what scares me
Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger
"Hey, Jam?" Bob remarked, dangling his feet over the edge of the balcony. He crossed his arms on the railing, peering out and down at the myriad lights below. "You remember that night we first met at the winter party?"
"Yeah, I remember," Jam said, looking down at his notebook as he wrote. "What about it?"
"Do you remember what you said to me that night? About how I shouldn't let this place get to me?" Bob turned to look at him. "What was that all about, exactly? What were you referring to?"
Jam looked at him, squarely, silently. And then he looked out at the city, and then back down to his book.
"I just meant it's not all diamonds and roses like the radio says," he explained. "Too many people hear the success stories and get duped into thinking that's what it's like all the time. They come up on the buses and want to join Top Tier, and it eats 'em up and spits 'em back out after it's done with them."
"Do you mean Top Tier the place, or the company, or--"
"Both," Jam said. "All of it."
Bob blinked. He slowly turned back to the city's skyline, looking over the broadcast towers, the neon signs, the antennae reaching up to the inky sky. "Hey, Jam. Have you ever heard of a place called the Paradise Hotel?"
Jam cocked his head. "Can't say I have," he remarked. "Why?"
"I went there the other day," Bob explained. He was staring far, far off into space. "I wasn't feeling too good, so I went back down to 2-3, you know, where I grew up. And I saw this hotel down there, kinda far from my neighborhood, kinda tucked away. I guess I'd never noticed it before, but it was beautiful on the inside."
"Yeah. At first, anyway. It has all these plants and animals in it," he explained. "At least, it's got a lot of fish, 'cause there's aquariums all over the walls."
"Seriously?" Jam raised his eyebrows. "That must have been a ritzy hotel."
"It was run by Rubyred," Bob continued. "That's how they got the money for it. And there was this woman in there who tried to get me to join them. She...she told me some things..." He trailed off for a moment, then blinked and waved his hand nervously. "Well, never mind that part," he said. "But she tried to get me to leave the company, let's just put it that way."
"I'm not surprised," Jam said. "Rubyred's practically built their stable around having people defect from Top Tier. They put on this front that they care more, that they're trustworthy just because Top Tier is untrustworthy, and from what I can see it's not really that way at all. It's like a pinball game," he groaned. "You just bounce from one company to another until you go down the drain."
Bob leaned back, further and further, until he was lying on his back on the balcony, staring up at the sky.
"Jam," Bob asked, "Mr. King's never rigged a game show, has he?"
Jam stared over at him, and then started to laugh. "No way, man," he said. "Mr. King's done a lot of weird and shady things--bustin' people out of the hospital, for one thing--but he never messes with show business. I mean, granted, I don't know that much about what goes on in the game show side of things, but after that slip-up with Alice Lang on Shock 'Til You Drop, he sat down with the producers and went through every inch of the application process. It took hours. I got to hear about it from Margie later."
"I remember that," Bob remarked. "I was there too. I thought he did that for everyone."
"He does. That's the thing." Jam turned towards him and put his notebook down for the first time. "Even if he thinks a game show about shocking people on-air is a good idea, he'll still sit down and make sure it's as tight and 'fair' as a show like that can be. I don't get it, honestly, but I guess he does," Jam said, shrugging. "And that's one less thing you gotta worry about."
Bob chewed on this a bit, turning back up to look into the sky. "Jam, I know I've been asking a lot of weird questions tonight, but can I ask you one more?"
"Go for it. It's a nice change of pace. I don't mind."
"Given all the stuff you said earlier, about Top Tier and everything...do you think I can trust Mr. King?"
Jam sucked in a breath of air through his teeth. "Lemme put it this way," he said. "You know how show business is full of sharks who'll throw you out on the street if they don't like you?"
"Mr. King likes you," he said. "He really, really likes you."