By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 36 - "Reality Check" - My Mostly Happy Life

At the same time that Alonso Hannah was carrying his baby book of trees to The Daily Globe, Timothy Wong was bringing the photographs that he’d taken over a month before to the studios of KABA-TV.

He climbed a narrow staircase between cinderblock walls to a barren anti-chamber occupied by a woman sitting behind a desk. She was about twenty-years-old, had spiky pink hair, was wearing wooly leggings and a baggy sweater, and looked more like a reject from a modern

dance studio than a receptionist. But she had a KABA coffee mug in her hand, so Timothy assumed that he was in the right place.

He politely asked if he could speak with Maximilian Flowers, host of the weekly series Reality Check. When told that Mr. Flowers would not be arriving at the studio for another two hours, he plunked himself down on an uncomfortable plastic chair to wait.

Ten minutes later, wearing a three-piece suit with a blue cornflower boutonniere in his lapel, the Great Magician appeared through a side door. He was a big man, but not the bigness of physical strength. The bigness of personality. He had an oval face, with a nose shaped like a garden spade, and the slicked back hair of a 1940s gangster. In and of itself Maximilian Flowers’s countenance might have been considered off-putting, except for his eyes, which invited trust, and his eyebrows, which were the most expressive Timothy Wong had ever seen.

“Oh,” the scruffy receptionist looked up. “Sorry, Mr. Flowers. I didn’t know you were here. This little kid wants to talk to you.”

Timothy jumped to his feet.

“I am not a little kid. I’m almost fifteen!”

The Great Magician peered down at his childlike visitor. He saw a boy whose ears were too big, legs were too thin, face was too round, and who was too short for his age. In honor of meeting with the celebrated prestidigitator, Timothy had worn his only suit, a hand-me-down from his older brother Parnell (now an Air Force pilot). But the suit was too large, and the shirt collar wobbled around his neck like a loose washer on a bolt.

To top off his resemblance to a little kid masquerading as a grown-up, Timothy was carrying his father’s scuffed leather briefcase.

The magician held out his right hand, and in a dramatic baritone said, “Max Flowers. And I have the honor of meeting…?”

Timothy grabbed Maximilian’s extended hand and began to pump it vigorously. A barely-suppressed smile twitched on and off the magician’s face.

“My name is Timothy Wong,” the teenager said, still pumping the older man’s hand.

Maximilian gently disengaged his fingers and raised one expressive eyebrow.

Timothy responded to the implied question.

“I’m a fan of your show,” he said, his eyes so seriously respectful that, if Maximilian had any reservations about the boy’s motives, they instantly disappeared.

“Thank you,” the magician said solemnly. Then, with a great show of deference, he added, “I can see that you are a busy man, Mr. Wong. Therefore, may I correctly assume that you have come here today with a purpose?”

“Yes, sir,” Timothy nodded. “I know that your show is called Reality Check for a reason, because at the beginning of each episode, you say it’s your job to unmask lies. Well, sir, I watched a program on your network called Plants without People, and everything the guest said on that show was a lie.” Timothy put his briefcase on the floor, and bent down as if to open it. “I brought you some photographs to prove it.”

Maximilian Flowers reached down and thrust the briefcase back into Timothy’s arms.

“Not here, Mr. Wong. Please follow me.”

He turned, exited through the door from which he had emerged, and began to stride down a narrow corridor.

Timothy scurried after him to another door, this one leading into a large office. Standing in the opening, the boy was overcome with awe. All four walls were covered with huge posters of

Maximilian the Magnificent looking dignified and mysterious in a black tuxedo, black bowtie, and top hat. In one, he fanned a deck of cards so gracefully they looked like the arc of a rainbow. In another, he balanced a shimmering golden globe on thin air between his widely separated hands. In still other posters, he levitated a woman, contemplated the mysteries of a human skull, or cupped a palm full of flames.

“Please come in,” Maximilian said.

 

“Wow,” Timothy responded, his eyes darting greedily from poster to poster. “Wow,” he repeated. “These are just great.” He took a step into the office, and asked, “Why did you stop being a magician?”

“I didn’t.”

“But…”

“Performing magic is my profession. Exposing charlatans is my hobby.” He took the briefcase out of the boy’s hand, rested it on his desk, and stepped back. “Perhaps, Mr. Wong, you care to show me what you have brought?”

Timothy unsnapped the latches, flipped open the lid, and removed a stack of eight by ten-inch photographs. He put the briefcase on the floor and raised his head to meet Maximilian’s eyes.

“May I spread them out on your desk?”

Again, a smiled flickered on and off the magician’s somber face.

 

He nodded. “I would be enchanted.”

Minutes later, as the host of Realty Check examined Timothy Wong’s first photograph, darts of disapproval dug deep beachheads above his fierce nose.

He examined the next photo. And the next.

 

His eyebrows lowered ominously.

He looked at twenty more pictures.

Then, as Carmichael Swerling had done with Alonso Hannah, Maximillian Flowers asked Timothy Wong to explain the significance of each image and its relevance to the claims that Jarvis Larchmont had made on the Katie Oxnard show.

Max set the last photograph down on the pile and reached for his phone.

He punched in four-digits.

 

“Ramona?” He said, his voice peremptory. “I need a clip from yesterday’s Plants without People … third segment … No. It cannot wait.”

Within twenty minutes, the magician and the teen were watching the Katie Oxnard interview on a small screen VCR player in Max Flowers’ office.

The day after that, on Tuesday July 14, Carmichael Swerling’s story about Alonso and his “baby book” appeared on the front page of The Daily Globe. And on Wednesday, July 15, Maximilian devoted his entire show to a Jarvis Larchmont exposé.

Earlier that day, Reality Check’s publicist sent our press releases, and Carmichael found one in his IN box at the newspaper. He immediately contacted his mother (Donna), his brother (Noah), his sister (Esther), and all of his first cousins, including Franklin, about the upcoming broadcast. Donna called her mother, Ghita, who got on the telephone to her other four children, who all contacted their children and spouses, and so on. Meanwhile, Esther called Meg, Meg’s parents, Patrolman Peter McWhorter, and for some reason she couldn’t explain (even to herself), Alvin Widdle, the records clerk at the Department of Parks.

Of course, Esther also called Merritt Jones.

Those who were available that night congregated in Sam’s old apartment, and after a catch-as-catch-can dinner, threw themselves down on sofas, chairs, and the floor in Ghita’s living room to watch Reality Check on TV.

Those who could not come watched on their TV sets at home.

Thursday morning, The Daily Globe again published a front-page story about the Samuel Swerling Park. This time, it concerned Maximilian Flower’s exposé:

JARVIS LARCHMONT UP A TREE!

During Mayor Angel’s recuperation following heart surgery, the city has been ably and efficiently run by Parks Commissioner Michael Hurwitz. Over the course of those same three weeks, City Councilman Jarvis Larchmont assumed responsibility for management of our parks, and in that capacity, he not only usurped control of a private park, he also rewrote the park’s rules to prevent visitors from climbing its trees.

Yesterday, in his KABA-TV series Reality Check, magician and junk-science debunker Maximilian Flowers examined statements made by Jarvis Larchmont during an interview on Plants without People, a KABA-TV series hosted by Katie Oxnard. Oxnard, an advocate of “plant liberation, is considered by many to be a covert player in the Environmental Terrorist Movement.

In the June 23 interview, Larchmont claimed that incompetent administration of the Samuel Swerling Park had caused trees to received deep and injurious lacerations. As evidence for these allegations, he presented a photograph of huge gashes in tree bark with a viscous substance apparently “bleeding” from the wounds. Those injuries, he asserted, had been caused by the shoes of children who had climbed the trees.

In another photo, vaguely human silhouettes are seen clambering in, up, and over branches in a manner so darkly disturbing that they resemble giant predatory spiders.

Larchmont conclude his Plants without People interview by stating that the owner/administrators of the Samuel Swerling Park had subjected their trees to “constant, chronic, and life threatening” abuse.

Katie Oxnard, in signing off the show, exhorted viewers to boycott the park.

In order to debunk the misinformation presented by Jarvis Larchmont during the Plants without People, Maximilian Flowers introduced high school student Timothy Wong who, Flowers explained, “came to me yesterday with evidence

that the acting parks commissioner’s photographs distort reality” and that all of Larchmont’s statements are lies.

 

The rest of the The Daily Globe article concerned itself with Timothy Wong’s pictures, accompanied by captions that spelled out the differences and similarities between photographs taken by Jarvis Larchmont and those take by the teenager himself.

If it hadn’t been so sad, it would have been funny.

In Jarvis’s photos of bleeding trees, for example, the bark is dark and dank, and the fluid seeping from the wounds does, indeed, look like blood. But in Timothy’s long shots of those same trees, we see that is raining, and that Jarvis is hunched over his camera mere inches from the bark, peering through a macro lens and taking extreme close-ups of tiny scratches from which sap, as is natural for trees of this variety, is seeping.

Sap and Rainwater. Not blood and guts.

As to Jarvis Larchmont’s photograph of spidery looking human silhouettes, Timothy Wong explained that anyone can achieve a similar effect by manipulating light and shadow on a computer before printing out a digital image. To illustrate this point, Timothy Wong positioned his picture of the very same boys and girls in the very same tree, but in Wong’s photograph, the children are laughing and playing, and 

Chapter 36 - "Reality Check" - My Mostly Happy Life

Carmichael ended his article with these words:

 

… Those who love the Samuel Swerling Park have known for weeks that its climbing trees are in jeopardy, and that control must revert to its owners. Not next month. Not next week. Not this weekend. Not tomorrow. NOW. The park founder’s daughter, Honor, wrote a poem originally published in the July 5th edition of this newspaper, and perhaps, she said it best:

We will not rest. We won’t desist.

We will not cease to fight,

Until our trees are free again.

And wrong had turned to right!

 

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit www.shellyreuben.com