(c) Kat Morgan

Quit Playing Games

Chapter 3

Fridays at the paper were always the busiest and today was no exception. Parker was in a monumentally foul mood, mainly due to the fact that she was exhausted from spending the previous evening club hopping. Going from venue to venue in order to review all the various bands that were performing in town.

Kat seemed to be her whipping boy in particular. Nothing she did was right. The printer wasn’t working right; Kat’s fault (her story had printed out fine). The small puddle of water by the cooler – Kat’s fault. She’d taken a drink earlier. If Parker could have found fault in the way Kat breathed she would have. Or maybe it was the fact that Kat did breathe was cause enough for Parker’s ire.

It didn't help that Helen, the magazine's publisher had chosen that afternoon to suddenly show up, taking over the managing editor's office, and raising the anxiety level in the tiny news room even higher.

No one wanted to screw up in front of the big boss.

To make matters worse there were several ‘suits’ in with Helen. No one knew quite what was going on, but something definitely was. Several of the visitors had spent time peering out into the newsroom, watching the activities. Bob, the managing editor, had been called into the office twice to talk to different contingents of the double-breasted. The second time he'd come out with the strange look on his face. He glanced around the room, focusing on Parker and on Kat.

Kat could feel his gaze and hunched further down in her chair, pounding on keyboard even harder. Layoff time. She just knew it. And with a myriad of complaints about her from his most high profile writer, she was sure she was for the road.

She thought quickly about what would happen to her. She had enough money in the bank to make it through this month and next. Maybe by then the other stuff would be taken care of, and she'd have more cash. But she couldn't depend on that. Her resume was still in order: she had to add the things she'd written here to her portfolio, but she had copies of all the papers at home. All that was needed was to cut and paste. The stories she had written for this issue she could get next week when With It came out.

Damn, she hated to be in this position.

It is almost 3:30 when Bob called and asked her to join him in his office. Parker saw her blanch and get up. She smiled maliciously, then raises a finger. She pointed to Kat and then made a zero gesture. Then to herself and made a check mark. It was clear. Parker 1, Kat 0. Her complaining had won out and Kat was out of there.

Damn her, Kat thought angrily as she walked towards the back office, trying to get her hands to stop shaking. She was almost at the door when she felt a hand grabbed her arm. Parker again.

"I guess that goat you sacrificed with the Boys the other night wasn't enough," the woman sneered.

Kat felt tears prick in her eyes, but disengaged from Parker’s grasp and walked into Bob’s office.

"Funny how it seems so different in here now," she thought. It was a small office, the huge desk monopolizing what room there was. Helen and Bob sat at the far side of the desk, while two men in business suits, one who looked vaguely familiar to Kat, sat along the back wall. There was one vacancy, in the middle of the room, facing the desk. The hot seat.

Kat nodded to Helen and Bob and took her seat, waiting for the ax to fall.

"Katherine," Bob started. "A funny thing has happened. I don't know if you know Todd Martin and Phil Tanner," he said, indicating the men behind her. Kat smiled politely, shaking their hands. The one who seemed familiar to her had slightly clammy hands. The familiarity rose higher but not clearer.

"Todd and Phil are with Jive Records," Bob continued. Kat knew that was significant somehow, but still couldn't put her finger on it.

Helen leaned forward. "Katherine you have only been with us for a short time and I for one have been very impressed with your work. Coming from a small-town all news weekly to a big city arts weekly is quite a difference. And I found that you've made the change admirably."

Kat smiled and mumbled "thanks" quickly.

"What is happening is this. With It is merging with one of the other arts papers in town. We been doing well against both Sound and Bravo, but as large as this city is it isn't big enough to support three papers. So we're taking over Sound," Helen continued.

Bob cleared his throat. "That is a large financial hit for us and it leaves us with more personnel than we'd require for the new venture."

"So what you are saying is that you are laying off staff and I'm one of them," Kat concluded.

"In a manner of speaking," Helen replied.

Bob smiled. "As I said a funny thing happened yesterday. While Helen ironed of the deal with Sound, I was taking a look at personnel. And I got a call from Phil over there."

Kat glanced at the quiet man, the unfamiliar one. He nodded. "I called Bob to find out something about one of his writers. You, in particular."

"Me? But…"

"I guess we aren’t doing this clearly, are we?" Helen stated. "The situation is this: With It is laying off staff, and yes, you are one of the people on the chopping block. However, it appears that you have some options."

"Options?" Kat repeatedly stupidly.

"Todd and I are here to offer you a job," Phil said.

Kat stared him a second. "I'm sorry, but I'm still finding is confusing. What kind of job? And why?"

"Katherine, we met the other night. At the meet and greet," the other man, Todd, said, and suddenly it clicked.

"You were the person who gave me the ticket and the pass. I wanted to thank you for that, but I'm sorry, I forgot to ask Howie how to get in touch with you," she smiled.

"He passed your thanks along the next day when he called. Which is why we're here."

She looked at him quizzically.

Phil jumped in. "We are looking to put another ‘pocket’ book about the Boys. This time less focused on them as a boy band. More about them as men, directed less to the teen market."

"An astute move considering," Kat noted. "The pop music craze isn't going to last forever. Their music has matured and so have their fans. If they want to stay on top they're going to have to focus on broaden their appeal."

Phil nodded. "They are starting to do that more. Their new management company, The Firm, is supportive of the move, as are we. The book would be less gossipy "Nick likes to eat pizza and play basketball" stuff, more of the Boys as hardworking performers. There would still be photos and so on, but more of them hard at work. Less of the staged cutesy poster boy photos, though there will, of course, still be some of those."

"You don't want to totally turn off your 14 to 15 year-old fan, but at the same time attract the 25 and older market too," Kat nodded.

"I must say, Katherine, your insights are surprising me. I am beginning to think we never used your abilities to their best advantage here," Helen said, giving her a speculative look.

Kat just looked back at her and smiled slightly.

"And it sounds like it may be to our advantage," Phil said. "Katherine, we'd like to you finish out the tour with the Boys, and help put the book together."

Kat was stunned.

Bob chuckled. "Not something she expected, obviously."

Kat shook herself. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask. Why? Why me?"

"We've been pushing this project for a while, and while the Boys are keen on it, they haven't been very thrilled with the writers who we've suggested. Most of the ones who write for the teen market tend to be, well, addicted to exclamation marks." Kat smiled, thinking of the covers of every teen-focused magazine she ever seen. Phil continued. "And most of the other writers tend to focus more on the heavier rock scene. The idea of an adult pop-focused publication to seems to be a new one and no one fits. When Howie suggested you…"

"Howie?!" Kat was bewildered.

Todd nodded. "You impressed him. And the others. An older fan who wasn’t apologetic for her interest, and who could relate to them on a mature level."

"I don’t understand. I know, I keep saying that. But really… All I did was talk to him."

"What about?" Phil asked.

Kat cast her mind back. "A bit about the tour. About music, movies. We got off on a long tangent about politics, and I think our discussion about religion really annoyed him."

"Exactly," Phil said. "You discuss normal things. You talked him like Howie, a person. Not Howie, pop star. You did that with all of them, I hear. It wasn't just Howie that suggested it. Kevin, AJ and Brian all thought it was a good idea. Nick said he hadn't talked to you very much, but that that he’d go along with the others."

"You weren’t at the concert for With It?" Helen asked and Kat shook her head.

"Kat had taken a day off for it. She is there on her own time," Bob replied. "We sent Parker."

Helen snorted. "Sounds like we missed a major opportunity." She turned to Kat. "There is little I can do now. As I said there is no longer a position here for you, though I am beginning to regret that decision. You have your choice of working out the next two weeks or taking the pay out. But as these gentlemen are offering you an interesting opportunity, I’ll let you make up your own mind. Come on, Bob. Let's leave these three alone for a few minutes to talks some more." She rose and Bob followed her out of the door.

Kat was still dazed by what was going on. She looked at Phil and Todd. "You are basing this offer on a short, okay so it was a long conversation with Howie. I know I shouldn't be looking a gift horse like this in the mouth, but I don't think that's enough."

Phil laughed. "We wouldn't do that." He opened his briefcase and pulled out a large manila folder. Inside were copies of most of her articles at With It and also from her paper back home. "We gathered as much of your work as we could. You’ve got a good style. And I agree with Helen. You've been wasted here."

Kat flipped through the pile of articles. "You got all of this since Wednesday?" she asked incredulously.

"Thursday afternoon, actually," Todd said.

She was quiet for a moment. "I'm not sure I’m ready for this."

"It would be a change. You'd have to traipse along with the tour, keeping strange hours, lots of hotel rooms, and days on the bus. Mostly just observing and writing those observations up. Interviews with each of the Boys. Focusing on them as individuals and their worldview," Phil replied.

"You would be answerable to several people: the Boys, Jive, The Firm. We all have to be in approval of the final copy. You wouldn't be the only person working on this, but you would be the person focussed on them on the road," Todd put in.

"And when would I start?"

Phil smiled, knowing she been caught. "We'd like you to join the tour in Minneapolis on Monday."

"Monday?! That doesn't give me a lot of time."

"We could probably push it back to Tuesday, but we need to start moving on this fast," Todd said.

Within 45 minutes things had been ironed out. Kat was surprised at how well she had negotiated things; something she hadn't done for a while. Not since…

At the end of the discussion she'd gotten a generous stipend: more than enough to keep her apartment here for the few months she'd be away. And enough left over to cover her until she found another job. She also had all of her travel, food and accommodation expenses covered. Only non-tour-related expenses would be her responsibility.

She emerged from Bob’s office with Phil and Todd, and shook their hands graciously. Todd she'd see again; he would be making occasional stops in with the tour. Phil was heading back to LA to discuss things with The Firm.

She went back into the office with Bob to clarify her lay off from With It. All in all, about one hour and a bit had passed since she’d first been called in, and now she had a new and exciting job and more money in her bank account that she expected.

Parker smiled maliciously at her when she started to pack up her desk. Then looked startled as Kat smiled back. Then pointed to Parker. Within zero gesture. And to herself, with two check marks.

"Ha, you annoying bitch. Nice girls CAN finish first," Kat thought as she walked out of the office, leaving a bewildered diva staring after her.

Chapter 4

(c) Kat Morgan