Walter Wallace was packing a few of his belongings into a backpack. He was not exactly working at any urgent pace despite the warnings he had been given. His head was in a clouded space. His thoughts moved as though they were enshrouded in the fog, unsure of taking a step forward because it could well be in the wrong direction.
He struggled to grasp the significance of the recent telecast with Tony Holdsworth and Dr Sam Tank. Any pride that he had felt at being the world’s happiest man – which in itself was only a pride that surfaced when he used his position to help people – felt dirty. It had been switched up on him like a practical joke. What help had he been? What good was he? What was the point of Lucy and Sam and everybody making him such a big star if it was just going to hurt people?
His mind was constantly brought back to Lucy. He had put her up on a pedestal, almost idolised her – or at least the idea of being with her – but she had been so weak when he called. Was she hiding from him? Was she planning to run away from him again? She had been just as weak when he was first discovered, when he needed someone to help bear the burden of the spotlight. And now when that spotlight, that magnifying glass, had been turned up, focussing the heat of the midday Sun on a tiny red dot on his forehead she was nowhere to be seen.
“It’s her fucking fault.” He said aloud. It was a habit he had been developing, needing to verbalise his frustrations. Swearing was another.
He zipped up his backpack and looked around the room to check if there was anything he left that might come in handy. He saw a towel hanging on the rack in the bathroom. He didn’t have a towel packed and new it might help to have one since he didn’t know where he was going. But the towel belonged to the hotel. He stared at it for a moment, contemplating the idea of stealing it. There was so much rationale behind the concept – he needed it, the hotel had plenty, they wouldn’t even notice, he deserved it – but he felt morally incapable.
“Fuck, just take it.” He said to himself. “Experience life.” Deep down he knew it was a fraudulent excuse, one that would pass in theory but was a complete lie. But he didn’t care. He walked to the bathroom but a knock on the door stopped him dead in his tracks.
He waited in silence for an indefinite moment. There was a second knock and Angela’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Walter, open up.”
He hesitated a moment longer before deciding to open the door. Angela looked at him with a strange expression. It was as though she hadn’t seen him in real life before, he was that guy from television and she was a regular person on the street wondering if it was all true.
“We, uh, need to go.” She said, in a poor imitation of their old rapport.
“Well they are cancelling the show so I’ve been told to escort you downstairs - so that they can take you home, I guess.”
Walter found her manner a little unsettling. Angela had always been quite friendly with Walter, even when she had reprimanded him before the show in Heartsfield it was still with a kind heart. But now she was short and struggled to look him in the eyes.
“Are you alright, Angela?” Walter asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
“I’m sorry, Walter, but they said all those things about you...I don’t-” Angela looked unsure before speaking in an accusing tone, “I’m not happy either, alright. It’s not easy for us.”
Walter looked at her with an odd expression, “For us? For who?”
“Just grab your bag Walter we need to go. I’ll be heading back to the studios with one failed production under my belt and little chance they will give me another shot.” Angela was trying to hurt Walter; it was working. “You think you could keep a straight face for just a moment while you watch “Us” struggle through this shit but instead you just fuck around. This is my life, Walter, I didn’t get paid millions to tour round the country telling stories about cleaning toilets.”
“Angela I di-”
“No.” Angela interjected. She put her hand to her forehead, clasping near her temples; it shook a little. Walter’s heart sank further to see the pressure she was under. She had believed in him and he had let her down. He didn’t know how he was supposed to have prevented this but he lost all his selfish sentiment in that moment.
“Okay Angela.” He wanted to add that he was sorry, but it was an excuse in that moment, at least that is how she would perceive it. He didn’t deserve her pardon and asking it would only fuel her state.
In the elevator they didn’t speak. Walter waited as the doors slid open to let her out but she signalled for him to go first. “Your escorts are here waiting for you,” she said with the residual of her contempt. “We don’t all get limousine rides back to town.”
Walter kept up his silent respect - by that point it was more out of a lack of better idea than any noble understanding. He wondered for a moment if he was sending her positive “EE” emotions right now. It seemed like a sillier concept than him being the famous superstar that he had become.
He exited the elevator just as the doors started to close again and he saw who Angela was referring to. For a moment he thought he saw Whisky standing, waiting for him. He wanted to smile but realised that it was in fact two other well dressed men. They shared the same number 1 buzz cut and solid physique. Somehow, though, they didn’t look so much like Whisky as he approached.
“Mr Wallace.” The closer of the two stated as though he needed confirmation it was in fact him. Walter nodded placidly. He was not picking up any positive emotion from these two. “Let’s go.”
As they exited the hotel through the lobby Walter noticed a few people looking at him strangely. It was like those first few weeks when he was first revealed, but still different. He didn’t feel timid and excited and scared like before - he felt ashamed.
Outside the lobby was a black sedan and the lead Whisky lookalike opened the rear passenger door. It was at that moment that another slick looking car pulled up behind them aggressively, beeping its horn. Lucy Blues got out of the driver’s seat.
“OK boys I will take it from here,” she said with a natural authority. She reached out and touched Walter’s shoulder, gesturing to her car with the other hand. “Mr Wallace would you like hop in.”
“Ms Blues, we h-”
“Doctor Blues, thank you, Buck, I would appreciate a little respect from subordinates such as yourself.” She looked at Walter, leaving her stance open to both him and her car, “Mr Wallace?”
Walter was at a loss. He had just spoken to Lucy, he thought she was gone and he would be lucky to see a photo of her, but now she was here directing him and his escorts as though she owned them all. He looked at the Whiskies for guidance as though they were to be trusted in the first place, but they were just as struck by Lucy’s dominance. Angela came out of the hotel and broke the stalemate.
“Lucy? I thought you had left.” She also appeared to struggle with Lucy’s presence. “They are taking him. That’s the instruction.”
“Angela.” Lucy said with a threat of condescension, “Who do you think is in charge here? Do you think this is all a coincidence? Walter is an asset of Citadel Inc; he was my project and I do not see fit to leave him in the care of these brutes. Walter, get in the car.”
“Ms Blues,” the Whisky said again, “we are under instruction to bring both of you in.”
“Doctor Blues. I understand you operate out of a one-dimensional plane but I implore you to understand the gravity of position. Do you know Sam Tank as well as I do? I’m sure he will be interested to hear of your actions.”
“Well I think I will call him.”
Lucy shook her head like she was dealing with a teenager. “Where is he right now? What has he been doing for the last hour?! He was on TV executing part of an intricate series of events that you are willing to unravel in a moment of obtuse obedience. Walter get in the car, now.” Her voice was starting to unravel. “Gentlemen, thugs, goons, robots, whatever it is that you like to be called, feel free to tail me all the way to Citadel Towers.”
Lucy turned and headed to her car. Walter followed and got into the passenger seat. The agents looked at each other, apparently struck for action and more importantly leadership when the stakes of accountability were so heightened.
Lucy made their final decision easy enough. She fired the ignition and performed a quick, and dangerous U-turn, cutting off a number of cars in the process. She was halfway down the street before they could even get into their parked vehicle. She passed through a red light and they were still picking up speed as they approached the next one. There were cars queued back waiting for the green signal. Lucy swung the car into the oncoming lane, blaring her horn, and swung it back into the lane as they passed three near misses with the adjacent traffic. Walter was too afraid to look back but he had heard screeching tyres and a crash. The third set of lights were green and the tyres cried under the stress as Lucy turned a sharp right, fishtailing as she straightened.
Walter opened his eyes after a few moments of not realising they were closed. He looked at Lucy. Her knuckles were as white as her bloodless face as she gripped onto the steering wheel. “Lucy?”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re running, Walter. Running and hiding.”
They were still speeding and weaving through the traffic, but Walter felt his pulse starting to return to manageable levels. All his fears seemed to wash away like the blend of colours outside the windscreen. “Lucy?”
“Yeah?” Lucy said, straining to concentrate.
“I didn’t pack a towel.”
Lucy broke into a smile, then she laughed, the car slowing down a little. “It’s OK Walter, I have some spares.”