only the floor was spared. There were six chairs and a low table in front of the desk and all were completely obscured by the stacks and stacks of packages. “What the hell is this?” The News Director asked.

Keith scratched the back of his neck. “I guess your reputation proceeds you. We put a little blurb about you on the website, one of the trade magazines put it on their site and by Wednesday the packages started coming in…They’re from reporters, videographers, anchors, and you even got some resumes from producers.”

“Keith, you seem like a bright guy, what does this look like to you?” She turned to look at him.

Chris was right, he thought, they weren’t colored contacts. “It looks like…” He paused and answered very carefully, “…Someone thinks you’re going to clean house, and a whole buncha people want to work for you.”

“Are we short some bodies?”

“No,” Keith replied, “We’ve got a full count right now unless…you are planning to…or we have a mass exodus…or something,” he trailed off.

“Then get rid of ’em…all of ’em.” Laura said firmly, gesturing at the piles of tapes.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, we go with what we’ve got for the time being.” She made her way behind the desk and put down her helmet. “Morning meeting starts at nine, right?”

“Right, and you’ve got a department head meeting at ten.”

“Good, then let’s go over the schedules now…I have some questions about the stuff you sent me last week.”

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

Chris walked into the newsroom ten minutes before the morning meeting. It wouldn’t do to antagonize the new News Director, and judging from the number of others in the newsroom on time, she knew she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. It had been a pretty good morning so far, a trip to the “Y” for an early workout and on to the bagel shop for breakfast. She smoothed down the collar of her forest green blazer, put her briefcase next to her desk and logged on to the Associated Press server, checking the updates.

The usual stuff, she thought, scrolling down and making notes to arm herself for the meeting where the reporters and producers would pitch their story ideas. An early encounter at the gym resulted in a tip…that meant she wouldn’t go into the meeting empty-handed. Sometimes it got ugly since everyone had a different opinion as to what was newsworthy, and what stories or features had clear viewer benefit. The reporters would then be assigned their stories and the newscasts would start to take shape.

It always amazed Chris that it ever came together at all. Sometimes a newscast showed every indication of being a train wreck, and those were the ones that went well. Others were smooth sailing from the beginning, and piece by piece, they self destructed on the air.

Oh, the joys of live TV.

Chris checked the clock, picked up her notebook, and entered the News Director’s office where four other reporters were already gathered. She took a seat next to the door and started flipping through her notes, sneaking a glance at her new boss. Laura Kasdan was frowning at her computer screen as the news staff filed in. Keith took the chair closest to the desk and Rendally plopped down next to him. Everyone was quietly fidgeting, and Chris fought back the urge to laugh.

“Okay,” Laura spoke up, “I’ve met some of you already. I’m still getting a feel for the station and the newsroom, so bear with me. What do we have today…let’s start over here.” She gestured to the right side of the room where one of the producers was standing.

It was like planning for battle, the dark haired woman thought. You sent your troops out to gather the information, put together a plan, and lay siege to the airwaves with newscasts at five, six and ten. Sometimes you dominated the competition, beating them soundly on coverage, and sometimes they did the same to you. It was all about winning. If your reporters and producers fought hard, protected their sources, and dug enough so that they were never surprised by what floated to the surface, then they won that battle, that day.

String those battles together during a ratings book and you gave the sales staff numbers to sell… Down the hall and at corporate.
Laura listened carefully as they went around the room, asking questions and getting mostly good answers. When it was Chris’ turn, blue eyes fixed on green. Okay, impress me, the News Director thought.

“Last night we covered a drive-by shooting at Northside Mall. One of the security guards was shot in the hand…This morning, um… Mark Norton the Information Officer with the Burkett PD told me that the wound was caused by a weapon less than a foot away from the guard’s hand when it was fired.” The blonde reporter gave a wry smile, “Which means it didn’t happen the way he told the police.”

“Did Mark say what he thought happened?” Rendally asked.

“He said he thought the guard was messing with his gun and shot himself. Anyway they’re going to charge him with filing a false police report, but probably not ’til this afternoon, so we should be able to break it on the noon cast.” Chris finished.

“What about Channel 4? They go on at 11:30.” Laura inquired.

“Mark won’t tell if they don’t ask…They burned him a few months ago, he’s not willing to do them any favors.”

“Alright, we can short-form it for noon, and make it a package for the five focusing on…the forensic technique that tipped the guard’s hand…so to speak.” Laura gave a half smile to the reporter before continuing around the room.

After hitting the checks and follow-up list, the reporters were given their final assignments and the meeting was over. “Chris, I need to see you for just a minute.” The News Director said. The reporter turned to face Laura, eyebrows raised questioningly.
“Go ahead and shut the door.”

“Is this about the car? If you want to make it condition of my employment that I can’t drive station vehicles, I’ll understand…but really…”

“No this isn’t about the car, though maybe it would be better if you didn’t drive them for a while.”

“…It doesn’t matter because they wreck even if I’m just a passenger.” Earnest green eyes looked into amused blue ones.
Odd, Laura thought, people made such a big deal out of blue eyes, but Chris’ were the more unusual color. Grass green with flecks of gold, they gave away everything the blonde woman was thinking and feeling. In this business it didn’t pay to be that open.

“Your contract is up in June, we’d like to get you taken care of before we go into the May ratings period. We can meet later this week and go over any changes, then you can meet with Art if you’ve got any concerns.”

“Oh.” Chris looked startled, “Then I guess you’re not gonna fire me right away.”

“Well, not right away. Wreck another car and we’ll talk.” Laura hid a smile. The younger woman was as transparent as glass, so she tried to dig a little on another subject. “When did Mark Norton tell you about the forensics on last night’s shooting?”

“We work out at the same gym so I usually see him in the mornings.” Chris told her.

“Okay,” Laura dismissed her. “Better get to work.” She turned her attention back to her computer screen, but couldn’t help flicking a glance to the window out to the newsroom, watching the reporter go to her desk and pick up the phone.

Admit it, you were looking forward to seeing her again. You’re comfortable around her and that surprises you. She sighed and turned back to the computer, looking through the schedule that Keith had mailed to her when she was interrupted by…

“Well, I always knew that ‘I’m God and you’re not’ attitude was going to get you into trouble but I never thought it’d land you here.”

Laura looked up surprised.

“If it isn’t Laura-Kasdan-call-me-Kaz right here in MY station running the news department in a god forsaken sixty one market.” The intruder slammed the door.

A delighted smile spread across the News Director’s face as she leaned back in her chair, “Lisa Tyler, what the hell are you doing here? I thought you were in Houston.”

“I was, then I left…God, it’s good to see you.” Lisa was much shorter than Laura with light brown hair, and eyes the color of whiskey. “I heard about what happened in Dallas, I’m really sorry.”

“You know, you’re the first one who’s told me that and meant it.” Laura brightened, “So, what are you doing here?”

“I’m the production manager…don’t laugh, and I direct your 6 o’clock newscast, so be nice.”

“I wasn’t going to laugh, but here?” Laura asked.

“Just another Texan in exile…No, it’s really better. The money’s not as good but it’s cheaper to live here.” Lisa picked a chair close to Laura’s desk and sat down. “Besides, that major market pressure will grind you down…then one day you just…snap.”

“I didn’t just snap, I self destructed. You never let me get away with anything.” Laura smiled wryly. The two women had been on the golf team together at UT. Lisa was a big hitter off the tee with an erratic short game and no desire to practice it. After graduation, they both went to work for the same station in Austin, Lisa stayed in production and Laura immersed herself in news.

“With your temper, it was bound to happen sooner or later.” Lisa regarded the News Director thoughtfully and crossed her legs at the ankles. “Coulda been worse…you could have ended up in Yakima or something.”

“Nah, you’d have to actually kill an anchor to end up in Yakima.” Laura replied. “Are you going to the department head meeting?”

“Yes, oddly enough I qualify as a department head. Freaky isn’t it?”

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

Laura met the other managers and they slogged through the meeting. Her overall impression was that this was a pretty smooth running station; very profitable and with few personnel issues. The one problem was the news department. Jerry Nelson, the previous News Director, had walked out two months earlier leaving the newsroom in chaos.

Not that chaos was unusual in a newsroom.

They wanted it organized, streamlined, and of course, sellable. Lisa explained all of this on their way down the hall. So what else is new, she thought, looking down the table, listening to the drone of the sales manager as he described how April was pacing compared to last year. She looked over to where Lisa was trying her best to look interested and failing miserably.

The sales manager finally finished his spiel and Art dismissed them all except for Laura, and she stayed where she was, leaning back in her chair.

“So, how’s it going?”

“Well, it’s quite a change.” She answered.

“Yeah there are a few problems back there…but that makes for some interesting opportunities.” The general manager stroked his beard.

“To tell you the truth Art, I don’t really believe it when someone tells me that problems are opportunities…Opportunities are good, problems are bad…any idiot should be able to tell the difference.” Laura didn’t take her eyes off her boss as she smiled, “When do I get my new live trucks?”

Art stuck out his chin and said firmly, “That’s out of my hands, we’re on corporate’s time table now.” He let Laura sit in silence for a minute. “As for the news department…I believe in letting my managers manage their departments. I don’t really want to be involved in the day to day operations. I will stay out of your hair as long as your department performs the way it should. I am not a journalist, but I know that compelling news sells. Just give me the numbers and I’ll sell it.”

“Okay…So lemme go manage.” She stood up and walked to the door, pausing with her hand on the knob. “As for compelling news, be careful what you ask for, it has a tendency to bite you on the ass.”

Laura closed the door behind her and went on a mission to find some caffeine. Eventually, she found the break room, complete with the necessary vending machines. A glass door opened on to a good-sized brick patio dotted with picnic tables.

She fed quarters to one of the machines and punched her selection, listening to the sound of the canned drink as it tumbled down.
Retrieving the Coke, she started back down the hall and ran into Keith. Laura raised her eyebrows in inquiry.

“A bunch of city employees have just been arrested…They’re charging them with payroll fraud, The Mayor’s gonna have a news conference and we can probably go live at noon.”

“Okay, get Rendally over there to do the live shot.” And they both went back to the noise and pandemonium of the newsroom.

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

Chris finished putting on her makeup and fitted the IFB in her ear, clipping the cord to the back of her collar, and letting the plug trail behind her. She really liked anchoring the noon newscast, because it meant that she still had a good part of the day to work on her story. She had a good one today and an exclusive for her ‘cast, so she was in a very good mood as she walked down the hall to the studio.

As always, the bright lights made her eyes water until she got used to them. Chris took her seat, sitting on the tail of her jacket to give her shoulders a good line. Turning, she plugged in the IFB, bringing to life the sounds of the control room.

“Hey Chris, just letting you know that Kaz is in here watching.” The producer’s voice sounded tinny in her ear. “Try not to screw up.” Chris just smiled as she shuffled through the scripts knowing that while the producer’s comments could only be heard by the crew wearing headsets and IFB’s, anything she said could be heard by anyone in the booth.

“Okay folks,” The director’s deep voice cut in, “Chris, we’ll come out to you on camera one, toss to the live tease, then weather on two…we’re one minute out.”

Chris clicked her pen and checked the clock. Hurry up and wait. She smiled at the camera and tried not to think about the News Director in the control room. Well, at least the crew wouldn’t be cutting up.

“Standby, coming to you in five…four…three…two…one…cue her.”

It looked easier than it actually was. Read from the teleprompter and comprehend it, chat coherently, and obey the instructions coming from the IFB. Chris was good at it; She was the one who maintained the flow of the newscast, her cadence and rhythm set the pace and it was up to the director and producer to make the content match her timing.

Laura leaned back against the wall in the control room. Standing next to the audio board she could watch everyone and follow the newscast on the monitors. She wished there was an extra headset so she could hear the producer and made a mental note to check with engineering about providing one.

Laura was more impressed with the blonde reporter every time she saw her on camera. Whatever that quality was that made you like and trust someone immediately, Chris Hanson had it in abundance, she thought, listening to her chat with the weatherman.
The content was good, the ‘cast was clean. The News Director waited for the five and six o’clock promos to be shot, then left the control room, striding back to the newsroom and meeting Chris as she came up the stairs from the studio. “Nice job,” she told her.

“Thanks,” green eyes smiled. “Who’s making the lunch run today? I’m starving.”

“You’re always starving.” This from Keith as he walked up. “Pitt Grill today…you want the usual?”

“Sound’s good, K Bob.” Chris said, unclipping her IFB and rolling it up. “Grilled cheese and tater tots.”

“Don’t call me that. Anything for you, Kaz?”

“Uh, no.” Laura answered. “K Bob? Oh…Keith Roberts.” Keith looked uncomfortable and she smiled broadly. “Fine, you won’t hear it from me.” She headed for her office, went in and shut the door.

Keith was shocked to discover his mouth was dry and all she’d done was smile at him. Chris snapped her fingers under his nose and he blinked looking down at the shorter woman.

“Earth to Keith…stop it, you’re practically drooling.”

“She’s…she’s not what I was expecting.” He stammered.

“Yeah, but it’s early days.” She answered. “You coming to Main Street tonight? We’re doing happy hour.” Chris was referring to the bar and grill up the street.

If anyone else but Chris had asked him, he would’ve turned them down flat. It was hard enough being a supervisor without socializing with the staff after hours. But this was Chris, and he really liked talking with her, so he shrugged, “Maybe, we’ll see.” She smiled and he went to call in the lunch order.

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

Laura closed her office door and went to her desk, pulled out the phone book, opened the yellow pages and looked under golf courses, finding the listing she was looking for. Burkett Falls may be smaller than she was used to, but there was a mighty fine golf course in town. She dialed the number, expelling a breath as she waited.

“Northridge Country Club.” A voice answered.

“Yes, I was wondering if you could tell me about your membership requirements.” She waited while she was transferred.
“Member services, this is Linda”

“Hello, my name is Laura Kasdan and I was wondering about your membership requirements.”

“Well Ms. Kasdan, this is a very exclusive club, we would want to set up an interview…”

“I’m a member of a club that’s in the Southern Association of Country Clubs, would it be possible to transfer that membership since Northridge is also a member of that organization?”

“Yes, the membership itself could transfer, but you would still have to be interviewed, and still have to pay the initiation fee.”
Laura forced down the urge to scream. “I understand that, how soon could I be interviewed?”

“You’re in luck, Ms. Kasdan, there is a reception tonight to examine a few other possible members…you are welcome to join them. Cocktails are at seven-thirty.” The woman asked a few more questions and finally the phone conversation was over. With that out of the way, she opened up a small black book found a number and punched it in with a smile.

“Oak Hills, this is Charles.”

“Charles, it’s Kaz. How the hell are you?” she said, picturing the large black man.

“I’ve been waiting to hear from you. Are you ready yet?” He asked the question almost wistfully.

“Almost Charles. I’m gonna try to qualify for the Open at the sectional in Austin on May 18th. I need a caddy…”

“I’m there.” He answered simply.

“Uh, I’ll still be an amateur, Charles…If I qualify, you might do better with someone who’d be in the money, so this doesn’t mean you’d have to work the Open for me.” She waited.

“If you’re in the Open, I’m on your bag, for as long as you want me there. Damn Kaz, when you turn pro, I’ll be there too.”

“Someday, Charles.” She needed that. “It’s in Austin, at Circle Country Club…Fly or drive?”

“Drive.” He answered.

“I’ll fly in, I’m not in Dallas anymore.” Laura told him.

“No shit, I heard. Tell me when you see me.”

“I’ll be in touch,” she told him and hung up. So, she was committed now, she looked down at the confirmation letter from the USGA. Three years ago she had an automatic invitation to the Open, then things went to hell in a handbasket. Not this time, Laura thought, this move to Burkett is just an inconvenience. It’ll make it interesting, but it won’t make a difference.

She hated giving up her membership in Dallas, but she just couldn’t afford two clubs. The initiation fee for Northridge was going to be pricey too. Laura hated the bullshit country club scene anyway, understanding that it was means to an end. If you wanted to play competitive golf, you just put up with it

Three years, Charles. Then I can support myself on Tour. I can kiss news goodbye and the crap that comes with it. She looked out the window that covered most of one wall in her office and out into the newsroom. Never say yes when you want to scream no, especially if you’re making a promise. She turned to her desk and sighed. There were purchase orders to sign and schedules to fix, all before the afternoon meeting.

*******

It had been a pretty slow news day, Chris thought as she ordered a beer from the bar and turned to look at the room. She spotted a table with a couple of the photogs and gave a little wave. The bartender gave her the bottle of Corona and she reached for another slice of lime and shoved it into the bottle. Walking to the table, she noticed that Rendally had joined them. “You’re a married man, shouldn’t you be at home?” she asked.

“Just one drink and I’m gone.” He said waving toward a waitress.

“So, what’s the latest gossip?” Chris asked him, propping her chin on her hand.

“Well, day one of the Kasdan regime went smoothly enough…she didn’t punch anyone.” The waitress brought his beer and he took a sip. “There was a bit of an altercation with Lisa Tyler this morning in her office. Don’t know what that was about.”

“Nah, that was just for show. They’ve known each other for a while. Lisa was telling me about it this afternoon. Any other good stuff?”

“No, except that Randy is leaving to go to Cleveland.” He said, referring to one of the photographers.
Chris made a face. “Ugh, Cleveland.”

“C’mon, it’s a nice move for him into a bigger market. You could move too, bigger than Cleveland if you wanted.”

The blonde reporter shook her head. “No, I like the south, I like the weather. Besides, I’ll probably renew my contract anyway. You don’t get the chance to work with someone like Laura Kasdan in a market this size very often. I’m telling you, Rendally, this could be really good for us.”

Jason, one of the photographers, spoke up, “I’m with you Chris. She could move us into bigger and better things. When she goes, and she will, she might take some of us with her. I want a network job, man. I’m not slaving away at an affiliate for the rest of my life.”

“Oh yeah, she’s your ticket to the network all right. Didja know her old man was David Kasdan, the reporter who was killed in Bosnia a few years ago? She could probably be a producer at any of the networks just like that,” He snapped his fingers. “So why isn’t she?”

Chris shrugged, “Who knows? Not everyone wants to work for a network. I don’t.” She thought for a minute and remembered seeing the footage of David Kasdan’s death played over and over again. Of course there was a disclaimer, telling parents not to let their children see the gruesome scene, and some photographer won an award for outstanding coverage. She felt a wave of sympathy for the News Director and shook her head. “That’s gotta be tough, watching your Dad die like that.”

“Yeah, well, it certainly explains a lot.” Rendally finished his beer. “I’m outta here, see you tomorrow.” He threw a dollar on the table for a tip and left as Jody and Keith came in laughing.

“Hey Keith,” Jason greeted the stocky man, and cut his eyes at Chris guessing that she had invited the supervisor. She just winked at the photographer and made room for them at the table. More of the newsroom staff came in and it wasn’t long before they were the loudest table in the place. Keith thawed a bit, even telling some humorous stories.

Eventually the group at the table began to thin, until it was just Chris and Keith. He looked at Chris and smiled, “Thanks for inviting me…it was fun.”

“S’okay you were fun too. You don’t have to be a supervisor all the time.”

“Are you okay to drive?”

“I only had one,” she answered. “How ’bout you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He paused, “Listen, I’m not gossiping…really, but what do you think is going on…I’m talking about corporate wise. What is she doing here?”

Ah, so that’s what this is, Chris listened closely.

“I mean, they gave the News Director job to her in Dallas when she was twenty eight…I’m twenty nine…this isn’t major market, we’re sixty one. I guess that sounds shallow,” he finished.

“Keith, I think you need to look at this from a business point of view. They couldn’t keep her in Dallas, she’s probably a shareholder, and News Directors are hard to come by. Plus she could have sued the pants off that anchor…boy, that’s a public relations nightmare.” Chris took a breath. “Look, she’s not here forever and I know it’s hard to be patient…but come on, Keith you’ll be a News Director.” She stood up. “I think you do a good job. We were talking before you came in…most of us think that this is a good opportunity to work for someone who can help our careers. Did you know her dad was David Kasdan?”

“No shit,” he said softly.

“Yeah, well, I need to go.” She shouldered her briefcase, “You’ll get where you want to go. See you tomorrow.”

She walked the block back to the station and unlocked the Volvo, tossed in the briefcase and climbed in. It wasn’t a long drive to her house, a modest patio home in a quiet subdivision. She took pride in the tiny immaculate yard with its neat flowerbeds and carefully pruned shrubs. Walking in she tossed down her keys on a small table near the door and smiled at her cat stretching in greeting. “Hello, Biggio,” she scratched him under the chin. “Were you good today?”

Humming, she went into the kitchen and poured dry cat food into the dish on the floor. Opening the fridge she took out a bottle of water, carried it to the bedroom and changed into soft cotton shorts and a T-shirt. Coming out she grabbed the remote and turned on the TV and smiled happily… Monday night baseball on Fox Sports… What could be better? Pondering the day’s events, Chris curled up on the couch with an afghan and her water and settled in for the evening. The newsroom had been busy the week before, digging up information on the enigmatic News Director. Now that they’d seen her in action, it wasn’t such a mystery as to why she’d been successful so young.

Still, as the details filtered in, the bigger mystery to the young reporter was why she was so fascinated by the older woman. It wasn’t just the professional competence, or the quiet confidence, there was a pull there, a familiarity that reached beyond a brief acquaintance.

Chris yawned and stroked the cat laying on the armrest. There were worse things than to hitch your future to a can’t miss opportunity like Laura Kasdan.

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

Laura barely made it to the club before eight. She stopped to go over some problems with the 6 o’clock ‘cast with Kate the producer, so she was late getting home, then had to change for the reception-slash-cocktail party-slash-interview. She chose a simple black sleeveless dress and tossed a dark blue silk blazer over it, twisted her hair into a knot at her neck and dusted on some make up. She grabbed some ridiculously high heels, hoping that she wouldn’t twist an ankle, and ran down the stairs to get in the Jeep.

When she pulled into the circular drive, the valet opened the door of her Jeep and stared as she stepped out, towering over him by several inches. Laura took the ticket from his hand in exchange for her keys and walked to the front door of the clubhouse.
The chandelier in the foyer cast a golden light and bright reflections on the wooden floor automatically making everything much more formal. She gave her name to an attendant at the door and was ushered into a much more intimate room where several people were gathered into little groups, sipping their drinks.

A petite brunette excused herself from one of the groups and made her way over to where Laura stood. “Hello, I’m Linda Marsh,” she introduced herself. “You must be Laura Kasdan. Can I get you something to drink?”

Laura smiled, “White wine would be fine.” She left and returned an instant later with a glass and handed it to the taller woman.
Laura tasted it appreciatively. “This is nice.” The smaller woman tittered something meaningless and then began the introductions. My social skills on display…Too bad I don’t have any, she thought.

She made the rounds, showing a little charm and finally Linda left her with the last group. She named them the Banker, the Lawyer, and the Pretty Boy.

“So, Miz Kasdan, what do you do for a living?” This from the Banker.

“I’m the News Director at Channel 8.” She replied.

The Lawyer raised an eyebrow. “We tried to get Art Dement interested in joining a few years ago, but he doesn’t play golf or tennis.” He paused, letting his eyes drift over her. “What’s your game? And is there a Mr. Kasdan?””

“Oh I play golf.” Laura gave him a half smile, meeting his eyes and narrowing hers.

“I know you…” The Pretty Boy said “Laura Kasdan the U.S. Amateur Champion…’95, ’96, right?”

He shook her hand enthusiastically, “Peter Davis, Club Pro. Your mom was Amateur Champ too…Oh this is cool, are you joining?”

“Trying to,” She gave him a warmer smile ignoring the Banker and the Lawyer.

“Well, come on, have you met the club president?” He pulled her away from the two dour men.

“The large gentleman over there? Yeah, we met.” Laura had gotten the impression that he wasn’t interested in a single woman trying to join his exclusive club.

“Let’s reintroduce you, this time let’s include your credentials.” Peter smiled at her. “This’ll be fun.”

He was right, it was. The portly gentleman practically fell over himself trying to make up for his earlier slight once Peter filled in the details. Now she was being treated like royalty, except there wasn’t a discount on the seven thousand-dollar initiation fee.
After she was assured that her membership would be accepted, Laura followed Peter on a tour of the facilities.

It was a warm night, and eventually the two ended up outside near the green on the ninth hole. Laura leaned against a low stone wall and looked down toward the tee and the lake that edged the left side. They talked about some of the courses that they played and found some common ground in their love of the game.

“You wanna play Saturday?” The pro asked.

“Sure,” Laura said, “The earlier the better…But I walk; no cart.”

“Then it’ll have to be really early. How about six forty five?”

“Can I warm up at six?”

“I’ll be here.” Peter said. “You want the same time on Sunday?”

“Yes, you might as well make it a regular thing.” Laura smiled, “It’s been a pleasure, Peter. I’ll see you Saturday.”

“Likewise, Laura.” He took her hand.

“Call me Kaz.” She said easily, disengaging his hold with the ease of long practice.

Walking to the front of the clubhouse, she gave the valet her ticket and waited for her Jeep. Peter held the door open for her and she got in gracefully despite the height of the vehicle. As she drove off she reached up, pulled the pins out and shook her hair free, running her hand through the dark length. It’s over, she thought. I have a place to play, and a tee time for Saturday, there’s a hot tub and a masseuse on staff. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it.

She looked at the clock on the metal dashboard of the Jeep, nine forty…She could be in bed by ten. Not too bad for a first day. Laura laughed softly and turned up the radio feeling really good for the first time since she hit that idiot Roger. She rolled down the window, letting the wind blow her hair free and started to sing.

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

“Yeah, that’ll be fine.” The engineer handed Laura the headset connected to a jack on the wall behind the audio board. She adjusted the size and put it on. “Test…can you hear me?”

“It’s working.” Lisa said from her seat at the switcher as she removed her headset. “Your producers are not going to be thrilled about this and neither will the rest of the crew.”

The dark haired woman lifted an eyebrow, “Whatever. This way, I’m in the loop, and you won’t be such a potty mouth either.”
Lisa was the only person she knew who could say the word ‘shit ‘ with six syllables.

“It’d take more than you listening in to clean up my language. Besides, you’re one to talk…TV people are a foul mouthed lot.”

It was Thursday and with an exception of a few incidents, the week was going pretty smoothly. Laura was sure that the honeymoon was about over. She was going to have to sit down with their main male anchor and have a little chat this afternoon and knew that it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

“Thanks Richard,” She told the engineer who had rigged the setup.

“Oh, this was easy. Now I’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with Live 2. Any word on when we can look for those new trucks?”
An exasperated sigh, “As I was told, so shall I tell you…We’re on Corporate’s time table now.”

“Yeah, great,” he said as he left the booth. Laura hung up the headset and walked over to where Lisa was working on graphics for the newscast. The technical director punched up effects on the board with speed and precision, swinging from the effects generator, or ADO, then back to the character generator, to type up font.

All the graphics, font, and over the shoulder boxes had to be built before the newscast. In addition to having to direct the talent as to what camera to look into, the director had to match graphics and font to the stories, direct the camera operators, listen to what the producer was adding and subtracting from the newscast, and roll tape. They used five tape machines for a newscast, and one member of the crew had the sole responsibility of rotating the tapes in and out of the machines and keeping the director informed of what tape was where.

Every newscast was different and had it’s own set of problems. But when it was over, it was over. There was no going back to fix things that went wrong. It took a quick-thinking problem solver with a short memory of past mistakes to direct news live, and Lisa excelled at it.

“So you left Houston for this guy…” Laura prodded, sitting at the producer’s station.

“No, I’d already decided I didn’t want to stay there, then I met Trey. We’d been dating about six months when he was transferred.” She turned to write on her clipboard, “Then I called corporate personnel to see about a job in this market…WBFC had an opening, so here I am.” She looked into the blue eyes regarding her seriously, “This is a good fit for me…I don’t regret leaving Houston at all,” she shrugged, “Except I miss the baseball.”

“So what’s Trey like?”

“Ah…that’s a little tricky. He’s…well, he’s an Aggie.”

Laura howled with laugher. “Oh, that’s great! Miss Longhorn fanatic-all-Aggies-are-scum. I bet Thanksgiving is a real joy at your house,” she said referring to the annual UT – Texas A & M game.

“It’s worse than that…he played football for ’em. Stop laughing!” Lisa threw a wad of paper at the other woman who batted it away. “You can meet him if you come to Main Street for happy hour tomorrow night.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it.” Laura checked her watch. “Gotta go…meeting with talent. I’ll probably sit in on the six, oh, and try to work up some new swearing combinations. You know I love it when you’re inventive.”

Laura was on the phone in her office when Chris tapped on the door. “No, you can have the footage if you pay for it…We’re not in the business of helping out rival networks.” The dark haired woman waved the reporter in while she finished the conversation.
“I doubt that I will ever need a favor from you guys…No, thank you.” She slammed the phone down. “Sorry ’bout that. Go on sit down.” Laura took a packet out of her desk drawer and handed it to Chris. “This is our contract proposal. I’d like to go over it, you can have your lawyer check it out, then if you want to negotiate any changes, Art and I will get with you and hammer them out. You can bring your lawyer to that meeting if you so desire.”

Chris opened up the packet and started reading. For the most part it read like the one she had signed previously, with a few changes. Her eyes widened as she looked up. “Six o’clock?”

Laura smiled slightly. Here’s where we find out about your ego, kid. “We feel like Tracy is not as strong with Tom as you could be on the Six. Tracy also has two children and has asked to work an earlier shift. She would be moved to Noon and you would be teamed with Tom. Ray and Michelle would still do the Five and Ten.”

“But what about reporting?”

“You’d come in an hour later, and work your assignment same as always. The only difference is that you probably couldn’t do as much live reporting, since it would be tough to get you back in time for the newscast if, say, you were live on the Five.” Laura studied Chris, waiting.

The reporter flipped to the back of the contract where compensation was discussed, and swallowed at the number she read there.

“That’s a thirty percent increase with a guarantee of a ten percent increase every year for the remaining two years of the contact.” Laura said matter of factly.

“Three years? Art doesn’t do anything longer than two years.” She continued reading, looking for one item in particular. Not finding it, Chris flipped through the contract again. “There’s not an out if I get an offer from a top ten market?”

“No, there’s not.”

“Why?”

“We want you for three years.” Laura chose her words carefully. “You could be the franchise anchor in this market and if that’s the case, you’ll be compensated for it. But we want all of your attention for three years…no shopping around, no rumors about you leaving, and no News Director from a big market looking to take you away.” Like I would have if I’d know you were here.
Chris looked doubtful, which to Laura, was a good thing. Anchors were funny; they usually had huge egos wrapped in the thinnest of shells. How something so enormous could bruise so easily was a mystery to her. They exposed themselves to a million viewers and risked possible humiliation with every broadcast, yet sometimes they acted with the reason of a three-year-old. The things that made them good on the air were the same qualities that made them hell to work with.

“Okay, so what’s this?” Chris pointed to one paragraph in the contract. “This wasn’t here on the last one I signed.”

“That’s new. William-Simon is including a full disclosure clause in all their talent contracts from now on.” This was something that the lawyers were screaming about, and it probably wouldn’t hold up in court, but it hadn’t been tested yet. Laura went on,
“Basically it says that if you do something…if you indulge in any kind of behavior which might damage the credibility of the station, you’d better tell your supervisor before it becomes a problem. You had a morals clause in your last contract, right?” Chris nodded. “It’s kind of the same thing.”

“This won’t hold up in court.” The reporter said, earning a half smile from Laura. It’s not like we’re dealing with idiots here, Laura thought; they look at issues like this everyday.

“All right, Laura…”

“Kaz.”

Chris ignored her. “…Tell me why, besides thirty percent and the Six O’clock, I should stick around here for three years, when you obviously think I’m good enough to look elsewhere.”
Ah, there it was. Laura gave a lopsided grin, “Oh, you’re good Chris, but I can make you better.”

The smile caught Chris off guard, and so did the comment. It’s a good thing she doesn’t do that very often, the younger woman thought, it’s blinding. Chris swallowed and tried to compose herself by flipping to the back of the contract. She looked up once more and took a pen out of the holder on Laura’s desk. She signed her name quickly to the bottom of the page, dated it, and slid it across the desk to the dark haired woman.

“Sure you don’t want a lawyer to see that?” Laura asked, a little surprised at the reporter’s lack of caution.

“Nah, my sister’s a lawyer and she can break anything on paper, so I’m not worried.”

“Chris, you will be giving up a significant amount of privacy. The Six is a lot more high profile than Noon. You’ll be more of a celebrity than you are now, and small town celebrity has all kinds of problems attached,” Laura said seriously, “Maybe you should think about this.”

“No,” The reporter shook her head, “This is the road I’m on, I’ll stick to it.”

“Then I guess congratulations are in order. The ratings book starts on April 28th, you’ll start doing the Six on April 26. I’ll make the announcement on Monday. If you could keep this to yourself till then, I’d appreciate it.” Laura offered her hand to Chris and the younger woman took it, letting out a breath.

“I would’ve signed it anyway, even without the promotion and the raise.”

“Now you tell me.” Laura pointed to the newsroom, “Story. Go work on it.” Before Chris could leave, Keith knocked once and opened the door.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got a train derailment outside of town…the live truck’s on it’s way but we need a reporter on the scene. Jason can take Chris over.”

“No. Let Jason finish editing the package he’s working on, I’ll get her over there. Gimme an extra camera and I’ll shoot.” She said striding out of the office with Chris and Keith in her wake. “Chris, get the directions from Janie…Keith, help me load up.”

Laura snagged the keys to the four-wheel drive news unit, and helped Keith stow the camera in the back, adding batteries and tape. When Chris came out and got in on the passenger side Laura cranked it up and they headed out of the parking lot.

She followed Chris’ directions until the traffic backed up behind a roadblock. Guessing that this was close to the accident, Laura pulled around and drove on the shoulder until she reached the sawhorses and saw the sheriff’s deputy motion for her to stop.

“Your other truck is about a quarter of a mile down this road,” He said gesturing at the turn, “Sheriff say’s y’all can go in, but be careful.”

“Is there a Hazardous Materials crew on the way?” Chris asked leaning over.

“Miz Hanson,” the deputy touched his hat, “Tanker’s were empty, so no Haz Mats. It’s just a hell of a mess.”

The tracks ran parallel to the road and after a moment she could see the live truck and the tumbled tanker cars. Pulling up behind a fire truck she cut the engine, and they both jumped out. Laura got the camera and followed the reporter through the maze of vehicles parked on the road until they reached Jody who was standing beside Live 1, a scant fifty yards from the wreckage.

“Are you feeding this?” Laura pointed at the camera.

“Yeah, Keith said he was rolling tape at the station, just in case we want to do a cut in, they’ll have some B roll.”

Laura nodded. “Chris, you wanna…” she stopped looking at a slight shimmer above the derailed cars. It’s not that hot. She twisted to look down the road, hoping to see heat rising from the asphalt. There wasn’t any.

Chris stopped at the look on the News Director’s face. “What?”

“Fumes…let’s go, now!” Laura grabbed the reporter’s arm and pulled, “Jody! Leave it! Come on!” the photographer ran to catch up, reaching to grab the camera that Laura was still carrying. They had almost made it to the other side of the road when the world exploded at their backs.

Laura was thrown forward against Chris, and wrapping her arms around the reporter she twisted, taking the full force of their fall on her right side. Jody was blown off his feet; his photographer’s instincts making him roll to protect the camera.

Chris saw the ground rushing up to meet her, but the impact wasn’t as forceful as it should have been, and she vaguely registered the protective shield provided by the taller woman. The reporter lay there, blinking in shock and wondering why she didn’t feel frightened.

For a moment none of them moved, ears ringing from the blast, then survival instincts kicked in. Laura got them both up and nearly tossed them to the relative safety of the deep muddy ditch on the other side of the road. “Is everyone all right?” she panted, falling down next to Chris. The pain in her back was excruciating and she clenched her jaw.

“Sonofabitch, the live truck!” Jody swore looking back.

Laura rolled her head to look back. Sure enough, Live 1 was a goner. She gave a weak laugh, “Guess we’ll be getting that new truck sooner than corporate thought.”

“It’s not my fault!” Chris protested, struggling to get a look, then collapsing back next to Laura. “Oh shit, it’s bad.”

“We need to get out of here. C’mon, along the ditch, stay low. Jody, is that camera working?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Just keep it rolling. We’ll try to get back to the Blazer.” Laura helped Chris up, and still crouching they made their way along the ditch. Jody stood long enough to get some footage of the burning wreckage and then followed. When Laura thought that they had gone far enough the three of them emerged from the ditch into total chaos. “Keep shooting!” She told the cameraman as firemen and police officers swarmed over the scene.

Chris spotted the Blazer and they started towards it, but before they got there, a sheriff’s deputy intercepted them. “You can’t be here!” he yelled over the din.

“That’s my live truck your empty tankers just blew to hell! I’m here until we find out what happened.” Laura said, trapping him with angry eyes. “You guys said it was safe.” With that she brushed past him to get to the blazer with Chris following behind. Opening the door she grabbed the cell phone and hit the automatic dial for the station. Keith answered immediately.

“Tell me you were rolling on that, because getting the tape out of the camera is out of the question.” Laura didn’t bother to identify herself.

“Jesus Christ are you okay? Yeah, we got it all, what the hell happened?”

Chris just stood there halfway listening to the one sided conversation. She guessed she should find Jody and do some sort of standup, but she just couldn’t find the will. It’s just shock, the reasonable part of her brain told herself, it’s perfectly normal, she looked back at Laura with wide green eyes.

“Gotta go Keith, I’m leaving this line open…Oh shit!” and Laura barely caught Chris as she slid into a dead faint.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” She said easing the reporter down and propping her up on the tire. She left Chris to rummage through the front seat of the Blazer coming up with a first aid kit, a rag, and a bottle of water. Laura quickly soaked the rag with water, sat down next to the reporter and pulled Chris into her lap. Gently she placed the cloth on her forehead, wishing for some help. Oh this is just great…The live truck is gone, and the franchise anchor you just signed to a multi year contract is passed out cold. Don’t say it! It can always get worse.

Slowly Chris came to, swallowing and blinking, feeling the heat of the pavement against the back of her legs. Laura’s concerned face shifted into focus and she looked up at her boss, mumbling the first thing that came to mind.

“You have the most amazing eyes.”

One eyebrow went up and Laura gave a half smile. “I get that a lot,” she said dryly, then more gently, “What happened?”

Chris rubbed the towel on her forehead. “Dunno, guess I just checked out to evaluate the situation.” She looked around at the running figures, too occupied to pay any attention to the two of them. “Where’s Jody?”

As if on cue, the short photographer appeared, carrying the camera. He took in the sight of the two of them against the tire without comment, and crouched down. “It’s almost out…the fire I mean. What do you want to do now?”

“Oh shit,” Laura struggled to her feet and stumbled around the Blazer’s open door to grab the cell phone. “Keith…”

“Kaz! What the hell is going on!”

“Sorry, listen, is someone else on their way out here?”

“Yeah, Bobby and Terence left here right after it blew. Are you coming in?”

“As soon as we can…I think Chris and Jody are in shock…” she lifted the back of her jacket to press a hand to her left side and stopped when she felt the sticky goo, swallowing she looked down to see her hand covered with blood.

Oh great, she thought, wiping her hand on the corner of her dark jacket out of the sight of Chris and Jody. And it just keeps getting better, was the added thought as she caught sight of the Channel 4 live truck pulling in.

“Keith, Channel 4 is here…cut into programming now…Chris’ll do it on this phone. It’s the best we can do.”

“Okay, I’m transferring you to the control room.”

Laura pulled the phone over to where Chris and Jody were sitting while she waited for the connection. “Chris are you good to do a phoner on what happened? We’re gonna do a cut in before they can,” she pointed at the other stations truck.

“Those sons of bitches! They are not getting MY story,” Chris practically snarled.

“Good girl,” said Laura, handing her the phone. “Jody, did you shoot the live truck burning?”

“Yeah, I figured we’d need it for the insurance anyway,” he shrugged. “Not much left but it’s about out now.”

“Are you okay to shoot Chris’ standup? ‘Cause we need one before we can get out of here.” She gave him an encouraging smile.

“Sure, what about Chris?”

“I’ll hold her up if I have to.”

“I heard that,” the blond reporter said. “We’re about ready for the phoner. Jody, wanna grab the little TV out of the truck? You can watch…be careful with the sound.”

Jody dug the TV out of the back, and set it down away from the reporter to avoid any audio feedback. Clicking it on he adjusted the rabbit ears until he got a clear picture. It was an inexpensive but efficient way to keep track of what was on the air when the reporters didn’t have the live truck.

Laura turned back to Chris who was sitting against the tire with her legs stretched out, her suit ruined, knees bloodied, and hose shredded. But she had a notebook out, scribbling. Laura crouched down next to the reporter, clenching her jaw against the pain in her back. “Just be as clear as you can and tell what happened…do the eyewitness thing, and let the pictures carry it. Terence and Bobby will be here in a bit… they can dig out the details, okay?”

Chris smiled at the dark haired woman. “You said you could make me better.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t trying to get you blown up.” Laura got to her feet, proud that she only staggered a little, and went to the back of the truck, just as the Special Report graphic came on.

“This is Tom Olson with an Action News 8 Special Report…A train has derailed on Highway 28 just south of Burkett Falls. Originally it was thought that the tankers were empty and posed no threat, but we have some rather remarkable video to show you.”

Laura and Jody leaned in to look. Except for the tumbled tankers, it was peaceful. The image was recent enough that Laura could remember the details sharply. Without warning, there was a puff of smoke and then a huge fireball erupted right into the camera, blowing the picture into electronic snow.

They ran it again. Laura put her hands in her pockets so she could control their shaking and looked over at Jody. The photographer was breathing in and out rapidly on the verge of hyperventilating. Tom Olson was giving the details, and then Chris was answering questions over the phone.

We were so lucky! How on God’s green earth did we survive that?

Without a word Jody turned and went to the other side of the Blazer. Laura glanced back at Chris to check how she was, then followed the cameraman.

Jody was on his knees, his body convulsing with dry heaves. There wasn’t anything she could do for him, so she waited until his stomach quit rebelling at what his mind said almost happened.

“Sorry.” He mumbled. “Guess we were pretty lucky.”

“Yeah,” Laura answered, “How’s your wrist?”

“How did you…” he winced as she lifted his left arm from the elbow.

“Call it a hunch.” She swore softly. “Christ Jody, it’s probably broken. How were you shooting with that?”

“Just used it for focusing.” He saw her eyes look past him and he turned around. Terence and Bobby were making their way through the clutter toward them.

“Not much longer…c’mon.” She helped Jody stand, and get into the back seat of the Blazer. “We’re gonna get you to the emergency room.” She told him, as the new reporter and his cameraman reached her side. “Glad you could make it.”

Laura turned to Terence, “Get Chris’ notes, She should be about done with the phoner…Bobby help me get this packed up.”

Terence protested, “Get the EMS guys over here…” and stopped abruptly when the blue eyes of the News Director swung over to burn into his.

“We’re already part of this story…In a few hours every news organization in the country is going to have video of our live truck burning to the ground. I will not give them…” she jerked her head in the direction of the Channel 4 truck, “…The satisfaction of rolling tape on some EMS guy taking care of one of us.” She put the camera in the case and shut the tailgate. “Bobby, get set up to shoot a standup with Chris. Terence, pretend you’re a reporter and start asking some questions.”

Laura walked to where Chris was sitting and the reporter handed back the cell phone. “I guess it’s standup time.”

“Yeah, Bobby’s gonna shoot it. Let me get you up.”

“Oh great, it’s one of the Kathys.” It was a running joke that Channel 4 had not one, but three reporters named Kathy. This one was a petite brunette with tendencies toward cattiness, and she came over just as Laura pulled Chris to her feet.

“Well, Chrissy, busy day for you, hmm?” Kathy looked at Laura, “New photog? Bit of an amazon isn’t she?”

“No, new boss.” Chris answered, “Laura Kasdan…Kathy Warner.”

The petite reporter turned her 100 watt capped tooth smile on the News Director, hoping to cover her mistake. “So, you’re the great Laura Kasdan…It is a pleasure to meet you. I sent a tape to you in Dallas.”

“I don’t remember, I get so many. You’ll have to excuse us…we have a story.” She said leading Chris away, ignoring the stare that followed them.

Chris tried to concentrate on what she was going to say instead of how cool it was to get a jab in at Kathy, but she was having difficulty focusing on any one thought. Snickering, she let her boss pull her forward. One thing at a time…you might try to walk without staggering first, she told herself.

“Look, lean on me. I’ll walk you over so Bobby can get our dearly departed live truck in his shot.”

“Whatever you say.” Looking at the News Director, the reporter tried to control the energy moving through her. Rationally she could explain it as just an adrenaline rush in a stressful situation, but there was also the charge she was feeling from being with Laura in the middle of a situation that a storyteller lives for.

Organize, Chris told herself. Break it down into three separate thoughts, then elaborate on each one. Train derails…Supposed to be empty…Boom. She stumbled a bit, but Laura was there, helping her along. Tell the story, keep it simple. The reporter ran her free hand through her hair and started speaking softly, backing up and going forward, choosing, shifting, and discarding words as she tried to make the last half hour into a coherent report.

Laura just listened as she offered steady support, stopping when they got to the place where Bobby had set up the camera, close enough to see the charred remains of the live truck. Whatever else, they had some kick ass video.

“Can you do this?” Laura looked into green eyes.

“In my sleep.” The reporter told her. Laura went to stand behind the camera with a slight smile. It had been rough on the reporter, but she seemed to be holding up pretty well. Bobby handed Chris the stick Mic, went back to roll the tape and the standup was underway.

They did four takes, each saying basically the same thing, with just a few subtle differences. Chris also cut a promo, which could run a few times before the news to help drive viewers to the coverage of the derailment. After all, they had an exclusive, and a crispy live truck should be worth something.

Laura took the tape from the photographer and labeled it. “Bobby, we’ll get this to the station, you and Terence get onto Captain Wallace and find out why they thought there wasn’t any danger of the tank cars blowing. We’re gone…Jody’s got to get to a hospital.”

“What’s wrong with Jody?” Chris asked.

“I think his wrist is broken. Let’s go.” Chris was moving a little better and didn’t need help walking. “Probably need to get you checked out too.”

“No, I’m fine, just a little shaky.” She looked at her watch, “God, it’s only 2:30…seems like we’ve been here for hours.”

“Well, it was all pretty bang-bang…literally. Get in.” Laura opened the blazer door for Chris. “What’s the closest hospital?”

“That’d be St. Joseph’s…You know, the guys who sponsor our Tower Cam.”

“Right. Always good to give a client some business. Hang on.” Sitting and holding the steering wheel was definitely better than walking. The pain in Laura’s back was becoming unbearable. Twisting to look before reversing the Blazer, she ground her teeth together. Not much longer.

“Chris, call Keith and tell him to meet us at St. Joe’s emergency room…better tell him to let Phyllis know we’re gonna have some workman’s comp claims.” Laura said, referring to the business manager. “Jody, you doing all right back there?”

“Just peachy.” He mumbled.

“Keith, it’s Chris. We’re on our way to the emergency room at St Joseph’s…yeah, send someone to pick up the tapes. Tell Phyllis we’re going so she can get the workman’s comp claims in.”

“Almost there.” Laura said as they pulled to a stop close to the front. She pushed open the door and practically fell out of the vehicle groaning. It was agony to move now. Using a hand to brace against the truck, she straightened.

“What is that?” Chris asked, pointing at the driver’s seat, green eyes wide.

“That would be blood.” Laura said between clenched teeth. “A lot of it. So it would be real good if we could get inside before I pass out.”

“Shit! Why didn’t you say something? Jody, go on in.” Chris came around to Laura’s side and took hold of her arm, lifting the back of her dark blue jacket. Some of the blood had dried making the cloth stiff and the blonde woman inhaled sharply when she saw the gaping wound on the lower part of her boss’s back. “Oh for Christ’s sake! Were you and Jody trying to out-tough each other? I’ve never seen anything so stupid…”

“Your concern is touching,” came the dry response. “Could we just get inside? The sooner I get some really strong pain killers, the better.”

“Lean on me, it’s okay…We could have left right after it happened, we didn’t have to stay and shoot.”

“Yes we did,” Laura swallowed in pain as the automatic doors swished open to admit them “It was our story, and when you establish ownership of the story, you never turn it loose.”

One of the benefits of being a local news celebrity was that sometimes you got really good service. Laura watched with some amusement as Chris worked the staff, oozing charm to get her co-workers taken care of as soon as possible. Before she knew it, Laura was in a curtained cubicle laying face down on a bed waiting for a doctor to examine her. She heard the door open, and Chris was pulling up a chair, her eyes level with Laura’s as she settled in to wait with her boss.

“Hey, the doctor’s going to be here in just a minute.”

“The nurse just left. I asked for morphine but she just laughed. How’s Jody?”

“They’re putting a cast on his wrist, I guess he’s going to be edit boy for a while, since he can’t really shoot.” The reporter crossed her arms, “So why didn’t one of you say something? I mean…you were hurt and Jody should have been screaming.”

Laura gave a wry half smile and plucked at the sheet covering the mattress. “I don’t get to go out on stories much anymore. You do.” She shifted a little wincing at the pain. “You should know by now that there’s an incredible adrenaline kick. That’s all it was.”

“Oh, I get my fair share of adrenaline.”

“Given what usually happens to you on a story, I bet you do.”

Just then the nurse bustled in followed by a doctor in scrubs. “So here’s the rest of the Channel 8 wrecking crew. Hi, I’m Dr. Reeves,” He smiled down at Chris, “It’s nice to meet you Miss Hanson, I watch you every day at noon.” Laura rolled her eyes. The talent always got the attention.

“I’m really hurting here, Doc. You and Chris can talk later.”

He laughed, lifting the cloth that covered her wound and turning to the nurse for the gloves she held out. “You’ve got a pretty good sized hole here, Miz Kasdan…let’s get it cleaned out, then we’ll stitch you up.” He picked up a needle and a vial. “Now this is probably going to burn a bit going in…”

“You’re a liar, it burns A LOT.” Laura hissed grabbing hold of the edge of the bed.

“We’ll wait a minute for that area to deaden.” The doctor dropped the needle into the sharp object container. “Is all this going to be on the news tonight?”

“Boy, I hope so. Otherwise we wasted a perfectly good afternoon.” Chris sat down in front of Laura again. “Sorry, I don’t have a bullet for you to bite on, but you can squeeze my hand if you promise not to break any bones.”

The doctor was cleaning the injury now and Chris could see Laura’s eyes darken with the pain. Without waiting for permission she took the one of the older woman’s hands in her own, looking down at strong long fingers. “Hey, what’s this?”

“What.”

“Your right hand is tanned and the left is really white.”

“Oh. Golf glove.”

“Golf? That’s right, you won some tournament once. I read it in your bio. I thought maybe softball or something.”

“Used to play softball, don’t have much time anymore.” Laura mumbled squeezing Chris’ hand a bit. They were interrupted by the sound of metal hitting a tray.

“You picked up a piece of shrapnel here and you worked it in pretty good. Sorry it took so long to get it out. This is about clean, now we’re going to stitch it up. You okay there?” The doctor asked.

Laura could feel herself begin to panic. Shrapnel? “Wha…What kind of damage to my back?”

“Well, I don’t think there was any serious damage but you’re going to be sore for a while.”

“For how long?”

“Probably for a week or so.” The doctor started stitching.

“Can I play golf this weekend?”

“That’s not a good idea.” He could almost hear teeth grinding and he stopped for a moment. “Hey it’s just a game.”

Doctors, she thought with venom. “Let me rephrase the question…If I play golf this weekend, will I permanently injure myself?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Thank you.”

“It could slow your recovery.”

“I’m a quick healer.” Laura looked up at Chris. “You okay?” she asked, suddenly very tired.

“Sure.”

“Good, ’cause you’re gonna have to do a debrief at five.”

Chris gave a short laugh. “You never stop thinking about it do you? There’s a life outside of news, you know.”

“I know, and I’d get to it if the news didn’t keep interrupting.” She put her head down on the mattress, feeling the rough sheet on her forehead, and trying not to think about her back.

“You mentioned softball…do you still play?” Chris asked, trying to distract her, “Because we have a media league here, you know, all the TV stations, newspaper, and radio guys get together to play on Sundays. It’s co-ed and a lot of fun…you ought to come out and at least cheer us on.”

“Do you play?”

“Yep, second base.” Green eyes crinkled merrily, “Ah, you don’t believe me. Let me tell you, I hold my own.”

“Let me guess,” Laura said dryly, “You wear eye black.”

“Sure. They think I’m real cute right up ’til the time I turn two.” Chris turned her head as the door opened and Keith walked in followed by Jody, his arm in a cast.

“I’ve got the tape, what’s next?” Keith asked, blinking at the amount of smooth feminine skin exposed on the News Director’s back. Laura ignored the flush creeping up the young man’s face.

“Get someone else out to the scene…we need to own this. Get Chris back to the station and get…better yet, Chris are you okay to go back there?”

“Sure.”

“Then get a change of clothes and do the debrief from there. Don’t try to spare the station any embarrassment, make sure you show the live truck blowing to hell.” She paused for a moment and looked back at the doctor. “Are you about finished?”

“Just about.”

“Good. Keith, when you get back to the station, tell the promotion manager…what’s her name? Elly? To get something on the air ASAP that says we pull out all the stops for action news…blah, blah, blah, whatever those promo guys do to make us look good.”

“All done.” The doctor said, stripping off the gloves. “I’ll give you a prescription for a mild painkiller…Just take it easy, okay? Come back in about a week and I’ll take the stitches out.” He smiled down at Chris, “Nice meeting you Miz Hanson.”

The nurse twitched the tail of Laura’s shirt down over the bandaged area, and the patient pushed up and sat on the edge of the gurney, straightening the rest of her clothes. “Anything else you can think of?” She asked Keith.

“We might want to load some of the video up on our web site. I know it’s a little sensationalistic…”

“But an exclusive is an exclusive.” She smiled, “Good thinking. I’ll run Chris by her place for a change of clothes. Did Richard figure out what was wrong with Live 2?”

“He’s got it up, but he’s not sure how long it will last.” Keith opened the door and the four of them started down the hall.

Chris listened as Laura and Keith went over the strategy for the Five and Six newscasts. They’re a perfect team, she thought. Both know exactly what they want to accomplish, and Laura was right, she will make all of us better. Not to mention the fact that she was pretty good in an emergency. “How does it feel?” She asked Jody.

“I guess it’s the edit booth for a while, if I can’t shoot.” The photographer said resignedly. “Just when things were starting to get interesting.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” She chuckled. “At least you got some good stuff for your resume tape.”

“Shh, I don’t want her to know I’m looking.”

“She’s not an idiot, Jody. She knows everybody’s looking…except me.”

“You signed? Aww Chris, we’re supposed to get out of here together.”

Chris couldn’t hold back the grin. It felt good to tell someone. The excitement of the afternoon had taken the edge off her feeling of triumph over the new contract and the new position. “Yeah, I signed…it’s a sweet deal.”

“C’mon, you two.” Laura stood in the doorway. “Jody, are you sure you’re alright? Keith can take you home…”

“No way. I’m gonna finish this. I’ll edit.”

Laura nodded. “Good. I’ll meet you back at the station. Go ahead and get Live 2 out there and set up.” She and Chris got into the Blazer and followed the other station vehicle out of the parking lot.

“Where to?” Laura asked the reporter. With a minimum of chatter, Chris gave directions to her house, trying to remember what kind of shape it was in. Sometimes she wasn’t the tidiest of people, but Chris felt a sense of pride in the little house, and wanted to show it off a bit. Well at least it looks good from the outside, she thought as Laura pulled into the driveway.

“Nice place,” Laura said. “Do you rent?”

“No, it’s mine…well, mine and the bank’s.” Chris unlocked the door and stepped into the cool hallway. “It won’t take me any time to change, do you want something to drink?”

“Got any Coke?”

“Should be some in the fridge, help yourself.” Chris started for her bedroom, untucking her blouse as she went. “Kitchen’s that way.”

Opening her closet, the reporter pulled out a pair of navy Dockers and tossed them on the bed. Gonna take more than a good dry cleaner to get this suit fixed up, she thought, taking off her skirt. She rummaged in a drawer and found a polo shirt with a Channel 8 Action News logo. That’ll work, she told herself, removing the rest of her ruined outfit and trying to get dressed again as quickly as possible.

Laura opened the refrigerator looking for her favorite form of caffeine. So this is what a well- stocked fridge looks like, she thought to herself, the kid eats pretty well. The tall woman pushed aside some fruit juice to get to the red and white canned beverage. Closing the door, she looked around the little kitchen then wandered into the living room. It was just a little cluttered; an afghan was spread over the end of the couch and there were books and pieces of mail spread on the coffee table. The room was done in shades of blue and gray, with oak bookcases lining one wall.

Laura smiled wryly as she gulped at her drink, comparing the room to her tiny apartment that was furnished in college dorm room fashion, with cinderblock shelves, a battered couch and recliner. Even when she’d owned the house in Dallas, it hadn’t looked this nice.

“All changed, you ready?” Chris said coming down the hall.

“Yeah, that’ll work.” Laura said, appraising the younger woman’s attire.

“Find the Coke okay?”

“Uh huh, thanks.”

Chris locked the door behind them, thinking that getting the dark woman to open up was like pulling teeth. Getting in the Blazer she tried one more time, “I haven’t thanked you yet.”

“For what?” Laura started the engine.

“For keeping me…you know…You protected me and you didn’t…”

“The explosion pushed me into you, that’s all.” A flush tinted the dark woman’s skin.

Chris remembered strong arms wrapped around her and a six-foot cushion so she wouldn’t slam into the ground. Earnest green eyes looked into blue, and Laura looked away first, uncomfortable.

She’s shy, Chris thought in wonder, realizing that this woman wasn’t the queen bitch they’d all been told about, she pushed everyone because she pushed herself. “Yeah, whatever you say.” Chris smiled knowingly. “Thanks.”

Laura snorted and concentrated on her driving.

**********
After the six o’clock cast the News Director ordered ten giant pizzas for the Newsroom to celebrate the great job that everyone did covering the great train and live truck explosion. The remaining live truck returned and there were high fives all around. Afterwards Laura stood in her office doorway and watched the staff bestow another hash mark on the side of Chris Hanson’s desk to denote the complete destruction of yet another station vehicle, bringing the total to eight. Grimacing, she went to answer the ringing phone, knowing that this time it was corporate, having already dealt with the General Manager.

“News 8, this is Kaz.”

“Well, well, less than a week in town and the shit’s already hit the fan.”

“Hello Don, I guess you’ve already talked to Art.”

“Kaz, I sent you to Burkett to clean things up and keep you safe, not to blow the fucking place up.”

“Sorry Don, It’s just one of those things. So, when are we gonna get those new live trucks?”

“Dammit, I’m trying to tear you a new asshole here…”

Laura held the phone away from her ear as Don continued his tirade, sorting through the papers on her desk. What did you expect? Someone has to take the blame. When his tone indicated he was winding down, she started listening again and eventually he ran out of expletives.

“Look, one of my photographers broke his wrist, I’ve got a hole in my back, and I’m missing a live truck and a betacam. The damn truck was insured and was gonna have to be replaced anyway. Art and the business manager have already screamed at me…We got some exclusive video, plus some sampling we wouldn’t normally get a month out of May sweeps which is what everyone wants. So unless you’re ready to cut me loose, Get off my fucking back!”

There was silence at the other end for a moment. “How’s the camera guy.”

Laura sighed, “He’ll be editing for a few weeks which is just as well since we’re short a camera.”

“What about you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Well, if you need anything, let me know.”

“Now that you mention it, two live trucks would be nice.”

“Could you lay off on that?” Silence for a moment. “Two weeks. I signed off on it this afternoon.”

“Before or after?” Laura winced a little as she put a hand on her back.

“After. You forced our hand again. It won’t always work, Kaz.” The phone clicked as he hung up.

“I know.” She said to herself, understanding that she had just run out of second chances.

At least Jody and Chris were all right, she thought, turning off the computer and closing the door behind her. Tomorrow was Friday and the first week of her new life was almost over. Great, just one hundred and fifty five more to go.

Chris was determined to wait for her boss to leave to make sure that the older woman was all right, so she waited at the bottom of the stairs enjoying the late spring breeze and the hum of insects. The summer heat would be intolerable in a few months, so she was storing up memories of pleasant weather while she could.

The door opened at the top of the stairs and impatient feet clumped down the steps to where the blond reporter was sitting. Without looking up, she knew who it was, and a briefcase and jacket were laid down on the step next to her.

Laura sat down next to Chris, a little surprised at herself for wanting the company. I’m just tired that’s all, she made the excuse easily. “Big day for you.” She said to the younger woman, stretching her long legs out in front and crossing them at the ankles.

“Hmm, yeah. Long day. Good stuff though. How’s your back?”

“I’ll live. I looked for Jody, guess he went home.”

“His wife picked him up a little while ago.”

“What about you?”

Chris shrugged, “I’m just winding down a bit, and thinking about how lucky I am.”

Laura looked down, “I’m sorry, if I hadn’t asked you to keep quiet about your contract for a bit, you’d be out celebrating.”

“Probably. But I understand why…Michelle’s gonna be pissed that she’s not getting the Five, Six, and Ten.”

Laura chuckled, “I’m not discussing other the talent’s temperament with you. That’d give you an unfair advantage.”

“Yeah, but you know I’m right.” Chris leaned back laughing. “Um, we all usually meet on Friday nights after the Six at a bar down the street, why don’t you join us?”

“Sorry, I’m meeting Lisa Tyler and her boyfriend for drinks.”

“Well, I’ll probably see you there then. Lisa and Trey always do the Friday night Mainstreet thing.”

“The boss showing up at the regular watering hole doesn’t bother you?”

“Nah, it’ll be a great ice breaker.”

Laura was quiet for a minute. “Listen Chris, I’m walking a very thin line here…Lisa is an old friend and socializing with her is not a problem since she is also considered management. But hanging out with the staff would undermine my authority.”

Chris turned and narrowed her eyes at the dark haired woman. “Don’t you get tired of it?” She asked.

“Tired of what?”

“Building those walls.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“No you wouldn’t,” Chris sighed. “Look, you came in here with a rep for hard work and driving up the ratings, and if anyone had any doubts, they won’t after what happened today. Having a drink with us tomorrow night isn’t gonna blow apart your management style.”

The reporter thought for a moment that she’d gone to far. Laura Kasdan’s temper was also legendary, so she was surprised when the woman gave a short laugh. “Okay maybe I sounded a little preachy there…” Chris started.

“Just a little,” Laura replied, “But you’re right, one drink won’t hurt anything.” She stood up and gathered her briefcase and jacket, smiling down at the younger woman. “We had a good day today, those are few and far between in this business.”

“You should do that more often.”

“What?”

“Smile.” That got Chris a raised eyebrow and another half smirk.

“Whatever would become of my reputation?” Laura drawled.

Green eyes smiled back as Chris held out a hand, silently asking to be pulled to her feet. Laura obliged with a tug and a feeling that she had done this a million times before. It was something she couldn’t seem to shake even after she said goodbye to the blond reporter and left for her sterile apartment.
Thank God It’s Friday

Friday was a slow news day as is often the case after the staff is run ragged on a big story the day before. It would have been totally uneventful if the Six o’clock show hadn’t been a complete meltdown. The tip off should have come when Chris’ IFB didn’t work on the live shot, so they used the two-way radio to make contact, that caused even more confusion. Then they lost the signal in the middle of the live report, which meant that Tracy and Tom, the two anchors had to cover… always a risky move.

“I’m already two minutes short!” The producer wailed.

“Roll VTR 2, Dammit, that’s the wrong fucking tape!” Lisa punched out of the offending video with a snarl, and spun around to the audio engineer. “Tom sounds like he’s in the toilet, can you do something about it at the break, Ron? Camera one don’t move till I say you’re clear…what part of that don’t you understand?”

Laura stood against the back wall with her arms crossed listening as it all fell apart, and knowing that any intervention would just make it worse. So she took off the headset and headed back to her office where she found the General Manager waiting for her.

“I talked to Don Farmer this afternoon, he says we’ll have those Live trucks in about two weeks,” Art told her, taking a seat in the chair closest to the desk.

“Good ’cause Live 2 crapped out in the middle of the Six.”

Art shook his head; “I’m surprised it lasted this long. Well at least we’ll be ready to go for May Sweeps…I haven’t seen your plan yet.”

Laura flipped open the planner on her desk with a frown, “We’re going to break down and assign the special reports on Monday, so you’ll have the plan on Tuesday. The consultant is coming on Wednesday that’s Dave Wilson from Target Research. So, by middle of next week we should be mapped out and ready to go.” Laura rubbed her thumb along an eyebrow thoughtfully, “We’re one month out so I’d like to go ahead and announce that Chris is taking over the Six. Any problems with that?”

“Whatever, it’s your show, I hope you’re right about this.” Art stood up and walked to the door, “Yesterday was pretty…interesting. If we were a metered market, it probably would have spiked right off the scale.”

Laura gave a wry half smile, “Let’s just hope we can carry some of that momentum into May.” She caught sight of the Six o’clock crew filtering into the newsroom, and with a sigh she went out to join them for the post mortum meeting. Accurate, since the sooner they buried this newscast, the better.

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

Mainstreet Liquid Company was crowded with people rejoicing over the end of the workweek, and the contingent from Channel 8 was doing its best to out celebrate the other patrons. The music blared as Laura threaded her way through the crowds carrying drinks for Lisa and her boyfriend, the former linebacker from Texas A&M.

“Here y’go.” She said, sliding the mugs on to the table. “Next round’s on you.” Smiling, Laura crunched on the ice in her Coke. “So …” The News Director paused awkwardly, wondering what to say next.

“Jesus, Kaz. Your social skills really haven’t improved.” Lisa started to fold a bar napkin into a tiny square. “You’re supposed to start with something like…Trey, how ’bout those Aggies?”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Aggies, and to pretend otherwise would be insincere.”

Trey grinned broadly, “Pretty much what I’d expect, UT grads have no manners.”

“Oh, I can be civil…at least for Lisa’s sake.” Laura chuckled. The conversation drifted to other topics, shared acquaintances, restaurants, and since the three of them were Texans, they eventually talked about football.

“Musta been hard to leave those season tickets behind, Kaz.” Lisa was still folding things, this time it was a paper coaster.

“Who said I left ’em behind?”

“You still have Cowboy Season tickets?” This from Trey, “Guess you’ll fly back for the games, huh?”

“Probably for some of them…then I’ll sell the rest.” Laura shook her head, “I just couldn’t let ’em go…even if the coach is just adequate.”

With a straight face Trey deadpanned, “If only Jerry hadn’t fired Jimmy…”

Lisa slapped his arm. “Stop it…he’s never coming back.”

The couple exchanged the familiar responses affectionately, and Laura looked away, slightly uncomfortable with their intimacy. It’s a conversation about football, for Christ’s sake. Trey excused himself and headed for the men’s room and Lisa turned to the taller woman, “So, what do you think?”

“I think you found a keeper. Is he housebroken?”

“Very funny,” Lisa said leaning in on her elbows and watching the well-built man stop to talk to someone on his way to the back. “It’s weird how much you can care for one person.” She smiled slightly, “You need someone Kaz.”

“Don’t need, don’t want.” Laura answered, swallowing the last of her Coke. Then she caught sight of a bright blond head bobbing through the crowd and heard an infectious laugh over the music and the babble. “Life is too complicated anyway.”

Lisa followed the News Director’s gaze and heard the laugh. Interesting. She took another swig of her beer and willed the reporter to come over to the table, pleased when she saw Chris head in their direction.

“Lisa T…Where’s your hunka hunka burning love?” Chris smiled at her boss even as Laura’s brow creased in a frown. “Is this a department head thing or can anyone join in?”

“No, come on.” Lisa moved her chair over to make room for the smaller woman. “What’ll you have?” She asked spotting a waitress and waving her over.

“Another Corona, extra lime…How’s your back?” She directed the question at Laura.

“Good. Told you I was a quick healer.”

“Great, now I can stop feeling guilty.” She leaned forward conspiratorially “Stick with me and you’ll never be bored. Hey, Trey, what’s going on?” Chris greeted the man easily as he returned to the table and sat down, her green eyes crinkling with her smile.

“Just arguing football with your boss here. Saw you nearly blow yourselves up yesterday…How’d you get so close?” He looked up at the waitress. “N’other couple of Buds, please ma’am,” he ordered before turning back to the three women. “Sheriff’s guys must have really fucked up.”

Laura listened with half an ear as Chris gave an amusing account of yesterday’s ordeal, studying the blond haired woman and her mannerisms as she gestured to make a point. She’s always comfortable…no self-consciousness, no awkwardness. Laura smiled slightly as she felt a stab of envy. She had always been taller than anyone in her classes, a bit of an oddity, and it was easier to withdraw and be aloof than to get close to any of the other students, it didn’t help that she’d gone to an all-girls Catholic school. Later on in college she’d been too busy. She’d had a lot of acquaintances but no real friends. Lisa had been the exception and only because they started out as roommates.

If Laura was brutally honest with herself, she could admit that she would never have been a good reporter. You have to want to see below the surface and you must be willing to pry. The reluctance to be a reporter led to a job as a producer and then to managing editor. News Director was the next step, and she accomplished it all without ever really getting involved. You just present the facts…it’s up to someone else to judge. Just another form of self-preservation: Don’t get close to anyone or anything.

But for the first time Laura Kasdan found herself wanting to get to know someone better, wanting to get below the surface. It was more than a little disturbing. Laura had decided that she would push the feeling away for the time being and take it out later to examine it a little more closely when a shot glass full of golden liquid was placed in front of her.

“Lisa said you drank tequila…it’s two-for-one shots on Friday nights.” Chris held up the other shot glass and raised an eyebrow in silent challenge. “Here’s to change,” she toasted, “May we all get what we deserve…if we’re lucky, it’ll be what we want.” Laura picked up her glass and the four of them clinked their drinks together. With a grin Chris tossed back the liquor, squinting as it went down, then grabbing a slice of lime she bit down on the sour fruit.

Laura picked up another slice of lime smearing it across the top of her hand. The salt shaker was next. The dry mineral stuck to the dampness and she shook off the excess. Lifting it to her mouth, she licked off the salt, blue-white eyes smiling at the younger woman. Without looking away Laura swallowed the tequila easily in one gulp, feeling the familiar burn all the way down. Oblivious to Lisa and Trey looking on, she leaned forward, her voice dropping and said, “Chris, I can drink you under the table, so don’t start something you can’t finish.”

Green eyes flashed, and Chris sat up straighter at the challenge. “That sounds suspiciously like a dare.”

Lisa rolled her eyes, “Don’t Chris…” Trey waved at the waitress to get her attention, gesturing for two more shots. “You’re encouraging them! Stop it!” Lisa scolded, punching her boyfriend in the arm.

Laura felt a tingle in her gut. Tequila at work. You’re making a huge mistake. For whatever reason, she couldn’t look away from the intensity of the other woman’s gaze. Again she was struck by the color of Chris’ eyes; they were almost grass green in the light of the bar. Lord knew she had been around attractive talent before; good-looking people were a dime a dozen in the television news business…but this was different, she told herself, because Chris was different. Charisma, charm, appeal…whatever, it flowed from the small blond woman in waves. Laura was fascinated and annoyed by it, wishing for something she wasn’t quite sure of, and willing to ignore the warning bells going off in the back of her mind. It’s just a game, right?

What do you think you’re doing? Chris had her own doubts about where this was going. You have zero tolerance for alcohol and you’ve already had two beers, plus, you skipped lunch. You’re playing with fire here…never ever overindulge around your boss, remember the rules? Be very, very careful.

Twin shot glasses arrived, and over Lisa’s protests, Chris and Laura repeated the earlier ritual. Her tongue numbed by the liquor, Chris ran it across her teeth, still tasting the tequila and a little of the lime. Feeling a little artificial courage, she decided to try and dig a little information out of the News Director. “So, is it a big deal to win the U.S. Amateur golf thingy?”

Lisa choked on her beer and Laura looked over at her for a second before answering with a half smile. “I thought so at the time.”

“And you won it twice?” The reporter continued.

“Yeah.”

“So why aren’t you, like, playing golf for a living?”

“Yeah, why aren’t you playing golf for a living?” Lisa seconded the question.

“Because I already have a job.”

“That is a half-assed excuse,” Lisa interrupted. Laura raised an eyebrow, waiting for the next shot. The argument was an old one, and the News Director could almost predict what was coming next. “You have this fabulous game that you only take out on special occasions, then you pack it up and put it away. We all would have killed for your game…”

“Who would’ve killed for her game?” Chris asked.

“All of us on the golf team at UT.”

“Why?”

Lisa blew out a breath. How do you explain it to a non-golfer? She looked over at Trey, knowing that as an athlete, he understood, then back at Laura…no help there. “Because she’s good, really good, and it’s such a fucking waste!”

Uncomfortable with the attention, Laura pushed her glass to the center of the table. “Yes, well, if I need a career counselor, I know who to come to. Have a good weekend guys, I’ve got to go.” It was a nice try, she thought, her mouth twisting into a rueful half smile. It always comes back to disappointing someone, doesn’t it?

“Laura?”

Blue eyes snapped at the use of her name, and the anger that always seemed to bubble just below the surface rose up to assert itself. “It’s Kaz, not Laura, just Kaz, okay?”

“Right.” Chris bobbed her head once in understanding, and said carefully “I’m very drunk now, and since it’s your fault, could you please take me home?”

“Oh for…”Laura rolled her eyes as Lisa and Trey started to laugh, the tension neatly diffused by the reporter. “How is it my fault? Nevermind, can you walk?”

“It’s not the walking, it’s the standing up.”

“Well, come on.” With surprising gentleness Laura helped the smaller woman to her feet, steadying her then reaching for her briefcase.

“Are you all right to drive, Kaz?” Lisa asked with some concern.

“I’m fine.” She said shortly, and because she didn’t want to be at odds with the other woman she added, “I’ll be trying to qualify for the Open in Austin next month…we’ll see how it goes.”

A smile spread across the other woman’s face and she felt Trey squeeze her hand. “Cool.” Lisa said, her earlier irritation forgotten. “Be careful driving home.”

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

Chris was disappointed that Laura wasn’t on the motorcycle and that she wasn’t going to get a ride. Grumbling a little, she accepted help getting into the passenger side of the Jeep, and watched as Laura climbed in next to her. “Can we get something to eat? I’ve really got the munchies.”

“I thought you were drunk.”

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t be drunk if I had gotten some lunch. You and the tequila took unfair advantage of me.”

“Sure we did. Drive through at Sonic okay?”

“Perfect.” Chris leaned back into the seat, looking around at the immaculate vehicle. It was an older Jeep with a metal dashboard and reinforced cloth doors, built before sport utility was supposed to be luxurious. She decided it suited the dark woman sitting next to her, tough, good looking, and always dependable. “Do you ever take the top down?”

“Top down and doors off…it’s my favorite way to drive it.” That was more personal information than she usually gave out in an entire day, and Laura frowned as she pulled into one of the slots at the Drive Inn.

“You’re thinking too hard again…your eyebrows get lower and lower when you do that.”

“Excuse me?”

Chris gave a sigh as though explaining something to a child. “It’s like ‘oops, I gave away too much, how do I take that back?’ I’m a reporter, remember? I see that all the time. You could just loosen up…I’m no threat to you.” The green eyes were frank and honest, “I promise, you will never have a reason not to trust me.”

For a minute she could almost see belief in the clear blue eyes, then it was gone as Laura turned and unzipped the window to reach for the speaker. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. What do you want?”

I want to know what’s going on behind those blue eyes, I want you to teach me what you know, and I want to know why you’re in a job you so obviously hate. Wanting’s a bitch, isn’t it? Chris shook her head slightly, it’s not good to go there, she thought. “I want a big ol’ Cheeseburger, a big order of tots and a chocolate shake.”

“When you said you had the munchies, you weren’t kidding.”

“Yeah, it’s a severe character flaw.” Digging in her briefcase she pulled out some money and handed it to the other woman. Laura took it and answered the squawking speaker. “Two Cheeseburgers, a large order of tots, a chocolate shake and a Coke.”

“Gotta have your caffeine fix?”

“That would be my severe character flaw.” Don’t even get started on character flaws, Laura’s inner voice shot back. Change the subject to something safe…Not something work related though. “Where do you play softball?”

Chris smiled, seeing through the tactic, “This Sunday we play at one thirty. We use a field at Northridge Park, do you know where it is?” At the News Director’s nod she continued, “You really should come out, it’s a lot of fun…You know we’re playing Channel 4, it’d be a good chance for you to meet some of the competition, and their News Director always plays.”

“Who’s the News Director over there?”

“Lance Barker runs the show.”

“Pretty boy Lance?” Laura laughed unpleasantly. “A word of advice Chris? No one in TV ever goes away, they just change markets.”

“So you know him?”

“Yeah, he was a producer with me in Austin…Lisa knows him too,” She added thoughtfully.

“Anyway, it should be a pretty good game, you should try to make it.” Their food arrived and Laura passed the bag and the drinks to Chris as she paid for the order.

“Okay if I eat in your car?”

“Go ahead.” A suspicion was starting to form in Laura’s mind as she unwrapped her cheeseburger. “Don’t eat so fast…you’ll throw up.”

“Can’t help it, I’m starved,” Chris wolfed down the burger and started on the tater tots. The younger woman ate with single -minded intensity, not what Laura would have associated with someone who claimed to be smashed.

“You’re not really drunk, are you?”

Laura could almost see the laughter in the blond woman’s eyes, and Chris answered without apology. “I would never get snockered in front of my boss…but I shouldn’t be driving. I just wanted to spend a little time getting to know you away from the office.”

“Why?”

“Because I think that you’re the best thing that could have happened to us. Understand that we’ve been beaten down by Jerry Nelson. Nothing we did was ever good enough, smart enough, or aggressive enough. Now here you are. You’ve got some baggage, sure, but no one doubts that you can run a newsroom. It’s only been a week, but there’s already a change.”

Laura didn’t say anything, she just balled up the wrapper and put it in the bag, so Chris went on, “Y’know what’s impressed me the most? Not once this week did you say ‘That’s the way we did it in Dallas.’ I waited to hear it, and I never did. Do you have any idea how extraordinary that is?”

A short bitter laugh answered the reporter. “I’m not sure than anything I did in Dallas is worth repeating here.” Laura tipped her head back and closed her eyes listening to the sounds of the busy drive inn outside the confines of the Jeep, not knowing what else to say.

Chris finished her meal and began stuffing the trash into the bag. “I think you need a friend, that’s all.” She tried to shrug casually, suddenly a little nervous. “You’re in a new place and maybe we could do something…sometime…outside of work.” Oh that’s just great, she cringed inwardly. She’s smart, she’s gorgeous, of course she’s not gonna have any trouble making friends.

Laura started the Jeep and repeated the mantra again and again: Don’t need, don’t want. She put the trash on the tray outside and zipped up the window, still not trusting herself to speak. Put an end to this, right now.

“Chris, I don’t…It’s not that I…Look, I’m the queen bitch of the universe, the Kazmanian devil, She -Ra Princess of Power, the News Nazi…yeah, I know all the names.” Chris’ look of surprise almost made her laugh. “Being friends with me is not healthy…professionally or personally.” She didn’t look at the reporter, afraid of what she might see, and concentrated on maneuvering the Jeep out of the parking lot and out into the street.

They completed the ride in silence, and for the second time that week, Laura pulled into the driveway of Chris’ house. Clearing her throat she turned to the younger woman, “What about your car?”

“It’s only a couple of miles to the station. I’ll go for a run tomorrow and pick it up.” She opened the door and climbed out, “At least you should come out on Sunday and watch us kick some Channel 4 butt. Bring your glove, we can always use an outfielder.” With that she closed the door and walked up the path to the house. Laura waited until she saw her step inside and turn out the porch light, then she threw the stick into reverse, backed out and headed for home.

Chris watched the taillights disappear down the street, disappointed and a little hurt by Laura’s reaction. What difference does it make? It’s just a brush off, It’s not like you haven’t had that happen before, and she’s right you know, it’s not a good idea.

But she couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t right. They were supposed to be friends, why else would she have felt that incredible pull when she looked across that interstate median to see the tall dark woman walking toward her. It was like she had been waiting for something or someone and now that all the players were in place, the show could begin.

Okay, Chris, now you’ve gone off the deep end. One thing’s for sure, life isn’t going to be dull around Laura Kasdan.
Part 3
Games People Play

Peter Davis walked down the hill towards the driving range, his metal spikes clacking on the concrete of the cart path. He was running a little late and hoped he hadn’t missed all of Laura Kasdan’s warm-up. One of the cart boys had told him that she had walked out to the practice tee a little before six, and that everything was ready for her, just like they planned yesterday. Peter hoped all of the day’s plans would fall as neatly into place.

There was still a little fog but he could see the tall figure swinging a club loosely and hear the sound of solid contact with the ball. He stepped onto the grass, which muffled the sound of the spikes and approached from behind, marveling at the clean elegance of her swing. Dressed in a white sleeveless polo shirt and khaki shorts, her skin had the red gold tan that spoke of hours spent in the sun. A tan cap covered the dark hair and a ponytail was pulled through the opening in the back. Stepping up to the slight rise he noticed that she was barefoot, white feet contrasting with the bronze of her legs. It was a little surprising, and he felt a smile spread involuntarily across his face.

Her concentration broken, Laura stepped back and looked over at the handsome golf pro. “Morning.” She stepped over to her bag and picked up a towel, carefully wiping off the club head and then the grip. “Looks like we’ll have a pretty good day. A little putting practice and I’ll be good to go.” She sat down on a plastic chair that one of the cart boys had gotten for her earlier and started to pull on her socks.

“Why practice barefoot?” The pro asked.

“Spikes will give you traction when you’re playing, but I’ve found that if I practice some barefoot, it helps my balance.” She clapped the soles of her shoes together a couple of times to remove the grass clippings clumped on them, then slid her feet in, tying double knots.

“No soft spikes?”

“Can’t stand ‘em.” She answered, referring to the plastic spikes that had been developed to save wear and tear on the greens. “If I could wear two inch cleats, I would. With my swing, using soft spikes would probably cost me about two or three strokes a round.” Laura hoisted the black nylon golf bag over her right shoulder, bouncing a little to settle it and they started walking up to the putting green. “Besides, I like the way they sound on pavement.”

Dropping the bag on the side of the practice area, Laura unzipped a side pocket and fished out several balls, tossing them to the still wet grass. “Give me about ten minutes…You said you dug up some caddies?” Peter nodded. “Real caddies or just two bodies to hump the bags?”

He smiled, “We do a men’s Nike tournament here and these guys are usually part of the caddy pool, so they know what they’re doing.”

“Well, with everyone going to carts, it’s a dying art.” Pulling out her putter, she knocked the balls toward the closest hole, then arranged them in a straight line about two feet away. Twirling the putter flexed her wrist, and she leaned over the first of the balls. “It makes me nervous when people watch me practice, ” She said dryly, “I’ll meet you up at the clubhouse.”

“Sure,” Peter said without taking offense. “I was just curious about the routine.”

Six golf balls found their way to the bottom of the cup in rapid succession. Straightening, Laura used the short flag to flip them out and started to arrange them again, this time about four feet from the hole. “It’s a new course for me, I don’t have a routine yet.”

“So it’s different every time?”

Laura paused to think about the question. “Yeah, I guess it is. Sometimes I can’t wait to just swing the driver and hit it as hard as I can…without warming up on the shorter clubs…I know that’s a no-no.” She putted two balls into the hole. “Other times I just want to hit the course cold…maybe just a little putting first. It depends on my mood, I guess.” Four more balls went in, and she retrieved them, throwing them out about twelve feet.

“Okay then. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Peter got a short grunt in reply, so he left to make sure that the caddies were ready. Reaching the clubhouse, he found the two young men standing outside smoking, both of them with hats pulled low and towels slung over their shoulders. They grinned as he approached. “How’s she hitting ‘em?” The shorter of the two asked.

“Didn’t really see much, but we’ll find out soon enough. You guys ready?” At their nod, Peter checked his watch. “Jeremy, why don’t you take her bag since you have more experience…That okay with you, Brett?”

“Fine by me. What’s she like anyway?”

The scrape of metal spikes on the cart path interrupted them and they turned to see the subject of their discussion walking toward them. Peter hid a smile as he observed the caddies’ reaction to the woman. Not at all what you were expecting, huh guys? She set her bag on its end and introduced herself; “I’m Kaz, thanks for coming out.”

Jeremy couldn’t believe his luck. She didn’t look like any lady golfer he’d ever seen…a body to die for, and eyes he couldn’t get enough of. He stammered a bit when he told her his name and grinned at Brett’s look of envy as he took possession of her bag. It was already worth it to get up early on a Saturday, and he was glad that Peter had talked him into it.

The four of them made their way to the first tee, stopping at the blues, the longer tees that presented the course at its most challenging. Usually only the men with low handicaps hit from there, and Laura expected it from Peter. He apparently didn’t expect it from her. He handed her a yardage book and she looked at it briefly before stuffing it in her back pocket. “Which tees?” he asked.

“These will do.”

“Makes it kinda long for a woman doesn’t it?”

She smirked, “Long is not a problem.”

One of the caddies coughed to cover a laugh, and Peter waved her up to the box. “Ladies first.” Then stood back, crossing his arms over his chest, ego smugly in place.

Laura stepped up to the marker assessing the hole. 510 yard par 5, slight dogleg right, the turn starts at about 225. Jeremy handed her the driver and she pulled a ball out of her pocket, leaned over and teed it up only about an inch. Stepping back she mentally pictured the flight of the ball and where she wished it to land. Taking a practice swing, she made one adjustment. Finally she addressed the ball and in that moment of quiet, Laura was at perfect peace.

Then the swing uncoiled in a perfect balance of power and speed built over years and maintained with hours of long practice, resulting in the ball exploding off the tee to fly down the middle of the fairway moving slightly from left to right, conquering the dogleg and landing some 275 yards from where it was struck.

“Oh my god,” Jeremy breathed, and Laura smiled with satisfaction. Handing him her club, she gave a low laugh. “Didn’t get all of it.”

Not to be outdone, Peter stepped up, and after several practice swings he sent a ball in the same direction as Laura’s, landing some ten yards behind hers. Hiding his chagrin he said, “That’ll play.” Jeremy and Brett shouldered the bags and the four of them started down the fairway, the green of the grass muted by the ground fog, which had yet to burn off.

They walked along in silence, both enjoying the early stillness. They arrived at Peter’s ball first, and while he was preparing to hit, Laura drank from a water bottle she pulled from her bag. She looked up at the sound of contact, it was a decent shot, but short of the green. He’s not getting enough extension, she thought.

Walking up to her ball, she figured she was about 235 yards out. Flipping out the yardage book she walked forward to where a sprinkler head was marked with 230. Pacing back to the ball she congratulated herself on her accuracy. “Gimme the 3 wood Jeremy.” The caddy was already pulling the club, stripping off the cover and handing it to her. She took aim and swung. This time she got it all, and the ball bounced on the front of the green finishing its journey about twelve feet below the hole. Pleased, she gave the club back to the caddy, and without looking back at any of the three men she strode toward the green, stripping off the glove as she went and tucking it in the waistband at the back of her shorts.

Beautiful course, and it suits your game…you can probably get in thirty six holes today and the same tomorrow. Wait, you told Chris you might go to the softball game. She stopped, waiting for Peter’s chip to the green. “Good shot,” she told him as it landed within four feet of the hole. What’s more important, this or softball?

This is, Laura told herself as Jeremy passed her putter over. Marking the ball placement, she flipped it to the caddy to clean. You didn’t promise. Crouching behind her marker, she checked the line of the putt looking for any possible break. Thoughtfully she walked around to check from the other side. Nice to start off with an eagle if you could. Ahh, you know better than to count your chickens… She replaced the ball and took a few practice strokes trying to even out the rhythm of the motion, and finally lined up the putt, imagining its path. A smooth tap sent the ball on its way, but it was too far right, the break never happened, and it stopped less than a foot past the hole. Time to lay off the caffeine. With a tight smile, Laura tapped it in for a birdie 4.

Peter nodded, and his eyes narrowed over his own putt. His familiarity with the green worked to his advantage and the ball dove into the cup after a strong confident putt. The birdie put Peter in a better mood and they left the green, caddies scurrying behind them. Writing on her scorecard as she walked, Laura found herself considering the softball game again, and she could almost see the disappointment in the green eyes. Yeah, she’ll be disappointed, so what? She can learn to live with it like the rest of us. But I don’t want her to be disappointed. With an impatient sigh, Laura decided on a compromise. If you get thirty-six in today, you can come out early for eighteen holes tomorrow, do the softball game and then hit the driving range…now that sounds like a plan. With that Laura shook off the last thoughts that might interfere with her golf game, and set her mind to extracting the lowest possible score from the course and beating the club pro in the process.

**********

Christine Hanson loved baseball in all its incarnations. Tee ball, little league, slow and fast pitch softball, major and minor league. It didn’t matter, she loved them all. Saturday afternoon found her working as the plate umpire in a 13-15 little league scoring fest. The parents were into it as much as the twelve-year-olds and Chris cheerfully let the comments about her eyesight, or the complete lack thereof, roll off her back.

God, what are they feeding these kids? She thought, as one boy strolled to the plate. He was as tall as she was and probably outweighed her by twenty pounds. She set her mask and leaned in behind the catcher. The boy swung at the first pitch popping it up to the outfield, and with a groan of frustration, ran to first base as hard as he could, legs churning beneath him.

The leftfielder bobbled the ball and dropped the sure out. By the time he had recovered, two runners had scored and the third was on his way home. The play at the plate wasn’t even close, and the Auto Mart Red Sox had a fabulous 16-15 come from behind win.

Chris stripped off the cap and mask, running her hand through her hair to fluff it, then left the field. Her bag was stashed behind the fence and she liberated a bottle of Gatorade. After drinking deeply she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, enjoying the warmth of the spring afternoon.

“Good job, just one questionable call.” Her friend Kate, who also happened to be the producer of the Six O’clock newscast, joined her at the fence.

“Yeah?”

“Josh was not out at home in the sixth.” She crossed her arms indignantly, referring to her nephew.

“I was right on top of it and he was out.”

“Well, they won anyway. They’re off to Chuckie Cheese’s…I’d rather have splinters shoved under my fingernails than go there…Can I interest you in some Mexican at Lupe’s?”

Chris took off the blue button down shirt that marked her as an official for the parks and recreation department, tossed it into her duffel, leaving her clad in a white T-shirt and navy shorts. “Sure, just let me go to the ladies room and get cleaned up a bit.” Picking up her bag, the two women started walking to the restrooms. Before they reached their destination, a group of teens stopped them. “You’re Christine Hanson, I see you on TV!” one of the girls squealed. They surrounded Chris asking about her job and commenting on her appearance. She rolled her eyes at some of the things they said, and after much ooooing and ahhhing, escaped to the restroom to clean up.

“You handle that so well, I think it’d freak me out,” Kate said as Chris went into a stall and shut the door.

“What else can you do? They always say I’m shorter and prettier in person than I am on TV.” Laughing, she stripped off the sweaty T-shirt, and put on a clean one, then off came the shoes and socks to be replaced by sandals. “Anyway, those kids will be filling out Nielson diaries someday…A little PR now could go a long way.” Coming out she buckled her belt and smoothed the front of her shorts. “Besides, it tickles the hell out of me. Ready for chips and salsa?”

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

“So spill it, Chris.” Kate smiled at the other woman. They were in a booth at Lupe’s, a popular Mexican restaurant, where the never-ending supply of flour tortillas, chips, and free ice cream made it one of Chris’ favorite haunts.

“Spill what?”

“Oh, come on. You can barely sit still, you’re so wired. You know something, so spill it.”

Chris groaned, “Kate, I promised…”

“Ah! So there is something. If I guess, will you tell me?” Kate leaned forward, eyes shining. Movement caught her eye and she sat back. “Man, she didn’t waste any time…She’s been here what, a week? Look at the guy she’s with…what a hunk.”

“Who?” Chris turned to look. Damn! What are the chances? At this point she probably thinks I’m stalking her. Laura Kasdan and her date were being seated at a table across the restaurant, and Chris had to admit that he was indeed a hunk. So? A woman like that isn’t alone unless she wants to be.

“Should we go over and say something?” Kate asked.

“Not unless she sees us.” Chris answered, hunkering down in the booth.

“I thought you liked her?”

Chris made a face, “I do. It’s just…I just seem to babble whenever I’m around her… she gave me a ride home last night, and I think I said too much…” She left the sentence hanging.

“Great. When you screw up, you do it royally.”

Their food arrived, distracting them. “Mexican Platter for you, Miz Hanson, and Chicken Fajita salad for you,” he said, depositing a huge bowl in front of Kate. “Is there anything else you would like?”

Chris eyed the feast in front of her, taking inventory. “This looks fabulous, Mario. Could I have a side of guacamole too?” She gave her most charming smile to the waiter and he hurried off.

“How can you possibly eat all of that?” Kate shook her head at Chris as she dug into her sensible salad; jealous of the other woman’s complete disregard of the calories she was about to consume.

“I exercise like a dog.” Chris started in on her chicken enchiladas, the cheese stringing from her fork to the plate. She smiled as she chewed, appreciating the blend of spices, chicken, and peppers. “Besides, I don’t have any other vices…I just like to eat.” The guacamole arrived, and she added a dollop to one of the tacos on the platter.

Across the room, Laura looked over the menu, deciding on fajitas and a bowl of tortilla soup. She agreed to go to dinner with the golf instructor because the thought of her sparse apartment was suddenly not very appealing. He was trying for more than dinner though, and she was beginning to regret taking him up on his offer.

“How’d you do on your second round this afternoon?” Peter’s question interrupted her train of thought.

“Four under…put one in the lake. I noticed there’s a little fungus on a couple of the greens.” She ran her thumbs over the calluses in the palms of her hand, thinking that for thirty-six holes, they had held up pretty well.

“Yeah, the grounds crew is really fighting that…it’s supposed to be under control.” He coated a chip liberally with salsa and bit into it, crunching contentedly. “If that’s how you play after a two week layoff, you should have a real chance at the qualifier in Austin.”

Laura was pleased with the way she’d played…though a few mental errors, and a couple of misses had irritated her. Plus she knew it was time to get off the caffeine. Boy, that’s gonna smart. Work wasn’t too stressful; maybe the big market grind had gotten to her. Laura was so busy considering that thought that she almost missed what Peter was saying.

“…Go back to my place and watch a movie or something.”

Damn, damn, damn. “Ah, sorry, Peter.” A rueful smile. “I’m on call this weekend, and I really need to check in at the station.”

Peter hid his disappointment. “S’okay, some other time. Will you try for thirty-six tomorrow?” Neatly he segued back to the one topic he felt comfortable talking to her about. For someone with those looks, he thought, she had as much warmth as an ice pack. “Jeremy says he’s all yours, every weekend for the rest of your life,” he said, noting that she had paid more attention to the caddy that day than she had to him.

“He could caddy for a living, he asked for some names and I told him I’d help him make some contacts.” She sat back as the waiter flipped out a tray holder and prepared to serve their dinner. The sizzling fajitas reminded her that she was really hungry, and she smiled in anticipation, blue eyes lighting up and fixing on…

Her new Six O’clock anchor, who was strolling toward her.

“Hey, isn’t that Christine Hanson? She’s one of yours isn’t she?” One of mine? The waiter finished distributing the plates as Chris and Kate walked up.

“We were on our way out when we saw you,” Kate lied, glancing sideways at Chris. Peter scrambled to his feet, motioning to Laura for an introduction.

“Sorry, Chris…Kate, Peter Davis. Peter…this is Chris Hanson and one of my producers, Kate Madison.”

Peter turned on the charm. Well, he wasn’t getting anywhere with Kaz, and opportunity was knocking. “Won’t you join us?” He asked waving his hand at the table. The opportunity to eat with not one, but three attractive women, was too appealing to pass up.

“Uh, no.” Chris looked at Laura expecting to see annoyance at Peter’s obvious flirting, what she got was a wink and an eye roll, which spoke volumes about the way the “date” was progressing.

“We’ve already stuffed ourselves. Nice to meet you, Peter.” Giving Kate a gentle shove in the back, they continued down the aisle and out into the lobby.

“Whoa,” Chris gave a soft chuckle. “I don’t think that was going very well.” She held the door open for Kate and inhaled as the warm spring air greeted them, smelling faintly of freshly mown grass.

***********

Laura unlocked the door to her apartment, tossed her keys on the low table next to the door and flopped down on the old sofa, letting her hands dangle between her knees. Dinner had gone downhill after Chris and Kate left, Peter really needed someone to stroke his ego, and she wasn’t the type. Just as well, hope it doesn’t screw up my weekend tee times. Laura gave a self-mocking snort. You are some piece of work. Good-looking guy, he’s interested, and all you can think about is how it could mess up your golf game. How shallow can you get? Her sense of relief at seeing Chris and Kate was all out of proportion. You’re a coward, plain and simple.

Scrubbing her hand through her bangs, she considered the next day’s activities. Golf first, then softball. Now where was her gear? Laura went to the little hall closet and began to rummage through the articles stored there. Ice chests, boxes of books and suitcases were pulled out into the hall as she searched for the red bag that housed her softball equipment. With a cry of triumph, she tugged it free from the confines of the closet. Unzipping it, she checked the contents…two bats and a glove. The glove could use some work, she thought, pounding her hand into the pocket while she walked to the bathroom in search of some baby oil.

The sweet smell of oil filled the enclosed space as Laura worked it into the leather. Satisfied with the way the glove was coated, she put a ball in the pocket and wrapped it securely with a rubber band.

Isn’t that nice…you can break in a baseball glove, regrip your golf clubs, and run a live truck. But you can’t flirt, and you can’t sustain a conversation over dinner. Socially inept, yep, that’s me. She washed the oil off her hands and dropped the glove into the bag. Another early Saturday night, bath, book, and bed. God what a life you lead.

*********

Chris pushed the door of the Volvo closed with her hip and slung the softball duffel over her shoulder, the bat sticking up behind her head. She started down the path that ran along the fence of Northridge Park Field #2, keeping an eye on the game in progress. The team from the Chronicle appeared to be running roughshod over one of the country western radio stations, WKIX. She glanced at her watch, just past one, should be some of ours here.

“Hey, K Bob, how’re your knees?” dropping her bag she clambered up to where he was sitting. A low smile spread across her face when she saw who was next to him.

Laura Kasdan was leaning back, impossibly long legs stretched out in front and crossed at the ankles, hands laced behind her head. A white tank top showed tanned muscular arms, but Oakley sunglasses covered up the amazing eyes that Chris knew looked out from under the bill of the red Texas Rangers hat that she wore.

“Glad you could make it. No golf today?”

A lazy smile, “Already played, this is my cool down.” She sat up, popping the joints in her shoulders.

“Yow, that sounds painful,” Keith said, opening his scorer’s book, “Okay Kaz, where can you play? Chris is on second, I’ll be on third, Trip’ll play first and Rendally will play short. Can you handle right field?”

Right field, that’s where you stick the newbie and hope that it doesn’t screw you too bad. “Sure, wherever.” The rest of their team filled up the bleachers, the conversation light and cheerful. Laura watched with a smile as Chris uncapped a tube of eye black and dashed it across her cheeks. “Interesting look for you.”

“Don’t knock it…I can’t wear sunglasses, they get in the way. Besides this is old school.”

“Did you play in college?”

“Yep, fastpitch though. Thank God for Title IX. I even got an invitation to try out for the ’96 Olympic team…wasn’t near good enough, but it was a great experience.” Chris shrugged away the accomplishment as she double knotted her shoes. “How was your dinner? It didn’t look like things were going so well.”

“Food was good.” Laura wryly commented, “The company was…” she waggled her hand to show that it was so-so. She sighed. Actually, it was an unmitigated disaster.

“He seemed nice, you play golf with him?” Laura nodded. “Did you beat him?”

“You bet.”

“Well if it isn’t the Kazmanian Devil herself, out for a little softball with her motley crew. Well, Kaz, word of your fall from grace was very big in certain circles. How does it feel to give up big D to be a medium market manger with delusions of grandeur?” Laura would have known that voice anywhere. She tilted her head to look up into some old history encompassed in the sneering face of the News Director from Channel 4.

“Lance. Wish I could say it’s a pleasure…but I can’t.”

“You can’t imagine how much I enjoyed watching your decrepit excuse for a live truck get blown to smithereens…if I were the insurance investigators, I’d look for cause.”

“Nice to know your coverage sucked so bad, you were watching us.”

Chris ran her tongue across her teeth, watching the exchange as everyone fell silent around them. This could get interesting.

“See, what I don’t get is why they didn’t fire your ass…anybody else pulls that shit, and they’re the overnight tape editor in Brownsville. But not you, no, you’re still a News Director, like some kind of cat you always land on your feet.”

Laura leaned back on her elbows. “Brian didn’t look twice at your resume huh, sport?”

He gave a humorless laugh, “I’ll whip your ass this afternoon, then I’ll do it again in the May book, just like we did in February. Chris, you’re looking nice and blonde today…just get your roots done?”

Keith snarled and jumped up, “Dickhead!” Lance skipped away and headed for the other dugout, his laugh ringing behind him.

“What a prick!” Chris spat at his retreating back. Laura bent over to pick up her bag, “Yeah, well don’t let him get to you…he’s just not worth it.” Silently figuring if that was the worst poison that came out of Lance’s mouth today, they got off lucky. “C’mon, we have a game to play.”

“Here,” Keith tossed a white mesh jersey to Laura, “Double deuce.” Laura smiled at the red and black twenty-two on the back. “Emmitt Smith, thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Guess you have some history with Mr. Barker.” He opened the gate for her.

“Yeah, we were in Austin together…he thought he should’ve been the one to get the call to Dallas as an EP. It pissed him off pretty bad, but he was never in the running. He’s probably got a pretty nice setup over at 4, and he’ll make it to a major market someday, his type always do.”

“He’s not so hot.”

“Don’t underestimate him. He is a nasty piece of work.” She flashed a hundred-watt smile at the managing editor, “We’ll kick his ass today, and take the rest as it comes. Right, Chris?” Knowing that the reporter had heard every word and hoping she had heard the warning as well.

They were the home team, so they took the field first, the red clay infield dragged smooth, dust puffing up with the steps of the players as they took their positions. Laura jogged through the bright green grass to the solitude of right field, not expecting to see much action since the majority of the batters would be right-handed and would hit to left field. Probably a good choice to stick me here. She had doubts about her arm, and intramural softball seemed a long time ago.

The first out was a grounder fielded cleanly by Rendally and sent over to Trip, the first baseman and one of the weekend sports anchors. Lance was up next and he hit the ball soundly over Keith’s head. The leftfielder was ready, and got it in to Chris before Lance was committed to second.

That was the end of the friendly softball game. What came next could only be called a war.

“Let’s turn two.” Keith called, looking for a double play. “One away.”

The next man up hit a grounder sharply to Rendally at short, who fired the ball to Chris for the force out at second. Lance accepted that he was out, but the little bitch on second was not going to turn the double play, so he went in for a high slide, aiming his cleats for somewhere on her upper chest. Chris got the ball out of her glove, and had almost released it toward the first baseman when the impact on her collarbone spun her around, knocking her down, and leaving her scrambling for the ball.

“Out at second, safe at first.” The umpire decreed.

“You sorry son of a…” Chris hissed, grabbing her shoulder.

“Part of the game, Chrissy. Toughen up.” Lance sprung to his feet and jogged to the Channel 4 dugout, part of his mission as goon and chief intimidator, accomplished.

“You okay?” Rendally asked, giving her a hand up.

“Yeah, he came in high,” Wincing she rubbed the area between her neck and shoulder. “Spiked me.”

Keith was getting madder by the minute. This was supposed to be friendly. “One more out and we’ll do some damage.” A quick glance at the outfield told him that his boss was not taking the attacks on her staff lightly at all. Arms crossed, her stance oozed hostility.

The final out was a pop fly to center, and the side was retired with the only damage being three holes in the second baseman’s jersey. Chris was fuming as she flung down her mitt in the dugout. “You could’ve gotten out of the way, you idiot,” berating herself she plopped down on the end of the bench, crossed her arms and glanced over at Laura. “You weren’t kidding when you said nasty.”

Laura poked her fingers through the chain link fence between the team and the field. Looking out, she started to make plans. You underestimated me once before, Lance. Bet I can count on you to do it again. Oh, this is too good…you’re the pitcher. A low evil chuckle started in her throat, and worked its way out as a grin.

Rendally was up first and singled sharply down the third base line. Trip was acting as first base coach, and Chris scooted out of the dugout to coach third. Kurt, the meteorologist/pitcher batted next and neatly singled as well. That brought up Keith, whose forearms looked like Popeye’s as he grasped the toothpick-like bat in ham sized hands. Lance showed his concern by throwing three straight balls but Keith’s ego would not allow him to be walked in a game of slow pitch, so he swung to miss on the forth pitch.

“Oh, please, Mr. News Director,” he taunted, “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”

“K Bob, you’re an ass.”

The dig had its desired effect, and Lance served up a decent pitch, although it was a little low. With a flourish worthy of Mark McGwire, the stocky young man stepped in and swung, solid contact sending the grapefruit sized ball sailing over the leftfield fence.

Channel 8 was on top 3-0, and the swing of momentum had them celebrating with high fives and forearm bashes. Trip was up next, then he too was standing on first with a single. There were still no outs when Laura picked up her bat.

Eyes narrowed, she walked to the plate idly twirling the bat to flex her right wrist and shoulder, ready for the duel that was about to take place. She changed hands to give her left equal time, concentrating on the rhythm of the rotation, then stopped the movement settling into the batter’s box and comfortably taking a couple of practice swings.

It’s not the same swing, she reminded herself sternly, don’t treat it that way. One of the Kathys was behind the plate acting as catcher. Acting is right. She was plainly afraid of the ball, which meant that Lance would have to cover home if that’s where the play was. She filed the information away and set her mind to the task at hand. Time to do a little headhunting.

The first pitch came in low, without the high arch that is the signature of slow-pitch softball. Laura decided that it was adequate for her purposes and lashed out, launching the ball right at the pitcher’s head. Lance barely had time to duck; landing face down in the red clay, spewing curses like a fountain. By the time the ball was retrieved, Laura had rounded first, with ideas of going to second, and Trip was headed home.

Wisely, they didn’t try to stop him by throwing to the Kathy behind the plate, since heaven only knew where the ball would end up. Laura stood at first with a mocking smile as Lance stormed over. “You did that on purpose!”

“Don’t be silly, If I’d been trying to hit you, I would have. You had time to duck.”

“You asexual frigid bitch…”

“C’mon Lance, let’s play.” The first baseman tried to calm the irate News Director.

“Hey, blue,” he said to the second base umpire, “You gonna let her get away with that?”

He smirked, “Part of the game…toughen up.”

Chris was up next, hoping to cash in on Lance’s loss of control. The short reporter presented a small strike zone, so she worked the count full, and worked Lance into a lather. Finally she got the pitch she wanted and stroked it down the right field line, past the diving first baseman and into no man’s land next to the fence. Laura never hesitated or looked at the third base coach, she just turned on the burners, past second and around third barreling toward home.

The ball and Laura arrived at virtually the same time. Lance was blocking the plate, but the throw was high and Laura dove in low, bowling him over as she scrambled to touch home. No tag and she was safe. She heard the umpire say it as she rolled clear of stomping cleats.

“You’re a fucking moron! I was blocking the plate!” Lance screamed, a vein bulging at his temple.

“No tag, she’s safe.”

No one had called time so Chris was still moving around the bases. Lance still had the ball, making no attempt to hold the runner on any base. The other fielders were busy watching their pitcher self-destruct, and by the time it occurred to them that the play was still alive, with a fierce growl, Chris was past third and streaking toward home.

“Lance! She’s coming home!”

With a roar Lance launched himself away from the ump and across the plate as Chris executed a perfect slide, or it would have been if Lance hadn’t abandoned the softball game in exchange for tackle football. His greater mass stopped her forward motion abruptly in a cloud of dust short of home plate.

“She’s out!” The umpire’s verdict rang out clearly, and Lance jumped up, slamming the ball to the ground just inches from Chris’ head.

“Damn straight the bitch is out!” He bellowed, good sportsmanship forgotten.

“And you’re outta this game!” The umpire yelled, jerking his thumb toward the dugout.

“WHAT!” Lance spun to face the ump. “You can’t do that! She was out!” Chris scrambled to her feet, and Lance shoved her for good measure.

Now wait a minute…” Laura started to move forward to get Chris out of the line of fire just in time to see Keith tear out of the dugout and launch himself at the belligerent News Director.

At that point it became a free for all, with the rest of the Channel 8 bench joining the fielders from Channel 4 in a pushing, shoving, screaming grudge match. The Kathy was standing to the side with her hands over her mouth, watching the carnage with horrified fascination. Chris had no such inhibition about joining in and was pummeling Lance with all the force she could muster as he and Keith grappled in the dirt.

Oh this is just great, I’m supposed to be the one with the violent temper and no self-control. Laura blew out a breath, and shrugged at the two umpires before she waded in to separate the combatants.

Grabbing Chris by her collar, Laura held the furious woman away from her body while she turned her attention to Lance. With a display of super human strength, she plucked Lance from his struggles with Keith and tossed him half way down the third base line to his team’s dugout, and roared loud enough to rival the Concorde SST,

“STOP IT NOW! OR I WILL BEAT THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF EVERY ONE OF YOU!”

They froze, and the silence was deafening. “Channel 8, get to your dugout! Channel 4, get to yours. NOW!” She was snarling and didn’t care, blue eyes were almost white with barely controlled rage, and the players, feeling it, began to move to their respective benches.

Gritting he teeth, Laura turned to the umpires, “Game over? Both teams forfeit?”

“Oh, yeah.” Came their reply in unison.

“Fine. You wanna tell them?” She waved toward the grumbling group from Channel 4, then gave a lopsided smile. “See you next week.” She made her way to their dugout where her sullen team sat with varied degrees of bruising flesh. My team, for better or worse. She knelt down in front of Keith, tilting his head to get a better look at his shiner. “Gotta tell ya, you sure know how to show a girl a good time.”

“He started it.” Keith assigned the blame from his perspective.

“No, I started it, and I shouldn’t have. We lose and they lose. Go home and put some ice on it…go on.”

“You should see the other guys.” Rendally muttered, throwing his glove into his bag.

Standing, she watched them gather their things and file out, everyone but Chris who was slumped in the corner, face buried in her hands. Laura walked over and plopped down next to her, removing her hat and the Oakleys, she leaned over and put her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. What do I say? “Chris, It’s not the end of the world…jeez, it’s just a game that went bad.” Shoulders began to shake and Laura was at a total loss, not knowing how to comfort, then Chris moved her hands and Laura could see that she was laughing.

Laughing!

Laura sputtered, “You…”

“Oh, come on, you gotta admit, it was priceless! Keith, defending our honor, Rendally grabbing that guy by the hair, the hysterical Kathy…god, I wish we had it on tape!” She went into another peal of laughter. “And you! Tossing bodies around like firewood. What’d you have for breakfast, She-Ra, Princess of Power?”

“Me? What about you pounding on Lance? I thought you lost your mind.” Laura leaned back with a look of disgust, propping her elbows on the back of the bench while she waited for the laughter to subside. The humor was infectious though, and Laura couldn’t hold back a chuckle.

“Okay, I’m much better now.” Chris said, wiping her eyes.

“You split your lip again.”

“What can I say? I lead with my head.”

“That’s kinda dangerous for someone in your line of work.” Laura leaned forward to touch it lightly with her thumb, blue eyes concerned. Chris smiled ruefully and looked into them, swallowing as her breathing became shallow.

Before I saw your eyes

I was in control

Of my soul,

On the whole.

Jerking away, Chris faked a pain she didn’t feel. “Ouch. Guess some ice would be in order for me too.” Tell me what am I gonna do, about you. Her subconscious completed the song lyric.

Uncomfortable with the direction her thoughts were headed, Chris stood and gathered her equipment. Boss, boss, boss. Those are very dangerous waters, Quick, say something witty and charming to diffuse the situation. “Have you seen my other shoe?” Wow, now you know why you get the big money. Looking around briefly, Laura dug it out from under the bench and handed it to her.

“Look, we’re just a little ways from my club, we’ll go over, get some ice for your lip…Hey, you can even soak in the hot tub while I hit some balls.” Laura made the decision and offered the invitation before she had time to think about it. “I’ll even throw in dinner at the Grill. What do you say?”

Chris blinked. Yeah, she wanted to go, wanted to be with her, and wanted to get something to eat. She wouldn’t offer if she didn’t want to, would she? “Okay, I have a swimsuit in the car.”

“Good, you can just follow me over.” They both left the field, the gate clinking shut behind them, “I guess it’s too much to hope that this won’t get out?”

“What, the game?” At Laura’s nod, Chris threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, hell no. The Umpires? I guess no one told you that we take turns so we don’t have to pay anyone. Those guys are from Channel 12…Everyone in the league probably already knows.”

“Which means Art knows.”

“I think that’s a safe bet.”

“Great.”

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

Swank.

That was the first word that Chris thought of to describe the clubhouse. Oak floors and a chandelier lent an old fashioned air to the entryway, and even on a Sunday there was a receptionist.

“Good afternoon Miss Kasdan…A guest today?”

“Yes Marcia, This is Chris Hanson.”

“Welcome to Northridge Miss Hanson, I enjoy watching you at noon. Could you sign in please?”

“Thanks. They let you watch TV at work?” Chris bent over to sign the guestbook and Laura marveled again at the easy way that the young woman drew people out. By the time they left the front desk, Chris knew Marcia’s favorite soap opera, the names of her two children, all about her husband’s job, and the special in the Grill for dinner.

“How do you do that?” Laura asked, pushing the door open to the ladies’ locker room. “I mean, everyone thinks they know you and they want a part of you. I know other well established on-air personalities that don’t handle it as well as you do.”

Chris shrugged, “It’s like you said, they already know me, I’m already a fixture, so you just connect with a part of their lives…a show, or a story I’ve done usually provides the spark.”

“It’s going to get worse, you know. When you move to the Six you’ll have a bigger audience. I told you before that you’ll pay a pretty steep price in the way of privacy.”

“It won’t bother me the way it would bother you.”

“Me?”

“Sure, You’re a much more private person than I am. The classic introvert. Whoa, this is nice!”

A wet bar took up one wall of the sitting room, leading to a large carpeted locker area. From there the room opened up into a tiled enclosure where an enormous hot tub bubbled merrily. Past that, there were showers, restrooms, and message tables.

While Chris poked around, Laura opened her locker and pulled out her clubs and shoes. Swinging the bag over her shoulder, she started for the door. “Chris, there’s some ice in the bar, stay in the hot tub as long as you like, and just come down to the driving range when you’re ready for dinner.”

“You’re not gonna soak in the tub?” Chris tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“No, I need the practice. See you in a bit.”

Chris watched the door swing shut behind the tall woman. Now I understand what they mean when they say ‘golf widow.’

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

Sunday afternoon practice always reminded Laura of her mother, and she smiled as she walked down the slope to the driving range. Sweetie, you’ll never have a game if you don’t put in the practice time. Her mother’s Texas accent thick and low always made Laura think of hot summer days and hitting bucket after bucket of balls, sometimes until her hands cracked and bled, always trying to find that elusive game her mother spoke so lovingly about. If she closed her eyes she could almost see the two of them practicing side by side under the watchful eye of her mother’s teacher.

Louis was one of the first black teaching pros in the south, and her mother’s game was almost solely his creation. Something clicked between the two of them and as far as Laura knew, her mother never took lessons from anyone else, not even from Harvey Penick across town at the trendy Austin Country Club. Louis carried Sarah Kasdan’s bag in ten U.S. Amateur Tournaments and five U.S. Opens. So, when it was time to learn, Laura wanted Louis to teach her.

It was Louis who told her it was okay when Arizona State showed no interest in the gangly teenager, that the University of Texas had a fine women’s golf team, and she was better off staying in Texas anyway; all the great golfers were from Texas and they should stay close to home.

So Laura went to UT.

Her father had never understood. In a complete reversal of the jock-parent role, it was Sarah who wanted her daughter to be the athlete, and her husband David who had wanted her to be the scholar. She majored in journalism to please him, but it wasn’t enough. There wasn’t any nobility in golf as a profession and in the end she made the deal with her father, and bitterly resented them both for making her choose, always suspecting that she had made the wrong decision and too stubborn to back out of a no win situation. Nothing changes. Not seven years ago and not two weeks ago. God, has it only been two weeks?

Dumping her bag on the ground next to a pyramid of balls, Laura pulled out her seven iron and a glove. Twirling the club absently, she checked to make sure the distance markers were accurate. Twirling faster she moved it in a figure eight in front of her, rolling her wrist and flexing it. All Texans can twirl, although this is less baton and more sword. With a sigh she stopped, thumping the clubhead on the ground, then started drawing the balls to her. Sweetie, you’ll never have a game if…

***********

Chris lounged in the whirlpool, wishing for a tall glass of iced tea. When the adrenaline high from the brawl wore off, she was a lot sorer than she originally thought. Groaning, she shifted her position, certain that some muscles would be screaming tomorrow.

Monday morning’s news meeting was going to be interesting. In addition to the fallout from the game, Laura was going to announce the anchor changes and Chris could finally talk about it to someone other than her family. Keith and Kate’ll be happy…Tom probably won’t be, too much change takes the spotlight off of him. She hadn’t really thought about it, but it was a big risk for Laura too. If Chris was a bust, one of their most profitable news casts was going to lose revenue, and Art would tear the hide off the one who came up with that brilliant idea…Guess that’s why she’s the News Director and I’m not.

Okay, what have we found out about the enigmatic Miss Kasdan? Chris ran down a checklist of the things she had learned about the puzzle that was her boss. She does not like to be called Laura. She drives an older jeep but belongs to a fabulously expensive country club, where she plays golf very well. She drinks tequila and has the strength of ten men, plus an incredibly high tolerance for pain. Chris remembered the injury during the live truck episode, and noted that Laura never said another word about it. And it must’ve hurt like hell when she started throwing those bodies around. She and Lance Barker have a history, apparently founded on mutual dislike, but Peter, the golf pro looks to be out of the picture.

With an impatient snort, Chris realized that she didn’t know much about the woman at all. But Lisa does. She made a mental note to pick the director’s brain about her former roomie, and there was always dinner, even if Laura wasn’t much of a talker.

Resolved, Chris got out of the tub, wrapped a towel around herself, and wandered over to the showers to wash the chlorine off of her skin, the cooler water contrasting with the heat of the whirlpool. You’re a reporter you know, just do the research. A trip to the vanity turned up a myriad of moisturizers and lotions. Chris uncapped one bottle and took an experimental sniff, shrugged and began rubbing it onto her legs.

A clean polo shirt and shorts made her feel better, and when she glanced at her watch, she was surprised to see that almost an hour had passed and she was very, very hungry. Stuffing her dirty uniform into her carry bag, she left it next to the locker she thought she’d seen Laura go into earlier. With a last look at her reflection, she headed out of the locker room and out to the reception area. Marcia was happy to give directions to the driving range, and after snagging a mint from the desk, went to find her boss.

There didn’t seem to be too many people around for a Sunday afternoon. A television was on in the bar, and she could hear loud male voices debating the merits of NASCAR racing as the next great American sport. Pushing open the door to the outside, Chris stepped out to the landing that overlooked the 18th green. The honeysuckle was in full bloom, filling the afternoon air with its sweet aroma. She went quickly down the stairs, and started along the path to the practice range, several golf carts buzzed by, their occupants enjoying the last golf of the weekend.

The path rounded a bend, and she spotted her quarry. Stepping into the grass, she approached cautiously, not sure about the etiquette in such a situation. Laura was focused only on the ball she was swinging at and the target in front of her, launching ball after ball at the 150-yard marker.

Whootick! As the club made contact and bap as it hit the plastic sign, over and over again. Chris knew it couldn’t possibly be as easy as the tall woman made it look, and couldn’t help but smile at the display.

“You ready to get something to eat?” Laura asked, turning to look back at the smaller woman, aware of her the moment she stepped off the cart path.

“Always. So this is what you do on your off time?” Chris approached, noticing the fine sheen of sweat on the smoothly muscled arms and legs. The Oakleys were gone and the blue eyes were relaxed and friendly, not the ice-white of her earlier rage. Interesting, Chris thought, chameleon eyes.

“Pretty much every day if I can.”

“Why?”

Laura pondered the question that for some odd reason, no one had ever asked. “Because the mechanics of my swing have to be maintained through constant repetition.”

“Uh huh.” Chris said, as though she had a clue what her boss was talking about. “I’m sure that explains the technical reason for practicing everyday, but why dedicate that much time to what is essentially a hobby?”

It won’t always be a hobby. Laura gave a half smile as she slid the club into the bag, and draped a towel around her neck. “Why umpire little league games on the weekends if you don’t have kids?”

“That’s different.” How did she know? Chris wondered.

“Why? I’m good at golf and I love it.” A careless shrug, “I’m going to try to qualify for the Open in a few weeks, plus I’d like another shot at the U.S. Amateur.” Laura didn’t know why, but it was important that Chris understood this one thing about her. “For a number of reasons, WBFC is one of them, I cannot be a full time golfer, so I will compete where I can, when I can.”

“Lisa Tyler thinks you should be playing golf for a living.”

Laura hoisted the bag to her shoulder. “Lisa and I’ve had that conversation too many times to count. It’s the ritual and the discipline and the patience and the planning. It helps me in every aspect of my life…including running a newsroom. Why do you do the little league umpire thing?”

Chris smiled, green eyes lighting up her face. “Because I love baseball, and I’m good at it.”

“There you have it. Let’s get some dinner.”

The Grill wasn’t too crowded and they were shown quickly to a table. Chris was surprised at the number of people who stopped by their table to say something to Laura, and she smiled through a multitude of introductions. Boy, for someone who’s only been in town for a week, she sure knows a lot of people. “You’re kind of a celebrity here, aren’t you?” To her surprise the dark woman blushed.

“Yeah, it’s a little freaky sometimes. I think they’re having a lottery to see who gets paired with me next weekend when I play.”

“So how much do you play?”

“Well yesterday I played 36 holes, that’s two rounds. I played the first with Peter who you met last night, then I picked up two guys after lunch. This morning I played a round with Jim Thompson and Randy Mercer over there. I’ll probably try to get nine holes in at least twice this week.”

“And you’ll practice.”

“Yeah, I’ll practice.”

“That’s a lot of golf.”

“Not enough if I was doing it for a living.”

The waitress interrupted them to take their order. Laura chose chicken, while Chris ordered the special, a marinated ribeye that Marcia recommended, and a large glass of ice tea.

“What, no Coke?”

Laura grimaced, “I’m trying to cut down…the caffeine messes up my putting.”

“I see.” She sipped her tea, considering. “He called you an asexual frigid bitch.”

“Excuse me?” Blue eyes looked startled and just a little angry.

“Lance called you that. Pretty inventive insult for a guy like him, wouldn’t you say?” Chris slipped into her curious reporter mode.

“We never really got along.”

“That’s not just bad blood, Laura, that’s poison.”

“It’s Kaz,” she said automatically, continuing their game. “And he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“So then what happened?”

One slim eyebrow raised, “I’m sure, given my reputation, you can fill in the blanks.”

Chris leaned back and gave her boss a smirk, “Ah…this is no time to be coy, besides, I have other sources and you’re just forcing me to dig deeper until I uncover all of your secrets.”

Laura returned the smirk, “Dig away. You’ll just find a bad tempered News Director with a whole lotta enemies.” She sipped at her water, crunching the crushed ice with her front teeth. “What about you? You’re from Nashville, hmm? Probably the youngest child because you seem used to getting your way, Yeah a big family, and they spoiled you rotten.”

Chris laughed. “Oh, you’re right on all counts. I have four brothers and a sister, Mom’s a teacher, and my Dad’s an electrician. I’m the youngest and you’re absolutely right, I was spoiled rotten.”

“Are you close?”

“Yeah, we still are, and it was a nice way to grow up. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Nope. No brothers, no sisters, and both my parents are dead.” Laura narrowed her eyes at the reporter, daring her to ask the next question. You started this, she told herself.

It was the opening Chris had been waiting for and she took advantage of it, saying gently, “I remember your Dad giving a lecture when I was in school…are you a lot like him?”

It wasn’t at all what Laura expected. You’re supposed to ask how he died, or how I felt seeing his brains splattered all over the ground again and again on every network feed for a week! She could feel her mouth go a little slack and a tightness in her chest that made it next to impossible to breathe. She swallowed hard and clenched her jaw against the pain of remembering.

“I have his eyes.” It was out before she could stop herself. Looking down, Laura started to rearrange the silverware around her napkin. Chris didn’t say anything, she just waited. “And his height.” She gave a bitter laugh, “Certainly not his patience or persistence.”

They were interrupted by dinner and after serving them the waitress beat a hasty retreat, feeling the tension pouring from the dark woman. Laura had completely lost her appetite, the succulent chicken no longer having any appeal. That was not the case with Chris, who eyed her steak appreciatively and dug in with relish. “Did you get along?”

“Not terribly well.” Laura made a decision and pushed her chair away from the table. “As much as I have enjoyed the display of your interview technique, and it is quite impressive, I need some air. Enjoy the rest of your meal, and I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“Wait, I’m sorry…”

“No apologies necessary. It was a very…entertaining afternoon.” With a mock bow, Laura turned and left the Grill, stopping long enough to sign the chit the waitress offered as she walked by. She went out the back door, past the rows of carts being returned and cleaned after a day of golf. Spotting her bag at the drop, Laura picked it up and started toward the parking lot and the jeep. Just go. It was a setup, her opinion doesn’t matter. But it did. Cursing herself for all her real and imagined weaknesses, Laura threw the clubs in the back of the Jeep, settling them with a shake. Leaning on the spare tire, she grabbed a fistful of dark bangs and went over the conversation again, trying to figure out where she lost control. Face it, you were playing a game and you lost…you wanted to see how far she’d go and if you could take it. You can’t. And Lance’s pet name…jeez, they’d all laugh their asses off if they knew where that came from.

With one more curse she climbed into the jeep, the engine coming to life with a twist of her wrist, running as well as it did the day her father brought it home and tossed her the keys. It suits you, he’d said. One spontaneous gift in a lifetime of never-there. Angrily, Laura threw the stick into gear and drove off.

Chris just sat at the table, appalled at her miscalculation. I pressed too hard, this wasn’t a story about public corruption, this was obviously an open wound that wasn’t ready for serious probing. She let out a frustrated breath just as the waitress came up to the table.

“What happened to Miz Kasdan? Didn’t she want her dinner?”

“No, we just had a little disagreement. Listen, can you box this up? I’ll drop it by her house and it won’t go to waste.”

“Sure,” the waitress replied, “I hope everything’ll be all right.”

“Yeah,” Chris said glumly, “I hope so too.”

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

Laura was sitting on the steps outside her apartment drinking root beer when the dark red Volvo pulled up. Chris climbed out and reached back for the plastic bag that held the go-boxes full of food from the abbreviated dinner. From the base of the stairs she regarded the dark woman looking down at her. “Were you waiting for me to show up?” When all she got was a shrug in return, Chris started up the stairs. “Thought you were laying off the caffeine?”

“Root beer doesn’t have any.”

“Oh. Listen, I’m…”

“Don’t.” Laura looked at Chris, and without saying anything else, moved over to make room for her on the step.

“How did you know I’d come?”

A snort, “Because you have stalker tendencies? No, because in a lot of ways you’re just like him…pick, pick, pick…until you get what you want…do they put something in the water at Mizzou?”

“Only if you major in Journalism. Why didn’t you go to Missouri? Nope, forget I asked, I’m prying.” Chris sat down next to Laura, still holding the plastic bag, and crossed her legs at the ankles.

“You can’t help it, it’s what you are.” She watched as the blonde woman flushed a dull red. “Don’t believe I’ve ever seen you blush before…I didn’t go because he wanted me to.” She finished her drink and crushed the aluminum can between strong hands with a satisfying crunch. “What else do you want to know?”

“Why the sudden desire to answer my questions?”

“Because you will drive me insane with your need to know. Let’s see if I can get you started…My mother was one of the winningest amateur golfers in history and she died of breast cancer a little over three years ago. My father was devastated. He…went to Bosnia right after that. Then…well, you know.” Her mouth twisted bitterly. “They fought all the time, you’d never guess that he couldn’t live without her.”

Chris didn’t say anything for a minute, and Laura couldn’t begin to guess what was going on in the reporter’s head…anything was possible.

“Why are you so angry at him?” The question when it came was soft, and not really meant to intrude. Chris genuinely wanted to understand, and Laura didn’t know how to answer.

“A shrink would say that I haven’t gotten over my feelings of abandonment.”

“My guess is that you were pretty mad at him before he died.”

Laura nodded, “I didn’t want to be what he wanted me to be. I ended up making all of us, my mother included, pretty miserable. Then they both went and died before I could make it right.”

“So there’s guilt too.”

“Of course there’s guilt…I’m Catholic.”

Chris laughed a little at that and it eased the tension a bit. “So where do you stand now?”

“I have promises to keep…and miles to go before I sleep.” Laura smirked as she quoted the familiar poem. “Enough angst for one day. I’m sorry that I ran out on you earlier, didja bring me dinner?”

Chris knew the value of a strategic retreat and allowed her to change the subject as she passed the Styrofoam box containing the chicken dinner. “What have you done to the people at your club? Two of those guys were really mad that I ran you off…they were talking about some kind of drills you were supposed to do together and Marcia would barely speak to me…talk about loyalty.”

“And you thought I had no people skills.”

“No, I never thought that. No tact maybe…”

“Uh, you are the tactless one, my friend.”

Green eyes narrowed at the casual turn of phrase and Chris smiled thoughtfully. My friend, well, it’s a start.
Part 4
Full Disclosure

The month of April flew by in a blur of planning and preparation for the most brutal of television rating periods, the May Sweeps. Fourth quarter budgets are hung on the numbers earned during season finales and wild stunts, and in the local news business, the participants pray for anything newsworthy. From bad weather to war, nothing brings viewers to the tube like human calamity.

Or new talent.

Laura Kasdan stood with her arms crossed staring at the news set and the attractive blonde woman sitting in the left anchor chair. The set had gotten a bit of a face-lift over the weekend, with new paint and trim. Now it was time to tweak the lights, and make sure that the new Six O’clock anchor looked as good on the new evening set as she had on the noon set. Background changes made subtle differences in skin tones and highlights; the trick was to fix it without changing the light on any of the other anchors.

“How’s the back light, Kaz?” Lisa called down from a ladder that held her up to the grid while she narrowed the barn doors on the light in question.

“That’s better.” Laura squinted at the studio monitor, “It just barely hits her shoulders.”

Lisa climbed down the ladder to get a closer look. “It’s still a little hot…we can probably take care of that with some diffusion.” The Production Manager looked over at Chris thoughtfully, “Chris are you still good with the teleprompter?”

“It’s not too bad,” the reporter- turned-anchor answered.

“Are you comfortable?” Laura’s deeper tone asked, “Because I think we’re almost through here.”

Chris blew out a relieved breath. They’d been at it for about an hour, and the lights had begun to get unbearably hot. Chris was a patient woman, but this session was stretching it.

It seemed like it was only a few days ago that Laura announced to the newsroom the anchor changes for the Six, but a whole month had gone by and Chris had been challenged professionally like never before. She was responsible for four special reports to air during sweeps, and time for anything else had been as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Chris didn’t know how Laura had done it, but the newsroom was running like a well-oiled machine, and everyone from the photographers to the tape editors knew that this sweeps period was going to be different from any other they had experienced. Everything was mapped out in advance, everyone had his or her assignments, and all was going according to plan.

At least we all hope it is. She was nervously aware that Laura Kasdan had staked her reputation on this Neilson Book, and for better or worse, Chris’ future was tied to the enigmatic News Director’s as well.

“All right,” Laura nodded, “This is what we’ll go with tonight. You happy?” she asked Lisa, who was unfolding a sheet of what looked like gauzy material.

“Hmm? Yeah, this should do the trick…We’re good to go Kaz, Chris, hold on for just a sec.” The production manager climbed the ladder and quickly clipped the diffusion filter to the light. “How’s that?”

Laura couldn’t really tell any difference in the monitor, but guessed that Lisa knew what she was doing. “I thought it looked good before.”

“It did.” Lisa came down from the ladder; “It looks better now.”

“I’m not an it.” Chris crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow. “Done yet?”

“You look good. Done.” Laura pulled a narrow pad out of a pocket and consulted her list. “That’s it then. Thanks Lisa.” Walking to the double doors, she flipped the pad closed and left the studio.

Chris stretched as she stood up, “So that’s how she does it…all those lists. I’ve never met anyone so organized.”

The lights went off as Lisa pulled the faders down. “She’s been that way as long as I’ve known her…just a meticulous planner I guess.” She turned to face the reporter, “So…are you ready?”

“Um, yeah.” Chris gave a half smile, “It’s finally here…the big show.”

“Well I don’t know about that, but it’s bigger than Noon.”

“Lisa, do you have a minute?” Green eyes were clouded as they looked at the Production Manager.

“I always have time for you, Chris. C’mon we’ll go upstairs.”

Lisa’s office was on the other side of production control. It wasn’t exactly messy, but it looked as though it had been worked in. The most appealing thing about it was the large window, looking out the front of the building, an oddity in a TV station, where except in the lobby, windows served no purpose.

“I love this office,” Chris said, turning to look at the tapes stored neatly on the shelves, “It’s the best one in the building.”

“I like it.” Lisa agreed with her. “What’s up? Close the door.” She slid behind her desk, noting that she had e-mail…there was always e-mail.

Chris shut the door, but remained standing. “This is awkward, but I really don’t know who else to talk to.” She brushed nervously at the sleeve of her blazer, trying to decide how to begin. “A few weeks ago I ran into Laura…she was out on a date with that guy she plays golf with, Peter Davis.”

“Kaz was out on a date?” Surprise colored Lisa’s tone.

“Yeah, anyway…he called me last night…he wants to go out with me.” Chris never thought of herself as a nervous person, but she didn’t quite know what to do with her hands. She finally stuck them in her pockets.

“And this disturbs you…how? Did you want permission to go out with her golf pro?”

Chris rolled her eyes “He’s not my type, but if Laura’s interested in him, shouldn’t she know he asked me out?”

“What a jackass…Not you, Peter.”

“Yeah.” Chris started pacing.

“Kaz doesn’t date.”

“What do you mean doesn’t date?”

Lisa blew out a frustrated breath, “She doesn’t date. Not anyone I can remember. Not in school, not in Austin…ever. She never mooned about going out, never had a steady, none of that.”

“What about Lance?” Chris was trying not to pry, and losing the battle.

“Lance! Hell no, she didn’t date Lance…He tried to cop a feel in one of the editing bays and she kicked him so hard I think his gonads relocated to the back of his throat.” Lisa paused for a minute, “Why would you think she and Lance…”

“Ah, something he said.” Chris evaded. What Lisa was saying certainly explained a lot, but it also raised more questions.

“He backed off and Kaz went to Dallas…Kaz out on a date?”

“You sound like it’s the first sign of Armageddon.”

Lisa gave a brief laugh, “It might be.”

Chris’ mind was racing, This is weird…what do I do now? “Would you say that I’m pretty discreet…as far as my love life is concerned?”

Lisa spotted the trap, and set her own. “Are you asking me if anyone else knows you’re gay?”

“How did you know?”

“I didn’t.”

Chris sat down abruptly, tilted her head and looked at the other woman. “Very neatly done.”

A wry smile, “You reporters think you know all the tricks. Truth is, I’ve known for a while, I just needed confirmation. I guess that answers your question, though. Yes, you are discreet.”

“Does Kaz know?” As if calling the woman by her impersonal nickname would make it easier.

Lisa noticed and frowned, “Are you asking in the interest of career preservation, or for personal reasons?”

Chris made a decision and laid her cards on the table. “Both.” At this point it was a little late to wonder if she could trust the Production Manager.

“Shit, Chris.” Lisa threw a pen down on the desk. “I don’t know. Probably not or they wouldn’t have signed you to that multi year deal. We’re in the middle of the Bible Belt, you can’t just come out…It’d be like committing career hari kari.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“No, I’m saying it to make me feel better…I may not be your supervisor, but as an officer of the company, I’m bound to inform my boss of anything that could prove damaging to the station. All that stuff about hiring without regard to sexual orientation, in a very real sense does not apply to on-air talent.”

“Relax, nothing’s going to change. I just wanted to know if I should tell Laura about Peter…”

“Yes. If she’s interested, she deserves to know. God, Chris, she doesn’t do anything social. If she feels something for this guy… ”

“I’ll tell her.” Chris rose and opened the door. “Great.” This was starting to look like another Christine Hanson four star disaster. Couldn’t you just get the normal garden-variety crushes like everyone else?

Lisa stopped her. “Chris, Kaz is… my friend. Understand that. She is also cold, remote, and driven to torment herself. Professionally speaking, there is no one else I’d rather have running a newsroom, but she hurts people as easily as you charm them. Why on earth would you be attracted to that?”

Why indeed?
“It’s the weirdest thing…I’ve never been so aware of anyone in my life.” When I see her it’s as if all the pieces of my soul fall into place. Does she even see me? Chris gave a half shrug, “Don’t worry, no one’s gonna get hurt.”

Lisa didn’t believe that for a minute. Trey owes me ten bucks.

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

Laura took the black metal stairs up to the newsroom two at a time. Just because everything seemed to be taken care of, and all the pieces were falling into place, that wasn’t a reason to slow down. Sweeps didn’t actually start until Wednesday, but momentum was building, and she wanted all of it to be carried into the book. Details made the difference, and she hoped that that one message stuck in the heads of her staff, even if nothing else did.

She pulled open the glass door and strode through the newsroom. My newsroom now. In a lot of ways this was better than Dallas…One advantage was never having been the number two guy. Here, she came in with authority and no one questioned it…In Dallas, too many people thought of her as a whiz kid that was promoted faster than she should have been.

Entering her office, she slid behind her desk and clicked open the rundowns for the Five and Six O’clock ‘casts on the AP Server. Kate already had the Six filled in, and Laura dashed off an Express Message about one change, drinking from the ever-present can of carbonated beverage that was supposed to wean her off caffeine. Today it was 7UP, and she grimaced at the overly sweet taste.

Laura growled impatiently at the Five O’clock rundown. There were still holes and the producer was having trouble with the flow. Gotta talk to Rob. He’s still not getting it. Oprah’s our lead in and this isn’t a very woman-friendly show. She thought for a minute about switching the producers, then dismissed the idea, figuring that she’d rather have her ace producing the Six.

A knock on her open door interrupted her train of thought, and she looked up at someone carrying a large cardboard box. With a thump, it hit the ground revealing Elly Michaels’ grinning face.

“You’ve got mail.”

Laura still had no idea how to take the woman who was in charge of on-air promotions and station marketing. She was amazed at some of the topical spots that this unassuming woman produced, and wondered what in the world she was doing in this market. Face it, the whole station is full of people who could be working in much larger markets…What is it about this place?
“What’s in it?” She asked.

“It’s all those shirts you asked me to order…There are some hats and jackets for the photogs too, call ’em a bonus. Just in time for sweeps.”

The News Director fished her keys out of a pocket and used one to slit the box open, pulling out one of the polo shirts and examining the logo embroidered on it. “Looks good.”

Elly held out a VHS tape, and Laura took it with eyebrows raised. “More spots,” Elly said, “Take a look and tell me if anything bugs you.”

“The others were great. Especially the new Six O’clock anchor stuff.”

“I live to serve. Oh, I almost forgot.” She reached around the doorway and pulled in a long narrow box. “This was in the mailroom so I brought it along.”

“Thanks.” Laura took it, noting the Austin return address. Elly left as quickly as she came and Laura swallowed as she again used her keys to slit the tape. When the box fell open, she couldn’t help but smile. Louis.

The box held a new club and a bundle of golf club grips, bound by a rubber band. The seven wood you promised me, she thought as she took off the plastic bag protecting the club head. And a not so subtle reminder that it was time to re-grip. Experimentally she waggled the club a few times, enjoying the weight and feel. Pleased, she set it carefully against the desk and looked through the packing in the box for some note from the sender. She found it at the bottom and smoothed it out.

Kaz,

This should give you an alternative from about 175-185 yards. Let me know
if I need to shorten the shaft. It should be a high shot with very little roll.

Charles and I will see you on the 18th. Right now the greens at Circle are very slow and sticky, though I expect that will change for the qualifier.

Re-grip now, so that you’re used to them.

Louis

Laura sighed. She didn’t want Louis to get his expectations too high, only to be disappointed. She’d hurt him the most when she walked away after the ’96 Amateur, certain that she’d never play golf again. Her mother was dead and her father was dead, and golf was the next victim.

It didn’t hurt her career though. Sixteen-hour days built up the reputation quite nicely, thank you, and when KDAL needed a News Director, she was the cheap and easy answer. William-Simon Communications got a lot for their money, a workaholic with no life or family to speak of outside the station, it was the perfect set up.

Except for that little charity golf tournament.

Brian, the GM, had committed to it, but something had come up and he couldn’t make it. So he sent his News Director. Laura told him that she didn’t play golf anymore. He told her he didn’t want to hear excuses, and to get out there.

So she did, and smoked the field. More than that, she enjoyed it.

The plan was born on that spring afternoon. Five more years and she would be vested in William-Simon, five more years and she could escape with a cool half million in her pocket, and try her hand at the LPGA tour. It was the perfect solution…She could keep her word to her father, ten years in the news business…and try to play professional golf.

It gave her a new purpose. She bought the house to be close to the club, and painstakingly rebuilt her game, digging for the skills that were buried, but not lost. It was all coming together and for the first time since her mother died there was a little light in Laura Kasdan’s life.

She shook herself out of a daze of remembering. Nothing has changed, she told herself, except that now it’s only three years left to go…You can put up with almost anything for half a million dollars, can’t you? Checking her watch, she noted it was almost news time. Grabbing her notebook, she headed to the control room for the Five O’clock newscast. Time to play a little ‘Spook the Producer.’

**********

At fifteen minutes to six, Chris was throwing up in the ladies’ room. After only briefly wondering if it was something she ate, she decided that it had to be nerves. Once Chris gave it a name, she could corral it, and control it. Leaning against the cool tile wall, she made up her mind not to be affected by the prospect of humiliating herself in front of a million viewers, and miraculously her stomach halted its heaving.

Chris pushed open the stall, and ran water in the sink to rinse out her mouth. Checking the mirror, she was relieved to see that her makeup was holding firm. Hell, you need a quart of cold cream to get the crap off. She pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser to dry her hands, then tossed it into the trash, still checking the mirror. When she heard the door open, Chris didn’t have to turn to see who it was, she could tell by the way her spine tingled.

“Are you okay?” It had never occurred to Laura that Chris might be nervous about her debut, but here she was, hiding out in the restroom.

“I’m fine…just peachy.” Came the bright reply. Chris put on the IFB earpiece and started fumbling with the clip.

“Here, let me.” Laura plucked it out of the anchor’s hand and fastened it to her collar, flipping the plug out so it wouldn’t tangle.

“Thanks. Guess it’s time.” The two of them left the restroom, Chris absently tapping the scripts against her leg as she walked. She glanced at Laura and decided that the taller woman didn’t just walk, she prowled.

When they reached the base of the stairs, Laura turned to the smaller woman and gave her an encouraging smile. “I have all the faith in the world in you. Good luck.” She surprised herself by giving Chris a quick squeeze on the shoulder before climbing the stairs two at a time.

“Laura?”

“Hmm?” She looked down into green eyes looking up.

“It’s gonna be a good ‘cast.”

“I know.” White teeth flashed and the News Director was gone. Chris took a deep breath and pushed through the double doors and into her new role at WBFC.

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

It was a good show, and to celebrate, Laura passed out the new polo shirts to the staff. It was a good way to make everyone feel like a part of a successful effort. After stashing the remaining shirts in the storage closet for the morning crew, Laura tossed the keys to Keith and went back to her office to gather her things. There was still time to hit the practice range and she was eager to try out the seven wood. No paperwork tonight, she promised herself, Just a bucket of balls and maybe a burger later.

She glanced up at the tap on her door, not surprised to see Chris standing there. “C’mon in.” Closing the flap on her briefcase she switched off the computer monitor and smiled inquiringly at the blond anchor.

“Thanks for…you know, before the show.”

“No sweat. Told you you’d be good.” Laura knew she was grinning stupidly, but she just couldn’t help it. Everything worked just like she’d hoped, due in no small part to this fabulous young woman. For a minute Laura let the feeling of doing something right wash over her, even if she hadn’t been the one on the air, or the show’s producer, it had all worked. The smile faded when it wasn’t returned. Uh oh, problem.

Chris closed the door slowly not meeting Laura’s eyes, then stood, hands nervously thrust into pockets before speaking. “Um…got a call last night,” one hand went to the back of her neck. “That guy you were with at Lupe’s…”

“Peter.”

“Yeah, anyway he asked me out and I just wanted…” Chris looked up as she was interrupted.

“Go out with him.” Laura felt her face turn to stone, and she gave a casual shrug. “You’re a big girl, you don’t need my permission.” Disappointed? She asked herself, learn to live with it.

“I don’t think you understand. I’m not…”

Laura shouldered the briefcase and moved from behind the desk to the door. “Whatever, I don’t care one way or the other.”

“Wait! I was worried that if you and he were…then you’d be hurt…Ah, nevermind.” Frustrated, she turned to wrench open the door, only to be stopped by a hand on her arm. Looking up into carefully shielded blue eyes, she waited.

Laura let go of Chris’ arm almost as abruptly as she’d grabbed it, regretting the harshness of her tone. Clearing her throat, she tried to make amends. “It was a one time thing,” she explained, “I’m not interested…he’s all yours.”

Chris gave a humorless laugh, “No, it’s not like that…I just wanted you to…I didn’t…” She gave an exasperated sigh. “If he was seeing you and he asked me out…what a jerk.”

A slight smile flitted across the taller woman’s face. “Thanks for the concern, but don’t worry about me.” It was oddly touching…no one had given thought to her feelings in so long she didn’t know what to make of it. Don’t read anything else into it…she was just trying to be…what? Nice? Laura gestured for Chris to proceed her through the door.

Chris stopped at her desk to pick up her things and watched the taller woman leave the newsroom. For every question that was answered about her boss, ten more rose up in its place. She was standing there, lost in thought when the Six O’clock producer waved a hand in front of her face “Hey, you all right?” Kate asked.

“Yeah.” She answered with a jerk. “Just daydreaming I guess.”

“You did a good job, Chris. Have I told you how glad I am that you’re on my show?”

“‘Bout a million times.”

“Make it a million and one then. You wanna get something to eat?”

Kate was a good friend, but Chris didn’t want the company right now. “No, I really need to do some shopping…some other time?”

“Sure.” Came the easy answer. “See ya.”

Chris clicked the mouse to shut down her computer and locked her desk drawer, strangely dissatisfied on a day that should have been one of the highlights of her life.

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

The smell of coffee drifted through the Barnes and Noble bookstore courtesy of the small café located next to the hardcover best-seller section. Chris gave in to the impulse and bought a small cup of coffee with enough stuff in it to make it sweet and creamy. Why does it always smell much better than it tastes? Finishing the drink, she tossed the cup in the trash and headed out to the magazine section. She knew it was cheaper to just subscribe to the magazines that she enjoyed, but where was the fun in having them delivered?

Chris picked up the usual Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and a few others, then wandered over to the sports section, not sure what she was in the mood for. Workout and self-help books dominated the aisle, and she took her time looking through the various titles.

One in particular caught her attention and she smiled as she pulled it off the shelf. Golf for Dummies. Flipping through it, she noted that it wasn’t just about how to play golf, but explained the rules, the etiquette, and some of the finer points of the various tours.

“That one won’t help ya much if you wanna learn to play golf.”

“Excuse me?”

A middle aged man pointed to the book in Chris’ hand. “You wanna learn how to play?”

Chris gave a little laugh, “No, I just want to know more about it.”

“So you’re interested in golf?”

She shook her head, “It’s more like I’m interested in a golfer.”

“Well, that one’ll do you.” He handed her another one. “Might try this one too.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it…You’re on TV, aren’tcha? You’re a lot shorter in person.”

Her smile broadened, “I get that a lot.” She looked at the two books in her hand and decided to take them both. “Appreciate the help.”

“Don’t mention it. Tell your weatherman we need some rain. Not that he can do anything about it. Pretty good job if you can be wrong half the time and they still pay you.”

Leaving the man to the stacks of books, she went to the checkout and paid for her purchases, wondering what her boss was up to.

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

Whoootick!

Laura sent another ball past the 175-yard marker. It flew on a high trajectory, landing softly with almost no roll. Just like Louis promised. She pulled another ball toward her, set up and swung.

Whoootick!

It was a warm evening and Laura could feel a trickle of sweat running down her back as she practiced. The bugs were a little thick too, she thought, brushing a gnat away from her face. She’d been at it for about two hours, and the lights were beginning to bother her so she decided to call it a night. Picking up a towel she wiped her face and took off her hat, shaking down a mane of dark damp hair.

Home and a shower, she thought, remembering that she had a box of macaroni and cheese left in the pantry. Laura sniffed as she picked up her bag, hoping she wasn’t coming down with something. The lights in the clubhouse were still on, but she didn’t go in, continuing on to the parking lot and her waiting jeep. The top was down and the doors were off and she remembered telling Chris it was her favorite way to drive. As was becoming all too common, she smiled when she thought about the blonde anchor.

What are you doing tonight, Chris? Out for a drink with some friends? Bet you’re not home eating macaroni and cheese. Snap out of it Kaz, not like you to wallow in self-pity.

As she stowed her clubs, Laura heard footsteps behind her and casually glanced over her shoulder. “Evening, Peter. Don’t usually see you here this late.”

“Saw you walk up…how’re you hitting ’em?”

She shrugged noncommittally, “Decently, I guess.” Then wondered if she should say anything about his phone call to her anchor. Ah, what the hell. Taking a deep breath, Laura stuck her foot into what was essentially, none of her business, “Chris said you called her.”

If Peter was surprised, he didn’t show it. “Didn’t know she had to ask your permission.”

“She doesn’t…she just wanted to make sure we weren’t…serious or something.”

Peter looked a little uncomfortable at that. “Kaz, I love playing golf with you, but you’re not…I mean…we don’t really work off the course.”

“It’s okay, I know what you mean.” She put her hands in her pockets and leaned against the jeep. It wasn’t as if she felt anything for him, it was just…

“Besides, she said I wasn’t her type.” He met Laura’s eyes slyly.

“Whatever.” The discussion was making Laura as uncomfortable as Peter had been. Briefly she wondered what Chris’ type was, then pushed off the jeep. “See you Saturday?”

“For sure.” Came the answer. Nodding, Laura got in and drove away.

She found herself taking the long way home, enjoying the late spring evening and the howl of wind through the topless vehicle. Laura didn’t even resist the urge to drive down the familiar street, looking for lights at a tidy patio home. Chris’ car was sitting outside the garage, and Laura felt her stomach settle at the sight of a light burning in the window. Just checking, huh? Great. Now you’re doing drive bys.

Impatient with herself, Laura gassed the jeep and took the corner a little faster than she meant to, squealing rubber on her way home.

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

The first week of sweeps gave way to a much-needed weekend, and Laura invited Lisa and Trey out to the club for a round of golf. Peter rounded out their foursome, and while he and Laura chose to use caddies and walk, the other two opted for a cart.

“Wuss,” Laura chided Lisa as she pulled on her glove, “Next thing you know you’re hitting from the forward tees.”

“I could outdrive you in college, and I’ll outdrive you today.”

“Pity, you still can’t putt.”

“Couldn’t we play at a more civilized hour? Why do you want to get up at the butt-crack of dawn anyway?”

“Ladies, could we get a move on?” Trey grinned and waved them up to the teebox, “Settle it up here.”

Lisa had the honor and hit first. Without a practice swing and as advertised, she boomed one down the middle, her slice carving the dogleg and leaving her in perfect position. “I still have it, Kaz…and I don’t even practice.”

Stepping back she watched her former roommate tee it up and swing. The athleticism of her college days was still there, but this was a different Kaz, a more controlled, precise, and powerful player, and it showed as she outdrove Lisa by a good ten yards.

The caddies grinned and the men swallowed. It was going to be an interesting morning.

By the time they had reached the eighteenth green, the sky had darkened considerably and large drops of rain were beginning to splatter around them. The weather assured Laura that there would be no afternoon round, and with her teeth grinding in frustration, managed to botch the four-foot birdie putt as she finished with a par.

“Pretty good round, Kaz.” Lisa wasn’t too disappointed with the way she played, since she still managed to beat Trey by five strokes, “You’re playing better than I’ve ever seen you play, but it’s a lot different.”

They had decided to clean up and meet in the grill, so the two women were in the locker room changing. “Different how?”

“Not as reckless…more thoughtful. What happened to grip and rip?”

Laura chuckled, “I’m not twenty anymore.” She pulled on a watermelon colored polo shirt and flipped her hair out over the collar. “Besides, a year off made a difference…Louis and I had to make some adjustments.”

“A whole year and you didn’t play? Jesus Kaz, what did you do with your time?”

“Worked.” There was bitterness in Laura’s tone, but she didn’t elaborate as she tucked in her shirt. Lisa regarded the other woman somberly, wondering…

“So what’s up with you and Peter?”

Laura shook her head slightly, “Nothing, why?”

“Just asking about your love life. Ya look good together, he seems nice…couldn’t you just once skip the ‘I’m not interested’ part of your program and go directly to emotional involvement, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars?”

“He seems more interested in Chris Hanson…”

Now we’re getting somewhere. “Chris said he wasn’t her type.” It was out before she could stop it. Oh shit. Insert foot in mouth and chew vigorously. Lisa wished she could take it back as blue eyes flew up to meet hers, and she could almost see the wheels turning in the other woman’s head.

“Chris has a big mouth.” Laura turned to shut the locker door and paced to the sink to wash her hands, glad not to have to look at Lisa. “Nice to know that the newsroom is privy to the details of my social life…or lack thereof.” She felt the anger boil up, and something else. “And what exactly would be Chris Hanson’s type?” Laura threw the question out in a snarl, not really expecting an answer.

Lisa smirked as she tossed back a reply. “You, actually.”

Blue eyes went wide with surprise and she spun around. “Excuse me?”

With a deafening crack of thunder, the storm that had chased them from the course chose that moment to break. The lights flickered for a moment and the locker room was plunged into silent darkness as all power was lost. It was eerily quiet without the hum of the air conditioning or the other mundane sounds of the busy clubhouse.

Laura’s voice came out of the inky stillness. “Well, when you make a point Lisa, you do it with style.”

Lisa thought for a minute that it was Armageddon.

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

Laura headed to the station in the driving rain, the wipers barely able to keep up with the volume of water being poured on the windshield. Severe weather in the middle of sweeps was not an opportunity to be squandered, and the News Director wasted no time in getting the weekend assignment editor to start rounding up some photogs and reporters interested in earning a little overtime cash.

She pulled into a parking place, threw open the door of the jeep, and raced up the stairs. By the time she was inside, Laura was drenched.

The newsroom was in its weekend mode; quieter and laid back, but Keith was at his desk and on the phone scribbling notes. Laura went in to her office and switched on the lights and all three of the monitors, noting that Kurt, their meteorologist, was on the air with a cut in and Channel 4 was running an infomercial.

“We’ve got some problems.” Keith walked in with a legal pad and stuck a pencil behind his ear. “Mostly, it’s the flooding…the staff is gonna have trouble getting here.”

“Lisa’s on her way, she’ll punch it. Who else is coming?”

“Three photogs and four reporters, Kate’s coming, and Janie’s here plus two editors, Angela and Reggie.”

Laura nodded, “Put Angela and Reggie on the phones and listening to the scanners. See if you can get some of those interns in here…we’ll use ’em as runners since we can’t use the live trucks in this weather. Any reports of damage yet?”

Keith checked his pad, “Some trees down but nothing major. Kurt says we haven’t seen the worst yet.”

Laura reached over and turned up the volume on the monitor airing Kurt’s cut in, frowning when she heard the words “…Doppler indicated tornado. Residents of Braxton, take shelter immediately.” Both of them turned to look at the map on the wall. Braxton was northeast of Burkett Falls, and according to the radar, was a mass of red and yellow, signifying the severest of storms.

“Where do you want me?” Chris stood in the door of the New Director’s office, dressed in a yellow slicker and black rubber boots dripping on the carpet. “I couldn’t drive, so I walked.” She explained.

Laura swallowed when her stomach gave an unfamiliar lurch. I’m not ready for this. Dammit I’m just getting comfortable around her. Thanks a lot, Lisa.

Keith looked at Laura, “We could put her on the air with Kurt?”

Work to the rescue, Laura thought. “No. Call Tom, get him in here…he can make it, he’s got that Suburban. Do we have anyone who can shoot that’s here yet?” Keith shook his head. She made the decision quickly, hoping that once it was made she’d feel confident that it was the right one. “All right, that leaves me, I’ll be Chris’ shooter. We’ll go to Braxton, that’ll even up reporters with photogs.”

“You can shoot?” The reporter questioned, “I mean I know you were going to when the live truck went boom, but that was just B roll.”

“Of course I can shoot, I have many skills besides signing purchase orders.”

“Are you sure you wanna do this?” Concern shone in the pale brown eyes of the Managing Editor.

“What? Chase a storm with Chris Hanson? What could possibly happen?” Humor lit the tall woman’s features and she glanced at the reporter. Mark this down Kaz, you’re doing something at work for purely personal reasons that have nothing to do with career advancement. If it blows up, remember where it started. Laura started walking, tossing instructions as she went. “Use the cell phones, the two way’s are gonna be hard to use in this weather, C’mon Chris…Keith, get me some rain gear. The sooner we get there, the sooner we get some stuff on the air.”

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

The Blazer was high enough that the flooded areas didn’t bother it, but Laura still had to drive slowly to keep the wake to a minimum. Chris was listening to the portable scanner and making notes on a legal pad balanced on one knee.

“You know this is a little crazy. We don’t know what we’ll find when we get there.”

“Yep.” Laura said shortly, “Might be nothing, but this is where it’s heading.” She strained to see through the windshield since the wipers were having little effect. The sky was brightened by the occasional burst of lightning showing sheets of horizontal rain.

They drove in silence broken only by the squawk of the scanner and the static of the two-way radio. Suddenly Laura skidded the Blazer to a stop on the shoulder that Chris could barely see.

“Godfuckingdamn.” Laura breathed. “I gotta get this.” Through the window Chris looked out across a shrub-lined field to see what had grabbed the News Director’s attention and felt the blood drain from her face when she realized what it was.

A funnel cloud was dancing along the ground, maybe a little over a half mile from where they were parked. All the still photos and news video in the world hadn’t prepared the reporter for the real entity and the swirling clouds of debris at its base. Chris was startled out of her stupor by the sound of the storm as it invaded the vehicle when Laura opened her door, dragging the plastic wrapped camera behind her.

Chris scrambled out as well, the rain stinging her face and the wind slapping at the jacket and pants that she wore. “Can I help?” She yelled over the fury of the storm.

“Go ahead and get the tripod…I’ll shoot off the shoulder as long as I can!” Chris signaled OK to show that she heard and went to the back of the Blazer to get it. The wind made it difficult to get a steady shot, but Laura widened her stance and kept shooting. The twister moved across the field, from right to left, heading in the same direction that they had been: Braxton.

Chris struggled to her side with the tripod and Laura stopped shooting and turned to the reporter, her eyes blue white chips in the stormy light. “Get back to the truck call the station and confirm that a tornado is on the ground southwest of Braxton…stay on as long as you can, get Keith to put you on with a phoner. Go now!” The reporter left, and with one hand Laura flipped open the legs of the tripod and set the camera on it, locking the plate in position. A little more insurance footage and we’ll go, she told herself.

Chris got through to the weather center without any problems, and waited patiently while they set up for the phoner cut in. She rummaged in the back looking for the portable battery powered TV and dragged it to the front seat. Turning it on she tuned to the station, pleased that the reception was pretty good. Kurt was on the air and she plugged in the earpiece so that she could hear what he was saying without worrying about audio feedback. The meteorologist tossed to the phoner and Chris started talking, keeping an eye on the tall figure buffeted by winds outside the Blazer.

“I can see the funnel cloud, it’s on the ground…If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Braxton , take cover now. I can’t see any damage from where we’re at…I can’t really tell how fast it’s moving, but it is on the ground and moving toward Braxton.” Then the noise of the storm exploded into the cab of the Blazer as the wind caught the door when Laura opened it pushing the camera and tripod in front of her.

“We need to go now. Don’t hang up.” She said emphatically as she climbed in and started the engine, pushing the hood of her jacket back. It hadn’t helped much, dark hair was plastered to her head and she combed through her bangs with one hand before pulling out on the road.

“Ah, we’ll continue to follow the storm and keep you informed… this is Chris Hanson reporting for News 8.” She waited until Keith came on the line to tell her she was clear, then handed the cellphone to Laura.

“It’s Kaz, what’s going on?” She listened as Keith filled in the details. “Do we have any runners yet?” She growled at the negative response. “I’ll figure out a way to get this tape to you…we’re going to Braxton…Yeah, we’ll be careful.” Flipping the phone shut Laura shook her head in frustration. “Two brand new live trucks don’t do a damn bit of good if you’ve got high winds and can’t raise the masts. Let’s see what’s going on in Braxton, then we’ll head back.”

“Who else is out?” Chris asked, positioning the equipment so it wouldn’t shift.

“Maria and Jeff went to North Burkett, the flooding is really bad up there. Rendally and Jason are tagging along with one of the emergency crews, and Terrance is our backup, he’s on the way with Bobby.” Laura drove carefully through the gloom, trying to quash a lingering feeling of anxiety.

Chris flexed her hands nervously. The walls of the blazer seemed to be closing in and she just wanted out, storm or no storm. She glanced at her boss, noting the twitching muscles in her jaw and smiled just a bit. I’m not the only one freaking out here.

The rain had stopped and it was ominously still when they reached the Jaycees sign at the Braxton city limits. They rounded a bend and descended a hill to see the small town spread out in front of them, or what was left of it.

“Oh my god,” Chris whispered. The buildings at the edge of town resembled nothing more than a jagged, jumbled scrap heap of lumber and bricks. The smoky haze of destruction had not been washed away by the rain, instead it hung heavy in the air. Laura pulled over to the side of the road and put the station unit into park.

“Let’s switch. You drive, I’ll shoot.” She opened the door and got out.

“You know what happens when I drive…” Chris said as they crossed in front of the vehicle.

“Just go slow and we should be pretty safe.” Laura set the camera on her shoulder and rolled down the window. “Okay, let’s go.” They made their way down the main street slowly, surveying the damage and getting it on tape. Emergency crews were beginning to arrive as they made a second pass, and Chris pulled into a lot next to a damaged building.

“I’ll find someone who’ll talk on camera,” Chris said grabbing the wireless Mic, “Anything special you want?”

“See if they had any warning…were there sirens? Stuff like that. Go on, I’m right behind you.”

Chris was in her element now, threading through groups of people, gesturing for Laura to set up and shoot one sound bite after another. Her questions were concerned, polite, and probing. The interviewees opened up with vivid descriptions of what they had experienced in the fury of the storm. They even got one man on tape who said that he’d heard the warning on Channel 8 to take cover and that’s what saved his life.

“Elly’s gonna love that,” Laura said, referring to the Promotions Manager. “There’s your viewer benefit.” They were headed back to the Blazer to switch tape and batteries, plus make contact with Keith when a burly man wearing a mesh baseball cap, his weathered face creasing into a smile, stopped them.

“Chris Hanson? I’m Tim Foreman, one of your Storm Watchers.” As he introduced himself, Laura smiled, realizing that this man could be the answer to their problems. The Storm watchers were viewers recruited around the area to call in temperatures and weather conditions. They seemed to be fiercely loyal to the station and often provided news tips as well. “Kurt Denton called me and said that you all were up here, and I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help you out.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Foreman, this is Laura Kasdan, my…photographer.” Laura lifted an eyebrow as Chris gave a slight wink. “Did you sustain any damage in the storm?”

“Nope, our house wasn’t touched, and we heard the warning, so we were in the cellar…just wanted to know if we could help you folks out.”

Good thinking Kurt. Laura spoke up, “Mr. Foreman, could you go to Burkett Falls for us? We’re gonna try and follow the storm, but we need to get a tape back to the station.”

“Sure, I’d be glad to help. D’you think I could get me one of those Channel 8 coffee cups?” he asked a little wistfully.

Laura gave him a big smile, “We’ll make it worth your while.”

She boxed the tape with a note to Keith and gave it to the Storm Watcher, who left for his pickup truck, pleased to be a part of the Channel 8 team. Smiling, Laura dialed the station on the cellphone, leaned against the truck and looked up at the stormy sky.

“News 8…Keith.”

“Your tape’s on the way…Tell Kurt he’s a smart man, never mind don’t…his head’s big enough.”

“Kaz, good to hear from you. Braxton’s a mess I hear.”

“Pretty much. No reported deaths, though. There’s a Storm Watcher by the name of Tim Foreman on his way in with a tape…interviews and stuff. Make sure you give him a shirt, a mug…you know, the whole gift package. Where’s the storm going?” Chris came over to where she was standing and raised her eyebrows in question.

“It’s kinda stalled just north of where you are. It’s a very narrow band, but very intense, moving toward Groveton.”

Laura looked over at Chris, “Do you know how to get to Groveton?” The reporter nodded, then turned to follow the News Director’s gaze and spotted their backup, just pulling in.

“Terrance and Bobby are here,” she told Keith, “So we’re leaving. Remember…continuing coverage, the more pictures, the better, okay?”

“You got it.”

Flipping the phone shut, she let out a breath and gave a tired smile to Chris. “Ready to go?”

“Lead on.” Chris had her second wind and was almost glowing with enthusiasm. You wanted a storyteller that wasn’t afraid to go off prompter, Laura told herself. That’s what you got.

“Where do we stand here?” Terence asked as he slammed the door on the other Blazer. He was a little peeved at not being part of the first wave, regardless of the fact that it was his own fault. His handsome features were twisted with impatience as he tapped his reporter’s notebook on his thigh. Laura recognized the signs of someone having trouble with her authority, so she forced herself into the cold business mode that she used to strong arm her staff into line.

“Stay here, report on the damage, any injuries or rescues. As soon as it’s clear, get Keith to send one of the Live Trucks. We’ll go Live at six if we can, but more likely it will be ten. We’re heading to Groveton. Get Keith to send a runner for the tape you shoot…any questions?”

The reporter shook his head, “No.”

“Good. I’ll see you back at the station.” The two women got into their Blazer as the reporter stared balefully at them. Bobby waved as they pulled away and Chris let out a sigh of relief.
She never liked Terence, and in the hyper competitive atmosphere of the newsroom, their animosity flared hotly and frequently.

“Not a big Terence fan, Hmm?” Laura observed.

Diplomatically she sidestepped the question, “He’s a good reporter.”

“No, he’s a plumber. That’s what we used to call one of those guys who work from nine to six with an hour for lunch. He’s got the good shift but he’s still pissed off ’cause he’s not the number one reporter and he’s unwilling to do the work to get there. Come to think of it, it’s pretty insulting to plumbers everywhere to call him that.”

Chris wasn’t used to Laura making speeches, and was a little surprised at the length of the observation. “You come up with some interesting descriptions.”

She shrugged, “He is what he is…it’s up to him to change.”

Chris couldn’t resist, “What am I?”

Laura looked over at the smaller blond woman, her green eyes dark in the light of the storm. Go ahead, answer that one, Kaz. “Whatever you want to be.” She said softly, taking the safe out.

Chris knew it for an evasion and turned to look out the window. Laura took the silence for a minute before apologizing, “I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair, you asked me an honest question.” She thought about how to answer as she noted the sign marking fifteen miles to Groveton. “You’re one of the warmest people on air that I’ve ever seen…You’re a good reporter, but not as cutthroat as Danny Rendally, and you’re well liked by the majority of your peers.” Laura glanced over to see the reporter looking down at her hands. “What else do you want?”

You’d be surprised. Chris clamped down on the thought. “Thanks. So I’m not a plumber?”

“Hell no. It’s not in your nature…you’d never do anything half-assed.” And god help me, I’m kinda counting on that. Laura gave herself a mental shake, Job at hand, Kaz…Watch where you’re going.

The sky was turning ominous, churning from light to almost black in rippling waves across the horizon. The air fairly crackled with energy, and Laura instinctively slowed the Blazer as it crossed under a concrete bridge. Almost as an afterthought, she searched the landscape looking for shelter, just in case…

The sky in front of them suddenly split open sending a V-shaped cloud plunging to the earth like a knife, the telltale funnel whipping across road and moving right toward them. Laura spun the blazer around, coming dangerously close to flipping the vehicle and headed back the way they came.

“Hold on!” She wrenched the wheel to the left heading for a culvert that she’d seen near the bridge. Gravel sprayed as they left the paved surface of the road, and the Blazer slid more than rolled to a stop near the concrete drainage ditch.

“Out of the truck!” Laura yelled, grabbing the camera for no other reason than not wanting to lose another one. Chris was already fumbling with her door handle and had fallen out when Laura reached down to grab her hand, pulling the smaller woman up and forward as they ran furiously to the relative safety of the culvert. Scrambling into the opening, they settled on their knees looking back at the world behind them as all hell broke loose. Laura punched the record trigger on the camera, looking into the viewfinder just long enough to make sure that there was an image framed beyond the opening. Without pausing for thought, she reached out an arm and pulled Chris to her, settling the other woman against her side and yelled in the reporter’s ear, “Don’t let go!”

Chris shuddered against the suction of the wind and held on to Laura for dear life. She could feel the assault of water, grit and other debris against the exposed skin of her face and hands. The wind howled like a jet at takeoff, deafening in its intensity. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter if that was possible, and just when she thought that she couldn’t stand it anymore, the fury turned off, like a faucet, leaving unnatural quiet behind.

Laura became conscious of her own ragged breathing in the eerie silence that followed and realizing that she was still holding Chris in an iron grip, she dropped her arms. Concerned, she lifted the smaller woman’s chin and looked into green eyes for a clue as to what to do next. Ah, hell. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.

She found the mouth under hers softer than she expected, and for the first time in as long as she could remember, Laura wished for a little more expertise in the area of kissing, not certain that she was even doing it right but enjoying the texture and the taste. She pulled back, gently letting go of Chris’ lower lip and swallowed, preparing herself for whatever was going to happen next.

Chris blinked, not certain that the kiss had even really happened, and wanting much more. Then the implications crashed down and she couldn’t begin to keep up with all the questions tripping through her mind. She cleared her throat nervously, “Cat’s out of the bag?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Who told…”

“Lisa.”

Realization dawned, “Wait a minute, you kissed me.”

“Nothing wrong with your powers of observation.” Laura turned away, pushing the camera aside and crawling to the opening of their concrete cave.

“Why?”

“Shouldn’t we be trying to get out of here?”

“Answer the question!” Chris grabbed the back of Laura’s slicker and pulled, finally getting a reaction when Laura turned around.

“You know, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time crawling around in ditches with you.”

Chris fumed, “You are the most infuriating…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Laura peered out at the brightening sky and then pushed her way out into the sodden grass, looking around for the Blazer. Oh no, not another one. “Come on.” She reached back for Chris who grabbed the camera and let herself be pulled from the culvert and onto her feet.

“Oh shit.” Chris could only look resignedly toward the bridge embankment at the station vehicle lying on its side. Then Laura started laughing. “You were driving!” Chris accused her boss.

“It doesn’t matter…apparently you just have to be in the vicinity.” Laura answered as she started walking to the truck, squishing through the mud and weeds. When Chris caught up, she automatically took the camera from the reporter and hoisted it up on her shoulder. “By any chance did you grab the Mic?”

“Right here,” came the answer.

“Then it’s standup time again.” Laura fumbled for a minute with the camera controls as she made sure the tape was cued. Speeding through the footage of the tornado while they were in the culvert, she swore softly. “Chris, you gotta see this.”

“Hmm?” Looking over Laura’ shoulder she peered into the viewfinder. Except for a slightly tilted angle, the video was framed pretty well, then she saw the trees in the distance flatten, breaking like so many matchsticks and their Blazer roll by like a tumbleweed. “Whoa. That could’ve been us.” She did it again…We could have been killed.

“Let’s do this.” The camera was back on Laura’s shoulder as she waited for Chris to settle and begin the quick rehearsal of what she was going to say.

“Do I look okay?”

Laura stepped forward, and with just a slight hesitation, she fluffed the reporter’s blond hair, her fingers easing the flattened look a bit. “You’re fine…let’s do a promo too.”

Chris became the storyteller again, slipping into the role of observer as she imparted the details of their ordeal, never once giving any hint of the terror she must have felt…It was more like a great adventure. The standup was brief, and although they did it three times, any of the takes were useable.

“Cool.” Laura put the camera down, “Now we need to make some calls.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Chris asked, concerned as she eyed the overturned truck.

“No, but we don’t have any choice. I haven’t seen any traffic on the road since it hit, and we gotta get back to the station or all this is for nothing.”

She opened the back of the Blazer and crawled in, tossing aside equipment as she reached it, until she got to the cellphone. Hoping that it still worked, she dialed the station.

“News 8, this is Keith.”

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“Kaz, you could identify yourself, you know. The good news I guess.”

“We’ve got some kick ass video…”

“The other stuff you shot was great! Must’ve been scary shooting the twister.”

“Then you’re gonna love this.”

“We were first on the air with damage video…Channel 4 is just trying to keep up. Bad news?”

“Ah, you know the unit we left with?” Laura heard the groan.

“You’re kidding. What do you want to do?”

Laura twisted to get a little more comfortable. “I want to get this video to you…Is the Live truck in Braxton?”

“On it’s way.”

“Good.” She checked her watch. Three thirty? Seems like it ought to be eight o’clock. “We’re on highway 61 just north of Braxton…Tell ’em to pick us up first. Oh, and call a wrecker. Was there any damage in Groveton?”

“No, the storm just turned in on itself and died…They got some rain, but nothing else.”

“Then I’ll see you when I see you.” Laura hung up and crawled out the back again looking guiltily at Chris as she emerged from the wrecked vehicle. “I’m sorry, ” She started, “Usually the reporter is in charge of a news shoot…I kinda took over.”

That was strange, a News Director apologizing for invading a reporter’s territory. “It’s different, you’re running the newsroom too.”

“The Live Truck’ll pick us up, shouldn’t be too long.” Uncomfortable, she looked away.

“Thanks.”

“For what?” Laura raised an eyebrow.

“For caring about stepping on my toes, and for saving my life…again.”

The News Director gave a brief laugh. “I just threw you in a ditch…again.”

Chris smiled and looked at Laura, her eyes earnest. “Are we going to deal with this?”

Laura knew she wasn’t talking about the story and sighed. “How do you want to deal with it? I’m your boss and I was way out of line.” She swallowed, “If you want to file a complaint, then go ahead. I have no excuse for what happened…I did it, and I’ll pay for it.” Same as always, huh Kaz?

“I don’t want to file a complaint, I want to know why.” Chris needed to understand. It was one of the things that made her good at her job; it also explained the warmth of her personality. Knowing that didn’t make anything easier.

Laura voiced her thoughts out loud, not realizing it, “Because I wanted to know what it was like.”

“What, to kiss a woman? I’m not a freakin’ experiment.” Chris was angry now, her green eyes snapping.

“No, to kiss someone I wanted to kiss.” It was a simple but telling explanation and Laura gave the half shrug that Chris was beginning to recognize as a sign of hurt dismissed. Then the implication of her words slammed home.

“You’ve never…”

“No, not really.”

“Sex?”

“No.”

“You’re in your thirties…Jeez Kaz, how…?”

“Suffice to say, I have some intimacy issues and leave it at that.” Laura started picking up the equipment she had tossed out of the Blazer and stacking it in a neat pile, awaiting the arrival of their ride.

Chris stood still, watching and thinking. Asexual frigid bitch…that’s what Lance called her. Then she said softly, “But you kissed me.” Laura said nothing, and Chris knelt down in front of her, the plastic coat crackling as she moved. “Look at me.” She noted the darkness of blue eyes determined not to waver. “Where do you want to go from here?”

“I have no idea.”

“All right.” Chris rubbed her chin thoughtfully, “We can make certain assumptions. There’s some mutual attraction, right?” Laura nodded, and Chris continued. “Here’s the deal, we’ll take it slow, you’re in control…you say stop or go.”

Oh shit, not another deal. After a brief hesitation, Laura nodded again. “It doesn’t come into the newsroom.”

“Right. It’s all up to you.”

“That’s not fair to you.” Laura winced a little at the prospect of someone else giving up that much control.

The blonde reporter fed familiar words back to the source, “Thanks for the concern, but don’t worry about me. I think you’re worth it.” Chris smiled warmly and stood up holding down a hand for her boss. She pulled the taller woman up easily, feeling a strange sense of role reversal. “You know, I think you’re more like your dad than you give yourself credit for.”

“Why do you say that?”

“When we were running for cover, you grabbed the camera…I didn’t think of it, but I should’ve. Now we have some great video, and you survived another Chris Hanson story.” They spotted the Live Truck at the same time and started picking up equipment. “You can shoot for me anytime.”

“Thanks, I think.”
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 naïve 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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