The Envelope, Please

The Envelope, Please

A Story by R J Fuller

If you just had to chance to prevent someone else's happiness, would you?

Cancelled. His life ambition done away with a single decision. He felt he had worked hard, paid his dues in minor positions, worked his way up to such an opportunity as his own comedy show. Unfortunately, the show ended up becoming more notorious for things going wrong in front of and behind the camera than anything else. No publicity is bad publicity. Viewers actually tuned in when his show had a murder-suicide among the staff, the snake running loose and having to film whether it showed up or not. There was an electrical short during the filming of his show, while the cameras were rolling. All on film. Another calamity. 
Speculation had once gone they were doing it deliberately. He didn't see how a murder-suicide could be intentional. So he worked with it, but obviously when the commotion died down, in the end, nobody liked the program. They preferred watching the younger action hero on the other network. Airing right against him. Youth was always hailed as different, when it was just the same depiction over and over again.  
And he was old. Too old to compete. He was never going to get younger. The so-called action star, who was nothing but a lot of cliched attitude, had publicity as well as those trained to leap on the notion he was a new talent, never before seen. 
He watched the traffic go by from his window. Day after day he had worked on his show, coming up with ideas, some of them actually quite good, and still in the end, it all came down to ratings. Low ratings meant he was facing cancellation and now no matter where he goes in this town, he'll be deemed a failure. He couldn't compete against a pair of tight jeans. He tried to look upon this as an effort, but it was all he had wanted, so now what? He didn't feel like going to the studio. He didn't feel like venturing out anywhere that he might see that ever-popular smugness on billboards, magazine covers, oozing attitude, driving wild those who desired him. He hated that kid. Raw talent. That was a joke. 
He made a phone call to say he wouldn't be in today. 
"What do you mean you aren't coming in today?"
"Joseph, I just don't feel up to it."
"You gotta come in today."
"But the ratings have us in the bottom twenty. I can't . . . . "
"Ratings? Bennett, you don't know? The show got five television nominations."
"Yea, directing, writing, you got one, the show got one, . . . "
"Well, probably sympathy nominations. Won't mean anything in the end, even if we won."
"Man, you are such a downer."
He stayed on the phone a bit more with Joseph, then hung up. Nominations didn't mean the show still couldn't be cancelled. Joseph was younger. He'd be able to land a job somewhere else with ease. Bennett sat down and looked at the computer monitor. An article heralding how that young rabble-rouser spent his weekend. Did his female co-star know? The allusion was they were dating. A beautiful young blonde girl, of course. Bennett looked at her and how angellic she appeared. And the twerp would cheat on her? So much for being overwhelmed by nominations. 

The days progressed. His show meagerly staggered through ratings and schedulings or being removed from the week altogether. Bennett focused somewhat on the nominations, but not too much. 
The 'waif' was nominated, too. Since his show was an hour program, he got nominated for drama, while Bennett got nominated for a comedy, so they weren't against one another. As tho that upstart knew anything about drama. He just scowled or sneered at everyone, doing nothing more than telling them what they think of him. "You don't like me because I'm not in a suit. You don't like me because . . . . "
Oh, how he hated the sound of that imp's voice! Talentless, brainless little pinhead. He'd probably win the award too. Why not? Like he'd know what to do with the trophy to enhance his future endeavors. Once he aged, weight, that sparkle left his eye, he wouldn't be able to get a job in a commercial. 
Bennett maintained politeness to people he met. Thanked them when they congratulated him for his nominations. Two-faced liars. They knew who he was up against. Any of those other shows would win. Well, he would follow suit. Barely a month left before the awards ceremony, then a week, then a few days. 
"We're going to present an award together," Joseph told Bennett. Joseph was enjoying all aspects of this business no matter what. They were presenting a technical award or something. Just walk on, make their statements, give the statue, then walk off. Simple as that. 
Bennett was hanging around backstage. He wasn't interested in sitting out front. He was placed too close to that other nominee. Bennett stood in the back, staring out from the darkness. There sat the buffoon, looking like he was blessing everyone with his presence, as tho everyone wanted him to acknowledge them. 
She sat beside him. The co-star. She certainly was a beautiful young thing. The scuttlebutt was they were dating, so she had to be with him, tho he was supposed to be treating her like dirt, the swine. Anything to titillate the public. Bennett stared at them, at him more than her. He hated that no-talent, meaningless, insignificant, . . . . ! 
"Bennett!" Joseph called to him. Bennett turned to look at him. 
"I've been trying to find you, Bennett! There's been confusion about who presents what award next. Somebody hasn't shown up that was here in rehearsal."
"I don't know, man, but . . . . what difference does it make? They're having to move people around and they want us to present an award now." 
Bennett looked into the audience again at him. Still sitting there, oblivious, and just knowing everyone is watching him. If he only knew. He'd insist Bennett was jealous, like so many others obviously, of his talent, his charm, his good looks. Bennett detested him. 
"Bennett! Come on, man! We gotta get in position." 
Joseph all but dragged Bennett away, across the sets and commotion behind the scene. Bennett wasn't paying a bit of attention to much of anything, so good thing Joseph was. 
"Here's where we stand."
Announcements were made followed by applause, then more microphone talk. Bennett couldn't hear what was being said. Someone approached him and handed him the envelope of the category they were to present. Bennett half-looked at the item in his hand. He couldn't make out anything on it in the backstage darkness. Then, they were introduced. 
Bennett and Joseph walked out to applause that might as well have been pre-recorded. They gave polite smiles as was required. I wanted to be one with you, he thought as the applause faded. I wanted to be a recognized actor-comedian, but none of you wanted that. 
Joseph was reading the character description of the nominees. Bennett still held the envelope. He followed Joseph's words on the monitor, half comprehending them, to keep up with when it was his turn to read his meaningless lines. He momentarily scanned the audience to see him sitting there, trying to appear nonchalant. Joseph nudged him. 
"That's why it's important for a character to convey strength, . . . " what a load of rubbish. What award were they presenting. Joseph began reading the next snippet, and while he did so, Bennett looked down at the envelope to see the writing of the category: BEST ACTOR DRAMA. 
He froze. His eyes widened as he looked up at the audience, those he could make out while not being blinded by overhead lights. Now it was his turn to read again. The nominees. The nominees. He didn't even want to say that name. Fortunately, in alphabetical order, he got another guy's name instead. 
"Harris Buckler, Big Justice." 
Harris Buckler was shown in the audience, smiling as applause was heard all around him. A clip of Buckler in his show was presented on the screen. Then the next nominee, and the next. A cop show, a medical drama, then the adventurer who worked outside the law. Amazingly, incredibly, Bennett didn't have to say his name, Joseph did. Bennett looked at him in the audience when his name was read, followed by the applause. He put his hands up like he was being modest. The big phony. 
"And the award goes to, . . . " Joseph began. 
Bennett forgot he had the envelope. Quickly, he tore at the seal, ripping the paper, unfolding the flap. And there it was. The winner. The recipient of the award, who would now come up on stage and stand near him, accepting the award, bragging about who he is, was the juvenile from the adventure show. Bennett all but felt his eyes glaze over as he stared at that name. That accursed name. How he hated that name, and now he had to present him an award. With all his smoldering good looks. 
All around him was silence, waiting to hear who won the honor. Bennett clenched his teeth to keep from saying how he felt. The seconds were adding up. He became aware of a presence next to him, leaning in to also view the name. It was Joseph. Joseph reached his hand up to take the side of the card to see the lettering. His hand touched Bennett's hand. Bennett looked at the dark brown skin on the hand in his vision, touching the card with that horrid name upon it. 
He inhaled as he viewed Joseph's brown hand of a dark brown man, then let the name go forth from his mouth of a dark, brown-skinned nominee. 
"Harris Buckler, Big Justice!"
There were welps, sudden applause. Cameras suddenly turning to get to Harris. He was read as the winner. Joseph stared at Bennett as Bennett looked to the lights. No one was looking at that adolescent twat. He had no attention on him. Bennett knew someone somewhere was aware he had read the wrong name, someone besides Joseph. The judges, the accountants, whoever. Bennett still held the card. 
Before anybody knew it, Harris Buckler was on the stage, receiving the award. Bennett had moved out of the way as had Joseph who seemed to want to make moving difficult for Bennett. 
Bennett wasn't sure how he could cover his tracks on not reading the correct name when it came out. It had to be revealed. No one would keep it quiet what he had done. 
"Bennett, what are you doing?" Joseph whispered. 
Bennett just knew that other person wasn't up here. He tried to see how the moron was behaving still sitting in his seat, but he didn't want to be so obvious. But it would come out. It would eventually be revealed he read the wrong name, and everyone would want to know why. He couldn't think. 
". . . . honored to be receiving this award," Harris Buckler spoke in a nearly humbled manner. "Starting in this business so many years ago, there wasn't a lot of opportunities for African-American performers to be taken seriously and I truly never expected to be honored for such. We felt the show at this time in my life was a fluke and really wouldn't go anywhere, but you have shown you can recognize a black man in a serious, leading role, so I thank you." 
The audience applauded. Harris smiled and waved as he made his way out of the spotlight. Joseph simply stared forward very blankly upon hearing Harris' words. 
Bennett was smiling as well. He followed Harris and the woman who handed him the award off the stage. Joseph was with Bennett. 
"So now you're not going to say anything?" Bennett whispered to Jospeh.
"Bennett, what is wrong with you?"
"Be quiet!" They waited until Harris and a few others had moved away from them. 
"You can't say anything now and take away that honor from Harris Buckler."
"Is that why you did this? Did you think he was more deserving of the honor?" 
"Mr. Will, we'd like to talk to you about what happened out there," a woman said who approached Bennett and Joseph. 
"I don't know what happened," Joseph said. 
"I know you feel the award," Bennett began to the woman, a representative of the ceremony, "didn't go to the correct person, but do you want to take that honor from that elderly man, who just took it as an honor for his race," he looked at Joseph, "and probably doesn't have long to live, and instead give it to that twenty-something out there?" 
Joseph looked at Bennett. "What on Earth is wrong with you?" 
"Mr. Will, we will have to look into this matter and if you need to make a retraction, . . . . "
"That will be taking the honor away from an elderly black man. Is that what you want to do? And give it to a young white kid in the highest rated show around? Is that what you want to do?" 
She looked at Bennett rather puzzled, as was Joseph. 
"You have lost your mind," Joseph said. 
"We will be needing to take this matter into consideration."
"You do that," Bennett snapped at her. The awards show representatives walked away from him, leaving Joseph staring at him, totally bewildered. 
"What is the matter with you, man?" Joseph asked. 
"it's just an award, Joseph. That guy is young enough, he can get recognition anywhere else down the line. Years ahead of him." 
"Just an award? Just an award?" 
Next thing the two guys knew, there was a backstage camera in their presence. A young woman stood nearby and was attempting to lead Bennett toward the stage. Joseph hung back as the camera spun away from him. Bennett walked out onto the stage as the audience applauded his appearance. He was completely shellshocked as he realized what had happened. He turned and looked back to Joseph who was equally astonished. 
He'd won for Best Actor, Comedy. The award was handed to him by a smiling young woman. He looked out over the audience again as they quieted down. He gasped with surprise. He gave a slight chuckle and was just about speak, when he saw the actual Best Actor Drama winner, sitting still like a granite statue, hardly looking at him. 
Bennett had a strange sense of having done something he should have known better not to do. He looked at the shiny bauble in his hands, looked back up and mouthed an acceptance. 
". .  .  truly honored, thank you, I'm shocked, . . . " but of course he was really shocked. He was blown away. He finished up and slowly made his way back to Joseph. He stared at Joseph as tho he didn't know what to do now. 
"I won," he said. 
The awards ceremony went to a commercial. 

The night was long. Unmercifully long. Continuous posing for pictures with the award. Smiling, over and over again with the smiles. Over and over again. Smile. He lost track of Joseph. He looked for Harris Buckler, who was likewise happily greeting congratulations with a smile. 
Then he looked for the other fellow. The attitude. The youth. Where was he? 
Bennett spied him as he was leaving. He had hold of his young co-star by the wrist. He seemed angry. The valet pulled up in his automobile and handed the vehicle over to him. He screeched his tires as he left the premises. 
Bennett was suddenly aware the award statuette was so cold in his hands, he might get frostbite. It was stinging his hands. He looked at it a bit, then decided he might as well leave also. A cab was summoned and he walked the slow quiet distance up his sidewalk to his home, still clutching the award. The street was dark, quiet, quite a contrast from the celebratory antics at favored watering holes in the city. His moment had arrived, and he tarnished it with his own selfish vindictiveness. 
He entnered his home. 
"About time you showed up." 
"Joseph, what are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you." 
"I'm tired, Joseph, and I'm calling it a night." 
Joseph stood up. "Why did you do that? Why did you read the wrong name in that envelope?"
"I'm tired, Joseph."
Bennett turned and looked at Joseph as he set the statue on the table. He started taking off his jacket as well. 
"I just . . . ," he started, looking around. "I just . . . I hate that guy." 
Joseph looked at him, astonished. 
"My show was struggling to begin with, then his mindless, little nothing of him with cars and loud music and that poor young lady with him starts beating me in the ratings."
"You don't like him?"
"He's got no talent. Everyone is bowing and scraping to him. What I did was wrong. I didn't know I was going to get an award." 
Joseph just shook his head. 
"I am astonished," he began. "Through a totally freak set of circumstances, you were able to do this to this guy and Harris Buckler, cheating both of them of recognition they deserved."
"I didn't, . . . " Bennett started, then went quiet. "Well, there's nothing I can do now. If I come forward, Harris Buckler will lose his honor." 
Joseph looked at the statuette sitting on the table. 
"Well," he began, "maybe there is something you can do. Take your award and give it to this guy you cheated in that show, Tough Heart. I don't even know his name."
Bennett grimaced as he spoke the name he'd grown to hate. "Warren," he said calmly. "Chuck Warren." 
Joseph all but cuckolded as Bennett said the name. 
"Man, I can't believe you." 
"You can't give him this award. This is for a comedy." 
"it don't matter, man. It's an award, nothing but an object, but he deserves it after what you did. You don't have your name monogrammed on it yet or anything, anyway." 
Bennett fumed a bit. 
"Man," Joseph started, "you don't even care for these awards."
"I'm not taking the award to him. He still has a successful show. He'll be fine."
"Well, if you won't," Joseph started, picking up the award, "then I will!" 
Joseph made his way to the door. Bennett started to object, then decided he didn't care. He knew Chuck wouldn't like it and would be totally confused if Joseph tried to explain what happened. Chuck would be totally confused. He wasn't that bright. 
Joseph made his way across the city to Chuck Warren's home.  
The sleek young tanned fellow was no longer in the tuxedo he'd worn earlier. He was dressed down to an open robe with his briefs visible underneath. He was incensed as he poured another drink for himself. 
"Chuck," the pale, bald fellow sitting on the couch said, "hey, don't you think you've had enough to drink?"
"You said I'd win," he growled and then took a gulp. He gasped as he swallowed the liquid. "You said, . . . "
"I know," the other man interrupted. "By all accounts, all my sources said you had the best chance. I don't know what happened."
"I was ready to win, so I could tell them all off, and I lost." 
"I know, man." 
"I lost!"
"Chuck, it's not the end of the world."
"What kind of agent are you, man? I wanted to win. I wanted to be on top! Everybody looking to me!"
"I was told you had all the votes, Chuck," his agent said. "I don't know what . . . . " 
"Instead, I lost!" 
"I know, Chuck, . . . " his agent replied, all but sensing what was coming next. 
"I lost to that black monkey! That old black cotton-picker!" 
Chuck took another drink. The man on the couch put his finger to his mouth and looked up. 
"Should'a left him in chains, man! Where he belongs!" 
"Chuck, ah, I'm going to leave now. Let you sleep this off. Hopefully you'll feel better in the morning."
"Make him use the door marked chocolate! That's what he should have done. Leave the back way." 
The agent turned and talked louder, "okay, Chuck. Try to get some sleep. Sleep this off and . . . calm down." He made his way out the door, leaving the young talent staggering about in the room, still talking to himself. 
"Yea, Spencer," Chuck yelled after him. "Put them all back on a ship, take them back where they come from," Chuck yelled out the door, but Spencer was already pulling away. Chuck made his way back into the dwelling, leaving the door open. 
As Spencer made his way down the driveway, he was just about to turn when he saw headlights coming toward him. The car signaled it would be turning up Chuck's driveway. The vehicle turned in and the occupant didn't glance at Spencer or his car, but Spencer could make out who the driver was. 
It was that young fella, the one who presented the award. Carter? Jeff Carter? No, Joseph Carter. Funny little guy. What was he doing here? 
Spencer started to put the car in reverse and head back up the driveway. He hesitated, his eyes widening as he thought about Chuck's current state and if this guy showed up at his front door. Then Spencer thought again, looking about. Jeff, no, Joseph was younger. Maybe he would handle Chuck if Chuck said anything derogatory to him, and Spencer knew Chuck was going to say something derogatory to him.   
It was a split-second call, and Spencer called it. He pulled out of the driveway and departed. 
The establishment was quiet, but lights were on. Carrying the award, Joseph walked up to the door to find it open. 
"Hello?" he called out. No answer. 
"Ah, Chuck," he said as he walked in. He didn't see anyone, then spied the figure covered in a robe, sprawled all across the couch. 
"Chuck?" he said again. "Hey, Chuck. Hey, man." 
He drew nearer the sleeping figure and walked around to see his face. 
The dark-haired young man opened a very glassy eye to look out into the haze speaking to him and saw an African-American male clutching the trophy he had wanted to receive that night, standing in front of him. 
"Hey, Chuck. Are you okay? Some night, huh?"
Chuck brought his hand to raise himself up off the couch, swaying a bit as he did.
"Whoa, easy, man. Let me help you."
Joseph lifted him up by an arm so Chuck was standing on his feet. Joseph set the award down on the coffee table. As soon as he did, he felt a fist strike him up side his head and sent him sprawling. Joseph looked up from the floor at the wobbly form standing over him. 
"Tired of you people takin' what is rightfully ours," Chuck slurred. 
Joseph backed up and stood to his feet. 
"Hey, I was just going to see if you . . . " and Joseph dodged as Chuck lunged at him, falling into the wall instead. 
"Wait a minute, man! Wait a minute!"
Chuck stumbled as he turned toward Joseph who was making his way toward an open patio door. 
"I was wanting to see if you wanted an award!" 
Chuck lumbered toward Joseph, who darted out the door. 
"I've had it with you people!"
"It was a white guy who cheated you, not me!" Joseph said as he ran around the pool. 
Chuck swayed outside to try to focus on his intended target and completely wobbled over into the pool. Joseph was near the gate and was about to take off when he looked back at the bubbling water. He deduced Chuck was too drunk to properly swim. He stood at the gate, feeling certain he should leave, then made his way forward to the water. The closer he came, the faster he moved, until he dove into the water to retrieve the sinking form. 
The two heads bobbed to the surface, with Joseph gasping very heavily as he dragged the limp form to the side of the pool. Joseph hauled Chuck out of the water and having gotten him completely out of the water, Joseph knelt further way on the ground, coughing profusely. He pressed his forehead to his arm as he wheezed in air. Finally, he breathed more clearly, then looked at Chuck, lying still but breathing, so Joseph stood and made his way to the gate to leave. He hacked some more at the gate, then left the premises. 
Chuck rolled over, the drenched robe clinging to him and then stopped again. 
"Worthless, . . . " he mumbled, then dropped back off into slumber. Joseph's car had pulled away into the night. Chuck sat outside beside his pool, sleeping off his stupor. And on the coffee table, sat the award for Best Actor in a comedy. 

"Is that you, darling?" the voice called out as Spencer entered his apartment. He closed the door behind him and walked to the couch. 
"It was a difficult night, wasn't it?" the female voice spoke. 
"Yes," Spencer answered gruffly. "Yes, it was." 
The dark-skinned black woman entered with two glasses. 
"Here you go," she said, sitting beside him. "This will make you feel better."
"Thank you, baby," Spencer said to her as he sipped the drink. She ran her hand over the top of his head, making her way down to his neck. 
"I thought Chuck Warren was supposed to win," she said, taking a drink. 
"All insiders said he would," Spencer said to her. "Somebody was wrong."
"Chuck probably wasn't happy with Harris Buckley winning, was he?"
"No, Jereta, he wasn't. You know how he behaves." 
"Very ugly," she said calmly, taking another drink. "He didn't deserve to win if he behaves like that."
Spencer looked at her. "I knew you'd say that." 
"You don't condone his behavior, do you?"
"No, but I've got to work, and he's the hottest property today in Hollywood, so what can I do?"
Jereta laid her head on his shoulder, sliding her arm across to his other shoulder. 
"It's sad he must behave that way," she said. "He doesn't do it out of hate. He seems to do it with absolutely no regard to how he makes anyone else feel, like a selfish little child."
"I guess I hoped I could at lest rein him in. Get him under a bit of control, but I don't think so." 
They finished their drinks, then waited on the dawn.  

Bennett woke to find scores of messages and texts, most of them congratulations. Some people had contacted him he hadn't heard from since who knows how long ago. He was surprised there was no message from Joseph. He wondered how that turned out. He'd try to contact him later. Once again, Bennett wasn't interested in seeing anyone at the moment. After a night's sleep, he felt so overwhelmed that he wasn't sure what all had happened last night. Was there an awards show? Another congratulatory text seemed to confirm that. So he won an award? Where was it? Oh, yea. Joseph took it. That's why Joseph would be contacting him, to tell him how that situation played. He didn't know. He felt like he didn't know what was going on anywhere. 
There was a knock on the door. That must be Joseph, Bennett thought to himself as he opened the door. But it wasn't Joseph. It was a beautiful young blonde woman. Bennett looked at her, then realized where he had seen her. She was on Tough Heart, the show he detested so much. She was Chuck Warren's co-star. And she was holding an award. 
"Hi. Mr. Will?" she spoke softly. 
"I'm Zenta Mame from uh, Tough Heart."
"Yes, I recognize you." 
"Well," she started fidgeting with the trophy, "I went by, ya know, Chuck Warren's place this morning and ah, Chuck was passed out at the pool, but this award was there, and ah, I don't know why." 
"Won't you come in, Miss Mame? And call me Bennett."
"Thank you," she entered the apartment. "I just ah, don't know how your trophy got over to Chuck's place. He was real unhappy he didn't win last night. He yelled about that Harris Buckler and all, the entire ride home. I thought he was going to take it out on me, but fortunately his agent was there." 
"Would he have harmed you?" Bennett asked, concerned. 
Zanta shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe not as bad as before, ya know." 
Bennett looked at this little woman who seemed to have no clue how to fend for herself, even think for herself. 
"How did you and Warren meet?" he asked. 
"We ah, met when I auditioned for the show. He said he wasn't going to let me be on it at first, but he was teasing." She said that like it was affectionate. 
"Zanta, you shouldn't be treated that way."
The little girl looked around and seemed to be gathering her thoughts. "Well, he says, . . . ah, that, . .  . "
"Wouldn't you like to be treated better than that? Like a person, instead of being someone's property?"
Zanta frowned. 
"Look, ah, I haven't had breakfast," Bennett stated. "Are you hungry?"
"Yea, I guess," she answered. 
"Let's go get something to eat."
"What about this?" she said, holding up the trophy. 
"Just leave that here," Bennett said, taking the trophy from her and sitting it on the table. 
"Mr. Will?" 
"Bennett, please." 
"Bennett," she started, "how did your trophy get at Chuck's place?"
Chuck stared off as he opened his door for her. "Ah, a bit of a mistake on my part." Best he was going to do for now, if at all. "But tell me, Zanta, if I may, how did you know it was my award?"
"Oh, that was no problem to figure out," she replied as tho he had asked what was one plus two. He looked at her with all her capability going on in her head and for some strange reason, she didn't know how to use it. He knew then and there she would never come to fruition with the likes of Chuck Warren. 
"We got to be careful where we eat, because if camera people see me with someone other than Chuck, . . . "
"Don't worry about that, Zanta," Bennett began. "It's easy to know what the press value as important in this business."

Bennett began working, to do what he could, to get Zanta away from Chuck, but through it all, he could sense she knew what he was doing, and she was allowing him to present her with opportunities. Opportunities she knew Chuck would never allow her to have. It was as tho she knew there were limitations to her, being perceived as blonde and beautiful, and she knew the only way to overcome them was a man wanting to give her those chances. Zanta was clever, intellectual, but was still human and her life had progressed thus far into insecurities. Bennett wondered if she would ever be the confident woman she deserved to be, she should be. 
Bennett forgot all about the award. He saw Joseph at the next meeting for the show, but didn't express any interest in how the second award going to Chuck Warren that fateful night turned out. Joseph seemed distracted as well and not interested in talking about it. 
Bennett heard from some more representatives of the awards ceremony, insisting that he would never be present at their show ever again, which he quite honestly took as a sigh of relief. The award for Best Actor in a Comedy kind of worked. His ratings improved. The show wasn't cancelled. Joseph requested to be excused from a couple of episodes. Bennett wondered if he was mad about the award. Joseph insisted he was just under the weather. 

"Your show is really funny, Bennett," Zanta said, all but beaming. 
Bennett smiled back to her. 
"I'm leaving Chuck. Actually, I think I've already left him. He didn't seem to care much what I did anyway. I think they are going to write me off the show." 
She seemed to be hoping Bennett would invite her to appear on his show. Well, with Joseph taking sick leave, maybe they could fit her in. Seemed like a long stretch, but Bennett was willing to chance it. 
It didn't work. Ratings dropped. Everybody watched Chuck Warren in Tough Heart. 
The show, Bennett, starring Bennett Will, was finally cancelled. At this point, Bennett didn't care. The show ran its course, he got an award, which he didn't even know where that was now. In his home somewhere. Didn't think he had thrown it away or anything. He just felt he had managed to do all he wanted. He contemplated he might even ask Zanta to marry him. 

It was awards season again. Bennett was history. No way were they nominating him for anything. It wasn't being allowed. Just as well, he thought. Harris Buckler was nominated again for Big Justice, and so was Chuck Warren for Tough Heart. Good, Bennett thought. Let them have it. He was out. He hoped the best for Chuck, who hadn't had a very good year. Zanta leaving the show gave the impression he was available. Oh, actually the spin was the show fired her when Chuck broke up with her, but she was telling Bennett a different version. Probably why his own show was cancelled, because nobody was liking Zanta anymore. If anybody ever really liked her at all. 
So now the deduction was Chuck was available and he was deluged with women wanting to claim him as her own. Chuck liked to be in control and didn't like all this being thrown at him. He managed to end up being known more as someone who lost his temper very easily and stopped being someone with a cool attitude. 
"I didn't realize until I got away from Chuck how mean he was," Zanta declared. 
"Yes, you did," Bennett told her. "You knew." 
"I was asked by some other people in the business about it. They didn't like reading all that and hearing about it. They said if he wins the award, they have something planned for him," Zanta said with a smile. 
"Zanta," Bennett began, "just let it go. Don't do anything to the guy. Trust me, he's only going to hurt himself."
Bennett's thoughts trailed off as he said that, thinking Chuck was his own worst enemy, but nobody really knew, because Chuck had the greatest blow go against him by someone else's doing; him. Bennett. Not giving Chuck his award. 
"They want to mess with him if he wins. Make him mad," Zanta said laughing. 
Bennett was half listening now, but felt sorry for Chuck. "Zanta, tell them to just leave him alone. He's been through enough." 
"Well, you didn't like him either, did you? His show beat yours in the ratings and got your show cancelled," Zanta said. "It was no fun working on Tough Heart with him. I thought I would enjoy it." 
Zanta looked down. Bennett looked at her and thought of how Chuck had spent those years with her on his show, berating her. How long was she around him? Three years, four? He wanted to tell her he had already done the worst thing possible to Chuck by giving his award to someone else, but he just wanted to forget that whole situation. He just wanted to forget all about Chuck Warren. 

It was the night of the awards. So much fanfare and hoopla. Everyone who was anyone was there. Bennett wasn't, but Zanta was attending. Bennett couldn't think of what she or anyone else had planned to get back at Chuck Warren, but he just couldn't care. He had a fair deduction that Chuck would win, no matter what, so that was that. 
Bennett watched the awards show from home. Seeing people he had worked with, those he knew didn't like him. It sure was fun, he thought to himself. Where was that award? He looked around as if he was honestly going to see it when it had been missing for months. 
There it was. Bookshelf. 
To just belong again, Bennett walked over and retrieved the award, and sat back down. No matter what he'd done, he was one of them. He held on to the award propped on his thigh with his feet put up on the coffee table. 
"And the award goes to, . . . . " 
Bennett knew it would be Chuck Warren. He hoped Chuck choked on it. 
There was a roar of cheers from the audience. Bennett sat and smiled. Vanity and ego stood and made his way to the stage, looking like a contestant called up on a game show. Bennett chuckled as he let the statuette in his hand topple to the couch cushion. Chuck was on the stage. Such buffoonery, Bennett thought. The audience continued with their applause. Close up of Chuck Warren. Applause and cheers. Chuck held up the award to more cheers. Louder. Chuck lowered the award. 
The cheering didn't diminish. It all but seemed to get louder. Chuck's smile seemed to fade. 
Then the camera spanned the audience, as if they were going to show Zanta and that 'she really did love him, because after all, he was Chuck Warren." 
Some people in the audience were not in on the prank and looked around, a bit confused at all the fanfare. 
That was when Bennett knew. This was their plan to humiliate Chuck Warren. 
They continued to clap. Chuck tried to speak in the microphone, he waved his hand for the crowd to quiet down, but they gave no hint of doing so. They weren't going to let him speak because, let's face it, he's Chuck Warren. Everybody loves him. 
Unblinking, Bennett stared at the tv. The camera showed the audience once more, then back to Chuck, who now was clearly annoyed. He clenched his mouth and looked down, the honor clutched in his other hand. The cheering continued. Louder. The camera showed Zanta again, yelling and clapping. Nobody was stopping their screaming and yelling. 
The next shot was a far-off shot of Chuck. He seemed to sway a bit. Bennett looked at the tv and couldn't believe what was happening. 
The loud cheering and yells persisted, like at a football game, and tho the camera was far off from Chuck, it was obvious by how he stood, he knew someone was making fun of him. If he thought Zanta was behind it or not, Bennett couldn't tell, but it was obvious, so obvious, the notorious Chuck Warren temper was about to bust loose. He was going to get mad at all this adoration. 
Chuck backed away from the microphone, stepping further toward the back, the woman who handed him the award stood nearby. The camera may have just been ready to cut away from what was happening, but then the unimaginable occurred, for all to see. 
Chuck turned to walk off the stage and let the trophy sail away from him in a sudden pitch. The unfortunate woman still on stage reacted shocked, and just within the shot, a form could be seen of someone the hurled award just missed. The crash was distinct as tho something was broke, shattered, and by Chuck's stance, he seemed ready to hit somebody. The screen faded to a commercial for automobiles. 
Bennett sat back on the couch. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He knew from being in the business what would all go out tomorrow. He switched the tv off and looked at the award in his hand. He let it tumble to the floor. He sat and thought about what he'd just seen done to this horrible little person, Chuck Warren. Had his award given to someone else last year and now "cheered" off stage this year. Bennett knew all coverage would be against Chuck in the next several weeks, perhaps months. If his career even recovered from it at all. 
"Zanta, why did you guys do it?" 
"Did you see him, Bennett? He was mad," Zanta said with laughter. "There are all sorts of stories about him almost hitting someone backstage, almost running over someone in his car when he left."
"I've been hearing for days how angry he was. I don't care to hear about it, but even then, you can't help but hear about it. All news feeds and late night jokes. And there's talk of cancelling his show."
"I don't know why you feel sorry for him," Zanta said. 
"It's just, . . . " Bennett began, then stopped. "He lost an award to . . . to Harris Buckler, then gets a chance a second time and this happens."
"Well," Zanta started, "he is popular."
Bennett looked at her. She was smiling. Why was she able to strike back at Chuck now, but she couldn't while she was 'with' him on Tough Heart? Because she wasn't being encouraged to stand on her own then as Bennett had been encouraging her, to think for herself, and obviously she could think. 
Bennett's phone rang. 
He listened to the message and made not a single solitary sound. Finally, he took the phone away from his ear. 
"Who was that?" Zanta asked with concern. Bennett just stared blankly and said nothing.
Slowly Bennett made his way down the quiet hallway. There was hardly anyone around, so he asked an attendant where the room was he sought. The attendant told him. 
He entered the room. He walked up to the bed to see a still, silent figure. Clear plastic tubes hooked up to his nose and mouth. The beeping sound of the heart monitor was all to be heard. Bennett leaned in slowly, just close enough and whispered. 
Joseph's eyes were already opened, but now he turned and looked at Bennett. Bennett reached down and took Joseph's hand and said nothing. Joseph stared at him as Bennett could only look at him in astonishment. 
"What did he die from?" Zanta asked as they neared the funeral home.
Bennett didn't feel like talking, but he was polite. "He had been ill, and apparently steadily going downhill for sometime, but I never knew it." 
There was silence, then Bennett said as he stopped the car, "can you just stay here? I want to go see him for myself."
Zanta agreed. 
Bennett walked into the empty funeral parlor and slowly approached the coffin. There were a few people there, but they knew Bennett had asked Joseph's family if he could have a moment with Joseph. Understanding, they agreed. They told him Joseph was truly happy working on his show, happiest he had ever been.  
He looked at the still form in the coffin. Joseph was happy with the show, regardless of ratings and Tough Heart being more popular. Why couldn't Bennett have known this? He was just so pre-occupied in his own selfish obsessions and jealousy, he failed to notice Joseph there. Happiest he had ever been. 
Bennett tried to inhale, finally managing to do so, then slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a small familiar piece of paper. He looked around to see the last person in the room with him had departed, leaving Bennett all alone with Joseph. He unfolded creases on the rather stiff paper and looked at the name: CHUCK WARREN FOR TOUGH HEART, BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA. 
He folded the card back up, then slipped it into Joseph's jacket. As he did so, he couldn't help but notice how thin was Joseph. He had never been big before, but he was almost a rib cage. Bennett removed his hand and straightened up the jacket. 
"Good-bye, my friend." 
Bennett walked back out of the funeral home to find Zanta talking to Spencer and Jareta. 
"Hello, Bennett. How are you? I'm Spencer Clyde."
"I'm fine. You're Chuck Warren's agent. What are you doing here?"
"I'm not his agent anymore. After his display winning that award, he's made a lot of enemies in the business who excused him and his behavior before, and I guess I'm one of them. Not his enemy, but finally decided I don't want to work for him anymore. Oh, this is my wife, Jareta." 
Bennett greeted her and repeated, "so again, what are you doing here?"
"Just wanted to pay my respects. I've always been somewhat concerned about Mr. Carter since that night of the awards show when Chuck lost to Harris Buckler and I saw Joseph Carter going up to see Chuck for some reason. I knew how Chuck was and I guess I should have stopped him." 
"That was how your award got into Chuck's place," Zanta said. "Joseph must have taken it there. Why would he do that, Bennett?"
"He took your award to Chuck?" Spencer asked Bennett. 
He stared at them, feeling like he could trip up if he didn't answer correctly, but knew there was nothing he had to say that would do that. He didn't know what happened between Chuck and Joseph that night.
"I don't know," Bennett replied. "Joseph never said anything about it to me after that, and I just forgot about it until Zanta brought the award to me the following morning. Chuck never said anything to you?"
"No," Spencer answerred. "When I saw him later the next day, as usual he was too hung over to remember anything. He didn't remember he had lost until I reminded him, then he started in again and I decided I'd listened to him long enough."
"I thought you quit when he threw the award a year later?"
"It took me a while to make up my mind and do something." 
A whole year? 
"Well," Spencer said, "we're going to go on in and pay our respects. Here," he said, handing Bennett a card, "if you ever need an agent, feel free to stop by my office anytime."
With that, Spencer and Jareta made their way into the funeral home.  
Bennett made his way home. Zanta wouldn't be staying tonight, she had family to check on, which was just as well as far as Bennett was concerned. He was give out. He decided to just take it easy a bit, wait and see what was out there. Let things calm down and the tide shift. Who knows? After a while, he might even approach Chuck Warren about doing a show. He seemed like he owed it to him. 
Bennett looked at himself in the mirror; sagging skin, greying temples, but above all else, a once jovial spark of mischief he had in his youth was diminished. He was tired, but he wanted to do something. He wanted to keep busy. Was he ready to play granpa? 
Tough Heart was cancelled and eventually so was Harris' show, Big Justice. Bennett got the impression now that everyone involved seemed to one way or another be out of the picture, there would be the prodding at him to come forward and tell everyone what he did, but Bennett wanted it all to be over. He was done. 
Chuck Warren got arrested and it didn't make any headlines. 
Bennett felt like he was ready to move on, finally, in some way. He couldn't deny he had hated Chuck Warren and if he wanted to destroy him, then he had succeeded. Now, he decided to go further and approach the greatest irony and hire Spencer as his agent. 
When he felt the time had arrived, he made his way to Spencer's office. He exited the elevator and spoke to the receptionist. Spencer came out to see him, pulling the door to behind.
"Bennett," Spencer began, "nice of you to show up. I'm a little busy at the moment." 
With those words, the office door opened and he slowly walked out. He seemed to be slightly high, but there was something about him that just said the arrogance was broken. He actually pulled the office door to behind him. 
"Look, Spence," he began, rather hoarsely, "I'm gonna go on ahead and get out of here. Just ah, try to think about what I asked ya, okay, man?"
Bennett looked at him and realized Chuck had no idea who he was. He didn't know Bennett was the man Zanta had left him for. Or he couldn't recognize him, but once again, Bennett got the impression he didn't care. 
The receptionist was looking at her newsfeed and saw a live video suddenly appear from a station. She clicked on it to see who it might be. She was rather startled when she saw who it was. 
"I already told you, Chuck, I just don't see it happening."
"Mr. Clyde?"
"We worked good together, Spence. Remember?"
"I'll be with you in a moment, Bennett." 
"Mr. Clyde?"
"Chuck, you need to leave."
"I know you," Chuck stammered at Bennett. "You're the guy Zanta went to when she dumped me." 
So the spin of his firing her from the show and breaking up with her hadn't been true after all, as he knew, but it was just something now to hear Chuck himself say it. 
"Mr. Clyde, your wife is being interviewed!" 
Spender turned to look at the monitor and so did Chuck. Behind them Bennett also watched. 
"Chuck Warren is a racist and horrible man. He didn't deserve the award the night Harris Buckler won for Big Justice. Chuck Warren was supposed to win, but he didn't," she said, holding up a folded piece of paper Bennett immediately recognized. 
"What's she saying?" Chuck slurred. 
"Jareta, what are you doing?" Spencer said aloud, as he began dialing on his phone. 
"This envelope was from that night, and here are the nominees names from that night, and inside the envelope, we see Chuck Warren, but he didn't get it, because he is racist, so it went to Harris Buckley." 
"That was supposed to be mine?" Chuck spoke. 
"Mrs. Clyde, how do you know this?" 
"I found the envelope when I went to pay my respects to Joseph Carter. He had it with him in the coffin. I straightened up his jacket and tie and felt the envelope. My husband was actually trying to sign Joseph as a client when he died, but now we know. We know Chuck Warren didn't win because he was a racist." 
"Joseph Carter," Chuck began. "Yea, Joseph Carter presented the award that night, but he was at my house with the award, but why was he at my house?"
"Jareta, this is Spencer. What are you doing? Why didn't you tell me you had found that? Call me back when you are through with your interview." 
"Mrs. Clyde," a reporter asked. "Why are you coming forward with this now?"
"To let everyone know what a racist Chuck Warren is. He's not a good person."
"She thinks she's doing an expose on you as a terrible person," Spencer started, "but she's actually making you look like a victim." 
"I didn't win the award," Chuck said, trying to piece it together, "but Joseph presented the award, but not to me." 
Spencer looked at Chuck. "No," he started, "you didn't win, but Joseph Carter did go to your place. I saw him. I should've stopped him as drunk as you were."
Chuck looked at Spencer with an accusing stare. "Then why didn't you? Why was he coming to my house anyway?" 
"To give you that award, according to Zanta," Spencer began, "but he gave it to you at your home. He didn't give it to you at the award ceremony. He gave it to Harris Buckler. At the award show, it was presented by Joseph . . . . . . "
Spencer turned to look at Bennett, and gradually Chuck did the same. 
But Bennett was gone. 
". . . . Chuck Warren is a racist who didn't deserve to win that award," Jareta said with a smile on the monitor. 
And so everything was revealed. For a good month or so, it was "awardgate" or "Chuckgate" or "Harrisgate". All anyone seemed able to talk about. "Where was the Big Justice?" the cry came out. Endless headlines in pun, clickbait of "This is what Joseph Carter knew when he presented the award!"  or "This is what Harris Buckley knew!"
Then it was finally learned the award ceremony knew of the mistake, but never said anything and why. And of course, there were claims that Chuck didn't deserve the award, but then what was the award given for? Performing or personality?
"I'll have the breakfast special with lettuce," Bennett said to the waitress. He looked out the window at cars driving by. There was nothing of what was going on back in Hollywood here. He ran from it all. The whole thing. Let Chuck, Spencer, all of them have it. He didn't want it.
"Here's your order, sir," the voice said as the hand set down the plate. Bennett was about to start eating when the waitress moved around and sat across from him. 
"Hello, Bennett." 
"What are you doing here?" 
"It took a while to find you, but it wasn't impossible." 
"So I guess things really got crazy, huh?" He didn't touch his food. He knew better. 
"It's been debated and discussed if Chuck deserved that award or not, because he was a racist and abuser, or did he earn it. It's been tossed around that I knew something." 
"Nobody said anything about me?"
"No," she said. "People want to know what you knew, but the assumption seems to be Joseph made you do it." 
Bennett looked at her, flustered. "No, Joseph didn't know a thing about it."
At last, he confessed to what he'd done. 
"So you didn't want to give Chuck that award?" 
Bennett took a deep breath, but said nothing. He looked at his plate and picked up a fork. 
"I guess if you had given him that award, Zanta started, "I would have never really become aware of how he was or done anything about it. I guess taking that award back to you that morning after was when we first spoke and you talked me into standing up for myself."
He looked at her and thought that was a peculiar way to see it. He picked up some egg in his fork and put it in his mouth. When he finished eating, he spoke. 
"You knew how he was. You just couldn't think of what to do about it," Bennett stated. 
Bennett stopped, then looked at Zanta. 
"You knew the way he was, so did his agent, even Spencer's wife knew. I didn't know, but I hated the guy. I hated him for other reasons. I wish now I hadn't, not for those reasons, because of spite, but I guess I did. Hated him so much. Hated hearing about him. Hated the thought of him winning that award that night. Poor Harris Buckler. I just hated hearing about Chuck Warren. I'm disappointed now to think I felt that way, but I did. Just couldn't stand him."
"He's asked me to take him back," Zanta said. 
Bennett looked at her, this beautiful woman he thought he had rescued, now she wanted to go back to her tormentor. 
"Are you?" 
"He's defeated. He's completely broken. He's going to therapy."
"Are you going back to him?"
"I haven't decided yet, but I want to keep other possibilities open, . . . if they are there." 
"I think . . . . ," Bennett began, "you want to be happy with him."
Zanta smiled. 
"That's what I wanted you to say. I liked you, Bennett, . . . "
"Good-bye, Zanta," Bennett said, picking up his fork. Zanta stood up to leave. 
Bennett watched her go. Once, so much of that acting and creating had been important to him. The recognition. Now he was glad to be away from it all. He then remembered he wanted to ask Zanta what become of the award Harris Buckler received. He wanted to hear her tell it, not an online quip or posting. He didn't know how Spencer and Jareta made out either. All he knew was Zanta wanted to go back to Chuck Warren. 
Incredibly, he didn't wonder what Chuck Warren thought, if he even understood what all happened. Someone he didn't know at all resented every inch of him; his looks, his voice, just hated him. Now, he could only wish the best for Chuck, theorizing the fellow couldn't believe someone could detest him so much and interfere with his life like that. So maybe he'll just be a bit more considerate from now on. 
Bennett ate the last of his breakfast. 
He was finished. 

© 2021 R J Fuller

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Added on January 25, 2021
Last Updated on January 26, 2021
Tags: performers, actors, deception, racism, award, anger, betrayal