Chapter One, Section 6

Hollywood signCharlotte Brooks was a lowly production associate at Casper Media. She worked twice as hard and made half as much as the executive assistants, but her career path held the promise of producer one day. Her cubical in the second tier was just large enough for a desk, a chair, her iBook and her iPhone.

Film people often named their companies after beloved vacation spots and CEO Tom Mandell had been extremely fond of Casper, Wyoming. Tom came from oil money so along with their roster of tawdry reality shows, Casper Media could afford a few highbrow projects too – like the ten-part series about the migration of the albatross. Winged Sensation won a Dani and an Emmy and was dead last in the ratings. But like every CEO, Tom also wanted to win. He wanted monetary success and he wanted ratings, so he hired Jake Jacobson. Jake had had two hits in a row: “Undercover Undertaker” and “Undercover Sorority” and he was currently prepping “My Fair Gang Banger”, a reality show following the makeovers of East L.A. Eliza Doolittles into West L.A. socialites. While no one would trumpet his taste, Jake was a winner. He gave the audience something they seemed to want on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 10pm.

Charlotte was Casper Media‚Äôs loyal foot soldier. But as much as she relished exposing drunk sorority sisters and manipulating tearful confessionals, she had other, grander ambitions. When she wasn’t on the set or running interference for Jake, she was trolling the waters for her own projects to produce. She had been searching for stories in the public domain because the rights were free and she was confident she could update any idea for the modern audience. So far she’d been shot down three times. Jake didn’t share her vision of Emile Zola’s Nana set in modern day Houston – even though she knew the rise and fall of a sexy courtesan was totally au courant; He gave a thumbs down on the comedy she’d pitched about a traditional English tearoom run by transvestites; and yesterday’s meeting about a civil-war series from the point of view of Sherman’s horse was dismissed midway through her spiel. And she hadn’t even reached the part about Lincoln’s dog.

The most banal story of all was that Charlotte was sneaking around with Jake Jacobson – doing it at night on his leather chaise and meeting for dirty martini lunches. And just like countless stories in fiction, he was married and she was in love. Jake wasn’t handsome like the actors in his shows, but he had an energy and charm that made people think he was much better looking than he was. Charlotte secretly believed that once he left his wife, they’d make an amazing power couple. His drive and ambition matched her own forces perfectly.

When Charlotte met Jake she ignored that uh-oh connection between them. “This might be a bad idea,” she confided to her roommate, Taylor Washington. But since her only other job offer was a reality show about law school students who strip by night (and who hasn’t seen that a million times?), she didn’t say no.

Charlotte arrived at Casper Media and zipped into her assigned spot – #322 – in the last row of the lot. Her cell buzzed and she glanced at the ID: JJacobson.

“Hi,” she said breathlessly.

“Charlotte,” his tone had an unfamiliar coolness. “She knows.”

“What?” she said stupidly. The idea that his wife would find out had never crossed her mind. “I mean, we haven’t texted or anything.”

“She said a friend told her. I guess someone saw us.”

Charlotte slumped in her seat and stared out the windshield. There was Jake, in the first row of the lot, leaning against his glossy sedan, talking to her on his cell.

She straightened. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, for obvious reasons I can’t see you tonight.”

“Oh right.” She noticed Tom Mandell, Casper’s CEO, climb out of his glossy sedan and motion to Jake.

“I’ve got to go,” Jake signed off.

There was something in the way Jake dropped her, or rather his cellphone, into the chest pocket of his loose shirt that was unsettling. She watched him stride into the building, and she noticed he didn’t seem rattled. In fact, he was nonchalant. Confident. Unperturbed.

Jake’s always cool, she realized. He can handle this and he expects me to handle this. He knows we’re both smart and we’ll figure it out. Filing any lingering doubts under LATER, Charlotte turned her attention to her work and the day ahead.