(…) That evening’s final segment was as usual a guest. Whipple J. Tonkins was an arrogant and avaricious businessman. Behind a veneer of philanthropic interests, patronage of the arts, social connections and political donations he was a bloodless and cruel asset stripper who swindled pension funds, bankrupted competitors, cheated investors, and exploited his employees. Lancelot interviewed him in a calm and objective manner, but led the interview adroitly through the issues and controversies of the man’s career. Tonkins was deceptively sly and evasive, yet Lancelot’s rapier observations and fearless questions drew him into a torturous series of falsehoods, lies and demeaning revelations. The man became agitated and combative, yet Lancelot crucified him. His career was finished. The assistant director waved for summation, the director calmly motioned to the Live Feed editor to cut back to a middle distance feed from Camera 2, and Lancelot thanked his guest. Then he smiled seriously at the close up Camera 1, reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a gun and shot Whipple J. Tonkins in the head. Blood and brains splattered on the bright set wall behind him.
The red Live On Air sign blinked steadily through the deathly silence of the credits. Someone had forgotten to hit playback on the show’s signature sign off tune. No one moved. In background silhouette Lancelot put away the gun, straightened his tie and sorted his papers. Tonkins slipped off the interview stool and lay in a bloody mess on the floor. The station cut to commercial, Lancelot stood up and left the set, and there was pandemonium.
“God damn fuck,” whispered the producer in the control booth, and sank heavily into the chair behind him. The makeup girl screamed hysterically until the stage manager slapped her, the Camera 1 operator threw up and the teleprompter operator checked the transcript. “Wasn’t me,” he said. The studio’s legal representative ran down the corridor to his office where he rifled through a stack of documents, grabbed a signed release form, scanned it in blind panic and shouted at his secretary that the personal injury, perjury and liability clause had indeed been countersigned by a witness.
The network president called and asked who won You Can’t Sing that night. He had been at dinner. The show’s director answered the phone, blubbering incoherently. The publicity department called to say the phone lines were jammed with a million calls. Somebody crunched the numbers for ten minutes and called out, “overwhelmingly positive feedback!”
“Outstanding,” said the network President. “What happened?”
Lancelot removed his makeup, showered, changed, drank a glass of chilled fresh milk and was driven home. Early the next morning, with a cordon of news reporters camped outside the entrance to his penthouse building, the network president and the show’s producer were interviewed by the police and the Assistant DA, accompanied and advised by a swarm of hastily assembled legal advisers.
“Well, he was a bastard,” said the DA in summation, “and you’re not liable for that.” Then he shook hands with them all warmly, and left. The network was sued by the man’s immediate family for loss of potential future earnings. Under advisement, the network contested it in court, and took the minimal putative damages awarded to the family by the judge, without rancor. Their lawyers had argued persuasively that, due to the interview, the man’s future earning potential was likely to be extremely bleak, not to mention that he was, you know, dead.
The following week Lancelot executed his second guest, a sleazy and corrupt television evangelist who extorted desperate cash from his impoverished congregation to pay for his mansion, private jet and decadent lifestyle. The man had repeatedly abused his submissive wife, yet bribed and weaseled his way out of domestic abuse charges, and had had his own recalcitrant daughter institutionalized. Lancelot exposed him in a series of detailed and thoroughly researched inquiries that were clearly and irrefutably delivered in an ad libitum departure from the prepared script. The assistant director on the set floor shrugged up at the control booth and turned the teleprompter off. The guest spluttered and choked into silence. Lancelot turned to his Camera 1 close up, delivered a scathing and critical closing monologue, wished his audience goodnight, and blew the man’s brains out. There were muffled cheers and applause from the soundproofed control booth as the credits rolled.
“Jesus H. Christ,” said the producer. “That was beautiful.” (…)
© andrew wheeler