Every head turned as she entered the room. She managed to command an aura of authority, a graceful self-assurance; even through her backless, white, lace-up Keds, ragged edged denim capris and the faded maroon T-shirt that proclaimed “EVERYONE LOVES AN ITALIAN GIRL.” Fittingly enough, Lara had classically Italian coloring: deeply tanned skin set off nicely by the sterling silver and turquoise jewelry she loved; long, thick, dark brown hair; and huge brown eyes with perfectly arched eyebrows. Her well-defined cheekbones and jaw line, and her aquiline nose added a touch of aristocracy, but any hint of snobbishness was removed when one considered the imperious sparkle in her eyes and the omnipresent smile that highlighted her perfectly white teeth. (Thank you to Dr. Shaheen, her childhood orthodontist, and more boxes of Crest White Strips than she cared to think about.)
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she whispered, ducking her head as she slipped into the only empty chair left in the large conference room, directly to the right of the man at the head of the table. The man was Roger DelMartin, and he was the Executive Producer United News Corp.’s 24-hour news channel UNC, in other words, her boss. She had seen him less than five hours ago at a party for all the network bigshots and various advertisers. As lead producer for the daily 3pm newscast Afternoon Sound-off, Lara had been doing her part and schmoozing up a storm. She hadn’t even noticed that Roger had left until his wife Jane asked her if she wanted to share a ride home. Apparently, something had come up and Roger had had to take their car and go back to the office. As a result, she had only managed about 3 hours of sleep before being summoned back to the office, along with the rest of the station’s 20 or so lead producers, for a 7am meeting with Roger.
Acknowledging her with a brief nod, Roger straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. The low mumble of conversation in the room cut off immediately and everyone swiveled in their chairs to give him their full attention.
I’m going to keep this as brief as possible, because we’re all going to have a lot of work to do in the next 12 hours. John Wesley is no longer with UNC. The same goes for the majority of his production team and Dale Carmine. What that means is that we have no producers, no director, no sound guys, no light crew, no PAs, no graphics, no camera, no anchor, and 12 hours to put together a 60-minute newscast from scratch. I have IT pulling files off their computers, but everything’s pretty much a mess right now. I’ve had to make some quick decisions based on who I think is the most capable of pulling this thing off. I’m handing the reins of Final Report off to Lara Caprielli, with Marco Langford as assistant producer. She’ll be authorized to pull people out of your departments as she needs to. We can’t expect her people to prep for the 3pm and 7pm at the same time. Questions? Problems?” Roger paused and several hands twitched, as if no one wanted to be the first to speak. “Keep them to yourselves; I don’t have the time or the interest. Lara I need to you hang around for a moment, the rest of you are dismissed. Get back to work.” He got up from the table and walked through the door at his back, which lead directly into his office, beckoning Lara to follow and closing the door on the chaos that had erupted behind them.
“Roger, I,” Lara stopped, cut off by Judy, the office manager, on the phone intercom.
“Mr. DelMartin, you have a call on line 1, its Tom Grace from the board.”
Roger picked up the phone, “put him through Judy… Hello there Tom! Quite a night we’ve had! What can I do for you?” He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and whispered, “Grab a seat, this won’t be long and I have some things to go over with you.”
Lara walked across the office and sank down into the steel blue suede couch. She was still I shock, not quite believing what had just happened. As she waited, she glanced around her boss’s office. Knowing he spent a minimum ten hours a day at work, she was always amazed at how neat he kept the place. Everything was perfectly arranged and neurotically tidy. She could even still see the lines in the carpet from the last time someone vacuumed. She had to stifle a laugh when she compared it to her office, just down the hall on the same floor.
As a lead producer, her office was nearly as large as Roger’s, but that was where the similarities ended. She had every last square millimeter crammed with stuff. Her desk, which would have been large enough for her to sleep on if there had been enough clear surface area, was a confusing array of piles of inter-office memos, heaps of old scripts and blocking sheets, CDs, her handheld DVD mini-cam, ponytail holders, half-full room temperature bottles of water and Gatorade (lemon-lime), post-it notes, random bits of technology, lots of cords, and little tubs holding rubber bands, paper clips, pens and pencils, and push pins. She had three monitors attached to her massive computer, the fan of which could be heard whirring from somewhere in the nether region beneath the desk. It was a wonder the poor thing hadn’t exploded by now, considering the confined space in which it was enclosed and the fact that it hadn’t been turned off since she had started working there two years ago (except for once for about three hours after she blew a fuse and cut power to the entire floor). Somewhere under the rubble on the desk was one of those blotter pad calendars, but even on the rare occasion when she cleared enough stuff off the desk to see it, it was rarely updated (or even turned to the proper month). She relied on her production assistant Toby to keep track of her schedule.
Covering most of the floor space, except for a few paths that had been kept moderately clear (one to the private bathroom she shared with her asst. producer Marco who had the office next to hers, one to the hall door, and the other to the sliding glass door of her private balcony), were piles of visuals from various old segments, slightly older scripts and blocking sheets, other papers that had been moved off the desk to make room for new papers, heaps of CDs and DVDs, rather larger pieces of stray technology, post-its that had fallen off the desk, books on every imaginable subject and a large globe with lots of little pins sticking out of it. (So many that in some places you couldn’t tell what country they were in anymore.) There was a lilac suede couch in the corner that was currently serving as a depository for three winter coats (she always seemed to forget they were there until she got outside and realized it would have been nice to have one), six umbrellas (for the same reason), a broken camera from the studio that hadn’t yet made it to the trash, a box of architectural drawings from an expose she did on the dangerous flaws in the construction of a downtown high-rise, and something like 16 empty shipping boxes from Amazon.com. Needless to say, no one had attempted to vacuum in a very long time.
The walls were covered with maps that expanded on the most heavily pin studded portions of the globe, each of these covered in many more pins; degrees and certificates from various institutions of higher learning; three 27-inch plasma TVs tuned to UNC and its two major competitors, the remotes to which had been missing for months; Crayola illustrations sent to her from her nieces in Texas; photos of her with family, with friends, or simply alone in some exotic corner of the globe; taped and tacked over and around and sometimes on top of all these were headlines and front pages of newspapers and magazines from around the country and around the world. In places, the papers were several layers thick and she had long forgotten the color of the walls. Actually, she was fairly certain that when she moved into the office there had been four windows not three…
As she sat on the couch in Roger’s office staring out the window at the city skyline spread before her, the realization of what had happened hit. Climbed out of the couch and looked over at Roger, who was still mmmhmmm-ing into the phone. He put up his hand, and mouthed “hold on.”
“Listen Tom, I appreciate your support, and thanks for the call. I’ll let you know if anything comes up, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of tonight’s show… Discuss it over coffee tomorrow? Let me get back to you, I don’t have my book in front of me right now… yep, I’ll have Judy give you a call, have a good one.”
“Worse than a child, that one,” Roger groaned as he leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. Sitting up again, he pulled off his tie, “OK Lara, I know this isn’t going to be fun, but I trust you to make me proud. You’re the best producer I’ve got, and you will pull this off. You know the basic formats; it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks. Don’t go for the big splash tonight, no drastic changes, you don’t have the time, just give me a solid show. Put tonight to bed and you’ll have the whole weekend to get ready to knock Monday out of the park. Like I told everyone, you have my permission to pull any resources you need to, just try not to piss anyone off too badly. Now here’s the big question. Do you thinkCam’s ready for primetime?” Roger gave her a pointed glance and raised an eyebrow, “Is he ready?”
Camwas Cameron Walsh, anchor of the Afternoon Sound-Off. He had been on the desk for the last year and a half, after working his way up the ranks at breakneck speed. At 29,Camwas the youngest anchor to solo a one-hour newscast. He had earned his position reporting from the most dangerous war zones and facing the brutality of Mother Nature at the scenes of major natural disasters. Unlike many anchors after finally winning the chair,Camstill fought to be allowed to report on location. He often hosted his show from whatever international hotspot he had talked Lara into sending him to. Camlived for taking the camera and going places no one else would.
Most recently, he had dragged the production crew to the coast ofSouth Carolina, where Hurricane Theodore was bearing down. Long after most correspondents had signed off to ride out the storm under shelterCampersevered. He looped a rope around a cement support on the corner of a parking structure, held on for dear life, and brought the world images from inside the storm.
WasCamready for primetime? Roger wasn’t asking her if she thoughtCamcould handle the pressure. He wasn’t asking ifCamcould be ready in less that twelve hours. He knew the answer to those questions. Roger wasn’t asking her if Cam Walsh was ready for primetime, he was asking if Cameron Walsh was ready to grow up. The eyebrow added an unspoken layer to the question. Lara andCamhad been dating for the better part of the last eight months. He was asking if she could be objective.
“We’re ready, no worries.”
“Good, then make it yours.” Roger smiled at her, the smile of a proud parent whose child has lived up to their highest expectations. In many ways, Roger had been like a father to her. She had met him her freshman year of college, during an introductory journalism class. The class was visiting this very building to observe the making of the morning show.
Back then, Roger was lead producer of the 3-hour breakfast newscast and executive producer of special programming. During a commercial break she had made what she thought was an incredibly witty comment to a classmate about the story from the previous segment. The professor was standing nearby, talking to several members of the production staff, including Roger. They all overheard the comment and the professor chastised Lara loudly, saying that children who didn’t know what they were talking about shouldn’t speak. As they were leaving, Lara was stopped by a strong hand on her shoulder.
“Ya know kid, you were right. Don’t let tight-asses like that tell you different, you’ve got good instincts.”
Three years later when the students were signing up for internships, Lara’s name had already be added to the list for UNC. Roger had remembered the precocious co-ed with the great instincts and had requested her personally. When Lara graduated, Roger had a cubicle waiting for her.
She had been with UNC for eight years now, the last two in her current position. Lara had broughtCamup to the anchor desk 18 months ago and together they had made the Afternoon Sound-off the number one non-primetime cable newscast. Now the smile on his face told her that he was expecting similar success with the Final Report.
“Check back in with me at 10, just a quick progress report.”
“Roger thanks.” Lara smiled and turned to leave, her thoughts already racing to what she should be doing first. She glanced at her watch as she closed the office door behind her and headed down the hall toward her office, it was only 7:53. It’s gonna be a long day, she thought.
“So we’re going to open with yesterday’sChicagofreight train crash and bump Around the World ahead of the break why?”
Toby jumped as her voice dragged him out of his reverie and back into the real world. He had been surfing Reuters, searching for material for the weird news filler in the afternoon. By the time his brain had processed the question and begin to formulate an answer she had already disappeared across the hall into her own office. He grabbed his Blackberry and the sheaf of papers from his printer tray and rushed after her, right into the mail girl, who was pushing her cart around the corner. His papers flew everywhere as he grabbed at the cart to keep it from toppling over.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, leaning down to gather them up again.
“S’okay,” she called back over her shoulder, unfazed.
Toby picked up the last of the printouts and entered Lara’s office. She had climbed into the chair behind her desk, kicked off her shoes and wrapped her arms around her knees. Something on her computer screen had her so distracted that she didn’t notice him com in right away.
“Senator Collins has tonsillitis,” Toby blurted out.
She blinked and turned to look up at her perpetually confused seeming, Clay Aiken look alike personal assistant.
I’m sure that sucks for the Senator, but is it really newsworthy?” she smiled and pointed him to the couch, and the clear spot she had made for him by throwing some of the Amazon boxes into the bathroom.
“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Toby inhaled deeply. “We were going to open with an update on the current Rhode Island graft scandal and tease an exclusive interview with the Senator that should have taped this morning to air after Final Report, but the Senator has tonsillitis, so no interview, no interview means no exclusive and no new news, if we bump Around the World to before the break we can add three more minutes to the national segment at 7:07 and everything’ll work out OK, I think…” he stopped to exhale and check that his boss had actually followed all that.
“Fine, work up the train wreck open,” she said chuckling, “but let’s try and come up with something better by the time we actually go on, OK? Toby?”
“Lara, turn the volume up on the TV.”
“I don’t know where the remote is… why… what’s? Oh my god.” They both watched as a giant orange and red fireball filled the screen. The new crawl at the bottom of the screen simply read Explosion inWashingtonDC.
“No, you’re not… it’s not even the slightest bit safe down there. You don’t even know that you’ll be able to get into the city! As soon as the Washington Bureau gets a satellite truck up and running again we’ll have plenty of video. There’s no needCam!”
“Are you shitting me? No one’s getting video, it’s not just our office that’s down, it’s everyone! There’s no office left, no sat trucks to get working! Why do you think we haven’t heard anything from the government? Because it just got its head chopped off and they’re all scrambling to figure out what to do next! This is the story of our lifetimes! I might be the beginning of the end, and I’m going!”
“Stop yelling at me, I’m the producer here and I’ll be making the location decisions and you’re going to do the show from here! I won’t authorize the truck or the crew!”
“You know that if I don’t get going quick someone else is going to. I’m the best Lara, and it’s my job. Let me do it!”
“Why can’t it be someone else’s job just this once? I let you go all over the planet chasing things that usually end up killing lots of people. Why can’t you just let someone else do the chasing this time?”
“Because I don’t want to. When you put me on the desk, you swore I could still go on location. That I could still follow the big stories. Let me follow this one.”
“No. I won’t. It’s my call, and you’re not going.”
“Yes, he is.”
Roger took another step into Lara’s office and closed the door. “He’s right, if he doesn’t go someone else will, and they’ll beat us to the punch. Cam’s the best we’ve got and I’m sending him.” Turning toCam, Roger continued, “take Marco and a camera guy, your pick. I’m having a truck stocked up as we speak. You leave in 20 minutes.”
“Roger, you cannot be serious! This is ridiculous! Lara looked back and forth between the two men frantically. “You’re both crazy!” She dropped into the chair behind her desk and crossed her arms.
“If this is what you want to do you do it,” she said, looking Cameron in the eye, “but I don’t like it and I won’t have anything to do with it.”
Cam opened his mouth to protest but Roger silenced him with a glare. “Why don’t we go downstairs and check the truck, make sure you’ve got everything you need. Lara can meet us down there in a few minutes.” The two men left the office, closing the door behind them.
Lara took several deep breaths as she tried to keep from screaming in frustration. Slowly her breathing and heart rate returned to normal. She glanced down at the segment plans on her desk, the ones she and Toby had been working on several hours ago. How did this day go so wrong? she though to herself, it all started out so well. The best laid plans of mice and men I suppose…
As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Roger was right. Every other network was scrambling to get s crew to DC right now. If Camdidn’t go, someone else would be sent, and there was no denying that he was the best at what he did. If I wasn’t dating him would I hesitate for even an instant? Probably not. Decision made, Lara got up from her desk and started for the door. Opening it, she saw Toby coming her way with a satellite phone headset and a mocha latte from the coffee shop in the lobby.
“Guess we don’t have to worry about the Senator’s tonsillitis now, huh?” he laughed nervously.
Lara by Lindsay Brunner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.