Twenty minutes before airtime, San Francisco TV Anchorwoman Dina Winters lay passed out on the bathroom floor. At least that’s what her landlord told her. “I heard a thud on my ceiling,” he said. “I ran upstairs and found you out cold on the floor.” All Dina remembered was fastening her gold necklace. Then her landlord was slapping her cheek to revive her.
A great way to celebrate a job promotion, she thought, clutching her bag and sprinting down Van Ness Avenue to the TV station. First field reporter to make San Francisco anchorwoman by age thirty-one and she could blow it on the first night.
She dashed up the steps of the Channel 3 building and across the marble floor of the lobby. “Hold that elevator,” she shouted, only to see her reflection in the metal doors that closed before her.
No problem. She kicked off her pumps and bounded up two flights of stairs, shoes in hand, her bare feet slapping the concrete. When she reached the landing, she nearly bowled over Martin Moses, pacing and wringing his hands. His face was a red balloon about to explode. “Where have you been?”
“I’m going to make it on time,” she said, rubbing a troublesome shin pain. How could she explain to an executive producer she’d blacked out for no reason? The poor man had recently fired the previous anchorperson for showing up drunk. Dina couldn’t have picked a worse night to be late.
She grabbed the blazer from her desk chair and ran down the carpeted aisle. Pushing her arms through the sleeves, she arrived on the set. With an artful dodge over thick camera cables, she flew into the blinding lights and headed toward the oak desk to face three men jockeying cameras. She slid her legs under the desk.
“Everyone on the set,” the floor manager shouted as he fastened a microphone to her collar. “Did you forget your earrings?” he whispered to her. “And run a comb through those curly locks.”
Dina pulled a comb and a pair of earrings from beneath the desktop. She tugged the comb through her hair and attached the clip-ons, an adornment she thought ridiculous.
“Camera Two,” she heard through her earpiece. “Ready for a one-shot of Dina.”
Field Cameraman Reed Reynolds sauntered into the lights like a guru dispensing peace. Bearded, tall and lean, dressed in jeans and a rumpled denim shirt, he signaled thumbs up. Just seeing him calmed her. He held up a bag of M&M’s candies. “For after the show.”
She could use a chocolate fix. Sometimes she swore he was psychic.
She straightened when Bart Van Cleve strutted onto the set like a bantam rooster and settled into the chair beside her. He inspected his prematurely gray pompadour in the monitor and, smiling at his image, pumped up his chair so he’d look taller than Dina.
Thank God he was only temporary.
A writer snatched Dina’s top page of news copy as she had barely memorized it. “North Point Strangler struck again.” He thrust a new page of text at her. “Read this instead.”
The trumpet blare of the show’s opening theme music woke up the last sleeping butterfly in her stomach. How proud her dad would be.
“Five. Four,” the floor manager said. “Three. Two.” He shot Dina her cue and granted her ultimate wish: center stage on San Francisco’s highest-rated TV news show.
“Good evening. This is Dina Wint—”
“And I’m Bart Van Cleve.” He displayed his perfect teeth to the camera.
“And this is the Channel 3 Five O’clock News,” Dina said. She looked into the camera with the steady red light. “We’ve just received a late-breaking story. Police believe the North Point Strangler has struck again.”
She heard her voice, calm and practiced, as if it came from someone else. “This time he attacked a twenty-year-old model on the way to her car in San Francisco’s Marina Center parking lot. Police say the killer grabbed the woman from behind and wrapped a wire around… ”
The cameras blurred before Dina’s eyes and she blinked to bring them into focus.
“around her throat. They say the strangler . . . ”
She gulped for air and the bright lights spun into pinpoints of red and blue.
“employed his usual mode of . . .
Anxious director’s cues came through her earpiece almost as loudly as the heartbeat that pulsed in her temples. The red light on the camera went out and she gasped, fighting an invisible strap that tightened around her throat. She groped frantically for the water glass beneath the desk and struggled to keep her head erect.
Which camera was on?
Then the room went dim.