Walter stood up rather awkwardly from his chair in the Channel 8 studios. The show had just been wrapped. He was trying to learn more industry talk (or “Indo Lingo” as the stagies liked to call it) so he could keep up with the rapid directions that were fired from all corners of the studio. He found it all a little overwhelming at times but right now he felt a little lost as nobody was actually giving him any direction on what was to happen next.
All around him the stagies were rearranging furniture and props, the audience was being ushered out - though a few were trying to bypass the ushers and get closer to Walter – and Tony Holdsworth had disappeared the instant the red light went off not even giving Walter a chance to say goodbye. He had noticed Tony acting strange in the commercial breaks, popping more pills than regular and mumbling inaudibly to himself, but Walter assumed it was all part of his routine because he was the Tony Papa Holdsworth that everyone had known for years (or in Walter’s case, days).
“Walter! Great show!” the rushed looking headsetted girl approached Walter and used her clipboard-clad hand to gently guide Walter in a general direction of her choosing. Walter had become familiarised to this gesture and understood it was designed to rush him to a certain destination without actually transferring any nervous energy to the subject. He smiled, appreciating both the silly nature of the business and his increasing knowledge of it. He felt good; back to normal and recognised this consciously. It was a strange habit he had picked up since his conversation with William Unston but he realised he simply had to accept this rather than hide from it.
“I keep meaning to ask you, but what’s your name?” Walter asked the girl spontaneously.
She looked a little taken aback, easing up from her purposeful strides, “You’re the second person to ask me that today - second person this year as well. It’s Angela.”
“I knew it wasn’t Nic. It seems like everybody is called Nick here.”
Angela laughed, “Yeah everyone is called Nick when the Holdsworths are on set. You did good today.”
“Thanks. It is easier when nobody is committing suicide.”
“I know, that was crazy! That guy totally like, did a philosophical ambush on you. Almost worth it to see Tony freeze on camera though.” She pulled a fish out of water face and then laughed a third time. The pace had slowed to a dawdle as Angela increased the cadence of her mouth, “Since when did you become so talkative anyway? I thought you spent your life in solitude meditating and cleaning up shit.”
“Kind of the same thing.” Walter smiled. It sounded like the right thing to say even though he knew little about meditation. He doubted that this girl was taking much of what he said to heart but thought he should tag on something just in case, “No, everybody wants to find the key to happiness through me, but from what I can gather in these interviews and TV specials is that people are too afraid to be themselves or nobody teaches them how to...or if they do then they aren’t listening anyway.”
“Yeah I know, right? Someone should just come out and write a book on how to be happy and then we all read it and- That’s what you can do! Write a book! You’ll make millions. You’re smart and funny. That’s why you’re so happy. And now you’re gonna be rich as well! Maybe I should marry you – make mum happy as well! Ha!”
Walter looked at Angela, eyes slightly wide and lip slightly curled. He would have been more shocked at how she twisted his words if it hadn’t happened with almost every person who sought to pick his brain (and it barely compared to William Unston’s interpretation at all).
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m just joking.” The two had stopped outside a double door made of oak, with large gold handles. The inscription on the door read The Hancock Merrywent, Tony Holdsworth, Gladys DeVille Conference Room. “you’re a sweet guy, Walter. I think you’ll get along well with Sam – he’s the one you’re meeting. Follow me.”
Angela opened the doors to the Wentworthville Room and inside, across a large table, sat a small man reclined in his seat perusing a newspaper and next to him a giant figure hunched forward with crumbs spilling from his large mitts onto the bare table. The small man looked up and smiled warmly before standing.
“Thank you so much for bringing Mr Wallace here, Angela.”
“Sorry I took so long, Mr Tank, but we were talking and-”
“Took so long?” Mr Tank said with playful incredulence, “I thought you were early. Ricky and I barely finished eating those delicious cookies when you just came in.” Everything the man did was so polite yet informal and Walter felt immediately at ease even before being introduced. “And Walter it is a pleasure to meet you finally. Sam Tank.” Sam Tank extended his hand.
Walter took it, “Nice to meet you to Mr Tank.”
“Please call me Sam- or Sammy if you like. Or if Grandma Tank is around then call me Samuel Albert.” Walter smiled and as Sam made his way around the table he told a story about his grandma while pouring a cup of tea and placing it in front of Walter.
“Walter you don’t know why I’m here but my associate and I represent an organisation known as the Citadel Group. Have you heard of us before?” Walter shook his head. “Well we are an organisation that operates in many areas of the human society, looking to improve standards and welfares wherever possible. Our main priority is to ensure that the human wealth is served first and foremost. Do you know how we achieve this?” Walter remained politely still and characteristically blank. “Let me give you an example. Do you take the train to work Walter?”
Walter turned a puzzled expression before smiling, “I guess you could say that.”
“Do you work in the city?”
“Well, you could say that as well. I work on the trains; cleaning the toilets.”
“Really? Well that is wonderful. Noble work, indeed.”
“Noble?” Walter repeated, a little surprised. Most people were surprised at his job but none thought to call it such.
“Of course, Walter. You don’t believe so? Well I should dare say you do believe so, but you don’t believe that I believe so...no?” Sam smiled. “Civilisation rests its foundations on the shoulders of the toilet cleaners. Shit – if you will pardon my French, Ricky,” the giant giggled, almost childlike, “-and the need to clean shit was a hindrance to a large gathering of people and but for the toilet cleaners of old we might as well grow fur and fling the shit each other like a primate relatives.” Walter laughed as Sam stood up and put his hand to his heart, “So I salute you, Walter Wallace. May your happiness never subside.
“Citadel Group prides itself on finding those amongst us who can make a difference and bring them to the people in the best possible manner. You have kindly appeared on this network which is a partner of ours without any obligation to do so, but the network has mistreated you and seeks to exhaust you as rapidly as possible before you catch wind of the idea that you owe no time or duty towards them. If you were to lock yourself away in your home then they would be powerless against you. But you must understand that the media would turn on you. A story is a story and while a happy story could last til ever after, if one party is unhappy knives will be out and the weakest will be lucky to survive. So I feel obliged to advise you Walter that you and Channel 8 would be at a loss if we were unable to find an arrangement to guarantee the best for both parties and for the community as a whole.
“You were quite right to hold out on signing any papers because the network is a hunter and their first contract would be laced with bear traps, but you called them out and they were forced to come closer towards your terms, and that is why they contacted Citadel Group to help mediate the situation. Do you understand me so far?”
Walter nodded, focussed.
“Good. Now, as I said, our main priority is to take care of the interests of humanity; to serve the welfare of the greater good. What we have here, with your status and the entire world’s focus is a situation likely to explode. I have not followed your story too deeply so far as I seek to get to know the real Walter instead of Toyota’s Happiest Man in the World, but the incident with William Unston did not escape my attention. Lessons were learned but a careless network hoping to cash in while dealer isn’t looking, caused ripples throughout the world.
“You must understand that wasn’t your fault Walter and it needn’t happen again if you have Citadel Group on your side. I cannot really present this to you any other way and it will appear intimidating but here is our offer Walter.” Sam produced a small booklet of paper and placed it in front of Walter. “We arranged it with the interests of all in mind, especially, but not exclusively, yours. We presented it to the network and they agreed after some fruitless counter offers, and now we are presenting it to you. Feel free to take it home and read over it. There is no pressure to sign. You can go home and call me and say ‘Sam, I just started reading but it’s kind of long so I’ll take a day or two to finish it, OK?’ and then you can book a flight to an island in the middle of the ocean and never be seen again, while I sit in my office needlessly organising an independent, neutrally motivated director for your national tour.”
“I won’t deny that there are some heavy duty tasks set out for you in there, Walter. It will be challenging and demanding but they are geared towards the best interests of everybody. If you are who they say you are – and I doubt you have ever claimed to be – then I believe you are capable. Inside that contract you will find a year-long schedule which includes the national tour, TV spots at regular but less frequent intervals, a feature length documentary, a book deal which you can write or have a co writer assist you with, research and development commitments, minimal likeness and licensing deals – a new range of ‘I am Walter Wallace’ T-shirts has just shown up on the net from an independent manufacturer so we may have missed that boat – and to top it all off you will be involved in the creative process of each activity. How does that sound?”
Walter was almost dizzy from the information overload but he felt a strong liking towards Sam and trusted him.
“Oh and I don’t think this is an issue to you, but the monetary benefits, even from conservative estimates, would sit at a little over $100m.”
The money had little effect on Walter as he had already made up his mind. He paused a moment, conscious of himself analysing his own instincts with a rare confidence before asking, “Do you have a pen?”
Notes to the Text