“You doing good, Ace?” Bradbury scrolls through a few screens’ worth of notes on the tablet in front of him. I remember when he was a smalltime sports reporter working for some small news outfit out of Canton, Ohio. He’s come a long way since then, and so have I, but at least his career has the potential to span a couple more decades.
“Yeah.” I give him a tight-lipped nod and stare ahead, scanning the small studio for Camera 1, Camera 2, the director, and my teleprompter.
“Ace.” Michelle is at my side, crouching on her knees. “I need to go over a few things really quick.”
She talks a mile a minute, telling me about the cameras and hand signals, tells me the guest co-hosting gig is really a joke and all I need to do is “look pretty and let Michael do most of the work.” We’re going to have callers, which they’ll announce in my ear, and that all I need to do is interject a few comments where I can.
“We’re live in . . .” a man in the distance counts back from five, going silent when he gets to the three, two, and one, and Michelle scurries off set just in time.
“Hey, hey everyone, welcome to Smack Talk, I’m your host Michael Bradbury,” Michael says, inserting a hearty chuckle in his voice and flashing his million-dollar veneers. “We’re here today with the man, the legend, the guy who needs just one name: Ace. Alessio ‘Ace’ Amato is sitting in today for my co-host, Antoine Williams. Ace, good to see you, man. Welcome, welcome.”
“Thanks,” I force lightness in my tone and flip a switch to light the smile on my face. It feels unnatural and uncomfortable, but I’m here, and I’m doing this. “Good to see you, Michael. Been a long time.”
“That it has. So, Ace,” Michael turns to the camera, then to me. “What’s going on? You retired last year and moved to the city, I hear. What’ve you been up to?”
I hesitate for a fraction of a second, though with the live cameras rolling I’m sure it’s forever in TV-time.
The truth is, I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing worth bragging about.
“Traveling,” I lie. “Been all over. Amalfi Coast. Bermuda. Belfast. When I’m not globetrotting, I’m spending time at my lake house, fishing. Just living the dream, Michael.”
God, I sound like the world’s biggest fucking schmuck, but I can almost hear Lou’s voice in my ear, telling me the fans will be relieved to see I haven’t withered on the vine.
“Awesome, glad to hear it,” he says. “How’s the shoulder?”
“Good, it’s good,” I lie once more for the fans at home.
“All right, well, we’re going to change gears a little bit . . .” Michael rattles off the day’s headlines and talking point, and I do my best to hold the pleasant expression on my face, even making sure to laugh at his jokes, even when they’re horribly unfunny.
The red light above the cameras turns off after a while and the set is flooded with staff. The director runs to Michael’s side, talking in his ear, Michael nodding all the while. The sensation of something soft against my face pulls my attention to my left, where Aidy is dabbing some kind of sponge over my forehead and down my nose. I smell a light powdery scent and lift my gaze to hers, but she’s focused on her work and refusing to make eye contact.
Before I get a chance to say anything, she moves to Michael.
“Places,” someone yells a minute later. And within seconds, another person is leading the countdown. The lights on the cameras blink to red and we start up again.
Everything happens so fast, Michael doing his thing and me inserting my comments and pretending I know what the hell I’m doing. I tell myself I’m just hanging out with a friend, talking shit about a whole lot of nothing. It’s easy to pretend like the cameras aren’t there. Hell, it’s easy to pretend a lot of things these days.
We go to another commercial break after seven minutes of live show, and this time Aidy works on Michael first.
“Just a little more, not too much, darlin’,” he says, injecting an Atlanta-esque accent into his voice despite the fact that he hails from Ohio. Michael’s eyes follow her every move. There’s an entitled little smirk hidden beneath his stoic expression, and I watch as his gaze lands shamelessly on her generous rack. “You’re really good at this, you know that? My makeup’s never looked better. The other girl, she cakes it on. But you, you have a light touch. I like that.”
She ignores his come-ons, focusing on his shiny t-zone and the bags under his eyes. Michael’s been around a long time, and he’s definitely seen better days.
I stifle a laugh behind a closed fist.
His game is fucking pathetic.
Aidy moves to me, grabbing a fresh sponge and powdering my nose. When she’s done, she hops down from the stage, and I catch Michael checking out her ass. He doesn’t even try to hide it. She does have a sway in her hips as she walks, but it doesn’t mean it’s an open fucking invitation from pigs like him.
“What’s her name again?” Michael leans into me, tongue practically wagging.
“And we’re live in five, four . . .” a voice announces from the set.
Michael adjusts his red silk tie and clears his throat, and the second the cameras are rolling, he’s ‘on.’
The next seven minutes whir by once again, and I pretty much black them out. I couldn’t repeat what I said or how many times I nodded or smiled at the camera, but it happened.