[I can’t remember if this has ever been posted, here or at Liberty’s Torch V1.0. It makes a point that deserves emphasis, and anyway, I have more to do today than will permit me to write another of those furshlugginer essays — FWP.]
“And now with the sports news,” intoned the anchor of WHUP’s six o’clock evening newscast, Geoff Hartnett, “we’re pleased to introduce the newest member of the WHUP news team: retired New York Rangers hockey great and Onteora hometown hero Dave Pargeter.” Hartnett tipped his carefully coiffed head a millimeter in Dave’s direction. Dave smiled, picked up his cue sheets, and looked directly at the camera with the glowing red light.
Time for the game face, hometown hero. The puck’s in play.
“Thanks, Geoff. Let’s start with the NHL. This past day was a quiet one for local teams, with only the Rangers in action against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild took this one from the Blueshirts three to two, in a game that featured two bench-clearing brawls. The fights were touched off by calls by referee Andy LeBlanc that taped replays later proved erroneous. Those calls wiped out Ranger goals by Cal Siller and Matt Montreux.” Dave caught a look of monitory alertness on the anchor’s face, but plunged ahead. “Despite the verdict of the replays, LeBlanc expressed no regret over handing out game misconduct penalties to the protesting Rangers.” He looked up from the cue sheet. “Being a referee means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Hartnett’s face had gone zombie-blank. Behind the cameras, the network representative, up from Manhattan that very day for a discussion of WHUP’s swiftly sliding financials, was making a shushing gesture with both hands.
You knew what I’m like when I agreed to take this gig. I said I’d do it the way I want, not like some blow-dried pansy of a talking head who’s never thrown a check or taken a stick to the face. I didn’t hide a goddamned thing. You don’t like it, try to do something about it.
Dave glanced down at his cue sheet. “Next up is baseball. The Mets entertained the Anaheim Angels yesterday evening in a game that could have tried the patience of a saint. Other reporters call ‘em pitchers’ duels. I call ‘em duller than mud. Anyway, at the end it was two to one for the Angels. After Ty Athanasius knocked in the winning run in the top of the fourth, both teams sleepwalked through the rest. Attendance was as low as it’s been all season long, and the fans looked almost as eager to leave the stadium as the Mets did.”
Every eye in the little studio had gone wide in shock. Hartnett was pantomiming to production crew chief Val Tyszczenko to cut Dave’s mike, go to a commercial, anything but let Dave continue. From behind the production room’s windows, Dave could see Tyszczenko shake his head, though whether willingly or reluctantly was unclear.
He shrugged to himself and continued on.
When the newscast had ended and the crew moved in to rearrange the studio for the next show, Tyszczenko sidled up to Dave with a slightly bashful smile.
“Do they still call themselves the Anaheim Angels?”
Dave grimaced. “I don’t know. They keep playing with the name to get them more fan interest. It hasn’t worked yet. Most southern Californians think baseball is a bore.” He smirked. “I tend to agree with them.”
Tyszczenko. “Well,” he said, “you certainly made sure the ‘cast tonight wasn’t a bore. You either doubled our viewership or killed us off completely.” He indicated the network rep, apparently still frozen in shock, with a toss of his head. “I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”
“I just spoke my mind. Athletes don’t mince words. I never did, anyway. Besides,” he said with a thumb back toward Diane Loiselle, “most of the viewers tune in to look at her.”
Tyszczenko smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Not to hear the weather?”
“They could get that a lot of places. Sticking your head out a window still works.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Tyszczenko watched as WHUP’s statuesque brunette weather gal gathered herself and strode out of the studio. Her stiletto heels beat a crisp cadence against the studio’s heavily lacquered, highly polished oak floor. She was clearly uninterested in them or anything else in the room. “Might not last. She’s been here six years now. Made a lot of noise about wanting to move up, get more scope. The management’s been trying to put her off. I don’t think it’ll work much longer.”
“Wouldn’t be good. She’s got a lot of followers we’d lose right along with her.”
Tyszczenko peered at him. “She does? What makes you say that?”
Dave hefted his backpack and snorted a laugh. “She’s got me.”
Dave caught up to Loiselle in the coatroom. The young woman was donning a full-length navy cloth coat, apparently anxious to be off for what remained of the evening. He slid up next to her and cleared his throat.
“So what do you think?”
She looked sideways at him, squinted as if he was gabbling in Urdu, shrugged without speaking, and went back to fastening her buttons.
“I mean,” he said slightly more emphatically, “what do you expect to happen to our ratings?”
She didn’t look up. “I don’t think about them.”
“You don’t care?”
“I do my part of the show and leave,” she said. “The rest is for the bean counters to worry about.”
“Hm. Well, if we can’t pull them out of the sewer, New York will shut us down. That’s why the suit was here tonight.”
“I know. I do my bit.” She fastened the last of her buttons and turned to face him. “I dress the way they want. I stand and move the way they want. I speak in my lowest register. I lay on as much innuendo as talk about clouds and fronts will stand, and I smile, smile, smile.” The edge on the last word startled Dave into rearing back. Her eyes were remote, frosty. “Got any other suggestions?”
“I could try to come up with a few,” he said. “How about over dinner?”
The corners of her mouth lifted.
“Well, Dave, I figure a retired hockey player who’s done exactly one newscast in his entire television career probably doesn’t have a lot of relevant perspective from which to offer that kind of advice. So I think I’ll say thanks but no thanks.”
His eyes narrowed, and he started to reply. She cut him off with a raised hand.
“Forget it, Dave. I’ve heard all the lines, all the come-ons, all the cute little pitches. Richardson tried his. Celasko tried his. Even Trelaine made a play, and he’s married to a Forslund who’d probably have him whacked if he were to cheat on her.”
She looked him up and down. Her expression softened fractionally. “You’re better looking than any of them, I’ll give you that much, but that won’t even get you on the ice at my rink. Save your breath until you’ve got something serious to offer me.”
A temper honed by fifteen years of trading shots with the roughest players in the NHL had Dave struggling for control of himself.
“Serious as in…what?” It was barely above a growl.
She looked him in the eyes, perfectly composed, perfectly impassive.
“As in something more than being one of last night’s scores.”
She turned on a heel and marched out.
Programming manager Jack Trelaine snagged Dave on his way out. His face was a mask of fury that promised bloody vengeance.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?”
Dave shrugged. “What WHUP hired me to do. Reporting the sports news.” His lips curled back from his teeth. “What did you think I was doing, eh? Strike that: what did you think I was going to do?”
“You were supposed to read the copy in front of you,” Trelaine snarled. “Not ad lib like a smartass or strut like some street tough who can’t keep it in his pants.”
“That’s what my predecessor did, right?” Dave shot back. “Just read the wire service copy. No embellishment. No emotion. No fun. If you think that’s what the viewers want, why did the network fire him and hire me? For more than twice what they were paying him, at that. You think the suits hired me to read AP copy in a monotone, nothing more?”
The return of fire threw Trelaine off his stride. In his haste to change tone and conciliate Dave, he made a mistake he was fortunate to outlive.
He put a hand on Dave’s shoulder. “Listen, Dave—”
Dave took Trelaine by the lapels and slammed him into the corridor wall. The impact resounded through WHUP’s suite of offices. Trelaine’s teeth snapped together audibly as his face went chalk white.
“No, you listen,” Dave growled. “You didn’t hire a journalism school graduate to report the sports news. You didn’t hire some city slicker with a degree in communications. You didn’t hire some prettyboy with perfect manners, perfect hair, and a perfect smile. You hired a retired hockey player. A professional tough guy. You hired me.
“I didn’t come to you needing a job. You came to me. I’ve got enough socked away to buy this place. I took the gig because it sounded like it could be fun. Enough to be worth a little of my time, anyway. You don’t like my style? Feel free to fire me whenever you please. I’ll tip my hat and walk out without a word of complaint. But as long as you live, don’t you ever, ever lay a hand on me again, because if you do, that will be as long as you’ll live.”
Dave stepped back, straightened his suit jacket, and stalked away. No sound came from behind him as he made his exit.
Val Tyszczenko’s surmise proved wildly off-target. The ratings for WHUP’s six o’clock newscast hadn’t tanked, but neither had they doubled.
They were up twelvefold.
The board of trustees’ morning viewership conference was both aghast and agog. There was no explanation other than Dave Pargeter’s three colorful minutes of sports reportage, but that was one they found hard to accept. It violated all the ancient rules with which they’d come to the newscasting trade.
All the board members were exuberant about the stunning increase, even as they strained to find reasons other than Pargeter’s uncouth handling of his segment. Presently they concurred that the increase, however it might be explained, argued for a change in precisely nothing. The ‘cast would go on that night exactly as it had the night before, despite Geoff Hartnett’s protests about proper decorum and professionalism. There was money on the line, sponsorship money that could easily surpass the sum of WHUP’s advertising revenue from its previous six years of existence. As it usually does, money trumped any and every other consideration.
Jack Trelaine accepted the board’s congratulations with a strangely abstracted air, as if his thoughts were immovably fixed on something else. He agreed offhandedly that the newscast would continue without changes to the personnel or format…at least until they came to a better understanding of the spike.
The meeting concluded in a flurry of mutual backslapping and speculation about great things to come.
WHUP’s six o’clock newscasts continued in exactly the same vein. Anchor Geoff Hartnett read the news in his trademarked mellifluous, cultured tones. Diane Loiselle gave the weather forecast with as much sex appeal as woman has ever brought to a prediction of a three-foot snowfall. Dave Pargeter reported professional and collegiate sports developments with masculine charm, flamboyant vitality, and no small amount of snark. However, the viewership numbers didn’t remain what they were for Dave’s first ‘cast; rather, they increased steadily, week after week.
The changes were subtle, gradual but definite. Except for the brief moments of byplay as the segments shaded from one to the next, no one could quite pin them down. Yet WHUP’s board was as drawn by the newscast as any Onteora viewer.
Hartnett wasn’t merely smooth. Loiselle wasn’t merely alluring. Pargeter wasn’t merely eccentric. An element formerly alien to WHUP newscasting had insinuated itself into the show: a sense of humor, of a good time in progress for newscasters and viewers alike, even when the news was at its bleakest.
Clearly it had arrived with Pargeter. How it had leaked from him to the others was less clear. It didn’t matter. The results spoke for themselves.
Impressed with developments, corporate increased the funds available for other locally generated programming. WHUP’s board, unused to having much latitude for independent operations, dithered over how they might use the increase…but they accepted it at once.
Presently one of them was taken by a most unusual idea.
Dave peered at Trelaine in disbelief. “A talk show? With me as host?”
Trelaine nodded. “That’s the proposal.”
“Whatever you like. The board didn’t set any restrictions on content or format.”
“Are you sure about this, Jack?” Dave said. “You haven’t exactly been one of my boosters.”
Trelaine slid a fingertip back and forth along the surface of the conference room table. “Walinski suggested it. He’s sold it to about half the board. The rest are uncertain. I’m…not against it. But I’d really like some idea of what you’d like to do with it before I give it my blessing.”
“Hm. Give me a minute.”
No format rules means I could have guests, or intercuts to recorded stuff, or both, or neither. No content restrictions, so I could deal with any current events of interest.
I wouldn’t want props or fancy effects. A live audience might be nice, but we could do without it if it turned out to be a hassle.
It’s an open net, and I’m the only one on the ice.
Wait…would I want it that way? Wouldn’t a co-host be nice? Hell, maybe two. I don’t want to carry a whole hour on my own back.
This could be a gas if I could get the right lineup together.
“May I make a suggestion?” he said.
Trelaine’s expression was guarded. “Go ahead.”
“Why not have the whole six o’clock crew do it? Geoff would bring a lot to a show like that, especially if we have guests and do interviews. I’m sure he’s better at that stuff than I am. And Diane is…you know.” He grinned. “Diane!”
Trelaine opened his mouth, closed it without speaking.
Whoops. I got him thinking about money.
“I’m not sure the board would agree to the cost increment,” Trelaine said.
“Well, what are they talking about paying me?”
“Double what you’re getting for the newscast.”
“Divide it in half and give half each to Geoff and Diane.”
Trelaine’s eyebrows shot up so radically that Dave expected them to rip free of his face and smash into the ceiling. He leaned over the table and peered into Dave’s face as if he had to be joking.
“You’d do the show for nothing?”
Dave shrugged. “I’m not here for the money.”
“Well, why are you here?”
Dave could restrain his laughter no longer.
“Why do you think I’m here, you prune-faced asshole?” he said between chortles. “For the novelty. I’d never done TV before. I wanted to see what it’s like. And you know something? TV is fun. Almost as much fun as hockey. Shit, man, I haven’t had this good a time since I broke Claude LeTournay’s front teeth!”
Dave proposed that show be called Overtime. Though he would be the nominal emcee, he insisted that Hartnett and Loiselle should contribute equally: ideas to discuss, guests to invite onto the program, special issues to focus on, places to go around the county for local color, even restaurants to feature and review.
When he and Trelaine broached the concept to the others, they were momentarily nonplussed.
“Why us?” Hartnett said.
Dave cocked an eyebrow at him. “We work well together on the newscast. We’ve proved we can do the news so people will tune in to us. Why not see what else we can do?”
“But a whole hour? Unscripted?”
“Well,” Trelaine interjected, “minus commercials, anyway.”
“So forty-five minutes or thereabouts,” Dave said. “What, you think there isn’t enough going on to keep us gabbing for that long? I could do forty-five minutes on hockey alone!”
“In that case,” Loiselle murmured, “why don’t you?”
All three heads swiveled to stare at her.
“Haven’t you been asking for more opportunity, Diane?” Trelaine said. She nodded. “Well, this is it. A brand new talk show, no restrictions on content or format, the whole resources of the news department at your beck and call for forty-five minutes an evening. How much better does it get? Unless you’d prefer to emcee some paid programming.”
She reared back. “Of course not!”
“As I thought.” Trelaine sat back and folded his arms across his chest.
“I think,” Dave said, “I know what Di’s concerned about.”
Trelaine looked at him levelly. “What?”
“Eye candy. As in, being used as.” Dave turned to Loiselle. “You can scrub that thought right out of your head. This ain’t gonna be no weather report. No big backlit map with clouds and front lines on it, no ‘probability of precipitation’ numbers, and no five-day forecast from the USMS office in Hamilton. This is us. What we want to talk about. Who we want to see, and what we want to do. You bring what you want to the show. You suggest the topics you want, and the guests you want, and the places and things you want. You won’t have to wiggle your way across the stage in a pencil skirt and five-inch heels. Hell, you can wear a burq’a for all I care. All I want is that we have fun. Like we’ve been having on the newscast lately, except more, and about even more stuff.” He smiled ferally. “Fun. You know that word, don’t you, Di?”
Loiselle had gone pale. She nodded once, warily.
“And you still want to—how did you put it?—move up?”
“Then it’s time to shit or get off the pot, babe. This is your chance. Either get serious or get on down the road.”
A moment of electrically charged silence passed among them.
“I’ll do it,” she murmured.
“So will I,” Hartnett added.
Trelaine rose. “I’ll take it to the board.”
The board assented unanimously. Overtime was added to the fall schedule at seven PM every Friday: half an hour after they’d finished the newscast. At its conclusion the three emcees would simply walk to one of WHUP’s other studios. They’d spend their off-period finalizing timing, shoring up details, and generally readying themselves to leap into their material when the red light came on. The setting would be a conversation-pit format easily modified for whatever additions and special features they’d planned for the show.
Hartnett and Loiselle remained nervous. It fell to Dave to calm and reassure them.
“You know, spontaneity isn’t exactly my thing,” Hartnett said during one planning session.
“It’s everybody’s thing,” Dave said. “You just aren’t aware of it. You’re just going to be talking to Di and me, your buddies from the newscast, and occasionally some big cheese we’ve managed to lure onto the show, if there are any crazy enough to lace up their skates and get on the ice with us. Do you pre-script your hellos to your wife and kids?”
Dave cackled. “Gonna say yes?”
“I think what Geoff means,” Loiselle said, “is that we’ve always had a lot of pre-selected, pre-edited material to work with. Without that, there could be slip-ups. Trouble with the network or the FCC.”
Dave leaned back. “You’re not a potty mouth. Neither is Geoff. You’ve never dropped an F-bomb during a newscast, so why do you think you might drop one now?”
Loiselle grimaced but did not reply. Barely above a whisper, Hartnett said “She might be more worried about…one of us.”
Dave cocked an eyebrow at him. “You mean about me?”
“Jeez, you use that word a lot. Ever watched a Ranger game on TV, Geoff?”
“Ever heard a Ranger swear when a mike could catch him?”
“They beat that out of us before we reach the big league, my man. I mean, you wouldn’t want to hear the shit we sling in the locker room. That would blister the hull of a battleship. But when we know the cameras are running and the mikes are live, we’re God’s little angels, every one of us.”
Dave sat back, fingers interlaced behind his head. “Relax, both of you. No one expects either of you to be anything you’re not. The contrasts among us are what the viewers dig. That’s why the newscast works as well as it has. Besides, if things go sideways, the board isn’t gonna blame you. It’ll blame me.” He smiled broadly. “I think I can take it. Now, who should we try to snooker into appearing on the first show?”
Overtime was an immediate hit.
Dave insisted that they ‘keep it moving.’ He insisted that the subject matter for each show not be preannounced, so that viewers would need to tune in to learn it. He insisted further that they should make a hallmark of mobility—that consecutive shows should never cover the same ground. At first the others were skeptical. He won them over with energy, optimism, and a fertile imagination his time on the ice had never used. In their own styles, Hartnett and Loiselle rose to match him.
They talked politics. They talked education. They talked movies, and music, and assorted bits of pop culture. They talked drugs. They talked crime and justice. They talked blight, and gentrification, and demographic trends. They talked science and technology. They talked food and drink. At Loiselle’s hesitant suggestion, they even talked fashion.
Before each show they’d review the night’s topic, the important subheads to hit, and any recorded material they’d selected or any guest they’d invited. Afterward they’d retire to a conference room to discuss the show’s good and bad points. They usually agreed on both, and on what could be done to improve it further. They differed as politely as they treated their guests. Every night, all three left the soundstage eager for the next show.
After just seven episodes had aired, the board renewed Overtime for the winter and spring. Even so, there were more sponsors queued up for the show’s sixteen minutes of commercial time than WHUP’s schedulers could accommodate.
Dave invited a parade of notables into their lair, including a number of heavyweights from well outside Onteora. At first it cost him a lot of legwork; his reputation for throwing some of the hardest checks ever seen on the ice made his targets wary about the treatment they’d receive. Yet no one who appeared with them ever left the studio dissatisfied, much less angry. Dave made a point of maintaining perfect courtesy even in the discussion of the most controversial current issues. Hartnett and Loiselle had no trouble following suit. Word spread, and after Overtime’s third month on the air public figures from every field and across the nation were approaching WHUP for a chance to appear on the show.
The thirty-ninth episode of Overtime, the last one before the summer break, featured a guest no one at WHUP would have dared to predict a regional cablecast program could land: the Onteora County lawyer who’d risen from total obscurity to become the president of the United States, Stephen Graham Sumner himself. It was the first such show ever to host a current or former president. The episode drew more viewers than any such show had ever enjoyed.
Corporate, to say the least, was pleased. But that wasn’t an entirely good thing.
As President Sumner and his protective detail made to leave, Diane caught Dave eyeing the beautiful, perfectly silent young woman who’d been at Sumner’s side at every one of his public appearances. When WHUP’s front door had swung closed behind the last of the Secret Servicemen, Hartnett sidled up to Dave and murmured “You could be a little less obvious.”
Dave snorted. “Lookin’ ain’t touchin’, Geoff. Lookin’s what she’s made for. I didn’t do it on-set, did I?”
Hartnett chuckled. “Not that I noticed.”
“I know better. Anyway, from what I’ve heard, if I were to lay a hand on her, she’d snap it off at the wrist and feed it to me.”
“Didn’t you watch any of Sumner’s campaign rallies, Geoff?” Diane said. “She was his bodyguard. The grapevine says he hired her away from Integral Security for the purpose.”
“Jesus. She looks like a Miss America contestant!”
“Nope,” Dave said. “Martial-arts expert. Friend of mine works at Integral. Conway brought her in for a demo, and she humiliated his top people. So he hired her to train them. Larry didn’t say how long she held the gig, but he did say she’s better than anyone he’s ever seen, including guys with big-time international reps.”
“Whoa,” Hartnett said. “Live and learn.”
“Or you don’t live long,” Dave said. “But if you think I was giving her a looking-over, you didn’t notice Trelaine. His eyes nearly fell out of his head.” He zipped up his jacket. “Congrats on a great season, guys. I don’t think we need a post-mortem tonight. Join me for a drink?”
Hartnett shook his head. “I’m expected home. Charlotte’s one of Sumner’s biggest fans. She’ll want to know everything.” He buttoned his topcoat. “You two have fun. Hoist one for me.” He shook their hands, pushed out through the double doors, and disappeared into the night.
Dave turned to Diane. “How about you, Di? Ease on down to the Black Grape and join me in a toast to a smash first season?”
She hesitated only momentarily. “All right.”
The Black Grape was empty when they arrived. He steered her to a corner booth and asked what she’d like. His eyebrows rose when she asked for an Old Fashioned. He surprised her by returning with a martini.
“I wouldn’t have made you as a martini man,” she said.
He shrugged. “It’s an acquired taste. Can’t really say why I acquired it. Seemed right for an end of season toast, anyway.” He eyed her Old Fashioned. “I wouldn’t have made you for one of those, either.”
She grinned. “We’re both full of surprises. So,” she said, “where do you see the show going from here?”
“Hm.” He looked briefly away. “Well, I’d say Geoff is happy with things as they are. Trelaine says corporate is delirious, so I wouldn’t expect any interference from that direction. What about you? Having fun with it?”
She nodded. “More than I expected to by far. Hey, what about our toast?”
“Whoops!” He held out his glass. Diane clinked it gently. “To Overtime,” he said. “WHUP’s biggest hit, corporate’s delight, and every hockey player’s nightmare.”
She giggled. “To Overtime. Long may she run.”
They set down their glasses and relaxed in their seats.
“You know,” Diane said, “the surprises don’t begin and end with your taste in mixed drinks.”
“I mean,” she said through a slightly strained grin, “there’s a lot more to you than I originally thought.”
He took a moment over that.
“You thought I was just a heap of muscle?”
She shook her head hurriedly. “No, not at all. But I hardly expected your, ah, scope. All the stuff you treat as if you’re seriously interested in it. It’s genuine, isn’t it? I mean, you’re not acting as if for the sake of the show.”
He chuckled. “At first, maybe I was, a little. But the show changed things for me. I was trying to get the audience to take an interest in our material, and after a while it occurred to me that the easiest way is to take an interest in it myself.”
“Oh.” She peered at him. “Was that hard?”
He shook his head. “Naah. It’s all good stuff. Especially the topics you and Geoff have suggested. Broadening. Some of it got me thinking about going to SUC Onteora and auditing a few classes.”
“What about the lifestyle and grooming segments?”
He grinned. “Those in particular. I really liked that sem…semi…”
“Semiotician,” she supplied.
“Yeah, that semiotician you invited on. He really got me thinking.” He waved at her skirt suit and pumps. “An old saying says clothes make the man. That’s got to apply to women, too, doesn’t it?”
He smirked. “That’s Geoff’s line. Anyway, the way you dress and carry yourself tells other people a lot about you. Especially the ones that don’t know you personally. I remember how you felt about your weather girl outfits. They said sex bomb, and nothing else. This has a much different message. As different as between a hip check and a butt end in the ribs.”
“You…didn’t approve of the other outfits?”
“I didn’t say that,” he said. “Any guy with red blood in his veins would get a kick out of the tight dresses, short skirts, and high heels, especially on a looker like you. But not many of us are idiot enough to think that’s all there is to a woman…or that a woman who always dresses that way would be good for more than a weekend fling.”
She found herself internally tightened down, unable to reply. After a moment he said “So what did Sumner say that bothered you worst?” and the conversation resumed.
They’d passed an hour in small talk on assorted subjects when the door of the tavern creaked open behind them. They turned to find Jack Trelaine grinning carnivorously and striding purposefully toward them.
“Jackpot!” Trelaine rubbed his palms together. “You aren’t going to believe the news.” He looked quickly around the taproom. “Where’s Geoff?”
“He went home,” Dave said. “You got something he’d want to know?”
“Oh, yeah,” Trelaine crooned. “I just heard from corporate. Boy oh boy did I hear from corporate.”
Diane tensed. “Bad news?”
Trelaine shook his head. “The opposite. Overtime is going to New York. Going broadcast. Going network national.”
The network’s media steering committee arrived from New York ebullient, expecting immediate and enthusiastic compliance from the Overtime emcees and WHUP’s local management. It didn’t last long.
“Why couldn’t the show be done from here?” Hartnett asked committee chair Bruce Sundstrom. “We have the facilities for that.”
“Actually,” Sundstrom said, “you don’t. But even if you did, we plan on a live audience for the future shows. A New York audience.” He smiled thinly. “That wouldn’t be practical up here.”
“This is New York, you know,” Dave said.
The WHUP conference room seemed to chill ten degrees over the next ten seconds.
“This is New York State,” Abel Abercrombie said with asperity. “It’s a million miles from Manhattan attitudes and tastes. No major media. No museums. No high finance. No theater. No fashion industry. The culture might as well be Siberian.”
Dave’s whole visage turned to stone. “It’s the way we like it. Do some street polling. You’d see that in a heartbeat.”
Diane’s gaze pingponged from Pargeter to the committee and back.
This is my real chance. If they don’t convince the others, it’ll vanish like a dream.
“Overtime moved to Manhattan could be tied in with the Rangers, Dave,” Sundstrom said. “Imagine how many players would be eager to come on Ranger legend Dave Pargeter’s own talk show. You’d have a guaranteed, never-ending supply of guests.”
“Enough with the soft soap,” Dave growled. “If we do this, we’d be giving up our six o’clock newscast, our homes, our regular routines, and our continental New York audience. That audience is what made us—what got you guys interested in us in the first place. What if a national audience doesn’t materialize? You sure you want to toss a sure thing in the crapper to chance that?”
“Our surveys indicate,” Milton Berlinski said, “that the national audience is as close to a lock as any media project can be. All we need is the three of you to make it happen.”
“In that case,” Hartnett said, “I’m afraid we must disappoint you.”
The tension in the room rose further. “Why is that, Geoff?” Sundstrom said.
Hartnett smiled sadly. “Because I’m sixty-eight years old, Bruce. Because I should be getting myself ready for retirement rather than uprooting myself and my wife for an entirely new and demanding stage in my career. And because Charlotte absolutely detests New York City.” He shook his head as he rose. “So my answer, at least, is thanks but no thanks.”
A perfect silence prevailed as WHUP’s veteran newscaster made his way out of the conference room.
When the door had closed behind Hartnett, Sundstrom drew himself up and produced a managerial smile.
“I would say,” he said, “that we could add a third host from the Manhattan staff—maybe Alec Reardon?” Berlinski and Abercrombie nodded enthusiastically. “That would give Overtime as good a chance of being successful nationally as with the original three of you.”
Diane fought to control her reaction. Reardon was a legend in network news, arguably the most prominent anchor currently holding a national position. He was notoriously selective about those with whom he would work; in trying to persuade him to join two hinterland hicks as a co-equal emcee, the committee would have its work cut out for it. Yet to work alongside a newscaster of his stature could be a career maker for her.
The committee focused on Dave Pargeter. She caught him looking sideways at her. She could imagine him straining to anticipate her decision. His indirect scrutiny was harder to bear than that of the committee.
The seconds ticked by like the countdown to an execution.
Presently Dave said, “If Diane is willing, I suppose I’m game.”
The committee’s attention swerved at once from him to her.
“Very good,” Sundstrom said. “And yourself, Diane?”
“I…” A tension-driven cough forced its way through her. She clenched, put a hand to her chest, and started over. “I should give it some thought. When do you need a decision?”
“Considering the size of the resources we’ll have to redirect to make Overtime nationally available and appealing,” Berlinski said, “we’d…appreciate an answer today.”
She chewed her lip.
Dave was as expressionless as she’d ever seen him. He appeared resolved to give her no smallest hint of which answer he’d prefer.
Against a contrary pressure that all but wrested control of her tongue and vocal cords from her conscious will she said, “I don’t think Manhattan would appeal to me. I’m much too comfortable here. Besides,” she said with a sidelong glance at Dave, “Onteora is my hometown.”
Shock blossomed on the faces of the Manhattanites. “Are you sure, Miss Loiselle?” Abercrombie said.
She braced herself internally, smiled and nodded. “Quite sure, thank you.”
The committeemen rose, anger swiftly displacing the surprise on their faces. Without a word, they gathered up their notes, stuffed them into their attaché cases, and marched out of the conference room.
Diane followed Dave to the locker room in silence. They’d unlocked their respective bays, retrieved their jackets and donned them before either of them spoke again.
“You know they’re going to hit us back,” he said.
She nodded. “I could see the dollar signs rolling in their eyes. They weren’t prepared for anything but unconditional surrender.”
“For damn sure they didn’t expect this,” he said. “Think we’ll have a show next season?”
“It’s a toss-up,” she said. “Corporate hates uncooperative personnel, but the revenue from Overtime is nothing to sneeze at. They’ll be torn between that and their desire to punish us for not being good little team players.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Us?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah.” He raised a hand in a good-night gesture. “See you tomorrow for the newscast.” He started to turn toward the exit.
“Have you…had dinner?”
His eyes filled with puzzlement. “No, why?”
He chuckled. “Keep that up and you’re gonna owe Geoff royalties.”
“It just happens,” she said, “that the maitre d’ at Grucci’s is a friend of mine from college. He’s told me he can almost always squeeze me in there, no matter how heavily they’re booked. Might have to sit by the kitchen doors, though. Join me?”
His slow, sardonic half-smile was confirmation enough.
“You drive,” she said.
Diane’s friend was as good as his word. Their table wasn’t in the much sought inner ring normally filled with New York notables, but neither was it by the kitchen doors.
Dave pulled out her chair and bade her sit. She returned a polite micro-curtsey and followed his lead.
An elegantly garbed waiter hurried over with menus. They selected appetizers and entrees from the evening’s specials. Dave added a bottle of Johannesburg Riesling, at which the waiter’s eyebrows rose.
“A white wine with beef, sir?” The waiter’s eyes moved to Diane, who had ordered the boeuf bourguignon.
“Sure, why not?” Dave said. “It’s not a criminal offense yet.”
The waiter strode away, holding himself unusually erect.
“I think you offended his sense of propriety,” Diane murmured.
He shrugged. “I’d have let him choose the wine if he were willing to pay for our dinners, but I didn’t hear him offer.”
She laughed. “Right.”
The waiter brought the wine and their appetizers at once. They’d only just finished the appetizers when their entrees arrived. For a time their conversation was on hold as they reveled in the food and the ambiance. They were all but finished with their meals before he spoke again.
“I have to ask,” he said. “Why’d you turn them down?”
“Didn’t you hear what I told them?” she said.
“Now who’s going to owe Geoff?”
He chuckled. “Right. I just had the feeling that there’s more to the story.”
“If there is,” she said, “why didn’t I give it to them?”
“You—” He halted himself and pondered it.
He knew her ambition. He’d become aware of her ability, all but unemployed as WHUP’s evening weather gal. It had blossomed as Overtime matured and ramified. She’d played off his and Hartnett’s moves as co-hosts with a smoothness and professionalism that rivaled the best in their business. He could easily imagine her as a national anchor or the emcee of a national talk show, rising over time to the stature of a Brokaw or a Carson.
Going to Manhattan should have been her Stanley Cup, the fulfillment of her dreams. But she’d turned it down.
She’d glanced at him as she did so.
“You really that glued to Onteora?” he said.
She smiled gently. “I went to college in Philly. I got a kick out of city life. I think most young single girls would. And I probably would have adapted to Manhattan well enough. It’s not like there are any really big differences among Eastern Seaboard cities. I’ll admit I was tempted, Dave. But that wasn’t where my thinking stopped.”
He watched her steadily.
“I do love Onteora,” she said. “I came straight back here after college. WHUP took me on just about immediately, which was nice even with the assignment they gave me and the rules they set out for me to follow. I’ve had a comfortable life here. Plenty of my school friends are still around. So I had a decent job, company when I wanted it, enough money, and enough to do. No real excitement, and no real shot at the big time, but no worries either.
“Then came you and Overtime. That’s been more fun than a girl should be allowed to have with her clothes on. I hope it goes on forever. But whatever the suits think, it’s really an Onteora show. Our show. I think if we try to rip it out of Onteora county, it would probably go sour even with you, me, and Geoff still doing it. At least, that’s the way I figure the odds.”
“I was thinking something like that,” he said, “but I had no idea you were too.”
She nodded. “Besides, I knew you came back here the instant you retired from the Rangers, even though with your prestige you could easily have stayed in the game as a coach. You must love this place as much as I do.” Her mouth quirked. “So at the end of the day, it was about depriving you of Onteora, and Onteora of its hometown hero.” After a brief pause she murmured “And mine.”
He felt his face turn red. “I didn’t know you follow the game.” He tore his gaze from hers and stared down at his empty plate.
“For a long time now, Dave. I’m a third generation Rangers fan. Anyway, I did some arithmetic,” she said. “You’re thirty-nine, right?” He nodded. “I’m twenty-eight. Thirty-nine minus twenty-eight is eleven, isn’t it?”
He nodded without looking up.
“You were paired with Howie Desjardins your last two years, weren’t you? He was twenty-two when they brought him up, and you were thirty-six. Despite that the two of you fit perfectly. You were the team’s best defensive pair. Which just goes to show that fourteen’s not a lot of years, if all the other stuff fits right.” Her tone became softly intimate. “Eleven is even less.”
His head snapped up, and their eyes met once again. Possibilities unfolded behind his eyes. Not of mansions and limousines, but a simple Foxwood ranch, with his Explorer and Diane’s Mustang side by side in the driveway. Picket fence and two dogs romping in the back yard. Dinners at the kitchen table and cozy evenings on the sofa, his slippered feet up on the coffee table and Diane snug against his side.
“I’ve been through a tough career,” he said. “I’ve had two concussions and three major fractures. Had my nose broken more times than I can remember. Only my molars are originals.” He suppressed a tremor and kept to his course. “There could be…problems down the road.”
Her tiny shrug made his heart leap. “That’s true of anyone.”
Don’t blow it, hometown hero. Know what you want to do and do it.
“Are you telling me,” he said, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice, “that you might be willing to give us some decent odds?”
He could see her trying to keep her face neutral, but it didn’t work. She dragged her fork through the sauce from her boeuf bourguignon, lips tightly pursed but dimples on full and fetching display. “I’d make it six-five and pick ‘em.” She jabbed her fork at their plates. “Anyway, it looks to me like regulation’s over and done.” She dropped the fork, pushed back her chair, rose and leaned toward him. “You ready for…overtime?”
He rose carefully, pulled out his wallet, and laid four fifties on the table.
“Drop the puck.”
Copyright © 2012 by Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.