Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?by Phyllis Richman
An ambitious young reporter with the looks and brains to become a star, new hire Ringo Laurenge is poised for a great future with the Washington Examiner. Too bad most of the staffers including Chas Wheatley wish the arrogant, back-stabbing creep would get his just desserts. Not only does this egomaniac steal other reporters's stories, he's/b>
An ambitious young reporter with the looks and brains to become a star, new hire Ringo Laurenge is poised for a great future with the Washington Examiner. Too bad most of the staffers including Chas Wheatley wish the arrogant, back-stabbing creep would get his just desserts. Not only does this egomaniac steal other reporters's stories, he's also determined to destroy a restaurant Chas is researching. Her worries over Ringo have even begun to cut into Chas's love life. It's only a matter of time before the cheesy writer headlines the obituary page. But the insatiably curious Chas a journalist with a taste for sleuthing and scoops isn't sure she wants to find out which of her colleagues, and the rest of the capital, finally had enough...
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"St. Mary's County stuffed ham was the most pathetic murder weapon of the twentieth century."
Ringo Laurenge wore an avuncular early Walter Cronkite smile as he lectured me on the peculiar Southern Maryland specialty of country ham slit in a dozen places and packed to bursting with chopped kale, cabbage, wild cress, scallions, and celery, spiked with red and black pepper, then wrapped in a clean T-shirt and boiled for hours. It's a Chesapeake Bay church-supper mainstay -- at least it was until 1997, when stuffed hams at an annual fundraiser were responsible for one death and more than seven hundred nonlethal cases of salmonella poisoning.
Ringo's sermon on ham making rang with authority. His was a face you trusted, and his deep, young voice sounded thick with concern for victims and cooks alike. It had a resonance that drew attention, while his just barely handsome looks -- soft, friendly cheeks strengthened by bushy eyebrows and deep, sympathetic eyes -- kept you riveted.
Everyone in the newsroom at the Washington Examiner agreed that Ringo Laurenge was a brilliant new hire, an exciting and talented addition to the Financial Desk staff The best thing to come out of Los Angeles since Casablanca. Indeed, those who didn't speak of him as a budding Walter Cronkite compared him to Humphrey Bogart. Or Robert Redford. Sometimes Woodward and Bernstein. Ringo mania had hit Washington.
Call me jealous, but I wasn't buying it. Here was a Californian who'd Just arrived in Washington, where I've been food critic for more than ten years, And he was telling me about our local stuffed ham. He'd even thought St. Mary'sCounty was in Virginia until I corrected him.
"A life could have been saved if those Virginia churchwomen had used my recipe," he expounded.
"Maryland. St. Mary's County is in Maryland," I interrupted. "Just because it's south of D.C. doesn't mean it's Virginia."
"Did I say Virginia? I meant that in my recipe I use Virginia ham. Exclusively."
I was beginning to think that Ringo was the most irritating reporter our managing editor, Bull Stannard, had ever foisted on this newspaper. And the competition for such honors in the newspaper world is fierce.
He was also the youngest windbag I'd ever encountered; until now I had thought it would take more than thirty-two years to develop full windbag capacity. But despite his youth, Ringo had learned to harrumph like the most senior member of the U.S. Senate.
While Ringo droned on about his recipe for stuffed ham and how he'd adapted it to kitchens in Rome and Saigon when he was on assignment, I let my mind wander. I began to imagine him as a stuffed ham or, given his youth, a suckling pig awaiting an apple for his mouth. Why did I have to put up with this harrumphing know-it-all? My boss would answer that Ringo was here to save our paper's future.
I suppose, in a way that turned out to be true for the Examiner. But the cost was too great. It was Ringo's death, more than his life, that brought worldwide attention and thousands of new readers to the paper. And for the rest of my years I'll blame the victim, Ringo, for goading someone I cared about into committing murder.
The groundwork for the events that led to Ringo's death, you might say, was laid by the news business itself. Newspapers are in big trouble. Everyone knows that. Nobody feels confident that they are going to survive the twenty-first century, not when the younger generation is being reared on television and the Internet. Even older adults increasingly turn to electronic media for news. Newspaper editors everywhere, particularly those in three-newspaper towns like Washington, are on a desperate mission to attract young readers.
That's why Bull had set about hiring Ringo Laurenge. He was a big catch. His coverage of the 0. J. Simpson trial written in the form of a rap album had launched him as a media celebrity. Ringo had been drafted to cover that trial halfway through the testimony, only after his paper's lead reporter committed suicide, yet even though he'd been writing from that disadvantage, Ringo's pieces were brilliant. Creative. He hadn't just reported the news, he'd become news. That qualified him as Bull's dream writer. Bull saw him as our messiah. So did dozens of other papers, but Bull had snagged him because our newspaper came up with an offer more interesting than just a lot of money. Bull promised Ringo syndication of his best stories and what was considered a groundbreaking project as well: Ringo was going to cover business as a Lifestyles beat. I didn't quite see that as sufficient reason for Ringo to choose a second-rung newspaper, but I figured that this ambitious reporter recognized that Washington is a top-notch platform for an up-and-coming newspaperman, and I'd heard rumors that the Post wouldn't hire him. I also assumed that Bull had sweetened the deal in ways that the rest of us would never know.
At some newspapers, the other reporters would have felt threatened by the arrival of such a golden boy. The Examiner is different. It's smaller than other big-city dailies, and newer. Hardly more than a decade old, the Examiner is feisty, aggressive, and challenging -- to other papers, not to its coworkers. Inside the newsroom, we tend to maintain the rare feeling that we're all on the same side. As soon as he was hired, Ringo became One of Us.
I felt like a traitor for resenting the guy.
I'd almost forgotten that Ringo was still talking about stuffed ham. "If the church had been lucky enough to have my recipe, the disaster never would have occurred. The safeguard would have been...Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?. Copyright � by Phyllis Richman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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