Walter Wallace had grown fairly accustomed to hearing his own name by now. It was impossible to pass a newspaper, talk show or cafe without hearing somebody referencing him in some way or another. It was a notable change to how his name had previously fared – usually delivered in an aggressive scream or with cruel disregard by his former boss at the station. But while the original sentiment had always been quite innocent and topical he had noticed a growing sense of criticism. He was watching an example of that right now.
Tony Holdsworth was driving his comeback special with an obvious hint of distrust in the “Walter Wallace Myth” - Walter couldn’t help but feel a twang of anger at the title. It gave the impression that he had orchestrated the grand affair himself and the negativity that rippled out from the backwash was all part of the plan. He had been on countless programs and interviews and specials and he consistently sought to reiterate that he never claimed or aspired to be what they said he was, and he only answered questions out of a personal choice to try to help when asked.
“People are drawn to the Walter Wallace promise. He is another quick fix. He is as effective as a bowl of ice cream in cheering somebody up but sadly that sugary treat is not a long term solution; instead you are likely to get some pretty rough side effects.”
“I think it’s called obesity,” Tony quipped, rubbing his own belly which had shrunk considerably in his hospital stint but still bulged out enough to make fun of.
Sam smiled warmly, appreciating the humour without laughing and turning the mood. “Well with ice cream there is that but with something as powerful as the EE Walter Wallace generates you become- well mentally obese, if you wish to follow the analogy.”
“I didn’t tell you to fucking watch me!” Walter yelled at the television set. He instantly caught himself and felt a wave of shame, realising his weakness. He took a frustrated breath. The sensation of injustice and self righteousness swelled up within him and he found it difficult to resist. He needed to stand up and walk around. He was struck by a sense of familiarity; that day after William Unston’s suicide. It wasn’t fair that these pressures and accusations were laid on him. He had no means of defending himself. He was about to turn off the television when his phone rang.
“Hello.” He said bluntly.
“Walter. Are you watching?” It was Brian Smithwaite. There was an edge to his voice – a nervous edge.
“Yeah. What is this?” Walter found it difficult to remain polite but he was already disarmed by Brian’s strange tone.
“I’m sorry, Walter. This isn’t me doing this. I’ve been- I’m not in control anymore.”
“What is it about? What have I done? Who is this guy? This doctor? I thought he was on the charity commission, now they say he invented the technology?” Walter felt the frustration of having so many unanswered questions. He understood much clearer how the people who would ask him questions for happiness must have felt.
“Sam Tank. He is a Citadel man Walter. Big time. He’s as big as Boss. Don’t trust him. Don’t give him a chance to gain your trust. Better to just avoid him, Walter. He-”
“He was the one who got me to sign the contract.” Walter said, verbalising his thoughts and feeling a pit of worry start to cave in stomach.
“I know he was. You should have just signed my contract. Do you have any idea what you signed up for? Did you read it?”
“This is why I’m calling you, Walter: You need to get out now.”
Walter didn’t know what to say. Brian was usually so dismissive and condescending. He always seemed to know everything and toyed with the inferior knowledge of his subjects. He was nice to Walter but always with a hint of sarcasm, like a journalist interviewing a ditsy pop sensation. But now he was not kidding around. His tone was ominous – he knew something that Walter didn’t, but it wasn’t something to make a game of.
“Is it true? Am I causing problems doing what I’m doing?”
“I don’t know Walter. I didn’t care for any of the science. I was always about the show but this is the final curtain. What they want from here is immoral Walter. You are in danger. Real danger and you need to run or hide.”
“What? Where would I go?”
“I don’t know. Better you don’t tell me. I’m about to do the same thing but they will find me. I just...I don’t know, I had to warn you Walter. You’re a better man than me and you deserve a chance.”
The phone went dead. Walter was numb. He stared at the television unable to focus on what he could see or hear. What could Brian have been referring to? His attention rushed back like a nap cut short on the train home from work.
“...Newport Haven Disaster was actually an indirect result of Walter’s presence?”
“That’s exactly what I am suggesting, Tony.”
“But from what I hear, and what has been shown to me Walter was a hero that day.”
His actions were brave indeed, perfectly in line with someone who possesses the steel and character to be the happiest person alive. But do you notice the trouble which follows him? It is the collateral damage of the police officer in an action blockbuster. He destroys buildings and causes freeway pile ups in his pursuit of the villain. But Walter’s villain cannot be captured and there cannot be a happy ending.
“Have you researched the Newport Haven Train Disaster? There is a very strong movement online that believes the ‘accident’ can be traced back to a suicide letter from William Unston. This is the man made infamous for his live suicide. He was the first, but he was not the last.”
“This is very disturbing news, indeed,” Tony said. We will have a commercial break and when we get back we will discuss what Dr Tank labels “The William Unston Effect”.”
Walter felt the pit in his stomach deepening. It was worse than any live broadcast nerves. This felt final. He had to keep watching.