Ongoing Story: Hang the Pundit Pt. 2

Ongoing Story

 

 

 

Continued from last issue, TRAVIS’ ongoing story is back. A quick highlight of last month’s first installation of the story: Jacob Marlowe, a crusty radio pundit brings up a contentious issue on his show, Marlowe’s Minutes. He is famous for his wit and strong-headed conservative rants. This time, however, he gets a caller that seems to have an axe to grind. The voice threatens Jacob with a cool demeanor. Jacob can see the sparks of a grinding axe.

 

Jacob rode out the last three hours of the show with a measure of uneasiness. The ego that drove his every on-air decision had given way to a burrowing fear. At one point, he even allowed a leftist to attack his conservative foundation with little attempt at retort. He was scared. 

            It was now 10 a.m. and his four hours were up. He was unsure as to how the day’s remaining 20 hours would unfurl. Getting up from his seat to exit the studio, he noticed the armrests were drenched in sweat. This wasn’t like Jacob. He was pragmatic, bold, the quintessential mans-man. The producer took notice of his dismay.

            “Hey, Jacob,” said his producer, Thomas. “Are you okay? Your hands are shaking.”

            “Yes, yes. I’m fine, just too much coffee, not enough sleep.” His frame quivered, but Jacob was taught from birth never to concede weakness.

            “Are you worried about that caller?”

            “Worried, no. Like I said, I just need some rest.”

            “Well go get some. And good job today, the ratings were great.”

            He exited the studio and walked towards the elevator. An alluring young woman – possibly another new intern – walked by and smiled. He made no acknowledgment and got into the elevator.

            On the street now, the calm, which had served as his source of his amusement, had been shattered by the bedlam of city life. Bike couriers rode by impervious to their surroundings, careening into panhandlers and cursing aloud. Everyone appeared ominous. The sun split through clusters of grey clouds, spreading cancerous light through the shadows. Pedestrians congested every inch of the sidewalks. Anyone of these people could be the man from the radio show, an extremist bent on proving a point.

            He stopped at the local pub. It was empty, the lights had yet to be turned on and the sticky dried pools of beer were visible on the tables. This particular pub didn’t open their taps to the locals until noon. But Jacob had special privileges. He wasn’t just a local, but a fixture, like the stools and antiquated placards that adorned the walls. The barkeep, Stan, stood behind the mahogany bar cleaning the mugs in preparation for the day. Stan was a humble man, uneducated yet well-read. His paunch hung over his belt-buckle proudly.

            “Hey Jake,” said Stan. He spoke in an indistinguishable accent. His words had sharp inflection. “I heard your show this morning. What was with the head case?” Jacob took a seat, puffed out his chest, and readied the cynicism.

            “Him? Oh, just another disenfranchised philanthropist.”

            “These assholes make up the majority of our population, Stan.” Stan chuckled, revealing yellowed teeth, and mixed Jacob a concoction of tepid Pepsi and rum. Jacob threw it back. He signaled for another, and guzzled it in the same manner as he had the first. Quick and resolute. He repeated this hedonistic ritual twice more before Stan raised an eyebrow in concern.

            “Hey, Jacob, it’s barely 12 and you’ve drank four rum and cokes in 10 minutes. You’ll be drunk before the first alcoholic stumbles in here.” Jacob looked at Stan with a grimace.

            “And I’ll be sober before the last of them leave.” Jacob had a penchant for wit. Years of radio experience had sharpened his tongue.

            “Stan, let me ask you this. Are you an alcohol councilor or an alcohol purveyor?”

            “Both I guess.”

            “Well, save the good intentions for the next mellow dramatic wino. I’m here to drink and drink I will. Another.” Jacob spent four hours in the bar. When he did leave, the effects of over a dozen cocktails were barely apparent. His capacity for booze was unheralded.

            He stepped out onto the street, which had again been sucked into the void of midday dormancy, and laughed.

            Nothing could harm him. Jacob Marlowe. Not a bottle of rum, not a jealous girlfriend or libel suit, and definitely not a faceless voice at the end of a telephone line.  He walked towards his apartment. Head high, confidence now abetted by the hooch.

            His cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket and flipped it open. It was a blocked number, which on principal he ignored. He placed it back in his pocket. It rang again. Once again, a blocked number. He grew agitated and ignored the incessant ringing. He placed his phone on vibrate. Turning it off was a luxury he couldn’t indulge in. The phone began vibrating in his pocket. Someone wanted to speak with him. He succumbed and answered.

            “Jacob Marlowe, what’s the emergency?”

            “Jacob, it’s Janice.”

Janice was a former tryst. An ample black haired harlot in her late 20s. She was emotionally unstable and nearly 30 years his junior. He had met her at last year’s Christmas party and allowed his virility and mid-life dilemma to conquer sound judgment. He had slept with her, and like a novice, given her his phone number.            “Janice, please stop calling.”

            “But Jacob, I love you. I need to speak with you please.”

            “I can give you the number of a doctor. He’s a very good doctor. He’s been dealing with sociopaths for over 20 years now. I …” He noticed a tall fair-skinned man wearing a black suit standing across the street. The nameless man gazed at Jacob. There was something disconcerting about him. Janice ranted on the other end of the line but what she said was inaudible. His focus had shifted to the individual across the street. He stared at the ground and hung up the phone. When he looked up, the man was gone. Something was awry. An inimical, stabbing pain could be felt in his stomach. It was his ulcer. His level of stress dictated the level of pain brought on by the ulcer. He needed to go home and medicate. He took one step towards the entrance of his apartment when the phone rang again. A blocked number. Infuriated, he picked up the phone and expressed his disgust.

            “JANICE, THE SHRINKS NUMBER IS 889-90,” he yelled before being cutoff.

            “Don’t say another word, Mr. Marlowe.”

            It wasn’t Janice.

            “Mr. Marlowe, I want you to think,” he said. “I want you to reflect on what has been and what well be.” Jacob was motionless. His years rang as blood rushed through his veins like raw sewage through aged pipelines. His stomach rived in spasms. Speaking wasn’t as fluid an action as it had been just 20 minutes ago.

            “How did you get my number,” said a stunned Jacob.

            “Jacob, you see, you float through life on faulted morals. On principles dictated to you by crooked leaders. You ascertain knowledge through fallacious books. You need to have your eyes opened Jacob.”

            The voice was seething. It hissed through his phone with a hypnotic affect. Jacob felt an alien tension, an indeterminable fright he hadn’t experienced since he was bullied as a child. 

            “If you call me again. I will have your number tracked. And I will have you arrested for harassment and uttering threats. I have connections.” He had a friend in the police station, a drinking companion.

            “Do you, Jacob? So do I. For all you know, I could be a politician, a police chief, or a judge. You’ll never know, Jacob. I want you to do something for me.”

            “What, what do you want?” Jacob was in too much pain for sarcasm.

            “Step off the steps and onto the street.”

            At this point, he realized without second thought, that he was being watched. Subserviently, he stepped off the steps.

            “I knew you could be servile, Jacob. Now, look up, look at your apartment.”

Jacob eased off his steps slowly. The pain had hit an apex – he was dizzied. He gazed upward to his apartment.

            “Yes, I’m looking.”

            “Good, give me a moment.” A second passed, and then blackness.

            He awoke 10 feet back from where he stood prior. A cacophony of car alarms, screams and sirens pervaded the block. Smoke billowed from his apartment. Glass littered the street, as if innumerable bottles had been smashed on the sidewalk and grinded with sledgehammers. He was deafened, a young man ran to his aid and spoke but nothing could be heard. His mouth moved, he could feel vibrations but hear no words. He looked up again and saw his apartment ablaze, engulfed in undulating balls of red and yellow flame. Incredibly, his phone remained in his hand. He could feel it vibrate in his blackened palm.

            He picked it up. But spoke not a word.

            A man could be heard laughing at the other end. He hung up, and rose to his feet. His ears buzzed.

 

To be continued next issue…

text by nilsblondon

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