This book has a secondary romance with Laila and Spencer. Murphy, in the scene below, is her cameraman. Not exactly a go-getter like she is.
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Laila ran back to where she’d left the van and jumped into it like a bunny shooting into its burrow.
“What’s up?” Murphy asked.
She squeaked out a near scream. “I thought you were still out looking for our con artist,” she muttered.
She took a deep breath, trying to force her heart rate to a resting pulse. A sweet-skunky smell invaded her nostrils. Experimentally, she inhaled again. “Why does it smell like pot in here?”
“I met some musicians.”
“We’re parked in front of a hotel on Main Street!”
He rolled his shoulder. “You talk to Ike?”
“Yes.” But that wasn’t what was fueling her vibrating nerves. Thoughts were exploding in her brain like mini lightning strikes and her sinuses burned—and not from the lingering scent of marijuana, either.
“What did he say?” Murphy slithered to the floor, pushing clothing and equipment out of the way, propping himself on an elbow while he dug through his backpack.
“He read me the riot act about gonzo journalism and threatened to report the van stolen. I don’t get why he’s so uptight. The challenge here isn’t finding a story, it’s picking one.”
“Yeah,” Murphy agreed. “Doesn’t matter if they’re calling it faith healing or a wheatgrass juicer, it’s bullshit in bulk. Jelly Belly?” He sat up to offer a bag of them.
She shook her head, using the movement to shake some sense into her racing thoughts.
Murphy leaned forward. “Your pupils are almost gone. Did you take something?”
“No!” She wasn’t into drugs, but she knew what it felt like to have too much caffeine and sugar in her system. This was similar, but more intense. “I think I’m having an anxiety attack.”
“Ike,” she said. He had a bug up his ass and she always worried that if he cut her loose, she’d have nothing. “And that email I got.”
“The one that says get your ass to Salt Lake if you want to meet the producer for Open Letter?”
“That one, too. No, I’m still wondering why Blackwing changed his mind.” He had warned her not to come. It was creepy and a factor in her jumpy nerves, but still not the ultimate cause. No, she knew what the real problem was. “I saw Conroy Burke a few minutes ago.”
Murphy took a handful of jellybeans and picked them over, discarding green and black ones, eating the white and pink ones. He lifted his gaze expectantly.
“I know you’ve heard the story. Don’t play dumb,” she said.
“I’ve heard a few versions. What’s yours?” His eyelids drooped, but his gaze was steady.
Most of the time she rolled her bitterness over the Prince of Play into her drive to succeed, but seeing Conroy Burke had brought out the base animosity she felt toward him. “Burke set me up like a frigging row of dominoes.”
“Right after Alicia Mills contacted me and said she was pregnant, I called him for an interview. He refused. I think he knew she wasn’t pregnant. He could have shared that little bit of info before I made a fool of myself.”
“Or you could have made her piss in a cup.”
It was a hard truth, one she had beaten herself with since the story had tanked. “I believed her, okay? She said a rich guy had knocked her up and wasn’t owning up to his responsibilities. I looked into Burke’s background and found a man who did some goofy stuff, so I ran with it.”
“Like what? What’d he do?”
“I don’t know. Like one time there was this big scene at Dulles Airport. He had all these people standing on newspapers. Security thought he was taking people hostage. One man claimed he’d been hypnotized. Turns out Burke was exploring a new game idea and people were missing their flights because they were having fun.”
“Sounds like a jerk, all right.”
“He is! I swear he knew Alicia wasn’t pregnant. At the very least, he knew he hadn’t got her pregnant, so why would he sue for custody and risk being saddled with someone else’s kid?”
“What was with Alicia Mills starting a paternity suit when she wasn’t even pregnant?”
“Dreams of Hollywood, what else?”
“So what happened?”
“Burke got a public apology from her, she made a low-budget film and I—”
“Thank you. Yes, I did. I need to walk.”
“I’d go with you, but my legs are numb.”
“Nothing happens when you smoke dope.” She dropped out of the van, tried to pace off her nerves but it was impossible. She slid open the side door. Murphy was on his back with his eyes closed.
“Are you awake?”
“I was just thinking that if you were anything like the bran flakes living here, you’d take these signs as a warning to leave town. Your boss doesn’t want you here, your best source doesn’t want you here, and your nemesis doesn’t want you here.”
“Not a comic book fan, are you?” He reached for a handful of jellybeans and dropped a few into his mouth.
Logically, she knew he was right. There were good reasons to leave town, the primary one being that if she so much as caught a glimpse of Conroy Burke in a background shot, he’d deep-six her career. It wasn’t too late to leave. Leaving made sense.
But she wanted to stay. Her belly was churning and her neck was tingling. She had told Murphy it was an anxiety attack, but it wasn’t. Slowly, she realized what was causing all these physiological firebombs.
“There’s a story here. I can feel it.”
He lifted his head, opened one eye and laughed.
“I’ve never felt it before but inside here—” She tapped her chest. “I’m clanging like a five-alarm fire. There’s a story in this town.”
“You’re willing to stake your job on altitude sickness?”
“Yes. Are you?”
He shrugged and let his head fall back again.
“I could use some enthusiasm here, Murph.”
“My generation is too jaded for battle cries.”
“Our generation,” she corrected. “You’re only four years younger than I am.”
“Yeah, but I’m still on this side of twenty-five.”
“‘When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.’ Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s.”
“Thanks. That’s very nice.” She managed to sound mildly disgusted. In reality, she knew she was ripe for success, but she would rot in Billings unless she taped something brilliant for Open Letter before tomorrow.