Regularly scheduled programming will not be seen tonight, so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Rose said, watching the news with her wife and life partner, Helen. “How many mass shootings have to happen before we reach the tipping point and descend into total chaos?”
“I remember the good old days,” Helen said. “People didn’t go into crowds of people and children to gun them down just for a bit of attention. They’d keep their insanity deep inside where it belonged, hanging themselves in their parents’ basements, dying alone as God intended.”
“I’ve been around over seventy years,” Rose said, “and I don’t remember a scarier time to be alive.”
“I think nine-eleven could give this a run for its money,” Helen said. “Those are all actors anyway, you know. The government has a whole stable to crisis actors, ready to cry on cue.”
“That’s a horrid thing to say,” Rose replied. “People are dead. I’m going to ban right wing radio and TV shows in this home if you keep saying things like that.”
“I’m not mocking their memory,” Helen said, “but the liberal media has an agenda, and it’s to get enough people sad to take away the guns to keep us from overthrowing them. They use these crisis actors to grease the wheels of politics to shove their agenda down everyone’s throats.”
“Yo,” Da’Quarius, Rose and Helen’s adopted son, said, coming into the den. “You guys still watchin’ da’ news?”
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I’m ready to shut this off. I don’t know how much more I can stomach.”
“Look!” Helen shouted, pointing at the screen. “Da’Quarius is on TV!”
“No he isn’t,” Rose said, rolling her eyes. “You always thinking every African American kid with a shaved head and glasses is Da’Quarius.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, looking at the screen. “Dat is me! Turn it up, biddy.”
“I dunno how dis keeps happenin’,” the Da’Quarius on TV said. The runner under his name said he was in the mall when the shooter had opened fire. “Someone needs to step up an’ stop dis from happenin’!”
“What were you doing in Alabama?” Helen asked.
“I wasn’t in Alabama!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat footage is from when Flounder an’ I saw a bunch’a coyotes runnin’ through da’ neighborhood. Da’ news asked us ‘bout da’ coyotes!”
“I’m scared for my life,” Flounder said from the TV. “You never know where or when they’ll come for us.”
“He’s talkin’ ‘bout some mo’ fuckin’ coyotes!” Da’Quarius shouted.
“Oh my,” Rose said, watching the TV with a look of disbelief on her face. “How’d this happen?”
“You know how it happened,” Helen said. “Da’Quarius and his friend are crisis actors, and they have been this whole time.”
The news made way for commercials, and Da’Quarius looked toward Helen. “Da’ fuck you just say ‘bout me, biddy?!”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 13 Special: Crisis Acting 101
Tony walked out of the kitchen of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. “You’re gonna wanna tape this!” he said, holding an uncooked pizza on a peel.
“What the hell is that?!” Alice, the head of Paulie’s waitstaff, asked.
“I’m going to put Paulie’s Pizza on the map!” Tony said. “This is a recipe of my own design: Tide Pod Pizza.”
Alice looked at the pizza Tony was floating in front of her face. It was covered in sauce, cheese, and a dozen or so Tide Pods. “You’re actually going to cook that?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “People are eating these things all over the internet. Why can’t we get famous off this too?”
“This is stupid,” Alice replied. “Is anyone else dumb enough to help you?”
“I don’t know,” Tony replied. “Sal, probably.”
Sal walked out from the kitchen, towering over Tony by an extra foot. “I will not let you put that in the oven,” he said.
“And why not?” Tony asked.
“I brought that brick oven up here from Pennsylvania,” Sal replied. “It was made by the Amish community, and it is one of a kind.”
“So?” Tony asked.
“I will not let you put laundry detergent inside of it,” Sal replied.
“Fine,” Tony said. “I’ll just get Paulie and make him make you let me cook my Tide Pod Pizza.”
Sal turned and went back toward the kitchen with no further argument.
“You’re an idiot,” Alice said, walking away as well.
“What I say?” Tony asked.
“What can you find?” Da’Quarius asked, standing in Flounder’s bedroom above his father’s dry-cleaning business and laundromat. Flounder sat in front of his computer, looking up information on the latest news story that claimed they had witnessed a shooting in a state they had never visited.
“You’re all over the internet right now,” Flounder said. “It’s mostly from right wing conspiracy sites and people on Twitter.”
“Mo’ fuckers,” Da’Quarius said. “What are dey sayin’?”
“They have footage found of you at the New Haven riots,” Flounder replied. “They’re saying you were hired for some sound clips.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said.
“They have pictures and videos of us from when we got back from space too,” Flounder said, scrolling through pictures, videos and memes. “They’re saying that was all fake; that we never went up to space.”
“Bastards don’t know what they’re talkin’ ‘bout,” Da’Quarius said. “Are they shit talkin’ you too?”
“Yeah,” Flounder said. “They’re saying I’m the Asian kid from the Spider-Man movie.”
Da’Quarius looked over Flounder’s shoulder. “So I’m a crisis actor according to dem?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Flounder said. “You’re apparently hired by some lib-tards to spread anti-gun and anti-conservative propaganda.”
“Don’t say ‘lib-tard,’” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s somethin’ Helen got from some radio douchebag. She called me a crisis actor too.”
“Everyone on here is saying you are,” Flounder said.
“What da’ fuck am I supposed to do?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “How’d our interview ‘bout da’ damn coyotes get mixed up with da’ shootin’ in Alabama?”
“I found this company called Crisis Media LLC,” Flounder replied. “It looks like they might have bought the footage from the local New Haven news and sold it to be repurposed.”
“Mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey local?”
“They have offices all over the place,” Flounder said, clicking around on his computer, “including New Haven.”
Da’Quarius stood, thinking. “OK,” he said. “Print out da’ address. We’re gonna pay dese mo’ fuckers a visit.”
“Hey, Boss,” Tony said, entering Paulie’s office. “I gotta ask you something.”
“Go ahead,” Paulie said, looking up from his paperwork.
“I want to add a new pie to the menu,” Tony said.
“No way,” Paulie said. “I let you make that banana pizza nonsense a couple weeks back, and the place reeked like a banana farm for days.”
“This is different!” Tony pleaded. “This is going to make us famous on the internet, Paulie. The internet!”
“Alright,” Paulie sighed. “Let’s hear your idea, if only to shoot you down so I can get back to work.”
“OK,” Tony said. “You know those Tide Pod things the kids are eating?”
“No,” Paulie said. “You aren’t putting detergent on pizza!”
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask about them!” Tony said.
“Tell me, then,” Paulie said, “are you going to put them on my pizza?”
“Well,” Tony said. “Yeah.”
“What would the point of putting soap on pizza be?” Paulie asked.
“It’s for the internet,” Tony said.
“I got that part when you said it before,” Paulie said. “Explain to me, in detail, why you think my pizzeria should put these soap thingies on the pies.”
“We put the whole thing on the internet,” Tony said. “We put together the pizza, put the Tide Pods on it, and let someone eat it. We film the whole thing, put it on the internet, get a billion hits, and make Paulie’s Pizza famous.”
Paulie listened. “No,” he said. “Don’t let me catch you making that nonsense in my place.”
“I said no,” Paulie said. “I’m saying it calmly now, hoping you get the point to get the hell out of my office before I say is not so calmly. Capeesh?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said. “Whatever.” He waved a hand toward Paulie and left the office.
Paulie said for a moment, trying to get his focus back to do his paperwork. “Friggin’ stunad,” he muttered. Then, something dawned on him, and he stood and walked toward the kitchen. “OH! DON’T TELL ME YOU ALREADY MADE THE FRIGGIN’ PIE!”
Da’Quarius and Flounder walked through the lobby of a building on Orange Street. They found the listing for the offices on a tall felt board behind shiny glass. “There they are,” Flounder said, pointing. “Seventeenth Floor.”
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go find dese mo’ fuckers an’ ask ‘em a few questions.”
“Can’t I just wait down here?” Flounder asked. “I get nosebleeds if I got more than four stories up in a building.”
“Don’t be a bitch ‘bout dis,” Da’Quarius said. “We both need answers. I know you don’t want people thinkin’ you’re lyin’, and dat you’re da’ Chinese guy from Spider-Man! ‘Sides, I bet you can keep your nosebleeds under control if you concentrate an’ shit. It’s all in yo’ head.”
“OK,” Flounder said, taking a deep breath. “I’m OK.”
The elevator door opened on the seventeenth floor, and Flounder rushed out, pinching his nose, a line of blood on his shirt. “Where’s the bathroom!?” he asked in a nasally voice to the secretary sitting twenty feet from the elevators.
“To your left,” the secretary said, her lip curled up in a sneer.
“Dank you!” Flounder said, running to his right, then turning left.
Da’Quarius approached the secretary, who was sitting under a placard that said: “Crisis Media.” “Y’all mo’ fuckers hidin’ in plain sight an’ shit, huh?”
“Excuse me?” the secretary asked.
“I need to talk da’ mo’ fucker in charge,” Da’Quarius replied.
“What is this regarding?” the secretary asked.
“I wanna know why you got me on da’ news, talkin’ ‘bout shit I didn’t see in a state I ain’t never been in,” Da’Quarius replied.
The secretary looked over Da’Quarius, from top to bottom. She hesitated a moment, then picked up a phone and dialed a number from memory. “We have a code four-two-echo,” she said. She hung the phone up and looked back at Da’Quarius, putting on a warm smile. “Someone will be with your shortly.”
“Fuckin’ right,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma be right here, readin’ a magazine.”
“What the frig is this?!” Paulie shouted, finding Tony with the uncooked Tide Pod pizza still on the peel. “I can’t believe you made that! What a waste of food!”
“Don’t worry about it, boss,” Tony said. “I’ll take the pods off and throw on some mushrooms and give it to Alice to serve to table two.”
“I’m not giving that to my customers,” Alice said.
“Oh,” Tony said. “My pizza not good enough for your precious customers in the seating area now?”
“We’re too busy for this,” Paulie said. “You’re not serving one of my customers a pizza that had laundry soap on it. Get rid of that abortion and make table two a new pizza with mushrooms. So help me God, if I find out you’re trying to get one of my customers to eat that thing, I’ll put your balls on a pizza and serve that to table two!”
The pizzeria had quieted as everyone strained their ears to hear Paulie’s rant.
“I need to get some air,” Paulie said, walking away. “I want that gone by the time I get back.” He left with the jingle of the bells over the door.
“Don’t worry, folks,” Tony said, addressing the patrons. “He’s not going to put anyone’s balls on any pizza. I only have one, and that’s barely enough for half a small.”
“Dammit, Tony,” Alice said. “Just make me the mushroom pizza for table two and stop talking about your balls.”
“Ball,” Tony corrected.
Alice rolled her eyes and went back to her tables.
“What I say this time?” Tony asked himself. He grabbed an empty box from the rack and slip the uncooked Tide Pod pizza into it. “If I can’t cook this here, I’ll find somewhere I can.” He put the pizza under the counter and turned around, facing Sal.
“I better not find out you cooked that after I go home for the night,” Sal said.
“What’s everyone’s problem tonight?” Tony asked. “Must be a full moon or something, I swear.”
A man walked past the secretary’s desk, toward Da’Quarius, who had been waiting patiently. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and had short, black hair. He wore a black suit and gray tie. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I’m Marshall. I’m told you wanted to talk to someone here.”
“Damn right I do,” Da’Quarius said, tossing his magazine to the floor. “I wanna know why you’re usin’ old footage of me to make people think I’m talkin’ ‘bout guns an’ shit.”
“I see,” Marshall replied. “Want to take a walk with me and tell me your concerns?”
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said, standing. “I got some time ‘fore Flounder gets his nosebleed under control.”
“Follow me,” Marshall said. He pressed his name badge to a pad, and the door unlocked. He went inside, and Da’Quarius followed. They walked passed rows of cubicles and offices. At the end of the hall was a sound studio and bigger officers.
“This is Crisis Media,” Marshall said, turning to face Da’Quarius. “We have offices and studios all over the country. We create and distribute media clips to be used during times of crisis, allowing the victims, survivors, and families to rest easy while the media circus focuses its gaze elsewhere.”
“Well it ain’t workin’, is it?” Da’Quarius asked. “I’ve been watchin’ what’s goin’ on. Da’ real survivors are being harassed like dey’re a bunch of phonies an’ shit. Dey’ve been getting’ death threats and bein’ called liars. Dey can’t all be your actors.”
Marshall sighed. “No,” he said. “That’s the unfortunate nature of what we do and how we function as a society. As the number of tragedies rise, the amount of crisis media required rises with it. When we first started, we were able to use actors sparingly, and only a small number of people would catch on, and we can dismiss them as crazy conspiracy theorists. We’re forced to use the same actors more often than we should, and it means more people have been catching on to what we’re doing here.”
“So you send yo’ trolls out to da’ internet to make it all look fake,” Da’Quarius said.
“Exactly,” Marshall said. “Our newest division is Troll Control, where we try our hardest to debunk those who are trying to debunk us.”
“But you used me,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ dey put e’rything else I did into question.”
“We made a mistake, using your video,” Marshall replied. “Come with me.”
Marshall walked on, and Da’Quarius followed. “What mistake?” he asked.
“You’ve been in the media’s eye before,” Marshall said, not slowing his gait. “You were on stage during the New Haven riots, and you had that unfortunate trip to outer space. You’ve led an interesting life.”
“And dat’s only since I moved in with Rose an’ Helen,” Da’Quarius added.
“You’re smart,” Marshall said. “You would have to be to put the pieces together and find us.”
“You ain’t exactly hidin’ dat well,” Da’Quarius said.
“They won’t find us in plain sight,” Marshall said. He came to another. “I’m going to show you something, now. I’m not showing you this because I have to. I’m showing you this because I want you to join our team.”
“Say what?” Da’Quarius asked.
“You have a flair for this, I can tell,” Marshall said. “We need young people like you. With a little make up and a wig, we can put you into any crisis we need to. We can fly you anywhere in the country that needs an extra nudge. You can work behind the scenes when you’re not in front of the camera. Your work with us won’t interfere with your education. We can have you temporarily enrolled in which ever school we need to. With the morbid climate in America today, this can be a very lucrative arrangement for both of us, Da’Quarius.”
“An’ what if I say no?” Da’Quarius asked. “What if I turn around an’ tell everyone what you’re up to here?”
“Then we’ll make sure nobody ever believes a word you say ever again,” Marshall replied. “We have the means to do so. We’ll make everyone you’ve ever known or will know think you’re a raging lunatic if they only Google your name.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s a little harsh.”
“But I’m hoping you’ll decide to join us instead,” Marshall said, offering a wide grin. “I’m thinking that you will.”
“An’ all I have to do is sell you my soul, right?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Do you really think we’re no good?” Marshall asked. “I’ve already told you that we help the communities who have faced tragedies, and now we’re helping the left and right come together to reform gun control and accessibility of guns to the mentally ill. We’re not liberal or conservative. We only serve the American people.”
“You gonna show me what’s behind dat door or not?” Da’Quarius asked.
Marshall’s grin widened. “But of course,” he said. He used his badge on the pad, and the door’s locked clicked open. He turned the handle and pushed it open, allowing Da’Quarius to step in ahead of him.
It was a quiet day at Daq’s Bodega, located on State Street across the street from Paulie’s Pizza. The bodega’s owners, Antonio and Manny Garcia, sat behind the counter, talking about current events.
“I did so bang that stripper!” Antonio exclaimed. “I brought her right to the park across the street from the club!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Manny said. “All I know is she was back on stage a minute after you left.”
“What girl do you think I’m talking about?” Antonio asked.
“The blonde Russian chick,” Manny replied.
“Dude,” Antonio said. “There’s like four of them there!”
The door opened, and Tony came in from outside, carrying a pizza box. “What’s up, guys,” he said. “Check out what I got for ya!”
“Did we order a pizza?” Manny asked. “I could go for one, but I don’t remember ordering one.”
“I don’t think so,” Antonio said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna eat it. I just don’t remember making the call.”
“You didn’t order this,” Tony said, putting the box on the counter and opening it. “Behold: The Tide Pod pizza.”
“You put Tide Pods on pizza?” Antonio asked. “What the fuck dude?”
“You didn’t’ even cook it!” Manny added.
“Paulie won’t let me,” Tony said. “That’s why I need you guys. We can cook it here and put it on the internet and get famous.”
“Cool,” Manny said. “Pop that in the microwave and let’s get this thing going.”
“You can’t microwave raw pizza dough,” Tony said. “Don’t you know how pizza is made?”
“If I knew that,” Manny replied, “why the hell would we need you?”
“He needs an oven,” Antonio said. “We don’t have one.”
“How do you not have an oven?” Tony asked.
“How to you walk into places with uncooked pizza like you have lunch for them or something?” Antonio asked in return.
“Yeah!” Manny said. “That’s fucked up, dude. Get the fuck out!”
“What?” Tony asked.
“You heard my bro,” Antonio said. “Get the fuck out until you have a pizza that’s cooked and not covered in soap.”
“Yeah!” Manny said. “What do we look like, Mr. Bubbles and his brother, Mr. Bubbles?!”
The Garcia brothers stared at Tony until he took his pizza and left.
“Dude,” Manny said. “Were we too hard on Tony just now?”
“A little,” Antonio replied. “But it’s the only way he’ll learn.”
“Crisis media has been around since Obama’s days in office,” Marshall explained, showing Da’Quarius their many screens of data. “We distribute our media to every major news organization, and we send our actors all over the country.”
“Dis is crazy,” Da’Quarius said, looking around.
Marshall took a seat and looked over Da’Quarius. “I want you as part of our team,” he said. “I won’t mince words. We’re government-funded, and our mission statement covers us for generations to come. As long as there’s unrest in this country, we’ll be there.”
“Can I think it over?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Sure thing,” Marshall said. He reached in his pocket and took out a business card. “Call me or stop by when you’ve made a decision.” He handed Da’Quarius the card.
“Thanks,” Da’Quarius said, taking the card.
“Just don’t take too long,” Marshall said. “And let your Asian friend who bled all over my restroom know he’s more than welcome too.”
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. “Can I ask you one mo’ question?”
“Shoot,” Marshall replied.
“Y’all got any dirt on aliens an’ shit?” Da’Quarius asked.
A few minutes later, Da’Quarius left the building, and he found Flounder waiting outside. He had wads of toilet paper stuffed up both his nostrils to stop them from bleeding. “You’re back!” he said. “What happened up there?”
“Dude,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis goes deep.”
“How deep?” Flounder asked.
“I’ll tell you what I know, and what I think I know,” Da’Quarius replied. “First, let me tell you the lines of bullshit dat Marshall mo’ fucker just tried to feed me.”
Marshall watched from his window as Da’Quarius and Flounder walked away, heading East toward the bus stop. Someone walked behind him, staring in the same direction. “Hi, Martin,” Marshall said. “Were you listening?”
“I was,” Martin said. He was old, thin, had gray hair, and a set of small, rectangular glasses, slightly tinted. “You were right about one thing. He’s smart.”
“That he is,” Marshall said. “You think he saw through us?”
“What do you think?” Martin asked in return.
“He most definitely did,” Marshall replied. “Is this going to be a problem?”
“No, it most certainly won’t,” Martin said. He turned away from the window and walked away. “That boy and his chubby friend won’t cause any trouble for us. You have my word.”
“Good,” Marshall said. Once Martin had left the area, he turned away from the window and went back to his desk to get some work done.
Deep state conspiracies don’t run themselves.
“We’re not cooking that friggin’ pizza!” Helen snapped at Tony, who was standing in their den, holding an open pizza box. “What the hell makes you think we’d want to?!”
“Paulie wouldn’t let me cook it at his place,” Tony replied. “I figured Da’Quarius would want to help.”
“Da’Quarius is with his friend Flounder,” Rose said.
“And that still doesn’t answer my friggin’ question!” Helen snapped. “Just get the hell out of my house, you stunad!”
Tony closed the top of the pizza box, but Dutchie jumped on him, trying to get it to fall on the floor. “No!” he shouted. “There’s tide on there!”
“Dutchie, down!” Rose shouted, getting un and rushing over. “Stop it!”
Tony struggled to get the pizza box closed amid Dutchie and Rose’s wrestling. Helen watched, a look of amusement on her face, but it was cut short when the phone rang. “Hell,” Helen muttered. “I bet you need me to get that, too.”
“Will you please?” Rose asked, holding Dutchie by the collar. “For God’s sake, Tony, get that food out of here!”
“Isn’t this dog trained?!” Tony shouted, closing the box.
Helen sighed, picking up the phone. “This better be good,” she said.
“Helen!” Da’Quarius said from the receiver. “Just da’ biddy I was lookin’ for.”
“What do you want, kid?” Helen asked. “I’m busy.”
“I’m gonna hang out with Flounder for a while,” Da’Quarius replied.
“OK,” Helen said. “Anything else?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “We’re goin’ to beach to chase da’ seagulls.”
“OK,” Helen said. “Bye.” She hung up and walked back to her seat. Tony had gone, and Dutchie had calmed down. He was lying by the door, panting from all he excitement.
“Who was on the phone?” Rose asked.
“It was the kid,” Helen replied.
“Oh,” Rose said. “What did he need?”
“He’s on the run from the government and going underground,” Helen replied.
Rose stared at Helen. “He said what?!”
Da’Quarius put his backpack on. He was standing in the basement of Kwok’s Dry Cleaning and Landromat on Foster Street. “Ready?” he asked Flounder.
“I guess,” Flounder said. He was standing with his mother, who was crying. She had given him a bag of food for the trip since their bugout bags only had the essentials in them.
“Good thing yo’ dad had these tunnels set up,” Da’Quarius said, trying to distract himself from Flounder’s mother, who was a reluctant to let her son go underground while they were on Crisis Media’s radar. “I’m glad his human traffickin’ scheme didn’t pan out, but they’re handy as fuck. We don’t gotta worry ‘bout da’ cars followin’ us anymore.”
“I told you the bugout bags were a good idea after that fiasco with NASA,” Mr. Kwok, Flounder’s father said, standing off to the side, watching them with his arms crossed. “You two are always getting in so much trouble!”
“Thanks for havin’ my back in any case,” Da’Quarius said. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” Mr. Kwok said. “Just clear your names and get back here. Do your mothers know you’re going off the grid?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen an’ I have a code.”
“Good,” Mr. Kwok said. “Go do what you need to do.”
Flounder’s mother fussed over him some more, crying in Korean. “Come on, Mom!” Flounder said. “You’re embarrassing me!”
Mr. Kwok took Flounder’s mother by the arm and pulled her away. He took a breath and looked over Da’Quarius and Flounder one last time. “Look at you too,” he said with pride written all over his face. “I remember when I first went underground in North Korea. This brings me back.”
“Awesome,” Da’Quarius said, opening the hatch to the tunnels. “Come on, Flounder. We got work to do.” He climbed into the tunnel, followed by Flounder.
“Godspeed, my son,” Mr. Kwok said, closing the hatch behind them.
Tony walked from Rose and Helen’s toward Paulie’s Pizza and his apartment above. He still carried the box with the uncooked Tide Pod pizza inside, not knowing where he’d have to go in order to find someone who’d cook it, eat it, and let him film it.
He came across the small dog park, only two blocks from Paulie’s. There was a trash bin along the side, and he stared at it, wondering if it was better to just toss the pizza out and go back to Paulie’s, admitting that making the Tide Pod pizza was a waste of time.
Or he could keep walking, trying to find someone who appreciated his culinary and comedic skills. He then thought of Da’Quarius’s Korean friend, the one named after the fish. He saw him at the laundromat on Foster Street sometimes, and Tony decided at one point that he must live there. He was Korean after all. The Korean kid’s father was always involved in weird schemes too, if Da’Quarius was right.
And Rose had said Da’Quarius was with them.
With a smirk on his face, Tony turned and walked toward Foster Street.
Da’Quarius and Flounder emerged from a sewer in the woods, opening the gate. Flounder pushed it back into place, closing it with a click. His father had designed it only to open from the other side. “I’m glad we’re out of there,” he said. “There were way too much rats after me.”
“It’s cuz yo’ moms put too many egg rolls in dat bag,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey wouldn’t have attacked you if you didn’t have ‘em. Da’ point of da’ bugout bag is to get ‘em an’ bug da’ fuck out. I can’t believe you stopped to have yo’ moms make you some food.”
“I can’t help it,” Flounder said. “She worries. Besides, the rats got all the egg rolls anyway.”
Da’Quarius walked on. “Shit,” he muttered. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“What do you mean?” Flounder asked in return. “You don’t have a plan?”
“No,” Da’Quarius replied. “I ain’t got shit. We cain’t go back to our lives with dese mo’ fuckers trackin’ us and usin’ our faces an’ shit.”
Flounder took a small AM radio from his pocket and turned it on to the news station. “There’s another active shooter on the loose,” the radio anchor said. “This time, a mall in Wisconsin is the intended target.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Another one?!”
“This is great!” Flounder said.
“Dis is not great!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Two gunmen in two days ain’t somethin’ we should be excited ‘bout. You’re soundin’ like da’ assholes at Crisis Media.”
“That’s my point,” Flounder said. “They’ll be distracted trying to get their actors ready for this latest shooting. If we’re going to get in, now’s the time.”
“I already told you,” Da’Quarius said. “I got nuttin’; no plan!”
“I have something,” Flounder said.
“Yeah?” Da’Quarius asked. “Wha’chu got?”
Flounder reached in his pocket and pulled out a name badge from Crisis Media. “Someone left this on the bathroom sink,” he said. “I grabbed it while I tried to get the blood to stop pouring from my nose. We can get back inside.”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Den what?”
“I can hack their system,” Flounder said. “I’ll distract them long enough and broadcast every secret they have.”
“That’ll be good,” Da’Quarius said, “if only you can make it to da’ top floor without’cho nose hemorrhagin’ an’ shit.”
“I got that covered too,” Flounder said. He reached in his other pocket and brought out two tampons, still in their wrappings.
“Dude,” Da’Quarius said. “What da’ fuck is wrong wit’chu?”
“What?” Flounder asked. “They go up my nose!”
Da’Quarius sighed. “I know, Flounder. I know.”
“Yo,” Tony said, walking into Kwok’s Dry Cleaner’s and Laundromat. “What’s up, Mr. Kwok?”
“I didn’t order any pizza!” Mr. Kwok snapped.
“I’m looking for Da’Quarius and his Korean friend,” Tony said. “They’re going to help me cook this Tide Pod pizza and find some schmo who’s willing to eat it for the internet.”
“His Korean friend?” Mr. Kwok asked.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “The fish kid.”
“Oh,” Mr. Kwok said. “You mean Qim.”
“No,” Tony said. “He’s named after a fish.”
“What do you want?” Mr. Kwok asked.
“I already told you,” Tony said. “I need the kids to help me cook this Tide Pod -”
“They aren’t here!” Mr. Kwok said. “They’re off the grid!”
“Off the Grid?” Tony asked. “Make less sense, I dare you.”
Mr. Kwok sighed. “They’re going to the Crisis Media building,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone. They’re off the grid.”
“The Crisis Media building?” Tony asked, his eyes turned upward in thought. “I know where that is. They’ve ordered from Paulie’s before.”
“They’re off the grid!” Mr. Kwok shouted, slamming a fist on the table.
“Then why do you keep telling me if they’re off the damn grid?!” Tony retorted. “You’re a friggin’ bonehead, Kwok.”
“Get out!” Mr. Kwok exclaimed, pointing toward the door.”
“Fine,” Tony muttered, leaving the laundromat. “I’ll go find those kids myself then.”
The panic about the Crisis Media offices allowed Da’Quarius and Flounder to slip in unnoticed. The secretary who was at the front desk was even busy, shouting into her phone. They walked right past her, using Flounder’s stolen keycard to gain entry. “You look ridiculous,” Da’Quarius whispered to Flounder, who was following close behind with tampons up his nose.
“It’s the only way,” Flounder said. “Find me an empty cubicle, and I can work.”
“Here’s one,” Da’Quarius said. “Go to work.”
“OK,” Flounder said, sitting in front of the computer and booting it up. “You know what to do.”
Da’Quarius did know what to do. He made his way toward the back where Marshall had brought him on his first visit. He used Flounder’s keycard, and he was happy to find that it worked on this door too, allowing him access to the back room. He walked through the room full of monitors and cameras he made his way to the small studio in the back and opened the door, standing in front of the camera. “Ready,” he said.
The red light above the camera went on, indicating that Flounder had hacked their system and was broadcasting. Marshall banged on the door from the outside, and Da’Quarius smiled.
“Yo,” Tony said, approaching the secretary’s desk. “I’m looking for -”
“We’re in crisis mode here,” the secretary said, putting her hand over the mouthpiece of her phone. “We don’t really have time for pizza.”
“That’s not -”
“Just find whoever ordered it,” the secretary said, clicking a button on the desk, buzzing the door open.
Tony looked at her for only a moment before walking past her and into the offices of Crisis Media. “Bitch,” he muttered as he passed.
Marshall had the door opened. “Get out,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re doing in here. Are you going to record a little PSA for your friends? If you haven’t noticed, we have a crisis on our hands, and I’ve cut the satellite feeds to this building. Our actors will be filming on site.”
“You got a problem too, bitch,” Da’Quarius said. “I know what’cho doin’ here.”
“I’ve already told you what we’re doing here,” Marshall said. “We’re recording and distributing crisis media for the masses, selling it to the highest political bidder.”
“No you ain’t,” Da’Quarius said. “You have no actors, an’ you have nuttin’. Dis business you have is all bullshit.”
“You know nothing,” Marshall said.
“You don’t meet da’ demands of da’ people,” Da’Quarius said. “You create ‘em.”
“Fine,” Marshall replied. “You want the truth? We don’t work in conspiracy theories, we create them. We take money from lobbyists, politicians, whoever. We take from the highest bidder, and the left is paying, so we give them sob stories from victims and whatnot.”
“I’m sure da’ right’s wallets are open too,” Da’Quarius said.
“That’s right,” Marshall said, a crazy look in his eyes. “The Republicans pay us to make the real-life victims look like actors. We create fake stories for social media, doctored photos for conspiracy Twitter accounts we control, and do everything we can to make their small corner of the internet believe that nothing is as it seems.”
“You’re double dippin’,” Da’Quarius said.
“You’re damn right we are!” Marshall snapped. “We’ll take money from anti-gun lobbyists and the fucking NRA. You think we care whose agenda get pushed? We don’t care as long as it MAKES US RICH!”
“But you fucked up,” Da’Quarius said, smirking. “I just broadcasted yo’ little confession.”
“You moron,” Marshall said with a smile of his own. “I already told you we cut our satellite feeds to this building.”
“But you didn’t cut off da’ wifi, you dumb-ass fuck,” Da’Quarius replied. “Flounder just broadcasted yo’ ass all over da’ ‘net.”
“You little bastard,” Marshall said, pulling a gun from inside his jacket. “I’m going to kill -”
“Hey,” Tony said, walking to the doorway. “Special delivery, asshole!”
“Who the fuck -”
Tony tossed the open pizza box at Marshall, and the raw pizza dough wrapped around his head. He screamed, grasping at the dough, dropping his gun. “OH MY GOD! Why are there Tide Pods in here?!”
“Come on, Kid!” Tony said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Thanks,” Tony,” Da’Quarius said, leaving the production booth. He put it foot out as Marshall tried to peel the dough from his face and tripped him. He fell to the floor in a heap.
Flounder came running up to them. “That was amazing,” Flounder said. “The feed got a ton of hits already!”
“Why do you got vag-sticks up your nose?” Tony asked.
“Don’t ask,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s get da’ fuck outta here.”
Helen and Rose were watching the news a week later with Da’Quarius. “Oh my,” Rose said. “Another shooting? At least nobody was killed this time.”
“And here come the crisis actors,” Helen said as the woman on TV described what had happened. “More fake news, fake people, and fake outrage.”
“Naw, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “Da crisis media thing got shut down. Dis all real.”
“We need better gun control,” Rose said, shaking her head and staring at the TV. “How many times does this have to happen?”
“Bah!” Helen said. “They’ll never take our damn guns! Friggin’ lib-turds always use these mental cases as an excuse to pass their cockamamie gun laws!”
“That’s not the point!” Rose exclaimed.
“It’s always the point!” Helen retorted.
“Gotdammit,” Da’Quarius said, crossing his arms. “I coulda stayed home instead of goin’ underground an’ takin’ down dat damn Crisis Media company.”