By Invitation Only: An Anthology
Breaking news from the blog, Man About Texas, by Nicolas Greer
Have you heard the word? Another good bachelor bites the dust. Playboy extraordinaire, J. D. Maynard, (yes, he is the son of James Dallas Maynard Sr., the richest oil tycoon in Texas), went down on one knee in front of Hollywood’s latest “it” girl, überglam Holly Addison. Rumor has it that Holly’s said yes, and they’re planning a summer wedding. My heart is breaking, fellas. Say it ain’t so, J.D.! Holly’s hot as a firecracker and all that, but this is your freedom we’re talking about here. Run for the hills while you still can….
“YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.” Olivia Carmichael crumpled the printout of the odious Nicolas Greer’s blog in one hand and stared at her boss as if he’d just ordered her to strip off her clothes and streak naked through Austin’s state capitol building.
The managing editor of the Austin Daily News, Ross Gregson, shook his head. Ross was a crusty holdout from journalism’s hard news heyday and she loved him for it. He was a visage of her childhood filled with arguing reporters ringing the dinner table and the television set perpetually tuned to CNN.
“Much as it pains me to say this, kiddo, ’fraid not.” Ross was pushing seventy and sported a shock of stark white hair that sprouted straight up from his head in an old-fashioned crew cut. He always wore white dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up three turns so that the makeshift cuff hit him mid-elbow. At his neck lay a stained tie gone crooked from where he repeatedly tugged at the knot. He possessed a sandpaper-like voice, pugnacious nose and caterpillar eyebrows. He kept an unlit cigar permanently chomped in the left corner of his mouth and a foam cup of stale coffee on his desk.
“You want me to write like an uneducated frat boy high on Krispy Kreme doughnuts and late night reruns of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle?”
Ross shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth and held out both his palms low and wide. “Hey, I feel your pain, but the times are changing, and we either change with them or get ground under the wheels of progress.”
“Platitudes from you, Ross? What’s the world coming to?”
“The likes of Nick Greer.”
“Ugh.” She held the printout away from her as if it were soiled laundry. Out of all the bloggers in the world, why had Ross chosen this particular cretin for her to emulate? She’d had more than one run in with Greer, who was too handsome for his own good, and she had been less than impressed with his flip, in-your-face style. “I was born in the wrong generation.”
“I hear ya, and I hate being the bearer of bad news, but you know the brass is all about the bottom line. It’s a shark tank out there.”
“It’s bad enough I got pulled from cop shop to work on lifestyles for crying out loud….”
Two months ago, the budget had been cut yet again, and while she should consider herself lucky to have a job, reporters had been shuffled and she’d lost the coveted police beat and landed in her own personal hell of fluff features. Her goal was to do so well in lifestyles that the upper echelon would realize they were wasting her talents on interviewing charity-ball-throwing socialites and put her back where she belonged amidst murder and mayhem.
She flexed her left wrist so the platinum bracelet she’d worn since college slipped down and flipped the Pulitzer medal charm—a replica of the one her grandfather’s paper had won in 1946—into her palm. Her grandfather had had it made for her and had presented it to her at her college graduation. Olivia cupped her fingers around the charm, felt the warm weight of family obligations against her skin. She was a Carmichael after all; she had a tradition to uphold. Her ultimate goal was to be the best reporter at the Austin Daily News so that when her mother regained her health, she could return to D.C. and snag back her old job at the Washington Post.
“I know you’re eager to make your mark,” Ross said, his gaze going to her fist, “but the number of people following Nick Greer’s blog outstrips our circulation numbers threefold. We’ve got to adapt or die off. Readers want instant news delivered in a flashy package.”
“Journalistic integrity be damned?”
Ross shrugged. “I wish it wasn’t so, but you can’t fight reality.”
“‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light,’” she quoted Dylan Thomas.
“Gotta leave the battle up to you, kid,” he said. “This old dinosaur is ready for retirement. But if you want to keep your job, you’ve gotta start writing snappy and sensational copy. Greer is your competition now. Not other print reporters.”
She did not want to accept this. She’d cut her teeth on Walter Cronkite and William Randolph Hearst. Her favorite movie was All the President’s Men. From early childhood she’d dreamed of becoming the next Judith Miller or Maureen Dowd.
Those hopes had taken a stumble when her mother had been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, and she’d come home to Austin to help Dad take care of her. Mom was now steadily improving after months of chemo and radiation. And while Olivia had begun to think that maybe her dream wasn’t totally dead, she couldn’t deny the insidious virus that was the internet.
Nick Greer was a symbol of everything she disliked about jackhammer journalism. Just thinking about him sent a throb of disgust pulsing through her blood. One night at two in the morning when crime had taken her to a trendy nightclub in downtown Austin, she’d seen Greer strolling from the exit with two big-chested bimbos on his arms. He’d spotted her, grinned boldly and had the audacity to wink.
“Here’s the deal,” Ross said. “The brass is grumbling about another set of budget cuts—”
Olivia groaned and smacked a palm against her forehead.
He held up a hand, warding off more protests. “I’m just laying it on the line for you. If you want to keep your job—and I know you hate lifestyles, but it’s better than the unemployment line—you need to knock ’em dead with this assignment.”
“Which is?” Olivia held her breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Bag an exclusive with Holly Addison. She’s arriving in Austin tomorrow for a brief stay before she and Maynard and the wedding party jet off to Rapture Island in the Caribbean.”
“What can I say?” Ross looked hangdog.
Olivia rolled her eyes. This is what she’d been reduced to. Chasing celebrities. Asking breathless questions like, “So how did the proposal go down?” and “Don’t you just love being an Oscar winner?” She shuddered and felt the urge to take a long, hot, soapy shower.
“My hands are tied.”
While she might not be happy, in the long run, she wasn’t a complainer. “All right,” Olivia said, swallowing her pride. It tasted like a dirt sandwich. She pulled out her cell phone, switched to the notepad application and readied herself to type. “How do I contact her?”
Ross made a face. “We don’t have a number. In fact, she’s been refusing all interviews and she’s hired a cadre of bodyguards.”
Olivia groaned. “Ross, I’m not a tabloid journalist. I don’t stalk people.”
“No, but you’re one helluva reporter and you always get your story.”
Oh, he knew just how to get to her. Pump up her ego. “Flattery is the last resort of a desperate man,” she accused.
“Name one person in print journalism who’s not desperate.”
“Touché,” she muttered. “All right, I’ll get this story, but under one condition.”
Ross arched one fuzzy eyebrow. “I’m afraid to ask.”
“If I get you the interview, you put me back on cop shop.”
“First, you’ll have to best the likes of Nicholas Greer and his ilk.”
“You don’t think I can do it?” Olivia notched up her chin.
“You get the interview, then I’ll see if I can pull a few strings. If there’s anything left to pull,” he mumbled.
She knew it was the best he could do. The rest was up to her. She stuck out her palm.
“WHATCHA GOT FOR ME, sweetheart?” Nick Greer winked at Wendy Stewart, the receptionist behind the granite counter at Austin’s elite private airport. He deposited a box of expensive truffles on her desk. He knew Wendy had a serious weakness for premium chocolates, and he milked this particular pipeline for information on a monthly basis.
With a guilty expression on her face, Wendy snatched at the chocolates as if she feared he’d take them away from her and held the box pressed against her exceptional tits. “I’m so sorry, Nicky, I can’t help.”
“Did I mention these chocolates are imported from Switzerland?” He leaned in closer and cocked her his most woman-stunning grin.
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy.” She pantomimed, locking her lips and tossing the pretend key over her shoulder.
“Ah, sugar.” He lowered his voice, caressed her with his gaze. “C’mon, it’s me. You know I won’t tell a soul.”
Okay, so he wasn’t above a little flirtation to get what he wanted. No harm done. It was fun and he made Wendy smile. Yes, some people might say he was manipulative, but when everyone came out of a transaction feeling better about themselves, how could that be a bad thing?
“Really, I can’t.”
“You know, I’ve got two tickets to…” He hesitated for a fraction of a second, scrambling to think who she might long to see in concert, then swiftly supplied the name of the latest boy band slated to appear in town.
Wendy’s eyes widened and she broke into a big grin. “Really?”
Now things were getting dicey, especially since he was going to have to score those tickets. He didn’t want to lead her on. Not that Wendy wasn’t sweet or attractive, because she was very cute in an Iowa corn-fed way. It’s just that she was the sort of girl that a guy took home to meet his folks and Nick wasn’t in the market for that kind of relationship. He walked a fine line. “Well…”
“Gotcha. While I can’t say anything…” She got up and went to open the door of the small office behind her. From where he stood, he could see a large grease board mounted on the wall that listed the incoming flights for the following day.
“You’re the greatest,” he told her, noting that Holly Addison’s plane was scheduled to arrive around noon.
“I suppose there’s no way I could get onto the airport grounds tomorrow?” he said.
“J. D. Maynard’s hired his own team to supplement airport security.”
That was a bummer. He knew all the airport security personnel on sight and remembered their favorite sports teams. Them, he could charm. Private security? Not so much. “Right. Of course.”
“Let’s just hope an employee doesn’t accidentally lose her access card to the back gate.” Wendy pulled a plastic card from her pocket and pushed it across the desk toward him.