Chapter Excerpt

She didn't know where she was going, didn't care. She let the crowds carry her along, away from the station, the newsroom, the typewriters, the TV monitors, the whole crummy atmosphere. She didn't want her colleagues to see her face. She felt stricken, and she didn't want them to peer into her eyes, measure her anguish, her pain. Perhaps later, when she'd decided what she was going to do--because she knew that's what they'd ask: "What are you going to do now, Pam? Are you going to stay? Or what?" And since she didn't know the answer yet, she'd taken to the streets.
It was cold: a dazzling day of cold crisp autumn light. She noticed that after several blocks; it was one of those brilliant New York days she loved. Buildings danced, granite sparkled, glass shimmered and caught fire. The city was enchanted; Manhattan was bewitched. She moved with the crowds, the endless stream. She tried to smile. She wanted to be brave.
She had always been like that: a woman who put up a cool front. It was her signature as a reporter--never to show rancor, never to reveal her tension, her unease. She liked to face the camera head-on, every hair in place, her eyes steady, her fine chiseled features perfectly composed, an ironic half-smile playing on her lips to suggest that what she thought was more than she was letting on. It didn't matter what she thought; her beliefs were not the point. The point was to project herself, to be Ms. Cool, to wear a mask.
But now the mask was cracked; she felt tears welling in her eyes. She hadn't wept in front of Herb; would never do that. Never. But now on the anonymous crowded streets it was hard to hold them back.
Her heel caught in a grating. She stumbled, bumped against a man. "Sorry," she whispered. He didn't look at her, didn't nod. Where was she going? Wherever the crowds might carry her. Anyplace. Away.
Herb had tried to be nice--a problem because he wasn't nice at all. "I don't know. It's not your writing. Your writing's pretty good. It's your delivery. Doesn't work. Too cool. Distant. Doesn't come across." He'd paused. "It's only fair to tell you I'm thinking of pulling you off the air."
So that was it--she'd been hiding herself too well, covering up too much. She'd been faking Ms. Cool and it hadn't worked. "You come off great in person. But on the tube ..." Herb had shrugged.
It could be true. Electronic journalism was merciless. Transmission could betray a performance not calculated for the cruel neutrality of the lens.
"Not the worst thing in the world. Plenty of things you can do. Write continuity for the anchorman, for instance. There's an opening coming up--"
"I'm a reporter."
"Sure you are. Sure. So maybe you should go back to print. I'd hate to see you go if it came to that. But you have to do what's right for you."
She was on Sixth Avenue. The great network towers were just ahead.. People swept by, men carrying attaché cases, women dressed in business suits. They were all in a hurry, on their way to meetings, to see lawyers, clinch deals, advance themselves. And she was in a hurry, too--just to get away.
She wondered how she could have been so wrong. Her controlled serenity, her studied nonchalance: How could she have somisjudged herself, thought she was making it when she hadn't been making it at all?
She passed CBS, a black skyscraper, sleek, impervious, imperial. She had dreamt of working there one day as a network correspondent; now, looking at it, she felt amused at her despair. A phrase came into her mind: "O city of broken dreams." She almost laughed aloud.
Maybe Herb hadn't decided. She tried now to recall his advice. "Reveal yourself. Be snooty. Be the Bryn Mawr bitch slumming with the jocks. When you do a locker-room interview let's see your nostrils quiver. Like you can't stand the smell of sweat."
"I can't, Herb. I really hate it."
"Then show it, for Christ's sake. Play out this female sports reporter thing. Taunt the guys. Look at them like they're hunks of meat. Maybe finger the mike a little. You know--make our male viewers want to see you dirtied up."
It was a warning: He wasn't done with her yet; he was giving her another chance. Maybe she should quit, get out before she was fired. Or else hang in and try to push the stuff he liked, ask tough questions, make the players snarl, stare them down, be the-girl-they-want-to-see-dirtied-up, whatever he had meant by that.
She looked around. She was in Rockefeller Center, out of the stream, away from the crowds. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly noon. The sky was pure and blue. She walked to the wall, looked down at the rink, watched the skaters circling below. A boy gliding on a single skate smiled up at her and threw a kiss. She smiled back, cleared her eyes. The ice flashed platinum beneath the sun.
A man watched her from the shadowed side of the rink. He wore a bright orange cap--a tam-o'-shanter--and sunglasses that shined like mirrors. He was studying her, trying to remember. He knew he'd seen her face before.
About thirty years old, he guessed. Her eyes were large and her lips were sheerly carved. Brown hair hung full and thick beside her cheeks. An attractive woman; a passionate woman, he thought; a woman who smolders beneath a cool façade.
He looked up at the sky, shaded his eyes, searched intently, then turned back to the rink. Light glinted off the golden statue of Prometheus. The plaza was filling with shoppers; there was a group of Japanese businessmen. Soon, with the lunch hour, mobs of office workers would appear. Then it would be time to choose his prey.
He glanced back at her, remembered--she was a sports reporter on local television news. He'd seen her once interviewing basketball players. A little inept, he remembered, but she'd showed an intensity he'd liked. He watched her closely for a time, then shook his head and turned away. There was something about her that moved him; he would spare her, search for someone else. He glanced back up, checked the sky again, and began to search the crowd. He'd find someone suitable soon enough. The city was a hunter's paradise.
"Bryn Mawr bitch slumming with the jocks"--she had to laugh at that. She'd gone to Bryn Mawr on a scholarship, the opposite of "slumming," she supposed. Herb didn't remember that her "classiness" was just an act, that she was from an industrial working-class family, that her father poured steel at an Indiana mill.
Maybe that had been her mistake: playing up to Herb's image instead of showing herself as she was. And what was she? Polished, certainly, but also vulnerable and insecure. If she could show the camera her ambivalence, the conflict between how she looked and talked and what she really was, then, maybe, the male viewers wouldn't want to see her dirtied up--they'd feel for her, care about her, hold their breaths in case she fluffed; they'd identify with her striving, root for her and sympathize.
An interesting idea. She wondered if she could bring it off. She looked down at the rink. A young woman was on the ice now, wearing tights and a figure skater's dress. She was practicing twirls and stops and toe-point pirouettes. Pam watched her leap and skate.
The girl moved fairly well, but there was something awkward about her, too, as if she were faking it, trying too hard to be slick, when, in fact, she was on the verge of falling down. She was good but not quite good enough, a skater looking for a style. Like me, Pam thought. Just like me. Oh my God, on the air I must look like that!
The revelation was startling, like catching an unexpected reflection in a mirror. Pam looked around. The Japanese had their cameras out. Suddenly a flock of pigeons panicked, swirled away in an arc.
The man in the orange cap peered up again, his eyes fixed upon a dark blurred object crashing out of the sun. Faster and faster it came, falling between the buildings, cleaving, rending the air with its attack.
The figure skater was faltering. Pam thought she was going to fall. "Straighten up," she whispered. "Straighten up." And then the girl was hit.
At first Pam wasn't sure what had hit her. Something dark, a piece of a building, a cornice perhaps, or a brick heaved from a window high above. The impact was tremendous. It crashed down upon the girl's skull. One moment she was twirling; the next she was sprawled face up. And then Pam heard the cry, the ferocious rasping "aik, aik, aik." There was a giant bird perched on the girl's chest, its talons digging at her throat. The girl's head swung to the side. Blood gushed out and stained the ice. Pam watched in horror as the bird scanned the onlookers, met her gazewith piercing eyes. Then it raised its wings, lifted off, spiraled up among the buildings. She lost it against the sun--it glowed white-hot and disappeared.
There was a moment of soundless terror, gasping helplessness and shock. Then the chaos began, shrieks of disbelief, shouts and cries for help. Skaters rushed to the exit, collided, flailed, fell together in a heap. Children wailed. The plaza filled with running figures. People gawked and screamed.
Pam knew the girl was dead. She lay grotesquely twisted, her entire throat torn away. Pam opened her mouth but couldn't scream. Her own throat felt raw, her lungs sucked dry. Her heart was thundering in her chest.
She turned away. She'd never seen anything so violent or so frightening as that bird. She was still gasping when she noticed the Japanese businessmen moving rapidly up the promenade.
Suddenly her horror deserted her and a single thought took its place. She rushed after them, fought her way to Fifth Avenue, struggled through the mob. Sirens were blaring. Traffic was stalled. There was no sign of the Japanese.
Where were they? She had to find them. She searched, finally spotted them moving toward St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street. She took a chance, dashed between two cabs, rushed to where they stood. They grinned at her uncomprehendingly.
"Your film," she yelled. "I need your film."
Copyright © 1981 by William Bayer

Excerpted from Peregrine by William Bayer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.