Dave Tannen slowly awoke in the darkened room. What the hell happened? He wasn't sure if his eyes were open or not until his vision adjusted to his surroundings. His head throbbed mercilessly. He tried moving his arm, thinking it would feel good to rub his aching temples, but he found he was paralyzed. Something held it in place. Leather straps, he wondered, attempting to feel the nature of his restraints.
"What the fuck?" he spat groggily.
He searched his memory for some idea of how he'd landed here. What was the last thing he remembered? Leaving the studio? Yes. He remembered now. He hadn’t taped a show that day. There had only been a meeting scheduled to discuss guests and stories for the upcoming season. That was why, when he left the building by way of the stage door, the alley was deserted. Or at least he’d thought it was deserted….
Suddenly, a searing brightness flashed on in front of him. The light made his headache worse. He could barely look at it for several minutes.
A familiar tune played on a saxophone. He had heard that song so many times over the past ten years, he was sure he could hum it in his sleep. "Hi there, ladies and gentleman," he heard himself saying next. "Welcome to The Dave Tannen Show."
Now, his eyes were adjusting to the new light source, which was clearly the screen of a television which had been placed in front of him. He heard cheering, and turned just in time to see the camera’s eye view of a crowd of eager audience members. Some of them shouted his name with an affected deepness that might have been more appropriate for a sports arena.
At last, the noise died down, and he continued. "You know, folks," he said, "we’ve seen a lot of shocking cases on this show, but this has got to be one of the most disturbing. Take a listen to Calandra’s story." A wide-eyed, pug-faced woman appeared on screen with streams of unctuous tears pouring from her eyes and making her cheeks glisten. She was the picture of worry and doubt. It had always been fascinating to Dave how easily human emotions could be manipulated. The people he paid to work his guests into a frenzy really knew how to do their job, making the poor saps barely functional by the time they hit the stage, just like this woman.
Dave heard his voice continue over a succession of pictures of a seemingly happy family. "Calandra thought she had the picture-perfect life with her husband, Grayson, and her three year-old son, Teddy. Everything was great until, one day, Teddy came to his mom with a shocking accusation."
The episode crudely jumped to a later moment. Now, Calandra and Dave sat beside each other on the small stage. The back wall was boldly emblazoned with Dave's trademarked logo. Normally, the sight would inspire such pride within him, but the current circumstances only created confusion.
Calandra spoke hurriedly through her tears in a raspy Alabama accent. "I was giving my son a bath, and he said, ‘Mommy, am I a boy or a girl?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re a little boy.' Because we don’t play with that stuff in my family, Dave. We don’t do that, even if you’re homosexual."
“I understand,” said Dave. He remembered clenching in that moment, and hoping to urge Calandra past saying anything that might offend his viewership. Luckily, the woman took the hint and continued.
“So I said, ‘You’re a little boy,’ and he said, ‘why?’ And I said ‘Because you got a peepee.’ You know? And then he went real quiet and said, ‘Is Daddy a boy, too?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Daddy is a big boy.’ And he said, ‘Then Daddy has a big peepee.’”
The audience reacted with manufactured shock, thanks to another skillful employee who had primed them beforehand, giving them explicit instructions to “react big” whenever possible.
Calandra continued. “I immediately started screaming and crying, Dave! I flipped out! And my son started screaming and crying, too! I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ and he told me he was scared! He said he was scared! My son was scared!”
“So what did you do?” Dave asked her.
“I called the show, Dave!” The crowd cheered loudly, and Calandra kept on talking. “I need answers! I need to know if my husband did anything to my son! I’m a mother!”
Dave couldn’t help but chuckle to himself at how common this story was. Mothers with lives so uneventful that they look for the slightest reason to create drama. And then, when they find it, who do they call? Not the police. Not a doctor. Not anyone else who might be a logical choice. No. They call The Dave Tannen Show. It’s a hell of a way to make a living, Dave thought.
Another jump cut, and Grayson, the boy's father, stood onstage. He proclaimed his innocence through desperate tears while Dave berated and threatened him. Through it all, the audience called out with their own indictments of the man they'd never seen before that day.
"I think you did it," Dave insisted.
"No, Dave, I swear," Grayson pleaded.
"No," Dave was unmovable. "I think you did something to that little boy. And you know what happens to guys like you who hurt little boys? They end up in jail! And then bigger boys hurt them!"
The audience cheered wildly as Grayson continued to defend himself.
Another jump cut, and Dave could see now that he held a large envelope. A hush fell over the audience as he removed the single sheet of paper the envelope contained. "Anything you want to confess before I read these results?" Dave asked.
"No," said Grayson, still fighting back the sobs. "I'm innocent. I didn’t do anything."
Dave turned his attention to the paper in his hand. "Grayson came here and took a lie detector test. We asked him, 'Have you ever touched your son, Teddy, for any purpose other than the normal interaction between a father and a son?' He answered no. We asked him, 'Have you ever had inappropriate contact with you three year-old son, Teddy?' He answered no. We gave you the test four times, and the results came back the same each time, that Grayson...." Dave paused for effect as he always did. "...Did not tell the truth!"
The audience erupted. Calandra melted into a quivering puddle of nerves. The camera focused in on Grayson's confused and devastated expression.
Suddenly, the television switched off and the room was plunged once more into silence and darkness.
An uncomfortably long moment passed. Through his uneasiness, Dave began to put the pieces of his current situation together. He reflected on the episode he had just been shown. The producers, with Dave’s approval, decided what the results would be before the story even taped. It was common practice for "trashy" daytime talk shows. Ratings needed to be maintained, and so villains needed to be manufactured. It was all part of the business. It would make sense, therefore, if some former guests were angry, especially if they ended up on the "wrong" side of a story. It would not even be a stretch for some to desire and possibly seek revenge. Normally, Dave wasn’t worried about such things, but now, he was beginning to wonder if his confidence had been misplaced.
There suddenly came a voice from behind him. It would have made him jump were he not strapped down.
"Who's there?" Dave demanded, trying to sound as tough as usual. Even so, the quiver in his voice gave him away. He could hear shuffling footsteps coming around from behind him. "I said who's there?" he tried again. A figure stepped into Dave's line of vision. It was barely discernible as Dave's eyes adjusted once again to the dark, but he could tell it was a man.
"You don't remember me, do you?" the figure said.
Dave recognized the voice. "Grayson?" he asked. "Grayson Miller?"
"I knew you'd need the refresher," Grayson continued. "That's why I had the video all queued up for you."
"What's going on here? Did you do this, you sick son of a bitch?" Dave demanded.
Grayson laughed. "Wow, still sticking with the act?" He suddenly turned on a dime and lunged toward Dave’s face. "You know full well that I was innocent! I never did anything to my son! Your test was a bullshit stunt for ratings!"
"We work for the cause of justice!" Dave insisted. A crushing blow to the left side of his face silenced him.
"Oh, come off it, Dave! The only cause you work for is your own bank account. You ruin lives for ratings! You rely on the average person's ignorance of how lie detector tests work! You did it to me!"
Before Dave could protest, Grayson hit him again hard on the other side of the face. Dave screamed in agony.
"Feel that sting, Dave?" Grayson asked. "Feel that pain? Maybe your cheek bone's broken. Who cares! It's just a taste of what you did to my life.” He paused. Dave could hear him breathing heavily in the silence. He watched as Grayson backed away and began pacing back and forth.
“You know what happened after you read those bullshit results for all of America to see?” Grayson continued. “My wife left me. She had me arrested. They let me go and didn't charge me with anything of course, because there was no actual evidence and, thankfully, real law enforcement understands how unreliable these 'tests' are. But that was a small victory. My marriage was already destroyed. She won't let me see my son. On top of it, I was fired from my job. What business would want that kind of scandal? No one in my family will speak to me. I ended up broke, homeless, on the street, and all for what? Because you needed ratings."
Dave didn't know what to say, but felt compelled to try. "I... I...." Another swift blow silenced him, and his own scream filled the small room.
"That's not all, Dave Tannen, champion for justice!” Grayson spat. “You want to hear what else your ‘justice’ got me, an innocent man? Turns out, when people think you're a monster, they tend to hate your guts. Hell, I hate any child abuser myself, which is just one reason why I would never be one. Unfortunately, my entire hometown didn't see it that way. I got the shit kicked out of me, Dave. All I wanted to do was buy bread at the grocery store. Never even got in the door, before some son of a bitch grabbed me from behind. Before I knew it, I was on the ground, getting stomped on by six guys. Six, Dave! There were witnesses. No one did anything! No one wanted to help the supposed child abuser who hadn't been convicted in any court higher than the goddamn fucking Dave Tannen Show!"
A sucker punch directly to the nose caught Dave off guard. He now wept and wailed in pain, just as so many guests had on his show. The taste of his own blood flooded his mouth. "What... what do you want from me?" Dave asked. "Please.... I'll do anything."
Grayson chuckled in the dark. "We're going to do a little test of our own." He pulled a strange and unfamiliar object from somewhere nearby. "You like to shock people. Right, Dave?" Grayson laughed again. "Well, tonight, you're going to get some of it back."
"No, no, please," Dave begged.
"Do you, or do you not fabricate lie detector test results to shock audiences and get ratings?" Grayson demanded.
"Answer the question!"
Dave breathed in. He had promised himself that he would never tell, but then he'd never expected to be in a position like this. Softly, he answered with the truth. "Yes."
There was a loud zap, followed by a wild scream of pain. It was the first of many such sequences that would come that night. Grayson would make an honest man of Dave Tannen as the night went on, and for the first time involve him sincerely in the cause of justice.
Written by Jdeschene