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Authors: Jennifer Cruise

Charlie All Night (9 page)

BOOK: Charlie All Night
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*  *  *
"Bill wants to see you," Karen called to Charlie when he strolled in
late the next afternoon.
"I bet he does." Charlie stopped at the counter and grinned at her.
"Did you bake cookies?"
"No, that's Mrs. Wexman. She brings them in for Grady and he shares."
Charlie bit into the cookie. Chocolate chip with pecans. "Good for Mrs.
Wexman. What does
Grady do to deserve this?"
"Drives her to chemotherapy." Karen blinked up at him. "Grady does that
a lot for the people his
mom met while she was going through it. We get
a lot of stuff in here because of it. You should taste Mrs. Winthrop's
almond cookies."
"He drives Mrs. Winthrop, too?"
Karen nodded. "He helps out with other stuff, too. Mrs. Winthrop came
in one day all upset about her grandson yelling at her, and I called
Grady, and he told her not to worry, that he'd take care of it. The
next day, she brought in a devil's food cake."
"That's what I like, grateful women who bake." Charlie peered over the
counter. "Where's Sam?"
Karen brought the basket up on the desk, and Charlie turned back the
blanket to see Sam's little
black head. "How's he doing?" He rubbed the
puppy gently behind the ears, his broad index finger covering the back
of Sam's head by itself, and Sam
moaned a little.
"I'm scared for him." Karen sniffed. "He's so little, and he's not
eating much, and—"
"I'll pour the stuff down him tonight." Charlie pulled the blanket back
over Sam's head. "He's just
getting the hang of it, that's all."
Karen caught his hand. "Charlie, this is so sweet of you."
"No, it isn't." Charlie retrieved his hand and picked up another
cookie. "You'd have to have a heart
of stone to refuse to feed Sam." He
glanced at the clock behind her. "Which reminds me, I've got to
go see
Bill. Am I getting fired?"
"I doubt it." Karen put Sam's basket back under her desk. "But you're
gonna have to listen to some yelling."
Charlie turned and almost fell over a stack of boxes next to the desk.
"What's this?"
"Bumper stickers," Karen said. "Mark's idea. They're really popular.
The college kids from Riverbend love them."
Charlie frowned. "College kids listen to Mark?"
"No," Karen said. "They just like the stickers."
Charlie put his cookie down and pried open the top of the first box and
pulled out a sticker. It was
neon blue with a slash of orange lettering
that said WBBB: Turn Us ON! He turned back to Karen. "You're kidding."
She shrugged. "Who knows from kids?"
Charlie started to laugh. She couldn't be much older than twenty-five
herself. "Well put, old lady," he
told her and she grinned back at him.
"At least I'm not going nuts for a dumb bumper sticker," she said.
"Good point." He folded the sticker and shoved it in his pocket as he
turned for the hallway. "Now
for the yelling. Wish me luck."
"You won't need it," she called after him. "I heard your show. You were
great."
Terrific. Just what he needed. A fan. He was really going to have to
get a grip on things or Allie would make him a star.
*  *  *
"Come in," Bill yelled when Charlie tapped on his door. "Oh, it's you."
Charlie folded himself into the chair opposite the old man's desk,
ready to listen to a litany of his faults.
It would be like old home
week, his dad all over again.
Bill looked out at Charlie under bushy white eyebrows. "The papers are
calling about that mess last
night. Don't talk to'em."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Believe me, if I'd had any idea—"
Bill flapped a hand at him. "I'm not blaming you. Alice already told me
it was her fault."
"Well, I was there, too," Charlie said mildly. "The city building was
my idea."
"Yeah, but she called the mayor."
Charlie blinked. This was news. He and Allie were going to have to have
a much longer talk than they'd managed the night before. He thought
about the night before and stirred in his chair. A much longer talk out
of bed where she couldn't distract him. He frowned at Bill, trying to
bring his mind back to the problem. "She called the mayor?"
"Of course she called the mayor." Bill scowled at him. "You think
Rollie Whitcomb was up listening
to your show that late? She called
him."
"It was only eleven," Charlie said. "I thought he might stay up that
late."
"Only on poker nights." Bill's scowl deepened. "Which I won't be going
back to if you don't stop stirring up trouble on the air. He wanted me
to fire you, but I told him I couldn't. Unbreakable contract."
"We don't have a contract."
"Well, Rollie Whitcomb doesn't know that. But you are going to shut
your trap about the city building.
I didn't get you here to investigate
political corruption. I got you here-"
"Wait a minute." Charlie sat up slowly. "You're going to pull the plug
on this thing so you can play poker?"
"It's politics, boy." Bill leaned back in his chair, patriarchal as all
get out. "You don't understand—"
"Sure I do." Charlieshookhis head, "You and my dad. The get-along gang."
Bill's face turned dark. "Listen, boy"
"No." Charlie stood up. "I'm not going to shut up about corruption so
you can play poker with the
good old boys. I'm not going to bring it
up, but if somebody calls in, I'm going to talk about it. Now,
you can
deal with that or you can fire me."
"Sit down,"
Bill roared and
Charlie sighed and sat down and listened to
Bill's tirade, impervious from
long practice of listening to his
father. It was, in its volume and contempt, the same speech his father
had given to him after Charlie had left business school—"I didn't raise
my sons to be losers"—after
he'd left the Air Force—"Damn good
connections in the military, but you just piss 'em all away"—after he'd
sold the computer-consulting firm that had become too fast-track for
him—"You coulda been the
Bill Gates of Lawrenceville, but no, you don't
like the work"—and after any of thie half-dozen odd careers he'd
wandered into and out of on the road since he'd left Lawrenceville four
years before—"Bum." Bill's theme was more along the lines of "Too damn
dumb to know your ass from
your elbow," but it was his father, all
right.
This was what he got for doing favors for his father. His Father, Part
Two. Blow Hard and
Blow Harder.
"You understand me, boy?" Bill finished, his big white mustache
quivering.
"Completely," Charlie said. "Now, are you going to fire me or are you
going to let me talk to people
about this tonight?"
Bill sat back into his chair. "This is not what I brought you here for."
"No," Charlie agreed. "This is a freebie. And I'm not interested in
being Tuttle's favorite son, so it
won't happen again. But I'm not
walking away from this, Bill."
Bill stared off into space and tapped his fingers on the desk. "All
right," he said finally.
Charlie relaxed an iota. "Now, about what you brought me here for. I
found out Waldo isn't coming
back. You didn't mention he'd shot up the
booth."
"I don't give a rat's ass about Waldo." Bill scowled. "I want to know
that that letter was bull."
Charlie sighed. "It's going to take a little while. I'm starting at
ground zero since you didn't save the
letter. I can imagine Allie doing
damn near anything if she put her mind to it, but I can't imagine her
as a crook. And Joe—" He broke off. "Joe's gay. Could that have been
it?"
Bill waved the idea away. "Whole town knows Joe's gay. That all you've
come up with?"
"Well, Mark doesn't seem to have the brains to break any law and get
away with it, and Marcia's more likely to spit in somebody's face than
sneak around, and Stewart doesn't have the focus. Karen's not the
master-criminal type, although I suppose she'd make a nice dupe. You
and Beattie have too much to
lose. Unless Grady's been faith healing or
Harry's been stealing car parts, I don't see many potential criminals
here. 'Course, I haven't met everybody yet. I've only been here a day."
"Well, keep working on it."
Charlie sighed. "You know, it would have been a great help if you'd
kept that letter."
"It didn't say that much." Bill looked away. "Just that something was
going on here that I didn't know about. Some smart-ass, stirring up
trouble. Couldn't even spell."
"That's not much help." Bill refused to meet his eyes and Charlie gave
up. "All right, but I'm not
making any guarantees. It's probably
nothing. And in the meantime, I have to learn radio."
"That's why I gave you Alice." Bill finally looked back at him. "After
I told everybody you were Ten,
I had to, or you'd have died on the air
and everybody would have known something was up." He
scowled at
Charlie. "You owe me for that. I had to promise Mark a raise just to
get him to give her up."
Charlie blinked. "Mark didn't fire
her?
"
Bill snorted. "Of course not. He's not stupid. She's the best damn
producer in the business. But Lisa's going to work out fine. Don't
worry about it."
Great. Allie had lost her prime-time spot because of him. Somehow, he
wasn't anxious to share that
with her.
Bill went on talking. "Just do what Alice tells you to do. And stop
whining about the city building."
"Why don't you just give me a list of all the graft your friends are
involved in," Charlie suggested.
"It'll help me steer clear of those
topics."
"Very funny." Bill leaned forward, and the power in his eyes was no
joke. "You leave politics alone,
you hear?"
Charlie met his eyes. "And tonight?"
Bill sighed. "Don't bring it up. If somebody wants to talk, let 'em."
He swung his head from side to
side like a grumpy bear. "It would look
real bad if we shut down on it now, anyway. like we were covering up."
"Well, that's what I thought." Charlie stood up.
Bill snorted. "Right," Charlie said.
*  *  *
Allie stood outside the office and waited for Charlie, afraid the city
building was dead in the water as a show topic. Bill hated
controversy—page six in the handbook— and Charlie wanted a nice, quiet
little call-in show that nobody listened to. After last night, her
general inclination was to give Charlie
anything he wanted, but this
was her career on the line. Maybe she could seduce him into talking
about it on the air...
She gave the idea careful consideration and discarded it. Charlie would
cheerfully cooperate with being seduced, but then he'd still refuse to
talk about it. He was as stubborn as... well, as she was.
Then she heard Bill's voice go up, and she put her ear to the door to
try to make out the words he was calling Charlie a lot of names for
somebody who was agreeing with him.
Harry went by as she listened. "Getting anything good?"
"Shut up," she said. "I can't hear."
Harry went on and so did Bill, but in a minute Harry was back with his
Lion King glass from the break room. "Try this."
The glass helped significantly. "He's yelling at Charlie about the city
building," she told Harry as a payback for the glass.
Harry snorted. "Oh, that's a surprise. What's Charlie saying?"
Allie frowned. "Nothing. Bill's just raving."
"Charlie must be
stonewalling. Let me hear." Allie passed the glass over to Harry and
leaned against
the wall to think. Charlie wasn't telling Bill he was
going to bury the story. So he was either doing it to twist Bill's
tail, which would be dumb but entirely in character for Charlie, or
he'd decided to keep pursuing the scandal. She sighed and pushed her
glasses back up the bridge of her nose. That was
really too much to
hope for.
Karen came up behind them, basket in hand. "I thought you were in the
booth," she said to Harry,
and he shushed her.
"Beattie's doing the news," he said. "She wanted to." Then he went back
to listening.
"Charlie still in there?" Karen asked Allie and she nodded, trying to
press her ear to the sliver of door
not blocked by Harry's bulk. Maybe
Charlie really was defending the city building; maybe they could
run
with it tonight.
Imagine the people who would call in.
Imagine the ratings.
"This about the city building?" Stewart said from behind Karen.
"Shh," Karen said as she leaned around Allie. "What did he call
Charlie?"
"A shit-for-brains moron," Harry reported. "He called me that once. It
means he's winding down.
Damn, he's stopped yelling. I can't hear."
"Is he fired?" Stewart asked and all three of them turned to him and
said, "No!" and then they all
turned back to the door.
Allie pressed her ear to the door. "What's going on?" She tugged on
Harry's sleeve. "They're too quiet."
Harry shook his head. "Something about Waldo. I missed it. He listened
for a couple of minutes.
"They're talking too low."
"Give me the glass." Allie tugged again. The suspense was too great to
bear. "Is Charlie saying he
wants the city building on the show?"
Harry waved her away. "I told you, I can't hear 'em. They're talking
low."
The door opened suddenly, and Harry's glass dropped like a stone in
front of a surprised Charlie.
"Juice," Harry told him, hefting the glass. "Juice break. The news is
on and..." He backed away.
"Juice."
Karen smiled brightly. "The basket." She held it up in front of
Charlie. "I was just going to give
Harry the basket."
Allie met Charlie's eyes and smiled brightly. "I was just leaving." she
said and turned back to her office.
"I was listening at the door." she heard Stewart tell Charlie. "You
gotta talk louder next time."
"I'll remember that," Charlie said, and then she heard him coming after
her. "You can run but you
can't hide, McGuffey," he called after her.
"We have things to discuss."
Allie took a quick left turn to head for die booth and safety. "I have
to talk to Harry," she began, and
then he caught her by the arm and
dragged her back toward her office.
"Harry's drinking juice," he told her as he pulled her along. "You have
to talk to me.
"You called the mayor," Charlie said when they were alone in her
office. He really was annoyed at
her, but she was so obviously figuring
out all the angles while he talked that he wanted to laugh instead.
When Allie thought, he could see die wheels go round, she put so much
energy into it. He pulled his
mind back to the problem at hand. "You
punched your ambitious little finger on the buttons and you called the
mayor."
Allie pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Well, I thought it
was only right that he have a
chance to respond to the allegations."
"Bull." Charlie leaned closer. "I do not want to be a star."
"But you do want to save the city building," Allie told him helpfully.
"As Bill would say, I don't give a rat's ass about the city building."
Charlie did his damnedest to look stern, hampered by the suspicion that
he looked a lot like Bill and his dad. "Don't do that again."
Allie nodded, the picture of obedience, and he knew he was losing. "So
you won't talk about it tonight
on the air, I guess.''
"Unless somebody calls in and mentions it." Charlie narrowed his eyes
at her. "They call us. We don't
call them."
Allie nodded again. "No problem."
"Fine." Charlie looked at her suspiciously but she smiled back,
innocent. He gave up and pulled the bumper sticker out of his pocket.
"Now that that's settled, what is this?" He held die sticker up for
her
to see.
"A bumper sticker." Allie sat down and began to shuffle papers.
"No, I mean what does it mean?" Charlie leaned on the desk. "Karen said
these are really popular."
Allie stopped shuffling and looked at him with palpable patience. "They
are. Mark thought up the slogan—you know, turn on the radio—and
everybody thought it was stupid, and then after we'd had them about a
month, the high school and college kids started collecting them." Allie
shrugged.
"As long as it keeps WBBB in front of the community, who
cares what it means?"
Charlie folded the sticker up again and put it back in his pocket. "How
long ago was this? That they
got popular?"
Allie shrugged. "I don't know. About a month maybe. A couple of weeks.
Why?"
"It has occurred to you that they might be using it to refer to drugs."
Allie looked at him with exasperation. "No, Charlie, that never
occurred to me. Gee, what an idea.
Now if you don't mind, I've got
things to do before you go on tonight."
"All right." Charlie gave up and turned to go. "I mean it about those
calls. You don't call anybody.
Ever again."
"I'll take care of everything." Allie smiled at him again, and Charlie
closed his eyes.
"Somehow, that does not reassure me," he told her and then retreated
back into the hall before he
let her talk him into something he'd
regret.
She was developing a real knack for that.
BOOK: Charlie All Night
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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