"For more on that story, let's go to correspondent Ann Perkins, in Cincinnati..."

The TV still on, Edward T. Lazar sank into the big leather sofa, took his shoes off, put his feet up, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. He looked exhausted.

Meanwhile, Ann Perkins stood by, waiting. Normally in these situations (TV on, no one watching) she might take a peek at her notes, but she was only doing a brief intro to a report she'd recorded hours earlier, so there wasn't anything to go over. The only thing she had to remember was to hit the last word ("disaster") hard—that was the "out" word they were listening for back in the studio. But then this man, Edward T. Lazar (the name on the attaché case on the floor near the television), looked like he could sleep all night.

Who was he? she wondered. He couldn't be more than thirty, thirty-five, but he had a tired, worn face. Was he an executive? The plush leather sofa indicated wealth—unless it was a hotel room. Maybe he was a salesman.

She looked above and beyond the sofa. If it were a hotel, even one of those high-priced "all-suite" hotels, the furnishings would be impersonal, functional—they wouldn't reflect a sense of "belonging" to someone—things like awards, plaques, family photographs. But it was hard for her to see much of anything—the only light was coming from the TV.

She could barely make out the faint shape of a cabinet or dresser, and next to it, on the wall, a small framed picture. She focussed on that area, where the picture, or whatever it was, was hanging. She stared at it until it became obvious that it was a photograph, a photograph of a young woman, a smiling young woman, and there was a man in the picture, he was smiling, too, and he looked a lot like—was!—the same Edward T. Lazar. Was this his house? Her house? Their house?

Lazar looked so comfortable. Ann wouldn't have minded curling up on a couch and catching some much-needed sleep. She had an early flight back to Washington the next morning and wouldn't get a chance to rest—unless, of course, Lazar woke up.

And then, a light went on in the background. She could see the shadow of a figure, by the door, or in the hallway. A young woman (the young woman from the photograph!) entered and, simultaneously, Ann got her cue.

"This is Ann Perkins in Cincinnati. What started out as a small factory fire in an old, forgotten downtown neighborhood, turned into a frightening conflagration that virtually engulfed five city blocks and required half a dozen fire departments to quell..."

The young woman wasn't smiling like she was in the picture, not at all. In fact, she had a sinister expression as she approached Lazar—and there was something shiny in her hand—what was it? A knife? A gun? Ann had to continue.

"No one in this part of Cincinnati can recall a fire of such magnitude..."

The woman hovered menacingly over Lazar, who remained asleep.

"...in the last thirty years, and indeed, that may be true, according to the fire authorities I spoke with earlier today..."

Ann was stalling, as the woman bore down on Lazar.

"...It was their belief that, going back to 1969, there has never been a fire of such..."

The woman jumped on Lazar—what was she trying to do?—Ann was helpless! There was a struggle and Ann couldn't do anything! What was that in her hand? What was she doing?

"No!" Ann screamed.

And then it happened. For the first time in her career, it happened: the woman and Lazar looked directly at Ann, not at the screen but at her, right at her—right in her eyes—and she knew that she'd been "caught"—and she was terrified. But she had to continue.

"'No!' the children screamed," she hastily ad libbed, "as the flames crept up...the walls...of their...building..."

Lazar and the woman watched, warily.

"The children, fortunately...were fine...and the fire authorities I spoke to agreed it could have been a far worse...disaster."

The cut was made—the taped report was running—but Ann could see nothing. She could hear herself in the earpiece describing "the worst fire in Cincinnati in a generation," but she could see nothing. Thirty seconds is a long time. Or at least it seems like it. A lot can happen in thirty seconds, she thought. Why, someone could—and then she got the signal.

"In five, four, three, two..."

Once again she could see—the TV was still on—but they were gone. Just the couch, the attaché case, and Lazar's shoes. Where were they? Ann was convinced something terrible was happening at that moment.

And then it hit her—why not?

"Hello?" she began, tentatively, speaking into the "live" microphone. "Hello? Mr. Lazar? Mr. Edward T. Lazar? Are you there? Can you hear me?"

She waited. Nothing.

"Mr. Lazar? This is Ann Perkins. I'm over here, on the TV. Are you all right? I was worried about you. Mr. Lazar? Mr. Lazar?"

Suddenly Lazar appeared, mouth agape, pulling the woman along with him, gawking and pointing to the TV. Lazar said something, the woman said something, and they both stared at Ann, who had to think fast.

"Mr. Lazar—excuse me, Mr. Ferrar, Mr. Edward T. Ferrar, was not found until later in the day. He was unhurt. In Cincinnati, this is..."

Lazar shook his head, confused. The woman looked at him like he was crazy.

"...Ann Perkins."

The woman grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.

Return to Selected Works