The following is an early chapter from the first Kate Conway thriller, THE MOUNTING STORM.
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KATE SAT ALONE AT THE BAR, annoyed that Winston had not arrived first. She was passionate in her hatred of having to wait for anyone, anywhere, even if it was Winston’s invitation and Winston’s restaurant and Winston’s table. She hated power games of any kind, especially the one called Keeping the Other Person Waiting.
She’d been awake since shortly after two this morning—when she received the frantic call from Freddie. She immediately phoned her father, who told her to double lock her doors and not leave the house until he called back.
When Paul called again he said he’d alerted the inspector in charge of the Hate Crimes Task Force, his African-American friend Harlan Sprague. They’d shot up to Freddie’s apartment and had things under control.
They’d sent Freddie to visit his Aunt at her summer residence in Saratoga Springs with instructions not to return until Sprague said it was safe.
Kate glanced at her face in the mirror behind the bar. The black and blue mark had receded in size and morphed into a more artistic yellow and green. She’d covered it partially with a paisley scarf and teased her Irish red hair into ringlets that covered the rest.
But she wasn’t going to wear her designer shades. She wanted to be able to see Winston, study his sad, gray eyes—and let him gaze at the look of professional dedication in her green eyes. It was strictly business, nothing more she’d convinced herself.
When Winston arrived ten minutes late, he pushed through the crowd and headed directly for her, nodding to several friends along the way instead of pausing to chat. He apologized and she took his arm and let him lead her to his table in the front room.
He ordered half a dozen appetizers to share along with a sirloin salad for each and a bottle of Merlot from a small French vineyard. Kate saw him glance at the forehead, but noted with appreciation his reluctance to say anything unless she brought it up.
Kate was certain Frank Beasley would have clued Winston in on the ‘accident’—the same way Frank kept Kate in the loop on office politics.
Winston complimented her again on the award while Kate agreed he was absolutely right in his belief that her piece on the White Slave Trade, even though the headline rang with supermarket tabloid horror, was the stronger story.
Reeking of middle class suburban fear, it had propelled Long Island’s locksmith industry to a new level of prosperity. Shades of the National Enquirer or not, who was going to argue with someone determined to give you a pat on the back and honor you with another award? Then she decided to get down to business.
“Is WinCom going to buy Clarion and fire all of us?” she asked.
He laughed. He had been expecting the question, but not with the express train urgency she gave it. Seeing the smile in her eyes, he relaxed.
“Frank Beasley and I were Skull & Bones at Yale, and we both flew choppers in the Guard. He made it clear I can trust you,” Winston said, looking around the room and lowering his voice.
“It happens to be true we are in the middle of serious negotiations,” he went on. “Let’s just say that when the time comes we want the machinery to be oiled and ready to rock and roll.”
He saw the worry return to her face. “I wouldn’t be concerned if I were you,” he said. “Even before you won the Maggie my people told me you were their bright and shining star. You’re the franchise player, Kate—no doubt about it.”
“Oh, thank you, kind sir, for allowing me to live,” she said, pushing back her Irish red hair and drilling him with her eyes.
“But in my role as investigative reporter I am forced to ask how you expect to reconcile WinCom’s right-wing, take-no-prisoners politics with Clarion’s progressive and very human attitude toward the world? Be honest, Winston—will your father be running the show?”
He looked offended. “I’ve been given free reign along with a blank check. My goal is to expand WinCom’s circulation base by broadening our viewpoint. And I want to begin the experiment where it will be felt the most—with a small but gutsy magazine like Clarion.”
She had expected her question to strike a nerve but found his answer hard to believe. Wishing to show mercy, she flashed a quick smile and changed the subject.
“I love the way you financial guys boost careers and snuff them out just by snapping your fingers or pressing a key on a calculator,” she said.
“Get used to it,” he said. “It’s the new American way of life. Survival of the fittest, profit-wise.”
A long pause. As if by a signal, they both looked down at their plates and took a few bites. She was finding him an obnoxious bore.
Whether liberal or conservative, she detested blabbermouth success stories from second-generation know-it-alls, people who inherit thriving businesses, almost always men who waltzed to success on the battered shoulders of enterprising fathers willing to risk it all.
She was looking at one.
Burdening him with this handicap helped make up for the fact that she found him so devastatingly attractive. The muscular build. The soft vulnerability in his eyes. The Brad Pitt stubble of beard. The deft and sure movements. A height that forced her eyes to tilt slightly up to meet his. A face chiseled like a Greek god. And at almost twenty years her senior, the perfect age.
In addition to all this was the fact he had gobs of money and a certain style to go with his charming manners. That’s it, she decided. He was a charming prick.
“Of course,” he said, looking up from his sirloin salad, “we would want to maximize our chances of making a profit.”
She pointed at him with her fork. “What do you mean by that?” she said. “Charge admission to see the writers burned at the stake?”
“No,” he said, laughing. “We would want to look at repositioning the magazine. Ratchet it up or down half a notch. Or maybe sideways to take in more circulation.”
“I always thought we were right where we belong,” she persisted. “Halfway between the Harpers-Atlantic Monthly crowd and Vanity Fair. Or maybe a better way to describe us would be Vanity Fair without all that glossy celebrity hype.”
“Which wouldn’t leave much,” he said, dipping a roll in olive oil.
She wondered whether to scream, cry, or submit her resignation. But then something came over the handsome Scrooge.
“Look, Kate,” he said, pushing back from the table. “I didn’t mean to ask you to dinner to talk about how to save a venerable, old magazine from the scrap heap. Sure this is a business we’re in. But the only ideas worth putting major bucks behind are the bold and new ideas.”
He turned to her, a certain desperation in his eyes. “If you have any ideas—please, I’d love to hear them.”
It was the moment she’d been waiting for ever since her lunch with Frank Beasley.
Without taking her eyes from Winston’s, she reached into her bag and pulled out her trusty Magic Marker. She pushed the dishes and glasses aside and, as the couple at the next table turned to watch, began drawing.
She drew a large rectangle and in it put a circle that touched the edges. In the circle she put two eyes, a nose and a mouth. At the top she wrote in large letters the word FACES. She scribbled thick black scrolls where the headlines and subheads would be.
She explained the concept of an ‘idea’ magazine, thought-provoking but with lavish color photographs shot by Annie Liebovitz. It would have the feeling of class that you got from Town and Country, the sensuality that came from Vanity Fair, the substance and satirical bite of The New Yorker.
The ideas would come from anyone, not just celebrities or famous people or people who had made it.
They would come from people who had ideas for improving things that needed improving. Getting a grip on crime, poverty, and hunger. Exposing dishonesty and hypocrisy in politics and business. Dealing with the truth about racial injustice, drunk drivers, education, AIDS, rapists, the environment, stock market fraud, pornography, Hollywood, advertising, fashion, world peace.
But there would be one big difference from the forest of important magazines you always felt you had to read but seldom did.
You would have to read FACES.
It would have the zeal of Mother Jones but with a more profound and meaningful thrust. It would have the exuberance of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine but with more depth and meaning. It would be the coffee table magazine that never made it to the coffee table. It would be quoted more than any other magazine.
It would be the ‘in’ read and not just another slick with the annual list of the top twenty or fifty or one hundred movers and shakers—the old “people to watch” hooey that every magazine seemed to be doing and which made everyone look like they had paid to get mentioned, which in many cases they had.
And, yes, it would have advertising—beautiful, rich four-color sections and spreads and pull-outs for gorgeous furs, for expensive cars, for diamonds, for travel and resorts, for exotic foods, for cosmetics, for beautiful designer clothes—because if you were an advertiser you would simply have to be in FACES.
When she finished, Winston looked up at the ceiling for a moment that was so long she found herself looking up with him. Finally, he lowered his eyes and gazed steadily into hers.
“I’m having a few guests out to my place in the Hamptons for the holiday weekend. I would like you to be among them.”
Kate absolutely despised the Hamptons, the phoniness, the money, the rivalries, the conspicuous display of worldly goods whether they be real estate, cars, clothes, jewelry, or even the children whose parents seemed determined to go the distance for the title of MKIBSBTYK—My Kid Is A Bigger Spoiled Brat Than Your Kid.
The Hamptons were the perfect marriage of Big Money and Bad Manners. She much preferred the laid back quality of upstate New York or the Berkshires or even the saner parts of Cape Cod.
She looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with their look of sadness.
“Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.”
On the way out, he handed her a box he had checked upon arriving. It was wrapped in gold foil and tied with a ribbon. He told her not to open it until she got home.
After hailing a cab and helping her inside, he apologized through the open window for neglecting to compliment her until now on the pants suit she was wearing.
It was black, of course, her favorite color.
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