Today's Reading

Hank's tiny office was on the top floor of the Linwood Theatre, which housed the studios where At Your Service and several other shows on the Adelphi Network were filmed. The Linwood was on Sixth Avenue, just within sight of the heart of television: Rockefeller Center. "Greatness adjacent," Hank labeled the Linwood. Phoebe rather liked the sleek structure, made of all the glass and steel that was her shiny dream of Manhattan. Staff entered through a side door and went straight upstairs, so as not to interfere with the soundstages on the ground floor. Only the head writers on Adelphi shows had permanent offices on-site, but Phoebe knew that on better television shows, on the big three networks, there were staff writers who came in every day and had assigned desks. Phoebe was sure there could be nothing greater in life than walking through an office door with your name on it. Hanging up your coat and hat, and settling yourself at your very own desk. From there she would have no world left to conquer.

She took the bus to Midtown. The subway was faster, but it was more fun to watch the people in the streets, and the progression of the buildings as they grew taller and grander the farther uptown they went.

Phoebe liked to imagine the stories her fellow passengers told themselves about her as they traveled. A career girl, through and through. Plenty of women wore suits to go out in New York, and plenty were sentenced to glasses, but Phoebe knew her attaché case and air of purposefulness set her apart. One or two men flicked her an approving look she knew well—the one that said she wasn't pretty enough to marry, so good for her, making something of herself. Then they turned away and forgot her. She didn't care. It was much easier, not being noticed. It meant she could study people openly, wondering who in the crowd was the kleptomaniac, the con man, the workplace scofflaw, the would-be romantic—who would start romancing his secretary after his wife had their third child.

She nodded as she turned ideas over in her head, smiling, not caring if anyone watched and thought she was off her rocker. Let them watch. Let them remember that smile for the day she won an Emmy Award.

Outside, a messenger ran in front of a taxi, and there was the usual jazz trio of brakes, horns, and howls. The bus passengers with the best views rated the show, bringing to bear all their knowledge and expertise. Then came the inevitable: "Awful shame for a lady to have to hear language like that."

You fellows are lucky you weren't with me at the airfield. If a shipment was late coming in, we ladies used language that would have shamed sailors.

Her stop was next, and she took a deep breath, readying herself for the excitement to come. The bus had fallen silent again, the men's eyes back on their newspapers, Phoebe's eyes on the most story-worthy men. She almost didn't notice the tingling in her neck, her own realization that she, too, was being scrutinized. Probably by someone who regretted calling her a lady, if she was the sort who ogled men. She glanced behind her, but only saw hats peeping over newspapers.

She alighted in front of Rockefeller Center so she might give it a salute, remind it she existed and was heading its way, before strolling down to the Adelphi offices. It might have been the lingering effects of her character studies, or all those mysterious phone calls, or simply that all the women in her scripts endured it, but she felt sure someone was following her. She whirled around into another sea of hats, and a massive man in a pinstriped suit plowed right into her.

"What's the big idea, sister, you trying to break my neck or something?" he shouted at her.

"What neck? I only see chins," Phoebe muttered. More passersby stormed around her, offering their opinions on people who stood right in the middle of Sixth Avenue and where they ought to stand instead.

Been reading too many crime stories, Phoebe decided. Oh well, they say heightened sensitivity is the mark of a true artist. She put her nose in the air and marched to the side door of the Linwood Theatre, congratulating herself on not being a glamour-puss. Those women had to live with being stared at and followed all the time. No wonder some of them end up empty-headed. That sort of thing can drive a gal to distraction.

• • •

This excerpt ends on page 14 the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg.

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