Chapter Twenty-Eight

The day the video was released, the site’s Web servers got sluggish a few times but they never crashed. Doug had seen to that.

The video was released on a Monday morning so the story would dominate the entire week’s news, and probably the next week’s. Doug had seen to that, too.

He knew it would quickly become the most viewed video in the history of the Internet. Someone would re-post it on YouTube and it would go viral immediately, and then it would be banned, but that never worked for long in cyberspace, where information wanted to be free, to trickle into distant vessels, like a spreading rain nourishing a desert. Someone would post it again somewhere, and the chase for the link would begin again. Everyone who wanted to see it would eventually get to see it. Doug knew all this.

He knew this would all happen, and he considered it a fair trade for what he was offering the world.

That Monday morning, when you went to TheWaytm’s official Website (and subsequently dozens of unofficial Way-related sites), or to the RealWomen site or any of the dozens of feeder sites Lenny and Doug controlled, you saw the usual Home page load properly. And then, a second later, you saw it spiral down a virtual drain in the center of your monitor. If your speakers were on you heard an accompanying flushing sound.

There was blackness, then a glow from the center of your screen outward, blinding white. Then came Doug.

He was standing in the living room of his house in the hills. The time was dusk, or some clever technician had lit the house to look dusky. Out the windows you could see the sky above the city, all subtle pinks and purples and oranges imbuing the fine smog over Los Angeles with a decorative garden of light. Romantic light. The light of possibilities.

“Hello, world,” Doug said, looking into what seemed to be a hand-held camera. (Investigators later learned that it was Doug holding the camera with a homemade tripod-type thing latched to his right thigh and controlled by his right hand.) “I’m Doug Bishop. I created The Way…along with my friend and colleague Leonard Wizenberg. I want to show you around. Come on.”

He smiled and cocked his head. “Walk with me.”

The camera jerked to the side, showing Doug’s profile as he strode. He paused. “Oh, sorry. That was the living room. Pretty sweet view. Almost forgot to show you that. Sorry. This is all being recorded live, by the way. So there’s bound to be some mistakes. One-take-only for this one.” He chuckled.

Climbing three steps, Doug turned to face the camera. “This is the kitchen. Check it out.” The camera swiveled clumsily. You could see all the gleaming appliances and marble and crystal. “Nice.”

Doug walked. The camera followed. “Here. Peek in here. One of the bathrooms. Also pretty nice.” He stepped out of the doorway and down a hallway. “But this isn’t about ceramic fixtures or interior design, or, you know…I just wanted you to have a general idea of how some people live. How I live. For the record.”

He pointed to a closed door, heavy oak stained dark. “That’s Leader Lenny’s room. Can’t go in there…Just wanted you to see where it is…OK, back this way.”

Doug retraced his steps. If you looked carefully behind him you could see the kitchen as he passed through. “We’re going to go to my room. I want to share something with you.”

Down another hallway, to another heavy door. Doug pushed it open.

The room was built like a rooftop restaurant. Dusky light poured in making a pleasant penumbra around the bed, a larger-than-King-size cushion draped with white linens and piled with pillows. You could see a lump in the middle.

Doug walked toward it. “Hey, Ms. T. T-Baby!”

Tira Kira’s head emerged from the covers. “Daddy!”

“Say hello to everyone!”

You could see the moment T-Baby went from sexy plaything to woman scorned. The moment she understood what Doug was doing. “Doug. Sir. Stop it. Please, no video. Doug. I’m not wearing makeup. Turn it off.”

“That’s Tira Kira. She serves me. She’s cranky right now, but it’s true. She’s mine.”

Tira wrapped a sheet around herself and bolted out of the frame. (If your monitor was high-res enough you could see a wee bit of lower ass and whole bunch of thigh; someone froze the frame, enlarged it, cleaned it up, and shared it with the universe to go along with the thousands of other images of Tira Kira’s flesh on the Internet.) “She’s in the bathroom,” Doug said to the camera. “You don’t need to see it. It’s really nice. Of course.”

He approached the bed. “Lots of fun here. I’ll leave the specifics to your imagination, or to any number of Websites that could serve as…as a reliable muse.”

Doug sat on the edge of the mattress. He got the camera pointed at his face. Then his voice became quieter, more intimate. “OK. It was a very brief tour. But I just wanted you to have an idea of where I live, and what I’ve got…possessions. And the caliber of woman serving me. T-Baby, y’all!”

Doug shrugged. “I could show you bags full of money. Literally. Pillowcases filled with cash. But that would be crass…Same reason I didn’t make T-Baby do something humiliating on camera. She would if I asked her. I’m, you know, I’m me. But I didn’t think it was necessary to show off.” Doug nodded.

“I just want to be clear that I really do have it all, more than any one man really needs. My wishes are the world’s commands. I’ve got everything and I’m relatively happy.” He shrugged.

“I tell you this, I share this so no one accuses me of depression or…despondency. I’m not down. Actually, I’m pretty up!”

You could tell that Doug wasn’t reading from a script, and that he hadn’t really prepared or rehearsed. But you could also tell that he knew what he wanted to say.

“I’m happy. But I’m not satisfied. Not…not fully content. I know I will be content very soon. And the purpose of this video, which, by the way, is also being recorded by two other cameras mounted in the corners. Longer, more general shot of the scene. Maybe they’ll cut it all together later…Anyway, the purpose is simply this: I want to help people. Everyone. Not just those who sign up for The Way – and incidentally, for the record, I, I’m not saying that most of the, the, you know, the things weren’t sort of made up, or, you know, ‘created’ by me and Lenny. But I would also like to say, for the record, that I think The Way is incredibly cool in that it helps people help themselves. And that’s smart since, obviously, we’re the only ones who can do the job. Each individual is the sun in his own universe.” Doug looked down for a few seconds, thinking.

“Anyway. You’re the only one who can help you. But I’m going to try, anyway.” Doug’s eyes gleamed. You couldn’t tell if it was zeal or pain.

“I understand that we live in a low-attention-span culture, and if I go on too long most of you will just fast-forward to the end and you’ll miss the important part. Which is this.” Doug opened his mouth to speak. Nothing happened. He froze. He held his breath. You could hear T-Baby in the off-screen bathroom turning on what must have been a shower or whirlpool tub. It sounded like low static.

Then he exhaled. Long, almost a sigh.

“It’s great to have a good life, by whatever definition you prefer. And I’ve had a good one. For sure. But it’s even better to make a good life for other people, for people you don’t even know, people you’ll never meet. That’s what changes the world. That’s what changes the course of history.”

Doug leaned forward. You felt he was neither unhinged nor calm. Something was off, but compellingly so. “Muhammad, Buddha, Jesus Christ – these were actual persons! They were men, or at least divine figures who had taken the form of a man. These are famous men! Human beings. Fellow human beings, members of our species. Maybe the most famous men of all time.”

He looked at the floor again.

When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. His voice quivered slightly, and then more. “Jesus Christ supposedly died for all of us sinners. That’s how much he loved us. Well, I want you to know, dear world, that I love you, too. I love you so much that I’m willing to give up all this.” You could see the fingers of his left hand pass through the frame briefly, making an expansive gesture.

If you froze the video exactly right you could catch a blurry glimpse of a ring on his wedding band finger.

Doug tried to smile. “The sex and the money. Everything. Everything. I give it up for you. Because I love you.”

He was weeping now. “And me? I’m very glad I’ll be remembered. I guess that’s all I ever really wanted.”

His hand reached toward the camera, as though he wished to squeeze the viewer’s nose. “You don’t have to see this part,” he said. And then the camera was pointing down, and then black.

But you could still hear the audio, slightly muffled but intelligible. “Remember,” you could hear Doug saying, “this is for all of you, and all of you to come. All I ask in return is, Be good to each other. ”

Then you heard some rustling, as though he were searching for something in his pants or beneath the bed, that magnificent cloud upon which so much mortal pleasure had been created.

“Be good to each other.” Then you heard the single gunshot and T-Baby screaming.

 

 

THE END

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