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"Okay, Sam, that's a wrap."
The hot television lights were powered off, and Sam Porter pulled back from the small desk on the sound stage. He took a last drink of his water, and wanted nothing more than to be home in bed, preferably alone, nursing a cold beer, and watching the tape of today's show.
Four a.m. was too early for any human being of sound mind to be up, but he'd sacrificed in order to prep for this interview, which had been a slam-dunk. The Connecticut Senator was political roadkill, although now Sam felt like death warmed over and the night was still young.
The crew began arranging the studio for the next broadcast, cameras being rolled away to the side of the set as the mechanized take-down duties were performed.
He nodded in the general direction of his floor director. "Thanks, Kristin. See you tomorrow."
Kristin winked at him, putting aside her clipboard and headset. "Maybe you'll see me. I've got a hot date think I'm going to elope."
He rubbed at his face with his palms. "Just as long as you're back in the morning. Don't make me break in another one of you."
"Sure, boss," she answered.
The crew started to take off. Goodbyes were always the shortest when the weekend was lurking nearby. Today was only Wednesday, but his staff were forward thinkers and Friday couldn't come soon enough.
"Sam, wait a minute, will ya?" The voice of his producer boomed over the studio speakers, and Sam scowled in the general direction of the production booth. He wanted to get home, and Charles Whistleborne Kravatz III could be excruciatingly long-winded when he put his mind to it.
Charlie ambled into the studio, squawking into his cell.Impatiently, Sam tapped his foot until Charlie noticed, gave Sam an apologetic smile, and then kept talking for another ten minutes. Sam was just turning to leave when Charlie finally hung up.
"We've got a problem. The city manager pulled out and we've got to find another guest for Thursday's show."
"Sorry, Sam. Your fan base isn't huge out there."
"Yeah, well, someday. So what are we going to do? Know any Northern California radicals to put on?"
Charlie scratched his neck, parting the Brooks Brothers shirt buttons around his ever-expanding stomach. "I think we should do something less political. To offset the judicial expert's talk about the nominee for the Supreme court. Big yawner. Give it some balance."
"I don't know. Human interest. Fluff."
"I don't like fluff," warned Sam.
"No lectures, Sam. Hear me out. You're doing two solid days of hard, depressing crap. We need something more upbeat. Happier. Maybe not birdies and rainbows, but something to put people in a good mood."
At the moment, Sam was several emotions removed from a good mood. "I don't know, Charlie. Let me think. I'm tired and I need sleep."
Charlie nodded. "Do that. And let me know." He turned around to leave, and then turned back. "Hey, I got a call about you while the show was taping."
"Not another death threat, I hope?"
"Hehe, no. One of your fans. Chairman of your favorite New Jersey political party. He tried to play coy, but I pegged him. They want you to be their drop-in candidate for the House Seat in the Fifteenth District, after Detweiler pulled out. Four months before the election? Who does that?"
Sam started to laugh. "Me? A candidate? You're kidding."
Eventually Sam realized that Charlie was serious, mainly because Charlie was always serious.
Politics. His smile faded. "Really?" "Yeah. Since we're right up against the election, it's got to be a write-in candidate, and the party knows you've got the name recognition to pull it off. They know they can trust you, your platforms are right. It's not that big of a leap, Sam."
"You're kidding," repeated Sam, still slightly in shock. It was flattering, it was intriguing, and most of all, it was something that he'd never thought about before. "I'm in television. I talk about politics. I don't do politics," he said, weighing the arguments out loud.
"I take it that's a "no' then. I'll send your regrets."
Sam almost corrected that, but something held him back. "Yeah, just tell them no," he said, finality in his voice.
"Glad to hear it 'cause we'd have to kill the show, and I for one would not be happy. Hell, I'd have to find a new show. And I don't even wanna think about the network. You're a cash cow, and cash cows are hard to come by these days."
"I didn't think about losing the show," Sam murmured, wrapping his mind around the possibility of a new direction in his daily routine.
"You're thinking about losing the show, Sam?" asked Charlie, his faded blue eyes still sharp as they'd always been.
"How long do I have?"
"You gotta decide fast. Ten days is all you've got." Politics. It was something he talked about, studied, read about on a daily basis, but he'd never considered himself a politician. He was a journalist. But wouldn't it be nice to be able to work for the country instead of bashing do-nothing politicos on a nightly basis? His practical side laughed at the idea, his sentimental side was flush with new ideas.
"I should say no," he answered, his practical side winning the argument. Sam had enough to think about right now. Like what to fill in on Thursday's show.
"But that's not a "no'?"
"It's a not yet," answered Sam. "I'll take the ten days, Charlie. Let me think."
After Charlie left, Sam headed for the dressing room. Finally a chance to lose the suit, and he pulled on his jeans with a contented sigh. He would never be a suit, and although he played a talking-head on TV, and did it well, blue jeans were his natural habitat.
The television studio was a cold, lifeless place with cameras, overhead banks of monitors, and the smell of sanitized air freshener, rather than the smell of hard work.
Sam's dad had been a plumber, who came homedrain pipe, and Sam had learned to appreciate the smells that came with an honest day's labor. It was the primary reason his dressing room smelled like pen ink and microwaved chicken rather than the "clean fresh scent that follows a soft summer's rain."
His ratty, overstuffed couch was always waiting for him when he wanted to lay down and think, and the sounds of Bob Dylan, Toby Keith, and Springsteen were permanent playlists on his iPod. He needed it to drown out the city noise. At his heart, Sam was a Jersey boy, born and bred, and although Manhattan paid his salary, his home sat on the blue-collar side of the Hudson River.
Sam cast a longing look at the couch, but he had places to go and people to meet. The couchand muchneeded sleep would have to wait.
Two long East-West blocks covered the distance from the studio to the bar on 11th where he was headed. A few fans stopped, waved, but New York wasn't the target market for the Sam Porter show. A conservative talk show host in Manhattan garnered more death threats than autograph requests. Since Sam was a firm believer in the right to bear arms, as well as carry them, he wasn't fazed.
The cool September air blew around and through the concrete jungle, and it was a great night for a walk, the perfect way to wake him up. It might be Wednesday, but New York never knew it. Midtown was bustling, cabs lined up bumper to bumper, the night lights starting to illuminate the sky. Yeah, city life was okay.
He passed by a bookstore on the way, and the photograph in the window caught his attention. Sam stopped.
He knew that face; a face he'd had on his showonce. Mercedes Brooks.
It'd been over a year ago, and he'd pushed her from his mind, or so he thought, but the photograph stirred up a visceral reaction that surprised him with both its appearance and its intensity.
He studied the picture. She hadn't changed, her long, long dark hair was deeper than the shadows.
Her eyes were just as dark as her hair, and the photographer had caught a wicked gleam in them.
Those eyes had made him wonder.
Did they tease a man first thing in the morning, or were they cloudy with sleep? Did they ever grow blind with passion, reckless and unknowing?
It might only be a photograph, but the camera had captured a part of her, and the gleam stayed there. How far would she go? A teasing Lolita, a brazen Delilah?
He stood and looked for a minute, happy for the anonymity of a busy street where no one cared if a man stood a little too long, or stared a little too hard.
Then, spurred on by an impulse that he didn't want to examine, Sam walked inside, picked up a book off this display, and started to read. He should've known it'd be a mistake, everything about her yelled "mistake" but he wanted to know, and his eyes followed the evocative words, blood-heating words: He wasn't a man she'd ever see outside the bedroom, because his world wasn't hers, and she couldn't adapt to his, so they met in private, in the dark, and for a few hours, they would pretend.
stronger and bigger than hers. Sometimes she would trail her fingers over his arms, following the ridges and dips, the curling hairs tickling the pads of her fingers. He had lovely arms that sheltered her, and kept her warm when the world was cold, cherished her when she felt unloved.
hard, workman's hands, among other parts. She loved when he rubbed his hands over her, slow at first, almost shy. He wore a ring on his right hand, cold silver that jarred when he drew it over the heated skin of her breasts. He would do that to her, and at first she thought it was an accident, but by the third time, she grew to love that ring, and the simple wanton pleasure of cold silver against a naked breast. Her breasts weren't the only place he teased. He liked to delve between her thighs, the ring pressing against hot, swollen flesh. A single touch that would pull her out of her skin, but never fast. Always slow, excruciatingly slow!
The voice jerked him out of that dark, blissful place that he'd just visited with his vivid imagination. He
Quickly he covered his fly with the book and turned. An older woman stood there, her eyes as curious as a kid. She was bundled up in a wool cardigan and carried a stack of books in her hands. "You're reading that?" she asked, the bright eyes dipping to the lurid cover.
Instantly Sam put on his fan-face. "Oh, no. Just keeping up with the state of the world."
She clucked her tongue, the faded red hair shaking in disapproval. He saw that look a lot. "Sad what's happening. Sometimes I think I'm getting too old, that I don't understand the young. Sex, sex, sex. Seems like we get bombarded with it everywhere. Books, television, health insurance. Can you believe it, they're using sex to sell health insurance? You should put that on your show."
Carefully, unobtrusively, Sam replaced Mercedes's sex book, then gave the woman an empathetic nod. "I think you're right. I'll talk to the producer."
The woman stared at the dark, gauzy cover displaying a man and a woman locked in a shameful, wicked, indecent embrace that looked!
Sam looked harder.