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The Alden Chronicles, Part II

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In which our hero wonders what he has done. (Note: this is a work of fiction. Any ties to real people and real events are not to be taken literally. For the most part.)

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Sweaty fingerprints lingering on the laminate wood of the podium in the glare of the lights and the cameras. Flashbulbs popping with an epileptic strobe effect. You wonder if this is all going according to some plan, a distantly recalled murmur of a plan, and if you’re using the lines that some smug faced suit fed you a few hours ago.

Clammy palms are bothering you too, but you’re a practiced pro, so you know better than to wipe them off on the expensive grain of your suit pant fabric. People are smiling and people are frowning and people are in between the two, and maybe, you think, maybe there’s a lady off in a corner somewhere dabbing her over-mascara’ed eyes on a wadded and shredded up piece of tissue from her purse. But you might just be imagining that. There are voices as well.

The Alden Chronicles

Voices of people saying things you know are fake. The fake voices are loud and tremendous and bold and vibrant. And there are voices saying things that are true. Those voices are crackly and soft and hard to decipher. Maybe part of your brain doesn’t want to hear any truth. Maybe part of your brain has already been tortured with truths, even though its only been a few months since you got here. You cringe when the phone rings. It hurts inside when these people show up and make these demands and tell you how things are going to be done whether you like it or not, you know.

The voices are laughing now, and its very, very fake and very, very piercing, and you hope that your left hand will unclench sometime in the near future. A lull.

It must be your turn to talk. The smug faced suit told you a few jokes, a few one-liners that skirted the situation slightly, and you feel like maybe you mixed one or two of them up, before. But you laughed, then, a saddened true laugh, with those brilliant white teeth flashing and the room laughed with you. You dredge up another one and lay it on ‘em.

Uncomfortable in your soul and in your shoes and you want to just run away from this room, these lights, these suits, these questions. You want to find an ink pen, a heavy and beautiful one, with the bottle of ink and some blotting paper nearby, and you want to huddle over some hand-pressed paper from one of those little boutiques here that your wife just cannot stop shopping at, and you want to write all of them apologies. Heartfelt and gushing and bitter from the angst of these things you’re being forced to do. That you really didn’t want to. That you were made to do. That these awful horrendous decisions were not stemming from some malice-filled place in your own head. Money and money and more money made you. You hated the money. But they tell you that’s what you’re good at. You wade into the knee deep hordes of dark and dank recesses and come back with fistfuls of dollars. You shake that money tree harder and to greater effect than most. You can’t even bear to turn and look at him.

You can face the money grubbing demons. You can stare past them vacantly while they bark orders and sink their devious little needles into scheme after scheme after scheme.

You can handle the media. They like you, with your young face and your smooth fastidious veneer. You always have a tidbit to entertain them, like the marrow spilt out from a cracked bone thrown to a pack of dogs.

You can handle the inner circle. The stuffed faces and pocket squares and tinted window crew. The pork belly roast is simmering, and its being basted in cash.

But you sure as hell cannot, will not turn your head ninety degrees and look at him. No catholic confessor could bring to bear as much weight upon your guilt-shredded conscience as he could with even a sideways glance. No torture-device bearing inquisitor could exact any squeamish and visceral plea that would compare to him, asking you a question right now. He could pull a gun and place the cool smooth steel against your head, and all of these cameramen would slowly pan over, gasping, and that tissue lady would start screaming, and all you would be able to do would just be to nod and purse your lips. And he would not be committing a crime more heinous than the one being committed currently.

You remember someone telling you that it was all going to end, suddenly, and you wondered now if that had been a mis-heard threat, and the wave of relief that flooded through you with that thought almost made your bladder release. But you realized that they must have been talking about this press conference. This show. This cart and pony affair. Jugglers and mimes couldn’t have put on this dumbshow as surely as you had. Grumblings were just beginning to ripple, and smiles were just starting to break at their folded edges when it was all wrapped up. Players from the far end of the podium were whisked away by handlers, a slimy protective coating that allowed no questions or comments or concerns. You stood there for a moment, watching camera cords being looped expertly and steno pads being flicked shut and no one made eye contact with anyone else.

And that’s just the way it was. And he sniffled once. A springtime cold is no fun, you said to yourself absently. He looked around for a few seconds and noticed you. He didn’t look at you, because you would have been blasted into about a million bits of shameful crying person if he had actually looked at you. But he noticed you. And you wondered idly if he had a gun in his pocket. Or if someone nearby was waiting with richly sewn black leather gloves to swoop in behind you in a stairwell and slip one of those cord things around your throat. Maybe you would just admire the texture of the expensive gloves against the gooseflesh on your neck and try not to think about expiring while you tried to stutter out an apology. No ink pen or blotting paper or trendy boutiques. Just crashing down on your knees blubbering and spitting and gasping while someone took the life from you.

You blinked. He wasn’t standing there. He and his family had wandered off in a different direction and everyone seemed to be leaning away from you, as though the extra two and half inches could remove them from the danger-level radioactivity reading that emanated from you at this very second. Thinking with some right-seeming sense of self-preservation about that wood paneled bastion of privacy you had, you turned smartly on your heel and headed towards it as though the light of day was going to burn the guilt into your skin like a brand.

But to be safe, you took the elevator. Alone.