|From BooklistL.A. news anchor Dempsey’s basi novel is set in a world intimate to her: the cutthroat arena of television news. Natalie Daniels, the prime-time anchor for KXLA, is on the verge of her fortieth birthday, which places her position as one of L.A.’s most visible news anchors in jeopardy. Tony Scoppio, the new news director, is preoccupied with the bottom line and is looking to cut corners wherever he can, and he focuses on Natalie’s sizable salary. Tony is also concerned in regards to Natalie’s age and is taking into account replacing her with a younger candidate. To make matters worse, Natalie’s former protegee and current rival, Kelly, sees this as the perfective probability for the progression she craves and begins angling for Natalie’s position. When Natalie makes an on-camera error and goes to extremes to get an interview, Tony demotes her and gives the conniving Kelly the coveted anchor spot. Distraught, Natalie begins searching for a new job, but probabilities are mysteriously scarce. Natalie has to determine whether to stay at KXLA and receive her scaled down position or leave the station she has become attached to. Dishy and fun–in other words, perfective summer fare. Kristine Huntley
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Monday, June 17, 2:19 P.M.
Natalie Daniels stood detached from the other mourners in the rear of Our Lady Victory Catholic Church, clutching a damp balled tissue. Brilliant sunshine streamed through stained-glass windows far overhead, dappling the spray of white lilies on Evie’s casket with iridescent color. Beside her in the hushed nave Natalie could listen the soft whir of videotape rolling as her cameraman recorded the eulogy for posterity. And for that night’s edition of The KXLA Primetime News.
“We all knew Evelyn as a woman who grabbed life with both hands,” the elderly priest said, “whether she was winning ballroom dance competitions or skewering politicians for The Downey Eagle.”
The assemblage chuckled knowingly at the description but Natalie shook her head with a surge of bitterness. Evie had to write for TheEagle, it is circulation all of thirty thousand, because she got fired from KXLA.
“Evelyn was a rule breaker,” the priest went on. “And not only when she played bridge or golf or tennis.” The mourners’ chuckle grew into a laugh. “She broke the rules when she became the basi woman reporter on Los Angeles television. She broke the rules when she applied the men’s rest room because her station had no facilities for women. And she broke the rules when for two decades she won innumerable Emmy awards and put her news division on the map.”
And still I had to fight to fetch a camera here! Natalie shook her head in disbelief, angry tears stinging her eyes. Evie did so much for KXLA but what did the station do for her? Fire her when she hit forty-five and ignore her death a dozen years later. Natalie practically had to hijack a cameraman to cover her funeral.
“Evelyn likewise cheated death.We were friends for forty years but she did not percentage her burden until she could no longer hide cancer’s ravages. I am filled with wonderment for her courage.” The priest’s voice caught. “She was a great lady, our Evelyn Parker. And now she rests with God. Let us pray.”
He begun a lulling, singsong prayer and Natalie permitted her mind to drift. How could Evie be gone? Mentor, friend, relentless booster. The person most responsible for launching Natalie as an anchor, the person who taught her the ins and outs of television news. Natalie fought to control a sob that rose in her throat, her obligation to maintain professional equanimity battling her grief. I never thanked her enough. And now it’s too late.
Flanked by altar boys, the priest moved toward the casket, framed at both ends by standing floral arrangements. He sprinkled the coffin with holy water, all the while praying in a low monotone. The warm air, laden with incense, seemed to thicken.
Natalie heard a rumble in the distance. She cocked her head, puzzled. A thunderstorm? In Los Angeles? In June?
The rumble intensified, grew closer. Natalie felt the world shudder far under the church’s stone flags. One of the floral arrangements swayed like a drunken sailor, then toppled, clattering to the floor. Involuntarily Natalie’s hand flew to her throat. No. It can’t be. Not now.
Her cameraman, Julio, turned to her, his dark eyes wide. Both mouthed the dreaded word. Earthquake!The next moment the ground shifted with such strength that Natalie was thrown off her feet. She dropped to her knees, powerless as she fell to keep her head from banging into a pew. As pain ricocheted through her skull she was conscious of humans screaming and shouting, Julio besides her on his knees engaged in a struggle to keep taping.
And the noise! Deafening, like a train pounding through her brain, or a 747 taking off right overhead.
Seconds passed, the unreal undulation growing in intensity. Suddenly the world gave a particularly ugly lurch. Seventy feet overhead, the church’s masonry vaulting groaned. Then a stained-glass window burst from it is frame, the sound a shotgun blast. Shards of multicolored glass sprayed the congregation like so much deadly confetti, the screaming around Natalie growing frenzied and animal.
She crawled under a pew, cramming her body into the smallest possible ball. A imaginativeness of a man’s intense dark eyes rose in her mind.Where is Miles now? My God, I hope he’s safe.
The effigy vanished in the next shock wave, as all at once the church was rocked by one apocalyptic spasm of noise and motion. Votive candles rolled crazily throughout the flagstones, the sickly sweet smells of beeswax and incense mingling with acrid dust. All Natalie could do was cling to the seesawing ground, her head banging repeatedly versus the pew, the pain numbing.
Then, as quickly as it started, the shaking stopped.
For a moment she was immobilized, too dazed to do anything but stay in her crouch. Seconds passed. Around her she could listen humans clambering to their feet, the priest likeable loudly for calm. Slowly she started out to believe that indeed, for the moment at least, the world had settled grudgingly back into place.
Natalie rose to her full height, engaged in a struggle to think in spite of the pounding in her head. The church had taken an unholy beating. Now sunshine slanted through three gaping holes high in the nave, lighting the shards of stained glass strewn throughout the flagstones like crystals in a kaleidoscope. Votive candles and prayer books lay in piles like abandoned toys, alongside chunks of gold-painted plaster. But the heavens had worked their magic: she and Julio and their fellow mourners were intact. Slowly her instincts as a newswoman scrabbled to the surface: Call the station.
Natalie groped to find her cell phone. Briefly she shut her eyes. Oh, Evie. Even your funeral got overshadowed by a news event. Now you won’t make air.She conducted a quick personal inventory. Her head throbbed as even though she’d been attacked with a sledgehammer. Her blond hair was wrenched free of the neat French twist into which she habitually knotted it for air; dust streaked her black suit; someplace she’d lost one of her pumps.
But she was the beneficiary of a miracle, she soon discovered. Her cell phone worked.
Natalie jabbed the QUICKDIAL button for the Assignment Desk and picked her way unsteadily toward the central door, attempting not to cut her unshod foot on the broken glass. She’d just wrenched the door open when a female intern answered her call.
“My God,” Natalie breathed into the phone, momentarily forgetting herself, mesmerized by the spectacle throughout the street. A concrete hulk that employed to be a part of the 210 freeway now pitched at a crazy angle. Bloodied commuters stood dazedly next to their vehicles. Cars that hadn’t already skidded earthward teetered on the buckled concrete like Tinkertoys. “It’s Natalie–” she began.
The intern cut her off. “Hold for Tony Scoppio.”
Natalie clenched her jaw. Her new news director, whom she would gladly return to whatsoever hole he’d slithered out of.
He came on a second later. “Get your ass back here, Daniels. Pronto.”
“If you’ve got juice back at the station I want to go live from here.” Natalie raised her voice above his instant protest. “I’m at Our Lady Victory in Pasadena and we may see from here that the 210 at Sierra Madre Boulevard collapsed.”
“No way. We took a power hit but may get on quicker from the studio than from the field.”
“No. We shouldn’t pass on these pictures and we’re the only crew here!”
Luckily they’d driven to the church in an ENG, or electronic news gathering, truck, which gave them live capability. Julio edged closer, keeping a handkerchief to his forehead. He pulled it away to disclose a jagged gash. Natalie arched her brow questioningly and without missing a beat he gave her a thumbs-up. She returned her attention to the phone, over which she could listen Tony yelling at somebody regarding power hits and generator breakdowns.
He came back to her. “Okay, Daniels, but if you’re not ready to go live when we’re back up, we’re taking it from here without you. Got it?”
Natalie bit her tongue. “Got it.”
“And don’t say another word to me in regards to that goddamn funeral.” He hung up.
Tony Scoppio leaned back in his chair and checked his digital stopwatch, which he’d started the moment he and Natalie Daniels had gotten off the phone. Nine minutes, nine seconds, and counting. The power was still intermittent, and they still weren’t on the air.
He focalized his eyes on the six television monitors that sat all over from his desk, set to Channels 3, 6, 8, 10, 14, and his own, Channel 12. It was his obligation as KXLA’s news conductor to keep an eye on the contest all day, each day, news emergency or not. The early signs were that, isolated from the collapsed portion of the 210 and a widespread power outage, the temblor hadn’t wreaked much mayhem on quake-hardened Los Angeles. But a 6.2 on the Richter scale still qualified as an emergency.
He did a quick scan. Four of his five challengers were live on the air with quake coverage. Meaning he got lumped with the perennial also-ran in L.A. TV news, Channel 14, the only other station in town incompetent sufficient still to be running a full-screen PLEASE STAND BY billboard.
He threw down the remote with disgust and wiped his hands on the stained expanse of his yellow button-down shirt. What a shop he’d inherited. The backup scheme had gone on the fritz and he had a bunch of union hires who didn’t know a generator from Santa Claus. And a princess anchor talent whining with regards to going live from the field.
Tony ran an raring hand through what was left of his graying hair and pushed up the half glasses that stubbornly refused to park on the bridge of his nose. Sure, Natalie Daniels was good. But not only did she cost him seven hundred fifty big ones a year–she had a body that a decade earlier had ceased screaming babe-alicious. What with the blond hair and the blue eyes, she looked good, but she looked good for a woman of forty. That didn’t cut it in an era when “mature” for a local TV female started at thirty-five. And the viewers of choice–the young guns who fit the demographic profile advertisers had wet dreams over–thought any local anchorwoman more than a decade re…