It had started well enough.
Per his publicist’s instructions, maybe because he thought that strutting along a length of stage made him look more imposing, Macon Mitchell preferred to take a walk-on instead of simply appearing seated in the conversation pit when the show came back from break. Charlie watched from the booth as Melanie greeted him with one of those two-handed shake sandwiches, and the pair sat down to do the chit-chatty thing—traffic in the city, radio versus television, how much Macon liked Melanie’s last album.
“Now.” Melanie aimed a hard stare at Macon Mitchell. “Let’s talk about why you’re here.”
Macon was able to get out most of the logline of his latest, Nuclear Winter: The Death of the Two-Parent Household, before Melanie interrupted.
“I gotta tell you. I was up half the night reading this book, and Mister Mister, I got some questions for you.”
He aimed a vulpine smile at her. “Miss Melanie, I’m all ears.”
“Where do you get off telling the hardworking single mothers of America that their children are gonna grow up to be criminals?”
His lips pressed into a tight line before he said, “I didn’t say they’re all going to grow up to be criminals, just that the statistics prove…”
Charlie sensed movement to his left. Karen, Melanie’s assistant, had sidled up to him in the booth. “Shut the front door,” she muttered. “Here it comes.” He patted her arm.
“I saw those so-called statistics.” Melanie cocked an eyebrow. “You cherry-picked a sample that’s hardly representative of today’s families.”
The more agitated Melanie became, the cooler Macon’s replies. Mitchell’s tactic reminded Charlie of the way he himself responded to his older brother’s irritation. “My research has been thoroughly vetted, and I stand behind it, as does my publisher. Now, you’d have to agree, Melanie, that growing up without a stable male role model has to influence…”
And, also similar to Charlie’s dynamic with big brother Adam, the cooler the response from Mitchell, the more incensed it seemed to make Melanie. “Uh-oh, she’s got her angry eyes on,” Karen said. “That man better have good health insurance.”
Melanie’s glare could have burned through metal. “You know that before I met my husband, I was a single mother of four babies, do you not?”
“I…did, yes. And you were smart enough to provide them with a stable influence.”
Melanie turned The Look on the audience. “What do you think, huh? Am I gonna let him get away with that?”
“No!” the audience, mostly women, chanted in unison. Charlie swore he heard Karen join in. Plus a couple of the other divas from various parts of the set.
“Come on,” Charlie said, barely a whisper into Melanie’s earpiece. “Five more minutes. Mel, keep it together.”
“I did right by those children when I was on my own, Mr. Mitchell,” Melanie said. “I provided for them. They did not go without, and they certainly aren’t going to grow up to be”—she grabbed her copy of the book from the side table and read from a flagged segment—“‘crack whores and degenerates pushing down property values and the moral fiber of this great nation.’”
Mitchell backpedaled, attempting to defend himself, but it was too late.
And then it got ugly. Before Charlie could signal the director for the f-bomb delay, Melanie used several words you’re not allowed to say on television. Yvonne jumped to defend the talk show host, Anita piled on Melanie’s argument, Tonya looked like a fawn caught in headlights, and Steff started to cry. Her assistant poked onto the set, took her arm and led The Pregnant One, tears still streaming, away to her dressing room.
Charlie was already out of the booth, striding toward the remaining divas. “Ladies…”
Nothing happened. He raised his voice. “Ladies.” Nothing. Finally he had to resort to The Terminator. He reached to its hiding place above a beam and blasted the air horn.
Melanie turned and gave him the eyeballs.
“Seriously?” Charlie said. “You don’t even know why I did that?”
“I am not done with this putz, Mr. Producer Man, oh, no way.” She turned to Mitchell. “You have defamed me, my lifestyle, and my children on national television. In ten years, I’m comin’ after you for their therapy bills. And why did you feel the need to make this about my family? To make some cheap, red-meat points for your sycophants?”
The man started sputtering First Amendment arguments and how he could say the same for their own show’s ratings. Charlie could almost feel his blood pressure rise.
“Move to a live show, they told me,” he muttered to no one in particular, because no one in particular was listening. “It’ll be fun and exciting, they told me.”
Mitchell started up again about Melanie’s children and Charlie had had enough. No sooner had he taken two steps toward the conversation pit, Melanie was out of her chair and flying at the guy.
Charlie yelled for security and then threw himself between them, using his basketball moves to hold off a hell-bent-for-leather Melanie Washington with one forearm and a surprised talk show host with the other.
“Chrissakes, I went into broadcasting, not professional wrestling. Cool it, you two, or I’m gonna get the hose.” A horrible thought occurred to him, and he spun toward the camera crew. “Tell me you cut the feed.”
Two faces fell. “We did now,” the younger of the two said.
“Okay, then. Well, at least, what, only several hundred thousand or so people may have seen that? Awesome.”
Everyone still stood around throwing glances at each other, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Any second now, he expected a not-happy call from Nate, his boss. Charlie figured it was time to play interference.
“Mr. Mitchell, thanks for playing. You,” he pointed at Melanie, quickly thinking of a room on set that currently had a door. “Please wait for me in the green room. Everyone else, back to work. Don’t make me use that air horn again. Because I have a hangover and I really, really hate that thing.”
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