What you see isn't always what you get.
The trouble with clichés is that they're so downright tedious,
you fail to pay any attention to the message they're meant to
convey. And sometimes you really should. I know because during a
very hot and muggy summer in New York City, that particular
cliché jumped up more than once and took a large, hard bite
out of my butt.
On the initial occasion, before summer even started, I was an idiot
to have been blindsided. It was the last week in May and Cat Jones,
my boss at Gloss magazine, had invited me out to dinner.
Now, there was nothing inherently odd in Cat treating me to a meal
--- despite our work arrangement, we'd always been friends in a
weird sort of way. But she'd suggested that we meet at six
forty-five at a kind of out-of-the-way place in the Village, and
that's when the warning bells should have sounded. As a friend of
mine once pointed out, when a guy suggests dinner at an untrendy
restaurant before seven o'clock, you can be damn sure that he's
going to announce he's in love with another chick and he's hoping
for a fast escape before you start to sob and lunge for his ankles.
My mistake was not realizing that the same warning applied to
I did suspect that the dinner was going to be more work
related than personal. For the past few years I've been under
contract with Gloss to write eight to ten crime or
human-interest stories a year. Cat had worked out the arrangement
herself when she'd first arrived at Gloss and was in the
process of turning it from a bland-as-boiled-ham women's service
magazine into a kind of Cosmo for married chicks. I'd always
pitched my own story ideas, and they were green-lighted pretty
quickly. But lately I'd been batting zero, and I didn't know why.
Perfect example: Two weeks ago I'd suggested a piece on a young
mother who'd disappeared without a trace while jogging. The husband
had become the main suspect, though interestingly it was she, not
he, who'd been having an affair. Cat had nixed the idea with the
comment "Missing wives just feel sooo tired to me." Tell
that to the Laci Peterson family, I'd been tempted to say --- but
hadn't. My hunch was that Cat had suggested dinner together so she
could offer me insight into what kind of crime didn't put
her to sleep these days.
I arrived at the restaurant first, which is typical when dealing
with Cat, but at least it gave me a chance to catch my breath. It
was a small, French country-style restaurant on MacDougal Street in
the Village, and I ordered a glass of rosé in honor of the
weather and the ambience. As each group of new diners strolled
through the door, they brought a delicious late spring breeze with
Let this be a hint of how delicious the summer will be, I prayed. I
was thirsty for a summer to end all summers. In January, I'd broken
up with a guy I'd really cared about, and though I wasn't eager for
another serious relationship right now, I was hoping for
some kind of romantic adventure. I'd had a brief fling in
late winter with a male model in his early twenties, ten years
younger than me, but then he'd relocated to Los Angeles. After that
it had been slim pickings unless you count four or five booty calls
with an old beau from Brown who had become so stuffy that I
practically had to ask him not to talk. I'm pretty, I guess, in a
kind of sporty way --- five six, fairly slim, with brownish blond
hair just below my chin --- and generally I'd never had trouble
rustling up dates. I was banking on the fact that my dry spell
might end now that we were in the season of nearly effortless
Cat sauntered in about ten minutes late, and heads swiveled in her
direction. She's in her late thirties, gorgeous, with long, buttery
blond hair, blue eyes, and full lips that never leave the house
unless they're stained a brick red or dusky pink. She was wearing
slim turquoise pants and an exotic gold-and-turquoise embroidered
top that made her look as if she'd just come from the casbah.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, slipping into her seat. "Minor
"Diverted, I hope."
"Unfortunately, no. I'm having a huge problem with the new beauty
editor. Her copy is about as exciting as the instructions that come
with a DVD recorder, and her judgment sucks."
"What did she do this time?"
"She signed up for a junket to Paris without clearing it with
"Really?" I said, feigning interest just to be polite. I
felt about as much concern as I would have if Cat had announced she
could feel a fever blister coming on. "What else is going
Before she could answer, the waiter scurried over. Cat ordered a
glass of Chardonnay and asked for the menus ASAP. Hmm, I thought.
She seemed in a hurry, almost on edge. I wondered if something
might be the matter.
"So, where were we?" she asked as the waiter departed.
"I was asking what else was new."
"Oh, the usual," she said distractedly. "It's been kind of crazy
"How's Tyler?" I inquired, referring to her little boy.
"Good, good. He managed to graduate from nursery school even though
he bit two of his classmates during the last month. I thought the
parents were going to ask that we have him checked for rabies. How
about you? Are you going up to your mother's place on Cape Cod this
"I'll go up a couple of times, but just for weekends. Both my
brothers will be around with their wives and I end up feeling like
a fifth wheel with them --- though they try their darnedest to be
"So you're not madly in love with someone these days?"
"No, and that's okay. All I would love this summer is a fabulous
fling with someone."
"Sounds good. You're still in your early thirties and you've got
plenty of time to get into something more serious. Shall we look at
Oh boy. Something was definitely up. She was moving things along so
quickly that the next thing I knew she'd be asking the waiter to
connect me to a feeding tube. As soon as we'd ordered, I decided to
take the bull by the horns.
"Is everything okay, Cat?" I asked. "I have the feeling that
something is on your mind."
Cat studied the tablecloth with her blue eyes, saying nothing. I
could see now that she was nervous as hell.
"Cat, what's up?" I urged. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, not exactly. Bailey, I've got bad news, and it's so hard for
me to say." As she raised her head, I saw a half tear form in the
corner of her left eye.
"Are you having marriage problems again?" I asked.
"No, it doesn't involve me," she said. "It involves you."
"Me?" I said, thunderstruck. I couldn't imagine what she was
talking about, though I felt a wave of irrational panic, the kind I
always experienced when an airline clerk asked me if I'd packed my
own bags. "Why? What's going on?"
"Let me start at the beginning," she said after taking a deep
breath and straightening her already straight utensils. "You're
aware, I'm sure, from some things I've said over the past year,
that Gloss has been challenged on the newsstand. At
first I blamed my entertainment editor for not being able to book
me the right people for covers. Then I began to see that it was
something more fundamental than that. My whole vision for
Gloss when I first arrived there was to make it fun and sexy
and juicy, full of the most important news in a young married
woman's life. I wanted the magazine to generate buzz. And it worked
brilliantly --- for a while."
She paused and took a long sip of her wine. I had a bad feeling
about where this was headed.
"Well, I've been doing some research --- focus groups, phone
surveys. It's the most fucking draining experience in the world,
but in the end it's been worth it. I feel I have some answers. And
it's clear to me that the world is changing, women are changing,
and I'm going to have to change directions with the
"How do you mean?" I asked. It came out in the form of a squeak,
like the sound a teakettle makes after you've turned it off but
it's filled with enough leftover steam for one last desperate
"I think that these days Gloss needs to be less about buzz
and more about bliss," she said.
"Bliss?" I said, almost choking on the word. "Are you
talking about things like, uh, aromatherapy and savoring the
"Believe it or not, yes. Women are stressed, and they want relief
from that stress. We need to create features in the magazine that
help them deal with all of that. Look, Bailey, it's not my cup of
tea. I think you know me well enough to know that my bullshit meter
goes off the minute I hear words like 'feng shui.' But I'm fighting
for my survival here."
"So where do I fit into all of this?" I could feel my dread
ballooning like one of those pop-up sponges that has just been
submerged in water.
"This is so hard for me to tell you, Bailey. You know how much I
care about you --- and you also know that I think you're an amazing
writer. But I've come to realize that I need to seriously pull back
on the crime stories for the magazine. I've rejected a bunch of
your ideas lately, and it's not because there's anything wrong with
them. I just look at each one and I can't picture it in the new mix
I've got in mind. You can't have page after page on how to live a
serene life and then jam in a story about a woman whose husband has
smashed in her skull with a claw hammer and dumped her body in Lake
I'd done some discreet snooping over the past year, and I was aware
that circulation numbers at Gloss had become less than
stellar, that Cat was probably under a ton of pressure. I'd even
considered the idea that she might lose her job down the road and
I'd be out of the best of my freelance arrangements. But I'd never
entertained this particular permutation --- or thought that
anything would happen so soon.
"But what about my human-interest stories?" I asked,
"I wish I could include them," she said, looking at me almost
plaintively. "And I've thought over and over about whether there's
a way to fit them in. But they're just not on the same page with
what we'll be doing. I need to make Gloss very
visual. In some ways, pictures are the new words today. I'm
not saying that we'll have only photos in Gloss, but the
articles we run will be shorter --- and gentler."
Her words stupefied me. It was as if she'd just announced that she
had written an op-ed-page article for the Times in favor of
creationism. I was too dumbfounded even to offer a reply.
"But don't worry," she continued with a wan smile. "You have five
articles left on your contract, and of course I'm going to pay you
the entire amount."
"And then that's it?"
"Bailey, this is killing me to say it. Yes, that's it. Gloss
is in trouble and I need to fix it --- or they'll hire someone who
For a few seconds my anger found a foothold, but it didn't get very
far. What was the point in being furious with Cat? I could tell she
was being honest and that she believed her job was on the line. But
that didn't make it any better for me. I felt hurt, disappointed,
even, to my surprise, humiliated, as if I'd been handed a pink slip
and told to clear out my desk within the hour.
The dinner came and we picked at our food. Cat tried to praise my
writing some more, and I suggested we move on to other topics,
which turned out to be as easy to find as the Lost City of Petra.
Neither one of us bothered with coffee, and when she offered me a
lift home, I lied and said I had to make a stop nearby.
"Here's a thought," she said, lingering on the sidewalk beside her
black town car. "Would you be open to writing a different kind of
piece for me?"
I smirked involuntarily. "You mean like 'How to Optimize Your Chi'?
No, I don't think so. But thanks for asking."
"Bailey, I'm sorry, truly sorry," she said.
"I know," I told her. "And I'm sorry if I sounded sarcastic just
then. It's just that you've really thrown me for a loop."
The driver, perhaps trained to run intervention at awkward moments,
leapt out of the car and opened the door. Cat slid in and waved
good-bye soberly. As the car moved soundlessly down MacDougal
Street, I thought: Of course she doesn't want to jeopardize her job
at Gloss. God forbid she should ever be forced to take a
taxi instead of a Lincoln Town Car.
I slunk home on foot through the Village, like a little kid who had
just been banished from the playground for having cooties. It took
only fifteen minutes for me to make it to my apartment building on
the corner of 9th Street and Broadway, but the short walk gave me a
chance to assess my new lot in life.
Financially the situation was in no way a disaster. Ever since my
ex-husband, the Gamblers Anonymous dropout, had run through much of
our mutual savings and hawked some of my jewelry, money matters had
made me extremely anxious. But I was really going to be okay. I
wrote for other magazines besides Gloss, and my relationship
with most of them was good. And luckily I also had a backup source
of income. My father died when I was twelve, leaving me a small
trust fund that provides a regular income each year. Nothing that
puts me in the league with the Hilton sisters, but it helps pay for
basic expenses, like the maintenance on my one-bedroom apartment in
the Village and a garage for my Jeep.
What I was going to have to kiss good-bye, however, were all the
extra niceties I'd been enjoying thanks to my generous Gloss
contract --- everything from cute shoes to el grande
cappuccinos to the occasional Saturday afternoon massage. I'd
gotten used to them, spoiled, like one of those women who can have
an orgasm only with a Mr. Blue vibrator.
I'd also miss having an office to go to, someplace to mingle with
other human beings. And there was something else, I suddenly
realized to my horror. In the fall, a collection of my crime
articles was being published by a small book company, and now I
wouldn't have the Gloss affiliation to leverage. What would
the jacket say? "Bailey Weggins is a freelancer who works out of
her own home. When she isn't writing, she enjoys going through her
coat pockets looking for spare change." Cat had even promised to
help with PR, since so many of the articles in my book had first
appeared in Gloss. Now I'd have to rely on the book
company's tiny, and reputedly weak, publicity department. I'd heard
from another writer that the last time they'd gotten someone on the
Today show was for a book on the negative charisma factor of
After letting myself into my apartment, I helped myself to the last
cold beer in the fridge and checked the calendar on my BlackBerry.
I had a fairly busy week ahead, but I'd have to make time to talk
to editors and see if there was the potential for another
contributing-editor gig someplace else. I'd forgotten that tomorrow
night I was having drinks with Robby Hart, an old pal from
Get, the magazine I'd worked at before Gloss --- and
where I'd first met Cat. Robby was a great networker and the
perfect person for me to brainstorm with.
As it turned out, my drink with Robby was the only step I ever had
to take in my job search.
The spot he'd chosen for us to meet on Thursday night was a wine
bar on the Lower East Side. Robby was already at a table when I
arrived, dressed as usual in a cotton plaid button-down shirt with
a white undershirt peeking out from underneath. I guess you can
take the boy out of Ohio, but you can't take Ohio out of the boy.
As soon as he spotted me, he stood up to greet me and offer one of
his big toothy Robby smiles. He'd never been Mr. Svelte, but I
realized as we hugged each other that he'd put on some weight since
I'd seen him last.
"Wow, it's so good to see you," he said. "It's been too
"I know. I've been so looking forward to this."
The waiter strolled by just as I was sitting down, and I asked for
a glass of Cabernet.
"Nice 'do," Robby said, pointing with his chin toward my hair. "I
almost didn't recognize you."
"Thanks, I decided to grow it out. But just watch --- once it's
finally long enough to pull into a sloppy bun, they'll be out of
"Well, at least you've got some to grow," he said. Robby was my age
but totally bald.
"So tell me --- how's the new gig?" I demanded. "I'm dying to
Robby had stayed at Get until it folded, then gone in
desperation to Ladies' Home Journal, where he'd assigned and
written celebrity pieces for several years. Three months ago he'd
bagged a job as a senior editor for Buzz, the very hot
celebrity gossip magazine. Circulation at Buzz had
languished until the top job was taken over about a year ago by
Mona Hodges, the genius --- and notorious --- editor known for
resuscitating ailing magazines. Sales had since skyrocketed, and in
a recent profile, Mona had claimed that forty-nine percent of her
readers would choose an evening reading Buzz over sex with
"Well, I've got to admit, it's awesome to be at such a buzzy
magazine," he said. "When people used to find out I worked at
LHJ, all they'd do was ask if I had a recipe for chicken
chili or knew how to get ink stains out of clothes. But when
someone finds out I work at Buzz, their eyes bug out."
"That's fabulous, Robby," I said, but as soon as I said it I saw
his eyes flicker with uncertainty. "What?"
He squeezed his lips together hard. "On the other hand, it's been a
tough learning curve," he conceded. "They expect your writing to be
very cute and snappy, and I'm not so experienced with that. The
chick in the office next to me wrote this line about Hugh Grant the
other day --- she said he had the kind of blue eyes you could see
from outer space --- and all I could think was why can't I write
something like that? Though I think I'm finally starting to get the
hang of it."
"Do you work late most nights? I heard someone say that there were
sweatshops in Cambodia that have better hours than
"Mondays are the worst because we close that night," he admitted.
"Sometimes I'm there till five a.m. Tuesdays are the one early
night 'cause things are just gearing up again. The other nights ---
it all depends. They say it's going to get better now that Mona has
finally settled in."
"And you're covering TV?" I said.
"Mainly reality TV. Behind-the-scenes stuff. Are the bitches
really as bitchy as they seem? Who's bonking who? The head of the
West Coast office says we should just change the name of the
magazine to Who You Fucking? I guess it's pretty dumbed-down
stuff from what I used to be doing, but what difference does it
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we tried to make the celeb stuff at LHJ more
journalistic, but it was wasted effort considering who we
were dealing with. I suggested to a celebrity's publicist once that
we could approach someone like Maya Angelou to do the interview,
and you know what he said to me? He asked to see her clips."
I laughed out loud.
"So you see," he continued, "there's a watermark you can never rise
"Buzz can get pretty nasty, though --- right?"
"It's mainly this one gossip section that's down and dirty. It's
called 'Juice Bar.' You don't want to get on their radar if you can
help it. The rest of the magazine is cheeky but not nearly so
"Well, are you happy you made the switch?" I asked skeptically as
the waiter set our drinks down in front of us.
"Overall, yes. It's great experience and the pay is certainly
better. I got a twenty-thousand-dollar bump in my salary --- which
I need right now. I wanted to tell you this in person --- though
it's still hush-hush: Brock and I are applying to adopt a
"Oh, Robby, that's fabulous," I said, giving his hand a squeeze.
"You'll be a fantastic parent." And I meant it. Robby was one of
the kindest, most thoughtful guys I'd ever worked with, and I knew
that he'd always felt frustrated that as a gay man he couldn't have
"Thanks," he said, beaming. "I'm dying to be a dad. The problem is
Brock's business has been hit or miss lately, and if our
application is going to be accepted, I must have a well-paying job.
So I just need to grin and bear it and hope I can get on top of
"Wait --- I thought you said you were on the other side of the
"Sort of. I mean, I think I've started to get the hang of the
style, but the weekly pace is still a problem for me. If I
had more time, I could do a better job of polishing my copy, but I
don't --- and then later it gets tossed back to me for endless
"Is she really as bad to work for as people say?" I asked. I was
referring to Mona Hodges. Though editor in chiefs could be tough,
Mona's reputation made her unique in the
pain-in-the-ass-to-work-for category. She was reportedly cold,
demanding, arbitrary, and at times even abusive. Some people
believed that Mona had been spurred to be this way so she could
stand out from the pack by generating press about her antics ---
the all-publicity-even-bad-publicity-is-good-publicity theory. She
supposedly was insanely jealous of Bonnie Fuller, the editorial
director of a rival publication. Bonnie had a more illustrious
track record in juicing up magazines and causing circulation to
skyrocket. Though Bonnie had the advantage of having a longer
tenure in the business and therefore more time to make her mark, it
still galled Mona, who was impatient to get recognized. The "I be
bad" strategy apparently was meant to gain Mona recognition faster,
even if hers was all negative.
Robby rolled his hazel eyes. "Well, she can come on strong if she
doesn't like what she sees. I heard her verbally bitch-slap the
poor mail guy the other day because he'd left a package in the
wrong place. But she's a genius at what she does, and our sales are
through the roof. There's a lot to learn from someone like her. I
just wish I could get the hang of the copy."
"You feeling pretty stressed?"
"Yeah. And the worst part is I've been using Cheetos and chocolate
as my stress reducers of choice. I'm so fat now that I have
man tits. When Brock and I start telling the world we're
becoming parents, people will think that I'm the one giving
birth. But enough about me. How's your life, anyway?"
"Not so great." I told him the whole story and described how much
of a curveball it had thrown me.
As I was speaking, Robby's eyes widened and his jaw went slack.
With his elbows resting on the table, he stretched out both arms
and flipped his hands over.
"Omigod, I just thought of something," he said. "I know the perfect
job for you."
"Wait till you hear this. They've decided to treat celebrity crimes
in a more journalistic way, rather than just write them up as
gossip stories. And they're looking for some really great
journalist types to do them --- people they can offer contracts to.
I never once thought of you because I knew your contract with
Gloss ran through the end of the year."
"But is there really enough celebrity crime out there to make it
worth their while?"
"Absolutely! I mean, every week some celebrity tries to leave Saks
with a Fendi purse stuffed down her bra or shoots his wife with a
Magnum. God, you'd be perfect for this. Needless to say, for
selfish reasons it would be so great for me to have you
"But we just finished talking about how tough it is there."
"But it would be different for you," Robby declared. "Mona is
secretly intimidated by anything truly journalistic. She wouldn't
micromanage you because she doesn't see that as her strength. And
it wouldn't be expected for your copy to be all cute and perky.
You'd be in the power position. And from what I've heard, the crime
stuff is going to be overseen by the number two guy, Nash Nolan. He
looks like a bully, but he's perfectly decent. Please, let me set
up the interview."
My mind was racing. I'd never once imagined myself at a magazine
like Buzz, yet I had to admit I was intrigued. The magazine
had become a must-read in the last year, and people would get to
know my name --- just in time for the launch of my book. That
advantage could end up outweighing any negatives.
"But I don't really follow celebrities that much," I said, playing
"You'll find out everything you need to know the first week on the
job. There are only about thirty celebrities who matter anyway, and
you don't even have to know their last names. Have you ever met
Mona, by the way?"
"No. I've seen her picture in the Post, but I've never had
the pleasure of a face-to-face."
"Look, there's no harm in just talking to her, is there?"
No, there didn't seem to be any harm in talking.
"Okay, I'd be open to an interview," I told him.
Robby beamed when he heard my reply. "She'll love you," he said.
"And she'll turn on the charm in the interview --- within limits,
of course, because it's Mona we're talking about. There are two
things you need to watch out for. When she's talking to you, she'll
lean in and stare at you really intently. The first time I met her,
I thought she was checking out my pores and I half expected her to
prescribe an exfoliant before I left. And she's wall-eyed --- in
just one eye. Always look straight at her face. Don't make the
mistake of following the bad eye --- it drives her insane when
people do that."
I let Robby go ahead and set it up.
My appointment with Mona ended up being on the Wednesday after my
drink with Robby. The Buzz office, to my surprise, was only
a few blocks south from Gloss's, at Broadway and 50th. It
took up half of the sixteenth floor of the building; the other
portion was occupied by Track, an upstart music magazine
owned by the same company. Robby had once told me that Buzz
staffers sometimes bumped into people like Justin Timberlake in the
There were plenty of people bustling around in the large open
offices when I arrived. Their blasé expressions remained
unchanged as I was led through by Mona's assistant, yet I could
sense some of them following me with their eyes. Perhaps a few were
wondering if I was a potential replacement for them.
The front wall of Mona's office was made entirely of glass, but the
blinds were drawn today. Her assistant asked me to wait outside,
and through the half-open door I could hear a woman and a man in
"Take a few days to review it, but then we need to get moving on
it," said the man, his voice moving closer toward the door. "Try to
give Stan a call as soon as you can."
A second later, a fiftyish, dark blond man, dressed in a dark suit,
charged by me. I recognized him as Tom Dicker, the owner of the
company. His picture appeared in "Page Six," in the New York
Post, almost as often as Mona's did. I barely had a chance to
give him a thought when Mona herself stepped outside, dressed in
too tight black pants and a sleeveless neon yellow top, and ushered
me into her office.
Robby was right about the fact that she'd attempt to be charming.
Mona smiled pleasantly as we shook hands, though her voice was
oddly flat, with a slight midwestern accent. Robby was also right
about the wall-eyed thing. As Mona's left eye drifted off, I had to
fight the urge to follow it --- or worse, turn my head, because it
created the illusion that someone had snuck into the room and was
standing just behind my shoulder.
I'd heard people make fun of her looks, but her face wasn't
unattractive, especially for someone in her early forties. It's
just that the wandering eye kept her from being pretty. And at
around five six she was slightly pudgy, a fact exaggerated by the
pants she'd chosen. Her best feature was probably her hair. It was
auburn colored and glossy as a movie stallion's --- though she was
wearing it in an unfortunate new shag cut with loads of layers
heaped on her head. Her hair was just too thick for that kind of
style, and it made her look as though she might be distantly
related to a Wookie.
Without bothering to tell me to take a seat, Mona plunked down into
the chair behind her desk, so I slipped into one facing her. She
glanced at the package of material I'd sent over by messenger and
then back up at me.
"So what's wrong with this deal you've got with Gloss?" she
"Nothing at all," I said. "But Gloss may be going in a
slightly different direction, so I've been keeping my ears open for
"You read Buzz?"
"Not religiously," I confessed. Something told me it was smarter
not to bullshit Mona. "But it's definitely a guilty pleasure I
indulge in at times."
"I see you were in newspapers once. Why'd you switch to
"I loved the pace of newspapers --- and that wonderful sense of
urgency that goes with it," I told her. "But you're limited
stylewise. I decided what I'd do was get experience covering news,
but then move into magazine journalism, where I had more freedom as
Well, aren't you special? I felt like screaming to myself as
soon as the words were out of my mouth. I've always had a hard time
finding that fine line between talking up myself the right amount
and not sounding obnoxious.
Mona didn't seem to mind, however, and my comment led to a
discussion of my background. Then she briskly described what the
job would entail. She envisioned the person both writing stories
and editing filed stories from other reporters. Through the whole
discussion she leaned forward, staring at my face too intently ---
again, just as Robby had warned. She even stared when she
was talking, as if she had never been informed of that unwritten
rule dictating that when you're the one speaking during a
conversation, you should glance away periodically so that you don't
appear to be boring into the other person.
"Your stuff's pretty good," Mona said finally, leaning back in her
chair. "And on one level you're the right type to do these stories
for the magazine. But you've got absolutely no experience covering
celebrities. Tell me why I should hire you."
"Actually, I think that my lack of experience with celebrities
would be an advantage," I told her. "Cops and experts would take me
far more seriously than someone who's usually covering the MTV
Music Video Awards. I could also help you give stories the right
context. For instance, let's say you have a situation like you did
lately where a male star gets slugged by his wife because she
caught him at a strip club and the wife ends up in jail.
Buzz reported it in this wide-eyed way, as if no one had
ever heard of a wife slugging her husband. But there's
research these days suggesting that plenty of wives assault their
husbands and that it's a much bigger problem than anyone ever
realized. That info could make your story more interesting.
"Plus," I added, "if I needed contacts in the celebrity world,
you've got a ton of people on staff who could help me."
Clearly thinking it over, she stared at me from behind her desk ---
or at least one eye did. I forced myself to look straight at her
nose and not seem too eager. She stood up finally and told me she
would let me know.
Two days later I got the call from Nash, introducing himself and
asking for a meeting. At the end of it, he told me I had the gig.
They would put me on a retainer and I would write the big New
York-based crime stories and sometimes edit smaller ones filed by
staff writers. If there was a major crime story on the West Coast,
I could choose to go to L.A. myself or oversee the coverage using
some of the West Coast staff. I would have a desk in the office and
should plan on being on-site two or three days a week. After I made
certain I would be dealing mostly with Nash, I said yes.
I won't deny that I took some satisfaction in phoning Cat and
announcing my news to her.
"Celebrity crime?" she asked, feigning true curiosity. "You
mean, like when they steal clothes from a photo shoot or have too
much collagen injected into their lips?"
Sarcasm was something she rarely directed my way, but I didn't let
it irk me. I knew she had conflicting feelings about my
I showed up at Buzz the next Wednesday. It was an
interesting setup. The offices were all glass fronted, and about
half of them faced an open area of workstations --- a cube farm
that looked like the bullpen at a newspaper. The rest of the
offices ran along several corridors in the back half of the floor.
A big part of the open bullpen area belonged to the art and
production departments; a smaller section closer to reception,
which included about twelve workstations, was filled with mostly
reporters and writers. For some reason it had been nicknamed "the
Mona's office was at the very end of the open area, near the art
department and a section nicknamed Intern Village, where
dazed-looking college students transcribed tapes and kept track of
unfolding gossip on the Internet, on sites such as
As a freelancer I didn't merit an office. The workstation I was
shown to was in a four-desk section of the pod, shared by a
hodgepodge of people. Directly next to me, separated by just a
head-high gray partition, was a friendly-seeming writer named
Jessie Pendergrass --- about thirty, I guessed. Just behind us were
another writer, Ryan Forster, and a photo editor named Leo
something, who apparently spent his days screening paparazzi shots.
As Jessie led me down one of the back corridors to show me where
the kitchenette was, she explained that she'd recently switched out
of "Juice Bar" to cover the music scene and general celebrity stuff
and wouldn't get an office until she was promoted to editor. Leo,
she said, should be in the art area but there wasn't enough room,
and Ryan, like her, hadn't worked his way up to an office
"Are they easy to sit near?" I asked, realizing that I'd have very
"Leo's a good egg," she confided. "He used to be more hyper, but he
started this nude gay yoga class and he seems much more mellow.
Ryan's a loner. If you develop any insight into him, let me
The office decor was pretty bland --- white walls, gray rugs, and
gray partitions --- though people had made an attempt to
personalize their offices and workstations by sticking up pictures
and tacky memorabilia. About sixty percent of the staff was female,
and nearly ten percent of those seemed to have Johnny Depp photos
staring soulfully at them from their cubicle partitions. What I
couldn't believe was the amount of magazines lying around. Tossed
on desks and chairs and strewn over the floor were endless copies
not only of Buzz, but also of our main competition ---
People, In Touch, and US Weekly, as well as
Star and the National Enquirer. People were
constantly flipping through them for information.
The most amazing part, though, was the noise level. It was so much
louder than at Gloss --- in fact, you would have thought we
were covering a war or a presidential election.
I spent the first half hour of the day having Nash's assistant,
Lee, show me the computer system. I was basically familiar with it
--- just needed a brief refresher course. Nash told me he'd meet
with me after the eleven a.m. daily staff meeting, so I spent a
little while poring over a stack of back issues of Buzz,
trying to soak up the style. I wasn't going to have to use words
like glam, bling, or Splitsville in my copy, but neither did
I want to be too heavy-handed. I also perused the daily "gossip
pack," photocopies of everything from gossip columns to People.com
to pages from the British tabs. By the time I finished, I knew far
more than I'd cared to about Camilla Parker Bowles.
Every so often I'd glance up to see if Mona was in yet, but her
office remained dark. Finally, I overheard someone say that she was
making a television appearance and would be in around noon.
The daily meeting was over and done within fifteen minutes. It was
run by a stern-sounding managing editor ("We call him the Kaiser,"
Jessie whispered) and focused on what stage every story was at. On
the way back to the pod, Jessie informed me that Mona tried to hold
idea meetings every week with a small group of writers and editors,
but time didn't always allow for it. Cover story meetings happened
only with the top-ranking people, and for secrecy reasons, very few
people on staff knew what the cover story was until late in the
Mona finally arrived for the day moments later, stomping down the
aisle along the pod with a frazzled expression, the kind you have
on your face when you realize that your car has just been towed.
Ten minutes later, she emerged from her office. She had several
sheets of copy in her hands, and at first I thought she was headed
in my direction. But she veered off into an office right near
"Why would you write a fucking lead like this?" she yelled from the
doorway at the girl inside. I nearly rocketed out of my seat in
"I mean, it's fucking stupid," Mona continued. "Nobody cares about
Maddox and his latest haircut. They want to know who Angelina is
shacking up with."
Ouch. Robby had said she was tough. He hadn't used the term
Even though I had my head lowered discreetly, I could see that
after spinning around, Mona was barreling right toward me now. I
wondered if I ought to hurl myself under my desk.
"Why did they put you here?" she asked as she reached my
"I believe it's the only spot available, but it's fine," I told
her. I noticed that all around me people's eyes went to their
computer screens, as if she were a wolf or a police dog and they
were afraid that making eye contact might trigger an attack.
"Suit yourself," she said, shrugging and walking off.
Midday a deputy editor e-mailed me to say that a reality TV star
named Dotson Holfield had been arraigned that morning in Miami for
indecent exposure. She asked that I work with Robby on the story. I
had a few contacts in Miami that I offered him, and as I nibbled on
a sandwich in his office, he reached one of them.
"What a loser," he said as he hung up the phone. "Holfield
apparently wagged his penis at an undercover cop and told him to
call it Brutus. I've got the perfect title for the story."
"'Dotson Holfield Proves He Really Is a Dick Head.'"
"See?" I told him. "You can write cute."
"How you doin', by the way?" he asked.
"Good," I said, forcing a smile. "I realize I'm not in Kansas
anymore, but hopefully I'll get used to it."
I had no more direct encounters with Mona that day, though I
was almost always conscious of her whereabouts. Each time she left
her office, it was like a hurricane making landfall. She'd charge
over to the art department to demand changes in a layout, complain
in Nash's doorway about some annoying celebrity handler, and stride
right over to people's desks and toss their copy back to them.
Around two, I caught sight of her gesturing in annoyance at one of
her two assistants behind the glass wall that blocked off their
desks from the art department. Jessie rolled her chair over to
"Can you guess what that's about?" she whispered.
"Somebody wrote an unfunny caption?"
"No, I suspect it's about the chicken salad. Mona has it for lunch
every day at two. If the celery content is over thirty-five
percent, someone's ass is on the line."
I was too speechless to reply. What have I gotten myself into? I
wondered. But in truth I hadn't seen anything yet. At around
six-thirty, Mona came trouncing out of her office packed like an
Italian sausage into an orange Dolce & Gabbana evening gown and
asked an editorial assistant two desks away from me to put
concealer on the eczema patches on her back. I had to fight the
urge to gag.
"God," I muttered to myself, "this is going to be murder."
Six weeks later, to my absolute horror, I turned out to be
Excerpted from OVER HER DEAD BODY © Copyright 2005 by Kate
White. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books, an imprint of
Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.