Stevie could barely feel his face. The blood had drained so absolutely that he had been unable to stand. The footage of Mark Tanenworth’s final words before raising a gun to his head would be burnt into his memory for the rest of his life. He felt 100% responsible for his old friend’s demise. Mark had practically rescued Stevie from the edge of alcoholism and oblivion, but in return Stevie had exploited and lied to the man, leaving him out in the cold to suffer.
“This is fucking bullshit!” Phil said angrily, gesturing at the television like a tennis player at a bad ‘out’ call. He was looking at Stevie as though he were the referee. Stevie withdrew from himself a little, giving Phil a concurring glance, vainly trying to disguise his undercurrent of emotion.
“What’s up with you?” Phil asked, dismissing the weak charade.
“I knew him.”
“No. Well, yes, but I mean Mark Tanenworth. The man who shot himself, I knew him.”
“Yeah, well, serves him right; Citadel scum – by birth no less.”
Stevie winced at the crude comment. “You don’t understand; he was my friend.”
“Didn’t you say you pretended to be his shrink to try infiltrate the enemy?”
It was not an attack but Stevie felt the full force of the matter of fact comment. He looked back at the television, swallowing back a hint of a tickle in his throat. He would grieve on his own time, this was too important.
The pair was still on the move, staying at the fifth motel in as many nights. For all the talk about a time for action they had barely gotten past two sentences worth of planning. Phil’s strategy was to break into Citadel Towers. The first hurdle came at how to do it, let alone what they were supposed to do once they got in.
“We just plant a bomb and hope to bring the whole fucking place down.”
“Aren’t you a vegetarian? How many innocent people would you kill?”
“There’s no innocence in that place.” He had replied gravely. Stevie had rolled his eyes.
Stevie’s idea of action was more constructed. He wanted to make a precise strike that was more achievable and less suicidal than Phil’s. They would need to understand the true motive of Citadel and once they had the foundation they could build a solid attack. The problem was that he had no clue what Citadel was planning and the plan therefore had even less substance than Phil’s.
But the Tony Holdsworth special with Sam Tank was set to change all that. For all the dire assertions it made about Walter Wallace, and for all the frustration and despair it had shovelled down Stevie’s throat, it did reveal the final act of the Walter Wallace saga. The spin was turned on its head; Walter was the cause – not the solution – to sadness.
“I don’t get it.” Phil interjected again. “What’s the point of Citadel producing Walter as this mass media product and them reducing him to nothing in his prime?”
“How much money can you get for one product?” Stevie proposed. “Wouldn’t it be better if they could turn happiness into an easier distribution channel?”
“What do you mean?” Phil asked, not catching Stevie’s direction.
“I’m saying that self help preachers will always write a book because it is more profitable than running a seminar – mass distribution.”
“But Walter has mass distribution, he has a worldwide audience.”
“But the show is no good. The only drama was accidental...or fatal. How long can it be kept up and how long can it sell?” Phil remained quiet and pensive for a rare moment of peace. “What is the underlying message from this special?”
“Walter bad.” Phil said, knowing the obvious answer would ultimately be wrong.
“No. Walter as a media Messiah bad. But Walter still good, still happy. The science is the key to this special. They can’t spell it out to us right away because that would be too obvious, but Sam Tank has all but inferred that emotions can be measured, that they are tangible energy with quantitative effects. Broadcasting Walter was too general, there was a backlash of emotion and jealousy; frustration at not being able to match his happiness. It is almost like feedback at a stadium concert. The music always sounds better through quality headphones.”
“You mean they are going to wrap him up into little packages of happiness?”
“He’ll be the replacement for prescription drugs.”
“But before they could do that they wanted to take him off air. Get him out of the picture and then make his comeback with happy gas. Maybe they will ask him to fart in a cup, charge $50 a pop.”
Stevie nodded in appreciation of the joke. His mood had improved but he still didn’t feel like laughing.
He thought about the time he had met Sam Tank at the bar in Newport Haven. Mark had frozen stiff at the site of the man - he was obviously dangerous. It had also led to Stevie being nearly killed but for the sympathy of the Citadel agent.
“Fuck, that’s where I know this douche bag from.” Phil said with blend of annoyance and relief, “he was the Citadel suit who told me to write up the anti-Walter piece.”
Stevie furrowed his brow, “He was the one who told you? How did you not remember that an hour ago?”
“Look that was only a day or two after I witnessed the afterlife, man. Drugs are squatters, dude, they don’t wanna leave and they make a fucking mess when they finally do.”
It made sense that Sam would want to push the anti-Walter campaign – it had even helped inspire the attempted bombing at Heartsfield Royal. It seemed like Sam was turning up wherever the trouble happened, and now his sights were firmly set on Walter. Stevie had found the motive and found the source of that motive. Now they could start developing the plan.
“I’ve met him as well.” Stevie said.
“He almost had me killed, he had found out I was pretending to be Mark’s doctor, put a hit on me. I think he thinks I’m dead.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No. The agent, your robot’s partner, he’s the one who stabbed me.”
“Motherfucker. We’ll kill that son of a cunt next.”
“No, you don’t get it. He let me go.” Stevie said. “I think he is the key. First we need to save Walter before they get him in the Towers, then we need to bring down Citadel.”