"I never got on that plane to Panama. But I did get on a plane to Betty Ford. And it was the hardest thing I've ever done."
--Murphy Brown, "The Memo That Got Away"--
All reporters drink.
Twenty-three hours until the plane leaves. She's not changing her mind.
The morning is excruciating. She walks in clutching coffee, eyes still bruised with sleep. Her secretary hands her so many phone messages Murphy considers using the brightly colored paper to barricade her door closed while she takes a nap. A brilliant plan foiled only by the people already waiting in her office. The new secretary was not off to a good start.
Enough is enough, and at ten o clock she makes photocopies of her arm, scar pressed up against the glass. She writes under the image in bright red ink: "BULLET WOUND, AFGHANISTAN" and tapes it to the coffeemaker. It doesn't stop the nervous looks, but she laughs when Carl spills coffee across his shoes.
All reporters drink, it was part of the job. Sources live in smoky bars, relationships are poured over ice. No one spills secrets over Cokes.
At first she drank like little girls play dress-up, swallowing fast and tripping over her heels. The taste got better, her lip stopped curling. She smoked her first cigarette at fourteen, in front of the mirror. She smoked her second one straight after, without coughing.
It was right then she knew she was going to make it.
Jim is in her office for the second time that day, and it's not even lunch yet. He paces in short, stiff steps, a rare sign of agitation.
"A phone interview, perhaps? Or they have those video-conference things now, I believe. We could get you wired up and do it from the studio."
He was born to be a newscaster; Murphy couldn't look at him and not think it. She missed out on Murrow but she got Jim Dial. She pictures a small child in a three-piece suit thanking his parents for the informative bedtime story and then signing off for the night. Murphy had swapped her easy-bake oven for a typewriter, a lifetime full of negotiating.
"Jim, I'm fine, I can do this. Don't make me show you my Woman of the Year cover again."
The pacing stops, a small victory. "You keep that thing in your purse, don't you?"
Murphy grins. "It gets me out of tickets."
All reporters drink, and foreign correspondents drink more than most. Vodka in Moscow, baijiu in Beijing. The Cold War was one long trans-Siberian bar crawl.
Murphy loved the routine, the rhythm of the road. Scrambling to file a story on time, and then out to the bars with the crew. Long nights and early mornings. She was one of the boys, and it was wonderful.
She calls her mother, at four dollars a minute, and tries to be a better daughter. Sometimes she even does it sober. When the disappointment is too much to take, Murphy pictures the ground she's standing on as it looks from the air, city lights breaking through the holes in the clouds like stargazing in reverse. She hangs up smiling.
She's young and abroad and good at her job. Nothing else matters.
Frank is standing in front of her desk, in clear violation of the 'do not disturb' sign Murphy has taped to her door. Apparently the photocopied scar can't even keep people out of her office. She's going to have to shred the other ninety-eight copies. Or make them into Christmas cards. She starts speaking before he can even say her name, rounding her desk to push him out of the door.
"No, Frank, no. Not you. I can deal with Jim, I can deal with Miss America, I can deal with four network executives, three insurance guys, and what I'm pretty sure was the cast of Cats. But if you tell me not to get on that plane, I might just unravel. So beat it."
"Finished?" He waves a folder at her. "This is from your secretary, you asked for it. For some reason she was afraid to come in. I can't imagine why."
Murphy takes the file and sits back down. Breathes out. The panic was starting, pressing against her ribs. "You're not here to tell me this is a bad idea?"
"Interviewing Noriega, are you kidding? I actually came in to tell you I heard more about Walker and Kozak."
"You got the details?"
"I heard two million and exile in Switzerland."
Murphy scribbles furiously on a notepad for a second. "I heard the same thing, but Spain. I'll double check." She stops a second. "Frank?"
"Murph, you're gonna be great."
She smiles. "Thanks, Frank."
He turns to leave. "Just don't get yourself killed. You still owe me twenty bucks."
All reporters drink, except lately she's the last one at Phil's, and Phil looks at her like he wants to say something.
She tells herself it's the Noriega interview, the long nights forcing it together, the struggle to make the pieces fit. She's still missing the question, that one perfect question she can hold safe in her mind as the cameraman counts down to air. The one that keeps her breathing steady, her eyes focused.
At night she dreams of plane crashes and equipment failures. Wakes up and starts again.
A drink to let it go. A drink to get it back.
Nine hours until take-off.
Her office is dark, the building finally quiet. She needs to think. Murphy takes a bottle of scotch from the bottom left drawer of her desk, pours a measure into the crystal glass she bought with her first paycheck.
There was no `making it'. There was only the next story, and then the next, and then the network will hire a fucking beauty queen anyway.
She just needs one question. One perfect question to prove them all wrong.
Nine hours. Her fingers are cold. Her throat is dry.