MR. PHILPOT • by Tommy B. Smith

“Mr. Jones?”

I knew why they were here. Today was the day. My cell door opened, and they escorted me out.

They marched me past everyone toward the front, while they all yelled my name — and other things. Someone spat. My first thought was to turn around, unzip my pants, and give him a drink of something freshly squeezed, but I didn’t do that. With the guards on each side of me, I just looked ahead and kept walking.

I’m getting out today. How many years has it been? It feels like forever since I was locked in that concrete-steel tomb. Yes, a tomb. Think about it.

I was escorted past the chain-link, razor-wire capped fences to the front gates. The gates were open. The guard handed over my personal effects, the ones I was being allowed, and that was it.

The gates were closed, and that nightmare was sealed away. There I was, free, and nobody was around to see it. After all those years, and all the things I had done, nobody was left.

Just when I was about to start walking, I noticed the man off to one side, some distance away. He was a chunky, older man in a business suit. I looked over just in time to see him flip out a Zippo to light the fat stogie between his yellow teeth. When it was lit, he took a puff, and looked over at me. He grunted, took another puff, and came up to me.

“Leonard Philpot.” He thrust out a chubby hand.

“We don’t know each other,” I replied. “Get lost.”

“Maybe you don’t know me,” he responded, rolling the cigar around in his mouth, “but I know you. You’re Eric Jones.”

I didn’t recognize his face. His name did sound familiar, though, even if he said I didn’t know him. Maybe I did know him.

Where have I heard that name before? Leonard Philpot.

“Let’s move this right along,” Leonard Philpot spoke. He tapped ashes from the tip of his cigar. “You’re wondering why I’m here, right? Ask yourself a question, first. Why are you here? You’re a free man today, Mr. Jones. How do you think that’s possible? I guess the law’s one thing, and justice is another. If you ask me, you should’ve gotten the death penalty.”

I stared, hard. What was this joker trying to pull? I took a step forward, and clenched my fist, but quickly recalled that the prison I had left a minute ago was still right behind me.

“What did you say to me?” I asked him.

“Let’s recap,” he said, flicked a few ashes, and placed the cigar back between his teeth. “You’ve spent the previous decade of your life in prison. Before that, you made a living stealing, often from the less fortunate.”

I took another step toward him. I was getting angrier by the second.

“Even before all of that, you set fire to your own parents’ house. Should we go on? The true gentleman assists an elderly woman in crossing the street. You? You snatched her purse and pushed her in front of a bus. All this, without even taking into account the murders that put you behind bars. Not only are you the biggest asshat I have ever met, you’re a sorry excuse for a human being. Who are we kidding? You’re one of the lowest forms of life on the planet.”

I grabbed the front of his suit, prepared to strangle him with his own tie. “Wait!” he shouted.

I managed to catch myself. That’s right. I just got out of prison. Keep it in check, I told myself. Don’t kill Leonard Philpot.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s not why I’m here.” He turned and gave a wave of his hand in the other direction, which thoroughly confused me. After the black limo came into sight, I was even more confused.

The limo pulled up in front of the two of us, and I suddenly remembered, after all the television I’d caught during my years in the slammer, where I had heard the man’s name. The limousine’s chauffeur climbed out to open the rear passenger’s door, and Leonard Philpot turned back to me with a sly smile on his face and dollar signs in his eyes.

“Okay, kid — want your own reality television show?”

Tommy B. Smith is a writer whose presence currently plagues Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and diabolical cats.

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