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“They’re granting us an interview?” I asked doubtfully.
“No. But that’s never stopped me before. Karen and I are heading down to the set. We’ll figure out something. Want to come along?”
I decided I’d better — voice of reason and everything.
Debbie figured this was the perfect opportunity to take a young reporter under her wing and teach her the craft: excavating the dirt, tabloid-style. She had chosen Karen Burton, also blond and also pretty, but a few years younger than Debbie.
Meagan Murphy had come to our town to film scenes along our main street, which was subbing for Anyplace U.S.A. in this romantic comedy. The plot, according to what we gleaned off the Internet, was the usual rom-com dreck: working girl is paired with obnoxious colleague whom she loathes but eventually loves.
The film crew had closed off one block of the main drag. Wooden barricades had been erected. Beyond the barriers were cameras, boom mikes, lights, cables running everywhere, trailers, and lots of people in hurry-up-and-wait mode. Dozens of onlookers lined the barricades hoping to spot someone famous.
Debbie scanned the scene like Napoleon surveying a battlefield.
“Wait here,” she told us as she pushed her way to the front of the barriers and caught the eye of a burly security guard. I saw her flash the guy her 100-watt smile and the two began chatting. She leaned in, said something, pointed at someone on the set and touched the guard’s arm.
The guard wandered off but came back a minute later and handed something to Debbie. She smiled, touched his arm again.
Moments later, Debbie showed us the souvenir supplied by the guard: a baseball cap featuring the film’s title that most of the crew members were wearing.
“Here’s the plan,” Debbie said. “There’s only one guard and he’s bored and easily distracted. So, Karen, you head back there. I can’t be doing the distracting part again because the guy knows me. So Tina will do that.”
Tina Gerard was one of our photographers, and she had the looks to be almost as distracting as Debbie.
“So, Karen, once Tina gets this guy’s attention, I want you to jump the barrier, slap on the hat, pull out your phone and look busy. Everyone will think you’re just another crew member.”
“Isn’t that trespassing?” I asked.
“It’s a public street. How is that trespassing?” Debbie replied.
I had no answer.
“After that, Karen, it’s just a matter of finding Murphy’s trailer,” Debbie said.
Amazingly, the plan actually worked. Here’s how it went down, according to Karen’s breathless description of events: Tina did divert the guard’s attention, and Karen did leap the barrier, don the cap and blend in with the crew. She found Murphy’s trailer, knocked on the door and entered.
“What the hell’s the deal with the fruit juice?” Murphy snapped before Karen could introduce herself.
“I said, what’s with the fruit juice, Einstein? Everyone knows I only drink iceberg water. I have no use for this sugary junk.”
“I don’t actually work here,” Karen said. “I’m a reporter with the Journal and I was hoping to talk to you for a few minutes.”
At that point, Murphy found a use for the fruit juice. She picked it up and flung it at Karen, striking her on the shoulder. “Ned!” she screamed. “How did this reporter get in here?”
Karen was more shocked than hurt, but she had the presence of mind to pull her smart phone out. She got a great shot of Murphy launching a second bottle, which hit a wall.
Karen was quickly ushered off the set. Total time of the mission: seven minutes.
Debbie was over the moon. “Forget the interview, this is way better. Karen, write it up in first person: how I was attacked by Meagan Murphy. Eight-hundred words. Awesome!”
Karen’s picture of a snarling, bottle-flinging Murphy ran six columns.
Debbie McIvor’s stay was not a long one. After 14 months, she was hired to run a big-city tabloid. We all gathered at the Robin Hood Pub to say our goodbyes. It came as no surprise to anyone that Debbie was a formidable drinker and a happy drunk.
I’d been to many such sendoffs, but until this one had never felt compelled to make a speech. This time I wanted to.
“Debbie, we’re sad to see you go. God knows you and I have had our disagreements. But you made this job fun again. You brought enthusiasm and passion and joy and zeal and flare to the newsroom. Every day was an adventure.”
I paused. “Before you came, we were a glum lot, and the paper was glum. Well, not now. The readers can see the energy, the vitality. The circulation has started to rebound. For that, I want to thank you.”
I raised my glass, looked her in the eye and gave her the most warm-hearted smile I could manage. “We’re really going to miss you,” I said.
And guess what? That made Debbie McIvor cry.
Tina Gerard was there with her camera. “Get that shot for the front page,” I told her.