Hank Phillippi Ryan Prime Time

ISBN 13: 9780373881352

Prime Time

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9780373881352: Prime Time
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Could an innocent e-mail offer really result in
murder, mayhem and a multimillion-dollar fraud
ring? The last person to ask is dead...but that won't
keep Charlotte McNally from poking around. Face
it―in the cutthroat world of television journalism,
this seasoned reporter knows that she'd better pull
out all the stops or kiss her cushy job (and that
means her life) goodbye.
But all too soon her investigation leads her straight
to Josh Gelston, who is a little too a
lot
too handsome. Could she trust a word he said?
Charlie might have a nose for news, but men are a
whole other story. Which means she is putting her
job, life and heart on the line....

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate, and has won thirty-three Emmys and thirteen Edward R. Murrow Awards. The author of eight crime fiction novels and numerous short stories, Ryan has won five Agatha Awards, in addition to two Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne du Maurier, and Mary Higgins Clark Award.  Her first award-winning Charlotte McNally series, beginning with the Agatha-winning PRIME TIME, is now available in all new editions. Her newest Jane Ryland thriller, WHAT YOU SEE was just named a Library Journal Best of 2015  and is now an AGATHA Nominee for Best Mystery. She is a founding teacher of Mystery Writers of American University, and past president of National Sisters in Crime.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Between the hot flashes, the hangover and all the spam on my computer, there's no way I'll get anything done before eight o'clock this morning. I came in early to get ahead, and already I'm behind.

I take a restorative sip of my murky–but–effective vending machine coffee, and start my one–finger delete. Away go the online offers for cheap vacations, low refinancing rates and medicine from Canada. Adios to international driver's licenses and work–at–home money–making schemes.

At least I'm not the only one here. Downstairs in the newsroom, overcaffeinated producers working the graveyard shift click intently through the wires, scanning their computers to find stories for the noon newscast. The sleek new anchorwoman, Ellen Cavenagh, doesn't have to be in her chair for the local news update until 8:24, so the "new face of Channel 3," as the promos brand her, is probably in her dressing room perfecting the shimmer level of her lip gloss.

Ellen's essentially a supermodel with reading skills, and I applaud anyone who can come out so cover girl so early in the morning. But as the station's investigative reporter, I spend most of my time tracking down sources and digging through documents. As a result, I don't always have to look TV–acceptable.

Good thing. At forty–six, it's possible my "hot flashes" owe more to the station's eccentric heating system than to a sudden dive in hormones. But facing reality, facing the camera takes a lot more time than it did twenty years ago. And considerably more makeup. Still, as long as they're not calling me "the old face of Channel 3," I figure I'm in the clear.

Today I'm planning total off–the–air mode. My usually high–maintenance hair is twisted up with a pencil and I'm on a hell–or–high–water mission—come up with a blockbuster story so Channel 3 will win the November ratings contest and I can keep my job.

I was initiated into ratings worship my first day at the station. Back then I was very eighties in my high–necked blouse and cameo brooch. Big eyebrows. Big shoulders. Big dreams.

"Here's a course they don't teach you in J–school," my news director said, gesturing me into his office. "Bottom Line 101: TV News Is Not All About Journalism—It's All About Money." Then he clicked open a computer spreadsheet, revealing a screen filled with tiny numbers.

"These are 'the overnights'," he intoned.

I remember thinking: Who's staying overnight? Luckily, he continued before I could actually ask such a naively newbie question.

"The overnight numbers arrive electronically every morning," he went on. "They show us how many viewers watched each newscast the day before. It's a contest. Whichever TV station gets the highest viewership ratings gets to charge the highest rates to advertisers."

He nodded, narrowing his eyes, and pointed to me.

"You win—especially the all–important November ratings—and you're in the money," he pronounced. "You lose, you're a goner."

As it turned out, he's the one who's gone, but I'm still front–lining in the ratings wars. And that's why every fall for the past twenty or so years, I've had to dig up a big story, a heavy hitter, one that'll get a ratings home run. Score, and my job is safe for another year. Strike out, and I could be shipped away from Boston and sent to cover the news in some culture–forsaken, small–market backwater. So far, I haven't had to call my agent or a moving company.

But now, because the arrival of my new boss has unfortunately coincided with the arrival of my contract expiration date, I've got to come up with a bigger story than ever.

If I don't, news director Kevin O'Bannon may be tempted to hire some half–my–age Cyndi from Cincinnati for half my salary. Everyone at Channel 3 will get one of those transparent "Charlotte McNally has decided to leave Boston to pursue other opportunities" e–mails.

They say you're only as good as your last story. Fine. My last story was a three–part series on State House bid–rigging that gave a few slimily corrupt politicians a new job making license plates. November ratings? Bring 'em on.

"Charlie—hey, Charlie. You here?"

I look up from my spam deleting. Someone's crashing open the heavy glass double doors that lead into the Channel 3 Investigative Unit. And they're looking for me.

My brain starts to buzz. Maybe there's breaking news. Maybe I'm the only on–air type here. Face time is always good. More likely, though, whoever it is probably wants me to go interview the latest lottery winner or something equally predictable. Dog falls in well. Tree falls on house. Ratings–grabbers, I suppose, but not what I call journalism.

I briefly contemplate hiding under my desk, but a quick assessment tells me that won't work—my collection of backup shoes occupies all the available space. Besides, my news Spidey–sense is pinging into high. I remember when Mom caught me reading the last chapter of my Nancy Drew first. She was bewildered, but as nine–year–old me explained, I hafta know what happens. All these years later, I'm still incurably curious. And now, maybe "what's happened" is actually something newsworthy.

"Yup, in here," I call out. If it's the saving–the–dog–in–the–well gig, I'll just say no. Let 'em fire me. I touch my wooden desk to defuse the jinx. Didn't really mean that.

Teddy Sheehan, his shirttails out and khaki pants already splattered with coffee stains, arrives in my doorway with a look on his face I instantly recognize: producer emergency. He bats his plastic water bottle against his leg, making a little pocking sound that punctuates his obvious agitation.

"I can't find Ellen," he says, inspecting my tiny office as if she might be lurking there. "She's supposed to be on the anchor desk for the next newsbreak, but she's nowhere. It's crazy. If I can't find her—"

I know where this is headed. A jolt of news adrenaline erases my ill–advised third–glass–of–white–wine hangover. "No problem," I assure him. "Let's go."

The instant the network commercial ends, someone has to read the script from the teleprompter. This morning, it appears that someone is going to be me.

We racket down the stairs to the newsroom. Four minutes till airtime.

Teddy stops suddenly, and turns to stare at me, pointing at my do–it–yourself up–do. "The folks at home are not going to buy the pencil-in-the-hair look," he says. His panicked expression reappears. "It's early, but nobody's that sleepy. Can you do anything to ?"

My eyes go wide, picturing myself. He's right. Not only is my hair a big Glamour "don't," I have on zero lipstick. This is supposed to be the morning news, not night of the living dead. And now it's three minutes to airtime.

Ten years ago, Teddy would have said, "Don't worry, Charlie, you're the best-looking investigative reporter in town. Just get your little blond self into that anchor desk and let the camera love you." Today he says, "Never mind."

Teddy careens into his desk chair and types out the new production info for the control room as he dictates the same instructions out loud to me. "We'll run the opening animation graphics, then go straight to videotape. You just voice-over the pictures, then hand it off to weather-it's Becca this morning. Just read. We'll never see you on camera."

He glances at the digital clock ticking relentlessly over the and goes pale. "It's less than a minute to air.

Do it!" the desk and plug my earpiece into its black box so director in the control room. As I clip the micro–the sweater tied around my shoulders, I pray the video so our million or so viewers don't wake up to the of Charlie McNally without mascara or lipstick.

I settle in the chair, all plugged in. Just one thing missing. A big thing.

The camera operator points to me. "On the air in-thirty seconds," he says calmly.

"No script!" someone calls out from under the stairs.

That's a very bad sign. Under the stairs is where the... "Yo, Charlie, printer's broken," I hear someone yell back to me. "Just read the prompter."

I should have hidden under my desk. The prompter had better work or I am going to kill someone.

"Fifteen seconds!"

My heart sinks. This is what I get for coming in early. All I wanted to do was get a head start on my story. Now, instead, I'm going to be humiliated in front of millions of—

"In five, four..."

The teleprompter flashes into life. The floor director gives me a quick finger point. Showtime.

"Good morning, this is Charlie McNally in the newsroom." I've never seen the script that's rolling by in front of me before, I'm just reading it cold. But after twenty–some years in the business, my brain can read a line or two ahead of my mouth.

"Topping the news this morning, investigators searching for the cause of a fire overnight in Allston. Witnesses say the apartment was being used as an off–campus dormitory for Morrison College."

Hmm. There's a possible story, the reporter track of my brain muses. Wonder if that's legal, stashing students in some apartment and calling it a dorm. Wonder if we could sneak a hidden camera inside.

I keep reading.

"Big traffic problems on the Expressway this morning. Commuters stalled for up to half an hour, as a truck filled with twenty–pound bags of ice skids and rolls over..."

Is there a story here, too? Wonder if the driver was drinking? Had the truck been inspected?

I keep reading.

"Finally this morning, police are asking for your help in finding a Lexington man reported as missing earlier this week. His wife released this picture of forty–one–year–old Bradley Foreman. You see it now on your screen—"

I glance at the monitor, confirming. Good job, control–room guys.

"He's described as around six feet tall, brown hair and eyes, medium build."

That's helpful. Medium everything. Must be a slow news day if this is a story.

I keep reading.

"His wife says she last saw Foreman when he left for work Thursday morning, but his colleagues at Aztratek Pharmaceuticals say he never arrived at their Boxford office complex."

The minute my mouth says Aztratek, some part of my brain goes into alert mode.

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