Eyes on You (9 page)

I thanked her and told her I’d be up right after the show. It sounded, actually, like I was being summoned for a make-nice-to-the-talent meeting. Potts didn’t want his hosts getting big-headed, but he balanced that with a certain amount of stroking, just enough to deter their eyes from wandering.

A few minutes later, I hurried down to makeup. “Stacy’ll be right back,” Jimmy told me from the other end of the room. He was working on a correspondent for one of the other shows, wrapping her hair around a huge curling iron while chattering about a work trip to L.A. that he’d just returned from. I’d barely sat down when Vicky Cruz burst into the room. It was the first time I’d laid eyes on her since the rant.

“You’ll have to excuse me, sweetheart,” she said to the correspondent. “But I need Jimmy to give my hair a little juju.”

“You got a big meeting or something?” Jimmy asked. For a split second I let my gaze skate down the mirror to the other end of the room. I saw the reporter’s mouth tighten as she relinquished her spot temporarily to Vicky.

“Hm, hm,” Vicky said. “I need some volume on top.”

Jimmy gunned the hair dryer and snatched a section of Vicky’s bright red hair with a brush. “
Ouch
,” she said. “I said pouf it, don’t yank it out.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m a little dazed still. I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane last night.”

“You need Ambien,” Vicky declared. “It makes you sleep like a baby.”

Stacy had come back into the room and fastened the nylon cape around me. I’d looked down at my notes, trying to finish prepping for the show, when I felt something tug my eyes to the mirror again. I glanced back up to catch Vicky staring at me. I held her gaze until she looked away. I was
not
going to let her get to me.

Stacy started to sponge on foundation, and I closed my eyes. A few seconds later, I heard Vicky announce, “That’s
enough
, Jimmy. If it gets any higher, it’ll look like there’s a litter of kittens in there.” Her heels pounded on the floor as she charged from the room.

“Speaking of sleep,” Stacy said to me, “are you getting enough? You look awfully pale.”

“Probably not,” I said. “Should we switch foundation?”

“No, this shade works for you. And it looks great on your skin. Even Vicky said so.”

“Vicky?” I said, and then smiled. I didn’t want Stacy to sense that my guard was raised.

“Yeah, she said she loves how dewy it makes your skin look on the air and asked me to try the same brand on her. But I do think you could use a little bronzer on top of it.”

How was I meant to interpret Vicky’s comment? Maybe she was counting on Stacy to pass it along, a feeble attempt at making nice.

The show that night was on fire again, all except the last segment. It was a story Charlotte had produced, and it was totally lame.

“Charlotte, that shrink had zero to offer,” I told her as I hurried off the set. “You couldn’t tell that in the pre-interview?”

“Of course not,” she said haughtily. She had on a low-cut jersey top, as if planning a pub crawl after the show. “Well, when
I
interviewed him, he didn’t sound lame.”

Before I could respond to her snippiness, I heard Tom say he was calling a postmortem with all the producers and interns. I was sure it had to do partly with that segment.

I rushed back to my office, blotted off the top layer of my makeup, and grabbed a notebook to take upstairs. It was the kind of brownnosy gesture that appealed to Potts. When I arrived, I saw that the outer office where the assistant sat was deserted, but I spotted Potts through the doorway, studying a piece of paper at his desk. The side of his thumb was pressed against his thick bottom lip. Sensing my presence, he glanced up. “Robin, come in,” he said, lifting his beefy body from the chair. He stood just long enough for me to take a seat across from him. He had one of his two TVs on, turned low to the program that followed
The Pulse
.

“Nice show tonight,” he said. “Though the last segment left me cold.”

“Agree. It wasn’t very strong,” I said. Potts was a blowhard, and I’d learned enough about him to know that you didn’t try to contradict his opinion on a show or segment. “Good topic, I think, but we needed better guests.”

“People were probably too busy watching you and Carter to notice. You two are doing a great job—of course, I don’t need to tell you that. You see the ratings, you hear the talk.”

Good, I thought. So this
was
a be-nice-to-the talent meeting. “I like hearing it from you.”

“And your book,” he said. “I’ll be honest—at first I was worried the timing was bad, that it would be a distraction just when you’re trying to get your feet wet again, but it seems to be helping. The more buzz, the better.”

I didn’t appreciate the comment about the book. Hadn’t he done the math and realized that it had been in the works long before I joined the network?

“Yes,” I said. “And I think Ann would agree.”

“One thing I’ve been thinking lately?” Potts said, raising a bristly gray eyebrow. “The plan was for you to play sidekick to Carter, at least in the beginning, but the time’s come to up your presence on the show, let you take the lead on occasion. I’ll discuss that with Tom.”

“That sounds great,” I said. “I have a lot more to offer.” This was exactly what I’d been hoping for.

Potts hoisted himself up and toward the back of the chair and then set his elbows on the desk. He had something on his mind, I realized. Something besides compliments.

“That’s not the main reason I asked you to stop by,” he said. “There’s another matter to discuss.”

His tone was sober, stern almost, and he widened his body. That’s what cobras did, I thought, right before they struck. My stomach dipped. “Okay,” I said.

“Have you ever heard that old line about a college president? That his three jobs are to provide parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni? Well, you know what my two jobs are?” He flipped open a hand the size of a bear paw in a gesture that urged me to guess.

I forced a smile, wondering where the hell this was going. “I could make a stab at it,” I said. “But I’d love to hear it from you.”

“To be the number one cable network for talk shows—that’s going to happen one day, by the way. And to keep Vicky Cruz as happy as possible.”

So this
was
about Vicky. I couldn’t believe it. But maybe Potts just wanted my take on the Baylor incident.

“That makes sense,” I said, keeping my voice even.

“Good, because we need to discuss that. Vicky’s been unhappy lately. And you’ve apparently done a few things to make her that way.”

chapter 8

Potts’s accusation smarted, like a slap to the face. So Vicky
had
gone to him, bitching specifically about me.

“Dave, I assume you mean the fact that we booked Jack Baylor as a guest on our show,” I said.

“Baylor’s under contract with
The Vicky Cruz Show
,” he said. “I know she’s insanely territorial, but that’s part of what makes her so damn good, and we have to respect that. We can’t be poaching her people.”

“I understand completely,” I said. I felt a surge of both frustration, and anger, but I knew I had to stay in control, to
manage
this. “Unfortunately, we weren’t told that Baylor was a regular on her show. We’re actually setting up a system now—”

Potts waved his hand as if he’d heard all he ever needed to know on the subject. “That’s not what bothers me most,” he said. “You can’t be consulting with her producers or coming after the kind of topics she covers on her show.”

I stared blankly at him in complete confusion. What was he
talking
about? “But—I don’t even know her producers,” I said finally. “I mean, I know their faces, but I don’t think I’ve ever said more than hello to any of them.”

“Well, not you directly. But you sent your intern to talk to them. Pick their brains, ask for their sources. That’s not right.”

“My
intern
?” I said. Even as I uttered the word, I knew. Maddy. She had obviously called one of Vicky’s producers about the crime stories.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said. I was scrambling now. “I did ask my intern to research possible crime segments. I—”

“Is this something Tom wanted to pursue?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance to run it by him yet. I’ve been analyzing our ratings and noticed they spiked when we feature crime stories. But I never suggested my intern talk to Vicky’s producers. She must have—”

“Look, I don’t need to know all the minutiae. The point is that people can’t be going behind Vicky’s back or using her team. And I know we said you guys could cover crime, but for now that’s gotta be Vicky’s bailiwick.”

“There were no plans to jump in and do it yet. I was just explor—”

“Like I said, I don’t care about the details. I just need your assurance that you’ll back off. Five years ago, this network brought Vicky in to goose the ratings, and luckily for us, she didn’t just goose them, she jabbed them in the ass with an ice pick. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Part of me wanted to insist that he hear my side of the story, force him to recognize that there’d been a terrible misunderstanding. But a stronger voice told me not to press, that I’d only try his patience and make matters worse.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Look, Robin, I respect your ambition,” he said, shifting in his chair. “You don’t land where you are in this business without a surplus of it. You’ve got the talent, too. I just saw results from a survey we did—beyond the usual Q-rating stuff—and viewers really cotton to you. You’re natural, accessible. But the best strategy for you is to rein in that ambition for the moment and focus on what’s right in front of you. And that means the damn show, not your career. Over time, everything’s going to fall into place for you.”

“Of course,” I said. “The show is always first and foremost for me.” I smiled, all nicey-nice. But inside I was steaming.

“Good,” Potts said. He punctuated the word with a big smile and nod, as if he’d just offered me front-row seats to a Knicks game and was feeling fabulously benevolent. “Well, I’ve kept you long enough,” he added. “I’m sure you’re eager to head home.”

By the time I reached my office, I couldn’t even remember the last few moments with Potts, just my overwhelming desire to tear out of there. I was more than livid now. At both Vicky
and
Potts. I flung the unused notebook on my desk so hard that it skidded.

I grabbed my phone, ready to call for my car. But I stopped. I wanted to cool down first and analyze the situation.

It was hard for me to tell what I was most pissed about. I hated the fact that Potts hadn’t allowed me to get a word in edgewise. He seemed to have the attention span of a goldfish. Plus, he’d painted me as some ruthless career chick, a modern-day version of Eve Harrington. Men like Potts always put you in a double bind. They demanded fire in the belly but only as long as it wasn’t too hot or didn’t interfere with their own blazing needs. How naive I’d been to think I was being called upstairs so he could toss a few props my way.

But none of it would have happened if Vicky hadn’t ratted me out over the most minor of offenses. If she thought she could roll over me, she was dead wrong.

And then there was Maddy. I couldn’t believe she’d been stupid enough to pump producers from another show for info—unless Vicky had distorted the details to Potts. And it wasn’t Maddy’s only transgression lately. She’d deceived me at the party and failed to correctly vet a guest the other night. I was happy to play mentor, but not if her actions bit me in the butt.

I wondered how much of a hit I’d taken tonight. Potts had praised the show, mentioned that viewers liked me, that he even wanted to expand my role. There was no way my job could be in any kind of jeopardy. But there was a blemish on my performance now, one that a guy like Potts wouldn’t forget. I could just hear him punctuating what he said about me to others with a comment like “Unfortunately, she’s sometimes too damn ambitious for her own good.”

Though I’d warned myself to stay off Vicky’s enemies’ list, I was clearly on it now.

I realized I should call Richard, my agent, and fill him in. And I knew what he’d say: “Robin, why wouldn’t you have alerted me in advance to the meeting?” I’d have to endure the chiding. Because I needed his counsel, needed to know if damage control had to be done.

It was 8:25. He was probably just sitting down at one of his favorite watering holes, Michael’s or the Four Seasons. I punched in his cell number. When the call went to voice mail, I asked him to try to reach me as soon as he could.

I planned to call Maddy first thing in the morning, to hear her version of the story, but staring at my cell phone, I realized I didn’t want to wait. I tapped her number, and she answered on the first ring.

“Hi, Robin,” she said breezily.

“Are you somewhere you can talk?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m actually still at work. We had that postmortem meeting, and I was just grabbing a latte in the cafeteria before I leave. Is something the matter?”

It would be better, I knew, to have the conversation face-to-face, but I was too incensed to wait. “Did you talk to any of Vicky Cruz’s producers about the crime segments?”

There was a pause. She’d heard the anger in my voice and was probably trying to guess the cause. “You mean the ones we discussed yesterday, right?”

“Exactly.”

“Um, yes. I spoke to this guy Jeremy. But I didn’t tell him specifically what I was working on. I would never do that.”

“That’s not the point, Maddy.” I said. “Tell me precisely what you said to him.”

“I just asked him how to get ahold of, you know, police reports, that sort of thing.”

“Was there more than one conversation?”

“Uh, no—I mean, I don’t think so. No, I talked to him once, and then I think I emailed him with a couple of follow-up questions. Was I not supposed to or something?”

“No, you’re
not
supposed to or something,” I snapped. “You don’t ever go to a producer on another show and troll for info.”

“God, I’m so sorry, Robin. Just so you know, he’s become a friend of mine. It was really a question from one friend to another.”

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