Submitted Date 09/23/2022

The bench outside the studio was one of those decorative benches that no one ever actually sat on—people were either going into the studio to conduct business or were leaving and in a hurry to get on to their next errand. Clarence was producing the afternoon talk show, 'Stockton Suspects.' It was hokey, he thought; Clarence had never been one to be interested in UFOs or whatever wacky subject his old college roommate was talking about that week, but Rodger was his old college roommate and had gotten him through statistics and he had helped him out when his wife threw Clarence out of the house years ago and so now that Clarence was an established radio producer, he felt that producing the show pro bono was the least he could do for his old friend. It was only once a week, and it was only for two hours, and as the Sunday afternoon show had few listeners, it was low pressure. Clarence parked his car in his spot—a sign there said Reserved for Mr. Praeter—and made his way to the door; he was fumbling for the key to the door when he noticed the man sitting on the bench by the door, the one that no one ever sat on. As he approached, the man looked up from his cell phone and nodded. "How ya doing?"

Clarence put the key into the lock and turned. "Good. Yourself?"

"Good," the man said. He returned to his cell phone and Clarence pulled the door open, went through it, and locked it behind him.

There was a short entry hallway that ended in an unmarked and unlocked door; Clarence opened it to reveal a flight of stairs, which he climbed, and then he used a second key to unlock the door at the top of the stairs. That door opened to reveal a small radio studio set up—two rooms divided by a clear Plexiglas panel. On the one side was a desktop surface that extended from the far wall with chairs on either side and a variety of microphone booms reaching down from flat-black rails that crossed the ceiling. The booms were designed to be positioned so that a person sitting in the chairs could easily pull one to position the microphone at the end at the right spot for him or her to speak into. There was also an expensive and delicate—and somewhat old-fashioned—studio microphone mounted directly to the desktop surface; that one was for the host of the show. On the other side of the Plexiglas partition was the producer's station. This side was smaller, obviously intended for a single person, and had a large variety of panels position here and there with a large number of knobs and switches to control the various microphone and to direct their input into the various amplifiers, sound levelers, effects boxes, and so forth. Clarence slipped off his jacket, but it on the back of the chair there, and sat down.

From that position, Clarence could see Rodger sitting in the host's chair on the other side of the studio. Rodger was looking at sheets of paper that he had laid out in order in front of him; each sheet would be a question that he intended to ask the guest, and the answer, in general terms, that the guest would give. These sheets were prepared from the initial telephone interview that Jill, Rodger's assistant, would have conducted. These interviews were what determined whether or not the prospective guest got on the show—if given the green light based on the Jill's interview, then the guest would prepare the question sheets and everyone concerned would have a sense for what the segment would be about and how it would proceed. Clarence tapped on the Plexiglas and Rodger looked up. "Where's the guest?"

"I can't hear you," Rodger's voice came over the speaker behind Clarence. Rodger's microphone was on, but Clarence's, apparently, was not. He flipped a switch. "Where's the guest?"

"Didn't you see him when you came in? He was sitting on the bench outside when I got here."

"Sitting on the bench?" Clarence looked at his watch. "It's thirty minutes to showtime. Doesn't he want to come in and set comfortable?" Most of the guests that appeared on Rodger's show were nervous enough about what they were doing to want to get an early review of the procedure and to get themselves accustomed to the mechanics of the interview—speaking into the microphones, not talking over each other, and so forth.

"I don't know what he wants," Rodger said. He was back to the sheets, marking on this one and that one with a pen here and there.

"How's he going to get in?" Clarence asked.

"I don't know," Rodger said. Clarence shrugged and started turning on boards and getting the equipment ready for use. The clock ticked by with Clarence on his side of the studio and Rodger on his side, each involved in their own tasks and neither speaking. Finally, Clarence tapped on the Plexiglas again and Rodger looked up. "Yeah?"

"It's five minutes to showtime. You want to go get the guest?"

"No," Rodger said. He started arranging the papers. "You go get him."

"Me? He's your guest."

"Go get him, will you?" Rodger said, getting up. "I gotta go to the bathroom."

"Yeah, yeah, all right." Clarence got up and put his jacket back on. "He better be ready to go at lights on. I only have a couple of minutes of fill."

"He'll be ready," Rodger said. "He's on the bench outside." Rodger disappeared through the small door that led to a small bathroom. Clarence shrugged and went back down the stairs, unlocked the glass entry door, and pushed it open, craning his head to the left.

There was a woman sitting on the bench.

"How ya doing?" Clarence said. The woman looked up, surprised, but said nothing. There was an awkward couple of beats, and then Clarence said, "Did you see a guy sitting here?"

"I didn't see no one," she said. Clarence pegged the accent as Russian, or perhaps one of the eastern Baltic states.


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