Chapter Two

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7:58 a.m.

Lyndon University Television Studio

"MARI," THE DIRECTOR'S VOICE crackled through my earpiece, "we've got a problem.

Not what I wanted to hear ninety seconds before going live on the very show that could jumpstart my network affiliate career.

Or annihilate it.

Heat from the studio lights bore through my skull, threatening to pressure cook my brain. I paced the length of the cramped set.

"I'm listening."

"You'll have to lead with Fletcher Murdock."

My adrenaline spiked. "You're joking?" It was bad enough I had to interview him today, but why put him on before Henderson? "Did Fletcher put you up to this?" He ruined my life once. I

wouldn't let him ruin my career.

"Mari, Henderson had a heart attack.

My mind clouded, all thoughts lost in an endless moment of confusion. I tried to speak, but the neurons in my brain must have fried.

"Mari?"

"Th-that's impossible."

"You need to listen. The paramedics are on their way. We're doing the show."

Breath stalled. I fell into my chair, the burning in my lungs conjuring memories of Christmas Eve when Nonna's putridsmelling bacala fish sent me running from her home, sucking in fresh air as if my life depended on it. Trust me, it did. Just like my career depended on this show. I clutched the armrests.

"Mari, are you okay?"

"I ... I'm alive."

"I need you to do this."

"I need some time."

"You've got sixty seconds."

Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven ... Perspiration collected underneath my blouse, my head seconds from exploding. "Isn't there something we can do?"

"The best thing right now is to focus on the show. We're all counting on you."

My mother's lifeless face materialized. Burning embersknocked within. Searing, singeing,   sentencing. "Shouldn't we cancel the show? Notify his daughter?"

"It's being taken care of. Just concentrate on your next guest."

"I don't know if I can."

"Do I need to remind you who'll be watching? Focus on your job, and we'll all look good."

How could I with the grim reaper dancing around Lyndon University's cable television studio?

There's nothing I can do for Henderson. I inhaled and donned my Tango face. "Okay, I'm ready."

"Quiet on the set." Tyler, the pasty-white, wannabe Gangsta, floor manager held his low-slung jeans with one hand as he started his countdown.

The ache in my neck took root. I flexed my leg muscles and stared at the camera. Releasing the tension, I tried to forget Henderson.

"And five, four ..." Tyler held up three fingers, then two, and one. He pointed to me. The red light on the camera went live.

"Welcome to 'Archaeology Today' where we're diggin' it with Professor—"The teleprompter said Theron Henderson. I sputtered like a movie film detaching from its reel, my mind flickering to the last frame of Henderson's life. My pulse raced as I imagined his stopping. The words on the screen rolled ahead, and I managed to ad lib, but my out-of-sync Kung-Fu funk made me want to duck and roll. Finally, the teleprompter flashed the correct segment. "... Fletcher Murdock, straight from the field in Egypt. After an eight-month excavation, he's returned to the university as an adjunct professor to share his experience and treasures with the students. Please welcome Field Archaeologist Fletcher Murdock."

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