By Kevin Spaide
Yes, it was none other than Morton Warner--in the flesh. He was sitting right there as though engaged in receiving divine instruction. Philip glowered at him from the other end of the delicatessen.
Warner was doing one of his trademark stares. On his T.V. show, as Philip was well aware, the man referred to these mumbling stares of his as "reading from the inner teleprompter." At any moment he would lapse into one of his musings for the enlightenment of everyone at the lunch counter. A tickle of the old nervousness shot through Philip's belly and he lost all appetite for the half-eaten sandwich in his hand.
No doubt Warner reveled in the knowledge that everyone in the deli, including the manager, was watching him with expectation. Now and again he would lift his sandwich and take a little bite out of it like there was nothing extraordinary about this, like he ate a sandwich here every afternoon-- which he did not. Philip ate a sandwich here every afternoon and had never thought much of Warner all those times; Warner and his crazy schemes, the source of so much anguish.
How long had it been since their last run-in? Years ago he had stumbled upon him in the supermarket. Morton Warner standing in the produce aisle with a grapefruit in each hand. Just standing there. He hadn't been quite so famous then. They were cordial to one another.
Philip shuddered at the memory.
The fat guru pushed his sandwich across the table and leaned into his "inner teleprompter" with extra attention. He was like a man struggling to hear voices in another room. Philip hated that look, had hated it from the beginning, and couldn't suffer it in a place he had come to regard as a sanctuary. There was nothing to do, he reckoned, but confront the man, force him to account for himself for once.
Just then, however, some fool stood up and asked the great man to write something on a napkin. Warner smiled and looked like he enjoyed this sort of thing--and, of course, he would. He had always surrounded himself with flatterers and outright sycophants. Even before anything had happened with him he had allowed himself to have flunkies. Now here he was, after so many years, scribbling on paper napkins for the clientele of Philip's favorite restaurant.
If he approached Warner now the other customers might view him as just another thrill-seeker with a napkin, a notion which caused him to see the room momentarily through a kind of orange haze. The idea was too repellent even to imagine. He ate in this deli every afternoon and did not want the other regulars thinking he was a devotee of Morton Warner, of all people.
The first fool with the napkin was followed by another and another. Warner clearly invited this sort of behavior. He smiled and chit-chatted, maybe even asked them their names. He was all mock deference. And there was probably no end to these idiots since he got himself on T.V. with his message. The idea that Morton Warner sat down in restaurants and signed paper napkins like there was nothing unusual about it almost proved he was a fraud. He didn't come here for that sandwich, Philip told himself. He came to devour souls!
Then, the intolerable happened. As the third fool went away with his memento, Warner turned and looked directly at Philip across two empty tables. Then, without any sign of acknowledgement, he turned away. In Philip's imagination a nimbus of fire erupted around Warner's head. Before he knew anything, he had lurched out of his chair and advanced across the room until he stood trembling beside the table of Morton Warner.
“I see you over here!” he announced.
“Hello Philip,” Warner said, smiling as blandly as he had smiled to his fools. “How delightful. Why don't you join me.” The fat man slid a chair out from under the table with his foot.
“This has gone on long enough, Warner.”
“It has only just begun, Philip. You of all people should understand that I'm in it for the long haul.”
“Who do you think you are, Warner?”
“Isn't it evident, Philip? I make no pretenses.”
“You're a phony, Warner! Doctor Morton Warner. A money man, a fake!”
Warner smiled. “You've resented me from the beginning, Philip. You could never understand that I'm only a vessel, a vessel for something much greater than either of us. Otherwise I'm of no consequence. If it wasn't me it would be somebody else. In fact, I might as well not exist!”
“The same old line from you. After all these years, the same old line of baloney.”
“Just who do you think you are, Warner!” Philip slammed a chair against the table, overturning Warner's glass of water. The two old friends stared with anticipation at the empty glass as it rolled toward the edge of the table. At the last moment Warner arrested it with his hand. The sharp sound of his rings clinking against the glass snapped Philip back to his senses and reinvigorated his anger.
“Listen chum! Don't you ever come in here again or I'll expose you to the world. I'll tell them everything I know.”
As he glared at Warner he saw very distinctly the short hairs on the back of the man's neck rise and bristle. He broke from the table.
As he exited the restaurant Philip heard Morton Warner's voice calling after him, “You can't run from the truth forever, Philip! You can't run forever! The truth is on its way to you, Philip, and it ain't all wine and roses!”
In the street, overwhelmed by the garish spectacle of the city, he realized he still held a sandwich in his hand. He took a furious bite out of it.
Kevin Spaide is a writer from upstate New York living in Ireland.
Editor's note: Morton Warner is a work of fiction and the characters it portrays imaginary.
Photo courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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