Brian Smithwaite sat slouched in the lounge of his office. That gut-wrenching emptiness pulsed inside of him, a physical illness born from his unrelenting dread. It was over for him. Life as he knew it - maybe life itself - was under imminent peril and all he could do was sit and dwell in it. He felt too sick to act, too slow. He had always been a man of instinct and confidence, but now his instinct was telling him to run. Only he felt bound to his position, he owned that station and it was nothing without him. And to run was futile. Phil would find that out in time.
The evening news was showing on mute on the TV opposite his lounge. Around it were other smaller TV screens displaying the various other programs on offer on the other channels. Brian remembered the days when he would sit and meditate on the collage of mind-numbing spectacles. He would see the patterns, he could recognise the gaps in supply, and he would fill them. He wanted everyone to be engaged with their TV set, no matter what demographic, for the maximum amount of time. He understood the simplicity that drove people to escape in these machines. He was good at it - the best - but it was all just a game to him. His ambition lay in high scores. What was unfolding now was outside the rules. It was outside of the four corners of the screen that was his ring; his title meant little out there, points were scored differently.
He remembered back to when Walter first started out; his first big interview and questionnaire which formed the simple skeleton of his show. William Unston was just another caller who turned out to be a nut, performing a live suicide. It was probabl one of the single most shocking moments in television history – it was great. But there was more to it. Some sort of chain reaction, or maybe a clear cut plan, but Brian had recognised too late. The train, the blogs, the bomb, Walter Wallace, even Phil himself, it all added up to something beyond coincidence.
Brian looked back over his decisions for the thousandth time. He was looking for a point in time to travel back to where he could redirect his fate. But he had always been running a different race. He could always manipulate people, even the top dogs like Boss and Holdsworth were no match. He had manoeuvred his world and developed the highest rating series and the highest concentration of viewers ever, and by a long way.
Each time he relived his recent past he came to the same point: the meeting with all the big players within Citadel. It became clear that he was merely a bench warmer. His channel, his empire, all that he had worked for was merely an interim plan; filler before the big show.
Sam Tank ran the show now. Nobody knew it, not even Boss. He knew Tank had convinced Phil to post the blog. It was a masterstroke. Defaming Walter Wallace; inflaming Brian himself. Brian had made his first mistake off the back of that decision. He had sent out Chips alone and clearly emotionally attached to the job. He just wanted to catch Phil and question him; he wanted to expose Tank, but instead the idiot agent had gone all out and wound up dead.
Would Boss trace it to Brian? Would Tank? What would they do?
His phone rang. Tammy Hamilton spoke, “Brian we’ve got news. Big news.”
Brian’s gut tightened. He used to spark to life on a heavy news day but now only dread surfaced.
“Tony Holdsworth just woke up! Tony. Fucking. Holdsworth. Can you believe it? 3 months, with all that’s gone on without him!”
Brian’s mind raced. His dread worsened. He remembered how he had taunted and coaxed the ageing face of Channel 8; just enough to tip him into the spiralling depression of pills and alcohol. Would he remember? Had Brian just picked up another adversary at the time when he most needed an ally?
“We have so much to plan for. I’ve already sent out some people to cover what they can. Apparently he woke up less than 10 minutes ago. We had a guy from the station tip us off. Sam or Sammy or something like that. Must be a stagie or something, I’m not sure but-”
Brian hung up the phone. His inertia sealed itself around him like the comforting warmth of a fatal injection. He knew somewhere in the back of his mind, the part that still thought there was a game playing, that he should be first one in to welcome back his star. Stare him in the face and reassert his dominance. But Tony wasn’t alone. Brian was alone.
His phone buzzed again. He hung it up and sat still on the lounge, unable to move.