“When it rings.” Liza glanced at her watch. “Maybe it’s Will checking in early.”
She picked up the phone. “Thank God I got you!” Ava Barnes exclaimed in her ear. “We had a major technical meltdown at the office—”
The office in question was the satellite office of the
, where Ava was managing editor, managing, in part, Liza’s new career as a nationally syndicated columnist.
“And we lost some stuff, including your cushion,” Ava went on.
That cushion didn’t offer much in the way of comfort to anyone but Ava—it represented finished articles for Liza’s column, ready in advance. Well, it could lead to some
for Liza. “Lost?” she echoed, “as in—”
“Not able to be retrieved by available technology,” Ava finished. “I’m afraid we’ll have to get your backup copies . . .” Her voice died away for a moment. “You do have backup copies at home, don’t you?”
“Ye-ess.” Liza held on to the word a little longer than necessary. Yes, there should be copies in her home office computer—a rather grand term for a clunker PC with an obsolete operating system precariously balanced on an old table in the corner of the living room. “They may be a little difficult to locate.” Liza didn’t keep the most orderly hard drive. For that matter, after her frantic last-minute packing had strewn stuff around, the living room looked as if a squall line had passed through.
Was there even an underwear-clear path to the computer?
At least Rusty wouldn’t be rooting around in the mess. Liza’s setter-mix was in a fancy kennel, hopefully enjoying the doggie equivalent of a resort weekend.
Liza sighed. “Well, you’ve got the key. Just be aware that the place is still—um—”
“A disaster?” Ava laughed. “I was in your bedroom when you were just fifteen. I remember!”
Yeah, but that was when Mom was still around, making sure I cleaned up every once in a while,
Liza thought, but she didn’t say it.
“Or you could do a quick piece on this tournament and e-mail it in,” Ava suggested.
That got another sigh from Liza. “Will Singleton specifically asked me to hold off on any columns during the tournament,” she said. “Part of his whole sponsorship agreement involves media rights.”
Ava’s voice soured a bit. “So we’ll just have to rely on what you’ve already written—wherever you’ve hidden it.”
On that happy note they hung up. Liza turned to Mrs. Halvorsen. “I’m sor—”
The phone rang again.
“I guess Ava has something else—” Liza apologized as she brought the receiver up.
“Surprise!” Kevin Shepard’s voice boomed out, apparently loud enough for Mrs. H. to hear on the other side of the room.
“Is that Kevin?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you in a second,” Liza told her, “right after I switch to an ear that still works.”
She shifted the phone to hear Kevin still burbling away. “We’ve met at trade shows and even appeared on a panel together, so even though the place is jam-filled for your tournament, Fergus found a room for me.” Kevin paused for a second. “I guess it’s staff quarters—I’ve got a view of the manure pile behind the stables.”
“Room?” Liza found herself struggling to keep up with Kevin. “You mean you have a room? Here?”
“Isn’t it great?” Kevin asked. “It wasn’t a sure thing, so I didn’t want to say anything. But Fergus came through, so Jimmy Perrine flew me down in his plane.”
Liza knew Jimmy Perrine. He wouldn’t mind flying down from Oregon, so long as his passenger filled the tanks on his plane. Given the price of aviation fuel, Kevin had paid a pretty penny for his surprise.
Well, he was still too excited to notice that Liza was more aggravated than amazed. Silently sighing, she tried not to pour too much cold water all over him.
“As surprises go, it beats finding a dead body,” Liza told him. “You know, though, this isn’t a vacation for me. This is a tournament. I’m here working for the weekend.”
“I figured I could cheer you on,” Kevin replied.
“Not too loud,” Liza warned him. “They don’t have much in the way of space for an audience, and the rules are pretty tough.”
“Can you spend some time now?”
“Mrs. H. and I just arrived,” Liza said, “and I have some sort of media thing to do. Can I get in touch with you later?”
“Try me on my cell,” Kevin advised her. “I don’t think there’s a landline in here.”
Liza cut the connection and looked helplessly at Mrs. H. Her hand was still on the phone when it rang again.
“Liza?” There was no mistaking the voice on the other end—Michael Langley, Liza’s on-again, off-again husband. “Thought I’d check to see if you’d gotten in.”
“Just about,” Liza said. “I thought you were all wrapped up with that new script you’re working on—what was it?”
“The Surreal Killer.”
Michael coughed. “I’m afraid production is going to be held up for a while—twenty-eight days, at least.”
As an insider in the Business—the film business, what other business would be capitalized in the home of Hollywood—Liza caught the implication immediately. Twenty-eight days was the standard length for a rehab stint.
“So, since I’m at a bit of a loose end here . . .” Michael began.
“Michael, you’ll be going almost completely through L.A. to get down here,” Liza said, shooting a horrified glance at Mrs. H.
“I thought about that.” Michael sounded hugely pleased with himself. “That’s why I’m already here.”
“You booked into the resort?” Liza asked as her neighbor flumped down into the mooshy bed.
“Do I look like I’m made of money?” Michael replied.
Liza knew exactly how much his freelance writing and script doctoring had brought in. Financials were the first part of their almost-divorce process.
“I found a room not too far away,” Michael said.
“Where? Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa?”
“Anaheim,” Michael admitted.
Liza firmly forced herself not to giggle. Anaheim—home of Disneyland. “Look, I’ve got to get Mrs. H. squared away, and then there’s a publicity thing. Can I call you later?”
“Use my cell,” Michael said. “I think I’ll be roaming for a while. There are about a million kids here, and none of them are using their inside voices.”
As if on cue, a muffled, high-pitched shriek came over the phone.
Liza forced back that laugh again. “So I hear.”
Michael signed off, and Liza prepared to apologize to her neighbor yet again—except the damned phone rang.
It took everything she had not to scream “WHAT?” into the receiver.
“Liza?” Another familiar voice spoke into the silence. “Ysabel Fuentes here.”
“Ysabel?” The good news was that Markson Associates would be working at top efficiency. Ysabel was the main-stay of the office, except when she quit over arguments with the boss—and Liza’s partner—Michelle Markson.
The bad news—“Hold for Michelle.”
“Liza, dear.” Michelle came on before Liza could say anything. “You really have to be more responsible with your cell. Ysabel wasted considerable time trying to get in touch with you—”
Five minutes, at least.
“You have a client arriving at the Anaheim Airport approximately twenty minutes from now.” Considering her choice of pronouns, Michelle was definitely dropping this in Liza’s lap.
“Gemma Vereker just landed on a flight from New York. Turns out she signed up for this tournament of yours under the name ‘Tanya Brand.’ ”
That was the name of the cool-girl teenager Gemma had played years ago on
. Back home in Maiden’s Bay, Liza had tried in vain to reproduce the character’s hairstyle. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a hairdresser available on set to move in between every scene.
“Anyway, I arranged for a helicopter to move Gemma from LAX to John Wayne Airport. Ridiculously childish name for a place where people have to do business,” Michelle sniffed.
Then her voice took on a tinge of malicious glee. “And I charged it to Gemma’s manager, the despicable Artie Kahn. This is just a quick heads-up so you can arrange ground transportation and, of course, handle client relations for the weekend—make sure she has pencils for the puzzles or whatever.”
With that, Michelle rang off and Liza frantically phoned the front desk to track down Will Singleton. She still had to get out of her traveling clothes and into something presentable, but she figured the driving spirit behind the West Coast Sudoku Summit would definitely be interested in having a movie star at his publicity to-do.
As for the rest?
Liza sighed again, even more deeply.
Good-bye quiet weekend,
Liza silently lamented.
Will nearly jumped through the phone when Liza called about Gemma Vereker. He had a car on the way to the airport before Liza got into the shower.
Now she strode down the hallway to the Hebrides Room, where Will had told her the pretournament publicity fest was scheduled. She was showered, spiffed . . . and somewhat puzzled.
Why would a resort with a pseudo-Spanish name and architecture on the outside have a Scottish name on the inside?
Maybe she could ask Will Singleton. Liza stepped through the big double doors and glanced around the reception room. There was a good crowd inside, mostly media types judging from the amount of canapés being eaten. Like a Napoleonic army, newspeople tended to travel on their stomachs.
It took her a moment to pick out Will Singleton. He was shorter than most of the people milling around, so they tended to hide him from sight.
Liza grinned as she made her way toward him. Short and slight, Will always reminded Liza of Jiminy Cricket. During the past year, however, he’d grown a salt-and-pepper beard—more salt than pepper, really. Now it made him look more like Papa Smurf, except Will didn’t have that blue complexion.
Will stood by a podium set up on the opposite wall from the entrance. Just as she got to him, his cell phone began to bleat. He put up a hand, then began digging for his phone, almost losing the portfolio he was carrying tucked under his arm.
Liza reached out to take it, but Will shook his head. “There are things in here the competitors aren’t supposed to see.”
Well, thanks, big guy.
Liza shot him a measured look as Will stuck the portfolio on the podium, making sure its strap was fastened, then opened his phone.
“Singleton here.” Will listened for a moment, his face brightening. “So we’re set?” Then he sighed. “Of course, why should this be different from anything else today? So you’re waiting in the lobby? Call me again when you’re set.”
Will closed the phone and gave Liza his attention. Even then he couldn’t hide the stress in his face. “Ms. Vereker is in the building, but she wants a shower before facing the public.” Will kept his voice low but he was just about rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “Would you mind keeping this under your hat for a bit? I haven’t mentioned this to our sponsor yet.”
He broke off, glancing over Liza’s shoulder. “And speaking of sponsors,” he said a bit more loudly, “here’s someone I need to introduce to you. Liza Kelly, this is Charlotte Ormond of Satellite International News Network.”
“Call me Charley,” the petite redhead said. She had the determinedly perky features of a professional cheerleader—or a TV news reporter.
“I’m sure you’ve heard how sponsorship from the network allowed us to expand this year’s tournament,” Will went on. “Charley is coordinating the on-air coverage.”
Liza nodded. As at least a part-time publicity person, she’d followed the start-up of SINN with interest. The network was the brainchild of Ward Dexter, yet another Australian media mogul trying to conquer the American market. Like Rupert Murdoch, he’d established a foothold by purchasing some near-defunct newspapers, including the
The next move in the playbook was to capture some American TV screens, but Dexter had been outmaneuvered in his attempts to acquire some broadcast or even cable holdings. So he’d gone out of the box—way up high, into orbit, in fact.
Truth be told, though, the new network’s content remained remarkably earthbound—conservative political commentary leavened with a flashy mélange of celebrity news and risqué scandal. As Michelle Markson had mentioned, “SINN certainly lives up to its name.”
“I don’t know how our staid sudoku fest will come across on SINN,” Liza told the newswoman. “You might have the same problem Fox did covering the NHL.”
“We’re hoping for something more like the World Poker Tournament,” Charley admitted with a gleaming grin, “alternating shots of the puzzles with commentary from Will as the creator and real-time coverage of selected competitors working on the solutions.”
Liza glanced at Will, and then at the camera crew that caught up to Charley. “You’re going to have a bunch of these guys looking over our shoulders while we work?”
“It was in the application form,” Will said defensively.
Liza knew she should have looked over that collection of legal gobbledegook more carefully.
“Our zoom technology will keep it from getting obtrusive.” Charley’s assurance sounded well rehearsed. “One of the reasons we’re here is that the grand ballroom is surrounded on four sides by a raised gallery. We’ll have most of the cameras up there.”
“Have you had much experience with sudoku?” Liza tried to keep the dubious tone from her voice as she asked the question.
“I covered the big fuss in Australia last year where sudoku stopped the trial,” Charley said.
Liza nodded, knowing the story. Australian jurors were given notebooks to record important points or testimony. In the middle of a major trial, somebody noticed jurors were making notes vertically instead of horizontally. It turned out they were actually playing sudoku instead of listening and a mistrial was declared, at the cost of about a million Australian dollars.