The host tripped out to the middle of the stage with an almost balletic walk. He did a little bobbing bow to the studio audience, blowing air kisses to their shadowed faces.
“Hello, and welcome to another show!” he said when the in-house band wound down. “Now, you folks playing at home probably already know this, but we have three special guests in the house this evening!”
The audience shared a knowing laugh.
“We’ll be talking to Maureen, an anti-vaccination advocate, and Bill, a politician in our very own state senate! After that, we’ll be getting a visit from one of our in-house techs that makes it all possible.”
The host bowed to the renewed applause as the in-house band played smooth, featureless jazz.
“I’m Chad Huntington and with us tonight is our first guest, Maureen Collins.”
The woman they ushered on stage was wearing a pageant smile and a recent perm. Two hectic spots of blush stood out on her cheeks. Chad met her halfway and dropped a kiss to either side of her face.
“So, Maureen, why do you think you’re here?” he asked when they were both comfortably seated in the stage’s armchairs.
Maureen smiled smugly. “Well, Chad, I think big government really—”
“We’re not here to talk about government,” Chad cut in, “I asked you a question.”
Maureen was thrown for a loop. She fruitlessly mouthed a few words. “I thought—I’m here to debate the ethics of remaining vaccine-free.”
Chad waggled his eyebrows to the audience. A titter spread out like ripples on a lake.
“I believe I have a right to parent my children as I see fit,” Maureen said. The blush was lost in the sudden heat of her face. “I don’t think big government should interfere in the divine right of the parent, and more studies need to be done on the harmful effects of pharmaceutical medicine.”
Chad nodded, holding up a sheath of papers to read from. “Of course, of course. Maureen, you are aware that you live in a single-party consent state?”
Maureen grew very still. Her pupils widened and her jaw went slack.
“You said in a telephone conversation with another mother at your son’s school—and I quote— ‘I don’t care, I hope the little expletive deleted croaks?’”
Maureen was silent.
“And you are aware that the student in question, who is a classmate of your son Peter, has auto-immune deficiency from a blood transfusion at the age of two?”
Maureen was shaking her head. Her shoulders trembled.
“Oh, but we know you do, Maureen. You were sent a form in the beginning of the school year, and we have your signature on the line. Remember? Cause no undue harm? What would you call knowingly and maliciously sending a child sick with a communicable disease to school?”
“I want my lawyer!” Maureen squeaked.
“You’ll be wanting one, yes,” Chad said as he stood. Uniformed policemen appeared at Maureen’s elbows, taking hold of her arms as she rose. “Peter’s family is feeling litigious, Maureen, and the government is concerned with more than your medical history.”
Maureen howled as she was led offstage, dropping her legs so the officer on either arm had to stoop and grunt to pick up the slack.
Chad gave her a wave from the wrist.
“Next up, we have our own Big Bill Cobb, a representative of the lovely Lake District. Bill!”
The man took a measured pace onto the stage, nodding with great gravity to the applauding audience. He arrived from a different entrance than Maureen, one quickly hidden by curtains.
“So, Bill, you had a rocky start to your term, didn’t you?” Chad asked once they were seated.
Cobb nodded. His large, bristly eyebrows contracted, giving him a sensitive air.
“Taking over for Keith Langscomb wasn’t easy,” he said, “no one knew the wifi password.”
This joke earned only a small murmur from the audience. Cobb scanned the audience; as a public figure he was far more sensitive to the temperature of a room than Maureen.
“I guess nothing following Keith Langscomb has been easy,” Chad said conversationally, flipping through a series of cards, “after being caught with a male escort—”
“Allegedly,” Cobb put in smoothly, smiling at the audience. Someone coughed.
“Allegedly,” Chad repeated in a soothing voice. “But no sex scandals followed you, Bill. A one-woman man, aren’t you?”
Cobb visibly preened. “Yessir. Going on thirty years now, Phyllis.”
Chad grinned, nodding. “So what do you think you’re doing here?”
Cobb gave him a wary look. “I’m not sure about your question, son.”
“Oh, well maybe this will give our viewers a clue.” At a signal from Chad, a photograph appeared on the overhead. A younger Cobb grinned at the camera, arms looped around two klansmen.
Cobb whistled through his teeth. “Sonovabitch.”
“Funny story, the men under those hoods also went on to have political careers. That man on the left was recently elected sheriff of your very own district.” Chad pointed to the image. “In fact he recently came under investigation for corruption charges.”
Cobb was sweating through his pancake makeup, giving him a waxy sheen. “This is entrapment.”
“No, sugarplum.” Chad was shaking his head. “You have to be a cop for that to apply. I’m clearly a dental model.”
Chad flashed a white grin at the audience as Cobb found himself ushered offstage by the very same policeman. He did not resist, but stammered pleas for understanding to the unresponsive officers until they zip-tied his hands behind his back. The audience mixed a few hoots in with their cheers.
“And don’t forget, your bail will be set at a minimum of five million dollars because you’re considered a flight risk,” Chad called after them. He waved bye-bye with his fingers only.
“You folks at home may not know what goes into the making of a show,” Chad said, sipping from a bottle of water. “The unsung heroes, the countless workers who make this all possible, operate behind the scenes. We have Josh here with us tonight. Josh is one of our computer techs, aren’t you Josh?”
Josh smiled shyly, displaying a chin dimple. He was dark-haired and handsome. He wore oblong glasses with black frames and his stage mic clipped onto his breast pocket.
“Could you take us through a few things, Josh? What do you normally do for a show?”
Josh adjusted himself in the seat. “Well, I can recover data, I can install various surveillance programs and tap phone lines.”
“Law permitting,” Josh agreed with a laugh. “I see some serious shi–stuff in my job, I can tell you.”
The audience laughed too. Chad nodded keenly.
“So, you’re quite the computer expert yourself, aren’t you? You know how to cover your tracks and so on?”
“Oh yeah, you don’t want them finding out where you’ve been. That can blow a whole investigation.”
“So you’d be able to do that for yourself?”
Josh nodded once before he caught himself. “I’m not—what do you—”
“Well, one of your coworkers had some suspicions recently. We asked the rest of the team to take a look on your PC.”
Josh froze. “You what?”
“And if you read your employee contract, you’ll know that we were completely within our rights to do so, Josh. I’d show the viewers at home what we found, but it was all quite explicit.”
Josh’s face switched from confusion to rage with frightening speed. “You fuckers—god damn, you don’t go after one of your own!”
Chad raised his voice to speak over Josh. “What lead you to believe looking up explicit materials of minors was a smart thing to do on a work computer, Josh? Did you think you were untouchable?”
Josh lunged. The two officers returned, accompanied by a burly security guard. The officers got Josh’s elbows. The guard stuck two fingers in his nostrils and pulled his head back.
“Well, this is yet another reminder to the folks at home, no one is beyond judgement,” Chad said over the incoherent frothing of Josh being pulled offstage, “no matter your station in life, you too have a chance to be caught.”
The lights behind him dimmed as Chad stood up on stage.
“That concludes another program,” he said cheerily, “I’ll be seeing you again when we talk to a Rabbi with a secret, and a wealthy widow who has a surprise waiting for her! I’m Chad Huntington and who knows? You could be next!”
The audience slavered laughter. Chad blew a loud, smacking kiss at the camera before it cut to black.