You know that thing where you wiggle a pencil just right and it looks like it’s made of rubber? I am so good at that thing. It’s probably not a thing I should be good at in the middle of a staff meeting, but as the youngest female reporter for the country’s premier sports news agency, I tend to have a lot of downtime.
It’s probably not a great idea for me to zone out during these meetings, but I learned pretty early on that I haven’t earned enough clout to be able to pick which stories I tell when our editor in chief, Brady McMillan, is throwing out ideas for the taking. I tried once, and Brady shot me down so fast that I still feel the sting even two years later.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a great journalist. Some of the stories I’ve reported have trended for weeks on end. And it’s not that Brady doesn’t trust me, either. Though that first rejection hurt, Brady has never given me a bad story. But my stories have fallen into a certain pattern of assignment, which is absolutely intentional on his part.
I accidentally stumble across one bicyclist taking steroids when I try asking him about his juice cleanse and forget the word cleanse, and suddenly I’m the woman who exposes crooked athletes.
It can be fun uncovering secrets that can be dangerous or affect other athletes, but it’s certainly not the kind of story I like telling most.
I snap to attention, also snapping my pencil in the process because my brain thinks it actually is made out of rubber and I grab it with both hands. Oops. “Yep.” How did I snap a pencil with my bare hands? Am I that strong, or is this pencil awful quality? It came from the supply cupboard, but Enhance media isn’t known for being frugal. We’re one of the best for a reason.
Brady gives me a narrow-eyed look that says he knows I wasn’t paying attention, but he lets that go. He may give me stories I’m not especially fond of, but he has a soft spot for me. Has from the beginning. I like to think it’s because of my charisma and charm, but I’m pretty sure it’s just his fatherly instinct kicking in. I’ll take it.
“Markham has the flu,” he says.
I sit up straighter. I don’t think I’ve missed the context of this statement, but that doesn’t mean I understand why he’s telling me this. “That stinks?” I say.
He fights a smile. “He was covering the Series as Jacobsen.”
Okay, now he definitely has my attention. “Like, the World Series?”
Nodding, Brady points at me. “You’re going to take his place.”
Since I can’t sit up any higher, I stand. I don’t care that everyone else in the room is either snickering or scowling, depending on their interest in covering the biggest championship tournament in baseball. This will be the first time I’ve had a chance to cover something this big on my own.
“Game Six is tomorrow,” I say, as if my boss doesn’t know that already. It could be the biggest game ever with how evenly matched the Burrs and the Red-tails are. Right now the Red-tails are ahead by one game, but the Burrs have a good chance of tying things up.
Brady smiles. “Then you’d better go figure out which tech you’re taking with you. Let’s go talk sports!”
As the room clears out after Brady’s usual dismissal, I fight the disappointment that washes over me. I don’t know why I would think I could do this story without a tech, but I did. It’s not like there are any corrupt players on either of the teams that are in the Series, and this would be my first real chance to talk about the actual sport instead of just the dirty secrets behind it.
“Brady?” I chase after him, hot on his heels as he heads back to his office.
He doesn’t look back. “No, Darcy.”
“Everyone at Enhance goes incognito. You know that.” He holds his door open for me, knowing I’m not going to drop this argument.
This is the first time I’ve thought I might be able to win, so of course I’m going to push back. “I know wearing a disguise is a safety protocol,” I say as Brady slips into his chair. “But is there really going to be danger at a World Series game? I’m just there to cover the game, right? So I don’t see why I need to—”
“Darcy.” That one word carries Brady’s full authoritative voice, the one that made me terrified of him as an intern until I heard him humming the theme song from that kids show, Bluey, one day. He’s only intimidating when he wants to be. “The reason everyone wants to work at Enhance is because we take care of our own.”
I pout. “Yeah, but no one knows how you do that because no one knows that none of Enhance’s journalists are real people.” I still remember my first day of working here, right before I started grad school, and the monstrously large NDA I had to sign. I didn’t know until two years later, when I finally got hired on to the journalism team, that we have an entire department full of makeup artists and wardrobe designers—technicians, as they’re officially called—whose sole purpose is to transform us into other people when we’re on camera.
Brady patiently nods despite my unprofessionalism right now. “Did you know that when we switched to aliases on screen, the number of threats our team received on a monthly basis was cut in half? And that’s not just because no one knows how to find people who don’t exist. Going incognito gives you a freedom to step beyond your usual boundaries and tell the stories you want to tell without your personal biases getting in the way. It lets you tell the story the right way.”
I let out a deep sigh. “I know.”
Chuckling, Brady taps his knuckle on the desk. “Do you know why I picked you for this when I could have chosen a more experienced journalist?”
I wish I had an actual answer, but I don’t. “Because you know how much I love baseball?”
“Because I have never seen anyone better at leaving their baggage at the door than you,” Brady says pointedly. “I know you hate some of the assignments I give you, but I always know I can count on you to get to the heart of the story without letting your own opinions get in the way. Tamlin Park is one of the best things to ever happen to Enhance Media, and I don’t say that lightly.”
Tamlin Park. She’s the only thing separating me from going back to being an assistant, and I know it. Without her, I never would have gotten in front of a camera, and I can’t hate her for letting me do a job that I love. I may hate the career-ruining stories, but Brady always gives me a good story in between to cleanse my palate.
In fact, those more lighthearted stories have become more frequent as of late, which has me wondering if I might have a chance to change up the pattern soon. I probably shouldn’t be fighting Brady so much on this when it’s company policy, but…
“So, there’s really no chance of telling the story as Darcy instead of Tamlin?”
Brady rolls his eyes and clicks on his computer. “No, but I’ll tell you what. The next time you give an exposé on illegal drug use in the NFL and get two dozen players kicked out of the league, I’ll let you do the story as yourself. You know self-defense, right?”
“Okay, fine, you’ve made your point. I’ll go find myself a makeup tech.”
I’m at the door before Brady says, “Oh, and Darcy?”
He gives me the kind of smile that seems to make his eyes twinkle. It’s the smile that tells me I’m going to like what I’m about to hear. “We’ve set up an interview with Houston Briggs. Show me what you’ve got.”
I can’t hide the grin that spreads across my face, even after I make my way down the hall to see who’s available to come with me as my makeup tech tomorrow. Houston Briggs? He’s the top starting pitcher for the Sun City Red-tails, one of the teams in the Series, and I can’t remember the last time he did an interview with Enhance. For some reason, he’s fairly interview-shy nowadays despite being one of the best players in the game right now. That could easily mean he has something to hide.
I wonder what Brady is hoping I’ll find. Briggs has always been intriguing to me in the same way I have a weird fascination with nature documentaries that depict hunting scenes with all their carnage. I’m not sure if he’s the predator or the prey in this scenario, but I have a feeling something’s going to die.
Houston Briggs may seem perfect on the outside, but there’s no way he’s that good both on and off the field. Brady either knows something or has a hunch, but I refuse to let him down. Whatever Briggs is hiding, I’ll find it.