Monday, August 21, 2006

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On my way home from work today, I spotted a late-model, cherry-red, sans-hubcaps Honda Civic with an interesting shoe-polished message on its rear window:


Good lord, where am I?
I don't know what disturbs me more; the lack of syntax and grammar, the sheer desperation, the tinted windows disguising the "good man" seeking said good woman, or, or the fact that for a nanosecond I could relate just a little bit to this clear-cut cry for help in the dating department. Clearly it's a jungle out there.

Bradgelina Scooped by a Slave?

For those of you new to Dishalicious, just the facts:

It started as a novel, two years ago.
I worked as a researcher at Star, prior to writing the novel.
American Media Inc., the parent company of Star, The National Enquirer, The Globe, The Weekly World News, etc. sued me after I wrote Dishalicious, saying that I had violated a confidentialty agreement I signed upon employment.
AMI's suit, was, believe it or not, based primarily on a poorly written story that ran in the The New York Post, written, ironically by this troll-like woman who is now the editor of a publishing magazine. You can read that text, here, scroll down to SARA NELSON:

Roman a clef Cuts Bonnie to Shreds

This article was pictured in a photo grab on no less than 60 Minutes, along with a head shot of me.
I won the case. It took six months to resolve in court. It cost more than $30,000 to fight them. Under New York State Law, you are unable to recoup legal expenses. You can read about the case here.

  • NY Daily News

  • American Media Inc. vs. Stephanie Green

  • Gawker, April 2005

  • Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP, Legal Counsel

  • Despite all the media attention, my legal victory and my agent, Jenny Bent, the book was never bought by a publisher. So someone might as well enjoy it. Plus this will shut my mother and her nosy friends up once and for all.

    Dishalicious centers around Serena Gold, a morally grounded research editor at the tabloid Celeb. Serena stumbles upon a major scoop about Hollywood's golden couple, Billy Dust, of the matinee-idol-blond-haired-blue-eyed Adonis type beauty, married to Kristen Kirby, of the blonde-haired-blue-eyed-cute-as-a-button type appeal garnered by years as a major TV star. They are the ultimate Hollywood duo, until the skanky, tattooed, full-lipped Heather Hill enters the picture while she and Billy are filming a movie together. Though Hollywood is abuzz with rumors that Billy is stepping out on America's sweetheart Kristen, NOBODY in the Manhattan media has ANY concrete proof. Well, nobody, save for lowly research editor Serena, who has had just about enough of the underhanded tactics her notoriously ghastly boss Penny makes her employees use (paying sources, stalking celebs, literally digging through trash) to get scoops that may or may not be grounded in truth. Serena has always been one of those six-degrees of separation people who knows a lot of people all over the country, so it's not unusual for gossip to fall into her lap. Sometimes she chooses to share it with her superiors, sometimes she doesn't. This time, however, seeing as she's nearing the end of her tenure there (for she can only take so much muckraking), and knowing that she is the only journo in the nation with concrete proof that Billy is stepping out on Kristen, Serena bites the bullet and tells her bosses, knowing that she will walk out of that god-awful tabloid with at least a cover story.

    Following is an excerpt from Dishalicious. Since it's from the middle-to-end of the novel, I've cut out the subplots and focused solely on the scoop and the adulterous couple, in this book, dubbed "HillBilly." FYI, Ed is the fab gay editor in chief and Penny is the evil wench in charge of all the company's tabloids. It's a long excerpt, so if interested, you may want to print it.

    Legal Disclaimer
    This is a work of fiction, and none of the characters or the companies described in it is intended to portray specific living people, companies or actual events. Names, characters and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual living persons, companies or events is entirely coincidental.
    (Link to legal counsel at right of page.)

    Chapter 21: Piecing the puzzle together

    That Wednesday, I had the day off because my mother was in town yet again to do even more damage to her AmEx black card. She was super lucky that card had no spending limits. Little did I know that I was about to find out the true meaning of “be careful what you wish for.” All those months I’d been waiting for the perfect cover story, I never actually thought that I would find such an elusive specimen. But as I checked my e-mail, I was surprised to see the following from a girl whom I’d tried to help find a job in the media, as a favor to an ex-college professor of mine:
    Hi Serena!
    How are you? Thanks for all your help over the past few months. Listen, I have some insane gossip for you! Get this shit—my good friend works as a junior concierge at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills. Heather Hill and Billy Dust recently came in together. They sat out by the pool in a dark corner for most of the night. Well, my friend walked out there to call on them and caught them in the act—making out!!! Can you believe that? And, this is a friend that I completely trust—I’ve known him for ten years and he would NEVER lie to me. I have no doubt that this story is completely true, so I just thought I’d share. Do with it what you will.

    “Holy shit!” I exclaimed after I’d read Samantha’s e-mail. “Hmm.”
    “What is it Serene?” My mom and brother were sitting on my couch.
    “Well, I just got a tip that Billy Dust is cheating on K.K. Kirby with Heather Hill. Jesus, this is huge. I can’t believe it! What a scumbag, how could anyone cheat on K.K.?”
    “Who is it from?” Mark asked. He wasn’t one to indulge in gossip, but even he knew that this was earth-shattering dish. “Do you believe her?”
    “Well, she’s not someone whom I talk with frequently, so I think she’d only contact me if she thought this was legitimate. She’s got no reason to lie to me because I’ve helped her out with advice and stuff a lot over the past few months.”
    “Are you going to tell your editors?” Mom asked.
    “I don’t know. I really don’t want to, because I love K.K., who doesn’t? Man what a filthy fucker Billy is. And with Heather Hill? She’s just such a trollop. Ugh, all those body piercings and her disgusting ex-husband whose portrait she had tattooed on her left butt cheek? Christ—what a letdown, this is why working at Celeb is so sleazy. I really just don’t want to know this kind of stuff. What should I do? If I tell my editors, it will definitely be a cover story. And there have been all these rumors floating around about HillBilly because they’re shooting a movie together in L.A. right now. So that’s been their ‘official’ excuse for spending so much time together.”
    “Hmm,” was all Mark had to say on the matter.
    “I don’t know Serene, you just have to decide whether it’s worth a byline for you,” Mom said absentmindedly.
    Nanette’s thoughts were no doubt distracted by what time Bergdorf’s was open until that night. Mom and Mark left my apartment, I printed out Samantha’s e-mail and took Pucci over to Jon’s place.
    “So,” Jon asked, “What’s this huge ethical dilemma that you’re in the throes of? Did your boss make you distort the truth again? Or did she try to give Madonna a Jewish last name? Or did she make a joke about September 11 or suicide bombings or something equally distasteful?”
    “None of which I’d put past Penny, but no, this little conundrum actually relates directly to me and my personal contribution to the downfall of Western civilization. Let’s have a drink.”
    “Sounds like it calls for one. Hard or soft?”
    “You know I don’t do hard liquor unless I’m trying to forget my name. Let’s have wine, as usual.”
    Jon poured us some Pinot Grigio and we went out to the patio, where I noticed Pucci had taken one of the Greenies from a package he’d torn open with his mouth.
    “So, what’s up?”
    I silently handed Jon Samantha’s e-mail and sipped my wine as he read it.
    “Wow, is this really true?” he asked when he’d finished.
    “I have no reason to think it isn’t. There’s just no motivation for this girl to lie to me.”
    “Man, Billy and K.K. are like the It Couple. This would totally destroy their golden image, right?”
    “Precisely my point. I do suspect that their marriage is probably just as shady as any other high-profile Hollywood union, but still, do I really want to be the first journalist to cast aspersions on it? Even if I’m just the one who passes along this information, is it worth it? I could potentially just sit on this and nobody at Celeb would ever be the wiser. Moreover, why should I give this information to them, what have they ever done for me?”
    “Well first, yes, you could sit on this info, but I have a feeling it would get out eventually. I mean just between your mother and my mother, all of Palm Beach, Miami and Jacksonville will know in a few hours. And no, you don’t owe your bosses anything at all. But, wouldn’t this be a boon to your career if you slapped your name on the story?”
    “Possibly. Or more likely, I’d give my editors the information and then they’d fuck me over and not give me a byline. I don’t know. I’m going to have to think about this one. I have no qualms telling my friends what I’ve heard, but telling the whole world—that’s just a different story altogether. Anyway, I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I’ll just wait it out and see how I feel.”

    Chapter 22: Leave Your Friends at the Door
    Things got so complicated the next day at Celeb that I pushed the HillBilly tip to the back of mind, where the morality of the issue could be debated by my unconscious. Naturally, being the true gossipista that I am by nature, I had already told a few friends at work about HillBilly. Their first question was whether I was going to tell the editors. But I still had yet to decide. The following Thursday, however, my decision was essentially made for me.
    Brooks and PMS called a cover session around 9 p.m. The closing day for that particular issue had been pushed from Friday to Monday due to some kind of printing snafu. For some inexplicable reason I decided to attend the cover session, which I hadn’t done in months by that point. I’d gotten sick of commenting on which shade of neon orange was less jarring to the eyes, or which photo of Renée—chunky or thin?—was more riveting. But I felt oddly compelled to go to the meeting that night. And, to my utter horror, I realized that I was right in feeling the urge to attend. I saw two mock-up covers, each with photos of Billy Dust and Heather Hill side by side. Each cover had screaming headlines such as, “Sizzling Sex Scenes Rock Tinseltown: Are Billy and Heather Steamy Off-Set?” As I stood among the other staffers and read the headlines closely, I became increasingly flustered. My face flushed. I picked up on certain keywords including “suspicions,” “rumors” and “reportedly,” which to me indicated that Celeb really had no specific information on Heather and Billy actually doing anything. All Celeb had at that point were suspicions and rumors to rely on.
    See, when a publication uses the word “reportedly,” it really means that the publication has literally gleaned its information from a “report” in another publication. Celeb uses the word “reportedly” more than any other word in the English language, indicating that most of its information is lifted from other publications, be it the Star or The New York Times. Now, only a well-trained eye would know this. I only knew because it was my job to add the “reportedly” whenever required. That was a large part of my duties, in fact. The mere use of the word “reportedly” could potentially save Global from a damaging libel lawsuit. That’s why I knew instantly that the juicy HillBilly information I was concealing from my employers could make or break their cover story. I could make or break the cover story.
    Sadly, this had turned out to be my moment—again, not what I’d pictured and dreamt about, but my moment nonetheless. Would it be irresponsible and unprofessional of me to let Celeb proceed with a cover story that was pure speculation? Or would it be more reprehensible for me to add lighter fluid to the brewing fire that Brooks and PMS had set? I decided to say screw it, once again. There are simply no rewards without risks and I needed the damned byline. And I knew that in order to get a byline at Celeb I’d have to do something shady anyway. Whether it was the HillBilly story or another article down the road, it inevitably would be tinged with vulgarity; that was simply the nature of the business. I went into Penny’s office an hour after the meeting ended, with a copy of Samantha’s e-mail in hand. I was confident, as I knew that I possessed more information about HillBilly than any of her well compensated editors did. Brooks was sitting in Penny’s office with her, which made me a little more comfortable.
    “Ed, Penny, I have some information for you about Heather and Billy, and it’s big.”
    Brooks looked at me skeptically and with a hint of amusement, while Penny just stared at me blankly, probably trying to place my name. Brooks respected me precisely because I am extremely blunt, as is he. I saw the two of us as kindred spirits—our brutal honesty ricocheted off one another’s egos seamlessly. Also, I’ve always been a total fag hag, à la a Jewish version of Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.
    “Tell me your big news then, Serena. What is it?” Brooks said sarcastically, which I relished because I knew that as soon as he read Samantha’s e-mail, he would be my new best friend. I was undeterred by his good-natured doubt. Penny continued staring at me blankly.
    “I’m serious, Ed, this is really big,” I said. “So, if you use this I want you to swear to me that I will receive a byline.”
    “Okay, sure you can have a byline,” he answered.
    I handed him the paper. Penny scooted her chair closer to Ed’s and read over his shoulder. I watched them both read it, waiting for their expressions to change. Natch, as soon as they reached the juiciest bit, they both looked up at me with sheer glee.
    “Holy shit, Serena! Who is this from?” Brooks squealed. “Who is this girl’s friend and can we get him on the phone right now? Oh my God, this is great. Penny, isn’t this fabulous? What else do you know? How much can you get? Tell me everything. Now.”
    He was giddy and she was, well, astonished that the research editor and not one of her over-compensated minions had stumbled upon the celebrity scoop of the year. I explained the situation in its entirety—that I didn’t know Samantha very well, that the info had come from her friend on the West Coast, whose name I didn’t even know, and that I wasn’t sure how much more this concierge guy would even tell us.
    “Serene, are you willing to work this over the weekend? Since we’re not closing the book till Monday this week, this could work out brilliantly for us.” Brooks said this without giving me a chance to answer, because the question was rhetorical anyway. “I want you to track your friend Samantha down and either you interview this concierge guy or you have her do it. But please make sure that you track this kid down one way or another. I’m counting on you, Serena. And, remember—this story has to close Monday night!”
    “Listen Ed, I’m not even sure whether her friend will speak to us, he seems to be afraid of losing his job.”
    “Well, offer each of them like $600 as a reporting fee. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll take it from there,” Brooks instructed.
    Ohh-kay. Reporting fee my rotund, alabaster ass. I headed back to my desk. Only a couple hours to go until Saturday, when I’d have to get up and work for Celeb again. Ten minutes later, Brooks and Penny called me on speakerphone.
    “Serena, we just want to make sure you know that we’re depending on you for this story,” Penny barked.
    “Of course, Penny, don’t worry about it.” Duh.
    Twenty minutes later, Brooks and Penny appeared in my section and asked me to follow them into the hallway. The copy girls shot me ‘Ooh, you’re in trouble’ looks.
    PMS closed the door behind her. “Listen, Serena, I just want you to know how important it is for you to come through on this,” she said gravely and a little condescendingly.
    “Penny, Ed, trust me, I get it. You only have to ask me to do something once.”
    “I thought so. Great. Thank you,” Brooks said.
    “You’re welcome.”
    Brooks then told me to call both him and Penny at home over the weekend to give them updates. I immediately called Jon to tell him that I’d be unable to go to the beach house with him that weekend. He seemed happy that I’d taken the plunge and given my editors the information I possessed.

    Chapter 23: Money Brings Out the Worst in Those Without It
    Shit, was my first thought upon waking up that Saturday. I hated working on the weekends, especially when Celeb had already gobbled up my Friday night, as it had each week for the past eight months. Shit, shit, shit. I just had to get this over with and call Samantha, beg her to put me in touch with her friend and let me interview him. A simple plan on its face, but nothing attached to Celeb ever turned out to be simple. Ever. Weeks had passed since Samantha had sent me the e-mail, and I hadn’t actually seen her or spoken on the phone with her in ages. I prayed the number I had for her worked. It didn’t.
    Double shit, fuck. I then had to call my ex-professor who’d originally introduced me to Samantha. He was of no help in finding Samantha’s number. But he did give me the e-mail address of Samantha’s cousin, who I’d actually grown up with in Jacksonville. She didn’t respond. I tried my next option: my folks. Coincidentally, my dad had recently worked on a case with Samantha’s aunt, who was a doctor of some sort. I then had to have my dad call Samantha’s aunt in Jacksonville. No luck there either, the aunt was out of town. So my dad had to leave a message with the aunt’s answering service. I prayed that the answering service in Jacksonville was more on the ball than the ones I’d dealt with for my doctors in the city.
    Miraculously, Samantha’s aunt picked up her messages from her answering service and called my dad back immediately. Like the 20/20 reporter had stated, somebody up there loved Penny Sapp. By Saturday night, I had Samantha’s new cell phone number in hand. But I decided to call it a day and start again on Sunday. I was tired and I wanted to relax with Jon. I changed out of a Juicy jumpsuit and into slim jeans and a clingy, black wrap top. I put on my wooden platform Chanel sandals, grabbed a matching purse and said bye to Pucci. I wanted a proper date with Jon, without canine companionship. I told the doorman not to ring Jon’s apartment, and I knocked on his door.
    “Hi! I’m taking you out to dinner tonight. No arguments. It’s high time I did something for you. Aside from merely gracing you with my presence and putting out, I mean.”
    He smiled.

    I woke up early on Sunday, which for me translates to before 12 p.m. on a weekend. I like to sleep—a lot. Lots of sleep means no raccoon eye-bags. I called Samantha first thing. I got her voicemail, left a message and crossed my fingers that she was still interested in talking to me about the HillBilly incident. I was prepared to sweeten the deal, but I wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to accomplish that. I suspected that Brooks and PMS would pay way more than $600 for this information—despite his and PMS’s constant denials that they didn’t pay “sources”—but I had no idea how much more. The only thing Ed had mentioned about money was that $600 “reporting” fee. Frankly, I felt that since Samantha was an aspiring magazine girl she should be more than happy to get a byline on a cover story in a major celebrity publication—regardless of money—even if it was a smut-rag like Celeb. I offered her that option on the message I left. Samantha immediately called me back—thank God—because by that point she’d heard from both her cousin and aunt that I was desperately trying to contact her. I’d very soon regret getting Samantha’s extended family involved at all.
    Like I said earlier, Samantha was sort of a friend-of-a-friend. I’d been friends with the younger of Samantha’s two cousins as an adolescent, when we’d been in school together. Although I’d been friends with Tiffany Miller, the younger sister, I was several years younger than her older sister, Kara, so I didn’t really know her. Kara had ended up in New York and had become a fairly successful newspaper writer and sometime author. I had no reason not to trust any of them. So when Samantha had first e-mailed me the tip about her friend walking in on HillBilly, I jumped to the conclusion that she had no ulterior motives save for possibly getting a byline in Celeb, which I completely understood. Naturally then, I took her tip at face value. When I finally got Samantha on the phone, I gave her two options. First, she could let me interview her concierge friend myself. Or, second, she could interview the concierge herself, report back to me and take a byline.
    I also told her, per Ed Brooks, that we’d be able to pay her a $600 “reporting” fee. Not bad money for about an hour’s work—she could buy herself a cute little Gucci bag with that. Samantha assured me that she would spend all day tracking down the concierge, which was more complicated than it sounded because he was in L.A. and probably not even awake yet. We made a plan to touch base at 5 p.m. regardless of whether she got in touch with the concierge or not. I then left separate messages for Brooks and Penny on their cell phones, assuring them both that everything was under control and that Samantha was working on getting an interview with the concierge-eyewitness to the HillBilly make-out session. Everything was rolling along seamlessly, which of course was cause for concern when it came to Celeb. Little could I have predicted that in the span of a couple of hours on a sleepy Sunday Samantha would go from sweet, innocent, up-and-coming reporter happy to get a byline, to shameless, money-grubbing bitch.
    Samantha’s entire demeanor had changed by the time she called me at 5 p.m. I could discern the transformation merely by the tone of her voice. It had gone from extremely accommodating and eager to downright smug. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I thought that I knew what was coming next. Things started out pleasant enough, but then quickly went downhill.
    “Hi, I have good news. I got the interview and I got some really good quotes and descriptions about what exactly Heather and Billy were doing when he walked in on the two of them.”
    “Okay, so why don’t you tell me what you’ve got? You can either e-mail it to me or just tell me over the phone and I’ll take notes.”
    “Well, er, there’s kind of a little problem,” she replied.
    Of course there was.
    I sighed. “What’s the problem?”
    “Well, um, I’ve been talking to my cousin Kara, who’s been talking to her agent, and they both seem to think that this information is worth a lot of money.”
    I was silent. She continued speaking.
    “Well, they, um, say that Penny Sapp is like famous for paying a lot of money for this kind of juicy gossip.”
    Well, I never! Was this person I barely knew really trying to extort me? Seriously, when did everyone in the world start caring only about money? I did a quick search on-line for the legal definition of “extortion” and found it described as “forcing a person to give up something through the use of violence, fear or under pretense of authority.” Okay, so maybe it wasn’t technically extortion—and maybe she really needed the money—but still.
    “Well, actually Samantha,” I began awkwardly, “Maybe Penny used to do that at Who, but she’s said publicly several times that Celeb doesn’t pay sources.” Okay, so I resorted to spouting the party line, but desperate times . . . “So, as far as I know, Celeb doesn’t actually pay sources the kind of money you’re thinking of. Your cousin is clearly a little out of the media loop.”
    And in all honesty, although I knew that Brooks and PMS did, in fact, pay some sources, I had no idea how much money these people actually received. Moreover, from what I’d gathered over the past several months, payments were almost exclusively reserved for family members and close friends of superstars.
    “And,” I continued, “I’ve already offered you $600, which is as much as Brooks authorized me to offer you. Moreover, $600 for a couple hours’ work is a lot more than regular reporters usually get. So, what exactly are you getting at with all of this?”
    I wanted to pressure her into giving me a number, because if she was going to assume the role of greedy girl, she should at least have the decency to be honest about it.
    “And you know what?” I began again, “If you have heard about Penny paying for things while she’s been at Celeb, it’s most likely been in regard to photographs. So, unless you have a picture, I really don’t think you’re going to get very far. And, you haven’t even told me anything to indicate that the information your friend gave you is even worth money. Exactly what did your friend witness?”
    “Er, I’m afraid I can’t really tell you that until we work out a payment arrangement.” She uttered a nervous laugh, which sounded like, “har, har, har.”
    Ugh. This girl was totally fucking insane. “Look, Samantha,” my tone was now annoyed, verging on rude, and I didn’t much care, “Frankly, I don’t want to be involved in any discussions of money. I simply do not want to get my hands dirty with this because like I said, I’m really not privy to any kind of behind the scenes stuff that goes on with Brooks and Penny.”
    “Oh, sure, I understand that.” She was back to being nice and accommodating.
    But it was way too late for that. She was no better than Mickey Dees’ uncle or Holden Mays’s ex-girlfriend.
    “The only thing I can do is put you in touch with our editor at large Ed Brooks. I will call him and leave him a message to call you later today. But please try to be professional, because Brooks is a very big editor, and if you want a future in magazines, you do not want to get on his bad side.”
    We hung up, and I was reeling. I immediately phoned Brooks and Penny and left them messages explaining what was going on. I broke my no-abusing-substances-during-the-day rule and took several bong hits in an attempt to rid my brain of the sordid exchange that I’d just engaged in. I turned on an old Sex and the City and screened my calls for the rest of the night. At 10:30 I picked up a message from an irked Brooks.
    “Hi Serena. Thank you for putting me in touch with Samantha. But I have to say, she’s really aggravating me. She won’t tell me what her friend saw without me committing to a sum, and frankly, she just doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing. Who does this girl think she is?”
    I smiled, because as much as I hated Celeb, I did adore that Brooks. Still have a bit of a gay crush on him, actually. At least he seemed to be on the same page as me, which was fortunate since I wanted a byline and I wanted to remain on his good side. Complicating matters even further was the fact that it was Sunday night, and we essentially had about 24 hours to close this story.
    Additionally, there were still many pieces to this puzzle that had to fit together to ensure an even passable cover story. First, assuming the money-grubbing girl got her “reporting” fee, there was still the matter of her concierge friend, whose job might be in jeopardy for talking to the press about the Peninsula’s celebrity clientele. A legitimate concern—I was willing to give Samantha that. However, in order for Celeb to use the interview and quotes from the concierge, he would need to sign a contributor contract with Global. That meant that he would have to sign a company document using his real name, which most normal people were extremely wary of, mainly for fear that their name would end up in print. Of course, anyone who has ever read Celeb would know that 99 percent of its sources remain unnamed, otherwise nobody would ever talk to its reporters. Or sign those damn agreements. Now, not all sources have to sign the contributor contracts, but this story had the potential to be defamatory because we were alleging that Billy Dust had cheated on his wife.
    What all of this meant was that in less than 24 hours, Samantha had to convince the concierge to sign the agreement with Global. She also had to convince the concierge that there was no way his name would end up in print. And, Samantha had told me that the concierge had been the only one who’d been in the area that HillBilly was making out in, so that added even more weight to his fear of losing his job. Before I went to bed that night I called Jon to fill him in on my afternoon slumming it with the scum of the earth. And he had some insightful comments, which were the result of a lifetime of being on the receiving end of reverse elitism.
    “Well, I hate to be the one to have to break this to you, Serene, but the term ‘money is the root of all evil’ does have some validity to it. People without money, it seems, will do anything to get it, even if that means compromising their morals. I mean you just witnessed that firsthand. People lie, cheat, steal and even kill for money on a daily basis. We’re lucky enough not to have to worry about money. But for those people who aren’t so lucky, money isn’t a trivial matter. It’s literally a matter of life or death.”
    “I know, you’re right. Samantha definitely turned into a green-eyed monster once she heard the word ‘money.’ I just assumed that because I knew her cousins that she was a trustworthy person. Believe me, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m exhausted from all of this duplicitous activity. I’m going to go to bed, but I have Tuesday off, so I’ll come over.”

    Chapter 24: Bitchy, Bothered and Bewildered
    I arrived into work early that Monday morning, knowing that I’d have to deal with Brooks and PMS on the HillBilly cover story. I headed straight to Brooks’s office. Brooks was sitting in his large, airy office with Gary Worth, another office fave of mine in light of his status as a preeminent gossipist and his superb sense of style. G.W. is hands-down the chicest straight man I’ve encountered in Manhattan. He actually wore a pocket-handkerchief and suspenders on most days, how retro cool is that? And he’s Jewish to boot—love him.
    “Hi guys. What’s the latest? I want to apologize for Samantha’s behavior. I’m completely appalled that she is acting this way. Please don’t think that she’s a friend, merely an acquaintance and if I had any inkling that she would turn on us like this, I never would have sent her to you. I’m soo sorry!”
    “Darling, it’s okay,” Brooks drawled in his baritone voice, which according to Darren was a dead ringer for Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. “It’s totally not your fault, but she’s really fucking annoying, that girl. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and she refuses to tell us what exactly the information is. And for her to ask me for $20,000—”
    “WHAT?!” I shrieked. “She asked you for that much? Is she completely fucking insane? Oh my God! I’m soo embarrassed!”
    “Serena, calm down, it’s not your fault. But $20,000, I mean that’s like a quarter of my budget for the entire issue. It’s just not happening. And, that agent her cousin has is a complete idiot.”
    “I know, I know. I’m beginning to think anyone even associated with this family is mildly retarded.”
    “Anyway,” Gary jumped in, as he was going to top-edit the story, “The bottom line is that we can’t offer her a figure without her telling us at least a little of what she found out from the concierge. And she’s pretty much refusing to do that.”
    “So, what’s going to happen is that I’d like you to call Samantha and explain to her that she’s acting ridiculous and that she’s never going to get that kind of money from me,” Brooks said to me. “I mean,” he continued, “Tell her she could maybe get a couple thousand dollars. But that’s it. We need to move this story—make sure you tell her that we have a deadline TONIGHT. And Gary, you will work on having Samantha get the concierge to commit to us, to sign the agreement so that we can move forward.”
    A couple thousand?! Damn, they really did pay sources a lot. I went back to my desk and breathed. Thankfully, nobody was in my department yet because it was only 8 a.m. I phoned Samantha. I planned on making no attempt to disguise my disgust at her behavior. She didn’t pick up.
    “Samantha, it’s Serena. Ed told me everything that’s going on, and he told me how much money you asked for. I’m going to be honest with you—that sum is ludicrous and I can’t imagine what you are thinking. You are not going to get that kind of money out of them. Period. You may be able to get a couple thousand, but only if the concierge signs the contributor contract. From now on, you’ll be dealing with Gary Worth. Please try to be professional with him, he is extremely capable and the former editor of GQ.”
    I hung up, and tried to concentrate on my real work. I was after all, still a research editor. I had to leave early that day, and when I stopped by Gary’s office to see what the deal with Samantha was, he still hadn’t gotten the concierge to sign the contributor contract. But he assured me that he was making progress. That night, I received no frantic phone calls at home. So I reasoned that everything must have gone swimmingly—meaning that the concierge had signed the contributor contract.
    The magazine hit the stands on Wednesday that week due to the printing problems. I popped into Gristede’s before heading to the office and saw that my byline was attached to the story, along with three other writers’ bylines. All of the info from Samantha’s source was in the story—including a play-by-play of the HillBilly make-out session, a physical description of their surroundings and quotes about what exactly they were and weren’t doing to each other. That meant that the concierge had signed the contributor contract. Brian the lawyer wouldn’t have let the concierge’s info make it into print without a signed contributor contract—he was an extremely conscientious attorney.
    Ironically enough, as someone who’d aspired her entire life to be a magazine editor and writer, I wasn’t that excited to see my name attached to a cover story, though my friends and family were. For me it was somewhat anticlimactic, probably because I’d had to go through eight months of career hell just to get my name into the smut-rag. When I really thought about the past eight months at Celeb and what it had taken to get to this point—the point of merely having one measly little clip to attach to my résumé when I went looking for another job—I realized just how utterly naïve I had been about what my job would be like. And although it had been only eight months, that was years, perhaps decades in Penny-time. Her staffers had an extremely high burnout and turnover rate. The average career span of her staffers probably was eight months. Walking into the office that Wednesday, I had no concrete reason to suspect that everything wasn’t on the up-and-up with the HillBilly story. But, after eight months of dealing with the bullshit that wafted through the Celeb office on a minute-by-minute basis, I should’ve fucking known better. As soon as I sat down at my desk, I checked my inter-office e-mail and saw that Brooks wanted to see me as soon as I got in. I walked over to his office.