“I love it,” Benji said. He was pacing around his office squeezing a stress ball. “I mean, getting Fluke on was a huge coup. We gotta get him to come back as often as possible. He hates the other networks at the moment, so we’re in the perfect position to use the hell out of him. What you did this morning was exactly what I had in mind when I came up with this concept of FAIR News. You got that pro-choice attorney lady, you got that tearjerker dad, and you had the icing on top, Victor Fluke. I mean, does it get any more FAIR than that? No one else is doing this. The entire conversation in one place.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “We gave both sides, but we never really got to the bottom of any of it. I mean, Fluke said abortion is ninety percent of what Planned Parenthood does. They say it’s three percent. You know, what’s the truth?”
“I guess that depends on who you ask,” Benji said.
“But we should find the answers,” I said.
“Look,” Benji said, tossing the ball back and forth between his hands. “It’s probably somewhere in the middle. That’s what the other cable news outlets don’t get. Life is not black and white.”
“Yeah,” I said, agreeing but feeling unsatisfied.
“Do you know what Good Morning America was doing while you were doing the abortion stuff?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“They were interviewing the castoffs from Dancing with the Stars! I mean, they have given up on news. If people want to know what’s going on in the country, they’re going to have to tune in to us.”
“Yeah,” I said again, this time with more gusto.
“Listen, I just got the overnights from yesterday. You want to take a guess at the number we did?”
I raised my eyebrows, ready for a big surprise.
“Through the fucking roof. Now, I don’t think we can assume that every day will be like that. I’m sure there was some curiosity sampling. But I’m telling you, Amanda, it’s looking very good. We’re onto something here. Viewers are loving it.”
A feeling of euphoria swept over my doubts. Who was I to argue with the viewers? Plus I loved hearing Benji say “we,” and that what “we” were doing was working. “Wow, that’s wonderful,” I said, then paused wanting more of his wisdom but worried I might ruin the mood.
“What?” he asked.
“Well, it’s interesting, because the feedback on social media is, um, not overwhelmingly positive, I’d say.”
“What are they saying?”
“Um, it depends. When I was challenging the woman’s attorney, they said I was a right-wing, antiabortion woman hater. And when I was challenging Fluke, they said I was a left-wing, liberal baby killer. Those were the more pleasant ones.”
Benji snorted. “Then you must be doing something right! And you know what? Fuck them. These are losers in their mothers’ basements who think they have power because they can log on to the Internet. See, everyone is still trying to put you into some box. You must be a liberal or a conservative because that’s all they’ve ever known. Cable news has trained them into thinking that everyone is one extreme or the other. FAIR News is total cognitive dissonance for them. And it’s going to take a while to deprogram them from the cable cult that’s been brainwashing them.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” I said. I was so glad that Benji was reminding me of all this. We were doing something groundbreaking. Of course it felt uncomfortable.
“Anyway, who cares what they say as long as they’re watching? Did you see all the pickup your Fluke interview got?”
“And hey, did you see the tweet Fluke sent out about you?”
“Oh, it was great! Let me read it. ‘Thanks to @AmandaGallo and @WakeUpUSA for a terrific interview. A great journalist.’ Your Twitter followers went up by four thousand. You’re at ten thousand! You can’t buy that kind of publicity. You’re doing it, Amanda. It’s working.”
It turned out it wasn’t just losers in their basements watching Wake Up, USA!, it was also members of Congress.
I had just walked into my apartment, surprised to find Charlie already there with the TV on. “Have you seen this?” Charlie asked, pointing across the room. He sounded appalled, like he was about to show me something valuable that our dog had destroyed. Except we didn’t have a dog. I followed his finger point to the TV screen.
“And that’s exactly what I’m saying,” Senator Kathy Burns was saying into the microphone at a press conference. “As a mother and grandmother, I find abortion morally reprehensible and vile. I applaud FAIR News for highlighting the long-overlooked issue of fathers’ rights. And as I said, anyone who saw the father’s story on Wake Up, USA! this morning knows it raised a number of questions that taxpayers deserve answers to. That is why I am joining with Victor Fluke today, calling for my colleagues in the Senate to vote to defund this organization.” Charlie hit mute.
I didn’t know my hands were over my mouth until I tried to speak. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, yes,” Charlie said. “They’re using your segment to argue for defunding Planned Parenthood.”
I fell on the sofa next to him, feeling the weight of that. That must be the reason for three voice mail messages from Mom.
“Look, obviously you’re not responsible for Senator Burns deciding this is her cause celeb. But it sounds like your show did crank it up again.”
My buzzer sounded.
“That’s Laurie,” I said.
Laurie came in, dropped her bag, kicked off her shoes, walked to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and collapsed on the couch before acknowledging us. She acted like my roommate who happened to live in a different apartment across town.
She looked at me. “Why do you look like your dog died?”
“I don’t have a dog,” I told her, though I thought Laurie might be a mind reader.
“You look like something happened.”
“Something did happen,” Charlie told her, motioning to the TV. “Kathy Burns is citing Amanda’s show as the reason to hold hearings to defund Planned Parenthood.”
“Hmm,” Laurie said. “I don’t think they have the votes.”
“The point is,” I said, turning toward Laurie, “are you responsible for what people do with the information you and Gabe put out there?”
“Of course not,” Laurie said. “Our job is to provide the information. How people use it is not our fault.”
“Yes!” I said, pointing at Laurie for Charlie, as though she were Exhibit A in my case for exoneration.
“I got Kenny the Rat, you know from the Winter Hill Gang, to talk a couple of weeks ago when nobody thought he would. That’s my job. And I can’t be responsible for what happens next.”
“Yeah?” I said, sensing there was more. “Wait, not the one who was killed in that car explosion last week?”
“Well . . .” She took a swig of her beer. “That one was unfortunate.”
“Look,” she said, “I’m here for one beer. I don’t have time to dissect the challenges of a free press. I gotta get back to work. Gabe and I are getting closer to breaking that big Fluke story. If the fucking lawyers would get their asses in gear, we could report it.”
“So what is it?” Charlie asked.
Laurie let out a long exhale, then grabbed her big black bag like she’d just robbed a bank and it was full of loot. “We got this letter. Obviously, do not breathe a word of this. I shouldn’t even be talking about it.”
“Of course,” I said, pulling the big wicker chest I used as a coffee table closer, so she could lay out whatever was in her bag.
“These will reveal the real Victor Fluke, underneath the character in this dramedy we’re all living. Consider this your private preview.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a thin manila folder.
“What is it?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a letter from Fluke’s former nanny. She says that for years Fluke and his wife used a housekeeper from Haiti, who they paid off the books and who . . . wait for it,” she said, holding up her hand, “wait for it . . . was an illegal alien. Ta-da!”
Charlie nodded. “That’s pretty good.”
“But beyond a letter from a nanny, whaddya have?” I asked. “Glad you asked,” Laurie said. “It gets better.”
“This nanny, who in the past two weeks has become my new best friend—sorry Amanda.”
I nodded with understanding. Temporary best friends were part of Laurie’s M.O.
“So, my new best friend, um,” she looked down at the letter, “Emilia, right, Emilia, says the Haitian housekeeper left under sort of suspicious circumstances and that she heard that Fluke bought the housekeeper a house somewhere to get rid of her but keep her in the U.S.”
“When was this?” I asked.
“About fifteen years ago.”
“This is good, Laurie,” Charlie said, more upbeat than I’d seen him in weeks. “Maybe this will be the silver bullet that stops Fluke.” “Really?” I asked, looking at both their excited faces with skepticism, not because I doubted the story but because having met the guy in person it seemed like one fifteen-year-old silver bullet might not be enough to kill off Sam Stockton’s evil twin. “Won’t Fluke just say he didn’t know she was here illegally or he got rid of her the second he found out? Or he’ll say he’s ‘evolved’ since then.” I shrugged. “I don’t think this is enough to scare away the legion of Successful Man-iacs.”
“Well, obviously there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Who buys a house for their maid?” Charlie said.
“Where’s the house?” I asked.
“Emilia is a little unclear on that. She heard it was in New Mexico, in some small town. I’ve been digging through real estate records but I haven’t found anything yet.”
“Maybe he didn’t buy it in his own name,” Charlie said.
“Right,” Laurie said. “And I can’t find anything in the housekeeper’s name . . . yet. But Emilia is pretty certain about this. And she’s dying to go on camera and tell the story. She hates Victor Fluke. But BNN’s lawyers are slow rolling this. They say I need a second source. It’s making me crazy.”
“I don’t blame them,” I said. “I mean, maybe the nanny has an ax to grind against Fluke. Maybe she had a beef with his wife. Why’s she just coming forward now, after fifteen years? I don’t know. I’m dubious.”
“Cherchez la femme,” Charlie said, nodding at both of us. “Huh?” I said.
“Did you ever read Alexandre Dumas, The Mohicans of Paris?” he asked.
I looked over at Laurie and readied myself for another Charlie Treatise on Historical Fiction. “Um, no.”
“Well, the phrase is French obviously. And it literally means ‘look for the woman.’ At the root of every mystery is a woman. So basically, you find the woman, you nd the story,” he said. “Find that housekeeper.”
“Ah, cherchez la femme,” I said to Laurie in my best French accent.
“Cherchez la femme.”
From Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota, to be published on July 25, 2017, by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Project Juno Productions LLC.