Authors: Eileen Goudge
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by Eileen Goudge
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To my chosen sisters—
Kathee, Kay, Connie, Brenda, and Catherine—
who’ve always been there, through good times and bad, and who know that true friendship is being able to pick up the phone at any hour and know you’ll always find a sympathetic ear.
In every fictional tale, there’s usually a nugget of truth. This one began with an unusual proposal set forth by a good friend of my husband’s, a woman looking for a man she admired and trusted to father her child. Rather than resulting in a baby, this novel was hatched.
Along the way, I was aided in particular by my husband, Sandy Kenyon, who not only made dinner the nights I was burning the midnight oil, but who provided useful material and insights into the life of an entertainment reporter. Thanks to him, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of standing on the red carpet on Oscar night, if only in the pages of this novel. Should it ever happen in real life, I will ditch the comfortable shoes reporters wear and step out in style!
Thanks, too, to Kenny Plotnik and Liz Aiello, of WABC-TV, who allowed me to be a fly on the wall of a television newsroom. Without them and the hardworking team at WABC, who made me feel right at home, I wouldn’t have been able to bring my fictional newsroom scenes to life. I also came away with increased admiration for what my husband and his coworkers do for a living.
Last but not least, a big kiss to my wonderful agent and friend, Susan Ginsburg, who proved once more that I couldn’t do without her.
Friends are relatives you make for yourself.
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.
ooks like the gang’s all here.”
Stevie Light, all five feet two inches of her honing in like a heat-guided missile, managed to jostle her way to the front of the crowd, cameraman in tow, to where the director of the extended care facility, a stout, officious-looking gray-haired woman caught in the glare of a dozen on-board lights was announcing, above the cacophony of shouting voices, “We have no comment at this time, except to say that Miss Rose is doing fine! Her doctors will be briefing you at the press conference later today.”
The story had come off the wires no more than an hour ago, and already the place was teeming with news crews and reporters, their vans double-parked along the curb. On the lawn out front, Kimberly Stevens, from KBLJ, was doing her live shot, kittenish blond hair fluttering in the breeze. A short distance away, Mark Esposito, from
Live at Five,
was powdering his nose while peering into a handheld mirror as he awaited his cue. Paparazzi were out in force as well, long-range lenses aimed like snipers’ rifles at the third floor: the room where Lauren Rose lay newly risen from the coma she’d been in for the past twelve years.
An event nothing short of a miracle. What were the odds? Stevie wondered.
Less than those of my ever finding my father.
She turned to her cameraman, but Matt was already heading off to scout for a location for her stand-up. With his scraggly hair and two-day-old beard, torn jeans and tattoos, Matt O’Brien might have been mistaken for a vaguely disreputable onlooker if not for the Betacam propped on one scrawny shoulder, but he was one of the best in the business.
Minutes later, freckled cheeks powdered and lips freshly glossed, she stood before the Betacam’s lens as her cue came from the noon anchor, Charlie Karr, and she launched into her intro: “The stunning news came yesterday when doctors caring for Lauren Rose here at the Oak Hills long-term care facility, in Westwood, reported that their patient had emerged from the coma she’d been in for more than a decade. It was back in 1994 that Ms. Rose was a guest at the home of veteran rocker Grant Tobin, when the LAPD got a 911 call in the early hours of the morning saying a woman had been shot in the head. While paramedics labored to save Ms. Rose’s life, Tobin was questioned but never charged in connection with the incident he called an accidental shooting, the exact cause of which was never officially determined. Tobin, best known for his chart-topping hits in the seventies with the group Astral Plane, has remained in seclusion ever since. More details on Ms. Rose’s condition will become available when her doctors speak at a news conference set for later today….”
Stevie remembered well the day of the shooting. It was her first week on the job at KNLA, fresh from KESQ in Palm Springs and still wet enough behind the ears to believe she’d be doing some real reporting, as opposed to covering water-main breaks and shopping-center openings. The media had gone wall to wall with coverage, news crews camping out in front of Grant Tobin’s Holmby Hills estate for weeks on end, the tabloids trumpeting rumors of a lovers’ quarrel gone awry and showing photos of Lauren, at the time a beautiful and promising young actress, in various cleavage-baring poses. But the publicity eventually died down when, after a lengthy investigation, no charges were filed.
Now this. It was unclear yet the extent to which Lauren could communicate, if at all. Only one thing was for sure: She was the only one besides Grant who knew what had happened that night. If she were to refute his version of the events, it could land him behind bars.
In her twelve years on the beat, Stevie had covered her share of celebrity trials. And this promised to be as sensational as Michael Jackson’s. Just in time for the station’s recent slide to second place in the ratings, behind Channel 5, which had KNLA’s news director, Jerry Fine, on a tear and those up for contract renewals sweating bullets.
Her live stand-up wrapped and the news conference still hours away, Stevie and Matt headed back to the newsroom. It was in full-tilt mode when they arrived: computer and TV monitors glowing in every pod and those not at their desks dashing about at warp speed. The night-side producer, Liv Henry, was firing questions at April Chu, on the phone relaying breaking news overseas. In its glass-enclosed hub, the assignment desk was busy gathering info from police and fire scanners as well as other media outlets, while in the remote-field room, the live trucks making their way on city streets and freeways were being tracked via microwave uplink.
Stevie banged out her copy, and when Liv had okayed it and the tape had been cut, she headed into hair and makeup for a quick touch-up before taking her place at the anchor desk beside Charlie and Carol. The two anchors had been at it since earlier in the day and looked it…until the cameras went up, then suddenly they appeared as fresh as if they’d just breezed in off the golf course—one of the tricks that made them worth every cent of their hefty salaries. Stevie sailed through her report without a hitch, and tossed back to Charlie and Carol, who moved on to the breaking news of the hour: a shooting in Compton that had left one cop dead and two wounded. She hung around the newsroom for another couple of hours after that, tracking down leads and feeding teases for the five o’clock broadcast into the Flashcam, until it was time to leave for the news conference at Cedars-Sinai. Her shift had ended hours ago, but she was so pumped with adrenaline, she didn’t feel the least bit tired.
This was what she loved and hated most about her job—the high when she was crashing on a story that, when she came down from it, was like coming off a weekend-long bender. Yet she couldn’t imagine any other kind of life. From the time she was a kid, conducting mock interviews using a pencil in place of a microphone, she’d known this was what she wanted. “Curious kids grow up to be reporters,” she’d reply, when pressed for an explanation. And if she was more curious than most, was it any wonder? She’d grown up not knowing who her father was. An answer not even her mother could supply.
It was the era of free love, and Nancy was freer than most, moving like a nomad from one place to the next, changing bed partners with the same ease. Stevie would probably never know who, besides her mother, had been present at her conception. It was the one mystery that would never be solved, the one story she’d never break. And the one thing she wanted most in this world.
She and Matt arrived at the press conference early enough to secure places near the front. By the time Lauren’s doctor, a beak-nosed neurologist with thinning brown hair, stepped up to the podium, there was barely elbow room to be had in the packed hospital conference room. Dr. Ragione informed them that Ms. Rose was responding to stimuli and showed signs of recovering her speech. She appeared to recognize family members, he said, and was able to communicate through simple hand and eye movements. When asked if there was any indication she could recall the shooting, he replied curtly that it was too early to say at this point.
Stevie did her stand-up on the lawn outside, which Matt fed from the live truck to the control room back at the station, along with footage of the news conference. It was close to seven before she finally packed it in, after twelve hours without a break and only a couple of protein bars gobbled on the run.
She headed for her car, in the parking lot behind the featureless glass cube of a building KNLA occupied on a side street off Wilshire Boulevard. The sight of her lovingly restored ’67 Pontiac Firebird, cherry red with cream interior, never failed to boost her spirits at the end of a long day, and today was no exception. It was by far the biggest expenditure she’d ever made and one she was still paying off, but the joy it gave her outweighed her mother’s frequent reminders that she could have put a down payment on a house with what it had cost her.
It wasn’t until Stevie was tooling along the freeway with the top down, on her way to Ryan’s, enjoying the feel of the wind in her hair and the envious looks she never failed to get from other drivers, that she remembered tonight was the night she was supposed to have dinner at her mother’s. She groaned aloud. The only thing she was in the mood for was a stiff drink coupled with a foot rub, if her boyfriend was feeling especially generous.
She thought about begging off, but something kept her from reaching for her cell phone. Nancy was always understanding when she had to cancel at the last minute due to breaking news, but the image of her hobbling around in her cast—she’d broken her left foot rock climbing a few weeks back—added an extra helping of guilt. She phoned Ryan instead, letting him know not to expect her.
“Should I wait up for you?” he asked, in a low, throaty voice that had the desired effect of igniting a little trail of fire below her belly button.
She hesitated before replying, “No. I’ll stay over at my place.” It was closer to her mom’s. Besides, she hadn’t been home in over a week.
“All the more reason to move in with me,” Ryan said, after she’d explained about needing to water her plants and collect her mail. He spoke lightly, but she caught a note of impatience. He’d been urging her to take this next step, reasoning that it was silly to pay rent on her own place when she was almost never there, but so far she’d resisted. Not that she wasn’t crazy about him. She had been since the day they’d met, when she’d interviewed him following his Oscar nomination for best documentary. It was commitment itself that caused her to break out in a cold sweat.
Stevie sighed as she hung up. Her friends thought she was crazy, period. Franny, whose biological clock was ticking loudly enough for everyone within a mile’s radius to hear, had stated with her usual bluntness that she’d be happy to take Ryan off Stevie’s hands if she didn’t want him. Emerson, a single mom, had no illusions about romance, but even she thought Stevie was being unnecessarily cautious. And Jay…what could you expect from him, with a wife and now a baby on the way? Naturally, he was prejudiced.
But what if she took the plunge and found herself in over her head? Drowning in shattered illusions. Sure, it was all hearts and flowers in the beginning. But things changed. People changed. With all the uncertainty she’d had in her life, Stevie didn’t need any more. Also, Ryan wanted a family, and how could she promise him that? All her years growing up, moving from one place to the next, Nancy struggling to make ends meet, selling her pots in local galleries, Stevie had fantasized about her mystery dad swooping in to the rescue. Never mind that he probably didn’t even know she existed. How could she bring children into the world when she didn’t even know her own place in it?
Fifteen minutes later she was pulling up in front of her mother’s cedar-shingled bungalow, on a wooded slope in Topanga Canyon, only to find it dark. Odd. There was no light burning, either, in the converted garage that housed Nancy’s studio. Could she have gotten the dates mixed up? No, Stevie thought. She’d spoken to her mother only last night, Nancy informing her that she was making her famous zucchini fritters and asking her to pick up a jar of mayonnaise.
She let herself in with her key, placing the jar in its bag on the painted Tibetan cabinet by the door and calling out, “Mom?” Her heart was pounding and her mouth suddenly parched—too many years of listening to what came in over the newsroom’s police scanner. In her mind, an intruder lurked in every darkened hallway and at any given moment a medical emergency was but a heartbeat away.
She found Nancy stretched out, fully clothed, on her bed, eyes closed and her foot in its cast, an abstract montage of doodles drawn on with colored Magic Markers—her mother never met a blank canvas she could resist—propped on a bolster. Stevie let out the breath she’d been holding. Not a 911 call after all; Nancy must have taken a nap and overslept.
Stevie was reaching for the light switch on the wall when Nancy said, “Don’t.” Her voice was small and pained.
“Are you okay?” Stevie asked, thinking her mom’s foot must be bothering her and wondering if that ancient jar of aspirin was still in the medicine cabinet. Her mother didn’t reply. The pair of overalls she had on were crusted with bits of dried clay. Her hair that had once been the rooster-red of Stevie’s, now faded to the color of old pennies, fell in crinkly waves down her narrow, freckled shoulders. The TV was on, its sound muted, and in the flickery glow her face had the bluish-white cast of someone underwater. When she opened her eyes at last, it was only to stare sightlessly at the vintage Fillmore poster on the wall opposite the bed, with its swirly psychedelic print advertising a long-ago Big Brother and the Holding Company concert. Nancy had been there that night, close enough to feel the sweat off Janis Joplin’s brow.
“I was wrong to keep it from you,” she said in that same small, pained voice. “I should have told you.”
Stevie sank down on the bed, taking her mother’s hand in hers. It was cool and dry, with ridged calluses on her palm from her potter’s wheel. “Told me what?”
“About your father.”
Stevie’s heart bumped up into her throat. “But I thought—”
Her mother didn’t let her finish. “I was only trying to protect you, you have to believe that.” Tears leaked from the corners of her pale blue eyes to trickle down her temples and into her hair. “I was afraid of what would happen if it got out. Reporters hounding us everywhere we went, people staring and making assumptions…and worse.” She shuddered, closing her eyes again. “But I
have told you. You had a right to know.”
Stevie stared at her, shock pounding in dull waves against some distant shore inside her head. All this time she’d been led to believe that Nancy knew little more than she did.
“If I wasn’t sure at the time,” Nancy went on, “I’d know now just looking at you.” She turned toward Stevie, a faint, mirthless smile on her lips. “You’re the spitting image of him.”
Stevie felt the blood drain from her face. Her voice seemed to come from another room as she croaked, “Who?”
Nancy turned her gaze to the TV, where an old clip of Grant Tobin, in concert with Astral Plane, was playing on CNN—a slightly built young man flashing like quicksilver across the stage, his dark hair whipping about his head, his Rasputin eyes that had captivated a generation afire in his pale, fine-boned face. She lifted a trembling finger to point at the screen.