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News Face

2009 story submission by Dave Jarecki, Vinnie Kinsella, Arthur Smid, and Clint Williams

Candace Graham watched her face on the screen. The blue background contrasted nicely with her fair skin and gave her eyes a piercing, honest quality. She nodded in approval as the voiceover blasted, “K-O-N-G, the King of Northwest news!”

“Nice transition, Brian,” Candace said to the cameraman. Brian paused the video and swiveled in his chair.

“Thanks.”

“Is that all of them?”

“No, there’s one more…” he said reluctantly and hit play. A cartoon gorilla pounced on screen as the voiceover blared: “KONG News in the morning!” The gorilla climbed the KONG Tower with a rose between its teeth, hung from the side of the building, took the flower in one hand and sniffed deeply. The shot zoomed through a window to Candace on the set. “Wake up and smell the Rose City with Candace Graham,” the voiceover crowed.

“You’ve got to be kidding. ‘Wake up and smell the Rose City?’ Where the hell did that come from?”

Brian paused the video.

“It was Gary’s idea.”

Candace buried her head in her arms on the desk. “Why does he like stuff like that?”

“You want to fight it?”

“I’ll pass,” she said raising herself up.

A tall, broad-shouldered man appeared in the doorway. Chiseled features, silver hair, and imposing frame. It was Kent Retner, KONG’s head anchor.

Brian acknowledged Kent and turned back to the screen.

“Brian’s showing me the promos,” Candace said. “You look good, Kent.”

“Thanks, Candy. I’m happy to have you on tonight.”

“I look forward to it … but please don’t call me Candy on air.”

“Don’t worry.” Kent winked. “Wouldn’t dream of it. See you on set”.

Brian looked up to make sure Kent was gone.

“What a jerk.”

“Brian, he’s not that bad.”

“Are you kidding me? You despised him when you started here.”

“He’s grown on me.”

“Only Steve called you ‘Candy’.”

“He gave me big break. Kent asked me to fill in for Lisa.”

“Candace, Kent is an empty husk of a human being.”

Candace squinted. “You sound like Steve.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Look, I know the anniversary is coming up,” she said. “Is that it?”

“I’ve just been thinking, that’s all. Maybe too much … besides, it’s your big day. Your big week!”

***

Candace walked into a drab newsroom of fluorescent light and industrial carpet. She sat at the desk and started to review notes for the evening news. The young interns at their computers rifled through the AP newsfeed. Two TVs behind them tuned to the station’s competitors – just in case they broke a story before KONG.

A young intern strode confidently passed Kent’s private office, toward the Producer. Kent was the Alpha Male for those watching at home, but Gary was the man-in-charge. Gary stood talking with a cameraman. His black hair combed drastically over his head. He sweated profusely. The intern waited for an opening and edged in.

“I have contacts for the chicken farm story.”

“We’re not running the chicken farm story. ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ You ever hear that? That’s a truism. Something to live by.”

Candace watched as the intern deflated. Gary strode over to a circle of police scanners and fax machines and the intern followed behind. A young man sat alone in listening to the litany of traffic stops and petty crimes, waiting for something noteworthy to break through the static.

“Anyone die today?”

“Nothing newsworthy.”

“What about that drowning in the Willamette? Any developments? That’s a great end-of-summer story.”

The young man shook his head.

The intern cleared her throat and said, “The Portland Riverkeepers are doing a fundraiser today. I could cover that.”

Gary fixed his gaze on Candace and put his arm around the young intern’s shoulder.

“Take a look at Candace,” he said. “Candace Graham is a real news woman. And she’s about to become the new face of the evening news.”

“So you are moving me up,” she said calmly.

“Oh, I have big plans for you,” Gary said. “Show this intern your on-air face. She needs to see it.”

Candace’s face went plastic.

“Beautiful. You are going live at five. I want to see you raise the ratings.” He addressed the intern as he strode away. “Take notes from her, young lady.”

***

Candace took her seat next to Kent. She straightened the collar of her dress suit. Kent fixed his eyes on her dress down to her shoes then back up to her face. He leaned toward her.

“Fits you like a glove, Candy.”

“Candace,” she said shortly.

“Sure. I don’t mean the outfit.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“The seat. You really look fantastic in that chair.”

The director started the on-air count. “In five, four…” He mimed the rest.

The opening sequence started up: “KONG News is your source for the issues that matter most. With Kent Retner and Lisa Jones.”

“Good evening, I’m Kent Retner.”

“And I’m Candace Graham, sitting in for Lisa Jones.”

The shot cut to a close-up of Kent. He dove in with fatherly charm. “A massive fire ripped through a warehouse in northeast Portland earlier today …” Candace swallowed and took a deep breath. She was up next. She sat still, waiting for the fire story to finish.

Brain looked at her from behind the camera. He winked, gave her a thumb’s up, and mouthed, “You look great”.

Candace continued to smile. Kent asked the scripted wrap-up question and the shot cut to a close-up of Candace. She started reading smoothly from the teleprompter:

“Friends and family of American journalist, Keith Banks, gathered today to honor the life of the young man who was killed last week in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan. For more on this story, we go now to Raji Surjabi. Raji?”

The shot cut away from her face and she relaxed in her seat. She turned to look at Gary in the right wing.

He gave a nod and mouthed, “You’re fantastic”.

She blushed and stifled a smile. Kent put his hand on her shoulder.

“Nicely done, Candy.”

“Stop calling me Candy,” she said icily.

“Yes, sorry.” Kent rubbed her shoulder with his thumb. Candace shrugged off his hand and turned her attention to the Brian standing behind the camera. Brian stood transfixed, staring at the screen above the set.

“Bry, how did I look?” she whispered. Brian maintained his blank expression.

“Brian?”

Candace looked up at the screen to see an image of the young reporter’s family comforting each other during his memorial service.

***

Candace found Brian sitting alone in the editing room. Three TV screens in front of him—he seemed equally unfocused on all of them. She walked across the room and propped herself against the wall.

Brian placed a cassette in the dock and turned a knob.

“Did it make you think of him?” he asked carefully.

“Did what make me think of who?”

“The journalist who died. You moved on after it with such perfect control. It must have stirred up something inside you.”

“It’s been eight years,” she said. “And I’m a professional. I can’t be emotional about what I read on the teleprompter.”

“Even a little?”

“Okay, sure, the story made me think of Steve … after I looked at you.”

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Wednesay being the anniversary.”

She sat down beside him.

“I just can’t allow myself to dwell on it,” she said. “Not when I’m reporting.”

“Goddamnit, Candace, that’s not reporting. That’s… ”

“What?”

“That’s acting.”

Candace shrugged.

“It’s a career.”

“Well, your ability to desensitize yourself must come in handy.”

She was about to respond when Kent walked into the room.

“There you are,” Kent said excitedly. “Gary wants to meet with us. It’s time to start making this formal.”

“I’ll be right up.”

Kent gave her a wink and left the room. Candace turned to face Brian. They stared at each other in silence a moment.

“I’m not desensitized, Brian. I’m just doing my job.”

Candace walked through the newsroom and up a short flight of stairs into Gary’s office. He and Kent sat across from one another at his desk, a bottle of scotch and three tumblers between them.

“There’s our girl,” Gary said. He stood and brushed his hand along his red tie. He started to pour her a drink.

“I’m not one for scotch,” she said.

“What can I fix then?”

“Water’s fine.”

“That’s what I like about you,” Gary said. “Health conscious. How old are you now?”

“Does that matter?” she asked.

“No. Not at all. Look at our boy Kent.”

Gary and Kent looked at each other. Gary leaned across the table and said, “You know how the industry works. Your attractive brand of hope is exactly what the station needs.”

He reached into his top desk drawer, pulled out a contract and slid it toward her.

***

Candace placed the unsigned contract on her coffee table. She looked across the room at a picture of Brian, Steve and her next to the fireplace. She rested her hand on her dog Dexter. lifted his head onto her thigh. The dog squinted up through a half-closed eye.

“You’re no help.”

Her cell phone rang. Brian’s name showed up on the caller ID. Candace flipped it open.

“I’m glad you called,” she said. “I have my contract right in front of me.”

“Contract?”

“Gary offered me the evening spot.”

“I am happy for you, Candace. I don’t want to make this about me, but I want to talk about today. Steve wasn’t the only thing on my mind.”

“What’s up?”

“It’s just that, well … it’s time for me to leave the station.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I’m tired of it,” Brian said. “Tired of the sensationalism. I’m sick of office politics at KONG. I want to work someplace where ratings aren’t the only concern.”

“Good luck,” Candace scoffed.

“Candace, I’m tired of being a sellout.”

She shot up from the couch and paced the floor in front of her coffee table.

“Are you saying I’m a sellout?”

“When they ask you to lie, will you?”

Candace stopped pacing and picked up her contract and fell into the couch.

“Let’s talk tomorrow at the station,” she said. “I’m exhausted.”

When they hung up, Candace looked down at Dexter.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for ten years,” she said. “Why do I feel like hell?”

She stood up and walked over to the picture, pulled it from the wall and returned to the couch.

“You and your pursuit of truth,” she said trembling. “You could have been so many things.”

***

“You’re chipper,” she said when she saw Brian at work the next day.

Brian shrugged.

“You’re mad at me, aren’t you?” he asked.

“No. I can’t be mad at you. I want you to be happy.”

“Are you happy?”

“Want to see my contract?” She pulled it out of her purse and held it in front of him. Brian snatched it and flipped to the last page.

“You haven’t signed it.”

“We have to figure out some numbers first. I’m good to go. I’m co-anchor of the evening news.”

“I’m proud of you,” Brian said.

“No you’re not.”

Brian shrugged. “If you’re happy, then that’s all that matters.”

She turned to leave the editing room when a voice called out from down the hall.

“Ms. Graham?”

One of the interns, a young woman, stood up and walked over.

“Call me Candace.”

“Candace, you’re the reason I wanted to intern at KONG.”

“Really?”

“I’m a student at Northwestern. You’re a legend at the newspaper there. I love what you used to do. I’ve read all your stories in the archives.”

“What I used to do.”

***

Candace walked toward the set in a fog. She took her seat and averted eye contact. Kent shuffled his notes, kept his eye on the camera, and leaned toward her.

“Shake the frazzle, Candy.”

“Fuck off,” Kent.”

“I beg your—”

“Five, four…”

“Good evening, I’m Kent Retner.”

“And I’m Candy Graham … uh, Candace Graham in for Candace Graham … I mean, Lisa Jones.

The set was dead quiet for a second. Candace swallowed.

“Uh, back to you, Kent.”

***

After the broadcast, Candace tried to slink out without speaking to anyone. Kent caught her arm as she walked past his door.

“That was an amusing little display,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to see someone melt down on set.”

“Don’t exaggerate. It wasn’t exactly YouTube material.”

Kent walked over to his bookshelf and picked up his Golden Sledgehammer Award.

“Do you see this, Candy? Do you know what this is?”

“A golden sledgehammer,” she said flatly.

“The Golden Sledgehammer Award for Breaking News. That, Candy, is what I do.” He walked behind his desk and sat down.

“Do you want this job?” he asked pointedly.

Candace stood in the doorway holding her notebook over her chest.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then you have to stay focused, Candy. We’re the voice of authority. We tell the world what’s real.”

Candace looked at the floor. “I can’t help thinking about what I’m giving up.”

“Oh? And what might that be?”

***

Early the next morning, Candace crouched low and placed a bouquet of roses on Steve’s grave. The bouquet matched one resting on the stone. Steve’s mother must have stopped by already.

Candace placed a hand on the headstone. She traced her fingers over his name: Steven Robert Pointer.

“Candace Pointer. I would have liked that name.”

“He would have liked it too.”

She turned around to see Brian.

“Shouldn’t you be at work by now?”

“I could ask you the same thing. Besides, what are they going to do, fire me?”

Candace smiled halfheartedly.

“Do you think he’s happy now?”

“He died doing what he wanted to do.”

Candace looked down at the grave.

“He died without any regrets, Brian. I loved him. He lived without regrets.”

“That’s not true. He had one.”

“What’s that?”

“Not marrying you when he had the chance.”

Candace blushed.

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“I am. He told me, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have asked Candace to postpone the wedding.’”

Candace didn’t fight back her tears.

***

“Good evening, I’m Kent Rentner.”

“And I’m Candace Graham, sitting in for Lisa Jones.”

Candace spoke in a trance. She picked her eyes up and looked for Brian behind the camera. He was gone. The man in his place motioned for Candace, then started to count down. She was up. She worked her face into its appropriate proportions.

“The debate over the mayoral recall is heating up again,” she began. Her mouth continued about picketers, a march to Pioneer Square. Then the scene cut away to footage taken earlier. Candace sighed.

“Smooth,” Kent said. He reached under the table and tapped her knee.

“Take a hike,” she said.

“Hey, I’m just trying to give you some more confidence.”

“I’m doing well enough without your support.”

“Suit yourself.”

The shot returned to the studio. Kent was on again. Candace scanned the teleprompter as Kent read and her heart started to sink.

“On Monday, we told you about American journalist, Keith Banks, who was killed a week ago in Afghanistan in a roadside blast. More journalists have been killed during the War on Terror than in any other American war, a startling fact that isn’t new for the family of Steven Pointer, a Portland native who died a hero.”

The scene cut away. Steve’s house flashed on the screen above. There was his mother on the porch, a shot of Steve’s grave, his mother laying flowers. The montage continued.

Candace recoiled.

The station cut to commercial.

***

After the broadcast, Candace stormed into Gary’s office. He was standing behind his desk, eating a banana.

“Candace, I’m glad you’re here. I’m still waiting for that contract.”

“Where was Brian tonight? I thought he still had two weeks.”

“I told him he could leave early.” He pointed with his banana. “It’s all about the news, right?”

She set her jaw. “Like the piece on Steve tonight.”

“Absolutely. And might I add that you were impeccable. Now I know that I can trust you at the reins.” He took a big bite and went on with his mouth full. “So. Contract. Is that it in your hand?”

Candace looked down at the paper.

“Yes.”

“Well? Hand it over then.”

Candace paused, then stepped forward.

“Here you go.”

***

Candace carried a small box of stuff out to her car. She’d come back tomorrow morning for the rest of her things.

“Hey, you need some help with that?”

She looked over and saw Brian.

“Sure.”

Candace handed him the box.

“That bad?”

“I should have quit a long time ago.”

“You’re right. So what now?”

Candace shrugged.

“How about a documentary?” she smiled.

“Where?”

“I always wanted to get to Botswana.”

“I have a camera. I’d need a journalist though.”

“I know one. A Ms. Graham.”

“Is she available?”

“Yes.”

© 2009 Dave Jarecki, Vinnie Kinsella, Arthur Smid, and Clint Williams

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