And for a moment he was overcome by unfamiliarity. "Sixty seconds back." Dave's voice came from somewhere far away ... somewhere in the world which he had just left behind.
"Casey!" This was Dana's voice, and something in it made him shake. He was scaring her. And he was dizzy standing at the anchor desk instead of sitting at the anchor desk. This was unreal, and what Dan had just said was unreal --
"I never asked for your help."
"And I never asked for advice or opinions from this manic group of people. And you know what?"
"Danny!" This was Dana's voice from the control room, and when Dan turned to her Casey looked away.
"I'm going to ignore your tone and concentrate on the fact that you answered me at all; what the hell's going on?"
"You're going to ignore -- my tone?"
"That's what I said."
"Dan." Casey's voice was cool. "You want to argue with me, you argue with me, but let's leave it till after the show."
For a moment Dan was Dan, and he nodded slightly.
"Forty-five seconds back," Dave said
"Casey!" Dana cried again. "What are you doing?"
"I don't know."
"Sit down; we're back in forty-five."
"Casey! What's going on is going on, and we've got a show to do regardless. Now sit your ass down!"
Dana. God. He wanted to do what she said, because that's what he did. She was boss, here at the show, and he didn't question that; he would never question that.
He thought for an instant or two of her that day. God, he wanted to do what she said. She, in her 100% cotton I Survived Draft Day at Sports Night tee, with a bandage on her face and a grin she saved for once a year. Things with Dana had felt so right today.
"I heard you, you know."
He was sitting at the desk and she was leaning across it, and he wasn't quite certain how she got there.
"I heard you."
"When you were talking to Jeremy."
"When I was talking to Jeremy when?"
"A while ago."
"A while ago?"
"An hour ago."
"An hour ago?"
"Here at work?"
"You're knocking my socks off with your deductive reasoning there, guy."
"I'm asking, here where?"
"Here at this desk."
"What did he say?"
"He said something about shadowy something dealing with deceit."
"Well, what did I say?"
"You said 'Dana and Gordon and Sally and me and Dana and Sally and Gordon.'"
Casey held out his hands. "And you're bringing it up --"
"I'm bringing it up to illustrate the point I was trying to make earlier."
"That you hang onto things too long."
"I hang on to things too long?"
"You always have."
Casey frowned. "When were you trying to illustrate the point that I hang onto things too long?"
Casey laughed. "Dana --"
"I never will."
"Fifteen seconds back. You want to, maybe, step away from the desk?" Dana giggled. "What?" Casey asked.
"You sound like an officer of the law."
"You really do."
"You know what?"
"I'm going to spend that hundred dollars on therapy for you."
"Which hundred dollars?"
"The hundred dollars you're going to give me when it's Whitson, Woodson, Rofoski."
"You know something about Castro's knees?"
"You're going to spend my hundred dollars on therapy for me?"
"You're going to win my money and then spend it on me."
Casey nodded once. "Yes."
"How is that me losing?"
"And anyway, I'm not going to lose, Mr. I-Think-I-Can-Psyche-You-Out-About-Castro's-Knees."
"In 3--" Dave's voice warned. Dana nodded at Casey and strolled calmly out of the shot just as the show began again.
"Casey," Natalie said. "Please sit down. You're scaring Dana."
"Natalie --" he heard Dana say.
"No, this is enough," he heard himself say.
"Casey." Now Jeremy was speaking, too. Jeremy's voice was concerned, but still it held a note of relief that his hardest part was over.
"Jenny," Natalie said to Jenny.
"Natalie," Jenny said to Natalie.
"Jenny. Natalie," Jeremy said.
"So, Jenny," Natalie continued. "Are you a choreoanimator?"
"Am I a what?"
"Do you make up dance steps for cartoon characters?"
"I do not."
"Neither does a choreoanimator."
"What does a choreoanimator do?"
"I haven't a clue, except they don't make up dance steps for cartoon characters. Why do you ask?"
"Why do I ask what?"
"Why do you ask if I'm a choreoanimator?"
"Because I don't know what you do."
"A lot of actors are actually becoming producers, of late."
Natalie nodded. "Only I never acted. Except in church plays, and then I was an angel, so it really wasn't much of a stretch. And I don't produce movies, I produce a nightly news broadcast."
"I see the difference."
"And you act."
Jeremy was watching them in terror, but he did not speak. Natalie smiled stiffly, and Jenny returned the smile with her own reserves.
"Well, then --" Jeremy said at last. "Jenny, if you --"
"Which movies?" Natalie asked.
"I act in adult films," Jenny said.
"Jenny," Jeremy said. She turned to him.
"...To be honest, I actually wasn't expecting that question."
"What was I saying?"
"You were saying you're a porn star," Natalie supplied.
"I prefer adult film actress," Jenny said calmly.
"You were saying you're an adult film actress."
Jeremy looked more closely at Natalie. "Natalie," he said
"You look strange."
Natalie looked at him. "Thank you."
"For -- saying you look strange?"
"And I'll tell you why. Because that's precisely what I needed to hear from the only man at all who seems to be willing to talk to me this week."
"Because that's exactly what I needed to know -- Why there are exactly no men willing to talk to me this week. It's nice to know that it's because I look strange and not because I scare them all away by being like this."
It was Jenny who asked, "Like what?"
Natalie met Jenny's eyes. "I don't know," she said.
"It was nice meeting you."
"It was nice being met."
"I only meant you looked strange for just that second," Jeremy said as Natalie walked away. He looked at Jenny and shrugged -- and she smiled, and that was that.
He hadn't noticed Isaac's approach until he heard the words from inches away in the wings. "Casey. Danny. What's happening here?"
"Nothing, Isaac," Dan said. "Casey's just performing a little altitude experiment to see whether the air up there makes it easier to find insensitive things to say."
Casey couldn't stop himself from speaking. "You know, I've heard just about enough of this tonight, Danny," he said.
"Join the club," Dan replied.
"Thirty seconds back," Dave called from the control room.
"Casey. Would you mind sitting down and sorting all this out when you have more than twenty-nine seconds to consider it?"
Was that silence in the control room? Like the silence that had fallen as the footage came in of rain at Indian Wells. Draft Day. This was Draft Day, and rain at Indian Wells meant wonderful things for "Sports Night." He coudln't fathom why Dan didn't care.
"I'm not covering the second round," Dan told Dana at two. "I'm golfing with David Duvall."
"I've got plans. I've worked 13 days straight and I've got plans and today I'm golfing with David Duvall and that's the end of it."
"Oh, how sweet are these dreams you dream."
"It's raining at Indian Wells."
"Is that why water was falling from the sky?"
"I'm not staying."
"You are staying, and here's the interesting thing: I'm your boss. A fact I don't think I point out quite often enough."
"And I don't think I point out quite often enough my lack of adequate time off."
"I'm going golfing today with David Duvall."
"It's Draft Day."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the heads-up."
"Dan," Casey warned.
"It's Draft Day," Dana repeated. "And I was sitting in the control room a while ago hoping to God there would be rain at Indian Wells. And when I say hoping to God, it's not an expression that I'm using. I'm saying I was out and out praying to God for rain at Indian Wells."
"Well, I hope you don't spend your prayers like you spend your money, Dana."
"Dan," Casey said again, sharply. Dana was staring at him, her eyes open a fraction of an inch wider than usual, and for a moment Dan was Dan.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"It's Draft Day," she told him. "Just let us have this one day."
Dan sighed long and hard, and took off his coat.
"Fifteen seconds," Dave warned.
"Casey," Isaac said. When there was no answer, he added, "Dan."
During the first break in the second round, Casey turned to his partner. "Dan --"
"Leave me alone."
Casey sighed. "Dan."
"We're supposed to be allies here."
"And we are."
Dan set his jaw and stared into the monitors and would not look at his partner.
"What's going on, Danny?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what's going on?"
"Nothing's going on."
Dan's voice rose. "Casey, would you leave me alone?"
Casey's jaw was set too. "Fine."
"You know, I never wanted your help."
"The hell you didn't."
"I never wanted your help, I never needed your help, and God knows I never asked for it!"
That, all at once, was enough, and Casey stood.
Now Casey stood and dead silence cloaked them all. Somewhere in the studio, unreasonably, a clock could be heard ticking.
Casey," Dan said.
"I need like a week, man," he said. "I didn't root for rain at Indian Wells. I need like a week to not be here."
"I can try and understand that, as long as it starts some time other than in the middle of a show," Casey told him.
"Dude ... you're the one on your feet here."
Casey looked around. Isaac stood sternly a few feet away. In the control room, barely visible from here, Jeremy sat with his eyes closed. Beside him Dana stared intently at the monitors, a look of fascination and fear on her face that made him ache to put his arms around her. Natalie's eyes were closed, too. Beside him, for a moment, Dan was Dan.
Neither of them managed an apology. This wasn't through and it was barely started, but for the moment ... for the moment .....
"In three!" Dave shouted frantically. "Two --"
For the moment, Casey sat.
14 March 2000