Hakeem Starkman’s dressing room was brightly lit thanks to a dozen, naked white bulbs protruding from the frame of his vanity like ideas he was trying to ignore. He swallowed a big gulp of water from his glass. The ice cubes clinked back and forth in the glass and it started to sweat.
“Just breathe baby, you got this.” The mirror was the only person he could trust. “What the hell are we going to do about this, boss?” Hakeem glanced down to the thin, white plate and the nude, pink, source of all his trouble plopped dead center on it.
The makeup girl- Sarah? Susan? Some “S-” name- always used a face-sized magnifying glass on a thick, poseable metal cable to pluck his eyebrows. He moved it so it was positioned over the plate.
“I always have sprinkles,” he whispered.
The magnifying glass made it clear that someone had, with surgical precision, removed all but two sprinkles from the pink frosting of Hakeem’s morning donut. One remaining sprinkle was red. The other green.
He pressed his nose against the glass. The frosting had dozens of tiny dimples that had once held individual sprinkles. Next to each and every one of those empty depressions were twin drag marks, one on each side. Hakeem picked up a pair of purple and white tweezers from his desk and pretended to pick up a sprinkle with them. The marks matched.
“What kind of psycho…” whispered the mirror. Any loser could knock a few sprinkles off the talent’s donut or even lick it. A particularly disturbed person might piss in the batter. No one would know. That person would get their revenge in secret. But this was…
“A malicious display of patience,” he spoke to the guy with the immaculate and powerful eyebrows in the mirror. “This could be the moment they’ve decided to announce their presence.”
He’d done some plotting and scheming in his days. The competition was tough and… he’d made omelets. It was not easy to become the lead Channel Six weatherman. Someone was screwing with him, but, “what is your endgame?” The mirror didn’t answer.
Okay, on the surface they wanted him uneasy. Defeatable. This was also the sort of thing you couldn’t complain about or you would sound crazy, “Look, Jim. Someone scraped the sprinkles off my carb-filled innertube. I can tell by the microscopic tweezer tracks that it was very sinister.” How much of the bullshit from the week? The last month? The year could be from them? What if it was a ‘them’? A conspiracy?
He was sleeping less. The jack-hammer-cum-alarm clock construction outside his house had seen to that, which meant he’d been drinking more to sleep through it. Maybe someone had gotten the work crew out there somehow. No, putting yourself in the middle of a conspiracy was crazy. But, if somehow even a few had connected…
What about the two sprinkles themselves? One red, one green. Christmas? Stop and Go? On and off? They were positioned a bit like the hands of a clock, but donuts didn’t have numbers to help him orientate them properly. Maybe someone in the office wanted his job. Of course, someone wanted his job. They had someone on staff whose only job was to take over if he got sick. But she was just a weather girl, not that he was a meteorologist, but the looked the part more than she did.
But whose job was it to bring the donut? A delivery guy? An intern? Many interns? The office manager chick who hated being called a secretary, but whose job it clearly was to be a secretary?
He took a little sip of his water. Something bitter hung on the pink tip of his tongue. He stuck it out at the mirror. “Plee Anyping?” he asked.
He pushed the donut out of the way and left his cup under the magnifying glass. There were some tiny white particulate bits in the cup, but he’d never looked at an icy glass of water under magnification before, and they were so small and seemed to dissolve when touched. Maybe they were normal? Still, they could have been the last visible bits of some powder that had been sprinkled in. Was it poison? Was he high? He hadn’t finished the glass, so he wasn’t as high or as poisoned as he was supposed to be.
Maybe his heart was punching his ribcage. Hakeem pushed back from his vanity and picked up his nearly naked treat.
He made a little show of walking around to all the cubicles and offices, saying “hi” to everyone, “just checking in,” and other useless shit like that, small talk. At every stop he took a little bite out of the donut, washing it down with a sip of coffee from the shared pot, not his private stuff. He moaned loudly with pleasure with each nibble. “Mmmm, this donut is so damn good. Best donut of my goddamn life.”
He was feeling stronger and more confident by the time he reached The Weather Desk, getting ready to do his thing. The camera lights were green, meaning they weren’t rolling, and it was safe to be himself.
It was time for his pre-show ritual. Two deep breaths. Two closed eyes. Open them. Alright, things were going to be fine. Two more deep breaths. He could figure out the rest of this after he did his job, maybe even go to the assistant director girl, and see if someone was poking around his office preshow.
Hakeem put on his weatherman face: poised eyes, soft lips, lightly tensed facial muscles. He picked up the stack of prop paper the production team left on the desk for him to organize on camera so that it seemed like he did his own research. Every page was filled with Latin gibberish. He started lightly tapping the bottom of the stack on the desk and looking into the glossy, black lense.
One of the overhead lights caught something on the desk and sent a tiny flare of light into the corner of his eye. An almost imperceptible lump was there. He flicked it and it didn’t move. Hakeem leaned in so that his eye was two inches from the surface. His hands started to shake. His throat closed. A small white sprinkle sparkled there, shining in the studio lights. Of course, no one would notice it. It was the same color as the desk. Hakeem tried to flick it away. Flicked it ten times, hard. It didn’t fucking move. The thing had been coated in some sort of strong, clear adhesive. He choked on the panic in his chest.
“Head up please, Mr. Starkman. Five seconds to red,” said some girl from the production staff. “4…3…”
Hakeem sat up straight. Why would anyone want to do this to him? No more time for that. He shoved out the last of his thoughts and prepared to go to work.
The teleprompter started rolling. Hakeem spoke into the camera. Today the weather will be cloudy, low of 52, high of 73. There is a 60% chance of precipitation. So, make sure to bring your umbrella as you leave the house today. There might be a few isolated sprinkles…