Brian Smithwaite stood in the shadows of the audience bleachers at a Channel 8 studios. He was content and smiling accordingly. He had recently got off the phone with Big Boss. It was his nickname for Boss Citadel which, when said with sincerity and placed directly after an insult received, would infuriate and disarm the big guy and ultimately place him under Brian’s persuasion. Boss had just informed him that Sammy Tank was coming down to the studios to sort out the contract negotiations which Brian had, as Boss put it so elegantly, “fucked up the fucking cunt!”
“Well I assure you that everything is fine, contract or no contract. The precious Walter Wallace is broken and willing to eat poison out of my hand - in fact that is what he is doing right this minute. But if you wish to send the mouth and his third wheel muscle then by all means go ahead – you are the big boss after all.”
Boss took some short, tantrum like huffs and puffs. He could never handle layered insults and backhanded compliments so even though he had essentially won the argument he now felt as though he had lost by a large margin. “Look,” he said, trying to regain some ground after a few more grunts, “just don’t fuck it up like last time.”
“You got it, big guy.” It was all he could do not to go into a mock radio announcer voice and he hung up the phone before Boss could reply or hear Brian laughing to himself. Perhaps he had gone too far, but Boss had gone too far as well. The studios were Brian’s stomping grounds. He ran this joint with a team of headless suits and the puppet Tony Holdsworth. But the brains behind it all was he, Brian Smithwaite. Up to now it had been fine that he received little recognition for his efforts in corrupting the news, deregulating the advertising standards and practice, filling his pockets with IOU slips from executives at the other networks, but the Walter Wallace fiasco was his moment to shine.
The show had so far been breaking records across the globe. He was extending the influence of Citadel Inc to native pueblos in rural Guatemala. And all this was before the greatest moment in television history. Who would have thought some psycho would come on TV and kill himself in protest to Walter’s provisions of false hope. Brian felt a kindred spirit – until the idiot shot himself – but that had broken the resilience of Walter. The contract was moot point now; Walter had cracked.
“I wonder if you’re still the happiest man in the world anymore.” Brian mused out loud as watched on.
Walter was back to his innocent best. Tony and the audience were laughing adoringly at his every accidental wit or blunt force wisdom. Brian wondered, though, if it was the same Walter Wallace. Was grief only short with the truly enlightened? If so, then using grief as the measurement of happiness would render Brian a very happy individual. Even his mother dearest lying on her death bed at 60 years young couldn’t extract a tear from her only son.
Walter cracked another joke, followed by another blank expression as if to say, “I don’t know why you’re laughing but I’m glad you are.”
It was a rare situation and Brian had been too busy to truly engage with the reality as he organised the event. But in this moment of reflection he asked himself why he wasn’t the happiest man in the world. He was never sad or angry; he never lashed out like Walter had just the day before. But had Walter ever done that before? Brian’s hypothesised that Walter came back so willingly because he had never done that before. So why not run away? But Brian understood this. He shared that logic with Walter. Never surrender. He smiled and then found himself laughing with the audience. He found himself inexplicably drawn to the man before a bile pit of jealously rose up in him and in his confusion he spun on his heel thinking he was going to throw up and found himself face to with Sammy Tank.
“Enjoying the show, gentlemen.” Brian said politely, regathering himself in an instant. He was addressing both Sammy Tank and Ricky Talk (with whom he stood face to belly button) with his slimy grin.
“Not nearly as much as you it seems. Although I must say you look a little pale. Does it make you sick to watch a decent man conduct himself?”
Brian winced, though, trained as he was, he kept all physical reactions in check. But somehow he knew that Tank saw it. How did that twerp pinpoint him so accurately? As though his internal struggle was relegated to an alternate universe Brian responded in a casual instant, “Well it’s lucky you showed up to make me feel all better.”
“Glad to be of assistance, Brian. So did Boss inform you of the situation?”
“Of course. But please run it over with me again, would you?”
“Still having trouble listening to the voices outside your head?”
“Well you see, Boss has trouble articulating his intentions at times. It must be a great boost to your ego to be constantly surrounded by such dim company,” Brian said giving a shade of acknowledgement to Ricky Talk.
“Why else would I pay you this privilege, Brian?” Brian took a step forward, bypassing all protocols of self control, but the instant he did so the dormant giant took his own menacing step, threatening to erupt and forced Brian to retreat in cowardly instinct.
“We will go wait in the Wentworthville conference room. Have Mr Wallace make his way in after the show.”
Sammy walked away and Ricky lumbered behind. A rushed looking girl came up through the corridor they were exiting and Sammy stopped her. “Excuse me, uhh” he said openly, inviting her to give her name. The girl was rigid in anticipation of instruction. “I’m sorry, miss. Your name?”
“My name?” she said, incredulous, “Angela.” She finished almost like a question; as though she were being tricked.
Sammy smiled warmly, “Excuse me, Angela. My name is Sam Tank. Me and my associate,” he indicated to Talk and Angela, still rigid, ran her eyes up and down the imposing figure before looking back at Sammy, “are heading to the Wentworthville conference room and would like some refreshments to tide our hunger while we await a meeting.”
Again she looked at Talk, “I’ll guess you’ll want a lot.”
Sammy smiled, somehow even warmer, “Of course.”
Angela walked up the corridor slowly, as though she had forgotten why she was rushing so much. Brian, who at this point was sneering openly, called back to Sammy as he was walking away. He felt like a defeated soldier taunting his conqueror, though clearly out of ammunition, “Aren’t you going to watch the show, Sammy?”
Sammy stopped and turned. He called back, “No, I know how it ends: Everybody is sad. They see Walter. Everybody is happy. Walter leaves. Everybody is sad.”
Brian scoffed because he knew nothing else to do in response. He watched the ridiculous pair walk away and he turned around to watch the show. A popular comedian was riffing on everything Walter said and had the crowd in hysterics. Brian choked down the last bit of bile and watched on, unable to laugh; unable to even put on his favourite slimy grin.
Notes to the Text