"Barb! It's twenty minutes to air! I want to see the final edits now, dammit!"
"Ed, we've worked together for ten years. Have I ever failed you?" Barbara Croce purred back. For ten years, she had been producer of the wildly successful, for cable, at any rate, Ed Hughes Show, a nightly roundup of news and opinion on NewsNet, a facet of a global media conglomerate with a simple agenda: tell the story our way, damn the facts.
"Barb! I need to make sure my commentary syncs up with the vid! Don't make me remind you about Juan!"
Ed referred to an incident three years ago when Hurricane Juan hit Halifax. Although it did significant damage to trees and property, and although it killed only four people, Ed had claimed it was barely a tropical storm, even though the video showed winds whipping signs and trees around.
Barb muttered under her breath. While Ed Hughes was an impossible man to work with, and NewsNet was a network mentioned only with a subvocal chortle by her peers, Barb was proud of how she had taken the Hughes Show and turned it into a cultural icon. She wasn't proud of how she had to do it, though, and always felt karma had been at play in the birth of her youngest, Tim.
"NOW, Barbara! NOW!"
Barbara ran into the make-up room, and popped the data disk into the always-on computer, so Ed could watch. He mouthed his copy as he stared into the screen, pausing occasionally to mark a word for emphasis or check if he had made the appropriate change. She stood with her back to the wall, her ample figure visible in his line of sight in the mirror.
He glanced up, "So? A winner tonight?"
Barb smiled back, and said "Of course, Ed. Always. Listen, if you don't mind, I'd like to leave a little early tonight. It's Christmas Eve and all, and I'd like to spend some time with Timmy and the family."
Ed's expression was easy to read. "No, Barb! This is the most important show of the season! Millions of people will be watching my final piece on the war on Christmas! How that airport in Washington state took down their Christmas trees rather than put up a menorah!"
"But it's Christmas, Ed! C'mon, even YOU have to stop working once in a while!"
Ed Hughes glared at her over his half-glasses, adjusted them on his nose, and said, "No, but I tell you what: you can leave right after the last commercial break."
"But that's at 9:5-"
"Final offer, Barb."
"You are the single stingiest bastard in the world!"
"OK! Enough! 9:30, take it or leave it!"
Barbara Croce gathered up her will. She really wanted to walk out, but to give up this job at this time, and let Ed Hughes get a head start on smearing her in the business before she could draft her resume..."Very well, Ed."
She turned and stormed out, tears lingering on her cheeks like strands of liquid spaghetti on a fine porcelain doll.
"Five minutes to air, Mr. Hughes."
Ed turned back to the mirror, stared into it, and grinned. He won. He always won, because he didn't care about the price of winning, only about the price of losing. It was how he got this job after Jack Marley died, ten years ago. He stepped on every toe, crushed every finger, smashed every head he had to so he could get the 9PM slot. He wanted it desperately. He wanted to be The Man.
To Chapter Two