Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry, page 1
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In loving memory of John Conheeney, My Spouse Extraordinaire
And once again we have written the words “The end” at the close of the new book.
Trying to tell a good tale is both a challenge and a joy.
My desire is to have my reader engrossed in the first chapter and satisfied when reading the epilogue.
Now to thank the indispensable people who have made this possible.
Michael Korda, my editor for over forty years who has continued to be my guiding light. Thank you again, Michael.
Marysue Rucci, editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, whose observations and suggestions never fail to make the story better.
Kevin Wilder for his sage advice about detectives and law enforcement.
My son, Dave, who worked with me word by word until the end.
My daughter-in-law, Sharon, for her invaluable assistance in copyediting.
Last but certainly not least all my dear readers. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Cheers and blessings,
Gina Kane stretched in her window seat. Her latest prayer had been answered. The door of the jumbo jet was closing and the flight attendants were preparing for takeoff. The middle of the three seats on her side was empty and would remain that way for the sixteen-hour direct flight from Hong Kong to JFK in New York City.
Her second piece of luck was the passenger on the other side of the empty seat. Immediately after buckling himself in, he had taken two Ambien. His eyes were already closed and would remain that way for the next eight hours. That was perfect. She wanted time to think, not make small talk.
It was a trip her parents had spent over a year planning, and they were so excited when they called her to say they had sent in the deposit and were “committed to going.” She remembered her mother saying, as they often did, “We want to do this before we get too old.”
The notion of either of them getting old had seemed so foreign. Both were outdoors enthusiasts, always hiking, walking, and biking. But at her mother’s annual physical, her doctor had spotted an “abnormality.” It was shocking, an inoperable cancerous tumor. She went from being the picture of health to gone in four months.
It was after the funeral that Dad brought up the trip. “I’m going to cancel. When I see the other couples from the hiking club together, it will be too depressing to do it alone.” Gina had made her decision on the spot. “Dad, you’re going, and you’re not going to be there alone. I’m going with you.” They had spent ten days hiking through small villages in mountainous Nepal. After flying with her to Hong Kong, he had taken the direct flight to Miami.
It had been so easy to see and choose the right thing to do. Her father had thoroughly enjoyed the trip. She had as well. She had never once second-guessed her decision to go.
But where was that ability to decide and plow forward when it came to Ted? He was such a good guy. Both of them were thirty-two. He was absolutely certain that she was the person he wanted to spend his life with. Although disappointed that they would be apart for so long, he had encouraged her to accompany her father. “Family should always come first.” It was a line he had said to her many times as they went to gatherings with his bewildering array of relatives.
All that time to think and she was no closer to knowing what to say to Ted. He had a right to know where they were going. How many times can I say, “I just need a little more time”?
As usual, her reflection ended in a stalemate. Longing for any distraction, she opened her iPad and entered the password for her email. The screen immediately filled with “new” messages, ninety-four in total. She typed several keystrokes to make the screen display the emails by the name of the sender. There was no response from CRyan. Surprised and disappointed, she hit NEW, typed in CRyan’s address, and began writing:
Hi C, I hope you received the email I sent ten days ago. I’m very interested in hearing about your “terrible experience.” Please be in touch at your earliest convenience. Best regards, Gina.
Before pressing SEND, she added her phone number after her name.
The only other email she opened was from Ted. She was sure it would say that he had made a plan for them to meet for dinner. And talk. It was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that she read his note.
I’ve been counting the days until I get to see you. I’m sorry to say I’m going to have to keep counting. I leave tonight for a special project the bank put me on. Will be in LA for at least a week. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.
I promise to make it up to you when I get back. Call you tomorrow.
All my love now,
A voice came over the PA announcing they had been cleared for takeoff and ordering that all electronic devices be powered down. She closed her iPad, yawned, and propped her pillow between her head and the side of the cabin.
The email from ten days earlier, the one that would put her life in danger, remained on her mind as she slowly dozed off.
Gina’s apartment was on 82nd Street and West End Avenue. Her mother and father had given it to her after they retired and moved to Florida. Spacious, with two bedrooms and a decent-size kitchen, it was the envy of her friends, many of whom were crammed into tiny one-bedrooms and studios.
After dropping her bags in her bedroom, she checked her watch. 11:30 p.m. in New York; 8:30 p.m. in California. She decided it would be a good time to call Ted. He answered on the first ring.
“Well hello, stranger.” His tone was deep and loving, giving Gina a rush of warmth. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“It’s killing me that I’m stuck in LA for a week.”
They chatted for a few minutes. He finished by saying, “I know you just got in and you’re probably exhausted. I have a bunch of meetings planned. I’ll call you when things calm down.”
“It’s a deal,” she said.
“Love you, too.”
As she hung up the phone, Gina realized that Ted’s unexpected trip to California was a mixed blessing. On the one hand she wanted to see him. On the other it was a relief to not have to have a conversation she was not ready for.
Stepping out of the shower at five-thirty in the morning, Gina was pleasantly surprised at how she felt so good. She had slept for almost eight hours on the plane and another four after arriving home. She wasn’t feeling any of the dreaded jet lag most people experience after a long west to east flight.
She was eager to get back to work. After graduating from Boston College with a major in Journalism, she had been thrilled to land a job as a desk assistant at a suburban newspaper on Long Island. Budget cutbacks had forced the paper to let many of their senior writers go. Within a year she was writing feature stories.
Her articles on business and finance caught the eye of the editor of Your Money. She happily made the switch to the brash new upstart and had loved every minute of her seven years there. But the declining interest in print publ
While part of her enjoyed the freedom to pursue the stories that interested her, another part missed the steady paycheck and health care that came along with being an employee. She was free to choose what she wanted to write about, but at the end of the day somebody had to buy her story.
Empire Review had been a lifesaver. While visiting her parents in Florida, friends of theirs told Gina about being horrified that their eighteen-year-old grandson had been branded during a hazing ritual at his college fraternity. Using a hot iron, Greek letters had been burned into the back of his upper thigh.
Complaints to the university’s administration were going unanswered. Big donors among the alumni had threatened to withhold contributions if there was a clampdown on the “Greek Life” community.
Empire Review had agreed to the story immediately. They gave her a hefty advance and a generous travel and expense budget. ER’s exposé caused a sensation. It was covered by the national evening news programs and even prompted a segment on 60 Minutes.
The success of the fraternity story had given her high visibility as an investigative journalist. She was inundated with “tips” emails from would-be whistle-blowers and people who claimed to have knowledge of major scandals. A few of them had resulted in stories she had pursued and published. The trick was distinguishing between providers of genuine leads versus crackpots, disgruntled former employees, and conspiracy theorists.
Gina glanced at her watch. She was scheduled to meet with the magazine’s editor in chief the next day. Charles Maynard typically began the conversation with “So Gina, what do we want to write about next?” She had a little over twenty-four hours to come up with a good answer.
She dressed quickly, choosing jeans and a warm turtleneck sweater. After touching up her makeup, she glanced at her full-length mirror. She looked like the early pictures of her mother, who had been homecoming queen at Michigan State. Wideset eyes, more green than hazel, and classic features. Auburn shoulder-length hair made her look even taller than her five foot, seven inch frame.
Satisfied with her appearance, she put a frozen bagel in the toaster and made a cup of coffee. When it was ready, she brought her plate and cup to the table by the living room window. She had a view of the morning sun that was barely peaking over the horizon. It was the time of day when she keenly felt the death of her mother and experienced the feeling of time rushing by too quickly.
Settling at the table, her favorite place to work, she opened her laptop and watched a wave of unread emails unfold on her screen.
Her first glance was at the new emails that had arrived since she had checked while on the plane. Nothing urgent. More importantly, nothing from CRyan.
Next she scanned through the ones that had arrived over the last week and a half, when she had been in one of the few remaining places on earth where WiFi service was not available.
A note from a woman in Atlanta who claimed she had proof that the recycled rubber being used in school playgrounds was making children sick.
A request to speak the following month at the ASJA, American Society of Journalists and Authors.
An email from a man who claimed he had in his possession the portion of President Kennedy’s skull that had gone missing after the autopsy.
Even though she probably could have recited its content, she went back and clicked on the email she had received the day she left on her vacation.
Hi Gina, I don’t believe we ever met when we were at Boston College. I finished a few years apart from you. Right after I graduated, I went to work at REL News. I had a terrible experience with one of the higher-ups. (And I wasn’t the only one.) Now they’re afraid I’ll talk about it. I’ve been approached about a settlement offer. I don’t want to put more in an email. Can we arrange to meet?
When she had seen the name CRyan on an email, she had tried to remember why the name was familiar. Had there been a Courtney Ryan at school?
Gina reread the email twice, pushing herself to see if there was anything she had missed. REL News was a Wall Street darling among media companies. Its headquarters were at 55th Street and Avenue of the Americas, or Sixth Avenue as most New Yorkers still called it. In a span of twenty years it had grown from a small group of cable TV stations to a national powerhouse. Its ratings had surpassed CNN and were growing ever closer to the market leader, Fox. Its unofficial motto was “REaL News, not the other kind.”
The first subject that had come to her mind was sexual harassment. Hold on, she had thought. You don’t even know if “CRyan” is a man or a woman. You’re a reporter. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Get the facts. There had been only one way to find out. She looked again at the response she had sent.
Hi Mr./Ms. Ryan, I’m very interested in talking to you about the “terrible experience” you referred to. I’ll be out of the country without access to email, but I’ll be back on October 13. As you probably know, I live and work in New York City. Where are you? Looking forward to hearing from you. Best, Gina.
She had difficulty focusing as she scrolled through other emails. I had really hoped to have more than this, she said to herself as her mind drifted to tomorrow’s meeting at the magazine.
Maybe she left a message, Gina thought optimistically. Her cell phone had been down to one bar when she boarded her flight. It was dead by the time she landed in New York. In the email she gave CRyan her number.
Gina walked quickly into her bedroom, removed her phone from the charger, and brought it back to the kitchen. She tapped the phone to wake it up. A quick glance revealed several messages, but none from unfamiliar numbers.
The first was from her best friend Lisa. “Hi girlfriend. Welcome back. Looking forward to hearing all about your trip. I hope we’re still on for dinner tonight. We have to go to a dive restaurant in the Village called the Bird’s Nest. I have a great new case. A slip and fall. My client fell on ice cubes dropped by the bartender when he was shaking martinis. Broke her leg in three places. I want to scope out the joint.”
Gina chuckled as she listened. Dinner with Lisa was always fun.
The other messages were solicitations, which she immediately deleted.
Gina took the subway four stops to 14th Street. From there she walked the three blocks to the Fisk Building. The third through seventh floors were rented by the magazine.
“Good morning,” the security guard said as she walked through the detection scanner. A spate of recent threats had led to a policy change at the magazine: “All employees and visitors go through the security line. No exceptions.”
Gina entered the elevator and pushed 7, the floor reserved for the executive and editorial staff. As she stepped out, a friendly voice greeted her. “Hi Gina. Welcome back.” Jane Patwell, a longtime administrative assistant, held out her hand. Fifty years old, a little stocky, and always lamenting her dress size, Jane said, “Mr. Maynard will see you in his office.”
She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “He has some good-looking guy with him. I don’t know who he is.”
Jane was a born matchmaker. It irritated Gina that Jane was always trying to find someone for her. She was tempted to say, “Maybe he’s a serial killer.” Instead she smiled without replying. She followed Jane to the large corner office that was the domain of Charlie Maynard, the magazine’s longtime editor in chief.
Charlie was not at his desk. He was seated at his favorite spot, the conference table by the window, a cell phone stuck in his ear. About five feet nine, Charlie had a protruding paunch and cherubic face. Graying hair was combed sideways over his skull. Reading glasses were raised on his forehead. In front of Gina a colleague of Charlie’s once asked him what he did for exercise. Quoting George Burns, Charlie responded, “I make it a point to walk to the funerals of my friends who jog.”
He waved when he saw Gina and pointed to the chair opposite him. Next to
As she walked to the table, the newcomer stood up and extended his hand. “Geoffrey Whitehurst,” he said with a slight British accent. He was about six feet tall, with even features dominated by piercing dark brown eyes and equally dark brown hair. Combined with his face and athletic build his manner suggested an air of authority.
“Gina Kane,” she said, feeling that he already knew her name. He looks mid to late thirties, she thought, as she sat in the chair he had pulled out for her.
Charlie clicked to end the phone conversation. Turning to him, she said, “Charlie, I’m so sorry I missed your birthday while I was away.”
“Don’t worry, Gina. Seventy is the new fifty. We all had a great time. I see you’ve met Geoffrey. Let me tell you why he’s here.”
“Gina, before Charlie begins,” Geoffrey intervened, “I want to say I’m a big fan of your work.”
“Thank you,” Gina said, wondering what would come next. What came was a shock.
“After over forty-five years in the magazine business, I’ve decided to call it quits. My wife wants us to spend more time on the West Coast with the grandkids and I’ve agreed. Geoff is in the process of taking over for me and he’ll be working with you from now on. The change will be announced next week and I will appreciate your keeping this confidential until then.”
He paused to give Gina time to let his decision sink in, then added, “We were fortunate to snatch Geoff away from the Time Warner group. Until now he’s spent most of his career in London.”
“Congratulations to both of you, Charlie and Geoffrey,” Gina said automatically. She took comfort in the fact that Geoffrey had already said he liked her work.
“Please call me Geoff,” he said briskly.
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