Book Excerpt: PRIME TIME by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Excerpt from PRIME TIMEprimetime-225

When I arrive at the cemetery, a long, slow-moving caravan of cars is snaking down a narrow unpaved road, each car puffing up a plume of gravel dust as it curves past a stone and masonry sign that says “Eventide.” I ease my Jeep onto the end of the line, and pushing my conscience out of the way, flip the switch to turn on my headlights.

It’s Mack Briggs’ funeral procession, and now I’m part of it.

The cars line up to park, one after the other, on the side of a grassy rise. Beyond that, I see a dark green canopy set up on metal poles, rows of folding chairs underneath. The first arrivals file into the seating area, men in substantial overcoats, hatless, braving the cold. Women wrapped in extra shawls and close-fitting hats against the increasing chill, their faces somber and serious, some holding flowers and little prayer books. A little boy carrying a firetruck stumbles a bit in the gravel, and as he grabs the hand of the man walking next to him. I can tell they’ve both been crying. A flock of gray birds wheels gracefully over the mourners, gliding through the dusky sky then leaving the cemetery silent.

It’s almost time for me to turn into the parking area, but now, sneaking into someone’s funeral, my conscience kicks its way back in. Questioning my own motives and attempting to retrieve my moral compass, all I can think about is getting out of here. This is a hideous invasion of privacy. This is why people hate reporters. It’s shocking, unacceptable, certainly a no-refund no-exchange ticket to hell and eternal damnation.

But I can save myself. All I have to do is say, I made a mistake. I’m in the wrong place, forgive me, I thought this was someone else’s service. I’m so sorry, big adios, and exit.

But, I hafta know…

I look up, and a dark suited attendant is waving me into the next spot. I follow his directions, lock my better judgment in the glove compartment, and get out of the car.

Staking out a spot behind the rows of folding chairs, I try to stay hidden by an ancient maple tree. No one seems to notice me, but problem is, I can only see backs of heads, which is no help at all in my search for suspects. I thought I might recognize someone or get some clue by coming here, like the FBI agents who shadow the edges of organized crime funerals to see if some fugitive mob boss, inexorably drawn to the burial of his arch rival, sneaks out of hiding to savor a final moment of gangster revenge. So much for that idea.

The minister looks up from this Bible, scanning the group, squinting with stern disapproval. The mourners look at each other, concerned and upset. I suddenly hear why—someone’s cell phone is trilling, muffled slightly but still a disastrous breach of etiquette for some poor–

I dive for my purse, whirling to put the tree between me and the service. It’s my phone. I plow though my bag and smash the off button without even looking at my caller ID. Good work, I congratulate myself. Subtle.

I lean against the tree, holding my breath. A moment’s pause, and the minister continues. I wait, envisioning some black-suited funeral home goons picking me up by the elbows and throwing me head over heels out of the cemetery.

I’m clammy with my imminent doom. No one at the station even knows I’m here, so Kevin O’Bannon can totally cut me loose, point to some clause in my rapidly expiring contract that says I’m legally on my own if I do something that he, the news director, doesn’t know about. I’ll be instantly fired. I see my entire life savings, including my plastic surgery fund, heading into the coffers of lawyers and going to pay huge fines.

Course they don’t teach in J-school: Deniability 101: Make sure you get permission for everything.

The minister’s head is bowed again, and it sounds like he’s nearing the end of the service. The mourners seem to be focused on their sorrow and not some misfit with a cell phone. No goons in sight.

I echo their murmured “Amen,” and then watch the group move to pay their final respects as the casket is lowered. I’m almost in the clear. No lawsuits, no headlines. I’ll just hang here until the funeral is over and pretend the whole thing never happened. I admit I still haven’t seen anyone I recognize, which is a bummer, but on the bright side, no one has recognized me, either.

“Charlie McNally?”

Busted.

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