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The Warner Popsky Solution

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    Перепер вот Чпокски на американский, для портфолио.


   THE WARNER POPSKY SOLUTION

"And then the folks will say: Corkie, it's all your fault!
And I don't want it to be my fault.
Now give me the dynamite!"
- DESOLATE, Season One

   All he did was smile.
   "You hurt and killed over fifty two people. And you say it's OK," said Agent Hawkins, "Shall I remind you many of them were little children?"
   "Many of them were old for Christ sake!" Detective McAfee stood up, and the gun strap squeezed his chest. "Johnston Green, aged seventy-four, raped in his own wheelchair..."
   "Easy, Detective," said Hawkins, "I'll let you know when it's your turn to ask questions."
   McAfee shut up and cracked his toothpick in irritation. He didn't like being here. This was a textbook case: the Bureau versus the county. They wanted this jerk institutionalized, while Detective McAfee dreamed of his going to prison, where jerks of the same kind would teach Popsky the entire Testament; mainly by hurting, raping and killing him in retribution. McAfee believed in justice. And feds, well, they believed shit.
   Just look at The X-Files.
   "Please tell us about yourself," the agent offered.
   After a second's thought, Popsky nodded and said:
   "I'm a screenwriter. A good one - not exactly Hollywood material, but a good one. An agent based in California, a dedicated page on IMDB, the lot."
   "Working on anything right now?"
   "What difference does it make, goddamit--"
   "Please don't interrupt us, Detective. So?"
   "TV series," said Popsky for the hundredth time. "You know. DESOLATE. Hope Is Not Salvation. The one we started with Turtle."
   "Turtle?" asked Agent Hawkins, eyebrow raised.
   "Charlie Turtletaub, the director," said Popsky. "Me and him, we did a post-nuclear show. It died after the first season. Ratings."
   "And?"
   "I thought Turtle was gonna kill me, but he was like, Warner, you did great, the audience are jerks. We show `em rich folks go crazy - they don't want it. We show `em poor folks try to survive - same story."
   Popsky fell silent for a moment, and then went on.
   "I'm like, you mean, show them rich folks trying to survive? And, you know, poor folks going crazy? Turtle stopped, then said - Warn, you're a genius."
   Many folks would agree with that now, Rob Hawkins thought. For cops, prison was still an answer to everything - nothing new about that. All they cared about was a public revenge of some sort.
   And Hawkins, he was out for knowledge. In spite of everything, he wanted to believe.
   "Turtle called me a week later," the screenwriter went on. "Says he's got everything covered. He has a studio, and we're shooting, and we name it DESOLATE."

"What is it? Michael, what is this thing?"
"The guy who called this place the Dark Corridor was a genius."
- DESOLATE, Season Two

   "In the beginning, the idea was simple: a bunch of folks, tour bus passengers, they are trying to survive in a desolate ancient castle. Filled with treasures and traps and ghosts and shit. The figures were steep: Turtle wanted to film on location, in Schwatrzwald. We tried to talk him out of it; after all, we could pick a fake exterior and shoot the interior at the studio, but he said no. It was his kink. He was inventing. Everything people see on the screen had to be authentic, even the ancient rags and trinkets. It seemed like Turtle fell in love with the show - he even photoshopped the credits. By the way, this is why they turned out so ugly. Again, we tried to tell him, but he ignored us."
   "So it was money," said Detective McAfee. He folded his arms over his stomach in a threatening manner. "You started killing because of money."
   "I wish it was like that," said Popsky, smiling happily. "Of course at the start money was a big deal. We spent our entire budget just to rent a Schwartzwald castle, and we needed actors, too. We couldn't afford the elite, but it couldn't have been some Joe from the street. So we had to lure them in with fame. Not the top of the list, someone from the middle. We told them they're the best, and we'd fulfill their every whim if only they sign up for a grand a week. They did sign up, but started thinking the world of themselves, and treated us like shit. Especially that one did. God, was he fat."
   "Corkie isn't fat," Agent Hawkins intervened. "It's his build, is all."
   "Yeah, yeah. The fat turkey build. The idea was for him to slim down a bit, with every new episode. It would make the audience believe the characters actually suffered and struggled for their existence. I pitched the idea to him - very carefully, of course - Stanislavsky, everything for art, good for your health too, by the way. And he was like, man, I want four meals a day, the New York menu, and I don't care if we're in the woods or something. To hell with your Thinner shit, man."
   Popsky involuntarily cringed
   "He smelled of stale popcorn, this guy."
   "And so you shifted your frustration with the actors towards the society, didn't you?" Rob Hawkins said.
   Oh you sleazy bastard, McAfee thought. Steering the case towards the institution, are we?
   Surprisingly, Popsky objected.
   "No, no. They were good kids. Inexperienced -- yes. During their talk scenes, we had to film someone's hand, or ass... anything but the face. Then Turtle got an idea and added these wide shots. For example, when Tracy informs Miles his brother is dead - we filmed that one from afar, on purpose. We were learning to work with them, and they with us. The first season finale was a triumph. And still, even back then, I was a bit worried."
   "Worried by what exactly?" Hawkins asked. Detective McAfee was silent.
   "Mysteries," said Popsky. He gave the mic a brief glance and seemed to gain some confidence.
   "Too many of them," he said. "In other series, if an episode ends with The Face, or The Big Eyes, you know they're gonna explain it in the next one. But in DESOLATE, we did it differently. Who knows, if we wouldn't, maybe ... Maybe something would be different now."

"We must open the safe!"
"No! No, please don't! This number ... it is cursed!"
- DESOLATE, Season Three

   "When you're an established author, you rarely stay idle," Popsky said. "Success and inspiration sort of feed off each other. The only problem is clichИs. They come at you from all sides, and you must know each one from the start, or you're dead... umm... no, screwed? Cooked? Ah, dammit!"
   He winced.
   "Now you see?"
   Popsky looked at the agent. The agent nodded. It didn't get past McAfee.
   "Uh huh," said he in the silence that followed. "Well. Go on."
   "In the beginning, it seemed easy," said Popsky a bit slowly. "Us and clichИs, we had a friendly alliance of sorts. We had castles, traps, ghosts ... One black guy, one fat, one Chinese. The audience wanted blood - we killed one of the meat and made everyone happy.
   "The meat?" agent asked. He was thinking hard, too.
   "The meat," Popsky confirmed. "On the bus, they had forty people. Main characters - only ten of them. The rest only appeared to die in a trap or go MIA in any manner. We called them `the meat.'"
   "And this was the attitude you took to your future victims," said Rob Hawkins, but Popsky didn't hear him.
   "We started having problems by season two, but spotted them only when the third one aired. We didn't explain any mysteries - have I told you that? Not sure," Popsky said with a dreamy face. "As it went on, new mysteries were introduced, more and more of them, and we didn't explain any. And people ... they started talking. They started contemplating. And that's when the pressure could be felt for the first time, and it was--"
   He fell silent and ran his demanding eyes across the empty windowless room.
   "So what were they talking about, the people?" the detective asked, feigning curiosity.
   "The big point," Popsky said instantly. "The point of what was happening inside that castle. They were babbling about it everywhere: at home, at work, on the Internet, in the papers, on TV, even on other shows like ours. They came up with, basically, three versions."
   "We managed to identify only two," said agent. "One of them is science fiction, claiming the said castle is a mystery device of sorts. A lab maybe, of alien origin even."
   Hawkins was staring straight at Popsky, but the screenwriter simply nodded without giving anything out.
   "The second one was mystic," the agent went on. "It assumed the castle was haunted by spirits, demons, or supernatural entities of some other kind."
   "There was also an idea they're actually in Hell, the lot of them," said Detective McAfee.
   His remark came in so unexpectedly Hawkings was lost. The agent merely opened his mouth and tried to jump back into the conversation when Popsky replied:
   "Yes, this was, in fact, the third version."
   He shrugged.
   "Myself, I'd treat it rather as something mystical, like the second version, but, as Turtle says, the audience is on the other side, they know better."
   Popsky became suddenly agitated, and McAfee quickly unbuttoned the holster under his arm. The screenwriter, however, relaxed just as fast.
   "We couldn't let them," he said quietly. "We couldn't let them destroy the series."
   "But what could have happened?" the detective asked. He didn't pity Popsky at all - the guy was fucking old men for Christ sake - but at least it looked like he might have a case after all.
   "You don't understand?" Popsky looked at him sternly. "That's how the nightmare started", he said.
   "You couldn't reveal a single secret", said the agent. "Or it would instantly prove one of the versions as true, and you would have to end it."
   "I wish it was just that," the screenwriter nodded without joy. "But no, after that, any new riddle, even any new detail discovered by characters had to match all the versions, all three at once."
   "How do you mean?" said the detective. "It can't be possible."
   Now you're getting it a little, Hawkins thought with irritation. Friggin' finally.
   "You guys remember season three, ep oh-three-twenty? The one when Corkie and the team find a mysterious safe? They try to crack it and suddenly discover Corkie knew the code all along." Popsky looked at them questioningly. "And the code was 4-8-6?"
   "Of course!", said the agent, snapping his fingers.
   "Can't say I remember it well," said McAfee. "It was something like that, I suppose."
   "Yes, but have you thought - not to mention the number was cursed from the start - have you thought about what 486 means?"
   "Well, it was an IBM model." The detective shuffled his feet under the table and scratched his head. "Before Pentium, it was, right?"
   "What else?"
   "If you subtract 2 from 8", said the agent slowly, "then add 4, you get 666."
   "That's right!"
   If not for the ankles fastened to the chair, Popsky would jump up at that. He said:
   "The Number of the Beast!"

"Four-eight-six... Four-eight-six... Four-eight-six..."
- DESOLATE, Season Four

   "One number to rule them all. Even three of them, if you consider the hell hypothesis. It was my idea", said Popsky, beaming like a child. "Just like the mechanical ghost. Just like the Well of Time. By the middle of season four it was me who came up with most of the good ideas. The rest of us simply couldn't take it. We lost two generations of screenwriters, and fired twice as many ourselves, Turtle and me."
   "Please explain why," Agent Hawkins said.
   Popsky looked at him perplexedly.
   "But you know why. They didn't dig the show."
   "Didn't... dig?"
   "Couldn't understand its ... spirit, if you like. Its fragile balance of ideas. And the ones who did, quit on their own after a while."
   "Good riddance," the detective mumbled.
   "I was like that, too," Popsky admitted, "before I got trapped like them."
   McAfee was surprised at his tone. For the first time during the conversation the screenwriter looked troubled.
   Not sure where, but the guy's shell has finally cracked, the detective thought.
   "One day, I became apathetic," said Popsky, and shown another crack. "I said to myself - to hell with them and their fucking show."
   He gave the cigarette the detective was holding a greedy look.
   Aha, McAfee thought, gratified. Come on. Give me more.
   "It's the audience ... They were waiting, their mouths gaping open, and all of a sudden, I had nothing to feed them with. Well, not counting the eps we filmed since the airing of season five. Who knew this, except me? No-one. Everyone was high. Critics, Turtle, the crowd, the cast ... This fat kid, who in the beginning I thought would go thinner - well, he got even fatter. The show was already worth millions, and so were its commercial breaks, and so were we. Everyone was happy."
   "Except you," said Hawkins.
   "Except me, true. And the other screenwriters. But they could quit, and I couldn't."
   "That's when you started killing," said the detective in a creaky voice.
   "That's when I started drinking. And smoking, three times as much, all the stuff. Crack included."
   Popsky shook his head.
   "So you admit you were taking drugs," said McAfee.
   "Sure! Except they didn't help. We'd run out of mysteries. I sat down to write a new episode, and tired old clichИs were all I could manage. It wasn't something we could film. We even changed the schedule back then, remember? Last year in May, oh-five-seventeen?"
   Hawkins brightened.
   "Wasn't that when Ellen went missing?"
   "Exactly. It was when I left the shooting, right in the middle. To be honest, back then I decided to kill myself. That's why I didn't take my usual route, but went home across Suicide Bridge, you know the place, a gap in the railing, everyone jumps from there. I was going to kill myself, and it felt really unusual. The weather was strange too, and the folks at Suicide were giving me these freaky stares. And, right when I was at the spot, I invented them."

"Oh my God, who is it!?"
"Them! It's them! Run, run for your life, it's them!"
- DESOLATE, Season Five

   "What were they, by the way?" the agent asked.
   "Who cares! Just them," Popsky shrugged. "We could easily afford a dozen new actors. All of a sudden, they popped up in the castle. No-one knows where they came from, and what for. They hung around for five consecutive eps, and then were gone. No-one knows where. And that's it! No answers, no clues - no damage to any version. Pure genius!"
   He stared at them with self-satisfaction. The agent stood still, arms folded across his chest. The detective sat across the table, breathing noisily.
   "You're right," Popsky nodded and went on. "This, of course, didn't last forever. They were gone, and I didn't get any new ideas. But this time, I wasn't going to kill myself. This time, I had a method."
   "And you started killing others," McAfee tried his bottom line again.
   Popsky shook his head.
   "I started going places," he said. "It was clear to me the human brain can only lose the blinds for some time, only when you break out of routine and dare to do something extraordinary. The first time I crossed the line by accepting the suicide. The second time, I bought a pet orangutan. The third time--"
   "You killed a human being!" the detective announced.
   "No," Popsky gave out a laugh. "I cooked and ate my Pierre Boulle."
   "Your what?"
   "My orangutan. I ate a lot of weird stuff in those days: sheep eyes, ka swe, palm maggots ... I killed for the show just once, in October, oh-six-oh-three."
   Popsky let out a timid giggle, and McAfee felt real unease for the first time.
   "You know, I tried everything only once, so it wouldn't go stale, would remain fresh. All kinds of food, all kinds of drugs, of sex ... Quickly ran out of options though. You can't imagine how many boundaries there are set for us. When I decided on murder for the first time," he sighed, "it was pretty much suicide all over again. Wasn't easy, you know. I wasn't ... as experienced."
   "Let me guess. Not as much as the second time around, right?" the detective said.
   "Yes, I handled it better, indeed ... But I didn't kill her and the rest for the show. It was just, you know. So they wouldn't tell anyone. About me and what I-- what I tried with them."
   "I'M GONNA KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS, MOTHERFUCKER!"
   McAfee jumped at the screenwriter. Popsky tried to raise his arms in defense, but the cuffs held him back. The detective was restrained by his own men.
   "Thank you, gentlemen," Hawkins nodded. "McAfee? Let's take five."
   Detective McAfee nodded, slowly. They left the interrogation room and walked into the hallway, just as smooth and cream-colored, with zero windows.
   "Are you sure you're getting a clear picture, Detective?" the agent asked, offering McAfee a slim cigarette and a small nondescript lighter.
   The detective nodded gratefully, and lit up. His hands were still shaking.
   "This... sick... this... crazy bastard..."
   "That's right," Hawkins nodded, "but there's more to it. Popsky defies the laws of commerce, the laws of art -- even the laws of human existence! We're talking about a genius. They're a very small part of humanity, and we can't afford to lose one."
   "You people are crazy too," said the detective. "What are you after? Having him locked up in a private clinic with chandeliers and a swimming pool? Cater to his needs? Let him escape once a month and do these things again?"
   "Do you even realize," the agent bent towards him with a sharp look, "do you even realize who's sitting there in front of you?"
   McAfee sucked on his cigarette, lost for words.
   "Popsky," said Agent Hawkins gravely, "may turn out to be the only person who knows the answer. The only one with a key. My God," Hawkins turned around and clenched his hands at the back. "You cops never see things ten feet away from you. You're totally OK with the sky being the limit, and you don't care if there are any stars or not. You have no urge to seek knowledge."
   "Wait," the detective scratched his nose without letting go of the cigarette, "You mean it's all just about a small thing--"
   "A small thing!?" the agent turned around, threw the stub on the floor and stamped it out with his black shoe. "The story's been on for six years now. There are people trapped in that castle - and we still don't have the tiniest clue of what's going on! All we have are versions. Stupid theories, not a single one of them with a proof. What's out there? The future? The Ether? Hell? Huh? Who's gonna answer? You?"
   "So you guys," McAfee said. "The Bureau... protects him only so you can learn how the show ends?"
   "It's me who protects him, Detective. I am his lawyer."
   "You what?"
   "Surprised? The Bureau has enough lawyers. And medics. Don't worry. Warner will stay in good company."
   "And you'll ... let him kill? Let him torture?"
   "We'll let him continue his work, Detective," Hawkins frowned. "Just his work. By all means."
   The agent waited for him to reply, then nodded and went back into the room. McAfee followed, barely able to shuffle his feet.
   "You promised me!"
   Popsky rose up a bit as they entered.
   "Rob, you promised me, what is this psycho doing here?"
   "Stay cool, Warner," Hawkins said. "You mustn't get nervous. We're done here. Detective?"
   "I can't give him to you," McAfee frowned, chewing on the inside of his cheeks
   "I'm afraid you've got no choice."
   "He belongs in the worst prison in the state, if not the whole country."
   "Detective, we're wasting time," the agent reached out and aptly took the Warner Popsky file out of the detective's hands. McAfee just stood there, frowning and thinking hard, watching as the FBI people unstrapped the screenwriter's legs from the metal chair and prepared him for the ride.
   He was still standing there when Popsky waltzed past and smiled at him by way of saying goodbye.
   "You wanna know the ending?"
   The detective decided to act.
   "Are you sure he knows it?" he shouted in Hawking's back. The hunch was weak, but enough to slow the agent down for a second.
   "Warner? You don't have to tell us everything, just confirm you do know the outcome. It's one of the versions, right? Or, no, it must be a fourth one, beyond our imagination--"
   "What's the point?" Popsky looked around and clanked his handcuffs. "You all just don't get it. It's not about knowing! It's about the balance."
   "Popsky, just a second, stay calm," said Agent Hawkins, but the screenwriter wasn't listening.
   "Everyone wants to know the ending! All everyone needs is the ending. Did you even think," he straightened up, "that the end of the show is the end? That the show will die? And no more..."
   "Goddammit, do you even know anything!?" Hawkins snapped. His cheeks went red, and the eyes were all but drilling at the screenwriter. "Where did Corkie learn the code? Where did the code even come from? What happened to Ellen? Where did Miles' brother go, after his resurrection? TELL ME!"
   "I-- I don't know," said Popsky. "Whatever. To be honest, I sort of forgot about them. Miles' brother? Ah yes, back from the dead in season two .,, But it was so long ago! Who even remembers him anymore?"
   The agent looked away in dismay, and his eyes met those of the detective.
   "Looks like he's got no answers," McAfee scratched the back of his head. "Not a single one."
   Hawkins turned around and signaled his men. The FBI people uncuffed Popsky and left, their shoes clacking on hardwood.
   "Not really sure what made them so upset," Popsky admitted.
   "Guys, have the genius locked up," the detective said, grinning to himself. Here comes justice. This bastard is on his way to prison to get what he deserves. And McAfee, his wife won't nag him into watching this DESOLATE crap on Thursdays anymore.
   Shame we never did find out what they were, though, he thought.
   (The End.)

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