Authors: Sparkle Hayter
WHAT’S A GIRL GOTTA DO
Copyright by Sparkle Hayter
Copyright by Sparkle Hayter 1992
All rights reserved
Smashbooks Edition 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely
This E-Book is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This E-Book may not be given away or re-sold to
other people. If you would like to give this book to another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
First published in the United States of
America by Soho Press
For Bill, Ron and Jac’y
Thanks to Lynn Fowler and Vicky Knee for
retyping the book for e-book conversion.
“Many a good hanging prevents a bad
-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
New York City, 1993
ON THE LAST DAY of the year, I got this weird
It’s not every day a dame like me gets a call
from a mysterious stranger.
Well, actually, it is almost every day. I’m a
reporter and I get a lot of phone calls from mysterious strangers,
most of whom are clearly a few bees short of a hive. It’s a fact of
But it’s not every day I get a call at home
from a mysterious stranger who knows my childhood nickname, my
mother’s medical history, even when and to whom I’d lost my cherry
in high school. This guy wasn’t just another conspiracy buff
calling up with a wild theory, claiming to have “evidence” of a
link between freemasonry and Lee Harvey Oswald or some other
scandal that was going to rock our republic to its very roots. This
guy knew some strange stuff about me, and when he said he was a
private investigator and wanted to meet to give me the rest of a
report he’d done on me, it naturally piqued my interest.
I tried to get as much information from him
as I could over the phone, of course, but he was a tough nut to
crack. He wouldn’t tell me why he was investigating me, or who
hired him to investigate me. To every question, he answered,
simply, “Meet me at the Marfeles Palace Hotel tonight. I’ll find
My company was having its New Year’s Eve
party that night at the Marfeles in midtown Manhattan.
I hung up the phone and asked myself: Who
would investigate me, Robin Hudson, a lowly, third-string
correspondent at the All News Network with a floundering career and
a failed marriage? Sure, my estranged husband and I were divorcing,
and I won’t kid you, I was angry with him and I was hurt. But I’d
agreed to the divorce and I wasn’t seeking alimony. It wasn’t like
Burke had any need to dig up dirt on me and it wasn’t like there
was much dirt to be dug up. What could this mystery man find?
I have secrets, like everyone else,
embarrassing secrets I’d just rather people didn’t know about me,
and I was especially vulnerable to embarrassment at the moment.
See, the last six months of the year weren’t very good for me.
In July, a faux pas at a White House news
conference effectively ended my brief career as a Washington
correspondent. Shortly after that, another faux pas, involving a
cannibalism story, sent me into TV news Siberia, the Special
Reports unit. Murphy’s Law, right? Once my career was pretty much
destroyed, my husband, Burke Avery, left me for another woman, and
not just any woman but a much younger woman.
In light of all this, what could anyone dig
up that would possibly make me feel or look worse? Well, there were
a few other humiliating incidents I’d like to leave behind me,
thank you very much, and a few shameful acts I don’t want the whole
world to know about.
So I’d meet the guy at the Marfeles that
night. The location was good; there’d be a lot of people at the ANN
party to make me feel safer, just in case the guy was some kind of
sicko who wanted to get me alone in an underground parking garage,
Deep Throat-style, to rape and flay me.
The ANN New Year’s Eve party was an annual
apocalyptic event, a costume ball where employees dress up as their
favorite news story and generally get wrecked. This year was our
tenth anniversary and the theme was a salute to ten years of
twenty-four-hour television news, a very big deal.
Yet, before I got that phone call, I planned
to skip it. Why? Maybe because my estranged husband was going to be
there. Maybe because he was coming with Miss Amy Penny.
Miss Amy Penny. During her relatively brief
life thus far, Miss Amy Penny had done a lot. As co-host of ANN’s
Gotham Salon, a morning magazine show, she provided a steady diet
of celebrity, news, fashion guidance, and other soft features for
homemakers who’d taken the Mommy Track.
Before becoming a “television personality”
(which may or may not be an oxymoron), she was a Miss Mason-Dixon
Line and a TV and trade show spokes model for that upscale, low
dust baby powder, Gentility. You may remember their ad campaign two
years ago, the one where a woman with caramel-colored hair and big
tits lolled around on a beige carpet with a baby-for-hire and two
of those little wrinkled-up dogs, SharPeis. Amy was the one with
the big tits.
All this, plus the fact that she aspired to
“serious journalism,” I learned from a recent, half-page,
kissy-face article in People, which failed to include the
accomplishment most pertinent to my own life: She’d managed to
break up my marriage.
Miss Amy Penny. Just the sound of her name
was enough to burn a hole in the lining of my stomach. I’d seen her
around the network and caught a few episodes of her program but, as
Burke worked for a rival station, I’d never had to see her on the
arm of my husband before. Friends of Amy’s made sure I knew they’d
be there. Presumably, they thought I’d opt to avoid further
humiliation and take a pass on the party, which had made sense to
me. But then the mystery man called and I changed my mind.
As the ANN party was a costume party, I toyed
for a while with the idea of going as Ronald Reagan’s colon, a
story that had special meaning to me. But in the end (no pun
intended), I opted for something simpler and less offensive, as one
of my New Year’s resolutions was to try to offend fewer people in
the next decade and thereby escape from the century with my life. I
decided to go as Ginny Foat, a prominent feminist tried for murder
and acquitted in 1983. On a practical note, it was easy to put
together. All I had to do was wear a “Support Your Local Feminist”
button and carry a tire iron around.
It felt oddly appropriate to me. Maybe
because my estranged husband was going to be at the party. Maybe
because he was bringing Miss Amy Penny.
Understandably, it took some serious
motivational exercises to get up my courage to go. I poured myself
a glass of lemon Stoly on the rocks, put some music on, and sat
down with my ancient, battle-scarred cat, Louise Bryant, in our
favorite arm-chair. Together, Louise Bryant and I pondered the
comforting lyrics of our favorite post marriage song, Nancy
Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
I don’t know why but this ritual, that song,
and the act of hitting the palm of my hand gently with my tire iron
seemed to bring order to my thoughts. A kind of serenity came over
me and I found the nerve to go.
Murphy’s Law again. When I got outside my
apartment building, I ran into my downstairs neighbor, Mrs.
Ramirez, an eighty-year-old bully with a blue rinse, who was out
walking her high-strung Chihuahua, Señor. God, I hate those dogs.
They look like rats with a glandular problem, they’re dumber than a
sack of hammers, and they’re bad-tempered—a horror movie just
waiting to happen. What is the attraction?
In Mrs. Ramirez’s case I could kind of see
it, though, because she and the dog shared the same snappish
temperament. Not all old people are sweet and wise. Even assholes
grow old. Mrs. Ramirez, for instance, has this nasty habit of
cornering me in the elevator, calling me a whore, and rapping my
head with her cane. She complains constantly about me to the
landlord, the super, and the few good Catholics left in our East
Village neighborhood. If she wasn’t so damned old, I’d press
With Señor’s leash in one hand and her carved
cane in the other, she shuffled towards me menacingly. “I couldn’t
sleep last night because of you!”
I’m always really sweet when I talk to her.
It’s kind of an experiment. I’m trying out that
“Hello, Mrs. Ramirez!” I said, smiling
angelically. “How’s your little friend Señor? And how are you?”
Still got that very large, very rough stick
up your ass?
“You had a big party last night! I was up all
“I didn’t have a party, I watched a movie and
went to bed.”
“I heard dancing!”
Mrs. Ramirez’s problem, as I’ve tried to
explain to her 354 times, is that her hearing aid is turned up too
high, amplifying the noise in my apartment, which is above hers.
The sound of a cap popping off a soda bottle sounds like the crack
of a whip to her. When my cat, Louise Bryant, walks across the
floor, Mrs. Ramirez thinks there’s a naked mambo party going on
upstairs and multiple commandments are being repeatedly and
“I was watching Top Hat,” I said. “The volume
was way down.”
“It sounded like you had the Rockettes up
there! It was so loud it scared me. I had to take a nitroglycerin
pill. Next time, I’m calling the police.
“Please call the police next time, Mrs.
Ramirez. Have them come up and arrest the Rockettes,” I said.
“I’ll call them now!” she said.
Suddenly, she picked up her cane and waved it
at me. I held up my tire iron to ward off the blow. This was great.
Get into a sword fight with an old woman in the middle of the
street. Try to convince the police when they came that I had to
bean a frail eighty-year-old lady with my tire iron in
self-defense. I turned and started walking away from her fast.
“You young people have no respect. You’re all
going to get AIDS and die,” she said, as if that were a just
punishment for lack of respect. Then she shuffled brusquely past me
with Señor, who belatedly picked up Louise Bryant’s scent and began
The glittering Marfeles Palace, a restored
beaux arts building turned into a hotel and run by the imperious
Eloise Marfeles, would normally be way out of ANN’s price range,
which was more along the lines of a Knights of Columbus bingo
But Eloise Marfeles had defied centuries of
superstition by allowing her building to have a thirteenth floor.
No sooner had she opened the previous autumn than bad luck visited
her with a vengeance. Fires broke out, unions staged job actions,
elevators got stuck between floors, and other mishaps occurred
almost daily. The tabloids were having a field day with it and
business was bad.
As a result, ANN got a real deal on the
place—the ballroom and a block of rooms on the thirteenth floor for
use by company personnel the night of the party. For her part,
Eloise Marfeles got a lot of cheap publicity out of ANN and a
chance to debunk the superstition.
When I got there, I hesitated in the doorway
and, with mixed feelings of curiosity and dread, scanned the crowd.
Around me Dan Quayles, Jeffrey Dahmers, and Long Dong Silvers
mingled with Hillary Clintons, Boris Yeltsins, giant condoms, and
giant Tylenol capsules.
Frannie Millard, a robust matron done up as
Margaret Thatcher, grabbed my arm and said, “Robin Hudson.”
“I’m in charge of name tags tonight. Not
everyone wants to wear one, but I hope you won’t give me a hard
time about it.”
“What a drag, having to work at the party,” I
said, as she pinned me for easy identification.
“I like helping out,” she said efficiently
and left me for three members of the Standards & Practices
division, also known as the network censors, a.k.a. the court
An ancient panic grabbed me as I stared into
the social chaos ahead: Who would I hand out with? Tonight I needed
a comfortable cordon of friendship to protect me both from
mysterious strangers and from humiliation by my husband. I looked
around for someone I recognized, someone sympathetic, and saw Louis
Levin heading towards me. Louis was a news producer and a
paraplegic and he had done his wheelchair up as an electric chair,
complete with a leather and metal helmet.