Walter was getting the hang of this. Like most things, being in front of an audience was daunting at first, but through persistence he grew comfortable and found himself. It was just like one of the really tough crossword puzzles where the discarded newspaper or magazine was old and tattered and had sections of the clues faded or torn out and he had to be patient and open to the possibilities. He had even used this analogy recently in the second stop on his national tour and after the show one of the producers or publicists approached him with the idea to release a crossword book with his face on the cover. He agreed and the next day a printed version was given to him as a gift. Crosswords for Cross Minds: The Happy Puzzle. He opened it up and found that he had written the foreword. It was the quote from his interview.
“We have 20,000 more printing as we speak. We expect that they will sell out by the end of the week.” The female executive/producer/crossword puzzle publisher said.
“Quick.” He replied, honestly as ever.
“The idea was brewing in me a while, I just needed a selling angle and you gave it to me last night.”
“Glad I could help,” Walter said smiling. She smiled back. Walter was becoming increasingly aware of his ability to make people smile. He supposed it had always happened; he had just never had so many chances to exact it. Sure, at the moment he was mainly just managing to make executives smile about the millions of dollars in revenue he was generating for them, but he also got to interact with millions of people and felt that was his true purpose.
“Walter, quit daydreaming. Show starts in an hour. You should get to make-up.” Angela winked at him as she rushed by. Walter winked back but was pretty sure she missed it. He had been on the road for nearly three weeks now and felt like he was a part of the crew. He had never had so many friends before. The closest of these new friends was Manny Holdsworth, who spent the first two weeks locked away in his trailer before and after shows. His father remained in a coma while Manny made public statements about the shock and tragedy of it all. The fact that the incident was suspiciously suicidal and even more suspiciously fell on the same day as Manny’s promotion was never left to rest by the tabloids and this bore down heavily upon him.
The friendship sparked after a rare encounter with Manny outside of his trailer on the third night. It was the first time they had spoken off air since Manny’s exclusive first interview with Walter at the stud apartment.
“Good show tonight,” Manny had said absently, reluctant to fall into any form of conversation as they passed.
“Thanks.” Manny was about to move on at the pause, but Walter, who could sense that Manny was in pain, felt an impulsive urge to reach out to him. “You know, I’m learning a lot from you...how to be on stage and on camera.”
“All just an act buddy. Don’t hang around too long. I don’t know how long they got you for but the longer you stay the faster you die. I’m a shell right now; A lesser version of a better man.”
Walter didn’t reply or react immediately. He saw little emotion in Manny. “Do you believe that?”
Manny sighed, showing agitation at the blunt question. “What? I gotta cop the third degree from you as well now? Why don’t you ask me what they keep asking, huh? Ask if I feel personally responsible for Papa Holdsworth’s overdose.”
“Fuck you. What do you know?”
“I don’t know anything. That’s why I ask. The reporters: you know why they ask. But you still ask yourself, don’t you?”
Manny was visibly angered but the call of reason from Walter forced him to remain civil. “I don’t know,” he said quickly.
Walter stood still, not knowing if he was helping the man but felt like he had to do-
“It’s just...he took prescription medication for years. Mum said he started when I was only five years old, but she hated his guts and would say anything to make me hate him. But by the time I was eight or nine I had seen boxes lying round, seen him downing pills in the bathroom; I knew for sure it wasn’t aspirin. I left with mum not long after and ten years later I get an internship at Channel 8 and that’s the first time we speak in years:
“‘You’re not cut out for this Manny, give it up.’” Manny had done a very convincing impression of his father. “He just got worse and worse and all I wanted to do was have a relationship of some sort with him. Mum died and he shows up at the funeral with eight balls for pupils, but he was still on for all the cameras. He cried in his eulogy but didn’t shed a tear.” Manny was picking up momentum as he spoke, anger focussing in. “Every time I got promoted or received accolades he would claim it as a victory of his own and soak up the press and then later on he would tell me he was the reason I was promoted and lauded and without him I would still be running errands for the weatherman.
“And now this happens after years of trying to impress him with my success, I am forced to surpass him, promoted to the top gig, and he does the only thing left that will steal my moment: The fat piece of shit tries to kill himself and in doing so turns all his audience against me. Has his fucking sympathy story is pushing Walter fucking Wallace off the front page – Funny that: the saddest man is a better sell than the happiest. I don’t know if I want him to die or if I want him to live; or if I want him to see me be great and tell me he’s sorry for everything he’s done cos its’ all his fault. His fucking fault! FUCK!” Manny kicked over a tray of drinks that had been left on a table by an intern too afraid to knock on his trailer.
“So you don’t feel responsible, I take it?” Walter asked, finding himself holding back a smile for some inexplicable reason.
“No. I don’t!” Manny said with indignation. Then he saw Walter’s contorted facial expression. “What?” he said accusingly before having to force back a smile of his own. “What?”
“Nothing.” Walter said innocently.
“You think you’re so fucking wise, don’t you?” Manny said, shaking his head but smiling despite himself. Walter shrugged. “Come on, let’s get a six pack and I’ll make you tell your biggest sob-story you smart ass.”
“Walter, something’s come up.” Angela had come out of nowhere and grabbed Walter’s arm, snapping him out of a daydream a second time.
“There’s been a major accident. We’ve had to postpone the show.”
“A train derailed at the Newport Haven Terminal. It’s really bad.”
Walter stood still, unattached to the reality of the situation. “Let’s go down there and help.”
Notes to the Text