Excerpt from Hard Time by Sara Paretsky, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hard Time

by Sara Paretsky

Hard Time
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1999, 384 pages
    Sep 2000, 255 pages

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Media Circus

Lacey Dowell clutched her crucifix, milky breasts thrust forward, as she backed away from her unseen assailant. Tendrils of red hair escaped from her cap; with her eyes shut and her forehead furrowed she seemed to have crossed the line from agony to ecstasy. It was too much emotion for me at close quarters.

I turned around, only to see her again, red hair artlessly tangled, breasts still thrust forward, as she accepted the Hasty Pudding award from a crowd of Harvard men. I resolutely refused to look at the wall on my right, where her head was flung back as she laughed at the witticisms of the man in the chair opposite. I knew the man and liked him, which made me squirm at his expression, a kind of fawning joviality. Murray Ryerson was too good a reporter to prostitute himself like this.

"What got into him? Or more to the point, what got into me, to let him turn my bar into this backslapping media circus?"

Sal Barthele, who owned the Golden Glow, had snaked through the Chicago glitterati packed into her tiny space to find me. Her height--she was over six feet tall--made it possible for her to spot me in the mob. For a moment, as she looked at the projection screens on her paneled walls, her relaxed hostess smile slipped and her nose curled in distaste.

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe he wants to show Hollywood what a cool insider he is, knowing an intimate bar they never heard of."

Sal snorted but kept her eyes on the room, checking for trouble spots--patrons waiting too long for liquid, wait staff unable to move. The throng included local TV personalities anxiously positioning themselves so that their cameras could catch them with Lacey Dowell if she ever showed up. While they waited they draped themselves around executives from Global Studios. Murray himself was hard at it with a woman in a silver gauze outfit. Her hair was clipped close to her head, showing off prominent cheekbones and a wide mouth painted bright red. As if sensing my gaze she turned, looked at me for a moment, then interrupted Murray's patter to jerk her head in my direction.

"Who is Murray talking to?" I asked Sal, but she had turned away to deal with a fractious customer.

I edged myself through the crowd, tripping on Regine Mauger, the Herald-Star's wizened gossip columnist. She glared at me malevolently: she didn't know who I was, which meant I was no use to her.

"Will you watch where you're going, young woman?" Regine had been tucked and cut so many times that her skin looked like paper pulled over bone. "I'm trying to talk to Teddy Trant!"

She meant she was trying to push her bony shoulders close enough for Trant to notice her. He was the head of Global's midwest operations, sent in from Hollywood when Global acquired the Herald-Star and its string of regional papers a year ago. No one in town had paid much attention to him until last week, when Global unleashed its television network. They had bought Channel 13 in Chicago to serve as their flagship and brought in Lacey Dowell, star of Global's wildly successful romance-horror flicks, to appear on the first "Behind Scenes in Chicago" segment--with host Murray Ryerson, "the man who turns Chicago inside out."

Global was launching a "Behind Scenes" feature in each of their major markets. As a hometown girl made good and a Global star, Lacey was the perfect choice for the Chicago launch. Crowds of teenagers as excited as my generation had been by the Beatles lined up to greet her at O'Hare. Tonight they were waiting outside the Golden Glow to catch her arrival.

With the excitement of television and movies on hand, no one could get enough of Edmund Trant. Where he dined, how his mediagenic wife decorated their Oak Brook mansion, all were avidly covered by columnists like Regine Mauger. And when invitations were issued for tonight's party, everyone in Chicago's small media pond was anxious to find the silver-edged ticket in the mail.

Excerpted from Hard Time by Sara Paretsky. Copyright© 1999 by Sara Paretsky. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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