Craig sat there foolishly while the lights were out, the Frankie Names’s words still rebounding through his brain, bouncing off his skull. The truth was so simple. Truth always turns out to be terribly simple. Craig Stevens was not used to hearing truth. If he was to be honest with himself, his career was built around avoiding truth. And here he had it.
The lights powered back on with a loud whine. The spotlights turned on one at a time until the studio was lit up.
“Where did Frankie go?” the director yelled over the din of voices discussing the blackout.
Craig shook himself out of his reverie and looked around. Frankie’s seat was empty. He looked behind his couch where he had last seen Frankie whispering into his ear. There was nobody there. The distinctive smell of Frankie was still there. Craig Stevens took a deep breath and enjoyed the aroma.
He thought back to his childhood. His house abetted a protected forest, some twenty miles in square footage. Most weekends, he would leave the farmhouse and walk to the forest. Within five minutes, he would see nothing of the house or civilization. He would hike to what he had convinced himself was the middle of the forest. A huge tree had been chopped down leaving only a perfect round stump. The stump had been polished and smoothed by the wind and rain over the years. There, Craig Stevens would climb up on the stump and begin to address the trees, his first audience. The forest had that earthy smell that he always associated with home. He had not thought of the smell in some time.
The neighborhood he grew up in took a turn for the worse when he was in junior high school. A local girl was murdered by an unknown assailant within the forest. The murderer was never caught, and Craig’s father prohibited him to enter the forest alone. Craig did not listen, of course. He continued to go to the forest to broadcast to the trees, and also to investigate and interrogate the trees as to the girl’s murder. It was where he first experienced the triumph of identifying a murderer.
The director looked frantic as he tried to organize the crew to get back on air. Craig gestured over to Janice and she ran over to redo his makeup. There was much yelling and movement in the studio. Craig looked over to the studio door. It was still closed and the light was on. The studio only had one door in or out, and the door was at the far end of the studio. The lights had been only off for a few moments, and even assuming Frankie was able to navigate the darkness and find the door, it would have taken him a bit of time to work the mechanism to open it, especially in the dark.
He shook his head. Being the greatest skeptic in the world, he knew there should be a logical explanation for what had happened. Craig smiled at the thought. After what he had heard, he doubted logic meant anything anymore.
The director counted down and the red light of the camera came on. The teleprompter was blank as the producers in the back room were likely scribbling down notes. The first word scrolled onto the screen, but Craig Stevens did not need any prompting.
“Welcome back,” Craig said looking directly into the camera. “We lost power in the studio. During that time, our esteemed guest, Frankie Names, vanished. You know me as a skeptic, my dear audience. You know my thoughts on the paranormal and the unexplainable. You know me as a friend in these types of ridiculous matters. I can assuredly tell you that Frankie Names is a fraud. His latest stunt proves it without question. Given the chance to explain his young looks at such an old age, he uses the magician’s trick of misdirection. He disappears at the moment when he was to explain how he pulled off such a magnificent stunt.
“This is not to say that i do not respect Frankie Names. Even now I shake my head at how he disappeared from the studio. Magicians are master of misdirection, and in my long career, I have to say that Frankie has talent. While I wish he would have directed that talent to more truthful occupations, I do have to tip my hat to him for his performance tonight.”
As Craig Stevens gave one of his meaningful pauses, words scrolled up on the screen: tell them what he whispered to you. Craig smiled back at the camera, showing off his perfect teeth.
“The mystery of Frankie Names will have to stay out there for a bit longer. I promise you, however, that I will use all the resources of the Good Show and this station to track him down and to get him back on the couch to finish his story. We all know he is a fraud, and it will now be this show’s mission to bring the fraud to justice on this very couch.”
“I am Craig Stevens and you have been watching the Good Show. Please join us next time for an investigation of the troubles in China, and the four-year old lama who promises that the troubles will end with the change of seasons.”
She was huge. Whenever Samantha saw Esther, she was always surprised by her size. She towered over the other people in line at coffee house at the back of the supermarket. Esther’s wore her hair short, the bottom of the curls barely reaching her ears. She did not wear makeup and her face looked pale, her eyes slightly sunken. Her limbs were long, her arms and legs moving gracelessly as she made her way slowly along the line for her morning coffee. She was wearing short shiny black boots that squeaked as she walked, and green thick socks. She held a pocketbook of burgundy and blues, with a crystal blue feather poking out. Samantha loved Esther’s keys: they were always attached to the end of the blue feather so she could pull them out without searching through her bag.
It was raining outside, and the tiled floor was slick with rainwater trekked in by the shoppers buying food before heading home after work. Samantha had been waiting in the coffee shop for the past hour. She held her small black book where she was jotting down notes. Samantha wore her hood inside. She knew how she looked with the deeply cowered hood and her long pointed nose sticking out of the middle. She wore heavy lipstick to exaggerate the size of her thin lips. She was dressed casually, a different look for a different day spying on Esther.
Esther wore long gray pants with buttons running up along the seams. Her bare legs could be seen between where the buttons ran, up to the top area of the pants giving the illusion of nakedness. Her eyes were small for such a long body, a blue that looked gray in most lights. The only jewelry she wore was triangular earrings. She had a white pen with a blue cap pushed over her left ear. She knew she would also have the black book in her bag. Samantha would give anything to read what Esther wrote in her little black book.
This was the third week that she had waited for Esther in this coffee shop. She did not always stop in here, but Samantha made a point of being here just in case. Each evening she would wait a couple of hours in the hopes of catching Esther as she ordered her extra hot double tall cappuccino and sat down to write while watching the evening news on the coffee shop’s silent television. The transcribed words of the broadcasters would scroll across the bottom of the screen.
Esther carried her coffee and sat across from Samantha in a brown cushy chair. Samantha looked up at Esther and gave her a quick smile from underneath her hood. She tried not to appear too eager. She did not want to scare her away, or worse, have her recognize her from the other places she stalked her. Not that she would call her behavior stalking. She was investigating, and there was a mystery here. Every magical bone in her body told her so.
“Rainy out there again,” Samantha said. Esther nodded and shook her head like a dog, the water streaming off her hair and onto the brown carpeted rug. Samantha smiled again at Esther and then returned to reading the book Little Woman she had brought along. The book was old, the spine almost falling apart. She was only a few chapters in on this read through. She liked to read the book once or twice a year. It was comforting, reminding her of her own childhood so many years back.
“I’ve seen you here before, haven’t I?” Esther asked.
“Why yes. I’m surprised you remember. I usually haunt this shop on evenings. It’s good to get away from the house and the crowds.” Samantha put down the book and gave Esther a look as if she were quickly sizing her up. “I’m Samantha Heart.” She held out her hand, and Esther took it and gave her a light shake.
Samantha had been waiting for the touch for almost a month now. The touch was all she needed. She whispered the two word prayer and a flood of emotions and thoughts almost overwhelmed her. She knew Esther in the moment. She knew everything about her from her difficult childhood to her even more difficult first marriage. She felt her lose her first and only child during childbirth. She saw her ruinous relationship with the man she cheated on with her husband. She saw the confrontation and the fight between her and her abusive husband. She was so proud of her during that moment that she almost lost her breath to sniffles.
“I’m Esther Santos.” Esther eyes flashed up to the screen where they were replaying the Good Show’s interview with Frankie Names for the fifth time that night.
Samantha escaped from the vicious circling of Esther’s emotions and looked up at the screen. She had forgotten that Frankie was going to be on the Good Show. She did not understand what he was after. She knew the council and hunters would be out in mass tracking him down, probably trying to take him down or at least summon him during the broadcast. Samantha did not worry about her own lifestyle. She had long since worried about such things. She survived because she survived, and she tried to make the best of it. Outside of finding the potentials, she did not take much pleasure in her life. It seemed almost never ending. She enjoyed this side of the business much more than the other side. She still had many years before she had to make her choice. It was such a ridiculous choice. Who would want to live more than a hundred and twenty years? She did not understand why the power pushed people in that direction.
Samantha watched the screen and saw Frankie Names sitting comfortably in the couch. The words scrolled on the bottom of the screen, but Samantha did not have any trouble reading Frankie’s lips. After all these years, he still looked good, better than he had any right to look. He was calm and focused, but he wasn’t anything. If he really wanted to give away the secret, why would he do it on the Good Show? Craig Stevens was an asshole. Everyone knew that.
“I was there,” Esther said.
Samantha of course knew that. It was one of those things that drew her to finding out more about this mysteriously huge lady. “You were at the Good Show during the interview? Were you in the audience?”
“Oh no,” Esther said. “There was no audience there. Frankie Names cleared out the studio before he would agree to go on live television. I’m an associate producer at the show. It was the most surreal experience to have him there one moment, and then gone the next.”
“I could only imagine! Do you know how he got out of the studio? There has been so much speculation on the news.”
“We wish we knew. You should have seen Craig Stevens while Frankie was whispering to him during the break. He looked like he was in another world.”
“No, Craig Stevens. The greatest skeptical asshole in the world. He was somewhere else.”
Samantha laughed with Esther at the apt description.
Daily word count: 2,116.
Words remaining: 33,528 (16,472).