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THE CHAIR

Title: The Chair

Series: N/A

Author: David DeGeorge

ISBN: 978-1-60975-233-0

Product Code: BK0156

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 354

Release Date: July 3, 2018

Cover Price: $21.95

Our Price: $21.95

 

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Book Jacket

 

What would you do if you were on a game show and promised a large sum of money should you answer various questions correctly—but for each incorrect answer, you received an electric shock? Imagine watching the show and learning the shocks had been given by someone who’d wanted revenge on you. What if you ran into this person later?


In The Chair, game show contestants and their shock givers come to grips with such questions and whether revenge is indeed sweet. When contestants meet up, they confront each other with what happened, and discuss how and why certain scenes were deleted and if they go should go public with this information.  The game show host then surreptitiously learns of these meetings and threatens them with legal action—while, to himself, vows worse. When contestants and their tormentors are faced with their greatest crisis, they struggle for inner strength they are unsure they possess—and wonder if revenge was their only choice. 

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

1

 

 

 

In Morgantown, West Virginia, Hugh Broderick viewed the clock atop the milk crates he used as shelves in his one-room studio. The glowing digits showed it was time. He retrieved the remote, sat on his bed, grabbed the pizza he’d ordered, then paused. Could he handle this? Would it bring back those feelings?

He consumed a few slices but this upset his stomach so he ambled to the refrigerator and opened a beer. After drinking half the bottle in one swig and noticing it didn’t help, he grabbed another, then a third, a fourth.

“What the hell,” he muttered and took out the whole six pack. Seeing the duplicate package behind it, he grabbed that also then lay on the bed and turned to the new Prime Television channel. The show hadn’t started. Hugh looked at the stucco walls then at the two easels with overlapping illustrations, his work in completing a master’s degree at local West Virginia University.

The show came on. Would the camera focus on him during the entire scene? He hissed air through his lips and shrugged. Who cared? The money to be paid would be a godsend, his bank account nearly empty. Unlike other students, familial financial support was non-existent, his parents already deceased. He’d sold but a few paintings and gave thanks for the partial scholarship and grant money, his debt not as huge as most collegians.

His stomach continued to turn. He recalled the TV people had said the camera would flash to him only on occasion, to view his reaction of former friend Victor Givens.

Hugh thought of those who knew him. Perhaps they’d offer praise after hearing about the pain he’d dealt with, thanks to Victor. At least the financial part of his suffering would soon be taken care of, he could straighten out his debts in the coming weeks with money left over. The show had also been a sort of revenge, the accident having ruined a relationship with a girl due to him having spent numerous hours in physical therapy. Plus, he’d found it difficult to let go of the emotional scars. Retaliation had felt good.

He smiled. But as he reached for a pizza slice and raised it to his lips, he heard the announcer and hesitated.

 

* * *

 

That evening, Ty Sampson welcomed friends into his spacious, three bedroom A-frame house. He passed the powder room’s mirror and paused to check his thick, mousse-filled brown hair. All looked good. He led everyone into the vaulted den with its big screen TV. “Got it yesterday,” he said of the eighty-inch TV. “When they realized I was host of a new game show, they practically gave it away.”

“Sweet,” Kerry Hounslow said as he fingered the ebony shelf then checked his thin red hair and white sport shirt in the reflection of the still-off TV. He was never concerned with appearances except when around the elder Ty. The lead show-host slapped palms with his on-air assistant and bragged they were on their way to being the best show ever.

Kerry swallowed. “Ever?”

Ty gave a sly smile. “Okay, not ever. No way we’ll top the Super Bowl. We’ll be the best rated non-Super Bowl show and become rich beyond all expectations. And that will allow us to do some good for others.” He bowed his head, his voice losing its timbre. “Like helping my little brother by donating to the charities that help him.”

Kerry nodded and felt a pang in his chest, remembering Ty referring to his mentally challenged brother. (“Mentally retarded,” Kerry heard Ty’s voice in his mind. “Call it what it is. Doesn’t make him inferior just ‘cause you call him retarded. Political correctness makes us all liars.”)

“Show’ll be awesome,” Ty said. “Reality TV in game show format, a whole new genre, copycats abound.”

Someone inquired about food and Ty led them to the kitchen table which was piled with caviar, prime rib, and other delicacies.

“Sure know how to throw a party, Gatsby,” Kerry chuckled.

Ty p-shawed. “Just call me Ty, I’m not one to brag.”

Both men laughed. Ty then raised his goblet of champagne, announced the moment had arrived, and thanked everyone. “May this be the start of something great.”

Partygoers clinked glasses, cups, and beer bottles then drank. Ty moved to the big screen and turned it on. He raised the volume. “History in the making.”

 

* * *

 

Introductions began and Hugh dropped the pizza back in the box. His joints quivered and his chest felt heavy. Images in his mind became an unfolding photo album: Victor’s wide eyes and shaking body. He wondered what others would say about him giving Victor the shocks. Why did he care? The money was on its way. He grabbed the pizza and ate a wide bite, licked his lips, and smiled despite his body still feeling like a live wire. He gripped a beer bottle, opened it, and consumed a large portion. “Better,” he breathed.

On the television, Ty welcomed viewers and announced his first contestant. “This is Victor, who came all the way from Buckhannon, a small town in wild and wonderful West Virginia!” The crowd applauded as the camera switched to a close-up of the host.

“Our contestant is asked questions on a variety of subjects. To win the grand prize, twenty five million, he must correctly answer eleven in row. Get one right, you win five hundred dollars. Two right, one thousand. Three and it’s fifteen hundred, four is two thou. Five right, five thousand. Nine, it jumps to twenty five thou. But he gets ten right, he’s a millionaire. And if he gets one more, he’s our grand prize winner. Twenty five million! Enough to start his own country. However…” he lowered his voice, “There are a few twists. First, if he gets a question wrong, he can continue and start over though he loses his money. Second twist...” His chuckle sounded like a horror villain’s laugh. “Unknown to our contestant, we have a surprise. He has but one minute to answer and for each wrong or unanswered question, he receives an electric shock. The more answers he gets wrong, the higher the voltage becomes. Now, the best part.”

The camera pulled away to reveal a view from a little studio. Visible through a one-way glass window was Victor who was wired with electrodes on all his fingers. A camera inside the studio showed Kerry wearing a scientist’s lab coat. Ty introduced him as a doctor and mentioned his Ph.D. In front of Kerry was a machine with dials and switches. The assistant spoke with someone to his left who was standing in front of a lever.

“This is Hugh,” Ty said. “Also from West Virginia. On a dark, midnight dreary, Victor took Hugh on a joy ride Hugh would never forget. What followed was a near death experience. Thanks to some alcohol and speed—from the car, not the drug—the boys nearly died in a collision.

“Hugh still suffers nightmares and flashbacks; the event so traumatic he and his girl broke up. Now he’s got a chance to even the score. He will be the one giving the shocks. The Spanish proverb says revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Let’s see what kind of dish Hugh serves. And if Victor will eat it.”

 

* * *

 

“Wow,” Bruce Lindsay said to Victor, who had invited friends to his house, a three bedroom colonial. “You said it wasn’t easy but didn’t tell us any of these juicy details.”

“Couldn’t.” Victor chugged his mug of beer. “Contract prevented it. But now you’ll see.”

“So do tell,” Bruce’s girlfriend, Lynette, said. “Why keep us in suspense?”

Victor wiggled his finger. “Uh-uh. You’ll have to wait like everyone else.” He took another drink, noticed his head ached, and blamed it on the alcohol. Setting the beer on an end table, he sat in the brown rocking chair as his friends and his wife, Melanie, gathered around. Victor’s joints cracked and ached, as they had ever since the show.

Melanie pushed her shoulder length blonde hair back aand teased her husband about aging. He grinned while teasing that she was right behind him and was the cause for his senior citizenship. The two laughed and Victor leaned back. His smile was replaced by a grimace. She asked about his condition.

“Just the usual. Think it was worth it?”

Melanie mentioned the cathedral ceilinged living room with a large window, the wide family room, a dining room with glass chandelier suspended above a mahogany table, and the long, slender kitchen. With a dramatic wave of her arm, she asked if they could have bought all this before his appearance.

Victor viewed the place, its ambiance allowing his soreness to fade. He nodded and smiled though it took great effort. He returned his vision to the TV and observed Hugh in the booth, he licking his lips and rubbing his palms together.

 

* * *

 

At Ty’s party, hands clapped the host’s back.

“Sweet, pal, sweet,” Kerry said. “You are a master who knows how to make even grass growth sound apocalyptic. Look at everyone.”

Ty saw his friends’ bright eyes and grins, fingers pointing at the screen, facial exchanges asking, “Who’s going to crumble first?”

“We are a hit.” Ty slammed his drink. “And it hasn’t even started. Wonder how the rest of America’ll see it.”

 

* * *

 

Victor watched, open-mouthed, and tried to pull words out, but only emitted foreign sounds.

Bruce turned to him. “You didn’t know about that, did you?”

Melanie leaned over and tapped her husband. “You okay, honey?” She waved her hand in front of him.

Victor nodded, but his wife’s hand appeared as a blur. He flinched as if he’d received another shock, blinked, and shook his head. “Can’t believe it. How did they get him? How did they know?” He assumed the accident record could easily be dredged up with a little research. “And how could he? Why would he do such a thing? That was such a fucking long time ago! He’s still pissed?” He thought about how they hadn’t spoken since and with his voice a whisper pondered, “Is he still angry?”

Melanie gripped her spouse’s hand. “Maybe you should lie down in the bedroom.”

“Uh-uh.” Victor rose and kicked a lamp. “No fucking way I’m gonna let him get away with this! How could he? How?”

The host announced the first question.

“What do the letters NATO stand for?” Ty said.

On TV, Victor smiled as he lay wired up. “Easy. North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

“Right,” Ty said and the audience applauded.

“Next one,” Ty said. “For one thousand dollars, which National League Football team calls San Francisco its home?”

Victor’s grin froze, sports not his area of interest.

The clock ticked off the seconds as the audience quieted and Ty re-read the question. Again, he asked Victor for a reply. The contestant tapped one foot against the other then cringed. His lips moved and he blurted an answer.

“The Patriots?”

A buzzer sounded.

“Oh, no, sorry,” Ty said. “It’s the Forty-Niners, winners of five Super Bowls.” Ty shook his head and feigned a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, Victor. One wrong. Assistant?”

Hugh stood in the booth, his hands were shaky as he gripped the lever then slammed it down. His lips curved toward his cheeks once he’d completed his duty.

In the chair, a buzz sounded though Victor hardly moved and his face remained unchanged.

Victor’s friends looked from the TV to him.

“Was it bad?” Bruce asked.

“Not at all.” Victor, in front of the television, straightened his shoulders then shuddered at what happened later. Good thing Melanie hadn’t been there. She moved next to him, squeezed his hand, and asked how it’d felt. He waved her off then shook his head while gazing at Hugh on the screen. How’d they recruit him? How’d they pull it off? And how could Hugh do such a thing?

“What about the rest?” Melanie asked.

“Hmm?” Victor looked at his spouse and patted her. “Wasn’t a big deal, looks worse than it was.” He tried to laugh but sounded the way one did when seeing a humorous scene during a scary movie. His muscles felt like he’d lifted weights. Another contrived grin. “I’m okay, see?”

Melanie took a deep breath. “I’m not so sure. I think we should—”

“Watch the show,” Victor cut her off.

 

* * *

 

Hugh recalled how he felt the moment he’d given the shock and smiled now. “He deserved it,” he said, the crash playing out in his mind again. He and Victor had been at a bar that night and Victor got quite drunk. Hugh battled to seize the keys from his then friend but, even drunk, the larger boy emerged victorious. Hugh considered walking though that would have been a ten mile hike. Cab fare had been out of the question since he did not possess enough cash.

Victor drove around a mountain curve faster than the speed limit and did not turn the wheel. Seeing the wall of rock ahead, Hugh screamed as he reached for the steering column. He turned it, but it was too late. Metal rubbed Mother Nature. Sparks flew from the passenger side door. Tires screeched. The car slammed into the crag.

As both boys now frantically turned the wheel, the vehicle swerved back onto the road. A horn blared from the opposite direction. In their panicked state, they had overcompensated and the car had slid too far into the other lane. Somehow, they managed to return to the correct side of the road and only nicked the other vehicle.

About to relax, once more Hugh saw the bluff ready to greet them—with no chance to shift away this time. He was thrust forward, his body taking flight like a cup in a hurricane. His head hit glass, penetrated the window then contacted the mountain’s rough surface. His sight went black and he awoke in a hospital, head and shoulder a throbbing mess, stitches perforating his right temple. He felt dried blood on the blister that formed below the stitches. “Damn that Victor,” he’d said in a hush. “Damn him.”

“Bastard,” he grumbled now as he watched the show. “Paybacks suck, eh, Vic?”

 

* * *

 

Ty’s friends nodded as Victor received the shock, all of the guests maintaining straight faces. On TV, Ty asked another question and Victor answered correctly, to audience applause.

“One in a row,” Ty said to light laughter. “Next question. What’s the meteorological term for white, puffy clouds?”

Victor’s smile reappeared. “Cumulus.”

“Right,” Ty answered and the audience clapped. “One more correct and you win fifteen hundred dollars. Ready?”

Victor nodded. “Bring it on.”

Ty laughed. “Cocky, aren’t we? You sure you’re ready?”

Victor moved his head to show as much.

“Here it is.” Ty asked the question.

Victor straightened his back and looked up and to his right, drummed his fingers on the chair, then scratched his forehead while the clock counted down. His lips spoke an answer which the audience met with silence. Ty did not respond as the buzzer sounded.

“Sorry, pal,” Ty said. “Incorrect. Assistant?”

A camera panned to Hugh, who looked to Kerry, who nodded and turned the dial in front of him higher. Hugh pushed the lever down. The electric buzz sounded—louder this time. Victor flinched, tucked his lips in then loosened them.

Ty leaned over the contestant. “How’re ya doing?”

Victor let out a heavy exhalation. “Okay.”

“You sure? You can quit. Though if ya did, you’d go home empty handed. You didn’t come all this way to leave with nothing, a complete loser to your friends, right?”

“No way.”

“Great. Show everyone you’re strong. Next question.”

Victor displayed uneven lips and licked them, but motioned with his hand like a construction worker allowing traffic to pass.

The camera faced Hugh, who pushed air down into his lungs and checked with Kerry who showed no expression. Hugh re-focused on Victor.

Ty stated the next question.

Victor did not open his mouth, the clock ticking in the background. Sweat trickled past his hairline. His breathing increased and he stammered for a response.

“Take your time,” Ty said. “Got the whole minute so make sure it’s correct.”

Victor turned to the audience as if they could give the answer, then his gaze switched to Ty who raised his shoulders in a shrug

“It’s up to you. Time’s running out. Thirty seconds.”

 

* * *

 

From his studio, Hugh counted down and recalled that while in the booth he’d whispered, “C’mon, get it right. C’mon.” He scolded himself, thinking again of the crash and the moment he awoke in the hospital, unable to move, fearful he’d become a paraplegic. Victor hadn’t even visited. Hugh later deduced it was due to the fact that his friend was recovering from his own injuries. But the guy hadn’t so much as offered a penny for hospital expenses. Hugh then thought about how they both were only collegians. Victor’s parents had no money. Charges only resulted in a small fine, this being Victor’s first offense. Previous to this accident, he’d had nary a speeding ticket. Hugh contemplated civil court but it was too costly. He now tightened his jaw.

On TV, the clock’s moving hand shifted. Fifteen seconds.

“Need an answer,” Ty said.

Ten seconds. Five. The game show host counted down then pointed to the booth as the buzzer sounded. “Assistant?”

Kerry adjusted his dial higher then turned to Hugh, who pushed the lever down. The electric buzz made the audience gasp.

Victor sat in the chair like a child being read a bedtime story. Suddenly, his eyes bulged, his mouth twisted, his legs spasmed and blood drained from his face as he howled. The cry permeated the studio.

The buzzing ceased. Victor sank back down as the audience sighed. A camera panned to Hugh, his expression similar to the crowd’s, with one addition. A bead of sweat slid down his face.

Kerry put his hand on Hugh’s shoulder, telling him in a low tone that Victor was fine. He explained that the visuals were worse than the reality. In all, it felt less painful than putting a finger in an electric socket. When Ty asked how Victor was, the guy actually smiled. Hugh checked with Kerry, who moved his head up and down as though to affirm his earlier words.

“See?” The assistant chuckled. “He’s ready for another.”

Hugh nodded.

Victor’s face was expressionless during Ty’s reading of the next question though the contestant strummed the chair with his right hand and slid his tongue across lips. He shut his eyes.

Time passed.

“Thirty seconds,” Ty said.

No answer from the contestant.

When the number neared single digits, the audience counted down in a low tone. “Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six...”

“Wait a minute.” Victor lifted a finger. “It’s...”

“Five.

Victor shouted an answer.

Ty creased his eyes, his mouth slanting down. “Oh, Victor...”

The contestant’s face resembled that of a patient who’d been told he had incurable cancer. Studio members wrinkled their noses and turned to each other. Ty’s expression changed to a grin.

“You are right!”

A bell dinged, followed by delayed applause.

Ty put a hand on Victor’s thigh. “Had you worried, didn’t I?”

Victor gave a weak smile. “No, I was fine. I knew I was right.”

Hugh’s dry ‘Huh’ regarding Victor’s comment echoed off his apartment walls. The pizza remained uneaten, his appetite silent. He tucked his now-moist hands under his armpits.

 

* * *

 

Back at Victor’s place, Bruce said, “Too close. Had you gotten that wrong, you’d have really fried.”

Victor thrust out his chest. “I’m telling you, it’s not as bad as it looks. I handled it fine.”

“Sure,” Bruce said.

“There’s more. Just watch.”

They did. Victor got the next question right. Then the next.

Bruce slapped his friend’s back. “On a roll, pal.”

Another question. On TV, Victor’s smile shrank and his glance darted to Ty, the crowd, the ceiling, and back to Ty. The host reiterated that he could offer no help. The clock counted off the seconds and the buzzer sounded to audience groans.

“You were doing so well, Victor.” Ty spun and motioned to the booth as a camera shifted to a view from inside. This time Hugh did not look to Kerry before pulling the lever. The jolt raced through Victor who twitched, opened and shut his eyes then flapped his arms so wildly that Ty stepped away. The contestant flopped in the chair, settled down and, after a spell, wiped sweat off his forehead and lips.

Ty stepped up, asked Victor about his condition and inquired if he wanted to quit. The man in the chair gasped and blinked. “Hold on.”

“Will do,” Ty said. “But, ya know, if you do walk away, that won’t be good, quitting and not winning any cash, huh? Imagine going home to friends. It’d almost be like having a zero stamped on your head in a red, for all to see. You don’t want that, right audience?”

The crowd cheered, their heads all moving in the same direction as they nodded in agreement.

“So, do you wanna quit?”

Victor stiffened and turned to Ty. “No way. Let’s continue.”

In the booth, Hugh squinted, cupped a hand over his eyes, then slid the hand to his nose then lips. He peeked through fingers.

 

* * *

 

“Why the hell was I so sympathetic?” Hugh scoffed as he reached for the pizza and shoved a slice into his mouth. “What a wuss!” He watched his TV-self as he’d clenched his hands, recalled how he’d watched Victor squirm and strain and had wished for the ex-friend to surrender. In the booth, he’d turned to Kerry, who repeated reassurances as to Victor’s condition as he pointed at him. “He wants more, asked for it.”

Hugh stared at the man. Kerry went on.

“Done this with electroshock patients, read plenty about it so I know what I’m talking about.” He pointed at his jacket then Hugh. “Just do it.”

Hugh slowly turned to Victor.

“You sure you’re okay?” Ty asked the man in the chair.

“Positive,” Victor said.

“Great.” Ty looked to the camera. “That means more after this break.”

 

* * *

 

“How’d you survive that?” Bruce asked.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Victor said again. “Just looks it.”

Bruce laughed. “You look like you were in a hell of a lot of pain. Why would you do this?”

Victor’s face flushed. “I’m telling ya, it was not that bad. Really.” Yet he found himself asking the same question.

Bruce asked if his friend had been paid yet, scanned the new place, and concluded he had.

“Just watch,” Victor said, as he thought of Hugh and gnashed his teeth.

 

* * *

 

As soon as the pizza entered his stomach, Hugh felt queasy. He went to the bathroom, fell to his knees in front of the toilet, leaned over it, coughed and gagged, but only got dry heaves. He stood and faced the mirror, his eyes glassy. He reprimanded himself for being weak, cleared his throat, and returned to the bed.

The show came back on. Ty asked more questions. Victor answered three correctly.

“Do you walk away with fifteen hunnert?” Ty asked. “Or do you keep going?” With arm raised, he primed the audience. They responded with a roar.

“I’ll continue,” Victor said.

Ty asked another question. Victor got it right as the crowd thundered applause.

“One more and you’ve won five thousand. Ready?”

Victor nodded.

“Who invented the microchip?”

The crowd held its breath, the place as silent as a library. The clock ticked.

Victor shut his eyes. Thirty seconds left. Fifteen. Ten. Five. He opened his eyes. “Jack Kilby!” he exclaimed over the sound of the buzzer.

Ty displayed a thumbs up. “Correct! Just in time! In fact, that one had two correct answers. Robert Noyce is also credited with inventing a similar chip during the same time frame. Congratulations, Victor, you’ve won five thousand smackers!”

The audience clapped.

“Now for another commercial,” Ty said. “We’ll see if Vic can be victorious when we come back.”

 

* * *

 

“Way to go.” Bruce slapped his friend so hard that Victor stumbled forward. His bones rattled as if they’d cracked.

“Five thousand bucks. Sweet,” Bruce continued and turned to a friend. “You know, I need a new car. What about you?”

The skinny friend grinned and nodded. “House needs improving.”

Victor raised his hands, palms out. “Wait a minute.”

Bruce laughed, to which Victor sighed and smiled, then warned Bruce he’d better be kidding.

 

* * *

 

“Needed a commercial,” Hugh said in supine pose. He sat up, punched his pillow then mopped his brow with the paper towel he’d planned on using as a napkin. The rest of the food remained in the box. He kept thinking of what was next. The worst. He checked the clock to find that the show would be done in a few minutes. How would they finish on time? He thought of those moments, pictured Victor’s expression as if it were happening now, and squirmed. He recalled the accident and his body relaxed.

The show returned.

“Victor, will you stay or will you go?”

Victor looked at everyone then sighed. “I’ll quit. Five thousand is a lot. More than I thought I’d win.”

“Sure you don’t want to continue? Only five more and you’d be a millionaire. Six and you’re a grand prize winner!”

“I’ll stop,” Victor said.

“So be it,” Ty said. “Five thousand is yours. Audience, let’s show our appreciation.”

The crowd applauded and Victor got up, Ty holding Victor’s elbow until the contestant steadied himself. Ty moved to the camera.

“Well, we made one man happy. He’s certainly shown his mental strength and smarts. Can we do it again? Come back in three days for another showing of The Shocking Truth.”

The audience applauded as credits rolled across the screen and as Ty conversed with the in studio viewers.

 

* * *

 

Hugh, in mid drink, watched final credits. Realizing it was over, he swallowed the beer awkwardly. He coughed and spit, then wiped his mouth with a shirt sleeve. “That’s it? What about the best part?” His hand went to his forehead. Of course they wouldn’t show that. He finished the beer and turned off the TV, pictured Victor then, and smiled now. The happy face did a one-eighty when Hugh realized no one had seen this part, a just punishment for what Victor had done. But of course they wouldn’t show it. They’d obviously edited the ending after Kerry had escorted Hugh out of the booth.

Too shocking, Hugh thought as he recalled the show’s title, and added, Pun intended. And after what had happened, they couldn’t let Victor leave empty handed, had to make it a happy ending.

The night at the bar reoccurred to him and he gripped his hands around the empty beer bottle. “Motherfucker,” he hissed. “Damn motherfucker nearly killed me! Didn’t even go to jail, got a fucking slap on the wrist. Now, when everyone could see some justice, they take it away.”

He tried to reassure himself that seeing Victor squirm and be tortured was satisfying enough. But if everyone had seen the guy suffer, knowing what Victor had done, they’d have stopped Hugh on the street, patted him on the back, and say they knew how he felt. Victor deserved everything he got.

Now that wouldn’t happen. “Damn!” Hugh tossed the bottle against the wall. Glass sprinkled across the floor. He folded his arms, frowned, and seethed.

 

* * *

 

Hands clapped Ty’s back at his party.

“Great show, man,” a friend said.

“Awesome. You did it just right,” a member of his production company said. “Had to cut those last scenes, they were too much.”

“At least for now,” Ty said. “Wait till we get better ratings and have more clout. Can’t shock the public into oblivion right away, gotta gain their trust then show them the train wreck.”

“Excellent idea packing the audience with us employees,” the employee said. “Bring in anybody off the street and they’d blab what was happening behind the scenes to the first person they saw.”

“Don’t forget your oath. Breathe one word of this and you’ll find yourself in a hellhole worse than Alcatraz.”

The guy ran thumb and forefinger across his lips, he a low level worker with dreams of directing movies. He patted Ty again, said he owed his job to him, and exalted Ty as one of the most creative, ingenious men in Hollywood.

Ty squeezed the guy’s shoulder. “What did you say?”

The guy cleared his throat. “I said the most creative, ingenious man in Hollywood.”

Ty let go of his employee. “Better.” He straightened the boy’s shirt. “Gotta look good if you’re gonna be a higher up in my company.”

More congratulations were handed out.

 

* * *

 

Bruce lauded Victor and joked again about a car. The former contestant smiled though his head still ached. He attributed this to the beer then remembered he hadn’t drank for a while. He tried to revisit the moment but it was hazy. Had he gotten that many questions in a row right? Who cared, he needed the money. Watching Melanie chat with friends reminded him of their future plans. They definitely needed money. He looked at Melanie’s stomach, grinned, and moved next to her. Tonight, in bed, would be the perfect time to start.

 

* * *

 

Hugh’s arms loosened across his chest.

“Get over it,” he chastised himself, but anger over the deleted scenes stayed with him. Visualizing how Victor looked in that chair, his eyes, face, and mouth askew made Hugh feel better, as did the thought of the money. He’d no longer be in debt and some of the leftover cash could be used to rent space at a local art gallery. Or he could pay for a booth at the Mound Festival art show in Charleston as it always brought plenty of visitors. “The hell with Victor,” he said. “Worry about yourself.” He reached for another beer and picked up a pizza slice.

“Enjoy,” he said and took a large bite. His stomach churned despite his smile.

 


 

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