It is 118F in Doha, Qatar. It will get even hotter before the day ends. Much hotter. Everywhere Cal Fitzroy looks he can see sweaty, uniform-clad workers from Nepal and Sir Lanka and beyond, actually wilting in the midday sun.
They are trapped not only in the heat, but in Qatar itself. Like everyone else, they have fallen victim to the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system that makes slaves of just about anyone who is foolish enough to work in the country.
Including Cal Fitzroy. It was not very long ago that he -along with his wife, Matty Johnson- were known as the Canadian version of James Carville and Mary Matalin. Their lives were filled with blue skies and finewine and Sundays in the park with George.
But Cal was bored with his mainstream life so when a new Arabic TV station offered him a job in Washington, DC and then Doha he jumped at it.
The honeymoon in the Muslim state was brief. Thinking he was ‘above the law,’ he foolishly tried to give a voice to the voiceless he saw every day. He soon found himself broke, hungry and quite unable to secure the exit visa needed to even leave the country.
Now he is about to be smuggled to an unknown country, ready be trained to fight the monsters who are killing the civilians in a bloody civil war.
Chapter One: Toronto
and The Black Hooker Controversy
There are two framed samplers on the wall of Cal Fitzroy’s basement office.
The first one reads: “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”
The second one says: “Let’s sell these people a piece of blue sky.”
Cal likes the second one best. It reminds him of blue skies, from now on.
Cal placed neither of samplers on the office wall and so for a long time he did not know who they were quoting. It was his wife, Matty Johnston, who first informed him of their origin.
“L. Ron,” she said. “You know who that is don’t you?”
He did not.
“L. Ron Hubbard?”
“Creator of Scientology?”
Oh. That sounded familiar.
“And this one?” he asked.
“Same,” she said. “I’m sorry, babe. You did say you worked in news, didn’t you?”
Cal wanted to remove the samplers from the wall but Matty would notice he had taken them down and she would know why he had done so. He could not bear that.
Cal and Matty are classic opposites. He is short, she is tall. His voices cracks when he screams and hers reminds people of a bass tuba. She is quick with a retort and he will struggle for a day to come up with a suitable reply.
But those difference are mild when measured by their political leanings. Cal likes to say he came from a long line of “socialist street-fighters.” His father, a doctor in Saskatchewan, spent his life fighting for the rights of the common man. Matty refers to Cal as a “left-wing, commie pinko nutbar.”
According to Cal, Matty is a “bush-league Bush-loving redneck bullshit artist.” Hers is a world of not just entitlement, but a rich and healthy celebration of all things grand and gaudy.
They are strange bedfellows. It is no wonder thousands of viewers tune in each week to watch them squabble on CrossTawk, their Christian Broadcast Network’s news and opinion TV program.
Today is Show Day and Matty is frantically fussing with her makeup. Cal is doing what he always does on Show Day: He is being Cal.
He leans into the mini-fridge and pulls out a cold beer and then moves closer to the window. His neighbour Vira is railing on her husband Billy for smoking the last cigarette. Honest to god, you’d think he had screwed the Pope the way she is going on. Screwed him and left him to die at the hands of naked Pygmies.
“You know how delicate I am,” she says. “My nerves are shot. I’ve told you that. The Doctor told you that. You remember that?”
“Of course I remember,” he says. “You dragged the poor fucker over here so he could tell me that your nerves were shot.”
“‘You’re wife’s nerves are shot.’ That is what he said. Plain and simple. Plain and simple.”
“I remember. I was there. Here.”
“And no job. No medical. No medication. No nothing. You try facing every day without medication. See if you like it.”
“I DO face every day without medication,” he screams. “I always have.”
“Oh don’t you dare. Don’t you fuckin’ dare start raggin’ on me about my pills. I swear, I’ll take a two-by-four straight outta this wall and ram it so far up your ass so hard you’ll be picking out splinters with a magnifying glass from now ‘till doom’s fucking day.”
That did it. That took the wind out of his flimsy sails. Cal cannot see him, but he knows that to be the case. Hell, she’s taken the wind of out his sails, too!
“You hear this,” Billy yells out to Cal.
He hears it, all right. And so does everyone else in a ten mile radius.
Cal often wonders if he and Matty sound like that to other people. They fight endlessly but it does not seem to him that they do it at quite that volume. But maybe he is just used to it by now.
Cal’s cell phone rings. It is Matty.
“What’s the topic for tonight?” she screams.
Oh dear. She is in her ‘Gal of Action Mode.’ She told Cal hours ago to call the station to find out the topic for the show tonight. He forgot.
“Where are you?” he says.
“In the kitchen.”
“So why didn’t you just yell down the stairs?”
“Because I don’t like yelling down the stairs,” she yells. “Now what is the topic for today?”
That last part did not come from the phone. She yelled it down the stairs.
Cal hangs up the phone but then it rings again.
“Find out,” she screams. “And don’t drink! You know what happened last time.”
Yeah, he knows what happened last time. And the time before.
Matty is furious. She can almost see the fumes coming out of her head.
He can be such a clown. He knows how she panics about the show, so every week he does something to piss her off. He knows how to break her stride. He wants her to get flustered and off her game.
And she has to get her make up done! She is running out of time.
Cal once told her she wore enough makeup and hair spray to not only sink a battleship, but hide it as well. Harsh but true, she remembered thinking at the time.
She has always adored make up. Even as a child. She would sit with her mother at the make-up table and experiment with her lipstick and blush. She bought a double-mirror for her bedroom and used it to ‘fix herself up’ before going to high school. She was the first to use eyeliner and when she discovered hair spray, well, that was it. The whole kit and caboodle as her father used to say.
She still looks good. Hair, nails, hair, bosom, ass, legs, more hair… Nothing fake about her. She is a woman. A real woman.
Kids these days. They don’t know what it means to be a woman, do they? They are all asexual nymphs. Big asses and no tits. How is that possible? Is it hormones in the meat or injections in the ass?
“Time,” she screams out loud.
Cal calls the TV station to ask about topic for this evening’s broadcast.
“Oysters,” the producer says.
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“No, Cal,” she says with a verbal smirk. “This is a political show.”
“I am aware of that,” Cal says. “Which explains my surprise.”
She is a piece of work, Cal thinks to himself. She is a twentysomething gal of great entitlement. Fresh out of college. And an intern! Imagine that! An intern in charge of a national TV show. Even if it is just CBN.
She handles the ‘social media duties. She is forever trying to get Cal to log onto his Twitter account. She wants him to ‘push’ the show and also tells him to make comments viewers will find ‘enticing and provocative.’ Cal does not know what any of that means.
“Here,” he said to her on one occasion, handing her a type- written (!) piece of paper.
“What is this?”
“My Twister update.”
“So,” she said with practiced patience. “You are suggesting we provide the world with details concerning your wife’s mood this morning upon discovering that you had used the last of the milk. And a overview of the single malt whisky you consumed last night?”
“Well, I’m not going to do that. I thought you would.”
“Well, to begin with, it is not my job to do that. It is yours. And secon–.”
“I’m sorry, Patricia –”
“… Kimberly I don’t even know HOW to do that. So I just assumed that you would do that.”
“… and secondly, why on earth would you think that there is anything -anything!- here that anyone over the age of six would find interesting.”
“I’m not assuming any such thing,” Cal said. “I’m assuming they would not find any of it even remotely interesting, but I thought that was the entire idea of Twister.”
“Twitter, you twit… Listen, Twister is that game my parents played when they were –”
“– your age. So this is clearly something different. It is a social media tool.”
“I resent being called that,” Cal said and Kimberly is not uncertain if he is joking or not. “I tend to think about the entire thing as more of an anti-social tool.”
“So you would prefer I call you an anti-social tool?”
“Yes,” he said proudly. “And I shall call you –”
Cal could tell that she was the sort who would remember this conversation for a very long time to come. And she has.
“So the topic of the program tonight will be a spirited debate about the impending Senate reforms.”
“Shall I email you a reminder?”
“No, that will be fine.”
“And should I text your wife, or will you tell her?”
“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Better safe than.”
Cal waits for her to finish the sentence but she does not do so.
The good news is that if he emails Matty the details he will not have to talk to her before the show. That is always a bonus. He writes in the subject line: The topic tonight is a spirited debate about the impending Senate reforms. He does not put anything in the body of the email. That drives her crazy.
She replies almost at once. At the end of his message in the subject line she has written: Go f*** yourself jerkoff twat.
Cal cracks open another beer.
The phone rings within seconds.
“Of course not,” he says. “We have a show tonight.”
“I swear…” she says but does not complete the sentence.
Cal puts his feet up on the desk. He is waiting for one of two things to happen: Either Matty will call back or Bill and Vira will start fighting again. He is hoping for the latter. But he falls asleep before another thought is able to weasel its way into his head. He cannot drink in the afternoon.
Matty puts the finishing touches to her makeup and then admires her work in the full-length mirror. She does look good. She is at the tail-end of middle age but she still looks like a young woman. Well, youngish. If 40 is the new 50 then perhaps she can get away with late 30s? Damn, she thinks to herself. You always have to take it one step too far.
Her dress is low cut, but not as low as she’d like. That idiot intern slash producer told her they had complaints about her cleavage and that she had to start covering up. Matty is certain she made that up. Who does not like seeing cleavage! And Matty has sublime cleavage. Years ago she found a push-up bra that not only does the trick just right, but also allows her to show off the small tattoo near the top of her right breast. It is in the shape of a stylized breast. How wonderful is that! A tattoo of a breast on her breast. It is small and almost flesh-colored but she likes it. People love it. She loves that they love it. Maybe that is why the intern slash producer told her to cover up her cleavage. That girl does not have enough cleavage to fill a sandwich-sized baggie. She told her that once! Just right out and said it. The truth hurts sometimes.
She finds Cal asleep on the couch. She does not wake him. Screw him. That was part of her plan. Maybe this way she can convince the intern slash producer that she is capable of hosting the show without her bombastic buffoon of a husband.
Cal comes to slowly. Almost deliciously, in fact. He wipes the crap from the corner of his mouth without even realizing where he is. Or anything else. He reaches down and feels his hard-on and is just on the verge of wondering if he can find a use for it when he remembers the wherefore and the whyfore.
Shit. It is Show Day. Set up. Knocked down like a bowling pin.
He runs up the stairs, all the while calling Matty’s name but to no avail, of course. It finally dawns on him that she has left without him. She is good. He’ll give her that. Sinister as hell, but good.
Well, no matter. He still has plenty of time to get to the studio on time. Now the ball is in his proverbial. He’ll show her. He will burst into the studio and she will be so flustered he’ll do what he usually does: Walk all over her. Sweet.
Cal finishes off his beer and reaches into his pocket for his car keys. He does not have them. And he knows who orchestrated that. Christ. A cab at this hour would be out of the question. Damn her. She’s got him this time. Damn it all to hell.